Calvinism & Euthyphro’s Horns

By Johnny Sakr


March 30, 2017

When one finally has a firm grasp of the philosophical and theological underpinnings of Calvinistic thought, one cannot bear to wonder whether Calvinism is true because surely no contra-causally free creature would freely choose to believe a system that invokes the logical deduction of God being the author of sin. Of course, many Calvinist’s will not assert this, nonetheless – this is the implied conclusion.  

Of course, there are many forms of Calvinistic thought in relation to God’s sovereignty and human freedom. This article will look upon the more popular thought of Calvinistic Philosophy which incorporates the Thomistic understanding and application of Divine Concurrence. To begin with, consider a popular objection atheists offer against the Moral Argument:

Euthyphro Dilemma

Horn 1 – Is that which is moral commanded by God because it is moral?


Horn 2 – Is it moral because it is commanded by God?
(Plato, Euthyphro 10a)

Molinists can easily avoid these horns, however, once we press upon the Calvinistic doctrine of God’s sovereignty and human freedom, it then becomes clear that Calvinists place themselves at the mercy of the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma. Consider the words of John Piper:

“God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and his people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4). This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…”[1]

Or as explained by Bruce Reichenbach:

“. . . if every event and thing is caused, then my very choices, beliefs and desires are caused… my desiring and choosing must be decreed by God, since my having a desire and choosing are events. Thus there is no instance in which I can desire anything other than that decreed by God. Should I desire other than that decreed by God, that very desire is itself decreed by God”.[2]

We see then that God does not just “allow” for evil events to occur but rather, He brings about these evil events. That is, God moves the desire of man in order for man to act accordingly. However, although the divinely determined desire is God’s doing, man “freely” performs the desired outcomes because they “want” to and thus, man is responsible.

John Calvin affirms the second horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma, “For God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that [God] wills it,[whatever he wills] must be considered righteous.”[3]

Thomist/Reformed View of Divine Concurrence

The difference between Molina’s view and the Thomistic/Reformed view of Divine Concurrence is that God does not cause the secondary agent’s will to choose one way or the other; he just concurs with the agent’s choice by allowing the intended effect. (This is, by the way, why the Molinist view holds that God is not the author of sin. While he concurs with the sinful will in producing its effect, God does not move the agent’s will to sin. By contrast, in the Thomistic/Reformed view, God causes the agent to sin by moving his will to choose evil, which makes the allegation that God is the author of sin difficult to deny.)[4]

Calvinist Paradigm

(1) God determines the desire (D) of person (S) to commit an evil act (X)
(2) Necessarily, S will ‘follow D to commit X
(3) God judges S for committing X

We see that it is necessary for S to follow D; therefore, committing X necessarily.

(1) God determines D – therefore, x occurs necessarily.
(2) If God did not determine D, S would not commit X.
(3) Therefore, God is responsible for X.

God is therefore held responsible for sin and not man. Consider this illustration:

Many will acknowledge that if Ted places a pill in a women’s drink in order that her desires are altered so much so that she would ‘want’ to sleep with him, then Ted will be charged with and found guilty of rape. Why? The victim of rape could not have chosen, or desired, to do otherwise. That is, the victim did not possess contra-causal freedom. Although she was “free” to choose according to her desires, her desires were ultimately determined by something external to her (i.e., the pill which Ted placed in her drink).

Due to an external factor determining her desires, the victim acts according to the desire necessarily. Therefore, consent was merely illusory and therefore void. Now of course, rape is evil — it is a sin. However, this is essentially what the Calvinistic perspective of God entails. Yet, evil is not attributed to Him. God cannot “make” someone “freely” do something. It is a logical contradiction. God cannot perform the logically impossible. However, the Calvinist is swift to defend the ‘sovereignty’ of God with the following divinely determined objections:

(1) The Bible says so!
(2) Romans 9:20 – Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
(3) Psalm 115:3 – But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.

Objections (2) and (3) embed the Calvinist within the grasp of the Dilemma.
(2) & (3) Psalm 115:3 & Romans 9:20: God can do what He likes! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!

(Do I have a choice to think otherwise?)

In brief, we are not “talking back to God” we are “talking back” to their interpretation of how they think God acts. That is, if God Chooses to do X, is it then Holy? The Calvinist’s perspective of God falls into one of the Horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma, namely: “a) Is it moral because it is commanded by God?” – The deterministic Calvinist’s answer is yes.

What is the problem?

(i) Morality is Contingent. Morality is not objective. For example, any action that is actually wrong could have been morally right, including, say, acts of torturing innocent children for fun.

(ii) God’s Commands are Arbitrary. If things are not right or wrong or good or bad independent of God’s commanding or forbidding them, then it seems God has no basis on which to choose what to command and what to forbid. He has no good reasons for forbidding the things he forbids.

(iii) God’s Goodness is Trivial and Therefore Not Praiseworthy.

If whatever God prefers is thereby automatically best, then the fact that God always prefers the best is a trivial fact, true merely by definition. But then His always preferring the best does not make Him praiseworthy.

In this view, God ‘can’ lie because once God lies, it is not sinful. Essentially, God can void the promises to Abraham; eternal security is not really secure. When we sin we are not falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but rather, whatever God commands.

As the philosopher G.W. Leibniz observed in his Discourse on Metaphysics (1686) at [11]:

So in saying that things are not good by any rule of goodness, but sheerly by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory. For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary.[5]

We see Calvinistic thinking pins them to one of the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Brief objection to (1) – The Bible says so.

Firstly, this is a fallacy called “begging the question.” They incorrectly ‘assume’ that their interpretation is the only possibly correct interpretation. Secondly, in the words of Frank Turek, “Since all data needs to be interpreted, science doesn’t say anything, scientists do.”[6] Likewise, the Bible doesn’t say anything, the interpreter does.

Therefore, we are not questioning God’s word; we are questioning the Calvinistic interpretation of God’s word. There is a big difference!

Lastly, if one concedes that “God can perform the logically impossible” then one may use the following questions:

1) Can God create a square circle?
2) Can God create a married bachelor?

And my favorite:

3) Can God create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift?


[1] Mark R. Talbot, “’All the Good That Is Ours in Christ’: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us,” in John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77 (quote from p. 42).

[2] “Bruce Reichenbach’sResponse,” in Predestination and Free Will, p. 51)

[3] (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)

[4]  Williamm Lane Craig, Ron Highfield, Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Kjoss Helseth, Four Views on Divine Providence (Zondervan, 2011) 57.

[5] Willia Egbert, P. Bosa and John Duns Scotus: Renewal of Philosophy (Rodopi, 1998) 176.

[6] Frank Turek, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case (NavPress, 2014).

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About the Author

By Johnny Sakr

Johnny Sakr was admitted as lawyer at the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Australia in 2014. He has completed his Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.), Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP), Masters of Laws (LL.M) and is currently undertaking is M.Phil/Ph.D in Law (Philosophy) at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney Australia. His thesis looks to prove that through universal reason, a characteristic which all mentally complete human beings are assumed to have in them; view an objective standard as necessary to qualitatively assess the rightness of wrongness of the accused conduct called into question. Therefore; society should adhere to human reason and implement an objective standard in all areas of reform and judgement. Johnny is a former Roman Catholic, now Baptist – who adheres to the philosophy of Molinism.