Fallacies of Style: White vs. Wilson

The following is from blogger Fallacies of Style; the original article titled “White vs. Wilson (Part 1)”. The article is re-blogged in its entirety.

Anyone who listens to James White’s Dividing Line program regularly is no doubt are aware of his ongoing disagreement with Ken Wilson. Wilson’s recent book, The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism, has irked White (or perhaps just his listeners) enough that he’s spent a fair amount of time across no fewer than four separate podcasts denouncing it. I’ll have to read Wilson’s book (it shipped a few days ago) and finishing listening to White’s fourth podcast before I comment in depth, but a couple thoughts spring to mind.

First, I wonder why is White bothered by Wilson’s thesis so much? Apparently he’s incapable of simply admitting, “Yes, the early Fathers got free will wrong and the Gnostics and Manichees got it right.” After all, White presumably doesn’t believe that anything outside Scripture is authoritative on matters of doctrine, so why bother about what the early church believed anyhow? Doesn’t White accept Sola Scriptura?

Second, White – as usual – has quite the proclivity for making fallacious arguments that would result in course failure for any first-year student of logic. I quote from White’s podcast around the 1:03:40 mark, where he begins by quoting from Wilson’s book:

Therefore, modern Calvinism, in these deterministic distinctives, has more in common with ancient philosophies and religious heresies than early Christianity. An objective evaluation of the facts cannot avoid this startling conclusion.

And White’s rebuttal to that is:

Here’s my assertion: That’s the conclusion that Dr. Wilson started with, and not shockingly, therefore ended with.

Now, as I say, any first-year logic student recognizes this immediately as a textbook case of the genetic fallacy. (Alternately, we might view it as the circumstantial form of ad hominem.) Even if Dr. Wilson did begin his research with this conclusion in mind, or hoping to find this conclusion, or even with the predetermined goal to make the strongest case possible that the early church fathers embraced free will, this has no bearing on the truth or falsity of the factual claims in Wilson’s book.

What’s particularly entertaining (and, from a psychological point of view, fascinating) is that White doesn’t seem to realize that his “argument” could be turned with equal force against him: “White, you started with the conclusion that Wilson was wrong, therefore it’s not surprising that you ended with that conclusion as well.”

Third, I find it interesting that White began this series by reading from Wilson’s book and then, in the third (and fourth, it appears) podcast, switched to analyzing a YouTube interview of Wilson by Leighton Flowers. (White, perhaps uncharitably, does not provide a link. I think he’s drawing from either here or here.)

Keep in mind, this is after promising his listeners that he would really dig into the sources to refute Wilson. My guess is that White is hoping to placate (or perhaps merely exhaust the patience of) his more intelligent listeners who suspect that it might not be argumentatively sufficient to simply declare Wilson a poor scholar who’s biased and didn’t really deserve his DPhil from Oxford – all of which are obvious examples of the well-known ad hominem fallacy.

More in part 2…

21 thoughts on “Fallacies of Style: White vs. Wilson

  1. Nice!
    Thanks Eric – great article!

    And yes – white is his typical self

    I remember Mr. White had a similar issue with Michael Heiser

    And Dr. Heiser’s response was:
    “All of my research is published and vetted in peer-reviewed articles within scholarship.
    If Mr. White wants to refute any of that – he is perfectly free to submit his own work to the same scrutiny.
    But somehow I don’t think that is going to happen. :-]

  2. Dr. White has a major problem with addressing things that he does not agree with. Instead of pointing to scripture he often foes the boogie man.

  3. Dr. White has a problem with not adressing the subject he disagrees with. Instead of going to Scripture he often does the boggie man attack.

    1. Hello Andrew and welcome

      But I think it goes without saying – irrational thinking – will always result in an irrational interpretation of any data
      Whether that data is scripture or not.

      Blessings!

  4. Thanks Eric it is baffling to me how White’s listeners don’t see arrogance mixed with intelligence…I prefer not to be forced to respect a scholar it seems he commands respect hmm wonder why…(maybe pride)…. I find the way he responds to intellectual opposition to resort to stonewalling… I don’t find him convincing nor encouraging he reminds me of a bully who has to be right no matter the cost… Wait what if he’s wrong which of course we trust, that he is why not debate/discuss with Ken? I enjoy the continual push back this to me isn’t a issue that can be left silent, so again thank you all.

    1. I agree, Reggie. White’s arrogant, braggy, self-important attitude is so repulsive that I am surprised that anyone at all would be drawn to him. (It’s all over his face so clearly. Kinda creepy.) I’m going to guess that he attracts those just like him, those who think might makes right and that the more self-confident someone appears the more right it makes them. To me, his attitude sets off loud alarm bells. Not to mention how he constantly distracts and deflects, majoring in the minors and making mountains out of molehills. I personally think his videos work against him more than they work for him. So in some ways, it’s good he keeps making them.

  5. I suspect that at least a few of White’s Reformed colleagues are embarrassed over the way White has read his Calvinistic views into statements from the early church fathers. And the fact that he does it in such a smart-alecky way can only intensify the embarrassment. The people he respects would be doing him a favor if they called him out on this. (Dr. Brown, are you reading this?)

    1. Hello Vance and welcome

      I seem to recall others from the Reformed side of the lake trying to make the same arguments.
      See the SOT101 articles here with Dr. Kenneth Wilson
      I think he and Dr. Flowers discuss this.

      I seem to recall the RC-church went even further in that regard, sending various confederates to obtain degrees in archeology in order to manipulate the dates of certain ancient Catholic objects. Plaques containing prayers to marry for example dated so as to appear to have been created within the early church time period.

      And N.T. Wright does call John Calvin a Catholic with a small “c”
      So it looks like fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. :-]

  6. “What has dawned on me over the years is that the very thing which Calvinists view as one of their biggest strengths – an internally consistent 5-point systematic – is actually one of their biggest weaknesses. This is not entirely because the systematic is wrong (which it is) but because those who disagree with Calvinism frequently don’t possess a systematic that must be unconsciously defended from being dismantled. To the Calvinist, it is not just a single timber that must be defended – it is the entire structure, because every timber is a load-bearing timber that will cause the structure to collapse if removed.”It

    This is a valuable insight. It reminds me of an early section in G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”, where he discusses insanity NOT as irrationality, but as being “too rational” and making mere consistency an unhealthy obsession.

    1. Hello manor and welcome.

      Another attribute of Calvinism which i think they see as their primary strength is the sophist nature of their language.
      They use it to be able to speak out of both sides of course.
      And gain a lot of success with it.
      But once one recognizes it for what it is – it becomes a glaring indicator that something is wrong.

      Does the Holy Spirit use misleading language to communicate divine truths?
      Does god need people to defend him using subtle double-speak talking-points?

  7. Agreed – we do know better!!! and this is a great dialogue example I agree with Eric.. the beginning thoughts behind this delusion, that though sinful & in need of a Savior, yet we are left unable to respond to God’s clear revelations given to us… hmm that should give pause, because that would make Christ’s death less than….and for that reason alone I find a reason to speak up!!… however they can be very subtle and my hope is at least some are just unsuspecting and don’t see what this actually teaches…. which of course is why this site is so remarkable!!! prior to finding this site I truly felt alone and this systematic to be a giant!!! I was beginning to drive people in my life crazy defending God agaisnt this systematic. I had zeal, but no background and it seemed no one wanted to listen anyway. Then God gives me someone in a Bible study (that clearly started leaning calvinistic) & she was going through a similar situation in her life … then a year or so later I found Leighton through a paper he read from Ravi Zacharias. I had listened to Ravi before and he didn’t sound calvinistic to me… So it all changed, because now I found others defending this tulip that is found lacking 🙂 so intellectually minded believers (that part is just a blessing) not that I would have eventually trusted something that felt off internally, but most importantly kept hitting against the entirety of the Word of God. I enjoy the ways individuals on here stand up and push back Biblically, thoughtfully, and logically. In the light calvinism just doesn’t look right nor the fact that so much of their dialogue is misleading…
    When you say this it totally makes sense;
    “We hooked our young acolyte by appealing to his total sinfulness and God’s sovereignty. We took the concept of “Total Depravity” and extended it beyond what the Bible teaches to become “Total Inability”.

    Truthfully I learned a new word “acolyte” thanks for the post.

  8. Forgive the length of this and if you feel it’s off on a tangent but this occurred to me’
    Calvinism = Artificial Intelligence?
    Artificial Intelligence is the product of a computerised brain that is able to consider a vast number of possible actions and then, according to its program and humanly set parameters, make the best possible decisions.
    It has no feelings or desires to influence its calculations and within its capacity an AI machine has total control of all that happens so that nothing can prevent it completing its programme
    The most sophisticated AI computers can compute every possible eventuality so that nothing takes it by surprise or is not already prepared for.
    The Calvinist god is the same – it is a god which has been designed to be “sovereign”. The definition of “sovereign”, programmed into this creation, is that absolutely nothing occurs that is not expressly intended – no accidents, mistakes, alternatives, freedom of action by participants is allowed for – nothing happens unless planned and decided by the programme.
    This programme, that defines this god, is allegedly derived from data in scripture but in fact that data has been selectively chosen by men to satisfy the logic and reason of men. Having determined that sovereign MUST mean that everything MUST be willed by God they have selected scriptures to support that assertion.
    (Because God is defined in the Bible as “love, mercy and justice” this requires that the definition of these words be altered and distorted to fit the programme.)

    The resultant deterministic Augustinian Calvinist god is nothing more than an IDOL.
    An idol need not be a material object – to which devotion is paid. It can be an idea, a goal, a doctrine which is upheld, propagated, protected, praised, deemed above criticism – in essence worshipped.
    Although untaught people may believe that a god represented by an idol is real and that they are subject to that god’s power, it is actually the knowledgeable practitioners, the teachers or theologians, who wield power because they have declared what must be believed. Using the above illustration – they have created the AI and only allow behaviour that conforms to their definitions.
    They determine what people believe – and they oppose any who disagree with argument (which is not unreasonable), but also too often with misrepresentation, ridicule, personal abuse and, historically, even violence. If one has an encounter with God that does not fit their definition they will become subject to the kind of opposition listed.
    Deterministic Calvinists, by combining their interpretation with their cessationist denial of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in acting and communicating supernaturally in a believer’s life, make their followers dependent on them. Believers have to stick with the programme and refuse any idea that God might break through and show them something different (although if it is God it will always be in keeping with true exegesis of the scriptures). Knowledge of God becomes an intellectual exercise where the intelligent grasp the truth and those who do not are clearly less intelligent.
    They too often instil fear by claiming that any other belief is either foolish and uneducated or a human/demonic deception. This is accompanied by generalised attacks on all who teach something different (Charismatics/Arminians/Pentecostals etc) and the ascribing of the bad behaviour of some to everyone (guilt by association) in those camps.
    Worship of idols and false gods usually have one great motivation – to obtain benefits. In effect religious systems are created to get a god to grant its favours to men. These benefits are spiritual; but also human and social. Being an accepted part of a believing community can be very comforting – rejection is often traumatic. The behaviour and tactics used by aggressive advocates of Calvinism (White, Friel) too often seem to be designed to gain the acceptance and praise and following of the Calvinist community rather than to lovingly correct those who may be wrong. They not only emphasise the danger of disobeying God but convey their own severe disapproval of those who think differently. The pressure and inducements to conform are very powerful.

    1. Hi Z
      Some Calvinists – in their intense obligation to determinism – will try to argue that Calvin’s god doesn’t have Libertarian Freedom.
      Calvin’s god’s perceptions, thoughts, and choices are determined by his nature.
      But this then means that his will is determined by factors that are outside of his will’s control.
      And what we end up with is simply a Supra-natural form of Natural Determinism.

      But John Calvin himself – I don’t believe would allow for such a notion – as he insists that Calvin’s god’s will is the FIRST CAUSE of all things. And Calvin would never say that his god is not free to choose between multiple options.
      So most Calvinists – do hold that Calvin’s god has Libertarian Freedom – even if they don’t acknowledge it.

      Now consider the TV series Star Trek Next Generation and their computer controlled Holodeck.
      A computer program can create replications/simulations of events which the human mind will perceive as congruent with human perceptions of reality.
      So in the Holodeck model of reality – we have a 100% deterministic world – programmed to replicate/simulate events such that the human mind will not perceive them as preprogrammed.

      Now take the idea of divine intervention as conveyed in scripture. How does that take place in a 100% pre-scriptured world, where nothing can even start to come to pass without an infallible decree. What in fact is Calvin’s god intervening or preventing – except his own decrees?

      So the only way the Calvinist can have divine intervention/prevention as it would APPEAR in Scripture – is to have a deterministic Replication/Simulation of it.

      The Calvinist wants to insist divine intervention/prevention is real.
      But what he ends up with – is just another version of the Star Trek Holodeck.
      And the only mechanism he has to avoid that fact – is to make his mind slip into magical thinking.

      1. Thanks for you reply and the very interesting Holodeck comparison.
        It is hard for me to avoid the conclusion that there is demonic influence that makes people accept the A/C determinist doctrines.
        For the godly logical thinkers it seems to require just the suggestion that to question this scheme of doctrine is to doubt God’s sovereignty so not surprisingly they spring to its defence – but most of the time get on with living godly lives, serving the Lord and not letting the logical outcome of the teaching ruin their lives. How can we live seriously on the basis that EVERYTHING we do is already irrevocably preordained?
        I am much more concerned with those who do think about it and propagate it. They have to consciously resort to dishonestly cloaking the horrendous truth in doublespeak, making words mean their opposite – especially when dealing with non-believers. Some also rejoice in this obscenity – men like Piper actually seem to enjoy the incongruity of it. God’s will is so wonderful (and it really is!) and according to them sending people to Hell glorifies God in the best possible way, so they have to say and believe nothing less, and love it.
        When speaking among themselves – or putting down believers who disagree, the corruption of character that comes from all demonic pollution reveals itself in irrationality, arrogance, false and slanderous accusation, blindness to obvious truths in scripture and lies.
        To my mind these men forfeit the respect they have so assiduously accumulated to themselves – when MacArthur slanders millions of believers because they think differently while refusing to look at or acknowledge the evidence of God in their lives he he is nothing more than a deceiver wilful or deceived himself.
        Also there does seem to be an almost cultlike elevation of the superstars of this movement and the accompanying thrusting younger men – with the approval of peers being of great importance. Are their writings and broadcasts and events like Strange Fire really meant to persuade the lost/deceived to come/return to Jesus? or are they for the control/approval of their followers? They seem so ready to write off millions of believers off – although it is rarely openly stated it sounds like some at least of their leaders really believe that none of those millions are saved/elect/true believers at all but deceived sheep (or goats?) on their way to the hell they deserve.

        A final thought which I hope is helpful and not intended as negative criticism. I think Dr Flowers is performing a great service but I do find the broadcasts too lengthy. Of necessity he repeats a lot from message to message so it requires a lot of patience to wade through 2 hours at a time to pick up what is new. I fear too many will not persevere and that his efforts will not have the impact they deserve.

      2. Excellent post Z SULC!

        Let me add a few comments to a few of your statements:

        Z
        It is hard for me to avoid the conclusion that there is demonic influence that makes people accept the A/C determinist doctrines.

        br.d
        Under scrutiny I believe we find a certain model of behavior by Calvinists in which many things are presented so as to APPEAR in-deterministic, in order make Calvinism APPEAR more Biblically aligned.

        I consider this model of behavior to follow what scripture would describe as “ANGEL OF LIGHT” .
        Working to make deterministic aspects of Calvinism APPEAR in-deternimistic is in fact “ANGEL OF LIGHT” modality.

        Z
        How can we live seriously on the basis that EVERYTHING we do is already irrevocably preordained?

        br.d
        Very insightful!
        This conundrum is shared by Atheists determinists as well as Calvinists, and people who embrace Solipsism.
        They must live *AS-IF* the core proposition of the belief system is false.

        John Calvin understood this and instructed his disciples:
        -quote
        “go about your office *AS-IF* nothing is determined about any part”

        This is understood in Philosophy as *AS-IF* thinking.
        In Calvinism then – all things in every part are predetermined *AS-IF* nothing in particular is determined in any part.
        This is classic DOUBLE-THINK

        Z
        They have to consciously resort to dishonestly cloaking the horrendous truth in doublespeak, making words mean their opposite – especially when dealing with non-believers.

        br.d
        Totally agreed!
        The ability to craft statements designed to obfuscate the underlying doctrine – do so with great subtly.
        I think John Piper – for example – is as popular as he is – because he is a grand-master at Calvinism’s DOUBLE-SPEAK.

        Z
        Also there does seem to be an almost cultlike elevation of the superstars of this movement …

        br.d
        Yes – very insightful!
        The scripture says “every tree brings for fruit after its own kind”
        And I think this fruit within Calvinism has its origin in Calvin’s worshipful adoration of Augustine.
        Calvinist pastors often put Augustine and Calvin on pedestals.

        I attempted to read some of Loraine Boettner’s writings for example – and couldn’t stomach the man-worship.

        Psychologists would call this “vicarious boasting”.
        A Calvinist pastor cannot boast about himself without it being observed as carnal behavior.
        So he boasts about other individuals – and in the process he derives a portion of that worship vicariously.
        The Calvinist believer has the same problem.
        But he can boast the superiority of the guild to which he belongs – and thereby derives his superiority vicariously.

        And you are right – this is a form of seductive entrenchment for young believers who don’t have discernment.
        It seduces young Calvinists into unconsciously seeking after forms of man-worship accepted within the Calvinist social structure.

        Z
        I think Dr Flowers is performing a great service but I do find the broadcasts too lengthy.

        br.d
        I agree – Dr. Flowers ministry is totally wonderful!
        And perhaps there will be others who will ask for him to split his videos in segments for the reasons you observe.

  9. Calvinism – Artificial Intelligence?
    Artificial Intelligence is the product of a computerised brain that is able to consider a vast number of possible actions and then, according to its program and humanly set parameters, make the best possible decisions
    It has no feelings or desires to influence its calculations and within its capacity an AI machine has total control of all that happens so that nothing can prevent it completing its programme
    The most sophisticated AI computers can compute every possible eventuality so that nothing takes it by surprise or is not already prepared for.
    The Calvinist god is the same – it is a god which has been designed to be “sovereign”. The definition of “sovereign”, programmed into this creation, is that absolutely nothing occurs that is not expressly intended – no accidents, mistakes, alternatives, freedom of action by participants is allowed for – nothing happens unless planned and decided by the programme.
    This programme, that defines this god, is allegedly derived from data in scripture but in fact that data has been selectively chosen by men to satisfy the logic and reason of men. Having determined that sovereign MUST mean that everything MUST be willed by God they have selected scriptures to support that assertion.
    (Because God is defined in the Bible as “love, mercy and justice” this requires that the definition of these words be altered and distorted to fit the programme.)
    The resultant deterministic Augustinian Calvinist god is nothing more than an IDOL.
    An idol need not be a material object – to which devotion is paid. It can be an idea, a goal, a doctrine which is upheld, propagated, protected, praised, deemed above criticism – in essence worshipped.
    Although untaught people may believe that a god represented by an idol is real and that they are subject to that god’s power, it is actually the knowledgeable practitioners, the teachers or theologians, who wield power because they have declared what must be believed. Using the above illustration – they have created the AI and only allow behaviour that conforms to their definitions.
    They determine what people believe – and they oppose any who disagree with argument (which is not unreasonable), but also too often with misrepresentation, ridicule, personal abuse and, historically, even violence. If one has an encounter with God that does not fit their definition they will become subject to the kind of opposition listed.
    Deterministic Calvinists, by combining their interpretation with their cessationist denial of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in acting and communicating supernaturally in a believer’s life, make their followers dependent on them. Believers have to stick with the programme and refuse any idea that God might break through and show them something different (although if it is God it will always be in keeping with true exegesis of the scriptures). Knowledge of God becomes an intellectual exercise where the intelligent grasp the truth and those who do not are clearly less intelligent.
    They too often instil fear by claiming that any other belief is either foolish and uneducated or a human/demonic deception. This is accompanied by generalised attacks on all who teach something different (Charismatics/Arminians/Pentecostals etc) and the ascribing of the bad behaviour of some to everyone (guilt by association) in those camps.
    Worship of idols and false gods usually have one great motivation – to obtain benefits. In effect religious systems are created to get a god to grant its favours to men. These benefits are spiritual; but also human and social. Being an accepted part of a believing community can be very comforting – rejection is often traumatic. The behaviour and tactics used by aggressive advocates of Calvinism too often seem to be designed to gain the acceptance and praise and following of the Calvinist community rather than to lovingly correct those who may be wrong. They not only emphasise the danger of disobeying God but convey their own severe disapproval of those who think differently. The pressure and inducements to conform are very powerful.

    1. Hello Z SULC and welcome

      It is true – the world of Calvinism is 100% determined – as is the world of a computer or robot.
      And we know – for example – it is a logical impossibility for a computer to create TRUE random numbers
      So in a 100% deterministic world – when random numbers is what someone wants – the only way to achieve that is through a deterministic Replication/Simulation.

      Calvinism faces the same logical problem with their need for divine intervention.
      In a 100% prescripted world where nothing comes to pass without infallible decree – it is a logical impossibility to have TRUE divine intervention. Calvin’s god would simply be intervening in his own decrees.

      So the only way the Calvinist can have random numbers and divine intervention – is through a deterministic Replication/Simulation.

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