Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sin, compatibilism and Calvinism

Consider the following plausible principle:

  1. If x's character are such that they causally necessitate x's doing wrong in circumstances C, then (a) the character is in some way vicious or (b) x is not culpable for doing wrong in C (or both).
It may be that sometimes a person is causally necessitated by non-vicious character to do wrong, for instance, because her non-vicious character leaves her ignorant of the wrongness of the action. But according to (1), these are going to be precisely the cases where she is not culpable for her actions. Principle (1) should be acceptable to compatibilists and incompatibilists alike. For instance, Hume accepts (1), given that he holds that actions are only culpable insofar as they reveal the vicious character from which they flow. Incompatibilists, on the other hand, will either deny that one could be necessitated to culpably do wrong, or will allow that one can be necessitated to culpably do wrong, but only when earlier free actions have caused one to have a vicious character.

Now, Calvinists are typically compatibilists. There are, however, two relevant senses of determinism: determinism by divine causality (d-determinism) and determinism by finite causes (f-determinism). Likewise, there are two senses of compatibilism: d-compatibilism asserts the compatibility between d-determinism and freedom, while f-compatibilism asserts the compatibility between f-determinism and freedom. The kind of Calvinist response to the problem of sin that I sketched in the comments to my preceding post require f-determinism and f-compatibilism.

But now consider this argument:

  1. (Premise) Antecedently to sin, the first sinner had character that were in no way vicious.
  2. (Premise) The first sinner was culpable for the first sin.
  3. (Premise) If f-determinism holds, the first sinner was necessitated to sin by his character in the circumstances in which he sinned.
  4. If f-determinism holds, the first sinner, antecedently to sin, had a character that was in some way vicious or he was not culpable for the first sin. (1 and 4)
  5. F-determinism does not hold. (2, 3 and 5)
Here, (2) is a consequence of the goodness of creation, and (3) is the standard Christian view. And (4) seems to be just spelling out f-determinism, together with the fact that agents act in the light of character. The first sinner, of course, is going to be Satan, but I suppose some less orthodox Calvinist might prefer to make it be Adam or Eve (but would the less orthodox Calvinist still be a determinist?). (I suppose one might dispute (3) and hold that the first sinner committed more than one sin: the first he was not culpable for, and this caused him to have a bad character, out of which bad character he culpably sinned. This does not appear to me to be a very plausible view.)

The present argument together with the previous provides a dilemma for the Calvinist. Given Calvinism, either f-determinism or mere d-determinism holds. If f-determinism holds, the present argument leads to absurdity. If d-determinism holds, however, then it does not appear easy to get out of the objection that God intendingly causes people to sin (x intendingly causes A iff A fulfills x's intention that A occur; to cause intendingly is more than to intend and cause[note 1] and may be more than to cause intentionally[note 2]).

13 comments:

Huume said...

Mr. Pruss...
If you dont mind, can I ask you a question that doesnt neccesairily have to do with your blog post?

I know this is really big question but im having trouble thinking through it.

Can/does math truly exist apart from human minds?

I know, thats a terribly large question (or not?). Anyways, your really cool. :) and your blog is wonderful. I dont mean to flatter you either, lol.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think math is about the mind and/or power of God.

Huume said...

Your answer lulls me into worship of the Risen Savior.

thankyou.

Marc said...

Dr. Pruss:

If x's character are such that they causally necessitate x's doing wrong in circumstances C, then (a) the character is in some way vicious or (b) x is not culpable for doing wrong in C (or both).

For a third alternative, suppose the Calvinist advanced something like the following: x's character is good (or virtuous) but not impeccable. On the one hand, the Calvinist seeks to preserve "the goodness of creation" (x's character is good), but on the other hand, she certainly wants to avoid claiming that the first sinner was morally perfect (x isn't impeccable). The properties being good and being not-impeccable seem to be consistent with x's character causally necessitating x's doing wrong.

2. (Premise) Antecedently to sin, the first sinner had character that were in no way vicious.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by "in no way vicious"? I wonder if being good and being not-impeccable are compossible with "in no way vicious." If so, "in no way vicious" might be ambiguous, for it could either mean (i) impeccable or (ii) good but not impeccable.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I responded to the impeccability issue, but on prosblogion.ektopos.com. Sorry. :-)

Robert said...

Hello Alexander,

I appreciate you laying out this argument in a formal way. Many calvinists speak of Jonathan Edward's book on the freedom of the will as if it is the best thing every written on the subject.

But Edwards' whole philosophy on the will breaks down with the sin of Adam. Edwards argued that our nature or character determines our actions (what you referred to as finite determinism in your argument). The problem is that prior to the fall, God created everything **good** so Adam did not have a sin nature or evil nature in any sense. If Edward's reasoning were valid then his account should explain why Adam sinned: but it cannot. Instead it breaks down precisely there in the form of the finite determinism which you argued against. The calvinists who are enamored by Edwards rather than admitting that the jig is up the game is over, Edwards is mistaken. Then play the "mystery card". Well you see it is just a mystery, we don't know how it happened using Edward's thinking on the will. But in my opinion this is just dishonest, just a case of being in denial about what is true, rather than adjusting your thinking/theory so that it corresponds with reality.

Of course, some more logically consistent calvinists just bite the bullet and freely admit that God intended and necessitated Adam's sin. But then these folks then deny that God is the author of sin! What this all clearly demonstrates is that one of the problems/breakdowns in the calvinist system is Adam's fall into sin. So the calvinist system breaks down from the very beginning of the bible. Sadly despite such clear breakdowns, some very intelligent people continue to defend, promote and endorse this false system of theology.

Robert

Marc said...

I responded to the impeccability issue, but on prosblogion.ektopos.com. Sorry. :-)

No worries. =) I frequently visit The Prosblogion. I'll have a look at your response to the issue. Thanks.

Daniel Hill said...

Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Alex: a friend directed me to this after a discussion about Jonathan Edwards's account of the first human sin. I think that the orthodox Calvinist that affirms f-determinism would deny (1)(a):

1. If x's character are such that they causally necessitate x's doing wrong in circumstances C, then (a) the character is in some way vicious

I think the orthodox Calvinist line with respect to the first human sin is that God gave Adam a mutable, but not vicious, character, and that this non-vicious character later morphed, before the first act of sin, into being a vicious character. The morphing is probably usually thought of as a result of a separate divine action or lack of action, which would lead to d-determinism, but one could hold that the character itself was, like Dr Jekyll, determined to become vicious. Now, causation is transitive, so the character would causally necessitate the first human act of sin even before it became vicious. The key assertion would be that something can be determined to become vicious without itself being vicious. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Mogwai and Gremlins might be good examples here.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Daniel:

I realize now that (2) is ambiguous between:
(2a) At some time prior to their sin, they were not vicious.
(2b) At all times prior to their sin, they were not vicious.
What I meant to express was (2b). The argument behind (2b) was that evil entered the world through sin.

Your particular Calvinist proposal, thus, is a denial of (2) (i.e., of (2b)).

Besides the Christian intuition that evil entered the world through sin, I think one can argue for (2) on the basis of a weakened version of the Stoic thesis about the stability of virtue. The weakened version says:
- you cannot lose virtue except (a) by choice or (b) through an overwhelming evil that destroys freedom (e.g., brainwashing, mental illness, etc.).
Given this weakened Stoic thesis, the only way the first sinner could have changed to be vicious would be through an overwhelming evil that destroys freedom. But (a) the world's being such that it would produce such an overwhelming evil even prior to there being any freedom is hard to reconcile with the world's great original goodness, and (b) it is hard to see how one could be responsible for a choice f-determined by a character induced by such an overwhelming evil.

Daniel Hill said...

Many thanks for this, Alex. I -- and, I suspect, many Christians -- have competing intuitions here. On the one hand, there is, as you say, the intuition that evil entered the world through sin. But on the other hand, there is the intuition that sinful actions come from sinful characters -- our knowledge that we won't sin in the next life is grounded in our assurance that we will have new natures in the next life.

The weakened Stoic thesis is a bit ambiguous:

- you cannot lose virtue except (a) by choice or (b) through an overwhelming evil that destroys freedom (e.g., brainwashing, mental illness, etc.).

Does 'by choice' mean 'by intentionally choosing to lose virtue'? If so, I deny the thesis: one might think that one could lose virtue by a choice made in error. Or, more relevantly to the case of Adam, it might be that one can lose virtue by knowingly choosing something bad without choosing it in order to lose virtue.

If 'by choice' means 'by some chosen action or other' then I affirm that Adam did lose virtue by this method, as did Satan.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe option (a) should be: (a) by a wrongful choice.

I guess one could hold that the first sinner first performed a wrongful choice he wasn't to blame for (say, due to ignorance), which choice then distorted his character, and then he performed a wrongful choice he was blameworthy for. And only wrongful choices one is blameworthy for are sins. This denies the claim that evil entered the world through sin, but at least holds on to the claim that evil entered the world in a wrongful action.

In any case, I think that if your character is distorted by something you're not to blame for, then you're not to blame for whatever is f-determined by the resulting distortions.

Daniel Hill said...

Thanks, Alex. I now think I was too hasty when I said:

If 'by choice' means 'by some chosen action or other' then I affirm that Adam did lose virtue by this method, as did Satan.

I think that there I was confused between losing personal virtue by actions and losing virtue of character.

I think that the standard Calvinistic view would be that Adam lost virtue in the sense of his nature's changing from good-yet-mutable to vicious when he was tempted by the serpent. So I think that there is another way to lose virtue in addition to your (a) and (b):

(c) through an external evil that doesn't destroy freedom because its pull changes one's nature from resistance to lack of resistance.

Our natures in the next life, and God's nature, are not mutable in this way. Our natures in this life, after the Fall, already lack resistance.

I agree that there is a pull about your assertion:

I think that if your character is distorted by something you're not to blame for, then you're not to blame for whatever is f-determined by the resulting distortions.

Nevertheless, I deny it, under the influence of the arguments of Jonathan Edwards in his The Freedom of the Will. (Have you read that, if I may ask? I'd be interested to know how you react.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

But in the case of the *first* sinner, what external evil can there be? The first sinner isn't Adam or Eve, but presumably one of the angels.