Logical structure of Athanasius’s Divine Dilemma

1.) The human race is evil. 

We’re not evil in every way or on every occasion, but we frequently human badly: valuing short term satisfactions over long term ones, giving into our desire for lesser goods, being inordinately self-interested or self-abasing, struggling to be moderate. Why else is “doing whatever you want” taken to mean “being naughty or wicked”?

2.) Either (a) God made us this way or (b) he didn’t. 

Almost no one has ever believed (a), giving it the rare distinction of an opinion too stupid for even philosophers.

(b) divides into two options. Either (c1) God didn’t make us because he doesn’t exist or, like an Epicurean god, doesn’t care about human life, or (c2) Something other than God – let’s call it a creature – is responsible for the human race being evil.

(a) is neither rational nor Christian. (c1) is rational but not Christian. So the only possible Christian option – and really the only way to have a benevolent God and evil humans – is (c2)

3.) The creature who is responsible for human beings being evil either (a) had full, culpable knowledge of what exactly he was doing and how his actions would lead to the the human race being evil or (b) not. 

If (b), however, a benevolent deity would not allow humans to be evil as a consequence of his action.

4.) So the human race is evil because someone knowingly and culpably acted in such a way that the evil of the human race was a natural consequence. 

We don’t know what he did, but one can assume that human beings would have been born good if only we had X, some creature was made responsible for the existence of X, and he deliberately destroyed it.

5.) As a response, God could either (a) do something or (b) do nothing. 

If (a), the whole race would be lost for the sin of one, which is unfitting with divine mercy and paternal care. But if God “does something” this can’t mean taking away the consequence. To take away a consequence that one culpably incurs is to break a promise made, and one can’t establish a relationship with another – which would be the whole point of taking away the consequence – by breaking promises at the same time.

So God appears to be trapped by the demands of his mercy and his fidelity, by his goodness and his making of a promise.

Notice how much of this dilemma is parallel reasoning to the argument from evil. Athanasius at times seems to be giving a sort of theist account of the argument from evil, or articulating the only way one can square a benevolent deity with the evils in human life. The Incarnation is the resolution of the aporia in (5).

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