Calvinism and the Problem of Evil (Or, Dealing with the Sparsity Objection)

JobThere are many of overlaps between the problem of evil in philosophy and apologetics (how could a good, all-powerful God allow such evil as we see in the world?)  and issues concerning the tensions between divine sovereignty and human effort in our theology of salvation (if God is sovereign over history, then what role does our will play in things?). How you answer the one question inevitably affects the approach you take in the other. And that’s unsurprising when we think about it.

What is God’s salvation other than a practical solution to the problem of evil as it exists in history because of human sin? The Triune God of glory has dealt with and met the evil of the world in the person and work of the Son according to the decree of the Father in the power of the Spirit.

Stepping back from the existential dimension, though, and addressing some of the more traditional formulations, there are a couple of different approaches that people take to answering the problem of evil at a philosophical level. These usually end up having a corollary in your theology of salvation.

Libertarianisms, Theodicy, and Salvation

One of the most popular responses to the problem of evil is to appeal to God’s gift of human freedom. God can be all-powerful and all-good and yet still allow human evil because he has created us with the great good of free will of the libertarian sort–the ability in every situation to do otherwise than you have done, without ultimate determination from God, the natural order, or even your own character. According this argument, that’s the sort of freedom you need for love and for truly moral actions. But the freedom to choose God, love, and the good also includes the possibility to do the opposite, and that’s what we’ve done. And so, God is good, powerful, and loving, and yet still allows evil because of his own sovereign decision to give us free will.

Now, if you take this route, most of the time you’ll end up affirming some sort of Arminianism or Wesleyan synergism in salvation, where this sort of free will is necessary also for salvation. A classic Arminian will readily grant the reality of human depravity and sin, the need for God’s prevenient grace (a grace that precedes and prepares) that spiritually awakens you, so to speak, in order for you to even respond to God and trust in his mercy and Jesus’ work on the cross. Contrary to some slurs, they are not Pelagians. But the freedom God awakens you to is the freedom to do otherwise–freedom of the libertarian sort that can still reject God’s loving invitation through the Spirit. The free-will defense or theodicy usually goes against any kind of theological determinism inconsistent with Arminian or Wesleyan views.

Calvinism, Theodicy, and Salvation

Typically, Calvinists and Reformed types don’t affirm that sort of libertarian freedom. Some are trying to work it out, with some very interesting approaches, but by and large, they will view freedom in a different light that is compatibilist–positing no ultimate dichotomy between God’s foreordination or human freedom. This is usually taken to be necessary for a more “robust” view of God’s regeneration and calling of us out of the bondage of the will in sin.

On this view, when God awakens your heart from its sin-dead slumber, it is not only a prevenient act of grace but an efficacious act. It not only enables you to maybe choose life, but transforms and reforms your will–not by over-riding it, but by healing and restoring it–so that you gladly, lovingly, and willingly choose it. This view of freedom views God’s choice, not as a threat to our freedom, but the only possibility of exercising true freedom–the freedom to love what we were made for. It’s not coercive, imposed from the outside, but awakening and transforming from within.

Of course, all of this is very condensed. But the key thing to see is that this view is not likely going to push you to lean on the libertarian free-will theodicy or defense. No, in fact, it’s more likely going to appeal in a very different direction to considerations regarding our knowledge of God’s purposes–epistemological concerns.

In a nutshell, most philosophers have agreed that if he had a good enough reason to, it is possible for an all-powerful and all-wise God to allow the evil in the world to exist. This is the assumption the free-will defense draws on–freewill, love, and moral choice is a good enough reason for the risk of free will.  Well, on that same assumption, some Calvinist philosophers like Stephen Wykstra and Alvin Plantinga have pointed out that there is a massive gap between our knowledge and the knowledge of an infinite God. Their point is this: if the infinitely wise God who created all things had a good enough reason for allowing all this evil, how are you so certain you would understand it?

Or, to put it another way, in order to know there isn’t a good enough reason, you’d have to know all that an infinite God would know in order to rule out the possibility. But you couldn’t possibly do that given your limited, finite knowledge of, well, everything. The scale between your understanding and God’s isn’t even that of a child to an adult, but more on the scale of an ant and a human. In other words, saying, “If I can’t see a good enough reason for evil there must not be one” doesn’t answer the question. Just because you “can’t see” a good enough reason, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

If that’s the case, then, while we don’t necessarily have an “answer” to the problem of evil like libertarian free will, it’s not a defeater for our belief in God. Given our belief in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have hope in God’s good purposes in the middle of evil even if we don’t know what those are. A God good enough to live, die, and rise for sinners is trustworthy enough.

Another Problem of Evil?

love freedom and evilBelieve it or not, all of that is just set up for what I really wanted to get to: dealing with an objection to a more Calvinistic view of God’s efficacious liberation of our will to respond to him. To do that, I’m going to quote from Thaddeus Williams’ fascinating work Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will? Now, the title of the work is a bit misleading. Williams believes love requires freedom of the will, but not of the libertarian sort. His book is an exploration of the cluster of philosophical, biblical, and theological questions surrounding love, freedom, and the problem of evil.

Towards the end of the book he takes up what he calls the “sparsity objection” to the compatibilistic view of God’s liberation of the human will I outlined above–the one Williams calls “the Heart Reforming view.” Williams quotes philosopher Jerry Walls putting the objection this way:

Arguably, the most damaging strike against compatibilism is its utter inability to explain why God has not predestined everyone to freely choose him if freedom is really compatible with determinism. In our estimation, this is the mortal blow to the compatibilist. If this question cannot be answered convincingly, then compatibilists can hardly expect their position to be taken seriously by those who firmly believe in a profoundly loving and richly relational God.

That’s a tough objection. If libertarianism isn’t necessary for love and God can liberate our wills without violating them, why doesn’t God liberate more people’s wills? Why not liberate everyone’s will and purge the evil from the world immediately? Why are God’s chosen so relatively sparse? Williams gives at least four responses, but the one that’s relevant is one that draws on the insights about the limits of human knowledge:

The insight of Plantinga…applies when approaching the Sparsity Objection. The difference is that it is no longer the atheologian arguing against God’s existence, but the libertarian theologian arguing against the existence of one particular view of God, namely, a God with the ability to bring about Heart Reformation. If we seek to justify disbelief in the existence of a Heart Reforming God on the basis of the Sparsity Objection, then we find ourselves, oddly enough, in the same plight as the atheologian. We commit ourselves to a problematic premise….:

P2: It is impossible, improbable, or less probable than some libertarian account that a God with Heart Reforming ability possesses morally sufficient reasons behind withholding a more widespread exercise of that ability.

The fatal flaw of P2 is the same as that of P1, namely, how difficult the premise is to establish given the cognitive gap between God and us. Alston argues that the atheologian’s induction from “I can see no” to “There is no” is unjustified. Alston’s point holds true for the libertarian theologian who attempts to reach the conclusion “There is no [morally sufficient reason for a God with Heart Reforming ability to exercise that ability as sparsely as it may seem]” from the premise “I can see no [morally sufficient reason for a God with Heart Reforming ability to exercise that ability as sparsely as it may seem].” The induction rests on a failure to appreciate the Creator-creature cognitive gap. –pp. 167-168

In other words, just because you can’t see a good enough reason for God to call and liberate those that he does and not others, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a good enough reason. It’s just one that you can’t see. But you’re not God. You’re not the counter-intuitive Lord of all Creation who chose to redeem the world through assuming human nature, frailty, and the weight of sin and dying on a cross in order to rise to new life. That’s not the sort of thing you would come up with on your own. So maybe, just maybe, God’s ways in salvation are going to be a bit beyond us. That doesn’t mean they’re not true, though.

I’ve only scratched the surface here, obviously. And, of course, all of this matters only if Scripture points us to the idea that God’s liberation of the human will works this way. And that is a question I simply don’t have the time to address in this already longish post, which is why I would commend Williams’ work to you, as he spends quite a bit of time addressing that question. Still, in my reading and study, time and again I have come back the fundamental importance of this insight: God is the perfect Creator and we are but fallen-though-being-redeemed-creatures.

I suppose all of this boils down to an invitation to hear the wisdom of Job:

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:3)

Soli Deo Gloria

21 thoughts on “Calvinism and the Problem of Evil (Or, Dealing with the Sparsity Objection)

  1. Pingback: Morning Mashup 08/10 |
  2. Great thoughts here, Derek. I totally agree, and I find this all helpful. I do wonder, however, if we can in fact make *some* progress in understanding why it is that God does not save all. In this discussion I articulate one view that I’ve heard and find compelling (reposted and neatly re-formatted, courtesy of the Evangelical Arminian Society): http://evangelicalarminians.org/helpful-conversation-between-austin-fischer-and-an-interlocutor/. Lots of reading, I know. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

    • I like that. It demonstrates the modesty that Bavinck advocates in his RD on the question of Supra and Infra. The argument that Crisp makes about the “display of the attributes” is the one that has always given me pause about the quick appeal to Romans 9. If taken as a hard claim, the logic of the display of the attributes works just as well for the universalist, which is something I am trying to avoud here.

      • Derek, help me out here. I haven’t read Crisp, but why does the logic of the display of the attributes work “just as well” for the universalist?

        And I don’t think it’s very fair to generally characterize appeals to Romans 9 in this discussion as “quick.” I am convinced that Romans 9 is about individuals not by a quick cursory skim-reading, but through hours of study. And from my perspective, I don’t know what else Romans 9:22–23 is saying if it’s not saying God ordains to reprobate some to highlight his mercy for the elect. So I guess I wonder where it is you disagree here: Do you think Romans 9 is about nations? Or do you disagree that an individualist reading leads to my understanding of vv. 22–23?

      • In a nutshell, if we really believe that on the cross of Christ, God displayed his wrath, judgement, holiness and so forth as well as his love, mercy, and compassion, by punishing sin in order to save sinners, then he could perfectly display his attributes and save everyone at the same time. Unless you want to say Christ’s work *doesn’t* display or involve all of God’s attributes.

      • Ah, I think I get it now. I thought you were simply saying that universalism would be possible given this logic, therefore the logic must be flawed. But I think I now see what you mean: this logic would beg the question. If the full attributes of God need to be displayed, then the cross is enough and we don’t need any reprobation.

        In the link I shared previously I actually interacted a bit with Austin Fischer on this very line of reasoning. You can read it in full there (it’s my third and final reply). But to summarize: I would say that it’s not so much about the full attributes being displayed *in general*, but more about the full attributes being displayed *to the elect* specifically—it’s more about their ability to see, comprehend, and be affected by the fullness of God’s glory than for God’s glory to be “most fully” displayed in the abstract. So although Christ’s death most fully reveals God’s justice and hatred for sin and concern to uphold the law, yet I do think that the eternal suffering of the damned does truly add something to the elect’s capacity to know and enjoy the full panorama of God’s glory. (An assumption in all this is that the saints in heaven are aware of and in some ineffable way able to view the torments of the damned, an idea which I find in Scripture: Isa 66:23-24; Luke 16:22-26; Rev 14:10 [cf. 7:15]; 18:20; 19:1-3.) Here are three ways I thought of: 1. Christ’s sufferings were a past event; the sufferings of the damned are ever-present and everlasting, and as such they serve to further impress notions of God’s wrath, power, and justice upon the minds of the saints. 2. Christ’s sufferings do aptly demonstrate God’s hatred for sin and love for righteousness, but they do not so clearly reveal the fullness of God’s power and might against sin as the eternally visible torments of the damned do. 3. Christ’s sufferings were not an example of God hating a sinner in himself, but the damned in hell are. I had another thought I didn’t share in the post: there is an increased sense of gratitude when one has the sense of being rescued out of a group headed for destruction, and you can actually see others who were in the exact same state as you and yet were finally lost. There is a special sense of thankfulness to God that arises from that which wouldn’t arise if we had universalism and the only event that ever displayed God’s justice and wrath was the past event of the cross.

        Anyway, the meat is this: in spite of the cross being where God’s justice and love is most fully displayed, I still think that the eternal damnation of some does add to the elect’s capacity to know and rejoice in the fullness of God’s glory. Sorry this is so long. I take after Alastair in length, though certainly not in profundity. I’m working on that. Any thoughts would truly be appreciated. I’m eager to bounce these ideas off someone who may disagree and have good pushback.

    • I think there comes a point in some discussions where admitting you don’t have an answer ought to lead to the acknowledgment that your opponent makes a good point. I think this particular objection to Calvinism is one of those instances. The skeptical theism response here just stares at me like a deer caught in headlights.
      Objector: “If God is so powerful that he can create a world where he Calvinistically-saves all, why doesn’t he do it?”
      Calvinist implementing the skeptical theism approach: “I dunno.”

      At any rate, theological arguments are a fun game to play for me. But as long as Calvinism continues to interpret Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 in medieval terms and not in Jewish/Pauline terms of corporate election, it doesn’t appeal to me.

      • Allow me to clarify my last paragraph.

        It seems to me that the driving thrust of Calvinism is its dependency upon certain interpretations of the biblical text. Thus, when theologians do their theologian thing they are operating under certain propositions which in these debates cannot be shaken. Thus, the skeptical theism response may be appealing … so long as one’s interpretation of Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 remains steadfast.

        I reject the Calvinist interpretations and model altogether, and thus for me I see the skeptical theism response as entirely mistaken. You guys are playing a different ballgame than me, one which is fun (no doubt) but entirely fictional.

      • Kurt, two points:
        1. I’m not denying there’s important challenge there. I’m giving a reason for thinking it’s not insurmountable.
        2. Plenty of Reformed exegetes deal in corporate categories aa well. They just don’t reduce them solely to corporate categories. You should try reading them some time.

      • Kurt, there’s no denying the objector is making a good point. I think sober Calvinists will grant you this much. On any significantly controversial topic, there are arguments against the truth that enjoy fairly plausible premises for all we know. But once a party confesses “we don’t (fully) know”, the question naturally shifts to “should we expect to (fully) know?”
        Would you accuse Arminians who debate atheists to be “deers caught in the headlights” when atheists press them on particular instances of natural evil where libertarianism isn’t in view, and ask, say “why doesn’t God prevent an Asian tsunami that kills hundreds of thousands of people, since the tsunami wave evidently didn’t have libertarian free will?” The Arminian presumably responds “I don’t know”, and I don’t think it’s a deer/headlights cause for panic. Why? Because we naturally turn to the question “if God had reasons to let the wave destroy all these lives, should we expect to know those reasons?” and find that the answer to that question isn’t so obviously yes.
        The two cases seem rather analogous, wouldn’t you grant?

  3. “…all of this matters only if Scripture points us to the idea that God’s liberation of the human will works this way.”
    I really think this is the key point. If you’re arguing from a perspective that affirms biblical authority, then your goal in developing or discovering a philosophy about human freedom is simply to find the one consistent with what the revelation of Scripture reveals, not the other way around. When Scripture provides our lens for seeing freedom, then we begin with a whole lot of boundaries. Libertarian free will is a solid philosophical response to the problem of evil, but I don’t see libertarian free will as consistent with what the Bible reveals about depravity and soteriology.

  4. No offense to you personally Derek but this is why I find it quite laughable that Calvinism often gets a reputation for being the ‘academic’ or ‘sophisticated’ theology for the thinking Christian.

    In my opinion, Jerry Walls’ objection has not been answered at all (but I guess that’s what you’re bravely confessing?). Walls specifically mentions this kind of response already as “punting to mystery.” Anybody can do that when they find a serious logical dilemma in their worldview. Would you find it convincing if a Hindu believed in many gods and one god at the same time? Surely you would want to reason with them. They should either accept Advaita Vedanta or some form of monotheism. But what if they tell you that just because such concepts do not make sense logically doesn’t mean to say that both cannot be true at the same time? This is often the solution to the problem of god(s) being personal or ultimately impersonal as well. Where would you go with these discussions now? I have talked to many Buddhists about the rationality of their worldview and often they will simply smile. They are not being patronizing (I don’t think) but rather their smile suggests that human reason is not capable of sufficiently causing them to doubt their beliefs or the teachings of the Buddha. If reason be usurped by appeals to mystery then why should Christians (or specifically Calvinists) be the only ones to get a ‘get-out-of-logic-free’ card with this kind of strategy?

    When I was a Christian I could buy the whole “God’s ways are not our ways” humility stance but it still bothered me. Why would God give us reason and then make such an important question beyond our ability to find a reasonable answer to it (that is, if compatibilism be true of course!)? So now we are asked to believe in an all-loving God who deliberately makes following him an irrational pursuit. What kind of God does that? And who are the Christians who seem to think this is all a bit of an interesting theological game?

    I don’t think Christianity has to be unreasonable but I do think compatibilist forms of Christianity are completely unreasonable. A God who wants to play such mystery games with us for whatever reason is not, in my humble opinion, worthy of our worship and I certainly have no interest spending eternity with such a being.

    PS. I have had email conversations with Alvin Plantinga a few years ago and he rejected being called a Calvinist. He described himself as a Molinist who rejects compatibilism. I don’t know if he’s changed his view since then.

    • Not to be rude, but this kind of response is why I find the charge that Calvinists are uniquely arrogant or condescending to be laughable. 😉

      I get that you think this is a punt. I used to as well. I used to find the free will defense absolutely compelling, intuitive, and rigorous. I still find it intuitive, and it can be rigorous enough (I’ve read Plantinga, Van Inwagen, Walls, etc.), but it’s just not compelling to me on broader theological or exegetical grounds. But really, I could go into a bit long thing about epistemology, apophaticism, the fact that we all appeal to mystery and some point, and that I’m doing so in a place that I think has biblical warrant, but we both know that’s not really going to do much for you. So, good day, sir.

      • To be fair though Derek I nowhere made the charge that “Calvinists are uniquely arrogant or condescending…” did I? I simply pointed out that there has often been this view that Calvinists are the ‘serious theologians’.

        I’m confused that you now say you don’t find this a “punt” since the article appears to be admitting exactly that! You can call it “cognitive distance” or any other fancy epistemological term you like but it does not change the fact that a very serious logical problem is being responded to by a shrug of the shoulders. And, by consequence, I think a lot of Christian critiques of other religions no longer have any validity since these other religions can play the same game.

        And if you want to go the route that we all (equally?) appeal to mystery in our worldviews then I think the religious pluralists will be more than happy to hear that.

        I’m not really sure you know me well enough to conclude by judging what will or will not “do much” for me. I have to say this is not the first time I’ve experienced the ‘cold shoulder’ approach to apologetics often employed by Calvinists.

        At least you can take comfort in the fact that God has some unknown reason for my walking away from Christianity and that God is behind this journey I’m taking in some weird, unexplainable, and logically flawed compatibilist metanarrative. 😉

  5. I’m a bit ambivalent, but, I think Derek’s analysis does a good job of “getting us to the core question”. The landing zone of the Sparsity Objection, if it actually did comprise the fundamental constitutions of the core objections to (high, full-blown) Calvinism, would grant utility to the following:

    If we seek to justify disbelief in the existence of a Heart Reforming God on the basis of the Sparsity Objection, then we find ourselves, oddly enough, in the same plight as the atheologian

    As I’ve many strong agreements with Calvinism, but lean towards a bit more of Arminian flavor, I intentionally use the phrase “high, full-blown Calvinism” to refer to the disagreement “zone” which I refer to. If one were to object to (high, full blown) Calvinism for any serious theological / philosophical analysis, then we do not actually find the Sparcity Objection emerging, but, rather, we find that it is (high, full blown) Calvinism’s ultimate ontological termini housed in the categorical definitions of that which is the lovely, of that which is the good, of that which is the beautiful there inside of (high, full-blown) Calvinism’s various (necessary, unavoidable) contours which carry us into, not the Sparsity Objection, but, rather, into a very different body of objections. However, it is reasonable, and indeed logically demonstrable to affirm that the Sparcity Objection is, in fact, non-entity within any serious theological and philosophical unpacking vis-à-vis those who find themselves objecting to (high, full blown) Calvinism’s ultimate ontological termini of that which it (Calvinism) is (necessarily, unavoidably) left categorically labeling the lovely, of that which it is (necessarily, unavoidably) left categorically labeling the beautiful. Of course, mere observations of this or that “in”-coherence with scripture (or what have you) are, naturally, not the real core of those who take another view, but, rather, those are simply the “what’s wrong with that process of unpacking” observations. Once done with those, there’s a wide array of “here’s what’s right with this other, different process of unpacking” which quickly takes center stage.

    There are many, many good books out there which defend the coherence of the Reformed / Calvinism Theology. I thought I’d post a few links here which run in the other direction – defending the coherence of a more Arminian flavor.

    There’s plenty out there for both and from both.

    I say “flavor” because I have some key disagreements with Arminian Theology, and some key agreements with Reformed Theology, and overall I lean more towards the former, with said disagreements in-hand, a sort of hodgepodge of the two. Perhaps both a Reformed-ish and an Arminian-ish each with a built in plus/minus. That may seem to be a contradiction, but, both logic and scripture find that the fundamental shape of the Necessary, of the Triune God, of Genesis’ singular Us there within that milieu of motions amid all that is “Self / Other / Us”, that is to say, of the Reality after which our own contingent reality is patterned, affords both scripture and necessity the wherewithal to go there. Quite easily in fact.

    To unpack that here would be impossible.

    But, in the meantime, here are a few links favoring a more Arminian flavor, knowing all the while, acknowledging all the while, that there a few key disagreements with said books which I still carry in-hand, and, acknowledging all the while that there are equally robust resources out there to defend the coherence of the Reformed / Calvinist Theology.

    Book 1

    Book 2

    Book 3

    Book 4

    Book 5

    Essay on Romans 9

  6. It seems that an egalitarian approach here is in part called for, and, so, since Derek afforded room for links in my last post, it would only be balanced if I were to, say, list a few books which give a cogent defenses of Calvinism, such as the two linked below. Piper has a few as well which are quite good, but here I’ll only link the two below. Why two here and six in the former? Well, I did concede my own tilt towards the Arminian flavor, with a few disagreements in hand, and, so, perhaps 2/6 = 1/3 comes close to my own interior “ratio” 🙂

    So then:

    Book 1
    Book 2

    BTW – great post Derek – and openly, obviously balanced given the differing views you’ve welcomed into the conversation. The sparcity objection does seem to be the “stopping point” of many who object to the Reformed Theology. My own theological stopping point for so many of the definitions here end in the ontological topography within, of, Trinity. This won’t be enough to unpack that, but, in very general, basic terms, when it comes to “Being Itself”, including our own contingent being, we find that the simplicity that is the constitution of volition and of volitional motion amid all that we call, in Being, the “Self” and all that we call, in Being, the “Other” and all that is “all such vectors” in singularity there in God – in the God Who is love there in His peculiar and Singular-“Us”, such simplicity finds, such seamlessness finds, at the end of the line, Man’s motions – Man’s reality – thusly and necessarily constituted. While sin can and does frustrate Man and Man’s reality, sin cannot undo the necessary image in which our entire reality is created. Hence Hebrews 11 is not mistaken on the location of faith there in the Old Man, such volitional motion amid Self/Other necessarily present. The futility of that faith short of the peculiar semantics of “incarnation” carries us to the fact that faith – those volitional motions thereof – while existing necessarily – just never can be sufficient in and of themselves. All Sufficiency is found in One, and only One, stopping point. More is needed. Man cannot pull himself up and into God. That is to say, Man cannot glory. A Door must Open. Living Water Himself must Pour Out. Love Himself must Empty. Then and only then can the contingent – the beloved – be filled. Of course, metaphysically speaking, those very contours of love’s pouring out, and of love’s filling, are found without First, without Last, in no other ontology outside of Trinity, outside of the Triune God. That Man’s contingent being, or Man’s contingent “Self”, is thusly fashioned both in Man’s horizontal/social reality of community and in Man’s Vertical reality of communion amid Man in God, God in Man – inescapably carries us to the Image thereof, and while He, being The Necessary, is therein ceaselessly without First, ceaselessly without Last, we, being contingent, necessarily find in Him our own First, our own Last. There is no genre on planet Earth which cogently carries the landscape of Good, and the landscape of Evil – of Man’s contingent Self in privation – and the landscape of Necessity/Contingency to such seamlessness outside of the beautiful vectors which we find converging within love’s instantiation there in Christ. It goes without saying that we all agree that the Arminian/Calvinism contours “within” that wider, larger Canopy are always relevant – always merit discussion – though such ought never carry us away from one another – nor away from an acute amazement with said Canopy.

  7. Pingback: To tu quoque or not to tu quoque? | aRemonstrant'sRamblings
  8. Derek,

    I just found your blog. Thanks for writing this very interesting piece. You seem to charitably interpret libertarians (like myself), and I appreciate it. Here are some rough thoughts.

    I think that talking about P2 in terms of the range or “widespread exercise” misses Jerry Walls’ point. Walls says that it’s inconceivable why God has not predestined “everyone,” not, i take it, because he thinks the ratios ought to be higher, but because God’s damning even a single person on deterministic compatiblism would constitute the paradigmatic case of the problem of evil. It’s infinitely worse than God slowly torturing someone for a million years.

    So, p2 is impossible because, on p2, god doesn’t save at least one person. That is, God unconditionally, deterministically damns a person to hell. This would be an act of evil. Thus, on deterministic Calvinism, god commits evil. It’s easier to see why that’s impossible.

    Also note that the distinction between “allow” and “commit” dissolves on determinism, where God is the only agent.

    So, i read the thesis in the following way, and i hope this shows why it’s not even possible: “There is a possible world where God commits evil and he does so for morally sufficient reasons.” Or, “There is a possible world where a perfect being acts imperfectly.” Since God cannot commit evil, he cannot do so for morally sufficient reasons. And since he’s perfect, he can’t act imperfectly. It’s impossible. We can know from the Bible and from perfect being theology that such a state of affairs is impossible.

    Now, perhaps it’s similarly problematic to say that there is a possible world where a perfect being “allows” imperfection. But surely it’s much more problematic to say there’s a possible world where a perfect being commits acts of evil. God’s holiness and righteousness seem to commit us to that, at a minimum.

    Also, note that such an argument wouldn’t fall prey to the “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” move that mirrors Alston’s point. In fact, there are lots of good “absence of evidence arguments,” but the Calvinist claim (reformulated) is a straightforward logical impossibility, and simply cannot be true.

    Now, one might respond that, if God does it, then it’s, by definition, not evil. But that’s a different argument, and the blog post seems to be a defense of the problem of evil, so it grants the existence of evil. Then it attempts to show why there’s no good reason to claim that God doesn’t have morally sufficient reasons for not saving more people, so it seems to take people’s damnation as a genuine instance of evil. Once we see that on determinism God is not allowing, but doing, the reason for the impossibility becomes clear.

    But, I might be misreading something. Anyway, nice blog, sir, and I appreciate your time!

  9. Pingback: Saying God Has a Reason for Something Doesn’t Mean You Know What It Is (And Other Concerns) | Reformedish

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