Paul Copan has written a little critique of R. C. Sproul Jr. on the problem of evil:
For the most part I’m not going to comment directly on Copan or Sproul Jr. I’m more interested in questioning one of the underlying assumptions.
1. Before we get to that I will comment on one of Copan’s statements:
Sproul Jr., however, wants to get to the bottom of the matter and weigh in on what he takes to be the source of evil: God! Shocked? I certainly hope so.
Whether this is shocking or not depends on how you define your terms. The simple fact that God is the Creator of the world makes him the ultimate source of evil in the derivative sense that, if he hadn’t made the world, the fall would not have taken place. This conclusion is unavoidable whether you’re a libertarian or determinist.
It’s a necessary (albeit insufficient) condition for evil to occur. And God alone is responsible for that condition.
If, however, you mean that God is the sole source of evil, the sufficient condition, then that would be false.
“Source” is very vague. There are different ways of causing things to happen. We can all dream up hypothetical examples in which a certain type of cause would render the agent morally complicit.
On the other hand, we can also dream up hypothetical examples in which a certain type of cause would not render the agent morally complicit.
I’ve discussed this many times in the before, so I won’t repeat myself here. I’m just pointing out that this objection suffers from fatal ambiguities.
2. Let’s move on to something new. Copan quotes a passage from R. C. Sproul Sr.:
Herein lies the problem. Before a person can commit an act of sin he must first have a desire to perform that act. The Bible tells us that evil actions flow from evil desires. But the presence of an evil desire is already sin. We sin because we are sinners. We were born with a sin nature. We are fallen creatures. But Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know (Chosen by God , p. 30).
The problem here is that this is also ambiguous. What does it mean to have an evil or sinful desire? Let’s take something we all understand: sexual desire.
Consider the hypothetical case of a sinless husband.
i) Is it possible for a sinless husband to find other women (i.e. women other than his wife) desirable?
I don’t see why not. Isn’t what makes them desirable a natural good?
ii) But isn’t that an evil desire? An adulterous desire?
Adultery is sin. If he finds another woman desirable, isn’t his desire sinful? Illicit?
He desires something that God forbids. Isn’t that paradigmatically evil?
iii) Not necessarily, because, once again, this is ambiguous. It confuses psychology with logicality. Sin involves sinful motives.
Logically speaking, if you desire something that God forbids, then you wish to break God’s law, which is evil. Your desire is logically illicit.
But psychologically speaking, the husband doesn’t wish to break God’s law. Breaking God’s law is not the object of his desire. The object of his desire is the woman.
It’s the woman he finds attractive or unattractive, not the prohibition. He desires the woman. He has no desire to violate God’s law in the process. That is not his motive.
One desirable woman happens to be his wife, while another desirable woman happens to be single, someone else’s wife. Their marital status is incidental to his desire. That’s not what makes them desirable or undesirable.
Or let’s take a less loaded example. A single woman who wants to be a mother. She sees other women with children, and she finds their children desirable.
Is that an evil desire? Does this mean she wants to kidnap their kids?
That would be a very convoluted charge. There’s nothing wrong with a woman finding another woman’s children desirable. That’s a natural good. A perfectly normal, healthy maternal instinct.
iv) It is, of course, quite possible for someone to want to defy God’s law for its own sake. There are situations in which breaking God’s law is the object of desire.
In that sense, human beings are quite capable of entertaining evil desires. Some sinners revel in breaking God’s law just because it’s God’s law.
There are also men who want to commit adultery. Not merely that they find another woman appealing. They find adultery appealing. For them, adultery itself is part of the appeal. That, too, would be an evil desire.
v) My point is that we need to distinguish an evil desire, which involves a desire to commit evil, from desiring a forbidden good.
Once we draw that distinction, I don’t find the fall of Adam and Eve, or Lucifer, all that mysterious. God doesn’t need to give a sinless agent a sinful desire to kick-start the possibility of sin.