Sunday, April 26, 2009

The authorship of evil

Is God the author of sin? Arminians often allege that Calvinism makes God the author of sin.

At one level, this accusation doesn’t amount to much because it’s just a metaphor. Since a metaphor isn’t literally true, calling God a metaphor doesn’t say anything unless you can define your terms.

I suppose they’re using authorship as a figurative synonym for causation. If God is the author of sin, this means that God is the cause of sin.

However, if that’s what they mean, it doesn’t do much to move the ball since we then need to define “cause.”

Human beings have an intuitive notion of causality. But the problem with raw intuition is that it can either be wrong or inaccurate. Philosophers try to refine our raw intuitions.

Here’s an attempt by three different philosophers to define causation: either the generic idea or a special case of causation.

The basic idea of counterfactual theories of causation is that the meaning of causal claims can be explained in terms of counterfactual conditionals of the form “If A had not occurred, C would not have occurred”.

In terms of counterfactuals, Lewis defines a notion of causal dependence between events, which plays a central role in his theory (1973b).

(2) Where c and e are two distinct possible events, e causally depends on c if and only if, if c were to occur e would occur; and if c were not to occur e would not occur.

This condition states that whether e occurs or not depends on whether c occurs or not. Where c and e are actual occurrent events, this truth condition can be simplified somewhat. For in this case it follows from the second formal condition on the comparative similarity relation that the counterfactual “If c were to occur e would occur” is automatically true: this formal condition implies that a counterfactual with true antecedent and true consequent is itself true. Consequently, the truth condition for causal dependence becomes:

(3) Where c and e are two distinct actual events, e causally depends on c if and only if, if c were not to occur e would not occur.


http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-counterfactual/


Negative causation occurs when an absence serves as cause, effect, or causal intermediary…So what is causation? What is it that positive and negative causation shares, and that misconnection lacks? The moral I would draw is that causation involves at least some aspect of difference making. In both positive and negative causations, whether or not the cause occurs makes a difference as to whether or not the effect will occur…causation has a counterfactual aspect, involving a comparative notion of difference making, J. Schaffer, “Causes need not be Physically Connected to their Effects: The Case for Negative Causation,” C. Hitchcock, ed. Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Science (Blackwell 2004), 197-214.

We normally classify as natural things which nature unaided by agency if given a free hand, would do or produce, and as artificial things nature, unaided by agency, would not do or produce (or would not do via the specific means in question)…counterflow refers to things running contrary to what, in the relevant sense, would (or might) have resulted or occurred had nature operated freely, Del Ratzsch, Nature, Design, and Science (SUNY2001), 4-5.

Let’s illustrate some of these efforts to define causation. A caged predator is in an artificial state. If I cage a tiger, that prevents the tiger from doing what it would naturally do. Put another way, I prevent the tiger from doing what it would otherwise do.

Conversely, if I release the tiger, I remove the artificial impediment which hinders it from doing what comes naturally. From doing what it would otherwise do absent the artificial restraint.

Likewise, if I dam a river, I prevent nature from taking its course. Prevent it from doing what it would otherwise do if left to its own devices.

Conversely, if I release the water, I then allow nature to take its course.

In examples of negative causation, involving a counterfactual theory of causation, events have a default setting in terms of what would eventuate absent artificial intervention.

Let’s apply this analysis to Calvinism. Arminians claim that Calvinism makes God the “author” of sin because the decree ensures the outcome. Given the decree, the human agent could not have done otherwise. And they think that element of “determinism” inculpates God.

But if God decreed the Fall, then does that make God the cause of Adam’s sin?

By way of answer, we might begin by asking if the decree makes a difference to the outcome? To answer that question, we’d also have to ask, difference in relation to what? A difference in relation to what would otherwise transpire had that outcome not been predestined?

But it’s hard to make sense of that answer when we’re dealing with God’s choice of merely possible outcomes. The decree doesn’t represent an act of divine intervention, whereby God prevents Adam from doing something he would naturally do if given a free hand.

Left to his own devices, there’s nothing in particular that Adam, as a possible agent, would do. A merely possible agent has no default setting. As possible agent can do as many different things as you can coherently hypothesize for him to do. And because these alternate possibilities are mere possibilities, there is no particular course of action which a possible agent would choose.

When God decrees the occurrence of a hypothetical scenario, it’s not as if he’s making the agent do something contrary to what the agent would otherwise do, if given a free hand. For there’s no one thing a possible agent would do.

Out of the various abstract possibilities, God is selecting one possible outcome to be the actual outcome. That divine action makes a difference in the sense that, absent divine action, there would be no outcome at all–but not in the sense that, absent divine action, Adam would do something else.

The actual outcome corresponds to one possible outcome, which God selected from other possible outcomes.

Some possible outcomes are random outcomes. A royal flush can be a random outcome. While a royal flush is improbable, the odds are that, sooner or later, a card player will be dealt a royal flush.

Suppose that God decrees a royal flush. In that case, the outcome is both random and certain. The decree ensures the outcome, yet the outcome which it thereby ensures is a random result.

There is a possible world in which a possible card player will be dealt a royal flush–due to random permutations of the combinatorial variables. If God selects that world, then the actual outcome will coincide with that possible outcome. The possible outcome is indeterminate, but the actual outcome is determinate inasmuch as the actual outcome realizes one possible outcome–to the exclusion of other possible outcomes.

The possible outcome is indeterminate inasmuch as there is more than one hypothetical outcome. There are as many hypothetical scenarios as God can coherently hypothesize.

Rolling the hypothetical dice results in different hypothetical results. Rolling the actual dice results in one, and only one, actual outcome since the very fact that it’s actual rather than merely possible means that God chose to instantiate that particular outcome. Possible outcomes could be otherwise, but actual outcomes could not be otherwise.

And while a possible outcome could be otherwise, that doesn’t mean a possible outcome would be otherwise. Indeed, that’s nonsensical.

27 comments:

  1. Steve,

    Let me try another thought experiment to see if I understand the view of causation you are discussing.

    Suppose you have a cone with a sharp tip and resting on the tip is a marble. We can say that the marble might roll off the tip to the right, the left, away from us, towards us, or in any direction between those four directions. Any direction it might take is as probable as any other.

    Suppose now that you tap the marble on its left side "causing" it to roll off to the right. But the marble could have rolled off to the right by itself. In this case, because not tapping it on the left side does not necessarily mean that it will not roll off to the right, it cannot be said that tapping it on the left side is the cause of it rolling off to the right.

    Is this correct?

    Jason

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  2. I’d draw a basic distinction between possibility and actuality. Considered in the abstract, the marble can roll in any direction. There’s a possible world for every direction in which it rolls.

    But an actual marble will only roll in one direction (although we may not know in advance what direction that will be). Our uncertainty regarding the outcome is an epistemic limitation, not a metaphysical indeterminacy.

    Actuality represents one possibility, to the exclusion of others. Actuality realizes one possibility, to the exclusion of others.

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  3. I have a few questions:

    1. How does mere decree ensure an outcome? By decree, I understand something like a 'plan'. Is this not what it is referring to? If it is, then the mere presence of a plan does not ensure anything, I would think. Would that not require taking steps to implement the plan - which is where causality comes in?

    2. Insofar as secondary causes are concerned, are these to be understood as impersonal causes?

    3. If occasionalism is false, and if one believes God imbues particles with their own causal powers, and if our bodies are constituted of these particles, then if these causes are impersonal, then are our actions determined directly by impersonal causes?

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  4. AMC SAID:

    “1. How does mere decree ensure an outcome? By decree, I understand something like a 'plan'. Is this not what it is referring to? If it is, then the mere presence of a plan does not ensure anything, I would think.”

    If it’s God’s plan for the world, then every mundane event will take place according to plan.

    “2. Insofar as secondary causes are concerned, are these to be understood as impersonal causes?”

    Personal agents as well as impersonal agencies.

    “3. If occasionalism is false, and if one believes God imbues particles with their own causal powers, and if our bodies are constituted of these particles, then if these causes are impersonal, then are our actions determined directly by impersonal causes?”

    That ignores the role of the human mind in directing certain corporeal actions.

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  5. Going back to God actualizing reality.

    "Left to his own devices, there’s nothing in particular that Adam, as a possible agent, would do. A merely possible agent has no default setting. As possible agent can do as many different things as you can coherently hypothesize for him to do. And because these alternate possibilities are mere possibilities, there is no particular course of action which a possible agent would choose.

    When God decrees the occurrence of a hypothetical scenario, it’s not as if he’s making the agent do something contrary to what the agent would otherwise do, if given a free hand. For there’s no one thing a possible agent would do.

    Out of the various abstract possibilities, God is selecting one possible outcome to be the actual outcome. That divine action makes a difference in the sense that, absent divine action, there would be no outcome at all–but not in the sense that, absent divine action, Adam would do something else.

    The actual outcome corresponds to one possible outcome, which God selected from other possible outcomes."

    A criticism of libertarian free will is that a completely free and undetermined act is essentially a random act, with no reference to what had gone on before (no train of thought or habit of mind would be the source of intent and subsequent action).

    In what you were discussing in the quote above, were you arguing that at every point in our existence God considers a range of possible (and coherent) actions and actualizes one of them, or that God considers (has considered) the entire timeline and actualized the whole of it (that is, all events in an actualized world proceed deterministically so it is a "package deal" from the beginning of that world's time to the end)?

    In short, how does determinism interact with God's actualizing one of a range of possibilities?

    Jason

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  6. Steve, Given the definition of causation as: “If A had not occurred, C would not have occurred,” would you mind explaining why works are not the cause of saving faith? Saying that “faith without works is dead” seems to be saying that "if works had not occurred, saving would not have occurred," therefore, works are the cause of saving faith. Thanks.

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  7. Both statements are true:

    No true faith without good works.

    No good works without true faith.

    Anyway, it's not a question of whether we apply a counterfactual theory of causation to James, but exegeting James on his own terms.

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  8. "Arminians claim that Calvinism makes God the “author” of sin because the decree ensures the outcome. Given the decree, the human agent could not have done otherwise. And they think that element of 'determinism' inculpates God."

    1. God decreed all events in our world and ensures that they occur.

    That is to say, we and our world never deviate from God's plan.

    2. As part of His plan, God revealed His Law to us (or embedded some of it in our hearts (Romans 2:14-15)).

    3. We disobey this law.

    4. God decreed that we disobey this law; our disobedience is part of the plan.

    When thinking through this, I come to the conclusion that "inculpated" might be too strong a word. God can do what He wants. But the fear of giving an account of my actions to Him goes away. Certainly God can have no complaint regarding our actions since He chose them. Yet, we have no claim on God and cannot demand that we get to go to Heaven.

    Things are the way they are, and the issue of who ends up in Heaven or Hell or pleasing or displeasing or believing or not believing is just drama.

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  9. JASON SAID:

    "But the fear of giving an account of my actions to Him goes away. Certainly God can have no complaint regarding our actions since He chose them."

    "Complaint" is a rather emotive term.

    More to the point, you fail to draw an elementary distinction between divine and human motives. God foreordains the fall for a greater good. However, the sinner doesn't sin for the greater good, or any good.

    Taking motives into account is a necessary element in evaluating the morality of a deed.

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  10. quantum said:

    Steve, Given the definition of causation as: “If A had not occurred, C would not have occurred,” would you mind explaining why works are not the cause of saving faith? Saying that “faith without works is dead” seems to be saying that "if works had not occurred, saving would not have occurred," therefore, works are the cause of saving faith. Thanks.
    AP said...

    Steve, wouldn't this have to deal with the difference between causes and conditions? I ask because in a few of his blogs, Ronald W. Di Giacomo has argued that men like Michael Horton who deny that works are a condition for justification have confused causes and conditions.


    More Confusion over the "Covenant of Grace" and "Conditions and Causes"
    http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/04/more-confusion-over-covenant-of-grace.html

    A Quick Elaboration on Conditions, Logical Order and Causes
    http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/04/quick-elaboration-on-conditions.html

    Prayer in Light of Causality and Sufficient Conditions...
    http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/04/prayer-in-light-of-causality-and.html

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  11. Steve said...
    More to the point, you fail to draw an elementary distinction between divine and human motives. God foreordains the fall for a greater good. However, the sinner doesn't sin for the greater good, or any good.

    Taking motives into account is a necessary element in evaluating the morality of a deed.
    1. How would one respond if an unbeliever (say an atheist) objects by arguing that an appeal to "the greater good" in an attempt at theodicy makes God

    a.) a consequentialist morally,

    b.) results in a form of morality that accept the adage "the ends justify the means"?



    2. What if an atheist points out that an appeal to the motives of men and of God doesn't solve the problem because as even Jonathan Edwards argued, we all choose according to our (greatest collection of related desires above lesser collection(s) of related desires, and that we do so because of) ****presently (i.e. currently) preceived greatest good*** (echoing Socrates)? [Emphasis on "presently PRECEIVED greatest good"]

    The point of course being, we all choose what is "good" (i.e. what we believe/preceive as "good"). How then can God judge us since all of our motives are "good" and have a "good" end/result?

    3. Would the difference then be in that human motives are based on finite knowledge and wisdom, while God's motives (and therefore decisions/decrees) are based on omniscience and omnisapience?

    4. But then, in what sense are God's decrees "good"? We seem to end up returning back to the Euthyphro Dilemma. That's why I'm puzzled as to why Calvinists tend to hold to divine essentialism (rather than divine voluntarism), to God being "A Law Unto Himself" (rather than being Ex Lex), and rejecting Divine Command Theory (rather than accepting it). [I'm not exactly sure what realism vs. nominalism has to do with this issue, but it always pops up in the literature].

    As a Calvinist with only an average IQ, I'm not dogmatic on these issues myself. However, it seems strange to me that there isn't more openness (among Calvinists) toward the positions of Ex Lex, Divine Command theory, and voluntarism. As you know, only a small minority of Calvinists have historically held to these type of positions. What accounts for the fact that a majority of Calvinists hold to the opposite view(s)? Are there good arguments in favor of the majority view, and good arguments against the minority view (that I'm obviously unaware of)?

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  12. ANNOYED PINOY SAID:

    “Steve, wouldn't this have to deal with the difference between causes and conditions? I ask because in a few of his blogs, Ronald W. Di Giacomo has argued that men like Michael Horton who deny that works are a condition for justification have confused causes and conditions.”

    Works are not a condition of justification. Faith is a condition of justification. Works are a condition of salvation.

    ReplyDelete
  13. ANNOYED PINOY SAID:

    “1. How would one respond if an unbeliever (say an atheist) objects by arguing that an appeal to ‘the greater good’ in an attempt at theodicy makes God __a.) a consequentialist morally.”

    Although teleological ethics (consequentialism) is inadequate as a stand-alone value theory, taking the consequences into account is a necessary element in moral deliberation.

    “b.) results in a form of morality that accept the adage ‘the ends justify the means’?”

    i) Sometimes the ends do justify the means. While it would be erroneous to say the ends always justify the means, it would be equally erroneous to say the ends never justify the means. Morality often has a goal-oriented aspect.

    ii) If you’re going to adopt an ex lex approach, then why would consequentialism be morally objectionable? The usual objection to consequentialism is that it’s too ruthless. But if you’re going to take the ex lex approach, then what does it matter if God is ruthless? For, on that view, God is above the law. (Not my own position. I’m answering you on your own grounds.

    “What if an atheist points out that an appeal to the motives of men and of God doesn't solve the problem because as even Jonathan Edwards argued, we all choose according to our (greatest collection of related desires above lesser collection(s) of related desires, and that we do so because of) ****presently (i.e. currently) preceived greatest good*** (echoing Socrates)? [Emphasis on ‘presently PRECEIVED greatest good’]__The point of course being, we all choose what is ‘good’ (i.e. what we believe/preceive as ‘good’). How then can God judge us since all of our motives are ‘good’ and have a ‘good’ end/result?”

    You’ve answered your own question by the way in which you parse “good motive” as a merely perceived good, which may actually be an evil motive.

    Given your equivocation of terms, God can justly judge an evil motive which is perceived to be good. Indeed, to perceive evil as good is, itself, evil.

    “Would the difference then be in that human motives are based on finite knowledge and wisdom, while God's motives (and therefore decisions/decrees) are based on omniscience and omnisapience?”

    The issue is not human finitude, but human fallenness. Not shortsighted motives, but sinful motives.

    “But then, in what sense are God's decrees ‘good’?”

    That question builds on a series of false premises. (See above.)

    “We seem to end up returning back to the Euthyphro Dilemma.”

    No, God doesn’t arbitrarily decree social ethics irrespective of the nature of social creatures. He has endowed us with a certain nature. The code of conduct is adapted to the way in which he designed us.

    “That's why I'm puzzled as to why Calvinists tend to hold to divine essentialism (rather than divine voluntarism), to God being ‘A Law Unto Himself’ (rather than being Ex Lex), and rejecting Divine Command Theory (rather than accepting it). [I'm not exactly sure what realism vs. nominalism has to do with this issue, but it always pops up in the literature]. __As a Calvinist with only an average IQ, I'm not dogmatic on these issues myself. However, it seems strange to me that there isn't more openness (among Calvinists) toward the positions of Ex Lex, Divine Command theory, and voluntarism. As you know, only a small minority of Calvinists have historically held to these type of positions. What accounts for the fact that a majority of Calvinists hold to the opposite view(s)? Are there good arguments in favor of the majority view, and good arguments against the minority view (that I'm obviously unaware of)?”

    i) The Bible doesn’t treat the will of God as a sheer will, insulated from his other attributes.

    ii) By the same token, God ceases to be admirable (if voluntarism is true). At that point we bow to his will because we must, and not because it is good.

    iii) Voluntarism is also bad pastoral theology. Even if you think it sounds fine in the abstract, it wouldn’t tide you over a personal tragedy.

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  14. Steve, that's what I've always thought. That's why i've been perplexed by Ron. Di Giacomo's statements. For exmaple..


    Regarding the second quote, Professor Horton, like so many others in the Reformed tradition, does not allow for a distinction between a cause and a necessary condition. {Sadly, such a lack of appreciation actually caused an unnecessary church split in my own denomination!} In fact he seems to underscore this problem by rightly stating: "But if they are not regenerated and therefore bear fruit, they have not been justified." Professor Horton is correct here in that if one does not bear fruit, then he is not justified. But this is to say (applying modus tollens) that if one is not not-justified (i.e. is justified), then he will not not-bear-fruit (i.e. will bear fruit) - which is to say, fruit is a necessary condition for justification(!) - which is the very thing Dr. Horton denies when he writes: "Faithfulness in the Christian life is in no way a condition of justification." Again, Professor Horton is thinking in causal terms, which must not be confused with terms for condition that contemplate states of affairs and not logical priority.
    http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/04/more-confusion-over-covenant-of-grace.html

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  15. Steve said...

    If you’re going to adopt an ex lex approach, then why would consequentialism be morally objectionable?
    This was supposed to be an objection against the traditional-like views by an unbeliever. Not by one who holds Ex Lex.


    You’ve answered your own question by the way in which you parse “good motive” as a merely perceived good, which may actually be an evil motive.
    And what determines a motive as "evil"?


    Given your equivocation of terms, God can justly judge an evil motive which is perceived to be good. Indeed, to perceive evil as good is, itself, evil.
    Of course. That's understood. You have to remember I don't take sides on the Ex Lex vs. God being a Law Unto Himself (though, obviously I reject God being Sub Lego).


    No, God doesn’t arbitrarily decree social ethics irrespective of the nature of social creatures.
    God commanded no work on the Sabbath. Violation of the commandment deserved (temporal) death (if not also eternal death). God also commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son (an atheist would argue that that command was not very "social" [grin]). While I agree that God's commands are always (in some way) rooted and grounded in God's good nature (essentialism), there do seem to be times in which God commands seeming arbitrary commands merely because as God he has a right to.

    Does that mean that such commands (think dietary laws for example) have no reflection of God's nature? No, I do believe they reflect God's character in some way, as well as having good purposes (for example, the training God's people in discernment).

    It seems to me that while all God's commands to his rational creatures would always reflect his holy character; the bare fact that God is ontologically higher and superior (highest and supreme) than us, means he can choose to give commands merely because he's got authority over us.

    So for example, given *mere* divine essentialism (which you may, or may not hold), I cannot see how God could supralapsarianly decree the damnation of yet to be people. Thomas Watson once wrote that God's nature is like the nature of bees. It's natural for bees to produce sweet honey, they only sting when provoked. Well, the non-elect (supra or infra) in no way provoked God. How then could a good/benevolent God ordain their damnation?

    Btw, I do lean strongly toward supralapsarianism (at least some form of it). That's why I don't even factor in infralapsarianism into the question.


    ii) By the same token, God ceases to be admirable (if voluntarism is true). At that point we bow to his will because we must, and not because it is good.
    What is "admirable" is person, heart/nature relative. Lions don't find doughnuts appealing, while yellow bald cartoon characters do ("D'oh!"). But I agree with you, that in most people, it could/would result in a loss of admiration, attraction and the preceived loveliness, sweetness and excellency of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.


    iii) Voluntarism is also bad pastoral theology. Even if you think it sounds fine in the abstract, it wouldn’t tide you over a personal tragedy.
    I agree it would be very problematic. That's why I find one example of Vincent Cheung's "counsel" for a hurting Christian as really sad (for both the "counselled", and counsellor).

    Human Struggle and Divine Sovereignty http://www.vincentcheung.com/other/struggle.pdf


    Btw, Vincent Cheung is starting a new work criticising Van Til again. It's just SOOOO sad. He'd be so much more useful he would just drop his Scripturalism.


    I guess what I"m asking is, "What is your answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma?"


    As you know, Socrates wanted to know the good regardless of what men and gods thought. He asked, whether the pious/good/holy is beloved by the gods because it is good, or good because beloved of the gods. Or as has been popularized by atheists, is what God commands good because they are good (in themselves), or good *because* God commands it. If the former, then there are absolutes outside of God. If the latter, then God's commands appear to be arbitrary.

    Btw, I typed that last part for the sake of other people. You (Steve) obviously know about these issues so much more than I do. That's why I love getting your input. It's informatve. I learn so much from your posts. :-)

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  16. ANNOYED PINOY SAID:

    “This was supposed to be an objection against the traditional-like views by an unbeliever. Not by one who holds Ex Lex.”

    If an unbeliever objects to a greater good defense, then he’ll also object to an ex lex defense.

    Conversely, if this is directed at believers, there’s no reason a believer should object to a greater good defense–especially since there are elements of the greater good defense in Scripture itself.

    “And what determines a motive as ‘evil’?”

    A gratuitous evil.

    “God commanded no work on the Sabbath. Violation of the commandment deserved (temporal) death (if not also eternal death).”

    And the Sabbath was “made for man.” It’s adapted to human needs. A creation ordinance.

    When individuals violate the Sabbath, they often do so at the expense of others, viz. requiring others to work on the Sabbath.

    “God also commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son (an atheist would argue that that command was not very ‘social’ [grin]).”

    That command has nothing to do with social ethics. And, in any case, it was a hypothetical scenario (unbeknownst to Abraham).

    “While I agree that God's commands are always (in some way) rooted and grounded in God's good nature (essentialism), there do seem to be times in which God commands seeming arbitrary commands merely because as God he has a right to.”

    Both examples you cite serve an obvious purpose. Nothing evenly apparently arbitrary here.

    “Does that mean that such commands (think dietary laws for example) have no reflection of God's nature? No, I do believe they reflect God's character in some way, as well as having good purposes (for example, the training God's people in discernment).”

    The kosher laws were typological. That, too, is purposeful.

    So is ritual purity and impurity, which signify moral purity or impurity.

    “It seems to me that while all God's commands to his rational creatures would always reflect his holy character; the bare fact that God is ontologically higher and superior (highest and supreme) than us, means he can choose to give commands merely because he's got authority over us.”

    God is not irrational. His commands are always functional in one respect or another.

    “So for example, given *mere* divine essentialism (which you may, or may not hold), I cannot see how God could supralapsarianly decree the damnation of yet to be people. Thomas Watson once wrote that God's nature is like the nature of bees. It's natural for bees to produce sweet honey, they only sting when provoked. Well, the non-elect (supra or infra) in no way provoked God. How then could a good/benevolent God ordain their damnation?”

    He damns possible sinners. The supralapsarian order doesn’t overlook the culpability of the reprobate. Rather, it answers the question of why God foreordained the fall in the first place. Guilt is not a sufficient condition of reprobation (otherwise everyone would be reprobate), but it is a necessary condition.

    “As you know, Socrates wanted to know the good regardless of what men and gods thought. He asked, whether the pious/good/holy is beloved by the gods because it is good, or good because beloved of the gods. Or as has been popularized by atheists, is what God commands good because they are good (in themselves), or good *because* God commands it. If the former, then there are absolutes outside of God. If the latter, then God's commands appear to be arbitrary.”

    I just answered that. Divine commands, divine creatures, and the divine creation which creatures inhabit coexist in a state of mutual adaptation.

    These are good commands because they are good for creatures, and they are good for creatures because God designed them a certain way. Good commands adapted to creaturely goods, and vice versa. Good commands adapted to the world he put them in, and vice versa.

    If he endowed creatures with a different nature, that would also involve a corresponding adjustment in the nature of the command.

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  17. Steve, as always, I'll not always point out where I agree with you.

    Steve said...


    If an unbeliever objects to a greater good defense, then he’ll also object to an ex lex defense.
    Theoretically it's possible for an unbeliever to reject the ex lex defense, yet nevetheless find it to rationally satisfy the requirement for moral grounding.


    Conversely, if this is directed at believers, there’s no reason a believer should object to a greater good defense–especially since there are elements of the greater good defense in Scripture itself.
    Agreed.


    AP said...

    “And what determines a motive as ‘evil’?”



    Steve said...
    A gratuitous evil.
    Sounds circular to me. A motive is evil, if it's gratuitous evil? Aren't we asking what makes it evil? How about asking what makes it "gratuitous"? An atheist would argue that ANY evil allowed to enter the world (how much more if ordained/decreed) would be gratuitous. In which case either God does not exist, OR the God that does exist could not be good (or at least not all-good/omnibenevolent). Moreover, they would still point out that you (we Christians) haven't yet answered the dilemma Socrates presented to Euthyphro. An atheist could then argue that a creature can do evil things too, so long as it's not gratuitous. She may even argue that if only Judas realised that his betrayal of Christ wasn't gratuitous evil, it would result in the act ceasing to be evil. But then, the Calvinist who knows that God ordains all things such that there are no gratuitous evils that come to pass, would then be free to commit any and all sins since he sincerely believes that the Sovereign God wouldn't allow to take place any gratuitous evil (regardless of the fact that in his finitude he doesn't know which particular acts are gratuitous or not).



    And the Sabbath was “made for man.” It’s adapted to human needs. A creation ordinance.
    Well, I don't believe that God still requires us to rest every one in seven days or that any particular day is set for worship. Though, I think for the sake of prudence and order the traditional adoption of the first day (commonly called "The Lord's Day") is a good (possibly Apostolic) practice.



    That command has nothing to do with social ethics. And, in any case, it was a hypothetical scenario (unbeknownst to Abraham).The point was that God can command things that have a counterintuitive sense of "goodness" or the promotion of society. As you admit, Abraham didn't know it was hypothetical. So he was morally obligated to attempt to sacrifice Isaac so long as God hadn't retracted the command. It would have been sin if Abraham didn't attempt to carry out and obey the command to sacrifice his son. The fact that God can retract commands itself suggests something like Ex Lex. Can God command a Divine Catch-22? Can God command someone to seek his damnation? He's literally damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. The closest thing I can think of such a case in the Bible is where Christ tells Judas to do what he's about to do quickly. But even then, it's questionable whether it was a command.


    Did not Abraham have the law of God (or at least the "*work* of the law") written in/on his heart? Wouldn't it include the command to preserve human life? What could countermand that other than something like Ex Lex. Namely, you are commanded to obey God's immediately applicable command even if such an immediate command may conflict with previous commands (general or particular).


    He damns possible sinners. The supralapsarian order doesn’t overlook the culpability of the reprobate. Rather, it answers the question of why God foreordained the fall in the first place. Guilt is not a sufficient condition of reprobation (otherwise everyone would be reprobate), but it is a necessary condition.
    Agreed, but why reprobate at all? Why would a "good God" reprobate at all? By "good" I mean "good" in a non-Ex Lex fashion. Which again begs the question of what is "good" or "goodness"? I tend to believe that what is good is grounded in both God's nature and God's will. That's why I don't understand why historically theologians have sided with one or the other rather than both.



    I just answered that. Divine commands, divine creatures, and the divine creation which creatures inhabit coexist in a state of mutual adaptation.
    What defines "adaptation" and "maladaptation"? I mean even Triabloggers have pointed out that dysteleology does not disprove the Christian God. I guess the burden of proof is on me to provide a (preceived) case of maladaptation (on non-Ex Lex grounds). Well, technically you're saying that God's commands are adapted to creatures. While the following comment doesn't directly address the adaptive nature of God's command for the reprobate, I think I've offered a dilemma for non-ex-lexers in asking why God would reprobate at all. On theistic non-Ex-Lexian positions, on first reflection, it seems unworthy of a "good" God to reprobate at all.



    These are good commands because they are good for creatures, and they are good for creatures because God designed them a certain way. Good commands adapted to creaturely goods, and vice versa. Good commands adapted to the world he put them in, and vice versa. "Good" for the creatures because benefitial? But the good commands of God doesn't result in any eternal benefit for reprobated creatures. Maybe for the greater good of the elect creatures. An atheist could argue that God's commands weren't "adapted" for the non-elect. An atheist could also argue that it would have been better for God not to have given any commands at all, that way no one would or could fall. But then that leads to the question of whether God was required to reveal his commands to his rational creatures (whether by the work of the law in the heart, and/or by the positive command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). Was God required to do so because goodness obligated him? In which case goodness (as an absolute) exists outside of God. Or was God not required to do so?

    Also, it still doesn't seem to me that you answered the question of what is "good" or "goodness". What is/are it's grounds. Whether it's an appeal to consequences, or the greater good defense (which is founded on the former), or the adaptation explanation, you seem to be defining the "good" based on benefitial outcome. But what if what is benefitial for the creature is not benefitial for God (or better put, pleasing to God, since God has no needs). Or what if what is pleasing to God is not benefitial for the creature (or at least all creatures, since some are elect)?

    Whether we're dealing with God's commands or God's degrees, we know that neither are benefitial for the non-elect. In which case, it appears that God's pleasure trumps the creatures' benefit. Which I have no problem with. Do you? I ask because you seem to locate "goodness" in the equal benefit of both the Creator and creature. But you would seem to have to know better since you're a supralapsarian. And so, again, I have to ask, how, on (also) non-ex-lexian grounds can a good, gracious, kind, God (all of which I believe) reprobate at all? Btw, I've believed in Common Grace ever since I became a Calvinist in (circa) 1996. I highly recommend the common grace debate between David Silversides and Ron Hanko (downloadable at audiosermon.com)


    It seems to me that there are at least four possible grounds for morality from a theistic perspective. 1. God's nature 2. God's will 3. God's knowledge 4. God's wisdom and rationality based on His knowledge. It also seems to me that all all four play a part in God's giving us his commands (when, what, to what degree, and for how long (since God can abrogate some laws like the ceremonial by fulfilling them in them in the anti-type)).

    That it's not essentialism to the exlcusion of voluntarism, or voluntarism to the exclusion of essentialism (for that matter, all four grounds emcompasses all your reasons too like the "greater good" defense et al.).

    I guess it's not so much that I disagree with you (I really cannot think of anything you've said that I would disagree with), but rather whether your account or the account of *mere* divine essentialism (i.e. alone; which may or may not be your position) is enough of an answer for me.

    You seem to have given me many examples of the good, or what goodness can result in or strive for, but not what it "IS" or its foundational source(s).

    btw, I can't seem to figure out how to end a paragraph with an end-italics tag and then begin a new paragraph using regular text with a space in between the previous paragraph (which was italicized) and the new one (not italicized). Can someone help me?

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  18. So my answer to the (central) question I posed for you, is that I believe that goodness/the good finds its source in BOTH God's nature and will. I believe that God can Decree, Do, and Demand (command) whatever He wishes/wills/desires so long at He Himself approves of it, and it's in keeping with His nature and attributes; and that this is the source of what is good for the creature. But isn't this just to affirm ex lex? In other words, God can do as his "good pleasure" pleases. In fact, I really don't see a difference (or real distinction) between God being ex lex and God being a law unto Himself. I don't think that Ex Lex takes away from the consequential considerations, or the greater good defense, or the concept that God's commands spring from the eternal and infinite/perfect intra-trinitarian love whereby each person loves the other two as He loves himself (which is a model for human functional subordination and love). Each person loving Himself and the other two incidentally fufills both of the commandments Christ said all of God's commandments for men hang, when applied to the persons of the Trinity (obviously the persons of the one God aren't required to love human persons as He loves himself, though after the incarnation the 2nd person of the Trinity does for non-deceased humans). This brings up another point. The reason for why it seems that the grounding of goodness has to go beyond the nature of God (or even the Trinitarian character of God) is because God (whether corporately, or individually) isn't required and doesn't love any human being to the same extent that He loves Himself. This seems to be because God, as a perfect being must love in such a way that it corresponds to the loveliness of the object. Since God is infinitely perfect, God must love God infinitely and perfectly (each divine person loving the other two in that way). Also, God must love inferior beings in an inferior way when compared to the way God loves the supreme being (and supreme persons). This is how it's possible for a good God to elect and reprobate humans.

    By this time, I've written so much that I doubt Steve is reading this paragraph. But Steve, I would be interested in knowing if you believe in Common Grace? I know you reject Dabney and Piper's two will in God view which I'm not disinclined to accept. Anyway, I think I should end it here. Steve, thanks for putting up with my musings and questions. I hope and pray your health improves. We need apologists like you around for a long time. God might not need you here, but WE (the Church) DO!!! I'm waiting for your book. When will you come out with your own book (if you haven't already)? I haven't been able to find a book with you as the author on Amazon.com for years. Apostate views like those of Loftus and Ehrman spread like wildfire merely because they officially publish books. We need your name on real bookshelves and not hidden in the blogosphere. Your brilliance shouldn't be keep hidden under bushel or bed. Seriously, can you think of another Christian who is as widely read as you when it comes to apologetical matters? It's precisely because many great apologetical authors need to focus on their narrow specialties that they cannot (due to time and resources) be as widely read or experienced in real rubber meets the road issues of apologetics. When you do write your printed magnum opus make sure to mention me in index ;-)

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  19. "'Complaint' is a rather emotive term."

    Yes, it is. But we seem to have a very emotive God. God is frequently described as very angry and desirous of destroying those who do not obey His commands.

    "More to the point, you fail to draw an elementary distinction between divine and human motives. God foreordains the fall for a greater good. However, the sinner doesn't sin for the greater good, or any good.

    Taking motives into account is a necessary element in evaluating the morality of a deed."

    I'm not asking whether God's actions or ours are moral or not. I am asking why God is angry. It is strange to decree all that occurs and then get angry about what occurs according to those decrees. Why does God get upset?

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  20. Jason, while most modern Calvinists deny absolute divine impassibility (as some of the Greeks held), traditionally Calvinists have interpreted those passages of God's wrath as anthropomorphically accommodated descriptions of God's attitude toward sin and sinners. Since God is timeless, and since God foreordains all that does come to pass, He can never be surprised, shocked, or upset in the ways we can be when unexpected and displeasing things happen.
    Steve has explained it better (than I could) in previous blogs.

    With regard to your question of God being the author of evil and sin, a minority of Calvinists have very little problem with saying God is its author. Vincent Cheung (and some other Clarkians) hold to divine occasionalism. Steve, and most Calvinists don't go in the direction of Clarkians to resolve problems of theodicy.

    Cheung (who can be described as a modified Clarkian, though I doubt he'd like that description) holds that God immediately controls all things so that God is directly the cause of all things. Including the mind, will, thoughts, emotions, decisions, and actions of all creatures (whether righteous or sinful). While I don't dogmatically hold to that position (since most Calvinists historically haven't), I'm open to the possibility that it's true. The fact that that Steve, Paul (and the other Calvinistic Triabloggers) don't take that approach makes me hesitant to take up the position firmly.

    Here's the to Vincent Cheung book "The Author of Sin" http://www.vincentcheung.com/books/authorsin.pdf


    I originally didn't want to bring this issue up because I didn't want to make Steve's job harder. Since it was mostly a conversation between you and him. But now that you're still posting after all I've posted, I might as well have brought up these things.

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  21. JASON SAID:

    “Yes, it is. But we seem to have a very emotive God. God is frequently described as very angry and desirous of destroying those who do not obey His commands.”

    Why are you raising objections for which there are obvious, predictable counterarguments? Are you just trying to be a nuisance?

    Calvinism recognizes the presence of anthropomorphic and anthropopathetic expressions in Scripture.

    “I'm not asking whether God's actions or ours are moral or not. I am asking why God is angry. It is strange to decree all that occurs and then get angry about what occurs according to those decrees. Why does God get upset?”

    Of course, that question is building on the false premise of your initial comment.

    Putting aside your straw man, I can approve of a particular outcome even if I disapprove of the players For example, it’s immoral for a Sunni terrorist to murder a Shiite terrorist, or vice versa. However, when terrorists kill each other, that’s still a good outcome–even if their motives were evil.

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  22. "Why are you raising objections for which there are obvious, predictable counterarguments? Are you just trying to be a nuisance?"

    Nope.

    Thanks for your time.

    Jason

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  23. AP,

    Thank you also for your reply and the link.

    Jason

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  24. ANNOYED PINOY SAID:

    “Steve, as always, I'll not always point out where I agree with you.”

    But that’s the best part.

    “Theoretically it's possible for an unbeliever to reject the ex lex defense, yet nevetheless find it to rationally satisfy the requirement for moral grounding.”

    Find me an unbeliever who actually takes that position.

    “An atheist would argue that ANY evil allowed to enter the world (how much more if ordained/decreed) would be gratuitous.”

    Gratuitous evil has a specific meaning in theodicean literature. It would then come down to a discussion of whether paradigm-cases of allegedly gratuitous evil can be shown to be divinely purposeful–either at a general or specific level.

    “Well, I don't believe that God still requires us to rest every one in seven days or that any particular day is set for worship.”

    In that case, you used a controversial example to illustrate your point–which begs the question.

    But even if you classify the Sabbath as part of the ceremonial law, the ceremonial law served a purpose. It wasn’t an arbitrary divine fiat.

    “The point was that God can command things that have a counterintuitive sense of ‘goodness’ or the promotion of society.”

    The question in dispute is not whether the command is counterintuitive, but whether it’s arbitrary–a law divine voluntarism. God’s command to Abraham was purposeful.

    “As you admit, Abraham didn't know it was hypothetical.”

    Which is irrelevant to the question of voluntarism.

    “The fact that God can retract commands itself suggests something like Ex Lex. Can God command a Divine Catch-22?”

    In terms of divine intent, this was a counterfactual command from start to finish. There was no shift in divine policy.

    The command served the purpose that God meant for it to serve. The fact that God intervened doesn’t represent a significant change, for the command was always instrumental in facilitating that particular outcome. Once the instrument served its purpose, it was discarded.

    “Can God command someone to seek his damnation? He's literally damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't.”

    Now you’re shifting from actual examples to prove your point to mere speculation. Is that a tacit admission that the actual examples fail to prove your point?

    As to speculation, one can always dream up a thought-experiment to illustrate divine voluntarism. But unless the thought-experiement corresponds to reality, it’s just an imaginary scenario with no probative value.

    “The closest thing I can think of such a case in the Bible is where Christ tells Judas to do what he's about to do quickly. But even then, it's questionable whether it was a command.”

    To betray Christ is not an inherently damnable act. In principle, a traitor can repent of his treason and experience spiritual restoration.

    “Did not Abraham have the law of God (or at least the ‘*work* of the law’) written in/on his heart? Wouldn't it include the command to preserve human life? What could countermand that other than something like Ex Lex. Namely, you are commanded to obey God's immediately applicable command even if such an immediate command may conflict with previous commands (general or particular).”

    We’ve already been over this ground.

    I’d add that belief in moral absolutes doesn’t mean that every divine command is a moral absolute. You’re equivocating over the nature of the obligation.

    A divine prohibition against murder is not what makes murder wrong. A divine prohibition against murder carries it own obligation, due to the fact that God commanded it.

    The fact that God issues a command creates an obligation. An obligation to obey God. Due to the nature of the person issuing the command. If he has authority over us, and that’s a legitimate expression of his authority.

    This, however, doesn’t mean that what is commanded is right or wrong simply because of who commands it. We also have prescriptions and prohibitions involving intrinsic goods and evils.

    And what makes them intrinsically good or evil? In some cases that’s due to the way in which God constituted human nature. How to treat our fellow man. In other cases, it’s due to the natural duties which the creature owes to his Creator.

    “Agreed, but why reprobate at all?”

    You’re posing a question which I’ve answered in the past.

    You also seem to confuse voluntarism with divine freedom. It’s not the same thing. There may be a range of alternately good outcomes. God chooses one to the exclusion of the others.

    But that doesn’t make the exercise of divine discretion an arbitrary act. These alternately good outcomes would all be purposeful. Would all be consistent with his wisdom. It’s not like making child molestation illicit on Mondays, but licit on Tuesdays.

    “What defines ‘adaptation’ and ‘maladaptation’?”

    Compare heterosexuality to homosexuality. The physiological preadaptation of men to women, and vice versa.

    Likewise, we have certain social obligations in Scripture because God designed us to be social creatures, with parents, children, siblings, &c. Angels don’t have the same set of social obligations.

    Likewise, some commands presuppose sense knowledge, which, in turn, presupposes a sensible world.

    “’Good’ for the creatures because benefitial? But the good commands of God doesn't result in any eternal benefit for reprobated creatures.”

    They don’t have to be eternally beneficial to be beneficial. If the reprobate obeyed divine commands, they would lead better lives.

    “An atheist could also argue that it would have been better for God not to have given any commands at all, that way no one would or could fall.”

    Better for whom? Not for fallen creatures. Apart from the fall there would be no fallen creatures–including the elect.

    “Also, it still doesn't seem to me that you answered the question of what is ‘good’ or ‘goodness’. What is/are it's grounds.”

    “Goodness” for whom? Divine goodness has reference to divine wisdom–among other attributes.

    Creaturely goodness can have reference to the way God designed us, or, in some cases, a good outcome.

    “Whether we're dealing with God's commands or God's degrees, we know that neither are benefitial for the non-elect. In which case, it appears that God's pleasure trumps the creatures' benefit.”

    Something doesn’t have to be good for everyone to be good. If a suicide-bomber accidentally blows himself up before he completes his mission (i.e. the explosive jacket goes off prematurely), that’s bad for the suicide-bomber, but good for his prospective victims.

    The fate of the reprobate is not for God’s benefit. Rather, it’s for the benefit of the elect.

    “I ask because you seem to locate "goodness" in the equal benefit of both the Creator and creature.”

    I do no such thing. God is not the beneficiary. And every creature need not be the immediate beneficiary. Some creatures mediate a benefit to others–like a reprobate father of an elect son. No father, no son.

    “And so, again, I have to ask, how, on (also) non-ex-lexian grounds can a good, gracious, kind, God (all of which I believe) reprobate at all?”

    There’s nothing incongruous about a good God who reprobates sinners. Justice is an aspect of goodness. The reprobate get what they deserve.

    God could give them a better fate, but God hasn’t wronged them by damning them.

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  25. Thanks for answering my questions Steve. I'll ponder your answers. :-))

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  26. Massive debate between Calvinism and Arminianism that took place between (mainly) Victor Reppert, Steve Hays, Paul Manata, and Dominic Bnonn Tennant. http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/06/calvinism-vs-arminianism.html

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