Monday, April 20, 2009

Did God act unjustly by kicking us out of paradise?

One might be worried--as a commenter recently has been--that the idea that God kicked Adam and Eve out of paradise, thereby ensuring that their descendants would grow up in our vale of tears, is unjust. Since the focus is on Adam and Eve's descendants, let us grant for the sake of argument that God was just in punishing Adam and Eve with death. The question, then, is whether God was just in having us live outside paradise.

Now, if God was unjust in acting as Genesis says he did, then whom did he wrong? He did not wrong Adam and Eve, for their punishment was deserved. Presumably, he wronged their descendants, namely us. But now consider a sequence of three possible worlds:

  1. God kills Adam and Eve on the spot, and the human race gets no further.
  2. God kicks Adam and Eve out of paradise, and prevents them from reproducing.
  3. God kicks Adam and Eve out of paradise, but does not prevent them from reproducing.
We've granted for the sake of argument that God was right to punish Adam and Eve. So, world 1 is a world where (as far as these sketches go, at least) God does not act unjustly. What about world 2? Does God wrong anybody there? Not at all. He doesn't wrong Adam and Eve: he treats them somewhat less harshly than in world 1. Does he wrong us, Adam and Eve's descendants? Surely not--for we don't exist in world 2, and one cannot wrong the non-existent.

So, in 1 and 2 there is no injustice. What about world 3? If we say that in world 3 there is injustice, then it seems that God's failure to prevent Adam and Eve from reproducing was an injustice--for we have granted that there is no injustice in world 2 which is like world 3, except that Adam and Eve are prevented from reproduction. In other words, if we say that there is an injustice in world 3, we have to say that once God decided to kick Adam and Eve out of paradise, he acted unjustly towards their descendants by letting Adam and Eve have these descendants. But that, I think, is absurd. If we grant it, then by the same token any of us who choose to reproduce in this vale of tears are doing wrong. (Yes, there is a recent book arguing just for the wrongness of reproduction. Few absurdities are such that no philosopher could be found to defend them.)

But that's too simple an argument. After all, maybe the wrong in 3 is not just in the point where 2 and 3 branch off from each other (the prevention of progeny). God is omnipotent after all, and that makes a difference. I think the most plausible alternative way of salvaging the argument for God's injustice is the suggestion that God did wrong in not transporting Adam and Eve's children miraculously back to paradise, perhaps immediately after their conception. However, I do not think that God owed them, as a matter of justice, such miraculous transport, especially given that there were unique kinds of goods that would be available to them outside of paradise that wouldn't be available in paradise, goods such as sacrificial love, forgiveness, and courage.

13 comments:

radical_logic said...

Consider the difference between:

(3) God kicks Adam and Eve out of paradise, but does not prevent them from reproducing.

and,

(4) God kicks Adam and Eve out of paradise, does not prevent them from reproducing, but does not allow their children to suffer the effects of the Fall.

I maintain that the difference between (3) and (4) is one of imposition: in (3), God imposes - as opposed to merely allows - harsh consequences on the descendants, whereas in (4) he doesn't.

A. God imposes harsh consequences on the descendants in (3) for the mere fact that Adam and Eve sinned.

B. God merely allows harsh consequences to occur on the descendants in (3) for the mere fact that Adam and Eve sinned.

Am I right in thinking that you hold to B?

radical_logic said...

My point is: if A is correct, then God did wrong not because he failed to transport the descendants out of harms way, but because he intentionally, knowingly, and purposefully put them in harms way for the mere fact that Adam and Eve did wrong.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yes, I hold to B. God has set up a world with relatively simple laws of nature, together with paradise, which either isn't governed by the same laws, or where God miraculously gets around the laws, or where the initial conditions and laws were set up in a very special way that ensured that everything would be well as long as Adam and Eve didn't sin.

God can miraculously get around the laws of nature, of course. But when things happen simply as a result of the laws of nature, it is not an imposition in the relevant sense, just as a judge would not be imposing poverty on the children of a fraudster by fining the fraudster. The poverty would be a non-intended, but expected, consequence of the action.

Your comment does, however, suggest that spatial movement back to paradise isn't the only option: the other option is fixing up the world miraculously around those descendants of Adam and Eve so that they don't suffer (unless they choose to sin themselves). But while God can work such miracles, I do not think justice requires them.

You might ask whether God couldn't have set up laws of nature such that everything would work out fine for those who don't themselves sin. Yes, he could have. But he had reason not to do so. Probably, such laws would have to be very complex, thereby making the world much harder to navigate for a finite intellect.

radical_logic said...

I don't see any relevant difference between A and B, not when an omnipotent being is involved. The only way there could be a meaningful difference between the two is if the harsh consequences, in case of B, were somehow not fully "up to God." If the consequences in B *were* fully up to God, as I don't think you can deny, then how do you understand A?

We can revise B to read: When God created the laws of nature, he chose to create them with the full intention that they have the following effect on the descendants of sinners: they will suffer harsh consequences for the mere fact that their ancestors sinned.

A revised: When God created the laws of nature, he chose to create them with the full intention that they have have the following effect on sinners: they will suffer harsh consequences. Once this occurred, In case of Adam and Eve, God chose to make their descendants suffer harsh consequences for the mere fact that their ancestors sinned.

Can you really hold B and deny A?

Alexander R Pruss said...

It seems to me that you are gliding the difference between intention and knowledge. One can know that X will lead to Y, and intend X, without intending Y. In fact, it is even possible that one knows X logically entails Y, but one intends X without intending Y. Thus, I know that drawing a euclidean triangle entails drawing a figure whose angles add up to 180 degrees. But in drawing a euclidean triangle I need have no intention about what its angles add up to.

radical_logic said...

Since God was perfectly free to create the laws that he did, he must have "intended" them into existence. God was perfectly free to create the law of gravity the way that it is, and therefore he intended, when creating the law of gravity, it to be the way that it is.

Similarly, then, if there is a law that says, "descendants of sinners will suffer harsh consequences for the mere fact that their ancestors sinned," then God must have also intended this law into existence. Does this not follow?

Alexander R Pruss said...

The law doesn't have to say it. It just has to entail it, given appropriate background conditions.

We're not talking here about spiritual laws about sinners. We are talking about laws of nature like that G = 8 pi T, and so on. These laws, apparently, have the consequence that unless people are in a particularly special environment (like paradise), harsh conditions for some will very likely result.

radical_logic said...

Laws of nature are causal descriptions of what happens when certain things occur. In the case we're considering, we have the Law of Descendants (LOD): if x sins, and if he or she has descendants, then they will harsh consequences as a result of x having sinned.

Is LOD a law of nature or is it not? If not, then from what law of nature do we get the consequence that the descendants of sinners will suffer harsh consequences because their ancestors sinned?

If LOD is a law of nature, then either God created it into existence or he did not. The possibility that God did not create LOD is a non-option. Therefore, if God did create LOD into existence, then the question arises: did he intend it into existence or not? I don't see how you can say God created LOD but did not intend it into existence.

radical_logic said...

"You might ask whether God couldn't have set up laws of nature such that everything would work out fine for those who don't themselves sin. Yes, he could have. But he had reason not to do so. Probably, such laws would have to be very complex, thereby making the world much harder to navigate for a finite intellect."

I thought this response was interesting. It seems subject to the following counter: sinners are immediately kicked out of paradise, but their descendants, upon conception, are immediately brought into paradise. What's so complicated about this law?

Moreover, even *if* the law was complicated, why couldn't God give us the appropriate intellect to match its complexity?

Alexander R Pruss said...

A law has to specify all the details--at what time (or what probability distribution of times), at what angle one enters paradise, etc. Anyway, I have a post on laws scheduled for tomorrow. :-)

Besides, there is a big disvalue in taking children away from their parents.

I am thinking that probably our biggest disagreement is that I accept the Principle of Double Effect, while you, I am guessing, don't. Our discussion has been very long--thank you for your patience--and I think one thing that it shows is that the question of Double Effect is very important to theodicy.

radical_logic said...

I hope your post on laws deals with miracles, because I have an argument against establishing miracle-claims!

Crude said...

I think the most interesting aspect being overlooked here is the reproduction claim. I've thought about this argument from a different direction, but nevertheless.

If Radical Logic is insisting that God is unjust to have allowed Adam and Eve to bring descendants into this (fallen) world, doesn't that mean that anyone who realizes this world is in a sorry state knowingly causes harm if they reproduce? It's worth realizing that by the reasoning given here, Adam and Eve are partly culpable for what their descendants go through as well. This argument won't only go against God, and can lead to some very interesting results (I think what this can turn into for atheists who claim to be realists about evil, along with the general claims of the problem of evil, is very serious.)

But even with that put aside, I think any attempt to judge God's actions as if God were a really powerful human are ultimately not persuasive. After all, it adds up to the argument that no benevolent God would ever allow the imperfect - and that doesn't just mean morally imperfect, but mentally or physically imperfect (particularly due to external consequences) to ever come into existence, even if they could attain salvation (or even if their imperfections, intrinsically or extrinsically gained, could be overcome). God the Eugenicist never struck me as a very just or benevolent God.

Either way, God is in a unique position - He's able to attain justice and mercy for all, whatever their experiences. And frankly, I can't really criticize God's decision to allow "innocents" in an unjust world, since it would entail the non-existence of me and everyone I love. For all the sufferings of this world, thank you - I prefer it to the alternatives.

Crude said...

And incidentally, before it is brought up...

Yes, someone could reply that while I may enjoy this world and plan, I wouldn't like it if I ended up in hell. I realize there are universalist responses, along with more complicated arguments about the necessity of justice, etc.

But my immediate reply would be - how do I know anyone in hell (however many there are) would choose non-existence if they could? Hell can at once be eternal, it can be a punishing existence, and yet be preferable (even if 'in time') to death. For all I know, going to hell is similar to the Catholic concept of purgatory in large part - experiencing punishment for my sins, experiencing a correction to my being, but the choices I made in life have forever barred me from heaven. I have an eternity of regret, but a regret I can shoulder, and a life even I would still choose over oblivion.

So I don't regard hell as the sort of problem so often assumed in these discussions.