October 13, 2014

A Critique of "Do We Have Free Will?" by Geoff Ashley
PART II: Considering the Considerations of the Objections

So last week I looked a short essay written by a Geoff Ashley that has apparently been making rounds through Calvinist circles as an explanation of the Calvinist perspective of the will.

I agree that the essay was quite articulate, and in that, it clarified to me why Calvinists don't seem to get it. So much of the discussion seemed redundant or off-topic in terms of what we are actually talking about when discussing libertarian free will and determinism.

However, I did not go over the last section where Geoff attempts to anticipate, and therein defend against, objections to his view. Let us look at those now.

Do we have a choice?
We do indeed have a choice and are free to choose as we wish, but the reality of our depravity reveals that we all choose poorly. Not one fallen man in a trillion will trust God unless God first overcomes his natural resistance. This God mercifully and graciously does for the elect.
I quote this section only in part because I feel the above segment is representative of his argument. Now here I have to ask the question if the objection being voiced is an "Arminian" objection or something else. I cannot assume that he is addressing me and my perspective here. I suppose that some postmoderns may be concerned about whether or not we get to act on our desires.

However, like I said last week, I doubt that is the case. I don't think anyone is truly asking whether or not I am capable of acting on my desires. Indeed, it seems self evident that I am, at least some of the time. Therefore we get this redundancy that we get last time. If we are addressing whether or not free will is a thing, that means that we must be comparing it to what the world would look like if it weren't a thing. And I don't think any advocates of LFW are saying that if free will weren't a thing, then I would want to do something, but end up doing something else entirely (and I mean in a more blatent and concrete sense than Romans 7).

What we are talking about is causation, not the actualization of desire. Free will is usually defined by the capacity to have chosen differently than one actually had. When we ask, "did I have a choice" what we mean is, "could I have done something else?"  And I think the answer to this question must be no from a Calvinist perspective. But since the author chooses to address a different question than the one really being asked of hin, one can only speculate.

Another way of looking at this is from the question of human continguancy. Is a particular event contingent on what a human chooses, or do all events happen necessarily? This is asking the question more from a divine perspective, rather than the human perspective. And again the Calvinst must say the latter, meaning that we don't have choice, at least not in the sense that LFW are talking about it.

Is this unfair?
If all man has known is sin and if it is universally inherited from Adam, how can one be considered culpable for sin? By nature man cannot not sin. If he cannot do otherwise, how can God judge him and hold him responsible?
Finally it seems the author has stumbled upon the topic. Let us see how he addresses it.
Jonathan Edwards provided a helpful approach to answering this in his distinction between natural and moral inability. According to Edwards, natural inability would be like a man who has been knocked unconscious and tied to a chair. He cannot stand up and should not be held responsible for not doing so since he is prevented from standing up by virtue of the ropes which bind him. Though he wants and wills to stand, he cannot do so.
This is not the type of inability that we possess. We possess a moral inability. Though we are truly bound, our bondage is a result of our own desires. We are responsible because we have willfully rebelled. We reject Christ not because we are restrained by rope, but because we are hindered by our hatred of God. We are shackled only by our own selfish loves.
OK, so he phrases the problem now in two ways, and than circumvents the problems instead of directly dealing with it. For instance, let us look at the analogy from Edwards. In the analogy he affirms the fundamental problem: a person tied to a chair is not culpable for his actions. The implication is that he wanted to do one thing, but had to do another. However, this isn't entirally the reason why the person isn't culpable. It is also tied to the idea that it is the person who tied him to the chair that is culpable.

And ultimately it fails because it doesn't go deeper into the incompatibilists thoughts. After all, where does the person's desire come from? It comes from God. This is true of the fallen man, and any other state that man finds himself in. It is the origin of that desire to sin that is culpable, and that origin is God.

This is why his second way of going after this doesn't work. He says that we are willfully rebellious. Well, yes, but God made us that way. God made us rebellious. That is the problem. It makes God culpable, even if it is only equally culpable (though I would say more so).

Furthermore we don't have to go back to Adam to make this charge as he later states. With every sin we commit, we evidence God’s decree of us casting our vote for Adam’s sin. You cannot complain about each sin we make as if God has no part of it if you are a compatibilist. God is giving you your desires, your selfish loves, and your sin nature. Focusing on the positive side of Calvinism like this ignores the complaint rather than answering it.


As I read this, it became very clear that Geoff simply doesn't understand what is being talked about when others talk about "free will". It is certainly true that one can come up with a new definition of the word that coincides with Calvinism, but that is hardly impressive. What isn't preserved is any reason to think that sin has its origin in mankind. Rather, on Calvinism, sin must have its origin in God. That is the issue, not the self-evident assertion that we don't "feel" forced.

Therefore, we can conclude that while Calvinism can affirm the existance of the will, they cannot affirm the existance of a "free will" without redefining it. Calvinists make a habit of only talking about one side of an issue, and this issue is no different. When God told us to walk the narrow path, He didn't mean that we walk through life with blinders on, only paying attention to those aspect of theology which affirm our current beliefs. You cannot offer a defense of your position when you are apparently ignorant of the very complaint you are trying to defend against.

October 6, 2014

A Critique of "Do We Have Free Will?" by Geoff Ashley

Recently, I was pointed to a presentation of the Calvinist view of the will that has been circling the internet (here). When I read it, I found it to be well written, and an excellent summary of my own understanding of Calvinist thought. So I thought it might be fun, and hopefully beneficial to others to go through it and give a basic breakdown of it from an Arminian perspective. Hopefully, the essay's clarity would allow me to be clearer on what the Arminian view of the will is.


Before the essay really gets into it, it lays out a few preliminary comments. Rather than going over these directly, I felt it better to sum them up. He points out that the word 'freedom' has many different senses, and that he is only interested in how the concept operates within the bounds of soteriology (that is the study of salvation). Fair enough. As an Arminian, I fully concur that God is capable, and sometimes does, overpower the will for the sake of His general providence, but that He does not do so when it comes to an individual's salvation. Thus, I find this restriction convenient and appropriate, and I will likewise restrict my comments.

Also he says
Theological discussion of free will often includes historical and complex terms like Pelagianism, Arminianism, Calvinism, predestination, election, determinism and indeterminism, fate, compatibilism and incompatibilism, synergism, monergism, sovereignty and responsibility. We will try to avoid these terms for the sake of clarity and simply refer readers to the recommended resources if they desire a more scholarly discussion.
Again, fair enough. He is merely going to present the Calvinist view, and is in no way commenting on the Arminian view. Therefore, if I think he is implying something about the Arminian view, I would be incorrect since he could be implying something about many of these other views. So I will attempt to avoid jumping to conclusions about what he thinks about Arminianism, and assume that he is not interacting with it at all.

From here on out, I will be quoting him directly, and then merely commenting on each quote.

What Is The Will?

In order to understand “free will,” we must first understand the will. What is the will? Most simply, the will is the mechanism by which humans make choices. 
Human choices are made on the basis of preferences, pleasures, loves, affections, delights and desires. Choices may be (and often are) made with respect to a combination of various desires (some of which might even be in competition), but all choices ultimately boil down to preference. We choose what we find more valuable, enjoyable, pleasurable, etc. We choose what we most desire, what we want, what we “will.” 
If one wants to know what will be chosen, one simply needs to consider what he or she most prefers or loves. The concept of “free will” ultimately boils down to a question of desires. What does the human will most desire?
I think his basic definition of the will here is correct: the will is the mechanism of choice. However, I find his description of the will to be significantly wanting. He claims that it all comes down to desires. We will what we want. Well, duh. But that does absolutely nothing in terms of explaining how the will works. It is a bit like trying to explain how a car works by saying, "A car works by being driven." Well, OK. You've done nothing more than ascribe a verb which refers to it working. You haven't actually explained how it works. For that, you need to explain out the internal combustion engine and how it transforms that chemical power into mechanical power.

As for the will, we have no access to that level of explanation. We cannot get any deeper than the fact that decisions are in fact made. If we want, we can change the question, "How do we choose?" to "how do we prioritize our desires?" It is the same question merely rephrased. And we cannot completely generalize either, for not every human has the same priority of desires, or else we would be making the same choices. So where does that priority come from? Isn't that basically what choosing is? Determining which choice we really want?

What's worse here (that is worse than of the redundancy of the definition of the will) is that this is then called 'free will'. Now wait, where does freedom come in here? What is 'freedom'? How are you defining that? This is never really defined. Indeed, the various titles he gives to his sections implies that such a definition of forthcoming, but it never comes. Instead, 'free will' is merely equivocated with the word "will". But if 'free will' and 'will' mean the same thing, then why bother with the adjective? When Arminians say "free will', we are distinguishing from a deterministic view of the will. But what view of the will is Ashley contrasting against here?

Now, I do think that I have enough material here, and experience with other Calvinists, to perhaps answer this question. It seems that Calvinists are using the term 'free will' as it is often used colloquially. That is, "He did such and such by his own free will." By that, we usually mean that he actually chose it, as opposed to someone forcing him to do something that he didn't choose, that is against his will. However, this phrase doesn't distinguish between doing something by a 'free will' vs doing something be a 'determined will'. Rather, we are comparing doing something by your will vs against your will. So this seems to be a mistake.

Furthermore, this is an social answer to an ontological question. We are talking about what the will is and how the will works, not whether or not it followed. It seems they are saying that we have a 'free will' because we are able to do things that we want. But again, duh. No one is accusing the Calvinist of denying that. What we are asking is whether the origin of that want is intrinsically created by us, designed by God, or necessitated by chemistry/physics. But that question, rather than answered, seems entirely ignored.

Four Eras of Freedom
A final clarification before we can answer the question, “Do we have free will?” is to define who “we” are. Man is not as he once was, nor is he as he will always be. The Bible speaks of the nature of man in four distinct ways, corresponding to four movements of redemptive history: man as created, fallen, regenerate and glorified.We must be careful lest we confuse the freedom of the fallen state with the freedoms of the created, regenerate or glorified states. Each era is distinct, and the freedom possessed within each is subsequently distinct, as well.
  • There is man as created. Man was originally created in a state of goodness and innocence. Though we do not know how long this condition lasted, it covers only two chapters of the Bible.
  • Since Genesis 3, we see man as fallen. Fallen man is fundamentally different from man as he was originally created. He was no longer innocent or good.
  • Though the condition of the Fall is universal in its effect upon all men, it is not permanent for all. There is a third way of understanding man, man as regenerate. Regeneration refers to the work of God to transfer a man or woman out of darkness and into light, out of death and into life. John 3 calls this reality being “born again.” The regenerate state is also a temporary condition awaiting the consummation of God’s work in eternity.
  • Man as glorified describes the final state in which God’s work of redemption will be complete.
Given that our discussion of free will is restricted to the question of an unregenerate (fallen) human’s response to his Creator’s work of redemption, we will narrow our focus to the state in which man has found himself since the Fall.
Well, that seems fair enough. It is certainly true that our choices are limited in different ways in these different conditions. So there isn't too much here that I can directly disagree with, though I know that ultimately I am going to understand these states differently.

However, I would offer a brief caveat. In my experience, it seems to me that Calvinists usually make a stronger separation of these states than I do. While there is a significant difference in terms of what we are capable of in these states, ultimately, we are still us. Our humanity is still what it is. So our arms still work the same way, our legs still work the same way, and our wills still work the same way. The fall affects our wills by impediment, not by having it operating by a different paradigm. It is a corruption of what was already there, not something else entirely. I think a Calvinist would agree with my point as stated, so the difference is really where we draw the lines.

The last paragraph here in this section is: "What is the fallen human will like? Given that the will chooses on the basis of desires, we must therefore consider what a fallen, unregenerate person loves, desires, values and esteems." Well, ultimately here my disagreements on the above section rears its head. Certainly not all unregenerate people love, value, or esteem the same things. While we can generalize to some degree, it is worth asking, "how does each unregenerate person choose which sin to commit? It is self determined, God determined, or physically determined?" If that question is left unanswered, I doubt the real issues will be addressed.

The Reality of Unregenerate Bondage

This is where we really start getting into the meat of the article, so I am going to be taking things apart a bit more. However, I would advise you, before reading the following, that you read this section whole before seeing it in pieces. Ultimately, a commentary on a work only elucidates the work if, on some level, the work was already understood.
The human will universally inherited in Adam is not born into a state of neutrality and apathy. The fallen and unregenerate human will has natural loves, passions, desires, delights and pleasures. The will chooses on the basis of these desires, which are not neutral but, instead, absolutely and universally influenced toward evil. Sinners by nature desire rebellion, and thus their wills always incline toward rebellion. 
Fallen humanity is naturally (that is, by nature) broken and depraved. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3, we are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” This fallen nature has limitations. It cannot not sin. All it desires (wills) is sin.
Primarily, I would say that  there isn't a whole lot here that I formally disagree with. Certainly we are not born neutral, but born into fallenness. However, it simply says that we have "natural desires" but it doesn't really say why and where these desires even come from.

I would say it like this: immorality is like darkness; it is the absence of something, rather than the presence of something. Let's say you offer me three jelly beans: apple, cherry, and grape. I then chose grape. Does this mean that I have chosen the best kind of jelly bean? Of course not. All good and wholesome people know that licorice is the best. But that was simply not an option for me.

Likewise it is possible for us to say that one can have LFW, and still not be able to choose the good. This is because I can still do other than what I do. For instance, I could murder John instead of Jan. These are two different options, but both are sinful. However, options to actually do true good are not available in the fallen state.

This is because true morality comes from being in submission and love with God. But if one is separate from God, than good isn't really possible, or meaningful for that matter. Instead, we can only be in submission and love with humans, either our self or others (usually ourselves).

While this isn't in contradiction to what is said above, I felt it was worth mentioning here because it is going to be similar to what he says next:
This truth is foreign to modern thought. How can Christianity affirm that every action of fallen man is sinful while there exist evidenced examples of social kindness and love throughout the world? The biblical answer begins with an understanding of sin.6 Sin is not merely external action, but internal affections and motivations. Helping an elderly lady cross the street, giving to charitable causes, refraining from certain behaviors and engaging in others are not good in the fullest sense of the word. Nothing is good if not done from a posture of humble trust in God and a love for His glory. As the Bible states, anything done in unbelief (Romans 14:23) or done without respect to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) falls short of righteousness.

Fallen humans love sin. They desire sin. They will sin. They delight in sin. They crave sin. They prefer sin. They choose sin. We abhor the glory of God in lustful craving for our own exaltation and autonomy. We want to glorify ourselves, not our Creator. Because we will (desire) sin, we will (do) sin. We are “willing” participants in sin, and all we can do is sin.
As you can see, the definition of morality is the same: a focus on God. Thus sin is being defined the same way: not focusing on God. But there is no explanation here as to where these sinful desires come from. They are merely considered to be brute facts. This strikes me as so odd because the notion of LFW is offered precisely as that: as an origin to the sin nature. So how can he be offering an explanation of free will if he does not address that very issue that leads people to believe in it? Perhaps it is because he doesn't understand why people believe in it. Indeed, I would theorize that this is true.

However, perhaps I am assuming too much. Perhaps there are many people out there who merely believe in free will because it gives them a sense of power and control. Certainly this seems to be true of many Post-moderns and existentialists. However, this isn't the case for the traditional view of LFW within Christianity, so it still strikes me as odd, or at least incomplete, not to interact with it.
The question is not, “Can we do what we want?” but “What do we want?” Unless and until we come face to face with the radical depravity of fallen man, we will never truly understand who we are and what God has done in bringing us to Himself. As long as we conceive ourselves as neutral in our longings and desires, we will assume a false foundation for understanding the nature of our freedom or bondage.
Well, actually, neither of these is the question. The question is "do we have a free will?" which is more complex than either of these two questions. As long as we understand the question merely in terms of wants and not in terms of human nature, we will miss the entire point of the question.
The biblical depiction of fallen mankind is desperate, dark and dire. Consider the following descriptions of an unregenerate person:
  • Our eyes are blind to the glories of the gospel (Matthew 13:14-15; John 12:39-40; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
  • Our minds are darkened and hostile toward God (Romans 8:7; Ephesians 4:18; Colossians 1:21).
  • Our ears are deaf to the call of our Creator (Matthew 13:14-15).
  • Our hearts are darkened and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 1:21).
  • We are enslaved to sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:17; Galatians 4:8).
  • We are foolish (Romans 1:21; Titus 3:3).
  • We hate God (John 3:19-20).
  • We are dead (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13).
Is a blind man “free” to see Christ? Is a deaf man “free” to hear Christ? Is a dead man “free” to stand up and walk toward Christ? Is a slave “free” from slavery?
Well, this is rather interesting. The first part of this quote is something that don't debate at all. Certainly the unregenerate state is desperate, dark and dire. I also completely agree with the list that follows. However, when tying this issue into the discussion of free will, he seems to be making a critical mistake. These descriptions that are being quoted have nothing to do with the question of "freedom" (with the possible exception of slavery), at least not in the sense that we are describing it. Death to God has to do with estrangement. Deafness with stubburnness. Much of the material has more to do with hostility. None of these deal with question of whether or not humans have LFW.

Even if we consider enslavement to sin, which I would say definately is denoting a proclivity towards sin, all that is being said here is that the human being, without God, is driven by selfishness. It doesn't mean that the person is without choices. It merely means that the person's choices are limited to sinful selfish choices. But there are a plethora of sinful options available to the decripid man. There is no reason to conclude from the fact of the sinful nature that LFW is false.
Considering the biblical depiction of mankind, the type of freedom that many simply assume to be true is grounded in an unrealistic understanding of what has happened to man in the Fall. A deeper freedom was once possessed in “man as created,” but man is no longer as he was created. Our nature has changed, and with it the understanding of our liberty. Goodness and innocence fell from us at the Fall, and we forfeited some degree of freedom by eating of the fruit. Fallen freedom consists of the ability to do what one desires; though, those desires are universally directed away from Creator and toward creation.
Again, so much to agree and disagree with here. When he talks about "freedom which is assumed", I do not know to whom he is referring. Perhaps to certain postmodern groups. Still, the issue of free will isn't the question of whether we are able to do what we want, but whether we are able to make a different choice than we do. Again, his unwillingness to define freedom itself rears its ugly head.

Now, I'm going to stop here because this post is getting rather long. I'll pick up with the rest of the paper, where he attempts to deal with disagreements next week.

September 3, 2014

Thoughts on God's NOT Dead

OK, it took me awhile to watch it, but I finally did. And now a few weeks after watching it, I am commenting on it. However, for both of you who read my blog, you may note that my posting has been rather sporadic anyway due to my current schedule at work. So I apologize for my timing.

Now on to the movie. I loved this film. However, due to the ending, I only give it an A-. More on that later. My fear though is that many people are going to misunderstand exactly what the film is doing and who the film is for.
It is important to notice that the film is for Christians, and not for Atheists. If you show this film to an Atheist, they are likely to be unimpressed, and perhaps even a bit angered. However, this is more due to a misunderstanding of what the movie is doing. It is not offering arguments for God's existance, but offering counter arguments to the two main arguments we tend to get from Atheists. So in this sense, if the Atheist is angered, this is more likely due to them being unreflective of their own bad arguments, or to them misunderstanding what the film is doing (or perhaps at the bad ending, which I will get to. Promise).

So what are the two arguments being dealt with?

Counter Argument 1: Argument from Authority

This is what is really being countered by the main storyline. It is important to note that the Professor only offers this as an argument. Now from an Atheist perspective, this may seem to be a straw-man. However, there are many professors who do precisely this, and there is a lot of this form of bullying going on on-line.

So how does the movie counter? By exposing it as the fallacious argument that it is. Ultimately, an argument from authority is a fallacy because no human being, no matter their credentials knows everything and because ultimately it isn't the credentials that would make an expert right, but the evidence that had convinced that expert of their opinion. At some point, we need to examine the actual evidence.

The story does this with 2 plot moves. First, it portrays the professor as a bully. This is because that is what this argument is doing. It is bullying.

The second is by the Christian presenting good arguments. Now, he doesn't present them fully, but only an a kind of introductory way. This is because they are not really what the plot is about. Instead it about how this professor tries to defeat them merely by appeal to authority. I feel the apex of this counter-argument is with the Stephen Hawking quote. He is stumped by the appeal to authority, does his research, and counters with a second authority. After this, the appeal to authority is, within the movie, dead. We instead focus all of our attention on that second argument.

Counter Argument 2: The Argument from Evil

After the professor's defeat in regard to the Stephen Hawking quote, and his embarrassment, we get to the real reason why the professor is such a bully: he lost his mother. From his perspective, God would never let his mother die.

Now, there is a problem here that needs to be acknowledged. It is a common Evangelical Argument that Atheists are all simply hurt, and that is the only reason why the reject God. This is a bad argument and shouldn't be made. You shouldn't ask the question that the main character asks of his professor "What happened to you" to every Atheist that you encounter. It is belittling to their beliefs and, on the whole, ineffective for precisely that reason. Many Atheists are going to see that argument in the movie at this point, and that is unfortunate.

However, it isn't the professor's Atheism that causes the student to ask this question. It is his bullying. The professor is clearly angry. He hates Christianity and God and he demonstrates it by how he acts, not by what he espouses. Now the movie could still be advocating the above argument, but I do think that the character is justified asking the question when he does.

But in either case, this explicitly introduces the second argument: if there is suffering in the world, then God doesn't exist. While the student does present an intellectual answer to this, in the form of the free will argument, he barely gives any time to it. Instead, he merely asserts it, and then gets the professor to expose his own hypocracy. But we aren't left with too much of an answer.

Unless we broaden our scope to the rest of the movie. Most of the movie is a series of stories of individual people dealing with various problems. But if you notice, the theme of dealing with the evil in our lives is the common thread holding all of these stories together. Ulimately the counter-argument to the problem of evil isn't some intellectual argument, but the very fact that Christianity brings healing to the suffering. It is the multi-faceted nature of Christianity in reaching into those dark places of hurt and confusion and to hold and help us that is truly the answer to the question. Christianity doesn't ignore the question of evil. It solves it.

Two Criticisms

There are some criticisms that can be made of the film though that I feel are worth looking at. And warning: spoilers ahead.

First of all, due to it's conservative source, I am sure that it is going to be critiqued from minority voices. And, quite frankly, I don't think it does too well. When we look at it from a race perspective. every non-white character is a foreigner (with the exception of Michael Tate, but he's a celebrity). Now the Chinese student, the Arab teenager, and the African missionary are all portrayed in a positive light, but one could easily get a sense that Americans are all white from this film. Even the Arab father is portrayed positively in the sense that he is heart-broken by what he feels he must do. Indeed, the portrayal of Arab culture in that scene is quite accurate (though Arab culture is of course quite varied. I am assuming the family is Sunni). But from the perspective of an American minority, they could easily feel unrepresented.

The other critique would the professor's death. I could see many atheists being offended by how this was done. Indeed, I think it is a failure of the film. It isn't so much that they killed him, but that the atmosphere around his death was so happy. I get that it is showing that the professor is saved in the end, but it should have given the moment of his death more respect than it does.

Here is how I would of done it, and maybe you can see my point. I would have had the professor see the advert for the Newsboys and leave. Then I would show the scene with Duck Dynasty (though I wouldn't have used him, but whatever) talking about sending the text message. I then would have had the montage of the various texts going out, including the Arab girl texting her younger brother, but not having one go to the professor. The last one I would show would be the girlfriend sending her text to her brother. After she does, she sees the voicemail message, and exits the auditorium. We then cut to the professor walking down the street, with no music. We see the pastor and the missionary are there. Then the professor gets hit by the car, and the scene of his bed-side confession precedes the same, except continuously, and just the sound of rain. Then he dies, and we pause... with the pastor over his body, in the rain and his head down. Then the missionary puts his hand on his shoulder and starts giving his speach. As he does, we cut back and forth between him talking to the pastor, and the girlfriend listening the voicemail left by the professor (with the sound of the Newsboys coming in quietly). Then she sends the text message to him. The pastor hears it, picks up the phone, and reads the message. He smiles, and then we cut to the concert, which now can serve as a symbol of the celebration in heaven.

Do you see how that is more respective to the death? In the movie it feels, well, vengeful. There is no beauty in the moment. And it is at such a pivotal part of the movie (you know, the ending). Indeed, it feels like the promo of the film, that is the sending of the texts and of the Duck Dynasty guy, was more important than the story, and that is just a shame.


Overall, if we understand this movie as inspiring Christians to be bold and not to be afraid, then I have to say the film succeeds, in spades. It definately could have been better, but considering the low budget, I would say that it does an excellent job. I highly recommend the film, and pray that you forgive it for its imperfections.

It does a very good job at pointing us to good arguments for God's existance, as well as telling thought provoking and probing morality stories to inspire us to think more deeply about pain and suffering. I especially like the point about the pastor not being on the side lines, but being on the front-lines, just like any missionary. Life is complicated, and one cannot be expected to answer its questions with pat answers to pat questions. We need to look deeper into the fundamental human experience and see God there, and I am thankful that the film reminds us of that.

June 9, 2014

Essential Attributes Verses Relational Attributes

What I want to say here is going to be a bit technical, so please hold your horses, but I think that this is important in terms of a particular argument that I hear from Calvinists as well as a classic argument that one hears from Atheists. This has to do with the kinds of attributes a thing can have.

Lifting Rocks

Let’s start with the Atheist argument because I think it is more familiar. It runs as follows:

  • Can God create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it?
  • If He can’t, then He is not omnipotent since this is something that he cannot do.
  • If He can, then lifting it is something He cannot do, and so again He is not omnipotent.
  • Therefore omnipotence, as an attribute, is incoherent and God cannot be omnipotent (or God cannot exist though that would require some additional premises)

Now, theologians have consistently said that the phrase “create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it” is itself an incoherent phrase, and God is not beholden to be able to do something nonsensical. However, I think many have trouble seeing how this phrase is incoherent. We can see the incoherence by understanding the difference between essential attributes and relational attributes.

Simply defined, an essential attribute is a attribute something must have in order for it to be what it is. It is an aspect of its nature. A relational attribute is a attribute that something has in relation to something else.

Let’s take a rock. Let’s say the rock is five pounds. Is this rock heavy or light? Well, quite quickly you would say that it is light. You are able to lift it readily. However, imagine you are an ant. Now is it heavy or light? Well, clearly now it is heavy. But how can this be? We are talking about the same rock. The rock didn’t change; only the situation around the rock changed. So how could a attribute of the rock be different? The simple answer, according to the definitions given above, is that heaviness is a relational attribute, meaning that it is in relation to the power of the one attempting to lift or move it. But then, what is it that makes the rock heavy or light relative to me? It’s mass. Mass is not a relational attribute but an essential one.

Now this shows us the incoherence of the argument. Creation is the forming of something’s essence. As a process, creation is merely concerned with essential attributes, and does not form relational attributes. Likewise, the act of lifting is concerned with heaviness; it is not concerned with mass (Since I also could lift a rock of any mass given properly low gravity). Thus the two verbs in the sentence are acting on different attributes (creation --> mass | lifting --> heaviness). Therefore, the two verbs are themselves completely disconnected, and one cannot make demands on the other, making the sentence incoherent. God can create a rock of any mass and lift a rock of any heaviness. Therefore He is omnipotent.

Getting Justice

Now the problem with the Calvinist argument is much more subtle, but is answered by the exact same distinction. According to certain Calvinists (admittedly not all), God is justified in creating persons with the knowledge (and I would say intention) that He must condemn them because God needs to express His justice. Justice is a defining attribute of God, and if God did not express it, then He wouldn’t be God.

Well OK, but what kind of attribute is it? How do we determine whether justice is an essential attribute or a relational attribute? Is justice part of God's essence, or is it something God is in relation to something else? Well for that, let us return to the rock.

As you may recall, since it was two paragraphs ago, the mass is an essential attribute of a rock, since it is part of the rock's nature, and heaviness is a relational attribute of the rock, since it is defined in relation to something else (namely the power of the lifter and gravity). How did the atheist confuse these two things? Well because any relationship involves two entities, it is therefore connected to the attributes of those two things. So with heaviness, it is connected to the power that the lifter is able to generate and the mass of the rock (and of course the gravity). However, in everyday conversation, when we talk about relational attributes, we usually assume the context. For instance, we always simply assume Earth's gravity when talking about heaviness. Also we usually assume that the lifter is the one being spoken to, making the available power just as assumed Therefore, in everyday speech, heaviness is typically determined by the mass of the rock. Because the other referents are assumed, we think of it as a sole property of the rock even though in reality it is actually the rock's mass expressed within a particular context. Therefore, all relational attributes are basically the expression of an essential attribute within a particular context. We can therefore identify a relational attribute if it requires something else for expression and is reducible to some essential attribute. We can also identify an essential attribute if it requires nothing external for expression.

So let us turn this analysis onto justice. Is justice relational or essential? Well, immediately we see that this almost answers itself. The Calvinists’ own argument clearly shows that justice is relational, since it claims that the unrighteous are necessary in order for justice to be expressed. Well, since all relational attributes are reducible to some essential attribute, what do we reduce justice to? Again the answer is quite clear. Justice reduces to righteousness or goodness. In other words, justice is merely the expression of God’s goodness in the context of evil, just as heaviness was the expression of the rock’s mass in the context of the ant.

So where does this leave us in terms of assessing the Calvinist argument that God created us for the expression of His justice? Well for this, we will need to turn to another attribute of God: aseity.

Now the doctrine of aseity states that God is self-existent: He can exist by Himself and has existed by Himself and He needs nothing. Thus the Latins said that God exists “a se” or ‘himself’, hence aseity. So what does this mean? Well if God exists by Himself, then the only kind of attributes He must express are essential attributes. Indeed, we can say this stronger. We can in fact say that God must be able to not express any relational attributes. To deny this is to deny divine aseity. If God ever needs to express a relational attribute, then God needs something beyond Himself. In fact theologians of typically argued that God must exist as a Trinity in order for love to be an essential attribute of His, for He needs persons to love. Therefore God must express His goodness in all circumstances, but God also must be able to not express His justice. He must be able to exist without the existence of things to enact justice towards.

Does this mean that God is not necessarily just? Of course not. God is necessarily just within the context of evil. To ask if God can be just without evil is akin to asking if God can lift a rock so heavy He can’t lift it. It is meaningless. However, to ask if God could ever not be just when evil is present is like asking if the five pound rock could be anything but heavy to an ant. Therefore it only makes sense to ask is just within the context of evil, and within that context He must be because He is always just.

Therefore, considering the argument “God created wicked people for the expression of His justice”, we can draw two conclusions: one logical and one theological. First, the argument is incoherent. It is clear that justice as a concept is only valuable and meaningful in the context of evil, and cannot be used to justify the existence of evil itself. It is merely derivative of His goodness and does not require expression in of itself.

Second, the argument can make God dependent on His creation. If God must express any relational attribute, then He needs the existence of the thing it relates to, which in this case is us. What’s worse is God wouldn't require us per se, but would require our sin. This makes God not just dependent on humanity, but dependent on sin itself. Now a Calvinist might argue that God doesn't need to express justice, but that it is merely good for God to express justice. If that is true, then that good would have to be compared to the existence of evil itself. I fail to see how a world without justice because it is without evil is worse than a world with any amount of evil at all. Justification for the existence of evil must come from an attribute of creation itself which is not inherently evil but created for the good, such as free will. In the absence of just such a justification, Calvinism must either reexamine whether God is truly good, or better yet reexamine their Calvinism.

April 30, 2014

My Thoughts On The Ignorant

So last week I put up a post responding to John MacArthur's video on Inclusivism. However, I did not include my actual beliefs in that post, and I thought it might be good to write a seperate post describing what I personally think.

First, I want to state that I am not a Pluralist. I strongly reject the notion that all beliefs are created equal, and I believe that a response to the gospel in particular is soteriologically important. However, I am also not an Exclusivist, so I do believe that there are some who will be in heaven who had not heard the gospel in this life. Therefore, I will fall somewhere in the middle, making me an Inclusivist. However, I try to balance out a lot of different truths in the full development of my belief.

  • That God desires all to be saved (I Tim 2:3-4)
  • That God is lenient on those who are ignorant (Acts 17:30)
  • That evangelism brings salvation to those who hear it (Rom 1:16)
  • That faith in Christ is necessary for election, justification, and regeneration
So how do I compile this. First of all, there is a difference between election, justification and regeneration over against final salvation. Final salvation is an end state. When we are referring to that, we are referring to something that will happen in the future. When I say that I am saved, what I mean is that the good work which has been done in me is such that it guarantees salvation (given that I do not abandon it). 

Election, justification, and regeneration on the other hand are contemporaneous acts that God does on me which take place here and now.When I say I am elect, I mean that right now I am part of God's people. When I say I am justified, I mean right now I am legally in right standing with God. When I say that I am born again, I mean right now God is revived my dead spirit and that the Holy Spirit resides within me. All of these acts are necessary for salvation to ultimately be completed, and it is these acts which guarantees my salvation (not anything I do). 

So how does this apply to the ignorant? Well it seems to me that there is no way that one who is ignorant of the gospel can be regenerate, justified, or elect. Without the gospel, they cannot be in Him, and thus enjoy the benefits and the calling of representing God in the world through His people. However, it does strike me as possible that they can be confronted with the gospel upon death, and that in accordance to that response, be justified, regenerated, and elected. 

This would imply though a well tilled soil. I don't want to suggest that all ignorant persons will ultimately be given eternal life. Indeed, I would think that it is less likely, or else what is the point of evangelism other than giving them the Spirit within this life? But if a person was in fact responding to the drawing of the Holy Spirit, and lacked only exposure to the truth, such exposure would come in death.

After all, faith is about trust and submission to God. It is not about doctrinal affirmation. Doctrine is a sign of maturity; it is not a sign of salvation. So this would raise the question, what signs would we expect from such persons? Well I would suggest that it is not the same signs as a Christian. The fruit that we usually discuss from Christians are the fruits of the Spirit, but an ignorant person wouldn't have the Spirit since they would not be regenerate. Mostly, I would think we would expect a dissatisfaction with what their society says. In other words, they wouldn't be saved because they are a good Muslim for instance, but they would actually be a bad Muslim. Such persons would be responding to the internal draw of the Spirit, and would be lead away from the lies that are around them. They would be ready and willing to hear the truth, simply not knowing what the truth is.

This would be consistent with what Hebrews says, when it claims that someone who has never heard the truth would be better off than the apostate. This makes no sense with exclusivism, but it does with the position I laid out above.

Now I have had this basic view for many years. Generally the only argument I have heard against it is that it is the MacArthur kind. I don't think that I can prove this with Scripture, but I think it is consistent with Scripture and with what I know about God's heart. I am perfectly open to other theories though. 

April 25, 2014

John MacArthur on Inclusivism

So I recently watched this video:

There are a couple of things I would like to say in response, some positive and some negative.

First of all, MacArthur here is suffering from a confusion of terms. When he is responding to what the Catholic apologist and Pope said, and then goes on to define Inclusivism, what he actually defines is what is known as Pluralism. Pluralism is that doctrine which states that what one believes is irrelevant, but only how one acts or whether one is spiritually connected with God.

In this, I completely share in MacArthur's criticism. Truth matters. Pluralism fundamentally denies that there is any true gain in properly identifying and submitting to the one true God. Instead, it focuses on the individual's authenticity of belief and honesty. I do not think this is biblically defensible, nor do I think it is intellectually honest.

However, by calling this Inclusivism, he is able to avoid dealing with the claims of actual Inclusivism. We see this when he quotes the obviously Inclusivist quote from Billy Graham. MacArthur's primary argument against Graham's position is merely a guilt by association. But not only is such an argument fallacious on its face, but in this case the association itself is merely artificial.

Part of the problem of course is the actual definition of Inclusivism. Inclusivism is the belief that God will take into account the conditions and situations around those ignorant of the truth, and will judge them according. You may note a degree of vagueness in that definition. The reason for that is that Inclusivism is actually quite varied in its application, and often maintains a degree of mystery about how things work in regards to the ignorant. This variety makes it quite difficult to assess Inclusivism as a whole since some forms of it can border on Pluralism, while other forms of it border on MacArthur's own Exclusivism (that only those with full understanding of the gospel will be ultimately saved). Indeed, one can argue that unlike Pluralism or Exclusivism, Inclusivism isn't really a doctrine but an umbrella term for all those nuanced beliefs that fall between the two.

As such, it is easy for someone at the end of the spectrum, such as MacArthur, to conclude that all those who disagree with him basically believe the same thing. Indeed, this seems to be the only kind of argument MacArthur seems to know sometimes. However, it is also an erroneous conclusion.

April 18, 2014

A Good Friday

Let me rephrase what Jesus said to the rich young ruler: why do we call today good? I love Jesus. He comforts me, He takes care of me, and He defines my very existence. Yet today we celebrate the day that He died the most horrible and gruesome death ever known. So why do we call it good?

Let me share a bit of my life. A year and a half ago, my second son, Justin, was born. He had a beautiful face and unusually wise eyes for his age. However, even though he looked perfectly healthy from the outside, on the inside his lungs and heart were malformed. The Lord gave my wife and me 10 days with him, and then he left us. Out of all of the experiences of my life, it is the most painful and difficult experience I have ever had. And I will treasure it always.

There is only one word to describe those days we had with Justin: good. There is only one word for the anticipation of him being born even though we knew he would be sick: good. There is only one way to define the feeling of being able to hold him in my arms as he passed away: good. There is only one thing to say to explain what Justin’s short life was: it was most certainly good.

Good is not the absence of pain, or the immensity of happiness. It is the fundamental value of something. Justin’s life, though short, will forever be cemented in his mother’s and my hearts, and it is that which makes it good. When we look to the cross – the epicenter of human history, the suffering to end all suffering, the King of Kings carrying the guilt of the world – we look at something of immeasurable worth. It was not just another Friday, but for humanity it was the best Friday of history. And though it was a difficult time for Christ that day, I am certain He looks back on it and calls it good, for it was the day He bought His people.

So let us celebrate in mourning. Let us express our joy for the day of sorrows. And let us look up that hill and know that what was done was done for you, for me, and for the whole world. May you have a truly Good Friday. Amen.

April 14, 2014

Cosmic Software

I was thinking about the question of how does God's omnipotence work? Often Atheists attempt to challenge the notion of His omnipotence which such things as, "Can God create a square circle" or "Can God create a rock so heavy He can't lift it", but both of these arguments, apart from being sophomoric, assume a 1st grade definition of omnipotence as "God can do anything". A more scholastic definition would be closer to an inexhaustible reservoir of power implementable on both macro and microscopic scale.

But thinking about this, I wondered if there was a way to explain why this inexhaustiveness is true. Note how I am not saying infinite, for that would assume that it is quantitative (and a quantitative infinite is impossible). Instead, omnipotence is usually understood as a quality and is therefore not measurable or watt not.* It is often explained as being the result of His nature and His relationship to the cosmos.

So I thought of this analogy. Consider a computer programmer. This programmer designs a game where the characters in it have AI. This world that they live in would also have certain well regulated physics that they would be bound to. However, the programmer would not be bound to such physics. He would probably develop some kind of standard medium of interaction, like some kind of interactive HUD. However, this medium will have its limitations, and if there is something that he wants to do which is part of the standard medium, then he would still be able to go to the code level and change things.

So how would this appear to the simulated persons? Well, certainly his power would seem infinite. After all, it would take the same amount of energy for him to move a pebble as it would for him to move a mountain. Second of all, the universe would appear regulated, since there is a standard physics in the world. Also, the programmer would seem less active than his power would imply. This is because the standard way he interacts with the world is the HUD, and only goes to the code level when he has good reason.

This description strikes me as being very similar to how we experience God. Now I am not saying that our world is mere illusion, and this is merely a simulation. The analogy has to do with a creator vs creature relationship. But it seems to me that it is reasonable that God has same standard means of interacting with this world that He goes outside of in rare circumstances. Additionally, the power is similar in its unquantifiable nature. So I think this is a good way of looking at the question, and understanding how God relates to our world.

*Get it? "Watt not" instead of "what not"? It's a pun! No, not funny? Fine. Wattever.

April 5, 2014

A Call To Explaining Order

One of the things that I have been thinking about lately is the accusation of "God of the gaps". Now, I don't think that this is true of theism in general. Theism concludes that God exists for philosophical reasons. I also do not think this is true of Christians in general either, for we usually conclude that God exists for personal reasons. However, I think this might be true of the ID movement, and I also think that it is a fair accusation of Creationism as well. Let me explain.

There are generally two types of causes*. The first is agent causation. This is when an intentional being decides to do or makes something. The other is process causation. This is that set of things and actions that are necessary (or simply that were used) to bring about a desired end. First instance, if I wished to talk about the agent cause of the Mono Lisa, that would be Leonardo Da Vinci. This is important since it can answer questions in terms of the Mono Lisa's purpose and influence. However, if I wished to talk about the process cause of the Mono Lisa I would have to discuss Leonardo's painting techniques, palette, model, etc. This is important if we wish to replicate the Mono Lisa or its style. The first question is of minimal importance to the forger, while the latter is of minimal importance to the historian**.

When we say that God created the cosmos, what we are proposing an agent cause, not a process cause. Meanwhile, science is only capable of asking about process causation and has no input in regards to agent causation. This is fair enough. So where is the accusation of God of the gaps?

I think it is with the lack of concern of process causation that I find in many Creationists and some ID people. It is certainly true that once we have God as an explanation, there is little need to have process causation because we can simply say that God did it. Atheists complain that this leads to scientific laziness on our part. And here is where I think at least anecdotally they have a point. In my experinence, Creationists and IDers (and no they are not the same thing) tend to be content with merely criticizing the alternate position. Even the YEC tend to be content with finding evidence which supports their position with little interest in exploring deeper issues and answering unanswered questions. And yes this is a problem.

But where I disagree with the atheists is that it doesn't have to be this way. I think the fundamental reason for it is because we tend to be on the defensive, so I don't think it is laziness. But it is something that we should think about, and actively avoid. Yes, OK, God made the universe, but how did He do it? We really don't know. Mind you, the atheist doesn't know how the universe came about either, so it is not like they are on better footing. But we should be interested not just in the agent causation, but also the process causation. How did God create the cosmos? What was His mechanism? Can we get more detailed than Genesis 1? I think if we are to be taken seriously, we have to start at least asking these questions.

* Here I am using the world 'cause' to mean something which exists outside of something else which brings that thing to be, whether it be an object or an action. I am not using the more general meaning of explanation of a thing. It is also important to note that my names here are informal, and not to be taken as typical.

**Note that I said "minimal importance" not "no importance".

March 24, 2014

May I Have A Cookie?

A question that we often hear from Calvinists is, "What is the difference between those that come to faith, and those that don't?" The context is the question of merit. Is faith meritorious? The question is intended to serve as a test for this, and if the answer is faith, than faith is meritorious. However, I think this is the wrong question. This question merely tests to see if faith is a condition, which is something that all Arminians admit. The real question is, are all conditions meritorious?


What does it mean for something to be meritorious anyway? This is really where we should start. Let us consider something which is obviously meritorious. When I work certain hours of my job, I earn of paycheck. Thus this work is meritorious for me. Because I have earned this paycheck, my boss is obligated to give the paycheck to me. I would consider this to be a good definition of something meritorious then: something which obligates the giver to give me something (such as honor, praise, or reward). If I merited it, then I deserve it, and if I deserve it, then something wrong has happened if I am not given it.

Let us compare this to the idea of condition. A condition is something necessary requirement for some action. Again, we can look at a paycheck. If I want to have the paycheck, then I need to do the work. Therefore, the work is a condition for the paycheck.

We can think of it this way: a merit places a requirement upon the giver, while a condition is a requirement for the receiver. In business relationships, it is normal for things to be defined by obligation. Very rarely does anyone enter into a business relationships without wanting to get something while giving up as little as possible. Therefore, business contracts often define the obligations of both parties. Therefore, they discuss both what is meritorious and what is conditioned. But are all relationships that way? For this question, we need to go outside the arena of business and into a family home.

Getting A Cookie

Let's say two boys walk up to you and ask you for a cookie. Boy A says, "May I please have a cookie?" while Boy B says, "I want a cookie!" Afterwards, you give a cookie to Boy A. Why? This would be to answer the Calvinist question, "Why did Boy A receive the cookie, but Boy B did not?" The simple answer is that Boy A was polite. This demonstrates that politeness was a condition that the boys had to meet in order for them to convince you to give them a cookie.

Now, did Boy A earn the cookie? No, and I think this is obvious. After all, you have not done anything wrong if he didn't give a cookie to either boy. There is nothing about saying "please" which obligates you to give the cookie to Boy A. Now, it is certainly true that many children, while they are learning politeness, have trouble with this distinction. They know that saying please is necessary for them to get a cookie. But they often think that it merits them the cookie as well, which it doesn't. As a parent, I feel no requirement to give my son everything he asks for merely because he is polite. In fact, it would be irresponsible for me to do so.

So from this example, we can ask two questions. Question 1: "Why did Boy A receive a cookie and Boy B did not?" The answer to this question deals with conditionality. What was the condition that Boy A met that Boy B did not. Question 2: "Did you have to give Boy A a cookie?" The answer to this question deals with merit. If the answer is yes, then Boy A earned the cookie. If the answer is no, then Boy A did not.

Answering The Real Question

So let us ask these same two questions of salvation. "Why are the elect saved, and the reprobate damned? Why the difference?" Answer: the elect had faith. This demonstrates that faith is a condition of election/salvation. However, "Because I have faith, does God have to save me?" No. I could have all of the faith in the world and if God does not apply Christ's atonement to me, I would be condemned, and I would still deserve it. My faith does not obligate God.

This also means that my faith does not guarantee my salvation either. Then why am I confident that I am saved? Because God promised. It is grounded in His character, not my actions or condition. He promised to save the faithful. He did not have to though, and that is the point.

March 3, 2014

Playing With Action Figures

Probably one of the poorer arguments that I think Arminians use is what is often referred to as the robot analogy. And I don't think it is poor for the reasons that Calvinist do. Calvinists seem to believe that it is inaccurate. Here I disagree: it is completely accurate. The problem is that if a Calvinist would simply own up to it, it would actually work to their defense... kinda. We can see this if we replace the notion of robots with action figures.

Now Calvinism's primary weak point is theodicy. Yes I know that Calvinists have a lot of answers to theodical questions, but that is because there are so many theodical questions which Calvinism invokes, and it is questionable if any of these responses really satisfy the objections. But let us consider Piper's argument that God brings about evil for the sake of demonstrating His glory. Now, in part, I think this doesn't really make sense because A)who is God demonstrating His glory to and B) the idea is really based off of 18th century political theory (if Grotius taught about the governmental theory of atonement, this argument can be called Edwards's governmental theory of election).

However, when I switched the word 'demonstrate' with 'express', it conjured up the image of myself as a young boy playing with  action figures. At the time, I was really into He-man. Now, often I would have Skeletor kidnap my sister's Barbie, and He-man would come rescue her (my sister often played this with me). Skeletor's base was in the closet on the third shelf or so. As he and He-man fought, Skeletor would be cast off of the ledge into the abyss of the bedroom floor, receiving his just reward for his treacherous activities.

However, did Skeletor actually deserve what happened to him? After all, he only did what I made him do. Indeed, the Skeletor figure was completely impotent unless I caused him to act. So who's really to blame, Skeletor or me?

But if it is me, then have I, as a 6 year old child, done something wrong? Clearly not. My actions were expressions of my sense of justice. The fact that I ultimately desired He-man to be victorious shows that I was indeed just. Though I caused Skeletor to kidnap Barbie, I only did so for the purpose of He-man vanquishing him. I can't express my sense of justice unless there is evil for justice to act upon. Therefore, that justifies the evil that I committed, correct? That is the Calvinists point! That is their argument after all. It is proven.

Except when I did this, I used action figures. Action figures have no worth apart from my use of them. To really get to the point, both Skeletor's and He-man's ultimate destinies were the same: some trash heap somewhere, long forgotten if not for a blog post written many years later. In the end there was no true justice.

There was no true evil either. After all, Barbie didn't suffer. Nor did she suffer indignity. Indeed, there is no standard of morality which would claim that something evil had taken place. The reason why I am not evil has less to do with the line of causation of the action, and more to do with the reality of the action itself. It was merely simulated evil.

I think this is why Calvinists avoid the robot analogy. If accepted, it actually satisfies their need for protecting God's goodness and character. It supports their argument. But in doing so, they sacrifice the relevance of reality. It turns all of our lives, and all of God's actions in history as merely a show: a simulation for the sake of God working out His thoughts on the question of justice. This would apply not just to the acts of evil, but also to the acts of good and glory. Every endeavor of history, either human or divine would be destined to irrelevance, designating God's actions of salvation, power, mercy, wisdom, creation, and wonder as nothing more than a really well articulated play. I can't think of can't think of any more damage we could do to God's glory than that.

February 25, 2014

What If The Green Lantern Movie Was Good?
Part II

So, last week I suggested a different version of the movie that was made, demonstrating that simplifying a story often makes for a better movie. I did so by keeping the movie on one planet and cutting back on the number of themes that needed to be introduced. However, what if we are not just interesting in the Green Lantern character, but really do want to see a movie about the Green Lantern Corps? Is that movie possible?

I think it is, and we can do it with some of the same principles. For instance, simplification would still be necessary. Perhaps even more necessary since there would be more things that we have to introduce this time around.

Another principle is one central villain. This is a bit more difficult thought, especially if we want to save Sinestro for a later film to make his betrayal more real (and I think we do want to do that). Parallax is too much of an epic villain and simply inappropriate for a first movie. Hector Hammond is also difficult if this is going to be a Corps focused movie since he is an Earth based villain. This leaves none of the villains that were in the movie, so we either have to go into the comics for a different villain, or try to make one of these work.

However, to try and stay with the theme of the project here, I do think that there is something we can do with an Earth based villain like Hector Hammond. It will also help introduce a theme that I think is really interesting.


So what is jist of this movie. First of all, we need to de-emphasize the Earth based characters. This would have to reduce Tommy down to basically a cameo, and reduce Carol down to more of a witness of things on Earth, but not a main character.

But the theme of the movie would  be loyalty. Think about this for a second: Hal Jordan is from a planet that has yet to have any experience with extra-terrestrial life. Then he is suddenly whisked away from this planet by some military organization that wants to recruit him. He is no sense of loyalty to this organization, and would have difficulty deciding to risk his life for this group. Additionally, if he had to choose between Earth and the Corps, what would he choose?

I personally love this theme a lot more than the common themes of power/responsibility (that I suggested last week) or fear/courage (which the actual movie used). Indeed I can only think of one other movie that has explored this theme, and that is The Last Star-fighter. I don't think we should use that movie exactly, but we can definitely use that movie as a sign that this film can work, especially since all of the obstacles a Green Lantern movie faced, that movie faced as well.


Cold open with Green Lantern Abin Sur. He is in a transport ship, and is reporting to some kind of superior about a sample that he is bringing back to some place called "Oa". A close up with the camera demonstrates that this sample is contained within some kind of heavily protected canister. In his report he mentions how the events on some planet was caused by a kind of substance.

Suddenly his ship is attacked without warning. Due to his need to protect the sample, he attempts to fight the foe from inside of the ship. However the precision of the attack causes him to lose control, and he attempts to escape by activating his engine (or an escape pod. Doesn't really matter as long as he is protecting the canister). Opening credits.

Cut to Hal waking up. The scene introducing Hal can be left pretty much unchanged, even up until he crashes the plane. The only changes are that A) no Daddy issues, and B) Hector Hammond is accompanying his father as his assistant (also Hammond does not know either Hal or Carol). We can also get some scenes of General Hammond being verbally abusive toward his son for the sake of establishing the character. They can also have a conversation on their way back to the car, to further establish their relationship. I would also want to add that instead of Hal defeating the plane by flying "too high", he instead actually out flies the thing. After all, that is what we actually want to establish, and it sets up a better argument between Hal and his boss.

Afterwards, Hal goes to the bar, and Carrol meets up with him. They have a conversation/argument about what happened, and about their former relationship, basically like the bar scene in the movie with better dialogue. Carrol leaves and Hal returns to his drink saying something about wanting things to be different.

Power Acquisition

Now we cut to Abin Sur crashing at the coast. Before he dies, he sends out his ring which we see zip away. We then cut to Hal leaving the bar and walking down the street for a bit. Then the ring finds him, and carries him off to Abin Sur's ship. He passes the lantern to Hal, but dies as he is about to tell him to safe guard the canister (so it gets left behind by Hal). Hal calls Carol to pick him up (since Tom isn't really part of this movie), which she does.We have the helicopters chase them away for the sake of action and suspense. Carol gets Hal home, leaves, and then Hal fidgets with the lantern. Finally, it activates, he says the oath, and then he is taken away to space. We cut as he passes the satellite.

Now we cut to General Hammond's bed room. He is awoken by a phone call telling him that he needs to come to some site. We then see the Hammonds arrive at the crash site, and a solider greets the general (no Amanda Waller since we are trying to simplify things). The solider then explains that there this is an alien crash, that there is a dead alien who was buried not far from here, and a set of footprints and tire tracks belonging to person or persons unknown. As he is explaining this, we see Hector finding the canister on the ground and fiddling with it. He opens it to find some kind of substance that is immediately absorbed into his skin, and drops the canister. Hammond immediately chastises him, tells Hector to stay by his side. We see either his eyes or his hands shine a little before the scene cuts away.


The next scene opens with Hal waking up at Oa (because who needs scenes of Hal in pain while he is being "tested"). Tomar-Re's introduction, and his tour of Oa can be kept pretty much the same as in the movie, except there would be a quick conversation about Hal questioning his "abduction". Perhaps, "I don't like being brought here against my will," followed by Tomar-Re saying, "Don't worry. If there is one thing we respect, it is someone's will." However, when he starts his training with Kiliwog, there are some major changes to be made. First of all, the instruction from Kiliwog would be longer. Second, it should be a montage so that we know that he is being trained more than just what we see. The montage ends with Hal questioning what he is doing there.

When then get a cut to Earth. This shows Carol going to Hal's apartment since she has not seen him since the night he found the ring. She finds that he is not there, and wonders where he is. She turns on the news (or she goes home to turn on the news), and sees a news story about Hector Hammond attacking people. She then wonders to herself what in the world is going on.

We go back to Oa, and Hal is sitting out on some ledge thinking to himself. Sinestro comes over and speaks to him. Hal tells him that he feels unsure about all of this. Sure there are aliens, that's fine. Sure, he's being asked to risk his life; he's done that before. But he doesn't really know what the Corps is. Is it a military? Is it a police-force? What gives the Corps the right to do what it does? Is it just a shame being used to eventually do harm? So Sinestro talks about his friendship with Abin Sur a bit, and maybe tells an adventure or two. His point is that the Green Lantern Corps is good. It stands for order and peace. Sure, the Guardians can be a bit weak on a few things, and things don't always go according to plan, but the Corps does more good than ill.

Hal then asks him, if he ever had to choose between his homeworld and the Corps, what would he choose? Sinestro says Korugar, but then adds that he doesn't see that happening. It is the Corps that allowed there to be peace at Korugar, and that the Guardians honor our commitment to our homeworlds.

Sinestro then tells Hal that he was actually looking for him because he has an important question to ask. "When you found Abin Sur, was he carrying anything?" Hal says no, and asks why. Sinestro says that Abin Sur was on a ship taking something to Oa. They have found the ship, but havn't found what it was he was carrying. Hal suggests that maybe it is on Earth. Sinestro says, "Perhaps. Your training will be done in a couple of weeks. It may be your first mission to investigate this. But that isn't up to me." Hal says thanks for the talk, tells Sinestro that he is a good friend and flies off.

Now perhaps now is a good time to cut back to Earth, and show some direct scene of Hector reking havoc. If we do, perhaps we can show him taking over Ferris Aircraft, with a bunch of followers behind him. He can make some grandiose speach about a new order, or some other hogwash. The point though would be to establish his goal of absolute power, and that currently he is unstoppable. I would have this at Ferris mostly because I want Carol to by our eyes and ears for what is happening on Earth. However, I would not make her a damsel in distress. Mostly, she would keep her head down. If she does retaliate at all, I would have her get away, and not be kidnapped or anything.


So now it is a couple of weeks later and it is time for Hal's graduation from training. He is brought before the Guardians. They ask him some basic formal questions that he answers. They then ask him to demonstrate his skill, and he spars for a bit with Sinestro or Kiliwog. They say he is ready, give some formal induction speak, everyone says the oath, and yay!

Then the guardians give him his first mission. They tell him of the substance that Abin Sur was carrying, describe what it looks like and its effects. They have searched for it, but have not found it. They suspect that it is on Earth, but due to Earth still being young, there are regulations limiting their ability to enter into it. As an earthling, Hal is not bound by this restrictions. They tell him to find it, and bring it back to Oa. They then warn him that if someone else on Earth has found it, there may be a fight, and to prepare himself for it. Then they dismiss him.

After the ceremony, Hal meets with Tomar-Re, Kiliwog, and Sinestro. They congratulate in each their own way. Sinestro says that he may not be there when Hal comes back. They have been trying to track down the one who they believe killed Abin Sur, and it looks like he is in Sinestro's sector. Hal asks if he can help. Sinestro says no, he prefers to handle his sector himself. Besides, Hal's sector has been without a Lantern for a month. A lot can happen in a month. Hal says OK, and then flies off.

Return Home

We can watch Hal fly through space a bit, since he hasn't really done much of this, but then he gets home and first flies to his apartment. He notes that there are a lot of overdue bills, and rolls his eyes, realizing that he doesn't have a job, and that he should talk to the Guardians about his paycheck. He then turns on the TV, and it doesn't work. He tries to phone Carol, and this the phone line is dead. He goes down to his apartment's office to see what is going on, only to find the residents in the office, huddled together with blankets. Hal asks what is going on. There has apparently been no power for a few days, ever since Hector Hammond attacked the power station. "Who is Hector Hammond?" Hal says. "Where have you been Jordan? Hector Hammond is the guy that has been terrorizing the city for the past few weeks! Even the national guard couldn't stop the guy." "Where is he?" "How should I know? Besides, what you are going to do about it?"

Hal ignores him, and runs out of the building, and then flies looking for Carol. He then find her somehow. They have a quick argument about where he has been. Perhaps her saying, "And don't tell me it has to do with that stupid ring!" "Fine, I won't tell you then". He then says that Hammond has set himself up at a local military installation, and that the military is encamped somewhere near there. Currently, there appears to be a ceasefire between the two. Hal thanks her, and says he is going to see if he can help. She tells him know. He says, "Well I am a pretty good flyer." "Hal, you have not seen what this guys can do to planes." "Oh don't worry". He then holds up his ring and activates it. "I don't need to use a plane anymore." With that he flies off.

He first goes to the military encampment where he meets up with General Hammond. He introduces himself as a member of the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps. "So you are an alien." "No I am human. I was recently inducted to deal directly with this situation." "That dead alien we found. He had a suit just like that." "Yes he was transporting what has now infected that man out there when he was attacked and crash landed here. That is why Hammond has to be captured and cleansed. He will then be returned to you." "How do we know we can trust you." "I am still of Earth sir. This uniform doesn't change that." And with that, he flies off to fight against Hammond.

First Hal has to fight through the men who have joined up with Hammond, including fighting tanks and planes. And then we get a really cool battle of the GL and Hector fighting. At some point, Hector offers Hal to join him. With their combined power, the two of them can unite the Earth, and have the Earth advance to the stars. Hal says that isn't going to happen; he will bring Hammond to the Corps. Hammond says, "You would choose a bunch of aliens over Earth?" And then Hal says, "I don't have to choose. I am the Green Lantern OF Earth." And with that, Hal kicks Hammond's butt. However, rather than be taken captive, Hector takes his own life. The substance oozes out of him, and Hal picks it up with his ring. He returns Hector's body to the general and says, "Sorry. There wasn't anything more I could do." Perhaps some kind of additional chat and then Hal flies off.

Later on, he meets up with Carol. He can have the same conversation with Carol that he had at the end of the actual movie. I think it would still work (perhaps even better). They kiss, he flies off, Tomar-Re gives and epilogue, and close of movie.

After Credits

After the credits, we see a scene with Sinestro having been captured by Parralax.
Parallax: I was drawn to this region of space. There is so much fear here. It smells so... sweet. I smell the fear in you too.
Sinestro: I know no fear.
Parallax: I AM FEAR! Do not lie to me. You may not be afraid of me, but you are afraid. "What if they find out?" "What if I am caught?" "What if I lose everything I have gained here?" I am sure that the Guardians would not be happy with you when they discover how you have been keeping peace in your sector.
Sinestro: The ring is will. I have done nothing more than allow my will to bring order.
Parallax: You have not used will to bring order but fear. Fear is greater than will. Fear keeps things simple, and keeps people in line. You know Sinestro, I like you. And I think with enough time, you'll like me too.
Evil smile, and cut.

Concluding Thoughts

I'm not sure which of the two movies I would like better, last week's or this one. Last week's I think is more relationally involved, but this one would have more eye candy and probably more action. However, I do think that both movies are better than what we actually got, which was over extended, unfocused, and full of plot holes.

One thing that I really like about this particular movie is the theme of loyalty, as well as establishing a better relationship with Sinestro. It also corrects a major problem in the movie, that is the complete lack of training that Hal goes through. While it may be one of the more enjoyable action scenes in the movie, which is sad, it doesn't quite make sense. Why would Sinestro complain that a new recruit is raw? Why would Kiliwog just throw those three lessons at him one after another? How is Hal capable of being competent with the ring after five seconds of training? It just makes no sense, and the version above does.

It also shows off on of the major appeals of Green Lantern stories: aliens. Lots of weird aliens. It is just fun.

So I think I might prefer this one a little, but I think the first one has a tad more substance to it. Anyway, what do you think? Leave your own thoughts in the comments section.

February 17, 2014

What If The Green Lantern Movie Was Good?
Part I

So last month I watched two videos about alternate scripts for Star Wars episodes one and two. While a little vulgar in certain places, his fundamental ideas showed a real awareness for what Star Wars was as well as what makes for a good movie.

So this got me thinking about other movies that could get the same kind of make-over. Certainly there are plenty of bad movies out there, but a lot of times we see a bad movie that we know didn't have to be bad. The top of my list with this is Green Lantern. I was really looking forward to seeing GL on screen due to the sheer spectacle of it. But he is also an interesting character due to his double loyalties (to Earth and to the Corps) and his rebellious nature despite being in a military organization.

The basic problem with the film is that attempted to do too much (a common problem in comic book movies). With this basic rule, I can think of two stories which are much simpler and would leave room for better character and plot development.

There are two aesthetic changes I would make as well. One is around the character of Hector Hammond. First of all his make-up was just awful, destroying his human features. Second of all, they made him too sympathetic (or pathetic), making him feel more like a victim than a villain, and more like a whiner than a threat. The other aesthetic change would be Green Lantern's costume. I actually like the idea of having glowing lines on the costume. However, having those lines accentuate muscles as opposed to the emblems on the costume is a bit like nippling the batsuit. It doesn't really work, and is more of a distraction in more dramatic scenes later on.

Green Lantern on Earth

Probably the simpler modification you can make is to keep the whole movie on Earth. The audience only needs to understand the ring as much as Hal does, and if Hal only knows what it can do, than that is all the audience needs to know as well. This story would be a story of an ordinary man who suddenly has a large amount of power fall into his lap. This would parallel very will with Hammond who would find himself in the same situation. The plot will go like this:


Cold open with Green Lantern Abin Sur. He is in a transport ship, and is reporting to some kind of superior about a sample that he is bringing back to some place called "Oa". A close up with the camera demonstrates that this sample is contained within some kind of heavily protected canister. In his report he mentions how the events on some planet was caused by a kind of substance. Also, it appears that this substance was introduced from off-world, and that the culprit is...

Suddenly his ship is attacked without warning. Due to his need to protect the sample, he attempts to fight the foe from inside of the ship. However the precision of the attack causes him to lose control, and he attempts to escape by activating his engine (or an escape pod. Doesn't really matter as long as he is protecting the canister). Opening credits.

Cut to Hal waking up. The scene introducing Hal can be left pretty much unchanged, even up until he crashes the plane. The only changes is that A) Hal isn't fired at the end, B) no Daddy issues, and C) Hector Hammond is accompanying his father as his assistant (also Hammond does not know either Hal or Carrol). We can also get some scenes of General Hammond being verbally abusive toward his son for the sake of establishing the character. They can also have a conversation on their way back to the car, to further establish their relationship. Afterwards, Hal goes to the bar, and Carrol meets up with him. They have a conversation/argument about what happened, and about their former relationship, basically like the bar scene in the movie with better dialogue. Carrol leaves and Hal returns to his drink saying something about wanting things to be different.

Fantastic Abilities

Now we cut to Abin Sur crashing at the coast. Before he dies, he sends out his ring which we see zip away. We then cut to Hal leaving the bar and walking down the street for a bit. Then the ring finds him, and carries him off to Abin Sur's ship. He passes the lantern to Hal, but dies as he is about to tell him to safe guard the canister (so it gets left behind by Hal). Hal calls Tom to pick him up, which he does.We have the helicopters chase them away for the sake of action and suspense. Tom gets Hal home, where Hal fidgets with the lantern. However, afterwards he merely passes out.

Now we cut to General Hammond's bed room. He is awoken by a phone call from Hector telling him that he needs to come to some site. Hammond chews Hector out for waking him and then asks him who it was that requested his presence. Hector says, "Somebody named Waller." To this, Hammond tells Hector to pick him up in the car immediately. We then see the Hammonds arrive at the crash site, and Waller greets the general. She asks who Hector is and Hammond introduces him as an assistant who knows how to be discreet. She then explains that there this is an alien crash, that there is a dead alien who was buried not far from here, and a set of footprints and tire tracks belonging to person or persons unknown. As she is explaining this, we see Hector finding the canister on the ground and fiddling with it. He opens it to find some kind of substance that is immediately absorbed into his skin, and drops the canister. Hammond immediately chastises him, tells Hector to stay by his side, and apologizes to Waller. We see either his eyes or his hands shine a little before the scene cuts away.

The next morning, Carrol comes to Hal's apartment furious because he didn't come to work. She can say something about responsibility and a hangover being no excuse, etc with Hal trying to explain without explaining. As she is about to leave, Tom comes in. After an awkward moment, Carrol leaves and Tom asks Hal if he got it to work. Hal smiles and it cuts to him and Tom in the desert, ready to experiment. Well, this scene would be fun, it should also demonstrate Hal's skills in test piloting: thinking about applications, limitations, and pushing boundaries.

Meanwhile, we have Hector discovering his abilities around the office, hearing people's thoughts about him (including his father), and accidentally knocking things off of shelves. He starts manipulating people, and enjoying himself doing it.

After this, we move on to the party. This scene can remain mostly intact. I actually like the idea of saving everyone from the crashing helicopter with the racecar. The fundamental difference being that Hector would be revealing things to Carrol but instead would simply lose control of his abilities. Would simply lose control of his abilities. Also show him having some real fun with it. Don't just have him do one small thing, but have him messing stuff up all around him: complete udder chaos. But no one knows where the source chaos is.

Things Are Getting Real

We can have the same scene where Tommy finds out about the Green Lantern suit and then Carrol finds out about the Green Lantern suit. But naturally when Hal and Carol are talking they're not going to talk about the Green Lantern Corps since Hal doesn't know about them. Instead they'll just talk about whether or not Hal is responsible and how crazy the whole idea is.

Meanwhile Hammond is suspecting Hector of a lot of things that are going on around the office. He confronts him about it and Hector denies everything while having something accidentally attack his father. His father survives but goes to Waller to inform her that something strange seems to be going Hector follows him there and then we get the fight between him Waller and Hammond. This causes some explosion that happen which how Hal is going to be able to notice. So Hal goes it investigates and we get our first fight to them which ends up in some kind of a draw. Likely Hector would have some kind of advantage at the end which causes Hal to retreat, but saving Waller. Hammond can die though.

In the aftermath of this fight, Hal is principally concerned with not being sure about whether he should be doing anything like this at all. It  is not that he fears death, but that he fears himself. The power that he is wielding is unprecedented, and he doesn't really know he is a good enough person to be trusted with it. At the end of the conversation he decides not the wear the ring, because he doesn't want to be the monster that he saw in Hammond. Tommy and Carol attempt to argue with him, but he is resolute.

Meanwhile Hector wants Hal's ring, and plans on the typical world domination. Why? Because Hector Hammond is a threat in his own right and doesn't need some other villain to make him dangerous. This is also who Hector Hammond really is. He is someone who wants power and respect, but has no idea what he would do if he ever got them. Think of Titan from Megamind. That who Hector Hammond is. He's a buffoon with a really dangerous toy. And that is what makes him so dangerous: he doesn't think out the consequences of what he is doing and why. He's not pure evil, but incredibly selfish and immature.

Back At Ferris Aircraft

So the next day, Hal goes back to Ferris Aircraft. Why? Because he works there. Carol approaches him, and attempts to bring the subject of the ring back up, but Hal says, "Not now. I'm here to fly, not talk" or something to that effect.

As Hal is getting ready to test an aircraft, suddenly Hector Hammond comes in. Why? Because it is a military institution that he knows about and he is seeking to acquire power. In other words, he comes for control of the planes, specifically the drone planes we saw Hal combating at the beginning of the movie. Also, Hal doesn't have his ring at this point, so he, Carol, and Tommy have to try to deal with him powerless. They ultimately fail, and have to abandon Ferris Aircraft, while Hector takes control of the planes, and brings them to the local military base that his father was commanding.

Watching Hector leave, Hal, Carol, and Tommy have the rather obvious discussion of whether or not Hal should use the ring. This discussion is of course quite short since Hal wouldn't really need convincing. He immediately recognizes that while he is not sure he can be trusted with his power, he is confident that Hector can't be trusted with his and needs stopping. So he rushes home to get the ring.


As Hal rushes home, Hector begins his attack on the army base. The aircraft remain unstoppable, and Hector is easily able to take care of combatants on the ground. As he goes, he collects weapons that he is able to use with his telekinesis. He has, off screen. Perhaps he could also have some "soldiers" with him who he had convinced that he was a god using his telepathy. These "soldiers" could be gathering various weapons as they advance. Hector intends to take over the base and use it as a castle: a place of defense that he can use to establish a kingdom in the surrounding area. The base also has missile silos that he is hoping to use.

When Hal finally gets home, he discovers that his ring is out of power. So he says the oath, charges it, activates, and flies away to the base. His first course of action is to take out the aircraft, which shouldn't be too easy, but shouldn't be too hard either. He then lands in the base, and states that he is here to help. He discovers that Waller is currently in charge there. While she doesn't entirely trust him, she says that she accepts his assistance for the time being, since he saved her once before, and just took out two of Hector's planes. However, she insists on have "a talk" afterward.

From here, we see Hal flying out of the base, and attacking Hector's soldiers. Eventually, he confronts Hector himself. They have a big awesome battle which is fun to watch. I don't think we really need a break-down of this, we just want it to be big and flashy. Lots of things being thrown around by Hector (the bigger the better), and lots of interesting light-constructs made by Hal. Hal of course wins, apprehends Hector, and takes him back to Waller.

Waller is able to ask him a couple of questions, about the body of Abin Sur and the ring, which Hal answers to the best of his ability. She then asks him what the symbol means, and before Hal answers, an unknown voice says, "It means he is a Green Lantern." Everyone looks up and reveals three Green Lanterns: Sinestro, Tomar-Re, and a third Lantern from the comics, maybe Kilowog. Tomar-Re turns to Sinestro and says, "Sinestro, perhaps I should handle the negotiations." He tells Waller that the Green Lantern Corps is an intergalactic police force, and that one of their soldiers crashed here along with a dangerous substance that he had in his custody. They came here to investigate what had happened to him, but had trouble finding the ring since it was not being used. The battle had attracted their attention.

He says that they must take Hector into custody to purge his body of the substance. Afterwards, they will return him to the Earth for judgement. Waller attempts to argue with him, and Tomar-Re gives a brief argument about the Earth not being able to properly confine Hector in his current state, but then Sinestro says that they need to take him anyway. he says that telling her is a matter of politeness and respect, but they'll take him by force is necessary. They will also return him regardless as well since this is Green Lantern law. Waller doesn't like this but must acquiesce.

The conversation then shifts to Hal. They invite him to Oa to undergo training and officially join the corps. Hal states his loyalties are to Earth, and Tomar-Re says that he will not have to give up those loyalties. He would be stationed here, and recognizing local planet sovereignty is part of Green Lantern law. Hal eventually agrees, but states there are some people he needs to see first.

This cuts to him coming to talk to Carol and Tommy. He explains briefly what happened, and his resolution to his internal conflict regarding power. He kisses Carol goodbye for now, gives Tommy a hug, and flies off. We get the Geoffrey Rush ending monologue, and credits.

At the end of the credits, we get a Sinestro scene as well. Except this one is Sinestro standing over Abin Sur's graving, revealing that he attacked Sur, that he is here to cover up the attack, and that he was the one that planted the substance on whatever planet Abin Sur was coming from (and that the attack on Sur was to cover that up). End movie.

Final Thoughts

The basic theory behind the movie is to establish Hal as a character rather than the Corps. We can save the full revelation of the Corps and aliens and the rest of the mythology in a later movie. By keeping the film about Hal on Earth you simplify the plot and cut back on exposition, allowing for a greater focus on character. Also, we keep the movie to one villain, since there is enough that the movie already has to cover.

The other basic theory is to keep Hector Hammond as the villain since that was the villain used in the movie, and that is the movie that I am trying to fix. I don't just want to say, this is the Green Lantern movie I would really want to do. Instead, this is one way to fix the movie that they already made. However, I think there is another way to do this, and I think the other way is ultimately be better. But I will save that description for next week.