Thursday, January 31, 2013

Another version of the first-sinner argument against Calvinism

  1. (Premise) Any circumstances that are sufficient to determine a person with a character free of moral failings to do wrong are exculpatory for such a person.
  2. (Premise) There was a first wrongdoing and it was not done in exculpatory circumstances.
  3. So, either the first wrongdoer was not determined by circumstances and character, or the first wrongdoer had antecedent moral failings. (1 and 2)
  4. (Premise) the first sinner did not have antecedent moral failings.
  5. So, the first wrongdoer was not determined by circumstances and character. (1 and 4)

Premise (2) seems to be a part of the standard Christian picture. Nobody thinks Satan first sinned in circumstances that are exculpatory. Premise (4) follows from the fact that moral failings are evils, and evils came from sin (in the full sense of a wrongdoing the agent is responsible for—"formal" sin in Catholic terminology).

That leaves (1). But consider this line of thought. Suppose I was tortured and under torture I turned in my friends. Am I responsible or has the torture taken away my responsibility? Here is a test. I imagine whether a person free of moral failings would have been determined to do the same under torture of this intensity. If so, then the torture is of sufficient intensity to be exculpatory for me, and presumably likewise for her. (It doesn't quite follow that I am exculpated. For I could still be responsible for my sin in exculpatory circumstances, if my action is overdetermined by the exculpatory circumstances and something I am responsible for.)


Jeremy Pierce said...

I don't think this argument applies to a final-cause deterministic framework, such as Augustine's, where efficient-cause determinism is denied. I consider Augustine's account compatible with Calvinism, since God can still determine everything by final causes, but those final causes also happen to be the person's reasons for doing the action, and there's no efficient cause bringing them to do it.

Drew said...

The issue with mere final cause determinism is that I am not sure how it can be properly called determinism. Molinism would seem to fit that bill, yet Molinism holds to a robust view of libertarian free will.

Alexander R Pruss said...

These reasons are either conclusive or not. If they are not conclusive, then we don't have enough for determination. But to have a set of conclusive reasons for doing wrong, if that's possible at all, would surely be a sign of a moral failing.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

For all the praises some Protestants heap on John Calvin, let's not forget that he ruled Geneva with an iron fist, turning it into a joyless place. Calvin for all his brilliance as a reformer has Michael Servetus's blood on his hands. Let's not forget that brilliant as he was as a reformer, he was also a very cruel tyrant.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Is that relevant to this argument?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Only very very indirectly. Whenever some one brings up Calvinsism, I find myself instinctively compelled to bring up Calvin and his darker side. When we talk about important persons like John Calvin and their ideas, we must remember and keep in mind what kind of people they actually were. We must keep in mind these persons' darker side and the darker side of their ideas. Their ideas had consequences.

Here is a brief account of the martydom of SaintFidelis of Sigmaringen:

"On April 24, in a campaign organized by the Habsburgs, Fidelis was preaching under protection of some Austrian imperial soldiers in the Church at Seewis with the aim to reconvert the people of Seewis to Catholicism. During the sermon, his listeners were called "to arms" by the Calvinist agitators outside. Some of the people went to face the Austrian troops outside the church. Fidelis had been persuaded by the remaining Catholics to immediately flee with the Austrian troops out of Seewis, which he did, but then returned alone to Grüsch. On his way back he was confronted by twenty Calvinist soldiers who demanded unsuccessfully that he renounce the Catholic faith, and subsequently murdered him.[2]

A local account:

From Grüsch he went to preach at Seewis, where, with great energy, he exhorted the Catholics to constancy in the faith. After a Calvinist had discharged his musket at him in the Church, the Catholics entreated him to leave the place. He answered that death was his gain and his joy, and that he was ready to lay down his life in God's cause. On his road back to Grüsch, he met twenty Calvinist soldiers with a minister at their head. They called him a false prophet, and urged him to embrace their sect. He answered: "I am sent to you to confute, not to embrace your heresy. The Catholic religion is the faith of all ages, I fear not death." One of them beat him down to the ground by a stroke on the head with his backsword. Fidelis rose again on his knees, and stretching forth his arms in the form of a cross, said with a feeble voice "Pardon my enemies, O Lord: blinded by passion they know not what they do. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. Mary, Mother of God, succor me!." Another sword stroke clove his skull, and he fell to the ground and lay in a pool of his own blood. The soldiers, not content with this, added many stab wounds to his body with their long knives, and hacked-off his left leg, as they said, to punish him for his many journeys into those parts to preach to them."

Saint Fidelis' remains were found to be incorrupt. For the rest of the story here is this link:

Here is another excerpt from another article:

” Many,” says Robinson, ” have pretended to apologize for Calvin, but what are his nostrums, which end in tyranny and murder, that the great voice of nature should be drowned in the din of a vain babbling about him ?’ Calvin’s heart never relented at the recollection of his many crimes—the burning of Servetus, the beheading of Ja«Les Gruet, the banishment of Castalio and Bolsec, and the thousands of other persecutions perpetrated in his theocracy…The persecuting spirit of Calvin was not confined to Geneva. It leaped like a blighting curse to Poland, to Scotland, to France. (Bennett, p. 849,850)

Rest of the article here:

It is good to argue against Calvin's ideas.