February 19, 2013

Part IV: Cosmos

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is one of the more classic arguments for the existence of God, second only to the teleological argument for its logical power. There have been some attempts to counter the argument, but none have been truly lethal to it. That isn't to say that there aren't some flaws, but I will get into that, and why I think these flaws are moot.

First of all, definitions. Cosmology is the study of the origins of the cosmos, that is the whole universe. The cosmological argument for the existence of God then is simply that the origin of the cosmos requires explanation, and that God is the best explanation for it. However that is merely what the argument attempts to show, not the argument itself. We shall see that the argument can actually be presented in several different forms, and we will deal with each in turn.

Argument from Contingency: Thomas Aquinas

While there were some precursors to Aquinas' presentation of this argument, Aquinas was really the first to pen it as such. Aquinas presented the cosmological argument in 3 different forms. The first two, the argument from movement and the argument from causation, are really the same thing, the latter merely being an abstract form of the former. We will look at this in the next section.

The third form he presented was the argument from contingency. The flow is as follows:

P1: All contingent beings require a source for their existence
P2: If everything were contingent, than nothing would exist
C1: Thus there exists at least something which is necessary, from which ultimately comes things which are not.
C2: God is that necessary being.

The ultimate problem with the argument as Aquinas puts it is that it is incomplete. The move from C1 to C2 is forced. Additionally, it doesn't deal with the possibility that the universe itself is contingent. For the first, he primarily refers to the argument from causation. However, as to the second, I believe that to some degree Aquinas here was primarily interested in the existence of humans and life, as opposed to rocks, planets and stars.

We can extract this out and think about this in a more modern way. There exists material in the world, in the sense of atoms and energy. There are certain things which are simply the formation of these particles due to the natural interaction of forces. However, the fact that some of this material gathers in such a manner as to become something greater than its constituent parts, such as a human, requires explanation. Planets and stars to necessary manifestations of physics, but the development of human is physically odd. It is demonstrable that the development of life is something which is incredible difficult, even if we can develop from natural causation. Therefore, unlike rocks, planets, and stars, we require special explanation.

This is why he distinguishes from necessary beings which come from other necessary beings, like rocks and planets, versus necessary beings which have no cause, like God. Ultimately God is the ultimate cause for all contingent beings because he is a being without cause, however, that goes to the argument from causation which we will discuss below.

But before we move on to that, it is important to note how much more potent this argument becomes when understood in light of the big bang and eventually universal death. These two events act as a kind of merism for the whole of the universe, showing that the universe itself (i.e. the rocks, planets and stars) is contingent and thus requires explanation.

God is thus offered as a parsimonious answer to such a question. I shall discuss the parsimony of God as an answer in the final section of this post.

Argument from Causation: A Simple Matter of Time

The argument from causation is what most people refer to when they refer to the cosmological argument. This is mostly because it is considered the superior form of the argument. However, the argument has changed over the course of the years.

Aquinas presented the argument as a series of events: every thing moves, but each movement is in fact caused by something else. This is further extended to the nature of causation, where every cause has an effect. He then makes a very important move: he insists that the concept of infinite regress is illogical. Therefore, for every chain of causation, there must be a beginning place which was not caused or moved, but simply is. Due to the interconnectivity of causation, recognizing events seems to have a multiple interrelated causes, it is considered parsimonious to say that all lines of causation have a single ultimate cause. Aquinas simply names this ultimate cause God (again a conclusion which is a bit forced).

In parallel, this argument was also presented in Islamic circles, specifically of the Kalam tradition, but formulated slightly differently. Instead of focusing on a line of causation, they instead consider the ontology of a thing, in that anything which has a beginning must have a cause. While Aquinias's arguments do not assume the beginning of the universe but instead focus on the natural operations of it, the Kalam argument does assume the beginning of the universe, and states that because the universe began, it must have a beginning. The syllogism is pretty airtight:

P1: Everything which has a beginning has a cause
P2: The universe has a beginning.
C1: The universe has a cause

Again in a forced move, God is offered as this cause.

I personally would expand on this, focusing on Aquinas's presentation. If we consider a moment to be an event, and that moment to have been brought into existence by the last moment (considering the recent theory of the discrete nature of time, this a rather accurate way to think of it), we can then see the full timeline to be a chain of causation. Therefore, we agree with the premise that infinite regression is categorically false, we can then conclude that time itself must have a beginning, and that it is an aspect of the universe. Therefore we can expand the Kalam definition and say that anything which is bound by, or exists within time must have a cause, but it existence is an aspect of this causation chain.

Therefore, when we consider what this ultimate cause is, we conclude that is must be something which is not bound by time. The Christian view of an eternal God anticipates such a quality, instead of being formed by it, further establishing God as a solution.

False Criticisms

There is a very legitimate criticism to his argument,and it has already been mentioned several times, but I want to treat it last. First I want to deal with three criticisms which I feel do not really work: rejection that contingents need causes, acceptance of infinite regress, and the proposition of a cause for God.

First let us deal with the principle premise of the argument: that things with a beginning require a cause. Many Atheists have argued that within quantum mechanics, things often pop into existence without cause. Therefore the tautology that all things with a beginning require a cause is defeated because it assumes Newtonian physics.

There are two responses to this. First of all, quantum mechanics has more unknowns than it has knowns. It is an incredibly controversial area of science. What may seem like a particle coming into existence without cause may simply be a particle coming into existence by an unknown cause. It is premature to declare victory from such an example. But it is equally premature to say that therefore the point is completely illegitimate. This brings me to my second point: the rules of quantum mechanics do not operate within the macrocosm. Big Bangs are not occurring within the universe all the time. No one is concerned about the sudden appearance of a singularity within the solar system. This kind of event isn't happening. However, that is precisely what such an argument is presupposing. The commencement of the macrocosm is an event within the macrocosm, and as such a quantum level event would seem to have no baring on it.

Now for the second criticism: the acceptance of infinite regress. One of the major moves that the cosmological argument makes is that an infinite chain of causations is an absurdity. However, one could say, "Why? Let's just believe in infinite regress." Well, first of all, one could say anything. I could say, "Why can't we have a square circle?" At some point, we need to assume some things. This is a basic fact of logic: we need to start somewhere. Therefore, we need to consider the fact that the notion of infinite regress certainly seems absurd. Even those that advocate otherwise recognize that the notion is at least ineffable. Therefore, I would argue that those who propose infinite regress need to first show that it is a possibility, and they have yet to do so.

The final criticism is that the proposition that God himself also requires a cause. However, simply from my presentation one can see why such a criticism is ridiculous. Whether we accept the Kalam premise (that all things with a beginning have a cause) or my own (all things bound by time have a cause), one can see that neither premise would apply to the articulation of God proposed by Christians. We hold that God is eternal (which is different than infinite BTW) and does not exist within time. As such, this criticism is nothing more than a straw man.

It is admitted that Aquinas does not offer explanation as to why God is exempt from his arguments. I would assume though that he would reference both God's eternalness, and His immutability.

Alternative Theories

There is a real flaw to the cosmological argument: there is no deductive reason why God has to be the answer to causation. While God is in fact an answer, and a good answer at that, it may be possible for there to be other answers.

There has been three proposed possibilities for the ultimate cause: A single eternal omnipotent God, several gods, and the multiverse. Here we are including the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Deistic views of God as a singular possibility, for they differ in character, rather than ontology. As to a single God, verses several gods, we can say that a single God is more likely due to parsimony (the inductive principle that the simplest answer is the more likely answer). This leaves us with God vs. the multiverse.

Here it is important to point out that both are equally unfalsifiable, so neither can assessed scientifically, only philosophically. Any favor granted to the multiverse for being more "scientific" is based solely off of it being an atheist position, which is either begging the question or special pleading (or both).

The hypothesis of the multiverse (I refuse to consider this to be theory) is based to some degree on a thought experiment on the nature of dimensions, but being able to fathom greater dimentions does not demonstrate those dimensions to not be flat. The concievability of the multiverse does not demonstrate the existence of the multiverse. To another degree it is also part of string theory which itself is quite controversial.

It is also important to note that nature of the multiverse is barely proposed. It appears to be a place where realities pop into existance, and either manage to sustain themselves or fail. However, how are these realities able to exist side by side? What mechanism within the multiverse causes their creation?
To what extent can we say the law of entropy to be at work here, since that is the problem with most singular reality cosmological models.

Additionally, the multiverse is a realm of caused contingent realities. Nothing within the multiverse seems to be necessary, or seems to be able to give account for the commencement of a new reality. A collection of contingents requires explanation as much as a single contingent, and the multiverse as it is currently articulated, is defined by its contingent members, rather than by the environs within which this members exist. Therefore it doesn't seem to directly address any of the points of the cosmological argument.

This is compared to the articulation of the Christian God: incorporeal, ontologically simple, eternal, and necessary. Additionally, God is a cognitive reality, and as such can account for the commencement of something new. The nature of thought can account for the transition of the non-existence of reality to the existence of it better than some vague mechanism of a multiverse. As such, God seems to be a superior answer to the cosmological argument than the multiverse, if we can consider the multiverse even satisfactory.

For more on the cosmological argument, I highly recommend the site of William Lane Craig, who re-popularized the argument back in the 70s: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/popular-articles/existence-and-nature-of-god

February 14, 2013

Part III: Transcendance

The Transcendental Argument is a fairly easy argument to misunderstand. In a nut shell, it states that because there are things which observably exist which transcend matter/energy, that therefore atheism must be false.

It is important to note that like the morality argument mentioned in an earlier post, the transcendental argument is polemical rather than apologetic. By this, I mean that it is criticizing atheism, rather than defending Christianity or theism. However, unlike the morality argument, it is a logical proof, rather than an appeal to what is best for society. It does not seek to say that Christianity is merely socially superior to atheism, but to show that atheism is philosophically untenable.

Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that this argument proves that God exists. It does not demonstrate monotheism, nor does it demonstrate a sentient transcendent being, though I will argue later that it does imply it. It is more accurate to say that this argument disproves materialism, which is a necessary tenant of atheism itself.

Materialism: True Or False

Materialism is the philosophic belief that only matter-energy exists. Everything else is imaginary, illusionary, or conventional. Atheism believes in Materialism as a central tenant.

The logic to disprove this flows as follows:
P1: Materialism is true if and only if everything which exists is matter-energy
P2: 'A' is not matter-energy
P3: 'A' exists
C1: Therefore, there exists something which is not matter-energy
C2: Therefore Materialism is false.

The trick of course is to find something which satisfies 'A'. We call this a transcendental: something which transcends physical reality. The debate usually is over premise 3, and what constitutes existence. If 'A' can be shown to be possibly conventional or illusionary, then it cannot be said that 'A' satisfies the argument. Theists have proposed several transcendentals which we feel satisfy the argument.

Examples of Transcendentals

Unfortunately, the existance of a transcendent universal moral code is probably the most common transcendental proposed. Now, I say unfortunately for a few reasons.

First of all, it causes people to confuse the Transcendental Argument with the Morality Argument. This is often done by those that the argument is aimed towards, and by those attempting to use the argument. I think both arguments suffer for this, since it makes the Transcendantal Argument appear less formal, and the Morality Argument to simply be muddled.

Second of all, it is incredibly difficult to demonstrate that such a moral code objectively exists. Atheists often can easily rhetorically avoid this by claiming that morality is conventional in nature.

Third, I'm not even sure if I would say that such a moral code exists. While I believe there to be one law by which we will all be judged, I consider this to be administered by a divine government, not something which can be said to exist in and of itself. I have yet to find an argument which truly demonstrates that a certain moral code is woven into the fabric of reality, or how such a code can be demonstrated.


The original transcendental proposed was math and logic, and I think there is something to this. There is some debate about whether logic is derivative of math, or whether they simply can overlap, but I don't really think it matters for the purpose of this argument.

So how can we say that math/logic exists, and are not merely conventions? Simply put, because they are universal. The rules of math/logic are not invented, but rather discovered, and are the same in all societies, though they may be represented differently.

Since it is not a convention, atheists must try to say that that it is illusionary. However, nothing illusionary can have an effect on something real, and it appears that math/logic affects reality. Proving it is a bit more difficult, but I believe it to be doable.


A better transcendental, IMO, is one that I proposed a couple of years ago: thoughts. This is more than an appeal to Descartes. I'm not talking about self-evident subjective experience of thinking. Thoughts clearly exist in some sense, but what must be demonstrated is that they exist distinctly, and are not simply illusions of the brain.

No one really proposes that thoughts are conventions. They are not sociological constructs, but individual manifestations of the subjective mind. However, thoughts produce sociological constructs, i.e. ideas. And ideas change reality.

Something which is illusionary cannot affect that which is real. Yet, ideas cause racial separations, the impractical weaving of material (i.e. decorations), and the radical alterations of physical objects (launching satellites into space, and detonating atomic bombs). It seems to me that explaining such occurrences in purely physical terms is unparsimonious, if not down right impossible.


The last transcendental we'll deal with here is information. It can be easily demonstrated that information is greater than the medium within which it is represented. Clearly language is conventional in nature, and cannot be said to properly exist, but the fact that symbols can be carved into a rock, which allows me to unearth an object in an entirely different location demonstrates that information exists distinctly from the material.

Greater Implications

What all these transcendentals imply is that reality can at least be divided into two distinct categories: matter/energy and cognitive realities. Classicly, such cognitive realities are called spirits or souls.
This demonstrates that materialism, and therefore atheism, cannot be true, but it also leaves some serious questions: how can souls exist? In what way do they exist? How do souls interact with matter/energy (since clearly they do)? Can a soul exist seperately from matter/energy? Is there only one soul, or many?

Simply saying "God" does not answer these questions, of course, anymore than saying "parents" answers the questions of my anatomy. Origin does not equate with description. However, I would say that the existance of God, an ultimate cognitive reality, is a good parsimonious starting place for approaching these questions.

February 13, 2013

Part II: Morality

During our conversation, Higgs was very interested in the morality argument. The morality argument, in a nutshell, is that a common morality, or a well grounded ethic, is not possible without a belief in God. However, before I go into the argument itself, there are a few of things that need to be explained.

First of all, the morality argument is not an argument for God's existence. It is relatively simple for an atheist to simply say, "well, I guess there's not morality" even when you demonstrate the logic of the argument is solid. All you can demonstrate is that it behooves a society to believe in God.

Second, it is not an apologetic argument but a polemical one. Apologetics is the art or practice of defending a position. Polemics is the art or practice of criticizing a position. It is important to understand that this argument isn't really defending Christianity; it is criticizing atheism. Atheists seem to have trouble with this, since they view themselves as having a kind of non-position, like people who don't think they have an accent. But, of course, it is a position. Even people without a fully formed opinion have a position. After all, a moving train is still somewhere. Each of us, regardless of how formed our positions are, have made decisions, ruled out possibilities, and have established what kinds of criteria we take seriously. The fact that atheists have trouble admitting this is one of the many reasons that they end up coming off as arrogant, and also one of the many reasons why the fail to understand simple arguments like this one.

The third thing is that a major reason why this argument comes up is because atheists attempt to criticize God on moral grounds. However, this is non-sensical, since they have no moral basis from which to critize (or so the argument goes).

Finally, we need to establish before diving in is that there is a difference between morality and ethics. Ethics is the systematization of moral behaviors. It is the understanding of the difference between right and wrong. Morality on the other hand is the personal sense of right and wrong: the motivations inside of us which guides us into making such decisions. Ethics is of the head, morality is of the heart. Ethics is morality in theory, morality is ethics in practice. Atheism has trouble with both of these concepts, but I will treat them in turn.


The basic morality argument is the moral behavior cannot be expected without a judge. For true morality to exist within a culture or society, there must be an expectation of justice. That fundamental need for order and reason in the cosmos is a fundamental need for humans psychologically. That is why children who are not disciplined often yearn it, while acting immorally.

Just look at the world around us! Often good people suffer, and evil people excel. It is unjust, and we know it. But what motivation is there for someone to obey the rules if there is no guarantee that those rules will bring safety or stability. If there is no law-giver, then there is no law. We become a law unto ourselves, which generally yields selfishness.

Many times Atheists criticize the justice of God by complaining about Him being a judge over us. But God being a judge is the foundation of justice. If God does not ultimately punish those who are wicked and ultimately reward the righteous, than there is no justice, and morality is a sham. So even though this doesn't prove God exists, it does show that society cannot stand without Him.


There are two basic ethical standards that have been proposed within the context of a secular society: hedonism and utilitarianism.


Utilitarianism is the belief that goodness is ultimately defined by what is best for the society. "It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." On the surface it seems like a very positive way to deal with the ethical problem, but it has some major problems.

First, like all forms of consequentialism, it lacks practicability. Because you are defining what is right or wrong based off of consequence, you can never truly know whether you are acting morally until long after the deed is done. While such a system may make sense for an omniscient being,  for us humans there is no way of fully knowing the ultimate results of our actions. Therefore, how can we ever truly know if what we are doing is ethical?

Second, it can be used to justify almost anything. Even though we don't fully know the consequences of our actions, we can speculate. However, we are much poorer at speculating than we like to admit. If we have a reason for wanting to force a certain outcome, we can often justify any action to achieve. Utilitarianism empowers such justification. Good examples of the dangers of this ethic can be found in the character of Ozymandias from Watchmen, or from the characters from The Company in Heroes. In both cases you have people willing to sacrifice thousands or millions of lives for the sake of all of humanity. Indeed, Heroes is an even better example, because the future they were hoping to build with their sacrifice doesn't come to pass even in the cases where they succeed. It is a scary scary thing for mortals to play god.

Third, it has no power in generating morality. While it almost makes sense for politicians and world leaders, it doesn't seem to apply to the average Joe. How would a belief in the ultimate benefit for society really affect my choices in the day to day decisions of my life? And if the ethic of a society has no moral power for the denizens of that society, then it has no real moral power for the society as a whole either.


Hedonism is the belief that morality should be defined by the pursuit of pleasure, and the eschewal of pain. This is not only within one's self, but also in regards to those around one. Unlike Utilitarianism, which is focused outwardly, Hedonism is focused inwardly, and doesn't have the same problem of moral impotence. But it certainly has its own problems.

First of all, since it is usually conceived as a form of consequentialism, it can therefore lack the same practicability that  I mentioned above. It is impossible for anyone to truly know how much pleasure or pain would actually yield from a particular event or action. For instance, will a particular relationship bring you happiness or pain? How do you know? How do you compare the joy of a baby in your arms to a teenager who has become a criminal and shamed your family?

Second it places certain things into moral categories which really shouldn't be. Playing games, or having children should be seen as moral choices within Hedonism, since they yield pleasure/pain. However, they are amoral activities, in of themselves.

Third, it can be used to justify many things that I at least would consider immoral, such as gluttony, the euthanasia of children, and other actions which may make life easier for a person, but degrades their character. It often descends into a kind of selfishness, either a pure egotism, or too much of a focus on one's own social circle to the neglect of charity.

The Christian Ethic

So what is the Christian ethic? I am only going to go over this briefly since this post is already much longer than I had though it would be. The Christian ethic is based on two ideas (which are interconnected IMO): that humans are made in the image of God, and that Christians are called to represent God.

In regards to the first point, because we are made in God's image, every human has an innate dignity. This includes all races, classes, genders, intelligence quotient, or lifestyle. While external cultural and political pressures have suppressed this in history, the essential Christian understanding of humanity means that there is a respect that we have for all people. Christ died for all of humanity, even the sinful. We are called to love all, even our enemies. This universal love defines Christianity and is the ultimate guide to how we interact with others.

In regards to the second point, because we are called to represent God, we seek to imitate Him. The truly moral Christian is one who behaves like Christ. We don't fall into the flaws of relying on consequences, but instead focus on the transformation of our internal character based on a model. This makes Christian ethics far more practicable then its atheist counterparts, and allows us to be able to be forgiven, and move past former mistakes.

While all this doesn't prove that Christianity is true, it does show that when Christianity is actually followed within a society, it is better for that society.

February 12, 2013

Part 1: Revelation

Recently I started a discussion with an anonymous commenter on the post "Is 4-Point Calvinism Logical?" He is a skeptic about God's existance, but does not identify with an particular label which is fine. However, I felt I wasn't doing justice to my arguements due to the confined space of the comment page, so I am writing a series of post to engage with his (or her) arguements. I will refer to him in the masciline until corrected, and I'll be calling him Higgs, after the Higgs Boson particle (both because he brought it up and because I found it fitting for the discussion).

Higgs's main question is whether or not Christianity can be said to be logical, and is most curious about logical/mathematical proofs for the existance of God. I believe they do exist, and I will discuss four arguements for God's existance in this series. However, I want to make a different point first, and I will start with a thought experiment.

Let's say I endur some kind of accident which makes me forget my past. I have no idea who I am, and who my family is. However, due to the principals of logic and mathematics, and can prove that I do have parents. After all, I exist. This is sufficient evidence for me to conclude that there exists, or did exist, a man and a woman from who I came into being. This is true of all human beings, and since I am human it must also be true of me. This is mathematical; logical.

However, no amount of logic will tell me who my parents are: their names, occupations, passions, beliefs, class, or the extent of the rest of my family. I can sit in a room for hours, and think and think, and I will never figure that information out. It is impossible. In order to learn that, I must either research my/their history, or meet them. There is not other way.

The same is true for God. I believe that their does exist sufficient evidence and clear logic which demonstrate that God exists. But Christianity... that's another matter. Whether that God is Allah, Yahweh, Zeus, a lamp, or a flying speghetti monster, no arguement will ever prove God's identity. Nor will it be able to determine God's plan for existance, God's values, or God's relationship with humanity (though certain conclusions may be ruled out). In order to do that, you need revelation.

What is revelation? It is simply God being seen or heard; whether it be personal revelation (you meeting and interacting with Him) or recorded revelation (researching the history of God interacting with humanity). To demand Christianity to offer strictly logical proof for its particular view of God isn't really reasonable. The ultimate mistake that many atheists and the like make (and I am not including you with this statement Higgs) is the misunderstanding that Christians believe in God in order to explain natural phenonoma, like the beginning of the cosmos, etc... While we offer God as the agent for such things, we do not believe in Him in order to explain them. Neither do we accept God is a sufficient explanation, for the questions of who and how are incredibly different from each other. In fact it is our belief in the who that spurs us on to investigate the how. This was why the advent of modern science happened within the frame work of Christianity, not appart from it.

It is important that before we ask questions about God, we put such questions into the appropiate epistemological categories. Knowing the answer to who doesn't answer how, nor does answering how somehow demonstrate there isn't a who. Additionally, proving there is a God does not show who that God is, and that is not a question which reason and science can determine alone (though certain answers can be elimitated by reason). These are important things to understand as we approach the topic of proofs and arguments for God's existance.

February 11, 2013

Continuing After A Brief Review

Before Justin's birth, I was doing a series about arguments for the existence of God in response to some questions I was being asked at the time. I have debated letting it go, but it think it is worthwhile to finish the series. Since it has been so long, I won't simply try to pick up where I left off. To some degree that can be confusing, but more importantly, at least to me, I want the series to be sequential when looking back. So I am going to be refreshing these posts tomorrow, Wednesday, and Thursday, and then continue with the series the next two Mondays with new material.

I'll also be using this post as a series index, where the links will be added as the series publishes. So please enjoy the series "Why One Should Believe in God":

February 4, 2013

Reponse to Jesse Morrel's video: Beyond Augustine

Jesse Morrel has recently released a video where he argues that Calvinism is rooted in ancient gnostic theology. While many of you know that I am against Calvinism, I don't completely agree with Morrel's assessment of the history and I want to go through it and explain why. First of all, here is the video:

So, as an Arminian, what do I think of this presentation?

Where Morrel Gets It Right

First of all I have to laud Morrel with his appeal to the Early Church. He is also absolutely correct that the Ante-Nicene fathers, or even the early Nicene fathers had no trace of determinism within their theology. Morrel takes great pains to make this point, and I completely agree with him up through mark 15:45.

The appeal to the early church fathers is more than a simple appeal to tradition. Many of these men personally knew the apostles, or personally knew men who personally new the apostles. Therefore, they are more likely to know what the apostles thoughts on certain matters were, and what the apostles meant when they wrote the NT, then later theologians. It is this proximity to the Biblical authors that give them such authority, and this authority is warranted.

He is also completely right that this is quite embarrassing for Calvinists. The only places where the early church really addresses the topic of free will and determinism, before Augustine, was in their anti-gnostic writings. It is also very clear that they held to LFW. Now, they did not fully build up a free will theology, discussing the extent or nature of corruption, since their writings were mostly polemical, but they clearly took a side. This is an embarrassment to Calvinists, as well it should be.

Secondly, I have to also laud his appeal to Scripture (mark 27:42). His point that the Bible clearly expects people to be able to choose between walking the right path and straying from the path is perfect. I think more Biblical points could be made in rejection of Calvinism (and in my case the proof of Arminianism), however not if you want to focus on free will in particular, which Arminianism doesn't really do. His introduction to Scripture though shows that he is not merely considered with defending the existance of free will, but rejecting the notion that human being lost their capacity to do good on their own. It is actually questionable whether Augustine completely abandonned the notion of free will, and while the Scriptures that Morrel appeals to in order to demonstrate that we are free moral agents are spot on, his introduction to them ignores the nuances of both Augustine's thought, as well as others who belief in an inherited sin nature.

Being Chummy With Pelagius

So, I'm watching the video and just enjoying quote after quote of the early church fathers supporting free will, and then we get to mark 15:45, where he suddenly quote Pelagius between Ireneaus and Origen. I almost choked on my popcorn. I said to myself, "Did he just quote Pelagius as if he were recognized as an representative of the early church?", to which myself responded, "Yup!" I was aghast.

Then he took a step back. At 19:02, after a quote from the unfortunately named Dr. Wiggers, he explains that believing in free will is not the same thing as being a Pelagian (which he seems to say in rejection of Dr. Wiggers's comment). To this I say, "Hoorah!", but it seems to be somewhat half-hearted.

Throughout the rest of the video, it is quite clear that Morrel's intention is to exonerate Pelagius, which he mostly does by discrediting Augustine. Indeed, the little story he tells in the beginning, or a condemned man later exonerated, seems to demonstrate this. He even continues to quote Pelagius and Julian of Eclanum (a follower of Pelagius) as reputable sources. So why distance himself on one hand, yet embrace him with the other?

I would suspect that it is because Morrel identifies himself as Semipelagian. I would argue that this is confirmed by his dissing of Arminianism at the end of the video. Though he may not like the title (maybe calling himself a biblicist or some other meaningless term), it is clear that he sees Pelagius at least as someone "on the right track". However, is he right? Is hist historical analysis complete?

I would say that there are two major historical facts which are conspicuously missing from Morrel's presentation: The Council of Orange and Augustine's Platonism.

The Synod of Orange

So, from mark 34:12 to mark 35:15, Morrel argues that the doctrines of Augustine were accepted by those with ecclesiastical power, and anyone who believed in free will was persecuted, like in the times of the Spanish Inquisition. Thus, Augustinianism spread throughout the church. Indeed, a most unexpected argument, but was this really the case?

Answer, no. In 431 AD (that's right! AD, not CE!), an ecumenical council was held at Ephesus. The council did proclaim Pelagius a heretic, and anathematized his teachings. However, it also distanced itself from Augustine itself. One of the problems with the appeal to the Augustine/Pelagius debate that generally happens is that it oftens results in a false dichotomy, that the church had to accept either Augustine or Pelagius. However, the truth is that it did neither. Certainly Augustine was favored, but the council renounced the extremes that it felt Augustine could lead to, such as double predestination, or antinominalism. It also did not declare Augustine to be correct. It just didn't condemn him like it did Pelagius. This is an incredibly important distinction which is often ignored.

According to The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez,
Augustine's views, however, did not gain wide acceptance. He was accused of being an innovator... Through a process that took almost a century, Augustine was reinterpreted, so that theologians came to call themselves "Augustinian" while rejecting his views on irresistible grace and predestination. In 529, the Synod of Orange upheld Augustine's doctrine of the primacy of grace in the process of salvation, but left aside the more radical consequences of that doctrine.[Vol 1, (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2004)pp. 215]
These new "Augustinians" are sometimes referred to as Semiaugustinians. Likewise, in the midst of this 100 year process, there was also a group which arose defending a modified view of Pelagius, who came to be called Semipelagians (who were also condemned at the Synod of Orange).

So this claim that Augustinianism became this overpowering force is simply not true. It is possible that there was some Spanish Inquisitioning going on after Ephesus, however I suspect that this manifested as pockets of suppression, rather than something widespread throughout the church. If everyone who believed in free will was defrocked, then how come Semiaugustinianism, a free will position, eventually won out?

And what of Semiaugustinianism? What became of that teaching? Well, after the reformation it began to be propagated by Philip Melchathon in Lutheran circles, and James Arminius in Reformed circles. So it is the Arminians who really can claim the victory when referring back to the Augustinian/Pelagian debate, not Calvinists.

Pelaguis: Heretic

Now what exactly did Pelagius teach? It is important to remember that Pelagius was not condemned because he believed in free will. It is also important to note that he did not theorize free will for theodical reasons (like Arminians and Semiaugustinians). Instead, his reasons were ethical.

Pelagius believed in what is often referred to today as legalism: the belief that one must live righteously in order to receive eternal life. He rejected the idea that a person who lived a mostly sinful life could graciously be forgiven of all those crimes. This was considered unjust, and the acceptance of this would lead to licentiousness. Indeed, he lived an extremely ascetic and recluse lifestyle, and insisted that others should do likewise. Instead of teaching freedom, he taught subjugation.

Alistar McGrath summarizes:
[According to Pelagius] God has made humanity, and knows precisely what it is capable of doing. Hence all the commands given to us are capable of being obeyed, and are meant to be obeyed. It is no excuse to argue that human frailty prevents these commands from being fulfilled. God has made human nature, and only demands of it what it can endure. Pelagius thus makes the uncompromising assertion that since perfection is possible for humanity, it is obligatory. [Historical Theology, (Oxford, UK: Blackwell publishing, 1998)pp 81]
It was this harshness that Augustine was most earnest in defeating, and rightfully so. Salvation is of faith, and this is a gift! Pelagius missed this, and was so busy beating the air that he neglected the joy that the Lord promised. Whether Pelagius believed in full blown Pelagianism or actually Semipelagianism (it is hard to tell due to the fragmented nature of what we have of his writings) is irrelevant. Both deny the necessity of inital grace (Pelagianism denied the need for grace at all). Both demand the living of a pure life. Both insist on a bleak and unctuous existence. Both were rightly considered as heresy.


The other major problem with the video is the supposed obviousness of Manicheanism being the origin of Augustine's views. He says this most explicitly starting at mark 32, but it is his principle argument throughout the video. However, is it true?

Well, maybe. It being obvious certainly isn't. This is actually a highly disputed point. It is widely recognized that these doctrines started with Augustine. To the historically knowledgeable, this is indisputable. However, there are two possible origins: his history with the Manicheans or his continued Platonism (or maybe the Bible, but I personally strongly doubt this one). I therefore don't really have a problem with the fact that he argues for one of these two opinions, but he does so without recognition that not everyone agrees with him, and then treats it as if it is obvious. Well, of course it's obvious if you only mention the evidence that supports your opinion.

Now, I happen to be of the opposite opinion. I believe that Augustine's thoughts come more from Plato. It is important to note that there is no peculiar doctrine of the Manicheans that Augustine teaches. Determinism and even criticism of the human condition were common in the ancient world, and were something that gnostics had in common with Plato. In fact the list of Manichean doctrines that Augustine continues to reject is significant: dual deterministic deities, the inherent evil of the cosmos, events determined by causal outflow of spiritual events (as opposed to the Augustine's view of God's intentional planning), the incorporeal resurrection of Jesus, and the list goes on and on. Morrel even admits to this (mark 35:16), but despite the fact that the differences outweight the similarities, he chooses to emphasize the latter. Calling Augustine "Semi-Gnostic" is like calling a lime a "semi-cucumber" because they are both green and have seeds. However his use of the prefix 'semi-' is consistent to how Calvinists use it, so I'll give him that. It wasn't a simple matter, as Morrel puts it, that he agreed with Mani in principle, but disagreed with the explanation. There was a fundamental difference in his cosmological and epistemological understanding which made Augustine at his core a Christian.

Personally, I think it is more likely that Augustine was merely applying certain Platonic philosophies (only some of which were deterministic). This can easily account for Augustine's determinism and his view of man. It is also much more forgivable; Christian teachers had been openly appealing to Plato since Origen. It is even doubtful that his deterministic views were as extreme as Luther or Calvin. In many instances he still seems to hold on to some kind of notion of free will.

Now, there are enough scholars who disagree with me that I am not going to insist on my interpretation, especially since I am no expert on Augustine. Indeed, I was recently pointed to this dissertation which argues that Manicheanism influenced Augustine apologetically, which I think is a more tenable argument than Morrel's argument. However, there are enough who do agree with me that I am not embarrassed by such an opinion, and I do consider the degree in which he insists on his view inappropriate.


While Morrel makes some good points, his overall argument is overstated, and his defense of Pelagius misguided. Like many others, he treats the Pelagius/Augustine debate as a false dichotomy, where one must side with one or the other. However, history didn't do that, and theology doesn't demand it. One does not have to defend Pelagius and his defective views on man's nature and salvation in order to believe that God has ordained freedom to the human will. While directorially the video is very well done, the content needs considerable work.