Tuesday, June 17, 2014

God and Auschwitz

I'm going to comment on a new post by Roger Olson:
Most Calvinists I know believe in meticulous providence.


Recently I posted an essay here in which I talked about my penchant for seeing the logical outcome of everything. 

His penchant fails him whenever it comes to seeing the logical outcome of Arminianism. 

We should not believe in ideas whose good and necessary consequences are unbelievable or objectionable (to ourselves). In other words, if idea A leads inexorably, by dint of logic, to idea B and idea B is something I do not believe in, I ought not to believe in A either.

What about revealed truths? If God discloses something to us whose good and necessary consequences are objectionable to us, does that mean we should reject revealed truth? If it leads to something we don't believe in, then we should realign our beliefs to match reality.

However, the point I want to make here is that I believe divine determinism and meticulous providence, idea “A” that God plans, ordains and governs everything without exception, leads inexorably by dint of logic to idea “B” which is that this is the best of all possible worlds

Saying it leads to that logical outcome doesn't begin to show that it leads to that logical outcome. Where is the logical argument for his conclusion? 

The one and only issue I’m raising here is whether a God who is perfectly good, omnipotent, and all-determining would plan, ordain and govern anything less or other than the best possible world. I cannot imagine that he would.

i) To say he cannot "imagine" that is not a logical argument.

ii) He seems to be suggesting that if God is good, then there must be parity between the goodness of God and the goodness of the world. The world must be as good as God. But no creature can be as good (i.e. excellent) as God. 

One problem may be an equivocation on the meaning of "goodness." Does he mean moral good or excellence?

If this world is the best world on the way to the best of all possible worlds, then it is, for now, in the interim, the best possible world.

That's simplistic. The best means to an end doesn't make the means good in itself. Take amputation to prevent death by gangrene. 

I simply don’t understand why people who believe God plans, ordains and governs everything don’t also believe that this is the best of all possible worlds. I think they should.

One reason I don't believe it is that Olson has yet to give a supporting argument for his key contention. In his post, he never gets around to making a logical case for why, given Calvinism, this world must be the best possible world. He keeps asserting what he needs to prove. 

I can only attribute that they often don’t to either 1) lack of logic in their thinking, or 2) fear of having to explain how this is the best of all possible worlds in light of the Holocaust and events like it.

It's amusing to see the gaping chasm between Olson's intellectual pride and his intellectual performance. He makes self-congratulatory claims about his logical acumen, and makes demeaning comments about his Calvinist opponents, yet he fails to demonstrate his operating assumption. 

I agree with the theologian who said that no theology is worthy of belief that cannot be stated at the gates of Auschwitz.
It takes real guts to say that God planned, ordained and governed the Holocaust. I admire and respect those Calvinists (and other divine determinists) who do it—for their logical rigor and courage.

Yes, God "planned, ordained, and governed" the Holocaust, just as he "planned, ordained, and governed" the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Babylonian Exile, and the Fall of Jerusalem (70 AD). 

The problem that immediately jumps up is that if this is the best of all possible worlds then nothing can really be irreducibly evil. If this is the best of all possible worlds then I must say even of the Holocaust “It is a necessary part of the greater good.” Then I cannot consider it truly evil. I would have to redefine “evil” far away from what I and most people mean by that term. 

i) You simply distinguish between whether something is good in itself and whether it can have beneficial consequences down the line. For instance, it isn't good to be congenitally blind, but in this case, that had good results:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:1-3).
Likewise, the death of Lazarus wasn't good in itself, but it was a source of good:
But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4).
ii) Since Olson has failed to discharge his burden of proof, there's nothing more I really need to say. It's not incumbent on me to refute a nonexistent argument. But let's examine his illustration:

Why did the Arminian God allow the Holocaust? After all, the Arminian God had the power to prevent it. So isn't the Arminian committed to saying God allowed the Holocaust for the best? Presumably, an Arminian will justify God's nonintervention on the grounds that it would be even worse for God to prevent the Holocaust than to allow the Holocaust. Had it been better for God to intervene, but he failed to do so, then in what sense is the Arminian God "perfectly good"? 

So how does Olson escape the logic of his own framework? 

iii) Olson is assuming there's a best possible world for the Calvinist God to predestine. But why should we assume such a thing? Take the Holocaust. Is an alternate world in which the Holocaust never happened better than our world? Better in what respect? Better in every respect?

To begin with, a world in which the Holocaust never happened would have a different past and different future. The historical conditions leading up to the Holocaust wouldn't exist. And the historical consequences of the Holocaust wouldn't exist.

But, among other things, that requires the elimination many people from the past, and replacing them with a different set of people. Likewise, that requires the elimination of all the people who were born as a result of the Holocaust. In a way, that would be a different kind of Holocaust. 

Would that be better for the people who never existed in this alternate world? What if some of them were heavenbound? By creating the alternate world, God deprives them of that incomparable blessing. 

Some goods result from a world where the Holocaust occurred which would never result absent the Holocaust. So a world in which the Holocaust occurred is better in some respects, but worse than others. Better for some people but worse for others.

There are even Jews–many Jews–who benefit from the Holocaust. There are Jews who are born as a result of the Holocaust who would never exist apart from that horrific event. For instance, some Holocaust survivors married people they would never have occasion to meet in a world without the dislocations of the Holocaust.  


  1. Olson ignores an evil incomparably greater than the Holocaust; the premeditated murder of the Son of God. Who superintended that greatest of crimes that the greatest of good might flow from His wounds?

  2. Olson said: "We should not believe in ideas whose good and necessary consequences are unbelievable or objectionable (to ourselves)."

    Paul said: "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing... A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him" (1 Corinthians 1:18, 2:14).

    Conclusion: Olson thinks that nonbelievers *SHOULDN'T* believe the Gospel.

    But now I'm starting to think I've thought this through more than Olson ever did.... Oh well.