A More Meaningful World

The following was written by valued reader and now contributor, br.d, who has long kept the discussion going on this blog. Edited by Eric Kemp.

Dr. Flowers engaged with Dr. James White, in a YouTube presentation titled “Does God Make a Sinner Sin?” In this dialog, Dr. White presents the following argument:

“If God did not specifically determine/decree the violent rape of a specific child, at a specified time, then that girl’s violent rape would be meaningless”.

Dr. White’s argument could be classified as a “greater good theodicy”. I believe Dr. Alvin Platinga in his free-will defense (1977) in God, Freedom, and Evil provides a useful rejoinder to White’s argument that shows it to be ill founded.

Plantinga’s argument is a defense against the logical problem of evil as formulated by the philosopher J. L. Mackie beginning in 1955.  Mackie’s formulation argues that three attributes of God; omniscience, omnipotence, and omni-benevolence, in orthodox Christian theism are logically incompatible with the existence of evil.  In 1982, Mackie published his response in “The Miracle of Theism” in which he conceded that Plantinga’s defense successfully refuted his argument.

Plantinga’s successfully showed that the attributes of God, cited by Makie, are not on their own contradictory. Mackie’s claimed contradiction actually originated from an implicit and unstated assumption Mackie inadvertently brought into his claim.  What is relevant for our purposes here, are the logical conclusions of Plantinga’s rejoinder to Mackie.

A Range of Available Options

Plantinga argues: God, though omnipotent, cannot be expected to do literally anything. There are in fact things that are logically impossible even for God.  God cannot for example, create square circles or married bachelors. And if God knows a proposition to be true, it is logically impossible for that proposition to be false. Specific to our discussion here, God could not create beings free to make moral decisions between good and evil while at the same time permitting them to only make good decisions or permitting them to make only evil decisions. Freedom in a true sense would require He allow them to make both good and evil decisions. Both options must be genuinely available to the creature for the creature to be able make them. 

For Plantinga, accomplishing this is perfectly feasible in a world in which libertarian free will exists because by definition a libertarian decision involves the ability to choose an option which exists among a range of possible options – that choice being consistent with one’s nature.  This also requires that both good options and evil options be genuinely available for the creature to choose.  If, for example, evil options do not exist from which to choose, then the freedom to choose an evil option is never actualizable.  In the history of philosophical discussion, such a world has been classified as the Garden of Forking Paths Model of Alternative Possibilities.

In contrast to a world in which creatures are permitted to make libertarian decisions, Dr. James White holds to a deterministic world where freedom is defined in compatiblistic terms. This is the worldview embraced by Calvinism. Dr. James N. Anderson, of the Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte NC, in his published work Calvinism and the first sin, states the underlying proposition:

“It should be conceded at the outset, and without embarrassment, that Calvinism is indeed committed to divine determinism: the view that everything is ultimately determined by God…..take it for granted as something on which the vast majority of Calvinists uphold and may be expressed as the following:  “For every event [E], God decided that [E] should happen and that decision alone was the ultimate sufficient cause of [E].” 

Dr. Anderson also states that Calvinism is committed to a compatiblist form of free will.

The deterministic world differs from the libertarian world in that libertarian freedom does not exist.  The ability to choose between a range of options – one’s choice being consistent with one’s nature – does not exist.  Neither does a range of available options from which to choose.  Peter Van Inwagen expresses this in the following statement:

“Determinism may now be defined: it is the thesis that there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future.” 


An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 3.

This then distinguishes the difference between the libertarian free world and the deterministic/compatibilist world relevant to our discussion.  With this as our foundation we can better understand the significant points within Dr. Plantinga’s argument on free will and how those points respond to Dr. White’s assertion of a “more meaningful”, or “greater good” world.

Plantinga’s More Valuable World

To preface Dr. Plantinga’s argument – it should be noted that with his use of the phrase “significantly free” – he understands this to be libertarian freedom. 

A world containing significantly free creatures is more valuable than a world containing no free creatures at all.  God can create free creatures. But even an omnipotent God can’t CAUSE free creatures to only do what is right. If he did, then they wouldn’t be significantly free.  Thus, in creating creatures capable of moral good, God must create creatures capable of moral evil.  When these creatures misuse their freedom, evil and suffering result. This fact does not count against God’s goodness or power, however, since God could prevent the occurrence of moral evil only by preventing the possibility of moral good. 

(pp. 166-167)

For our purposes here, a critical element of Plantinga’s argument is that a world containing libertarian choice is more valuable than a world in which people are CAUSED to make the choices they make – which is the case in the Deterministic world.  First, in a deterministic world, at any instant in time only one future is physically possible, only one choice is available, and thus alternative choices are not available for the creature to choose. There is not a single alternative available much less a “greater” or “more meaningful” one. Plantinga’s observation of greater value is predicated upon the greater degree of freedom to choose something that is actually greater, more meaningful. In Dr. White’s deterministic worldview, any idea of a “greater good” or “more meaningful” world in nonsense since only one physically possible future exists. 

Secondly, in the deterministic/compatiblist world, since the creature’s choice is CAUSED by factors beyond the creature’s control where God actually CAUSES the creature to make the specific choice the creature makes, there remains the question; is the creature making the choice, or is God making the choice? 

On this concern, the determinist/compatiblist will assert quite strongly his reasoning on how this constitutes the creature making a choice in a genuine sense. This argument is based mostly on the assertion that the creature is not forced to make the choice it makes. But there remains no explicit evidence to show that to be the case. And determinists acknowledge they don’t understand the mechanics of how God can CAUSE the creature to make a choice while attributing the full responsibility of that choice to the creature.  This weakness is significantly compounded when the determinist additionally attributes the full responsibility of only evil choices to the creature, while attributing only good choices to God.   This comes off as cherry-picking, cosmetic in nature, and appears to be driven by an urgency to present one’s position as consistent with morality and ethics found with the language of scripture.

Yet another question that might be asked is what Dr. White means by the term “meaningful”. Perhaps he is entertaining the nothing that a person to whom evil has been perpetrated can look back and say, “God meant this for the greater good”. But I do not find that notion consistent within Calvinist literature. For example, Jonathan Edwards states:

 “It is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory be complete; that is all parts of his glory should shine forth…thus it is necessary that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice and holiness manifested.  But this could not be unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect both because the parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the other do, and also the glory of his goodness, love and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. “

And John Calvin writes that evils are meted out for God’s good pleasure:

“Augustine elsewhere observes: Who can refrain from trembling at those Judgments when God does according to his pleasure even in the hearts of the wicked, at the same time rendering to them according to their deeds?”

“God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined …..it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction.”

And concerning the entrance of sin and evil coming into the world Calvin declares that God:

“At his own pleasure arranged it”

What is Meaningful to Adam?

In a deterministic/compatiblist world where Adam and Eve are being escorted out of the garden, and sin, evil and death have come upon them, does Adam look back with reflection, and console himself with the thought that God did this to him because it gave God some kind of pleasure, or because it gave God an opportunity to manifest more of his attributes, or perhaps to bring about some greater good? Are God’s resources limited in this world? In this world, Adam would know that God led him to believe he could obey – while God secretly knew he would not permit it, and for some reason God wanted Adam to believe a falsehood. Adam would look back and realize there was never any real possibility that he could obey. There was only one physically possible future – his choice to disobey – a choice which God determined for him. Adam would have learned there are times he can’t tell whether God is strategically leading people to believe falsehoods.  According to Dr. White, having that knowledge would make such things “meaningful” for Adam.    

Now let us contrast that to a world in which libertarian choice exists, and Adam’s choice was truly available, for him and him alone to decide.  Here God has prepared for Adam, a garden of forking paths, where Adam is permitted to choose from a range of options – his choice being consistent with his own nature.  In this world “mere” permission exists, and God truly permits Adam to obey just as much as he permits Adam to disobey and leaves the choice solely to Adam.  According to Dr. White, having that knowledge would make this world “meaningless” for Adam. 

Does anyone weighing those two options agree with Dr. White? Perhaps more importantly, for what reason is anyone compelled to agree with Dr. White? What Dr. White’s thinks is “meaningful” is subjective and based upon his urgency to maximize a good perception of his theology.

In contrast to Dr. White’s subjection evaluation of what is “meaningful”, Dr. Plantinga’s argument clearly shows a libertarian world  fully meaningful since only in a world in which options are truly available does the concept of “better” make sense.

18 thoughts on “A More Meaningful World

  1. Great Article — This dove tails with Ravi Zacharias view of the worlds God could have created. 1. Amoral world – nothing morally good or evil (only plant life) 2. A world in which “people” are forced to ONLY do what God wants all the time. 3. A world in which true morality exists authentic choice — and it is only in this World that Love can actually exist for Love requires an authentic choice. The first and the Greatest Commandment is LOVE. Which would also agree with Plantinga’s statement: “A world containing significantly free creatures is more valuable than a world containing no free creatures at all.” A world where Authentic Love for God is possible.

    1. GRACEADICT,

      It is interesting (and telling) that love does not figure anywhere into TULIP, and that’s a really big red flag that it isn’t Biblical.

      There have been a lot of internet news stories recently on the topic of artificial intelligence and robot companions for sex hungry men and emotionally starved women. I cringe to think about what kind of mental processes would lead anyone to consider such a thing; it is utterly undignified and degrading. Yet it seems a striking parallel to the god of calvinism, for his elect seem little more than robots with no will but to love him and do his bidding. As in the Book of Job, couldn’t Satan laugh in God’s face if this were reality?

      The only way I can contemplate and consider such a distasteful thing is the confidence of knowing that this is not the God of Scripture.

      1. Tandt, I totally agree that love basically doesn’t figure into Calvinism at all.

        I couldn’t figure out why my Calvinist pastor was so enthusiastic about missions – until I read some old articles of his and found out his reason for missions. His whole goal behind missions and evangelizing is to “make God famous” because, according to him, God’s basically sole goal is to be famous among the people, to glorify Himself. So my pastor’s reason for evangelizing is to make God famous.

        In all that he wrote about why he believes in missions, there was NOT ONE WORD of sharing God’s love with and for the people, of sharing the wonderful truth of Jesus dying on the cross for them, or of letting them know of the forgiveness God offers to them. It was only about making God famous. And calling people to repent, which is weird because he doesn’t believe in altar calls. So how can you call people to repent without even offering them the chance to decide to repent? He says his reason for not doing altar calls is so that people don’t mistakenly believe that walking the aisle saved them. But I know that’s not true. He doesn’t believe in altar calls because he doesn’t want people thinking they have a choice about Jesus. (Besides, isn’t it the pastor’s job to explain to people after they reach the front that walking the aisle didn’t save them, but that their choice to put their faith in Jesus is what saves them? Of course, a Calvinist pastor can’t say this though, so they just avoid the altar calls altogether. They don’t want people thinking that they have some sort of ability to respond to the call, to accept Jesus. Because that would mean salvation is a choice.)

        It makes me sad to think about the twisted, half-Gospel he is spreading through his missions work. He is leaving out all mention of God’s love, of Jesus’s sacrifice for all sins, of forgiveness and grace that are available for the taking, of the relationship God wants to have with us. (A Calvinist is not about God’s love for us or God wanting a relationship with us. They are only about God using us to get more glory for Himself, even if it means, as they believe, causing us to sin or causing us to go to hell.)

        I don’t care what else a Calvinist gets right; if he gets this wrong then it’s all wrong. Sure, he is “making God famous,” but for all the wrong reasons and at the expense of truth and God’s character! So wrong and such a shame! I feel bad for those he’s evangelizing to. What a twisted view of God they are getting and what a huge part of truth they are missing out on.

      2. Heather interesting the articles you must have read, “I couldn’t figure out why my Calvinist pastor was so enthusiastic about missions – until I read some old articles of his and found out his reason for missions. His whole goal behind missions and evangelizing is to “make God famous” because, according to him, God’s basically sole goal is to be famous among the people, to glorify Himself. So my pastor’s reason for evangelizing is to make God famous.”

        Reggie, this is insightful, because more and more people seem to be okay with this complimentary closing of a letter “for ther frame of Jesus” or something like that What! doesn’t that sound suspect?? I mean if that is what He wanted when He was hear then those whose hearts wanted an overthrow of the Roman government surely would have received their hearts desire!! Yet that is not what happened!!! It’s a heart condition that we as humans have and God’s gift is accessible to all as you say!! That is why this site is so helpful in exposing the redefining of Scripture that has to be done to cling to this systematic. By the grace of God we see that it doesn’t harmonize I’m soooooo grateful to Him for that and for others who see that too! Keep speaking up in truth and love and thank you for your post🙋‍♀️

  2. Thanks br.d and Eric for this.

    We have heard 100 times from RH that man is free to do what he desires. This is his way of saying that unredeemed man will always desire sin and God lets him freely do that (As a way of including “freedom” into determinism).

    But it is a ridiculous statement to make in general, since believers sin also. They no longer have a fallen, sin-only nature and yet they sin. This axiom then falls apart. Those who have the Holy Spirit and a new life in Christ (and do not per Calvinism “only sin all the time”) do not fit the model.

    God now has to “let” (saved) man freely choose to obey or not. …or else once again….according to Calvinism….God is also immutably determining that His own followers continue to sin.

    There is just no way to explain this in Calvinism.

  3. FromOverHere: I had one Calvinist explain it this way. “God continues to determine sin for the believer to keep them humble”. Wow!
    “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when at first we practice to deceive!” Another distortion is introduced to cover up the last distortion. New terms, new definitions and mystery to seal the deal. Mystery is used to cover up blatant obvious contradictions that even the new terms and new definitions can’t get around.
    You can never pin a Calvinist down because his tool box to avoid the plain meaning of the text is sooo vast and ever growing.

  4. I agree. I don’t think that God determined or decreed the violent rape. It happened due to the free willed action of the person in question and God could not do anything about that.

    1. Hi Scott!
      Just a quick.question . So according to your comment, are you saying that man’s freewill can overcome God and leave him helpless ? Or powerless ?

      Thanks for your time

      Armando

      1. Scott
        I agree. I don’t think that God determined or decreed the violent rape. It happened due to the free willed action of the person in question and God could not do anything about that.

        Armando
        Just a quick.question . So according to your comment, are you saying that man’s freewill can overcome God and leave him helpless ? Or powerless ?

        br.d
        Hi Armanda and welcome

        Assuming Scott is referring to Libertarian Free Will – in his post above – it does not necessarily follow that free-will in any way compromised divine omnipotence. As Dr. Plantinga states in his quote above – God can’t make square circles, married bachelors, or make a proposition both true and false at the same time. Even so that is the case these things don’t constitute a limitation to divine omnipotence. And there is nothing that prevents God from creating a world with creatures endowed with Libertarian Free will.
        As a matter of fact – according to Plantinga, it would constitute a more meaningful world.

  5. Great post Br.d, and so glad this is a true statement;

    “But there remains no explicit evidence to show that to be the case. And determinists acknowledge they don’t understand the mechanics of how God can CAUSE the creature to make a choice while attributing the full responsibility of that choice to the creature.”

    I’m starting to see that calvinists really have to cover up aspects of God’s Word to remain in this systematic and every article brings it into the light. I actually have had a hard time watching James White he really comes across so very condescending I wonder if he realizes as created human beings “we all bleed the same” great lyrics and we sure do!!! I agree with what Graceadict writes, “Love requires an authentic choice.” Yes it does relationships can be messy and hard we are called to guard our heart not close it to those around us. Also we see Jesus showing sacrificial love not selfish love as we humans can be prone to and a calvinist can tell me all day long that their systematic doesn’t effect the way they interact with ever other human being created in the image of God, but sadly not in my experience with them☹

    Great quote Br.d
    “A world containing significantly free creatures is more valuable than a world containing no free creatures at all.” A world where Authentic Love for God is possible.

    1. REGGIE
      I’m starting to see that calvinists really have to cover up aspects of God’s Word to remain in this systematic and every article brings it into the light.

      br.d
      Yes – I think your observation is right-on! Having evolved from Augustine – Calvinism is a synchronization of Gnostic and NeoPlatonist doctrines into Christian doctrine. One of its most predominant Gnostic characteristics is “Moral Dualism” where good and evil are co-equal, co-necessary and co-complimentary.

      With this as an inherent characteristic you will eventually notice how many conceptions in Calvinism come in “good-evil” pairs.
      Double-Predestination for example.

      It is this Gnostic element that Calvinists have a very hard time with. And when you observe them you’ll eventually notice their own response to it – is to develop a love-hate relationship with it. They love the “good” aspect of it and secretly hate the “evil” aspect of it.

      So to your point about scripture – they must use various techniques to make their systematic work in scripture, A at the same time, they must use techniques to hide the “evil” aspect within the doctrine.

      In both cases the Calvinist strong suit is the manipulation of language. So over the years, they’ve evolved a library of double-speak talking-points. And over the years they’ve developed exegetical contortion schemes to force verses to work as proof-texts for the doctrine.

  6. 5 Calvinist quotes then something to consider:
    John Calvin –“…how foolish and frail is the support of divine justice afforded by the suggestion that evils come to be, not by His will but by His permission…It is a quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing, but the author of them…Who does not tremble at these judgments with which God works in the hearts of even the wicked whatever He will, rewarding them nonetheless according to desert? Again it is quite clear from the evidence of Scripture that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills just as he will, whether to good for His mercy’s sake, or to evil according to their merits.”

    James White Calvinist apologist: “If God did not specifically determine/decree the violent rape of a specific child, at a specified time, then that girl’s violent rape would be meaningless”

    James Anderson
    “It should be conceded at the outset, and without embarrassment, that Calvinism is indeed committed to divine determinism: the view that everything is ultimately determined by God…..take it for granted as something on which the vast majority of Calvinists uphold and may be expressed as the following: “For every event [E], God decided that [E] should happen and that decision alone was the ultimate sufficient cause of [E].”

    Chris Date—“God predetermines everything that takes place in time, including all desires, decisions, and actions of human agents.”

    My Observation from these Calvinist “thinkers” is– “So this is what we are left with…every evil thought, wicked desire and vile, despicable action was first birthed in the heart and mind of God, it was initiated by God and put into motion by God who then transferred it into His secondary causes (men and demons). God did it this way so that the secondary causes (men) would irresistibly do the evil just as God wanted it done but somehow, mysteriously, God is still Holy and man is the evil one.”
    1Jn 1:5  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 
    Isa 5:20-21  Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!   Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! 

    1. GraceAdict yes we should consider!

      And these comments from these men are such a gross depiction of God!! if this is how I viewed His love and provision I would find this verse below false and I might even be tempted to remove it as Jefferson did on his work;

      1 John 4:8 NASB — The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

      There is a void within these statements from these calvinists of love at the very least!

      1. SCOTT WILLIAMS
        JUNE 4, 2019 AT 10:54 AM
        I agree. I don’t think that God determined or decreed the violent rape. It happened due to the free willed action of the person in question and God could not do anything about that.

        ——–My Reaction to the one posted above———–

        1. The rape has been decreed by God based on the actions made by the rapist that God have already foreseen before the incident happened.

        2. It is not true that God can’t do anything whether to prevent nor to allow the rape to happen. In this case, He choose not to intervene and made use of the evil men to accomplish what has been decreed to come to pass.

        3. Why did God allow for such evil to happen. The answer is that God has certain purpose for everything. Even the OT Prophets were questioning God why He did allow evil to prosper. So as Job when confronted by God of his questioning, the result was that Job became silent and can’t answer back.

      2. Jtleosala
        1. The rape has been decreed by God based on the actions made by the rapist that God have already foreseen before the incident happened.

        br.d
        Knowledge of a future event does not logically entail CAUSATION of that event. But of course in Theological Determinism (aka Calvinism) Calvin’s god FIRST-CONCEIVES, then DECREES, then RENDERS-CERTAIN every event – and does NOT PERMIT creatures from refraining from those events he AUTHORS. So if the rape comes to pass – then it logically follows – Calvin’s god is the AUTHOR of that rape and would NOT PERMIT the rapist from doing otherwise.

        jtleosala
        2. It is not true that God can’t do anything whether to prevent nor to allow the rape to happen. In this case, He choose not to intervene and made use of the evil men to accomplish what has been decreed to come to pass.

        br.d
        This is a good example of Calvinist DOUBLE-MINDEDNESS
        The idea of Calvin’s god intervening or preventing an event is IRRATIONAL because in Calvinism a NECESSARY requirement for any event coming to pass is Calvin’s god must AUTHOR/DECREE it. So if he were to intervene/prevent – he would be intervening/preventing the very thing he AUTHORED/DECREED.

        jtleosala
        3. Why did God allow for such evil to happen. The answer is that God has certain purpose for everything. Even the OT Prophets were questioning God why He did allow evil to prosper. So as Job when confronted by God of his questioning, the result was that Job became silent and can’t answer back.

        br.d
        This is a great example of Calvinist DOUBLE-SPEAK
        For a Calvinist to use the term “allow” is duplicitous language because Calvinism rejects divine “MERE” permission.
        Calvin’s god DOES NOT PERMIT anything come to pass that he does not AUTHOR.

  7. So in the new heavens and new earth when sin is cast away forever will that world have libertarian free will or be deterministic?

    1. Great question, Bryan! And welcome! I believe it will be like it is now… both. Libertarian free will does not mean free to do anything imagined, but to choose freely between available choices presented to and consistent with one’s nature to act on those choices.

  8. WHY I WOULD NOT WASTE MY TIME DEBATING JAMES WHITE
    Snippets from an interview with Dr. Michael Heiser – Ancient Semitics Scholar.

    I view part of the problem as people who are not studying and investing themselves in the hours of research and the commitment involved in that.

    People who listen to debates often don’t want to do their own research. They don’t invest hundreds of hours in studying, really understanding a subject, being able to take it apart and put it back together again.

    I write things under peer review, scrutinized by people who know what they are doing, in terms of Old Testament Semitics, etc. They evaluate what I’m saying…..they vet it and they publish it.

    If James White wants to debate something, let him write a peer reviewed article. But then he has to interact with all the research. ….. But then people who do Old Testament Semitics would be vetting his work, and that’s just not going to happen.

    So I would not waste my time debating with Mr. White. That would be like debating a point of Greek exegesis with someone who is working only in the English Bible.

    How do you know if someone is defending a certain position coherently?

    White has no feel for the ancient near eastern context. I don’t even know if he is interested in it. If he is at all, he just doesn’t get it. And he just refuses to interpret the passages according to their own contexts.

    What a colossal waste of time!

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