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.

Pageviews this week: