Friday, October 18, 2013

James Anderson on Calvinism and the First Sin

James Anderson was kind enough to share a chapter of an upcoming book he’s working on.  (link)  The chapter is titled Calvinism and the First Sin and the book will be titled Calvinism and the Problem of Evil.  Dr. Anderson will remove the online version once the book is published, so read it while you can.

Dr. Anderson addresses the challenges unique to Calvinism regarding the problem of evil including: 1) God’s determining the first sin makes Him the author of sin, 2) Calvinists must be compatiblists and there are some fairly strong arguments against compatibilism, and 3) and given Adam’s good nature, there’s no causal explanation for the first sin. 

To his credit, Dr. Anderson openly embraces the idea that Calvinism is indeed divine determinism.  Now in true Van Tillian fashion, he spends a great deal of time explaining what this does not mean without elaborating on what it does mean.  Dr. Anderson argues that Calvinists need not be causal determinists.  Curiously, his reason is that God can cause events directly (i.e. miracles).    Dr. Anderson then argues that God’s causal activity in the world is absolutely unique – and this becomes the foundation for his primary response to the three arguments against theological determinism.  Put another way, the differences between God and man on causation are essential (not just accidental) to causation itself, such that we run the risk of equivocating when we speak of God and man’s causation.  Thus we should not expect responsibility to work the same in divine verses human causation.  Dr. Anderson explains God’s causation via the analogy of an author of a book and while he acknowledges this supports the idea that God is the author of sin, he argues that since we don’t blame authors who write in crimes for their characters, we shouldn’t blame God for writing sin into His plan.  However, I don’t think this response works, because when an author writes a crime into a book, nothing bad has happened – so of course we don’t blame the author.  A closer analogy would be someone writing a screen play for a pornography.  In cases like that we should blame the author.

One minor pet peeve.  Dr. Anderson separates Molinism, Arminianism and Open Theism as the three primary alternative accounts. I would have preferred the categories Molinism, Simple Foreknowledge and Open Theism, to leave room for the fact that many Arminians are Molinists.  Overall it was a pleasant read and very clear, and I would recommend folks read it and consider the issues.  


bethyada said...

I would have preferred the categories Molinism, Simple Foreknowledge and Open Theism

I agree this is preferable.

David Randall said...

Anderson is adept in arguing. But he does not make a clear case, he only uses the slight-of-mind tricks confuse and shift the burden of proof when the evidence is against him. His makes three separate claims to weaken the opposition. Since he only tries to create doubt, he doesn’t need to be consistent in the claims. First, God created sin, but He is justifiable. Second, man did it. Third, there is no evidence for a case. This is not a credible defense, and not just because the defenses are inconsistent. Each has problems of its own.

The flaw in the author analogy has been pointed out. Crime in a book is not real. Sin is. Anderson justifies God with “just because” arguments. He illustrates how guilt follows causality: “If I cause you—by hypnosis, say…—to shoot Smith in cold blood, I will be morally culpable...” Both agents are secondary causes, and guilt only follows secondary causes. God is a primary cause, and guilt does NOT follow to a primary cause. Why? “Just because” it doesn’t! This isn’t an argument. It CAN be demonstrated that guilt DOES transfer PARTICULARLY to primary causes. Why does guilt transfer AT ALL: because responsibility transfers. If I pay you to kill we share guilt. If I blackmail you to kill, I bear more of the guilt. My power over you increases my responsibility. If I have absolute control and you are powerless, and no one controls me, I bear ALL the guilt. Being an alpha cause only strengthens the case. Then there is the argument: rules don’t apply to God “just because” He is God. For God, black may be white, or perhaps square. God eats live babies for lunch and it’s OK “just because He’s God”; who are you to find fault? The consequences of this are clear. God can’t lie, but maybe He was lying when he said that, because a lie is true when God is telling it? This is not an analogical understanding of God; it is equivocal.

His defense of compatibilism is misdirection. The choice presented is between compatibilism and libertarianism, but the real choice is between compatibilism (which allows man to be responsible), and determinism (which doesn’t). The challenge for Calvinism is not to defend compatibilism, but to prove that it is compatibilist rather than determinist, or else defend determinism. Jonathon Edwards attempted a form of compatibilism, but redefined “free will” to do it. This is not generally accepted by the “professional philosophers” Anderson cites in favor of compatibilism. His first argument fails to defend determinism, and the second gives no evidence for a claim to compatibilism.

The “mystery” defense is the catch-all. Calvinism’s problem is not lacking an explanation for sin, but that the explanation provided by Anderson contradicts God’s goodness. Mystery explains the gaps we all have. Contradiction demands explanation.

Anderson pulls together three disparate Calvinist attempts to deal with the problem of sin and throws them against the wall hoping one will stick. I was one a point in my life persuaded toward Calvinism by certain arguments that I found persuasive at the time. So I sympathize with Calvinists. I respect the positive contributions of Calvinists. I read Calvinist authors because of what we have in common, and because the disagreements deserve an examination of the evidence. Based on this chapter, I see no value in this book. There are two types of people who will be influenced by this book: Calvinists who seriously question the implications of their system, and non-Calvinists that are considering Calvinist theology. Most of these will be influenced away from Calvinism, because Anderson confirms their worst fears about the view, and at the same time offers nothing compelling to defend it. Anderson is wrong about the burden of proof. To win people it is not enough to say, “This sounds really ugly and against my conscience, but it could possibly be true”. Instead, I must be able say, “This sounds ugly, but the evidence leaves me no alternative but to accept it”.

christandcosmos said...

I noticed that Anderson, in a footnote on page 26, makes reference to an essay by Greg Welty later in the volume arguing that "Molinism offers no theodical advantages over Calvinism." I would very much love to read that, and perhaps this is just bravado, but if it is anything like the typical anti-Molinist stuff, I am fairly confident Molinists will be able to tear it to shreds.

Also, I second the complaint about Anderson equating classical Arminianism with simple foreknowledge. Bruce Ware does this too. It is just irresponsible for people of Anderson's stature to keep perpetuating this misconception - and to be fair, many on the Arminian side do it as well.

James Anderson said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

I think you'll be pleased to hear that among the revisions I've made to the paper since posting it (but before I came across Dan's post) I've dropped "the Arminian view" in favor of "the Simple Foreknowledge view". I'm aware of the intramural debates among Arminians over the best way to defend theological libertarianism, but I didn't adequately acknowledge that in the original paper. So at least you'll have one less thing to disagree with! :)

It's a shame that David Randall has so badly misrepresented my arguments in his comments above, and that he so casually questions my integrity, as though I'm some kind of confidence trickster.

Apparently David doesn't understand what compatibilism is, since he thinks one has to choose between compatibilism and determinism. I suggest that casts doubt on his competence to evaluate my paper.

Godismyjudge said...

Dr. Anderson,

Thank you for reading and responding and thank you especially for the change to "simple foreknowledge".

While David can speak for himself, I think he's moreso is challenging the idea that Calvinists is compatible with compatiblism rather than the idea that determinism is compatibible with compatiblism. I agree with David in that I do not take it as a given that Calvinists are compatiblists. I am aware that Calvinists claim to be compatiblists and use compatiblist lingo (it’s even baked into the WCF). However, it seems to me, when push comes to shove, Calvinists are willing to drop compatiblism and strike out on their own.

Your work here was on the problem of evil, but the issue is more clearly seen in the problem of good. Compatiblism ascribes moral praise to actions preformed when people are acting with compatible free will (i.e. doing what they want or think they can do or would do if they wanted to or chose to or the like). Calvinism on the other hand, wants to ascribe all praise to God for all good and all blame to man for bad acts. So Calvinism and compatiblism overlap on evil but come apart on good.
Take repentance. Calvinism wants to give God 100% of the credit for man’s repentance and they argue Arminianism is man centered if it gives man even a little credit. Not so compatiblism. Compatiblism says that if the person had compatible free will to repent, they are morally responsible for their act of repenting. So if the person wanted to repent and did in fact repent, he’s morally responsible for doing so. So Calvinism and compatiblism come apart on the moral responsibility for repentance.

Likewise, many (but not all) Calvinists deny man has the free will to repent apart from regeneration. But compatiblism says that as long as the man can repent if they want to or think they can repent or have the disposition such that they would repent if they chose to, they have the free will to repent. So Calvinism (at least for most) and compatiblism come apart on if we have free will to repent or not.

And again, I wanted to say that I enjoyed your work.

God be with you,

Anonymous said...

"Dr. Anderson argues that Calvinists need not be causal determinists. Curiously, his reason is that God can cause events directly (i.e. miracles). "

Dan, he was referring to causal determinism in its more technical sense, i.e., nomological determinism, which comes with the assumption of a causally closed universe. As Plantinga points out, miracles do pose a problem for this view. There's nothing "curious" here.

Konstantin Kretov said...

On page 15 of “Calvinism and the First Sin (Again) James N. Anderson says:
“Consider, for example, a police sting operation in which a dangerous criminal is lured into
committing a felony so that he can be arrested and prosecuted, thus preventing further
(perhaps more serious) crimes. Suppose that in such a scenario the police indirectly cause the
criminal to break the law. Should we infer that culpability for the crime is transferred to the
police, such that the police become guilty of the crime? That seems very implausible.”

With this example James is trying to show that “causation alone is not sufficient to transfer culpability”. So God is causing Adam to sin but is not morally responsible for Adam’s sin. Do I understand it right?
Well, but criminal in that example is free to choose. He may be scared and change his mind to not commit felony. Because he is free, he is responsible. If policeman use force and puts a gun in his hand and then push his finger to push trigger to shoot. (Seems like this is better example of causal determinism). Then criminal is not guilty (because it was not his will or force) but responsibility transfers to policeman for the shooting. Right? So I do not see how James’ example explains the problem with God being author of sin in deterministic Calvinism. Is there better examples or explanation?

arminianperspectives said...

I have serious problems with Anderson's response to David Randall. It seems like the often used tactic of singling out a perceived error in part of the argumentation as a way to be able to sidestep and ignore the entirely of the argument. Rather than address some of the solid and relevant points David made against his arguments, James points out what he sees as an instance of not rightly understanding a concept (compatibilism) and then uses that as a reason to suggest that we can't trust David to evaluate anything Anderson wrote.

Perhaps dismissive comments like this one from Anderson should cause us to "cast doubt" on his ability to carefully address and refute the difficulties presented in the entirety of David's comments. Just another possibility to entertain, of course.

Quartermaster said...

I see nothing in the chapter that is at all persuasive against the criticisms that have been leveled at Calvinism over years. The analogy of the author of a porn movie is by far the better analogy, but even that does not go far enough. If God decreed the first sin, or if all was predestined after that, even if you accept that God did not decree the first sin, then God remains culpable since He made sin certain.

Either man did it on his own, making him culpable, or God predestined it, making God culpable. There is no middle ground and the author's attempts to side step the problem does him no credit. All he has produced is a mish mash of words that smacks more of flinging mud to confuse than of adducing facts to support an unsupportable theological system that blasphemes God.

While I don't think it is the intention of Calvinists to blaspheme, they do it regardless, ascribing things to God that directly contradict what God has revealed about Himself. Either the Calvinist gives up the goodness of God, or they can give up God. The choice is theirs.

As for me and my house, we will take the God that reveals Himself in scripture, who loved the world so much he sent His only begotten Son that I might have life. He was sent for all of us, or he was sent for none of us.