Friday, May 15, 2009

Freelancing the authorship of sin

For some reason, many theists imagine that Calvinism holds the copyright on the “authorship of sin.” They deploy this argument with seeming impunity, as if their own variety of theism is exempt from the same charge. What’s ironic about this charge is that while many a theist is busy using this argument against Calvinism, an atheist can easily redeploy the same argument against theism generally.

“The first of the two issues of consistency concerns the stipulation that, in this sense of God, God should, both be the infinitely powerful creator, and possess a will which his creatures can, and regularly do, disobey. The force of this question is frequently not felt, or not felt fully, because people either do not realize or forget the relevant meaning of Creator. To say that the Christian God is the Creator is to say, not only that he brought the universe into being out of nothing, but also that he is the constant and essential sustaining cause of everything within it. That is why the first of the Articles of Religion speaks of ‘the Maker, and the Preserver of all things both visible and invisible,’ and why it is possible for us to render that whole expression with the alternative two words the Creator,” A. Flew, God & Philosophy (PB 2005), 56.

“Once we are thus seized of the meaning of creation it becomes clear that the image usually offered as a resolution of the antinomy does not apply. This stock image is that of a Supreme Father showing long-suffering tolerance toward his often rebellious children: he has given us, it is said, our freedom; and we–wretched unworthy creatures that we are–too often take advantage to flout his wishes. If this image fitted there would be no problem. Obviously it is possible for children to act against their parents’ wishes. It is also possible for parents to grant to their children freedoms which may be abused, by refusing to exercise powers of control which they do possess. But the case of Creator and creature must be utterly different. Here the appropriate images, insofar as any images could be appropriate, would be that of the Creator: either as the Supreme Puppet-master with creatures whose every thought and move he arranges; or as the Great Hypnotist with subjects who always act out his irresistible suggestions. What makes the first image entirely inept and the other two much less so is crucially that God is supposed to be, not a manufacturer or a parent who may make or rear his product and then let it be, but the Creator. This precisely means that absolutely nothing happens save by his ultimate underdetermined determination and with his consenting ontological support. Everything means everything; and that includes every human thought, every human action, and every human choice. For we too are indisputably parts of the universe, we are among the ‘all things both visible and invisible’ of which he is supposed to be ‘the Maker, and Preserver’,” ibid. 56-57.

“It is often thought that a doctrine of predestination is peculiar to Calvin and to Calvinists, and that it is an optional extra to Christian theism. On the contrary” in the present rock-bottom sense it is an immediate consequence of basic theism; and one which, with greater or lesser degrees of discretion and embarrassment, has been recognized as such in doctrinal formulations and in the writings of other great theologians,” ibid. 57.

“As Creator he could not decide simply to leave to their own devices creatures already autonomously existing. He both designs and makes them in full knowledge and determination of all that they will ever do or fail to do. As Creator he must be first cause, prime mover, supporter, and controller of every thought and action throughout his utterly dependent universe. In short: if creation is in, autonomy is out,” ibid. 59.

“Why then is this vital conclusion so often ignored or even denies? Partly, no doubt, because the idea of creation is misunderstood…Mainly, surely, because theologians are no more than other men exempt from conflicts of desire…These common tendencies are reinforced by the conviction, which is for most of us for most of the time quite inescapable, that we are on occasion free agents: as indeed we are. It is, apparently, easy to mistake the implication. If in fact we ever are free agents, and if this is in a sense which is incompatible with being completely the creatures of a Creator, then what follows is: not that there may be a Creator liberally–albeit mysteriously–granting some degree of emancipation; but that there cannot be any Creator at all,” ibid. 59.

“There is, however, a way to give meaning to the notion of disobedience to God’s will (as much, that is, as can be given to any human notion applied in this context). But it is a maneuver for which there is a price to be paid when we come to consider the next question. In the human context we give sense to talk about what people want primarily by reference to what they do or would do in appropriate circumstances…We decide what a man–any man, including ourselves–really wants by determining what he would do if all obstacles were removed. But to creative omnipotence there are no obstacles. So what he really wants must be whatever actually comes about; and that goes for everything that is happening, including whatever we are doing. If, therefore, anyone wants to insist that some of these happenings, in particular some actions, are against God’s will; then this has, presumably, got to be done by reference to the consequences which he arranges, or would arrange, for different sorts of actions. All actions must, in the primary sense, be according to God’s will,” ibid. 60.

1 comment:

  1. Massive debate between Calvinism and Arminianism that took place between (mainly) Victor Reppert, Steve Hays, Paul Manata, and Dominic Bnonn Tennant.