Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Putting God in a bubble

rogereolson says:

December 31, 2012 at 10:11 pm

It seems to me a key difference between Calvinism and Arminianism (and this difference existed also between, say, Luther and the Anabaptists) is that one side sees evil as having purpose above, higher than the purpose of the creature (e.g., selfishness). It has divine purpose, ultimate purpose. The other side regards evil as a surd, lacking any purpose at all. God can bring good out of it, but it has no divine purpose behind it. God never intended for it to come into existence.

Apparently, Roger Olson’s solution to the problem of evil is to place God in an airtight container, sealed off from evil. That way, evil never touches God. But there are multiple problems with his solution.

i) Given his other theological commitments to divine foreknowledge, creatorship, and providence, Olson cannot consistently deny God’s intention for evil to come into existence. The existence of evil is contingent on the existence of certain initial conditions. And the Arminian God has a hand in those initial conditions.

For instance, child murder is a stock example that Olson is fond of arraigning against Calvinism. He says the Calvinist God is morally monstrous for determining the occurrence of child murder.

However, if a child is murdered, then the Arminian God intended that to happen. That evil is the long-range result of things God did in conjunction with things the murderer did. By creating the world, God sets in motion a series of events leading up to the murder. And God knows the outcome ahead of time. So this isn’t an accident.

At best, Olson could argue that God didn’t directly intend the child murder. He could contend that that’s the incidental consequence of something God primarily intended.

Still, God knew that by doing what he did, the murdered child would be a side-effect of his creative fiat and providential governance.

ii) In addition, Arminians are committed to a counterfactual theory of causation. Arminians typically attack Calvinism on the grounds that a determined agent lacks the freedom to do otherwise. He lacks access to alternate possibilities.

But that, in turn, commits the Arminian to those alternate history scenarios in which something else will happen in the future because of something which didn’t happen in the past. For instance, World War I would not have taken place if Archduke Ferdinand of Austria hadn’t been assassinated on June 18, 1914.

That’s negative causation. On that definition, God’s inaction causes evil. As one philosopher explains:

It is common to talk about what doesn’t happen causing that which does and to talk about what does happen causing that which doesn’t. Examples abound. A lack of rain causes forest fires and poor harvests. Pushing the emergency stop on an industrial machine can prevent accidents. Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste can prevent cavities. Each of these cases describes a scenario where we are inclined to judge that an absence either causes or is caused. These are paradigm cases of a seemingly ubiquitous phenomenon — negative causation. Negative causation is either by prevention — causation of an absence — or omission — causation by an absence. We can also have prevention by omission. In short, negative causation occurs any time we have an absence as a cause, effect, or both.

Michael Hartsock, Absences as Causes: A Defense of Negative Causation, 2.

When the Arminian God allows the killer to murder the child, God’s failure to prevent the murder causes the murder. Divine inaction causes an alternate future in which something else will happen because of something God refrained from doing in the past. Negative causation is implicit in counterfactual causation. Certain future events occur, not only because certain past events occur, but because certain prior events don’t occur. If the past was different, the future would turn out differently. The absence of divine intervention causes a different timeline to unfold.

iii) However, let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that Olson could successfully isolate God from evil. That wouldn’t exonerate God. Rather, God would be culpable if he were that detached in the face of horrendous evil.

Suppose a homeowner has a swimming pool in the patio. He’s sitting outside on a beach chaise while his 2-year-old son is playing in the front yard.

Suppose he goes inside to take a phone call. He deliberately turns his back on the patio so that he can’t see what his son is doing through the sliding glass doors. After he returns to the patio, he sees the lifeless body of his son, floating in the pool.

The police come and question him. His defense is that he didn’t intend that to happen. Indeed, he deliberately put himself in a position where he couldn’t see what was going on. He had nothing to do with the tragedy. He made a point of having nothing to do with the tragedy. His son’s accidental death was a surd evil, lacking any purpose at all.

Would we conclude that the father is guiltless? Hardly. He is responsible for his young son’s death by drowning precisely because he went out of his way to isolate himself from that eventuality. He had a duty to be more attentive. To be more involved.

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