I think I’ve hit on one of the things that’s been lurking in the background in my resistance to the idea of an age of accountability. Now this post will largely be assuming some things many here will not grant, e.g. exclusivism about who gets saved, Christian particularism about how they get saved, perhaps Protestant soteriology, and traditional or classical models of divine knowledge (as opposed to open theism). One reason I assume these is because I think they’re all true, but it’s more important for this post that most people who hold to the age of accountability as I’m about to explicate it do in fact assume all these things. Perhaps denying any of them, or at least certain ways of denying them, will get around the problems I’m about to raise. I think it might still take some work to do so, however.
A reader wrote in to ask for advice on material relevant from the move from Bare Theism to Xn Theism. I’m sympathetic with that request, because I think it’s a neglected point. I think that might be because there is much historical material which must come into the discussion then, and many philosophers aren’t as comfortable/knowledgeable about that.
Swinburne is both comfortable and knowledgeable in that area, and has written a fair amount about it across several books. An outline of suggested readings follows.
I’ve been reading here and there through one of Michael Rea’s philosophical theology books, and I discovered this amazing article by David Lewis called “Do We Believe in Penal Substitution”. This is probably old news for some readers, but it was new for me, and I was deeply impressed; I had lost a lot of confidence in penal substitution.
I don’t have the book currently available to me, but I want to post on it. The gist (in my own words and from memory):
Many Christians seem to be double-minded. They would not be happy with penal substitution in certain cases (some innocent, even a willing innocent, serving a murderer’s six-year sentence), but they are okay with Christ taking our punishment. This is inconsistent. Problem? Perhaps.
BUT, Lewis points out, we ALL believe in penal substitution to some extent, in the area of paying fines. My punishment for parking illegally or damaging somebody else’s property can be paid for by a fine. And it doesn’t matter if a loved one pays that fine for me; justice is met even if I myself do not pay it. So, Lewis says, we are all double-minded about penal substitution.
Insofar as we agree with Lewis’ case, we must also agree that penal substitution is at least possible; the idea itself is not incoherent, as some claim. This point alone goes a long way in response to some criticisms.
The work that needs to be done, however, is why penal substitution seems okay in the fine case but not in the jail-serving case. What’s the difference? Lewis doesn’t answer, and I don’t know either. If we could find it, this might serve to count either for or against penal substitution as it applies to the atonement. Any ideas?
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.
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?
Begin with this plausible principle:
- 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:
- The first sin was culpable.
- 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:
- The first sinner’s first sin was not necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances.
According to Mark 3:28-29, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”
I never was sure exactly what this blaspheming referred to. Anyway, whatever it is, it’s something that, according to Jesus, a person will not be forgiven for. If a person will not be forgiven for it, then it follows that God will not forgive the person for it. Then I thought of this argument:
1) Necessarily, the Greatest Conceivable Being (GCB) will forgive all sins.
2) Possibly, God, as conceived of by Jesus, will not forgive all sins.
3) So, God, as conceived of by Jesus, is not the GCB.
Regarding (1), it seems to me that any being that will forgive all sins is greater than one that will not. I take it that A can forgive B even if B has not repented in any way. My only concern is that maybe the GCB’s being perfectly just prohibits him from forgiving all sins. But I can’t see why this is so. It seems that a parent can both justly punish a child and forgive her child. Any thoughts?
Jaegwon Kim’s well known Pairing Problem is supposed to show that it is impossible both that immaterial souls cannot have causal efficacy in the physical world as well as to other immaterial souls. The problem, in brief (super-brief) is that for event A to cause event B, there must be some further factor X in virtue of which A causes B. There is no such further factor X in the case of the mental events (willings, actings, intendings) of souls and physical events. So, souls cannot be causally related to the physical world. This argument is supposed to apply to ALL souls.
I just finished (most of) Plantinga’s really nice article “Materialism and Christian Belief” in Persons: Human and Divine, and he proposes that broadly logical necessity is that relation. He writes,
According to classical theism, it’s a necessary truth that whatever God wills, takes place. It’s a necessary truth that if God says, “Let there be light,” then there is light. Necessarily, if God says, “Let Adam come into existence,” Adam comes into existence. So what is it that makes it the case that God’s intentions cause what they cause? To ask that question is like asking, “What is it that makes an equiangular triangle equilateral?” The answer is (broadly) logical necessity; it’s necessary that whatever God wills comes to be just as it’s necessary that every equiangular triangle be equilateral. Accordingly there isn’t a problem about that factor X in the divine case… (p. 133)
So Kim’s Pairing Problem that it is impossible that souls be causally related to the world fails. Plantinga goes on to show that once you have theism, there is no problem for human souls having causal interaction in the world as well.
This seems compelling to me. Anybody see any problems with it?
According to most Anselmians–and most theists–God has a special set of essential properties. Those essential properties include omniscience, omnipotence, perfect goodness and necessary existence. But how do we know this? There are just two possibilities: either we know that God has those essential properties apriori or we know aposteriori. Again, almost no theist maintains that we know the essential properties of God aposteriori. The reason this is rejected is because it entails that we might have discovered that God was less than essentially perfectly good, etc. But almost no theist thinks that’s a possible discovery. So, most Anselmians–I’d again say most theists–maintain that (A) is true.
A. A being x = God only if (i) for most essential properties P of x, it is
primarily necessary (i.e., apriori) that x has P, and (ii) the essential properties of x
include omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, and necessary existence
There is a concise and valid apriori demonstration based on (A) and some well-known logical relations holding between primary necessity (aprioricity) and secondary necessity (metaphysical necessity). Let M be restricted to essential properties understood as properties objects have in every world in which they exist. Here’s a concise ontological argument.
The following two claims seem plausible enough to me:
1. God is not morally obligated to create the best possible world.
2. There are no supererogatory acts.
Supererogatory acts are those acts that go above and beyond what duty or obligation requires. But if God isn’t obligated to create the best possible world, and is merely obligated to produce a good enough world, then isn’t it better if God creates a world that’s better than the minimally good enough world? It seems like a supererogatory act for God to create at all, since it will never be the best act of creation. So there does seem to be a problem if you accept both these claims. But, though I would not submit to martydrom for either claim, there do seem to me to be good arguments for both, and yet they seem inconsistent.
1. I think it’s plausible that adding one more intrinsically good thing to a world will make the world better, and its always possible to add one more intrinsically good thing. This means there is no best possible world, and thus it is impossible even for an omnipotent being to create the best possible world. Unless God is obligated to do the impossible, it seems that claim 1 is true.
2. Consequence-based ethical theories have usually required maximizing the best consequences, but a lot of people have rejected such an approach, because it implies that it’s wrong to go see a movie because that money could better be spent helping starving people get some food (for one example). So we now have satisficing theories approaches that say that all we’re obligated to do is seek good enough consequences. A similar approach occurs in non-consequentialist ethics, where perfect duties are duties everyone has but imperfect duties are acts that someone or other ought to do but no one particular person is required to do them.