Billy Birch has attempted a response:
“I am going to post a response to Steve Hays' (Triablogue) assessment of my post Perspectives on the Doctrine of God (Part Two of Two Parts), dated August 18, 2009. I delayed this response so that I could think long and hard as to whether I cared to engage with Hays' misrepresentations or misinterpretations of my words (yet again), to say nothing of his implausible use of logic and seemingly lack of knowledge of basic theological terms.”
The question at issue is not my alleged lack of knowledge, but the fact that if Birch is going to center his entire analysis on the use of a phrase in the Westminster Confession, then he needs to define the key terms.
“Hays is fond of discrediting me before I even earn a B. A. in Theology and English (double major) at The College at Southeastern (SEBTS).”
I haven’t questioned his credentials, or lack thereof. The point at issue is whether he has the temperament to be a church historian. To be a decent church historian, you must have a capacity to accurately represent positions you may disagree with. Thus far, Birch is far too hostile to Calvinism to accurately represent Reformed theology. At this point he lacks the requisite temperament. Perhaps he’ll outgrow it, but since he’s already 41 years of age, his formative years are well behind him.
“Yet Hays has had his own problems with scholarly documents in the past (see here, here, and here).”
Ironically, that illustrates my point. He tries to substantiate his allegation by referring the reader to a fellow Arminian epologist. All very in-house. Is that the sort of documentation he uses in his student papers? Notice, too, that he only cites Ben’s side of the debate.
“I was under the impression that any amateur scholar would understand the phrase ‘author of sin,’ historical or otherwise; but alas, I was wrong.”
i) Actually, I did a post on that subject several years ago, in which I review the French, Latin, and English cognate senses of the term:
It would behoove Billy not to underestimate his opponents. It positions himself for an embarrassing pratfall.
ii) In addition, there is more at issue than the definition of a word. There is also the connotation of a word. If I call someone a “Nazi,” we could simply define that term as “a member of the National Socialist party.”
But, of course, that misses the point. “Nazi” is a loaded word. A word with invidious connotations.
So there are actually several issues in play:
a) Does Calvinism make God the “author of sin”?
b) Is it unacceptable to make God the “author of sin”?
c) If so, does Armenians share the same odium?
“The word author denotes originality. Thus for someone accused of being the author of something, it connotes that he or she is the originator of that thing.”
Actually, I think the semantic range of the word is wider than that. But, for the sake of argument, let’s play along with that definition.
In Arminian theology, God is the Creator. He originated Adam, Eve, and Lucifer. He originated the environment they inhabit. And he originated procreation–which propagates sinners. So, on Billy’s definition, Arminian theology makes God the author of sin.
“It is interesting that Hays ‘offers no argument ~ Just raw assertion’ (using his own words concerning me). Hays is satisfied with quoting my words, presuming my erroneous judgment, and offering absolutely no counter-argument whatsoever.”
I don’t need to argue against an assertion. Since Billy didn’t argue for his interpretation, but simply asserted it, no counterargument is necessary.
“One would think that Hays did not read through the post competently, for clearly the Westminster Confession's own statement makes God the author of sin, since he freely and unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass by his own will and not by anything foreseen.”
Which is an example of what I mean. Billy quotes the Confession, posits his interpretation as if it were self-evident, then leaves it at that.
“I will make it even more plain. If one were to admit that God foresaw that I would write this post because he foreknew every detail about me, including every nanosecond of my life, and he then foreordained this writing, as opposed to distracting me and thus using that distraction so that I would not write this post, that would comprise a basic and simplified Arminian understanding of God's foreordination. God foresees the future because he is omniscient (all-knowing). He knows everything knowable about every living creature because he foreordained their existence. Had he not foreordained my existence then there would be nothing to know and hence nothing to foreordain. This is how Arminianism ‘exempts God from the accusation’ of being the author or originator of sin: sin was not foreordained merely by decree but by God's permittance of free will. But God, foreknowing the sin of his creatures, foreordained that it would be manifested (by the free will of the creature, not by mere decree). He also foreordained a plan to save his creatures from the results of that free choice to sin. Can God thwart sin? Yes, sin does not thwart God's plan. But this post is not dealing with the effects of sin and what God is or is not able to do concerning sinful acts. Categorically, we must adhere to the issue of what and why God has foreordained.”
Well, that’s pretty pathetic. Let’s make a few points:
i) In Arminianism, God foreknows the outcome.
ii) Even though God sees it coming, God still makes it happen. God instantiates the outcome by creating a world in which that outcome occurs. He actualizes that eventualtiy.
iii) By foreknowing the outcome, and by also instantiating the outcome, God renders the outcome absolutely certain. He creates a world in which that will happen. At that point it cannot be otherwise. The outcome is inevitable. And he made it inevitable by instantating that outcome.
iv) This despite the fact that it lay within his power to prevent the outcome.
v) Since God foresaw that outcome, but made the world anyway, inclusive of the foreseen outcome, then God must have intended that outcome.
vi) Therefore, according to Arminian theology, God both intended the sinful outcome, and rendered it certain to occur.
vii) Apropos (i)-(vi), if, for the sake of argument, Calvinism makes God the “author of sin,” then how does Arminianism avoid the same consequence?
“However, if one were to admit that God could not simply foresee the future (which is a denial of the doctrine of omnipotence).”
That’s fallacious. The question is whether Arminian theology, with its philosophical commitment to libertarian freewill, denies a precondition of omniscience.
“Consequently, even sin could not come about unless God strictly, freely and unchangeably foreordained (decreed) it.”
And, from an Arminian standpoint, sin could not come about unless God made the world–a world in which he foresaw a sinful outcome.
“Roger Olson writes: Does God govern by meticulously determining the entire course of every life, including moral choices and actions? Or does God allow humans a realm of freedom of choice and then responds by drawing them into his perfect plan for history's consummation?”
If God foresees the outcome, and God creates a world which exemplifies that outcome, then, at that point, human beings are not at liberty to act contrary to the foreseen outcome which God instantiated. He foresaw a world in which Adam did X rather than Y. He created the world in which Adam did X rather than Y. Therefore, this is not a world in which Adam is still free to do Y rather than X.
This is the world where Adam did X. God created the particular world where he foresaw Adam do X. If God foresaw what Adam will do, then the outcome is already certain. Moreover, even if you deny that logical connection, once God creates the particular world were Adam does X, then his creative choice locks that particular outcome in place.
“If God's sovereignty were already completely exercised de facto, why would anyone need to pray for God's will to be done on earth? In that case, it would always already be done on earth. The distinction between God's sovereignty de facto and de jure is required by the Lord's Prayer. . . .”
Answered prayers are one way in which God exercises his sovereignty.
“But Arminians reject the narrow definition of sovereignty ~ absolute and meticulous control ~ because it cannot avoid making God the author of sin and evil, in which case, Arminians believe, God would be morally ambiguous.”
And for reasons I’ve given, if Calvinism makes God morally ambiguous, then the Arminian alternative suffers from the same moral ambiguities.
Thus far Olson. Reverting to Birch:
“The word responsible means ‘being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it’ (Oxford). The word culpable means ‘deserving blame’ (Oxford). How embarrassing for Hays in not adequately thinking this one through. What is ‘inherently odious’ about stating that God is responsible for whatever happens is because whatever happens materializes from God's decree.”
And in Arminianism, whatever happens materializes from God’s intention that it happen, and his making it happen by his creative fiat–in full knowledge of the outcome.
God intends it to happen because he could prevent it from happening by not creating a world in which it happens. By creating a world in which the event is foreseen, he must intend it to happen. And by creating such a world, he brings it to pass.
“It is ‘inherently odious’ to state that God strictly, freely and unchangeably decreed the rape of an eight year old Liberian girl in Arizona.”
i) But according to Arminian theology, God intended that to happen.
ii) Moreover, according to Arminian theology, that outcome was unalterable. If it’s foreseen, it’s unalterable. What is more, if God instantiates that outcome by creating the world in which it will occur, then it’s unalterable–on that additional ground. Unalterable on two grounds.
iii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that in Arminian theology that outcome is not unchangeable. Very well then. If it’s changeable, then why didn’t God change it?
Why does Birch cite a case of heinous moral evil, fault Calvinism because it’s unchangeable (if Calvinism is true), then leave it at that?
What’s the problem with the case he cited? That the outcome is unchangeable? Presumably, an unchangeable outcome is only a problem if we need to change the outcome. If the outcome is intolerable. What’s the point of saying an outcome should be changeable unless the next step is taking to actually change the outcome?
Birch acts as if abstract mutability is a virtue in itself. But what’s the value of an abstractly mutable outcome unless the outcome is concretely altered?
Why would Birch bother to cite this event unless he thought it was a bad outcome? Indeed, morally unjustifiable at every respect? To say, according to Arminianism, that the outcome is hypothetically changeable while leaving the outcome in place is hardly adequate. A conceptual distinction which makes no practical difference.
iv) Suppose God merely “permits” evil. Either he has a morally sufficient or morally insufficient reason to permit evil.
But if he has a morally sufficient reason to permit evil, then he has a morally sufficient reason to decree evil. Any evil that God has good reason to permit, God has good reason to decree.
“(Wretched doctrine that it is, at least R. C. Sproul Jr. consistently admits that the logical conclusion that the Calvinist's determinism promotes is that God is the author of sin. Even though Hays opposes Sproul Jr.'s doctrine, and tries desperately to discredit him, using what is known as a genetic fallacy, the implications of his own theology inevitably proves Sproul right.)”
This is yet another example of Birch’s ineptitude.
i) Was I committing the generic fallacy? No. Just the opposite. People who cite R. C. Jr. just because of his last name are committing the generic fallacy. Appealing to R. C. Jr. because of who he is (in relation to a famous father) commits the genetic fallacy. My remarks were specifically countering that fallacy.
ii) Moreover, as I also said in that very post, my objection was by no means limited to that particular observation. I referred the reader to a post in which I critique the substantive claims–which Billy conveniently ignores.
“Again, however, we cannot allow Hays (or any Calvinist) to distract us from the main point of what God has foreordained and why by insisting that in the Arminian tradition God could have prevented the rape by divine intervention. That is not the point here, and it is nothing more than a smoke screen to disguise and conceal the fact that the Calvinist's view of God is that he foreordained the rape, not by foreknowledge of free will action but by decree!”
i) To begin with, I’ve discussed the theodicean implications of predestination on many occasions. So it’s not as if I’m deflecting attention away from a direct response to that issue.
ii) I understand why Birch wants to limit all discussion to the theodicean implications of Calvinism, while avoiding a discussion over the theodicean implications of Arminianism. He’s trying to attack our flank while protecting his own.
However, he doesn’t get to feign indignation over the theodicean implications of Calvinism (as he sees it) while exempting his own position from moral scrutiny. If Calvinism is fair game, then so is his alternative.
“The notion that God was ‘able, but unwilling, to prevent a world containing sinners’ betrays God's initial intention. Hays himself has ‘turned a blind eye’ to the fact that Adam and Eve exercised free will in the Garden ~ free will given by God himself ~ Adam and Eve were not robots (and notice that their exercise of free will did not detract from the glory of God).”
i) Which corroborates my point that, according to Arminianism, God was able, but unwilling, to prevent evil. The claim that Adam and Eve had libertarian freewill is irrelevant. Even if they had libertarian freewill, this doesn’t change the fact that God was able, but unwilling, to prevent them from sinning–and thereby introduce horrendous evil into the world.
ii) And notice what an utterly lame theodicy he’s offering. If God gave X libertarian freewill, then that’s supposedly a sufficient reason for God not to intervene thereafter.
Imagine if we applied Billy’s logic to a schoolyard sniper. Suppose I take my son along with me when I go hunting. I teach him how to use a rifle. Suppose my son goes postal one day and starts shooting his classmates.
Should the policemen say, “We can’t do anything to stop him. That would violate his freedom of choice. Sure, it’s tragic if he murders a dozen of his classmates, but, hey, that’s the price you pay for libertarian freewill. We mustn’t interfere!”
“But again, the subject at hand is what and why God foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. Hays wants to distract his readers with this red herring.”
Birch would like to make that the subject at hand so that he can duck the theodicean implications of his own position. Remember, though, that Birch presents Arminianism as an alternative to what is unacceptable in Calvinism. Therefore, the question of whether Arminianism is prey to comparable objections is hardly a red herring.
Birch wants to charge the Calvinist a toll while giving himself a free ride. While I understand his temptation, real life doesn’t work that way.
“It never ceases to amaze me the amount of philosophy it takes to buttress the system of Calvinism. For most Calvinists to suggest that Calvinism is merely a biblically exegetical system is to admit schizophrenia.”
I wasn’t using philosophy to buttress Calvinism. I was responding to Birch on his own terms.