4 A Failed Philosophy

The Bible does not teach the argument of second causes. This is man’s invention. It is merely philosophy. More than that, it is a wrong philosophy. We are warned in Colossians 2:8 about the dangers of philosophy, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”


As Christians, we are not to build our doctrine upon philosophy. Augustine—the chief father of Calvinism—was a philosopher.*[1]*[2] When men try to make sense of spiritual matters, using logic and what they can perceive with their five senses as their primary defense, they are bound to miss the truths of God. When attempting to explain spiritual matters in this way, it is easy to fall prey to confused or contradictory logic, and even the simple truths of God can become major stumbling blocks. Ultimately, the argument of second causes is of “vain deceit” and “not after Christ.”


The Bible teaches in 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 that the one who intends evil and works to ensure that evil is accomplished is just as culpable as the one actually doing the evil. If God, in His Word, rejects the Calvinist philosophical argument of second causes in regard to man, then why would He find such an argument acceptable in regard to Himself? With this in mind, let us return again to The Westminster Confession of Faith.


We are told that the original sin of Adam and Eve, as well as all the sins of angels and of men are “not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them.”[3] In other words, God does not merely allow it to happen, He binds His creatures to His will in such a way that they could never do anything otherwise. They are ordered and governed by God to perform those acts of sin.


We are told that God did “ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”[4] The Westminster Confession of Faith, which is highly esteemed by Calvinists, tells us that nothing happens apart from God’s will, and that God predetermined all things.


In attempting to absolve God of the responsibility for sin, The Westminster Confession of Faith provides only one argument … second causes. We have already proven this argument to be false and unbiblical. Contrary to what the Calvinist claims, we have proven that God holds the primary cause of sin responsible. Thus, when we combine what the Bible says with The Westminster Confession of Faith, the confession must be saying that God, as the primary cause of sin, is responsible for sin. Biblically, it is impossible for it to say that God is the primary cause of sin without also saying that God is the author of sin and a sinner Himself.


We must carry the thinking of this Calvinist doctrine out to its ultimate and unscriptural conclusion. If God is the primary cause of sin, as their confession states, then God must be responsible for sin. He ordained it after the counsel of His own will and according to His own wisdom. If God is responsible for sin, then God is a sinner. The word “sinner” simply means “one who commits sin.”[5] Therefore, according to The Westminster Confession of Faith, which is considered by Calvinists to be one of the most important church documents ever written, Almighty God must be a sinner because He is responsible for sin as its primary cause.


The fact of the matter is that it is, at best, confused. At worst, The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches heresy. Calvinists will say that their doctrine does not necessitate the conclusion that God is a sinner. However, just because someone says something, does not make it true. When reading Calvinist literature, it is apparent that what they say and the conclusions they draw from what they say are often very different, and The Westminster Confession of Faith is just one example of this disconnect between Calvinist writings and logical conclusions. Consider the logic of this Confession when diagrammed:

  • The sins of angels and men are according to God’s almighty power, wisdom, goodness, and providence
  • God does not merely permit angels and men to sin but binds, orders, and governs them to sin
  • The sins of angels and men are according to God’s wisdom to accomplish His holy ends
  • Therefore, God is not the author or approver of sin. Angels and man alone are responsible 

The conclusion in this diagram is impossible to derive from the first three premises.


Some Calvinists are more willing than others to admit the logical impossibility of their position, such as Edwin Palmer who writes:

Over against these humanistic views, the Calvinist accepts both sides of the antimony. He realizes that what he advocates is ridiculous. It is simply impossible for man to harmonize these two sets of data. To say on the one hand that God has made certain all that ever happens, and yet to say that man is responsible for what he does? Nonsense! It must be one or the other, but not both. To say that God foreordains the sin of Judas, and yet Judas is to blame? Foolishness! Logically the author of The Predestinated Thief was right. God cannot foreordain the theft and then blame the thief. And the Calvinist freely admits that his position is illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical, and foolish. … The Calvinist holds to two apparently contradictory positions.[6]


Even John Calvin himself realizes that he is unable to prove the argument of second causes. He writes:

But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author and approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.[7]


Calvin realizes that he cannot prove his argument. Nowhere is he able to find a clear statement in Scripture affirming this argument, nor is he able to defend it logically. Thus, Calvin cannot have adhered to this argument because God said it. Instead, he believes it to be true based solely upon his assumptions which he describes as “the experience of my heart.”[8] Calvin is convinced that his doctrine is correct, and he is convinced that God cannot be the author of sin. Rather than work to make the two fit together in a way that can be proven from the Bible, Calvin chooses to blame the contradiction on man’s feeble mind, saying:

Is it any wonder that such immense splendour should blunt the acuteness of our mind? Our physical eyes are not enough to sustain a contemplation of the sun. Is our spiritual insight greater than our natural powers, or the majesty of God inferior to the glory of the sun? It is becoming in us, then, not to be too inquisitive; only let us not dare to deny the truth of what Scripture plainly teaches and experience confirms, or even to suggest that it does not reach agreement with God.[9]


In other words, John Calvin is saying the argument of second causes is true because he says so. Calvin claims that our spiritual senses are not acute enough to ever truly see and understand the truth that he is teaching. How then can Calvin be sure that what he is teaching is true? Is he the only one spiritually insightful enough to see it? John Calvin acknowledges his ignorance but still expects us to trust his judgment. He even encourages us not to be “too inquisitive,” but is that what God encourages in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD …”*[10] God invites us to be inquisitive and to think about the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:15–16, “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” John Calvin may say that we are unable to judge this matter of God’s culpability of sin, but the Bible says otherwise. God does not say that our spiritual senses are dulled by His splendor. Instead, God tells us that we have been given the mind of Christ and can now judge any spiritual issue.


Taking advantage of this God-given gift, we choose to judge the argument of second causes. When compared against Scripture, it is clear to see that this argument is foreign to the Bible. God does not approve the argument of second causes.


The Bible commands us in 1 John 4:1–3 to “try the spirits.” We are to consider the truth of a man’s words based, not on that man’s testimony or reputation, but in light of God’s Holy Word. The Bible gives legitimacy to a man’s doctrine when that man’s beliefs can be clearly proven in Scripture. However, we quickly find that Calvinists do not hold to this same standard for trying the spirits. They are quick to claim sola scriptura which means that they rely solely upon the Word of God for their beliefs. However, John Calvin himself admits that he is unable to prove his doctrine based solely upon Scripture. Instead, he relies upon the experience of his heart saying:

But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author and approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance. … I prescribe nothing to others but what comes out of the experience of my heart. … In a word, I acquiesce quietly and willingly in the opinion of Augustine …*[11] (emphasis added)


This is in direct opposition to how the true believer is to accept truth. If a doctrine cannot be substantiated by Scripture, then that doctrine—regardless of who it is propagating it or how much he loves the Lord—cannot be accepted as true.


  1. “While reading the Roman orator Cicero (106–430, Augustine became enamored with philosophy and turned to the Manichaean religion. ... Manichaeism was a Gnostic religion drawing on Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Christianity.” Augustine also “came under the influence of Neoplatonic philosophy, a revival of Platonism by the pagan philosophers Plotinus (c. 205–270) and Porphyry (c. 232–302)” (Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism, 47–48.)
  2. “According to [Timothy] George, Augustine’s ‘whole theology of justification’ was influenced by Greek philosophy.” (Ibid, 64–65.)
  3. Westminster Confession of Faith, V:4.
  4. Ibid, III:1.
  5. “Sinner,” Strong’s #2398, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, 38.
  6. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, Ch. 3: Perseverance of the Saints.
  7. Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 124.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid, 184–185.
  10. “Let us not be ashamed to be ignorant in a matter in which ignorance is learning. Rather let us willingly abstain from the search after knowledge, to which it is both foolish as well as perilous, and even fatal to aspire. ... If at any time thoughts of this kind come into the minds of the pious, they will be sufficiently armed to repress them, by considering how sinful it is to insist on knowing the causes of the divine will, since it is itself, and justly ought to be, the cause of all that exists. ... Nor let us decline to submit our judgment to the boundless wisdom of God, so far as to confess its insufficiency to comprehend many of his secrets. Ignorance of things which we are not able, or which it is not lawful to know, is learning, while the desire to know them is a species of madness.” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. 21, Sect. 2, and Book III, Ch. 23, Sect. 2, 8.)
  11. Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 124.


Is God the Author of Sin? Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Zebell. All Rights Reserved.


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