The first sin and compatibilism
April 1, 2010 — 8:01

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Christian Theology Divine Foreknowledge Divine Providence Free Will Problem of Evil Theological Fatalism Virtue  Comments: 33

Begin with this plausible principle:

  1. If x is necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances to do something wrong, then either (a) x’s character was in some way vicious prior to the action or (b) x is not culpable for the wrong (or both).

This principle is one that both compatibilists and incompatibilists can accept. Hume certainly accepts it, because he thinks we are culpable insofar as our actions reveal our vicious character. We can imagine cases where an internal state that is in no way vicious necessitates a wrongful action. For instance, one might justifiably believe that some action A is right, and one’s virtuous character might necessitate one to do what one believes to be right, but objectively A is wrong. However, in that case, one is not culpable for A. If there is nothing vicious in x’s character, and the character necessitates an action, it is hard to see how the action could be a culpable action.

But now add these premises:

  1. The first sin was culpable.
  2. The internal state of the first sinner was in no way vicious prior to the first sin. (The goodness of creation)

It follows from (1)-(3) that:

  1. The first sinner’s first sin was not necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances.

This has implications for Calvinism. There are two stories about free will compatible with Calvinism. On the first story, given by Jonathan Edwards, free actions are determined by finite causes. On the second story, according to some interpreters given by Thomas Aquinas, free actions are not determined by finite causes, but God’s primary causality causes the particular outcome. The Edwards story has a significant advantage for theodicy: the finite causes of our actions help to “isolate” God from our sins (see this discussion). But the Edwards story cannot be true in the case of the first sin–and yet it is the first sin where theodicy is most needed. This means that the Calvinist should opt for the maybe-Aquinas story, at least in the case of the first sin.

The libertarian has an advantage here, because she has a story as to how a person in a non-vicious state could sin–for a non-vicious state need not determine one to sinlessness.

Objection 1: If someone yields to temptation in extreme circumstances, under necessitation by internal and external causes, we would not say that that is a sign of an antecedent vice.

Response: If the circumstances are sufficiently extreme that we would not say that yielding is a sign of an antecedent vice, and the agent is necessitated by internal and external causes, we should not say that the agent is culpable. Or, more weakly, one might concede some culpability, but say that in such cases the agent is not very culpable. Then in my argument we modify “culpable” to “very culpable” in (1) and (2), and the argument continues to work, I think.

Objection 2: Both biological entities and artifacts have a range of normal operating conditions. Thus, there is something wrong with a whale that can’t stay under water for five minutes, but there is nothing wrong with a human that can’t do it. The same is true of finite persons, whether or not they are biological entities (the argument is neutral on whether the first sinner is an angel or a human). There is nothing wrong with a character that necessitates vicious actions in abnormal operating conditions for that kind of a person.

Response: Two responses are available. The first is that one is not culpable, or very culpable (see the response to Objection 1), for a wrong action when that wrong action is necessitated by a non-vicious character and circumstances outside of one’s normal operating conditions, if the character would not necessitate culpably wrong actions within one’s normal operating conditions. The second is to concede the point and qualify (1) by adding the disjunct: (c) the circumstances are abnormal to one. In this case, the argument would need the added premise that the first sinner was not in an abnormal circumstance. For it is an evil to be in abnormal circumstances that result in a malfunction despite oneself functioning well, and creation did not contain evils.

Comments:
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    This type of argument appeals to me. I’ve used this sort of argument with my Calvinist friends, and interestingly the replies I got were either that if Adam sinned by libertarian free will, that would violate PSR (they didn’t call it ‘PSR’, but that’s what they had in mind), or that human reason (which is used in the argument) is corrupted by sin and so can’t be trusted…

    April 1, 2010 — 9:12
  • Nice post–Augustine has some interesting things to say about the first sins of Adam and Eve, plus of Satan, directly confronting this sort of question. Basically, nothing explains the perverse decision of the person to embrace a lesser good over a greater one, apart from the will acting as an efficient–or, maybe better, a ‘deficient’–cause, as no failures of rationality or character were present.
    However, couldn’t (and shouldn’t) a compatibilist reject 3. The internal state of the first sinner was in no way vicious prior to the first sin. (The goodness of creation)?
    The goodness of creation is the goodness of creation considered as a whole, which allows for God causing local and per se evils when they’re necessary for a greater good. The theist needs to say something like this anyway for all sorts of evils baked into creation, like parasitic wasp larva eating caterpillars alive, and birth defects such as anenchephaly and Sanfillipo syndrome.
    The orthodox story about Adam and Eve is that their sin was a ‘fortunate fall,’ as a world with sin and redemption is better than a world in which people never sinned, and that God created the world knowing that they’d sin, with that sin being an essential part of His providential and beneficent plan. So why couldn’t the compatibilist say that God, in creating a good world, created it the first sinner having the character flaws needed to (freely) commit the first sin, all as a part of His divine plan?

    April 1, 2010 — 9:15
  • Tim:
    1. On deontological grounds, one should not have any theodicy on which God produces the evils as a means to a good. For the God violates the principle that one should not do an evil that a good might come of it. In this post and its comments, I discuss the options for Calvinist theodicy that satisfy this constraint.
    2. It seems to be a central part of Christian doctrine that evil entered the world through sin. So, the examples you list either are (a) not evils or (b) the results of sin. Now, human birth defects are temporally posterior to the first sin, if the first sin happened before the first humans reproduced. So there is no difficulty about taking option (b) for human birth defects. I do not know if the wasp case is an evil. Sure the caterpillar is killed, but is that an evil? Maybe in the non-human world it is natural that some things be eaten and others eat, and it is a part of the nature or design plan of things to supply nutrients to other things. Or maybe one or more devils was involved in the evolutionary process. According to orthodox Christianity, after all, the first sinner isn’t Adam or Eve but an angel.
    Josh:
    The argument came out of a long discussion with a Calvinist grad student. He denied 1: he thought there need not be any vice in a character that would lead to a sin in some very carefully chosen circumstances (to put it perhaps unfairly: in circumstances that push just the right(?) buttons), and the circumstances need not be evil in themselves. He then wanted to defend the idea that God produced those carefully chosen circumstances for the sake of the goods resulting from sin. The latter runs into the deontological worries I mention to Tim, but my friend thought that the creator-creature distinction would take care of those. Notwithstanding that, I find (1) plausible in various equivalent reformulations like:
    1a. If x has a completely non-vicious character, then in any circumstances it is possible that x to avoid culpable wrongdoing.
    1b. If x culpably does wrong as a deterministic consequence of his character and the circumstances, his character was in some way vicious.
    1c. Any action deterministically flowing from an entirely non-vicious character and external circumstances is not culpably wrong.

    April 1, 2010 — 11:37
  • Mike Almeida

    The internal state of the first sinner was in no way vicious prior to the first sin. (The goodness of creation)
    What if you told this story. The first sin did result from a corrupt/vicious internal state. The corruption, however, was non-culpable. So, I’m deceived into believing that God wants me to eat x, and my inner state is conformed, to some degree, contrary to the will of God. But I’m not to blame for this inner corruption, since I’m up against a powerfully deceitful being. My eating x follows in part from such corruption. I think on a compatibilist account, I’d be blameworthy for what I did, since there are no cases (for compatibilists) in which I choose my character and there are some cases (at least) in which I’m nonetheless responsible for what I do. It’s hard to see a compatibilist reason for denying that this is a case in which I’m (morally) responsible.

    April 1, 2010 — 13:08
  • Mike:
    1. This story presupposes a deceiver. But prior to the first sin, there was no deceiver. (If, as orthodoxy holds, Adam and Eve sinned on the devil’s instigation, it is the devil that first sinned.)
    2. I think the compatibilist just as the incompatibilist has to say that actions can be inculpable by virtue of ignorance of the moral facts. If I justifiably believe God wants x and I justifiably believe I should do what God wants, and I do it because of these two beliefs (with the “because of” being true in the right way), then it seems I’m not culpable, even if x is forbidden.

    April 1, 2010 — 14:28
  • Alexander,
    This is a very clear and well written post. With that being said I have some thoughts: The compatiblist Christian could interpret the phrase *good* in Genesis 1 as meaning that at T1 when God created universe it was good, but that creation could be potentially evil or that at T2 the first agent changes his internal desires to evil as a result of some temptation. Why could the compatiblist christian say this? This, it seems to me, is perfectly compatible with the affirmation that creation is good.
    You said:
    “1. On deontological grounds, one should not have any theodicy on which God produces the evils as a means to a good. For the God violates the principle that one should not do an evil that a good might come of it. In this post and its comments, I discuss the options for Calvinist theodicy that satisfy this constraint.”
    Why think this? The verse (Romans 3:8) you are alluding to is only applied to contingent finite agents and not an infinite necessary agent like God. We could be deontologically bounds to the divine commands of God, but God is not bound to his commands. Rather he operates to bring about the greatest good which could not be accomplish without evil (a blessed fall). This seems perfectly logically coherent with all of my intuitions about God and evil. Thanks for writing a very engaging post!

    April 1, 2010 — 14:35
  • 1. Do you think it’s compatible with the goodness of creation that creation be such that it would necessarily develop an evil inclination? This also denies the idea that evil came into the world through sin–evil, on this view, preceded the sin.
    2. Yes, one could allow that God is permitted to do evil that good may come of it. However, I think our morality is a morality of love. An action is wrong if and only if it is unloving. I take it that it is unloving towards x to intentionally produce an evil for x. And this point seems independent of whether the producer is God or a creature. But God is more loving than we. So if an action is unloving, God won’t do it.
    3. The Fall is blessed, but it does not follow that God produced the Fall for the sake of its good effects. The best story seems to be to use Frances Kamm’s doctrine of triple effect or, as I prefer to put it, a defeater-defeater account. See the comments in the post I linked to in my response to Tim.

    April 1, 2010 — 14:48
  • Mike Almeida

    3.The internal state of the first sinner was in no way vicious prior to the first sin. (The goodness of creation)
    Oh, for some reason I took you to be talking about the fall. You’re talking about the first sin simpliciter. I’d still deny (3). Just compare the first sin of a child. There has to be a vague transition from a (pretty much) sinless internal state to a sinful one. Along the way there will be any number of indeterminately sinful states and actions.

    April 1, 2010 — 15:39
  • “1. Do you think it’s compatible with the goodness of creation that creation be such that it would necessarily develop an evil inclination? This also denies the idea that evil came into the world through sin–evil, on this view, preceded the sin.”
    Response: To answer your question: Yes, I do think it is compatible with the goodness of creation as expressed in Genesis 1. In fact, I would say it is equally good as a creation in a another possible world were there would be no evil at all because the creation that has evil would bring about a counter balancing good by God. How would this view entail that evil precedes sin? I would say that God sufficiently causes the agent to sin for a morally sufficient reason (bring about the greater good which would be his glory). Hence, God is not blameworthy and not evil for bringing this about.
    “2. Yes, one could allow that God is permitted to do evil that good may come of it. However, I think our morality is a morality of love. An action is wrong if and only if it is unloving. I take it that it is unloving towards x to intentionally produce an evil for x. And this point seems independent of whether the producer is God or a creature. But God is more loving than we. So if an action is unloving, God won’t do it.”
    Response: I would say that an action x is morally wrong iff it does not bring about God’s glory. This is not incompatible with God’s love (for it is included in God’s glory) but it has a more broader application to all the great making properties of God. God would be unloving to himself as comprised as three member community in one essence if he did not display his hatred toward sin eternally, bringing evil to a greater good outcome, and his domination over evil in hell. So I would think it would be unloving if God could not intentionally produce an contingent agent to sin for his greater glory. But I think this discussion reveals the opposing intuitions of deterministic theism and free will theism, but of course as I would see it there are other considerations to keep in mind.
    “3. The Fall is blessed, but it does not follow that God produced the Fall for the sake of its good effects. The best story seems to be to use Frances Kamm’s doctrine of triple effect or, as I prefer to put it, a defeater-defeater account. See the comments in the post I linked to in my response to Tim.”
    Response: I agree entirely with you on this matter. However, my “blessed fall” is for the sake of the good effects it produces which is God’s Glory.

    April 1, 2010 — 15:43
  • Hi Alex.
    I don’t see that birth defects can unproblematically be thought thought of as the result of human sin just because they’re temporally posterior to human sin. Some birth defects, sure–insofar as some are caused by teratogens that humans are freely responsible for exposing developing fetuses to, e.g., thalidomide babies. But that doesn’t cover most cases of neural tube defects like anencephaly or genetic defects like Sanfillipo syndrome. They’re not the result of human choice, but have roots in biological history far predating the development of human beings.
    As far as not using evil to produce good as a deontological constraint God obeys, I’m not so sure. In any case, I wonder how God is better off in the libertarian story you wish to tell than in the compatibilist one.
    If I understand your story correctly, God created a world of flawless but free beings, who he foresaw would sin, corrupting themselves and the world. He decided to create that world anyway (with its sinning and corrupted creatures) rather than some other world where no creatures freely sinned, because a world with such fallen creatures is necessary for the greater good of redemption. He recognizes that the evils are bad _per se_, but he’s willing to create a world with those evils because the world with such evils is, on balance, better than worlds without them.
    It seems like God on the compatibilist story is using the same sorts of considerations in creating a world in which he foresees that some creatures will freely sin. I don’t how the metaphysics of agent-causation vs. the Humean account of free actions is germane to God’s acting well or badly in the two cases.

    April 1, 2010 — 15:52
  • Hi Alex. A (probably minor) side-point, in one of your responses to Mike, you said,
    I think the compatibilist just as the incompatibilist has to say that actions can be inculpable by virtue of ignorance of the moral facts.
    Can be, but typically aren’t. I’m with Aristotle on this, in his discussion of different sorts of ignorance in NE III. Ignorance of particular matters of fact (typically) excuses, e.g., I didn’t know that some maniac had laced the tylenol capsule I gave to my daughter with hydrogen cyanide. But ignorance of moral facts (typically) doesn’t excuse, as such ignorance is constitutive of vice, e.g., I beat my daughter for a minor infraction, sincerely believing that doing so is perfectly OK. Part of what makes me such a terrible person is that I think that acting is this way is appropriate.
    [NB: these examples are counterfactual!]

    April 1, 2010 — 16:46
  • Tim:
    I have no idea exactly how the Garden of Eden operated, whether it was a place or a state, but surely no human born in Eden would have had birth defects. Whether this would be due to an Edenic law of nature, or a miracle, or a special set of initial conditions, I do not know. But the cause of us not being in Eden now is sin.
    That birth defects preceded the Garden is likely, but they would not have been birth defects in humans, since the first humans were in the Garden.
    “He decided to create that world anyway (with its sinning and corrupted creatures) rather than some other world where no creatures freely sinned, because a world with such fallen creatures is necessary for the greater good of redemption. He recognizes that the evils are bad _per se_, but he’s willing to create a world with those evils because the world with such evils is, on balance, better than worlds without them.”
    No, that’s not the story. The story is that God had reason to create a world with free creatures and certain laws. Maybe the reason was that the freedom and laws made it possible for the creatures to love him freely. Now, a defeater for this reason is that the creatures would sin. However, there is a defeater for this defeater, namely the good coming out of sin. However, God is not aiming at the sin or at the good coming out of sin. He is aiming at the goods that freedom and laws make possible, and the sin and the good coming out of sin only enter in as defeater and defeater-defeater, respectively.
    Nathanael:
    “I would say that an action x is morally wrong iff it does not bring about God’s glory.”
    Doesn’t everything that happens bring about God’s glory?

    April 1, 2010 — 16:57
  • “Doesn’t everything that happens bring about God’s glory?”
    Response: Yes, this is why God cannot be blameworthy for anything that happens. But agents can be because they break God’s commandments which they are obligated to follow in a deonotological fashion. So when I was giving that criteria earlier for what makes an action right or wrong that was with respect to God in teleological way. What makes an action right for God to do is that if it brings about his glory as an end result. I do not think God is deontologically bound to himself, but rather he acts in such a way as to bring about the end result of his glory.

    April 1, 2010 — 17:35
  • Ah, so that dictum was restricted to the case of God.
    But now I am worried. God never acts unlovingly towards us. It seems, though, that to directly intend an evil to happen to x is to act unlovingly towards x.

    April 1, 2010 — 21:07
  • Dan Johnson

    “Yes, one could allow that God is permitted to do evil that good may come of it. However, I think our morality is a morality of love. An action is wrong if and only if it is unloving. I take it that it is unloving towards x to intentionally produce an evil for x. And this point seems independent of whether the producer is God or a creature. But God is more loving than we. So if an action is unloving, God won’t do it.”
    Alex, it sounds like some of the folks here are just willing to deny your judgment that God can’t intend for evil to happen as a means to some greater good for which it is necessary. (I would be careful to deny that this means that God “does” the evil in the sense of being the agent which is blameworthy for the evil, appealing to the Creator/creature distinction with respect to the sort of causality that is operative.) That’s why you are trying to support your judgment by appeal to the love of God.
    I think this needs a lot of work. First, we would need to get exactingly clear about the ways in which the Bible claims that God loves human beings (and various subclasses of human beings). The Bible also states fairly clearly, I believe, that God hates certain human beings — so we’d need to reconcile your claim with that. (D.A. Carson’s “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” is helpful here.) Second, we’d need to get clear on what exactly love requires. Particularly, I’m not sure that the appeal to love gets you the distinction you want between willing evil as a means to a good and being willing to allow evil because the good is a defeater for that evil. Does love really distinguish between allowing evil to occur to a person because there is a good that outweighs it (on the one hand) and willing that very evil because of the good which comes from it (on the other)? It seems to me that the requirements of love will probably be the same in either case.

    April 1, 2010 — 21:38
  • Dan Johnson

    Nathanael,
    I am attracted to your dictum that God is bound only by the end of his own glory. This sounds very consequentialist, though — sounds like God can cause any evils at all so long as they result in greater glory.
    I think we can read it more subtly, though. Glory is the display of God — of his nature and character. There are likely many actions we might imagine God taking which just cannot be means to the glory of God because those actions themselves tell lies about God — and so actually interfere with His glory. So we might get something like a group of action-rules which are analogues of the deontological rules we have by virtue of the law of God.
    The question is whether Alex’s proposed rule — that God cannot intend an evil as a means to a good — is among those rules necessitated by the goal of the glory of God. I’m not sure how to determine that.

    April 1, 2010 — 21:45
  • But now I am worried. God never acts unlovingly towards us. It seems, though, that to directly intend an evil to happen to x is to act unlovingly towards x.
    Response: I would say God as the greatest possible being has to balance the usage of his divine properties so that they can be expressed equally and in a compossible fashion because it is a good if God expresses a greater range of his divine properties. If God has to show his justice and eternal hatred toward sin at the cost of not being loving as you so define it to be then I do not see any intuitive problem with this….but this goes to show the difference in intuitions in Reformed thinkers and Libertarian thinkers.

    April 2, 2010 — 0:02
  • A couple of thoughts.
    1. The constraint that one may never directly will an evil appears to be a structural moral constraint–something coming from the very structure of moral theory–rather than a specific moral rule. It is reasonable to think that such high level moral constraints apply both to God and human beings, while more specific moral rules don’t. What are the grounds of structural moral constraint? Well, a couple of options. One is that willing good to X is a defining feature of love, and it is unloving to do the opposite. (I do not assert that hatred is the opposite of love. I do not know exactly how to analyze hatred.) I somewhat develop these ideas in this paper. Another option that it is the nature of a will, as such, that it be directed at goods. A will that is directed at evil is, thus far, distorted.
    2. God not only loves, but he is love. Moreover, we are in his image and likeness, and we are urged to love our enemies as an image of divine attitudes.
    3. Suppose that God can will an evil directly if a greater good comes of it. Then, it seems, by the same token God should be able to lie if a greater good comes of it. But “God is not a man, that he should lie” (Num 23:19). Moreover, if it were possible for God to lie, then the kinds of considerations behind sceptical theism–about the difficulty of knowing God’s motives, and the moral and non-moral complexity of our world–would undercut our knowledge of divine revelation. For we would always wonder: is God perhaps lying to us, for his glory.
    4. If divine-glory-display consequentialism holds for God, then it is challenging to explain why God was free not to create anything at all. After all, if he did not create anything, how would he be displaying his glory? Maybe the answer is: he’d be displaying his glory to himself, and the particular way in which he’d be displaying his glory would be through his self-sufficiency. Then, we’d probably have to add a large dollop of incommensurability to the theory. So, our world does not display God’s glory better than the world where God did not create (or else God could not have failed to create) and the world where God did not create does not display God’s glory better, either. Now, once one has incommensurability in view, the consequentialism seems to come down to this: God should not make any world (possible or impossible) than which there is one that in every respect better. But now consider a world w1 where the innocent suffer for eternity, and they obey God despite suffering for it for eternity. It is not clear that there is any world that is in every respect better than w1. For there is a value in obeying despite eternal suffering, and so in respect of that value, w1 is better than any competitor.
    5. If, as Nathanael suggests, God “has to balance the usage of his divine properties so that they can be expressed equally”, then this detracts from God’s freedom. It implies, for instance, that God could not have condemned us all to eternal damnation, even though we deserved it. This takes away from the gratuitousness of grace.
    6. My view does not imply that lack of vice implies impeccability. Impeccability is the impossibility of doing wrong. In principle (1) in my post, I am allowing that a non-vicious person can do evil. A non-vicious person might non-culpably do evil, e.g., out of ignorance or freedom-canceling mind-control by another. Moreover, I do not even hold that a non-vicious person is incapable of doing culpable evil. A non-vicious person is capable of doing culpable evil, but her character has to make it possible for her to resist the temptation–otherwise, either she acts non-culpably or her character is vicious. Think about this in the case of a particular sin. Suppose someone’s love of yummy fruit is antecedently greater than her love of God, in such a way that when she sees a yummy fruit, she has to eat it despite love for God. In that case, her character was antecedently vicious–her love for yummy fruit and/or her love for God were disordered.
    Now, if one adds to (1) the assumption that character and circumstances necessitate action, then it does follow that it is not possible for a non-vicious person to sin culpably. If one thinks this conclusion is absurd, that is reason to reject the principle that character and circumstances necessitate action. 🙂
    Another take on impeccability is embodied in my response to Objection 2 in the post.

    April 2, 2010 — 9:09
  • Mike Almeida

    If x is necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances to do something wrong, then either (a) x’s character was in some way vicious prior to the action or (b) x is not culpable for the wrong (or both).
    I’m wondering about this principle. Why couldn’t the first culpable sin deterministically follow from a state that is not sinful? I’m assuming that (a) is not meant to be trivially true, where a sinful state is definitionally a state that causes any sinful act.
    If so, we should reject that definition. But then what could the rationale be? Here’s one: a state that is in a condition of sinlessness S cannot be the cause of any action A that would make it less sinless S-. But that’s false. States of sinfulness can be the cause of actions that make them more sinful. So Smith is in sinful state S-. He might choose to do A- that puts him into a more sinful state S–. And, for any sinful state, we can act in a way that places us in a worse sinful state. We could argue that no sinful state S could be the cause of an act A that places it in a worse sinful state, S-. Why? Because the initial state (S) would have to be worse than it is to act in a way morally consistent with worse state S- (but not morally consistent with S). But we know this is false. As a matter of observable fact, it happens all the time. A person in sinful state S will act in a way that is morally consistent with a much worse state S-. (Liars becomes thieves become murderers, etc.) Why would he sinless state be an exception? It isn’t. A person in a sinless state might act in a way morally inconsistent with that state.

    April 2, 2010 — 9:39
  • Let me say something about what I take my main argument to accomplish. I take it to show that the following claims are incompatible:
    1. Creaturely action is necessitated by character and circumstances.
    2. Evil entered the world through a culpable sin.
    So, people willing to deny 1 or 2 escape the argument. Of course, Christians willing to deny 2 have to give some other story of how evil entered the world that is compatible with the goodness of creation. And those who deny 1 have to either go libertarian, at least on the first sinner, or else have to go for a story on which our actions are determined, but by God, and not character and circumstances.

    April 2, 2010 — 9:44
  • Dan Johnson

    Alex, some arguments against your principle that God cannot intend evil, even as a means to good.
    First, there are Biblical examples of God willing particular evil actions as a means to a good. The one that jumps particularly to mind is the case of Joseph and his brothers. His brothers act evilly in selling him into slavery, but Joseph tells them later that “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” (Gen. 50:20); earlier Joseph says, “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life….So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:5,8). This is a clear case where an evil action is ascribed to God (though under a different description — God’s action in bringing it about is not evil), and it sure looks like God intended that action (God “meant it for good”) for the good that would come of it. The other really prominent example that jumps to mind are the many evil actions that were tied up with the crucifixion; I believe that Peter early on in Acts ascribes those to God’s intentions.
    In short, while your claim that God didn’t intend evil actions works fine in the abstract (when you are considering the very possibility of any evil action), it seems to break down when we consider God’s particular plan for history and his willing of particular evil actions for particular goods that come from them.
    Second (this is a much weaker argument and may just be the result of the fact that I am Reformed), pastoral practice seems to urge against your view. Suppose I am betrayed by a friend. You should tell me that “God did not intend that your friend betray you, but he is working to bring good from it.” The Reformed will tell me “God intended that your friend betray you for the sake of a great good he has planned that will ultimately come from it.” The second sounds much more powerful and comforting to me. Now, undeniably, the second may initially cast doubt on the goodness of God — but that doubt is defeated by any evidence I have that there is in fact some great good that this evil is necessary for. So your principle looks false, because what casts doubt on God’s goodness is the possibility that he would intend an evil without a good which it is a necessary means to, not the mere fact that he intends an evil.

    April 2, 2010 — 11:53
  • Alexander, below are my thoughts on some of your points.
    Response to 1: I do not think God does or causes evil rather I think that he sufficiently causes agent to freely perform evil actions. I disagree with the grounds that God is under the same moral constraint as creatures because there might very well be another good which God is free to pursue at the cost of showing different types of love towards his creatures for his glory or a greater good for his glory. God can know what this is because he knows all true propositions (and knows no false propositions) and is the greatest possible being, whereas creatures lack both of these (among other things). So it seems like creatures and God is entirely a different situation. The concern I have here with this sort of reasoning is that it might lead to a sort of univocity, which is something that all Orthodox Western Christians have tried to avoid (since it tends to compromise God as the greatest possible being)
    Response to 2: Yes, but no precise ethical grounding can be inferred from this claim because we are only to image the divine ethical life analogously and not univocally. In short: We act as analogies of God in our ethical life, but we do not act exactly like God.
    Response to 3: It is logically impossible for God to lie. Just because I say that God can be morally justified in sufficiently causing creatures to freely sin, it does not follow from that God can be morally justified in doing anything (like lying). On the other hand, creatures ought to lie in order to protect and preserve innocent human life. Take for example Joshua 1-6 and James 2 where Rehab the Prostitute lies to save the Israelites and God counts this action to be great in James 2. Or the Egyptian mid-wives that saved their lives and the babies at the cost of lying (Exodus 1). Yet, in Hebrews 6 we read that it is impossible for God to lie. This is an additional reason why I think that we are under different moral constraints than God.
    Response to 4: There are many possible worlds that are equal in their greatness in which God chooses one of them to actualize. In one of these possible worlds God chooses not to create. God as the greatest possible being does not need to create and so it shows his greatness in this possible world to show his lack of need for something other than himself, namely creation. The world w 1 you describe is not a possible world so far as I can see. God would be unjust in punishing the obedient eternally, so such a world is logically impossible.
    Response to 5: I do not think it compromises God’s free grace. God does not have to choose any particular human being because we are all sinners, but rather God has to choose some human being who is a sinner on account of his love and grace which he necessarily has. So God does not have to choose s or s*, for he could have chosen someone else to bestow his grace. But God has to bestow his grace on someone because God is greatest possible being so it would be better that he be gracious rather than not. In the Christian tradition when say things like “it would be perfectly just for God to damn us all to hell” this is undoubtedly true with respect to God’s of justice, but this statement is about God’s property of justice, but not his property of grace.

    April 2, 2010 — 13:41
  • Heath White

    I take it to show that the following claims are incompatible:
    1. Creaturely action is necessitated by character and circumstances.
    2. Evil entered the world through a culpable sin.
    So, people willing to deny 1 or 2 escape the argument. … And those who deny 1 have to either go libertarian, at least on the first sinner, or else have to go for a story on which our actions are determined, but by God, and not character and circumstances.

    I think Christians should accept 2 but 1 is up for grabs. In particular, I am attracted to a story on which creaturely action is necessitated, but not by character and circumstances. (There is a reading of ‘circumstances’ which means “everything that’s not character” but I take it that’s not what’s meant.) So, for example, one might be necessitated at the level of physics or biology, but not at the level of psychology (character), so long as psychology non-reductively supervenes on physics or biology. That’s plausible for Adam; I don’t know about Satan. That preserves a form of the Edwards story.
    Or it could be that creaturely action is necessitated by divine causality. In some sense this must be true; God is after all not constrained by laws of physics or psychology or anything else but logic, except in the sense that such laws of nature are goods he is concerned to preserve. (Thus it seems to me that whatever theodical (?) problems divine causality raises, are raised regardless of whether finite causes determine actions or not.) I would want to see the argument that does not allow us to invoke an intended/foreseen distinction in God’s actions in this case.

    April 2, 2010 — 14:36
  • Mike Almeida

    So, people willing to deny 1 or 2 escape the argument.
    So are people who accept (1) and (2) and deny the principle (1).

    April 2, 2010 — 14:50
  • Nathanael:
    On lying:
    A person who innocently believes that something is right might be praised for her good will in doing it, even if objectively the action is wrong. Imagine a doctor who is told to perform some operation. If he does not do it, he loses his job and his reputation is ruined. However, he has serious moral qualms about whether the operation is right. He consults the Scriptures, he consults wise friends whom he respects, he prays, and he comes to the conclusion that the operation is wrong. He refuses to do it. He loses his job, his reputation is ruined. And I say: He is to be praised for his obedience to his conscience, even if further ethical analysis shows that in fact the operation was right. It is in this way that I think the people in the Old Testament who lied are praised. Satan is the father of lies, and surely we should not act as children of his.
    On justice:
    I am very happy to hear that you think justice provides an absolute constraint on God’s action–that he cannot act in a way opposed to justice. And I submit that the same is true of love–he cannot act in a way opposed to love.
    But let me go back to the justice issue as such. What is unjust about the innocent suffering for eternity? I submit that the injustice here is that God would be intentionally imposing a very great harm on someone who did not deserve it. But sin is a very great harm to the sinner, and the first sinner was, prior to that sin, innocent. Thus, to make him sin would have been to impose a very great harm on an innocent, and to do so intentionally.
    Everybody:
    It seems to me that to some extent the whole business of whether God causes an evil or sin through secondary causes or directly is not the most relevant question. The relevant question is whether God intends the evil or sin. The question whether God causes it directly is only relevant because if he causes it directly, then it is very likely (there are some issues with causation of negative facts) that he intends it.
    As long as Samantha intended George to die, it is irrelevant to the question of her responsibility whether she killed him directly with her bare hands, or killed him by means of a rock she threw at him, or killed him by blind-folding him as part of a game and telling him to walk over a cliff, or killed him by hiring a hitman to do it. In all of these cases, she is responsible (assuming she was sane and free), because she intentionally killed him, and the fact that in all the cases except the first she did so by means of other causes is morally of no relevance with respect to her responsible. In the last case, of course, the hitman is also responsible. But Samantha is no less responsible–her responsibility is not diluted by the hitman’s being added to hers. (In fact, in the last case, Samantha is guilty of two sins: murder and enticing another into sin.)

    April 2, 2010 — 18:48
  • Mike:
    Fair enough.
    Heath:
    I should have said “internal state” in place of character.

    April 2, 2010 — 18:50
  • Response to Lying: I would not say this is analogy you have given is true in the case of Rehab because there can be no ignorance in the case of Rehab. The Law of God is written on everyone heart and everybody knows what is ethically right or wrong (Romans 2:14-15). So if this instance was a genuine instance of unjustified lying then Rehab would be blameworthy because she knew fully well that lying is generally wrong in the majority of circumstances. But she is praised for this action of mistruth and so it seems to me that this effectively shows that lying is not always morally wrong.
    Response to Justice: I would agree that God cannot act opposed to justice or love. In the first sin God gets to show his justice and his hatred toward sin to the creature which is a greater good although God sufficiently causing him to freely sin is not to be categorized as just or unjust, but rather as just a “good” because it brings about justice and so many other manifestations of the divine properties. Yet, I would say it is opposed to justice for God to send someone to hell for no wrong they have done because of the fact that hell is punishment for wrongs by means of God’s direct wrath. However, this is not true of the first sin, so I would not agree with your parallel of the pre-fall state and Hell. The first sin was brought about by an agent by God’s indirect sufficient causality. If God did not indirectly sufficiently cause this free agent to sin then God could not freely show his grace and mercy through his redemption in Jesus Christ (this is of course assuming that my philosophical arguments against libertarian free will in creatures are valid and sound and that grace and mercy can only be shown with sin in the circumstance). It seems to me that sin shows God’s love more than the absence of sin. If God could not show this side of himself then God would be unjust to himself. All this to say: While on my divine consequentialism I think it logically impossible for God to send people to hell when they are not in the wrong, I do not think it to be logically impossible for God to sufficiently cause agents to freely sin so that he can glorify himself by showing his love, justice, grace, and mercy to his creatures through Jesus Christ.

    April 3, 2010 — 13:31
  • But God did impose eternal damnation on an innocent person on the Calvinist view. He just did so in a two step process. First, he made the person sin, and then he damned the person for eternity for that sin. (I am thinking of Satan, not Adam or Eve.) So I do not think the difference between the impossible world where God damns the innocent and the world where God makes the first person sin is all that great.

    April 5, 2010 — 13:51
  • Dan Johnson

    Why should we believe the main operative principle in this argument?
    “If x is necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances to do something wrong, then either (a) x’s character was in some way vicious prior to the action or (b) x is not culpable for the wrong (or both).”
    The only reason I can think to believe this principle is something like this: an act is wrong only if it issues from a wrong motive.
    But if that is right, doesn’t this cause equal trouble for the libertarian? The libertarian will then need a wrong motive to preexist the libertarian free action, and so viciousness will preexist the first sin.
    If the libertarian denies that an action is wrong only if it proceeds from a wrong motive and allow for wrong actions ex nihilo, why can’t the compatibilist do the same and deny (1)?
    I think I’m asking for arguments for (1). I don’t really know why I should accept it. I’m not convinced by your argument from divine love, as you know from my reply to that argument earlier. If you try to articulate why you believe it, though, I might be able to see what version of it I should accept. I find the principle plausible, but I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m being mislead somehow by words like “necessitated” and “vicious” — both of which can be taken in numerous and importantly different ways. I get the feeling that when we specify what they mean, I won’t accept the same specification of the principle that you will.

    April 5, 2010 — 15:20
  • Dan Johnson

    Here’s another try at explaining away my attraction to the main operative principle. I think I am being mislead by the words “necessitated” and “vicious.”
    “If x is necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances to do something wrong, then either (a) x’s character was in some way vicious prior to the action or (b) x is not culpable for the wrong (or both).”
    Here’s what I would be willing to accept. First, I would accept the principle with a carefully restricted reading of “necessitates,” one restricted to fairly general descriptions of situations. For example, I would agree that if a person’s character combined with the situation “being married” causally necessitated that person to sin by mistreating his wife, then the person must be vicious, since only a vicious disposition could explain that necessity. This is a very general description of the circumstances, though, one which is compatible with many different details of the situation. The more specific we get with the description of the circumstances (introducing all the many details), though, the more I lose the intuition that the causal necessity of sin entails viciousness of character, because there are more available explanations of the wrong action than the existence of a vicious disposition.
    (That is, unless I allow myself to be pulled by the intuition that a wrong action entails a wrong motive — but then, as I said previously, this is as much a problem for the libertarian as for the compatibilist. This is the problem that Kierkegaard, a libertarian, set out to solve in Concept of Anxiety. He thought anxiety was the solution: a motivational state that was not itself sinful but which could explain a sinful action.)
    Second, I would accept the principle even without this carefully restricted reading of “necessitates” if we instead carefully restrict the reading of “vicious” or, better, if we replace “vicious” with “less than perfect” or something in the vicinity. I would agree with the principle if it merely claimed that someone who is necessitated by the circumstances and internal character to sin is somehow less than fully perfect — not fully developed into a mature, perfectly virtuous person. But I don’t think any orthodox theology claims that Adam was that sort of person — that isn’t entailed by the claim that creation was good.

    April 5, 2010 — 15:39
  • Everybody:
    Based on an email from a friend, I must apologize for being too quick in my remark “But God did impose eternal damnation on an innocent person on the Calvinist view.” First of all, careful temporal indexing is needed. The person is innocent when the causal process leading to eternal damnation is begun, but he is not innocent when the eternal damnation itself begins. Second, my argument’s use of the phrase “made the person sin” makes it sound as if I begging the question by assuming a responsibility-canceling divine causation. I meant the phrase in an intentional causal sense, but not in a responsibility-canceling sense.
    Here is an analogous story. I want to manifest how just my coutnry’s justice system is. Fred is currently an innocent guy, but somehow I know that if I were to leave a certain item around, he would freely steal it and get caught. Maybe I know this by induction from the behavior of similar persons in the past, or maybe by means of Molinist middle knowledge (communicated to me by God), or maybe because determinism holds. So I leave the item about, in order that he might steal it, get caught, and be justly punished for it.
    In so doing, I am causing a now-innocent person to later go to jail. And I am doing so intentionally.
    This seems structurally similar to at least one version of the Calvinist story. Note that in my story, I am responsible for his sin, because I intentionally cause it. However, my responsibility for his sin is not of a sort that takes away his responsibility. Fred is fully responsible, and when he goes to jail, he does so deservedly. But I deserve punishment as well.
    Dan:
    The principle seems driven by the idea that a disposition to act sinfully in circumstances of type C is a vicious disposition (at least if circumstances of type C are not abnormal to the individual in such a way as to be responsibility-canceling). But if one was necessitated by a combination of inner state and external circumstances, then one had a disposition to act sinfully in these circumstances.
    Consider this by example.
    A necessitating disposition to steal whenever one can get away with this is a vicious disposition.
    A necessitating disposition to steal watches whenever one can get away with this is a vicious disposition.
    A necessitating disposition to steal gold watches whenever one can get away with this is a vicious disposition.
    A necessitating disposition to steal gold watches after dinner when one can get away with this is a vicious disposition.
    A necessitating disposition to steal gold watches with roman numerals on the face after dinner from one’s female enemies when one can get away with this is a vicious disposition.
    The more limited the disposition, the less vicious, I suppose. But it no matter how limited (at least as long as we don’t limit it to responsibility-reducing conditions like: “A disposition to steal gold watches at gunpoint”), it seems somewhat vicious.
    Here is an interesting question. Suppose it is merely a disposition to do this with probability 0.6, and we are talking of a libertarian-free agent. Is that vicious? I am inclined to think it is, as long as the circumstances aren’t responsibility-reducing. If it is vicious even in the libertarian case, then I think the principle is neutral between libertarianism and compatibilism.

    April 5, 2010 — 21:50
  • Dan Johnson

    Alex,
    Your story about Fred is really interesting. Do I always have an obligation to prevent Fred’s temptation? Am I always obligated not to leave the thing lying around? It seems to me that my obligation can be defeated by contrary considerations — goods that require me to leave the thing lying around, for instance.
    I would even think that I might be justified in leaving the thing lying around if I know some great good will come from his sin, some good that outweighs the wrong of his sin. (Examples of allowing children into tempting circumstances in order to teach them an important lesson come to mind.)
    You might not go with this last thing I said. Even so, here I would invoke the Creator/creature distinction. God is in a different position than you or I, and he might be justified in purposefully bringing about sin for his glory. God is permitted to seek his own glory, but we are not to seek our own glory (or the glory of our justice system) but God’s glory. There is therefore a fundamental disanalogy between us and God, such that your story may not apply to God.

    April 6, 2010 — 14:12
  • I am not saying one has an obligation to prevent temptation. But it is wrong to present someone with temptation in order that he might sin (whether just for that sake or for the sake of a further end). In fact, that’s precisely the millstone-deserving sin of Luke 17:1-2.
    Note that one might also present Fred with temptation in order that God be glorified. Perhaps my country’s justice system is a reflection of God’s justice. It is from God that the state receives the sword. Or maybe I want Fred to go to hell that God might thereby be glorified.

    April 6, 2010 — 14:57