According to biblical hard determinism, the Judeo-Christian God, through a divine decree, made necessary every event that would ever occur throughout history. Many Christians who call themselves Calvinists believe in biblical hard determinism, which is why I have decided to write on this subject. Most of them will maintain, however, that God is not the efficient cause of sin. The purpose of this paper is to show that, if biblical hard determinism is true, God would be the efficient cause of Adam and Eve’s transgression—the original sin that the rest of humanity inherited when the first humans, Adam and Eve, purportedly ate fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden according to the Book of Genesis.
I will also show that even if biblical hard determinism is not true and all events are left up to contingencies (i.e., they could have turned out differently), God would still be the final cause of Adam and Eve’s sin, making him at least somewhat causally responsible for the sin of Adam and Eve that we all purportedly inherited.
When God created Adam and Eve, he made them in a way in which they could not have willed to do otherwise (though they possessed the physical abilities to have done some other physical act). Though Adam and Eve were inclined toward certain ends, they could only perform a given action that was in accordance with their greatest inclination, or what they had the most motivation to do, and thus they could not have willed to do anything else, since it would not have been the most feasible course of action to have done. According to biblical hard determinism, one can only will in any given circumstance what is in accordance with their strongest desire.
In order to do anything, whether under compatibilism or libertarian free will, one must not only possess the physical and mental faculties that serve as a requisite to accomplishing an action, but one must have a disposition toward something. Without a disposition or inclination to do something, you would have no motivation to do anything. A disposition is what gives you a tendency to act, and it is awakened by an involuntary reaction to a stimulus.
According to the Bible, the reason why people sin is because they not only possess the physical capability to sin, but they are inclined to sin by their natures being excited by an object of temptation. When the nature of humanity became corrupted after the transgression in the Garden of Eden, their inclination toward sin became so strong that they were compelled (by internal necessity, not by external force) to commit sin.
When Adam and Eve were purportedly tempted in the Garden of Eden, we know for certain that the Book of Genesis has them experience some difficulty avoiding sin. Without feeling a gravitation toward sin (experiencing temptation), they would have had no motivation to sin. They also could not have been created morally perfect. If they were morally perfect, they could not have committed sin.
The famous Christian thinker R. C. Sproul lays out the problem concerning Adam and Eve’s sin. In “The Meaning of Man’s Will (Pt. 3),” he writes:
By what means did Adam and Eve make an evil choice? If we apply the analysis of choice common to Augustine and [Jonathan] Edwards to pre-Fall Adam, we face an insoluble dilemma. If Adam had been created with a purely neutral disposition (with no inclination toward either righteousness or evil), we would still face the same rational impasse that Edwards notes for those who would impose it for post-Fall man. A will with no predisposition would have no motivation to choose. Without motivation, there could actually be no choice. Even if such a choice were possible, it would have no moral import to it. (Sproul, 2009)
How, then, did Adam and Eve sin? Before we try to answer this question, let’s consider another important question: How can God, who possesses freedom of the will, be unable to sin? After all, in Hebrews 6:18 we read: “so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (ESV). So why is it impossible for God to do evil, yet be a free agent?
The reason why God cannot sin, it is said, is because he experiences an ultimate revulsion toward sin. Nothing can conflict with that revulsion or alter it in any way. Sinning for God is akin to being offered garbage to eat for us. It is so repulsive that he only has a motivation to not partake of it, yet he is still free because he freely willed to choose good instead. If one has no motivation to do something, they will have no reason to do it.
So in the Genesis account, Adam and Eve must have been created morally imperfect by God. When tempted, they did not have an ultimate revulsion to the sin that the serpent suggested; for if they had possessed such a revulsion, they could have only chosen to abstain from sin. They could not have experienced temptation to sin (or would have had no motivation to sin) had they been revolted by sin.
The key factor that most theologians miss is that the Genesis account gives Adam and Eve less revulsion to sin than God. Some theologians say that a mutable will in conjunction with considering a good end (the knowledge obtained by eating the fruit in and of itself isn’t bad) made the first sin possible, but that is not the case; Adam and Eve still must have had less than ultimate revulsion to sin than God. If they were as disgusted by sin as God, the first sin would not have even been possible to consider. Having ultimate revulsion toward breaking God’s commandment to refrain from eating the forbidden fruit would prevent Adam and Eve from sinning despite any attraction to eat from the tree, even if it were just for the sake of simply gaining more knowledge.
In his work cited above, Sproul concedes that simply claiming that Adam and Eve sought a good end (eating the fruit to obtain more wisdom), but with an evil intent (directly defying God’s commandment) does not adequately explain how Adam and Eve sinned. He states:
Now the theory goes like this: Perhaps it was something good that caused Adam to fall—something that in and of itself was good, but which could have been misused and abused by the seductive influences of Satan. Such an explanation certainly helps make the Fall more understandable, but it goes only so far before it fails. At its most vital point, the explanation does not account for how this good desire could have become distorted, overruling the prior obligation to obey God. At some point before the act of transgression took place, Adam must have had to desire disobedience to God more than obedience to God; therein the Fall had already taken place because the very desire to act against God in disobedience is itself sinful. (Sproul, 2009)
What made the first sin possible, then? It was the fact that Adam and Eve were not created as good as God. Ultimately, this means that they were not created with the invincible moral resolve to always do the right thing. In other words, they did not have complete revulsion toward sin.
Being less revolted by something automatically means being more motivated to do it, since revulsion and motivation have an inverse relationship. For example, if I am less revolted by broccoli than spinach, I will feel more attraction or motivation to eat broccoli, even if I do not particularly care much for either.
This means that God had to have created Adam and Eve with a disposition to sin ingrained within their natures that simply needed the right stimulus to awaken it (the serpents’ words and the fruit). Sinning, therefore, had to be feasible to them. They were inclined to sin.
Also, when they were tempted, Adam and Eve’s sinful inclination must have been more powerful than their inclination to do good, for under compatibilism, one can only act off of their strongest inclination. Since inclinations are an involuntary reaction to something, it was not their fault that they felt a motivation to sin. It was God’s fault that Adam and Eve’s sinful inclination was stronger than their good inclination when they experienced temptation, since they were not created morally perfect.
The only way that Adam and Eve could have willed otherwise is if God had made them more holy such that, when tempted, the temptation would not have been so effective as to result in their greatest inclination to be toward wickedness. Thus Adam and Eve could only do something that corresponded to their greatest inclination (or what they felt to be the best course of action in the moment). When God created Adam, for instance, his brain computed data, and afterward he felt inclined toward multiple possibilities, to which he would only select from the most feasible possibility by necessity.
Inclinations are part of one’s nature, so it was God’s responsibility that Adam not only had the inclinations that he did, but also that a particular desire was more powerful than the others. So, by the logic of compatibilism, God was the efficient cause of Adam’s first action, since Adam could only will what he had the most motivation to do, which was determined by his nature rather than freely chosen. Though God caused Adam to “choose,” Adam was still a free agent in the compatibilist sense in that he acted in accordance with his nature and was not forced against his will to do anything.
Jonathan Edwards clearly believed that Adam possessed a sinful inclination. In a footnote to The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended, Edwards wrote: “This is doubtless true: For although there was no natural sinful inclination in Adam, yet an inclination to that sin of eating the forbidden fruit, was begotten in him by the delusion and error he was led into; and this inclination to eat the forbidden fruit, must precede his actual eating” (Edwards, 1758, p. 145).
After Adam’s first action, when confronted with another scenario, he would be inclined toward certain things, and would necessarily act off of his strongest desire. For every new situation, the process would simply repeat, where Adam would only be able to will in accordance with his strongest inclination.
Thus God would be the sufficient cause of everything that Adam and Eve did through a kind of domino effect, and he would truly be a morally blameworthy agent of Adam and Eve’s transgression since he not only made them so morally imperfect that temptation influenced them more toward evil than good, but also failed to give them the power to have willed otherwise. Every effect is traced back to God, which makes God the author of evil.
Calvinist writer C. Samuel Storms agrees. In his article “Edwards on the Will,” he writes:
What is the cause of the state or temper of mind that results in one motive being strong and another weak in the moment of perception? Since every effect must have a cause, either man or God is the uncaused initial cause of the disposition or state of mind from which issue evil actions. If the will is not self-determined, it must be determined by God. But this would appear to make God the direct and efficient cause of moral evil” (Storms, 2004).
Regarding Adam’s sin under a hard-deterministic view, Storms concludes: “As I have already argued … there is nothing in Adam causally sufficient to explain the effect (i.e., his sin). If by creation he is in such a condition that, antecedent to God’s withdrawal of divine influence, he necessarily sins, then God is most certainly the efficient and morally responsible cause of the transgression” (Storms, 2004). Given all of the evidence, there does not seem to be another way in which God could have necessitated Adam and Eve’s choices without God being the efficient cause of their sin.
The reader might object that, on a nondeterministic view of the Bible, Adam and Eve were given the power to do other than what was predisposed by their natures. But even then, the fact that God created Adam and Eve as morally imperfect beings would still serve as a moral dilemma, for Adam and Eve (or anyone else) can only sin because they have a disposition to sin and the ability to commit evil. Without a motivation to do a thing, you lack a reason to use the abilities that you possess.
Had God made human beings as holy as himself, no one would feel any motivation to sin. Since taking away someone’s ingrained disposition would not alter their free will (it simply makes someone ultimately holy), any problem concerning free will would be nonexistent. Having free will means that you are able to freely will, even if you just have one option. Put differently, being necessitated to do good still allows you to be free so long as you were not forced against your will or under the influence of drugs or anything else that would impair your moral judgment.
According to the Bible, God cannot possibly sin since it is against his very nature. Similarly, inhabitants of Heaven are no longer able to sin since they are in perfect harmony with God, living in a world without worldly temptations or pain. God could have made his initial earthly creation that way so that Adam, Eve, and the angels would all be absolutely holy.
Should not an infinitely holy God, who metes out infinite punishment on the wicked in Hell, have made his moral representatives as holy as him? Without evil or sin in this world, no man, woman, or angel would have to suffer in this life or the next.
In response to a question about free will and heaven, William Lane Craig writes: “This world is a vale of decision-making during which we decide whether we want to live with God forever or reject Him and so irrevocably separate ourselves from Him” (Craig, 2008). In other words, God created men and angels with a mutable will so that they could choose evil in order to allow them to decide which ultimate path to take in this life.
According to Craig, if individuals end up choosing Christ and remain in their faith until their deaths, God will confirm them in their choice by eliminating the possibility for them to choose evil after death. Craig adds:
Medieval theologians liked to talk of the “Beatific Vision” which the blessed in heaven will receive. There the veil will be removed, and we shall see Christ in all of His loveliness and majesty. The vision of Christ, the source of infinite goodness and love, will be so overwhelming as to remove all freedom to sin. I like to think of it like iron filings in the presence of an enormously powerful electromagnet. They would be so powerfully attracted to the magnet that there is simply no possibility of their falling away. So with the blessed in heaven. (Craig, 2008)
But, as I have already argued, a person can have free will even if they could not have actually willed to do otherwise (in the same sense that God has free will). Why, then, did God not give the Beatific Vision to Adam, Eve, and the angels immediately after (or while) he created them? Why would God bring about a world in which men and angels sin rather than making them perfectly righteous from the start? If the reader is tempted to answer by stating that angels and human beings must be less good than God, how much less good than him must they be? What if the temptation that Adam and Eve experienced was so hard to avoid that it was very difficult for them to resist it? That simply would not be a feasible situation for anyone to be in.
Following the late theologian John Hick, some Christian apologists believe that God allowed sin in order to allow greater character development. In “The Problem of Evil,” Craig writes:
The chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God. One reason that the problem of evil seems so puzzling is that we tend to think that if God exists, then His goal for human life is happiness in this world. God’s role is to provide comfortable environment for His human pets. But on the Christian view this is false. We are not God’s pets, and man’s end is not happiness in this world, but the knowledge of God, which will ultimately bring true and everlasting human fulfillment. Many evils occur in life which maybe utterly pointless with respect to the goal of producing human happiness in this world, but they may not be unjustified with respect to producing the knowledge of God. (Craig, n.d.)
As nice as this all sounds, Craig omits a crucial point. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, sin would not have entered the world (through Adam as representative for humanity). This would mean that suffering and common everyday struggles would not have existed to begin with, and so no one would have to go through all of the hardships that we now endure. And if God were to have made human beings morally perfect from the start (like the saints in Heaven), no one would have to worry about sinning since it would not even be possible to sin. Many theists typically state that God could not have made a universe in which free creatures would always chose to do good, yet those free creatures not only exist in Heaven—they will never sin throughout eternity!
On the angels that refused to follow Satan, Craig writes: “Originally created ‘at arm’s length’ from God epistemically, they had a time to choose either for or against God. Those who chose for God were then sealed with the Beatific Vision, so that no further fall is possible” (Craig, 2008).
In other words, after one action of proving their loyalty to God, the angels were sealed in their righteousness, losing the inclination to sin forever after. Also keep in mind that there was no suffering before Adam’s sin. So if suffering was so essential to human moral development, why did God originally create men, angels, and animals in a state of perfect peace and harmony with nature? The obvious answer is because suffering was not essential to human moral development.
As I have already stated, if Adam did not sin, sin would not have affected the world. God could have easily given this Beatific Vision—the bestowing of moral perfection—to Adam, Eve, and the angels as they were created. The problem of evil could thus have been avoided entirely. And just as God would be causally responsible for Adam’s sin under hard (or soft) determinism (as the efficient cause), he would also be responsible for Adam’s sin if libertarian freedom exists (as the final cause). Either way, God would in some sense be the author of evil.
Near the end of “The Meaning of Man’s Will (Pt. 3),” Sproul concludes: “Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery” (Sproul, 2009). As I have shown, the reason Adam and Eve were able to sin is because they were created with an inclination to sin by God, an inclination that simply needed the right stimulus (the tree of knowledge) to become actualized (so that Adam and Eve could experience temptation to sin).
This would, beyond a doubt, make God the final cause of Adam and Eve’s sin. For if God originally created them as morally perfect beings, they would not have been able to feel a motivation to sin (or experience temptation). They would, instead, have only been motivated to choose what was right, which would mean that good is all that they would have been able to have chosen.
It should also be noted that, according to the Bible, sin is simply breaking one of God’s laws. But nothing in that definition necessitates that God has to give a law. If he did not give Adam and Eve the commandment to not eat of the fruit, there would be no way that someone could ever sin. Likewise, if never issued any law thereafter, no one could actually do any evil.
In conclusion, if hard (or soft) determinism is true, then God would be the efficient cause of Adam and Eve’s sin. If libertarian free will (contracausal freedom) is true, God would be the final cause of sin. Either way, you have a clear causal link between God and evil.
 The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle delineated four distinct categories of causes, including efficient causes and final causes. The cause-effect relationship implied by the word “cause” today, such as when event A brought about subsequent event B (i.e., when A caused B to happen), is what Aristotle called an efficient cause. His final causes refer to the “goals” that natural systems tend toward, as he believed that nature is infused with purpose or teleology.
 Under compatibilism (also called soft determinism), you’re only free in the sense that you’re free to carry out your desires when nothing external to you prevents you from fulfilling them (freedom of action). Under libertarian free will, you’re free in the sense that you could have acted otherwise than your strongest desire prodded you to act, so it was in some sense “up to you” what to do (freedom of will).
Craig, W. L. “#47 Can People in Heaven Sin?: Reasonable Faith.” Reasonable Faith, 2008. www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/can-people-in-heaven-sin.
Craig, W. L. “The Problem of Evil: Reasonable Faith.” Popular Writings, Reasonable Faith, (n.d.). www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/the-problem-of-evil/.
Edwards, J. Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume One (Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 1974. www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works1.vi.iv.i.i.html.
English Standard Version – Read Online. Bible Study Tools, www.biblestudytools.com/esv/.
Sproul, R. C. “The Meaning of Man’s Will (Pt. 3).” Ligonier Ministries, June 19, 2009. www.ligonier.org/blog/the-meaning-of-mans-will-pt-3/.
Storms, C. S. “Edwards on the Will.” www.churchplantmedia.com, Church Plant Media, Sam Storms: Oklahoma City, OK, 2004. .
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