I appreciate Paul Manata’s recent post on probability and inexcusability. I’m going to second his position with a few supporting arguments of my own. In the process, I’d like to reorient the discussion a bit.
1.Before we discuss what renders a sinner guilty before God, it might be useful to discuss guilt generally.
i) Let’s take the insanity defense.
a) In my opinion, for a normal adult not to know the difference between right and wrong is culpable rather than exculpatory. A normal adult is supposed to know the difference. So, not knowing the difference between good and evil is, itself, evil.
b) But suppose someone commits murder because he has brain cancer. In that case, I think we’d agree that he’s in a condition of diminished responsibility. He’s not responsible for his actions.
c) There also seems to be a class of people, like Bobby Fischer and Ted Kaczynski, who work themselves into a state of mental illness. They weren’t always insane.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Kaczynski was clinically insane at the time he committed murder. Is that an exculpatory circumstance?
I’d say, no. He’s still guilty of murder because he is guilty of psyching himself into a condition of criminal insanity.
The analogy I’m making is this: suppose, for the sake of argument, that the unbeliever has successfully forgotten what he used to know about God. Does that render him blameless before God?
No, for he’s guilty of forgetting what he used to know about God. That, of itself, is an evil thing to do.
d) We might also use the example of a torturer or serial killer who’s become desensitized to the pain and suffering he inflicts on others. At the outset of his career, he felt a twinge of conscience about the way he treated his victims. But over time, he’s become callous and unfeeling.
Is that culpable or exculpatory? Clearly the former.
2.Now let’s approach this issue from a different angle. Can I be culpable if I fail to take reasonable precautions in some situations? Here, “reasonable” would fall short of certainty.
For example, if a hotel is on fire, should the firemen conduct a sweep of the hotel, floor-by-floor and room-by-room to see if all the guests got out in time?
Suppose the fire chief didn’t order them to do that. As a result, 20 guests died of smoke inhalation.
Suppose the fire chief justifies his inaction as follows: the firemen didn’t have time to knock on every room or check every room. They didn’t have time to check to see if anyone was hiding under the bed or cowering in the closets.
Since they didn’t have time to conduct a thorough search of the premises, there was no point in conducting even a cursory search since the results of a cursory search would be inconclusive.
We would still regard the inaction of the fire chief as culpable. Although any search within the time allotted (before the hotel burned down) would be less than exhaustive, he still had an obligation to make a good faith effort to do the best he could under the circumstances.
The analogy I’m making is this: even if, for the sake of argument, we say the unbeliever’s evidence for God is merely probable rather than conclusive, an unbeliever is still culpable if he responds unreasonably in the face of the available evidence.
I’m not equating this with Paul’s argument in Rom 1 (which is a separate question). I’m just discussing general grounds for culpable conduct.
3.Finally, Paul grounds culpability in more than one factor. Human culpability is overdetermined. The suppression of revelation is one ground.
But in chapter 5, he also grounds culpability in the sin of Adam.
That’s interesting because, unlike chapter 1, it doesn’t depend on the knowledge of the interested party. It might depend on Adam’s knowledge, but not on the knowledge of his posterity.
Of course, many people think that original sin is unfair. At the moment, I’m not trying to defend Paul’s argument (which I’ve done elsewhere). I’m merely discussing the Pauline grounds for guilt.
And, of course, Paul also grounds guilt in actual sin.
The upshot is that the unbeliever could be “inexcusable” for a number of different reasons.