Calvinism: A Refutation

I grant that the strongest weapon in the Calvinist’s arsenal is Scripture. In fact, if some things weren’t (supposedly) found in the Bible I can’t imagine anyone would believe that a good God has intentionally ordained even evil acts for his own good pleasure.

But, there is a rebuttal to this claim. Before anyone says that Scripture forces us to hold that God is the source of all evil I would remind them that it is only the goodness of God which makes worshiping Him permissible or even rational. For if God is not good – or is not what we mean by that word – then worshiping Him may not really the “right” thing to do. If God’s moral being is so utterly different from our own moral intuitions then God may delight in punishing those who worship him or reward those who defy him. The heaven prepared by a morally alien God may indeed be hell to any human being we would define as virtuous. So to say that there can be some authority outside or over and against our own moral intuitions that commands us to pay allegiance to a being we find morally repulsive is literally self-refuting. For it makes no sense even to believe in the Scriptures if in doing so we destroy all possible ethical connection to God. However we interpret the Bible, if that method results in us burning our bridge back to God, we simply must abandon it. For the existence of a bridge itself is more necessary to reach our destination than any particular tool (however useful) which helps us cross it.

Continuing on then with my criticism of Calvinism. For an omnipotent God there is, as it were, no metaphysical speed limit that prevents him from going as fast as He can. There are no limitations over and against an omnipotent God, and unless he so limits himself, there can be nothing existing outside His own nature which pushes back against him or that is an obstacle. Thus a God who does NOT so limit himself – say, by granting other beings an amount of say-so regarding what comes to pass in the universe – must necessarily intend absolutely all that happens in his creation. Since there are no other independent forces at work and since everything is an expression of his own will, what occurs in creation must be 100% willed and intended by God, the first and only cause. This means that there cannot be some “piece” of God’s personality which is unhappy or dissatisfied with what he has made. How could there be? He is omnipotent and all good and, since no other agents with power or freedom exist, the finished product of creation came entirely from him. The sculpture is the result of the most perfectly imaginable artist who not only is unsurpassed in terms of skill but is, in his own being,  the very essence of flawless artistic beauty.

Does the problem with determinism now begin to become clearer? If God has determined absolutely everything that comes to pass and if free will is illusory then God intentionally causes all evil in the world – all the extracted torture and rape and mutilation. He must therefore want such things. For again, there are no other competing wills that God can use to take the blame for the occurrences of such things. He cannot point to the devil and say that he is responsible for sickness and disease for God himself literally determined absolutely every feature and action of Satan’s existence. But again, if it were true that God in fact DOES directly cause all evil in the universe then our calling him “good” would ultimately be meaningless.  A God who can positively cause hundreds of child rapes a day is so different from our conception of goodness that it is just as reasonable to believe that he would send us to Hell for obeying Him. So therefore once again, worshiping such a being becomes not only immoral but self-refuting.

So far I have been claiming that if God causes evil then He is evil. But the obvious and common rebuttal to this is to say that this isn’t necessary so because without certain evils certain goods would not be possible. In other words, this rebuttal goes, God may be forced to cause certain evils in order to bring about the most good possible. God may really want to have a perfectly good universe with no evil in it, but then He would not be able to fully display His goodness.

Notice though what this rebuttal assumes. At the back of it is really a denial of the omnipotence of God. Any time we say that God is ‘forced’ to do things, or when we say He is not ‘able’, we are supposing some outside, imposing power that God is contending with. On the Calvinist scheme, however, this is absurd. There simply are no other causes, outside of God’s own singular will, which could create such resistance. Even the Calvinist distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent will is absurd, for there is no other force independent of God which would cause him to have a divided desire. All things are as they are from his unilateral, determining, desiring will.

I think it is here, in this claim that the good is somehow made more good by the presence of evil, that the root of the Calvinist error lies. At the bottom of it is the idea that the good is somehow metaphysically dependent on evil. This, however, if true, amounts to Dualism, not Christianity. Let me explain.

God’s goodness, according to Christianity, is maximally perfect. ‘God is light’ St. John says, ‘and in Him there is no darkness at all.’[1] That is on one hand, it is true that there can be no evil without good. On the other hand, the opposite – that there can no good without evil – is not true. God’s goodness is such that it does not need anything else other than itself to exist. It simply is, and is good, through and through. If we were to imagine God’s goodness as a color it would be absolutely solid white. Whiteness as such does not need or ‘depend’ on blackness to be white.

If we deny this, and if we say that God’s goodness does in fact depend on evil, then this entails Dualism. If God ‘needs’ evil in His creation, then Goodness, as such, needs Evil. Good and Evil are then on some level or equal ground. I am dependent on food and water and air because without them I cannot exist. But the Christian God does not “need” evil in this way.  The good as such would still be just as good if evil never existed. Indeed, apart from creation, God existing in His own right has no evil in Him at all. Evil, however, is parasitic. It can only exist if there is something good there first that it can live off of.

Although we live in a world of contrasts, and we very often experience certain goods otherwise impossible without certain evil, this, I believe, is not because God’s nature is dualistic in this way. It is because His omnipotence is such that He can draw forth good even out of evil. To suppose that good needs evil would be equivalent to supposing a marriage needed adultery, or that a beautiful face needed some grotesque deformity, in order to be maximally good. A marriage may, in the long run, be better after adultery has occurred, but it is not something that must happen to have a maximally great marriage.

Therefore the unanswerable question for Calvinism is this: where – metaphysically speaking – does evil come from if not from the freedom of creatures? How can an all-good, all-powerful being such as God make a universe containing evil? If God makes a world exactly how He wishes, like an artist painting a picture in order to please Himself, and, further, if God is omnipotent such that nothing outside His own nature presents an obstacle to Him in attaining His wishes, and, finally, if He must still include evil in His universe to make it ‘maximally good,’ does this not mean that God’s will in some way requires there to be evil in order to be maximally satisfied? And how is this any different from saying that ultimately God wills and desires evil? If in God’s mind and will there is this need for evil, would this not make Him less than all good?

[1] 1 John 1:15


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