As a college sophomore taking a course in Reformed theology, I was troubled by the doctrines having to do with original sin. Eventually I raised my questions in class. "How can it be just," I asked, "for God to create me in an already sinful state? And if I start life with original sin, and so am sinful such that I cannot help but do evil, how can it be just on God's part to condemn and punish me for it?" In response, the professor stared at me, drew a long nasal breath, and in stern tones of righteous indignation proclaimed, "Well, I think that's the kind of question a good Christian just wouldn't ask!"
In the next paragraph, Wyma says: But my questions remained, and they nag at me to this day. (p. 278). With that, he sets out to assuage his nagging doubts, by presenting several arguments to justify the doctrine of original sin. I do not find his arguments persuasive but I have to admit that they are very creative.
How does he try to answer the problem of a just God holding us guilty for being sinners when we are born into that condition? The first justification points to our complete inability to assert any moral obligation upon God with regard to the status of our creation. He says that since life is a gift, not something that is owed to us, it follows that we cannot make any claims on God as to how we shall exist (p. 279). And since by definition, creatures cannot be infinite, we are created as finite beings. He continues: To apply the general point to our question about original sin, our moral capacities to identify and to perform the good, or to identify and to avoid evil, must have some boundaries. As finite beings, we creatures necessarily have some circumstances possible in our lives such that under those conditions we could not know or could not do the good (p. 280).
Does this answer hold any merit? I think not. God may have the right to create us any way that he chooses but does the then have the right to condemn us because we do not measure up to his perfect standard? That does not seem just to me. He is holding us accountable for not meeting an impossible standard. Let's say that my son is born deaf. Would it be just for me to punish him because he didn't hear something that I said? Obviously not.
Wyma goes on to lay out a second argument in an attempt to justify his Christian doctrine of original sin. He makes use of the middle knowledge argument of Luis de Molina, a 16th century Jesuit priest. While Wyma admits that the concept of God's middle knowledge is highly controversial (p. 282), he believes that it can be defended and therefore goes ahead to make use of it. God's middle knowledge, for those who may not know, is the knowledge that God has of counterfactuals of freedom. In other words, God knows what any free being would choose to do in any possible world. On that basis, Wyma argues:
In creating Adam's progeny, God could restrict himself to the set of possible humans who would freely have done as Adam did in the circumstances of his temptation and fall. That is, I propose that the humans who do exist, and those who have existed and who will exist, constitute some subset of those possible humans who would freely have fallen, just as Adam did (p. 282).
It seems to be very popular these days for Christian apologists to punt to God's middle knowledge to solve their problems. Of course, William Craig is famous for his use of the argument as it relates to divine election. But does God's middle knowledge, if it even exists, really solve anything with regard to the problem of man being born already condemned? I think not.
Wyma seems to realize the weakness of his argument because in a footnote, he says:
It might be asked, at this point, why God would choose to create from this set. That is, if God has middle knowledge, why wouldn't he simply create only those humans whom he knew would not fall? One answer might rely on Alvin Platinga's notion of "transworld depravity." If every possible human is essentially such (emphasis added) that in any world in which she exists, she freely does some evil, then God's choice would be constrained to the set of would-be-Adams (p. 290).
It seems to me that Wyma has just undercut his own argument. If transworld depravity is true, then there is no world where man might not choose to freely do evil because of his essentialness,then how can God condemn man for sinning? If there is something about man's essence that demands he will sin in any possible world, and God is the one who created him this way, how can God blame man? The blame must rest on the one who created man in this condition.
Furthermore, my problem with the middle knowledge argument as used by Christian apologists is this: Why couldn't God create a world in which all men freely choose to worship and serve him? Why is that impossible for an omnipotent being?
Apparently not fully satisfied with the transworld depravity argument, Wyma offers another possible justification in the footnote. Alternatively, one might appeal to supralapsarian notions that fallen-then-redeemed humanity makes for a better world than unfallen humanity (p. 290). I fail to agree. How could the world be better with sin than without sin? If that were so, however, it seems that God should be pleased with sin instead of opposed to it, because it allows for a better world.
Even after all of this, Wyma acknowledges that there is still a problem with God holding us guilty for Adam's sin. He says: If it's true that we would have rebelled as Adam did, it's one thing to skip giving us his test; but it seems a much farther step to blame us for failing it. . . . it seems unjust for us to share Adam's guilt, as only he actually committed the transgression in question (p. 284). So, what solution does Wyma now offer? He says:
I propose this: the state itself of original sin should be understood more of a shortfall than as a transgression. That is, rather than being a kind of wrongdoing, original sin resembles the Old Testament states of uncleanness. Having leprosy might have indicated imperfection that made an Israelite unfit to enter the wholly perfect presence of God, but it didn't count as a crime against the Almighty. . . . seen this way, original sin does not constitute a damning offense. Original sin is a sinful state in that its disorder disposes us to become actual sinners, but this is not itself grounds for guilt. It is a state of innocent sinfulness (p. 284).
So, according to Wyma, man is not born into a state of guilt and condemnation. He only becomes guilty once he actually commits a sin. Therefore, he can argue that anyone who dies before committing an actual sin is not condemned but goes to heaven.
I have a couple of problems here. First, the Reformed tradition, of which Wyma, I think, considers himself and the Bible itself disagree with the notion that man is not born into a state of guilt. For example, the Westminster Confession states: They [i.e., Adam and Eve] being the root of mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by original generation. David says in Psalms 51:5: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Similarly, Psalms 58:3 states: Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies. Ephesians 2:3 proclaims that we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Romans 5:12 states: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
Second, Wyma's Reformed tradition has held that more than just innocence is needed for admittance to heaven. A positive righteousness, which Jesus achieved through his active obedience (Calvinists make a distinction between active obedience, i.e., Christ keeping the law perfectly, and passive obedience, i.e., his death upon the cross. The latter removes man's sin and the former provides the positive righteousness) is also required.
Now, we finally come to the heart of Wyma's argument in his attempt to justify God for original sin. He says there is an important distinction between the inevitability of sinning and the inevitability of committing a particular sin. I believe a correct view of original sin includes the former but not the latter. . . . . I thus propose that not only should the initial disposition of original sin be considered guiltless, but so also should the necessarily-subsequent state of being a sinner. However, that excuse does not extend to committed sinful acts; for those, responsibility, blame, and punishment can justly be assigned (p. 285). So, he is saying that man is only condemned before God for the actual sins that he commits.
Does this get God off the hook? Again, I think not. First, if it is inevitable that man commit actual sin because of the condition in which he is born, how can God condemn him for it when he does commit it? My dog is born in a state in which it is inevitable that he will chase a cat if he sees one. Am I right to condemn my dog for doing so? Second, I think most Reformed theologians would disagree with Wyma's definition of sin. Sin is not just acts of commission but there are also sins of omission. The Westminster Catechism defines sin: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. In Romans 3:23, Paul defines sin as : falling short of the glory of God.In Romans 14:23, he says: For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. The Epistle of James 4:17 states: So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. On this understanding of sin, Wyma's theodicy, fails miserably.
It seems to me that if evangelical Christian philosophers are going to attempt to defend Christian doctrines, they cannot redefine those doctrines in such a way that contradicts what the Bible itself teaches (the Bible is supposed to be the ultimate authority for evangelicals) nor what evangelicals historically have said about those doctrines. If they do whatever it is that they are defending it is not evangelical Christianity.