A dialogue on Calvinism
April 7, 2010 — 15:20

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Providence Free Will Hell Problem of Evil Theological Fatalism  Comments: 55

Ari: Consider this horrific theology: God forces Sally to sin, in a way that takes away her responsibility, and then he intentionally causes eternal torment to her.
Cal: I thought you were smarter than that. That isn’t Calvinist theology! Calvinism holds that God intentionally causes people to sin in a way that retains their responsibility, and then punishes some of them.
Ari: I didn’t say it was a Calvinist theology. You agree that this is a horrific theology, I take it?
Cal: Yes, of course.
Ari: Why?
Cal: Because God is punishing an innocent.
Ari: I said nothing about punishment. I said God intentionally caused eternal torment. I didn’t say that the torment was a punishment.
Cal: How does that make it not be horrific?


Ari: I agree it’s horrific. I just want to get clear on why. It’s horrific because eternal torment is intentionally imposed on an innocent, right?
Cal: Right.
Ari: And why is that horrific?
Cal: Huh?!
Ari: It’s obvious, isn’t it? It’s horrific because eternal torment is an extremely great harm, and it is being imposed on an innocent.
Cal: Yes. But I said: that theology isn’t mine.
Ari: And I didn’t say it was. But now, you agree that eternal torment is deserved for sin or at least some sin.
Cal: For all sin.
Ari: Very good. And punishment should be proportionate to the crime?
Cal: Yes. And sin is a rebellion against God. Every sin is horrendous.
Ari: Right. And do you agree with Socrates that it is better to suffer wrongdoing than to act wrongly?
Cal: There is eternal punishment, after all.
Ari: Would it be true even if there were no hell? Socrates thinks it is in itself better to suffer wrongdoing than to act wrongly.
Cal: I guess he’s right.
Ari: And the worse the wrongdoing, the worse it is to for the wrongdoer?
Cal: Yes.
Ari: And so, if sin is an extremely great evil, it is an extremely great harm to the wrongdoer, right?
Cal: That sounds right.
Ari: But now let’s go back to your theology. Your theology is that God intentionally causes some innocent people to sin…
Cal: … in a way that retains their responsibility.
Ari: Exactly. It wouldn’t be sin in the full sense without the responsibility. But we also agreed that it is an extremely great harm to the sinner to sin.
Cal: I guess so.
Ari: And we agreed that the horrific theology is horrific precisely because it has God intentionally imposing an extremely great harm on an innocent person. Yet according to your theology God intentionally imposes an extremely great harm on an innocent person–the harm of sinning. Moreover, this harm appears to be of the same order of magnitude as eternal torment, because the sin deserves eternal torment and punishment needs to match the crime.
Cal: I’ll need to think about this. But one quick thought comes into my mind: God causes people to sin in order to glorify himself through redeeming some and punishing others.
Ari: But my horrific theology wouldn’t be a good theology if we added that God somehow makes use of the eternal torment of the innocent person to glorify himself. Maybe the innocent person is so good that she sings praises to God for eternity, and such singing of praise, despite eternal torment, has extremely high value. Now maybe you don’t buy that it has such great value. But I submit that even if it did, intentionally imposing eternal torment on an innocent would not be justified. And for the same reason, intentionally imposing sin on an innocent is not justified.

Comments:
  • blakegiunta

    So this argues that “intentionally imposing sin on an innocent is not justified.” Now, whether this is true or false, it seems to me that your particular line of reasoning above might be muddied with equivocation; that “great harm” means something like *physical* evil one moment, and *moral* evil the next. It seems:
    FIRST, that it means [physical evil]:
    — Ari: It’s obvious, isn’t it? It’s horrific [morally evil] because eternal torment is an extremely great harm [physical evil], and it is being imposed on an innocent.
    SECOND, that it means [moral evil]:
    — Ari: Socrates thinks it is in itself better [more morally good] to suffer wrongdoing than to act wrongly.
    — Ari: And the worse the wrongdoing, the worse [more morally evil] it is to for the wrongdoer?
    — Ari: And so, if sin is an extremely great [moral] evil, it is an extremely great harm [moral evil] to the wrongdoer, right?
    So here we should expect to find a case for God’s, on Calvinism, having performed an “extremely great” moral evil (horrific), right? Instead, look what happens:
    Step 1. You say “We agreed that the horrific theology is horrific precisely because it has God intentionally imposing an extremely great harm [physical evil] on an innocent person.”
    Step 2. You say “Yet according to your theology God intentionally imposes an extremely great harm [moral evil] on an innocent person–the harm of sinning.”
    So, if I’ve understood your terms correctly, I don’t think there’s a way to make this valid.

    April 7, 2010 — 17:01
  • Mike Almeida

    Yet according to your theology God intentionally imposes an extremely great harm on an innocent person–the harm of sinning.
    Aren’t you equivocating on ‘imposing a harm on an innocent’?
    Case (1): God imposes the torment and God, not the agent S, is fully morally responsible for S’s torment.
    Case (2): God imposes the sin, but the agent, not God, is fully morally responsible for S’s sinning.
    If case (2) describes a conceptual possibility (and I doubt it does) then it doesn’t entail anything especially horrible about God. God has no moral responsibility at all for S’s sinning. The ‘imposing’ is a responsibility-free imposing. In case (1) we do not have a responsibility-free imposing.

    April 7, 2010 — 17:05
  • blakegiunta:
    Since moral evil is worse than physical, if it is wrong to impose an physical evil on an innocent, it should be even more wrong to impose a moral evil.
    Mike:
    Well, if (2) is an intentional causing, then it’s responsibility-involving. And the argument is directed at those who say that God intentionally causes us to sin.

    April 8, 2010 — 0:22
  • Mike Almeida

    Well, if (2) is an intentional causing, then it’s responsibility-involving.
    But doesn’t that just beg the question against the Calvinists? Or, is the claim that the C’s didn’t notice that God is responsible in just those cases where they claim that the agent is caused-but-fully-responsible-for-sinning? Or, is it that some kinds of compatibilism are consistent with an agent being caused-but-fully-responsible-for-sinning, but not the Calvinist sort? Or maybe something else.

    April 8, 2010 — 7:24
  • I am not questioning that the agent caused to sin is responsible for sinning. I am claiming, however, that on the Calvinist story on which God causes them to sin so that he might redeem some and punish others, God is intending their sin. And I am arguing that this is contrary to God’s goodness or justice.
    It is quite possible for A to cause B to sin, and for B to be responsible for the sin. For instance, if I offer you a bribe, and you take it, then I’ve caused you to sin, and you are responsible for the sin. At the same time, I’m also responsible for your sin.

    April 8, 2010 — 7:36
  • Mike Almeida

    I am not questioning that the agent caused to sin is responsible for sinning.
    But you are questioning whether he is fully responsible. I take it Calvinist’s would regard the agent as fully responsible for sinning, not partially so.
    I am claiming, however, that on the Calvinist story on which God causes them to sin so that he might redeem some and punish others, God is intending their sin.
    Why isn’t the response that God foresees, but does not intend, that you freely sin? I can foresee and not intend things that I cause. My dentist causes pain all the time, but doesn’t intend to cause pain.

    April 8, 2010 — 9:49
  • BlakeG

    “if it is wrong to impose an physical evil on an innocent, it should be even more wrong to impose a moral evil.”
    Isn’t “impose” here now being used in two different senses? First it means “to perform an evil on P” and next it simply means something like “to ultimately apply an evil to P’s account”? I think one would have to add a premise like: “to ultimately apply an evil to P’s account” is to itself “perform an evil on P”. Is that right?
    If you ask a Calvinist whether he’d agree with that premise, I suspect he’d say “Of course not, that’s Calvinism 101”.
    “if I offer you a bribe, and you take it, then I’ve caused you to sin, and you are responsible for the sin. At the same time, I’m also responsible for your sin.”.
    Hmm… I’d want to be careful here; it seems to me the Biblical God does something equivalent even on the Arminian view (cf. Rom 7:8 in addition to the following).
    Rom 3:19 — Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;
    Rom 4:15 — for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
    Rom 5:20-21-6:1 — The Law came in so that the transgression would increase (cf. Gal 3:19); but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?

    April 8, 2010 — 11:11
  • Brian Boeninger

    Mike says:
    “But you are questioning whether he is fully responsible. I take it Calvinist’s would regard the agent as fully responsible for sinning, not partially so.”
    We can distinguish being fully responsible from being solely responsible. Suppose two agents, S1 and S2, each intend to bring about some consequence A, both causally contribute to A (perhaps this is a case of overdetermination, or only a case of partial causal contribution), and both S1 and S2 were individually able to prevent A’s occurrence. Then it may be that both S1 and S2 are fully responsible for A, but neither is solely responsible for it. Responsibility isn’t “zero-sum,” so the fact that S1 is responsible for A needn’t (though in some cases it might) diminish S2’s responsibility, and vice versa.
    So the claim that God is responsible for (because God intentionally caused) S sinning, on its own, doesn’t entail that S’s responsibility for sinning is diminished (“partial”), at least not without further assumptions (I think such a case could plausibly be made, but perhaps not one that relied on premises the Calvinist would accept). Are there other reasons to think that Pruss’s story commits him to merely partial responsibility on the part of the human agent?

    April 8, 2010 — 11:21
  • BlakeG

    Oops.. I maybe have slipped. Given that P is an innocent person, perhaps you’ve already added the premise that (a) “to ultimately apply an evil to P’s account” is to itself (b) “perform an evil on P”, because (a) results in (b).
    But then what’s strange is that, to my layman eyes, (b) can’t result from (a). Why? Because P must be innocent in order for (b) to hold, and given the truth of (a), P would no longer be innocent.

    April 8, 2010 — 11:29
  • “For instance, if I offer you a bribe, and you take it, then I’ve caused you to sin, and you are responsible for the sin. At the same time, I’m also responsible for your sin.”
    I don’t think this holds.
    I don’t see how A offering B a bribe makes A the cause of B accepting the bribe. A might bear some responsibility, but assuming B had an alternative possibility, it seems a mistake to say A caused B’s action. Did B not act freely?
    (The above point, of course, presupposes some sort of incompatibilism)

    April 8, 2010 — 11:44
  • Gavin:
    Causation can go through free action.
    Suppose that you are running for election, and I spread a malicious and false rumor about you, which the voters believe. Because of the rumor, you don’t get elected. Surely we’d say, whether we are compatibilists or libertarians, that I caused you to lose the election. And this is true even though the voters were still free to vote for you, despite their believing that you were in the pay of evil aliens, or whatever the rumor was.
    Likewise, we say things like: “The general’s timely order to attack on the left flank caused the victory.” But the general’s order had to be filtered through the free will of various agents, such as the subordinate who radioed the order to the relevant unit.
    Brian:
    Very well said.
    Blake:
    I don’t know what exactly you mean about applying an evil to someone’s account.
    The Socratic principle is that the doing of evil is in and of itself, without regard for any further consequences (such as having an evil on one’s account), a harm to the agent. The picture isn’t that God causes the agent to sin, and then the sin leads a further harm (though it does that, too). Rather, the picture is that the sin itself is the harm. And it is imposed on someone who is innocent, though he is no longer innocent once the sin occurs. (Compare this: One can only kill the living. But of course once death has been imposed, the person no longer is alive.)
    As to the texts from Romans, I read them differently. It’s a complicated story that involves Kamm’s notion of triple effect. See the first comment here. I also think that sometimes Scripture (and presumably the ordinary language of the time) uses “so that”, “because”, “and so” and similar vocabulary in a looser sense than we are used to. I can try to dig up other examples.

    April 8, 2010 — 12:11
  • Dan Johnson

    “…according to your theology God intentionally imposes an extremely great harm on an innocent person–the harm of sinning.”
    I again take issue with your language. It is impossible to “impose” the harm of sinning on anyone, since “impose” picks out a necessarily freedom-cancelling action. If you “impose” sinning on me, I am not responsible and thus not sinning.
    The only temptation I have for accepting your principle that it is wrong to impose a great harm on someone is if we read “impose” in this freedom-cancelling way. If we read “impose” merely as “cause” or “intentionally cause” I see no reason to accept the principle in the case of intentionally caused free actions. And I think pretty much every Calvinist will follow me here. So the argument begs the question.

    April 8, 2010 — 12:18
  • Mike:
    “Why isn’t the response that God foresees, but does not intend, that you freely sin?”
    That is a fine response. However, it requires that the Calvinist give up the fairly common story that God causes sin so as to manifest his glory by condemning some and redeeming others. For if he causes sin for a further end, then he intends sin, as a means to that end.
    Now, the question is whether the Calvinist can consistently give the story. I suspect not. There are two Calvinist stories about free will. On one view, God directly causes people’s free actions, without any finite causes determining these actions. In this case, it would be very difficult to explain why God would cause the first sin, without coming out and saying that he caused it as a means to a good end. On the second view, that of Jonathan Edwards, finite causes determine free actions. On this view, there might be an explanation–maybe the initial conditions that lead to sin have a particular aesthetic elegance to them, and so God causes these initial conditions because of that elegance, and not because they lead to sin. That is a fine story, but it falls afoul of my other recent argument.
    So one can look at this post and other other argument as providing two horns of a dilemma for a Calvinist. Either free action is determined by prior finite causes or not. If it is not so determined, then it’s determined only by God, and it’s very hard to explain why God determined the first sinner to sin, unless we suppose he intended it for some good end. If action is determined by finite causes, as on Jonathan Edwards’ view, we have the problem of how culpable sin can be necessitated by an entirely non-vicious character. It’s also worth noting that in responding to the latter objection, some commenters embraced the idea that God causes sin for the sake of his glory. So even some of the Edwards-style Calvinists may accept the idea that God intentionally causes sin for his glory.

    April 8, 2010 — 12:20
  • Dan Johnson

    If I intentionally cause another person to sin, I am not responsible for exactly the same thing that they are. For example, suppose I cause another to think lustful thoughts.
    (1) The other person is guilty of lust — responsible for thinking lustful thoughts.
    (2) I am not guilty of lust or responsible for thinking lustful thoughts. I am responsible for intentionally causing the other person to think lustful thoughts.
    In our case, due to something about our status as creatures, (2) is (always or most of the time) a blameworthy state of affairs, though not blameworthy in the same way that (1) is blameworthy. However, the contested question is whether (2) is a blameworthy state of affairs FOR GOD. Calvinists deny this. Simply reiterating stories involving creatures does nothing to establish an analogy between creatures and the Creator on this point.
    Now, we can ask how the disanalogy works exactly, and that is an interesting question. Many Calvinists want a doing/allowing distinction, without employing libertarian free will to get it (the Westminster Confession is an example). I think there are lots of options to be explored. But the burden of proof doesn’t seem to me to weigh more on one side or the other — I need to provide an explanation of the disanalogy, but so too you need to provide an argument for the analogy. Neither of us has accomplished these tasks.

    April 8, 2010 — 12:26
  • Dan:
    I definitely just meant “caused” by “imposed”. If I were to revise, I’d replace “imposed” by “caused” because “imposed” has shades of meaning that “caused” doesn’t.
    The puzzle for your view is this. You grant (I assume) that it would be wrong for God to intentionally cause an innocent person to suffer eternal pain. But you do not grant that it would be wrong for God to intentionally cause an innocent person to sin, even though to sin is intrinsically at least as great a harm as to suffer eternal pain. Why is causing the one permissible while causing the other impermissible?
    (Compare this: it is clearly a worse wrong to intentionally cause someone to freely commit a theft than to intentionally put an innocent person in jail for the number of years that a theft deserves.)

    April 8, 2010 — 12:30
  • Heath White

    Dan,
    In addition to the puzzle raised by Alex, it seems to me that the chief objection to setting up different evaluative standards for God is that it makes it impossible to talk about God’s moral character. You can’t say that God is loving, or just, or merciful, without putting scare quotes around those words, since God’s “love” for you is compatible with inflicting great harms on you. His “justice” is arbitrary favoritism. His “mercy”…you get the idea. With a God like that, who needs devils? Which is precisely the reaction many people have to the Calvinist God.
    In addition, the question has to be raised whether the glory of God is something good for us creatures or not (in the straightforward, no-scare-quotes sense). If not, then the Calvinist picture has us under the sway of an egotistical tyrant, all slaving away and sometimes being sacrificed for an end we have no stake in.
    A much better picture, put out by some Calvinists, is that God is glorified in the salvation of his people, or in our taking pleasure in him, or something like that. That is, God’s glory amounts to him conferring genuine goods on his people, and a loving relationship developing out of that. But that requires that God’s character, and consequently ethics, be describable in ways at least approximately like ours.
    Finally, sanctification amounts to imitating or coming to resemble God. God’s character may always *go beyond* what a fully sanctified human character would be like; still, it won’t be *contrary* to what a fully sanctified human character would be like.
    Alex,
    I am tempted to say that if you are ever faced with the choice of causing me to steal, or putting me in jail for twenty years, you should go with the stealing. 🙂

    April 8, 2010 — 13:34
  • Heath:
    I think your intuition about stealing is some evidence that twenty years is an unjust jail sentence for theft.
    I’ve wondered, by the way, whether the Calvinist can’t say that even the reprobate have a stake in God’s end of justice, because it’s good for one to get what one deserves. Still, it seems to be a good the reason to pursue which is always defeated by the disvalue of the wrongdoing.
    Dan:
    I think your point that if x intentionally causes y to sin, x is (typically) not guilty of the same thing as y is is an important insight. But I say that x’s action is always intrinsically worse than y’s, roughly in proportion to y’s. (To intentionally cause a mortal sin is itself a mortal sin. But to intentionally cause a venial sin might itself only be a venial sin.)
    Everybody:
    It’s looking to me that in this and the other thread we’ve collectively made some significant progress on various theodical questions, particularly as connected with Calvinism. It seems to me that a nice edited volume or a miniconference or a conference session could come out of these discussions, if someone with more organizational skills than I took it on herself.

    April 8, 2010 — 14:08
  • Dan Johnson

    Alex,
    It seems to me that the two cases are relevantly different. What makes them relevantly different? I’m not sure, because I have a very incomplete understanding of the nature of good and evil, right and wrong.
    The two cases are (1) God intentionally causes an innocent to suffer eternally, (2) God intentionally causes an innocent person to sin (which seems as intrinsically bad as — maybe worse than — suffering eternally.
    Here are some differences that seem relevant:
    — (1) makes the person guilty and deserving of punishment, while (2) leaves the person innocent.
    — (1) works through the desires and dispositions of the person, while (2) is extrinsic to the desires and dispositions of the person.
    These seem quite closely connected. Now, do these differences “make the difference” in terms of what God is permitted to do? I don’t know. Maybe they are just reflective of something deeper that makes the two situations differ with respect to God’s obligations. I don’t pretend to fully understand the ethics of God’s sovereign action, PRECISELY BECAUSE this is a point at which God differs very significantly from us.
    Thus my previous remark: your theft example is just another example having to do with creatures, and does nothing to refute the Calvinist’s claim that the situation of the Creator is disanalogous at this point to the situation of the creature.
    Heath,
    Each of your three points:
    (1) It seems to me that God’s evaluative standards have a complex relationship to ours, and something like “analogy” is operative here. God’s love is analogous to ours, his justice is analogous to ours, and so on — but not identical, because of the Creator/creature distinction.
    (2) I agree about the second problem, about glory. The puzzle is: how are we anything but means to God’s glory? Doesn’t love require taking the loved as ends in themselves? I think it does. Here’s my solution (I have a paper in progress on this): Our ultimate good is actually partly constitutive of God’s glory, not a mere means to it. Glory is the display of God; our ultimate good is communion with God. But communion with God is a sort of display of God to us. So our greatest good (communion with God) actually partially constitutes God’s glory. So he can seek our good as an end in itself while seeking only his glory, since the two are not ultimately distinct.
    (3) I’m unhappy with reducing sanctification or good human action to imitation of God/Christ. There is an interplay in Christian tradition between the motifs of imitation and submission. I think imitation can’t do it all, and contemporary attempts to emphasize imitation (like Zagzebski’s) have, in my opinion, serious problems. I think there has to be a sense in which God’s character is “contrary” to perfect human character. God regards himself as ruler of the universe and acts accordingly; human beings cannot regard themselves as ruler of the universe without sinning. There may be analogical relations here, though.

    April 8, 2010 — 14:15
  • Dan:
    I agree that there are differences between the eternal suffering and sin cases. But I think that overall the differences work in favor of my case.
    Difference 1: The sin makes the person guilty and deserving of punishment, while the eternal suffering does not. Surely that makes causing the sin be the worse of the two, if anything. Maybe you’re thinking that somehow the sinning is justified as punishment for itself? That doesn’t seem right, but may be worth thinking about.
    Difference 2: The working through the person’s intentions is an interesting difference. However, I do not see how this works in favor of the causing-sin case. Suppose I can get a person to fall off a cliff in two ways: (a) I can persuade her to walk off the cliff; or (b) I can push her off the cliff. It seems that, if anything, (a) is the worse of the two actions, even though it works through her intentions.
    As for imitation, I think it helps to think in Trinitarian terms. It is perhaps not so much God qua God that we should imitate, but the persons of the Trinity in their mutual self-giving.
    By the way, nobody has yet opted for what I take to be the best version of Calvinism: universalism. 🙂

    April 8, 2010 — 15:09
  • Heath White

    Dan,
    Re (2): I think there are significant analogies here with a problem that arises in virtue ethics. People sometimes accuse the virtue ethicist of advocating selfishness or egoism, on the grounds that, according to the VE, what one pursues (necessarily) is one’s own happiness or good. The solution is to observe that one’s good can be bound up with the good of others, so that pursuing the good of others, as an end in itself, can *be* pursuing one’s own good. And I think something like that goes for God’s glory, as you have mentioned: it’s bound up with our good, and that’s why God is not a big tyrant.
    One corollary is that it is a little misleading to say that God uses his creatures as *means* to his glory, as some Calvinists are wont to say. A second corollary is that, as a rhetorical stance, it would be equally accurate to emphasize God’s love for his creatures–this would be the rough equivalent of him pursuing his glory–and frankly, that sounds a lot nicer.

    April 8, 2010 — 16:30
  • Mike Almeida

    Responsibility isn’t “zero-sum,” so the fact that S1 is responsible for A needn’t (though in some cases it might) diminish S2’s responsibility, and vice versa.
    I was talking about full responsibility, and I’m sure that is what Calvinists have in mind as well. And obviously, full responsibility is zero-sum. To the extent that I am fully responsible for A, you’re not.
    We can distinguish being fully responsible from being solely responsible. Suppose two agents, S1 and S2, each intend to bring about some consequence A, both causally contribute to A (perhaps this is a case of overdetermination, or only a case of partial causal contribution), and both S1 and S2 were individually able to prevent A’s occurrence. Then it may be that both S1 and S2 are fully responsible for A, but neither is solely responsible for it.
    That’s not coherent. If I’m fully responsible for A, then I’m solely responsible for A. It can’t be true that I am fully responsible for A and you too are fully or (even) partially responsible for A. If you are partially or fully responsible for A, then I am not fully responsible for A. That’s apriori, as far as I can tell. Imagine my saying, “I’m completely responsible for running the red light, officer, but by the way, Smith is partially responsible for my running the red light.” To the extent that Smith is responsible for my running the red light, I am not. The rest is obfuscation.
    So the claim that God is responsible for (because God intentionally caused) S sinning, on its own, doesn’t entail that S’s responsibility for sinning is diminished (“partial”), at least not without further assumptions
    I can’t see how. Again, I stand before God in judgment: “Almeida, you sinned on occasion C.” “Yes, I did, but you’re partially responsible for that.” “Oh yes, I know I’m partially responsible for your sinning”. “Right, so I’m not entirely responsible for my sinning”. “Oh, no, that’s wrong. The fact that I take some responsibility for your sinning does not entail that you are not completely and fully responsible for your sin.”
    What the hell could that mean? If God takes some responsibility for some event E occurring, then obviously I am not fully responsible for E occurring. Again, the rest is obfuscation.
    Let’s be careful. It might be difficult to distribute responsibility for an event E. There might be no simple way of detemining each person’s responsibility. There probably isn’t. We should not thoughtlessly conclude from that that everyone is fully (or even equally) responsible for any event to whose occurence he made some contribution.

    April 8, 2010 — 19:14
  • Brian Boeninger

    Mike:
    I suspect you’re using “full responsibility” in the way that I meant “sole responsibility.” I meant, by the former, something like “S is fully morally responsible for A if the degree of S’s MR for A is completely unmitigated and undiminished.” (Partial responsibility would then be a matter of a mitigated or diminished degree of moral responsibility.) And by the latter, I meant “S is solely morally responsible for A if there is no one else that is (even partially) MR for A.” (If S is not solely MR, then S has shared MR.) Consider the following case:
    Suppose that the 10 members of a corporate board must each sign off on a policy in order for it to be enacted (if any individual board member refuses, then the policy is prevented). Suppose all 10 freely sign off on a policy which has as a known and intended consequence that some bad event E (say, the blatant violation of an environmental regulation) occurs. Add whatever other conditions a Calvinist might insist is necessary for acting freely and responsibly (epistemic, hierarchical, etc.).
    None of the 10 members is solely morally responsible for E. It also seems plausible to maintain that none of the 10 is solely causally responsible for E. Is each of the 10 members fully morally responsible for E, or only partially so? I say that this means: is each member’s MR for E completely unmitigated, or could they have had a greater degree of MR for E? It seems that there is no reason to diminish any member’s degree of blameworthiness. Surely the blame and punishment that each member deserves would not be greater had there only been 5 members on the board (or only 1). Hence, each member is not merely partially MR for E; each is fully (“maximally”) MR for E.
    But perhaps you never meant, by full responsibility, anything about degrees of MR (full vs. partial), but only what I’ve called sole responsibility (one agent vs. more than one agent) – or perhaps I’ve misunderstood you in some other way? Which notion does Alex’s argument need?
    (And to reiterate, I myself do think that, if God intentionally causes (or at least determines) S to sin, then S is not fully MR for that sin; but my grounds for thinking so rely on incompatibilist considerations that the Calvinist is unlikely to accept in this context.)

    April 9, 2010 — 1:00
  • Matt H

    Alex,
    In defense of Dan’s examples, aren’t you just focusing on bads when it should be wrongs we are interested in? (We want to found out if God has done wrong.)
    Bads:
    Suffering innocent = suffering
    Guilty sufferer = suffering + a wrong action.
    Wrongs:
    Suffering innocent = undeserved suffering
    Guilty sufferer = deserved suffering
    In terms of wrongs it looks like things are better with the guilty sufferer. Of course, there are still questions about why you would cause someone to end up guilty in the first place, but why can’t the Calvinist say the following: you are free to cause S to sin provided that i) you do not violate S’s rights and ii) you have a good, sufficient reason for doing so. The good reason will be the Edwardsian one about God’s glory. As a Calvinist, this is the way of looking at things that I reach for, and I’d be interested to know what you think is wrong with it.

    April 9, 2010 — 1:11
  • Mike:
    “I was talking about full responsibility, and I’m sure that is what Calvinists have in mind as well. And obviously, full responsibility is zero-sum. To the extent that I am fully responsible for A, you’re not.”
    The relevant sense of responsibility seems to be roughly this: x is fully* responsible for A iff x deserves the same degree of praise or blame for A as x would deserve for causing A knowledgeably, intentionally, freely and solely.
    Now, suppose that x wants to poison z, and so he adds some cyanide to z’s cup. y also adds cyanide to z’s cup to kill z. x and y are acting separately and without knowing of each other. Then, z dies. His death is overdetermined. We would, I think, consider each of x and y to be fully* responsible. We wouldn’t, for instance, halve their jail sentences because each was only “half responsible” for z’s death.
    In fact, our legal practices are quite instructive here. Even in cases where there is no overdetermination, if there is a conspiracy to kill z, we treat each of the conspirators at least as harshly as we would a sole murderer–maybe more harshly, because we might add conspiracy charges. For instance, if ten people collaborate in Jones’ murder, and there is no death penalty, each of the ten is likely to get life in prison, not 1/10 of life in prison. (You might wonder if 1/10 of life in prison is possible? Here is an approximate solution based on a puzzle book I read as a kid. 1/10 of life in prison would work like this. Suppose the guy is young and healthy. First, you put the guy in jail for a year. Then you let him out for nine years. Then you put him in jail for a year. Then you let him out for nine years. Now he’s closer to death, so you need higher precision. So, you put him in jail for a month. Then you let him out for nine months. Then again in jail for a month. You continue until he dies. You’ll get pretty close to 1/10 of life in prison.) If we diluted sentences based on the number of collaborators, as long as you recruited enough people for your conspiracy, you could openly murder anyone you wanted to, since the per-person penalty would be small.
    This is also our practice in cases where x causes y to commit a crime. If x hires y to kill z, and y does it, then x gets the full penalty for murder and so does y–each, we take it, is fully* responsible.
    So, in the dialogue, Ari was assuming that if God causes Sally to sin freely, Sally is fully* responsible. Ari was granting the Calvinist’s compatibilist account of responsibility, though, probably like you, I think the account is wrong. But the exercise I am engaging in is trying to find criticisms of Calvinism that grant for the sake of argument the Calvinist’s compatibilist account of responsibility, and show that this conflicts with other aspects of typical Calvinists’ views, such as that eternal torment of the innocent is impermissible or that evil entered the world through sin.

    April 9, 2010 — 9:02
  • Matt:
    If Sally is innocent and caused to sin, then she gets undeserved sin, and then deserved suffering.
    If Sally is innocent and caused to suffer, then she gets undeserved suffering.
    But why should undeserved sin be a lesser wrong than undeserved suffering? After all, both are undeserved, and the sin is the greater bad. If A is a greater undeserved bad than B, then that is at least strong prima facie evidence that A is a greater wrong than B.
    That said, talk of “undeserved sin” sounds weird to us, and maybe it is this that you and Dan are getting at. I think one reason it sounds weird to us is just that we normally think of sin as caused only by the agent and not by anybody else–it sounds weird to us because of our incompatibilistic intuitions. But for this argument we need to put such intuitions aside.
    And, in fact, we do have a picture of what a deserved sin might be. Suppose Sam has many times rejected God’s grace. We could, then, imagine that God might no longer offer Sam grace when Sam is faced with a temptation to some particularly degrading sin that Sam will be ashamed of, and Sam might sadly say to himself: “I deserved to fall that far.”
    Or suppose that Ari has persisted in getting drunk at office parties despite many warnings and despite not being actually an alcoholic, and one day he embarrassingly flirts with the company president (suppose they are both married, and not to each other) while drunk at an office party, we might say: “Ari deserved to have that happen to him.” On the other hand, if Ari always drinks moderately, but I added some ethanol from my lab to his moderate amount of beer, and he then embarrassingly flirted with the company president, you would say: “He didn’t deserve to have that happen to him.” In this pair of examples, Ari’s responsibility is diminished, but we can imagine that it is not diminished to zero–he is not so far drunk as to cease to be a free agent.
    In particular, if Sally is completely innocent and free of vice (think of the case of the first sin), but circumstances are carefully manufactured so as to cause her to sin, or else she is directly caused to sin by a transcendent causality, then it seems quite reasonable to say that Sally didn’t deserve the sin.

    April 9, 2010 — 10:03
  • Dan Johnson

    Heath,
    Well said. I agree with everything you say.
    The reason to talk about glory rather than love (or in addition to love) is this: God’s glory encompasses more than manifestations of his love (I think — I’m a bit tentative here, because I don’t understand love very well). Glory is a display, and the glory God seeks is a display of himself. He has other attributes than love which he seeks to display.
    So an emphasis on glory allows for a more full-orbed understanding of God’s actions and motivations.
    Alex,
    Universalism has the considerable disadvantage of being refuted by Scripture. 🙂

    April 9, 2010 — 14:14
  • Dan Johnson

    Alex, you said:
    “That said, talk of “undeserved sin” sounds weird to us, and maybe it is this that you and Dan are getting at. I think one reason it sounds weird to us is just that we normally think of sin as caused only by the agent and not by anybody else–it sounds weird to us because of our incompatibilistic intuitions. But for this argument we need to put such intuitions aside.”
    This is exactly what I’m getting at, and I think Matt is to. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I have absolutely no incompatibilistic intuitions (I know this by observing my discussions with incompatibilists over a long period of time). So it isn’t just the incompatibilist that has these intuitions.
    I think this actually shows the reverse: it is you who are importing incompatibilist intuitions into these cases, not we, combined with an insufficient (from my perspective, of course) appreciation of the Creator/creature distinction.
    This is a great discussion.

    April 9, 2010 — 14:20
  • Alex,
    Yes, causation can go through free action. But I was questioning whether this was the case in the bribery illustration that you cited.
    You said:
    “But the exercise I am engaging in is trying to find criticisms of Calvinism that grant for the sake of argument the Calvinist’s compatibilist account of responsibility, and show that this conflicts with other aspects of typical Calvinists’ views, such as that eternal torment of the innocent is impermissible or that evil entered the world through sin.”
    Just a quick point: On a traditional Calvinist view, there is no such thing as an innocent. Even infants and children who die go to heaven, if indeed they do, based on God’s election and sovereign choice. Indeed, many Calvinists either reject the view that infants who die go to heaven, or are unwilling to take a definitive position (which is very unlike a Calvinist:)

    April 9, 2010 — 14:29
  • Dan:
    The negation of universalism is relevantly entailed by Scripture, but so is the negation of the view that God causes sin. We just agree about the former entailment but not about the latter. 🙂
    On the Creator/creature distinction, I simply don’t see how it helps to distinguish the eternal suffering and sin cases. I could see how one could wield the distinction to say that God would be permitted to intentionally cause eternal suffering to an innocent, if it served some good end (maybe this particular innocent would rise to greater and greater heights of virtue and glorification of God). But I can’t see how one can wield the distinction to allow God intentionally to intentionally cause sin to a previous innocent person but not intentionally cause eternal suffering to such a person.
    Here is an interesting intermediate case–I am curious what you’d say. Could God directly make an innocent and non-vicious person be vicious for eternity?
    Gavin:
    I think Calvinists will allow that creatures that came into existence not subject to original sin, e.g., Adam, Eve, Satan and Michael, were innocent. The argument is most interesting in their case–especially that of Satan, since it appears he’s not going to be redeemed.

    April 9, 2010 — 15:26
  • By the way, I am thinking that this would make for a great discussion at an SCP meeting. What do people think?

    April 9, 2010 — 15:27
  • Heath White

    Alex,
    I think it would make a great discussion at an SCP meeting. Probably a few of us here are even members. 🙂
    Dan,
    Here’s the thing about glory as display. This can seem like God is showing off, or he is just a big glory hound. Now it seems to me that the right thing to say is that God’s creatures are blessed when they know God–“we shall see him as he is”, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” etc.– and so God displays himself out of his love for them.
    That is: it would be more nearly accurate to say that God pursues his glory out of love for his creatures, rather than that God loves, etc. his creatures out of a desire to display his glory.

    April 9, 2010 — 15:40
  • It’s also worth remembering that the display of God’s glory to creatures through creation is secondary with respect to the display of God’s glory within the Trinity.

    April 9, 2010 — 18:48
  • Jeremy Pierce

    Earlier in the conversation we had an issue of God imposing the punishment that’s sort of been lost in the issue of God imposing the sin. Does it change things if we recognize that, at least on certain Calvinist models, the person imposes the punishment?
    Consider Augustine’s view that hell is just people continuing to be sinful without God’s mitigating influence that we have in this life (what some theologians call common grace, a grace that applies to those who will end up damned as well as to the elect). A compatibilist take on Augustine’s approach (leaving aside the question of how Calvinist Augustine himself was) would insist that God does impose the punishment to the same degree that God imposes the sin. But what’s important about Augustine’s view is that God doesn’t impose the punishment in a way that the sinner doesn’t. It seemed to me that one stage of the argument made a lot of the sin being imposed compatibilistically by both God and the sinner but the punishment simply being imposed by God. On an Augustinian model of sin and hell, this is incorrect. The sinner imposes the sin (via compatibilist freedom), and the sinner also thereby imposes the hell (because hell just is the sin).
    Some might say similar things if the sin has a natural consequence of hell, but this seems to me to get that result much more directly, and I didn’t notice anyone picking up on that earlier.
    Now I want to get back to Augustinian Calvinism, because I think there is such a thing (and I have strong inclinations that way myself). Augustine is often taken to be a libertarian by philosophers and a Calvinist by certain theologians, and I can see that there are certain things in his work that seem to suggest both directions. For example, he imagines two exactly-alike people in the same circumstances doing different things, which suggests libertarian freedom. However, his larger view this was supposed to support doesn’t work if he really kept such a view, because his argument in City of God for the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom is that God can predict what we’ll do, because we always act on our strongest desire, and God can observe our desires. So I’m not sure his considered view at the end of the day would want to keep that passage about the two individuals.
    At any rate, he does say that our choices can be predicted by a being who is omniscient about our current state. He never appeals, that I know of, to God’s direct knowledge of the future (and never makes us of God’s atemporality, which he did hold to, in his discussions of foreknowledge). But he also explicitly denies Stoic determinism. He in fact says that out actions that are free are not efficiently-caused by God or anyone else. The explanation for our free actions is not efficient causes but final causes. We have desires, and our desires pull rather than push us, in the sense that we want our desire to be realized and thus go after it. But our desire doesn’t make us do it in the efficient-cause sense. We just go after what we most want. We have reasons rather than causes.
    Some people use such an approach to ground a libertarian view. But I have specifically observed Calvinists taking such an approach to avoid God being the author of evil while retaining absolute divine sovereignty over everything that occurs. God’s plan includes every choice I ever make, but God doesn’t cause my sinful actions. God doesn’t even cause my good actions, but I can do no good actions without God miraculously transforming my desires to make me want better things than I would otherwise.
    It’s a separate matter whether this is all coherent (although I do like the view and sometimes incline toward it). What’s clear to me is that a lot of Calvinists say this sort of thing and think that it’s a Calvinist view, despite the fact that a lot of philosophers consider the view libertarian. I can think of a number of theologians who I’m pretty sure everyone would see as uncontroversially Calvinist who might find Augustine’s model (sans the two individuals exactly alike who choose differently) to be palatable to their Calvinist thinking. Some of them, in rejecting hard determinism, also reject efficient-cause determinism, at least on the naturalistic level, and they get God’s control back in there not by imposing divine efficient-causes but in terms of final causes that God can predict and thus arrange events so certain results would occur.
    I think what this means is that it’s not libertarianism per se that Calvinists are rejecting, although many do exactly that. It’s the claim that God does not have absolute control over human decisions that many libertarians insist on that Calvinists want to reject. In fact, I think there are enough Calvinists who would be satisfied with a middle-knowledge approach to call that Calvinist, even if others insist that it’s not (although I would insist that a middle-knowledge view won’t work without a further metaphysical backing to explain why there are CCFs, such as compatibilism or an Augustinian model of freedom).
    My point here is that it’s not as clear to me that the borders of Calvinism are really about the metaphysical model being used but about the more ethics-related claims.

    April 10, 2010 — 6:06
  • Dan Johnson

    Heath,
    I feel like I want to disagree with you about the relative priority of love and glory, but I’m actually having a hard time seeing how I disagree. I mean, I’ve already said that the highest good for human beings is partially consitutive of God’s glory. So I’m not sure what we are disagreeing about, though it seems that we are.
    Here is a possible point of disagreement. Can there be glory (which God seeks) that is NOT good-for human beings? It seems to me that there can be. Glory is a display, and there can be a display even when nobody apprehends it. So God may seek to display himself sometimes without thereby seeking to display himself TO creatures. If that’s right, then his pursuit of glory doesn’t reduce to his pursuit of what’s good for his creatures.
    I’m really not super-attached to this, though, and it seems clear that the best sort of display (the highest glory) does involve apprehension of the display by someone.
    A side point: I do take issue with your language, saying that making glory the end makes God a “glory-hound” or says he is just “showing off.” Those are negative evaluations, because they are built FOR CREATURES. A glory-hound is always someone committing the sin of VAINGLORY. It isn’t a great intrinsic good for US to be displayed. It is, however, a great intrinsic good for the Creator of the universe, lawgiver, the Good, to be displayed in all his splendor. So God is not a “glory-hound” or just “showing off” when he seeks his glory above all.

    April 10, 2010 — 12:04
  • Jeremy,
    I think you are onto something. A number of Calvinist theologians do take a middle knowledge approach in order to reconcile problems with compatibilism. I was surprised to hear (via Ron Nash) that uber-Calvinist J.I. Packer holds to a view of middle knowledge.
    One important thing to note with respect to most Calvinists is that they have not thought carefully about the philosophical implications of Calvinism, because they did not become Calvinists for philosophical reasons. Most Calvinists (esp. evangelical ones) come to hold Calvinism as a consequence of a very high (almost literal) view of Scripture. And Paul, especially, presents very clearly (Romans 8 & 9,Ephesians 1, etc.) that God predestines and elects those who will be saved, and in the case of Romans 9, those who are reprobate. Most Calvinists, then, become Calvinists for theological reasons, and only later deal with the philosophical implications of their view.

    April 10, 2010 — 13:47
  • Haven’t read most of the comments, but I take it that Calvinism ultimately presents a somewhat idiosyncratic conception of evil, and by extension sin, whereby both sin and obedience, and both good and evil, are somehow subsumed under a category of things that glorify God. Notice that (for the Calvinist) it is a great good to cause someone to exist to the glory of God.
    So I suspect that the Calvinist might avoid your criticism in two ways. First, by pushing a concept of sin and wrongness that avoids the applicability of your moral principle to God. And second, by denying that making someone sin is causing them “harm” in the relevant sense; perhaps in some (to me, perverse) way, causing them to sin (where sin leads to glorifying God) is in fact doing good to the sinner.

    April 10, 2010 — 19:58
  • jordan.nwc

    Alex,
    I would be interested in knowing if (A) is apart of Cal’s theology?
    (A)For every person in Hell, both of these claims are true of them:
    (i)Before entering Hell, if Hell and Heaven were presented to them, and they were given the choice of where to go, they would choose to go to Hell.
    (ii)After entering Hell, if Heaven were presented to them they would choose to stay in Hell.

    I skimmed the comments, so if this was addressed in some way already, then ignore it.

    April 10, 2010 — 20:39
  • Gavin:
    I think this underestimates the degree to which the Reformed tradition is a highly intellectual tradition. As for Scripture, the Patristic tradition has just as high a view of Scripture but does not read the texts in ways that imply Calvinism.
    One also should not underestimate the formidable philosophical development of the Reformed tradition. Dan knows more about it than I, and he may be able to chime in. My anecdotal impression is that the Reformed are the most philosophical of Protestants.
    Middle knowledge does, indeed, help get out of the problem, because it lets one use double effect. God does not intend that the person sin, but he does foresee it.
    Joshua:
    Calvinists will (or at least should and can) distinguish between the ways good and evil glorify God. Good as such glorifies God. But surely they will say that evil glorifies God because of goods that it contributes to. This is not at all idiosyncratic.
    Jordan:
    This could be a part of Cal’s theology, I suppose. But does anything hang on it? The dialogue is centered on two claims:
    1. To intentionally cause eternal torment to the innocent is unjust because the eternal torment is extremely harmful and the innocent is innocent.
    2. The harmfulness of sin is of at least the same order of magnitude as the harmfulness of eternal torment.
    I don’t see how (i) and (ii) would help Cal deny either 1 or 2.

    April 11, 2010 — 9:10
  • Jeremy:
    “My point here is that it’s not as clear to me that the borders of Calvinism are really about the metaphysical model being used but about the more ethics-related claims.”
    I think this is a very interesting suggestion, and I find the rest of your comment very insightful and interesting, too.
    I’ve been playing with the following idea. What Catholics reject most forcibly from Calvinism is double predestination. But Catholicism may be compatible with divine determination of our free actions–at least that may be the Dominican view (it may not be, because “determination” is a word from outside of the Thomistic tradition, so it’s not clear that applying the word gives an accurate statement of the position). If so, then the doctrinally important question is not about divine determination of our free actions, but about something else.
    The suggestion I have is that the doctrinal question is about something ethical, at least in a wide sense: the question whether God intentionally causes our sins qua sins. The Thomist has to deny that. Many Calvinists seem to claim that God causes our sins as means (causal or constitutive) to his glory or some other great good. However, here is a pie-in-the-sky ecumenical hope: Calvinists may come to see that (a) they could embrace the Thomistic metaphysics (there already are a number of Calvinist philosophers who think this) and (b) they could also embrace the Thomistic account of ethics, and thus deny that God intentionally causes our sins as means to anything. If this were to happen, then maybe (and there are many difficult questions here, which is one reason I say this is pie-in-the-sky) the resulting Calvinist view would be within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy as regards predestination. And that would be a significant piece of ecumenical progress.
    (Ironically, I don’t actually embrace the Thomistic view of free will myself. The denial of that view is also compatible with Catholicism. My own view is closer to that of the Jesuits.)

    April 11, 2010 — 9:30
  • jordan.nwc

    I don’t see how (i) and (ii) would help Cal deny either 1 or 2.
    Right. However, if Cal accepts (A), then he can accept both 1 and 2, but deny that 2 applies to anyone who ends up in Hell.
    For Cal, God’s justice (regarding the argument) is not secured through there being some disconnect between ‘causing harm’ and ‘causing sin.’ Rather, it is secured through the there being weak justification for considering a person, who does not want – and will never want – anything other than Hell, as someone who was treated unfairly when they end up in Hell.

    April 11, 2010 — 12:37
  • jordan.nwc

    “However, if Cal accepts (A), then he can accept both 1 and 2, but deny that 2 applies to anyone who ends up in Hell.”
    That was a typo.
    It should read:
    However, if Cal accepts (A), then he can accept both 1 and 2, but deny that 1 applies to anyone who ends up in Hell.

    April 11, 2010 — 12:38
  • Jordan:
    But I was not claiming that (1) applies to anybody who ends up in hell. In fact, Ari says nothing about hell. Ari talks of a hypothetical eternal suffering imposed on an innocent.

    April 11, 2010 — 19:19
  • jordan.nwc

    I was certainly reading too much into the dialogue. What about this revision?
    (A’)For every person who God might impose eternal suffering on, both of these claims would be true of them:
    (i)Every moment before they experience the imposed eternal suffering, they would choose this suffering over being in the presence of God eternally.
    (ii)No moment during their experience of eternal suffering would they choose to escape the eternal suffering by being in the presence of God.

    April 11, 2010 — 21:30
  • Alex,
    I don’t intend to suggest Calvinism is not intellectually formidable. Some of the ablest theologians are Calvinists. But the spread of Calvinism in the West is due largely to the Reformation. And the recent rise of what has been dubbed the New Calvinism (which entails a Calvinistic soteriology but not necessarily all aspects of Reformed or Covenant theology)is almost entirely a theological phenomenon.
    So in my previous comment, I was thinking of evangelical Calvinists in general (who come to hold Calvinism for theological reasons more often than not) rather than the best the Reformed tradition has to offer.
    Now, I would disagree that the Patristic tradition has as high a view of Scripture as the Reformed tradition, but perhaps that is too off topic 🙂
    “The Reformed are the most philosophical of Protestants.” Yes, I agree.

    April 11, 2010 — 22:15
  • Dan Johnson

    Gavin is surely right in this: the main reason, perhaps the only reason, that most Calvinists are Calvinists is because of Biblical/exegetical arguments, not philosophical ones. The Reformed are interested in the philosophical consequences of their reading of the Bible (and so are not anti-intellectual), but the philosophical arguments pretty much never get to outweigh the Biblical arguments for them. I’m certainly in that very position.
    Alex, you may be misled as to the tendencies of the Calvinist tradition by your association with me and other contemporary Calvinist philosophers. The three things you associate with Calvinism actually aren’t the sort of thing traditional Calvinists would likely say:
    (1) God determines everything, including our free decisions.
    (2) God intentionally causes sins, as a means to some good.
    (3) Double predestination: God predestines the reprobate as he predestines the elect.
    Now, many Calvinist theologians over the last 500 years would find all of this language at least potentially misleading. To take (3) first, most all of them want an asymmetry between the decrees of election and reprobation, and particularly an asymmetry between the ways that God executes these two decrees. (See this short essay for a nice picture of what Calvinists want: http://www.the-highway.com/DoublePredestination_Sproul.html). Calvinists have universally wanted a doing/allowing distinction that nevertheless doesn’t place anything outside the plan of God. The debate between supralapsarians and infralapsarians is precisely about this.
    To take (1) next, Calvinists would share your discomfort with using the word “determines.” Again, they want a doing/allowing distinction, and so want at least two different sorts of divine determination; they may think “determination” only applies to the doing and not to the allowing. Also, they would want to emphasize the merely analogical use of this word — God’s determination and our determination are very different sorts of things. I have consistently used the word determination, but with the understanding that I am using it analogically when applying it to God, and with the understanding that a doing/allowing distinction is still possible.
    To take (2) last, the very same distinction applies to “intentionally cause.” Calvinists actually will be happy with the “intentional” part, since they would want to affirm that sin is part of God’s plan, though they would want to get precise about the order of God’s intentions (again, the infralapsarian/supralapsarian debate is relevant here). They’ll want the same qualifications as above applied to “cause,” though — there must be a doing/allowing distinction and a recognition of the limitations of analogical predication for our understanding. God allows sin, he doesn’t do it.
    How to get the doing/allowing distinction? That is a very interesting metaphysical question. There are probably a number of options for the Calvinist.
    The Westminster Confession would be the place to go to get a feel for Calvinist language and commitments — talking with me may mislead you because I’ll translate into contemporary philosophical language, translations that may be contestable.

    April 12, 2010 — 8:10
  • Heath White

    Dan,
    I think it’s fine if God’s display of glory is not completely instrumental to human ends. Where I would locate our (potential) disagreement is over the question of whether God can use human beings as mere means to his ends. Let’s say those ends are the display of his glory, or the redemption of the world, or whatever. Can God use a human being as a means to those ends, in ways which take no account of the good of that human being? Some Calvinists sound like their answer to that question is ‘yes’—God creates evil people simply to illustrate his goodness by way of contrast, for example, or he punishes some and saves others to highlight his mercy. I think the intuition of many, and I will include myself here, is that this kind of thing is not compatible with the character of a loving God.
    This feeds into a general discomfort with the moral use made of the creator/creature distinction. A couple people have made the point that what we’re dealing with is a worry about the ethical character of God. Some people think that God’s character places limits on what he will do; consequently we can compare theodicies or other theological judgments against that standard. But the Calvinist can come across as resisting any such comparison, by deploying the creator/creature distinction to give God a free pass to do anything at all, justified by the simple fact that God is the creator. A perhaps overly simple way to judge this is to ask, “Is it compatible with God’s character for him to do anything he likes to any creature that he likes? If not, what are the constraints?” The answer to this question makes a big difference not only in our understanding of God’s character, but also to general philosophical method around theodicy, etc. (I keep hedging my claims here because I don’t want to commit you to a view you don’t have.)
    About my language: I’m sorry if it was offensive, and I’m quite clear it carries negative connotations. But that was the point: clearly God is NOT a glory-hound. Any view on which God is a glory-hound is false. I think the interesting question is whether this is because (a) he is doing just what a glory-hound would do, but with justification, or (b) he is not doing what a glory-hound would do.

    April 12, 2010 — 8:47
  • Heath White

    Jeremy,
    I’m very glad you joined the conversation. Your latest contribution was sophisticated and helpful. I think you are right that the principal concerns of the Calvinist don’t have to do with libertarianism per se, but with divine sovereignty in general, whether that is exercised through efficient causes, final causes, or some other way.
    Alex,
    Perhaps naively, my ecumenical hopes are somewhat brighter. It seems to me that what the Catholic wants from the Reformed is the admission that God’s predestination of the elect, and his reprobation of the non-elect, don’t run in parallel, but there is some difference in his attitudes between them. It might be intention/foresight, doing/allowing, or maybe something else. I googled around over the weekend and it appears that in fact Luther and maybe Calvin would have held the parallelism thesis, but Protestants appear, broadly speaking, to have lightened up since then. So this hope is not ridiculous.
    It also seems to me that what Reformed want from Catholics is the admission that God’s will, perhaps plus “middle” facts, settles (determines) at least the eternal fate, and perhaps the trivial details, of all human lives. I would think the weak claim follows from the denial of Pelagianism, but I’ve been wrong before about that sort of thing and I’ll leave it to Catholics to say what their theology commits them to.
    P.S. In my googling I found this gem: “Pope Paul V declared that the Jesuits were not to be called Semipelagians and the Dominicans were not to be called Calvinists, and they were both allowed to teach their respective positions until further notice.”

    April 12, 2010 — 9:10
  • Heath White

    All,
    I think lots of progress has been made on this thread, and two separate but related issues seem to me to have come out.
    1. What set of facts about God determines all other facts? (A question about theological determinism)
    a. God’s intentions
    b. God’s intentions, plus his middle knowledge
    c. God’s intentions, plus his knowledge (any kind)
    d. No set of facts about God determines all other facts.
    2. What divine attitudes are compatible with God’s moral excellence? (A question about God’s own ethics)
    a. He intends to send some to hell
    b. He foresees he will send some to hell
    c. He allows some to wind up in hell
    d. He is not in control of eternal destinies
    Obviously there will be different flavors of each answer, and some intermediate cases. The second question is less well-defined in my mind than the first.
    As Alex has suggested a couple of times, I think either or both of these questions would make an excellent panel discussion / conference / special issue somewhere. This kind of discussion is what’s really fun about being a philosopher.

    April 12, 2010 — 9:25
  • Dan Johnson

    Heath,
    Sorry for the misuderstanding. When I said that I took issue with your language, I didn’t mean to imply that the language was offensive. It certainly was not. I meant merely to imply that the language was misleading.
    I’ve agreed already, at least with respect to the elect, that God does not use them as means to his glory — our greatest good, communion with God, is partially constitutive of his glory. One goal is not a means to the other, since they are identical (or one is identical to a constitutive part of the other).
    The non-elect are harder. God may use their sin as means to his glory. This begs the question: in what sense does God love all people? This is a hard question; see D.A. Carson on “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.”

    April 12, 2010 — 9:53
  • One of the things I’ve learned from this discussion is that, indeed, Reformed thinkers really do want to preserve a strong asymmetry between the two predestinations. This is very good.
    One can use this as part of my dilemma, though.
    Either there is a strong asymmetry or there isn’t.
    If there is no asymmetry, then we have ethical problems as highlighted in the Ari/Cal dialogue.
    If there is asymmetry, then probably what we have to do is go with Sproul and say that the asymmetry is between allowing and causing. There is still a question about intentionally allowing–is it permissible to intentionally allow an evil for the sake of a good to which the evil is a cause–but definitely the view is better off ethically. But the problem now is that it is very hard, and perhaps impossible, to come up with a plausible story about Satan, Eve and Adam on which God merely allows sin. As Dan suggested to me by email, the Sproul piece highlights this. Sproul lays great emphasis on the fact that we are sinners, and so God doesn’t need to do anything to have us sin. We do it on our own given our sinful state. But Satan, Eve and Adam didn’t have a sinful state…

    April 12, 2010 — 10:12
  • James Brantner

    Darn, as a Calvinist, I’m disappointed to have been away for the weekend when this conversation took off. I’d generally have to agree with a lot of what Dan said, but there is one thing I’d like to add.
    Double predestination was rejected at the Council of Orange. IIRC, according to the early Reformers, the Catholic Church’s official doctrine did not go astray until Trent. That means double-predestination is out. There are some double-predestination folks out there now, but they’re in the minority.
    Also, as far as the space between the churches, I really only see two differences between the conservative Presbyterians (my denomination) and the Dominican Catholics:
    1. Perseverance of the saints (once saved, always saved) and the view of justification that goes with it. (Please remember that this is not accompanied by assurance of salvation; Calvin thought it presumptuous to claim certain knowledge about whether you were among the elect).
    2. Church authority. We consider apostle as a unique, first century office and reject claims giving the visible church any divine protection from error. To take a line from my favorite Catholic writer, “We have divine assurance and sanction that the Church will endure to the end of the world, it is said. No, we do not have assurance that it will endure in effective external form, nor in popularly recognized identity, nor by name or ritual, nor openly at all. The reassurance that the Church will endure does not apply to the furniture of the Church in this world.”

    April 13, 2010 — 21:08
  • Dan Johnson

    James,
    Where was that quote from? I like it.
    I’m ok with double predestination as long as that is understood as Calvinists have actually understood it: there is an asymmetry between the way God executes the decrees of election and reprobation. (God actively regenerates and brings the elect out of their sin; he merely allows the reprobate to remain in their sin, from which they will of necessity never turn because they are unwilling to.)
    Only a very few hyper-Calvinists (though that’s a vague title if there ever was one) subscribe to the view that the two decrees have no significant asymmetries between them. (I’m actually unaware of any particular person who holds this view. Are there really any? Or is this a complete straw man?) Many, many critics of Calvinism have caricatured double predestination in this way, though.

    April 14, 2010 — 10:35
  • James Brantner

    Dan,
    I guess when talking of double predestination, I meant double active predestination. This was the doctrine declared heretical at Orange anyways. Sorry for the confusion. You are right, a lot of people have caricatured the view in that way, and it’s quite frustrating. The other common caricature is that we don’t believe in free will at all, which I don’t think applies to many (if any? Jonathan Edwards?) Calvinists.
    The line comes from R.A. Lafferty’s “The Fall of Rome,” at the beginning of the chapter “As Good a Graveyard as Any.” Glad you liked it! Lafferty is a sadly obscure Irish Catholic from Oklahoma who wrote the most creative, linguistically interesting, and philosophically interesting short stories I have ever read, bar none. They were mostly sci-fi, although he did some historical fiction (Okla Hannali), and one straight history (The Fall of Rome).

    April 14, 2010 — 10:55
  • Dan Johnson

    About whether Calvinists believe or should believe in free will. That is actually a very interesting question, one I’ve been wrestling with lately.
    Calvinists must believe in human moral responsibility. That is at the center of the gospel, and I’m unconvinced by Derk Pereboom’s valiant attempts to keep Christianity on his hard incompatibilist view. Calvinists therefore have two options:
    (1) Claim that all humankind has free will, even after the fall. This is Edwards’ position, and the standard Calvinist position now. Give a compatibilist story about it.
    (2) Claim that some human beings don’t have free will, either that nobody has every had free will or that fallen humanity does not have free will, and assert that free will is not necessary for moral responsibility.
    (2b) One subtype of this second view: claim that free will is the metaphysical/causal ability or freedom to do good. Pre-fall and glorified human beings have this, but fallen humans do not. This is Calvin’s view; he thought that the title “free will” was too grand for fallen man. Fallen man is still morally responsible, though.
    (2c) Another subtype of this second view: claim that “free will,” even in ordinary parlance, means something yet different, an autonomous power to act as mini-creators-from-nothing (like the agent-causal folks think). Then no human being has ever or will ever have such a power, and the fact that we think we have it is explainable by our sin, which is fundamentally a desire for autonomy from God. This may be Luther’s position in “The Bondage of the Will,” but I’m unsure about that. This would be something like John Martin Fischer’s semi-compatibilism. Human beings are responsible even without free will.
    This second option, in both its subtypes, is actually really interesting. It turns on what “free will” means now and what it meant when Calvin and Luther were writing. Calvin and Luther may not be disagreeing with Edwards at all when they deny free will and Edwards affirms it. It may be, on the other hand, that “free will” gets used in some distinct ways, such that Calvinists can affirm free will in one sense but deny it in another. Certainly they want to affirm whatever sense of free will is actually necessary for moral responsibility, if there is any sense of free will that is necessary in that way.

    April 14, 2010 — 16:44
  • Noah

    You might be interested in the recent book “Reformed Thought on Freedom” by William van Asselt et. al. It is a collection of primary sources from post-reformation thought on the nature of free will. It’s a decent read but I’m not sure I agreed with all of the editors comments (mostly revolving around the issue of synchronic contingency).
    Concerning the doctrine of reprobation, there has been varied differences among Reformed orthodoxy. Calvin held to a symmetrical understanding of election and reprobation (I was at a Calvin conference this summer that was held by Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary where Donald Sinnema, theology professor at Trinity Christian College, argued for this-the lecture has since been published in “Calvin for Today” ed. Joel Beeke) whereas the Synod of Dordt disagreed with Calvin and choose an asymmetrical understanding, like what Sproul argues for. For those that are interested, Sinnema wrote his doctoral dissertation on this topic (it was titled “The Issue of Reprobation at the Synod of Dordt (1618-19) in Light of the History of the Doctrine”) and Richard Muller’s “Christ and the Decree” deals with the issue to a degree.

    April 16, 2010 — 8:39