Friday, October 23, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part XII

I recently read through a section of Clark's work entitled "Responsibility and Determinism", and decided to break my critical response to it into two blog posts. The first answered the initial claim Clark makes on the basis of Romans 1: that responsibility is not contingent on Free Will, but on knowledge. I found Clark's conclusions to be lacking warrant, and in fact found the language used and presuppositions latent in Romans 1 to imply something quite incongruent with Clark's position on responsibility.

Interestingly enough, "Responsibility and Determinism" goes on to admit that responsibility is not actually contingent on knowledge after-all. But Clark nevertheless maintains that responsibility is not contingent on Free Will either. To make this case, he offers a counter-example: the teaching of Romans 5:12-21. In my second blog post on "Responsibility and Determinism", I wrestled with the meaning of Romans 5 in light of Ezekiel 18 and other passages concerning judgement. I found Clark's assumption that Romans 5 teaches that every human shall be held morally responsible for Adam's sin to be without Biblical foundation. Whatever it was that we inherited from Adam, it wasn't moral guilt for his sin. Therefore, Romans 5 is no counter-example to the position that moral responsibility is contingent on human Free Will.

What I failed to review in my second post, was what Clark contends that responsibility is in fact grounded in. This is what I hope to do in this post. I apologize for taking 3 long posts to critically review roughly a page of text, but Clark references some big ideas and makes some bold assumptions in the span of very few words, and I don't want to be too hasty in reply. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Clark says that:
1. A person is responsible if he can be justly rewarded or punished for his deeds.
2. Responsibility presupposes a superior authority that rewards and punishes.
3. The highest authority is God.
4. Therefore responsibility is ultimately dependent on the power and authority of God.

(1) seems true. It might not be the only way to describe responsibility, and it might not capture its full scope, but it does seem that the set of all persons who are responsible is equal to the set of all persons who can be justly rewarded or punished for their deeds. And it seems as though this equality is not a coincidence, but that responsibility is predicated on praiseworthiness/blameworthiness or perhaps vice versa.

(2) is precarious. First of all, it is not clear whether Clark intends for (2) to be implied by (1). If he does, I think it is a mistake because the mere capacity to be justly rewarded or punished does not necessarily require that rewards or punishments actually be given, or given by a superior authority.

If Clark were to intend (2) to simply be self-evident, I think that would be a mistake as well. When we talk of "responsibility" we simply mean "fault" (even if "fault" grounds the justice of deserts).

Here is a counterexample: If there were no God, and the whole world were ruled by a dictator who extinguished all of the Jews without ever being opposed, we would still say "Hitler Prime" was 'responsible' for extinguishing the Jews. It is not necessary to presuppose a superior authority who justly punishes Hitler Prime in order to call Hitler Prime the one responsible for the "Holocaust Prime". He is responsible because he did it, and nobody made him do it. Such fact may mean that it would be just to justly punish him, but not the other way around.

This is how we're able to talk about people "getting away with murder". These are individuals who are responsible for committing crimes, who are never justly punished. But the fact that they are never justly punished doesn't mean that they aren't the ones responsible for their offenses. (If they aren't, who is?)

(3) is obviously true.

What are we to do with (4)? If the truth of (2) is in question (even before an analysis of the validity of this ill-formed syllogism), then the soundness of the argument is already suspicious. But even if the argument for (4) isn't sound, (4) might still happen to be true.

To investigate the truth of (4), we should first try to understand what Clark means by "responsibility is ultimately dependent on the power and authority of God.". Fortunately, he elaborates for us:
It is [God's] will that establishes the distinction between right and wrong... Most people find it easy to conceive of God as having created or established physical law by divine fiat... But for some peculiar reason, people hesitate in applying the same principle of sovereignty in the sphere of ordinary ethics. Instead of recognizing God as sovereign in morals, they want to subject him to some independent, superior, ethical law - a law that satisfies their sinful opinions of what is right and wrong.
Clark believes that God can do whatever and judge however He wants, and that His actions and judgements will be, by very definition, just. Therefore, if God causes people to commit evil and judges them for doing so, so be it, it is just. In fact, if God were to do evil, it would be just. Good and evil might have just as well been inverted from what they are, and we could have been calling what is good in this world, "evil", and what is evil in this world "good". It was God's call either way.

The alternative to God's "sovereignty" over what constitutes Goodness, according to Euthyphro Clark, is that in order for God to be good, He must adhere to some concept of Goodness outside Himself.

Clark's position is tricky. As Christians we want to affirm that God can do anything He wants, and we want to deny that there exists anything outside of God. So it is easy to nod our heads along with Clark's leading propositions, that God can do anything and that whatever God does is just and that however God judges is just. But by the time we come around to Clark's conclusion, we are repulsed. Why?

There are two issues here that Clark's view muddies. The first issue pertains to God, and the second to God's created self-Images.

While it's true that God can do anything He wants, it also happens to be true that God only wants to do things that are logical. This is why the Evangelist is comfortable saying that God is logic. Not that Logic is God, but that God is logic. That is, logic is a description of God's character; God is orderly and not chaotic. He wouldn't, and in fact couldn't create a round square, or cause 2 + 2 to equal 5.

Would Clark say that God is similarly "sovereign" over His existence? Could God make it such that He never existed?

No, He couldn't. These are logical impossibilities, and since God is logic, they are Godly impossibilities.

And the same goes for love. John is also comfortable saying that God is love. Not that Love is God, but that God is love. Love is a description of His character. It is not as if love or logic exist outside of God's ontology in such a way that God must adhere to them. Rather, they emanate from God's ontology. And since God is immutable, that is, He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then things that describe His unchanging character, such as logic and love, are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. And if that's the case, then God cannot be loving and logical one day, and hateful and irrational the next. He is bound to be Himself. Furthermore, God is united and not divided. His attributes inform one another, and his love cannot behave irrationally, and similarly his logic can never be hateful.

There are things that God's character binds Him, or to use a word Clark has a felicity for, "determines" Him to be or do. In this way, we can coherently talk about God's need to behave justly, logically, or lovingly, without presupposing standards external to God.

This splits Euthyphro's Clark's "dilemma" through the horns.

In this way, if it is the case that causing someone else to sin, is itself a sin, then it cannot be the case that God does it and thereby makes it just.

So, is it evil for God to cause others to commit evil (ignoring, for a second, the verse in Mark that suggests such)? Doesn't it just seem true? But what of Clark's point about our sinful opinions about right and wrong? Such questions lead us into the second issue that Clark's rhetoric muddies: whether humans can know the difference between right and wrong.

Clark co-opts his readers' desire to be, or at least to appear to be, humble. He claims that saying God has to be one way and not another is arrogant, and presupposes our ability to know what is right and what is wrong. Manipulative rhetoric like that isn't helpful to the discourse, because it prevents us from using the "sound mind" that Paul says God gives us to think about the issue. It manipulates us into adopting Clark's position outright, because even so much as a peep of criticism is labeled arrogance and heresy and indicates reprobation.

In rebuttal, I offer two points. The first is that if our faculties have been so damaged by the Fall that we are unable to discern between good and evil, than certainly such damage prevents us from rightly dividing the Word of God as well. There is no way that we are capable of correctly and certainly interpreting the Bible, but yet incapable of knowing the difference between right and wrong. And if that's the case, then how can I trust Clark's interpretation of the Bible? I can't. And therefore this whole debate is pointless, because I can't know whether it would be evil for God to cause evil, and Clark can't know whether the Bible says that God causes evil or not. So why did Clark write a book about it and why am I arguing with him?

The second point is that the scriptures teach that even the reprobate man has God's very law written on his heart, and that even the reprobate man's conscience bears witness to it (Romans 2:14-15). So how much more does the regenerate man understand the division between right and wrong! How much more does the man with God's very Spirit indwelling him have access to the meaning of justice!

So although Clark thinks that God could do anything, even cause evil, and it would be just, I think that God can only do those things which are in fact just. And that would exclude causing evil or causing others to do evil, per both the Mark verse and my hopefully God-implanted and Spirit-led intuitions concerning justice.

In other words: yes, something is good simply because God is or does it, but God's character and behavior are not arbitrary. Therefore, since deterministic Calvinism teaches that God is and does things that can be shown to be against His character, it is therefore in error and so must have gone hermeneutically or presuppositionally awry somewhere.

Clark concludes this section with a far-fetched ad hominem about Platonic dualism. Kind of ironic, since Calvinism has been historically accused of committing the same error as Manichean dualism (perhaps due in part to their forefather Augustine's Manichean roots). What are you gonna do.

1 comment:

  1. Where's Brandon? Why isn't he responding? Has he taken you for a fool, and his silence is his sagacious response to your folly? Or maybe he's passing over you like God passes over the reprobate? Who knows... but It would be nice for him to engage!


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