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…