Wednesday 28 July 2010

Determinism and the existence of sin

Arminians frequently argue that (exhaustive) determinism implies that God is the author of sin. The argument being that if God causes every event including the actions of sinful men the God is behind such actions and is culpable. Although the reasoning that the instigator of an action is responsible for such action is sound, note David murdering Uriah the Hittite; that God is the author of sin is less immediately apparent.

Moral restrictions that apply to man do not automatically apply to God. God is allowed to remove the life of men at his discretion, for man to do so is considered murder. Therefore one could argue that causing other men to sin would be sinful for man, but not for God. In fact one could argue that it is impossible for God to sin because by definition God actions are not sinful.

I agree with the proposition that everything God does is good. Not that it is good because God does it, but because it is in the nature of God to be righteous and everything he does is consistent with this nature. But I wish to approach this problem from a different perspective.

Let us accepting that God cannot sin (for whatever reason). The issue with determinism is that it makes God the cause and source of every action including those actions we term sin. But determinism also makes the intermediate agents non-culpable. Man can hardly be responsible, let alone guilty for that which he does at the exhaustive, non-resistible control of another. A gun is hardly to blame for the actions of the soldier. I don't see how this is changes if the gun is given consciousness.

This leaves us with God being the author of all activity, man the author of none.

But the Bible states that there is such a thing as sin. It frequently warns us to reject sinful actions. That sin is real is not in doubt for those who agree with Scripture. But if God cannot sin, and determinism means that man is not culpable then we cannot resolve the dilemma.
  1. The Bible says that sin exists.
  2. God cannot sin
  3. Therefore men must sin
  4. The Bible teaches determinism
  5. But determinism implies that man is not culpable for sin
These cannot all be true. The question is which statement should we reject? Arminians would argue #4, as they do not think this is the case. Calvinists would argue #5 but this is logically and biblically untenable.

If we grant that God can and is permitted to do some things that man cannot and is not, this does not resolve the problem. Even accepting the Calvinist claim that God can cause evil and not sin still leaves the determinism problem unresolved.

Monday 26 July 2010

Monday quote

Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

C. S. Lewis. "Equality." Present Concerns: A Compelling Collection of Timely, Journalistic Essays

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Justice relating to accidental death and property damage. Part 4

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here.

There are several lessons from these verses that pertain to personal property. Essentially if a man is responsible for property damage or loss then he is expected to restore or replace the property. Having responsibility demands making restitution and restitution should be to the level of loss. Criminal damage to property requires restitution above the level of loss; the owner of the property should be no worse off and a disincentive is mandatory for the criminal.

Noticeable in these examples is that intention is taken into account. Did the man know his ox gored? Did the thief sell the livestock? Did the person in possession of the livestock request it be in their care. Intent can alter whether you have to make excess restitution, full restitution, partial restitution, or no restitution.

What is important about this intention is that it is to be judged on the basis of men's actions. One is not required to look into the heart of a man and establish his motives—an assessment that is probably limited to God. Rather one establishes intention by the actions of a man. An owner of a goring ox is not identified by his animals looking menacing or having sharp horns, but having an ox with a history of goring. A thief using or selling stolen goods is identified by him having the goods in his possession, or having sold them.

This is distinct from hate crimes where underlying motive is presumed based on the activities of others, or the presumed intolerances within society. A man is judged based on the crimes of other men. The prejudice of a man is assumed without evidence of the man being prejudiced.

Related to this objective judgment of intent is a prospective approach in assessing criminal activity. An ox has a history of goring prior to the event. Not, the ox gored therefore what can we find in the history to support the likelihood of such an event. Something is bound to happen because it has happened before. Of course we know something went wrong after the event, the question is, Did we know this was likely before the event?

Justice would be well served if many of these principles identified in these passages were observed in law including establishing intention of the parties using objective measures of intent.

Monday 19 July 2010

Monday quote

The secret of managing life is to keep the folks who can't stand you away from the folks who are undecided.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Justice relating to accidental death and property damage. Part 3

Part 1 here. Part 2 here.

The third passage concerns establishing responsibility and restitution of property when the persons concerned are not acting dishonestly.
If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man's field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.

If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man's house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor's property. For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.

If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, an oath by the LORD shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor's property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence. He shall not make restitution for what has been torn.

If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee. (Exodus 22:5-15 ESV)
Property damage due to a person's behaviour, accidental or negligent, must be restored completely. The person responsible is expected to restore at least the same level as prior to such damage. Though they may keep the damaged property as seen when an animal kills another. (Exodus 21:35-36)

When property is in the care of a person to whom it does not belong and there is property loss (or damage) responsibility, and therefore restitution, is divided up thus
  1. Owner gave goods. Theft of goods, criminal actions of a third party: possessor no obligation
  2. Owner gave goods. Theft of animals, criminal actions by third party: possessor obligation
  3. Owner gave goods. Death of animals, no criminal actions: possessor no obligation
  4. Possessor borrowed goods. Possessor obligation
  5. Possessor hired goods. Possessor obligation
The basic structure is that if you have goods in your possession at the request of the owner then you do not bear responsibility. If you have goods at your own request then you are responsible. If you hire them then you are responsible but accidental damage is covered by hiring fees.

The main exception is theft of animals. It is unclear why this should be different from other goods. Looking at the 2 sentences we have
If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe (verse 7)

If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe (verse 10)
The word for "keep safe" is "shamar" which implies close guarding, not merely looking after. The NET Bible note for this passage reads
The point is that the man should have taken better care of the animal.
Thus a stolen animal implies careless supervision. If this interpretation is correct then a person is responsible because he accepted care but did not supervise in an adequate manner. The question could be asked, Why was the neighbour's animal stolen and not the carer's own livestock?

In general we have obligation for replacement of property when person requests use of another's goods but no obligation when requested to care for another's goods. With the caveats that one is expected to take good care of property, especially creatures, and that hiring fees take potential loss into consideration.

Monday 12 July 2010

Monday quote

The main problem with pettyfogging bureaucracy is that it puts immense power in the hands of people who are constitutionally unfit for it. It is evident from early years in the school playground that some people are destined to be paper shufflers. But give them power and they become drunk with it, wielding it not only unwisely but unjustly.

Miranda Devine

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Justice relating to accidental death and property damage. Part 2

Part 1 here.

The next passage concerns restitution in cases of theft.
If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.  If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double. (Exodus 22:1-4 ESV)
Compensation for stolen oxen is 5 fold and stolen sheep is 4 fold in the case of selling or destroying an animal, and 2 fold for keeping an animal. I make this to be
  • 1 animal for the stolen animal to restore the situation to the previous state (replace or return)
  • 1 animal as punishment for stealing
  • 2 further animals as punishment for trading in stolen livestock
  • 1 animal as punishment for loss of livelihood
A sheep provides for the farmer in terms of its meat, milk, and fleece. An ox provides in a similar way but is also a beast of burden. It is a farmer's tool, not just provision. The excess compensation reflects a greater offence been committed against the farmer. Not only does he lose provision, he loses the ability to produce.

A second animal as punishment is a deterrent. If a thief paid back solely what he stole then he benefits by gaining the items at times he is not caught. Leaving the thief worse off after stealing means that thievery leads to privation.

Further, to not force the thief to pay excess costs puts him in the same position as the man who inadvertently or negligently destroys the property of another.
If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution. (Exodus 22:6 ESV)
Clandestine removal of property is not to be equated with unintentional destruction of property.

An interesting situation arises here in that if a thief has sold or killed the animal he is punished more harshly. I am uncertain as to the exact reason here but will offer some speculation. Selling an animal suggests a higher level operation at play. The thief is not just stealing for himself due to laziness, his livelihood consists of trading stolen goods. He is becoming wealthy solely by the means of others' hard work, property, and in a way that leaves the owner with less wealth than he started with.

Concerning the increased punishment when stock are killed the interpretation may relate to whether such an action is meant to reflect hiding of evidence, destruction of property, or eating the animal. If the thief has eaten the animal I am uncertain why the payment is 4 fold. Eating the animal severely limits its use. A sheep provides ongoing milk and wool. A short term feast is short-sighted—the man will need to keep stealing to maintain food—and gluttonous—meat was not the mainstay of the diet, it was expensive and a luxury. In the case of the first 2 options, hiding evidence and destroying property, the man is making no use of the property, his thievery is to no end. I don't want your house but I will burn it down so that you do not have it.

What we establish from these verses is
  1. A thief cannot just return property, he must pay in excess of what he stole;
  2. It make a difference what people steal, stealing a man's method of income affects a man more than stealing his income, and needs to be punished more harshly; and
  3. It makes a difference why a thief steals, or rather what a thief does with stolen goods.
Criminal law can take all these aspects into consideration when punishing a thief.

Monday 5 July 2010

Monday quote

It was not then right that He should appear in a manner manifestly divine, and completely capable of convincing all men; but it was also not right that He should come in so hidden a manner that He could not be known by those who should sincerely seek Him. He has willed to make Himself quite recognizable by those; and thus, willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart, He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition

Blaise Pascal


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