The Society of Evangelical Arminians, that beacon of moral and theological discernment, is plugging a post by Randal Rauser:
Arminians like to point out that according to Calvinism God elects some people to damnation.
Calvinists like to point that out too. Reprobation isn’t something we’re ashamed of.
Of course some Calvinists try to soften this teaching by claiming that the election to damnation is a passive divine act according to which God simply “passes over” and thereby opts not to redeem these people.Unfortunately this shift in nomenclature doesn’t really make the divine act of election to damnation passive in an ethically significant way. Indeed, it calls to mind James Rachels’ famous thought experiment on passive euthanasia so I’m going to borrow from that thought experiment to make my point.Imagine that Bob decides that old Mr. Jones should die. There are two ways Bob could bring about Mr. Jones’ death.Scenario 1: Bob drowns Mr. Jones in the bathtub.Scenario 2: Bob witnesses Mr. Jones slip in the bathtub and stands by passively as Mr. Jones drowns.Scenario 1 may result in Bob’s legal culpability in a way that scenario 2 does not (though for regions with a Good Samaritan law Bob may bear some legal culpability in scenario 2 as well). But few will dispute that Bob’s moral culpability in Mr. Jones’ drowning is equivalent in scenarios 1 and 2.When the Calvinist avers that God passes over the reprobate, thereby refusing to impute to them the righteousness of Christ which will result in their salvation, the divine withholding parallels Bob’s withholding of life-saving aid to Mr. Jones. Just as God withholds divine aid to result in reprobation so Bob withholds human aid to result in death.
But the thought-experiment disregards the fact that Jones is wicked. Even at a merely human level, there are situations in which we have no duty to save someone’s life. Suppose the man who slips in the bathtub is a Mafia Don or malevolent dictator. Suppose he’s an “abortion provider.” Am I under some obligation to save his life? By saving his life, I will indirectly take the lives of innocent people whom he will subsequently murder.
I didn’t create the life-threatening situation. But given the situation, that might be a godsend.
At this point the Calvinist might raise the following tu quoque objection. “Arminianism faces a similar problem,” he says. How so? “On the Arminian view God foreknows who will freely reject him and yet he still elects to create those people knowing that they will be reprobated. That isn’t any different.”The objection reveals an important confusion. Let’s say that there are ten people. 1-5 are elect and 6-10 are reprobate. On the Calvinist view God could have elected all to salvation but opted not to. In other words, on the Calvinist view there is a possible world in which 1-10 are elect. But God opted not to create that world.Things are very different on the Arminian view. On this view there may be no possible world in which 1-10 are elect because there is no possible world in which 1-10 repent. That’s an important difference.But still, the Calvinist does have a point, doesn’t he? Why didn’t God just create a world with 1-5 so that everybody would be elect? The problem with that suggestion is this: there is no reason to think that 1-5 would all be elect in a world where only 1-5 exist.Let’s say, for example, that in the actual world Smith is reprobate and Smith Jr. is elect. Could God create a world in which Smith doesn’t exist but Smith Jr. does? Let’s assume that he can. Still, does it follow that in that alternate world (or, more specifically, in that subset of worlds in which Smith doesn’t exist but Smith Jr. does) that Smith Jr. is elect? This doesn’t follow. It may indeed be the case that in every possible world in which 1-5 exist but 6-10 do not that not all of 1-5 are elect.In conclusion, the Calvinistic view deals a heavy blow to any doctrine of omnibenevolence and consequently faces a unique problem not faced by the Arminian.
i) First of all, Rauser hasn’t given us any tangible reason to think that out of all the gazillions of possible worlds, there’s not a single world in which everyone freely believes in God. Why should we think that’s a plausible scenario?
ii) And if it only “may” be the case that there is no such world, then it “may” equally be the case that there is one or more such worlds. So why does Rauser lay so much weight on a guess?
iii) In any event, Rauser’s comparison fails on its own terms. For he framed the comparison in terms of divine “omnibenevolence.” But if the Arminian God knowingly creates a world in which some people will be damned, then he’s not being benevolent to them.
However, let’s go back to the original post, which includes some of Rauser’s comments:
Before God creates he surveys the range of possible worlds which have people who freely repent and he opts to create one of those worlds which achieves as optimal a balance of saved over loss as is possible.
But in that case, the Arminian God is not omnibenevolent. For he’s not benevolent to the lost. He’s not acting in their best interests. To the contrary, he’s harming them. He has sacrificed their welfare for the benefit of the saved. On that view, God is utilitarian rather than omnibenevolent.
This is simply a description of transworld depravity…
What positive evidence is there to think transworld depravity is real?
I don't think that God could have achieved the goods he wants to achieve without the evil of hell (i.e. some creatures in rebellion against him). If he could have achieved that good without hell he surely would have.
But in that case, God’s goals conflict with omnibenevolence, and his goals take precedence over omnibenevolence. The Arminian God achieves the goods he wants to achieve at the expense of the damned. His goals override their wellbeing. He squashes anyone who gets in the way of his goals. His goods aren’t good for them. His goods are bad for them.
I'm an annihilationist. That means I believe in a general resurrection to a judgment that culminates in the complete destruction of the unregenerate individual (i.e. "capital punishment).
How is annihilationism omnibenevolent? Rauser may think it’s nicer than everlasting punishment, but that doesn’t make it omnibenevolent in its own right.
If God is omnibenevolent, why does he need to punish anyone? Why would an omnibenevolent God punish unbelievers for being unbelievers? Why destroy them just because they reject him? How is that benevolent? Why not let them continue to exist on their own in some part of the universe?
If God is omnibenevolent, wouldn’t remedial punishment be the only type of punishment he metes out? Punishment intended to help rather than harm?
So what’s the point of annihilationism? It’s not remedial punishment. Seems purely vindictive from the standpoint of someone who espouses omnibenevolence.