Monday, January 30, 2006

"Why Calvinists Can't Solve The Problem of Evil"

Victor Reppert is a Christian author and blogger whose enthusiasm for all things Lewisonian is not replicated in his feelings for Calvinism.

***QUOTE***

The title here suggests that Arminians (or maybe universalists) can solve the problem of evil, and maybe that's something I don't want to imply. However, I am going to argue that while the theist has some hope of providing a rebuttal to the argument from evil if Calvinism is false, the theist who is as Calvinist is thoroughly embarrassed in the face of the atheist argument.

Let's look at the atheist argument from evil. The argument goes as follows:

1. God, if God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good.
2. If there is a God, then there is no unnecessary evil, that is, an evil that the world would be better off without. As Leibniz would say, if there is a God, then this is the best of all possible worlds.
3. But there is unnecessary evil. This is clearly not the best of all possible worlds.
4. Therefore God does not exist.

Now a lot of responses to the problem of evil employ two themes. One of those themes is that many evils in the world are not caused by God, but are the result of God's allowing creatures to act freely. If God makes us free to commit murder or not to commit murder, then God cannot guarantee that we not commit murder. Second, some things that seem evil from a temporal, present-day perspective may not be evils from an eternal perspective. So, for example, it may seem to me to be an evil that I have a certain health problem, but from God may see that there are elements of character that will improve within me if I suffer from this health problem.

The problem with Calvinism is that on the Calvinistic view God sovereignly determines the outcome of every action. And there are situations which persevere into eternity which very clearly could have been better. In particular, "Smith's going to hell" is a situation which goes preseveres into eternity and is not going to get better.

Consider what philosopher Douglas Jesseph calls "The World of Mr. Rogers."
In the world of Mr. Rogers, it's all a big happy neighborhood and everyone does what is right, and then go to heaven when they die. This world is obviously a better world than this one. Just ask anyone who has gone to hell and see if they wouldn't prefer the World of Mr. Rogers.

Do creatures in the World of Mr. Rogers act freely? If you accept the Compatibilist theory of Free Will, then they do. The Compatibilist points out that there is a difference between doing what you want to do, and doing what you don't want to do. You act unfreely if you are dragged in chains back to your jail cell. You act freely if you are listening to your favorite CD, playing your favorite game, watching your favorite movie, etc. When your actions and your desires match up, you are acting freely. If your actions and desires don't match, then you aren't.

Now suppose you have the desires that you are caused to have. God arranges it so that you always want to do the right thing. God controls your desires and then gives you the freedom, that is the power, to act out those desires.

Given this theory of free will, it is easy to see that God could still give us free will and nevertheless still be able to create the World of Mr. Rogers, where no one sins and no one goes to hell. If Calvinism is true, then that is exactly the kind of free will that God has granted us. Calvinists will often say that God has every right to punish us for our sins because, after all, it is not the case that we wanted to do the right thing and were forced against our will to do the wrong thing. Rather, we did what we wanted to do, even though we were predestined to do it.

Is the World of Mr. Rogers boring? Well, if it's boring, then heaven will be boring too, because heaven is supposed to be a sin-free zone.

The simple fact is that if Calvinism is true, then God could have created the World of Mr. Rogers, but sovereignly chose not to. Why?

At this point it is possible to now appeal to human limitations, either limitations in human knowledge or in human goodness. Even though we can't see that this world is better than the WMR, it really is better, even though some people are damned in this world and no one is damned in WMR.
I think these arguments from the limits of our knowledge have more force where the final outcome is unknown or inadequately understood. We know the final outcome in both worlds. Everyone is happy in the WMR and everyone gets saved. Many people suffer in our world and some are lost.

Another way of replying is to present a version of Paul's rebuttal from the Book of Romans, "Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?" Now if this is a version of the argument from the limitations of our knowledge, which I think it is, then it has some value, but not on a Calvinistic scenario. If however, it is a way of simply dismissing the argument from evil, it is a transparently question-begging argument. The AfE questions whether there is a God, that is, a being omnisicent, omnipotent, and perfectly good, to answer back to. We cannot assume that such a being exists in order to eliminate the question as to whether or not an OOP being exists.

But why would God want to give us any kind of free will other than the kind of free will that the compatibilist (and the Calvinist) is prepared to admit? The incompatiblist holds that human beings have the kind of freedom that is incompatible with our acting from a determining cause. If we sin, we could have done otherwise under the actual circumstances.

Consider a Star Trek I once saw. There was a man, who in the show was named Flint, who was born several thousand years BC, whose body was able to regenerate whenever it was damaged, granting him an virtually endless life. What that meant was that, over and over again, he saw his companions and wives die. He ended up on a planet in outer space where he decided to build the perfect companion, an android named Rayna. Rayna could converse with him on any subject imaginable, could be physically affectionate, but there was one problem. Its "love" for Flint was fully and completely determined by Flint's programming, and therefore was deficient as love. So Flint brought the Enterprise and Captain Kirk to the planet so that he could be a rival for Rayna's affections. (Captain Kirk was, in more ways than one, modeled after President John F. Kennedy--JTK, JFK. Say no more.) Anyway, since Rayna was an android, Rayna couldn't choose freely, and so fell over and became deactivated.

If God is love, then isn't there something deficient about love that is fully and completely determined by the one who recevies the love? If this is the case, then there is a good reason why a loving God might choose to give us incompatiblist freedom, even if this freedom results in sin and perhaps even eternal separation from God for some persons.

http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2005_03_01_dangerousidea_archive.html

***END-QUOTE***

Let’s return to his syllogism:

1. God, if God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good.
2. If there is a God, then there is no unnecessary evil, that is, an evil that the world would be better off without. As Leibniz would say, if there is a God, then this is the best of all possible worlds.
3. But there is unnecessary evil. This is clearly not the best of all possible worlds.
4. Therefore God does not exist.

The weak link is #2.

1.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is a best possible world, why is God obligated to create the best possible world?

The choice between better and best is not equivalent to a choice between good and evil. A second-best possible world could still be a world without any unnecessary evil. Indeed, it could be a world without any evil at all. Or does Reppert deny the possibility of alternative goods? Can’t there be more than one good state of affairs?

2.That brings me to the next point: why assume there is a best possible world? It’s like asking if a Gothic cathedral is better than a Byzantine basilica. Now, you can say that one Gothic church is better than another, or that one basilica is better than another.

But one type of architecture may have distinctive esthetic values which cannot be replicated in another type of architecture.

Is the common good the greatest good? What if there is no greatest good for the greatest number? What if there’s a tradeoff between a greater good for a lesser number, and a lesser good for a greater number?

Reppert says: “And there are situations which persevere into eternity which very clearly could have been better. In particular, ‘Smith's going to hell’ is a situation which goes preseveres into eternity and is not going to get better.”

No doubt the situation could have been better for Smith. But is what is good for Smith equivalent to the summum bonum?

What if a greater good for Smith entails a lesser good for Baker, Brown, and Jones?

3.In addition, what if greater goods are second-order goods, contingent on the evil abuse of first-order goods?

4.In fact, don’t we find this very theodicy implicit in the pages of Scripture? To take a few examples:

“It was not that this [blind] man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:3).

“Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this word, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind’” (Jn 9:39).

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20).

“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purposes I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth'” (Rom 9:17).

“What if God, desiring to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?” (Rom 9:22-23).

“But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal 3:22).

5.As to his final paragraph, there are a couple of problems:

i) As a matter of human experience, is love always a choice? Isn’t it natural for parents to love their children, and children to love their parents? As a rule, isn’t this a spontaneous and involuntary affection for our own?

ii) Reppert begs the question of whether it’s even possible for God to confer libertarian freedom on his creatures. There are some things God cannot do without ceasing to be God.

23 comments:

  1. Thanks for the fodder for an upcomming entry for myself to write, Steve!

    Anyway, hmmmm, does Reppert believe that in heaven we, like Rayna, can choose to love either God or Satan?

    ReplyDelete
  2. This chapter, Calvinizing Evil, from Scott Oliphint's new book might be of interest.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Vincent Cheung has written an article on this, based on this person's same objection:

    http://www.rmiweb.org/other/problemevil.pdf

    For a quick glance scroll down to "The Solution" on page 13 of the document.

    And excerpt from the Intro:
    "Although Christians have agonized over this so-called "problem of evil" for centuries, the
    argument is extremely easy to refute; it is one of the most stupid objections that I have
    ever seen, and even as a child I thought it was a foolish argument. Many people have trouble with the existence of evil not because it poses any logical challenge to
    Christianity, but because they are overwhelmed by the emotions that the topic generates,
    and these strong emotions effectively disable the minimal level of judgment and
    intelligence that they normally exhibit."

    ReplyDelete
  4. Vincent Cheung is a very learned Calvinist. I personally loved his defense of the sovereignty of God an the existence of evil in the article. Even though the stuff he said is hard for my flesh to accept, it's in the word.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi, I've been browsing the web on the "reformed theodicy". I read the article in question. I agree, however, that the reformed position is not convincing. There is actually no solution to the problem of evil.

    Kehrhelm Kröger

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