In the course of our previous discussion on Calvinism, there are several lines of argument that need attention. I think the Calvinists have taken somewhat divergent lines in defending their position. Bnonn seems inclined to be critical of my claim the conception of goodness that we apply to God needs to be continuous with the concept that we apply to human beings. He seems, much more that Paul, to want to push in the general direction of theological voluntarism. He maintains that while we do, and must come to Christ and to Scripture with a conception of what goodness is, we must be prepared to allow our conception of goodness to be corrected by Scripture. There are two problems with his suggestion.
First, while I admit that Scripture can correct my conception of goodness, accepting reprobation would, on my view, not be a correction, but an out and out reversal, of what goodness seems to me to be. If Hitler was wrong to send people to Auschwitz, could it be OK for God to send people to an everlasting Auschwitz, when he could have chosen eternal bliss for them?
Second, it’s the very influence of Scripture on my character that makes Calvinism a problem. Scripture teaches that I should love my neighbor as myself and undermines the idea, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, that there are people outside the pale of being my neighbor. If I think about the people whom I come the closest to loving as I do myself, I don’t find that there are two good options, either an eternal bliss in relation to God, or eternal justified punishment forever and ever separated from God. The more I love someone, the less acceptable the second option is.
Finally, the summum bonum that God pursues in saving and damning is supposed to be his own glory. How in the world does damning someone eternally glorify God. How does taking voices out of the heavenly choir glorify God? Sending people to hell by a decree before the foundation of the world deprives God of glory.
Paul Manata does not think that Calvinism relies on theological voluntarism, and does therefore think that God’s goodness, even on a Calvinistic view, is in some way commensurable with goodness as human beings ordinarily understand it. He claims Sudduth blows the idea that Calvin is a theological voluntarist. He quotes a passage with suggests otherwise, but I wonder how he would interpret the following statement form the Institutes
The will of God is the highest rule of justice, so that what He wills must be considered just…for this very reason, because he wills it. (Institutes, vol ii, chap 3, trans. John Allen. Philadephia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, p. 23) quoted in John Beversluis’ C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion p. 230.
Now, as I see it not much turns on whether Calvin was a voluntarist (or, to use Beversluis’ terminology, and Ockhamist) or not. I suspect that a textual case could be made on both sides of the issue. I am more interested in Manata’s suggesting that, for the most part, you can use many of the same defensive responses to the problem of evil if you are a Calvinist. Of course you can’t use the free will defense, but there are other considerations used by people like Plantinga, Alston, Adams, etc, that a Calvinst can still use.
In particular, most responses to the problem of evil make use of some sort of argument from human epistemic limitations. In response to, say, Loftus’ argument that a good God would have given us wings, theists point out that while this looks like an improvement to someone like Loftus, it is fairly easy to see that if we were to consider all the effects of giving us wings, it might not be an improvement.
In many cases, we find that some things that seem to be gratuitously evil turn out to have good sides we couldn’t see. The wicked act of selling Joseph to the slavers resulted, after a long chain of events, in Jacob’s family being able to settle in Egypt and to avoid the ill effects of the famine. So if something appears evil, it may not be because
1) We don’t see all the causes and effects that will result for this so-called evil.
2) We don’t see the long-term consequences of the evil.
3) We don’t see the eternal consequences of the evil.
4) We don’t see the possible bad consequences of eliminating the evil.
Now if someone went to hell as a result of divine decree who could have been saved, and I say that isn’t something a good God could permit, which one of these mistakes could I be making? It’s a final result for someone’s soul. We see all the causes and effects, at least so far is this particular life is concerned. The long-term consequences are known, even the eternal consequences are known, and the alternative possibility of God’s saving that person is also known. So my error can’t be traced to any of these four sources. So where did I go wrong if I thought this would be wrong for God to do, but it really isn’t? It must be that my conception of goodness is dead wrong. That’s all that’s left.