Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Calvinism and the problem of sin

According to St Paul, we do not do evil that good might come of it. A plausible version of this principle is:

  1. It is wrong to intend to produce an intrinsic evil, either as an end in itself or as a means (causal or constitutive) to an end.
Now, sin is an intrinsic evil. If (1) applies to God as well as to us, then a perfectly righteous God cannot intend anyone to sin. As far as (1) goes, it might be acceptable to permit someone to sin in order to bring a good out of it, but to cause someone to sin, even in order to bring a good out of it, is wrong. We might then formulate one of the distinctive views of Calvinism as that God intends sin in order to be glorified either by redeeming or by punishing the sinner. But then God violates (1).

Presumably, a standard Calvinist response will be that (1) applies to us but not to God. However, our ethics is supposed to be an ethics of love, and God, whether necessarily or by his contingent decision, always acts in love as well. (Some Calvinists think God doesn't love the reprobate. But the argument still applies insofar as on Calvinist views it seems that God intends the elect—whom he loves—to sin, in order that he be able to redeem them.) And principle (1) seems to be at such a high level of generality that if it follows from the duty to love in our case, it is likely to follow from that duty in the case of God, as well.

I think the Calvinist should deny that God intends sin. Instead, the Calvinist should give some sort of a Double Effect story on which God causes something that entails the existence of sin, but which is distinct from the sin and good, and to which the sin is not a means. Maybe instead of willing Sally to punch George, which was evil, God can intend Sally to swing her fist forward, which is not in itself an evil, but which, along with the other things God has willed, entails that Sally is punched by George. Then one ends up denying that God intends people to sin for the sake of his glory, instead asserting that for the sake of his glory he permits them to sin, while he (God) wills something that entails their sinning. Whether it is possible for a Calvinist to walk this fine line is not clear.

22 comments:

Heath White said...

This topic is a long-time source of frustration for me, intellectual and otherwise. The Calvinist answer is or should be that God foresees but does not intend sin. “Foreseeing” entails causing and is stronger than merely permitting, but it is weaker than intending. It satisfies the “do not do evil that good may come” principle though. Maybe this is a fine line to walk, since when you are creating absolutely everything, there is not much to do with an intention/foresight distinction.

My problem with Calvinism’s orthodox critics is that I cannot see what the alternative is supposed to be, perhaps short of Open Theism. If A causes B to exist, and B causes X to occur, then A causes X to occur. This follows from the transitivity of causation. Maybe A is not the “salient cause” or something, but surely A is part of the causal explanation. Likewise, if A causes B to exist, foreseeing that B will do evil, then A knowingly causes the evil. A may have had good reasons to do this, and may not have intended the evil, and we can say that B is responsible, but surely A caused it and knew he was causing it.

The problem is sharper, I think, if we have an eternal God who causes each moment of creation. Then we cannot take refuge in the quasi-deist move, wherein God creates the universe to include free beings at the beginning of time, and lets it run its course. An eternal God brings each moment into existence just as directly as every other moment. So there is a very direct line of causation from God’s creative act, to the events of any given moment or sequence of moments. Whether these events are the acts of free agents does not make a difference to God’s causal relationship to that moment. I do not see how one can avoid, in this scenario, saying that God directly causes evil.

Perhaps I am just not thinking creatively enough here. I would welcome some clarity on what the non-Calvinist orthodox alternative is supposed to be.

Part of your post, Alex, suggests that there is a problem with any story in which God intends people to sin so that he can then go on and redeem them, bringing himself greater glory. I agree that there is a problem with any story like that.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

The transitivity of causation is pretty controversial. I am fine with it when all the steps are described in a sufficiently relevant way, and that seems to be the case in the present situation.

I agree that the Calvinist should say that there is foreseeing but not intending. But this is going to be incompatible with any theodicy of the form: "God caused (by transitivity, not necessarily directly) people to sin in order that their sin might lead to X." ("God's glory" is the standard substituent for X.)

Rather, what the Calvinist theodicist should try to do is come up with some good G that is not an effect of sin and that is such that God's achieving G has people's sin as a foreseen but unintended side-effect. Here's a story like that--I am giving it only as an example of the form of the story, not as a concrete proposal. Mental properties of humans supervene on physical properties. Determinism holds. God set up a universe with the simplest possible laws and initial conditions compatible with the evolution of intelligent beings. A logical consequence of these laws and initial conditions is that unless God works lots of counteracting miracles, many people will sin. The good G, then, is the elegant simplicity of the universe. For the sake of G, God cannot work too many miracles, since miracles detract from simplicity and elegance (as in Leibniz's arguments against Newton). Sin, then, is an unintended side-effect of God's drive to achieve G.

Now, this is still tricky. The doctrine of double effect has a proportionality requirement, and one might worry that the evils of sin are disproportionate to G. But two answers are possible. First, here's where you bring in the creator-creature distinction: God as creator gets to decide what counts as disproportionate. Second, use Kamm's doctrine of triple effect, or as I prefer to call it, a defeater-defeater account. Kamm gives this nice example: You want to have a party, but are afraid of the mess that will be left. However, you know the folks you invite will help you clean up. Now, arguably, you don't intend them to help you clean up, because that is neither your end (the fun party) nor a means to it. The mess is a defeater to your reason to run the party, but the folks' helpfulness is a defeater to the defeater. So, now, the story will be this: God seeks to achieve G. He has a defeater, namely sin. But he has a defeater-defeater, namely the goods of redemption and just punishment. He does not produce the world to achieve the goods of redemption and just punishment, but to achieve G. The goods of redemption and just punishment come in only to defeat the defeater that sin brings in.

Alexander R Pruss said...

One more remark about what I said in the previous post: I think that the sort of story I just gave could bring Catholics and the Reformed closer. What is most important to us Catholics in the opposition to Calvinism is to deny double predestination. But the story I just gave does deny double predestination, if predestination entails intention.


What are the alternatives to a Calvinist story?

1. Open Theism.

2. Molinism. Here, too, God foreknows that some people will sin under certain circumstances. But suppose this happens: God chooses a world that, subject to some constraints (like lawlike simplicity and a yet a large number of significantly free agents), maximizes virtue. It could be that the conditionals of free will are contingently such that such a world will also have to contain sin. But God does not intend the sin. It is not his end (that is the constrained maximization of virtue), nor is it a means to that end. The advantage the Molinist theodicist has over the Calvinist is that the Calvinist theodicist lacks the constraint of conditionals of free will.

3. Mere foreknowledge. In this case, the knowledge of what Adam and Eve will freely choose is explanatorily posterior to God's decision whether to create Adam and Eve and put them in a position where they can be tempted. The decision is, of course, eternal, and so is the foreknowledge, but there is an explanatory ordering between them such that God cannot make use of his knowledge of what they would do in deciding whether to create them. God then is acting for some good G, like Adam and Eve freely choosing not to sin, accepting the risk of their sinning as a side-effect of the pursuit of G.

And 1-3 should be combined with a defeater-defeater story about God plan of redemption.

Alexander R Pruss said...

OK, I will shut up in a moment. The directness of causation I think can be handled with Thomistic ontology of action. (Calvinists should become Thomists. (And Thomists should be Catholic. :-) )) Evil is always a privation. What God causes are the positive elements of the action, and intends them under a description that includes only the positive elements. For instance, God causes the waving of the arm that wields the sword, but not the murder itself. What about the resulting death? Well, God simply ceases to will life rather than willing death.

enigMan said...

I think Heath is right about the problem being worse for an atemporal God. Given a choice between creating A able to do B freely and doing B, and A able to do B freely but not doing it, where B is good (and A is), and where not doing B makes A an evil-doer, how could a good God choose the latter (and why would an omnipotent God)?

Robert said...

Heath wrote:

“My problem with Calvinism’s orthodox critics is that I cannot see what the alternative is supposed to be, perhaps short of Open Theism.”

Well Heath must not be familiar with church history then. Calvinistic beliefs began with Augustine so for the first four centuries of church history no one held to Calvinism. And once Augustine got the ball rolling, some have held to Calvinistic beliefs (including the Dominicans in the Catholic Church) but for the most part, Christians have held to differing non-Calvinistic beliefs (including Arminian, Molinist, Thomist, etc.).

Heath presents some things that I have a very hard time accepting as his views of both causation and responsibility are mistaken (e.g. he fails to distinguish a remote cause from a proximate cause) when he writes:

“If A causes B to exist, and B causes X to occur, then A causes X to occur. This follows from the transitivity of causation.”

So parents (the parents = A) cause their child (the child = B) to exist via procreation. The child performs some evil/sin (B causes X to occur).

Which according to Heath means that the parents cause the evil/sin performed by the child to occur?

This flies completely against the biblical principle that one is responsible for one’s own actions (see especially Ezekiel 18 which makes this principle very clear).

Heath continues:

“Maybe A is not the “salient cause” or something, but surely A is part of the causal explanation.”

The parents are part of the **causal explanation** of the later event, that is true. But being part of the causal explanation is far different from being responsible for an action or being blameworthy. If merely being part of the causal explanation makes one responsible, then God who originated the universe and brought it into existence is then responsible for every evil/sin that occurs. But this is wrong as God says in scripture he is holy and separate from sin and He holds others (men and angels) responsible for sin, not Himself.

“Likewise, if A causes B to exist, foreseeing that B will do evil, then A knowingly causes the evil.”

This is again an unjustified leap of logic. Every parent in the world knows that the children they bring into this world will do evil/sinful actions. If Heath’s reasoning here were valid, then every parent is responsible for every evil/sinful action of their children. Again Ezekiel 18 explicitly and unequivocally denies this claim: holding each parent or child responsible for their own freely chosen actions.

“A may have had good reasons to do this, and may not have intended the evil, and we can say that B is responsible, but surely A caused it and knew he was causing it.”

This continues to present errors regarding responsibility and here we have a failure to distinguish remote causes from proximate causes. If a child after being brought forth by the parents later does an evil action, the child is the proximate cause of this action, not the parent. Similarly, God created human persons with free will and so while God is involved in the causal explanation of how the sin occurred (if God does not create the world and does not create human persons capable of choosing to sin, then the sin could not have occurred). God did **not bring about or actualize** the sinful action, the human person did so. Theologians have long made the distinction between remote cause (God as creator and originator of the universe and hence every event which occurs in history) and proximate cause (the cause which immediately brings something to pass, or causes an evil to occur). So God is remote cause of all events in history, but not the proximate cause of all events in history.

Reading Heath’s words makes me wonder, is Heath a parent? And if so, does he believe himself to be responsible for all evil actions that his children perform or will perform? If not, then why is he trying to blame God for every evil/sin via his mistaken reasoning about responsibility and causation?

Robert

MG said...

Prof. Pruss,

If I may chime in on this post. While reading Plantinga's O Felix Culpa theodicy I remember thinking something similar to what (I believe) you are saying here. Instead of saying that God caused or wanted sin in order to get Incarnation/Atonement (for in that case the good [i.e. Incarnation/Atonement] would be an effect of sin), we could say something like the following.

Freedom/love is the good that is not an effect of sin and is such that God's achieving the great good of freedom/love has people's sin as a foreseen but unintended side-effect. What God really wants is freedom/love but knows (without intending it) that sin will be a side-effect; and he also knows that he will institute Incarnation/Atonement to remedy sin. But God doesn't cause or want the sin in order to get Inc/Atn; instead God causes and wants freedom/love and then institutes Inc/Atn. in order to defeat the defeater (i.e. sin).

Could we add that God, considering all possible worlds and wanting a world with freedom/love, saw that while there are possible worlds with freedom/love but no sin, any world with a LARGE AMOUNT of freedom/love would have sin as a side effect. And God wanted a large amount of freedom/love.

What do you think of this story?

Heath White said...

Heath presents some things that I have a very hard time accepting as his views of both causation and responsibility are mistaken (e.g. he fails to distinguish a remote cause from a proximate cause)

Robert,

Perhaps your worries will be somewhat alleviated by noticing that

(a) I very carefully avoided saying anything at all about responsibility, except to allow that human beings *are* responsible for their actions;

(b) I did not distinguish between remote and proximate causes, not because the distinction is lost on me, but because it was unnecessary. Remote causes are causes, and I was talking about causes, not responsibility.

You seem to be imputing to me a belief like "If X is a cause of Y, then X is responsible for Y" but I did not say that and I don't believe it either.


Alex,

These are very helpful comments and I want to think a bit before getting back to you on them.

Heath White said...

Alex,

It appears that the real problem is with (some) Calvinist theodicy, not with Calvinist metaphysics. I think this is an advance. And furthermore I agree that it could bring Reformed and Catholic closer. (I tend to think there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in this area, which has lain around unpicked for historical reasons.) Generally speaking I would say that the Reformed doctrine of predestination and divine sovereignty is in the same ballpark as Augustine’s or Aquinas’s views, albeit with more pessimistic rhetoric.

First, I’m a little skeptical that informed Reformed (!) hold to double predestination in the sense in which predestination entails intention. For example, the Westminster Confession III.iii distinguishes between men and angels “predestined” to eternal life and those “foreordained” to eternal death. The choice of verb seems significant.

Sometimes non-Reformed strike me as resisting double-predestination, in a sense in which predestination entails only action, not intention. That is, they want a doing/allowing distinction—God does the good but merely allows or permits the evil—rather than an intention/foresight distinction. In this sense, the Reformed is a double-predestinator. But the requirement that God merely allow some event, not do it (in some sense), strikes me as inconsistent with the idea that God creates everything.

Second, I agree with your proposed format for theodicy, and more particularly with MG’s version of it. What one should say is that God intends a creation which includes rational beings in a freely chosen loving relationship with him; he foresees that this will require a fall and sin and redemption; he plans the Incarnation and Atonement, and redemptive history more broadly, to take care of that. God’s glory is best demonstrated in the love of his creatures for him, so this can be connected with God’s glory too. But I also tend to think the Reformed lay it on too thick sometimes about God’s glory.

Third, as for the alternatives to Calvinism, yes there is Open Theism. Simple foreknowledge, insofar as I understand it, seems to have no advantages over Open Theism from God’s decision-making point of view; somehow God has all knowledge but can’t use it. I think this compromises God’s attribute of wisdom, and it raises all the objections that Open Theism raises along the lines of whether we can really trust God, whether he can take care of us, etc. Plus, it’s just weird.

As for Molinism, I am not sure the Calvinist can’t take advantage of CCFs. (I’m very unclear here.) Suppose “If he were offered a $1m bribe, Curley would take it” is true. Perhaps God cannot create *Curley* any other way. Or if this violates contingency, perhaps God cannot create Curley, in a universe which meets other constraints, in any other way (e.g. without a miraculous bribe-resisting intervention). The Calvinist will insist that there is no foreknowledge of free human actions that God must, so to speak, plan around, since he plans everything. But I am not sure counterfactuals fall into that category.

I would say the same thing about the Thomistic ontology of action. Insofar as this is true, I don’t see why the Calvinist can’t accept it. There are tricky issues here about what the object of a creative act is, or what is an effect. (A world? A substance? A property? An event?) In bringing up the issue, I meant prinicipally to forestall invocation of the “remoteness” defense Robert invokes, or the doing/allowing distinction I have seen others invoke.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

1. Simple foreknowledge allows God to make use of foreknowledge when doing so does not create explanatory loops.

2. I agree that the Calvinst can, and should, make use of the Thomistic move. This would, then, allow the use of a doing/allowing distinction in addition to an intending/foreseeing distinction. That God is creator of everything does not entail that he created the non-existence of Sherlock Holmes, and if the evilness of evil actions is privative in nature, then God does not need to create evil actions qua evil.

3. There is, however, a problem with my proposed Calvinist solution, which will be discussed tomorrow. :-)

MG:

The story you give is one I find plausible, but I don't know if it's compatible with Calvinism. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Robert:

"If Heath’s reasoning here were valid, then every parent is responsible for every evil/sinful action of their children."

Heath is committed to the view that the parent who knows the facts about human sinfulness knowingly causes sinful actions. But one can knowingly cause an evil without being responsible for it in the sense of "responsibility" that implies culpability (maybe the parent is responsible in some weaker sense, but that is not, I think, your objection).

If I distribute a polio vaccine to all children, I may well know that some children will die of the vaccine. I thus cause some children to die, I know that I would be so causing it, and I cause it nonetheless. It seems I do knowingly cause the children to die. But I am not responsible in a sense that entails culpability. Why? Because I do not intend these deaths, either as an end or as a means (and the deaths are proportionate to the intended saving of life).

Robert said...

Heath wrote:

“Perhaps your worries will be somewhat alleviated by noticing that . . .”

No not at all, your statements about causation remain mistaken, and it was these statements that I was responding to.

First there was this one:

““If A causes B to exist, and B causes X to occur, then A causes X to occur. This follows from the transitivity of causation.”

Let’s alter it just a tad to show the problem with it:

“If God causes people to exist, and people cause sin to occur, then God causes sin to occur. This follows from the transitivity of causation.”

Heath’s comment and faulty view of causation results in God being the cause of sin. This is an unbiblical concept, though it is entailed by exhaustive determinism/Calvinism, showing exhaustive determinism to be false.

Earlier I had said about Heath’s comments:


“So parents (the parents = A) cause their child (the child = B) to exist via procreation. The child performs some evil/sin (B causes X to occur).

Which according to Heath means that the parents cause the evil/sin performed by the child to occur?

This flies completely against the biblical principle that one is responsible for one’s own actions (see especially Ezekiel 18 which makes this principle very clear).”

Heath ignored my comments and tried to assure me that he had not even brought up responsibility. But his words to which I was responding, involve determining who is causing sin to occur. And this issue is closely related to the issue of responsibility, despite Heath’s disclaimers.


Heath concluded with:


“You seem to be imputing to me a belief like "If X is a cause of Y, then X is responsible for Y" but I did not say that and I don't believe it either.”

You don’t believe that either? Wow!

So if some human person is the cause of some sin, then I would say that human is responsible for that sin. Heath denies this (“I don’t believe it either”). So apparently Heath believes that some human person can be the direct cause of some sin and yet that human person is **not** responsible for it. This also flies in the face of scriptural testimony otherwise (i.e. that each person is responsible for their own actions and will give an account for the actions which they did).

Robert

Alexander R Pruss said...

For what it's worth, I am not a Calvinist. But I think you're being unfair here: 'So if some human person is the cause of some sin, then I would say that human is responsible for that sin. Heath denies this (“I don’t believe it either”). So apparently Heath believes that some human person can be the direct cause of some sin and yet that human person is **not** responsible for it.'

One can be a cause of sin without being responsible for that sin. For instance, I might not know that you have promised to God to fast today, and I sit down beside you and pull out a delicious lunch. This leads to your deciding to break your fast, and go buy lunch for yourself. I was a cause of your sin, but I am not responsible for your sin. In this example, we might even say that I'm the cause of sin. (I ask you: "What caused you to break your resolve?" You say: "You pulled out your delicious lunch.")

Second, you have a slide from "the cause" of sin to "the direct cause" of sin. Heath would be crazy to agree that when A causes B, and B causes C, then A directly causes C. Evidently, A causes C indirectly, by causing B.


Causation is probably a necessary but certainly not a sufficient condition for responsibility. If I innocently sit on a chair you had poorly made, and the chair breaks under a weight it should have borne, I am not responsible for your chair breaking.

Alexander R Pruss said...

(By the way, I notice that the tone is heating up. I will delete comments whose tone is too immoderate.)

James Bejon said...

Slightly off topic I'm afraid. But do we really want to say that causation is a necessary condition for responsibility? Suppose I could save a man from drowning but choose not to. I'm not causally connected with his death (except in a very loose counterfactual way that includes all sorts of people). But surely I'm responsible for his death.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I withdraw my claim about causation being necessary for responsibility. :-)

Some people believe in causation by omission, though, and they can continue to say that causation is needed for responsibility.

James Bejon said...

Interesting. I'd never heard of people who believed such a thing. I wonder if they'd regard part of the cause of my not believing in causation by omission as my not believing in causation by omission.

Robert said...

Hello Alexander, (part 1)

“For what it's worth, I am not a Calvinist.”

That’s good! :-)

“ But I think you're being unfair here: 'So if some human person is the cause of some sin, then I would say that human is responsible for that sin. Heath denies this (“I don’t believe it either”). So apparently Heath believes that some human person can be the direct cause of some sin and yet that human person is **not** responsible for it.'”

Well part of my concern is that I have heard it from many atheists, that if God creates people and knows what they will do and does not prevent it, then that makes God responsible for all of the resulting evils.

These same folks will argue against human responsibility for their own actions by attributing it to the environment or their genes or their brain, etc. so though a person in fact intentionally does an action they are supposedly not responsible for it.

So they will use “causation” to simultaneously argue against God and for lack of responsibility due to some form of determinism.


“One can be a cause of sin without being responsible for that sin.”

I disagree, the bible presents sins as being **intentional** actions that one does. Or even actions that one should have done but intentionally omitted to do (cf. the parable of the good Samaritan where some just pass by the beaten man).

“For instance, I might not know that you have promised to God to fast today, and I sit down beside you and pull out a delicious lunch.”

Note in your illustration you had no intentionality of causing offense to the other person nor did you have any obligations to this stranger.

“This leads to your deciding to break your fast, and go buy lunch for yourself. I was a cause of your sin, but I am not responsible for your sin.”

I disagree with this analysis as well. Your action did not cause the person to break their fast.

Instead they got an idea in their mind after observing your action, and THEY then decided to break their fast. I take an agent causation position on intentional actions. It was their decision that caused them to break their fast, not your action of pulling out a delicious lunch.

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Alexander (part 2),

This reminds me of what little children will often say: “he made me do it”! Once you evaluate what actually transpired the other person did not cause them to get into the fight or do something. Instead it was their CHOSEN RESPONSE that led to their action. The famous psychiatrist Albert Ellis developed a whole school of psychology on this principle: that it is not events in themselves that cause you to have your emotional responses it is instead your chosen responses to the events. Ellis loved to quote Epictetus on this as well. I work with inmates and there is a lot of blame shifting going on with many of these folks: they blame their environment, their parents, whatever, and often do not take personal responsibility for their own actions. It is true that their background and other factors may have influenced their actions, but they still made choices and poor or evil ones at that, which they can be held responsible for.

“In this example, we might even say that I'm the cause of sin. (I ask you: "What caused you to break your resolve?" You say: "You pulled out your delicious lunch.")”

And that would be a misinterpretation of the events. A better description would be something like this: “I saw you pull out your delicious lunch, I thought about keeping my fast or breaking it, and I then decided to break the fast. I could have decided to continue my fast but it was my decision to break my fast. Your action did not cause my decision,, rather it was my decision, and I take full responsibility for my decision.

That is like someone going into road rage when he is accidentally cut off while driving by another driver. The other driver for some reason, perhaps he was in their blind side, cut in front of the other person. The other person **interpreted** this as intentional and then CHOSE to go into a rage and pulled out his gun and starts firing at the other driver. According to your reasoning, the first driver **caused** the action of the second driver. I would say instead that the angry driver chose his response and he could have chosen otherwise and should have chosen otherwise. But he didn’t, and it was his third strike so now I get to deal with him and his anger. :-)

Robert

Marc said...

Dr. Pruss:

Echoing Heath, your thoughts on these matters have been helpful indeed. I just have a minor question about the following.

I was a cause of your sin, but I am not responsible for your sin. In this example, we might even say that I'm the cause of sin. (I ask you: "What caused you to break your resolve?" You say: "You pulled out your delicious lunch.")

I'm having trouble seeing why it'd be accurate to say that you were the cause of the sin. To my mind, it seems better to say that you were one of the reasons for the sin's occurrence (where such reasons might be considered necessary but not sufficient for the sin). If you, in no way, brought it about that the sin took place, and if the faster's succumbing to the temptation resulted from his choice, what authorizes us to regard you as the cause?

Of course, one might claim that the faster's choice resulted from your unveiling the delicious lunch. But, to this, I'd offer two things: (i) this consideration only warrants our saying that you were among the reasons for, but not the cause of, the sin's occurrence; (ii) the way that the faster's succumbing to the temptation resulted from his choice is different than the way his choice resulted from your pulling out the delicious lunch.

Dan Johnson said...

I posted this on a thread on Prosblogion, but this is the better place for it.

Alex, some arguments against your principle that God cannot intend evil, even as a means to good.

First, there are Biblical examples of God willing particular evil actions as a means to a good. The one that jumps particularly to mind is the case of Joseph and his brothers. His brothers act evilly in selling him into slavery, but Joseph tells them later that "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good," (Gen. 50:20); earlier Joseph says, "Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life....So it was not you who sent me here, but God" (Gen. 45:5,8). This is a clear case where an evil action is ascribed to God (though under a different description -- God's action in bringing it about is not evil), and it sure looks like God intended that action (God "meant it for good") for the good that would come of it. The other really prominent example that jumps to mind are the many evil actions that were tied up with the crucifixion; I believe that Peter early on in Acts ascribes those to God's intentions.

In short, while your claim that God didn't intend evil actions works fine in the abstract (when you are considering the very possibility of any evil action), it seems to break down when we consider God's particular plan for history and his willing of particular evil actions for particular goods that come from them.

Second (this is a much weaker argument and may just be the result of the fact that I am Reformed), pastoral practice seems to urge against your view. Suppose I am betrayed by a friend. You should tell me that "God did not intend that your friend betray you, but he is working to bring good from it." The Reformed will tell me "God intended that your friend betray you for the sake of a great good he has planned that will ultimately come from it." The second sounds much more powerful and comforting to me. Now, undeniably, the second may initially cast doubt on the goodness of God -- but that doubt is defeated by any evidence I have that there is in fact some great good that this evil is necessary for. So your principle looks false, because what casts doubt on God's goodness is the possibility that he would intend an evil without a good which it is a necessary means to, not the mere fact that he intends an evil.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Dan:

There is a nice libertarian defeater-defeater story to be told about these cases. God always has a reason to permit a libertarian-free evil action, on account of the exercise of freedom in it. Sometimes, however, this reason is defeated by the bad effects of the action. But in some cases, there is a further defeater for this defeater, namely that goods also come from the action. So God's primary reason for permitting the action is the value of freedom. And the goods he draws out of the action are defeater-defeaters.

Granted, sometimes Scripture presents these evils as produced by God. However, I think language has enough flexibility to make sense of that. We talk of "causing", for instance, even when there is no intention to cause, and we even talk of "causation by omission" ("you made me be late by not turning on the alarm").

Jonathan Edwards can also tell such a story if my other argument can be answered. For he can suppose, as in my first comment, that God willed a certain set of initial dispositions which was worth willing on account of such goods as simplicity. There was a defeater, though, namely that these dispositions eventuated in evil. But there was a defeater to the defeater.

An alternate story is that it can be permissible to allow evil that good may come of it, but not permissible to cause evil that good may come of it.