April 24, 2017

Understanding Necessity In Arminianism And Calvinism

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The concept of necessity is one that, on the one hand, seems really simple, and yet proves itself to be rather difficult to track. When talking about theology, we usually are referring to the concept of ontological necessity, or what must exist. Another way of thinking about it is that it is impossible for necessary things to not exist.

In Christianity, there exists only one necessary thing: God. Everything else is what we call contingent, that is reliant on something else. The belief that God is the only necessary thing is called aseity, that  God exists a se, or "by Himself". Now the question that I want to ask here is how does this affect Arminianism and Calvinism?

Now I wrote a post a while ago called The Teological Argument For The Existance Of Libertarian Free Will, and the point I'll be making here will cover some common ground. But rather than simply arguing for the existance of LFW, I am instead seeking to explore the effect of compatibilism and necessity.

What In God Is Necessary?

So the first question is, what is it that makes something necessary? The answer is that something is necessary if it must exist. In other words, it is impossible for it not to exist. This would be true of God. This would also need to be true of any of God's essential attributes. After all, it would be nonsense to say that God exists necessarily, but He could be someone and something completely different than He is. Rather, we need to also affirm those aspects of God that make God God. For instance, God is necessarily omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, incorporeal, and eternal. He is necessarily tri-personal, which grounds His essential goodness. Without these properties, God would simply not be God.

But there are divine attributes that God need not have which He does. Those are any attributes that define God's relationship to something outside of Himself. For instance, God is not necessarily creator, for He could have chosen not to create. God is not necessarily the God of Israel, for Israel need not exist. God is not necessarily just, for God does not need to be in the company of sinners (though He is necessarily righteous/good).1 So even though God is necessary, it does not entail that everything we can say about God is also necessary.

What Will The Will Do?

This brings us to the most important question. Are God's choices necessary? Now the Arminian clearly says no. This is because the Arminian believes that God possesses LFW, and thus His choices are not necessary since that is basically what LFW means.

But what about compatibilism? This is a bit more difficult since I've heard half a dozen different definitions of compatibilism. One basic one is that compatibilism is the belief the free will and determinism are compatible, which isn't particularly helpful. One holding to this definition without any further development could simply say that God's choices are not necessary but couldn't have been anything else. Because they said so. This has always struck me as saying "I believe in A and not A".

However, most Calvinists that I have met generally argue that by compatilibilism they mean that one acts in accordance to one's nature. That is, you chose what you chose because it is in your nature to make that choice, and because it is YOUR nature, it rightly belongs to you. Thus your will is free. To be frank, this actually makes perfect sense to me. This is basically how I understand the operation of the wills of animals.2

So for God, these compatibilists will argue that the choices that God makes He makes because they are the natural result of His nature. So because God is perfect, and good, etc... He inevitably creates the universe. Therefore, if God did other than what He has done, He wouldn't truly be God!

Problems

However there are problems when applying this understanding to God. If God's decisions are the expression of God's nature, and God's nature is necessary, than logically all of God's choices are necessary. God could not have acted other than He has.

However, if all of God's choices are necessary, the effects or those choices are equally necessary. This would collapse the distinction I made in the above section. God would necessarily be Creator, so He would need to create. God would necessarily be the God of Israel, so He would need to commission Israel. God would necessarily just, so He would need to be in the company of sinners to judge them.

The fundamental result is that everything is necessary, and nothing is contingent. This makes God dependent on His creation, since He needs to create it. It is not dependent like I am dependent on my heart, but dependent like I am dependent on eating: I must do it or I cease to be. This strikes me as a challenge to divine aseity, and a diminishing of God's glory.

I find this to be ironic since most compatibilist think that they are bringing God glory through their theology. However, I believe it is quite the opposite. Compatibilism makes God smaller, mechanical, and dependent on His creatures. While the idea of making human actions necessary may sound appealing to the Calvinist, a flat our rejection of libertarian free will makes that extend to God as well, diminishing His glory and  honor.

So to my Calvinist friends, I suggest that you embrace the notion of LFW for God, just as I embrace the notion of CFW for animals. Then we can quibble and argue over the free will of humans.
_____________________________________________________________

1 For more on this, see my post: http://jcfreak73.blogspot.com/2014/06/essential-attributes-verses-relational.html
2 Though, of course, animals are not moral agents.This is why I do not believe it would make sense with humans or angels who are moral agents.

February 14, 2017

What If Spiderman 3 Was Good?

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A couple of years ago I made a post about how I would have done the Green Lantern movie differently. I've thought about the same question when it comes to some other movies, especially comic book movies, and I thought I would share one that I feel was especially disappointing: Spiderman 3.

Spiderman 3 was disappointing for several reasons, but the principle reason was because it didn't have to be. Spiderman 2 left us with a great set-up for the third film, but when the movie came, it felt like they just didn't want to tell the story that the second movie set-up. All of the story around Harry Osburn felt like it was there because it had to be there.

Furthermore, the fundamental flaw of the film is obvious: too much story for too little movie. Your telling the story of Venom (which is already a necessarily complicated story), Harry getting amnisia, Peter and MJ having relationship problems, a reworking of the Uncle Ben story along with Sandman, and the background theme of Peter letting fame get to his head. That is way too much, leaving the movie horribly cluttered and unfocused. But what's worse is that we didn't get the story that we really wanted, a solid conclusion for the relationship arc between Peter and Harry. The most important part of the movie for us seemed to be the least important for the writers and director.

So two things should be at the heart of this correction: #1 the focus of the story should be the restoration of the relationship of Peter and Harry. #2 one villain besides 2nd Green Goblin. However, we want a villain that is going to influence Peter and Harry's relationship. I don't see how that'll be true of Sandman, so Venom makes significantly more sense. Also, with the Venom story, you can have the fascinating reversal of guilt within the relationship.

So what follows is the story I would have told, with 4 main fights:

Plot

Beginning

During the opening credits, we see the symbiote crash land on earth. We then can see it go on various adventures, maybe taking hold of various animals briefly, until it ends up in the sewers.

We can start the movie the same way the original movie starts: with Spiderman being celebrated by the community and Peter trying to talk to Harry but being ignored. It is a pretty good starting point, so why change. However, once all of that is basically established, I would have Peter proposing to MJ, and MJ saying yes. Right after the proposal, Peter hears of a fire somewhere in the city, and goes to investigate.

When he arrives, he discovers that it was an abandoned building, and Harry is there waiting for him. They fight, in a similar way in the movie (that scene was actually pretty good), but the fight ends with Harry being victorious, and Peter having to escape through the sewers. It is in the sewers that the symbiote attaches to him.

Black Spiderman

He returns home, tired, with the symbiote covering him as he sleeps. When he awakes, he has the black suit (which should be smoother IMO). He eventually shows it to MJ, but instead of being impressed by it, she is concerned. So Peter promises to take it to Dr. Connors, and he does so. Connors promises to look into it, and tells Peter stay away from it until he gets a chance. Peter agrees...

And then immediately after we get a montage of him using it to fight crime; and having a lot of fun doing it too. This then leads to Peter bringing in pictures of the new suit to JJ. He has a conniption over it. This leads to the introduction of Eddy Brock, and the reward that JJ offers for evidence of Spiderman breaking the law.

Peter comes home to MJ, and they have a talk about the black suit, and MJ's career, and simply enjoy each others' company. Eventually Harry comes up, and MJ suggests that maybe she'll be able to talk to him. Peter thinks this is a bad idea, and they go to bed. In the morning, MJ gets up, and leaves a note telling Peter that she is off to talk Harry. Harry sees this through a camera that he has apparently been using to spy on them.

Harry then leaves his own note, or gives Pete a message in some manner, that he has taken MJ to some location. Peter goes there to save her, yelling at Harry for involving MJ in their disagreement. They have a second fight. This time, Peter is much more aggressive, due to the suit beginning to have an effect on him. During the fight, Brock shows up to try and take a picture and Spiderman destroys his camera infuriating him.

Eventually Peter wins the fight, and Harry reveals that MJ isn't actually there, and that he never took her to begin with. Peter tells Harry that he's crossed a line. So far he has not wanted to fight Harry because they are friends, but next time Harry attacks him, he will not hold back.

Reversing roles

Harry, downcast, returns home to find MJ waiting for him. He doesn't want to talk to her, but she doesn't take no for an answer. (maybe some explanation of how she got in will be necessary, but that'll be for the director to decide). Harry and MJ have an argument, where MJ challenges Harry to reconsider his devotion for his father. Point out that while it was reasonable to be mad before he knew who his father was, at this point he's just being ridiculous. Harry than yells, "he killed my father", to which MJ replies, "Yeah, 10 minutes after your father threw me from a bridge!" She mentions that he died by his own glider at some point. Then Harry tells her to get out, and she does.

We then cut to Harry looking off his balcony a bit later, when he calls to his butler to get his father's autopsy report. He looks it over, and then looks tired, and we cut away.

We then see MJ returning home to Peter, and they argue about her not listening to him. He doesn't talk to her the way he normally does, and she questions this. Pete backs down and apologizes, saying that he was just really worried. She says she understands, and they move on.

The next day, he goes to the Daily Bugle to find that Brock has won the award with his fake photo. Enraged, Peter goes after Brock, but JJ and Robby pull them apart. Peter storms out, and returns later with evidence that Eddy faked his photo. Eddy is fired.

We then turn to a montage of Peter turning evil. Not emo, but actually wicked. The idea of an emo Peter actually kind of works for me since it would make sense that Peter doesn't really know how to be bad. But still, what we have in the film was executed poorly (especially that very uncomfortable dance scene), but I don't have any better ideas here. Perhaps it simply could have been done better. But the basic idea, with Connors commenting on the symbiote in the background, makes logical sense to me, and I think it could be done well. Be we should see him fighting more violently, flirting with other women, and acting like a jerk.

MJ complains to Peter about his recent behavior, eventually blaming the suit which gets Peter really upset about. Afterwards she runs out. We find that she ends up going to Harry to tell him that Peter is changing and she needs his help. Harry asks how he could help, and she replies that she doesn't know, but she can't reach him anymore. Harry says that he'll try.

Just then Peter shows up, asking what MJ is doing there. Harry attempts to explain, and talk to him, but Peter instead is simply enraged that they are plotting against him. Peter then attacks Harry, and now it is Harry who is trying to stop the fight. However he does defend himself, using some more advanced weapons than he had before. However, Peter decimates him in the end.

He is about to kill him when MJ stops him. Peter than raises a hand to strike her, but then realizes what he is about to do. He takes a few steps back in shock. He then looks down at Harry, and then at his hands, and then back at MJ. He says, "take care of him" and webs away. MJ then begins to take care of Harry.

Return to the Red and Blue

Peter then goes to the church, where we get the famous church scene, complete with Brock getting the symbiote. However, he doesn't smile, ever.

Peter returns home, naked. MJ is packing. MJ looks at him and questions where his suit is. He says he got rid of it, and he is sorry about what happened earlier. She says that a simple apology doesn't make everything better, and Peter agrees. He says, "hopefully time will. I still love you, but there is something in me I have to fix." MJ says she is staying with Harry which Peter clearly doesn't like. But he asks her to apologize for him to Harry as well, and she says that she will.

At this point, Peter takes a sabbatical from being Spiderman, focusing on being Peter Parker and getting his head right. He also stops watching the news and ignores various calls from the Daily Bugle. Meanwhile, Venom has taken over Peter's role as Spiderman and is framing him for various crimes. He is destroying Spiderman's reputation and Peter is completely unaware because of his seclusion.

At some point, Venom attacks Harry , or perhaps just commits a crime near him. When this happens, Harry realizes that Venom is not Peter and something is going on. He quickly calls MJ, but while he is on the phone with her, Venom captures him.

Denouement

Peter tracks down Venom (how doesn't really matter) and brings Harry's gear with him. He rescues Harry and gets Harry his gear. They have a brief period of forgiveness, and then the two of them fight Venom together (which, let's face it, was the only good part of the actual movie). The fight goes public and people see the red and blue Spiderman fighting the black Spiderman, and begins to cheer for Spiderman again.

Harry eventually does some "death-defying" move to get a sonic bomb close to Venom, allowing Peter to defeat him. In the process, Harry is impaled by his own glider. The two of them talk about their past, and what could have been, and laugh. Harry says that he loves Pete, and then dies.

Peter than returns to MJ. She forgives him, as he cries in her arms. The movie ends with MJ giving the final speach, interpreting the events, who Spiderman is, etc...

Role credits

February 11, 2017

Naming A Few Fallacies

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I've been thinking about the kind of conversion I typically see on-line, and in light of that, I've spotted a couple of fallacies that are commonly made that do not seem to have names. And so, I have named them. I offer them to the internet in the hope that people can recognize these as fallacious and, hopefully but not likely, improve the quality of internet conversation. They are
  1. Same Mind Bias
  2. Opposite Fallacy
  3. Misplaced Proposition Fallacy
  4. Counter-argument Fallacy
  5. Leading Counter-argument Fallacy
  6. Transubstantiation Fallacy
  7. Analogy/Allegory Confusion
Same Mind Bias

This is similar to the bias known as the False-Consensus Effect, where someone believes that more people agree with them than they actually do. However, this isn't connected to knowledge, but to thought process.

The assumption here is that people usually think the same way that you do, and when they come to different conclusions than you, you make assumptions about how they got there. In reality, of course, people have radically different ways of thinking, and even sometimes come to the same conclusion for entirely different reasons. However, this generally doesn't stop people from generally assuming that people think in the same manner.

A couple of examples are in order. First would be the well established Historian's Fallacy, where you judge a decision that someone made in the past based off of modern sensitivities. Another is the tendency for an empathetic person to think that someone doesn't care about others, because that person isn't being as sensitive, when in reality that person may care a lot, but is focusing on helping the person's practical needs. A third example is the expectation that someone would come to believe the same as you do, if they are presented with the same evidence and arguments which convinced you, and then become incredulous when they do not. Often, in the last scenario, one assumes the other person is ignoring you, or is uninterested in truth, but the possibility that the person may simply be ingratiated by a different kind of evidence rarely comes up.

All of this is a lead up to the first fallacy I named here:

The Opposite Fallacy1

This is a fallacy that is based off of the Same Mind Bias and a specific example of an Appeal to Motivation. This is when someone has an opposite opinion of you, so you assume that they have opposite premises or motivations. Therefore, you are assuming that they are thinking the same way that you do, even though their conclusion is different.

My favorite example of this is the abortion debate. Many times, people who are pro-choice assume that those who are pro-life are somehow "against women", which is strikingly odd. Pro-life people are quite open about the fact that we are motivated by belief that fetuses are children, and thus shouldn't be unceremoniously killed. But because pro-choice people are motivated by women's issues, they are assuming that those who disagree with them have opposite motivations. In reality both the pro-life and the pro-choice movements have a greater variety of beliefs thaN either side typically acknowledges.

Definition The Opposite Fallacy: The assumption that if one has an opposite opinion, they also have opposite motivations.

Misplaced Proposition Fallacy

I honestly don't know why this isn't already a named fallacy, and perhaps it is but simply listed in places of which I am unaware. The concept is fairly simple. In the midst of a debate, a person misunderstands a particular claim's role in the other person's argument, or misunderstands the role of their own claim. When an argument is laid out mathematically like this:
  1. p -> q
  2. p
  3. therefore, q
the role of each proposition is quite clear. But in more complex arguments, and especially ones couched in colloquial speech, it is often easy to lose track what exactly an argument is doing. Therefore, it is quite common for people to just simply misunderstand what it is that is going on.

The most famous example of this is the fallacy fallacy. This is the mistake that your counterargument works as an argument against the person's position. I can make a bad argument for something that is actually true. For instance, I could claim that everything that is made of water is blue, the sky is made of water, therefore the sky is blue. Neither of those premises is true, yet the conclusion is. Proving the argument wrong does not mean that the conclusion is wrong. It would simply mean that I will have to justify the conclusion for different reasons. But fundamental to this mistake is a misunderstanding of the role of counter-argumentation. What follows are some other examples of this kind of mistake.

Counterargument Fallacy

This fallacy is actually intimately connected with the Fallacy Fallacy. Indeed, it is essentially its opposite. The counterargument fallacy is when someone discounts a counterargument due to it being insufficient to counter to person's position.

I often hear these kinds of arguments when dealing with the arguments from God's existence. For instance, if an atheist argues that God doesn't exist because of the existence of evil, I could counter with the simple point that God could have justifications for the allowance of evil. It is unfortunately not uncommon for an atheist to then say, "That doesn't mean that God exists!" Well, yes. It doesn't mean that. My point wasn't that therefore God exists, but that your argument is merely insufficient to prove His non-existence.

I actually run into this a lot and, again, I am amazed that no one has named this fallacy already.
Definition The Counterargument Fallacy: The rejection of a counterargument because it is insufficient to defeat the whole position.

Leading Counterargument Fallacy

This basically is an example of the Fallacy Fallacy, but usually when we think of the Fallacy Fallacy, we think of it in terms of the middle of a debate, where someone names a fallacy, and thinks that that is sufficient to win the argument. However, a bit more confusing is when someone starts the conversation with a counterargument.

The most famous example of this is when an atheist argues, "If God created the universe, then who created God." Many use this as a stand alone argument against God's existence, which is simply confusing. The argument, as presented by Dawkins, was a counterargument against the teleological argument. But I could simply reject the teleological argument, or believe in God for other reasons, and the point because irrelevant. Now I don't think that it is a good argument even in that respect, but when an atheist leads with this, it is merely confused.
Definition Leading Counterargument Fallacy: When a person leads a discussion with a counterargument.

Transubstantiation Fallacy

Now the name here is actually a pun, and has nothing to do with the Catholic view of the Eucharist. Rather the Transubstantiation Fallacy is where a person thinks of a substantiating argument as a major argument. So for instance, one could present the Kalaam Cosmological Argument as follows:
  1. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
    1. An infinite amount of anything cannot exist in the real world
    2. If the universe were eternal, then it there would have been an infinate amount of seconds
  3. Therefore the universe must have a cause
Now above are basically two arguments. One is the main argument which are propositions 1, 2, 3. But under premise 2 is a separate argument which argues for premise 2. This is a substantiating argument since it is arguing for the soundness of the premise rather than for the final conclusion. Whenever you present an argument, it must be both valid and sound. A valid argument is one where the conclusion logically follows from the premises while a sound argument is a valid argument whose premises are true. The process of showing that the premises are true is called substantiating your premises. Hence the name "substantiating argument".

 OK, so what do I mean by Transubstantiating Fallacy? It is where someone takes a substantiating argument to be part of the main argument. So, using the above example, if I were to argue that the universe cannot be infinitely old, because an actual infinite cannot exist, they may reply, "OK, but that doesn't prove anything! That doesn't mean that God created the universe!" Correct. It doesn't prove that. All it proves is that the universe must have begun to exist. That is why there is more to the argument.
Definition The Transubstantiation Fallacy: When someone takes a substantiating argument to be part of the main argument.

Analogy/Allegory Confusion 

 I am someone that uses a good deal of analogical thinking as I reason through things. As such, I have found it extremely frustrating when using analogies in debates. This is because people often over-extend the analogy, claiming that it fails because it doesn't do what it isn't designed to do. Part of the problem is that analogies require effort on the opponents part to understand. They are fantastic at explaining concepts, but only if the other person actually wants to understand. If a person is simply trying to defeat you, they can easily pick apart even the best analogies.

 There's an old saying about the Trinity: all analogies fall short. I find this saying to be a tad obtuse though. Of course all analogies fall short of explaining the Trinity. This is because all analogies fall short of explaining anything. After all, if an analogy worked perfectly, it wouldn't be an analogy, but an example. At its core, an analogy is a kind of metaphor, and metaphors work by talking about something different, but has a tiny sliver of overlap, as a way of isolating that sliver. Analogies, by their very nature, are trying to merely explain part of an idea, rather than the whole thing. To say that an analogy doesn't work because it fails to take into account the rest of the discussion is a mistake. The entire point is to isolate the concept away from the rest discussion in the first place.

 Now part of this is because people also have a tendency to use analogies poorly. This is because people often mistake what the role of an analogy in a discussion is. Many think of an analogy as a kind of argument: a way of demonstrating the truth of what it is that you are saying. But by their very nature, an analogy can never be used to show an argument's soundness, only its validity. The purpose of an analogy is to be understood, but being understood is not the same thing as being convincing. Something can make sense and still be false, like fantasy stories.

Part of the root cause of all of this that most people seem to want win a debate as quickly as possible. The dream is to have that one comment that shuts the other person down. However, in real conversation, dialogue takes time. For analogical reasoning this poses a problem, for understanding an analogy requires a sympathetic ear. The listener has to try to make the analogy make sense, for it naturally will not on its own. But if a environment of mutual respect isn't garnered, then such sympathy from an opponent is impossible. Instead they are going to see all of the ways in which the analogy falls short of the discussion.

 But we shouldn't do this, even if our opponent is using the analogy as an argument, for it is still good for us to understand his point. Just because the presenter doesn't understand the purpose of analogies doesn't mean we don't have to either. We can still seek to understand what is being said, and as such we have to avoid the tendency to allegorize. Unlike an analogy, an allegory is a way of re-framing an entire topic using different images, to get us to look at the issue a new way. In an allegory, there does exist perfect correspondence, or at least some facsimile to it. But analogies are not allegories. Allegories get us to emotionally connect. Analogies explain. Allegories paint in broad strokes. Analogies surgically isolate particular components.

And this one is probably the one that I am the most passionate about, because the frequency of this mistake is what I truly lament the most when it comes to most conversations: people are in too much of a hurry. Arguments have pieces to them, and it is usually good to talk about each piece individually and carefully before moving on. If you are constantly trying to talk about the whole issue, it is very unlikely you'll accomplish anything. To convince, you usually need to go deep. And to go deep, you have to tease out the particular assumptions that the two of you have. Often our debates are merely symptoms of much deeper differences.  ______________________________________________________________
1I originally called this the "Same Difference Fallacy", but I didn't really like this name I don't particularly like this name either. Suggestions are welcome.

January 21, 2017

What The Atonement Debate Is Really About

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In the Arminian/Calvinism debate, the most aggravating topic for me has been the Atonement debate. Calvinists will argue that Christ died only for the elect while Arminians argue that Christ died for everyone. Now the reason why I find it aggravating is not because it is difficult for me to defend my view, or that Calvinists are annoying about it. The reason for the aggravation is that the entire debate is kind of a misnomer. The argument has nothing to do with the nature of the atonement.

Now some of you may find that shocking, but I assure you that the nature of the atonement is not what is actually being talked about. Rather the debate is about the intention for the atonement. Now when I first got into this debate, I somewhat laid the issue of the atonement aside, because more so than any other facet of the debate I could tell that we were just talking past each other here. Then I compared what we were arguing in terms of the nature of the atonement and concluded that we were saying the same thing, but simply using different words. This convinced me that the debate was an irrelevance. However, I've come to realize that the debate has to do with an undercurrent issue that we end up ignoring because of the way that we've named the issue.

Now to demonstrate that we aren't really talking about the nature of the atonement, consider the following list:

  1. Both agree that a person is not born justified
  2. Both sides agree that a person becomes justified when they have faith
    • So we agree on the atonement's provisional nature
  3. Both sides agree that a person is completely justified once the atonement is applied to them
    • So we agree on efficacy
  4. Both sides agree that Christ's atonement was substitutionary
  5. Both sides agree that Christ's atonement is infinite in power
    • So no difference in "spilt blood"
  6. Both sides agree that it is particular in application
So this leaves the basic question, what is the debate about?

Some Logic

This issue is based off of a question regarding how God manifests His sovereignty. Consider the following propositions.

A= God desires to save all people
D= Some people are damned
E= God gets everything He desires

Now these three ideas as a group are mutually exclusive. You can accept any set of two of them, but not all three. This is because if God desires to save all people, and some people are damned, then clearly God does not get everything He desires. [(A  and  D)-> ~E] From this one basic premise, we can see what the fundamental logic is for Arminianism and Calvinism:

Arminianism:
1. (A  and  D)-> ~E
2. A1
3. D2
4. Therefore, ~E
Calvinism
1. (A  and  D)-> ~E
2. E3
3. Therefore, ~A  or  ~D4
4. D2
5. Therefore, ~A
So the question before us is how do we settle this while maintaining God's sovereignty and upholding the witness of Scripture?

The Calvinist Solution

For the Calvinist, there is simply no way to logically reconcile their view of God's sovereignty with the notion that God would want something and then not obtain it. Therefore, they conclude that God cannot desire everyone to be saved, or at least He does not desire everyone to be saved as much as He wants to condemn them. This seems to contradict several passages of Scripture1. So how do they avoid this?

There have been a couple of different ways they have attempted to do so. One possibility is accommodation, where God's inscrutable will is simplified in the Bible so that we can understand at least an element of it. Another possible route is to understand these passages as describing all kinds of people rather than every individual person. Yet another method is the two will theory, which I half-halfheartedly expressed above. Here, God is understood to ambivalently want to save and condemn, and for some the desire to save is stronger, and for some the desire to condemn is stronger.

Now I've criticized each of these positions elsewhere, and I won't do so here. For now, it is sufficient to point out that this is what the Calvinist view of the atonement comes down to: not efficacy, but a defense of God obtaining anything which He desires.

The Arminian Solution 

For the Arminian, there is simply no getting around these Biblical texts. From our perspective, we are biblically obligated to accept the assertion that God desires to save everyone, even those that ultimately are not saved. As such, we must answer the theological question, "How is God sovereign if His will can be thwarted?"

The answer is, that it isn't thwarted. There are two important challenges that need to be discussed. First of all, is it true that not obtaining a desire is the same thing as being thwarted? If it is true, then the Calvinist would be correct in affirming E (That God gets everything He desires). The second is how do we understand God desiring to save certain people, yet not obtaining that desire.

The first point seems simple. To be thwarted simply isn't to not obtain something you want, but it is to be defeated or overcome in attempt to obtain it. Thwarting is a response to action, not desire. If I desire my son to go to bed so I can watch a movie, but then say nothing to him, I am not thwarted when he decides to stay up a little later. I did not act on the desire, and so I was not thwarted.

"Hold on", one may say. "The problem isn't that God merely desired salvation and didn't obtain it. Even many compatibilists will say that. The problem is that God actively pursues their salvation, and He does not obtain it. Because God does act with the purpose of obtaining their salvation, and yet does not obtain it, He is therefore thwarted."

Well, no. While action is necessary for thwarting, it is not sufficient. If God acts in such a way as to promote what it is that He desires, and yet intentionally does not act sufficiently to guarantee it, then as long as the actions that He does undertake are not overcome or prevented, then not obtaining His desire would not be the same as being thwarted. That's a bit of a dense sentence, so let's rephrase. It depends on how He acts. If He doesn't try to force His desire, than even acting to bring about His desire would not be sufficient to have been thwarted if denied.  Let's consider again the example of my son. Consider if I turn to him and say, "Hey, would like you to get ready for bed?" Assuming this is a real offer and not a rhetorical question, if my son says no, that would hardly be considered being thwarted. This is especially true since it is in my power to force him to go to bed if I chose to exercise that power. So him staying up, in either scenario, is no challenge to my sovereignty over him. Therefore, the first challenge to the Arminian position is met.

So this leads us to our second challenge. How could God desire the salvation of people who are ultimately damned? While we have shown it is logically possible, that doesn't mean that it makes sense in the case of salvation. After all, if He really wants to save them, then why wouldn't He act in such a way as to guarantee it?

So here I appeal to the concept of a contextualized desire. Some can express a desire to have something when in reality they would only want that thing if obtained in a certain way. For instance, Lebron James may say that he wants to put the basketball through the hoop. However, he won't exercise his full power to do so. He won't push other players out of his way, or hold onto the ball as he gets closer to the hoop, or go and get a ladder or something. This is because, while he may merely say that he is trying to get the ball through the hoop, we understand that he doesn't merely want  to get the ball through the hoop. He only desires to do so within the context of a basketball game.

The classic Arminian analogy for this notion is romance. If you are wooing a woman, you want her to love you in return. If you had access to love potion #9, and used it to make her love you, it would feel hollow. Rather, you want her to love you back. This is rather analogous to the way we view God's desire in the context of salvation. Salvation isn't simply God saving us from Hell, but saving us to an eternal life with God. It makes sense that God would only want those who want to be there.

Now there is significantly more to salvation than just  this, of course. We have to deal with the need of redemption, and sanctification, and justification, and all the rest. The point here is rather an isolated question of why God would only want to save people in a way that they could reject. In answer to this question, the idea that God wants us to want to be with Him makes sense as an explanation for this feature.

Some Objections

Now what might the Calvinist say to all of this? The first response may be to say that this would make salvation meritorious on wanting God. This is a very misguided objection. Again, if we return to the analogy of romance, if a woman does not want to be with you, does that mean that she is less worthy of you? In my wife's case, wanting to be married to me may be her only flaw! Ah, but wanting God is different because God is the greatest good, while I am most certainly not. Even then, it doesn't seem that wanting to be with God has earned you anything, because even if you wanted to be with God, that doesn't take away your sin. Only Christ's atonement actually does that. Thus wanting to be with God simply is not meritorious. Rather it simply represents the reasons for God's sovereign choice. As long as God could have chosen otherwise, we are not dealing with merit.

A second objection may be that this would make the atonement of Christ merely provisional. It is the faith that causes the atonement to work, not the power of the atonement itself! This is a gross error. It is not as if you have faith and the atonement automatically kicks in or something. Rather God applies Christ's atoning work to the faithful. But again, He need not. I can have faith, and God could refrain from applying Christ's atonement, and I would still be dead in my sins. It is God's act that causes the atonement to be active in my life, not my act. Thus the atonement being provisional does not entail that it is merely provisional. It is still the atonement that does the actual justifying. Also, as stated in the introduction, this is just as true on the Calvinist system. Therefore the provisional nature of the atonement in Arminianism, as inconsequential as it is, could not ingratiate us toward Calvinism.

A final objection that we'll consider here is that this leads to the fact that all which distinguishes the reprobate from the elect is faith, and that this makes faith meritorious, regardless of my earlier point. Well, first of all this is a criticism on conditional election, not universal atonement. There are other critiques of conditional election one may import into this conversation as well, but I'll just consider this one as a way of addressing that category. But look else where for answers to those concerns. To the specific objection, this is simply confusing merit with condition. If one starts out with the assumption that conditionality is sufficient to demonstrate merit, then this might go through, but I reject that premise. God having a reason for choosing something in no which way, shape, or form implies that He was obligated to make that choice. I have said significantly more about this else where, but I'll leave the objection here for the purposes of this post.

So in the end, I think the Arminian is quite justified is criticizing the Calvinist for reinterpreting the plain sense of the atonement passages. While the Calvinists' theological concerns are duly noted, they are not enough for us to alter what God's word has revealed to us.


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1 John 1:29, John 3:16-17, John 4:42, John 6:33, 51, John 12:32, 47, I Timothy 4:10, II Peter 3:9, I John 4:14, Revelation 22:17 and others. See here.
2 Matthew 25, Acts 4:12, John 3, and many others. Since this is a point we agree on, I won't belabor it.
3 Based off of their definition of sovereignty.
4 Normally I wouldn't bother showing a rather obvious step like this. However, I want to point out that Calvinists seem to make this step very consciously. This is basically saying that either Calvinism or universalism must be true. This seems to be where they get the idea that Arminianism leads to universalism. But I think this is based off of their inability to recognize that their definition of sovereignty is neither obvious nor necessary. Indeed, I think they believe E to be more obvious than D, and many are simply unwilling to imagine sovereignty without affirming E. Therefore any attempt to object to universal atonement by way of universalism is merely a symptom of not listening.