They who object, that this doctrine makes God the author of sin, ought distinctly to explain what they mean by that phrase, “the author of sin.” I know, the phrase, as it is commonly used, signifies something very ill. If by “the author of sin,” be meant the sinner, the agent, or actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing; so it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin; rejecting such an imputation on the Most High, as what is infinitely to be abhorred; and deny any such thing to be the consequence of what I have laid down. But if by “the author of sin,” is meant the permitter, or not a hinderer of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is meant, by being the author of sin, I don’t deny that God is the author of sin (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense), it is no reproach for the Most High to be thus the author of sin. This is not to be the actor of sin, but on the contrary, of holiness. What God doth herein, is holy; and a glorious exercise of the infinite excellency of his nature. And I don’t deny, that God’s being thus the author of sin, follows from what I have laid down.1
Edwards claims that proximate causation is enough to clear God of the author of sin charge leveled by incompatibilists. I argue that this isn't a good defense for the compatibilist. Consider a couple of examples. The most relevant to this is the example of the cause of a book, since it actually includes an author. The proximate cause of a book is a printing press. It is the reason the book exists in printed form. But no one credits the printing press, or even its operators, with being the creator of the content in that book. The author of the book, the one who originated the idea, is the one we give credit for writing the book. The writer is the ultimate cause and reason that book exists. Or consider the Titanic. When someone asks what the cause of the boat's sinking was, you could answer that it was because it submerged beneath the waterline, water filled the hull, the ship gained more density that the water it was floating on, and it could no longer stay afloat. That is the proximate cause of the sinking of the Titanic. But that is a completely uninteresting and unsatisfactory answer for why the ship sank. We all know the ultimate cause was an iceberg.
I think you can see what these examples show. Just saying "God isn't the author of sin because He isn't the proximate cause" isn't a sufficient answer to the charge leveled by libertarians. God, on strict determinism, is the ultimate cause of sin. He "from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass."2 I think it's obvious what is in mind when libertarians recoil from this idea as making God the author of sin. He came up with the idea, as in it originated in His mind, and He brings it about as a result of His decree that it will happen. And if He decrees it, it becomes necessary. This does not allow Edwards the convenience of simply saying that God is "permitting" sin, as the Westminster Confession continues, "[He] has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions."3 This isn't simple permission based on what He knew would happen, as it is in Arminianism, but rather a deliberate authorship of all acts, including sin.
This also has the unintended consequence of bringing doubt into whether we can actually attribute anything to the direct causation of God. For instance, one of the motivators to accepting Calvinism is so man is not given any power over his own salvation (which the Arminian doesn't claim anyway). But if man is, as I'm assuming, the proximate cause of his faith, then wouldn't this also strip God of that glory? This would extend to anything God uses proximate causes to do. We attribute many good deeds, rightly in my opinion, to God that He uses proximate causes to accomplish, like when someone is cure of a deadly disease through the work of doctors. Following Edwards' logic, we should strip this honor from God and lay it solely on the proximate causes. But, as we know, all good things are from God. Paul writes that God works all things together for good for those who love Him, and He uses proximate causes for such ends.
I think it has been made obvious that simply "getting God off the hook" by proposing proximate causation as a solution to the authorship of evil is not sufficient and should be rejected by Christians. I think it is clear that man in himself determines to sin by the power of his own will, and has no excuse before a holy and sovereign God. As John said, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world" (1 John 2:16).
As far as how the quote from Edwards ends, where he suggests that if we define author of sin as, "the permitter, or not a hinderer of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow." I believe I have also addressed this duck as well. Edwards and other Calvinists have to stretch all known logical boundaries to assert that, even though every event is from God, He still remains holy. Edwards says, "What God doth herein, is holy; and a glorious exercise of the infinite excellency of his nature. And I don’t deny, that God’s being thus the author of sin, follows from what I have laid down." However, Edwards is stripping the meaning from what is meant by author of sin and applying something entirely foreign and, in my opinion, unintelligible to the words used.
As my discussion of proximate causes as compared to ultimate causes shows, this is just obfuscating the point. If God makes everything happen, why isn't He to blame? We say He is responsible and to be blamed for good things that He brings about, because He only brings about good things. These things He authors! If He also determines sin, why shouldn't we say so? And if we admit that He is the reason for sin, then why should we think He is holy? It seems to me, we measure unholiness against God. But if He is the reason for unholiness, how on earth can we make that distinction?
For another great essay on this, go here.
1 Freedom of the Will, vol. 1 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.” (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957), p. 399
(In this quote, the biggest issue I have with Edwards' theology is that God makes things "infallibly follow." I have no issue with God ordering events so that His will is accomplished. However, this is not the implication of determinism, for the actual will of man is one of the things that is determined. The Molinist or Classical Arminian approach to the situation I think is an acceptable alternative to this.)
2 Westminster Confession of Faith, On God's Eternal Decree, http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/