Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Atheists and Calvinism

Some atheists reject Calvinism because they complain that it's unfair. Or because they might be numbered among the non-elect if Calvinism were true. How can Calvinists respond to that?

Well, let me try to approach it logically. It seems to me that there are several issues involved.

1. The truth or falsity of Calvinism
2. The fairness or justice of Calvinism
3. The reality of one's election or non-election
4. The basis on which one could, would, or should come to believe in (and/or submit to) God.

Before discussing the possible falsity of Calvinism in particular (or theism in general), let's first assume that Calvinism is true.

What if Calvinism were true but unjust? If it were unjust/unfair, one would first have to show the standard and foundation upon which one could evaluate Calvinism and show it is unjust or unfair. But many theists AND atheists have argued that no such standard could exist given the non-existence of God. If that's true, then only some other form of theism (or non-Calvinistic form of Christianity) could possibly provide an ultimate standard to demonstrate that Calvinism is unjust and unfair. But this blog post isn't about comparative religion. Nor is it a post comparing the case for Christianity with the cases for other religions. Other Christian works have dealt with that issue. I'm confining myself in this blog primarily to the issue of how atheists should respond to Calvinism. It should also be noted that justice and fairness need not be equivalent. True justice would have to have some ontological grounding. Whereas in common everyday usage "fairness" is often only a concept that refers to the subjective and emotional consideration people expect from each other irrespective of the philosophical issue of moral grounding.

But despite the difficulty that atheism has in grounding justice and fairness, let's assume for the sake of argument that Calvinism is true AND IT REALLY IS UNJUST AND UNFAIR. With that assumption then, God does exist and WILL inexorably save some and damn others. Atheists may argue that therefore there's no point in trying to believing in God. Either one is elect or one isn't elect. If one is elect, then one will be saved eventually. If one isn't elect, one will never and could never be saved. Since no one can change his elect or non-elect status, there's no point to make any effort to come to God. Besides, who would want to believe in a God who is (per this hypothetical) unjust and unfair?

Well, at the very least one may choose to try to believe in God or look for good reasons to believe in this God (assuming Calvinism is true and unjust per this hypothetical) for PRUDENTIAL reasons. That is, for practical and pragmatic reasons for the sake of his own eternal good; and to prevent an eternal harm (i.e. hell). It's not as if no atheists have ever submitted to the rule of a human tyrants and dictators out of pure self-interest and survival (to increase pleasure and minimize suffering/pain). Of course atheists have. An atheist might argue that for the sake of one's own personal integrity, he would rather choose to go to hell than to believe in such an unfair God. But only if personal integrity were a true and ultimate virtue would such a decision really be rational. As explained above, without God it may not be that there are such ultimate virtues. Another atheist might argue that maybe God wouldn't accept that kind of mercenary and sycophantic belief and submission. Since it's not out of full acceptance. He wouldn't be welcoming and embracing (this unjust Calvinistic conception of) God out of joy. Well, per this hypothesis, this God would be unfair, unjust and unpredictable. Since such a God is unpredictable, it wouldn't hurt to give it a try/shot. Maybe this God doesn't mind that kind of loyalty. Many human tyrants and dictators didn't mind. They would rather be feared than truly loved. Obviously, as a Calvinist myself, I don't believe that God is unjust, tyrannical, arbitrary, or capricious.

Here standard pragmatic arguments for belief in God can be useful. Here's a link to my blog on Pascal's Wager which has links to articles on Pascal's Wager and other pragmatic arguments for belief in God.

Pascal's Wager

While pragmatic arguments AREN'T the best reasons to believe in God, they aren't impermissible reasons to believe in God either. Remember, there's a different between not being sure God exists and willing to believe in hopes that God, if He exists will makes Himself real in one's life, AND in positively believing God does NOT exist and having to overcome that disbelief (rather than mere unbelief). Pragmatic arguments can be useful in the former even if they may not be for the latter.

Next some atheists may admit and then ask, "Sure believing in God (or at least submitting to the rule of God) for mercenary reasons makes some rational sense, but what if I'm non-elect? I can't change my elect or non-elect status." It's true that one can't change his predestined election or non-election. The same answer can be given here as above. If such a God were unjust and unpredictable, he might change his mind. Or he doesn't change his mind, it nevertheless only makes sense to try to get on his good side. It makes sense that one might have a better chance of being saved by trying to please God. Just as it seems that one would have a poorer chance of being saved by not trying to please him.

As a matter of fact Calvinism does teach that God's predestination is not unjust and that God is good, gracious and loving. Assuming that God is just and good, what follows? How can Calvinists answer the atheist question and complaint that he might be non-elect? Well, while one cannot change one's elect or non-elect status, Calvinism teaches that God not only preordains the "ends" (i.e. what will happen), God also preordains the "means" (i.e. how they will happen). Therefore, if God preordained that someone will be saved because he is elect, God has also preordained that he will believe as a result of seeking God. As I've shown HERE, both the elect and the non-elect can search for God in some sense even if only the elect can do so sincerely and profitably. It's true that God has ordained all of our choices, but He has done so (according to Calvinism) in such a way that it can seem (at least at times from our psychological perspective) that we have libertarian free will and the power of contrary choice. That's why Calvinists can affirm free moral agency, the reality of human wills and the genuineness of choices while at the same time denying libertarian free will to humans (as knowledgeable Calvinists generally do). Both elect and non-elect persons can begin a search for God insincerely but for the elect God may use that initial insincere search for Him to eventually find Him. That is, God can change an initially insincere search for Him into a sincere search by His regenerating power. Since no atheist in this world knows (or can know) whether he is elect or not, he isn't rationally barred from initiating a search for God even if he knows it might initially be insincere. Since God may use such a search by the atheist to bring him into a sincere search. This is also one reason why it's foolish for any atheist to ever give up searching for God. Since one can never know if or when he will find and come to experience God.

Also, since God sometimes ordains that the elect or the non-elect fulfill their destinies via their psychological belief that they are or are not numbered among the elect, that's reason not to prematurely judge oneself non-elect. Psychologically speaking, fear of being non-elect (or resenting that possibility) can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one is non-elect, there's no point in fearing it since you can't change your destiny. But as pointed out above, God ordains ends and means. Therefore, if one were to assume the truth of predestination (or at least its possibility), it's in one's best interest to focus on living in such a way that meets the distinguishing marks of election. Namely, seeking God. Even if one is currently not a Christian, in hopes of finding God. Or if one is currently a professing Christian, to continue pursuing God and living the Christian life of sanctification. That's what 2 Pet. 1:10 is about. It's not about "securing" one's election as if it hangs in the balance or as if it's not yet determined. That verse (2 Peter 1:10) is about living in such a way that you have personal psychological assurance that one is among the elect because one is living in a way that the elect live. By pursuing holiness and living a life of daily faith and repentance.

"Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall." - 2 Pet. 1:10

Atheists might say that's fine and dandy if the God of Calvinism is actually just. Maybe he isn't. But it's also a logical possiblity that He is just. For all the atheist knows, Calvinism may not only be true, BUT ALSO BE JUST (i.e. in keeping with justice). Merel because Calvinism may SEEM unjust to him (according to his limited and finite understanding), doesn't necessarily mean it is. If God is as transcendant as Calvinism claims, it only makes sense that some things may at present seem to be unjust and irrational, yet in the end may be revealed and demonstrated to actually be just and rational on the Day of Judgement. Just as there may be morally and rationally sufficient reasons for God allowing (even ordaining) the evil and suffering in this world even though we might at present not be privy to those reasons, so (in like manner) there may be morally and rationally sufficient reasons for God electing some and passing over the non-elect. That's not to say that Calvinists haven't offered some reasons. They have, but they don't claim to exhaust all the possible reasons for why God elects in the way He does.

We started this blog with the assumption that Calvinism true, and God is unjust. Then that Calvinism is true, and God is just. It's now time to explore the possibility that Calvinism false.

Let's make the hypothetical assumption that Calvinism and any other form of theism is false (even non-Calvinistic forms of Christianity). If God doesn't exist then no one is actually elect or non-elect. In which case, there would be no actual problem with predestination. More importantly, if God doesn't exist it's very difficult to argue for the objective reality of justice and/or fairness. If it's true (as many theists AND atheists argue) that apart from God there are no moral absolutes or no objective moral duties that humans are obligated to obey and follow, then there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the concept of election or non-election. Nor with anyone BELIEVING in those concepts. Therefore, there would really be no basis upon which to judge Calvinism's doctrine of predestination as immoral, unjust or unfair. Believing in Calvinism would be morally equivalent to any other choice of a worldview (whether it be atheism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism etc.). Therefore, there would be nothing morally wrong in believing in Calvinism or being a Calvinist. Given that assumption, atheists cannot judge or criticize Calvinism (as a system) or Calvinists (themselves as people) for being morally abhorent or beliving what they do, or for being "cold hearted." As if it were "wrong" to be "cold hearted."

The question that's left then is whether Calvinism is actually true and how to determine it.

And so, finally, atheists may respond by saying, "I don't want to believe anything for which 1. I don't have sufficient evidence to believe, or 2. which I find irrational, or 3. which I find immoral and abhorrent."

In answer to that, I recommend atheists read a wide range of Christian apologetical literature. By so doing, one can encounter evidence and arguments that may persuade one of the plausiblity or truth of Christianity. For some, pragmatic arguments may be enough to tip the scales that they are willing to pursue God or believe in Him provisionally. That in itself, while not the best way to approach God, is still nevertheless something God sometimes uses to draw someone to Himself. For those who cannot believe something for which they're convinced is false, I applaud them. From a Christian perspective, it's immoral to try to believe something you really don't believe is true or postively believe is false. That's not to say that Christians don't sometimes doubt the truth of Christianity or that they don't have an obligation to strengthen their faith. Christians, if they truly are Christians, already are born again, have been regenerated and are in relationship with God. They should know better than to persist in doubt. That's what Jesus was referring to when He said that those who are to enter the Kingdom of God must do so with child-like faith. It about trusting one's heavenly Father. That's a different context from an atheist who doesn't believe in God and has no relationship with Him. Choosing to believe something is true by sheer willpower (i.e. doxastic voluntarism) is either nearly impossible or actually impossible. The way to overcome negative doubt or postive disbelief belief is to immerse oneself in the evidences for God's existence. Those evidence may eventually lead one to the conclusion that God really does exist.

J.P. Moreland makes some good points about the psychology of belief in the following lecture which I highly recommend:

 "Love Your God With All Your Mind" by J. P. Moreland 
(there are two versions of the lecture at the below link)

More of my blogs on J.P. Moreland can be accessed HERE. Which is the same link as the bottom of this blog where J.P. Moreland is one of the labels.

Recommended Books:

A Call to the Unconverted by Richard Baxter (or HERE, HERE, HERE)

Alarm to the Unconverted by Joseph Alleine (or HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE)






    Why would Jesus say, seek God's kingdom? Men can seek God. Seeking God is not an impossibility.

    Acts 15:13-18......16 'After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will restore it, 17 So the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,' 18 Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.

    James answered, Simeon has related, and the Prophets have agreed that mankind may seek the Lord, however, those "grace only' advocates who believe in the doctrine of predestination, without qualifications, disagree.

    Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

    Men come to God. Men seek God. God does not force men into salvation. God does not force men to have faith. God does not compel men to repent. God does not overpower men and then force them to be baptized in water for the forgiveness of their sins. God does not force men to confess Jesus as the Christ the Son of God.




    1. First off, after quickly scanning this blogpost, I discovered a major typo I wrote. Instead of typing "aren't" I accidentally typed "are." I'm going to correct that.

      While pragmatic arguments are [should be "AREN'T"] the best reasons to believe in God, they aren't impermissible reasons to believe in God.

      Steve, I didn't realize you posted on my blog until now (11/18/14). By "GRACE ONLY" I assume you mean Calvinists. However, I want to make clear that historic Christianity affirms that apart from the grace of God, no human being would or could come to God. Even Arminians, Lutherans, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox (et al.) reject Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. They affirm that God's prevenient (i.e. enabling/initiating) grace must first be given and work in a person's heart to woo, enlighten, call a person to salvation. Calvinism just goes one step further in saying that God's Salvific/Special Grace (as opposed to mere Common Grace) actually makes it so that it's certain that a person will seek, find and believe in God. I explained that in another blog HERE. In that blog I described the differences between:

      1. Pelagian view; 2. Semi-Pelagian view; 3. Prevenient Grace or Initiating Grace view; 4. Sufficient Grace or Efficacious Grace view

      You say, "THROUGH NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN." Some Calvinists believe that reprobation is conditional, other Calvinists say it's unconditional. I agree with Calvinists who say it's both in different senses (as I've explained HERE).


      This is a non-sequitur since God not only predestines that some will believe and be saved, but also predestines that they will seek Him and find him before they believe in Him. That is, God ordains both the *ends* and the *means* to those ends.

      Citing passages (as you do) where people are encouraged to seek God or that state that people do seek God doesn't necessarily tell us whether they can do so naturally. Just as God's command (Matt. 5:48; James 2:10) for all human beings to be morally perfect doesn't entail that humans can actually be morally perfect (i.e. apart from sanctifying [even glorifying] grace).

    2. Why would Jesus say, seek God's kingdom? Men can seek God. Seeking God is not an impossibility.

      I could ask a similar question. "Why would God command moral perfection if it is impossible? God does command moral perfection (Matt. 5:48; James 2:10). Therefore, it is possible." But that's obviously false.

      In fact, there are clear passages that teach humans can't naturally seek God. That's why Arminians and Catholics believe in enabling/initiating grace (1. Prevenient Grace and 2. Operating Grace respectively).

      No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.- John 6:44

      And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."- John 6:65

      10 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.- Rom. 3:10-11

      correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,- 2 Tim. 2:25

      Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.- John 8:43

      7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.- Rom. 8:7-8

      If seeking God pleases God (Heb. 11:6) and if the mind set on the flesh cannot submit to God or please God (as the above verses say, Rom. 8:7-8), then no one can naturally seek God.

      All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.- Matt. 11:27

      These passages and more are why even many non-Calvinists affirm something similar to the Calvinistic understanding of Total Depravity and teach prevenient//initiating/enabling grace.

      Regarding the case for Calvinism, there are plenty of websites that argue for it. So, there's no point in my arguing it here.

    3. Men come to God. Men seek God. God does not force men into salvation. God does not force men to have faith. God does not compel men to repent. God does not overpower men and then force them to be baptized

      Calvinism doesn't teach that God forces or coerces people against their wills to believe in God. That's a strawman representation of Calvinism. It teaches that God makes people who are naturally unwilling, supernaturally willing.

      Here are two good places to start learning about Calvinism.

      The History and Theology of Calvinism" by Dr. Curt Daniel (Downloadable MP3 Messages)

      Massive Debate between Calvinism and Arminianism