A Recent Calvinist Strawman

In his post “Why All Arminians are Calvinists,” Dr. Mark Jones represents the Arminian position on divine election (and foreknowledge) as follows:

In the Arminian scheme, God “sees” what would happen based on a conditional future and then chooses based on what he “sees” take place in a purely conditional world. In this scheme, God knows conditionals conditionally.

In sum, Arminianism introduces a separate category, in which the human decision becomes the causal factor that determines the event. It is a form of semi-pelagianism.

This view, he says, “bows to the god of human freedom and makes God the servant of humans.” Well, that certainly doesn’t sound like a good thing, and if true it would certainly be a strike against Arminianism. But is Mark correct? I don’t think so.

Now Mark doesn’t make the steps in his argument clear. So we will need to reconstruct things. For simplicity’s sake, let’s consider a world W that God has decided to actualize, and in which he elects only one individual, Alvin, based on Alvin’s decision to believe the gospel of Christ. Suppose, further, that this constitutes God’s sole reason for actualizing W. Then what Mark is proposing, I take it, is something along these lines. By hypothesis, Arminians are committed to both

(1)  God’s decision to actualize W is based on God’s “seeing” that W includes Alvin’s believing the gospel

and

(2)  God’s “seeing” that W includes Alvin’s believing the gospel is based on W’s including Alvin’s believing the gospel.

But:

(3)  W’s including Alvin’s believing the gospel is based on Alvin’s believing the gospel in W.

From (1)-(3), it follows:

(4)  God’s decision to actualize W is based on Alvin’s believing the gospel in W.

And (4) entails:

(5)  Alvin causes God’s decision to actualize W.

This turns Alvin’s power to choose into a “god, and “makes God the servant of humans.” We human beings get to determine which world God creates, and who is (or isn’t) elect. Surely this is scandalous. What we have before us, therefore, is nothing less than a reductio of Arminianism.

Now if that’s the argument, it surely won’t suffice. There are two things to note. First, (1)-(4) make use of the ‘is based on’ relation. How is that to be understood? What sense shall we give it? It looks as though it has an explanatory force. To say that a is based on b, in this context, is to say that a is explained (or partially explained) in terms of b. Why did God decide to actualize W, you ask? (1) tells us; it’s because he “saw” that it included Alvin’s believing the gospel. And why is that state of affairs included in W? Well, it’s because (in W) Alvin believes the gospel. So what (4) says is that if you want to know what God’s reason is for making W actual, it’s that Alvin believes the gospel in W. That is the final cause for W’s being made actual. Glory!

Secondly, let’s consider the inference from (4) to (5). Here there is a serious misstep. Can you see it? In (4), Alvin’s believing the gospel is a final cause; by contrast, in (5), ‘causes’ almost certainly mean ‘efficiently causes’. Otherwise, Mark doesn’t have his pejorative conclusion: that Alvin—more exactly, his believing the gospel—“makes God the servant of humans”—as if we had any say over God’s decisions! No sensible Arminian is going to agree with a thing like that. Not for a moment. I’m afraid this is a strawman. Mark has conflated final and efficient causes here. It’s a subtle but understandable slip.

The takeaway is that since Mark’s anti-Arminian argument depends on this slip, there is nothing to keep savvy Arminians awake at night. In the immortal words of Truman, therefore, I bid you: “Good afternoon, good evening, and good night!”

——-

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One comment on “A Recent Calvinist Strawman

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