As I have said before, it is my belief that revealed theology cannot resolve the Calvinist-Arminian debate. Both views (at least in their moderate forms) are both plausible and orthodox; any reason to prefer one to the other will be a philosophical reason, a conclusion of fallible human reason. With this understanding of revealed theology in mind, I reject Calvinism on philosophical grounds, one of which is that I think Calvinism has an extremely difficult time with the problem of evil.
In a recent post, The Problem of Evil 101, at Reason From Scripture, Nathanael Taylor presents a 'Reformed' response to the problem of evil which exhibits some of the problems I am worried about. On Nathanael's view, it seems to me, God "does evil that good may come" (Rom. 3:8). God creates a world full of sin so he can show his grace by redeeming it; he creates unredeemed people so he can demonstrate his justice by punishing them. Furthermore (this point might seem a little nitpicky, but I think it's important), in trying to make it sound plausible that the demonstration of these attributes is a justifying reason for God to allow evil, Nathanael comes close to implying that God has to act this way in order to have these attributes, as if he wouldn't have them if he didn't create a world: "All of these great things about God get maximized when evil is in the picture and so it brings God's Glory and hence this could be another morally sufficient reason for why evil exists." In fact, though, even if we accept everything else Nathanael says, along with his Calvinist presuppositions, a world without evil would mean that these divine attributes were less clearly demonstrated, not that they were diminished or lacking. Is the clear demonstration of these attributes really a justifying reason?
That said, when I was reading Nathanael's post, a strategy for improving this line of thought came to mind which I hadn't though of before. Let me explain:
The word 'theodicy' was coined by G. W. Leibniz as a title for his book (which, by the way, is 300 years old this year). There are a number of strains in Leibniz's thought on the subject. For instance, one important aspect is the use of a proto-Kantian theory of practical rationality - according to which what it means to be practically rational is to consistently act according to rules - to argue that consistency considerations will trump considerations of, e.g., suffering. (An orderly world with lots of suffering is better than a disorderly world with less suffering.) However, in addition to this line about 'global' theodicy, Leibniz wants to defend the claim that no individual has a just complaint against God. Leibniz defends this claim by endorsing a radical essentialism: if anything in the total history of your life or the world were different, you wouldn't exist. Leibniz (who, in addition to inventing the word 'theodicy' invented the possible worlds semantics for counterfactuals) analyzes plain language counterfactuals by means of a counterpart theory, but denies that what happens to your counterpart is relevant to these theodician issues. So suppose an individual complains about some event e (say, being sent to hell) happening to her; according to Leibniz, she has no just complaint against God, because if e didn't occur, she wouldn't exist, and it doesn't make any sense for someone to say that God has wronged them by making them exist.
Now, in addition to this whole picture being wildly implausible, it would seem to be contradicted by Scripture which says that it would be better for Judas if he had never been born (Mark 14:21). So Leibniz's strong thesis must be wrong. Furthermore, Leibniz argues that God must create the best possible world and, therefore, this must be it. But surely that's wrong too.
Enter philosopher and Leibniz scholar Robert Adams. In a famous (and generally awesome) paper from 1972 entitled, "Must God Create the Best?", Adams argues, against Leibniz, that the Judeo-Christian God would not create the best possible world. This is because, Adams says, the Judeo-Christian God is characterized by the virtue of grace. (This is primarily a Christian emphasis, but throughout the paper Adams says 'Judeo-Christian' because his main text is Psalm 8.) Adams suggests that God might show grace by creating creatures who don't deserve to exist. Why might God's creatures not deserve to exist? Because they are not part of the best possible world.
Now, suppose we adopt a weakened Leibnizian thesis, the thesis that all actual human beings (though perhaps not all possible human beings) exhibit the modal property known as trans-world depravity, the property of being a sinner in every world in which they exist. This isn't the strong essentialist claim that if anything about my history was different I wouldn't be me; it's the weaker claim that anyone who was morally perfect would be so radically different from me that he would have to be a different person. Honestly, that sounds pretty plausible to me. So God acts graciously by creating a world in which only people who don't deserve to exist exist. Why only such people? Because if someone who would also exist in the best possible world existed in the actual world, that person would have a just complaint against God; that person's suffering would be unjustified. We could even make the stronger claim that the world that exists is the best world in which any of us exist, but we need not do so for this strategy to work.
So what goes on with this view, and how does it differ from Nathanael's? (I should note that Nathanael only gives a sketch of his view, so he might intend something like this all along.) The most important difference is that it is not the case that God makes the people who exist sinners in order to demonstrate his grace toward them. Rather, God acts graciously in creating people who are necessarily sinners, and for that reason don't deserve to exist. He acts all the more graciously by redeeming some of them. (We need the assumption that although I couldn't exist and be morally perfect throughout my whole existence, it is still possible, at least by miracle, for me to become morally perfect without losing my identity.) So while Nathanael says that "God ordains humans to choose to sin," the view under consideration says that God chooses from among all the possible creatures he could create to create you and I, despite our depravity. The latter sounds like a good candidate for a gracious act; the former doesn't.
At least so it seems to me. But I still think we're better off with the good old free will theodicy, as long as we can make metaphysical libertarianism work.Posted by Kenny at May 11, 2010 2:26 PM
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