Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Origin of Sin: Who-dun-it

So you see, I was thinking recently, about Reformed theology and all --

[Now, those of you who know me are probably snickering, and mentally commenting "Of course you were... Is there anything else you think about, Rebekah?" But yes! There is! Just today I was pondering what college to go to, if it's completely wise to take fashion advice from my 15-year-old sister, and whether someday I might not burn to death when my engine bursts into flames after running out of coolant one too many times... But back onto the topic at hand]

And I was thinking about how sin came into the world, and what Calvinism teaches about that particular subject. Now let me first start out by saying that there is a difference between an impossibility and a mystery.

A contradiction is an impossibility. It simply cannot be true. For example, to say that "two and two makes five," while still insisting on the original meanings of the words "two" and "five" is a contradiction. It suggests an impossibility. Also, to say that there is no possible way that we could have come into existence, but to still affirm that we do exist would be a contradiction.
A mystery, on the hand, is true, but it's not clear how. It is a mystery to me why every two days the coolant in my car runs out. I don't understand what happens to it!


The main difference is that a mystery has a solution, a possible solution. An impossibility is impossible, and has no possible logical explanation that would make it true. A magic trick is a mystery to the observers, for though it appears impossible, they know that it is, indeed, possible, and are curious to figure out how it was done. We run across many mysteries in real life, but we never run into real contradictions except in theory. For example, I have never met a man who didn't exist. Contradictory things like that just don't happen. However, if someone says "I do not exist," I can point out that their theory is a contradiction because they themselves must exist to make that statement. Saying "I" implies that the self exists, and then saying "do not exist" contradicts the previous implication the the self exists.

Now, if you "solve" a mystery by coming up with a contradiction, then you have not solved the mystery at all. If the mystery is "How did that man disappear from over there, and then reappear over that?" And I respond: "I know how he did it! He simply ceased to exist while he walked from the one location to the other." As you can tell, my response would be a contradiction - a man cannot walk if he does not exist - and therefore did not actually solve the mystery. If I realize that my response had been a contradiction, then though I do not know what the true answer is, I know one answer that cannot be the true answer.

In an old computer game my Dad used to play called "Sherlock," he was given clues, and given possibilities, and then using the clues, he would eliminate possibilities until he had figured out the one and only possible answer which would not contradict the clues. Now, while playing that game, you get to choose which possibilities to eliminate, and can accidentally eliminate the correct possibility by mistake... you'll just keep playing until you realize that you've eliminated ALL the possibilities. I've done that before, in that game. But did I throw up my hands and exclaim "It's a mystery!" and give up? Of course not. I went back and figured out which of the possibilities I had needlessly eliminated

Why is the distinction between a mystery and a contradiction important? It is important because many times, people who believe contradictions think that they are not impossible, but rather mysterious. The subject of my writing today is the question of what sin comes from, according to Reformed Theology. In general, Calvinists will admit that it is a mystery. I, on the other hand, see it as quite possibly as a contradiction. In my view, there are three possible ways that the first sin occurred, and the reformed view rejects the only three possibly ways sin could have happened, while maintaining that it did indeed happen. This is the same as maintaining that the Sherlock answer does exist, but also insisting that the elimination of all the possible solutions was without mistake. This is the same as saying that there is no possible way I could have come into possession of a car, and yet maintaining that I do possess a car. Reformed theology effectively claims that sin has come into existence, but rejects all possible ways that sin could have come into existence.

The Dilemma: Who causally determined the first sin? I say "causally determined" because determine can mean simply "allow," and I'm not asking who allowed it. Also, "cause" can mean merely one link in a long chain of causation, a link that didn't start the process and didn't determine the outcome. I'm not asking what all the causes were. I'm asking who is the first author of sin? Who instigated it? (By the instigator, I mean the being who first influenced self or others to sin. I say first because if one cannot sin until an outside source gives one the desire to sin, then that one did not first influence self or others to sin, but rather must have already been influenced (and therefore cannot be the first to influence.) Who made it happen? Who caused sin to happen in such as way that determined that it would happen?



As far as I can see, there are these three possibilities:
  1. God

  2. A human being

  3. A created being that is not human


Now, my main point here is that if Reformed theology teaches that none of these three was the first one to instigate sin, yet maintains that sin was instigated, it contradicts itself. If they claim that sin exists, and yet deny each of the possible ways sin could have come into existence, their theory is self-defeating. It is although the sprinklers are on outside, and I ask my brother who turned on the sprinklers. If my brother insists that neither I, nor he, nor anyone or anything else caused the sprinklers to be turned on, yet admits that they sprinklers are on, I would have to call his view a contradiction.

So, let us take a look at the Reformed answer to the question: Who is the originator and determining cause of the first sin?

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Proposition one: God did it! (An uncreated Being did it)

Now perhaps, by logical extension, Reformed Theology implies that God is the author and original instigator of sin. But for now, let us just stick Reformed Teaching itself. Reformed teaching rejects this proposition that God was the author of sin, the instigator of sin, or the originator of sin. They heartily reject the idea that it was "God himself who introduced evil into this world."1

One notable Calvinist source states clearly that "James 1 doesn’t only tell us that God can’t do evil; it also tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from above; that is, God shouldn’t be accused as being the source of evil."1

Verdict: Proposition one is rejected by reformed theology.


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Proposition two: Eve did it! (A created being, a human, did it)

Now, there is no doubt that a human did, in fact, sin. But did the human author evil, instigate evil for the first time, make evil happen for the first time, or causally determine self to sin? Now, if one's believes libertarian free will, which is the idea of self-determinism, then the usual answer is that while Eve was not the first one to influence self or others to sin (Satan was), Eve did causally determined that she herself would sin.

Now, Reformed theology strongly objects to the teachings of self-determinism and libertarian free will. According to reformed theology, the will of the human only acts when acted upon. The will of a human cannot come up with some sort of new desire or action, but only acts in according to their strongest desire or motive.

"And in this sense, I suppose the will is always determined by the strongest motive." - Jonathan Edwards

Where the desire leads, the will follows. What is their answer, then?

Is Eve the author of sin: No. Someone or something external to her had to incline her will to sin before she could choose to sin. That someone or something was the author, not her.

Did Eve instigate sin? No. She does not have the capable of instigating sinful desires within herself, or leading her desires. Rather, she must follow her desires. Someone or something external to her had to incline her will to sin before she could choose to sin. That someone or something was the instigator, not her.

Did Eve cause herself to sin? That is, was she the one to causally determine that she would sin? No. God foreordained that she would sin. This foreknowledge was not just in according with what He already knew would happen, but rather He actually caused it. God causally determined that Eve would sin - not Eve.

According to reformed theology, the will of the human only acts when acted upon. The will of a human cannot come up with some sort of new desire or action, but only acts in according to their strongest desire or motive. Where the desire leads, the will follows. The question then remains, where did the human get the desire to sin? In his book, "Chosen by God," RC Sproul admits that this question is unanswerable by Reformed theology.

This view of human will precludes the idea that a person could causally determine themselves to sin (self-determinism) and precludes the idea that person could instigate sin for the first time, because before that point, something external must give them that desire to sin. Besides, if a human causally determined sin, rather than God causally determining the sin, that would contradict the reformed teaching that God determined everything in such a way as causes it to happen.

Verdict: Proposition two is rejected by reformed theology.


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Proposition three: Satan did it! (Or some other created being other than humans)

Given free agency, or self-determinism, or libertarian free will, Satan could have come up with the idea to rebel against God, the desire to do it, and causally determined himself to sin. He would be culpable and the first cause of the first sin (which was Satan rebelling against God) and also culpable for influencing and tempting the humans to sin as well.

However, given the Reformed belief that the will can only act according to the strongest motive, and the will can't come up with new desires and motives and causally determine to act according to those motives, then the question becomes: Who gave Satan the desire to sin? Who put that thought in his head? Who causally determined that Satan would sin?

Satan could not have causally determined that he sin, if self-determinism is rejected. Satan could not have come up with the desire to sin because his will must follow desire, rather than leading it. Besides, if Satan causally determined sin, rather than God causally determining the sin, that would contradict the reformed teaching that God determined everything in such a way as causes it to happen.

In other words, for the same reasons that a human could not have been the first author, instigator, and causal determiner of sin, Satan could not have either.

Verdict: Proposition three is rejected by reformed theology.


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So, there are only three possible ways sin could have come into existence. Reformed theology rejects all three, and yet maintains that sin does exist. This is a contradiction. It is not a mystery. A mystery can be true, but it's not clear how. If there were a fourth way that we hadn't thought of, then that way could be the way it happened. However, there is no fourth way. There is God, and there are created beings. Among created beings, there are humans and non-humans. So, there is God, there are humans, and there are non-humans. There is no forth possibility. Therefore, it's not an excruciating mystery, as X claims it it. It's a contradiction. Since we know that no contradiction can be true, Reformed Theology's position on the entrance of sin into the world must be wrong.

Some will say that it is not contradictory, but simply a paradox. But a paradox is never truly contradictory. For example, the ideas that God is a trinity, or that God was always existent could be considered paradoxes. But are they contradictory? It is not contradictory to say that Someone immaterial always existed, given that material things must be brought into existence. It is also not contradictory to say that God has existed for eternity, and yet has reached this point in time, because God is beyond time and existed quite happily before time existed. It is not a contradiction to say that God is three in one, because He is three Persons, and one Spirit. It is not as though we are saying that God is Three Spirits and yet only One Spirit - that would indeed be a contradiction. My point is, paradoxes perhaps cannot be completely comprehended, but they are not contradictory. The Reformed position on the entrance of sin into the world is contradictory, and therefore is not a paradox, but rather an impossibility.

I don't know how many of you are familiar with triazzle puzzles, but they are triangle shaped puzzles with triangle pieces.2 There is only one correct solution, but there are several ways to put it together so that all but one piece fits corrects with the images on the other pieces and on the board. Now, when I've put together the whole puzzle and get to the last piece, and realize that the last piece doesn't fit no matter which way I turn it, it's not a mystery. It shows me that the way I put the rest of the puzzle together was wrong, and I have to take it apart and put it together again in a different way. Every false system makes a lot of sense, but there is always that one point of doctrine that insists on a contradiction: It insists that the last piece of the puzzle does belong on the board, but recognizes that it does not line up in any of the three possible ways. The holders of the false system will generally shrug it off as a "mystery," because after all, we can't understand everything! But there is a very serious and important difference between a solvable mystery, and a grave contradiction.

If Reformed theology misunderstands the very essence and nature of the will of man from the beginning, then they are certain to build off of that faulty foundation and come to other erroneous conclusions. This contradiction, which has to do with the very beginning of the world, the authorship of sin, and the innocent state of man's will, is a very fundamental point, and should not just be shrugged off: It brings to light the Reformed misconceptions of the nature and character of God and man.




1 - http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/09/taking-calvinism-too-far-rc-sproul-jr%E2%80%99s-evil-creating-deity/

2 - http://www.dangilbert.com/img/fun_triazzle_frogs.jpg

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