More On the Authorship of Sin (Part 2)

This is the second of a series on the authorship of sin that came about as a result of discussions and observations on this post. Part 1 and the first section of this post address Calvinist claims that Arminians “also make God the author of sin.”

Conflating Origins

When discussing authorship implying the origination of sin, the argument inevitably arises, “but if sin originates in people, people still originate from God, therefore sin originates from God as well!” Not quite. Beings capable of sin originated from within God, it doesn’t follow that their rebellion itself came from within Him.

For counter-example, my children originated from within me. If my daughter goes off and does something of her own imagining that I didn’t teach or tell her to do, then can it rightly be called my idea? Would it be fair to state, “your daughter’s action came from her, she came from you, therefore her action originated in you!”? Not at all. There’s a independent volitional separator between myself and my daughter’s choices and actions, namely, my daughter herself, who is a free agent and makes choices that proceed from within herself independent of my causing them. To assert that all of her choices come from me or are somehow my idea is the utmost folly since she has some degree of independence from me in her choices. Now if I were somehow controlling her so that she couldn’t think or do anything but exactly what I commanded, then such an accusation would be fair, but thankfully for all involved, that isn’t the case!

So likewise, God is the originator of all creation, but it’s fallacious to think that He’s the originator of everything His creation does if He’s granted them some degree of independence. Or to put it plainly, if God created agents with wills that can function in some ways external to Himself, then those agents are capable of concepts and choices that don’t arise from within God.

Was that really necessary?

One Calvinist objection to the middle-knowledge view is that if God knows what you will do given situation X, then puts you in situation X, that your reaction to X is then necessary. They then may argue that God can therefore be called the author of sin if middle knowledge is employed, since He’s made sin necessary by putting His creations in situations in which He knows they will sin.

The error in logic here is equating “necessary given what you will do” with “divinely necessary.” If what I will do if put in situation X is determined by me rather than God, then my reaction can’t be divinely necessary, as this would essentially be saying that what was divinely necessary was contingent upon a created being’s independent will -a contradiction. God knowing what I will do in situation X and putting me in situation X makes the reaction certain, but if it in any way depends upon my independent agency, then it can’t be called divinely necessary.

In a similar vein, it’s also argued that our agency doesn’t really constitute free will if the outcome is made certain by God placing us in a situation. I mean, you don’t really have power to choose if your choice is certain, do you? Logically speaking, you actually do. ‘Certainty’ doesn’t imply constraint, it implies factuality, including that which occurs apart from necessity. An ‘acid test’ to tell if an agent is free in the libertarian sense is the question, “For any given choice and the situation in which it occurs, could the choice be different based solely on the agency of the creature, with no factors changed or differing action on God’s part?” If the answer is “yes,” then this reply indisputably implies libertarian agency, regardless of objections that it “doesn’t sound like free will.”

The following section deals with arguments often employed by Calvinists in defending their theodicy.

“It’s good when God decrees it happen, bad when it actually happens…”

This is how Calvinists have classically tried to evade the problem of God authoring sin. It’s declared to be somehow righteous and holy in God decreeing it, but it’s just somehow bad when people commit it. Augustus Toplady (as quoted by Randolph Foster) verbalizes this well,

Though he [God] may be said to be author of all the actions done by the wicked, yet he is not the author of them, in a moral, compound sense, as they are sinful, but physically simply, and sensu diviso, as they are mere actions, abstractly from all consideration of the goodness or badness of them.

Hence, we see that God does not immediately and per se infuse iniquity into the wicked, but powerfully excites them to action, and withholds those gracious influences of his Spirit, without which every action is necessarily evil.

Every action, as such, is undoubtedly good, it being an actual exertion of those operative powers given us by God for that very end. God may, therefore, be the author of all actions, and yet not be the author of evil.

Foster responds to this with the obvious question and inevitable conclusion:

But, then, a question arises right here. Was not the sinner’s intention decreed, also, as well as the act? If you answer, “No,” then here is something which comes to pass in time which was not decreed before time. If you answer, “Yes,” and the sin was in the intention, then God, who was the author of the intention, was the author of the sin; for the sin and the intention are the same.

Again: did not God decree that certain acts, if committed with certain intentions, should be sinful? But did he not also decree that those very acts and intentions should exist? If so, is he not the author of the sin, both with respect to the act and intention? If not, is not here something coming to pass in time which was not decreed before time? (Foster, R.; Objections to Calvinism as it is)

Obviously, if nothing happens apart from God’s decree, then this would include not only one’s actions, but his thoughts and intents as well. So truly exhaustive determinism would necessarily have God authoring not only the act, but that which makes the act itself evil. Beyond being mere “lack of good,” wicked thoughts and intents are themselves an abominable thing to God.

“The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but gracious words are pure.” (Proverbs 15:26)

The book of Proverbs goes to further state that those who devise evil things are also abominable to Him.

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

At least some actions can be in and of themselves morally neutral, with the thought behind it determining whether it’s good or evil. Thoughts and intentions are a different matter, evil thoughts being inherently contrary to the Holiness of the absolutely Holy God, and utterly abominable to Him along with the heart that devises them. The horrid ramification of exhaustive determinism, as seen above, is that all of these things that God finds abominable wind up originating in Him. Further, if the wickedness of the wicked isn’t ultimately from themselves, but rather produced for them from within God, then the heart that devises their evil schemes wouldn’t truly be their own, but God’s!

Secondary causes?

Many Calvinists appeal to “secondary causes” to mitigate the concept of God being the author of sin. Besides being a rather lame defense (employing secondary causes didn’t get David off the hook -see 2 Samuel 11:14-12:9), especially when all the causes are also exhaustively determined by God, what means are used to bring the sin about change nothing about where it originates. To say that God’s decree brings about the sin that He has unconditionally willed men to commit through secondary causes is in fact a tacit admission that God authored their sin in the first place.

Mystery

The usual last resort to try and reconcile exhaustive determinism with God not being the author of sin is appeal to mystery. Now mystery certainly has a place in theology: From God’s ex nihilo creation of the universe, to His eternal self-existence, to His Triune Being, some things simply defy comprehensive understanding by finite human beings. While these are sound doctrines, for lack of complete explanation, some of their details must be relegated to the realm of mystery and/or speculation.

What mystery is useless for is attempting to resolve logical contradiction. If someone says that he affirms Christ’s physical resurrection and that He’s alive forever more, and yet at the same time claims that His body is still dead in the ground, then no amount of “mystery” or “tension” can salvage such a belief, because it’s making contradictory truth claims.

The same goes for the segments of the Roman Catholic church that hold Mary to be “co-mediatrix” alongside Christ (the One Mediator -1 Tim 2:5) between God and man. There cannot be “only one mediator,” and in the same time/sense “more than one mediator.” Mystery cannot mitigate the contradiction.

Which brings us to the claims of many Calvinists who hold to exhaustive determinism: God by Himself exhaustively, immutably and unconditionally predetermines [which plainly implies authorship] all that occurs (actions, thoughts, intentions, etc. in toto), yet at the same time doesn’t author sin. Now if sin does occur (and all parties agree that it does), then sin falls in the category of “all that occurs.” So God authoring all that occurs entails God authoring sin, which directly contradicts the latter claim that He doesn’t author sin. Appeal to mystery at this juncture is futile. The contradiction is further attested to by the Calvinist denial of libertarian freedom, since this rules out all possibilities except for God. As I pointed out in reply to Mr. Maxwell concerning my first post on the subject:

The logic is pretty inescapable really; appeals to mystery can’t solve outright contradictions. You don’t have to explicitly say something to unmistakably imply it. You don’t need to say “one” if you say “a positive integer that’s less than two,” because the longer statement rules out all possibilities other than one.

A creature that has no independent agency can’t truly ‘author’ anything of its own, all of its thoughts etc. are externally predetermined or authored for it. So if we state that no created being has free agency, then we’ve ruled out the idea of sin being authored by them. So if to the question of sin’s authorship/origin we categorically exclude all created beings, then the only alternative left is an uncreated being, the only one of which is God.

In short, if we as God’s creations have no libertarian freedom, then we determine nothing for ourselves, then we author nothing for ourselves, which then leaves our Creator as the only possible author for sin. The necessitarians have thus effectively resolved any “mystery” concerning the authorship of sin in their view by process of elimination.

In our next and tentatively final part, we’ll examine at least one more general defense of exhaustive determinism and some of its underlying scriptural problems.

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6 Responses

  1. Well thought out here. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for the excellent annotated recapitulation of the discussion. Any sense of order easily gets lost in the stream of comments.

  3. I believe that the Arminian person in debate with the Calvinist should bring up this logical error in the conversation at least once if not frequently, and also in conjunction with that, to focus on Unconditional Reprobation, for if the two can be shown to be inextricably linked, the Calvinists becomes quite unomfortable due to the fact that f it can be shown that the human being’s damnation in Hell is indeed due to God’s purpose and not to man’s own willful sin… then there is a great problem with God’s justice.

  4. There’s no way that calvinism has any means of avoiding this objection. It has come and tried but all it can resort to is technical word games or pointing the finger at arminianism as faring no better as an explanation. Even supposing that arminianism does not, that does me no good. For I would not be able to believe in a God that determines evil, no matter how or where it comes from. If the Bible says it, I will not follow this Jesus even if he was the last person to exist in all possible worlds but of course I’d have to have free will to do that, won’t I?

    While I am not very informed with theology, I have understood this clearly, both philosophically and intuitionally. There is just no possible way for this God to retain His moral credibility while determining evil. Sorry if I sound a bit bitter but see, I cannot comprehend WHY this is not understood as an absolute moral abomination. It is simple logic, not rocket science. What shall I say? Is there injustice with the God of Calvinism (or the Bible, if that’s equivalent)? Heck yes.

    Try as you may to define God as good while simultaneously holding to His immoral decrees. Complain as you may about my finite knowledge in comparison to His infinite knowledge. Sentence me to hell as you may for announcing my strong rejection of an evil God. But I will never let you degrade the honor of a truly perfect and holy God with a supremely inferior being.

    *Disclaimer: I am not against calvinists, I am just strongly against the doctrine. I know some cool calvinists and I love how superior they are to me in both their passion for God and respect for His truth. I just do not think they realize the full implications of their view. I’m glad that they at least attempt to avoid the claim that God is the author of sin instead of directly embracing it. Crap, now it seems like I’m doing PR work. If this does not get approved, I apologize to the author of the blog for writing this rather expressive comment.

  5. I know I haven’t commented here for a while, and please delete this comment if inappropriate, but I wanted to let you know that a complete set of Rev. John Fletcher’s 4-volume works is currently available as an auction on E-Bay. I’ve had this set for a while but am placing it up for adoption to another (hopefully) good Arminian home. I know Fletcher is respected on this blog, so I thought anyone interested might want to take a look.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=200501331429&ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT#ht_805wt_1135

    Thanks!
    David

  6. […] More On the Authorship of Sin (Part 2) […]

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