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God, compatibilism, and the authorship of sin

  • PAUL HELM (a1)

Peter Byrne has presented arguments against the effectiveness of two ‘defensive strategies’ deployed in my books Eternal God and The Providence of God respectively. These strategies were originally presented to support the cogency of ‘theological compatibilism’ by arguing against the claims that it is inconsistent with human responsibility, and that it entails that God is the author of sin. In this present article the author offers a number of clarifications to his original thesis and argues that Byrne's arguments do not succeed in their aim of undermining the two strategies.

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1. Peter Byrne ‘Helm's God and the authorship of sin’, in M. W. F. Stone (ed.) Reason, Faith and History: Philosophical Essays for Paul Helm (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009).

2. Paul Helm Eternal God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); idem The Providence of God (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1993).

3. In what follows I shall provide page references to Eternal God as EG, and to Peter Byrne's chapter, ‘Helm's God’, as HG.

4. Paul Helm ‘God does not take risks’, in Michael J. Peterson and Raymond J. Vanarragon (eds) Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 235. ‘Willing permission’ is one standard way of characterizing God's ordaining of what is evil that notes the need to preserve an asymmetry between God's attitude to good and evil: He brings about evil by willingly permitting it. See also Paul Helm ‘The Augustinian-Calvinist view’, in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (eds) Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 180.

5. There are other places in his piece where Byrne appears to disregard qualifications that are present in my original text. Thus my phrase in Eternal God, ‘a universe which is in some sense the inevitable outcome of God's choice which is itself in some sense inevitable’ (EG, 182) becomes ‘The universe is the inevitable outcome of an inevitable choice’ (HG, 194).

6. Quinn PhilipActions, intentions and consequences: the doctrine of double effect’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 18 (1989), 336f.

7. It seems to me that ‘openness theism’ deviates so sharply from standard Christian theism as to warrant a distinct response.

8. For more on this, see Wainwright William J.Theological determinism and the problem of evil: are Arminians any better off?’, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 50 (2001), 8196.

9. Alvin Plantinga ‘Supralapsariansm, or “O felix culpa”’, in Peter van Inwagen (ed.) Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2004). In her ‘Plantinga on “felix culpa”: analysis and critique’, Faith and Philosophy, 25 (2008), 123–140, Marilyn McCord Adams raises the standard objections: Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.

10. I am grateful to Oliver Crisp and to an anonymous reader for Religious Studies for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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