Author of Sin

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Rebecca Stark looks at the expression 'author of sin', finding that many who use it don't really have a clear idea what they mean, and once they clarify it what they're saying may not follow. I think she's expressing thoughts I've had for a long time but haven't really been able to express well. One line struck me:

Somehow, for those who argue that it's the purposeful nature of God's permission of sin that makes him the author of sin, a supreme being who permits sin for no reason is better than one who permits it for a reason. When it comes to the permission of sin, in their view, arbitrary is better than purposeful.

This is something that has always seemed strange to me about certain Arminian/libertarian responses to the problem of evil (especially in their open theistic form but sometimes even in more standard libertarian views that don't necessarily imply open theism, e.g. some of Peter van Inwagen's work). I can't understand how having no reason for something is supposed to be better than having a really good reason for doing or allowing it. But this is commonly trotted out as a better defense of how God would allow evil than the traditional view that God really does have good reasons for allowing evil

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I think there should also be a debate within Reformed circles regarding whether sin is simply permitted by God or actually purposed and decreed by Him.

Charles Hodge seems to fall into the "bare permission" camp (Systematic Theology - Part 1, Chapter 5, Section 9C):

"The decretive and preceptive will of God can never be in conflict. God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do, what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden."



Whereas A.W. Pink, Calvin, and others denounce the idea of "bare permission" (A.W. Pink The Sovereignty of God - Chapter 8, under question 1):



"Should someone respond, Then is God the Author of Sin? We would have to ask, in turn, What is meant by "Author"? Plainly it was God's will that sin should enter this world otherwise it would not have entered, for nothing happens save as God has eternally decreed. Moreover, there was more than a bare permission for God only permits that which He has purposed."

For Hodge, bare permission means God doesn't cause sin in the sense of efficient cause. For Pink, bare permission means God doesn't even have a purpose for sin, which means there isn't even a final cause for sin. Hodge insists on bare permission when bare permission means God doesn't efficiently cause sin. Pink insists on denying bare permission when bare permission means God doesn't finally cause sin.

I don't see how these views are different views. They're just using their terms differently, although in this case they both give enough contextual clues to give a more precise account of what they mean. Rebecca was complaining about people who don't do that and then rely on the ambiguity in the terms in question for their argument, which is clearly fallacious reasoning.

I think the point Arminians are most commonly making (the point that I, at any rate, would make, and the point that I understand Plantinga and Swinburne to be making) is that God is the author of sin iff his actions metaphysically necessitate the occurrence of sin. Of course, this won't be an objection to Calvin (who, if I recall correctly, coined the phrase) or the Westminster Confession, because neither of them mind God's being the author of sin in this sense, since they believe that God's creating human beings in certain situations with certain characteristics does metaphysically necessitate sin. I think the real point at issue is whether God can bear moral responsibility for sin. All Christians deny that God bears this responsibility, but Arminians often charge that if the Calvinist view was correct, he would. This, I think, is what the Westminster Confession is denying when it says that although "God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass," nevertheless he is not "the author of sin." That is, God ensured that everything would turn out exactly as it did, even to the smallest detail, including sin, but since human beings will the sin in a way that God doesn't, that is, because human beings are the ones who actually decide to perform the sin, (although their so willing is metaphysically necessary given God's creating them the way he did), God does not bear the moral responsibility for it. Arminians, myself included, find this awefully difficult to swallow.

Kenny, the end of what you said sounded very strange to me, and I had to reread it several times to figure out what was going one. I think this is the key:

"although their so willing is metaphysically necessary given God's creating them the way he did"

I suppose it makes sense to speak of something as metaphysically necessary given some further fact. But this is conditional necessity, not absolute necessity, to use Aquinas' terms. What's necessary is the relationship between the two truths. It doesn't mean either truth is metaphysically necessary, just that one entails the other.

Now what that means is that the complain reduces to the following: if A does X, and X entails Y, then A is morally responsible for Y in the same sense that A is morally responsible for X.

I just think that primciple is false. If I know fully that my actions to save the lives of 1000 people are going to kill one person who is innocent with respect to the lives of the 1000, I don't think I'm morally responsible for the death of the one in the same way that I'm responsible for the action to save the lives of the 1000. Several things go into the moral evaluation.

I'm very Augustinian about this, so what's most fundamental, in my view, is the motivation. Am I motivated by the proper sorts of desires? Without those, the action is immoral. If the proper sorts of motivations would lead me to do the action that leads to the death of the one, even knowing that the one is going to die, then I think it's the right action.

Aquinas later gives some restrictions on this in a way that shows he's not just assuming a kind of consequentialism, and I'm not sure if Augustine would go along with those restrictions, but what matters is that it's a counterexample to the above principle. The principle "if A does X, and X entails Y, then A is morally responsible for Y in the same sense that A is morally responsible for X" is not true. If the Arminian charge relies on that, then I just can't see the motivation for the complaint. It strikes me as assuming a crude form of consequentialism that just seems very wrong to me.

On a different note, I'm surprised you call yourself an Arminian. Last I remember, you were giving an account of God's sovereignty in nature that struck me as being more deterministic than most Calvinists even want to be. I'm not sure how that's supposed to fit with Arminianism if God sets up all the laws of nature at the outset, and the laws of nature have all God's works built into them. That seems to contain all human actions within the realm of God's sovereignty in the way that compatibilists will be happy with and libertarians will usually oppose quite strenuously.

(1) The Arminian charge I am talking about is built on this general sort of principle, but let's put the argument like this:

(A) "If person X compels person Y to perform act A, X is not only morally responsible for A, but responsible to a greater degree than Y is." (B) "The case where some action on X's part metaphysically necessitates Y's performing A is the strongest possible form of compulsion." .: (C) "If God's actions metaphysically necessitate some action A on my part, God bears greater moral responsibility for A than I do."

I don't think people are responsible for actions they cause indirectly or unintentionally, nor do I think they are responsible for the actions of others which they merely influence without there being some kind of compulsion. I do think that God compels our actions in the relevant sense IF we are created by God with only compatibilist free will (or no free will), and this is one reason for my belief in libertarian free will.

(2) I do in fact believe in physical determinism and libertarian free will at the same time, but the explanation for how I think the two can be reconciled would take an entire post (I may write that up some time soon), but the short version is that I believe that accepting Berkeley's account of sense perception as language reduces the problem of physical determinism and libertarian free will to identity with the problem of divine foreknowledge and free will (since past physical events would simply inform you of what I am going to do later, based on God's foreknowledge, if you were able to observe and interpret them perfectly), a problem which I think can be adequately solved by divine atemporality.

Atemporality doesn't solve the foreknowledge problem unless God is the only one who knows the future. If prophets know that what God tells them to say is going to come true, then since they aren't in time you're going to need to say more about the foreknowledge problem than just atemporality. The same is true is we know what will happen by reading scripture. Maybe you'll just say none of that is knowledge, but I don't want to say that.

I'm curious about your proposal for how (2) would go, but I'm so thoroughly convinced that libertarianism is wrong (completely independent of determinism) that I'm not holding my breath. Compatibilism seems so obviously assumed by the authors of scripture, most obviously in the case of Isaiah 10, that I don't think libertarianism is really an option for Christians. I don't think it's philosophically tenable either.

One difficulty with the entailment model of moral responsibility is that it can easily be extended to say that I'm morally responsible for God's existence, for the fact that 2+2=4, and any other necessary truth. God's continuing to exist is metaphysically entailed by every action I do, and it makes God compelled to exist by my actions. That sounds very wrong.

I don't think compulsion can ultimately be captured in terms of metaphysical entailment but rather should be treated in some sort of causal way. Certain kinds of causings determine me in certain ways such that I am compelled, but other kinds of causings might not. But once you allow that, you have to clarify which ones are ok and which ones not.

It's always seemed obvious to me that I'm not compelled if I'm acting out of my inner states, choosing what I desire, acting according to my character, and so on. There are some obvious cases of compulsion, and those cases are the ones we contrast it with. This seems to me to be true whether determinism is true or not. In a deterministic world, the distinction between being forced at gunpoint to do something and being convinced to do it by reason is still important enough to matter, and I think that distinction is actually all we care about when we call actions free or not.

The distinction between free and unfree acts thus seems to me to be totally independent of whether I could could have done otherwise given some facts about the past. It's instead based on what kind of cause led to my actions, and that's what leads me to find compatibilism on the whole correct (as long as that's not taken to be an endorsement of the naturalistic motivations of many contemporary compatibilists).

I certainly don't mean logical entailment. Then your objection would hold entirely, and the position I'm arguing for would be utterly untenable. Perhaps I am not using the technical vocabulary correctly (I haven't had nearly enough contemporary philosophy - the last time I did contemporary metaphysics in a class was over 3 years ago and I was a high school student taking classes at Washington State, which doesn't exactly have the best philosophy department in the country). What I do mean to say is that if God's willing a certain way is a necessary and sufficient condition for my acting a certain way - not merely a certain indicator, epistemically, you understand, but actually granting conditional metaphysical necessity to the action - then it is God who decides I act this way, and the decision process I experience is merely an illusion.

The view of determinism and free will I am talking about (and, again, perhaps I will outline it more completely in a blog post soon) is similar to Leibniz's theory of "Pre-Established Harmony" - that is, God has designed the world in such a way that the laws of physics entail that my arm move at the precise moment that I will it to move, although my will does not directly influence my arm (rather, on the Berkeleian sense perception as language view, your seeing my arm moving is simply God telling you that I am willing my arm to move, and so forth). Leibniz is a compatibilist (or possibly a fatalist/hard determinist), but I don't think this view requires compatibilism - it only requires foreknowledge. Or, if you prefer, we could speak in more Kantian terms and say, as Schopenhauer does, that the principle of sufficient reason (including causality) is merely a property of the representation and is completely foreign to the thing-in-itself (in Schopenhauer, the Will).

I don't know why the foreknowledge of temporal beings should be a problem. This is just the Grandfather Paradox revisited: you and I know that Tim didn't kill Grandfather (not "can't" or "won't" but "didn't"), since it is in the past according to our timeline. For Tim, however, the event is in the future, and he can kill Grandfather. If he were to think clearly about the situation he too would know, as we do, that he didn't, but that doesn't change the fact that he can - there is no metaphysical necessity preventing him from killing Grandfather, there is simply the fact that he didn't.

God's foreknowledge includes his knowledge of what future information he has/will reveal to us, and what effect that will have on our actions. I don't see a problem in this at all.

Leibniz is a compatibilist. He very clearly distances himself from Spinoza, whom he views as what we now call a hard determinist. This is something Malebranche pushes him on, though I think libertarians will ultimately have as much trouble with Malebranche as they had with Leibniz, since Malebranche himself has the laws doing all the work to determine what will happen. But both want to say that we're free in what we now call a compatibilist sense. They don't think being caused to do it, even being metaphysically necessitated to do it given some prior condition, counts as coercion or compulsion in the sense that you're not morally responsible for what you do.

One thing you're relying on is a distinction between logical necessity and metaphysical necessity. If you're view is going to make sense, you're going to need to motivate that distinction. Many philosophers don't see any distinction to be made between them. They think metaphysical necessity just is logical necessity. I'm not up on this literature, but that's something to be aware of.

There is a conditional necessity that Tim can't kill his grandfather. Given that he didn't, it follows that he won't. The connection between the two events is a metaphysically necessary connection. In modal logic terms, it's a necessary truth that: (if he didn't kill his grandfather, then he won't kill his grandfather).

Parallel to that is the following case. It's a necessary truth that: (if God's plan of providence includes me doing something, then I will do it).

I don't think either case threatens freedom, but I do think they're parallel. But my point here was that if there's no problem with something's being true about the future then there's no problem with foreknowledge. It's a problem about truth, not knowledge. With God outside time, that only helps God's knowledge. It doesn't help anyone elses, and it doesn't help the issue about truth. Open theists tend to think truth about the future makes it not contingent, and I think that assumption is the true problem. It has nothing to do with foreknowledge itself. But once you say that, atemporality isn't really necessary.

I'm really not sure if your view is going to work. If our decisions are in the perceptual realm, and what results from them is just God's action in sustaining the perceptual realm, then it still doesn't seem much different. Those who believe in an external world can believe God sustains the external word in the same way you think God sustains the realm of experiences. My will doesn't cause my experience of my arm moving. God has set up natural laws to govern how our choices can affect our experiences of arms moving, but that's no different from God setting up laws to govern how things in an external world respond to our choices of the will. It's still laws, and if the laws are deterministic then we're caused to do what we do. For the mental realm of our experiences to have deterministic laws, then God will have to include our choices in what the laws will determine. If our choices can go against what would otherwise be determined, then the laws don't determine everything that would happen.

I'm not convinced that your metaphysical picture makes any real difference. Your point seems to be that God's relation to our choices is that of foreknowledge rather than predetermination, but is that possible if the laws determine how everything is going to go? Maybe you just want to say that God set up the laws to correspond to what choices people would make, and that gets out of the metaphysical problem of causing evil (in the way Augustine's view of evil as a negation of good does for him), but you still have the problem of God's allowing of evil. God's setting up the laws to guarantee that people will respond a certain way given their perceptions still amounts to a conditional necessity between some condition that God sets up and our choice. If that's not there, then how can God build everything into the laws? I just don't see how this will work without a compatibilist picture. Am I missing something?

What I'm saying - and I think you've picked this up - is this: if I had chosen to wear a blue shirt today (I'm wearing a black shirt) the natural laws of the universe would be different. God, foreknowing my choice to wear a black shirt today, has ordained from eternity natural laws which entail that my body be clothed in a black shirt at this moment. Said physical laws are simply consistent mathematical descriptions of the world of perception. God is able to create a universe such that it obeys simple natural laws consistently while simultaneously accomodating everyone's free choices.

Leibniz definitely SAYS he's a compatibilist and TRIES to distance himself from Spinoza, but I'm not convinced. I can find some citations from the Discourse on Metaphysics to show why I'm not convinced if you like, but the short version is that Leibniz basically thinks everything that occurs occurs with logical necessity, and his explanations of how these factors "incline without necessitating," even though they cannot be resisted, is, in my opinion, totally unconvincing.

Everyone has the problem of God allowing evil, but I think that the Arminian solutions (the "free will defense") presented in recent years by Swinburne and Plantinga (and having a long history before that) are quite compelling, and I haven't heard a Calvinist explanation that I find equally compelling. The Calvinists I know most often ask "who are you to question God's justice?" (which IS a valid point) and leave it at that, with no further attempt at explanation. Surely the Arminian explanation is more compelling than no explanation.

You can read my thoughts on Leibniz here. I think it can be resisted if you distinguish between logical and metaphysical necessity. I don't think he would end up saying that everything is logically necessary given such a distinction. He in fact denies that and says it's morally necessary given that God's moral nature leads to God's choice of this possible world over other (as the best one) but not logically necessary, and I think that's because he would see God's nature in our terms as metaphysically necessary but not logically necessary. The post gets into this more carefully, and I think the Prosblogion crew also had some helpful thoughts, as they usually do.

But I don't think that's the same issue we're dealing with here. Your resistance has been to freedom as compatible with determinism. Leibniz and Malebranche both fully admit to being determinists. What they think Spinoza does that's bad is being a necessitarian. Spinoza doesn't allow for other possible worlds. That's determinism plus some necessary set of initial conditions. Determinism alone doesn't give you necessitarianism. So whether Leibniz gets out of that worry is technically separable from whether he is a compatibilist, which is just whether he thinks free will is compatible with being pretermined. On that, he clearly is one.

I'll get around to posting my thoughts on the problem of evil sometime in the next semester. I'm going to get back to my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series since I'm going to be teaching that class again and having to rework some of my notes. I've been hung up on the moral argument, not wanting to rework what I've got to fit with my current sense of things, but I'm going to be forced to do that this semester.

The short version is that I don't think you have to leave it at "who are you to question God's justice?" D.A. Carson's book on the problem of evil is about to come out in its second edition, and I think that book is thoroughly excellent at responding to the problem of evil. Carson is a Calvinist, and he doesn't leave it at "who are you to question God's justice?" I also think several of the things non-Calvinist philosophers have said over the centuries (along with those who are arguably Calvinists, like Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, Leibniz, and Malebranche) can combine into a fairly comprehensive enough answer that is suggestive enough of why we shouldn't find the problem of evil worrisome for Calvinists.

Here's how your view sounds to me. God foreknows your choice to wear the black shirt. God then sets up deterministic laws that get your body to put on the shirt. This presumably would include making the neurons in your brain fire in certain ways, organizing the parts of your brain related to your desires so that they're organized in the way they're organized when you want to wear the black shirt. Everything corresponding to what the ordinary person would call the causes of your choice is set up by the laws. But then your desire to wear the black shirt is also present in your mind, isn't it? I'm not sure how that's supposed to work in your version of Berkeley. I see Berkeley as having a dualism of minds and ideas as opposed to the dualism of minds and external things (bodies) of Descartes. If that's how you're seeing things, then it's the realm of ideas (perceptions of physical things) that is deterministic according to laws, and that includes neurons and such, but what about the minds? Are there natural laws there? Don't they correspond to the natural laws in the physical realm? That's how Leibniz envisioned it, but I'm not sure what you have in mind. I'm guessing you don't want that, but I think you'll need some other account of how the minds get to where they are.

Precisely what I'm saying is that there are no deterministic laws governing the realm of minds. Deterministic laws govern the realm of perceptions (which are a sub-category of ideas). The realm of minds is governed simply by choice, and chosen actions are neither determined nor random (no, I don't have a rigorous account of how this works; yes, this is a big, gaping hole in the theory). Like Leibniz, I deny any causal connection between the realm of minds and the realm of perceptions - rather, both are created separately by God in "pre-established harmony" with one another. The difference between my version and Leibniz's is that I believe that the minds have libertarian free will, and the perceptions are conformed to the minds by God, rather than saying that both are sort of mutually conformed to each other and are equally deterministic. I'll be posting on related issues over the semester, as I'm about to start work on an honors thesis on "The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley." I also discuss the need for sense perception to follow well-defined (and probably, though not necessarily, deterministic) laws in order for Berkeley's system (or, at least, my neo-Berkeleian system) to work in my paper "The Ontological Status of Dreams in Berkeleian Metaphysics," which is currently in the final round of submissions being considered for the upcoming issue of The Dualist. I should hear back from The Dualist by the end of the month, and if they don't publish it I will post it on my web-site (or perhaps submit it to one of the online-only undergrad journals).

In short, there is a lot more of this discussion coming :)

My problem with the choices being neither determined or random (see linked post above) will still apply to your view, then.

Like Leibniz, you're denying causal connections, and I think your trick is to make this not even a conditional necessity, since God could (but won't) fail to make things correspond the right way. But can't the same be true in the standard deterministic view? But aren't the following conditionals still necessarily true?

1. God's knowledge metaphysically necessitates Y's performing A. (in the sense of conditional necessity)
2. God's willingness not to prevent Y's performing A metaphysically necessitates Y's performing A. (in the sense of conditional necessity)

I have no problem with those things, but you're going to need to distinguish between things true of God and things God does and then between things God allows and things God does. Both distinctions will need to carry serious moral weight such that if something outside my control that God can do something about necessitates my action, it's only strong compulsion in your sense if God does it and doesn't just allow it and know it. But since both cases involve the relevant conditional metaphysical necessity, it seems not to be about that. Since many Calvinists do the same thing with doing/allowing (where God doesn't do but allows evil), is your view really all that different on the issue that really matters for you? If so, how?

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