The Absence of Chance: The Metaphysical Destitution of Baptist Traditionalism

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Is there chance in this universe if it is created by the God of the Bible?

Some would argue that there are compartments of creation not under the control of God, in which case there would be something left to chance. On Soteriology 101Leighton Flowers writes:

A Calvinist would never wear a symbol of abortion, child rape, the Holocaust or other such evil events around his neck, yet by his own logic these atrocities were equally brought about by God for His own self-exaltation. Proof that God worked in some way to “bring about” the redemption of man’s sinful actions on Calvary certainly does not prove that God works to “bring about” the very sins that His Son died to redeem.

Now, let’s get something straight. Chance can be defined in several ways. It could be a term used to refer to an even which occurred by chance, that is, a fortuitous or accidental event. Do these types of events occur?

In our daily experience it sure seems like they do. However, our perception and the metaphysic behind things as they seem are two different, yet related, things. For example, I may watch a cup fall from my kitchen cabinet, but did that really happen by virtue of chance? Was it truly accidental? Well, I may perceive it to be such since I lack knowledge of an explanation. But that does not mean it’s a truly fortuitous event. There were causes at play to produce the effect of the falling cup, causes which I myself may have no immediate knowledge of.

The only occurrence or event that could be truly fortuitous is one without an explanation or without a cause. Yet, we know of no event like this. Every effect is brought about by a cause. That’s called the principle of causality and that principle is simply an extrapolation of the law of non-contradiction.

Let’s put this in terms of rational creatures. If Sam is cooking breakfast and accidentally catches the eggs on fire, was this a fortuitous (truly accidental) event? It may have been outside the plan of Sam. He didn’t mean to catch the eggs on fire, but the event did not happen by pure chance, did it? There were a series of causes and explanations which led to such a thing. But in what (or Who) does such a series of causes terminate? Where do these causal chains come from?

Different Kinds of Causes

Classically there have been four different kinds of causes: efficient causes, material causes, formal causes, and final causes. An efficient cause is that cause we are perhaps most familiar with.

  • An example of an efficient cause is the event of me typing on my computer. I––being the efficient cause––hit the keys and that produces several effects (words on the screen, a clicking noise, the key being pushed down, etc).
  • A material cause has to do with the composition of a thing. Plastic causes my computer keyboard to be what it is materially.
  • A formal cause has to do with the form of a thing. The squareness of the keys in my keyboard is a formal cause of each of the keys.
  • And the final cause deals with what something is intended to do (also known as teleology). My keyboard wouldn’t be what it is without its purpose, and so the purpose of my keyboard serves as a type of cause.

The cause we are most concerned with here is the efficient cause. Now, there are two ways to discuss an efficient cause. Efficient causes either make up a linear causal series or a hierarchical causal series. An example of a linear causal series would be if Jacob threw a rock, then that rock hit a window, then that window shatters as the rock then falls to the ground on the other side of the window. You notice here that there is a successional chain of causes leading to various effects.

A hierarchical causal series deals with sustainment. Dr. Edward Feser, in his book Five Proofs of the Existence of Goddescribes an example in which a cup of coffee is sitting on a desk. Now, there is no linear chain to speak of in this picture, at least not an obvious one. But there is a hierarchical causal series happening. In other words, the cup sits on the desk; but it wouldn’t be sitting on the desk if it weren’t for the desk; and the desk wouldn’t be there except for the floor of the building; and the building wouldn’t be there except for the foundation, and on and on we could go. But where do either of these series’ (linear or hierarchical) terminate? Where do they begin?

They can’t go on ad infinitum because that would be irrational. For one, infinity is not a quantity (number) of something and material things must necessarily be quantifiable. For two, even an infinite chain of something (granted it were even possible) requires a cause or something to begin the motion therein. So, these causal chains must be brought about initially. Christians agree that the first Cause is God. God began this causal series of created events. Yet, not many today consider God as the first Cause of sustainment (hierarchical). God is almost always thought of as that primal Cause which began the linear chain, but not the cause which currently sustains the hierarchical chain.

When we trace the coffee cup, to the desk, to the floor, to the foundation, to the earth, to the gravitational pull of the sun and so on, we need to understand that this series, like the linear series, must find its origin with God. God is sustaining me right now as I sit at the dining room table and type this article. He is the first Cause of my existence as I am now. He not only set in motion the causal series which eventually concluded with me sitting here. But He sustains the causal series that accounts for my present state of existence at any given moment––and this must be true for all of creation. If this were not true, we would have to admit there are contingent things which are self-existent (a contradiction in terms). But I do not self-exist. I am contingent for my existence and depend on other things right now, and that causal series which explains my current state of existence ends with God as the 1st Cause.

Only God self-exists. This is not really a disputable claim within Christianity.

Causes and Control

So, how does this causal sustainment of God relate to His control or influence over creation? Every created thing has a hierarchical efficient cause, and the first Cause of that hierarchical series is God. If this were not true, creation could be self-existent. The 2nd causes (e.g. foundation, floor, desk, etc) are all grounded, so to speak, in the 1st Cause, God. God, being the primal Cause, sustains every 2nd cause in their present existence, otherwise they could not exist since they cannot be self-existent.

Surely, even Arminians and Baptist Traditionalists would agree that God has the freedom to stop sustaining 2nd causes. I believe Jesus demonstrated this freedom in Matthew 26:53 when He said, “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” And in other places, like Psalm 145:14, “The Lord sustains all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down.” The word for “sustains” is camak in the Hebrew and means to support, sustain, or uphold in the context of Ps. 145.

Therefore, in the hierarchical sense of efficient causation, God causes all that which comes to pass. If this is denied, then the existence of brute fact is affirmed, and this is a concept antithetical to the Christian worldview (brute facts would be self-existent, but this is absurd). It would essentially imply that there are things in existence which cannot be explained by anything, not even God. Such a denial would violate the principle of causality and the principle of sufficient reason (everything must have an explanation).

Flowers’ Quote

In the quote I cited at the outset of this article, Flowers basically tries to claim that while the crucifixion was the plan of God it does not therefore follow that everything that happens is in the plan of God. Yet, the crucifixion itself was a sin brought about by 2nd causes (Jews and Romans and ultimately, all people). As we can see above, God sustained those 2nd causes as they brought about that particular sin. Moreover, God also brought about the linear causal series which resulted in the greatest sin the world has ever known, the crucifixion of the Son of God (Acts 4:27, 28). So, Flowers must admit, at minimum, that God brought about one sin––and that sin happened to be the most atrocious.

All other sins pale in comparison.

Flowers goes on:

My Calvinistic friend and I are not disappointed by what God did to redeem the world from sin through Calvary. We both want that event to be known by everyone. Why? Because we now know it was God’s fulfillment of His redemptive promise! The story of the cross stands out as unique part of God’s good plan to redeem all sin, not as the proof of God being the cause of all sin.

I appreciate his concern to avoid calling God the author of sin. However, let’s define evil.

Evil, is a privation of God’s grace. It occurs when God doesn’t do something, that is, administer grace in one area or another. Evil (we could call it chaos) happens when God’s grace is not ordering one part of the universe. And so evil must be a privation, not a positive substance. Sure, evil is manifest in positive actions, but it itself is not a positive substance. Darkness is the privation of light, and so it is with evil.

If this is the correct definition of evil, then evil cannot be authored positively. For that which is not a positive substance can’t be authored. It can, however, be caused by way of God determining to withhold His grace, similar to how darkness may be caused by someone who takes away a candle.

Conclusion

Let me summarize what we have discussed thus far:

  • There are four types of causes, one with which we are most concerned: efficient causation.
  • Efficient causation may be thought of in two different ways: a linear causal series or a hierarchical causal series.
  • Both series’, as we’ve seen above, must terminate (or begin with) God.
  • God sustains all 2nd causes at any given moment.
  • If this is denied, then so is the principle of causality and the principle of sufficient reason (everything has an explanation), and we’d have to admit creation could be self-existent (which is absurd upon the final analysis).
  • So, all people, even in their most wicked of sins, are sustained and therefore caused by God. He is the primary Cause who sustains all secondary causes at any given moment.
  • Evil is a privation.
  • Therefore, God cannot be labeled the author of evil because that which is authored is a positive creation, not a privation of something (e.g. grace). No one paints a picture by taking away, but only by adding paint to the canvas.
  • Yet, however, God is the cause of evil (being the cause of all things) in that He withholds His grace at times, and in that He sustains creatures at all times, freely, in their evil acts.

Concluding from this, there is no real chance in this world. We may ascribe chance to something we cannot explain, but that does not mean that that something has no explanation at all, it just means we are prima facie (based on the first impression) ignorant of that explanation.

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