Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A dialogue on Calvinism

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.


Ben Cook said...

This is a very interesting and clever post (and I liked how the flow of the conversation mirrored that of a Socratic dialogue). It's especially interesting to me since I'm a recent convert to Roman Catholicism from Reformed Protestantism.

Good stuff

-Ben C.

Heath White said...

It seems to me that the work here is being done by the word “intentionally.” If the theology is horrible because an innocent suffers great harm, everyone has that problem. If the theology is horrible because God causes a great harm to an innocent, then arguably everyone but the Open Theist has that problem. (Maybe simple foreknowledge can avoid it.) But the claim, I think, is that the theology is horrible because God intentionally causes a great harm to an innocent.

But I wonder if you’re not battling a straw man here. Here are two lines from the Westminster Confession:

The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first Fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God; who being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. (v.iv)

Our first parents, begin seduced by the subtlety and temptations of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory. (vi.i)

Neither of these says God intentionally (as opposed to side-effect-wise, or defeater-defeater-wise) causes sin. Is there some Calvinist authority who actually claims that God intentionally causes sin? I’m not saying there isn’t, and I’m sure most lay Calvinists are not careful about this. But who is the opponent here?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am thinking of that strand of Calvinism--which I have seen represented--according to which God causes people to sin so as to manifest his attribute of justice.

If the great Calvinist theologians do not take that view, that's excellent.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Let me add that the argument can be seen as addressing one horn of the dilemma about the kind of determinism Calvinism has.

Either the Calvinist goes for Edwards-style determinism by finite causes, or for the idea that free actions are determined by no finite causes and only God.

On Edwards-style determinism, we have the problem of how a completely non-vicious person might be necessitated to sin.

On the no-finite-causes determination, however, it becomes a lot harder to explain why God caused Eve (say) to sin. If there were finite causes of the sin, we could say that God had some reason for arranging these finite causes that was independent of the resulting sin. Maybe the finite causes were arranged in some particularly symmetrically pleasing way. But if God is directly causing Eve to sin, it seems very hard to come up with a plausible story as to why he would do that, other than as a means to the good consequences of that sin.

Maybe one could try to push through the Aquinas move that God causes the positive aspects of the sin, but not the sinful aspects. But God still needs a reason to cause the positive aspects of the sin (such as being motivated by a desire for a yummy fruit?), and that reason seems disproportionately trivial to the evils.

The defeater-defeater stuff requires a non-trivial and proportionate first-order reason for the action. I wasn't clear about that until just now. Here is the kind of case I worry about. You've been left by the terrorist with ten innocent people, all tied up, and an immobile machine gun pointed at the heart of one of them. The terrorist is coming back in an hour. You've been told by him that if the guy at whose heart the gun is pointed is alive in an hour, the terrorist will kill all the innocents. But if he's dead, the terrorist will let all the others go. Being too clever as an ethicist, you reason: "I will pull the trigger. Why? Well, I've always wanted to feel what it's like to pull the trigger of a machine gun--the smooth overcoming of pressure, etc. I don't intend for anybody to die. Now, granted, someone will die if I do that. That's a defeater. But I have a defeater for that defeater--nine people will be saved." I suspect this reasoning of sophistry, because while feeling the pull of the trigger is a genuine good, it is too trivial a good in this case. The proportionality condition in Double Effect is not a merely consequentialist condition.

Heath White said...

Here is a thought—I am exploring, not endorsing.

Suppose I am helping you practice your tennis backhand. I send you an easy shot to your left side, intending you to backhand it back to me. I can foresee that this will cause your right shoulder muscles to flex. In fact, given your anatomy, it is inevitable. But causing your shoulder muscles to flex is not part of my intention. (I never thought of it; if your anatomy were different, I wouldn’t care.) My intention is framed at one, high, level of description, while what I can foresee is framed at a lower, constitutive level of description. The point here is that even if B necessarily constitutes A, intentions with respect to A are compatible with mere foresight about B.

Now suppose God has an intention for his creation, that it be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in an especially excellent way. This intention is framed at a high level, the level of creation as a whole. God can foresee that fulfilling this intention will involve a lot of (let’s say) libertarian sin on the part of particular individuals. However, by the tennis analogy, even if this sin is constitutive and necessary for the intention to succeed, it can still be a matter of mere foresight.


Alexander R Pruss said...

You're right about the tennis case as it stands. However, I actually think that those of us drawn to Double Effect should take as the central concept that of accomplishment. If you like I can email you a paper on that. Anyway, the way that concept works, the muscle movement is accomplished, though not intended.

Here's another case. The CEO says to the subordinate: "Win the contract at all costs!" The subordinate bombs the competitors' offices, as that's the only way to win the contract because the competitors' bids are bound to be better. On its face, your suggestion would justify the CEO's action, at least if winning the contract is a very great good (maybe the company donates all the profits to feed the starving). For the CEO intends the plan to win the contract, but not the details of the means, even if the CEO in fact foresees the bombing. I think it's important to close this loophole in the Principle of Double Effect. So, I say that the CEO has accomplished the bombing, and hence acted wrongly in giving her command. This is true even if she did not foresee the bombing, but in that case she might not be culpable.