Monday, March 12, 2012

Olson's false dichotomy

I'm going to comment on this post:


I've already responded to Olson on his own grounds. Now I'll respond to him on my grounds:

Think of the possible alternatives.
Option 1: God chose those particular, specific towns to destroy with those tornadoes (his “fingers”) because of something about them.
Option 2: God chose those particular, specific towns to destroy with those tornadoes (his “fingers”) randomly. (Like the TV reporter who blindly throws a dart at a map of the U.S. and then goes to the location to find a story.)
Option 3: ?
I can’t think of a third option that doesn’t fit within one of the first two. Can you?

That’s a false dichotomy. For instance, Job’s family died in natural disasters, but that wasn’t either punitive or arbitrary. That had an ulterior purpose, but it wasn’t divine judgment. Likewise, the congenital blindness of the man in Jn 9 wasn’t either random or punitive. So Olson’s objection is simpleminded.

IF that’s true, then, I ask, why ever be upset about such things? Why react emotionally or with righteous indignation as if something happened that shouldn’t have happened? After all, God’s ultimate purpose in everything is his glory. (I demonstrate that that also is the traditional Calvinist view and I have asked many Calvinists if it’s their view and the answer has always been yes.) So, one who believes that has to say that the holocaust and the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of a two-year-old child glorify God. Then why object to them? Why oppose them? Why blame the perpetrators? Why try to prevent them?

i) How is that inconsistent with predestination? If predestination is true, and Calvinists react indignantly to the Holocaust, then their indignant reaction was also predestined. The entire package was predestined–not merely the event, but the reaction to the event.

If predestination is true, and we successful prevent a crime, then we were predestined to prevent the crime.  If predestination is true, and we oppose the rapist, then we were predestined to oppose the rapist.

Predestination doesn’t stop you from “trying” to do something. If you try, you were predestined to try. If you succeed, you were predestined to succeed, and if you fail, you were predestined to fail. Olson is confusing predestination with fatalism.

Olson is such a fuzz brain.

ii) Predestination doesn’t mean we must feel the same way about whatever happens as God does. God is God and man is man. We have reactions suited to our creatureliness. Something may naturally bother you and me that doesn’t bother God. If a field medic has to amputate my injured arm without anesthetic, I will find that experience highly disagreeable. But the fact that I’m in physical pain doesn’t mean God feels the same way about the operation. Although God knows what I experience, God doesn’t experience what I experience.

iii) It’s possible to feel more than one way about the same event. For the same event may be good in some respects, but bad in other respects. It may be evil in itself, but have some beneficial and compensatory consequences down the line. 

12 comments:

  1. “We have reactions suited to our creatureliness.”

    What’s that supposed to mean? We react to events in accordance to how we think about them. If, as a Calvinist, I think that every event happens exactly the way it is supposed to happen, then why should I feel indignant about anything? Why should I get angry about anything?

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  2. I supplied an example of what I meant. Pay attention.

    I also pointed out that it's often simplistic to view an event from only one perspective. Pay attention.

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  3. Reacting to having your arm amputated in the field without anesthetic is not the same as how a person thinks about the events that Olson described. Furthermore, if a field medic had to amputate my injured arm without anesthetic for my best interest, I would find the pain of the experience highly disagreeable, but would likely agree with the field medic’s thinking on the matter.

    “I also pointed out that it's often simplistic to view an event from only one perspective.”

    Do you believe that the event happened exactly as it was supposed to happen or don’t you?

    If, as a Calvinist, I think that every event happens exactly the way it is supposed to happen, then why *should* I feel indignant about anything? Why *should* I get angry about anything?

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  4. Calvinists agree that God has a good reason for decreeing moral and natural evils as a means to second-order goods. We approve of God's plan.

    The author of Lamentations can find the sack of Jerusalem appalling, yet also attribute that event to God and commend God's wisdom and goodness:

    "37 Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? 39 Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?" (Lam 3:37-39).

    To say everything happens exactly as it was supposed to is ambiguous. In a teleological arrangement, you have to distinguish between the nature of something considered in isolation, and the nature of something as it contributes to something better (or worse, as the case may be).

    Evil men do evil things. They are motivated by evil intentions. We can be justly indignant at their behavior.

    By contrast, God decrees their behavior for worthwhile reasons. Evildoers are blameworthy while God is praiseworthy.

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  5. Not to mention Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers.

    "You meant it for evil, God meant it or good."

    Or does Olson's bible read "You meant it for evil, and God allowed it because he saw the future and knew that I would one day go to Egypt and save a bunch of people, and become a blessing to you all. If God would have really meant to sell me into slavery, even for a good outcome, he's a moral monster!"

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  6. Likewise, as I already pointed out, Olson's objection backfires. If the Arminian God has a good reason for allowing moral and natural evils, then isn't an Arminian implicitly criticizing God's judgment when he (the Arminian) expresses his disapproval of a rapist or murderer?

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  7. JACK515 SAID:

    "Furthermore, if a field medic had to amputate my injured arm without anesthetic for my best interest, I would find the pain of the experience highly disagreeable, but would likely agree with the field medic’s thinking on the matter."

    Somehow I doubt you'd be that charitable in the midst of the operation.

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  8. 1
    If, as a Calvinist, I think that every event happens exactly the way it is supposed to happen, then why *should* I feel indignant about anything? Why *should* I get angry about anything?

    Here's how some Calvinists like myself answer this. From God's omniscient and omnisapient perspective, He has only one will. But from our creaturely perspective (as it is informed by God's revelation) God has at least two or more wills. A useful analogy would be like how white light can be divided into various colors by the use of a prism. There's God's 1. will of Decree, 2. will of Demand/command (also known as His revealed will or preceptive/prescriptive will), and some Calvinists say there's 3. God will of Delight or or his benevolent Dispositional will. I might even add more, but 3 is sufficient.

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  9. 2
    By God's dispositional will (i.e. #3), all things being equal, God desires to bless His creatures. But all things considered, God has decreed and purposed (i.e. #1) to allow evil and sin to enter the world in order to achieve certain second-order goods (as Steve has said). By God's revealed will (i.e. #2), we come to know what God demands/requires of us to do, of us to expect, and of us to desire. That's because God's revealed will always reflects God's character and benevolent dispositional will to some degree (both in the Old Covenant, and especially in the New Covenant). For example, from God's revealed will, He teaches/commands us to promote human life and love our neighbor. Therefore, we should live our lives trying to make things better for human society (both individually and collectively). And therefore, when human life is injured or destroyed, we ought to mourn that. We (Christian or non-Christian) are commanded by God to fight against evil (both moral and natural) because they are contrary to God's Revealed will. And since the coming of Christ, we Christians (as His body) are to join Christ in His mission to bless the world. Or as the Hymn says it, "He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found."

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  10. 3
    Often in discussions on God's sovereignty, we forget to mention a crucial element that helps explain why some of the evils in the world occur. Why the seeming gratuity of much of it. That element is the fact that we also live in a fallen world where, because of the "Fall", "The Curse" has entered our world. "The Curse" is God's original judgement on humanity for the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. The Curse now allows for moral and natural evils, as well as their evil consequences to breakout and flourish unhindered. Because of the guilt of our race, God can, all the more sovereignly withhold protection from evil that He might otherwise have protected us from if we (as a race) had never fallen (e.g. tornados, earthquakes etc.). The Good News of the Gospel is that Christ, by His life and His death on the Cross, came to deliver us from all evil that springs from 1. the original Curse pronounced in paradise, 2. evil that springs from others and ourselves, 3. the "Curse of the Law", which is God just punishment for our sins. This promised salvation (for those who believe) is ultimately and fully granted in the afterlife. But often, in God's superabundant kindness, He grants foretastes of that salvation (in its various forms) in varying degrees in this life.

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  11. 4
    So, even though everything that happens in the world is by God's design and plan, there is another sense in which, the evil that happens in this world is "not the way it ought to be" with respect to God's 1. REVEALED WILL and 2. with respect to God's revealed ORIGINAL PLAN for Paradise (in the Garden of Eden). There's a sense in which Adam and Eve and their children should not have fallen and therefore would have experienced a blessed life on earth. We ought to long for a return to that universal peace and blessedness. This is the case even though God always intended for the Fall to occur. The type of the Garden of Eden is obviously fullfilled in the future antitype of the New Heavens and New Earth in which righteousness/justice dwells.

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  12. 5
    BTW, my mentioning of the Fall was not in order to diminish or deny God's responsibility OR control over what happens in the world. I affirm God is responsible for (and in control of) all that happens in the world (including the evil), even if He's not blameworthy for the evil. With or without the Fall, God has the Sovereign right to do what He wills in His creation (cf. Matt. 20:15a). As Calvinists, we need to avoid two extremes. The one extreme is to have an indifferent apathetic attitude toward evil since (i.e. in light of the fact that) all things are (ultimately) working for the good of the elect (which is true). The other extreme is being so agitated and disturbed by the evil in the world that you lose trust in God's goodness, wisdom, and faithfulness.

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