Calvinism Explains Everything...and Nothing

By John W. Loftus

Matthew, a fellow Blogger with me on Debunking Christianity wrote:
"But is it always rational to accept a simpler theory? It is true that simpler theories always have greater explanatory scope. But there is a point where a theory can have too much explanatory power in which it explains everything, and actually doesn't really explain anything because there is no observation or fact which it cannot explain. Such a theory, having too much explanatory power ceases to be a simple theory and becomes simplistic."

I liked what Matthew said so much that I want to use it as a basis for making an argument against Calvinism, if I can.

Too much explanatory power? No observation or fact which it cannot explain? Since there are a disproportionate number of Calvinists on the web, let me explore what this means when applied to Calvinism.

Take for instance their whole notion of a completely sovereign God. God does everything…everything. There is no room for human causation…none. It’s all been planned in advance, and God executes everything according to his eternal plan, which he has always had. Nothing can happen outside of God’s plan…nothing. He’s in complete control of everything that happens. If it happens in our world or in heaven, then God planned it, and he did it…everything.

Calvinists will argue that human beings desire to do the things that they do, and so God is not to be blamed when they do evil deeds, even if God decreed that they should do them. However, when pushed on this Calvinists will also recognize that God decrees that human beings also DESIRE to do everything that they do.

The Calvinist will also have to admit that whether or not a human being thinks Calvinism is true is also decreed by their sovereign God. So, for everything we as human beings do, and everything that we believe, God makes us do things and think things the way we do. This is the bottom line for Calvinists, regardless of the logical gerrymandering they do when using linguistics to defend this theology, which of course, once again, God decreed that they should do in order to defend their theology.

Okay so far? That’s why Calvin describes it as a “horrible decree.”

Now what reason does God have for punishing human beings on earth in hurricanes, and fires, and diseases like the Spanish Influenza which killed millions of people, and then later sending us to hell when we die? Well, the offered reason is because we have sinned. Since we sin, God has a right to do with us as he pleases and there can be no critique of God’s dealings with us. We deserve everything that happens to us. But the only thing we can be guilty of is that we desired to sin, and the reason why we desired to sin in the first place is because God sovereignly decreed from all of eternity that we should desire to do every sin throughout our entire lives.

And what reason does God have for sending innocent babies to hell if they die? The offered reason is because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden. But here again, why did Adam and Eve sin in the first place? They sinned because God decreed from all of eternity that they should sin. He produced in them the desire to sin, and made Eve grab the fruit, eat it, and made her desire to give it to Adam, who also was made to eat it. Their only crime was in being created. To blame them because of God-implanted desires cannot be their fault anymore than a puppet on strings can be blamed for any of its actions. But because they sinned in the Garden, God is now free to do with human beings as he pleases, and he is not to be blamed for anything he does to us if we suffer.

This Calvinistic God also has two wills, one revealed in the Bible and a secretive one…the real one…that decrees the things we actually do. But both wills cannot be true at the same time. If the Bible says, “thou shalt not kill,” and then God secretively decrees both the desire to kill and he actually takes a man’s hand and causes the arm to swing an ax to split another man’s head open, there is a contradiction in what God actually wants us to do. Does God want this man to kill or not? The contradiction is resolved for the Calvinist because she will say that God’s secretive will is his true will. But this means that, on Calvinistic grounds, the Bible is full of lies and cannot be trusted when it tells us what God wants us to do. Calvinists will respond that the Bible is used as a means to get people to do his secretive will one way or another, good deeds or evil deeds. If, for instance, God says “Thou shalt not kill,” it might actually lead someone to kill out of rebellion, which is what God secretively decreed all along. And in this way, God needs the Bible to accomplish his secretive will.

The Calvinist will fall back on the idea that God is an artist and he’s creating a massive mural painting on a wall. In any painting there will be bright colors and dark ones. There will be highlights and shadows. There will be points of focus, and points that accentuate the points of focus. God’s painting is beautiful, we’re told, and he needs all the colors to create it. So some humans will be points of focus while others will be in the recesses, dark and foreboding. We who want to judge the painting simply don’t understand what God is doing. We have no right to complain if we are used to accentuate the beautiful colors in the mural and are condemned to hell, because after all, we all deserve hell. The end result will be a beautiful painting that brings him glory. Every color is needed, and likewise, every evil deed and every condemned soul is needed, to make this a beautiful painting and to bring him ultimate glory.

If we say that such a God does not care for us and is only interested in himself, the Calvinist will respond that he has a moral right to be concerned with his own glory over anyone else's, since he alone deserves all the glory. We deserve none of it. The Calvinist will claim that we deserve nothing…nothing. And why is that? Because we are “worms,” miserable sinners deserving of nothing. Any mercy God may want to offer us by decreeing such things that bring us happiness, including salvation, are undeserved. They will claim we all deserve to be in hell, so anything good we receive is because of God’s love and mercy extended toward us. And why do we deserve to be in hell? The bottom line is because it brings God the most glory. If God can cause us to desire to do evil deeds, then he can also cause us to desire to do only good deeds. But doing so would not bring him as much glory, and as his creatures we have no right to complain. This end result is what will bring God the most glory in the painting he’s creating on the wall. We should probably even be happy to be in hell, for if we do, we’ll bring God the glory that he deserves for both decreeing that we desired to reject the gospel, and also decreeing that we did. “Praise God for what he has done!”—sorry.

Now, how did Calvin (and Augustine before him) come to the conclusion of what’s known as Calvinism? They argued for it from the Bible and outside sources, including Plato. They reasoned that this describes their God. Man is totally depraved, God’s election is unconditional, Jesus only died for the elect, God’s grace is irresistible, and once saved no man can reject his salvation. All of these doctrines are disputable on exegetical grounds, and I’ll let non-Calvinists do that. But they are based upon the exegesis of a historically conditioned document purportedly being from God, even though a proper understanding of history (and the documents that report that history) is itself fraught with so many problems that most historians now claim we cannot know exactly what happened in the past nor even what people believed in the past. But the bottom line is that these theological conclusions based upon Calvinistic grounds, were the conclusions that God had decreed both Augustine and Calvin should arrive at from all of eternity.

If so, how is it possible to trust any of these Calvinistic conclusions if we don’t have access to God’s secretive will? As far as the Calvinist knows, God’s secretive will may be that they should be deceived about Calvinism. Based on their own theology they have no reason to trust God…none. God may be leading them astray, based upon his secretive will, only to cast them in hell for his own glory. For all they know God may turn around and reward those of us who are atheists, simply because he secretively decreed us into unbelief. For the Calvinist to proclaim that she can trust God just because he says he “doesn’t lie” doesn’t solve anything, for the Bible is merely his revealed will, which leads people into believing or not believing what God’s secretive will has decreed from all of eternity for them.

All that the Calvinist can say is that “this is what God has led me to believe, and that’s why I believe it.” There is absolutely no guarantee that what they believe is true, based upon their own theology. And I can say the exact same thing as an atheist from their perspective: “this is what your God has led me to believe, and that’s why I believe it.”

So here’s where Calvinism has too much explanatory power. It explains everything…and nothing. It has an answer for everything…and nothing.

Take for instance the whole problem of human suffering. The amount of human suffering is intense around the globe. There is an unbearable amount of it for many people. Indonesia suffered through a tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people due to an underwater earthquake that God could've averted before it happened (and none of us would've known God averted it, either). A year later the survivors have suffered through a horrible earthquake which killed even more of them that God could've secretly averted too.

The Calvinist answer is that none of us deserve anything from God. We deserve hell, so what’s a little tsunami and/or earthquake on top of it? So there’s the answer. It’s simple. It explains everything. And there are no silly questions left over. The Calvinist answer is that everything God does is good, even if we cannot understand it. So every instance of human suffering that any human being has ever experienced is good. Everything that happens brings God glory. We are not to complain. He's creating a beautiful painting. God knows what he’s doing. We should trust him.

But think of that last statement! “We should trust him.” Why does a Calvinist think anyone...anyone...should trust their God? Why? What reasons are there for trusting such a God? There are none…none!…not on Calvinistic grounds, for reasons I just specified. Who knows what God’s secretive will really is? They don’t. On their own grounds they can’t trust him to even be truthful with them.

Since this is the case, I can look at the amount of suffering in this world and reasonably conclude there is no good God. If he exists, he’s a monster. That’s the reasonable conclusion to arrive at when looking at the observable facts. Why shouldn't I trust my own conclusions when I am not even given one reason why I should trust or believe in Calvin’s God? I already know I cannot trust such a Calvinistic God on it’s own grounds, so when I see the amount of suffering in this world that I do, I am better off trusting what I conclude, than in believing what Calvinists do. They have no basis for trusting their own God! They have no basis for calling their God good! They have no basis for believing he never lies! They have no basis for believing that our sins are such terrible deeds that deserve hell! They don't even have a basis for believing God is good, since we have no reason for trusting God when he says that he is good, especially when all the observable evidence of suffering in this world overwhelmingly denies this! But the Calvinist has an answer for this too. God is decreeing that I reject him for his glory. That's a simple answer. It solves everything.....and nothing. But it absolutely fails to take into account the observable suffering that human beings have observed since the dawn of time.

That’s why Calvinism explains everything…and nothing. It has moved from being a simple theory to a simplistic theory. It explains nothing…nothing. There is no reason why I should become a Calvinist. None. There is no reason why I should trust that God. None. Since I cannot trust such a being, and since I can see no reasonable solution to the problem of observable suffering coming from such a God, I reject him. The observable facts of human suffering around the world, which could take up an entire encyclopedia, say otherwise.


Anonymous said...

That was pretty damned good, John. I have argued along those lines many times, trying to get these witnessing christians to consider that their salvation is god's elaborate prank, for his glory or for his amusement, take your pick. No matter what church they attend; no matter what theology they affirm; no matter how they interpret this verse or that verse; no matter what depth of penitence they sink to or the heights of faith they attain; no matter what suffering or sacrifice they have endured........they have no way of knowing that the whole thing is not god's joke, and that the whole miserable human race will not wind up in hell. Their belief or their conviction, even if beyond the faintest trace of doubt, may be part of god's deception.

Almost always, I am met with a mute denial. christianity, like any religion, is based on dumb acceptance of what they wish to believe in the first place. My parting shot is that if your deity is not benevolent, then none of us is safe.

Anonymous said...

I can accept that Calvinism helps explains God's beautiful painting based on something immeasurable, and untouchable. Faith. Explains everything, and nothing. :)

Steven Bently said...

I would say Calvinism was invented to make people feel guilty and conform to the teachings, because it can do just that.

As long as you can make someone think that whatever they do they can never live up to the expectations of the all knowing god, then they can control them with mere words.

I wonder where this god is hiding, whom knows everything before and after it's going to happen?

Is this god scared of us humans? I wonder if this god knew he would be this scared of us?

Anonymous said...

Who needs Sado-Masochism, whips and chains, when they can go to a Calvinist church every sunday?

What a depressing, defeatist, intellectually lazy bunch!

Nvrgoingbk said...

As if I wasn't pissed off enough, I then go and read this post! How disgusting! I think it is quite possibly the most disturbing of any religious belief I've ever heard of! What kind of God is this? How could anyone defend such a PIG of a God? How could anyone proudly call themselves a Calvinist? I thought I had heard it all. I thought that after spending time in Baptist, Assemblies, Pentecostal, Catholic, and non-denominational pews that I had just about heard all Christianity had to say and that was enough to turn me away from their "loving" doctrine, but HOLY SHIT, how did I miss the Calvinists?

If the Calvinists are correct than why spend time trying to convert the heathens at all since God predestines everyone to glory or destruction? What would be the point in witnessing? Now if they don't witness aren't they ignoring one of Jesus's commands? Now why would Jesus command them to witness if he's God and therefore knew who would fry in Hell anyway? Oh, I get it...if the damned get witnessed to and refuse "salvation" then God can say in the last day that they were offered salvation but denied it. That washes the blood off of Bible-god's hands, right?

Thank "God" for the Calvinists! I finally understand why children suffer and die! They are just pawns in his game! Actually you've got to give the Calvinists a hand in their interpretations of scripture. Quite honestly they have come closest to explaining the sick shit we find in the Bible. They are the only ones admitting that He does what he wants, when he wants, because HE wants, because He's God! Isn't that the theme we find in the Bible? Other Christians ignore or dance around troublesome passages in the Bible, but not the Calvinists! They know that He's God and we are nothing therefore he can stick pins in us like voodoo dolls whenever He wants and if He chooses to one day throw us in Hell, well, it's all for His glory!

Anonymous said...

MQ'did some "objective" investigating and concluded:

"The Calvinists believe that God has already determined in advance who will be saved. God has decided that He will use the mechanism of human preaching, for whatever unknown reason, to save sinners."

Pardon, but isn't that a contradiction? If I understand correctly---if it's PRE-determined before the fact who get's saved, even before anyone even HEARS anything a preacher has to say, then by logic(not that that matters to some), all ministering, preaching, etc., that's done AFTER the fact, is immaterial and a complete waste of God's, and everyone elses time. Yes, even the ones who are "saved" needn't hear the word of God. As usual...more illogical crappola.

Nvrgoingbk said...

Thankyou Boomslang for responding to MQ. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Anonymous said...

Hyper-calvinism,freewill, and universalism all make god into a monster.A simple man made idol for
spiritually immature truth-seekers.

Anonymous said...

WHERE, WHERE, WHERE!?!?!?!?Where is the "no need to be snippy, boomSLANG" post from IQ59? LMAO!!!

J. C. Samuelson said...

I believe MQ has been scrubbed. WM gave him notice on another thread. He's done - at least as MQ59.

Anonymous said...

nice argument =)
what i don't get though, and something you didn't explain is the glory part.

what does god need glory for? for who? for what? are there other gods to show off thie glory to? is it to show the pathetic, predestined human-pawns how great his glory is? is it some sick narcisstic exultation at what an amazing god he is for himself?

i don't understand why this "glory" is preassumed that this god needs it, desires it, exults in it, or would be somehow less if he doesn't have it

i mean, glory is a word that usually implies something others confer upon you, or something that you someone win. how is manipulating a bunch of pawns considered glory?? it's like playing chess and winning against yourself...

you say that "it bring god the most glory".. exactly who decides that such and such confers glory upon this god?

if god is alone as a god in this universe, what need or point is there to having any "glory"? it seems horrible self-centered and unnecessary

another point i don't really get is the preassumption of the "painting" being beautiful. that's a assumption w/ no basis is it not?

Anonymous said...

Confused Atheist said,if god is alone as a god in this universe, what need or point is there to having any "glory"? it seems horrible self-centered and unnecessary

YES...YES...YES. God would be the supreme egomaniac, more interested in himself than anyone else. BUT the Calvinst thinks this is okay becuase he's God!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

another point i don't really get is the preassumption of the "painting" being beautiful. that's a assumption w/ no basis is it not?

How could so much suffering be called beautiful, especially when God could have decreed that we all obey? The painting itself would be an indictment against the goodness of Calvin's god.

Anonymous said...

confused atheist, I wish christians were as confused as you. Such confusion leads to straight thinking.

In ancient times, the god(s) were neither all-knowing nor all-powerful, and that includes the jewish god. The centuries passed, and during the christian era he acquired those titles. The christians borrowed things like Platonic perfection.

The problem is that such a god is pretty much out of a job. Why would a perfect being need or even want glory? Why would he need or want anything: glory; worship; praise; love; penitence; obedience? Why would he give a goddamn if anyone believed in him?

No, ca, wants and needs are imperfectons; we want and need that which we lack, and perfection has no lack.

About divine foreknowledge vs freewill: if we have freedom of will, god cannot know our future actions. If we are considering 2 or more courses of action, god cannot foresee our decision until we actually make that decision. It is simply that god cannot see things that do not exist.

All this reminds me of a little joke:

Does god think?
Does god know the future?
Well then, does god know what he will think before he thinks it?

This posting is generating some good, heated responses. Now all we need is a calvinist.

Anonymous said...

confused atheist said:

"another point i don't really get is the preassumption of the "painting" being beautiful. that's a assumption w/ no basis is it not?"

Not only is there an assumption of beauty, but whom is god impressing with this "beauty?" Himself? all those below looking up from hell and going "ooohhh," and "aaaahhhh," like some, sick deific fireworks joke?

That's the problem with attributes and the supernatural...theists often say that god is unknowable, ineffable, etc., and in the same breath use attributes like omniscient, all-loving, slow to anger, etc. To give god the attributes of one deserving glory or one who wants only beauty in his painting is missing the point of supernatural...what part of "not-able-to-be-qualifiable-or-quantifiable" do the double talkers NOT understand?

Anonymous said...

Lee,..theists would answer that glorifying god is more for our own good,rather than to his benefit.
Kinda like honoring thy mom and pop benefits the child, and makes their life happier and healthier.
The jewish god is just a clone of the patriarchal daddies of ancient Israel.They demanded honor and respect regardless of anything done to deserve it!

*I oftened wondered as a fundie years ago....Did god write the bible as a love letter of good news,..or did he have it written to "WARN" us that he's a sadistic egomaniac tyrant,... so we either kiss his ass or burn baby burn!
What a glory hog,...jeezus!

Anonymous said...

If hell is true,..and most of the world is going there,then this "beautiful world" is "NOT BEAUTIFUL, AND GOD DOES'NT DESERVE

I now know the bible is full of crap so I can truly appreciate the beauty of this world!

Anonymous said...

Calvinism... interesting since they are right about the freewill issue (albeit in their case it's theistic determinism) and faithful to the bible I guess. That's what makes it so disgusting! Really, I believe Calvinism is not that far off the mark when you want to be a bible-believer. Here's Romans 9:

17For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

18Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

19Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

20Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

21Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

22What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

23And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

That's indeed a beautiful painting of sorts...
Normally, the nonexistence of free will is my refutation of christians' freewill-refutation of atheists' argument from suffering for the nonexistence of god (hope I got that sentence right). This passage and Calvinism render that unnecessary, if a christian is willing to interpret it literally. And why not? Being from the KJV, it's easy to understand and unambiguous...

Anonymous said...

I told when I was growing up that my church was Calvinist, but no one told me what it was all about. Now I know. What a sick and twisted way to think.

Calvin must have had a lot of self loathing or something. If the Calvinist god is real then I would rather go to hell and be far away from him. Because that god is a real sick bastard. If he is real, he should have wiped humanity off the face of this planet right away or never created us. One sin and everything everything on this planet must be destroyed. Creation seems like a big waiste of time if Calvinism is true.

Thanks for enlightening me. It encourages me to continue to stay away from Christianity.

Anonymous said...

dmas, Many church people who go to Presbyterian, Lutheran and Reformed churches, for instance, don't know what Calvinism entails, and those who do just accept the horribleness of the divine decrees.

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "The offered reason is because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden. But here again, why did Adam and Eve sin in the first place?"
The Dusty Old Book In The Library - The Bible

Anonymous said...

I've argued with Calvinists before and let me tell you, they are an infamously nasty bunch of people. Talk about self-delusion! They are so far beyond reasoning with that it is almost not worth it.

I enjoy listening to them try to wiggle their way out of difficult questions, though.

But most definitely, their beliefs are about as absurd as Christianity gets.

Anonymous said...

If you care to peruse calvinist literature in some depth you sometimes find them saying that people hate calvinism.....because its true. Another laugh riot all on its own once you get the absurdity and ugliness of the doctrine itself.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, Calvinism was also the belief of Luther and therefore was a large part of the reformation. Secondly Calvinistic theology is very much found in many sections of the bible, so is free will. That's what you get for trying to make sense of that mess of a book. Thirdly, Everything here said about the Calvinist God (mean, egomaniac, cruel) holds just as much to the Arminian view of God (unless you take away from Christianity the believe in foreknowledge AND omnipotents
In many ways at least Calvinism admits its God is an asshole. Other types of Christianity live in a strange double speak of conflicting logic. (God is loving and wants everyone to be saved, yet created a world that he KNEW the vast majority of people would burn in hell for ever after living a horrible savage life with no knowledge of God's escape plan). I guess personally I'd prefer a Christian that knows their God sucks than one that doesn't.

J. C. Samuelson said...

"Calvinism was also the belief of Luther and therefore was a large part of the reformation."

Just a minor correction here. Although both Lutheranism and Calvinism came out of the Reformation period and are part of the same faith, they differ in doctrine in at least one significant way; how one receives salvation.

As the article shows (also see Calvinism), Calvinists believe God essentially forces salvation on those He wants (drags them kicking and screaming into heaven), and withholds it from those He doesn't. The individual plays no part in this and has no choice.

On the other hand, Lutheranism teaches that salvation is by faith and grace freely given to all. In other words, who is going to heaven is not a set quantity and the individual has free will.

By the way, I'm not advocating either one. I'm ex-Christian.

Anonymous said...

see Dan Barker vs. Paul Manata; Greg Bahnsen vs Edward Tabash; Greg Bahnsen vs Gordon Stein

Cornelius Van Til : We must point out to [our opponents] that [non-theistic] reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well. . . . It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions. (A Survey of Christian Epistemology [Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969], p. 204).

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