This morning I noticed a response to a comment of mine over at paulspassingthoughts.com.
“Lydia said, on March 10, 2014 at 12:45 pm
“Man, I love it when I’m right. I have accused her of being a hypocrite for months. This proves it. She is a full blown Calvinist, and an obvious determinist. I would say she only argues over how much, but if your sin is determined, then how much is ALL”
Argo, Not sure if determinism or a case of “we cannot help but be sinners after salvation”. Would that be determinism or a degree of determinism? I suppose it is because if we cannot help but sin (and not defining that as imputed guilt where our existence is a sin) then would that not be some form of determinism?”
I realize that I have not been clear on why Total Depravity is fundamentally a determinist premise, just like any concept which we assume has causal properties with respect to observable material objects and agents. Since making my point requires a much lengthier explanation than is appropriate for a post in a comments thread, I decided to answer Lydia with a specific article on my own blog.
Here is my response:
Lydia, yes…and not only is it some form of determinism, I would argue that it is categorically pure determinism.
The logic goes something like this:
The inexorable premise of man as totally depraved is that man is, in fact, total depravity itself. That is, man is the incarnate “body” of the “form”, or what is really the concept, of depravity. This makes man a direct function of it since there is no observable distinction, and thus cannot be any rational/logical distinction, between man and depravity. Depravity becomes causal. But not only that, depravity becomes absolutely causal.
The reason it must be conceded that depravity is an absolute, by which we must concede it is infinite and all controlling, has to do with the fact that conceptual abstractions cannot be observed. They have no material essence by which man can distinguish what they are from what they are not. Therefore the entirety of the distinction between the concept and what it is NOT is, if we are speaking rationally, completely cognitive. This makes any boundaries between the concept and the material object it “effects” fundamentally subjective; or, better said, it roots the boundaries in how man decides to make the distinction at any given moment according to his context, which is the actual and material concept, and not on any quantifiable properties of the concept itself.
Now, in a healthy philosophy, the non-actuality of conceptual abstractions like depravity (and space and time and even gravity)…that is, the subjective nature of the concepts, rooted in the understanding that they are products of man’s ability to conceptually organize his environment in service to his systematic survival, is conceded. The conceptual abstractions are not assumed to be “real”…that is, it is understood that they have no power to affect any material object in any literal sense. Objects and agents interact based upon their physical existence, and “cause and effect” becomes itself a concept which is described in more precise detail by other concepts, again, to organize the environment in service to man’s life.
This does not subvert the volition of the free agent of man, and it does not make his existence a matter of de facto determinism by suggesting that the interaction of objects he observes is a function of some kind of unobservable (and thus unknowable) “natural law” which “governs” the environment. For if the environment is wholly governed by forces beyond man’s ability to observe with his senses, then man’s existence must be determined, because you cannot have a volitionally free agent who is coupled to a wholly “governed” environment. If the environment is a product of “natural law”, which is merely another word for the determinist force, then so must man be. “Free” and “governed” (as in the metaphysically guided sense) are mutually exclusive concepts. They cannot possibly coexist. Incidentally, this is the precise reason why God cannot be “sovereign”…why he cannot be “in control of all things”. For if we concede that all is governed by God’s absolute control, then we are conceding that all of Creation is utterly determined by His will. And, like I said, if Creation is utterly determined, then God’s will cannot possibly be “free”. For if the universe MUST behave in a specific way, then God MUST specifically will it that way. And if it is absolutely specific, God cannot and could not have ever willed whatever happens to happen in a different way. God’s will is no more free than the Creation He has determined. Again, there is no logical way to couple determinism with volitional freedom. The two concepts are complete opposites.
Depravity as a conceptual abstraction has no material form which man can observe. All man can observe is the effects of depravity upon objects and agents. Again, this is fine when depravity is conceded to be non-actual, and thereby having no actual causal effect upon material reality. The “effects” are only conceptual, and therefore as subjective as depravity itself is. Now, understand that “subjective” does not automatically equal irrelevant or ineffective. The way depravity is efficaciously defined so as to make it useful in organizing man’s environment has to do with acknowledging an objective standard (of truth) by which it can be practically defined and by which its (conceptual) effects can be observed. For example, if the standard is man’s life (which is the only rational standard), then we can rightly define certain actions and thoughts as depraved, if we define depravity as “that which subverts man’s life and property”. Murder, envy, larceny, adultery…all of these become “depraved” in a practical sense because we have defined depravity against the plumb line of man’s life. The same could be said for the concept of “blue”. When does “blue” become practical and efficacious? When man, as the standard of truth, comes to a consensus of its definition. Man as the standard and as the material volitional agent gets to decide what blue is. Why? In order to organize his environment; so man can communicate effectively. And the fact that man is the one who gets to define blue proves that blue is a direct function of man’s conceptualizing brain and NOT a function of some kind of unobservable, ethereal and absolute “force” of blue beyond the material reality man observes, yet which is somehow able to effect its actions and interactions.
When depravity goes from a concept to an actuality, and from actuality to a governing force, then man is effectively removed from the existence equation for all practical purposes. Man is a bystander at best to the FORCE of depravity. Depravity, having no visible attributes, can only be known to man as absolute, and therefore its effects upon man and the rest of Creation are likewise absolute. And this goes back to my original point: when the Calvinist and the Reformed accuse man of being totally depraved, what they must mean is that man is depravity itself. For there can be no rational distinction between that which is governed by depravity and depravity itself. Since depravity is absolute and therefore infinite, having no observable boundaries, man is unable to distinguish himself from the causal force of depravity. Thus, it must be conceded that depravity only exists…there is no such rational thing as what it is NOT, because depravity as a “form” has no observable, quantifiable boundaries. Everything which acts as a function of depravity is an extension of depravity; and as there is no end to depravity since it has no observable boundaries, any function of depravity is going to be depravity itself. This is why Argo’s Universal Truth Number One (soon to be number two) says: Anything which is a function of an absolute IS the absolute. There is no rational difference.
That being the case, man must be determined by his depravity, insofar as we observe actions of man, and yet understand (understanding being a contradictory concept in and of itself…if one is determined, one cannot understand)…and yet understand that they are not HIS actions, but are the “out-workings”, or the extension of the absolute of depravity. There are no actions which were not ALREADY, if that makes any sense.
Hmmm…let me try to smooth this out here.
Since depravity itself is an infinite absolute for all the aforementioned reasons, then depravity IS, period. Thus, it has no “time”…no “temporal” existence. Man may observe cause and effect actions, but in light of the absolute governing force of determinism, cause and effect cease to have any relevant meaning. The cause is the exact same thing as the effect, because whether it is the cause man is observing, or the effect, the source of both is identical: depravity. So if man acts in this way or that, there is no functional or practical difference between the actions. ALL actions are equal extensions of depravity, which means that all of man’s conceptual qualifications/quantifications are meaningless. Everything we observe IS depravity…not was or will be, because depravity is absolute. There are no boundaries between what it is and what it is not that are actual and legitimate. So there is no such thing as what was, or what will be…for all things ARE depravity, regardless of when or how man observes them.
So if you act, your action is a manifestation of depravity as it exists already…as it exists now, and has and will forevermore because it is constant. There is no functional difference between anything you have done or you will do. All is the same amount of depravity. This is why the Reformed doctrine of total depravity is merely just another facet of their wholesale worship of determinism, which MUST result in the death of man (which is why they are not Christian but are in fact a cult of death, as John Immel rightly explains). They worship the idea that man is not himself, but is a direct extension of the absolute of depravity, which destroys man’s volition, which destroys man. Their doctrine of depravity demands that they are categorical determinists which removes man from his own existence, which means they do not worship God, the actual Creator of actual man, but death. For determinism in any form means the wholesale removal of man in the existential equation. And the non-existence of man is the DEATH of man.
So when you act, you are acting according to the IS of the absolute of depravity. What you do you cannot help but do because you are nothing more than what already IS via your existence qua depravity. You are determined. What you do you must do. You have no choice because you are wholly consumed by the absolute force of depravity, which makes no rational distinction between “past”, “present”, and “future” actions.
And this is also why modern science, especially physics, is likewise rank determinism. But the difference between physicists and Calvinists is that at least the physicists will tell you they are determinists. They are not bashful about explaining to you the wonders of the laws which govern anything and everything. Their problem is the cognitive dissonance which never gets discussed, either because they don’t want to talk about it, for obvious reasons, or (and this is the more likely explanation) because they completely and willfully ignore the massive philosophical implications of their subject, assuming that physical reality can be divorced from the consciousness which observes it. This is the physicist’s greatest blunder, and why all of their models will always and inexorably terminate at the useless value of infinity, the parsing of which, via mathematics, gives them the keys to some truly impressive industrial products, and the efficacious use of these products creates the illusion of wisdom and genius, but ultimately their subject by itself offers no real answers to the questions they are really interested in.
The physicist’s cognitive dissonance is this: if all is governed by external and unobservable forces which determine the existence and interactions of all things, then how do they explain consciousness? If humans are merely extensions of the absolute forces which govern then it is quite impossible for man to THINK. For even man’s thinking does not belong to him. Even man’s mind must be nothing more than the law which governs all things. Which means his mind is an illusion at best. Which makes it impossible for man to know that he is determined, and impossible for him to recognize the law which determines him. For an infinite absolute cannot recognize itself, by definition, because for it to know SELF means that it must also know what is NOT SELF. But if SELF is absolute and infinite then there can be no such thing as NOT SELF.
Incidentally, this is why I reject the idea of ex nihilo. God could never have existed “alone” as Himself. There must always have been something else…some other substance or material by which God could know Himself from what is not Himself. Otherwise God could not have claimed consciousness. And without consciousness there is no existence. (But that’s a topic for another article.)
This is also why I reject the actuality of time and space (and gravity, too…but before I go there I need to do the preliminary work on explaining why gravity is just like time and space, which is why it isn’t actual, but conceptual, and that’s another article). Time and space cannot be observed as distinct in the universe. Their existence is “supposed” by observing the interactions of material objects and agents. Their existence, like depravity, is only inferred from their effects upon material objects man observes. This being the case, the relationship between time and space and the material universe must be a direct one. And since they are in and of themselves utterly absolute, having no boundaries or dimensions which man can quantify or qualify via observation, anything we concede to be a function of time and space, or effected by them, must be conceded to be a direct function of them. And if they are a direct function of these absolutes then the material objects and agents man observes ARE these absolutes. (Argo’s Universal Truth Number One (soon to be number two)).
Aaaaaaand back we are to square one.
Only material objects and agents exist. What man cannot observe man cannot know. And if man cannot know it then man cannot claim it exists, and man cannot qualify it or quantify it as any kind of actuality. It is purely conceptual, not actual. Only what can be seen as an IS which is distinct from what it IS NOT can be rationally described as existing.