In order to prepare for a debate with Dr. James White I have been listening and reading through many various online discussions. Recently I have come across a troubling and quite confounding argument made by my Calvinistic friends. They seem to insist that all the heinous evil in our world must have been meticulously brought to pass by God’s sovereign plan otherwise it would prove (1) God has no purpose for evil’s existence or (2) He is powerless to do anything about it.
For instance, James White was asked, “When a child is raped, is God responsible and did He decree that rape?”
He answered, “Yes, because if not then it’s meaningless and purposeless and though God knew it was going to happen he created it without a purpose… and God is responsible for the creation of despair… If He didn’t then that rape is an element of meaningless evil that has no purpose.” (See comments for original source)
Another Calvinistic scholar, Matt Slick states, “If libertarians were correct in that man has ‘free choice,’ then when man committed a gross evil against his neighbor, the evil committed would have been pointless. That is, if God had no control over what, where, or when evil took place, then it only naturally follows that the suffering produced from the evil was without purpose, and thus pointless. For example, if someone were robbed and beaten, and yet God had no say in the crime whatsoever (for it was a free, uninhibited action based upon the criminal’s free will), then the person robbed would not have only been unjustly treated, but the evil he endured would have had no point to it. It was just a spontaneous action from a criminal. God is sort of left helpless in the matter.” [Quotes taken from Matt Strider’s Blog]
I agree with what Matt Strider concludes, “It is obvious both Matt Slick and James White are committing the logical fallacy of a false dilemma. Namely they are insisting that there exists only two alternatives or solutions to a problem when in fact there are other valid options to be considered.”
Logical fallacies confound the issue and at times they can convince unsuspecting listeners of an argument’s validity. This approach is very similar to the fallacious question asked by Calvinists regarding the boast worthiness of the libertarian’s decision in salvation (see HERE). But, I assure you there is not much substance behind either of these baseless arguments. Let’s unpack it.
What Calvinists fail to acknowledge is that in our system evil is a consequence of autonomous human freedom (something they presume cannot exist). And, in fact, we do believe that God does have a purpose in giving man the ability to make autonomously free choices. So, it is only in presuming that God did not purpose to create autonomous creatures that one is left with the dilemma of either (1) God purposing evil or (2) purposeless evil. I believe a clear distinction must be made in the idea of God actively purposing evil and His actively using evil for His good purposes. The former impugns his Holiness while the latter highlights His redemptive sovereignty and ultimate glory as the perfect, sinless Creator.
So, in short, the Calvinist has assumed our premise cannot be true (question begging) and concluded that God is either (1) purposing all evil or (2) the existence of evil has no purpose (false dichotomy). Thus, their argument, once again, rests on a fallacy. Calvinists should be asking what we believe God’s purpose is in creating autonomously free creatures, not merely presuming He hasn’t, or couldn’t even if He so desired. (And in turn we should be asking Calvinists what they believe God’s purpose is in creating non-autonomous creatures that He Himself determines to do evil.)
Historically, non-Calvinists have not avoided addressing this question. I believe CS Lewis gives the most plausible answer:
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it–it is worth paying.”
For another answer to this question, listen to this clip from Ravi Zacharias: HERE
But what is the answer for the Calvinist? Since God is obviously fine with determining mankind to think, believe and act as He determines, then why not just create them as He wishes them to be from the beginning? Why determine suffering, rape, molestations, and the like in order to produce in creatures what clearly He is more than willing to determine in them apart from such means anyway? To claim there is a purpose in a given act of evil, one must establish what purpose that given evil act accomplished that could not have been accomplished equally as well through non-evil means. The concept of “purposeful means” is a problem for the Calvinist.
For instance, in Romans 11:14 Paul anticipates that envy might provoke his fellow countryman so that they may be saved. What specific purpose does provoking a man to envy accomplish that is not effectually accomplished by the inward work of regeneration supposed by the Calvinistic system? What actual purpose do signs and wonders fulfill that is not likewise accomplished by the effectual calling? Calvinists claim to affirm the need of means but deny the purpose behind what makes such means necessary in accomplishing their biblically stated purpose. After all, a man unconditionally elected and effectually regenerated, regardless of whether of not he sees a sign or is provoked by envy, will certainly be saved. So too, a world with or without suffering, rape, molestations and other such “heinous means” would produce the same determined product if God so determined it.
Why condemn most of humanity to eternal torment in order to show those he determined to believe how great He is…as if He couldn’t have determined believers to fully realize that without the rapes, suffering and torment? Plus, does anyone really believe such deterministic teaching makes God appear more merciful or glorious to those of us he has saved? Even Calvin called reprobation a dreadful decree and most Calvinists speak of how difficult it is to accept these doctrines. In fact, many remain “closet Calvinists” and use fake names on twitter so as not to reveal their true beliefs due to the difficulty they impose. If God’s purpose is to reveal to us something glorious about Himself, then why do so many of his own followers find such doctrines so incredibly terrible instead? Why have doctrines that are meant to glorify God been splitting his bride in two for most of Christian history?
Maybe God just determined His church to be split over this issue? Why do you suppose that is? Could it be that your false views about God are the autonomous cause of such strife in our churches? I know that is a difficult thing to ponder, but mustn’t we all willingly and objectively consider that possibility? After all, think about it. Either we are correct and Calvinism is causing unwanted strife in the church by their own autonomous choosing, OR God has determined for the non-Calvinists to cause these battles.
My dear Calvinists friends, you cannot get around this fact: Non-Calvinists are either correctly standing in defense of God’s glory or God has determined for us to be incorrect for the praise of His glory.