Monday, April 25, 2011

Intentional permission

Roger Olson has done a post on the problem of evil.

But it’s hard to make any sense of his position.

i) On the one hand he repudiates the principle that nothing happens which God did not intend to happen.

On the other hand, he doesn’t spell out his alternative. He mentions freewill and divine permission in passing. But if that’s his alternative, doesn’t that merely kick the can a few feet down the street?

If God allowed something to happen, then God intended to allow something to happen, in which case God intended it to happen.

Or is Olson going to take the position that God allows things to happen with no intention of allowing them to happen? If that’s his position, it makes it sound as if his God suffers from mental illness.

Keep in mind that he’s talking about divinely preventable events like fires, traffic accidents, and fatal diseases.

Surely Olson doesn’t think these events are inevitable. That would be necessitarian.

So how does God allow something to happen without intending to allow it to happen? A mentally ill person may be unable to connect his actions with his intentions. May do things he didn’t consciously intend to happen. But I assume Olson doesn’t think God is clinically insane.

ii) In principle, a freewill theist could deploy the freewill defense to account for behavioral illness like lung cancer or AIDS.

But what about an illness like breast cancer or cervical cancer? Presumably the patient didn’t will to have terminal cervical cancer, or willfully engage in high-risk behavior with that foreseeable consequence.

How would God violate the freewill of the terminal cancer patient by curing her of cervical cancer? Same thing with casualties from house fires and traffic accidents.

Olson says the death of his mother when he was 2 and his brother was 5 “deeply” and “negatively” affected their lives.

Okay, so what’s his libertarian theodicy to address that tragic event? 

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like he's scolding Semi-Pelagians for their error by replacing it with a different error.

    Scanning through the comments, I saw this reply Olson made to one comment:

    'I do my best to help both Calvinist and non-Calvinist students be consistent in their thinking and with their responses to evil and innocent suffering. I also know of Calvinists who sometimes say things like “God permitted this but didn’t cause it.” That’s misleading if intended as an expression of a Calvinist view of God’s providence. A Calvinist should bite the bullet and say “This, too, was God’s will and he planned, ordained and brought it about.” Calvinist reliance on the language of permission in the face of sin and innocent suffering is, in my opinion, weasly.' (emphasis mine)

    1. I don't think he understands the nature of human depravity. God doesn't have to actively cause sin where he only needs to stop preventing it. That's perhaps a passive cause, but Olson doesn't seem to have the ability to make such distinctions.

    2. The only "innocent suffering" was Christ's. The Bible promises that we will suffer on account of Him and that we should count it as joy. That's a pretty obvious teaching in the Bible to miss, but it follows from from the point above. If Olson doesn't understand human depravity, then it's easy enough for him to think that we are innocent (not culpable) on some point; and suffering in our presumed innocence is unjust, as though particular culpability and not general depravity was more fundamental to our sin. Yet another distinction I think Olson fails to make.