Originally published at: https://coreyjmahler.com/2020/06/09/whence-cometh-evil/
There are many critiques I could advance against That All Shall Be Saved (hereafter, “TASBS”) — perhaps a dozen or so, at least if my audience were wholly Protestant (and at least a dozen more if my audience were Lutheran) — but I have found, in contemplating the book, that I believe a better approach is to work within the framework constructed by Hart and advance — at least here and now — one critique. Like Wittgenstein in the Tractatus and Hart in TASBS, I am fully convinced of the soundness of what I am about to advance, and I do not believe that a refutation exists — or is even possible. I have selected this one critique for three reasons: 1) it operates within the bounds of the system Hart has construed; 2) I believe it will be convincing for all orthodox Christians, regardless of tradition or denomination; and 3) if sound, it works a total destruction of Hart’s argument. So, let us begin.
Much as my reasons for selecting this argument are three, so is the argument itself tripartite. First, God is the transcendent Good, or Goodness an sich. Naturally, there is no need to cite anyone or anything for this proposition; however, it may be worth noting that Hart does advance this in TASBS (p 18).
Second, “as God’s act of creation is free, constrained by neither necessity nor ignorance, all contingent ends are intentionally enfolded within [H]is decision” and “all causes are logically reducible to their first cause” (pp 69–70, et passim). Without fully recapitulating Hart’s argument, as I have neither the desire, now, nor the space, here, suffice to say that He makes God not merely the Uncaused Cause and the Unmoved Mover, but also the Architect such that all outcomes are by His design. In contending that “He could not be the [C]reator of anything substantially evil without evil also being part of the definition of [W]ho [H]e essentially is”, Hart raises (and fails to answer) a rather serious question about demons generally and Satan more specifically, but that is beyond the scope of this article. In making God not merely the First Cause, but also a sort of efficient cause of all contingencies, Hart makes for himself an insoluble problem of the mere existence of evil (more, infra).
Third, “sin requires some degree of ignorance”, which is to say imperfection (p 36, et passim). Taking this to its logical conclusion, Hart further asserts that “[l]iberated from all ignorance, emancipated from all the adverse conditions of this life, the rational soul could freely will only its own union with God”. Of course, the attentive reader will have already noticed the problem with Hart’s logic; to paraphrase Epicurus: ‘Whence cometh evil?’
In denying free will (pp 43, 159–195, et passim), Hart backs himself into a corner whence there are only two escapes: 1) he may recant, abandon his argument, and affirm free will or 2) he may make God the author of sin. In truth, I find the logic of this to be so unavoidably obvious that it needs no explanation; nevertheless, let us forge ahead.
Certainly, we can agree that any argument or system that makes God the author of sin is necessarily false. Hence, if Hart’s argument can be shown to necessarily place the cause of sin within the Godhead, then there is no need to examine Hart’s argument any further. Given the nature and extent of Hart’s causal argumentation, his characterization of sin, and his denial of free will, he is left with nowhere to place the cause of sin other than the Throne. Ergo, Hart must choose between recantation and heresy.
Having cut Hart’s argument off at the knees, there is really no need to continue, but let us examine — briefly — two more matters before concluding: first, Hart’s conception (more accurately: his caricaturization) of free will and, second, his contentions regarding ignorance or imperfection and sin.
In his book, Hart contends that only those ‘choices’ that are directed toward the ultimate Good are truly free. In essence, of course, this caricaturization of free will is nothing more than a reformulated denial of the same. In order for a decision to be truly free, there must exist at least the possibility that it could have been otherwise. My freedom does not consist of my continuing to use this pen to draft this article (although such is part of my freedom); rather, my true freedom consists of the multitude of other options with which I am presented: I could throw the pen across the room or out the window or I could drive it into my neck and exsanguinate[^1]. Freedom encompasses all of these options, and, in the case of the soul, it encompasses the option to reject God (this, we term “evil”). Of course, Hart’s mischaracterization of free will is merely in keeping with his false position (universalism) and his flawed eschatology.
In a similar vein, Hart argues that any choice opposed to or any movement away from the Good is not truly free because such may be undertaken only out of ignorance or madness or some other flaw. Nowhere in his book does Hart even hint that he grasps the full impact of this argument. If God is Creator of all, if all ends are contained within and intended by His design, then we must answer Epicurus: “God.” In Hart’s system, God becomes, necessarily, the author of sin, for sin somewhere entered Creation (I decline to, here, examine Hart’s view of Satan and whether or not those who accuse Hart of being a Marcionite are with or without warrant), and such entrance could — again, in Hart’s system — be due only to imperfection, and such imperfection, naturally, would trace directly to the Creator. Without resort to free will, Hart transforms God into every bit the moral monster he accuses Calvin and Reformed doctrine (rightly or wrongly) of constructing.
Now, Hart (or, more likely, his defenders) may attempt to mount some defense relying upon the ‘goodness’ of the ends somehow papering over or otherwise rehabilitating the moral abhorrence of the argument in TASBS, but, without even highlighting the resort to ‘the ends justify the means’, this argument or defense has already been precluded by Hart’s treatment of annihilationism: If some historical ‘surd’ renders the annihilationist position morally untenable as it represents a failure for God, then so, too, must the existence of evil represent God’s defeat, for, in his eternal now, such evil would be ever present with God. Further, God (in Hart’s system) cannot merely ‘erase’ or unmake such past existence of evil, for then we would need merely raise the objection of Wittgenstein (quoted by Hart), and God surely is not so arbitrary, pointless, and absurd — this life, indeed, this reality, is not merely some transitory cosmic farce that will eventually fade to black and then not merely be forgotten but perfectly annihilated. That would be unworthy of God.
If the reader will permit, I will now indulge in a bit of the sadism of which Hart accuses those of us who hold to the ‘Infernalist’ position and conclude this article. I call it “sadism” — only half joking — because I now risk belaboring the point and beating the dead horse, but so be it. What Hart has written is heresy, and there is no sense in mincing words. Hart sets himself up as morally superior to God and (seemingly without noticing that he has done so) makes God the author of sin. I see no way for Hart to extricate himself from the morass into which he has plunged headlong; however, I suspect Hart finds the morass both comfortable and comforting and will neither make efforts to extricate himself nor accept held should it be offered.
For my part, I will stand with the Christ of Scripture and the Church He founded to be His Bride and declare, in the words of the Athanasian Creed that “those who have done evil [will enter] into eternal fire. This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.” Amen.
[^1]: n.b., I am not, here, advancing any particular argument regarding a ‘type’ of free will, so I invite the reader not to take my words as advocacy for a particularly extreme form of libertarian free will (I may follow this article, at some point, with a more detailed study of free will).