A short introduction to Calvinism

Deutsche Version: Eine kurze Einführung in den Calvinismus.

Youtube Version

Many people have been (rightly) consterned about infamous assertions of the extremely popular Evangelical preacher John Piper such as God causing earthquakes to punish America for its sins or “It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.”

John Piper

Yet few people suspect this is only the tip of the iceberg.

John Piper is a staunch Calvinist. Also called reformed theology, Calvinism is a doctrine which did not begin with the French theologian Calvin but can be found in diverse authors such as Luther, Zwingli, Aquinas, Anselm of Canterbury and William of Ockham.   The man who introduced it to the Christian Church was Augustine, who (quite coincidentally) was also the first theologian to defend the use of torture against heretics, with all the historical consequences we know all too well.

One basis of Calvinism is divine determinism (which they call “sovereignty”) which means that every thing which happens (including rapes and genocides) has been desired and made certain by God before the very beginning of time.

john-calvin

The other basis of Calvinism is the so-called TULIP belief-system, whereby:

Total Depravity – As a result of Adam’s fall, the entire human race is affected; all humanity is dead in trespasses and sins. Man is unable to save himself (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18).

Unconditional Election – Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, in eternity past God elected certain people to salvation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response (Romans 8:29-30;9:11; Ephesians 1:4-6, 11-12) because man is unable to respond, nor does he want to.

Limited Atonement – Because God determined that certain ones should be saved as a result of God’s unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected and for whom Christ died will be saved (Matthew 1:21; John 10:11; 17:9; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32; Ephesians 5:25).

Irresistible Grace – Those whom God elected He draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds (John 6:37, 44; 10:16).

Perseverance of the Saints – The precise ones God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith. None whom God has elected will be lost; they are eternally secure (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-14).

From this, it logically follows that God willed and caused most people to be damned and eternally suffer in hell (very few Calvinists believe in the Annihilation of the wicked).
In future posts, I will explore in more depth the logical aspects and implications of reformed theology.
 lakeFire
Disclaimer: I don’t agree with their use of these Biblical passages. I believe that many are taken out of context whereas some of them only support aspects of Calvnism  while contradicting others.
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64 thoughts on “A short introduction to Calvinism

    • Thanks for the links! This is only an introduction and I will certainly reference Olson’s excellent treatment of the subject in future posts.
      I even hope to interview him on Calvinism and the future of Evangelicalism, one day.

  1. ” I believe that many are taken out of context whereas some of them only support aspects of Calvnism while contracting others.”

    lotharson, then please advise as to how we go about determining which passages support and which contradict?

    which passages are taken out of context?
    how are they taken out of context?
    what would be the correct context?
    how do we make those determinations that a particular context is the correct context?
    how do we know a particular context is correct?

    i’d submit that if i was to become a believer, then Calvinism comes across as a feasible and logical result of the scriptures (hmm… i just used logical and scriptures in the same sentence). if the christian god is omni*-god, then everything that happens is because of omni*-god. this is inescapable, methinks.

    the omni*-god is the primum movens, right?

    cheers

      • genau.

        i saw yours and thought similarly.

        i have asked those questions before: how do we decide on which interpretation is correct?

        to add some salt to the wound–which helps in the healing, actually–why would it matter to an eternal omni*-god if a gazillion humans suffer for an eternity.

        from my perspective, if a thing is eternal then perhaps for that eternal thing, all else may appear to be irrevelant, and, perhaps, perhaps, even meaningless.

    • Hello Vernon.

      Your question seems to presuppose that there is a correct interpration of Scripture.
      Of course there is no such thing. The reason is that what we call the Bible is a self-contradictory collection of books from many authors with different theological ideas which CANNOT be brought in agreement without utterly distorting (at least some of) them.
      As I explained here, I do not single out Biblical books as being MORE inspired that all other Jewish and Christian books:
      https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/on-the-inspiration-of-the-bible-and-other-books-von-der-interpretation-der-bibel-und-anderen-buchern/
      P.S: You rose so many interesting and fascinating questions in your email that I hardly know where to begin with 🙂

      • “Your question seems to presuppose that there is a correct interpration of Scripture.”

        lotharson, when you, and others, submit “I believe that many are taken out of context[,]” this suggests that the interpretation is somehow incorrect; which, then suggests there is a correct interpretation.

        the fact that we have Lutherans and Calvinists and Mormons and Baptists and Seven Day Adventists and … suggests that the Catholic interpretation was considered incorrect, no?

        yes, we have lots to discuss. don’t be hard pressed to find answers. the hunt is more interesting than the kill.

        • @xon-xoff:
          lotharson, when you, and others, submit “I believe that many are taken out of context[,]” this suggests that the interpretation is somehow incorrect; which, then suggests there is a correct interpretation.
          While we do not know the perfect description of physical law such that general relativity and quantum gravity meet and are married happily ever after, we do know that certain models are wrong. So I can call something wrong, without knowing precisely the correct thing. Or, to quote Timothy Ware in The Orthodox Church:

          The life of the Church in the earlier Byzantine period is dominated by the seven general councils. These councils fulfilled a double task. First, they clarified and articulated the visible organization of the Church, crystallizing the position of the five great sees or Patriarchates, as they came to be known. Secondly, and more important, the councils defined once and for all the Church’s teaching upon the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith—the Trinity and the Incarnation. All Christians agree in regarding these things as ‘mysteries’ which lie beyond human understanding and language. The bishops, when they drew up definitions at the councils, did not imagine that they had explained the mystery; they merely sought to exclude certain false ways of speaking and thinking about it. To prevent people from deviating into error and heresy, they drew a fence around the mystery; that was all. (20)

          The bit at the end is important: “they drew a fence around the mystery”.

        • ” the hunt is more interesting than the kill” probably…unless you are quite hungry!

          Fortunately for you, I have enough food: I am listening to William Lane Craig every day!

      • @ labreuer

        ” we do know that certain models are wrong.”

        ok, fine.

        again, how do we come to know that certain models are wrong?

        “To prevent people from deviating into error and heresy, they drew a fence around the mystery; that was all.”

        ok, how did they determine the error and heresy?

        what criteria were used to make these determinations?

        if you declare that x is wrong, one should think there is a reason why x is wrong, right.

        moreover, as far as i am aware, Luther, Calvin, Mohammed, et al, insisted that they were in the right; as does many of their followers: so, as i asked please, how do we know that they were correct?

        papal infallibility, from EWTN –> http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/papac2.htm

        “When the Pope (1) intends to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme authority (3) on a matter of faith and morals (4) to the whole Church, he is preserved by the Holy Spirit from error. His teaching act is therefore called “infallible” and the teaching which he articulates is termed “irreformable”.

  2. I will agree, Marc, that Calvinists (at least the ones I’ve come across online) tend to be more snarky and condescending than the rest of their Christian brethren and sistren. Sometimes I wonder if they’re practicing to be atheists.

    But I can’t fault their interpretation of Scripture. Or rather, I think their interpretation is just as defensible as that of just about any other Christian group- with the possible exception of Moonies. But that’s the problem: the Bible is not exactly clear about a lot of stuff.

    Part of that is, of course, not the Bible’s fault. There’s no way to formulate a way of life, a set of morals, without ambiguity: the word is not the thing, and the law is not the behavior. But part of the problem is that even taking this into consideration, there are any number of ambiguous, contradictory, or illogical passages in Scripture. This is not surprising, since there were about forty authors involved, each of whom had his own theological ax to grind. But such a rich ground is ideal for speciation: the evolution of sects and confessions.

    Me, I don’t see how you can reasonably defend one “correct” interpretation of the Bible. And I don’t see any scriptural reason to be, say, an Arminian rather than a Calvinist. But luckily, that’s not my problem.

    cheers from cool Vienna, Scott

  3. For logic, it goes back to what I mentioned in a previous post. “If, then” statements. The TULIP, to some extent, depends on each previous statement’s truth. So the “T” has to be true, for the rest of the “ULIP” to be true. But “Total Depravity – As a result of Adam’s fall, the entire human race”…is rather rudiculously false (even assuming there was an Adam, and not merely symbolically a human). A little common sense goes a long way. Humans are punished for seeking knowledge. Or in another analogy, a parent (symbolicly God), punishes his/her children (Adam and Eve) with death, for either seeking knowledge, disobeying an abusive parent, or simply picking a choice fruit. How bizarre! So “T” is false, and you don’t even have to worry about “ULIP”.

    • “is rather rudiculously[sic] false…”

      Gary, you know that by and large the Calvinist knows the “T” to be true, right. and, the same for “ULIP.”

      i wonder, and i ask again and again, how does a Calvinist, a Lutheran, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Scientologist, a [choose your theist] know their assertions to be true?

      cheers

      • “know their assertions to be true?”…they don’t, or can’t, in my opinion. The only conclusion is, that you cannot use logic to evaluate religious positions. Faith and logic are not compatible. Not that there is anything wrong with faith. As you say, “Calvinist, a Lutheran, Catholic, a Muslim, a Scientologist, a [choose your theist]”…unless you can come up with a common “truth” in all the various theologies, let alone all the religions floating around. “rudiculously” my u and i on my iphone are next to each other, and my fingers are fat.

  4. If you really want to understand the issue, my feeling is that we all need to go do some reading. Go to the original source, the Bible and see if what different theologians write makes sense. Follow through the text of scripture. Don’t cherry pick a verse here and a verse there. Follow through carefully the exegesis of reformed theologians and non-reformed. Which is more faithful to the scriptures? Read what the reformers wrote on the subject. Read Luther, Calvin, etc. and read contemporary writers on both sides of the issue. Listen to some debates on the issue (I would recommend James White).

    Here are some issues to consider:

    1) What is your view of the nature of man. Is man able to do good in an unregenerate state? Is God’s grace required to bring a person to salvation?
    2) Election is taught in the Bible. Does God elect individuals or groups? On what basis does he elect them?
    3) Does God have exhaustive foreknowledge of future events or is his knowledge limited somehow?
    4) What is the nature of God’s sovereignty? Does the fact that evil exists in the world mean that God is not sovereign over that event? Think of Joseph who said, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
    5) Is God obligated to give his grace to every man equally? Is he obligated to forgive anyone? Is God obligated to dispense justice to all equally?

    • “If you really want to understand the issue, my feeling is that we all need to go do some reading.”

      i agree.

      “Go to the original source, the Bible and see if what different theologians write makes sense.”

      there are many diverse opinions about the bible by the many theologians.

      “Which is more faithful to the scriptures?”

      how do we decide which is more faithful?
      what criteria should we use to make such determinations?

      “Is man able to do good in an unregenerate state?”

      i am not sure what unregenerate means, but i see people doing good all the time.

      “Is God’s grace required to bring a person to salvation?”

      firstly, which “God” are we talking about here?
      i suppose we have to accept that the “God” to which you refer exists, right.
      what is this grace of which you speak?
      how does one acquire this grace of your “God”?
      how is a person brought to salvation?
      and, well, what is salvation?
      why does a person need salvation?

      perhaps after you answer the above questions, then perhaps you will indulge me further to ask questions on all those other issues you raise that are loaded with assumptions.

      • @xon-xoff

        I’m not sure which point of view you are coming from in your comments. Could you explain a little bit please? Are you a Christian or agnostic or atheist or just searching for answers? Are you looking for a debate?

        Thanks.

        As for myself, I am a Bible believing Christian and am reformed in my understanding of the Bible. I would refer you to the Westminster Confession of Faith as to what I believe. Here’s the link:

        http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/

        I look forward to your reply. Have a great day.

      • @ Adam

        thanks for your answer.

        i am an atheist. i do not share your belief in a god.

        can i ask if it matters from which point of view my questions arise?

        i asked my questions because i am looking for answers. believers tend to take it for granted that their beliefs are given and understood. for instance, you question if man is able to do good in an unregenerate state? for me, that question is as loaded as it gets. the question presupposes that man is in a certain state: how do we know this to be so?

        then you ask, “Is God’s grace required to bring a person to salvation?” here too, this question presupposes there is a god. and beyond presupposing a god, it presupposes, i would suggest after your declaration of your beliefs, the indeterminate, indescribable, undefined, Christian god. thus, i needed to understand to which god you referred. your question mentions “grace”: what is grace? your question presupposes that a person needs salvation: what is salvation, and why would someone need salvation? how does your god provide this grace? what does this grace do to provide a person with what you call salvation?

        and now that you have indicated your beliefs about your god, the Christian god:

        for your question 3), as far as i was taught, supposedly your god is omniscient, which suggests that your god knows all–whatever that means. i do not know what knowing all would mean, so i could not say if your god would or would not have exhaustive foreknowledge. moreover, i’m also not sure what foreknowledge means.

        for your question 4), i was taught that supposedly your god was omnipotent, which suggests your god is all powerful–whatever that means. i’m not sure how to make sense of the nature of omnipotency. in addition, in one of your questions you stated, “the fact that evil exists”: sorry to ask again, but what do you mean by evil?

        for your question 5), you mention grace again, so, as per my para 3 above, please define grace for us. you also mention that your god may be obligated to forgive: how does your god forgive? in a similar vein, you mention your god being obligated to dispense justice: as far as i am aware justice is something we administer amongst ourselves. how did your god come to dispense justice, and how does your god do this?

        • @xon-xoff

          It’s great that you replied. I appreciate your questions. I’ll take a crack at helping you answer some of your questions if you want. At least I’ll give it my best shot. They’re complicated questions, but I think they are answerable. Hopefully it will help in some way.

          Anyway, how about we take one question at a time and go from there?

          My e-mail is adam31415926@gmail.com if you want to discuss further. It probably would be better than doing all this on a blog comment board.

          Just shoot me an e-mail and we’ll get the ball rolling.

          Thanks again, and have a good day.

          Adam

    • Hello Paul, thanks for having commented and sorry for not having answered earlier. I’m glad to have one Calvinist commenter, even though I passionately detest this belief system.

      I think we have very different presupositions. I believe (on good grounds) that the Bible contains mutually contradictory books and I view as an (very important) book of the Church but not as being free of errors:
      https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/on-the-inspiration-of-the-bible-and-other-books-von-der-interpretation-der-bibel-und-anderen-buchern/

      I believe you don’t get consistent answer from the Bible to the questions you asked if you are intellectualy honest and search the PLAUSIBLE meanings conveyed by the original authors instead of using “Scripture interprets Scripture”.
      I am neither Evangelical nor Protestant.

      I am going to argue for all these assertions in future posts and you are most welcome to answer me.

      Lovely greetings from Europe.

          • Okay, so you have supplemented “greatness” for “perfection.” If we are talking about the former, no arguement there. Nonetheless, despite these logical arguments for the ‘existence’ of God, the ‘character’ of God is not unraveled through natural revelation. That is where Scripture leads and progresses theology. And Calvinism, soteriology, and things like mentioned here, are items of theology far beyond rational deductions; they require a kind of ‘special’ revelation. Otherwise, we are simply dabbling in whose argument is most exciting, witty, and fancy.

      • The only “reply” shows up under my comment. But anyway, Taylor said “Nonetheless, if the Scriptures do not lead and progress theology, what does?”
        Common sense, your own intelligence, is more important than texts written by someone over 2000 years ago. You really believe God sanctions, for example, Leviticus 14, for purity, killing a lamb, and placing its blood on your right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe? I do not think so. Inspiration is not word for word truth from God. It is filtered by some really messed-up people. John writing Revelation must have used some of Lotharson’s hemp tea, or wild mushrooms.

      • @ Gary

        ” Inspiration is not word for word truth from God.”

        Gary, how does one arrive at this understanding?

        i believe Sproul would insist otherwise.

        as an outsider, how am i to understand which of you holds the correct understanding?

      • ” Inspiration is not word for word truth from God.”

        Gary, how does one arrive at this understanding?”

        As I said, please use your own common sense. The scriptural texts were selected to go into the bible after 300.AD. Some texts do not make sense, example Lev 14, as coming from God. Some writers of the text got inspired, but they were also messed-up. This filters and changes facts. Look at David. If he lived today, he be in jail for murdering his lover’s husband. So how can you take advice from messed-up people who lived thousands of years ago?

  5. Don’t bother to attempt an understanding of Calvinistic theology if you reject the full authority of the Scriptures. If the Scriptures are in error at any point, we may hold it suspect at every point. If you lie to me once, everything else you say may be true, but I will not and cannot depend on anything else you say from that point on.

    If the Scriptures cannot be rightly interpreted, they have no value to us at all. We may not always interpret the Scriptures rightly, but that does not negate the possibility doing so.

    The issues in this discussion have nothing to do with how we feel about them. Instead, what we believe concerning these matters rests on the plain statements of the Scriptures understood in their cultural, historical and literary contexts.

    I would further suggest that disagreeing over conclusions will serve nothing. We will only make progress as we examine the validity of the presuppositions with which we approach the interpretation of pertinent texts.

    • @gracewriterrandy

      If the Scriptures are in error at any point, we may hold it suspect at every point. If you lie to me once, everything else you say may be true, but I will not and cannot depend on anything else you say from that point on.

      This is very Aristotelian of you—very binary. It falls apart when you realize that Total Depravity says we don’t interpret the Bible perfectly when we read it. So in a sense, who cares if it is completely trustworthy, because our interpretation isn’t!

      If the Scriptures cannot be rightly interpreted, they have no value to us at all. We may not always interpret the Scriptures rightly, but that does not negate the possibility doing so.

      This is invalid argumentation if it leads to the conclusion that science is impossible when science most definitely is possible and is done. Science proceeds by refusing to claim that it knows what the True Nature of things is. Instead, it finds successive approximations, with no guarantee that it will ever stumble upon Things As They Are. Perhaps the same is the case with theology and understanding God: maybe we’ll forever be finding better and better interpretations, as we grow in knowledge and wisdom.

      The issues in this discussion have nothing to do with how we feel about them.

      This seems to go directly against NT teachings on ‘conscience’. Now, perhaps we should switch from ‘feelings’ to ‘sentiments’—from something that fluctuates with the moment to something which grows in ‘momentum’ over time. We are told to love what is good and hate what is evil—that is, we are told to engage our emotions. Remember Total Depravity: everything is screwed up, and everything can be redeemed. Denial of the importance of feeling is denial of part of God’s creation; such denial never ends up well. Who is to say that the regenerated intellect is more trustworthy than regenerated emotions? I see no such indication in scripture! Nay; I am to love God with all my heart/mind/soul/strength. All are important; none can be left out if we are to wholly worship and obey our Lord.

      • @labreuer “Total Depravity says we don’t interpret the Bible perfectly when we read it”
        I’ve never heard that argument against inerrancy before. I will have to try and remember it. Beautiful logic, my friend.

        • @Gary

          I’ve never heard that argument against inerrancy before. I will have to try and remember it. Beautiful logic, my friend.

          It’s not really an argument against inerrancy, so much as a complicating factor that questions how important the doctrine of inerrancy really is. Consider how much ‘noise’ we sift through in our daily lives. We get tons and tons of sensory input that we just discard. Fun fact: a friend of mine who has modeled trees realistically with computer graphics says he sees more details in trees than most people. The more you know about something, the more detail you can take in and process usefully.

          It really does baffle me when someone says, “If the Bible has a single error, I cannot trust it.” I like to ask such people: if a television has a single bad pixel, does that destroy your viewing experience? The person is forced to say ‘no’. The key is redundancy, and the Bible has a ton of it! This means that God did not need to keep it inerrant; he’d only have needed to keep it from getting ‘too’ corrupted. This model matches ‘noisy’ reality much more than the inerrant model.

          Consider this as only anecdotal, but I find that the people who care more about inerrancy love to proof-text, instead of provide holistic messages from the Bible. Inerrancy is much more important for proof-texting than for interpreting the Bible as a whole!

        • @xon-xoff

          assuming your god exists, how do you know this?

          I don’t “know” God exists like I “know” F = ma. If there’s any way I “know” God, it is through his purposes and methods, and given that I will only ever have a finite conception of them, you could always A) posit the finite versions; B) criticize me for assuming there is a mind behind them, vs. them being just some way reality actually works.

          In other words, if you pick the right presuppositions, nothing can in principle be evidence that God exists. I’ve been around the block on this conversation many times. 🙂 Even stars magically lining up and spelling “YHWH” would not demonstrate anything other than there being an extremely advanced alien species with ability to manipulate stellar objects.

          I haven’t fully figured this out yet, but I probably do something like presuppose that there could be a God-mind out there, just like we all (well, minus the idealists) presuppose that there is matter and energy. The question is always (perhaps this assumes pragmatism?): what can one do with one’s presuppositions? Do they lead to interesting places which ‘matter’?

          Lots of people create God in their own image, which is something the Bible acknowledges and commands against. A fun blog entry is How can we mere mortals state what God SHOULD do? If we don’t allow ourselves to discover what an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect deity would do and instead decide what he/she/it would do (based on our own conceptions of the world, which are likely based on false premises), we’ll likely get nowhere. But what if we try and do a kind of ‘constraint matching’? I have personally found this to lead interesting places.

          Remember that what is ‘real’ is not easy to define. If we are too hasty, we risk e.g. making ‘justice’ unreal, which is insane, given that justice really matters. Logical Positivism was an attempt to define what sentences are ‘meaningful’, but it utterly collapsed because its central tenet was thereby declared ‘meaningless’. The best I think we can say is that if some model helps us ‘navigate reality’, it may well describe something real.

          I have a model of God in my head, and this model helps me navigate reality. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, but we must be very careful, because strictly speaking, F = ma is a delusion. Matter and energy could be called a ‘delusion’ based on the Holographic Principle—maybe information is more real! (The Matrix, anyone?) When you explore this stuff deeply, you come away humbled and realizing that there’s a lot that people are confident that they ‘know’, which they don’t know. One professor I know likes to use the term ‘science dogma’, to reinforce that all humans have a tendency to be overconfident in what they “know”.

      • @ labreuer

        i’m not sure if you answered my question, “…how do you know this [God did not need to keep it inerrant]?”

        is this your answer? — “If we don’t allow ourselves to discover what an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect deity would do (based on our own conceptions of the world, which are likely based on false premises), we’ll likely get nowhere.”

        • @xon-xoff

          i’m not sure if you answered my question, “…how do you know this [God did not need to keep it inerrant]?”

          is this your answer? — “If we don’t allow ourselves to discover what an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect deity would do (based on our own conceptions of the world, which are likely based on false premises), we’ll likely get nowhere.”

          I’m sorry, I thought you were asking me how I ‘know’ God exists, not “Assuming that god exists, how do you know X?”. My bad!

          Given that science can make discoveries in spite of noise and incomplete data and apparently contradictory data (have you ever looked at Hubble’s original data?), I think it is reasonable to say that we could act similarly in the moral/theological realm. Indeed, I think we learn about God kind of like science learns about reality—by coming up with successively better approximations, or models. At least, I think this would be a much better way to ‘do’ theology than is often done.

      • @ labreuer

        “I think we learn about God kind of like science learns about reality—by coming up with successively better approximations, or models.”

        are you comparing theology to science? this is interesting.

        as far as i am aware the scientific method recommends that a model (hypothesis/theory) be testable, falsifiable, repeatable, and be able to make some predictions perhaps.

        are there theological models?

        if there are, which are testable, falsifiable, repeatable, etc.?

    • @ gracewriterrandy

      “We will only make progress as we examine the validity of the presuppositions with which we approach the interpretation of pertinent texts.”

      well said. now then, how shall we examine the validity of our presuppositions?

      what criteria shall we use?

      cheers

      • Of course, I don’t believe in the “Total Depravity” premise, but I think the argument “Total Depravity says we don’t interpret the Bible perfectly when we read it” is a good argument against the argument. If that makes sense.

        • @Gary

          Of course, I don’t believe in the “Total Depravity” premise

          You might like Eric Schwitzgebel’s 2008 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. You may also like Alisdair Cockburn’s Unknowable and incommunicable. These, plus neuroscience results such as Stephen Grossberg’s 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness provide an awfully scientific-sounding version of total depravity. We shouldn’t really be surprised to find out that both human extrospection and introspection tend to be deeply erroneous until they are trained. Internet atheists these days love to point out how many cognitive biases humans suffer from, as if the ancients didn’t know about such things (see, for example, Proverbs!).

          Note that there exists disagreement among Christians as to the source of Total Depravity. Not everyone believes that sinfulness is inherited from Adam. I, for example, believe that we just end up teaching our kids wrong things because our world has lots of wrongness in it. The results tend to be what the Bible predicts, though. It’s model of human nature is quite profound. Anyone who believes people are ‘inherently good’ is just hilarious, given what we saw go down in the 20th century.

      • @ labreuer
        “if a television has a single bad pixel”. Our eyes and brain integrate the results, to give us a correct image.
        “The person is forced to say ‘no’. The key is redundancy, and the Bible has a ton of it!”
        Also, we are given our error detection and correction algorithm, within our brains, to evaluate what makes sense, and what does not.

        • @Gary

          Also, we are given our error detection and correction algorithm, within our brains, to evaluate what makes sense, and what does not.

          You are very correct. But ‘what makes sense’ does not always correspond to ‘that which is real’. Does quantum physics make sense to you? Does the Holographic Principle make sense to you? Or consider the old wives’ tales which make sense but are false.

          The iron test of something which “makes sense” is to see what happens in the world when we act according to its truth. That is the only way to truly test beliefs. Without that, we aren’t even guaranteed that two people are using the same words to describe the same concepts in their brains—excepting formal systems, where theorem-proving can give high confidence that the same axioms and same rules of logic are being employed.

          Note that an idea might be valid in some domains and not others. Try and use F = ma to explain the advance of the perihelion of Mercury and you’ll be quite stuck. Use it to model construction crane dynamics and you’ll do just fine. The cool thing about models that work in some domains (arguably, all models are like this) is that even when they fail, they tend to help us discover better models.

          P.S. You might be interested this comment.

      • @ labreuer
        “Does quantum physics make sense to you?”
        Actually, I think it does make sense to me, since I’ve got a degree in physics. I rather like it to explain things in theology. String theory, multiple dimensions, perhaps multiple universes, time and dimensions linked together, uncertainty of position and energy, probability but not certainty of existence in a specific location, all speaks of something more than F=MA. How about the resonance to create carbon from hydrogen in stars? So I like it better than conjector. Too bad math can’t be applied to religion, then we could figure out what is true, false, and conjecture.

        • @Gary

          “Does quantum physics make sense to you?”
          Actually, I think it does make sense to me, since I’ve got a degree in physics. I rather like it to explain things in theology. String theory, multiple dimensions, perhaps multiple universes, time and dimensions linked together, uncertainty of position and energy, probability but not certainty of existence in a specific location, all speaks of something more than F=MA. How about the resonance to create carbon from hydrogen in stars? So I like it better than conjector. Too bad math can’t be applied to religion, then we could figure out what is true, false, and conjecture.

          Neat. Now, consider how philosophy preceded physics. Democritus’ Atomism was extraordinarily valuable for ‘priming’ our minds for actually exploring atoms, probably in physics as well as chemistry. It’s very easy to forget how we got to a place we’re currently at; this is a mistake. So when it comes to theology, I have hopes that it will become describable by mathematics, but I’m not sure we’re there yet. I do tend to use a lot of nerdy metaphors to talk about my understanding of Christian theology when the people around me understand them. 😀

          I’m amused that you bring up carbon formation in stars; a few weeks ago I got interested in reading up on some basics of nucleosynthesis and read about the CNO cycle. I’ve been playing with the idea of how forming stable atoms might be similar to forming stable communities of people; I have no idea if the splitting apart of communities or ejecting of people has any similar ‘mathematical structure’ to nuclear physics, but on the very surface, there seems to be some similarity. We know it’s hard to create cohesive groups of people bigger than a certain size. Indeed, if we want groups of people bigger than a certain size, it’s better to have multiple ‘clumps’ which are ‘bonded’ together in a way that doesn’t require every person in one group to be closely involved with someone in the next. Who knows if this metaphor goes anywhere; I’m not a nuclear physicist nor am I a sociologist.

          One metaphor that does work surprisingly deeply is the refining of precious metals, compared to refining of people (that is, becoming less sin-prone and more God-like). Consider the heating of a metal so that the impurities separate and come to the surface. The impurities are ugly and need to be gently removed, lest they be mixed right back into the molten metal. This same process often happens to people when they are put under stress. Stress brings out the impurities in people and there is the option to gently remove them, leaving a purer person. Or we can get mad at the impurities and stir them around, making the suffering for naught.

          I might sound crazy in saying this, but I think the seen is supposed to help us understand the unseen. How can you and I identify with having gone through the same experience in life without being able to point to some external thing we consider sufficiently identical? I wonder whether our internal ‘world’ (think introspection) is best explored with metaphors from the external world. It doesn’t seem outlandish to me; maybe the neural structures which somehow represents ‘me’ are no different in ‘type’ or ‘kind’ than the neural structures which represent our model of the world.

          I end this rant by saying that bringing science and math into theology/psychology is exciting! Until we can do that thoroughly, I think we’ll be largely stuck in philosophy-land, which is necessarily unfalsifiable—but hopefully less and less so. We seem to commonly have to trek through the land of the unfalsifiable before we find ways to make things falsifiable.

      • @ labreuer
        Just my opinion, but humans are unpredictable. Electrons are predictable. So in TULIP, T might by totally unpredictable. You can assign an exact probability to the state of an electron. Just like the analogy in Schrödinger’s cat, you can assign a probability that the cat is dead or alive, based on the decay of one radioactive atom. But you don’t know the cat’s state till you observe him. With a human, you cannot assign a probability that he is in any state at all. Even when you observe him. Atoms coming together are predictable. Put an unstable atom of chlorine and an unstable atom of sodium (both reactive alone), you know they will get together and form a stable atom of NaCl, salt. Put two reactive people together in a box, and you might get one killed, the other killed, both killed, or they will like each other and marry, and live happily together for the rest of their lives. Totally unpredictable.

      • Gary- yep. Humans are intelligent agents and have proven themselves time and again to act in a more complex way than electrons, to the despair of parents, economists, and those of us who yearn for peace.

  6. Well, Lothar, in response to the intense discussion, I’ll say I agree with you on this:

    Were I not a Catholic, I most certainly would not believe in Biblical inerrancy. I would still be a Christian, but probably not identifying as a member of any one Protestant (or Orthodox, for that matter) church.

    However, I almost certainly would still have views that are more conservative than yours. 😀 But, I think we both can find common ground on many thing regardless.

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