Thursday, April 10, 2008

On Calvinism and Evil

One of my earliest posts was one entitled "Why Calvinists Can't Solve the
Problem of Evil" Steve Hays on Triablogue responded to it,

SH: Let's return to his syllogism:

1. God, if God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good.
2. If there is a God, then there is no unnecessary evil, that is, an evil
that the world would be better off without. As Leibniz would say, if there
is a God, then this is the best of all possible worlds.
3. But there is unnecessary evil. This is clearly not the best of all possible
4. Therefore God does not exist.

The weak link is #2.

1.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is a best possible world,
why is God obligated to create the best possible world?

The choice between better and best is not equivalent to a choice between
good and evil. A second-best possible world could still be a world without
any unnecessary evil. Indeed, it could be a world without any evil at all.
Or does Reppert deny the possibility of alternative goods? Can?t there be
more than one good state of affairs?

VR: I didn't necessarily support this version of the argument, and since I?m
a theist I of course don?t think its conclusion is true. Perhaps Leibnizian
creative requirements are excessive. What we are talking about here, though,
are gratuitous damnations. We are talking about people suffering an eternity
of torment and separation from God. I take it the Calvinist is claiming that
God could have given everyone free will (in the compatibilist sense) and
then caused everyone to do what is necessary to receive saving grace. If
there was a reason for God not to make earth the World of Mr. Rogers, surely
God should make eternity the world of Mr. Rogers.

SH: 2.That brings me to the next point: why assume there is a best possible world?
It's like asking if a Gothic cathedral is better than a Byzantine basilica.
Now, you can say that one Gothic church is better than another, or that one
basilica is better than another.

But one type of architecture may have distinctive esthetic values which cannot
be replicated in another type of architecture.

VR: Maybe there isn't a best of all possible worlds. Maybe God created all the
good worlds. The question is, is a world in which someone is damned by decree
before the foundation of the world a good world?

SH: Is the common good the greatest good? What if there is no greatest good for
the greatest number? What if there's a tradeoff between a greater good for
a lesser number, and a lesser good for a greater number?

Reppert says: "And there are situations which persevere into eternity which
very clearly could have been better. In particular, "Smith's going to hell"
is a situation which goes preseveres into eternity and is not going to get

No doubt the situation could have been better for Smith. But is what is good
for Smith equivalent to the summum bonum?

What is good for Smith is good also for those who love Smith. And someone
who is being perfected in love is going to love Smith. The more we love our
neighbor as ourselves, the more we find the eternal damnation of our neighbors

I realize that this is in large part Tom Talbott's argument for universalism.
The only conceivable escape from it is the argument that Smith has chosen
self over God, and that God could have done nothing to prevent Smith from
continuing in that choice without violating Smith's freedom. However, that?s
an Arminian theodicy of damnation, not a Calvinist one.

SH: What if a greater good for Smith entails a lesser good for Baker, Brown,
and Jones?

How could it? Baker, Brown and Jones all love Smith, since they are in God?s
community of love.

SH: 3.In addition, what if greater goods are second-order goods, contingent on
the evil abuse of first-order goods?

I don't see any possible second-order good arising from a disobedience that
persists for an eternity.

SH: 4.In fact, don't we find this very theodicy implicit in the pages of Scripture?
To take a few examples:

It was not that this [blind] man sinned, or his parents, but that the works
of God might be displayed in him? (Jn 9:3).

Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this word, that those who do not see
may see, and those who see may become blind?" (Jn 9:39).

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace
abounded all the more? (Rom 5:20).

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ?For this very purposes I have raised
you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed
in all the earth'? (Rom 9:17).

What if God, desiring to make known his power, has endured with much patience
vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches
of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory??
(Rom 9:22-23).

But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by
faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe? (Gal 3:22).

None of these involve eternal disobedience. In one passage at the end of
the famous Romans 9-11 section, Paul says:

For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

So that's the point of all the shutting up in disobedience, the hardening
of hearts, the vessels of wrath. This is all aimed at having mercy upon all.
And no, let's not play any Calvinist word games about what all means.

SH: 5.As to his final paragraph, there are a couple of problems:

i) As a matter of human experience, is love always a choice? Isn't it natural
for parents to love their children, and children to love their parents? As
a rule, isn't this a spontaneous and involuntary affection for our own?

But is a love that is guaranteed by the actions of the one being loved real
love, or puppetry?

ii) Reppert begs the question of whether it's even possible for God to confer
libertarian freedom on his creatures. There are some things God cannot do
without ceasing to be God.

Now look who's putting limits on the power of God.


TD Hinkle said...

" 'ii) Reppert begs the question of whether it's even possible for God to confer
libertarian freedom on his creatures. There are some things God cannot do
without ceasing to be God.'

Now look who's putting limits on the power of God. "

I know this isn't really the substance of your argument, but I think your missing the point of what the Calvinist is claiming. It's just because God is omnipotent, so the argument goes, that he cannot create a being with libertarian freedom. Just as, it's just because God is omnipotent that he cannot create a stone so heavy he can't lift.

Anonymous said...

Vic, you're right to distance yourself from Calvinism. As Clark Pinnock once said, it's the kind of theology that creates atheists. And I concur.

Darek Barefoot said...


Here's another point related to Calvinism and determinism.

In the Scriptures God pleads with sinners to change. He pleads with Israel, for example, to return to him before disaster befalls the nation (Ezek 33:11).

I can see God pleading with sinners even though in his perfect foreknowledge he realizes that they will not respond. But for him to plead, all the while not really wanting the sinners to respond to his pleas (because he chose to harden them without any regard to their own choice) makes these expressions incoherent.

Mike Almeida said...

The problem is indeed with premise (2). You've got two positions conflated in (2). All you need to say, for the purposes of this argument, is that there is no unnecessary evil. That a world contains no unnecessary evil does not entail that it is the best possible world. Take a world that includes no created beings. The only objects that exist are God and other necessary beings (there will of course be some contingent states of affairs that obtain, e.g. the state of affairs that God did not create any human beings, etc.). In any case, there is no unnecessary evil in such a world, and it is not the best possible. Certainly God might have created other valuable things. The short story is that it is one thing to require that God not permit unnecessary evil; it is another thing to require that God actualize the best possible world.

Mike Darus said...

What if God created at least two worlds? I am positing heaven and earth as two of thoses separate worlds. Could they both be considered the best of all worlds for distinct purposes?

Victor Reppert said...

Mike: Quite right about the original formulation of the argument. You can have a world that has no unnecessary evil which is not the best of all possible worlds, especially if there is no best of all possible (or feasible) worlds. This doesn't help the Calvinist, though.

Ilíon said...

To claim that the world (this world, the only one we know) contains unnecessary (or gratuitous, or excessive, or etc) evil is to claim to *know* how much evil is "appropriate." Really, now, is this not to claim to *be* God?

Mike Darus said...

I have always wanted to press that point. How much over the limit of the appropriate amount of evil are we? Would a little less be OK? Or a lot less? Is a little bit of evil acceptable? But once I was accused of the beard falacy. And then there was the accusation that anyone who does not agree that there is too much pain and suffering is cold hearted. How do you know if a particular evil event is unnecessary? Maybe there is too much good in the world?

Ilíon said...

Related to the questions you ask is a question I'd ask (of the sort person who thinks the existence in the world of evil, moral or physical, is evidence against either God existing or being good if he does exist): How much of *your* moral freedom are you willing to have excised from your being, right now, to eliminate evil in the world?

Mike Darus: "Maybe there is too much good in the world?"

If the "Problem of Evil/Pain" really is such a great problem for Christianity, does it not follow that (what we might call) the "Problem of Good" is at least as great a problem for atheism?

Anonymous said...

Victor quotes a calvinist as saying:

“ii) Reppert begs the question of whether it's even possible for God to confer libertarian freedom on his creatures. There are some things God cannot do without ceasing to be God.”

And Victor then adds:

“Now look who's putting limits on the power of God.”

Now why would someone claim that God could not be God if he created human persons with libertarian free will? Why would they place such a limitation upon God? The reason is simple: they have a precommitment to theological determinism and do not want to even allow for the possibility of the reality of libertarian free will. You see, if libertarian free will ever exists, even for a moment, then everything has not been predetermined (which is what the determinist so desperately wants to believe). In this case of course the calvinist/determinist **wants to believe** that God could not create humans with libertarian free will. But it is a far distance from claiming that God would not do so and could not do so.

According to this calvinist’s statement God **could not** create us with libertarian free will and remain God. What an outlandish and ridiculous claim. But it gets worse. This statement that God could not create us with libertarian free will and remain God is directly contradicted by the bible (which ironically is the very source of information the theological determinist believes supports his position). Just go back to Genesis and look at the events described before the fall of Adam into sin. There are two absolutely clear and unambiguous statements that indicate (unless one is extremely biased in favor of determinism/a mistaken calvinist) that Adam had libertarian free will.

The first statement is made by God to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17: “From **any** tree of the garden you may eat **freely**; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”

If I told a child at Toys-R-Us: “you can have any toy in this store except for the X toy”. What will the child be justified in concluding from my statement? He/she will conclude that they have a wide range of choices, multiple alternative possibilities each of which they could choose (apart from the one exception/toy X). The child’s choice is not merely between choose the X toy or refrain from choosing the X toy (only two possibilities). No, the child is to understand that with the exception of the X toy, any other toy in that store is a possibility which they can actualize by making their choice. That is lots and lots of choices, with each and every one being up to the child to decide. It amazes me that otherwise rational and intelligent people cannot see what that statement by God in Gen. 2:16-17 says about Adam’s available choices and the reality of libertarian free will.

The other statement that makes the same point about the reality of free will in Adam’s initial experience concerns the event concerning the naming of the animals in Genesis 2:19: “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what **he would call them**; and ***whatever*** the man called a living creature, **that** was its name.”

In this case, there are no exceptions of limitations placed on Adam’s choosing. Instead, ***whatever*** He decides to name an animal will be its name. According to Gen. 2:19 God **left the many and multiple decisions concerning the names of the animals to Adam**. That is a lot of choices and all of these choices are up to Adam. Again, if you were simply reading the bible attempting to interpret it according to standard rules of exegesis how could you not conclude that Adam was created with a capacity to do his own actions, make his own choices (i.e., he was created with a capacity for free will in the libertarian sense, and existed in an environment in which different possible alternatives were available to him and left to him to actualize or not actualize). It is also significant that these two clear statements of libertarian free will are only a few verses apart and both in the context of the original creation of mankind. In other words, from the beginning of man’s existence, God intended and designed for him to have libertarian free will, to make his own choices from available alternative possibilities. Anyone who denies this, is denying what scripture explicitly says.

So this statement that God could not be God if he had created humans with libertarian free will flies in the face of the simple, clear, and unambiguous presentation given in the first chapters of the bible. Now if someone wants to engage in semantic word games to evade these verses, that is **their choice**. But they make that choice not based on reasonable interpretation of the biblical text, but they make that choice in order to defend and maintain an unbiblical and false system of theology: calvinism.


a helmet said...


Interesting blog. I've been browsing the net on the subject of reformed theology and the subject of sin and evil. I agree that Calvinists do not provide any good answers concerning the problem of evil. I don't regard the reformed "theodicy" as consistent at all.

Kehrhelm Kröger

鲁华东 said...