At Liberty to Become Free

by Pastor Thomas Belt

becomingMany thanks to Fr Adian for the invitation to share my views on the controversial subject of “free will.” I’m grateful for Fr Aidan’s friendship, the encouraging conversations we have, and his kindness in allowing me to win our first two chess matches.

I’m not a professional philosopher, but I think it safe to say that there is nothing about the question of free will which is not controversial. And I’ll just state up front that I’m a libertarian. I’m also a universalist. For some these two beliefs make for strange brew, but I can’t here offer anything like a defense of either position. I’m more interested in simply clarifying some relevancies regarding a libertarian understanding of the will’s exercise and how this in turn shapes how one might conceive the final reconciliation of all things.

Let me start by clarifying a distinction which, it seems to me, is sometimes misunderstood or dismissed in conversations about the nature of the will, and that is the distinction between what is essential to a libertarian understanding of choice, on the one hand, and an Enlightenment view of human freedom as the absolute, unconstrained autonomy of the self on the other. My point here is simple—a libertarian notion of choice does not derive from or reduce to Enlightenment presumptions and convictions. One can be a libertarian without being beholden to modernity.

Christian thinkers who are libertarian can and do disagree with the Enlightenment view about what it means to be a “free” human being. A libertarian view of choice makes the simple claim that at least some times (not necessarily always) we are able— it “lies within our power” or it is “up to us” (and these are controversial phrases as well)—to realize either of contrary alternatives. Not an infinite number options, not options which the will itself creates ex nihilo, and not options for an unconstrained exercise of will free from all influences, contexts, or givens. In other words not, as Brian Moore describes “voluntarism,” a “concept of freedom as a will utterly unbound from the dictates of the given.” Nor is it the case that a libertarian view of choice commits one to holding such choice as the highest conceivable value. Nor are libertarians committed to viewing the will as permanently and irrevocably libertarian with respect to the Good. All these concerns may occasion well-deserved criticism of modernism and liberal, democratic, consumerist culture, but they have no necessary attachment to what is rightly called ‘libertarian’ with respect to choice. A libertarian is perfectly free (no pun intended) to hold that true freedom is created nature’s union with God in Christ wherein one is free to be what one truly is as defined by the Good.

One possible way to conceive of libertarian choice accommodating a traditional/classical view of nature and grace might be in terms of the distinction in William Desmond’s work, noted recently here by Brian Moore, between existence as conatus essendi (the inherent struggle of personal becoming) and as passio essendi (the sheer giftedness of our existing). The former describes that context required of personal becoming in which a libertarian could argue liberty of choice is maintained and existence experienced as a struggle of human becoming. Here the truth of the good/giftedness of our existing (passio essendi) is available to us, perceivable if carefully attended to, but not overwhelming the horizon of our finite perspectives and thus ending the struggle. But the passio essendi, when increasingly chosen within the context of the conatus essendi, does eventually come to define the whole of our epistemic horizon. This eventually ends the struggle as well, but through the will’s free engagement. I suggest this distinction makes all the difference. We are libertarianly free precisely because our becoming is a volitional becoming toward the will’s final rest.

Brian Moore brings up a relevant passage from David Hart’s essay “The Pornography Culture” that I find particularly interesting. Contrasting the classical view of human nature from Plato through the high Middle Ages with a modern, Enlightenment view of the self as detached and autonomous, Hart points out that classically understood, “[l]iberty of choice was only the possibility of freedom, not its realization.” Here “liberty of choice” is only a disposition for choice as the necessary means for the realization of freedom. But this, I submit, is all a libertarian need imply about free will. Our end is to finally acquire, through such choice, a non-libertarian disposition with respect to the Good. Lots of libertarian theists say this. One may thus view libertarian free will as a provisional endowment of ‘say-so’, the dispositional and epistemic openness that makes the conatus essendi the struggle that it is and the necessary means by which we come to realize true freedom.

Another relevant passage, this in the context of comments made about hell and universalism in a recent Notre Dame lecture, Hart states:

Currently, the most popular way of defending the notion of an eternal torment is an appeal to creaturely freedom and to God’s respect for its dignity. But there could scarcely be a poorer argument, whether it’s made crudely as by William Lane Craig or elegantly by Eleonore Stump, it is going to fail. It wouldn’t if we could construct a metaphysics or phenomenology of the will’s liberty that was purely voluntarist, purely spontaneous, though even then we would have to explain how an absolutely libertarian act, obedient to no rationale whatsoever would be distinguishable from sheer chance or mindless organic or mechanical impulse, and so any more free than an earthquake or embolism.

True. If libertarian free will is to be successfully deployed as an argument for the rational possibility of irrevocable loss, one would have to understand it in precisely the absolute voluntarist terms Hart describes, as something not grounded transcendentally in God and so not teleologically oriented toward the Good in all its movements. And as such it would fail for the reasons Hart points out. My point, however, is that such an understanding of choice is not essentially “libertarian” at all.

What’s to be said regarding the application of this to universalism? I’d suggest a few points. First, there’s the question of what counts as ‘rational’ or ‘irrational’ with respect to choice. I take it that what is rational is perspectively determined. And what can be viewed as rational from one perspective may not be rational from another. To Eve’s perspective, taking the fruit was rational. She saw that the fruit was “good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” She “reasoned” her way through to eating the fruit. Of course, what makes her choice a responsible one is that her perspective was also sufficiently informed to make choosing rightly a real possibility as well. Both choices were rational within her finite perspective. But from God’s perspective we might say her choice was indeed irrational, but that’s because God sees more and knows more. So when Hart says that to “see the good truly is to desire it insatiably,” he’s right of course. But we presently don’t see truly. We see in part, and the way to see more truly (and more clearly) is to choose the good we already see. One chooses one’s way into an insatiable vision of the good.

cathy.spence.flyingSecond, no libertarian need suppose we are free to bring it about that God does not love us unconditionally and pursue us unfailingly, or that we are capable of irrevocably severing ourselves from the reach of those possibilities which constitute the very ground of our existence. We are asymmetrically related to the possibilities of our being and existence precisely because of the passio essendi. Thus our “liberty of choice” cannot will itself into oblivion, for the possibility to move Godward always precedes any movement of created will as its very ground. This is how I make sense of Tom Talbott’s point that no choice to irrevocably reject God can be a rational choice. Why not? Because given the metaphysics of created being grounded in the Good as its most inward reality, there can be no finite perspective on reality so privated as to foreclose upon itself all possibility of Godward becoming. I’m less sure that Talbott is keen to maintain a libertarian (as I’ve described it here) view of the will as the sustained means by which human beings realize their truest freedom. I’d be grateful to understand him better.

Lastly, there are other interesting questions about angelic wills and the glorified human will to consider. I take angelic wills to have been created libertarianly free with respect to their vocation and purpose and thus in a position of sufficient epistemic distance to responsibly confirm themselves in the Good. The conatus essendi is an inherent feature of all finite personal becoming—human or angelic—until nature realizes its telos as freedom. I suspect the obedient among the angels are thus confirmed in their orientation, whereas the disobedient shall suffer the redeeming light of God’s glory. Likewise, glorified saints shall be glorified by the beatific vision and would by definition be confirmed in a realization of the full freedom of their natures, no longer at liberty to misrelate to the Good. But the journey into such a state must, of metaphysical necessity, be taken in terms of the rational struggle of the conatus essendi, which I view in terms of libertarian becoming.

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98 Responses to At Liberty to Become Free

  1. D. B. Hart says:

    Thomas
    If you look at the quotation you cite from my Notre Dame address, I speak only of an “absolutely libertarian act,” and the qualifier is important. Only that conception of libertarian freedom could possibly make sense of the free will defense of hell, because it utterly severs the “gnomic” indeterminacy of the will from the will’s natural teleology. But of course it is also a nonsensical picture of the will in that it is impotent to account for intentionality, and in that pure spontaneity cannot be true deliberative freedom. But, yes, certainly there is such a thing as libertarian freedom of the will, precisely in respect of that transcendent end that liberates the will from aimless and convulsive spontaneous impulse.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Thank you for the clarification, David. That helps very much.

      Your Notre Dame talk was absolutely wonderful. (And I note the qualifier “absolutely”!)

      Tom

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    • tgbelt says:

      I admit I’m very new to Desmond’s work, which I like very much so far. I did ask him about ‘libertarian’ choice (because there were are comments of his that look very much like that’s his position), but he said he hesitates to call himself a libertarian because it tends to downplay our social embededness (which I suppose is true) though he agrees there’s something important in what the position says. I’d love to know if it’s fair to interpret his ‘conatus essendi’ in libertarian terms. I’m not sure how else to imagine it (the ‘conatus’ that is) as an existential struggle that involves the will.

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      • brian says:

        Tom,
        My views on liberty will become more clear throughout the course of the essay that Father is posting in serial form. My sketch of voluntarism was not intended to be a sophisticated portrayal. I am only marking a significant tendency in modernity with a broad brush stroke. I do not question that there are libertarian perspectives like those you hold which are more deftly drawn and obviously much more compatible with a traditional view of nature.

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    • tgbelt says:

      You mentioned your Notre Dame paper being published (upcoming) by Radical Orthodoxy Journal. Any idea on their timeline? Looks like they intend to publish 3x annually, and they got out 3 issues in 2014 (Jan/June/Dec). But as yet nothing for 2015.

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  2. Mike H says:

    A libertarian is perfectly free (no pun intended) to hold that true freedom is created nature’s union with God in Christ wherein one is free to be what one truly is as defined by the Good.”

    We are libertarianly free because our becoming is a volitional becoming toward’s the will’s final rest.

    …one would have to understand it in precisely the voluntarist terms Hart describes, as something not grounded transcendentally in God and so not teleologically oriented towards the Good in all its movements.

    As the dumbest person who comments on this blog (judging from the constant quality and depth of the posts and comments) I’ve, at times, had difficulty working through some of these arguments and concepts. The above quotes, however, seem key to me – they represent a sort of fork in the road that leads to very different places. Would most “Libertarians” agree with these statements?

    I was raised in a “free-will” protestant/evangelical tradition (I think it’s fairly clear what I mean for purposes of this conversation). The absolute love of God is assumed, eternal conscious torment in hell is assumed, so a particular view of free will necessarily completes the equation. Simple. Hell is the assumed reality (along with the problem of evil) that necessitates free will, not the other way around.

    A “plain reading” of the Biblical texts seems to provide more than a few examples of the scope of redemption being universal – the “all things” language – with enough clarity that they at least need to be explained away. Given the assumed reality of hell, I’ve always wrestled with how this “all things” doesn’t eventually become mere pious nonsense, something that’s twisted and qualified in such a way that it becomes meaningless. If “all things” are restored – which I take to be an unequivocal statement that all things be “in their right place” including the “will” – how is an irrevocable eternal hell really a possibility (if one doesn’t assume it at the outset)?

    It seems to me that it’s because in the particular libertarian free will understanding of human agency (better called voluntarist free will?), a will that is “teleologically oriented toward the Good in all its movements” would actually not be considered “free” at all. We can’t have the shackles of an “orientation towards the good” after all, because it would violate the very “freedom” that makes a human being a free agent…..freedom = blank slate. A “restoration of all things” that includes a “free will” that has no telos or orientation to the Good might very well be consistent with eternal hell because it’s perfection would consist only in it’s ability to choose with no inclination to choose one way or another. But if the restoration of all things includes the restoration of a “free will” that finds it’s completion and restoration in it’s orientation to the Good and in union with God….well that’s a different story.

    Real question as I’m sure there is an answer. How can the language of “the restoration of all things” – which would include the restoration of a will that yearns for and is oriented towards the Good as found in God – not necessarily lead to universalism? Is the semantic qualifier of all kinds of things the only possible thing that prevents it?

    Thanks for the post. This isn’t just an impersonal intellectual exercise in metaphysics. The implications are ultimately very personal and “earthy”.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Mike, I get lost in it all, too. You are not alone! 🙂

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    • tgbelt says:

      Mike,

      Not sure I’m following your concern. It seems to be the question of what sort of choice counts as minimally ‘libertarian’, on the one hand, and how the will is irreducibly oriented toward the good on the other. Is that it?

      I’ve run into some who equate “libertarian”and “voluntarist” notions of freedom. But terminology aside, there really are distinct views to distinguish here. As Brian describes it, “voluntarist” choice describes the modernist claim that human freedom is the independent power of the will to define itself without reference to any absolute other than the self. But the more modest “lilbertarian” claim (at least within a Christian framework) views liberty of choice as the God-given disposition to reconcile oneself to God as one’s absolute. Both notions would agree that that options we deliberate (when free in the relevant sense) are objective possibilities and that we are the final arbiters of the choice, but with the latter (minimally) libertarian view, we perceive ourselves as relative to God as the absolute and thus as ground and giver of the very power to choose and as the proper end of all choice.

      Tom

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      • Mike H says:

        Not sure that there is a concern. More just my own ramblings as I try to work through some of the concepts that you brought up.

        I guess your post helped me recognize a distinction between voluntarism and libertarian freedom that I hadn’t before, and also that my own tradition (which I consider to be a “free will” tradition) doesn’t define “libertarian freedom” the way that you do (i think that theologically it’d be closer to voluntarism). And voluntarism as you (and others) describe it is making less and less sense to me. So I’m curious, would most proponents of libertarian free will define it the way that you do – as having an orientation to the good in all it’s movements? And if so, what makes an “irrevocable” decision possible in that view (I recognize that it doesn’t seem possible to you).

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        • tgbelt says:

          Malcom: I’m curious, would most proponents of libertarian free will define it the way that you do – as having an orientation to the good in all it’s movements?

          Tom: All the libertarian philosophers I’ve read define libertarian choice basically in terms of (a) the principle of alternative possibilities (or PAP, i.e., that the options we deliberate are viable options we’re able to realize), and (b) the agent as final arbiter in resolving the choice (i.e., however contextualized we are by history and other influences, nothing in that history or influences makes our choosing as we do causally closed by antecedent factors).

          I’m doing a horrible job of describing this. Sorry. But that seems to be the bare definition. I don’t think it’s obviously incoherent. And how one goes about grounding such a claim will take one in different directions. Some libertarians are theists, some are atheists. But extending one’s understanding of it to larger metaphysical commitments (creatio ex nihilo, a view of God as unconditionally benevolent and willing himself as the highest good of all things, transcendently present in all that exists, viewing the possibility of human becoming in terms of the transcendentals, etc.) narrows one’s options. It doesn’t undermine the basic definition of ‘libertarian’ at all. The definition as far as it goes holds, but it does preclude the possibility of employing the definition to defend the traditional view of hell and to promote a modernist view of the self (in terms Brian describes “voluntarism”).

          Tom

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  3. 407kwac says:

    Good questions, Mike. It hit me while I was reading your post that there are more problems than accounting for intentionality in a voluntarist view of human “free” will. There is also the problem of a rather Pelgian view of a choice for the good and of turning to God in faith. It appears to be something that must happen apart from grace in order for grace to then enter and operate. A view of the personal will as necessarily connected to and animated by the natural human will by definition oriented to the Good (the locus of “common” grace?) is the only way we can coherently say salvation is by grace at all it seems to me.

    Karen

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  4. Great post. I hope you won’t hate me for being Devil’s Advocate though!

    From a traditionalist standpoint, I still don’t think the big issues have been dealt with, the biggest being that IF God grants creaturely freedom for the sake of the unnecessitated movement of the will towards good, and IF this movement is essential for full liberation or beatitude, then God cannot “guarantee” or “cause” Universalism.

    I don’t know any traditionalist would say that free will entails that “we are free to bring it about that God does not love us unconditionally and pursue us unfailingly”. God is always pursuing us unfailingly and loving unconditionally. The point is we are not reciprocating that, and there comes a point where to pursue us is metaphysically pointless. As for loving us – I think he loves the damned in Hell as much as he could love such a soul. (How much could YOU love an unrepentant murder or rapist?)

    As far as us being able of “irrevocably severing ourselves from the reach of those possibilities which constitute the very ground of our existence.” No traditionalist that I’ve read says we are able to actually cut ourselves off from the metaphysical ground of our being. The damned are still, objectively speaking, withheld in being by God. We are beyond God’s reach because we have slowly built ourselves into a solidified state or rebellion. Does this seem impossible? Well – let’s look at the alternative. In what way do our free choices have determinate effects on our personalities or souls? I believe free will was given for no other reason than for the “completion” of each created personality into whatever state that freedom chooses to put itself, whether that’s correctly or incorrectly attached to God. That both those in Heaven and those in Hell are – objectively – connected to the Good seems to me undeniable. But I think that at the same time these states are experienced differently from a subjective perspective, and also that they simultaneously show different manifestations of God’s being (either as Love or Justice).

    What Universalists need to do is show how a) our free choices actually have consequences in regard to our subjective orientation to the Good – that is, how they build our personalities and relation to God, and b) how these same free choices could ever be caused or guaranteed by another agent to be good themselves. For it seems to me that free will is superfluous on Universalism in this sense: if it is not metaphysically necessary for the subjective personality to, of its own unforced initiative, correctly orient itself towards God — if it can be “check mated” such to where its final movement is not one of SELF movement — then why all the pain and evil in creation? I see the Traditionalist model better able to answer the problem of evil.

    You say — “Thus our “liberty of choice” cannot will itself into oblivion, for the possibility to move Godward always precedes any movement of created will as its very ground.” — I don’t follow you here. It seems like question begging to me. Are you saying that because God’s prompting and gift of freedom comes before the act of freedom we cannot refuse to exercise it correctly? Because all a traditionalist need say is that God’s granting of freedom, which comes causally before the exercise thereof, implies our ability to misuse that freedom. We do grant this could result in an eternal subjective experience of justice (or “wrath”), but that is hardly the same thing as “oblivion”. What do you mean by that word?

    But there is one more difficulty here that is rather large. The annihilationist I think may be justified in saying “in what sense is it bad for the creature if it ceases to exist”? In other words, it may be meaningless to criticize God for annihilating soul’s who’ve built fully rebellious personalities on the ground that it is bad the creature. In what sense could this be so, if the creature doesn’t exist?

    One last point that I can’t see Universalism able to answer. Do we all agree that repentance requires an undetermined act of the created will of the creature? I know many cases of repentance do not FEEL undetermined (though I wonder if these feelings are really a part of repentance at all), but metaphysically, do we all agree that no one can force a free will to say it is sorry, or, as CS Lewis said, to “lay down its arms”? And if we all say yes to this, how is it logically possible to believe in a necessary Universalism?

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    • brian says:

      malcolmsnotes,

      I think if one grants all your premises and your particular definitions, it is difficult to gainsay your conclusions. I do not grant all that — this does not mean I disagree with everything you say, of course. But as I talk about this in Searching for our Human Face, I do not want to anticipate what will later be posted.

      I will say this: a universalist could begin by claiming that a global reading of Scripture — apart from a kind of warring prooftexts — indicates that the gospel is universalist in scope. It would then be consequent upon the Christian philosopher to reconcile an understanding of liberty to a revelatory truth. I do not see that as question begging.

      You might also give a listen to the fine interview with Ilaria Ramelli to see the compatibility of Christian Platonism with apokastastasis. (I think CS Lewis was basically a Christian Platonist. Perhaps if he had been more consistent, he would have ended up closer to his mentor, George MacDonald.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I do find it odd that given his clear Platonic commitments, Lewis could entertain the possibility of a human being rendering himself completely and irreparably deaf to God’s voice (e.g., the story of the dwarfs in The Last Battle). It seems to me that if the human being is dynamically oriented to infinite and transcendent Good, then it is incapable of making a wall so thick that his Creator cannot pierce it.

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        • brian says:

          Right, Father.
          Even if one were to put the question in terms of probability (which I do not think correct and do not grant, but for the sake of discussion,) can the creature’s stubborn attachment to selfish ego and the delusions of evil “outwit” the loving ingenuity and infinite creativity of God? I think I’d place my wager on the infinite, loving, Good.

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  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    To set the record straight, not only did I not allow Tom to beat me at chess, he crushed me. Fortunately, I crushed him back in the third game. 🙂

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  6. Tom Talbott says:

    Malcolmsnotes asked: “do we all agree that no one can force a free will to say it is sorry, or, as CS Lewis said, to ‘lay down its arms’? And if we all say yes to this, how is it logically possible to believe in a necessary Universalism?”

    Part of my own answer to these questions requires that one come to appreciate a dilemma that God himself faces with respect to human freedom, and that in turn requires that one come to appreciate two very different ways in which God could interfere with human freedom, if he wanted to do so. I don’t know whether this is kosher or not, but here is how I express the argument, ever so briefly, in section 4.2 of my entry on heaven and hell for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heaven-hell/#ArgAgaFreWilTheHel):

    One argument against a free will theodicy of hell begins with the following kind of example. Suppose that a man is standing atop the Empire State Building with the intent of committing suicide by jumping off and plunging to his death below. One obvious way in which God could interfere with the man’s freedom in this matter would be simply to cause him to change his mind; that would effectively prevent the suicide from occurring. But there is another, less obvious, way in which God could interfere with the man’s freedom to commit suicide; God could permit him to leap from the building and then cause him to float gently to the ground like a feather; that too would effectively prevent the suicide from occurring. So one is not free to accomplish some action or to achieve some end, unless God permits one to experience the chosen end, however confusedly one may have chosen it; and neither is one free to separate oneself from God, or from the ultimate source of human happiness as Christians understand it, unless God permits one to experience the very life one has chosen and the full measure of misery that it entails.

    Given the almost universal Christian assumption that separation from God (in the outer darkness, for example) would be an objective horror, it looks as if even God himself would face a dilemma with respect to human freedom. Either he could permit sinners to follow their chosen path, or he could prevent them from following it and from opting for what he knows (but they may not yet know) is an objective horror. If he should perpetually prevent them from following their chosen path, then they would have no real freedom to do so; and if he should permit them to follow it—to continue opting for what he knows will be an objective horror—then their own experience, provided they are rational enough to qualify as free moral agents, would eventually shatter their illusions and remove their libertarian freedom in this matter. So in neither case would sinners be able to retain forever their libertarian freedom to continue separating themselves from the ultimate source of human happiness.

    If this argument should be sound, it would seem to follow that, no matter how tenaciously some sinners might pursue a life apart from God and resist his loving purpose for their lives, God would have, as a sort of last resort, a sure-fire way to shatter the illusions that make their rebellion possible in the first place. To do so, he need only honor their own free choices and permit them to experience the very life they have confusedly chosen. Why interfere with someone’s freedom at the very point where honoring that freedom would in fact teach a hard lesson and therefore do the most good? Would that not be utterly incompatible with God’s moral character?

    Accordingly, as surprising as it may at first appear, a free will theodicy of hell in fact requires that God perpetually interfere with our freedom in morally unacceptable ways; it is therefore a free will theodicy of hell, not universalism, that ultimately diminishes the value of human freedom. For a more complete statement of this argument with some additional examples, see the section entitled “God’s Respect for Human Freedom” in The Inescapable Love of God, pp. 195-198.

    -Tom

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    • brian says:

      Dr. Talbott,

      This is nicely argued. My reading of the parable of the Prodigal Son is that the Prodigal is the one who actually is able to return to the Father’s love precisely because he has exhausted the options of wandering in the abyss of freedom apart from God.

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      • Tom Talbott says:

        Thanks Brian. I certainly agree with you about the Parable of the Prodigal Son. For it is a consequence of the prodigal’s own choices, not some control that the father exercises over these choices, that induces the prodigal to return to his father in a state of repentance. This is only an analogy, of course. But similarly, when God permits sinners to separate themselves from him as far as is metaphysically possible short of annihilation, it is the horrific nature of their chosen condition rather than God’s control over their choices that will induce them in the end to return to God in repentance.

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  7. tgbelt says:

    Malcom: …the biggest being that IF God grants creaturely freedom for the sake of the unnecessitated movement of the will towards good, and IF this movement is essential for full liberation or beatitude, then God cannot “guarantee” or “cause” universalism.

    Tom: This all came up a while ago in conversation with David Hart and others. What is guaranteed, to my mind, is that we cannot irrevocably self-dispose out of all possibility of Godward movement. That right there means both annihilationism and the tradition view of hell as irrevocable torment are off the table. Their metaphysically impossible. What’s also true is that there’s no line in the sand, no terminus ad quem, a time at which the wills of whomever has yet to give themselves to love are simply appropriated by divine fiat. So the sort of universalism that you’re left with (if libertarian choice is a minimal metaphysically necessary means by which created wills come to yield themselves to God) is one without a specific end to the timeline. “Love never ends,” and it is not in a rush. Nobody is going anywhere where love is not the ground and true end of their powers of perception and choice. However long it takes for the privation of perspective and hardness of heart to eventually loosen its grip, love is happy to endure.

    Malcom: I don’t know any traditionalist would say that free will entails that “we are free to bring it about that God does not love us unconditionally and pursue us unfailingly.”

    Tom: Pretty much every libertarian who affirms the traditional view affirms this as far as I can tell. If hell is “irrevocable conscious torment,” in what sense is God pursuing them? How would God’s pursuit of us not entail the possibility of our becoming his? Doesn’t work. To not be pursued by God is coterminous with being irrevocably lost. My point in the post was that nothing about ‘libertarian’ choice per se entails the possibility of such loss, though every libertarian who uses the ‘free will defense’ to explain the traditional view of hell takes libertarian choice to imply such a possibility.

    Malcom: God is always pursuing us unfailingly and loving unconditionally. The point is we are not reciprocating that, and there comes a point where to pursue us is metaphysically pointless.

    Tom: Define that “point” metaphysically for me. I don’t think you’ll find it. If we’re asymmetrically related to the divine ground our being (which must be the case if we are contingent and God creates us ex nihilo), and that divine ground is an act of unconditional love that invites us into relationship with itself, then there is no “point” of depravity or privation so great as to place created being out of the reach of that invitation. To exist at all would be coterminous with being invited Godward. That invitation IS the possibility of our even existing. So one can reason (and Hart does this better than anyone; I’m a total hack) that whatever exists is, by definition, open to Godward becoming.

    Malcom: As far as us being able of “irrevocably severing ourselves from the reach of those possibilities which constitute the very ground of our existence.” No traditionalist that I’ve read says we are able to actually cut ourselves off from the metaphysical ground of our being.

    Tom: I meet them all the time. Jerry Walls is one. Greg Boyd is another. Lots of others. They ground the “irrevocability” of hell in the “foreclosure” of the will. It’s one and the same event. Once the will is foreclosed upon itself and the Good ceases to be desirable as such, we are “irrevocably severed from the possibility” of Godward movement.

    Malcom: The damned are still, objectively speaking, withheld in being by God.

    Tom: Well, sure; that’s what the proponents would have to say. But do the math: God would then hold in existence that which is irrevocably severed from all possibility of Godward movement. That’s what Walls has to hold. But it’s precisely his failure to fully comprehend the metaphysics of divine benevolence holding created sentience “in being” that leaves him open to consider the traditional view as plausible. But picture it for a moment—God as unconditional love, willing our highest good in him, grounding and defining the possibilities of our being, and those possibilities absolutely excluding the possibility of our responding to him. That’s just incoherent to me. As far as I can see, what it means to say we’re ‘asymmetrically’ related to unconditional love as the ground of our being is to say we cannot, by any acts of our will over any length of time, remove ourselves to “a point” of such solidification of the will as to render God’s pursuit of us metaphysically meaningless.

    Tom

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  8. Tom: “What is guaranteed, to my mind, is that we cannot irrevocably self-dispose out of all possibility of Godward movement. That right there means both annihilationism and the tradition view of hell as irrevocable torment are off the table.”

    Malcolm: Tom, would you agree that there is a point at which the righteous in Heaven are complete in that their wills are fully compatibilistically “built”? That is, is there a point at which Godward becoming terminates in God-united being?

    Tom: “So the sort of universalism that you’re left with… is one without a specific end to the timeline. “Love never ends,” and it is not in a rush.”

    Malcolm: I don’t think God ever stops loving us. As I said, He loves us as much as it is possible for Him to, in whatever form we make His love put on. The point is in what way CAN you love a soul that is determined to be rebellious? (I know you don’t think this metaphysically possible, but if it is, then does it not follow that God cannot be pleased, so to speak, with such a soul in the same way He is pleased with a soul who has freely repented?) Further, it seems to me impossible to hold that God could wait around forever, so to speak, if each of our movements further and further builds our eternal being – i.e. if we are not in a state of eternal becoming.

    Tom: Define that “point” metaphysically for me. I don’t think you’ll find it. If we’re asymmetrically related to the divine ground our being (which must be the case if we are contingent and God creates us ex nihilo), and that divine ground is an act of unconditional love that invites us into relationship with itself, then there is no “point” of depravity or privation so great as to place created being out of the reach of that invitation. To exist at all would be coterminous with being invited Godward. That invitation IS the possibility of our even existing. So one can reason (and Hart does this better than anyone; I’m a total hack) that whatever exists is, by definition, open to Godward becoming.

    Me: I can’t define the particular metaphysical point at which a soul has made itself irrecovably hardened, just like I can’t define precisely the moment in which I am awake in the morning, or the moment in which I became a self-aware person. But presumably I DO go from being asleep to awake and there WAS a first moment in which I became self conscious.

    Interestingly, I find the very point you’re trying to make – that to exist at all requires the ability to partake in Godward becoming – impossible on your own view. For it seems the only sort of becoming God honors is correct or good Godward choices, which implies that the creature is not building itself or truly moving itself more fixedly into relation with the good if he is sinning. How, then, is it in a state of becoming? What is it becoming?

    For Godward becoming to be real, for it to involve a true process of moving from non-being to being, it seems to me that all movements of the soul serve to furnish this completion. So again, is there not a point at which Godward becoming gives way to God-united being?
    It seems entirely possible to maintain that Godward becoming is completed in Hell for the souls that continually reject all of God’s graces, which if they are free they must be able to do. They are united to God in the sense that the process of their creaturely becoming is “complete”. They are not metaphysically cut off from Him (for then they would cease to exist). Rather, they have just objectively oriented themselves to Him in such a way that deservedly justifies their subjective mental state (whether that’s a decayed kind of consciousness or a vision of eternal justice I don’t pretend to know.)

    Tom: But picture it for a moment—God as unconditional love, willing our highest good in him, grounding and defining the possibilities of our being, and those possibilities absolutely excluding the possibility of our responding to him. That’s just incoherent to me.

    Me: It seems possible to me to maintain that given the certain reality of a free soul, its highest good may in fact be – that is, the highest possible good it is capable of attaining may be – Hell. Hence the scene of Aslan and the Dwarfs. The highest point of being they are capable of is just what is depicted around the table. Or it may be, rather than a sort of deluded state of being like that, such soul’s highest state of being is an experience of the presence of God which is subjectively horrifying. See Lewis again:

    “Supposing he will not be converted, what destiny in the eternal world can you regard as proper for him? Can you really desire that such a man, remainingwhat he is (and he must be able to do that if he has free will) should be confirmed forever in his present happiness – should continue, for all eternity, to be perfectly convinced that the laugh is on his side? And if you cannot regard this as tolerable, is it only your wickedness – only spite – that prevents you from doing so? Or do you find that conflict between Justice and Mercy, which has sometimes seemed to you such an outmoded piece of theology, now actually at work in your own mind, and feeling very much as if it came to you from above, not from below? You are moved not by a desire for the wretched creature’s pain as such, but by a truly ethical demand that, soon or late, the right should be asserted, the flag planted in this horribly rebellious soul, even if no fuller and better conquest is to follow. In a sense, it is better for the creature itself, even if it never becomes good, that it should know itself a failure, a mistake. Even mercy can hardly wish to such a man his eternal, contented continuance in such ghastly illusion. Thomas Aquinas said of suffering, as Aristotle had said of shame, that it was a thing not good in itself, but a thing which might have a certain goodness in particular circumstances. That is to say, if evil is present, pain at recognition of the evil, being a kind of knowledge, is relatively good; for the alternative is that the soul should be ignorant of the evil, or ignorant that the evil is contrary to its nature, “either of which”, says the philosopher, “is manifestly bad “. And I think, though we tremble, we agree.”

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    • tgbelt says:

      Malcolm: Would you agree that there is a point at which…Godward becoming terminates in God-united being?

      Tom: Yes. Irrevocability of dispositional solidification isn’t impossible if we’re talking about the will’s being irrevocably united to its very ‘ground’. It’s supposing the same irrevocability is possible per ‘privation’ that’s the problem.

      Malcolm: I don’t think God ever stops loving us. As I said, He loves us as much as it is possible for Him to…

      Tom: “As much as it is possible”? But we’re asymmetrically related to the unconditionality of God’s love, so nothing about us determines whether God loves us in/with the infinite intensity of his own beatitude. Otherwise, we decide how much God “is able” to love us.

      Malcolm: Further, it seems to me impossible to hold that God could wait around forever, so to speak, if each of our movements further and further builds our eternal being – i.e. if we are not in a state of eternal becoming.

      Tom: The most one can do is refuse God in the present moment given one’s circumstances. But a million years of such refusal couldn’t foreclose upon all possibility of turning Godward since we’re asymmetrically related to that possibility. ‘We’ don’t determine it.

      Malcolm: Interestingly, I find the very point you’re trying to make – that to exist at all requires the ability to partake in Godward becoming – impossible on your own view. For it seems the only sort of becoming God honors is correct or good Godward choices, which implies that the creature is not building itself or truly moving itself more fixedly into relation with the good if he is sinning. How, then, is it in a state of becoming? What is it becoming?

      Tom: We’ll always be in a state of ‘becoming’ in the sense that created beings are irreducibly temporal and don’t possess the fullness of their possibilities as their actual existence (as the case is with God). We will forever progress (‘become’) into the infinite novelty of God’s unending beatitude. Heaven will forever unfold his beatitudes. So we’ll always ‘become’ in that sense. But what can be irrevocable settled about us is the orientation of our character and will.

      My sense is that ‘evil’ isn’t the “opposite” of ‘God’, i.e., God as the ‘Good’ (and ground of our being) doesn’t exist at one end of a metaphysical continuum that has an equally irrevocable ‘Evil’ (even conceptually) on the other end. There is no ‘other end’ to God and so no other ‘end’ other than God for those who have their being in God.

      Malcolm: It seems possible to me to maintain that given the certain reality of a free soul, its highest good may in fact be – that is, the highest possible good it is capable of attaining may be – Hell.

      Tom: I suggest a slow listen to DBH’s recent Notre Dame talk (Fr Aidan put up a link to it a couple weeks ago). I wouldn’t know what to add to it. If creatio ex nihilo is true and God self-sufficient in his goodness and benevolence, irrevocable loss of the beloved created is inconceivable.

      Tom

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      • brian says:

        Very solid rejoinders, Tom. I love C.S. Lewis. He was the spiritual father of my youth and he irrevocably shaped my imagination, but he has a tendency to allow for something like a negative, diabolic opposite to the Beatific vision, an implicit dualism that approaches Manichean metaphysics. I think malcolmsnotes has absorbed some of this from Lewis and does not really recognize the asymetricality you rightly note as decisive.

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        • tgbelt says:

          Brian, are you at all familiar with James Loder (d. 2001)? He spent his academic career at Princeton. Wonderful thinker/theologian. He coined the phrase “bipolar asymmetrical relational unity” to describe the union of the created and uncreated (though ‘bipolar’ there doesn’t mean what it means in the mental health field).

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    • Tom Talbott says:

      Well Malcolm, I would make two points about your final quotation from C. S. Lewis, which comes from Chapter 8 of The Problem of Pain. First, within the context of a dispute between traditionalists and universalists, that quotation provides a textbook example of begging the question (or assuming the very point at issue in a given dispute). For it begins with the words “Supposing he [a particularly evil man] will not be converted,” and that could just as easily read “Supposing that universalism is false.” If you start with the assumption that some evil person will never be converted (or never be reconciled to God), then don’t be surprised if people would not want such a person to remain contented in such an evil state forever.

      Second, that quotation also illustrates a fundamental incoherence in Lewis’ own defense of hell. Would it not be an outrage of justice, he in effect asked, for the unrepentant to remain content with their own actions and never to be forced—even against their own will, if necessary—to see themselves for what they are? “In a sense,” he thus wrote, “it is better for the creature itself, even if it never becomes good, that it should know itself a failure, a mistake. Even mercy can hardly wish to such a man his eternal, contented continuance in such ghastly illusion.” But here is the irony: whereas a universalist can consistently accept all of that, Lewis himself cannot. For the damned never do discover, on Lewis’ account, that they are “a failure, a mistake”; neither does God successfully shatter the “ghastly illusion” underlying their wickedness. To the contrary, from their own point of view the damned are, according to Lewis, “successful, rebels to the end,” utterly defeating God’s justice, even as they lock the gates of hell from the inside. Elsewhere I have thus written:

      If an unrepentant Hitler … is never required to learn a hard lesson, if he is permitted to cling forever to his rationalizations and to his comforting illusions, then there is no justice, so far as I can tell, for the millions of victims who endured unspeakable horrors at his hand. Where is the justice in rewarding an unrepentant Hitler with exactly what he thinks he wants and continues to think he wants forever after? And where is the justice for Hitler himself? If he were free to cling forever to his “ghastly illusion” even as he acts upon it, assuming that this were even possible, then for that very reason he would also be free to sin with impunity and to defeat God’s justice forever.

      The bottom line, as I see it, is that Lewis’ own theodicy of hell implies that justice will never triumph in God’s creation.

      -Tom

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      • Well there are just so many people agreeing with me here!!

        To Tom Belt: I think the whole point about us being asymmetrically related to the good is being lost on me. I do understand, and accept as undeniably true, that we get all our potential-to-become from God FIRST, and that without his allowance, so to speak, and without his gift of existence which precedes our becoming, we could not exist…but how this logically entails that free souls cannot build themselves into a state of final wickedness I don’t see.

        Dr. Talbott: I’m not sure how you could accuse Lewis of question begging. After all, he starts off by saying “supposing such and such were true”. OF COURSE, if Universalism is true then he is wrong. He seems to me rather to be showing the internal consistency in his own view than making a positive case against Universalism. But you may disagree, and whether or not Lewis is question begging seems hardly worth arguing about. The point he does make that I still don’t see a way around is that if repentance requires the free movement of the will on the part of the creature, then it is at least metaphysically possible that this movement will not occur.

        As far as the internal inconsistency you speak of in your second point, here is a Lewis quote which I find illuminating.

        “Could there not be a negative eternity i.e. the merely timeless – existence no richer than one moment of temporal life but, unlike temporal life, not compensating for this by extension into a series of moments? Such existence might perhaps be the opposite of what you and Berdyaev suggest – the true eternals, looking at it from the outside, would perceive that that mere point or minimum of being never passed away to make room for another, but the ‘punctual’ creature inside it would experience something like an INSTANTANEOUS horror.” Letters Vol 2 pg 466.

        I think something like this can reconcile the difficulty in seeing how justice is finally asserted and “planted” in the rebellious soul itself. But that subjective realization may just be the end state of that soul’s existence from an objective point of view. So the evils of Hell do not exist co-terminously with the joys of Heaven. (This is a kind of blending of annihilationism and traditionalism.)

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        • Tom Talbott says:

          Thanks for your response, Malcolm. You wrote: “I’m not sure how you could accuse Lewis of question begging.” Actually, I did not mean to accuse Lewis himself of that, though I should perhaps have made this clearer. What I said was that “within the context of a dispute between traditionalists and universalists, that quotation [put in the context of our own discussion] provides a textbook example of begging the question.” That is, it provides no reason whatsoever for preferring traditionalism over universalism. And we seem to agree about that.

          As for the additional quotation you provide, I fail to see its relevance to the fundamental incoherence, as I see it, in Lewis’ account of hell. Indeed, it merely raises additional questions in my mind. Is this so-called “INSTANTANEOUS horror” something that the damned freely choose or freely embrace? Or is it imposed upon them against their will? Also, if it serves no corrective purpose at all, how could it possibly qualify as an expression of love for the damned? And if it is not an expression of love, how could it possibly qualify as an expression of divine justice? Is the idea here that God’s justice is in conflict with his love? Anyway, I would need to know a lot more before I could even begin to make sense out of that quotation.

          Thanks again for your response.

          -Tom

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          • Dr. Talbott,

            Yes – I do agree that the annihilation/eternal damnation hybrid I presented above doesn’t tie things up nicely and leaves me quite dissatisfied. For as you say, in what sense are God’s attributes – whether we’re talking about love or justice or mercy – present in those souls who end up in such a state? They are never “set right” such that they see their own evil, and this fact seems to zap all victory from God. Which begs the question of why He would do such a thing – create such beings, send them there, and sustain them in being, in whatever form that is – in the first place.

            I have been thinking a lot about these points that you and Tom Belt bring up, and it seems one of the issues I’ve had is that if creatures are free to become ultimately good, they also must be free to become ultimately bad. But, as I’ve been discussing with Tom Belt, perhaps this notion is mistaken. Perhaps it posits a metaphysical dualism that is inconsistent with traditional notions of Christian being and the good.

            I wonder – could this puzzle be made clearer by positing an pre-temporal existence of the soul? Notions of libertarian free will seem to unravel due to their attempt to place the “uncaused cause” of the will within time. A libertarian choice becomes something that exists within a particular ‘moment’ of time and has psychological and spiritual ramifications that progress to future libertarian choices, each of which themselves exist and are exercised in moments of time. But it seems to me this whole picture – that is, of the soul finding itself undetermined, though influenced by, prior temporal causes, some of which being choices that it itself has made in the past libertarianly, though which, presently, it is not necessarily making, raises several difficulties. a) it seems to make impossible an actual SOLIDIFICATION of character. At what point does the libertarian, “open” situation give way to a compatibilist, “closed” situation? And if this situation ever happened, it would seem to destroy the notion of freedom as “libertarian choice within time” or “the ability to do otherwise within time” that the system is currently working with and b) the soul itself is not in charge, so to speak, of when it finds itself in these free moments. It does not CHOOSE to be so free. But if these free moments are essential to its act then what is it doing when it is not free in this sense?

            However – and hear me out – if we posit a pre-temporal existence of the soul these difficulties pretty much disappear, for there is one SINGLE undetermined act which itself gives determination to all further expressions of the soul’s character and expression of will within time.

            When we locate our libertarian freedom within time we run into colliding notions of freedom and necessity. And on a Universalists perspective you also run into the metaphysical puzzle of stating how, if the will is truly free or undetermined IN TIME, there can be a guaranteed Universalism. For presumably the soul, always possessing some executive power of said freedom, can always resist God’s grace.

            BUT — if we suppose a pre-existence of the soul we can claim that the range of our freedom doesn’t actually include the possibility of rejecting God forever, even though it does include — indeed it necessarily includes — a final union with God and state of perfection. Since our absolute free self-determination is made in a single, pre-temporal act, it is possible to say, and much easier to show, that the range of our choices only extend to the WAY in which all souls determinately come to God, not the fact THAT they so come. Since our free choice is not constantly renewed, as it were, or re-generated in time, the whole difficulty I was having in how a free soul could ever be compelled to move Godward (i.e. repent) disappears. In other words the point against the “no-move” of God’s checkmate disappears, because that free self-determination is not actually made, metaphysically speaking, in that moment of time at all. What the will requires to be fully enlightened, as it were, has already been decided. Let me draw a picture to illustrate.

            I want to quote Julius Muller here who puts the point I’m trying to make best:

            “Causative self-determination is not really possessed, unless not only the conduct, but the very nature itself, is somehow conditioned by original self-determination. And this is freedom. An essence of nature is free when, starting from a state of original indeterminateness, it attains determinateness by self-decision…No mere process of nature could give being to what is distinct from, and above nature, – the spiritual principle in man. Personality, as such, proceeds at the commencement of its temporal existence from its own extra-temporal basis, and the process of nature simply furnishes the basis of its temporal development. This, of course, involves the belief in a theory of pre-existence, but not a temporal and actual prae existentita of the soul previous to its life on earth. We need not prove here what has already been shown, that this theory of pre-existence is widely different from any doctrines of emanation or of Pantheism, and that it recognizes Creationism as its principle…The act whereby man’s life in time is determined does not precede this life in the order of time, but imperceptibly penetrates it, as it is in its nature an eternal act.”

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          • Since I’m not sure how to post a picture I’ll add a link to where the pic I drew can be found.

            https://notesonthefoothills.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/a-model-of-necessary-universalism-that-preserves-free-will/

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          • Tom Talbott says:

            As I said before, Malcolm, you seem to have a unique metaphysical perspective, and so now the question is whether that unique perspective can resolve some of our perplexities concerning the nature of human freedom. You thus wrote: “However … if we posit a pre-temporal existence of the soul these difficulties [concerning, for example, “an actual SOLIDIFICATION of character”] pretty much disappear, for there is one SINGLE undetermined act which itself gives determination to all further expressions of the soul’s character and expression of will within time.”

            Accordingly, in an effort to clarify your understanding in my own mind, let’s begin with two sets of questions. First, if the soul indeed has a pre-temporal existence, it follows, I presume, that at no point in time does it actually come into being. So is there any sense, as you see it, in which an eternal human soul remains a created (or at least a dependent) being? In other words, does it exist contingently rather than necessarily?

            Second, if the soul performs “one SINGLE undetermined act,” what precisely distinguishes this undetermined act from pure chance or a random selection between exceedingly complex alternatives? And why is the soul morally responsible for this undetermined act? Does it fully understand from the “beginning” (or, more accurately, from eternity itself) what all the temporal consequences of this act will be? Or does it experience these consequences timelessly as something akin to an eternal surprise?

            I look forward to your answers.

            -Tom

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          • I wasn’t sure how to directly comment on your most recent post to me, but I wanted you to get the notification so I am responding here.

            You ask two questions about my views on pre-existence: a) does the pre-temporal soul contingently exist? and b) how do I define or explain the rationality involved in a pre-temporal act.

            Regarding a). I still hold absolutely that the pre-temporal soul is contingent. In the same way that the eternal footprint in the sand is dependent on the foot and not vice versa, so it seems to me intelligible to hold that pre-temporal souls are still contingent on the necessary being of God. But I do want to point out that, strictly speaking, pre-existence need not necessarily be limited to a pre-TEMPORAL existence for the point I’m pressing to be true. That is, it seems to me possible to hold to a temporal realm, itself existing before the creation of the material universe, in which souls existed and determined their own natures, and that this realm is what furnished God with the foreknowledge to predestinate the current spatio-temporal universe. So I say all that to say that, it seems to me, if one is concerned about various metaphysical difficulties of pre-temporal existence (say how it may undercut the argument of God being the only necessary being), then strictly speaking one can still hold to a model of pre-existence that does not push the soul beyond the boundaries of time and only puts it at the beginning of time.

            Regarding b). This is a much more difficult question. I feel the difficulty in explaining how a rational substance can be said to act towards an end without the experience of conscious awareness of its own act. But it seems to me possible that our self-awareness always follows necessarily after some act or other that we perform, and, if this is so, it seems possible to affirm that willed acts precede our conscious awareness of our willed acts. For as you say often, quoting Lewis, self-consciousness, that is, the awareness of the self, seems to require the knowledge of an Other explanatorily prior to its own existence. That is, before I can have the sensation of “myself” I must ALREADY be aware of objects other than myself. And if I am ALREADY aware of those objects, I have, at least, performed ONE act of which I was not self-aware – namely coming to recognize other objects. In other words, if it is logically sound to separate an act from the consciousness of having committed an act, then it seems to me possible to posit a state of being in which we act in such a way that does not involve any deliberation. Can such an act be moral or rational? Well, again, that’s a difficult question, and I’m not at all sure how to answer it except by suggesting that PERHAPS our epistemic situation is such that our very rationality itself is somehow grounded in an outward “declaration”, so to speak, of a sort of spiritual ego, itself aware of the good as an “influence, but not compulsion”. The idea of epistemic distance here may be relevant, and of “sufficient grace”: i.e. giving the created soul an awareness of the good that does not compel assent in a particular way.

            You often bring up in your work the mystery of God creating a self-conscious being other than himself, and how this very act may involve some sort of metaphysical limitations on God’s part, and even a sort of “groping” around of the created being – an emergence in a context of indeterminism, ignorance, and ambiguity. Perhaps that idea could be applied in this “pre-self conscious realm” of the spirit.

            I want to offer some more quotes by Julius Muller because he has the deepest stuff to say on this topic (every Christian interested in the topic of freedom absolutely must read his The Christian Doctrine of Sin). Muller developed this theory of pre-temporal existence in order to make sense of two facts: a) the unnecessitated movement of the human self; and b) the universality of sin. If the will is truly free, he asked, how is it that the entire human race will certainly sin?

            He calls our extra-temporal act one of “total self-grounding, self-conditioning.” He says its an, “extra temporal act which originally fixes the bias and character of our moral being.” He says “self-consciousness seems to be a victory over time.” This supports what you and Lewis and myself say regarding the fact that self-consciousness comes to be AFTER other knowledge. He calls our extra-temporal state the “realm where all personal being lies in embryo” and says “our present existence itself surpasses the extra temporal germ of our being at its commencement.”

            Why don’t we have any conscious knowledge of this state? “Schelling replies “that free act cannot appear in consciousness, because, as it precedes and determines the nature, it precedes consciousness itself”. There is no doubt that our consciousness in its present form is conditioned by that act, and therefore that the act cannot be within the range of consciousness as a given fact. But another reason why it cannot be known in consciousness is, because the non-temporal beings in whom it takes place have not yet attained the FULL REALITY of personal existence…For as yet [i.e. while in this extra-temporal state] they [such beings] do not yet distinguish themselves, each from each, for as yet they have no mutual relations, nor can they until they enter upon corporeity and the actual relationships of the world…discerns an unconditional ought… the only decision possible in that extra-temporal sphere is a decision of WILL. The essence of will…is that it cannot BE perverted, it can only pervert itself.”

            But this is a very difficult topic Dr. Talbott. I could be wrong on so many counts! As much as you were looking forward to my answers, I’m looking forward to what you think about these thoughts!

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          • To clarify one point – it seems possible to me that the pre-self-conscious state COULD contain a rational substance that perceives the good, and moves towards it or “acts”; and that these logical moments all precede any self-awareness. That is, none of the following – perceiving a command, perceiving it ought to be acted on, and acting towards it that command – need imply, strictly speaking, self-conscious awareness.

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          • Tom Talbott says:

            Thanks for responding to my two questions, Malcolm. With respect to the first question, which I asked merely for the sake of clarification, you wrote: “I still hold absolutely that the pre-temporal soul is contingent.” And even though I can make no sense at all of your “eternal footprint in the sand” image, because neither sand nor a footprint is the sort of thing that could exist without beginning, a better way of making your point about the contingent existence of an eternal soul may be, I suspect, something like the following. Even as the light from the moon perpetually depends upon the light from the sun, so one might think of an eternal soul, whatever exactly that might be, as something that depends for its existence upon the timelessly free choice of a concrete necessary being, namely God.

            With respect to the second question, however, I seem unable to discern any relevance in your remarks to the crucial issue of freedom. I agree with Lewis that self-awareness requires an ability to distinguish between oneself and something other than oneself, and I do hold, as you point out, that God may have had no choice but to start each of us out in a context of ambiguity, ignorance, misperception, and a good deal of indeterminism. But the whole point of my own remarks is that we do not start out as free moral agents and do not become morally responsible for our actions until after we have acquired a good deal of self-awareness, understanding, and rationality. Nor do I see how a single pre-temporal uncaused cause of which we are totally unaware, one that fully determines our character and the way in which we will act in various contexts, could possibly qualify as a free choice for which we are morally responsible.

            Anyway, I’m beginning to suspect that our conversation may have run its natural course. But even if I am wrong about that, I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts.

            -Tom

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          • Dr. Talbott,

            Thanks for engaging with my ideas. There are two points I want to make before signing off on this conversation.

            a) I do think there are POSITIVE arguments for the pre-temporal existence of the soul (Scriptural and philosophical), and I think supposing the opposite – that the soul first comes to be within time – creates insuperable difficulties regarding God’s foreknowledge of our free choices and how the whole race will freely and nevertheless certainly sin at some point in their moral development. It also explains how we can be responsible for certain personality traits of ours that we do not consciously choose, but which we nevertheless find ourselves subconsciously agreeing with, so to speak.

            Do you really feel comfortable throwing out the idea of pre-existence so easily? How do YOU reconcile the supposed contradictions and Scriptural implications? The soul either begins to exist in time, or not. If it does begin to exist in time, and if it is free, seemingly contradictory implications follow from this, which I’ve mentioned. As a thinking Christian I simply cannot intellectually believe the common view that the existence of the soul does not precede its temporal manifestations. Rational argument forces this on me.

            b) You say “But the whole point of my own remarks is that we do not start out as free moral agents and do not become morally responsible for our actions until after we have acquired a good deal of self-awareness, understanding, and rationality.” But presumably you do believe we commit acts of sin that we did not have to commit at the time. On your own view, then, it seems there must be some first sin which involves elements of both ambiguity AND intelligibility. For if we were fully enlightened (or under the “right kind of compulsion”, as you say) in the sense that you seem to suggest is necessary for a morally responsible act, then sin would not be possible. Nevertheless we all sin, so there must be states where we are not so enlightened.

            Your criticism of the unintelligibility of this first pre-temporal act that I am describing (that we are not responsible because we are not irresistibly enlightened) could be put against your own view regarding our first sin. According to your own view, in what moral and mental state do we commit our first act of sin? If it is before “we have acquired a good deal of self-awareness, understanding, and rationality” then this can’t count against my view. If it is after that state, then I would press you to define more clearly what you mean by these terms, particularly regarding whether or not we possess the ability to refrain from acting morally.

            In other words, whatever epistemic state you think is present in the case of our first sin, it seems I could maintain as the epistemic state involved in the pre-temporal state. Except self-awareness. I’m not clear that I could posit that as existing in a pre-temporal state. But as I said before, it seems to me at least possible to commit sin WITHOUT self-awareness, so long as the moral ought is presented to the will. Or who knows, maybe it is possible to experience self-awareness in this state, and that our experiences of self-awareness, moral demands, and violation of those demands are simply temporal manifestations of that “eternal moment” of our single, pretemporal act.

            Of course this is a very difficult question, and I could be totally wrong. But I am offering what I think are at least possible alternatives.

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          • Not to be a Lewis snob but he really puts it best in The Great Divorce…

            “Time is the very lens through which ye see-small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope -something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom:the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker AND ARE YOURSELVES PART OF ETERNAL REALITY. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. NEITHER THE TEMPORAL SUCCESSION NOR THE PHANTOM OF WHAT YE MIGHT HAVE CHOSEN AND DIDN’T IS ITSELF FREEDOM. They are a lens. The picture is a symbol: but it’s truer than any philosophical theorem… Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition. Time itself, and all acts and events that fill Time, are the definition, and it must be lived. The Lord said we were gods. How long could ye bear to look (without Time’s lens) on the greatness of your own soul and the ETERNAL REALITY OF HER CHOICE?”

            Sorry for the caps – didn’t know how to italicize. They are my emphases too.

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        • tgbelt says:

          Malcolm: I think the whole point about us being asymmetrically related to the good is being lost on me. I do understand, and accept as undeniably true, that we get all our potential-to-become from God FIRST, and that without his allowance, so to speak, and without his gift of existence which precedes our becoming, we could not exist…but how this logically entails that free souls cannot build themselves into a state of final wickedness I don’t see.

          Tom: Well, I wouldn’t say everything about us is asymmetrically related to God (because I think that implies determinism), but certainly as created and sustained by God we’re asymmetrically related to, as you say, the potentiality-to-become as a gift. So the question is: What’s it involve (for us) to say our potentiality-to-become is an unconditional act of love that defines our telos and is present teleologically in all rational deliberation and intentionality? How would it then make sense to say unconditional love defines the potential-for-becoming for a being whose scope of possibilities for becoming have been reduced (essentially) to zero? That’s teleological foreclosure, and it could only be accomplished by us if we are symmetrically related to our telos, that is, if our relationship to those possibilities lies entirely within the scope of our determination. And it seems to me this cannot be true. It’s our being asymmetrically related to a benevolent creator that accounts for the irreducible teleology of our being. But to posit the traditional view of an irrevocable conscious state of torment is to posit the absolute absence of teleology, an absence of teleology we’d have to say God continues to will/sustain. Are you sure this makes metaphysical sense to you?

          TomB

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          • TGBelt: I think I understand you better. You seem to be saying that, metaphysically, an “ultimate” (in the sense of irredeemable or irrevocable) end of our potential-to-become cannot be possible for the very reason that this potential-to-become is just what it means for us to exist in the first place. In other words, insofar as we possess being or exist at all, we MUST possess “potential of Godward becoming”. Is that your point?

            If so, it does make a lot of sense to me. And I do feel the inconsistency in maintaining a state of eternal being (in Hell) that actually involves the sort of “metaphysical zero” necessary in one who possesses no more potential of Godward becoming. For if the being is there, and if being rational means possessing the potential of Godward becoming, then so long as there is a rational creature in existence there cannot be such a particular point of finality or ‘non-being’. I’m reminded of when MacDonald says, “there must be hope while there is existence; for where there is existence there must be God; and God is for ever good, nor can be other than good.”

            If this is true it seems I could answer another inconsistency I saw with Universalism – namely, that as the creature “becomes” I assumed it must move toward either ultimate God-embracing or God-denying being. But this may not be true. For if the above is true it seems that as we are becoming or building our wills, what is being built is only “metaphysically solid” insofar as it is Good. That is, insofar as our wills are built – or insofar as our libertarian freedom gives way to a fixed freedom – it is only TRULY solidified insofar as it is correctly fixed in God. And for the reasons given above, it seems there cannot come a point where an evil will is fixed in the same way, since that would imply the non-existence of a rational being and a sort of metaphysical duality between Good and Evil that doesn’t exist.

            Come to think of it, are you making the argument that eternal (or Final) Hell cannot exist based on the idea of Evil being privatio and being ultimately dependent on Good for its existence? I.e. insofar as a rational being is evil, it must still be rational being and possess the goodness inherent in such a thing; and an essential characteristic of rational being is the potential of Godward becoming.

            One final question (I am getting a lot out of this). If this is true would it follow that God would never be justified (so to speak) in annihilating a created being just for the very reason we’ve been stressing – i.e. there is never a metaphysical point at which the potential of Godward becoming ceases?

            Liked by 1 person

          • tgbelt says:

            Malcolm: Insofar as we possess being or exist at all, we must possess “potential of Godward becoming.” Is that your point?

            Tom: Precisely. Creation is inherently, irreducibly teleological, and God is its telos.

            Malcolm: If so, it does make a lot of sense to me.

            Tom: Praise Allah!

            Malcolm: I’m reminded of when MacDonald says, “There must be hope while there is existence; for where there is existence there must be God, and God is forever good; nor can be other than good.”

            Tom: I think so, yes. I’ve often wondered if Paul’s “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty/freedom” could be applied in the ultimate sense, i.e., wherever God’s Spirit is (and that’s everywhere), there is freedom on the created side to move toward union with God as one’s telos.

            Malcolm: It seems there cannot come a point where an evil will is fixed in the same way, since that would imply…a sort of metaphysical duality between Good and Evil that doesn’t exist.

            Tom: I think that’s where ex nihilo leads, yes. The heavy metaphysical lifting will have to be done by the professionals (and let’s pray God gives Hart grace to lift into place the relevant arguments for a new age).

            Malcolm: Are you making the argument that eternal (or Final) Hell cannot exist based on the idea of evil being privatio and being ultimately dependent on Good for its existence?

            Tom: That’s certainly a piece of the argument, yes. An eternal/irrevocable privation would be absolute teleological foreclosure. God as telos would have to be, metaphysically speaking, absent from its scope of possibilities, removed by creaturely freedom itself. That’s what I think is inconceivable, given ex nihilo.

            Malcolm: If this is true would it follow that God would never be justified (so to speak) in annihilating a created being just for the very reason we’ve been stressing – i.e. there is never a metaphysical point at which the potential of Godward becoming ceases.

            Tom: Totally agree. Annihilationism would be impossible for the same reason the traditional view of hell would be impossible—both entail an irrevocable dispositional foreclosure (https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/is-annihilationism-possible/).

            TomB

            Liked by 1 person

          • tgbelt says:

            Malcolm, you shared a link to an interesting illustration about creation/freedom. Here’s my theology of creation:

            Liked by 1 person

  9. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Tom Belt & others,

    Any comments on this presentation of Dumitru Staniloae’s defense of everlasting damnation: http://goo.gl/zQYvDw.

    Like

    • tgbelt says:

      Interesting how the same key issues all reduce to the same fundamental question—the metaphysics of creaturely freedom grounded in divine benevolence. I’m very familiar with this: “Stăniloae’s discussion of hell is centered around the notion of human freedom, which entails the ability to reject God’s offer of salvation and fellowship as much as it means the possibility of accepting this.” This is the common approach of understanding eschatological options in completely ‘symmetrical’ terms; that it can only make sense to be free to love God irrevocably if we’re equally free to solidify irrevocably into an anti-God disposition. It’s like the metaphysics of the casino—you have to risking losing what your venture winning in metaphysically parallel/symmetrical ways. But logically speaking it doesn’t follow. And one you figure in ex nihilo, the necessary asymmetrical relation becomes unavoidable I think.

      After hearing Hart’s Notre Dame talk, I knew I wasn’t crazy. (Thank you David!) Honestly, I and a couple of friends concluded a few years ago that if ex nihilo was true, eventual universal reconciliation had to follow. There was just no way to make moral sense of a divine rationale for creating knowing some would eternally reject God or even running the risk that some would do so. And yet here we are—created by God. A God of self-sufficient infinite love and beatitude who creates ex nihilo can only create free from all self-constituting need or compulsion to create. But in that case there’s nothing in God to ground an unnecessary choice to demonstrate his own glory at the irrevocable cost of those God supposedly loves infinitely. When Hart finally expressed it in Notre Dame (up until that time I hadn’t heard anyone connect ex nihilo to eschatology to conclude the eventual reconciliation of all things), it was a done deal for me.

      Stăniloae has exegetical options, so I’m not sure what he feels secures the traditional view of the relevant texts.

      Tom

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      • brian says:

        Tom,

        You may still be crazy:)
        Thanks for the Desmond article.
        Actually, I think I made the connection between creatio ex nihilo and eschatology in one of our comment threads. You’ll see it incorporated in a later portion of the rather long essay I seem to have wrote. But then again, apparently I am really just a doppelganger of David’s.

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      • Tom,

        I listened the the Hart video. He has quite the power of polysyllabism!! I understand your (and his) logical point that it is incoherent to call God good and simultaneously believe he created persons whom he knew would be forever irreconciled to himself. But how do you (or he) engage the claim that God did not in fact know this would happen, but it was a risk he was willing to take, and that to say “it’s better for a creature not to exist” is a meaningless statement (in other words how do you apply these principles to an Open Theist view?)

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        • tgbelt says:

          Malcolm: But how do you (or he) engage the claim that God did not in fact know this would happen, but it was a risk he was willing to take?

          Tom: Hart addressed that too. It’s in his talk. Maybe ½ or a bit past ½ way through. He picks it up here:

          “But eternal torment’s final dereliction? Here the price is raised beyond a calculus of relative goods and into the realm of absolute expenditure. And the arithmetic is fairly inflexible. We need not imagine in traditional fashion that the legions of the damned far outnumber the cozy company of the saved. Let’s imagine instead that only one soul perishes eternal and all others enter the peace of the Kingdom…Let’s just say it’s Hitler. Even then, no matter how we understand the fate of that single wretched soul in relation to God’s intentions, no account of the divine decision to create out of nothingness can make its propriety morally intelligible….”

          But follow it to the end a bit later:

          “Let’s say God created simply ‘on the chance’ that humanity might sin and that a certain number of incorrigibly wicked souls plunge themselves into Tartarus forever, it still means that morally he’s purchased the revelation of his power in creation by the same horrendous price. Even if in the end no one at all happens to be damned, the logic it seems to me is irresistible: God creates alea iacta est [“The die is cast,” Julius Caesar.] But as Mallarme says “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard,” (“The role of the dice will never erase/abolish the hazard”). For what is hazarded has already been surrendered entirely no matter how the dice fall. The aleatory venture may be intentionally indeterminate, but the wager is an irrevocable intentional decision wherein every possible cost has already been accepted. The irrecuperable expenditure has been offered even if happily it is never lost and the moral nature of the act is the same in either case.”

          Tom

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          • I read the first paragraphs a few times and it seems to me a lot of words to simply say that It is unintelligible for a good God to bring into being creatures who may one day finally reject Him. But HOW is he coming to this conclusion? What is he assuming about God? For as I’ve said, the Open Theist (and myself, actually) hold that God does not foreknow before creating a soul if will so finally reject him. And in your second paragraph, where he starts to address this point, he doesn’t really go to the heart of either the annihilationist’s nor the Open Theist’s point.

            The claim is that a) God does not in fact know if a soul will finally reject him before creating it, and b) it is nonsensical to ask the question “is it better for God to create souls who may finally reject him than not create them?” for that implies some sort of comparison between, not two states of being, but between being and non-being.

            As CSL said somewhere, “the attempt to compare being and not being ends in mere words: “It would be better for me not to exist” – in what sense “for me”? How should I, if I did not exist, profit by not existing?”

            The annihilationist’s point, when defending why God created some souls who may be eternally lost, is that it’s not clear that it is meaningful to say that “It would have been better for God not to create a universe of souls who may finally reject him” on the basis of the well being of the created souls themselves.

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          • tgbelt says:

            Malcolm: I read the first paragraphs a few times and it seems to me a lot of words to simply say that it is unintelligible for a good God to bring into being creatures who may one day finally reject Him. But HOW is he coming to this conclusion? What is he assuming about God?

            Tom: He’s interpreting the moral character of God given what ex nihilo implies (about the non-necessity of God’s creating) on the supposition that God either merely permits or renders certain creatures’ irrevocable loss of God.

            Malcolm: For as I’ve said, the Open Theist (and myself, actually) hold that God does not foreknow before creating a soul if will so finally reject him. And in your second paragraph, where he starts to address this point, he doesn’t really go to the heart of either the annihilationist’s nor the Open Theist’s point.

            Tom: I think he does though. The open theist says God foreknows the possibility (as a possibility and not as a, let us say, foregone conclusion, because the future is epistemically open for God) that free creatures only might suffer irrevocable loss. So, assuming just this much—as Hart says, assuming that God creates “on that chance that” free creatures choose their way into a state of irrevocable loss of God—nothing changes about the moral character of God’s choice to create. If your existence and well-being were infinitely already achieved without having children and you freely have children knowingly exposing them to the possibility of irrevocable torment, your choice would be a morally contemptible one because what is hazarded or wagered is embraced as an acceptable loss even if none of your children choose finally loss. It’s contemptible precisely because the choice to create is so free and unnecessary. To risk irrevocable loss of the beloved when nothing about God whatsoever could be construed as requiring or otherwise improved upon by the risk, however things turn out, is morally contemptible. That’s what Hart is saying.

            Malcolm: The annihilationist’s point, when defending why God created some souls who may be eternally lost, is that it’s not clear that it is meaningful to say that “It would have been better for God not to create a universe of souls who may finally reject him” on the basis of the well being of the created souls themselves.

            Tom: This is why Hart spends the effort he does in the Notre Dame talk discussing “language.” If our language doesn’t truly (even if analogously) describe God, if the uncreated/created distinction absolutely voids the possibility of any conclusion about the moral character of God based on his actions and their consequences, then theology is consumed by equivocity and no claim about God means anything at all. The irrevocable loss of the creature’s well-being could not be an “acceptable risk” to a God of infinite benevolence who is everything he is after creating that he was before creating (excuse the crude temporal language for the moment).

            It’s unavoidable (and legitimate) in the face of the claim that our existence is absolutely given to us as a risk of irrevocable loss to ask: “Why in the world would God involve us in such risk?” Some, holding irrevocable loss of God to be an established truth, naturally assume God must have good reason for doing so. (Listen to the entire Hart talk for a discussion of what some believe those ‘good reasons’ are.) But once you posit creation from nothingness (God’s absolute, unimprovable, undiminishable self-sufficient fullness and beatitude sans creation), Hart’s point (as I read him) is that there’s no conceivable explanation of such risk that can render it morally acceptable.

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          • Tom:

            But the Open Theist/Annihilationist claim is simply that it IS worth the risk for God to create with the possibility of the creature being annihilated. God did not create to promote his own glory but to glorify, in the sense of bringing into free union with himself, as many beings who would be so glorified. Also, many annihilationists would take issue with the description of the lost “suffering irrevocable loss”. They are, eventually, extinguished or destroyed on their view, and as such do not literally ENDURE their loss for eternity.

            I’m not sure I really think it “morally unacceptable” for God to create on the basis of such risk, if it is the only way in which creatures can be freely united to him and share in his life (which is, at bottom, the only source of life in existence). Now it may be mistaken to claim that God is forced into this situation, but on the supposition that he isn’t – on the supposition that he must risk eternal destruction if he wants to give eternal life – how do you argue, on the basis of the goodness of the creature, that he is not justified in so risking?

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          • tgbelt says:

            Malcolm: But the Open Theist/Annihilationist claim is simply that it IS worth the risk for God to create with the possibility of the creature being annihilated.

            Tom: “…that ‘it’ is worth the risk….” Describe that “it” for me. Exactly what is worth the miserable existence and extinction of the finally reprobate? What consolation or beatitude of others makes their misery and loss worth it?

            Malcolm: Also, many annihilationists would take issue with the description of the lost “suffering irrevocable loss.” They are, eventually, extinguished or destroyed on their view, and as such do not literally ENDURE their loss for eternity.

            Tom: Sure, if we had to choose between the two—annihilation is slightly less egregious than irrevocable torment. But once you begin with the assumption that nothing about God as infinitely satisfied love requires creating at all, one has to ask what about the bliss of God or the bliss of the finally redeemed would render the final extinction of some morally agreeable? Sure, if I “had” to choose between them, I’d prefer my child simply “cease to exist” over “suffering forever.” But that’s just the point, given ex nihilo, God doesn’t “have” to choose between these. He has himself in a beatitude which requires neither. So if both (for the sake of argument) ‘eternal torment’ and ‘final extinct’ are undesirable to God, and if creating entails either, exactly why would God create?

            Malcolm: Now it may be mistaken to claim that God is forced into this situation, but on the supposition that he isn’t – on the supposition that he must risk eternal destruction if he wants to give eternal life – how do you argue, on the basis of the goodness of the creature, that he is not justified in so risking?

            Tom: I wouldn’t argue it on the basis of the goodness of creature. I’d argue it on the basis of divine goodness. In other words, the creature’s goodness (and exactly what risks its fulfillment requires) isn’t the starting point. God’s absolute triune fullness and its freedom from creating is the starting point. Starting there, Malcolm, how does one ground the goodness of risking the “temporary misery and final extinction of some” on behalf of the “unending bliss of some others”? What about the bliss of the latter makes the misery and extinction of the former morally acceptable if both are equally unnecessary to God?

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          • Tom: “…that ‘it’ is worth the risk….” Describe that “it” for me. Exactly what is worth the miserable existence and extinction of the finally reprobate? What consolation or beatitude of others makes their misery and loss worth it?

            Me: Well the argument is that the free and unnecessitated union with God is worth the risk of creating beings who may ultimately be annihilated/destroyed. This, so far as I can see, is not a risk God takes for the sake of those who are saved. I don’t think God had to create souls who end up being destroyed in order to glorify OTHERS.

            Tom: Sure, if we had to choose between the two—annihilation is slightly less egregious than irrevocable torment. But once you begin with the assumption that nothing about God as infinitely satisfied love requires creating at all, one has to ask what about the bliss of God or the bliss of the finally redeemed would render the final extinction of some morally agreeable? Sure, if I “had” to choose between them, I’d prefer my child simply “cease to exist” over “suffering forever.” But that’s just the point, given ex nihilo, God doesn’t “have” to choose between these. He has himself in a beatitude which requires neither. So if both (for the sake of argument) ‘eternal torment’ and ‘final extinct’ are undesirable to God, and if creating entails either, exactly why would God create?

            Me: Well again if the argument is sound, the reason creation entails such a possibility is because God HAS made creatures with the ability to finally sever themselves from his goodness. In one sense this end is not morally agreeable to God or anyone else, but in another sense, IF such beings do irrevocably reject God (again, per the argument), then it IS morally agreeable to annihilate/destroy them.

            I think, ultimately, you simply are denying that a good God would create such beings (i.e. with the ability to finally reject him), but I don’t see how that’s necessarily true. I can well imagine a God perfectly fulfilled, saying to himself that he wanted to make free beings, who he would reward with ultimate beatitude if they so desired it and chose it, or who he would destroy/annihilate if they did not. I just don’t see how this impinges God’s goodness, omnipotence, or aseity. If you ask WHY God gave such a gift to creatures, again the argument seems to me pretty sound: he wanted a universe of self-expressive, self choosing beings.

            Malcolm: Now it may be mistaken to claim that God is forced into this situation, but on the supposition that he isn’t – on the supposition that he must risk eternal destruction if he wants to give eternal life – how do you argue, on the basis of the goodness of the creature, that he is not justified in so risking?

            Tom: Starting there, Malcolm, how does one ground the goodness of risking the “temporary misery and final extinction of some” on behalf of the “unending bliss of some others”? What about the bliss of the latter makes the misery and extinction of the former morally acceptable if both are equally unnecessary to God?

            Me: I must be misunderstanding you here. I don’t believe anyone’s damnation serves the purpose of anyone’s beatitude or that the damned are “used” in such a way. I think the damned were created to join freely in the Trinitarian life of God, but, their freedom means it’s up to them if they so join. If they simply WON’T “eat of the only goodness in the universe” the most merciful, just, and good thing an all loving and good God could do is destroy them or give them over to some decayed conscious state of being. Creating beings with this ability isn’t NECESSARY to God, but IF that’s what he has decided to do, I don’t see it damaging any of his attributes: goodness, love, full aseity, etc.

            Now, if you say on the other hand that you don’t think God has in fact created beings with the ability of finally rejecting goodness, we can argue that point (which I’ve been doing on this blog – i.e. claiming that if he CAN checkmate, why does he allow the bad movement of will or evil AT ALL). But that seems to me something totally different than saying that IF God has created such beings his perfect essence is somehow lessened.

            Like

          • Thinking a little more about your question Tom Belt, it seems to me at the back of it is the deeper question of why a fully fulfilled perfect being would create AT ALL. Surely, if we’re able to answer that question at all, the furthest back we can get is simply “because he chose to”?

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          • tgbelt says:

            Yes, Malcolm, that question is absolutely behind all this. I don’t think we can climb inside God’s head and psychoanalyze his reasons for creating ‘at all’ in some crude way. But we can infer the inseparability of the moral nature of God and the moral nature of the cosmos (as DBH argues in the Notre Dame piece). It’s precisely because God has no need to create at all that protology and eschatology constitute a single moral truth.

            Liked by 1 person

  10. tgbelt says:

    Forgive the random thoughts. But I ran across some thoughts I had (Iraq, 2008, of all places) that (for me) have so much to do with the way of seeing creation from the perspective I’m trying to describe.

    BEAUTIFUL
    Beautiful. So beautiful—
    Where‘er I look
    I choose to see
    the beauty that exists
    in spite of evil that resists
    like shadows ‘gainst the rising Son;
    they are not real, no substance have,
    are no thing
    and nothing mean.

    All that is real on thee depends
    and from thy breath of love extends;
    With thee infused all is
    to thee alone all sends
    its praise back.
    Beautiful. You are so beautiful,
    in all things. I see you in their eyes
    and deep within their depths I find
    eternal surprise after surprise.

    Who can have a fear, fully rested here?
    Where endless fields are laid before
    and all I love with me above,
    each one by name in thee restored;
    no dream can touch
    nor can song match
    nor craft enshrine
    the beauty that is thine
    in us.

    Like

  11. Jonathan says:

    I have a question — perhaps I should say simply a confusion — that comes from some things that have been asserted here and elsewhere about creatio ex nihilo. Apologies if this isn’t quite the logically best place to comment.

    What I’m picking up on is that creation from nothing is perhaps more importantly construed as a statement of freedom. God didn’t have to create, but he did. From this presupposition about a particular aspect of God’s freedom we surmise other qualities about God. Here, then, is my confusion: If evil is privation, negation, a sort of non-being, then surely nothingness or non-existence is evil. Creatio ex nihilo = creatio ex malo. God, then, could not have created freely if he is the absolute Good of the metaphysicians. He had to create because never to have created anything at all would be the worst imaginable evil. That for God never to have created at all is the worst imaginable evil is something I find highly probable. In fact, it is one of the few irreducible, certain truths I can accept in the abstract, apart from revelation. Because actually it’s not abstract to me, but lived. I know that even in suffering and ugliness it is good to exist. Furthermore, I know (well, actually I assume) that inanimate and unconscious entities exist, and that this too is good in itself. I honestly have no idea how I could know this (what I suppose Desmond calls the passio essendi) apart from experience, but I am sure it’s nothing necessarily to do with any eschatological hope I might entertain by dint of faith or reasoning. But even with respect to faith and reason, this much seems straightforward to me: Without God to sustain my existence I am nothing. I cannot but look upon my non-existence with horror. Therefore. . .

    Apologies if this is sophomoric. I’m not sure I know how to think nothingness, non-existence, non-being, or even privation and negation as these concepts are sometimes deployed. I’m not even clear on how nothingness, et al. can be an intentional object. I would make a terrible Buddhist. But I do know the single finest, most memorable, most ponderable presentation of nothingness I have encountered is Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Snow Man.” Y’all know it?

    One must have a mind of winter
    To regard the frost and the boughs
    Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

    And have been cold a long time
    To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
    The spruces rough in the distant glitter

    Of the January sun; and not to think
    Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
    In the sound of a few leaves,

    Which is the sound of the land
    Full of the same wind
    That is blowing in the same bare place

    For the listener, who listens in the snow,
    And, nothing himself, beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

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    • Jonathan says:

      I guess that should really be: God *doesn’t* have to create, but he *does* — ongoing divine causation or grounding of being.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Jonathan: From this presupposition about a particular aspect of God’s freedom we surmise other qualities about God. Here, then, is my confusion: If evil is privation, negation, a sort of non-being, then surely nothingness or non-existence is evil.

      Tom: I don’t know who else is still in this conversation at this point, but from one sophomore to another, I’ll try to respond.

      I do see where you’re headed, but I don’t think there’s any real worry. Evil as privation doesn’t qualify non-being. To say evil is the privation of being is to say that which already exists, that which participates in being, suffers some measure of privation. It fails in its actuality to realize all it could be. But this doesn’t imply that things which do not exist (but which might exist), are by virtue of not existing actually and completely privated. Privation qualifies (is parasitic upon) existing things, not non-existing things.

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      • Jonathan says:

        Right. I can grasp the idea of privation being parasitic on being. But what about horror at the idea of God not creating? Granted, the horror of nothingness is the perspective of a being which is not nothing. But this is where the temporality of language is a potential stumbling block. It isn’t the case that we can be relieved that God did, in fact, create and so we need not worry about a past counterfactual. If creation is ongoing then the possibility of nothingness is eternal as well. God eternally triumphs over this nothingness. Nevertheless, this leads me to suppose there is some reality to this nothing, this unreality, otherwise in what sense can God be said to triumph?

        I suppose divine triumph is something more like maximal realization. That is in God, which would be good here but does not come into being. There is most definitely a sense in which unrealized potential is loss, the paradoxical loss of that which never was. It’s from this elegiac sense, often what we call regret, that I extrapolate to assume that no creation = ultimate evil.

        If I may indulge another cultural reference. . . The Never Ending Story has got to be one of the most perfect graphic representations of the really substantial evil that nothingness seems to be to us. And the fact that that the Nothing is only thwarted when the hero names the princess is, whether intended to be or not, a very Christian (maybe I should say more precisely Johannine) image of the triumph of the Word. It is language — the most basically symbolic form of language, the name — which stands between being and non-being.

        Obviously, though, we have in that film already extant being. (Wouldn’t be much of a film, otherwise — although John Cage might disagree about that.) So the evil should not properly be called the Nothing, but Annihilation. Whether it is possible to think nothingness, as opposed to annihilation, I don’t know, despite the fact that it is clearly possible to set up the problem. I take the Stevens poem to be working its way around this sort of mess, and I expect it’s the kind of thing that is best be handled in the kind of gnomic poetry he wrote. Another poem that works in a similar way, and which Stevens may have been deliberately invoking, is Andrew Marvell’s famous “The Garden,” which I highly recommend:

        http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173948

        But I digress. No need to get into poetics and philosophy of language. But seriously, The Never Ending Story has got to be one of the most metaphysically deft works of popular art. In the right hands it could be used to convert somebody, maybe someone with dangerously Manichaean tendencies such as myself.

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        • tgbelt says:

          Jonathan: I can grasp the idea of privation being parasitic on being. But what about horror at the idea of God not creating? … It isn’t the case that we can be relieved that God did, in fact, create and so we need not worry about a past counterfactual. If creation is ongoing then the possibility of nothingness is eternal as well. God eternally triumphs over this nothingness.

          Tom: There is no horror to God’s not creating (or , to go with the counterfactual) that I can perceive. There is a truth to “the Void” (ala James Loder) that each of us must face, i.e., the truth of our existence as passio essendi, a gratuitous gift by divine beatitude which is in no improved upon by our coming to be. But this is just the horror of a false and despairing self realizing the truth that its non-existence per se (indeed, the non-existence of everything per se) isn’t grounds for anything horrible. That’s the point of creation from nothingness; we cannot mean THAT much to God (i.e., so much that his life without us is counterfactually horrific). That would make us God’s savior as opposed to the other way around. Embracing one’s own ‘nothingness’ in this sense is just something we have to face. But it’s not predicated upon a horror that would qualify .

          That said, I don’t think the Orthodox accept the validity of thinking ‘counterfactually’ about God and creation this way. It implies a kind of temporality to God’s experience which the Orthodox don’t accept. The Orthodox would agree there is no unrealized potential in God and so no grounds in God for a supposed horror of unrealized potential to create (if that was a concern). Personally I don’t mind entertaining a qualified sense of unrealized potential in God, but either way I don’t think any horror attaches to the idea of God’s .

          Jonathan: I suppose divine triumph is something more like maximal realization. That is in God, which would be good here but does not come into being. There is most definitely a sense in which unrealized potential is loss, the paradoxical loss of that which never was. It’s from this elegiac sense, often what we call regret, that I extrapolate to assume that no creation = ultimate evil.

          Tom: As you say, a “dangerously Manichean tendency.” As for God’s “triumphing,” I don’t imagine it in terms of God’s deriving a sense of accomplishment either from have expunged from his own self the horror of an unrealized potential to create or from creation’s final transformation, as if (I’m thinking of Romans 9) God is somehow “groaning” and “awaiting” his own glorification along with creation.

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          • tgbelt says:

            Correction: There is no horror to God’s not creating (or *not having created*, to go with the counterfactual)…

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          • tgbelt says:

            Other stuff got lost through my formatting disabilities. Ugh.

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          • Jonathan says:

            I take it you’re not a fan of The Never Ending Story. As for me, I’m with Pascal and Kierkegaard. I abhor the Void.

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          • tgbelt says:

            Saw that movie years ago and don’t remember it that well. Sorry. ;o)

            I might be missing your whole point, Jonathan. Not sure. I don’t think ‘nothing’ is a peculiar kind of ‘something’.

            As for the Void, I’m not suggesting we actually love it, though there is a love to be known on the other side of facing it. I’m saying precisely what Kierkegaard said about the Void. We all abhor the Void (our own nothingness) in a certain sense, but it has to be embraced as the first truth (not the only truth) of our existence—that we are utterly and absolutely contingent, called into being gratuitously by the gracious favor and goodness of God who calls us to be not in order to alleviate some perceived horror at the thought of our not existing or to actualize some perfection that can only be had through creating us.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Jonathan, I suppose I can understand how one might be horrified at the idea of God not creating … but I really can’t. The very possibility of being horrified is contingent upon God’s creating. Without such creation, there is no nothing, no creatures, no horror or hope or any other possibilities—there is simply the Holy Trinity.

          The creatio ex nihilo is quite unfathomable, inconceivable. I can imagine a vacuum, emptiness, but I cannot imagine absolute nothingness. Perhaps we can call it a limit concept (if there are such things). But it does point us to two revelatory truths: (1) The divine act of creation does not presuppose anything outside of God (so out goes all idea of preexistent matter); and (2) God creates freely, and if he had “chosen” not to create his being and happiness would not have been diminished one iota.

          So why the horror? Is the idea horrifying to me that I might not have existed, that I am a creature, completely dependent upon God as the transcendent source of my being? What we need to ask is, How does the gospel of Jesus Christ address this horror?

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          • Jonathan says:

            In the beginning, or at the source of everything, we see God bless his creation. In the revelation of Christ we see God love the world even unto death on the cross. Incarnation assures us of the goodness of our created being and assuages the unease of our nothingness per se.

            But this, while true, is a bit too neat. What I want to know is this. Jesus Christ has conquered death. If nothingness is not terrifying, then why should this matter, what should this mean, to someone who believes, as many now do, that death is annihilation?

            It’s true, no one is horrified by the thought that at one time he did not exist. But, at least until recently, people were horrified at the thought that someday they would no longer exist. Under one form or another, the denial of death (if I may steal from Ernest Becker) is a driving force in the human world.

            On the other hand, some have known the siren call of the abyss and have laid out its weird logic. I think of Emily Dickinson, Sigmund Freud, Martin Heidegger, Nishida Kitaro. Whole cultures — particularly those influenced by Buddhism — might have dalliance with non-being that is clearly not one of anguished existential vertigo. Do you have a problem with the Nothing-based philosophies (I don’t want to call it nihilism, because of the unsophisticated connotations of the word) of people like Heidegger? Is this kind of thought a problem for a Christian? If so, why?

            As I noted above, I agree that it’s not totally clear whether we can actually think nothingness any more than we can think our way into God — and maybe less. I go back and forth on the issue. It occurs to me that if there is an analogy of being, there can also be an analogy of non-being or nothingness. We can understand something of nothingness (so to speak) by our response to it that is admittedly limited by the parameters of earthly life, where nothingness is approached by way of privation, negation, counterfactuality (a very necessary mode of thought, I would insist). To the extent that I can encounter nothingness, I am filled with horror. Reason does not deliver me.

            My horror would seem to be ingredient to my faith. I take you and Tom to be saying: Yes, precisely, faith lies the other side of the Void. I am saying: What do you make of the fact that the Void is, to some at least, the utmost horror? Why exactly do you think it shouldn’t be, if you also think faith is of paramount importance and somehow opposed to the Void?

            Now I’m sure I’m being sophomoric. Just want to stress that nothingness isn’t necessarily something for pacific contemplation. When it enters experience, it is horrible. I am not the only one who feels this way, although there is a mounting trend in the atheistic zeitgeist to insist on the emancipatory quality of annihilation. Like I said, the denial of death under one form or another. . .

            The Never Ending Story is worth knowing. (Michael Ende’s Die unendliche Geschichte, the novel on which it’s based, is interestingly different.) If for no other reason than that it’s iconic to people my age (born late 70s/early 80s). Yeah, it’s a kid’s movie. It’s also, probably despite its makers’ conscious intentions, pretty darn good philosophical-theological fantasy.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Now you have shifted from horror of God have never created to horror of death. Not fair. 🙂

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          • Jonathan says:

            Maybe, I admit it. But what, then, is the relationship between never having been and ceasing to be? Is there really no relationship between these two ideas? Aren’t they both aspects of nothingness? What exactly is the horror of death? And what say you to Heideggerian types?

            Well, I don’t expect answers. I’m just trying to lay a certain sensibility on the line, draw out some ambiguities. . . And apparently suffering from some sort of atavistic obsession with The Never Ending Story.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I’m much too superficial to be horrified by the possibility of the world never having been created. There’s enough horrors in the world that is. Maybe we can get Kierkegaard to join the discussion. 🙂

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  12. Tom Talbott says:

    Wow, Malcolm, you seem to cover a lot of ground in your 6:48 pm post of August 27th with a kind of breathtaking brevity. I realize that you wanted to leave me with a summary of your own ideas, which would have been great had you left it at that. But your summary also includes enough questions aimed at me and enough implied criticisms that I feel compelled to clear up several misunderstandings, as I view them, and even some outright confusions. So I have decided to post this response at the end of the replies section in order to get away from very narrow columns; I have also decided to do something I almost never do: quote an entire paragraph, sentence by sentence, with my own comment after each consecutive sentence. I’ll put the quoted sentence in both brackets and quotation marks and follow that with comments of my own. So here we go:

    [“Do you really feel comfortable throwing out the idea of pre-existence so easily?”] But where have I thrown out the idea of pre-existence, easily or otherwise? So far as I can tell, I have neither affirmed nor denied this idea in anything I have written here. I did write: “Nor do I see how a single pre-temporal uncaused cause of which we are totally unaware, one that fully determines our character and the way in which we will act in various contexts, could possibly qualify as a free choice for which we are morally responsible.” And I stand by that statement, which in no way excludes the idea of pre-existence such as we might encounter, say, in someone who believes in reincarnation.

    [“How do YOU reconcile the supposed contradictions and Scriptural implications?”] What contradictions? And what Scriptural implications? I find myself totally lost at this point. You do mention certain “insuperable difficulties regarding God’s foreknowledge of our free choices.” But you say nothing about what these are, and I, for one, do not believe that any such insuperable difficulties exist. The issue of middle knowledge is another matter, of course.

    [“The soul either begins to exist in time, or not.”] I certainly accept the following principle: for any x, either x begins to exist in time, or x does not begin to exist in time. The heavens and the earth presumably began to exist in time, having been created by God, and the number seven presumably did not begin to exist in time. But an instance of x must also be something real, and, at the present time, I have no idea how you are using the word “soul” or how you understand the relation of my own soul to me, the person writing this post.

    [“If it [the soul] does begin to exist in time, and if it is free, seemingly contradictory implications follow from this, which I’ve mentioned.”] Could you mention them again? I have no idea what these seemingly contradictory implications are. But then, neither do I have any idea of what the soul is, as you understand it. It is certainly something other than a Cartesian mind, for example.

    [“As a thinking Christian I simply cannot intellectually believe the common view that the existence of the soul does not precede its temporal manifestations.”] Why not?

    [“Rational argument forces this on me.”] What rational argument do you have in mind here? Could you provide at least a hint of what such a rational argument might be?

    Finally, I cannot resist commenting on the following remark, where you say: “Your criticism of the unintelligibility of this first pre-temporal act that I am describing (that we are not responsible because we are not irresistibly enlightened) could be put against your own view regarding our first sin.” Once again, I must ask where I have even hinted that the unintelligibility of which I spoke has anything to do with our not being “irresistibly enlightened.” But let that pass. If my unintelligibility objection, as we might call it, should indeed apply to my own view as well as to yours, it would hardly follow that you are right and I am wrong; it would instead follow that we are both wrong—as would be the case, for example, if we were both working with an incoherent understanding of original sin. Quite apart from any criticism you might level against it, moreover, I am now wondering what you think my view of “original sin” actually is. I take a preliminary step towards explaining it, by the way, in a paper entitled “Why Christians Should Not Be Determinists: Reflections on the Origin of Human Sin,” Faith and Philosophy (2008), pp. 378-397. I also make a prepublication typescript copy of this paper available on my website at the following URL:

    http://www.willamette.edu/~ttalbott/Determinism.pdf

    See especially the section at the end of the paper (just before the conclusion) entitled “Augustine Verses Irenaeus on Original Sin.” For the sake of context, however, you might also want to read the introduction and browse other parts of the paper as well.

    Anyway, I remain most interested in how you would distinguish a single pre-temporal uncaused cause of which we are totally unaware, one that fully determines our character and the way in which we will act in various contexts, from a kind of sheer caprice over which we have no control at all.

    -Tom

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    • Tom Talbott says:

      Having just looked over the aforementioned paper, I realize that the recommended section entitled “Augustine Verses Irenaeus on Original Sin” should be read in conjunction with the two preceding paragraphs.

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    • Dr. Talbott,

      You: “But where have I thrown out the idea of pre-existence, easily or otherwise? So far as I can tell, I have neither affirmed nor denied this idea in anything I have written here.”

      Me: Alright. I suppose I mistook your criticism to imply that you thought the idea of pre existence I presented absurd. Evidently you don’t think that. I’m sure we’ve both misunderstood each other numerous times in our exchange, and if, or rather when, I misrepresent you I truly am sorry. It’s due to the density of the gray matter between my ears, and not your ability to communicate. But surely the fact that I’ve done so is not nearly as important as whether or not the ideas we’re discussing are possibly true? So I say all that to say, let’s cut to the point: do you think pre-temporal existence (which excludes reincarnation) is possibly true or not; or are you agnostic?

      You: “What contradictions? And what Scriptural implications?”

      Me: There is a post about this on my blog, but I will boil down the problems with positing that the soul comes to be at some moment in time and does not exist before that moment.

      a) God’s foreknowledge of free acts and providence. How can God know what souls will freely do before they do it if they come to exist in time, and, what is more, how can he possibly have any providence over the world? A quick example that brings this home: If God cannot know what free souls will do until the moment they do some act in time, then how did he know the death of Christ would save a single soul? (Simply positing God outside of time with him “observing” does not solve this problem, by the way, for that leads to Simple Foreknowledge, which makes him unable to interact with his creation. And the grounding objection makes middle knowledge untenable.)

      (I leave aside for the question of how prophecies of future free choices could be made with certainty.)

      b) How can it be true both that 1) all humans at some stage in their moral development will certainly sin; and 2) that all humans are morally free? If they are truly morally free, that means they may either sin or not sin. But if that’s the case how can ALL be guilty, be bound in disobedience, all need FORGIVENESS (not simply a rescuing), and all certainly sin at some future point in their moral development?

      c) How can the lamb be “slain before the foundation of the world”? Consider the logical order of events here. If the Lamb really was slain before time itself was created (or even if it was only before Adam was created), and if his sacrifice was really brought about not by any necessity or determination of God but was contingent upon the unforced entrance of sin into the material universe, then that contingent reality which gave rise to sin must have been present before time too. In other words, wherever the sin that occurred which prompted the slaying of the lamb happened it cannot be AFTER the lamb was slain (i.e. in time.)

      Also, in what sense can we be actually IN Adam (“in whom all sin”) in any sort of way that implies a single act of free, unnecessitated rebellion if we do not exist until after his sin?

      d) There are POSITIVE arguments that the soul is not entirely temporal, such as the fact that there is some abiding element that stands outside our temporal moments and perceives them all. This element cannot be, it seems to me, in time in the same sort of way that material things are in time for they are in a constant state of change from one moment to the next.

      –I know that’s a lot but hey, you asked for it! (By the way, I go into a lot of detail on my blog about the difficulties of all 4 of the current views of divine foreknowledge – Open Theism, Molinism, Calvinism, and Simple Foreknowledge.)

      You may deny the idea of the soul altogether, based on what you say above. But if we take Christian doctrine seriously, it seems to me the concept of an immortal soul can provide some SMALL way of synthesizing some of these ideas.

      Regarding your essay. Thanks for sharing! Here are my thoughts.

      You say: “As Iranaeus understood the first human sin, then, it was virtually an inevitable consequence of the unperfected condition in which our first parents initially emerged and started making choices.”

      Me: “Virtually an inevitable consequence” seems to me an unnecessary obfuscation – like saying I “virtually have a dollar in my pocket.” Well do I have one or not? Similarly, are you saying their sin was inevitable, or not?

      You: “So far as I can tell, not one word in the Christian Scriptures implies that our first parents were any less disposed to act in misguided and self-centered ways than their merely human descendants are…”

      Me: I agree with you here 100%. I think all humans do FREELY sin in the same way Adam and Eve did. And it is this dual conviction, actually, which is one of the strongest reasons for believing in pre-temporal existence. I think it possible that some pre-temporal movement is what caused God to quarantine, as it were, all such souls into this single species homo sapien. If this is true it explains how we can both a) all freely sin, and b) be morally connected to Adam in such a way that his sin does not causally determine our own. (I write about this in my blog as well).

      You: “Were not Adam and Eve subject to the same ambiguities, the same ignorance, and even the same delusions to which the rest of us are subject as well?”
      Me: Delusions? I work in the medical field, and there are several deluded patients on my ward at the local hospital. A delusion is defined as a “fixed, false belief”. Now you may not mean that, but I want to deny any implication that there was a positive MISTAKE in the mind of Adam or Eve in regard to what they understood was the RIGHT thing for them to do, morally speaking.

      You: “So what could it possibly mean, I would ask, to say that someone with no clear understanding of good and evil was nonetheless created morally upright?”
      Me: Can there not be an intermediate stage between someone “morally perfect” and someone with “no clear understanding of good and evil”: namely one of “moral probation”? This could LEAD TO a morally perfect stage, but the two aren’t the same thing. (This I take it is what the angels went through as well. I deny as absurd the idea that free rational agents can be CREATED morally perfect, for their perfection requires a free movement of their own that cannot be given from the word go.

      You: “they also confronted this command without any understanding of why they were required to obey it or why the command had been issued in the first place…”
      Me: Lewis has a good response, it seems to me, to this question in Perelandra, which I think he gets from Milton. Should there not be at least one such seemingly arbitrary command? For does not obeying it show a sort of love and trust not possible otherwise?
      You: “rather as an account of how our first parents’ natural propensity to “miss the mark” originally manifested itself in the context of ambiguity and illusion in which they first emerged.”

      Me: Natural propensity to miss the mark? How did they acquire this “natural” disposition (for it surely came from somewhere). That’s the question. You seem to suggest God created them already fallen. Now I know your response here may be that God is metaphysically forced, as it were, to create rational creatures in such a state, but a) Scripture calls everything “very good”, and b) this doesn’t seem necessarily true; I can easily imagine a created rational being (with free will) who has been given grace “sufficient to stand, though free to fall.”

      My ultimate reflections on your view of Original Sin is that you do not really believe in a free moral will. You seem to think it necessary to posit some inherent imperfection ALREADY PRESENT in a rational agent when he or she begins making moral choices. But if free moral will is true, this simply need not be the case. There is an epistemic distance such that enlightens, but does not compel, the will to make a good moral choice.
      As far as your last question – how do I distinguish a pre-temporal act of which we have no awareness of from one of sheer chance. Again this is a very difficult question. But I would just elaborate on what I’ve said before.

      A) the temporal manifestations of our free acts of sin may indeed have, at their root, this pre-temporal act as their source, so our temporal experiences of awareness may just be manifestations of something that happened (or “is always happening”) on higher planes of reality.

      B) such an act isn’t sheer chance (whatever that means) because it comes FROM US. This criticism is one that determinists typically make against libertarians. A free willed choice is not “random” in the sense of being “causeless”. The cause simply terminates in the ACTOR. I.e. the choice does not require any prior causative dominos, so to speak, to account for it being what it is. It’s the “unmoved moving”-ness of God which we analogously have through his gift of freedom which is the first cause.
      WHEW! I’m spent.

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      • I forgot to mention the most telling Scripture! Revelation 17:8 – about the names being written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world. The only way I see to avoid absolute determinism is to deduce some form of pre temporal existence.

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        • Tom Talbott says:

          I want to begin with what you say here, Malcolm, in part because I am short on time right now (today much of my family will be at my home celebrating my birthday, which was on the 27th), in part because Revelation 17:8 provides a relatively specific point to discuss, and in part because I really am curious why you view this as such a “telling Scripture,” as you have put it yourself. So why, I wonder, should the brief allusion here to those “whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world” require, in your opinion, a pre-temporal existence in order to avoid determinism? Can you provide at least a hint of an argument at this point, something other than a bald assertion?

          Thanks,

          -Tom

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          • See point C I made above. The argument is about HOW such names could be written (and how the lamb could be slain) before the existence of the free beings in question occurred in any form. There seems to be no theory which can show how, if souls come to exist in time, and are also free, that anything dependent on their free choice – like the writing of their names in the book of life or the slaying of the lamb – could be known or determined to occur beforehand.

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      • Tom Talbott says:

        As you may have noticed, Malcolm, I have not commented extensively on your 4:41 post of August 28th, in part because I did not want each subsequent post in our exchange to become longer (and more unwieldy) than the previous one. But here is a relatively specific point utterly tangential to our discussion below.

        I wrote: “As Iranaeus understood the first human sin, then, it was virtually an inevitable consequence of the unperfected condition in which our first parents initially emerged and started making choices.” And you responded as follows: “‘Virtually an inevitable consequence’ seems to me an unnecessary obfuscation – like saying I ‘virtually have a dollar in my pocket.’”

        I disagree. It is virtually inevitable that a fair coin will land heads up at least once in 10 tosses. But the bare logical possibility remains that it will not. This is hardly like saying that I virtually have a dollar in my pocket.

        -Tom

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  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I confess have not been following the conversation on the preexistence of souls. For me, the topic isn’t even of speculative interest, and I do not see any support for the belief in the Scriptures—indeed, just the opposite.

    But what is of (minor) interest is whether Origen taught the preexistence of souls. I gather this is question is disputed by patristic scholars. For anyone who finds this historical question of interest, take a look at Ilaria Ramelli’s essay “Preexistence of Souls?” for one take.

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  14. Tom Talbott says:

    Concerning Revelation 17:8, I put the following question to Malcolm: “So why, I wonder, should the brief allusion here to those ‘whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world’ require, in your opinion, a pre-temporal existence in order to avoid determinism?” And Malcolm replied as follows:

    The argument is about HOW such names could be written (and how the lamb could be slain) before the existence of the free beings in question occurred in any form. There seems to be no theory which can show how, if souls come to exist in time, and are also free, that anything dependent on their free choice – like the writing of their names in the book of life or the slaying of the lamb – could be known or determined to occur beforehand.

    Although my original question concerned the book of life and not “the slaying of the lamb,” I’ll say one thing about this highly poetic expression “slain from [apo] the foundation of the world.” In no way, I contend, should we take this expression as implying that “the Lamb really was slain before time itself was created….” For crucifixion is itself an event in time, however we might understand its effects; hence, the very idea of Jesus being crucified or slain timelessly, if taken literally, strikes me as simply incoherent. But I am not going to argue the point here; instead, I shall here focus exclusively on the book of life and suggest a Pauline understanding of it, one that takes into account the theological significance of name changes in the Bible.

    According to Paul, we all come into this earthly life as “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), and that suggests, to me at least, that we are perhaps all born with a name that is not written in the book of life. Is the name “Abram” written there? Not if we think of “Abram” as signifying the old person, as Paul would have called it, which is the very thing that must ultimately be destroyed. The name “Abraham” is no doubt written there, as Christians see it, but not the name “Abram.”

    According to Revelation 2:17, moreover, those who conquer will receive a new name, indeed a secret name, one that presumably is written in the book of life; at the very least, we have no reason to believe that the same individual bears exactly the same name (in the biblical sense) throughout the length of his or her existence. If we should all be born with a name that is not written in the book of life, a name that signifies the old person to be destroyed, then this fact, by itself, would be neutral with respect to one’s final destiny. But if we are also free with respect to various choices that determine, at least in part, when and where we receive a new name, one that is indeed written in the book of life, then that freedom would in no way require a pre-temporal existence.

    Do you disagree? If so, why?

    -Tom

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    • Dr. Talbott,

      I’m not sure what you’re exactly asking me to agree or disagree with here. It seems your Universalist commitments require you to assume from the Revelation text more than is actually written there, for the text actually goes on to say, not that “everyone’s real name is written in the Book of Life” but “anyone not found written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire.”

      Now, leaving aside what the lake of fire actually IS and whether or not its purpose is ultimately corrective, my point regarding pre-existence, I believe, still stands: namely, that the writing of person X’s name happens “from the foundation of the world”, which is before that person’s soul comes to exist in time. But, if that writing of the person’s name in the Book of Life is contingent on something in or about the soul itself – which must be the case unless God has unilaterally determined everything – then God must come by this knowledge which ALLOWS him to write these names in the book in some way other than simply “observing” these souls in time, for the names have ALREADY been written once time begins.

      In short, my particular point is not about what name is written (e.g. Abram vs. Abraham or Saul vs. Paul), or even if Traditionalism is the best reading of Revelation 17-20. But rather the fact that there are CONTINGENCIES known by God and settled (i.e. determined) “before the foundation of the world”, or before the soul’s involved in those contingencies exist in time.

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      • Tom Talbott says:

        You wrote: “I’m not sure what you’re exactly asking me to agree or disagree with here.” Just this. Do you agree that our receiving a new name, one that is indeed written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, could depend upon various free choices made during an earthly lifetime rather than upon some pre-temporal choice of which we have no awareness whatsoever? You said that there “seems to be no theory which can show how” this could be true, and I have tried to provide such a theory.

        Now to avoid distracting irrelevancies at this point, let’s set aside my own universalism for the moment. Suppose that I am an Arminian who believes that some will indeed reject God’s grace forever and that the individual originally known as Abram received a new name in part for the following reason: although he had the very real power in a set of temporal circumstances C to reject God’s grace, he did not in fact do so. Suppose further that the name “Abram” signifies the old person, as Paul would have called it, that the name “Abraham” signifies a transformed character analogous to what Paul would later have called a new creation in Christ, and, finally, that the name “Abraham” would have remained written in the book of life whether or not Abram ever received it as a name change. It was always available to him (and to him alone) as a potential name change, but his actually receiving it was a contingent matter, according to this Arminian view, that depended on how he exercised his freedom in various temporal contexts.

        So do you agree that this is a logically consistent theory? If not, why not? If so, then I would ask a further question. Does not your own theory banish the power of contrary choice to the pre-temporal realm and thus remove every instance of such power from our daily lives in the temporal realm?

        -Tom

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        • Dr. Talbott,

          I suppose one could say that all names are, at the foundation of the world, written in the Book of Life and are therefore blotted out (as it says in chapter 3) based on some contingent act they do in time. This theory is available to the Open Theist it seems.

          As far as my theory destroying free choice in the “now”. I don’t think I want to separate what happens in the pre temporal realm from what happens in our current experience of time. As Muller says, the pre-temporal does not come before the temporal by way of TIME, but imperceptibly penetrates it. Maybe all I want to claim is that our souls do not exist ONLY in the temporal realm. Some current physicists believe time is simply our perspective. If that’s the case all our “separate” temporal moments may be “solidified” as a single expression in absolute reality.

          But it seems to me that, even if we are not able in time to be other than we are, this isn’t contrary to freedoms since our temporal disposition is determined by a unconditional free act. Anyway, this seems to me no less free than any current theory of freedom we have which attempts to explain how the temporal characteristics we possess which result from momentary choices in time are themselves free (in the qualified sense) also. Our free choices have effects on our very freedom itself – which is all I think follows from my theory. And I don’t know of any current understanding of freedom that would deny this.

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          • Tom Talbott says:

            Thanks Malcolm. I think I now have a much better grasp of your metaphysical perspective than I did previously, and so that brings me back to the issue of freedom and its nature. You wrote: “even if we are not able in time to be other than we are [or to choose otherwise], this isn’t contrary to freedoms since our temporal disposition is determined by an unconditional free act” that, so I presume, our pre-existent souls make timelessly. But again, I cannot, for the life of me, see how a single pre-temporal choice of which we are totally unaware, one that fully determines our character in time and the way in which we will act in whatever temporal contexts we happen to confront, could possibly qualify as a free choice for which we are morally responsible.

            Nor do I see how an appeal to agent causation (see the final paragraph of your 4:41 post on August 28th) could ever successfully distinguish such a choice from sheer caprice. But let’s put that off for now and first explore some preliminary questions, starting with this. Is the pre-existent soul, as you imagine it, a rational or intelligent agent (or substance) that has reasons for its timeless and all-encompassing choice?—and if so, from whence do these reasons come?

            -Tom

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          • Dr. Talbott,

            You say “But again, I cannot, for the life of me, see how a single pre-temporal choice of which we are totally unaware, one that fully determines our character in time and the way in which we will act in whatever temporal contexts we happen to confront, could possibly qualify as a free choice for which we are morally responsible.”

            I’m really not sure what else I can say regarding this point other than what I’ve said above – namely that our experiences in the temporal realm are symbols for or reflections of deeper truths that are present in this eternal, absolute reality. In other words, our experiences of self-awareness in time may be rooted in an eternal, solidified reality.

            As far the the choice being “sheer caprice” (you are quite found of using strong modifiers! Is there a difference in “sheer caprice” and “caprice” or being “totally unaware” and being “unaware”?). Anyway,I think this criticism is a red herring. If you find agent causation an insufficient explanation as I’ve explained it above (i.e. how the final cause terminates in an “I” beyond which it is meaningless to require a cause), then I’m not sure I can say much else to elucidate my thoughts.

            Finally, yes, I imagine the pre-temporal soul a rational substance. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking for regarding the “reasons” for it’s choice, though. Whatever “reasons” cause one person to make an evil choice rather than a good one (or vice versa) would similarly be such a soul’s “reasons” for acting the way it did (or “does”, if we think time not an ultimate reality).

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          • Tom Talbott says:

            See my 10:30 pm post above. Sorry for the double post Father. Somehow these posts did not appear where I expected them to appear. Not sure what happened.

            -Tom

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  15. tgbelt says:

    Jonathan: What I want to know is this. If nothingness is not terrifying, then why should this matter? … To the extent that I can encounter nothingness, I am filled with horror.

    Tom: The Void is terrifying when confronted in terms of one’s own finite resources.

    Jonathan: I take you and Tom to be saying: Yes, precisely, faith lies the other side of the Void. I am saying: What do you make of the fact that the Void is, to some at least, the utmost horror?

    Tom: I take that fact to be the fundamental truth of created/contingent being which chooses to define itself in terms other than being gratuitously grounded in God’s love and purposes. Every “horror” is “somebody’s” horror, and any finite perspective that excludes God as its ultimate truth and telos has only the Void to embrace as its alternative truth, and that is the utmost horror.

    Jonathan: What is the relationship between never having been and ceasing to be? Is there really no relationship between these two ideas? Aren’t they both aspects of nothingness?

    Tom: Each question there deserves its own conversation. ;o) I think the Void comes into view both when we contemplate ‘never having been’ and ‘ceasing to be’. There the Void is both left and right. Obviously the latter is consequential in ways the former isn’t. But I agree the Void (i.e., the truth of our absolute nothingness apart from God as ground and end of all things) defines created being (in its possibility and actuality) per se. It’s experienced as “horror” when it’s faced independent of the addition truth that what accounts for our being, our not falling into absolute nothingness, is the infinite love of God. To the Void can be the context in which we realize the giftedness and goodness of being. I’d suggest that after the dark night of the soul, the truth of our nothingness is sweetness to the ear precisely because it’s never related to outside the goodness of being which is gifted us by God.

    Jonathan: What exactly is the horror of death?

    Tom: It’s the existential despair experienced when one views death as one’s absolute end.

    (Forgive the promotion, but here [https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/death-and-desire/] and here [https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/death-and-desire-part-2/] are some thoughts on death anxiety).

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    • Jonathan says:

      We’re more or less on the same page. My question now would be: Does God in creating, or did Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection, annihilate the nothing, fill or undo the void, such that it is banished from reality? Would that be a quasi-metaphysical way of explaining God’s “triumph,” even perhaps the most essential content of Christian conviction? And if this is the case, do you think there is any way for a person to know and live out his life according to belief in this void-less reality apart from Christian faith (or some other mode of revelation that is tantamount to that faith’s basic anti-nihilistic proposition, if such there be)?

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      • Jonathan says:

        (Just ignore if you speak to some version of that question in the posts you linked to — haven’t read yet, but will do)

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      • tgbelt says:

        Jonathan: We’re more or less on the same page. My question now would be: Does God in creating, or did Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection, annihilate the nothing, fill or undo the void, such that it is banished from reality? Would that be a quasi-metaphysical way of explaining God’s “triumph”…

        Tom: Not as I understand it. But I could be way off. Couple of thoughts—

        I’m still having difficulty imagining ‘nothingness’ as being ‘annihilated’ or ‘banished’. If we’re to attribute ‘nothingness’ a kind of objective status, it would perhaps be only in terms of our perspective on the contingency of our own existence and the existential angst or despair that threatens us with. And certainly this perspective and the despair it introduces can be banished and overcome. But I don’t see it as a quasi-metaphysical reality independent of the false perspectives in terms of which we experience it as horror. ‘The Void’ just names a perspective on a relationship (i.e., our contingent relationship to being as such). It gets experienced as horror only to the extent we identify with the false self.

        Secondly, since God can’t contemplate his own non-existence (relative to nothingness) or contemplate his existence as ‘privated’ in any sense of the word, there’s no way God can confront the Void and so no sense in which God ‘triumphs over’ the Void (by creating or otherwise) if by ‘triumphs’ we mean something like successfully reconciles his existence as God to the possibility of his non-existence. Only ‘we’ created beings have to navigate the emergence and enjoyment of personal existence through facing the Void. I suppose we could say God triumphs over the Void inasmuch as he empowers ‘us’ to triumph over it, and we could certainly say God confronts and triumphs over the Void personally via Incarnation.

        Lastly, I don’t see how we can, admitting the absolute contingency of our existence (and that of the entire cosmos), answer the nagging and persistent voice of the Void without reference to some uncreated benevolence. I know there some who claim to experience perfect existential peace through embracing the Void as the final truth of their existence, but as I tried to explain in the two links I shared, I think all they’ve managed to do is deaden their desire.

        Tom

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        • Jonathan says:

          “I don’t see how we can, admitting the absolute contingency of our existence (and that of the entire cosmos), answer the nagging and persistent voice of the Void without reference to some uncreated benevolence.” — Totally agree. That’s why I’m not a Buddhist. In response to the links you shared, I must ask, have you ever wondered at the lack of wonder? I mean, do you ever think that one of the more alarming prospects at present isn’t people dealing poorly or deludedly with death-anxiety, but with failing in the first place to feel the death-anxiety that we should all feel, and without which the Christian message is hardly “good news”? It’s something that increasingly bothers me. But anyway. . .

          I am nowhere near confident enough to state what God cannot contemplate. My interpretation of Jesus’ words on the cross tells me that God most certainly can, and did, contemplate/experience some sort of void or, to use the usual English translation, forsakenness. Obviously that’s not the end of the story; nevertheless, it’s there for all to see — and ignore at peril.

          I don’t mean by triumph the qualification you’ve supplied. At least I don’t think I do. I don’t know what God’s triumph means. That’s precisely what I’m trying to figure out! I speculated that creation in some way undoes or overcomes non-being. To revert to the cross, I would add that creation (emphasis on the verbal quality of the noun) seems to undo non-being by making room within itself for non-being.

          Let’s get back to creatio ex nihilo. The doctrine is that God created and creates from nothing, not from the-nothing-that-humans-see-in-their-despair. As I’ve said above several times, it is certainly very difficult, perhaps ultimately impossible, for us to imagine an “objective” nothing, or “non-being”. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t, as Stevens put it in that poem I quoted way back, a nothing that *is* there. And I have to say it’s downright useless to posit the Void as merely a human psychological state. Of course it is that, but if it’s *only* that then big deal, we could swallow some meds or resort to one of the myriad distractions our bread and circuses civilization proffers us. There have got to be some real serious stakes here, or the game’s not worth playing. So, then: What does it mean for God to win? You ever see anybody win in a game where there was only one participant?

          Given what I know of world cultures, I think the default perception is that there is a kind of dualism to things. Not all dualisms are created equal, of course. But let’s face it, dualism — often of a productively complementary kind — is everywhere in nature, from sexual differentiation to the interactions of matter and anti-matter. Positive and negative, male and female, up and down, darkness and light, beginning and end — this is how we think, no matter how shrilly the postmoderns object. It’s hardwired into every culture. We don’t always come up with the same dyads, or value terms the same way, but the basic mechanism is astonishingly pervasive. In the very center of the Godhead, so to speak, this sort of thing must be resolved. “The way up and the way down are the same.” But at every stratum of reality below that, I see room for duality. Or put it this way: in order for up and down to be the same, there still must be up and down.

          Another way to boil down what I’m asking is: If the “nihil” in creatio ex nihilo doesn’t really mean something, why do we bother with it? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say God created from himself? Perhaps, if God in some sense encompasses the nothing, non-being (as he is able to embrace even death), that is what we’re saying. I guess this is the kabbalistic Tsimtsum idea, and people aren’t going to like it. I can see how it sounds like God diminishing himself in order to create. But I’m not clear on what’s dangerous about it or that diminishment is what is entailed for God in his embrace of non-being.

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          • tgbelt says:

            Jonathan: I am nowhere near confident enough to state what God cannot contemplate.

            Tom: I only meant to say God knows the truth about himself—including his own illimitable life. That alone would preclude the possibility of God’s feeling threatened by the possibility of his own non-existence (thus, the Void). Is this in doubt for you?

            Jonathan: My interpretation of Jesus’ words on the cross tells me that God most certainly can, and did, contemplate/experience some sort of void or, to use the usual English translation, forsakenness.

            Tom: Right. Via the incarnation God has the human experience of facing death within the limits of finitude. I was speaking per the divine nature.

            Jonathan: I don’t know what God’s triumph means. That’s precisely what I’m trying to figure out!

            Tom: May I suggest that God is, in himself, always and already, the fullness of life and beatitude that makes every triumph within creation possible; that God doesn’t achieve the fullness of his existence and life dialectically as triumph within the created order. Perhaps ‘triumph’ is just what we call the world catching up or conforming to God. Otherwise, what standard of victory other than God would there be in this or that circumstance by which to measure God himself as more or less triumphant?

            Jonathan: So, then: What does it mean for God to win?

            Tom: To win at what? At being God? I don’t think God has any competition, so I’m not sure what it would mean to say God ‘won’ at something. Sure, his ‘will’ within creation is embraced or not, and when it is embraced we describe that as a victory. But you seem to mean more than that.

            Jonathan: Another way to boil down what I’m asking is: If the “nihil” in creatio ex nihilo doesn’t really mean something, why do we bother with it?

            Tom: It does mean something, but not nothing as a kind of something out of which God created. All it expresses is the belief that in creating, God didn’t work from or upon already existing realities to bring the universe into being. All that exists which is other than God exists gratuitously, contingently, and owes its being entirely to God’s free and gracious will.

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  16. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Well, Tom Belt, your article has generated 88 comments so far! None of my articles over the last year have come close to that. Well done!

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  17. Tom Talbott says:

    Hello again, Malcolm. You wrote:

    Finally, yes, I imagine the pre-temporal soul a rational substance. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking for regarding the “reasons” for its choice, though. Whatever “reasons” cause [my emphasis] one person to make an evil choice rather than a good one (or vice versa) would similarly be such a soul’s “reasons” for acting the way it did (or “does”, if we think time not an ultimate reality).

    Well, I was not assuming that a free agent’s reasons for making an evil choice would be the cause of that choice, at least not a sufficient cause, for the choice would then be causally determined. But when we think of a rational agent S as choosing freely in a context where it categorically could have chosen otherwise, we normally think of S as choosing in the following kind of context: S has a non-decisive reason R to do some action A and a non-decisive reason R* to refrain from A, so that whichever way S chooses the choice will not be totally unintelligible.

    Now elsewhere you claimed that a “free willed choice is not ‘random’ in the sense of being ‘causeless.’” But I think that is a mistake. For suppose that S freely chooses to act from R and thus to do A, even though S categorically could have freely chosen to act from R* and thus to have refrained from A. By hypothesis there can be no causal explanation of why S chose to act from R rather than to act from R*, so S’s choice is, in that sense, causeless and thus indistinguishable, it seems to me, from a random selection between alternatives. Even as a lifelong libertarian, therefore, I am now persuaded that

    indeterminism of any kind in the process of deliberating and choosing would introduce an element of chance or randomness, even irrationality, into it. And chance or randomness seems no less incompatible with genuine freedom than determinism does. Some have argued, therefore, that the concept of moral freedom is simply incoherent. For if free will is incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism, then no room is left, it seems, for a coherent account of such free will (ILG, p. 200).

    So is a coherent account of free will even possible? I think it is, but only if we reject your idea of “one SINGLE undetermined act” in the pre-temporal realm giving “determination to all further expressions of the soul’s character and expression of will within time.” For a single undetermined act, being indistinguishable from sheer caprice, could never qualify as a free act for which someone is morally responsible. But a series of undetermined choices made in a context in which an emerging rational agent (as opposed to a pre-existent soul) is able to learn important lessons from the consequences of these very choices might indeed qualify as free choices for which the agent is morally responsible. For an emerging agent’s freedom with respect to a given choice, I argue, depends as much on its ability to learn important lessons from it as it does on the absence of sufficient causes for it.

    So it seems to me, at any rate, that an adequate account of moral freedom—and I still have no idea what your account might be—requires that we distinguish carefully between the role that indeterminism plays in our emergence as free moral agents and the role it continues to play after we have become sufficiently rational to learn important moral lessons from the consequences of our undetermined choices. That’s because the very indeterminism so essential to our emergence as independent rational beings and therefore as free moral agents is also an obstacle to full freedom and moral responsibility. But all of that requires, of course, a much longer story.

    Anyway, thanks for responding to my question.

    -Tom

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  18. Tom Talbott says:

    Hello again, Malcolm. You wrote:

    Finally, yes, I imagine the pre-temporal soul a rational substance. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking for regarding the “reasons” for its choice, though. Whatever “reasons” cause [my emphasis] one person to make an evil choice rather than a good one (or vice versa) would similarly be such a soul’s “reasons” for acting the way it did (or “does”, if we think time not an ultimate reality).

    Well, I was not assuming that a free agent’s reasons for making an evil choice would be the cause of that choice, at least not a sufficient cause, for the choice would then be causally determined. But when we think of a rational agent S as choosing freely in a context where it categorically could have chosen otherwise, we normally think of S as choosing in the following kind of context: S has a non-decisive reason R to do some action A and a non-decisive reason R* to refrain from A, so that whichever way S chooses the choice will not be totally unintelligible.

    Now elsewhere you claimed that a “free willed choice is not ‘random’ in the sense of being ‘causeless.’” But I think that is a mistake. For suppose that S freely chooses to act from R and thus to do A, even though S categorically could have freely chosen to act from R* and thus to have refrained from A. By hypothesis there can be no causal explanation of why S chose to act from R rather than to act from R*, so S’s choice is, in that sense, causeless and thus indistinguishable, it seems to me, from a random selection between alternatives. Even as a lifelong libertarian, therefore, I am now persuaded that

    indeterminism of any kind in the process of deliberating and choosing would introduce an element of chance or randomness, even irrationality, into it. And chance or randomness seems no less incompatible with genuine freedom than determinism does. Some have argued, therefore, that the concept of moral freedom is simply incoherent. For if free will is incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism, then no room is left, it seems, for a coherent account of such free will (ILG, p. 200).

    So is a coherent account of free will even possible? I think it is, but only if we reject your idea of “one SINGLE undetermined act” in the pre-temporal realm giving “determination to all further expressions of the soul’s character and expression of will within time.” For a single undetermined act, being indistinguishable from sheer caprice, could never qualify as a free act for which someone is morally responsible. But a series of undetermined choices made in a context in which an emerging rational agent (as opposed to a pre-existent soul) is able to learn important lessons from the consequences of these very choices might indeed qualify as free choices for which the agent is morally responsible. For an emerging agent’s freedom with respect to a given choice, I argue, depends as much on its ability to learn important lessons from it as it does on the absence of sufficient causes for it.

    So it seems to me, at any rate, that an adequate account of moral freedom—and I still have no idea what your account might be—requires that we distinguish carefully between the role that indeterminism plays in our emergence as free moral agents and the role it continues to play after we have become sufficiently rational to learn important moral lessons from the consequences of our undetermined choices. That’s because the very indeterminism so essential to our emergence as independent rational beings and therefore as free moral agents is also an obstacle to full freedom and moral responsibility. But all of that requires, of course, a much longer story.

    Anyway, thanks for responding to my question.

    -Tom

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    • Tom Talbott says:

      Note: This is a response to Malcolm’s post of 9/1/2015 at 12:23 am. I tried twice position it after this post, but it didn’t work. Not sure what went wrong here.

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