Saturday, February 22, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, Part 3A of 5

Part 2

3. Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility. In contrast to the Molinist view, on the deterministic view even the movement of the human will is caused by God. God moves people to choose evil, and they cannot do otherwise. God determines their choices and makes them do wrong. If it is evil to make another person do wrong, then on this view God is not only the cause of sin and evil, but becomes evil Himself, which is absurd. By the same token, all human responsibility for sin has been removed. For our choices are not really up to us: God causes us to make them. We cannot be responsible for our actions, for nothing we think or do is up to us.

Craig raises two points here. He says that divine determinism makes God the author of sin. He also says that divine determinism precludes human responsibility. I’ll treat these one at a time. Since I had so much to say, I separated part 3 into Part 3A and Part 3B.

Whether divine determinism makes God the author of sin

First, let’s talk about whether divine determinism makes God the author of sin. People frequently use the phrase “author of sin” without being clear about what they mean. There are at least two possible things that it could mean.

It could mean that God authored sin in the same sense that J.K. Rowling authored Voldemort’s evil except that sinners are real and Voldemort is not. In this view, God intended sin to happen, and he disposed the world in such a way to ensure that it would. Sin was part of God’s plan.

I readily admit that God is the author of sin in this sense. I don’t see how any Calvinist who subscribes to the Westminster Confession could deny it. The Westminster Confession says that “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” If sin comes to pass, then God must’ve ordained it.

Even Craig must admit that God is the author of sin in some sense. According to Molinism, God knew all the counterfactuals of human freedom, and he knew all possible states of affairs, so he knew exactly what would happen depending on which world he chose to actualize. God chose to actualize this world knowing ahead of time that the inevitable outcome would be specific sins that he knew about. If he had refrained from creating this world, those sins would not have happened. So God is the author of those sins in some sense. He created the conditions under which those sins were inevitable.

I’m guessing Craig would say the difference is that when God disposes the world in such a way that he knows sin is inevitable, he doesn’t actually cause it to happen. Rather, he passively allows it to happen.

I don't think it makes much difference in whether God causes or allows evil. In either case, God intends the evil to come about because he has some good purpose in it. If God didn't have a good purpose in allowing the evil, he could've easily prevented it. He chose to allow the evil because he intended the evil to happen. That seems to me to be consistent with the view that "God decrees all things that come to pass." However you look at it, whether by allowing or causing, God disposes the world in such a way that evil is inevitable because evil is part of his plan.

Craig may object that sin isn’t something God intends to happen as a means to a greater good, but that sin is an inconvenience that God must work around to obtain his ultimate good. In that case, God doesn’t actually plan or intend sin to happen; rather, he just puts up with it because his hands are tied by the counterfactuals of human freedom.

However, the Bible is clear that God intends sin to happen because he has a purpose in it. It isn’t just an inconvenience that he’s forced to work around. Here are a couple of examples.

God meant for Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, and even though his brothers meant it for evil, God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).

When Pilate, Herod, the gentiles, and the people of Israel gathered together against Jesus in Jerusalem, they were doing what God predestined to occur (Acts 4:27-28). But the crucifixion was the means by which God saves people from his wrath against sin. God meant for Jesus to be crucified, which entails that he meant for somebody to crucify him.

I would go even further to show that in some cases, God directly causes people to sin. I may have lost some of my Calvinist friends at this point, but see what you make of my case.

We all know about God hardening Pharoah’s heart which resulted in Pharaoh not letting the Hebrews go. And we know that God punished Pharaoh for his refusal to let the Hebrews go even though that was God’s plan all along.

The common response is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart first. But as long as God played any role at all in Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, this common response does nothing to diminish the point. Whether God assisted Pharaoh in hardening his own heart or whether God did all the hardening himself, we're still faced with the same situation--God played a role in Pharaoh's heart getting hardened, and the result was sin. In fact, that's why God hardened his heart. He did it so he could display his power in Pharaoh (Romans 9:17). God meant for Pharaoh to refuse to let Israel go, and he played an active role in assuring that Pharaoh would choose just as he did. Whether you say God did that all on his own, or he just assisted Pharaoh, doesn't seem to make much difference because God was active (not merely passive) in either case.

There are other Biblical examples of God causing people to sin, which I’ll list here.

God causes people to be false prophets (1 Kings 22:23).

Isaiah 63:17 says, "Why, O LORD, dost thou cause us to stray from your ways, and harden our hearts from fearing you?"

He turned the heart of the Egyptians to hate the Hebrews and deal craftily with them (Psalm 105:23-25).

He caused the Egyptians to turn against each other and to resort to idolatry and necromancy (Isaiah 19:2-3).

He sent the Assyrians to plunder and trample Israel (Isaiah 10), then punished them for taking the credit for it.

He sent the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and the surrounding nations, then punished them for it (Jeremiah 25).

He causes people to forget the Sabbath and feasts (Lamentations 2:6).

John 12:39-40 “For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and he hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.’”

1 Peter 2:8 “For they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this they were also appointed.”

Revelation 17:7 “ For God has put it in their hearts to execute his purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.”

These passages make God out to be the author of sin in the sense that God intends and brings it about that people commit sin.

But there is another possible meaning to the phrase, “author of sin,” which is that God himself commits sin. Craig says, “If it is evil to make another person do wrong, then on this view God is not only the cause of sin and evil, but becomes evil Himself, which is absurd.” Whether God is evil himself hinges on the premise that it is evil to make another person do wrong.

In general, I think it is wrong to cause another to sin. The Bible gives several warnings against being a stumbling block to other people and causing them to sin.

Matthew 18:6-7 “If any of you puts a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one through whom the stumbling block comes!”

1 Corinthians 8:9-12 “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”

Although it’s clearly a sin to cause somebody else to sin, I think this is only a prima facie moral imperative that is not without exception. Just as lying is wrong in most cases, one can imagine scenarios in which lying would be the right thing to do, such as protecting Jews from Nazis during the holocaust. In the same way, there are scenarios in which it is not wrong to cause another to sin.

Consider this scenario. You are a quadriplegic confined to a wheel chair, and you know two things: 1) That there is a black man hiding in the woodshed near you with a detonator prepared to blow up a school filled with black children and teachers; and 2) There is murdering racist about to walk by who would like nothing better than for as many black people to die as possible, and he would gladly kill any black person he sees.

If you are a moral person, you would like to be able to stop the man in the woodshed from blowing up the school, but you’re a helpless quadriplegic. The only person around who can help is the murdering racist about to walk by. How are you going to get him to stop the man in the woodshed?

Well, you can’t just tell him he’d be saving hundreds of kids if he stops the man in the woodshed because if he finds out the kids are black, he may let the man hit the detonator or hit it himself. There are no altruistic motives you can appeal to to get the racist to stop the man in the woodshed.

Pretty much the only thing you can do is appeal to the racists’ murdering intentions. If you do nothing, he’ll just walk on by, so the best thing for you to do is tell him there’s a black man in the woodshed, and he better kill him quick, not to save innocent lives, but just because he’s black. That’s the only way to save all those kids, and it seems to me that’s the moral thing to do.

I made up that scenario. Maybe I could’ve come up with something more simple if I were more creative. But the point is to illustrate that it is possible for there to be a morally justifiable reason for causing another person to sin. If it is possible for us to be morally justified in causing people to sin, at least in some cases, then it is possible that God has a morally justifiable reason for causing people to sin in all cases in which they sin. Before Craig could argue that God causing people to sin makes God evil, Craig would first need to rule out that possibility.

However, the Bible is not silent on the issue. It specifically tells us in some cases why God causes people to sin. In the case of Joseph’s brother selling him into slavery, the purpose was to save people from starvation. In the case of hardening Pharaoh’s heart, we are told that God did it to demonstrate his power (Romans 9:17). Jonathan Edwards argued in The End For Which God Created the World that God’s ultimate end in everything is his own glory, and God’s glory is made manifest in the demonstration of his attributes. God’s glory is the greatest good, and with God being perfectly good, it stands to reason that he would have a passion for his own glory. I don’t want to go into detail about that because it would make this blog post a lot longer, so have a look-see at Edward’s book.

God is justified for causing people to sin because he does so for good and praiseworthy ends which outweigh the immediate consequences of sin. But that is not the only reason God is justified in causing people to sin. He is also justified for a reason that does not apply to mere mortals. He is justified because he is God—the creator. He is justified because of his divine prerogatives and absolute autonomy and freedom to do as he wishes with his creation.

In Romans 9:18, Paul says that God “has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires.” Then he says, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who resists his will?’” Paul responds to this hypothetical challenge in a number of ways, but the first thing he points out is God’s freedom and autonomy to do as he wishes with his creatures. He says, “On the contrary, who are you, o man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” So, according to Paul, God has the moral right to harden whom he desires. He therefore is not evil for causing people to sin.

Part 3B


At 3/01/2014 2:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sam,

I have written a response to this piece on my blog. Hope you have time to read it. Thanks.

At 3/01/2014 2:43 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for the response. I just read it. If and when I get the time to respond, I'll respond in the comment section of your blog.

At 3/02/2014 1:02 PM , Blogger Sam said...

On second thought, I can't leave a comment on your blog since I don't have any of those accounts (I have a facebook account, but I deactivated it). So I'll leave my response here and maybe see if Kyle will let you know in case you don't come back here.


Thanks for reading my series, and I'm flattered that you thought it was worth responding to in such detail. I don't want to spend a whole lot of time arguing with you, but I thought I'd at least clear up some misunderstandings.

First, you said that I claimed God was the author in some sense even under Molinism because had God not created anything, no evil would have happened, and you object to the "author of sin" language in that case.

I can understand why you would object to that language if that were the only sense in which I said God is the author of sin under Molinism. But what you seem to have missed is that I said God means for the sins to happen. He intends for them to happen. He plans for the sin to happen. With God's foreknowledge of what free creatures will do under certain circumstances, he disposes the world in such a way as to make sure these sins happen. And I gave examples in which the text explicitly says that God plans the sin, has a purpose in it, or has an intention behind it.

So under Molinism, God is the author of sin in a stronger sense than he would be if it were the case merely that had God not created anything, no sin would've happened. As you said,

I went on to say that Craig could object by saying God doesn't actually mean for sins to happen, but they are just inconveniences that he has to work around. Now, if you take that approach, then I quite agree with you that it would be a misuse of language to say God is the author of sin. As you said, we wouldn't consider you and your wife to be authors of sin merely on the basis that you knew your kids would sin before you had them, but you had them anyway. However, if there were specific sins you intended your children to commit, and you arranged their environment in such a way as to ensure that they would commit those sins, then I think you could be considered authors of sin in some sense, albeit in a weaker sense than Calvinists like me would admit to.

to be continued…

At 3/02/2014 1:03 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Now, to my quadriplegic scenario which was meant to show that the imperative not to cause others to sin is only prima facie and that there are possible exceptions…

You claim that the scenario is disanalogous since the quadriplegic did not cause the killer to be a racist or to be willing to kill black people. And you are right. But I don't think this difference is relevant to the point I was making. Even though the quadriplegic didn't supply all of the necessary and sufficient conditions to get the killer to kill the man in the woodshed, he nevertheless did supply some of the conditions. He played an active roll in getting the killer to change his course so that the killer would commit the murder, and he did so because he intended for the murder to happen, and he did so for good and praiseworthy ends. Since he was a causal factor in getting the murder to take place, and since he was morally justified in doing so, it follows that the imperative not to cause others to sin is only prima facie, and it follows that God could have morally justifiable reasons for cause people to sin in all cases.

But if you're not satisfied with that scenario, it seems like with a little creativity, you could come up with a better one yourself. Do you really think it's not even possible for somebody to be morally justified in causing another person to sin? Or, I suppose that under your view, it's not even possible to cause another person to sin because if a person were causally determined to act in a certain way, they couldn't be morally responsible for acting that way, so it couldn't be a sin. But if that's' the case, it's incoherent to even discuss the subject of whether it would be a sin to cause another person to sin. That would be like asking whether it's a sin to draw a square circle or any other meaningless combination of words.

However, you agreed with me that it's generally wrong to cause another to sin, so you must think there's some sense in it.

But let me tweak the scenario anyway to shore up the shortcomings you found in it. Suppose, for whatever reason (fill in the blanks with your own creativity), that the only way to save the school kids from being blown up is to press a button. Pressing the button will cause an evil racist to pop into existence and murder the man in the shed, not to save the children, but just to satisfy his hatred. It seems to me you'd still be morally justified in pressing the button, causing the murder to happen.

You raised some additional questions about whether the murderer would be culpable for his crimes if, in my scenario, he was really caused to commit the murder. I dealt with that subject in Part 3B, so I won't go into that here. The question for the purposes of this blog entry is whether God is the author of sin, in what sense, and whether God is morally justified in being the author of sin in that sense.

to be continued…

At 3/02/2014 1:03 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Now to the subject of whether God is morally justified in doing whatever he wishes…

After quoting me as saying, "He is justified because of his divine prerogatives and absolute autonomy and freedom to do as he wishes with his creation." Then you said, "This notion that God is capable of doing anything at all is often referred to in theology as nominalism." And you ask, "Can one really defend the view that God's actions can be divorced from his nature?"

I think you have a gross misunderstanding of what I said. I said God is justified in doing whatever he wishes, not anything at all, whether he wishes it or not. And it is not my position that God's actions can be divorced from his nature. His wishes are part of his nature.

And the Bible is quite explicit that God does whatever he wishes (Psalm 115:3, 135:6). If God does whatever he pleases, and he is perfectly good, it follows that God is morally justified in doing whatever he pleases. It does not follow that God can act contrary to his nature or that God can do anything at all.

You said, "It is also not good enough to say that God is God and he can do whatever he likes. No he cannot!" Yes, he can. Not only can he do whatever he likes, but in fact, he does do whatever he likes.

You went on to say, "The Bible makes it very clear that God cannot sin." Well, yes, of course. But how does that disprove my claim that God can do whatever he likes? Is it your view that God would like to sin, but he is restrained by his nature?

I suspect that you just misunderstood me when I said that God is free to do as he wishes.

At 3/02/2014 5:09 PM , Blogger Sam said...

You know, it just occurred to me that given libertarian presuppositions, it doesn't make sense for libertarians to accuse Calvinism of making God out to be the author of sin. Under Craig's view, a person can only be guilty of sin if they have libertarian freedom and can do otherwise. If a person were causally determined to act, then they cannot be culpable for their action, so they cannot be guilty of sin. So, if God determines somebody to act in some way, then that person cannot be guilty of sin. So given Craig's presuppositions, it's impossible for God to be the author of sin. It makes no sense at all for Craig to accuse Calvinists of making God out to be the author of sin.

At 3/03/2014 5:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Sam,

Due to the word restrictions on this blog I have responded on mine.


At 3/03/2014 6:55 PM , Blogger Sam Harper said...

Acknowledged. Thanks again.


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