Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Making the world safe for murder

I'm going to comment on two posts:

I'll begin by repeating a distinction I drew in a previous post:

1) I have a one-year-old child. I hold him underwater in the bathtub until he drowns.  

2) I'm sitting on my chaise lounge in my backyard patio. I watch my one-year-old child fall into the swimming pool. I know he can't swim. I sit there sipping lemonade while he drowns.

Back to Olson:

Mine remains that in the case of God and the human fall into sin there is a clear difference between God "doing it" (causing it directly or indirectly such that he wanted it to happen and rendered it certain) and "permitting it." (By the way I've explained this distinction-with-a-real-difference here several times before. 

i) There's more to the problem of evil than the Fall (which Olson doesn't believe in anyway). There's the vast range of moral and natural evils.

ii) According to classical Arminian providence, God is surely the indirect cause of many evils. God is not the sole cause, but he is a necessary cause. 

And the same holds true for open theism. At best, open theism illustrates the law of unintended consequences. Yet that can also be culpable, viz. criminal negligence, depraved indifference. 

iii) Doing nothing is a perfect way of rendering many outcomes certain. If a baby stroller accidentally rolls down the hill, it is inevitable that it will run into a busy intersection unless I step in to prevent it. In many cases, inaction guarantees the outcome. 

When Calvinists (or other divine determinists) claim there is no real difference between God doing evil and permitting evil they are usually objecting to free will theists’ (e.g., Arminians’) claim that for God to design, ordain, render certain, and govern sin and evil makes God monstrous. The Calvinists making this argument against free will theism say that if God is omnipotent and could stop evil from happening but doesn’t he is just as culpable, if at all, as if he designed, ordained, rendered certain and governed evil.

i) Olson is very fond of that "render certain" formula. Evidently, he's never considered what that means. It doesn't occur to him that in Arminian providence, God ensures many evils. 

Let's go back to my example: unless the father fishes his young son out of the swimming pool, his inaction ensures that his son will drown. 

In many cases, there's nothing an agent needs to do to render the outcome certain. Rather, some outcomes are inevitable unless an agent intervenes. 

Nonintervention renders the outcome certain by allowing nature to take its course. Absent divine action to the contrary, the outcome is inevitable.

Therefore, Olson deceives himself by imagining that he's drawn a distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism at this juncture.

ii) What about "design." Once again, let's go back to my example. If the toddler drowns, that wasn't by design. The father didn't plan that outcome. 

But how is that distinction exculpatory? Once he sees the toddler fall into the swimming pool, if he let's him drown, that's culpable–even if it wasn't' by design. 

Suppose that in Arminianism, moral evils don't happen by God's design. But that doesn't ipso facto exonerate the Arminian God. 

All one has to do to turn aside the sweeping claim that this is a distinction without a difference is demonstrate that everyone, including the objector himself or herself, knows this to be a difference in at least one case. In other words, if there is even one instance in which everyone, including the objector, must admit that there is a real difference between “doing evil” and “permitting evil,” then the claim that this is a distinction without a difference must fail.

That's a confused way to frame the issue. The question at issue isn't whether allowing harm is sometimes exculpatory, but whether allowing harm (in contrast to doing, causing, ensuring, intending) harm is ipso facto exculpatory. 

Sometimes permitting evil is culpable. So he can't just resort to that bare distinction. 

Since it can either be evil or not be evil to permit evil, a theodicy has to do more than appeal to permission in general to exonerate the God of freewill theism. It must provide specific reasons why permission would be inculpatory in that particular kind of situation.

But, of course, everyone does know that there is a difference between “doing evil” and “permitting evil.” In the one case, “doing evil,” the evil is actually, physically acted out by the doer whereas in the other case, “permitting evil,” the evil is not actually, physically acted out by the permitter. This is why, to the best of my knowledge, no law exists in any civilized society that equates the doing of a crime with the permitting of a crime. True, some societies have criminalized certain behaviors that include permitting a crime without doing it. But the mere permission is never actually equated with the actual doing and that because of two factors: 1) different intentionality, and 2) different physical involvement.
And, of course, everyone can think of instances in which there is a real moral distinction-with-a-difference between permitting an evil to occur and actually doing the evil (or causing it).
One does not have to think hard to come up with numerous examples in which a person with the power to stop an evil but does not stop it is doing something entirely different from the actual doing of the evil.

An obvious problem with that appeal is that even in cases where permitting evil is exculpatory, that typically involves human agents with limited options. But an omnipotent, omniscient agent has resources they don't. What's exculpatory for them isn't ipso facto exculpatory for him, given the range of options at his disposal. The more powerful the agent, the less excuse he has to permit some things. He can prevent things we can't.

A similar, more popularly written, explication may be found in Gregory Boyd’s Is God to Blame?

It's my understanding that Boyd has a view of cosmic spiritual warfare in which God and the good guys eventually get the upper hand. We win. 

But according to open theism, isn't the future always indeterminate? There will never be a future time beyond which the future is settled once and for all time. However far into the future we go, it will remain indeterminate.

That means the status quo ante is inherently unstable. There is no final settlement. It's like political maps in which boundaries are continuously drawn and redrawn over the centuries depending on which side won or lost the last border war. 

If the future is perpetually indeterminate, then there are no decisive victories and defeats. Even if God annihilated the Devil, there could be another angelic rebellion. 

All these Christian thinkers argue that free will requires an environment of natural laws, predictability, risk and ability to do evil. In other words, even God cannot create a world that includes genuine moral free will and responsibility and constantly interfere to stop gratuitous evils from occurring

i) To begin with, there's an obvious tension between his appeal to libertarian freedom and natural laws. An appeal to natural laws is deterministic. The uniformity of nature. Physical determinism. 

But if human agents enjoy the libertarian freedom to do otherwise, then isn't the outcome unpredictable? Isn't the outcome indeterminate? 

Perhaps Olson would distinguish between human agency and our natural environment. But since their environment acts on agents and agents act on their environment, that can't be neatly compartmentalized.

ii) By Olson's logic, petitionary prayer has no place in freewill theism. To begin with, Christians sometimes pray that God will prevent nature from taking its course. But to the extent that God answers their prayers, that infers with natural laws. That destabilizes our environment. Makes the outcome unpredictable. 

And that's aggravated by unanswered prayer. You never know ahead of time which prayers God will answer. 

iii) By Olson's logic, we should close Emergency Rooms. Take murder. In the past it was easier to kill somebody. But due to those pesky, meddlesome trauma physicians, some gunshot victims (to take one example) who would otherwise die, absent medical intervention, survive. 

That makes attempted murder far more unpredictable than it used to be. You now assume the risk of murdering someone without the assurance of success. Genuine moral freewill requires a world in which attempted murder has predictable consequences. 

iv) Apropos (iiii), we should fire all the criminologists. In the past, it was easier to get away with premeditated murder. Wipe your fingerprints off the doorknob. Dispose of the murder weapon. 

But due to forensic science, it's much harder than it used to be to avoid leaving trace evidence behind at the scene of the crime. That makes premeditated murder far more unpredictable. You now assume the risk of murdering someone without the assurance that your involvement will go unnoticed. Genuine moral freewill requires a world in which it is safe to commit premeditated murder without fear of detection. 

v) By parity of argument, it is wrong to post lifeguards at some beaches and swimming pool some of the time, for that makes the decision to swim or surf rest on the unpredictable variable of whether or not there's a life guard on duty. That affects the risk assessment. Genuine moral freedom requires a world in which there are no lifeguards at beaches or swimming pools. 

The ability to do great good includes the ability to do great evil.

Does that logic apply to God? 

Does that mean the saints in heaven retain the same libertarian ability to do great evil? 

Arminianism does not include any particular view of "natural evils." Some Arminians would say SOME are from God; others would argue that innocent suffering is NEVER God's antecedent will and that God always only reluctantly permits it because to always "step in" and stop it would change the nature of free will in this world (Peterson's view). Personally, I do not think we can always know and must remain uncertain of anything but that God can bring good out of any natural evil. Arminianism ONLY claims that God NEVER wills moral evils antecedently (e.g., Adam and Eve's fall into sin) but reluctantly permits them (consequent will).

Notice that Olson doesn't bother to explain how the distinction between God's antecedent will and his consequent will is morally germane. What makes that exculpatory?

The upshot is he appeals to reason (as he sees it) when attacking Calvinism, but he appeals to mystery when defending Arminianism.

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