Help me construct an argument …

If the God of Calvinism exists, would you worship him?” asks philosopher Randall Rauser. He offers the following construal of the Calvinist God:

On the one hand, this being is understood to be perfectly good, maximally loving, and absolutely wise. On the other hand, this being is understood to elect a subset of the human population for redemption whilst electing (or “passing over”) others in what constitutes a decree of reprobation which results in damnation in hell.

Let’s assume that the Calvinist God is in reality the true God. This truth is somehow revealed to you. (Maybe the angel Moroni pays you a visit or you are given a vision of heaven in which Master Calvin is honored as Theologian Supreme.) You suddenly know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that

(1) God has the attributes of perfect goodness, maximal love, and absolute wisdom; and

(2) God has elected (or passed over) a subset of the human population in an eternal decree of reprobation.

It takes you a few moments (okay, maybe an aeon or two) to get over your shock. You look over at your bookshelf and realize that, with the exception of Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, you’re going to have to toss out every theological title that you own.  Oh well. You took a gamble on the catholic faith and you lost.  But you still have to decide what to do with your life. After all, you don’t want to spend an eternity in hell.  So are you going to worship this God or not?

Rauser maintains that it is irrational for you not to do so. I’m not persuaded.  I’m not persuaded because I believe the scenario is incoherent. Here is the comment I left on his blog:

Your argument, Randall, is asking me to believe what, in my eyes, is manifestly a contradiction; hence I cannot even seriously entertain the possibility that the Calvinist God in fact exists, just as I cannot entertain the possibility that in some possible world 2+2=5. That God is maximal love and goodness, by definition, excludes limited atonement and double predestination. If the Calvinist continues to insist that the perfect God of love and goodness does in fact elect some to eternal salvation but reprobates the rest, then the proper response, I think, is that the Calvinist is using words in equivocal fashion, as David B. Hart argues in a recent article (

I am sure that many of my conceptions and preconceptions about God will need to undergo drastic revision when I see God face to face (pray that it may be so), but I don’t see how it can ever be true that the Calvinist God might exist, even as a hypothetical possibility.

Here’s Rauser’s rejoinder:

To equate Calvinism with a flatly contradictory statement like 2+2=5 is strong indeed. So I’ll repeat to you the invitation I extended to Zeno: If you have a valid deductive argument with incontrovertibly true premises you should share it. In the absence of such an argument I think the rhetoric has outrun the evidence.

I’m not very good at constructing valid syllogisms that would satisfy a philosopher. How about helping me to construct one?

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48 Responses to Help me construct an argument …

  1. Bilbo says:

    I’m giving it my best shot at Randal’s blog.


  2. Jonathan says:

    Ok, I’m not a philosopher really either, so I defer to the judgement of anybody else with their own suggestion, but this is how I might go about it.

    1. God is maximally loving.
    2. To be maximally loving means desiring the maximal good of all of his creation.
    3. Hell cannot ultimately be a maximal good.
    Therefore, God cannot ultimately desire the eternal damnation of any of his creatures.

    Does that sound alright?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steven Hoyt says:

      morality is the basis of all quests for truth and can’t be put aside.

      does might make right? no. is calvin’s god an evil overlord? yes. why? it’s axiomatically and tautologically true; the only kinds of truths which are absolutes.


  3. Steven Hoyt says:

    this is all metaphysics! logic proves nothing. all logical form break down, including MP (see “entailment”). it is a formal description of the way folks thing.

    so, a valid and sound argument in the most practical terms is merely that 1) i am an icon of god, 2) whether in the catholic view i can recognize the good, as can we all, or the heretical calvinist sense of, total depravity, i am MORE moral than the calvinist god and, 3) if soundness is a requirement, then there is NO example of ANY person, calvinically saved or otherwise, who would think killing their own son to appease their own wrath was an act of love except FOR a totally depraved soul indeed!

    would i serve such a god? no. quite rightly, i’d tell him to f**k squarely off! and if i found myself in hell, i would rise above the suffering by knowing there is in hell, by the virtue of their BEING a hell, a place full of souls more supreme than god himself; for might never made right and hell is god’s admission to his own incompetence!

    sorry, to say i can’t stand calvin’n theology is mild, but that i can’t stand the modern calvinist … well, it’s interminable suffering and may indeed be god’s love in preparing us for his failing, hell.


  4. Steven Hoyt says:

    1) god is incomprehensible.
    2) we cannot know god.
    3) god-talk is metaphysical woo, unless it has meaning.
    4) there is nothing meaningful to say about god, christ, or humanity in calvin’s woo!
    5) to the recycle bin calvin goes.



  5. Mike H says:

    Your “choice” seems irrelevant in this argument. If you believe, it’s because you’ve been chosen. If you don’t, it means you’ve been passed over. The question just makes no sense to me.

    Perhaps the real question is whether pure arbitrary power is worthy of worship. Or if pure arbitrary power CAN truly be worshipped by a human being at all. We have to dispose of moral language completely.


    • Steven Hoyt says:

      morality is the basis of all quests for truth and can’t be put aside.

      does might make right? no. is calvin’s god an evil overlord? yes. why? it’s axiomatically and tautologically true; the only kinds of truths which are absolutes.


      • Mike H says:

        Should have been more clear in my post. I think the Calvinist God and the questions that stem from this one completely destroy the meaning of words like love and good. You just had to throw them out completely because they mean nothing. All that’s left is power.

        And I don’t think humans are capable of worshipping in that way.

        So I completely agree with you.


  6. Justin says:

    It seems to me Jesus going to the Cross was irrational. I think I’d be in good company.


  7. Eric Jobe says:

    It’s a red herring. Don’t fall for it. His resort to syllogistic reasoning includes a presupposed interpretation of the Bible according to Calvinism. Without this presupposition, there is no need to posit that God has elected a subset of humanity to damnation. The syllogism can then be deconstructed to be about biblical interpretation, not about theology per se.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Exactly. But the Redskins aren’t playing today, so I have time on my hands. Here’s the latest comment I left over at Rauser’s blog:

      The crucial point to be made is that premises #1 & #2 really are incontrovertible (de fide) for the very large majority of Christians, including myself. We are talking about revealed, infallible truth status.
      Therefore, I cannot rightly entertain the possibility of their falsifiability without *at that very moment* abandoning my faith.

      This also implies that the only people who can sinlessly participate in your exercise are Calvinists.


      • Cyranorox says:

        No, you need to separate the talk about God, the stories we tell, from God. You can examine the premises without sin, I would think, if you ask: does this really describe God? and do these descriptors apply *as a whole*? Your faith is not in descriptors. The proper result should be that you reject the descriptor about what He is going to do, ie, destine some to perdition.

        This touches my academic specialty. That born Calvinist, Byron, took this on, and the refusal to worship that ‘god’ while believing in his existence is essential to Byronism, which was a big deal, and still echoes about under new names. The drama “Cain” deals directly with this.
        There is no argument that will satisfy a decent man. A simple syllogism is obvious: God is good; goodness, if it has any meaning, means positive attention to the fate of each person, ie, intending him or her to be a recipient of value, care, joy, healing, and inclusion; the Calvinist god intends that many persons shall be deprived of what joy can be given, and shall be given misery; thus, that god is not good.


        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Hi, Cyranrox. Thanks for your comment, which I’ve been thinking about a lot. I don’t know if the kind of philosophical theology (God abstracted completely from all revelational descriptors) is possible or proper, at least for the believing Christian. I do not stand in a neutral position vis-a-vis God. I know him as Father, Son, and Spirit who has spoken to me in Jesus the good news of God’s unconditional love and absolute victory over death and sin. How then can I seriously entertain the thought experiment of Randall Rauser?

          Sure, I can “pretend” to neutrality, pretend even to be an atheist, but I’m not sure if the answer I then would give to the question “If you were to learn that the Calvinist God is God, would you worship him?” would be honest or meaningful. Do you see my problem?


  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    How does this work? God is the good of every human being. (Catholic/Orthodox premise —de fide)

    God wills the good of every human being. (Catholic/Orthodox premise—de fide)

    God is capable of effectively converting every human being to the good that is himself. (Augustinian/Calvinist premise)

    ∴ Therefore, God will convert every human being to himself.

    Eternal perdition contradicts the good of every human being.

    God wills the good of every human being.

    ∴ Therefore, God will never predestine anyone to eternal perdition.

    I think the above is a valid argument, but I don’t know how to whip it into proper argumentative shape. I took a symbolic logic course in college … but that was like over 40 years ago! Heck if I remember anything. 🙂


  9. exmergent says:

    Jerry Walls has written books on this very topic, disproving it philosophically (and has lectures on this available on YouTube). But it probably would be a waste of time to repost his arguments to this person.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I do not know if Dr Rauser is a Calvinist or not. So I don’t know how serious he is about this little exercise. But it’s instructive, because it reveals one crucial point—only Calvinists can participate in this exercise without abandoning their faith.


  10. Worship has a heart or it is not worship.


    • Mike H says:

      Yes, I’d like to know how “worship” is being defined.

      The way that I see worship I couldn’t do it. To whatever degree I’d “play ball” to try to stay out of hell it’d never be worship. Whatever “faith” I had would be gone.


  11. mary says:

    Fr. Aidan,

    I will suggest here (though not argue) that one should worship this God. Wait… don’t scream at me yet.

    This entire argument is pointless, in my mind, except for one thing. And that is that it illustrates the need for absolute humility before God.

    If (and this is a mighty big if), I were to find out that this Calvinist God is without a doubt “perfectly good, maximally loving, and absolutely wise”, then I should worship Him, understanding that I had totally fallen short in my mere human understanding of what it is to be good, loving and wise.

    How could such a view be good, loving and wise? I cannot fathom. Which is what makes the discussion ridiculous in one sense. But then again, we as Catholic/Orthodox Christians are left to understand how OUR understanding of “perfectly good, maximally loving, and absolutely wise” allows for babies to get cancer, earthquakes to kill and leave homeless thousands, people to be randomly murdered, etc.

    We simply do not understand what “perfectly good, maximally loving, and absolutely wise” is and any attempts on our part to reject the true God on the basis of our human conceptualizations is bound for trouble.

    That being said, of course, we cannot know without a doubt the attributes of the true God while here on earth. Hence, I would not endorse this Calvinist description of God, given that it appears altogether inconsistent with the teachings and revelations I believe God has given us, when I discern them with sincerity of heart.


    • Cyranorox says:

      If you worship what you do not know, and call that humility, you are open to worshiping what is bad, if that should be the objective case. Trouble may be the price of refusal, but accepting that trouble is exactly what is at stake. Orthodoxy is veering toward this Voluntarist view, and imho it is virtue run amok to humbly acquiesce. If His goodness be so other as to be equivalent to cruelty, really *not* the type of which what we know is an image, then, after all allowances for our limited minds, we have to say ‘no’.


      • mary says:

        I only just saw your comment now, Cyranorox. I was being a bit absurd, of course. But in a way, we are always worshiping what we do not know (fully) because we cannot fully know or understand the ways of the loving and true God. I based my comment on the assumption offered that this God was known to be “perfectly good, maximally loving, and absolutely wise”. That is not something we can know about any of our human conceptualizations of God, as our ideas of God are too easily tainted by our own sinfulness.

        My point was only (and perhaps unnecessarily made) that we can argue all we want and God will be God, beyond our understanding. I cannot fathom how God could possibly endorse the Calvinist view described above. But there is a lot I do not understand about what God allows. So, in the end, if the all good and all knowing God, in His perfection reveals to me the Truth, I am not about to set my human opinions before it. This is where humility comes in – striving to discern what He reveals, while recognizing my nothingness before Him.


  12. tgbelt says:

    I entertained his argument two decades ago with some friends. I think it’s a pretty standard Calvinist thought-experiment. I don’t think it works, and the reason it doesn’t work is that whatever choice we make in the end is by definition already the outworking of God’s predetermining will. So if decide (per the thought experiment) and say, “No thank you, God. I can’t worship you under such circumstances,” that is by definition what God (per Calvinism) unconditionally decreed for me. It’s a rather silly thought experiment. It’s designed to get people to imagine a world in which Calvinism is true in order to implicate their present rejection of Calvinism as being impious and unbelieving. Very desperate.

    In addition, it seems to me that the question it concludes with (viz., “So are you going to worship this God or not?”) presumes a particular kind of freedom of choice that Calvinsits deny, namely, that it’s up to us whether or not we worship God under some supposed circumstance.

    In the end, it seems self-defeating to me to propose a thought experiment that asks people to imagine the absolute reversal of the very transcendentals that ground our fundamental moral sense and the essential ‘goodness’ of our teleological intuitions. If we’re supposed to answer ‘yes’ to his thought experiment, we can only do so on the basis of our present teleological moral sense, but the thought experiment asks us to imagine that sense being absolutely overturned.

    It’s just a bad card trick.



  13. You don’t need any sort of logic to tear down Randall’s argument. What you need to do is point out how the church fathers and the traditions of the church have always taught consistently that not every spirit is of God (1 John 4:1) and even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). In other words, Randall’s scenario is theologically unsound as it requires one to accept the vision presented in the scenario with no further discernment either with the faith of the church but rather to accept the vision as if it was actually presented by God.

    Not all philosophers make good theologians. Hope that helps.


    • Yes. This is a test like Job’s, if– universalism is false, God eternally rejects uncharitable rationalists, and Satan uses sadocalvinist arguments to tempt souls into eternal torment.

      Next time the Redskins have a bye, it might be safer to watch the Patriots… 😉


  14. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    BTW, friends, I do not think that Dr Rauser is a Calvinist. Compare, e.g., this post of his: So unless he’s changed his mind, it appears that his exercise is just a thought-experiment. But perhaps there are some thought-experiments Christians may not rightly perform.


  15. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Does it posit that anything that God does or doesn’t do is equally illustrative of being perfectly good, maximally loving, and absolutely wise?

    Or does it posit that saving even one sinner when all sinners by the fact of being sinners are damned is more illustrative of being perfectly good, maximally loving, and absolutely wise, than saving no sinner at all would be?


  16. Edward De Vita says:

    I think it all depends on which side of Euthyphro’s dilemma you stand. Is a thing good because God commands it? Or, does God command it because it is good, I.e., it reflects His own nature? If the God we believe in is not merely arbitrary and capricious (and He surely is not), then it seems we must go with the latter. But this means of course that God could never will harm to come to anyone, for he himself has told us that this is evil. Nor could He allow final harm to come to anyone without attempting to prevent it, for this would be an evil of omission.


  17. Dante Aligheri says:

    This might be off topic, but, over the past few months, I’ve been following the research of a chemical engineer turned biblical scholar who now teaches Hebrew Scriptures and Ancient Near East at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, Nissim Amzallag. His theory is that YHWH originated among Kenite copper smelters prior to Moses’ encounter with them, and thus much of fire-and-smoke imagery derives from metal smelting. But what I thought might be very relevant for the apocatastasis debate was an article of his entitled “Furnace Remelting as the Expression of YHWH’s Holiness,” where he attempts to place divine “jealousy/wrath” (qana) into what he believes was its original context. He proposes that the original word is not in the first place an emotion but rather, in remote antiquity, a descriptive for the naturalistic effect of smelting furnaces – well, I guess we would call it divine energies – against rust build-up on metallic objects. Simply, even in the Hebrew Scriptures, he believes, the original context of divine “wrath,” Gehenna itself being an extrapolation of this smelting language, as far as I can gather (Amzallag suggests this obliquely in his “Copper Metallurgy: A Hidden Fundament of the Theology of Ancient Israel” in the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, Oct. 2013), is ultimately restorative in its aim. Anyways, he has a number of articles in the Journal of Biblical Literature, available online, over the past two years, and I thought it was interesting how they might weigh in on our understanding of God as good, even in the Old Testament.

    I’m not that good at analytical philosophy, but I’ll try and think of something later on.

    Needless to say, since he’s going full-out double predestination here, it seems we have a very irresponsible Creator that is being envisioned here. As for whether I would worship, I would hope I would be like the protesting Ezra in 4 Ezra or Job and lodge a case in the divine court.


  18. Hello Fr. Kimel,
    Rauser has really set up a difficult task. Well, it’s not so much Rauser as it is Calvinism. Though, I say let Rauser bear the responsibility for not conceding the impossible nature of his thought experiment and for adding limitations onto how you proceed to argue with him. He has created a thought experiment with iron walls, invited his fellow thinkers into the room, and then swallowed the key. In order to proceed you must accept his highly debatable “valid premise” and final deduction and then construct, within his system, an opposing deductive argument with irrefutably “valid premises”. He has basically said that for the sake of this argument you must agree that apples are oranges. If you want to disagree on any point concerning the nature of what is now to be considered an orange, you must do so using the terminology solely relevant to oranges. This is also a Calvinist problem. The Calvinist must always be the sovereign of his or her arguments. If they are not, then the questions concerning the origin of evil, the nature of the human will, the plausibility of God being a deistic being pop up.

    ….how can his experiment even be a valid thought experiment? Once the premise is agreed upon, there isn’t any room to experiment with actual thoughts. All that is left are results. Actually, speaking as an ex-Calvinist, his argument ended a little too chipper. If God is the Calvinist god, then rationality only matters to those predestined for heaven. No amount of human rationality will change god’s predetermined will. You could say to Rauser, “no, I would never worship that sort of a god even if he turned out to be true” and Rauser could say to you, “Well, it wouldn’t matter what you thought of god. He is outside of the knowledge of your intrinsically warped intuition and reason. The fact that you cannot see the goodness of this sort of a god is either evidence to your (hopeful) latent predestination to heaven or your unfortunate predestination to damnation. The causation of your salvation or damnation is entirely out of your hands. If you are predestined to heaven, then you will see that this sort of a god is in fact good because then you will understand his deep, deep mercy.”

    Calvinism is such a complex, exhausting, and well tooled bully on the playground of ideas. It demands that you play by its presuppositions. If you try to show it that it’s presuppositions are not valid, it will shut down or run into overdrive. It cannot survive without its presuppositions. One of the scariest things is a Calvinist backed up into a corner. Where Calvinism is not well tooled, in my opinion, is in the reality of human nature, especially not in the reality of the nature of the incarnate Christ. To a Calvinist, Christ came simply as a substitute that simultaneously created the perfect do-over and absorbed\suffered under the wrath of God for those chosen to be his own. Calvinists are not good at looking at what Christ actually did while he lived on earth. How he actually spoke to people. How he actually defined love. They are not good at living with God in the present reality of their own humanity. Why would they? They have learned that their humanity is something so terrible that God shamed God in the worst possible way. That is a hard place to be. In this system, salvation, in a sense, depends on your understanding and that you understand how much you deserve god’s wrath and curse. The clearer your understanding of God, the greater your understanding of your misery. The greater your understanding of your misery, the more you are driven to worship and love Christ who has taken the punishment of that misery as his own. If you are not appropriately driven to Christ, you must either not understand your misery or you do not understand the sovereign, just, perfection of god. It is imperative to your sanctification to stay somewhere within these ruminative thought processes, which means you are not testing the thoughts in reality. You are not learning whether or not your beliefs are actually mirroring what Christ did on earth prior to his death and resurrection. You are obsessing with sin and death and judgment and whether or not the Arminians will ever figure out that they haven’t a free will like they think they have.

    One day I wandered quite desperately into an Anglican church and learned that God loved and cared for me in my present, physical, human reality. Then I learned about crazy St. Athanasius and how God created the universe because God is love. Calvinism’s god is self-reflexive. The heavens and the earth are created for his own glory, not that God needs glory, but for his own glory nontheless. Perhaps that is why Calvinist thought is so turned in onto its self; it reflects its sovereign deity. Athanasius’ God is a god of flourishing things.

    So, yeahhhh….Calvinism is a closed, unfair system—and insidious worldview. …And I think Rauser has stacked the deck in his favor. In my opinion, it would be easier to straight up go against Calvinism than Rausers little hypothetical reality with his double-standard restrictions.

    But if he wants his syllogism, I would like to offer the following:

    Calvinism doesn’t play fair.
    Rauser is playing at Calvinism.
    Therefore Rauser isn’t playing fair.


    • Jennifer, your comment has style. I am not Reformed. However–

      Divine providence has not been fair to Calvinism 😉

      When once upon a time Christians intuited that heaven would be a community of the excellent (compare the Ivy League), it made intuitive moral sense that all will be sorely tempted, martyrs are exemplars, only the most driven will make it, and that the plainly undermotivated will not. No nerd strolls through Harvard Yard feeling sorry for those who partied through high school while they mastered integrals, computer programming, some kind of a sport, and a sixth year of Latin. Calvinism fits a similar intuition; it encourages people who recognize their defective will to persevere in the confidence that they will nevertheless make it in the end.

      But more modern people live by a different intuition: the equal availability of every good to every person. Following that intuition, the ultimate good must be open to every person (compare an open admissions community college), and it is hard to think of any fair reason why anyone should not be included in heaven. Indeed, several people have said right here that they became universalists because they could not accept the thought that the random strangers they passed on the street might not be saved. Universalism, like Calvinism, has its varieties, but certainly one very popular one enables people to disavow any sense of being privileged in being accepted by God. In some circles, being one of God’s elect is distinctly uncool.

      I have not done the exercise myself but it seems possible that one could construct a caricature of universalism as one of those high schools in the middle of nowhere whose not very studious students bully the ambitious nerds for making everyone else feel less entitled to an easy ride. (Was Ayn Rand scarred for life by one of those?) Eschatology would surely be better without a Calvinist hell where God is glorified in the suffering of sinners (Institutes III.24.14). But might it also be worse, at least by some intuitions, with a universalist heaven of slackers in remedial classes?


  19. Jonathan says:

    I’ve been racking my brains over this one and have come to the conclusion that the only “syllogism” I could offer Rauser, and the only worshipful response I could render to the hypothetical God of this “thought experiment,” is to quote a single phrase from the devout Catholic writer Jack Kerouac:

    “Don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?”

    This is the limit of my rhetoric and the beginning of my reason. I’d rather spend eternity in Hell with the likes of Samuel Clemens, William Blake and Jack Kerouac — than in Heaven with Jean Calvin.


  20. It may not be strictly demonstrable that Calvinist theology misconstrues what love is. But, coming at this from a Pagan perspective, it does seem to me that Calvinist theology is demonstrably false, though for reasons I suspect most will not be inclined to accept: Calvinism states that, in some sense, it is up to God whom he loves. But, God cannot, even in principle, decide who to love because decision requires unmanifested power and unmanifested power is potency. God, however, is purely actual. Moreover, even if unmanifested power is not potency but rather a kind of actuality, its manifestation constitutes change and God is immutable. Finally, even if the manifestation of unmanifested power does not somehow constitute change, unmanifested power is not identical to manifested power and would therefore introduce a division into the being of God between kinds of actualities. These kinds of actualities would necessarily have something in common with one another – by which to both be actualities – and something not in common with one another – by which to not just be the same kind of actuality. So it seems to me that at the end of the day, to say God is free to love whom he wishes introduces division into what is not divided.


  21. Justin J says:

    Father Alvin,

    I’ll post here what I posted there. I believe my answer to be wholly Orthodox, albeit rebellious. My rebellion is not mad on moral grounds but on grounds of freedom (and I believe it cuts against the grain against all sorts of formulations of freedom). I’m just cribbing Dostoevsky’s work from _Notes from Underground_ to _Brothers K_. I didn’t flesh out all of the premises because, ugh. What if we simply exercise spite? Nothing in Rauser’s universe precludes it. Perhaps God predestines spite? That’s fine. I’m happy to give back all that God has given to me–the whole giftedness of creation thing, being priests of the One God, you know.

    “And our hypothetical scenario asks us to consider precisely that possibility. What if God is the Calvinist God? What if God both has the attributes of perfect goodness, maximal love, and absolute wisdom and God elected (or passed over) a subset of the human population in a decree of reprobation?”

    “In that case, God is not disgusting or monstrous. Rather, the problem lies with our human moral intuitions and human reason. And in that case, a continued refusal to worship and repent is as irrational as the refusal to embrace the brother-in-law who has been vindicated by the evidence.”


    I haven’t yet seen a response to your actual question. You state, pretty unequivocally, that we accept the premises and conclusions of Calvinism ( not refute them) and then ask whether or not we accept this God and if not then on what grounds.

    With Ivan Karamazov, if my salvation meant the suffering of one child, then I would respectfully hand back my ticket–even if this is an irrational gesture, or precisely because it is so. Nothing above prevents me from acting irrationally, perhaps even out of spite, since this may be the only gesture of freedom (compatiblist or otherwise) available to me in the universe you have sketched out.

    What you describe above, it seems to me, is Mills’ utilitarianism with God’s bit of altruism thrown in–i.e., the suffering of some is fine if it benefits others towards some greater ill-defined beatitude. The beatitude is not necessarily for others but for God himself, so I’d happily and irrationally confront that by handing back the ticket if it were offered to me (I doubt it would be, since in the universe you sketch above my rejection of predestined golden tickets would be incomprehensible). But even better, what if I had no golden ticket and just pretended to have one, to spite God and to demonstrate I had no need of him. I can keep going, but you get the drift. I’d take spite to the eschaton and join legions of others in that spite, irrationally. In short, my irrational belief in free will (certainly not compatiblist, not libertarian, but something akin to Maximus Confessor) would lead me to rationally accept all of your premises and conclusions and simultaneously force me to say, “Ohi!”

    Mine is a rhetorical gesture because that’s really what you’ve asked for. I’ve accepted your premises and conclusions and have left only rhetoric. The only thing sweeter would be if I was one of the elect and tried to hand back the golden ticket; I’d be like the Ausgust Gloop of the eschaton.


  22. Jamie Donald says:

    Fr Kimel,

    I think a simple Modus Tollens argument effectively counters the claim given. To review, Modus Tollens follows this form.

    (P1): If P then Q
    (P2): Not Q
    (C): Therefore, not P

    This is a valid deductive argument, which is what Rauser requested of you. We can make the following substitutions.

    P = God is perfectly good and maximally loving. This is a premise in Rauser’s article, so it should not be objectionable.

    Q = God will not deliberately create a creature for the purpose of denying that creature His maximal love. Rauser may find this (“Q”) to be objectionable. However, purposely creating something that cannot experience God’s love is an action that does not maximize love. Therefore, “Q” flows from the same premise that contains “P.” So objecting to “Q” would be to treat contrary to his first premise of God being perfectly good, maximally loving, etc.

    So we have our “P1”: If P, then Q being, “If God is perfectly good and maximally loving, then He will not deliberately create a creature for the purpose of denying that creature His maximal love.”

    “Not Q” would be a the creation of a creature who cannot experience His maximal love. This flows directly from his second premise which contains the election to damnation (from double predestination). In this case, the reprobate, or damned, are created specifically such that they experience Hell in lieu of God’s maximal love. This is the definition of being damned. Thus, we have a true (logically true) “P2” statement, “Under Calvinism, God creates creatures for the purpose of denying those creatures His maximal love,” which equates to “not Q.”

    Since Modus Tollens is a valid deductive argument form, the only conclusion that follows is “not P” or the conclusion that under Calvinism, God is not perfectly good nor maximally loving. But this conclusion contradicts Rauser’s first premise. Therefore, either that first premise (from which we derived “P”) is false, or the election to damnation (from which we derived “not Q”) of his second premise is false. I think none of us find a problem with his first premise. So the problem must lie in the second premise — specifically the election to damnation portion.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Jamie, I posted your argument over at Rauser’s blog. He thought well of enough to actually devote an article to it: Congratulations! Take a look and share with us what you think of his rejoinder.


      • Jamie Donald says:

        My first thought is, “Wow! That was fast!” I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity with the demands of work, etc, to keep up with such quick turn-arounds. The next thing that I noted is a manipulation that results in a misrepresentation. In his response, Rauser writes,

        Perhaps it would make sense at this point to reiterate the high evidential burden that Fr Kimel has assumed. He wants an argument that is so strong that it shows not only that Calvinism is likely false but that it must be false. Put another way, Fr Kimel needs an argument so strong that it can establish that Calvinism can only be accepted as true on pain of irrationality. After all, if a person can rationally accept the core claims of Calvinism, then the non-Calvinist should be prepared to concede that they would worship God if it turns out that Calvinism is true. (emphasis in the original)

        But it is Rauser who is demanding this. It was his original challenge that you produce a deductive argument, and the above is the definition of deductive vs inductive (where the proof is “likely false.”) This is not something you “want.” It is something he demands of you. Now your statement about believing Calvinism to be similar to believing “2 + 2 = 5” can be read as a belief that you think such a deductive argument exists. But it can also be read as hyperbole where you would be willing to proffer an inductive argument.

        As far as his response to my argument goes, it is a strawman. By positing that things (and souls) can be created for more than one purpose, he allows himself to ignore the fact that under Calvinism the reprobate are created to be damned to Hell which, at a minimum, is the absence of God’s love. My argument was not that this is the sole purpose behind the creation of some souls. My position is that this purpose exists for those souls. By forcing my argument to say that this would be the only purpose, he defeats a position that I don’t take — a strawman.

        For example, he uses Mary; saying that she was created for the purpose of bearing Jesus, but she was created for other purposes as well. I’ll easily concede that this example he provides is true. I’ll even provide a couple of potential additional purposes behind Mary’s creation. She could have been created to be Joseph’s wife and she could have been created to give comfort to Elizabeth, the mother of the Baptist. But affirming these additional purposes does not deny that she was also created for the purpose of bearing Jesus. If you deny that purpose to Mary, then either the Savior is not born, or He is born to another woman.

        Under the double predestination of Calvinism, there are souls, by the design of God, who will be reprobate, damned to Hell, and denied the opportunity to experience God’s maximal love. Just as with the Mary example, any existence of other purposes for these souls does not deny this particular purpose. His Batman and Trolley analogies (linked to in his response to my argument) do not negate this purpose either. These analogies do deserve some discussion.

        Because Calvinism positively affirms predestination of the reprobate there is an issue with the Trolley example. Remember that under Calvinisms double predestination the reprobate are not only predestined to damnation; they are predestined to be reprobate itself. On top of this being a tautology, in the Trolley Analogy if they exercise free will to select a trolley, they are only provided selections which end in destruction. They are never truly given the opportunity to select a trolley which does not end its journey this way. Again, by design these souls are created to not experience God’s maximal love.

        In the Batman Analogy, Bruce Wayne has a family, and for his children to fully know him, there must be some form of evil which forces him to assume the Batman persona. This has a couple of problems. First, in order to “fully know” their father, Bruce’s children would have to be able to experience all the evil he had combated; not just select examples. But even if we assume that a subset of evil for Batman to fight is sufficient, we see another problem.

        Let us try to apply this analogy to the real world. In this life, we cannot know who finally ends up as reprobate and therefore damned. The most evil of persons could have a deathbed conversion. Thus, if there is no way to know this end-state of souls, the predestination of the reprobate does not serve the purpose of letting us fully know our Father. In short, it does not serve the additional purpose that Rauser desires it to serve. And it continues to ignore that under Calvinism there is the purposeful creation of souls for the denial of God’s love.


  23. Pingback: Another failed attempt to demonstrate that Calvinism is irrational | Randal Rauser

  24. Paul says:

    So, we’re to evaluate this claim:

    WORSHIP: If Calvinism were true, we should be prepared to worship God.

    You (Al Kimel) deny this claim. That is, you deny that it is true. You do so by claiming that the antecedent is necessarily false. Thus it’s not a counterfactual it’s a counterpossible. Now, we should ask which semantics of counterfactuals you hold to. Let’s suppose you hold to the popular-but-waning Lewis-Stalnaker account. If so, is WORSHIP *false*? No! It’s true! It’s what philosophers (and logicians) call a “trivial” truth. Briefly, here’s why: since the antecedent is necessarily false it receives a valuation of false 0 at all possible worlds (let 0 be false and 1 be true), and we know that conditionals are true when either the antecedent = 0 or the consequent = 1. Thus the conditional is true at all possible worlds in virtue of the antecedent’s being false at all possible worlds.

    So, if I grant you that you’ve shown (or had your reader show) a contradiction, and you hold to Lewis-Stalnaker semantics, your should say WORSHIP is true. (Mind you, I don’t think your reader has shown such a thing; in fact, I think something like Calvinism is necessarily true—but enough about me). So on this analysis, you should respond to Randal that WORSHIP is true *but uninteresting*. In fact, *anything* follows from the antecedent, including that we should *not* worship such a God. So, you’re technically wrong if you claim that “we should be prepared to worship Calvin’s God” doesn’t follow from “Calvinism is true” *given that* you think Calvinism is necessarily false. What you should say, assuming you hold to both Lewis-Stalnaker semantics AND the derivation that resulted in _I_, is that Randal’s conditional is trivially true and so uninteresting.

    Now, I understand that Randal doesn’t want to grant that a contradiction has been demonstrated, especially not from “incontrovertibly true premises,” but I want to grant you that one’s been shown. Specifically, I want to grant you that *and* argue that this should not affect our evaluation of WORSHIP. How so?

    Well, I want to argue that we (you included) should reject Lewis-Stalnaker semantics. Why? Well, we could give very complicated arguments, but let me, for now, just appeal to your intuition. We, all of us philosopher and theologian types, frequently reason via reductio ad absurdum, that is, we grant necessarily false premises and derive unsavory conclusions from them. Here’s an example of an argument Christian apologists have used and you yourself (even Jamie perhaps!) have used before. It begins like this:

    NIHILISM: If God were not to exist, then life would be meaningless.

    Now, let’s assume, as is plausible, that God is a necessary being. Thus, the antecedent of NIHILISM is necessarily false. The consequent follows, but, on Lewis-Stalnaker semantics, it follows trivially. Indeed, “then life would be meaningful” *likewise* follows. Thus, NIHILISM (for reasons given above) is “true but uninteresting.” Now, here’s where an appeal to your intuition comes in. I suspect you think NIHILISM is not trivially true, rather you think it’s *non-trivially* true. (And if you don’t, it wouldn’t be hard to find a counterpossible you did think was trivially true.) Thus, we can say counterpossibles are non-trivially true or non-trivially false. (On what semantics? Well, that’s too complicated to say here (see the SEP entry on impossible worlds, or Boris Kment’s dissertation on impossible worlds.))

    Thus, here’s my synopsis of the dialectic: Either you say WORSHIP is trivially true (and defend Lewis-Stalnaker conditionals, explain away your intuitions in cases like NIHILISM, etc.), or you need to do *more* than demonstrate a contradiction to show that WORSHIP is (non-trivially) false. My money’s on the proposition that WORSHIP is non-trivially true. That is, the (impossible) world where you know that Calvinism is true and you should be prepared to worship God is closer than the (impossible) world where you know that Calvinism is true and you should *not* be prepared to worship said God.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Excellent, a person who knows his logic! Alas, I am only able to follow you a little bit here. Perhaps one way you can help me better understand is for me to ask you, Does your argument remain the same if, instead of the Calvinist God, we were to posit Allah or Satan as the true God?


      • Paul says:

        Fr Kimel,

        Thanks. Sure, if Allah took his seat in the antecedent we would be able to evaluate the counterpossible as either non-trivially true or false, even though Allah’s existence is metaphysically impossible.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        One more thing, Paul: please explain the distinction between counter-factuals and counter-possibles. I think I understand it, but I want to be sure.


        • Paul says:

          Technically all counterpossibles are counterfactuals, but not all counterfactuals are counterpossibles. For ease, I used “counterfactual” to name conditionals that are contrary to fact and the antecedent is possible. A classical example is: If Oswald hadn’t shot Kennedy, someone else would have. We can evaluate the truth of this at a possible world, namely the “nearest” one where the antecedent is true. A counterpossible is a counterfactual with a necessarily false antecedent. A popular example is: If I were to square the circle, mathematicians would be amazed. There are no possible worlds where the antecedent is true. Let me know if that explanation helps or hurts!


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Paul, my brain hurts. I’ve read through your comment several times, and I cannot seem to grasp the logic. The problem is me, I’m sure. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

      Let me try to restate my inchoate views, and perhaps you can put it into an argument. Rauser wants me to entertain a thought-experiment that requires me to concede the possibility that my present understanding of God is wrong, not trivially wrong but fundamentally wrong. In other words, he is inviting me to pretend that God has not (so I believe) revealed himself in Jesus Christ to be absolute, unconditional, universal Love. This is the gospel that I have heard, the gospel that has been sealed to me in Holy Baptism, the gospel I have believed by the Spirit. Given that this is so, how can I possibly entertain, why would I possibly entertain, Rauser’s experiment? To do so would be to deny the divine revelation and thus to deny God. It would be to step outside the faith that God has given to me.

      Hence the coherency of Calvinism, which Rauser hopes to demonstrate by his thought-experiment, is totally irrelevant. There is no possible world that Calvinism can be true, for there is no possible world in which God is not whom he has revealed himself to be in this world. Calvinists, of course, would dispute this, but that is neither here nor there.


      • Paul says:

        Fr Kimel,

        This may help (or not). Take these two conditionals:

        1. If I were to square the circle, mathematicians would be amazed.
        2. If I were to square the circle, mathematicians would yawn in boredom.

        Do you think either is true or false? Speaking for myself, I think the first is true and the second is false. Here’s the kicker: both have an obviously impossible antecedent. In your words, “the thought experiment [where I square the circle]” is impossible. Does this make it “totally irrelevant”? Or do you think we can evaluate 1 and 2 *even though* we believe (or know) the antecedent to describe an impossible state of affairs?

        More piously, take these two conditionals:

        3. If God were not to exist, life would be meaningless.
        4. If God were not to exist, life would be full of meaning.

        Can you evaluate these? Do you think either is true or false? Again, speaking for myself, I take the first to be true and the second to be false. And yet, both 3 and 4 (as with 1 and 2 before them) have an impossible state of affairs contained in their antecedents (the part that comes after “if” but before “then”). I’ll ask again, do you think we can evaluate these *even though* we believe (know) the antecedent to be necessarily false?

        If you think we can evaluate 1-4, then here’s what that implies: you think that the antecedent of a conditional being necessarily false *isn’t sufficient* for our evaluating said conditional as true or false. If you, like me, think 1 and 3 above are true and 2 and 4 are false, then you hold the position that we can truth-evaluate a conditional *even though* we believe the antecedent to state a necessary falsehood. If you hold that position, then merely noting that (you believe) “Calvinism is true” is necessarily false isn’t sufficient for your concluding that such a conditional is true or false.


  25. 407kwac says:

    Math is an elegant and lovely thing for many applications, but introduced into our language regarding the God revealed in Jesus Christ and how our proper relationship with Him may be experienced and described, it leads to an absurd reductionism and becomes a distraction it seems to me. At least, that is my impression from reading what those who are fond of such exercises tend to write. In terms of language about God and how we are rightly related to Him, poetry will get us much closer to the Reality.



    • Karen, the last comments from you, Paul, and our symposiarch call for a single response, but alas I cannot post it before Wednesday. Big thoughts, fleeting minutes, and small glass screens do not mix well.

      What I can say now is that Rauser’s grand question could be usefully restated as a concretely historical one– did the Calvinists who followed Richard Sibbes (aka the Spiritual Brethren) consistently worship the God of the Calvinists who followed William Perkins (aka the Intellectual Fathers)? For the Spiritual Brethren thought about God’s creativity somewhat as Fr Aidan does and they were as trusting of allusive, mystical language as you are (cf Anne Hutchinson). The Intellectual Fathers thought more about God’s absolute power and formulated their theology in neo-Aristotelian Ramist logic. The ‘Calvinism’ that Rauser is talking about is, in style and substance, that of a subtradition of Reformed theology that came to stand for the whole in the United States.

      The difference between these two sensibilities has been explored by historians Richard Muller and Janice Knight, among others, for it played a role in the religious history of the C17. In England, leading Spiritual Brethren were accepted even by the Establishment they opposed, while the Intellectual Fathers were driven into exile on the Continent. In New England, their fortunes were reversed, and the Fathers used the Antinomian Controversy to marginalize the Brethren from the region’s Puritan orthodoxy. This history, and later episodes down to the present day (C19: Mercersburg v Old Princeton; C20 Thomas Torrance v American Presbyterianism; C21 online Bobby Grow’s Evangelical Calvinist v Don Carson’s Gospel Coalition), pose Rauser’s question in another form: if the Brethren have been sound in their distinguishing spirituality, then what in the Fathers’ view of God has made it intolerable to them?


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