PhD Abstract: Determinism, moral responsibility, and divine involvement in evil

I just wrote the abstract of my PhD dissertation, and thought I would communicate it here to share and clarify the questions on which I have been working for the last few years. If you would like to read the full text of what I have to say on these matters, then join me in prayer that it will be accepted both by my examination panel, and God-willing, by a publisher after that.

Guillaume Bignon
Excusing Sinners and Blaming God
A Calvinist Assessment of Determinism, Moral Responsibility, and Divine Involvement in Evil
Doctor of Philosophy
Middlesex University/London School of Theology

The dissertation examines the two most important criticisms offered in the literature, both ancient and contemporary, against theological determinism: that it excludes moral responsibility, and that it improperly involves God in evil.
With respect to the former—the ‘incompatibilist’ claim that moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism—the dissertation surveys numerous formulations of the charge: that determinism excludes free choice, that determined humans are analogous to pets or puppets, that determinism involves or is analogous to coercion, manipulation, or mental illness. In each case, defeaters are offered to maintain the coherence of compatibilism.
The ‘Consequence Argument’ is then shown, in each of its formulations, to fail to refute compatibilism, as it presupposes an incompatibilist version of the ‘principle of alternate possibilities’. This principle is properly analysed and refuted in detail by two independent arguments. It is found on the one hand to be incompatible with divine praiseworthiness and impeccability, and on the other hand to be untenable for one who rejects Pelagianism and universalism. Given the failure of the principle of alternate possibilities, a positive argument is offered to establish compatibilism.
As to the second grand argument—the claim that determinism improperly involves God in evil—a variety of related worries are examined: that determinism makes God the author of sin, or responsible for sin, or a sinner Himself, or the cause of sin, or a culpable manipulator of sin. Each of these worries is shown to be unwarranted, and considerations are offered to maintain divine righteousness in the face of evil and determinism. Finally, the issues of God ‘willing’ or ‘permitting’ evil are investigated, showing that determinism does not commit one to any untenable position with respect to God’s will and providence.
Putting these together, determinism is found to be compatible with both moral responsibility and divine righteousness. 


  1. Hi.
    I read your testimony on Premiere Christian. Welcome to the family. ;-)
    While I'm figuring that you've dealt with it in far greater detail in your dissertation, it's not clear here.....
    Just what place does Romans 8:29 play into this issue?
    For whom he foreknew, them he also predestined......

    One of the long-standing issues that strikes me about this whole "Calvinism" predestination topic is that the people I talk with about it have somehow forgotten two key points about predestination.
    1- God possesses foreknowledge.
    In Psalm 90, we see the idea that we spend our lives as a tale that's already been told. One pastor under whom I'd learned, a long time ago stated that it's like our lives are lived out in celluloid, and it's now just a movie, even though there are no strings, or predetermined plots.

    2- Those who are predestined, are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus.
    No one who is predestined, is predestined to go to hell. The only predestined ones are those who are following Jesus, and they are only being predestined to be in the image/likeness of Jesus.
    It's like God is not paying as much attention to those whom he knows will reject Jesus, and is focusing his attention on those who will and are already following Jesus.
    Yet we read in 2 Chronicles 16:9 that God's Spirit is searching throughout the entire world looking for those to whom he may demonstrate himself strong on their behalf. Those whose hearts are complete, towards him.

    Thus, I think that for the entirety of the Calvinism discussion to be heard, those two very fundamental points must be dealt with, in detail.
    Congrats on getting your Abstract written (rumor has it, it's supposed to be the final part).
    In Christ,

  2. Excellent topic! I'm excited to read this when its finished! It looks along the side lines as the recent work Love Freedom and Evil by Thaddeus Williams which I also thoroughly enjoyed. We need more Reformed philosophical responses to libertarianism.

    I would ask though, are you planning on interacting with the narrow source incompatibilism of WLC? I ask because he clearly accepts the Frankfurt argument and merely claims ultimate sourcehood is necessary for libertarian free will. This has discussions I've had with his followers more difficult because simply responding to PAP won't do. Any thoughts?

  3. Hello Zack, yes, I fully interact with source incompatibilism. In particular, I offer a deductive argument to the effect that incompatibilism does necessarily entail the PAP, so that refuting the PAP still refutes source incompatibilism by modus tollens. Fun times.

  4. A bit off the topic but I really enjoyed hearing your testimony and relieved and actually excited to know there is another Christian holding to the reformed view. P.S. Loved the photo of you with you family shown on the Acts17Apologetics interview! In Christ...

  5. This is now the second time in my life that I have contemplated a PhD topic, only to discover that someone had beaten me to it! You sod, lol.

    Can't wait to read it!


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