Why author Randy Alcorn joined one of today’s fiercest Christian debates

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The bestselling author and Bible teacher explains how the Calvinist vs. Arminian debate makes a difference in one's life. Along the way, he makes some provocative comments about God's role in natural disasters.

The bestselling author and Bible teacher explains how the Calvinist vs. Arminian debate makes a difference in one's life. Along the way, he makes some provocative comments about God's role in natural disasters.

The bestselling author and Bible teacher explains how the Calvinist vs. Arminian debate makes a difference in one's life. Along the way, he makes some provocative comments about God's role in natural disasters.

The bestselling author and Bible teacher explains why he is so passionate about Calvinist vs. Arminian debates. Along the way, he makes a provocative comment about God’s role in natural disasters.

If God is sovereign and in control of the universe, do humans really have free will? If humans have free will to do as they please, can God really be in control? The debate over God’s sovereignty and human’s free will is one of the hottest among Christians perennially. And now Randy Alcorn, New York Times bestselling author of “Heaven” and “If God is Good,” has decided he wants in on it.

In Alcorn’s new book,”Hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice,” he admits that this issue has become divisive among Christians. During his first decade as a Christian, Alcorn says he was “mostly Arminian” (those who emphasize human’s free will). Now he is “mostly Calvinist” (those who emphasize God’s sovereignty). He says he learned much on his journey that others need to know.

Here, we talk about why Alcorn believes the traditional approach to the debate isn’t working, what he’s proposing, and whether he agrees with John Piper that God is responsible for fatality-inducing natural disasters.

RNS: Christians have been debating God’s sovereignty and humans’ free will for centuries, but you’ve decided to engage it now. What is your book adding to the debate that is new?

RA: I’m compelled to recognize that there are two parallel lines that cross in God’s infinite mind, even if they don’t make sense to our finite minds. God calls upon us to believe paradoxical (meaning apparently contradictory, not truly contradictory) ideas. That way we can place our faith in God rather than lose our faith or give up the discussion because we can’t figure out how to reconcile them. I disagree with various ideas, but respectfully, I’m suggesting they are based not on complete untruth but partial truths–which lead to partial falsehoods.

Image courtesy of Waterbrook / Multnomah

Image courtesy of Waterbrook / Multnomah Publishers

RNS: You say the traditional approach to the debate isn’t working. How so?

RA:  I labored to be fair to each position, carefully avoiding misrepresentation, easy-to-refute straw men, or tilting the scales by selecting certain biblical passages while ignoring others. I quote directly from Arminian and Calvinist scholars and believe both opposing views fall within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. I cite significant misrepresentations of Calvinism by Arminians and vice versa, and tried to state each position as their proponents would. Each positon can be supported by some Scripture, but I tried to show the need to bring all Scripture to the table, and to embrace paradox rather than rejecting one position in favor of another.

I quote from Arminius who glowingly complemented John Calvin’s commentaries. I cite Calvinist Charles Spurgeon who expressed deep respect for Arminian John Wesley. I tell the moving story of evangelists Wesley and George Whitefield, whose beliefs once separated them, but who came to love and respect each other. And the group discussion questions are designed so people with different perspectives could look at Scripture together and discuss these issues freely and respectfully.

RNS: Why is the first “hand” in the title not capitalized while the second one is?  

RA: The lower case “hand” represents humanity while the uppercase “Hand” represents God. Calvinists may think hand in Hand sounds too much like the cooperative work of two equals, which glorifies humans and insults God. Arminians may think it implies that human beings are like children, with the child’s “choices” basically controlled by the parent.

I chose the title to express that God’s hand controls far more than ours, and he can at any time tighten or loosen his grip. Our choices are important, but [tweetable]God’s choices are much bigger than ours because God is infinitely bigger than we are.[/tweetable]

RNS: Why do you prefer “meaningful human choice” as opposed to “free will?”

RA: I think “free will” can mislead, because there are any number of choices we can’t follow through on. For instance, I can freely choose to fly but if I step off the roof to try it, I soon discover I don’t have the capacity. But there’s more. [tweetable]What limits humans is not just that we are finite, but also fallen.[/tweetable] Scripture says our wills are in bondage because we have inherited sin natures going back to Adam. I am not free, for instance, to make choices that earn my way to heaven!

[tweetable]I prefer the term “meaningful human choice” to “free will.”[/tweetable] because even when our natures prompt us to make particular choices that may not be entirely “free,” they are nonetheless meaningful and consequential choices.

RNS: John Piper has suggested that some natural disasters are ordained by a sovereign God. How do you respond?

RA: God didn’t create a world with natural disasters but both Calvinists and Arminians agree he allows them as part of “the curse.” Scripture shows repeatedly that God is sovereign over all nature.

Jesus said of his Father, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Psalm 147:18 says of God, “He makes his wind blow.” Blowing winds would include hurricanes and tornadoes. Job 37:13 says, God “brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love.” Numbers 11:1 says when Israel grumbled against God, “Then fire from the LORD…consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.”

[tweetable]Scripture shows that some natural disasters are indeed from God’s hand.[/tweetable] However, it’s wrong to view every natural disaster as a direct judgment of God on sin. When Jesus spoke of the man born blind in John 9:3, he said the disciples shouldn’t conclude his blindness was God’s judgment on some specific sin by him or his parents.

RNS: Make this debate practical for me. If I am already a Christian, why do I even care?

RA: If I don’t have the freedom to make meaningful choices, it makes me indifferent to the need to make wise and righteous choices. If it’s all in God’s hands, what I think and do won’t matter in the end. On the other side, believing in God’s sovereignty keeps me from viewing my life as random and in the hands of others who can ruin my life.

  • Christian Orton

    Ever feel like we’ve been talking in circles about this for millions of years?

    Here’s what the Bible says:
    1) God directs events in creation
    2) God can intervene
    3) Man can thwart God’s plans
    4) Satan and demons can thwart God’s plans
    5) God allows 3 & 4
    6) Sometimes 3 & 4 happen against God’s will
    7) Man chooses to go astray
    8) God allows man to go astray
    9) Man convinces God to change his mind
    10) Man has free will
    11) God is sovereign

    So, yeah, lots of conflicting thoughts, and while I appreciate Randy’s heart in all of it, his book doesn’t sound like it sorts any of this out.

    What does seem to sort all of this out is the idea that there is a relationship, and like a relationship there is a give and take; two parties (and also billions of parties) working together sometimes, working against each other at others. We strive for rigidity, for an answer to point to in order to feel more secure, comfortable…I don’t think that’s possible, and I think that’s why Jesus and Paul and the prophets used words like “trust” and “faith”, which are attributes of strong relationships.

  • Jon

    This reminds me of my struggle over similar questions over a decade ago. In my 20’s I realized that there were a whole bunch of seeming contradictions in my Christian worldview. Stuff like “if God is sovereign, then how could man actually have free will?” or “If god has a plan, and knows the future, then how could I decide to pray to influence that future?” or “How could God allow anyone to be tortured in Hell forever, if He is both loving and all-powerful?”, or theodicy, and so on.
    I started asking around for help, including parents, relatives, friends, etc. Without getting clear answers (and scripture, like on most topics, supports both sides), I went to a priest.
    I knew that these simple minded problems would be child’s play for the wise priest. After all, they all go though the seminary, and since the answers must have been figured out centuries ago, they’d probably be one of the first things covered in seminary.
    Father Mike listened attentively as I explained the first question. He nodded knowingly, and then asked what other questions I had. I went through several questions in this way. He responded by saying that these were all good questions, and that all of us have questions like this from time to time. I continued to go to Bible studies, talk with other Christians, and attended some Campus Crusade for Christ meetings looking for answers too.

    After many more discussions with many different people, it became clear that no one had a realistic answer. More, that asking any of the questions either gave the same convoluted non-answers I got from Father Mike, or (more often) produced a visceral, negative response. I realized that these are still being debated because they show intractable contradictions that stem from the fact that the fabricated worldview of Christianity simply doesn’t match reality. All of these questions have the same clear, honest, and realistic answer– that the whole notion of the Christian god is an illogical, manmade fantasy. The Calvinist/Arminian debate was one of the small chips that allowed me to eventually break the chains.

  • Christian

    Thanks for sharing, Jon. Very similar to a lot of people I know now.

    The issue for me is still with churches (including mine) that are so dogmatic that they have the right view (in my church’s case, Calvinsim). So dogmatic in fact that you have to ascribe to the belief (or agree to not teach otherwise) in order to be a member. This is absolute nuts.

    I recently read Peter Enns “The Bible Tells Me So” and he has a great quote about people who disagree: “I realized that there was more spiritual benefit to keeping the conversation open rather than closing it.” I wish churches would have the same stance.

  • Ted

    More like shuffling the deck chairs. Fun to watch that boat sink though – one difference from the more familiar one.

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  • jmurman

    I figure it this way. When I get to heaven, I’ll ask. Til then I’m going to study God’s Word and do my absolute best to be the man He wants me to be, and to allow Him to control events in my life as He sees fit. No more no less.

  • Josh M

    @ Jon,

    You might find these helpful. These are answers to the questions you had that you listed in your post:

    On the doctrine of hell:

    On free will and God’s sovereignty, and evil:

    On prayer:

    If you still want to know if the answers to these questions are out there, then you should find these helpful. Please read these answers and then ask yourself if the answers given are self-contradictory. Are these answers logically valid? Are they plausible? Are they scriptural?

    Answers are out there. And I am truly sorry that you didn’t find them in your 20’s. I don’t know how old you are now, but better late than never. And even if you do say “It’s too late to change my mind now”, I don’t think you’ll object to an increase in knowledge about these issues.

    And don’t hesitate to reply back to me with your comments on these questions and answers. I love to talk about these things, and I have read much on these particular issues.

  • Chad

    I agree in principle with Alcorn’s premise, at least as I understand it not having read his book.
    Bottom line is this – throughout the Bible there are shades of both God’s sovereignty and man’s so-called free will. They are both there! Yes, God is indeed a sovereign chooser. He is God and he can do whatever he wants. At the same time man’s will is appealed to time and time again to make choices. Some will say that these are mutually exclusive propositions and both cannot be true. This may be so in the finite mind and understanding of man, but God has no such limitations.
    This is mystery people. Let’s celebrate it and stop all of the divisiveness over a debate that will never be settled this side of eternity.

  • James Callahan

    Arminius was a Calvinist pastor – get over it already

  • Jon

    Josh, I was given all these “answers” in my 20’s, along with plenty of other ones as well – all contradictory and none satisfactory.

    For these on your list, they each make a number of illogical steps. For instance, one common illogical position taken on them is that someone is only responsible for their actions, but not their inactions (even if able to act). An example – if I walked into a bathroom to find a baby drowning in the tub, and instead of reaching down to save it, watched as it drowned, I would be guilty of killing the child – and I hope you wouldn’t defend my depraved morality.

    In these articles, they claim that though an all powerful god could prevent natural disasters, his standing by and watching thousands of innocent people suffer and die is somehow A-OK, since he didn’t actively cause the disaster. Sorry, that’s simply immoral.

    Worse, it makes for bad theology, relegating this god to the god of a deist, a heresy long condemned by most Christian churches. Similar faulty logic is seen in the prayer articles and so many others. These websites are good examples of how impoverished the though process on these and other problems is in Christianity.

    I did hear all of those explanations back in my 20’s, but perhaps seeing them laid out in this form when I was in my 20’s would have made my departure from Christianity faster.

  • Free will is what Adam and Eve tried out first thing, and, boy, did they get taught a lesson! The greatest act of rebellion in the history of literature, carried out by a woman, leading to eons of misogyny. Everyone is restricted in their actions to a certain extent; I choose not to limit myself by worrying about what some fictional being or beings might think or what other people claim happens when I die. I think that makes freethinkers freer than you god-fearing folk. Free is not dumb.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Josh,
    I am a mere 70 years old, was reared in the church, my father was an ordained
    minister, and a college and seminary graduate. I was a philosophy and religion minor, with a history major before attending law school. Long story short. Free will vs. determinism is nonsense. The premise is defective. The way I phrase the question is: If God could do something about this mess why doesn’t he? Best answer. There is nobody home.

  • Jac

    Thanks, jmurman for your input. That’s my take on it as well.

  • Dave V

    No group is as homogenized as so-called “freethinkers.”

    All little ducklings in a row.

    To contemplate and choose religion shows an intense diversity.

  • Jack

    Both free will and divine sovereignty are true and yet each one flatly contradicts the other. Philosophers don’t call that a paradox, but an antimony. A paradox is an apparent contradiction. But an antinomy is an actual contradiction.

    For those of you who are atheists and think your atheism frees you from the antinomy, think again:

    On the one hand, free will exists, and your own words and actions prove it. When someone mistreats you or a loved one, you will get just as angry as a theist or agnostic would. Why? Because you believe that people have the power of choice.

    But on the other hand, you believe that every effect has a cause….and thus you believe in some form of determinism.

    So how do you reconcile human choice with determinism?

    The short answer is you don’t.

    In other words, this antinomy of choice vs. determinism (or divine sovereignty if you’re a theist) is baked into the cake of life and reality. You can’t escape it no matter what your belief is about God’s existence.

    To be human is to face this antinomy every day and every moment of your life.

    There is no rational way of putting the two together. They simply must be held in tension……

  • Jack

    The answer that “there’s nobody home” may be a comforting answer in that it seemingly gets rid of one problem — the problem of reconciling God with the realities of evil and pain. But in so doing, it opens a Pandora’s Box of new problems and questions which can’t be ignored if you’re intellectually honest.

    I think it was John F. Kennedy who once said that in this life, you must ultimately choose between comfort and truth.

  • Jack

    One way of putting it:

    In time and space, choices matter.

    In eternity, God is sovereign over all.

    That doesn’t resolve the issue, but it suggests the reason it exists.

  • Jack

    From a spiritual perspective, free will and God’s sovereignty are each true yet they contradict each other.

    From a secular perspective, free will and determinism are each true, yet they contradict each other.

    Conclusion: The issue is inescapable no matter what you believe or don’t believe about God. Welcome to reality.

  • Josh M

    @ Jon, Samuel, and Jack

    I don’t see this as a contradiction. The contradiction would only exist if a person held a view which stated that A) Humans have free will & B) Human actions are determined. This is an antinomy. But the question is “Who holds to this logically incoherent view?” I can only think of two groups of people:
    A) very small minority branch of Calvinism &
    B) a branch of materialism

    Now on A), I say a small minority branch because, even though it is true that most Calvinist view’s appeal to a form of divine determinism, these same people would deny human free will (which would alleviate the contradiction). It would only be a contradiction if Calvinism held to both human free will and divine determinism. And there is a small group of Calvinist followers that hold to this antinomy. Btw, I’m not a Calvinist; and it’s a straw man argument to try and falsify Christianity because of this form of Calvinism. The only thing that would follow logically from what Jon and Samuel argued against, would be to show that this form of Calvinism is false. It would do nothing to show that the Armenians view is false; it would do nothing to show that Protestantism is false; and it would far from show that Christianity is false.

    Now on B), notice that I didn’t say naturalist. This is because a person who is a naturalist is not a de facto materialist. There are plenty of naturalists which hold to free will, because even though they are naturalist they still believe in both the existence of immaterial and abstract objects. Now materialist, on the other hand, do not believe in the existence of immaterial objects, which would by definition also include abstract objects (they would an anti-realist concerning these things). Free-will is an abstract object (free-will is not made up of material parts; you can’t use any of the senses to discover it, etc.). Determinism on the materialist part clearly wouldn’t hold to a divine determinism; they would hold to a materialist determinism, namely the view that all actions are determined by antecedent material causes. All your actions are due exclusively to chemical reactions in the brain. This view is clearly contradictory. It is an untenable view to believe both that all “decisions” (in quotes because decisions are abstract immaterial objects, which is rejected by materialist) are caused by chemical reactions in the brain and also believe that a person has to free-will to “overrule” the affects of the chemical causes. Now I sincerely hope that you didn’t reject the truth of Christianity based upon this apparent contradiction and become atheistic materialists. Otherwise, you would have to reject the truth of atheistic materialism on the same grounds.

    Now to the actual question… Is there a logical contradiction between human free will and God’s sovereignty? No, and why that there is? Notice that the burden of proof here is on the atheist. Why? Because there is no clear contradiction between these two. This is a false dichotomy; the opposite of human free will is NOT God’s sovereignty, the opposite of human free will is human determinism. Look at this way, if an atheist said to you “the truth of human free will and God’s sovereignty is untenable” you should just ask them why do you believe that? What is atheist going to say at this point? “I have no reasons to believe that what I just said is true?” If the atheist takes this approach, then you can say “If you have no reasons to believe that that is true, why should I?” Now the juvenile atheist would just say that he/she doesn’t have the burden of proof, but this is wrong-headed. Any person making a truth claim has to shoulder the burden of proof for that claim. The only person who wouldn’t have to shoulder a burden of proof would be the skeptic, not the atheist. But then, the skeptic can’t say “the truth of human free will and God’s sovereignty is untenable”. Why? Because this isn’t a question, this is a statement, which the person takes to be true. But if the person takes it to be true, he/she should have rationality is to why it is true. It is intellectually dishonest to say that you’re truth claim needs no rationality behind it. And this is true for the atheist as well as the theist; no one but the agnostic/ignorant gets to claim the “default” position.

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  • Andy

    It’s always such an interesting discussion. The question, it seems, is not so much that other people have free will, but do I? I think, when you personalize it, it’s a much easier issue to grasp. Do I even want my will to be free? For me? No. I would choose death. Only God has enabled the events of my salvation. All glory to Him.

  • Josh M

    And just so you aren’t attacking a straw man, I will describe my view for you: first, we have to get our definitions on the table.

    Free will – the intentionality or ability to act irrespective of external causes.
    The reason for including “intentionality” would be for those circumstances where due to external causes I cannot act in the way I would freely choose to. As an example: remember those times as a child when you’re older brother, or cousin, or dad would pin you down to the floor and no matter how hard you struggled to stand up you couldn’t? In this case, even though an external cause is limiting your “ability” to stand up, you still have the will to stand up because you “intend” to. There is no external cause which would force you lose the intentionality of standing up against your will. So in this case, and others like it, even though you lack the ability you don’t lose your “free will”.

    Sovereign (taken directly from dictionary.com) – Noun. A person who has supreme power or authority; Adjective. Having supreme rank, power, or authority.
    Now this definition has to be broken down even more because power and authority are not synonymous.

    God’s authority – There is no standard which God has to “live up” too. God is the standard; all things are measured against this, and this is measured against nothing else. God has no obligation to any one or anything.

    God’s power – The ability to do ANYTHING which is logically possible. There is no external cause in which could limit God’s ability to anything which is logically possible.

    Now, there are responses to these two definitions of God’s authority and power which are typically raised by atheists. On authority, most atheists would claim that the theist is making a “just so” claim, arbitrarily, making God the highest authority without justification. But the atheist’s objection leads to an reduction ad absurdum, for if they claim that God isn’t the highest authority, that God is subject to a standard higher him, than the atheist has to say what that standard is and why that is highest standard. But then that leads to the question, “why is that the standard, isn’t the atheist doing exactly what they claim the theist is doing, namely arbitrarily setting the highest standard?” This would lead the atheist down an infinite regress of “measured” standards. (i.e. What is God measured against? A. What is A measured against? B. What is B measured against? C. What is C measured against? D. etc.etc.) At some point there has to be a “highest authority”, since an infinite regress would be logically impossible. And historically the definition of God has been the highest authority.

    The common atheist response to this definition of God’s power is typically this one: “Why can God only do the logically possible, if God truly was all-powerful he could do the logically IMPOSSIBLE.” Even though this is the most common response, this is in fact, the one response which isn’t open to the atheist, because if he uses this then the problem of human free will, natural disasters, and human suffering go away. Why? Because when the atheist like, Samuel or Jon, raise these questions, they are assuming that these are logical contradictions. They would claim that the existence of an all-loving God is incompatible with human suffering and natural evil. They would claim that human free-will is incompatible with divine determinism. But…if God CAN do the logically impossible, as the atheist claims, the why think that these things are incompatible? What would be their objection to these apparent contradictions, paradoxes, and antinomies? This is why I believe this definition is correct: God has the power to do only the logically possible. The atheist has no way to object to this definition; they either have to hold to it, or reject it or give up all of their objections to the apparent contradictions which arise because of God’s attributes.

    So on my view it would logically impossible for God to make a person freely choose something. That would logically impossible.

  • Jon

    Josh – you didn’t address anything in my post. For instance, you didn’t explain if you agree with the deistic views of the pages your listed, or the positions that appear to me to be immoral.

  • Jack

    Josh M, let me think about that…..My concern is that we not redefine the tension out of existence, but I want to read and reread your thoughtful posts.

    One immediate thought: If you’ve found a way beyond what seems to me to be an antinomy, one that has forever confounded humanity, you should write a book on it……seriously.

    My main point was that to the extent that a tension does exist between the two truths, becoming an atheist doesn’t get one out from under the problem. Far from it…..The problem is, again, baked into the cake of reality, or at least our perception of it.

  • Jack

    One more point, Josh M. I probably should find a word other than determinism to depict the secular equivalent of God’s sovereignty — ie the cause-and-effect chains that run through nature. Determinism, as your posts rightly indicated, is not an observation of those chains, but an opinion that their existence negates free will or free choices.

    So maybe it would help to rephrase….and say that the antinomy (as I see it) is free choice vs. cause-and-effect. Both are true, yet as I see it, they flatly contradict each other.

    But I will reread your posts.

  • Josh M

    @ Jon,

    Typically, people will comment on the most recent comment and not back track to older posts. That’s what I did; but regardless that’s no excuse for me to not attempt to give an answer to your questions and I apologize and will attempt to give an answer now. I may give some straw man arguments; this will not be intentional, but may happen simply because I don’t have a full description of what you personally believe. And because of this, you may not hold to some of the objections I will raise; I can only attempt to answer critiques which are commonly made by the majority of atheists.

    This may seem strange but what I’m about to do is offer an argument which seriously undermines your “deistic” claim, while at the same time makes your moral claim even stronger… Not only would I agree with your claim that God stands by and watches, I would make the claim that sometimes God himself actually is the cause of these natural disasters, which in turn causes the death of these “innocent” people. (I will explain later why innocence is in quotes). I hope you can see why this would undermine the deistic claim; Deism is the belief that even though there is a “god” that god is neither personal nor interacts within the natural world. So if God does cause disasters, deism is clearly a false view, because it would be incompatible with God being the cause of natural effects in the world. At this point, you can actually go back and claim that I’m wrong to claim that God causes natural disasters. Taking this stance would make your deistic claim plausible but it would soften your moral claim. I am not an expert on deism, so maybe you can help me with this question. On a deistic view, is God capable of acting in the world, but just chooses not too? Or is God unable to act in the world? This may be a false dichotomy, I don’t know. But if I take it to be a true dichotomy, some issues arise which would question even the logical coherence of deism. If the answer to the first question is yes, than that view is synonymous with theism. Since on the theistic view God is able to interact with the natural world, but has the freedom to choose when he does or does not act. Now if the answer to the second question is yes, than wouldn’t that call into question the all-powerful attribute of God? I believe the common thought among deist is that god created the universe and set up the immutable laws of nature, such that he himself cannot violate the laws of nature. But this seems so incoherent, for if the deistic god is sovereign, which by definition means he is the highest authority, how can he create the laws the nature that he himself doesn’t have authority over. His creation of the immutable laws of nature would actually establish the laws of nature themselves as sovereign, the highest authority. But…the laws of nature only govern the natural world, so if the deistic god is under the rule of the laws of nature, then he himself would have be in nature. But that claim violates, by definition, deism. Since a deistic god is outside of nature, not inside. A god which is a part of nature, but beholden to the laws of nature is pantheism. But if we are still to hold to a proper definition of deism, then god would exist outside of nature, and thus not be beholden to the laws of nature. But, yet again, if the deistic god created the laws of nature, but not subject to it, then what logical argument could be given that this same god, couldn’t remove these laws of nature, even for a temporary time, or just create new laws of nature? If he was sovereign, he could do any of these things. But what if he could do all these things but freely chooses not to? Then that’s straight back to theism! So it seems, after thinking about it, that deism is logically incoherent. The logical progression of deism then would have to lead either to theism or pantheism, but you would logically have to move away from deism. Wow my head hurts…

    I did not intend to spend so much time on deism, but that’s just how may brain works sometimes. I know I didn’t yet answer your “moral” question, but deism led me down this path that I couldn’t ignore. (I just couldn’t stop writing). This really was brain to keyboard thinking, so I could have made a misstep somewhere, please let me know what you think.

    Anyway…so my two responses to your deistic claim, would be twofold:
    1) God is the cause of some, not all, natural disasters, which would invalidate the deistic view.
    2) Deism is logically incoherent (see above). The believer in it would have to either logically end up at theism or pantheism.

    I will attempt to answer the moral question in following posts. Thanks for reading.

  • Josh M

    This article is about to be archived soon and I don’t want to drop this conversation. It’s an important one, and I would suspect that Jon, Jack, and myself would want to continue it.

    My email is joshuat.medina@gmail.com
    I trust you guys, but please no viruses or porn please.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Josh,
    You have put a lot of thought and effort into your writing/thinking. I doubt anyone (including myself) would be interested in writing or reading a point by point refutation. I simply ask myself why you have tied yourself up in such convoluted reasoning. Logic is just using words as if they were mathematic symbols. It is certainly not truth in any larger sense, and binds only the mathematician in us. (Kant)
    The notions that captivate you, appear to me to be the Platonic view.”( Material objects are not all of reality. Ideas have perfect expression in some divine plane, etc.) Since the Gods are mere concepts based on feelings, fleshed out by stories, their only “existence” is in the mind. That is why Platonism is necessary to the God reasoners.
    FWIW, nobody likes to be labeled and pigeonholed, and thereby disposed of. I reject the atheist label. I simply do not accept any of the supernatural stories as literal, anymore than I accept literature as history, or music as a reflection of some divine origin. We live, act, think, and experience. That’s it.

  • samuel Johnston

    One more important point. All of the pre-modern thinkers assumed that consciousness was like a camera, or a window. We now know that what we “experience” is actually a mix constructed of new and recalled images, and other perceptions, in a very active, not a passive way. The brain compresses new information, selects parts of it and ignores the rest. We do not normally “see” the blind hole in our vision where the nerves are bundled (so there are no receptors). Our brain simply fills in the void with other information.
    I implore you to abandon these ancient time wasting conundrums and study some of these modern insights that moot most, of not all of them.

  • Jack

    Josh M, I wrote it down and will try to email when I can devote the time your posts deserve. I’m hardly the sort who would send anything nefarious, but your caution is understandable.

  • Jack

    Samuel, if it were as simple as you say, then those disagreeing with you would be as rare among intellectuals as believers in werewolves.

    It’s not that simple.

    Meanwhile, your argument against logic depends on logic — and that’s not a great place to be.

  • ben in oakland

    except that there is only one true faith, according to you.

    You don’t even believe in that diversity yourself!

  • ben in oakland

    Jon, 40 odd years ago, I very nearly became a Christian. however, the inherent contradictions and absurdities eventually convinced me that it couldn’t work. And the people who claimed to have the answers– didn’t. CS Lewis very nearly convinced me to become a Christian, and then eventually, convinced me not to.

    The Buddhists have a saying: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, KILL HIM!” In other words, someone who claims to have the answers just doesn’t have the answers.

  • ben in oakland

    Actually, jon, they get around that with “His ways are not our ways”. If god says so, or does so, it is by definition “moral”– even though the moral sense he allegedly gave us says that it is immoral.

    when I was a child, a read about god hardening pharaoh’s heart after each and every plague– all to prove a point. I kept saying “That’s not fair.”

    I also read about god slaying the entire population of the planet for their sins, including the little babies who couldn’t have sinned even if they wanted to. All except for one old drunk and his family. My response was also, “What kind of morality is that?”

    when I nearly became a Christian, the story of that old drunk was one of the things that convinced me of the absurdity of the whole idea. “Wait! We’re all infected with original sin (TM). What good does slaying everyone except the old drunk do?” God wasn’t solving the problem.

    The final nail in that cross occurred not long thereafter. Jesus died for our sins– for every sin except the one of not believing that Jesus died for our sins. For that particular sin, you burn in hell forever. So if god didn’t get the message to you, or the messenger was a senile old fart named Robertson, or the messenger failed to have anything coherent in his faith, well, too bad for you. Off to the eternal barbie. I’m supposed to believe that this is god’s infinite love?

    This doesn’t much even get into the question of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god. There is a world of difference between a belief in god and what religion says about god. At a local PCUSA church, I heard the minister talk about communicating God’s word in “this sinful and broken world.” My immediate response? If the world is sinful and broken, if this is the truth everywhere, how do you know you’re speaking the word of god? How do you know that the being you believe to be god is in fact god? How do you know he’s telling you the truth? One could certainly posit that religion’s behavior for the past 2000 years in the west– pogroms, anti-Semitism, homobigotry, witch burnings, religious wars, slavery, segregation, Christian vs. Christian vs. Jew vs. Muslim vs Muslim vs. Jew– argues against any reliable connection with god, assuming there is such a being.

    Religionists tell us that not a sparrow falls but god knows about it. But the sparrow still falls. So of what use is god in the matter? Christianity taught me that 45 years ago.

    I’m not really an atheist, but an “it-doesn’t-matterist”. Either god is an all powerful, all knowing, eternal being, or he isn’t. if he is how we imagine him to be, then his existence is irrelevant, because everything would be exactly as it is now, with god responsible for everything.

    Gods, especially the Judaeo-Christian god, he who murdered little children who couldn’t have sinned even if they wanted to, have very little to teach me about morality.

    Jesus said, “By their fruits shall ye know them.” Rotten theology produces rotten fruit.

    As Mammy Yokum said, “Good is better than Evil because it is nicer.” That’s my standard.

  • ben in oakland

    what are those problems and questions?

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Jack,
    I never said human behavior is simple.
    Intellectuals rarely listen to each other anyway.
    It’s not my argument, it is Kant’s argument.
    Logic is not the truth, but it is the last touchstone of the truth”.

  • Jack

    How matter came into being, how to explain the order we find in nature, how to affirm inalienable human rights if there’s nothing particularly unique about being human as opposed to non-human….

    Those are some obvious questions.

  • rob


    excerpts from Martin Luther’s life time study and his translation of the bible from the original languages

    The expression free will is not recorded in scripture and should more justly be called self will .

    WHY ALL THIS BOASTING ABOUT fee will and the powers of a man..
    Since apart from Christ sin and death are our masters and the devil is our god and prince.
    ah what a fine freedom that is..

    That sums it up fairly well the power of human free will.


    if we could come to Christ by our own free will their would be no need for the bible or the Holy Spirit..

    the bible says faith in Jesus comes by .. FOR ANSWER READ
    ROMANS 10:17 AND JOHN 6;44

    one has free will in choosing cars or houses or worldly things
    but not in choosing Jesus that takes God who can make even the most stubborn crusted sinner who previously was unwilling, willing to believe…

  • rob

    God uses disasters he causes to bring people to Jesus .
    he is patient with every one not wanting any one to parish for ever .
    While its true most unbelievers look at disasters as punishment from god .. Christians
    know God has already punished the world for there sins by way of Jesus..
    disasters are not for punishment the cross of Jesus did that ..

  • ben in oakland

    “Christians know God has already punished the world for there sins by way of Jesus.”

    Proof that sometimes even a stopped clock is correct.

  • rob

    @ josh

    Atheists just believe in the small god known as them selves ..

    And that’s according to the first commandment.

    They make their own reasoning power their god.
    their own wants and wishes their god ..

    Faith in Jesus is THE exact opposite of atheism ATHEISM has faith in ones own reasoning power.. NOT JESUS

    The higher the iq of the atheist the better his god is.
    And Smarter atheist is more likely to over power by reason a dumber atheists god
    Dumber atheist’s would have a dumber god than a smarter atheist..
    any way sin and death is their master and the devil is really there god and prince..

    we could rightly say the old Adam REALLY IS THE OLD ATHEISM that lurks about in every one of us.. its the Adam OF UNBELEIF IN GOD that believed the devil rather than God.. Wanting to be his own god..AS SATAN promised when he said..
    you will not die you will be like god.

    IN fact all sin is caused by either that old Adam atheism or active Atheism
    be it murder or child molesting ..

  • ben in oakland

    I think you missed the sarcasm, but it doesn’t matter.

  • rob

    @ ben in Oakland

    God already judged homosexuality to be sin Ben

    Hebrews 26:10 God reminds all of us people if we keep on wanting to sin no sacrifice for sin is left

    Hebrews 26;10 is a
    warning how our WANTED AND KEPT sin destroys faith in Jesus that he needed to die for those sin..

    so who is our god Ben,, our reason and what it wants or Jesus?

  • rob

    @Ben IN OAKLAND Sorry Ben Hebrew’s verse is 10;26 not 26;10..
    and I understood your sarcasm .. Ben..

  • rob

    @ SAMUEL Johnson
    70 years old and you still have not figured out God did do something much greater than we could think of or deserved .. His name is Jesus .

    it will be your own fault if you miss out on the joys of heaven your Christian parents wanted to see you spend eternity with Jesus .

    its not to late for you even now

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Rob,
    Jesus is what the Greeks called him, not what his mother named him.
    Quibbling aside, I do not like your God. He is unjust, and arbitrary. Socrates maintained that God had be be Just, or he was not worthy of be called God, but was rather just a demon. I concur.
    As for my parents. My father scoffed at Hell, explaining the term Gehenna and its history, over and over. As for Heaven, I agree with Mark Twain. I cannot think of a more suitable punishment for those old hypocrites, than to have to sing the praises of the lord in a celestial choir – FOREVER! Count me out!

  • rob

    AROTOTLE NEVER UNDERSTOOD much at all about real justice. or
    virtue or a loving YET JUST God that used him self ON A CROSS to punish Aristotle’s sins

    Aristotle and Luther on Justice virtue and the reformation.


  • rob

    if logic were the last touch tone to truth what would that make rapists and murder’s who used their logic to justify their crimes.

    no there a truth that’s absolute truth though it not logical its called the holy bible

  • rob


    CONFESSIONAL Lutherans guided by the bible and the correct teaching of it in the Book of Concord have agreed before there membership about what to believe.. a person should be released from membership if they disagree
    later on instead of spreading false hood in there church as a member.
    are thousands of church’s that don’t care what one believes JUST AS long as they still give money

    .They can easily become a member of one of them by just throwing five bucks in the collection plate.
    or easier yet just Keep what God gave them in the form of money and listen to Joel Olsen tickle their itchy ears on TV.

    if you are not yet sure your Calvinist church is teaching false doctrine you have no honest reason to leave and search for a more bible believing one..

    that takes Search’s in the bible for seats of DECLAIRED doctrine NOT ASUMPTIONS ON THE BASIS OF WHAT YOU THINK CHRISTIANS DID and comparison OF THE SEATS OF DOCTRINE with what your church is teaching you….

    for instance
    Baptist assume the thief on the cross that was saved was never baptized yet scripture does not teach what they assume, it is silent in that matter .

    Baptists assume infants can not believe yet scripture teach’s they can By Gods powerful word.


    The doctrine of justification guards every doctrine of the bible and every doctrine of the bible guards the doctrine of justification .. if any doctrine is pulled away by the devil he is that much closer in pulling that doctrine on justification .. that you are saved by Gods Grace alone through faith in Jesus your only savior from your sin’s alone.

  • rob


  • rob


    same goes for you.

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  • Celad

    (“You have to believe in free will, you have no choice.” I.B. Singer Ü)

  • Celad

    (An echo…) “You have to believe in free will, you have no choice.” I.B. Singer Ü

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  • “If God is sovereign, then how could man actually have free will?”
    Because Knowing what a Man Will Do, Does not take away his Will to Do it.
    Also, God Retains His Power, though He has Given us Some. cf. Imago Dei

    “If God has a plan, and knows the future, then how could I decide to pray to influence that future?”
    Again I say Knowing what a Man Will do, Does not take away his Will to Do it. Also Inaction, is an Omission cf. Sin of Omission

    “How could God allow anyone to be tortured in Hell forever, if He is both loving and all-powerful?”

    All your questions seem to thread along Free Will,

    God Wills that None Would Parish.
    He has Placed before You
    Life, and Death, Choose Life.

    Cf. Micah 6:8