A few weeks ago I wrote on a fallacy common to Calvinist apologetics, namely, that they often claim that while they teach exhaustive determinism, they still claim that God isn’t the author of sin. It garnered substantially more responses than I expected. To clarify things and answer some common questions/objections, I’m putting together a synopsis of the relevant arguments (this is part 1).
I often see Calvinists attempting to establish that the Arminian view of God isn’t superior to their “God decreeing all sin” doctrine by implying that the former also has ‘moral problems.’ The argument in a nutshell essentially says that, “God knew when He created man that His creation would fall into wickedness, He also has power to prevent it from occurring, yet instead allows it to happen, therefore God is morally responsible for not preventing said evil.” Paul Helm expresses this objection in a response to Peter Byrne,
“…is God’s end not sullied and dirtied by Him permitting and upholding evildoers? …. Is not God flawed by the most terrible deception because He could not tell Himself that He did not allow the death camps as an evil but only as part of an outweighing good? …. In my view, Byrne’s deployment of the principle of double effect has failed to show that God’s responsibility for sin and evil is significantly morally different in the case of libertarian theism than it is in that of compatibilist theism.” (Helm, P. “God, compatibilism, and the authorship of sin:Theodicy,” par. 9)
The problem with Helm’s logic is that there isn’t anything in the scriptures or logical analysis of the facts indicating that God is somehow responsible for preventing people from committing evil of their own accord.
Exhaustive determinists will sometimes intuitively appeal to the fact that people have some extent of moral obligation to prevent wickedness when possible. While this is often true, it has to do with one’s level of obligation to stop the act from occurring, so would naturally not apply where no such obligations exist. For instance, a common parenting technique for stubborn young children who don’t take correction is to sometimes let them have what they think they want (e.g. eating too many cookies) with the inevitable unpleasant result of their disobeying mommy and daddy following. For such situations, parents aren’t obligated to stop their kids from disobeying them. They have the responsibility from God to teach their children to do right (which often entails discipline), but can’t be called morally responsible for not preventing the act of disobedience to begin with. So preventing evil from occurring isn’t an absolute moral imperative.
To get around this, some Calvinists raise dramatic counter-examples about a man not actually committing, but allowing (for example) a mass-murder to take place while not preventing it when he has power to. Indeed this would generally be wrong for people, but this ultimately tells us nothing about God. We as people aren’t God, we don’t hold the absolute power of life and death, therefore it’s generally not our place to decide who dies even by way of passivity, and thus we’re under general obligation to save human life if we can, except in cases such as just execution by higher authorities. God, on the other hand, has absolute power over life and death from the littlest babe to the mightiest warrior to the loftiest king to the oldest sage. He’s not required to prevent death, harm, pain or destruction without authorization by some higher authority, because He is the final Authority. I do believe that God’s attribute of justice does compel Him to settle the accounting of sin, but there’s no evidence of any principle of obligation making Him morally responsible to prevent us from harming each other or ourselves.
On a personal level, this strikes me as among the most ridiculous of assertions. Trying to hold another (God, no less) responsible for one’s own self-induced stupidity is the pinnacle of absurdity. Your own wrongdoing really is your choice, God didn’t make you do it, didn’t tempt you to do it, and isn’t subject to some immutable law that says He has to stop you from doing it. The one responsible is you. This Calvinist attempt to highlight ‘moral problems’ in Arminian theodicy is nothing more than a smokescreen and lame excuse for their own unsalvageable theodicy. It’s more or less a “your theology is kind of like mine” defense that relies upon taking the concept of God allowing people to commit sin for a period prior to their judgment, and trying to morally equate it with God masterminding all their sin!
Such a defense is little more than trying to apply an arbitrary standard to God to justify the ridiculous notion of Him being the author of everything He finds abominable. Despite their attempts to confuse the issue, it boils down to the options of God leaving men to their own wicked devices (a good method of discipline and/or justice) versus God Himself producing their wicked devices for them (to quote Dordt, “a blasphemous thought”), and there simply is no comparison. Logically, it can only be concluded then that there is no moral problem with God allowing libertarian agents to commit evil of their own accord.
“Authorship” through prior knowledge?
A related assertion is that God in the Arminian view still is the de facto author of sin, because He created the world as it is [set the initial conditions] knowing that there would be evil in it due to peoples’ choices. Essentially stating that God knew the results of His creating the world, and is therefore still the author of evil in some sense. For starters, the sinful thoughts, intentions etc aren’t generated by God; their existence (and hence God’s knowledge of them as well) are from within and are entirely contingent upon His creations, hence God can’t rightly be called the author of what doesn’t proceed from within Himself.
But God still knew the outcome of creating this world, wouldn’t that make Him the author in some sense? Not at all. Prior knowledge of some agent authoring a thing doesn’t constitute authorship by the one who knew it. Even if I know with absolute infallibility that the next Twilight novel will be sophomoric and shallow, this doesn’t imply that I’m somehow making Stephenie Meyer develop one-dimensional cliche characters and idiot plots. Consider the example of a chess master who can (by whatever means) perfectly anticipate an opponent’s move. He sets up a gambit knowing the counter-move his opponent will make as a result. Did the chess master ‘author’ his opponent’s move by virtue of knowing it and setting a condition by which it would occur? Hardly. The opponent’s own move is still his own move; neither the chess master’s knowledge nor his own moves are relevant to who actually authored his opponent’s moves. To declare that God in framing the world (analogous to His ‘initial move’ with respect to us) somehow makes Him the author of what He knew would be our resulting free choices would be falls into this same trap of illogicality and equivocation.
To reiterate the definition, the author of a thing is the one in whom a concept originates; one who is the sole determiner of a thing can be none other than its author. Salvation for instance, was God’s idea, hence God is the author of the faith of Christ and salvation through Him (Heb 5:9, 12:2), but not the author of sin. Amusingly, in response to my article, more than one Calvinist cited the preceding verses to prove that the definition of author ‘backfires’ against my view of conditional election, because, you know, like,
sole-determiner -> author
clearly means that,
author -> sole-determiner
(Discerning the obvious fundamental flaw in the above logic is left as an exercise to the reader.)
A relevant counter-example
This is a slightly modified example I gave in the combox to demonstrate the inoperability of the exhaustive determinist arguments to real situations:
Suppose programmer P works for the FBI and is (with the bureau’s approval) laying a trap for a cyber-terrorist suspect S. Let’s say he’s deduced from the suspect’s postings on a message board that the suspect wishes to destroy government databases and would do so once he finds opportunity. Let’s also say he writes database maintenance utility T, and on that message board offers it to S, anticipating that he’ll use the utility to break into one of their databases and wreak havoc. P, anticipating an attack, securely backs up the system so he can restore it in case of failure, and (again with authorization) leaves the database unsecured and vulnerable to attack. In spite of numerous built-in clear warning messages and safeguards within the utility, S misuses T and writes a script that destroys the unsecured database (effect E), but is caught red-handed in the process by P (who is monitoring the situation as it occurs). The location of S is pinpointed, and agents sent to arrest him shortly afterward. P restores the database, good guys win, all is well. Are there any viable objections to P’s actions or anything to implicate him as the actual author of E?
Did the programmer allow the attack? Yes.
Is the programmer breaking the law in allowing this to occur? No, he is authorized to do so in this example.
Did he provide the suspect with the means to break the law? Yes.
Could the attack have occurred without the programmer making his utility? S doesn’t have the know-how by himself; assume ‘no’ for sake of argument.
Did he know the suspect would use it for that purpose? Given S’s postings, we can assume ‘yes’ for sake of argument; note also that P watched the crime occur.
Was the criminal act inherent or necessary to the design of the programmer’s utility? No.
Who misused the utility for an evil purpose? The suspect.
Is the programmer then responsible for the suspect’s misuse of his utility? No.
Can the programmer then truly be called the “author of the suspect’s crime?” Not at all.
P could have been somewhat morally responsible (undue endangerment of government property) for the results if he didn’t have authority to leave the database vulnerable; but since he did, then he can’t be culpable for the crime in any sense. Why is P not responsible for suspect S’s crimes? E did come about because P created T, right? Doesn’t matter. Crime E wasn’t inherent to P’s design of T; committing E or refraining from doing so was strictly up to S -P’s correctly anticipating his move beforehand doesn’t change that fact.
By the same logic:
Did God allow sin to occur? Yes.
Is God committing some moral wrong by allowing sin to occur? No, God is free to allow anything He wishes (take it up with Him if you disagree).
Did God give men and angels power to rebel? Yes.
Could we have rebelled if God had not chosen to create us? No.
Did God know sin would come about due to free agents’ choices? Yes.
Was their rebellion inherent/necessary to His design? No.
Who misused free will for an evil purpose? Satan, the angels who joined him, and later Adam & Eve.
Is God then culpable for our misuse of free agency? No.
Can God then truly be called the “author of sin” in a free will theodicy? Not at all.
This analogy was similar in nature to my ‘who authored the crime’ post. Also of note is the fact that if the misdeed in the analogy above had been somehow inherent or necessary to the design of the programmer’s utility, then the programmer himself could in fact be rightly charged with authoring the crime.
* There’s no evidence of God having any obligation to stop us from sinning (and incurring its consequences).
* One being’s prior knowledge of another being authoring a thing doesn’t constitute the knower being the author.