Homage to Bruce Charlton

I’ve certainly had my disagreements with Dr. Charlton. For one thing, he refuses to accept the obvious solution, pointed out by myself, to the pseudo-problem of free will versus divine predestination.

[Executive summary: God’s predestination operates at a level that is forever beyond our ability to detect. So for literally all practical purposes, we do have free will. So stop worrying about how God is trying to violate your heavenly Constitutional Rights, and get on with your life. But also believe God’s word when it says that God predestines.]

And as for his enthusiasm for the pseudo-Christian heresy of Mormonism, fuggedaboudit!


But Dr. Charlton has one great strength as a traditionalist blogger that in my book more than overcomes his, um, weaknesses: He emphasizes the most fundamental issues in the culture war—or whatever you call it—in which we traditionalists find ourselves.

Bruce Charlton recognizes that the West’s basic problem is spiritual sickness, not a lack of clear thinking. What we need most is not more theoretical explanations of how the problem originated and developed, although these have their place. No, what the West needs most is repentance from liberalism, or whatever you choose to call the current World System. And therefore the traditionalist is doing his best service for the cause when he calls on men and women to repent of their liberalism, and when he calls on his fellow traditionalists to call for repentance.

Dr. Charlton also recognizes that the call for repentance is not made in isolation. He knows that we must give our fellow man reasons to repent, and a hope to which he can turn.

Pointing these out is what Dr. Charlton is best at, and what he is best at just happens to be what we need most. That’s why he’s one of the All Stars in the Traditionalist League, despite his occasional strikeouts.

31 thoughts on “Homage to Bruce Charlton

      • He’s a fellow who has just missed out on genius, and is rather resentful about it. That’s part of the problem. Compare him as a scientist to Greg Cochran; compare him as a political thinker to James Kalb.

    • I don’t see him as a madman whatsoever. I find him to be a wonderful man with a great heart, someone I would be happy to call friend (even though I think he’s erred badly with all this Mormon stuff). And that, besides what Alan said, is the fundamental strength of his writing and of his worldview: you can tell he’s onto something from how wholesome his words feel. He understands the human heart.

  1. Charlton doesn’t really engage the Calvinists on free will, except lobbing something your way once in a while.

    There is a bigger scope for the question, though–the greater world is embracing determinism and reductionism more and more. David Stove called it “Genetic Calvinism” in his discussion of Richard Dawkins and “selfish genes”; Stove was mocking Dawkins’ determinism.

    • I don’t use the term “free will,” I use the term “limited will.” The word “free will” is an oxymoron. In the term, what a person means by “free” is: “undetermined;” and what a person means by “will” is: “determination.” “I have an undetermined determination” makes no sense to me.

      • Have you ever repeated a word so many times in a sentence that you suddenly forget what the word means altogether?

      • There is a big problem with saying “free” = “undetermined:” We don’t know ultimately what is determined and what is undetermined, because we are not omniscient. So the “free” part of “free will” should really mean something like “not controlled by some outside force of which we are aware.”

  2. Good post. I would add only that it is our elite specifically which needs to repent or to be replaced with a different elite which has. Otherwise we are left with the task of luring sheep away from their pseudo-shepherd one by one.

    It is of some significance that Charlton once had the reins of an elite organ, a scientific journal of non-trivial and rising reputation. These reins were taken from him both to punish his deviationism from the World System and to emphasize to other members of our elite that he was unacceptably deviationist.

    • I have been looking into the Greek Junta lately and it looks like their downfall was their own children. The children were in love with rebellion, communism, drugs, sex, rock, parties, and their greek “dads” didn’t handle their business like they should have. Even though the Junta did ban commie art and they did put the hurt on some commies, they just didn’t crack down hard enough. They had their shot, they even cracked down hard, but it was not enough, they still lost to the little commie brats in the end. Are conservatives just too nice now? The Bastille was nearly empty, after all. Maybe that is the spiritual problem which needs to be repented?

      • As satisfying as it may be to think that the solution to our social problems is to kick some behind, this will not do. Social order is created primarily by articulating principles that the people generally find appealing.

        Of course, there is always at least a minority who will not voluntarily refrain from evil, so some force is required in any society. But when the rulers are at the point where only force can keep them in power, they’ve already lost.

  3. @Alan – Very generous – thanks! And a fair summary of what most people regard as my best stuff (and who am I to disagree?).

    ‘Bruce Charlton – Madman or Genius’ sounds like a tabloid newspaper headline. Maybe there are other alternatives?

    @CoOp – I have written a lot about Free Will


    …although my views on how best to explain Free Will changed around 1.5 years ago, as I abandoned my previous Boethian-Platonism and become the pragmatist-pluralist of today. I haven’t specifically engaged with ‘Calvinism’ – not least because there seem like a lot of versions of it, and also because I don’t want-to have-to read Calvin – but I know that my emphasis is very different.

    @Dr Bill – A good point. As Medical Hypotheses got more successful and influential, I am pretty sure that it was just a matter of time before I was got-rid-of. I was quite surprised not to have had more trouble when I defended James Watson in 2008, but I suspect that kind of thing did not go unnoticed when the US senior management put the journal under a microscope (the British managers were always very supportive until the faecal matter struck the ventilating device – when they caved instantly and totally) – and I was making a lot of money for Elsevier (I think several hundred thousand dollars a year, but I never saw the accounts) until they unilaterally and without discussion decided to abolish page charges in a weekend over-reaction to some problem in the Australian division – thereby eliminating medical Hypotheses’s independence at a stroke. My daily blogging at Miscellany began shortly after I was sacked in May 2010.

  4. To me, of course, Bruce’s best stuff includes things Alan would call heresy.

    As for the topic at hand, either one has freedom to choose or one does not. I hold with the former.

    • …either one has freedom to choose or one does not. I hold with the former.

      So do I, and so does Scripture.

      The Christian doctrine of predestination acknowledges that man has free will, in the sense that he can choose what he wants to choose. It adds that man does not want to choose faith in Christ until God gives him that ability, after which he freely chooses Christ and is saved.

      • “…God gives him that ability…”

        And God gives that ability to all men. Why would a loving father not give that ability to all men?

      • We can only answer that question by consulting Scripture, which is God speaking to us. Any other answer is speculation.

        In Scripture, God tells us that he gives the gift of faith only to some people, for reasons known only to him.

        The only other honest response to the question would be to say “We don’t know why some believe and some don’t”

      • Sirach 15:11-20

        Do not say: “It was God’s doing that I fell away,”
        for what he hates he does not do.

        Do not say” “He himself has led me astray,”
        for he has no need of the wicked.

        Abominable wickedness the Lord hates
        and he does not let it happen to those who fear him.

        God in the beginning created human beings
        and made them subject to their own free choice.

        If you choose, you can keep the commandments;
        loyalty is doing the will of God.

        Set before you are fire and water;
        to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand.

        Before everyone are life and death,
        whichever they choose will be given them.

        Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
        mighty in power, he sees all things.

        The eyes of God behold his works,
        and he understands every human deed.

        He never commands anyone to sin,
        nor shows leniency toward deceivers.

      • Sirach is not Scripture. It is part of the Apocrypha.

        Although what this passage says it correct, it is incomplete. From man’s point of view, he has free will, and cannot blame others, including God, for his sins. But this is only man’s point of view. In Scripture, God has revealed additional truths, such as that he has predestined.

        About predestination, Ephesians 1:3–6:

        Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

  5. Amen, Alan. Bruce is extraordinary. He thinks more original thoughts in a day than I do in a month. About half the time, his main daily post is a restatement of a thought he has been working on for a while, although he always seems to be peeling off another layer of those onions. But then, the other half of the time, he is drawing some connection that is wholly unexpected. These novel togethernesses of ideas seem to come off him in sparks – Athena leaping from his forehead, day after day. I get a new idea from time to time, too, but for me their production is more like an extremely long and painful labor, often ending in a botched Caesarean.

    I don’t know how he sustains it. If my understanding grew at the rate his does, I’d have to spend most of my days in a quiet, darkened room to recover.

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  8. Bruce Charlton was a large influence on bringing me back to God and faith. I owe him an enormous debt I can never repay.

    That said, I don’t agree with him about Mormon theology.

  9. I’m a Mormon so I obviously don’t think that Charlton’s interest in the faith is totally aberrational. But even there, the insights he hits on are pretty striking. I feel like I understand my faith better sometimes after spending some time with him.


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