Creation, Theodicy, and the Problem of Evil

by Robert F. Fortuin

This essay sets forth the claim that the absolute freedom of God’s act of creation informs the nature and meaning of evil. Because God created the universe without prior constraint or necessity, His moral nature and the destiny of creation are inextricably related – creation will be completed in the eschaton, free from the grip of corruption at the last. The absolute freedom of divine creation denotes that evil is — and the completion of creation will reveal it to be — devoid of divine logos and justification.

Theodicy, and the problem of evil generally, appears by all accounts to be a very important subject as it concerns key concepts about the moral character of God. It also addresses very practical, existential concerns about the senselessness of violence, disease, pain, suffering and other such evils which are a universal reality. Is it possible to provide a rational account of such apparent cosmic absurdity and belief in God? It seems to be unavoidable that questions concerning sin, death and evil relate to and frame our understanding of divine goodness. If evil is of divine intent the claim ‘God is good’ cannot denote that God is goodness itself – the good as such by which all other goodness is measured. Yet much of the Christian tradition seems to lead one to believe there must be unknown (possibly malevo­lent) aspects to the ‘goodness’ of God complicit in his permission and use of evil – for how else are we to understand the perduring existence of pain and suffering in this life and extended without end into hell?1 Theodicy concerns itself with the divine will and its relation to human freedom: how do we perceive God’s intentionality in relation to creation? Is God’s power understood as a ‘zero-sum equation’ in which divine sovereignty necessarily constrains and detracts from creaturely freedom? To question a competitive view of liberty another way — does our freedom ‘to do otherwise’ constrain God’s purposes, into infinity holding out against God’s will? Perhaps divine power and human freedom should be understood, as do Sts Isaac of Nineveh and Gregory of Nyssa, along the lines of a compatibilist model in which divine and personal freedom are not mutually opposed whilst yet not implicating God with the machination of evil.2 Regardless how we answer these questions, and leaving aside methodological and epistemological concerns, theodicy as an exploration of the problem of evil, of God’s moral nature, and of the nature of creaturely freedom is a very important subject. For Christians the riddle of evil is a pressing theological pursuit to make sense of a world held in the grip of corruption whilst maintaining faith in a benevolent creator God. In the crucible of life where faith meets reality the meaning we ascribe to evil affirms the claims we make about the moral attributes of God. Theodicy then is far from a trivial and merely theoretical concern important only to the ivory towers of academia.

Although the term ‘theodicy’ is a relatively modern term (it was coined by the German rationalist philosopher Gottfried Leibniz around the year 1710), the problems it concerns certainly are not exclusive to modernity. We moderns are not the first to ponder the meaning and mystery of evil and death – this is an ancient conundrum having befuddled minds throughout the ages. Yet some notable modern theologians (chief among them Karl Barth) have argued that theodicy is neither a necessary, possible, nor legitimate concern. Human suffering, they claim, pales in comparison to the suffering God, the death of Christ making theodicy unnecessary. However, I believe the questions that theodicy seeks to address regarding human suffering caused by evil both legitimate, necessary and possible. That is not to say that problematic ways of using theodicy do not exist – for instance, theodicy to justify and rationalize evil, or to justify disbelief in God. Given these caveats the ‘theodic’ inquiry as to how faith in a benevolent and omnipotent God can be maintained given the fallen condition of the cosmos is a wholly valid and indeed a very necessary project. The timelessness of theodicy seems quite undeniable – the questions of the moral character of God and the existence of evil have occupied every generation since Adam’s account in the Garden of Eden, ‘The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat’ (Gen. 3:12). Surely ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, as the adage informs. The problem of evil not only spans across time but also across ideological and philosophical persuasions. That is to say that theodicy is not an exclusively religious problem, or a concern only for theists, for moral and natural evil does not discriminate. Regardless of one’s tradition, one’s creed (or lack of one) – without exception we are all confronted with the stark reality of violence, sickness, calamity, suffering, and death. The shadow world of corruption is so ubiquitous and pervasive that we can find it at work (let’s be honest) even within our persons. Here too we see that no one is exempt: moral corruption and physical death holds both theists and atheists equally to account, it does not discriminate. ‘That we shall die we know; ’tis but the time. And drawing days out, that men stand upon’, as Shakespeare put it eloquently.3

Many years ago, around the year 300 BC, the Greek philosopher Epicurus astutely summed up the intractable problem of evil in the form of a riddle:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?4

Even for a convinced philosophical materialist such as Epicurus the problem of evil was an inescapable question. Epicurus likely denied the existence of God based on the undeniable existence of evil – one way to solve the riddle is to eliminate God from the equation. For the theist denial of God is not considered a real solution to the problem (evil qua evil is left unexplained) and so the mystery of evil is especially intractable. We must admit that evil poses a particularly acute problem for those of us who insist on the goodness of God; a God who is infinite love, and Whose will is the only measure of His power. The task for theist then is not merely to make sense of the profound irrationality of evil (a formidable problem in itself); she must also reconcile the reality of evil with the omnipotence and benevolence of God. Why would an omnipotent God allow evil to flourish? What could possibly be the rationale — its logos — (logos in Greek not only means ‘word’, but also ‘reason’ or ‘rationale’ or ‘rational principle’) for God to cause or allow the abuse, torture and death of innocent, helpless infants? The fifth century Christian theologian Pseudo-Dionysius in his indispen­sable treatise Concerning the Divine Names accentuates the problem for the believer as follows: ‘Granted that the Beautiful and Good is something yearned for, wished for, and loved by all – how is it the multitude of demons has no wish for it? … If there is any Providence at all how can it be that there is evil, that it comes to be, that it is not done away with?’5 Dionysius underlines the problem — if God is good, beautiful, lovely, necessary for our existence and omnipotent — how then can we explain that God is in fact rejected; and to make matters worse, evil is permitted to grow and to fester? It would seem then that God cannot be all-good and all-powerful.

Dionysius brings us closer to what I would like to draw our attention to – the contribution that some of the early Church fathers bring to this question of the moral nature of God as it relates to the problem of evil. I can think of no Church Father whose writings are of greater importance and singular clarity on theodicy than St Gregory of Nyssa. This important fourth century bishop tirelessly worked toward the eventual victory of Nicene orthodoxy at the first council of Constantinople in the late 4th century. In some ways, he represents the theological vision of those who came before him, luminaries such as St Irenaeus of Lyon, St Athanasius, and St Basil the Great; however, in other ways Gregory towers over them in depth and eloquence, advancing theological insights by no small measure. Particularly of interest is Gregory’s splendid work On the Making of Man in which he presents a brilliant eschatological and anthropological vision. What is striking is that on Gregory’s account protology and eschatology comprise a single, unified vision – the beginning is explained, can only be understood, and is justified by the end. The cosmos has been truly created only when ‘the union of all things with the first good’ has been completed, when all at last in Christ, every single soul, is united to God.6 Cosmology then is not an isolated pre-occupation about how the physical universe came to be; rather, for Gregory the genesis of ‘the first things’ receives its true significance and meaning in its relation to the redemptive fulfillment in the completion of Judgment Day in the Eschaton. The God who creates, is the God who redeems, is the God who will be ‘All in all’ (1 Corinthians 15:28). It is perhaps not surprising then that for St Gregory the Christian doctrine of Creatio Ex Nihilo, God’s creation of everything out of nothing, holds the key to understanding God’s moral nature: for the logos — its rationale — of bringing everything into existence is its fulfillment in the life of God. It is in its end, from the vantage point of its completion,7 that creation’s original truth and meaning is revealed. For Gregory, God’s creative act is not merely an etiological inquiry, a study of causation and origins, but rather primarily an inquiry into the self-revelation of God as to what God is like – Genesis, Pascha (Easter), and the Last Judgment are a single revelatory act of God in whom God reveals himself to be the God who he really is. For God freely creates and does so ‘out of nothing’; He is creation’s First and Final Cause. This for Gregory holds the key to understanding the nature of evil and, I suggest, informs the antinomy of theodicy. The ancient Christian doctrine of Creatio Ex Nihilo denotes that God has no part in the violence and necessity of evil; and that evil, lacking its own hypostatic subsistence,8 is neither original nor anterior to creation and therefore will be in the end utterly annihilated. In the spirit of ecumenical dialogue,9 it is important to point out that the works of the early church fathers and the theology of Creatio Ex Nihilo are not exclusive to the Christian East nor exclusive to Eastern Orthodoxy. The early church fathers ‘belong’ to the undivided church and as such their theology is the common inheritance of all Christians. This shared tradition makes their voices even more important to contemporary considera­tions of theodicy, and it is imperative that patristic works be carefully considered as they are appropriated and brought into contemporary conversation. Over the centuries Eastern Orthodoxy in her praxis and theology has been keen to be attentive to the patristic witness and this I believe makes Orthodoxy’s contribution to the ongoing conversation (potentially) particularly rewarding.

Let us take a closer look at Creatio Ex Nihilo and how this pivotal early Christian doctrine (nearly universally accepted) may shed light on theodicy. One of the first things to note is that this doctrine, although not explicitly stated in the Bible, is logically coherent with New Testament revelation of the God who brings to new life that which has been demolished by death. It is the Paschal (Easter) account of the resurrection of Christ, the triumph of life over the non-being of sin and death, which forms the foundation to the theology of divine creation of all things out of nothing. As St Paul states in Romans 4:17 God is the One ‘who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.’ It is ‘the power of God, who raised him from the dead’ (Colossians 2:20), and ‘God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.’ (1 Cor. 6:14). In the resurrection, God brings into existence that which is not, that which has been subject to death’s destruction, by creating life through the summons of his power. This is the Easter triumph and promise: that God as creator of life is free and separated from, and thus not subject to the undoing of death. St John in the opening of his Gospel explicitly connects the creative, life-giving power of the resurrection with the creation of Genesis: ‘All things were made through him [Christ, the Logos], and without him was not anything made that was made.’ (John 1:3). In situating creation in and through Jesus the Logos, (who eternally exists with the Father) St John declares an atemporal theology of creation (this is another way of saying that time itself belongs to the created order, that time had a beginning). This atemporal theology of creation heralded a radical departure from reigning Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics. The first explicit use of Creatio Ex Nihilo on record is attributed to Theophilus of Antioch dated around the middle of the second century (around 150 AD, only a few short decades after John’s passing). Theophilus wrote his response to Greek philosophers who taught that the world is eternal and physical matter the source of evil. Theophilus countered that the cosmos had a beginning, the result of the atemporal creative act of God, who created everything freely by his own power and without need for pre-existing matter and without time. Contrary to the materialist philosophers the world came into being by the gratuitous outpouring of God and as such was created good and not naturally evil. Ex nihilo creation became a central feature of the patristic theology of divine transcendence, or what may be called a theology of alterity, of difference — the absolute ontological difference between God and the world. St Gregory of Nyssa formulated what he coined the ‘ultimate division of being’ — the infinite interval of difference between two fundamental modes of being: the Uncreate and the created.

Per this ultimate division, God’s existence is absolutely different from that of creaturely existence. God is the source of his own existence; He does not come into being, he does not progress from potentiality to actuality — for God is ‘always already’ perfect beyond every measure. He is without limit in will or power, without necessity, and without compulsion. God is infinite in His existence, immeasurably complete in knowledge, goodness, love, or any other divine attribute. God’s nature is simple and is without parts or fragments; He is therefore without extension in space and time. God is, in short, without need of anything or anyone: himself the only source and measure of all. For God to be, is to know, is to do – which is to say, that there is no difference between his existence (who God is, his act of being), and his essence or nature (what God is). For God to be is His nature. He is the ‘I Am that I Am’ of Exodus 3:14 and the ‘I AM’ of John 8:58; and ‘he who is’, ‘the being one,’ the ‘Ho ‘n’ (traditionally inscribed on Christ’s halo on many icons of Christ). Whatever God does he does in complete freedom, without necessity, ignorance or external restraints. God does not need the world to complete himself, for it can add nothing to God. In creating the cosmos — God summons non-being into existence ‘out of nothing’ freely and without need for it — an utterly unnecessary and gratuitous gift called forth from the abundant plenitude of God’s own life. Following Creatio Ex Nihilo God’s creative power then is a timeless act of love and disclosure: self-diffusive, self-donative, peaceful, and good. On this account, the creative act of calling forth the universe freely and out of nothing God reveals himself truly.

On the other side of the division of being is creaturely existence (which according to the fathers includes things seen and unseen, the entire created order). Creation is infinitely dissimilar to divinity in that it is not the source of its own life. It is derivative in nature, receiving its being by participation, wholly contingent in its dependency on the creative act of God. It is marked by becoming and imperfection, always in a state of change, moving from potentiality to actuality. It is incomplete, finite, composite, and limited in time and space. Created life is marked by a responsive openness, ever needful for that which it lacks, finding its subsistence and completion only in the God who has called it out of nothing. Creaturely existence is a sort of ‘in between’ or metaxu as the Greek fathers call it — a reality precari­ously held between being and non-being. God is the beginning and end of all things, and he alone is creation’s proper end and fulfillment.

The theology of divine transcendence and ex nihilo creation thus affirm a principle about the moral nature of God: namely that God has no part in the creation and machination of evil, the senselessness of suffering and death. God’s creative act is outside of time, whereas the advent of evil is situated within time, as a departure from its original goodness.10 According to the understanding that the universe came to be without divine constraint or need, evil is without original intent, being or necessity; God requires it not to accomplish his good purposes, for it plays no role in God’s revelation of himself and in his eternal intentions for creation.

What is striking is that for Gregory as for all the Nicene fathers of the Christian east and west the ontological difference between God and creation, God’s transcendence, is not understood in a contrastive or competitive manner. Because God is not part of creation, His presence, and power and agency is not at the expense or in competition with creaturely freedom. God, in other words is not an oppositional reality. Primary causality, God’s putting everything into motion and sustaining every moment, is not in conflict with secondary causality, creaturely intention and freedom. Rather God’s creative will enfolds and makes possible and sustains creaturely agency and freedom. This is quite significant for it indicates that divine transcen­dence grounds and is the condition for true creaturely freedom — God’s power is not one of domination and constraint. This is quite different from modern theologies in which God’s will and power are construed along the lines of predestination, determinism, and eternal damnation; a zero-sum equation in which God’s sovereignty and intention comes at the cost of creaturely freedom. The absurdity of such construals is demonstrated in that God is the ‘efficient cause of the sinful actions that he punishes!’11

But if God’s will is the ground for, sustains, makes possible and enfolds our will and freedom – how are we to understand the existence of evil and death? Does God will evil because He wills and sustains our freedom? On St Gregory’s understanding evil is the privation of good – it is devoid of hypostatic subsistence; a ‘non-being,’ as he calls it, that is parasitic in its dependence on the powers of created will. (This definition is another shared conviction between the Christian East and West – recall St Augustine’s evil as ‘privatio bonum‘ or the absence of good). Evil per Gregory has its ‘being in non-being’ whose ‘ousia [or nature] has its hypostasis not in being, but in not being good’ and ‘not as existing in itself but in the absence of the other.’ Evil does not have a true existence, and is thus not necessary to creation – it is neither original nor anterior to it; which is to say that it exists only as a scandalous rupture of goodness, situated historically in the metaxu, the ‘in between’ of created existence. Sin, on this account, is understood as an assertion of the nothingness from which it arose, and as such a departure from God’s intention for creation. Evil is not necessary, and not a necessary consequence of creation. Although God wills and sustains our freedom, He neither wishes for evil, nor predetermines or is frustrated by it. On this view, death is an anti-Christ, or an ‘anti-logos’ if you will, the enemy who is against Christ the Logos (who himself is the source of Life, the Logos of existence). We can think of death as a type of and resulting from ‘non-logos’ — an absurdity without logos, without rationale, without a rational principle, absent of the good, parasitic and lacking its own being. Evil is purely accidental, wholly unneccessary.12 Is there then a reasonable explanation to evil, some rational way that we can account and provide justification for it? Gregory answers this question with a resounding ‘no’: as the non-logos evil has no rational explanation; it cannot be justified, as it is entirely bereft of meaning and purpose. There is therefore no justifica­tion, no purpose whatsoever and no meaning for the innocent suffering and death of a child, for such malice is utterly without explanation and logos.

But in the irrationality of evil also lies our hope and the good news of the Easter tiding – because God freely created all things the meaning of creation (thus also its fulfillment) and the moral nature of God are inseparable. For St Gregory, this is a matter of theological coherence and consistency: evil is not original to creation for the good God freely created the cosmos from nothing but the divine will, and therefore evil and death and even Hell itself will come to an end. This means then, not only is evil not conditionally enfolded in God’s designs, it also is not the inevitable and necessary cost of creaturely free-will, the price of God’s self-revelation the unending suffering of souls in an eternal Hell. Eternal damnation has no place in the divine consummation of creation: every rational soul will find its proper end in God as her first and final cause. This, I should point out, is a marked contrast to St Augustine’s eschatological vision of two cities in which the most populous city is destined for eternal misery. The two cities are eternally locked having been sealed by God’s foreknowl­edge and predestination. Not so for St Gregory: an eternally persisting dualism — evil allowed to exist forever alongside the Good — has no part in his eschatological vision. Evil is not allowed to persist into eternity in the form of an eternal hell. In Gregory’s words, ‘evil does not extend to infinity, but is comprehended by necessary limits.’13 Perdition and suffering and torment of the damned — this too will come to end. Were evil to persist into infinity, it would denote that God is less than the Good, that the madness of evil somehow has the power to eternally change God. God is infinite love and creation is good, and therefore God loves all creation. For Gregory divine punishment is not retributive but reformatory and restorative in nature, for God aims for the good of all humanity. Hell will come to an end because divine restorative punishment will ultimately be successful; Hell will cease and God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor. 15:28).

Death itself will be annihilated, Hell and eternal torment will be no more.14 Only when all of creation finds its completion in God will the cosmos have been truly created. Humanity, the image of God, will have been truly created when ‘the complete whole of our race shall have been perfected from the first man to the last – some having at once in this life been cleansed from evil, others having afterwards … been healed by the Fire.’

O Death, where is your sting?
O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.15

 

References and Further Reading

Burrell, David. Faith and Freedom: An Interfaith Perspective. Blackwell Publishing, Malden MA. 2004
_____. Aquinas, God and Action. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR. 2016.
Davies, Brian. Reality of God and the Problem of Evil. Continuum, London. 2006
Hart, David Bentley. “God, Creation, and Evil.” Radical Orthodoxy. Vol. 3, No. 1, 2015.
_____. “Providence and Causality: On Divine Innocence,” in The Providence of God. Murphy & Ziegler 2009.
Ladner, Gerhard B. The Philosophical Anthropology of Saint Gregory of Nyssa. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. 1956
Ludlow, Morwenna. Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 2000.
Mosshammer, Alden A. Non-Being and Evil in Gregory of Nyssa. Vigiliae Christianae. Brill Leiden. 1990.
Nyssa, Gregory of. Contra Eunomium, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
_____. On the Making of Man, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
_____. Contra Eunomium, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
_____. On the Soul and Resurrection, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
Robinette, Brian D. “The Difference Nothing Makes: Creatio Ex Nihilo, Resurrection, and Divine Gratuity.” Theological Studies V. 72. 2011
Sokolowski, Robert. The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology. Catholic University Press, 1995
Tanner, Kathryn. God and Creation in Christian Theology. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN. 1988.

Endnotes

[1] As I have argued elsewhere, the difficulty with carrying hell into infinity is staggering, theologically, philosophically, metaphysically: the sheer disproportion of temporal offense to infinite punishment; the absurdity of a never-ending good vs. evil dualism in which God remains powerless and frustrated (into infinity no less!) and in which creaturely free-will holds the ultimate power; the equivocal nonsense of punishment as torture forever perpetuated by a ‘good’ God; and the cost of His revelation the punishment of those chosen to unending perdition. For further reading on this subject I suggest David Bentley Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil.” Radical Orthodoxy. Vol. 3, No. 1, 2015.
[2] On the relation between first and secondary causality I recommend David Burrell’s Aquinas, God and Action. (Wipf & Stock, Eugene, 2016) and David Bentley Hart’s essay “Providence and Causality” in The Providence of God (Murphy & Ziegler 2009).
[3] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Act III, scene 1, line 99
[4] Lactantius attributes this passage to Epicurus in chapter 13 of De Ira Dei.
[5] Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names and The Mystical Theology. Tr. C.E.Rolt. SPCK: London, 1979. Chapter IV, Section 18, pp. 109-111. On the subject of the nature of evil the entire Chapter IV of The Divine Names is a must read.
[6] Gregory of Nyssa. On the Making of Man, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
[7] On the Nyssen’s account the universe in its current state is in a state of incompletion – it has not been fully created as of yet. For more the completion of creation as well as Gregory’s notion of a ‘double’ creation, see chapters 16-24 of On the Making of Man.
[8] ‘No evil exits in its own substance’ and ‘non-subsistent [anupartxos] nature of evil’. See Mosshammer, Non-Being and Evil in Gregory of Nyssa for an excellent exposition of Nyssa’s understanding of evil as non-being. Evil as non-being was a widely-held understanding among pro-Nicene fathers.
[9] This essay is an adaptation of a presentation made at the Ecumenical Patristics Seminar at the University of St Katherine (San Marcos, CA) in April 2017.
[10] Describing the fall of the angels, Dionysius comments that the departure from their original good state is a ‘warping, a declension from their right condition.’ The Divine Names, IV, section 23.
[11] David Bentley Hart, ‘Providence and Causality’, p. 50. Hart explicates the nature of divine/human relation of freedom and causality, along compatibilist lines. The chief weakness of analytical theologians espousing an incompatibilist view is the failure to understand divine transcendence; God is reduced to an agent among agents whose will detracts from creaturely freedom. On account of Alvin Plantinga, for instance, evil is necessary for the existence of free moral agents. It is not possible for God to create free human beings without also creating evil; freedom is defined in its opposition to the divine will. The logic of the incompatible model is demonstrated as follows, ‘Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…’ Divine causality detracts from secondary, creaturely causality. Evil for Plantinga thus becomes a divine necessity and implicitly becomes the author of evil. It is self-evident that such a take on the nature of evil, and the moral character of God, is radically at odds with patristics on the subject. Plantinga, Alvin (1974). The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 166-167.
[12] Dionysius The Divine Names IV Sec 32 ‘Unto evil we can attribute but an accidental kind of existence. It exists for the of something else, and is not self-originating. And hence our action appears to be right (for it has Good as its object) while yet it is not really right (because we mistake for good that which is not good).’
[13] Nyssa, On the Making of Man, Chapter 21, Sec. 2.
[14] The annihilation that Gregory refers to is the annihilation of hell itself, not the annihilation of people and creatures. That is to say that hell comes to an end because it is completely emptied out: it is marks the absolute end of death, suffering, pain, punishment. This position I hold to be the only one that is consistent with God’s unconditional love and the Paschal triumph wrought by Christ as attested to in the Gospels, the scriptures and the Orthodox tradition.
[15] Closing paragraph of the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom

Copyright © 2017 Robert F. Fortuin. All rights reserved.

* * *

Robert F. Fortuin is Adjunct Professor of Orthodox Theology at St Katherine College in San Diego, California. He holds an MLitt Divinity from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and a BA in Religious Studies from Vanguard University. He is currently hacking away at the theology of Gregory of Nyssa for his PhD in Philosophical Theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

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109 Responses to Creation, Theodicy, and the Problem of Evil

  1. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    Thank you, Robert, for this thoughtful, lucid and hopeful essay. I will definitely be visiting it a few more times.

    I have heard from more than a few people (most of them Thomists), something that strikes me as akin to “not all evil is bad.” One particular example that has come up recently is that of predation. It is argued that the system of predation, taken as a whole, is not evil or in any way counter to God, despite the fact that it includes suffering and death. This is allegedly because the suffering and death of one creature is the flourishing of another, so on the whole, there is no problem. Were a lion to not kill then it would not being fulfilling its nature as a lion/predator, and so it is good for a lion to kill even if it is an evil from the perspective of the zebra. This evil is not to be considered a strike against the goodness of the whole natural order, because it is a necessary piece of it. Taken further, since certain microorganisms survive off of the dead flesh of animals, if death itself were eliminated, then these creatures would be denied the ability to thrive and fulfill their natures.

    Something about this account strikes me as insufficient, though I have not yet been able to properly articulate it. I don’t doubt that I’m misapprehending some of the nuances of the position(s), but it seems as though the underlying intuition is that nature, as we presently observe it, is a good system and is as God intends it. This is not my intuition at all, and it would seem from this essay that it is not what Gregory of Nyssa or many other church fathers would have thought. Instead, it appears to me that Gregory viewed any evil (natural, moral or other) as being a corruption of the cosmos, and as such, counter to God’s creative will. There is not one instance of evil that is necessary or that contributes to the goodness of creation.

    Creation is not inherently evil, but is fallen and corrupted at every level. It is beauty wrapped in chains.

    Is this a fair assessment of Gregory’s view of evil or am I taking it too far?

    Liked by 1 person

    • brian says:

      Matthew,

      That line of argument regarding nature is typical of many Thomists. They lack imagination and cannot even think that possibly the lion and the lamb in their eschatological flourishing shall realize their essential reality in peaceful coexistence. Treating the fallen world as the template for God’s intended cosmos is theologically illiterate. It is the perfected, eternal world that we trace analogically, but see in a mirror darkly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        I have been sensing a lot of reluctance on the part of theodicists to do much heavy lifting with the doctrine of the fall. I’m guessing that’s because there’s not much known about the nature of the fall and because it has been abused by a lot of fundamentalists/evangelicals as a quick and easy way to dismiss questions. Nonetheless, I think that it is indispensable to a Christian understanding of the cosmos and deserves a prominent place in the discussion.

        Some, like those that I mentioned in my earlier post seem to think that the natural order is basically intact and runs more or less as it should. The fallenness that exists is mainly of a spiritual/moral variety. I’m kind of shooting from the hip on a lot of this, but I believe that the effects of the fall probably run deeper than we imagine (and consequently the gloriousness of our redemption far exceeds all we could ever hope).

        Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi Matthew,

      There is not one instance of evil that is necessary or that contributes to the goodness of creation. Yes, yes and yes!

      St Gregory’s account of a ‘double creation’ (see my reply to Iain down below) is what revolutionized my thinking about this all. And as Brian points out, if we mistake fallen creation to be the way things are meant to be, then we cannot but ascribe to evil, suffering, pain, loss, etc. a ‘place at the table’ of eternal divine intention. Theologically it is monstrous, disastrous. Morally it is unthinkable.

      Thank your interest in this topic and enduring the imperfection of my writing. 🙂

      I recommend reading chapters 16 through 24 on Gregory’s On the Making of Man – I think you will find some answers there that address the concerns you have about what’s lacking in many Thomist’s theology of evil.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Despite Brian’s reply, the Thomistic position has nothing to do with “lack of imagination” or “taking the fallen world as a template for God’s intended cosmos”. To say that something undergoes natural evil is to say nothing other than that at least some of its good is fragile, limited, and passing. Genesis 1:30 says, “And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.” Being food introduces natural evil for the green plants, which will then lose parts and perhaps lose their life, either of which is natural evil. Thus the question is really one of fragile goods — why are there any fragile goods? And the Thomistic answer is that the entire universe would be impoverished without them, because they are really good, just as enduring and incorruptible goods are. To say that they shouldn’t exist because they are fragile is a kind of Manichaeanism.

      The Thomistic position was a deliberate distancing from Neoplatonic assumptions precisely in order to avoid the danger of Manichaeanism — the danger arising in particular from the notion that nothing should exist except a purely ideal world, and that the fall was a fall into materiality. This is the most natural, or at least the easiest, conclusion to draw from a wide variety of Neoplatonist ideas, and so Christian Neoplatonists have always had to maneuver a bit to avoid anything Manichaean. Gregory addresses the matter, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus about how to interpret some of the features of his answer, so, not being an expert on him myself, I don’t really know what his full solution is. The Thomistic solution, though, has never, I think, been the dominant solution even in the West; it was a deliberate attempt to step back from the problem and think about it in a different way.

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      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        Do Thomists consider the consumption of a leaf of grass by a sheep to be categorically the same as the consumption of a sheep by a wolf? My gut tells me that they cannot be equal. The former hardly strikes me as an evil, at least in the more colloquial sense, because there really isn’t anything due a leaf in the same way that their are things due to sentient beings. I’m willing to be corrected on this, but it seems to me like anything that is non-conscious is basically just a blob of matter in some form and so changing it into another form is more of a rearranging than an actual destruction or privation. To say that burning a log is a natural evil (because it’s an evil to the log) and to say that the violent death of a mammal at the hands of a predator is a natural evil feels like an equivocation to me.

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        • I don’t know what you mean by ‘categorically the same’. In the only sense of ‘natural evil’ that Thomists would recognize as legitimate, privation of good for a plant would count as natural evil, precisely because it is privation of good, just as privation of good for a lamb would count as natural evil because it is privation of good. For a Thomist there is no other sense in which anything can legitimately be called ‘evil’ at all.

          Your suggestion is an interesting one; it means that you are in fact classifying (in Thomistic terms) the wolf eating the lamb as a moral evil, not a natural evil.

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          • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

            Thanks for bearing with me here, despite my imprecise/improper use of terms. Sometimes it’s difficult to express thoughts when one lacks a formal education about something.

            I guess that what I’m trying to get at is if there are any sub-categories withing ‘natural evil.’ My intuition tells me that not all things that carry the label are of equal weight on the problem of evil. That melting down a tire to make a rubber ball, and that a fawn being torn apart and eaten by a wolf are both considered ‘natural evils’ makes the category appear a bit vague to me (one evil to the ball, the other evil to the fawn). The former strikes me as a total non-issue for theodicy, while the second seems pertinent.

            I’m probably also misunderstanding what Thomists mean by ‘moral evil’ as well. I assume that for something to count as a moral evil it must involve a moral agent capable of understanding the difference between good and evil. I presume that a wolf or a lion do not count as moral agents, so I’m lumping their behavior in with natural evils. But then, there’s seems to be an important difference between the evils involved with predation and those of the evils of changing some inanimate object by an impersonal process.

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          • Since evil is a privation of good, it is measured, so to speak, by the nobility of the good; in that sense it will often be the case that natural evil for animals is greater than natural evil for plants, and both for inanimate objects. But that the kinds of harms animals can suffer are greater than the kinds of harms trees can suffer does not mean that trees cannot be harmed. And if you are allowing the latter kind of harms to be fine and not a problem for theodicy, you have already conceded that something’s being a natural evil is not itself a problem for theodicy — any problem would have to come from something else.

            Modern intellectuals tend not to put much emphasis on natural evils for anything that cannot feel pain, for utilitarian reasons, since utilitarianism holds that pain (in some broad sense of the term) is self-evidently the worst possible evil; but Thomists, of course, are opposed to utilitarianism. And it’s difficult to see what else could be used here to make the kind of separation you need — i.e., in which natural evils for animals are not just worse than natural evils for plants, but in such a way that the former matter for whether the world is very good (Gen. 1:31) and the latter don’t at all.

            Thomists do indeed regard ‘moral evil’ as requiring intellect and will, which is why they wouldn’t classify the wolf eating the lamb as a moral evil. But the way in which you stated your suggestion was that there is something due to sentient beings that is not due to nonsentient ones. What is due has to be due by something to something; and violating what is due is injustice. Assuming that we are not claiming that God owes lambs protection from wolves (divine obligations get into a completely different kettle of fish), then the wolves are violating what is due to the lambs, and thus are unjust — although, of course, it could be a very weak and even excusable way, since there are very weak and even excusable (under the circumstances) forms of injustice even for us. If on the other hand, the talk of what is due is merely figurative, it’s difficult to see what it is supposed to represent.

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      • brian says:

        Brandon,

        There is a broad question as to whether mortality would have been part of the cosmos apart from a Fall. The notion that one must accept death in nature as part of a necessary equation that allows for fragile goods that would not otherwise exist is one possible answer. A passage from John Milbank’s essay, the Poverty of Niebuhrianism may partially clarify what I intend.

        As regards the fall, we cannot possibly substitute Darwin’s narrative for our mythology; only the unwise would search for paradise among the primaeval swamps, whose weirdly monstrous inhabitants betray to faith their non-belonging to the primarily created order. . . . For the Christian, a realistic apprehension of the world does not consist in factual survey and surmise, but in evaluative reading of its signs as clues to ultimate meanings and causes. Thus the world is construed as gift and promise, and we construct the narrative picture of a Creator God. But also the world is construed as in some way already, before any traceable historical action, involved in a refusal or wrong apprehension of this gift; it is a world of death as well as life (only masochism can imagine that death is part of the primordial Creation). So we construct the narrative of the fall. In either case, we know the narrative form is woefully inadequate, but in either case also this form is seen to be indispensable to our doctrine and ontology, and in either case again, to mean what we want to mean, we must uphold its reference to reality — a real Creation, a real loss. Thus the Christian grasp of reality right from the start is utterly at variance with anything the world supposes to be ‘realistic’. This is why it is so absurd deliberately to import the world’s realism into the sphere of Christian ethics as if, when it came to the practical crunch, we could set aside our entire religious vision to one side. In Christian terms, it is the world that will never understand the world aright (p. 244 in The Word Made Strange.)

        I do not deny that in our present circumstances, the exchange of life and death in nature is needed. What I do deny is that God’s Creation is ultimately dependent on such or that the goodness of animal existence is justly exhibited in a fallen world. I don’t think that the goodness of the beasts is comprehended by experience of the fallen world. I believe this manifestly leaves out depths of creation that require redeemed, Resurrected existence to flourish. Thomas left out the entire biological cosmos apart from the rational beings of human kind and the angels from resurrected existence. Similarly, there is a kind of blithe dismissal of concern for animals in the eschaton amongst many Thomists. I do reiterate that they are lacking in eschatological imagination — and since protology and eschatology are linked, there is something fundamentally narrow in their sense of creation, tout court.

        I am not hostile to Thomism: Pieper, Maritain, Gilson, Clarke, Burrell, among others have decisively shaped my metaphysics. Nonetheless, I strongly side with David Bentley Hart against Edward Feser’s flippant dismissal of including unique creatures in the eternal restoration. Part of Feser’s callous aplomb is that he is convinced that the fragile goods of the animal world are already justly realized. The brutal destruction of a baby bird, for instance, requires no eternal redress. There is no injustice in animal suffering. In my opinion, it is not a case of falling into Manichaean proclivities to disagree. It has to do, as Robert’s essay indicates, to how one should imagine creation and what justly indicates the beauty and goodness of God. Of course, this will also manifest differences of opinion regarding apocatastasis and traditional views on hell, etc.

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        • What I do deny is that God’s Creation is ultimately dependent on such or that the goodness of animal existence is justly exhibited in a fallen world.

          Neither of these follow from the Thomistic position and thus are not relevant. How things are ‘exhibited’ is irrelevant, and God’s creation is ultimately dependent on God’s intentions, which we cannot perfectly know, and nothing else. Thomists even hold that we have good reason to hold that God intends a world completely without suffering; your assumption that they make the fallen world a template for what God intends is completely and entirely false.

          In my opinion, it is not a case of falling into Manichaean proclivities to disagree.

          Of course not; but it is, in fact, to avoid the tendency of Neoplatonists of various stripes to fall into the conclusion that the material and changeable is itself evil, and to do so without the complicated metaphysical assumptions the Christian Neoplatonists had to posit in order to oppose that tendency, that the Thomist position arises.

          From the Thomist perspective, an infant that lives but an hour is still so precious that all of creation is justified to make its life possible, that a violet that fades by morning is not one whit less beautiful for all that, that a fragile good that exists just once and is never more is nonetheless itself a good that makes the universe better than it would be without it. And, as noted, Genesis itself explicitly talks about plants being eaten, which is already what we call natural evil, and that this is very good. Thus you either have to hold that (1) it is being figurative in some way; or (2) it is talking about a kind of feeding completely different from any that we know; or (3) it is wrong; or (4) something broadly like the Thomistic position is correct for plants, whatever you feel about it. (1) or (2) are entirely acceptable, and there are lots of good Neoplatonic reasons for taking either route (especially the first), but they are not the only options on the table.

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          • brian says:

            John Walton represents a scholarship that reads Genesis as encoding a liturgical time that develops towards, rather than represents a finished “it is good.” If one advocates for a view of Creation that is not separate from redemption and eschatological flourishing, then prior states exhibit a less than perfected good. Naturally, this does not dismiss the partial good or even the fundamental ontological good of being at all. Nothing I have written is intended to deny the goodness of transient being. I am not questioning the goodness of being. I am questioning whether a loving Creator would destine any created good for oblivion. It seems to me that many Thomists think God is not bound by His own goodness to preserve and cherish what he has called from nothing out of love. They therefore accept “natural evil” as in no way troubled by “injustice.” Further, though I suspect you will find this objection frivolous and lacking in analogical distance or metaphysical probity and really, it’s too bad, but I simply do not believe that God cares less for his creatures than human beings who are capable of great love for animals and plants and even the dust of the earth if one achieves the deepest levels of compassion. I have tried twice now to indicate how equanimity before natural evil that equally precludes including every creature in the cosmic regeneration accomplished by Christ appears to me at odds with the deepest eschatological meaning of the gospel.

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          • I don’t know what you mean by ‘finished’, so I don’t understand how most of this is supposed to be relevant.

            However, one of the most important Thomistic positions is that we cannot go around attributing things to God as if we knew what God is in Himself; the only things we know about God are what He is not and what He chooses to reveal to us. Thus for the Thomist, unless you have reasonable evidence that God Himself explicitly reveals, this question can only be a question about the nature of the goodness of creatures, not about what God chooses to do.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Brandon,

            I don’t suppose you mean to suggest (I don’t hope you are anyways) that the apophatic should be used to construct absolute equivocation so the divine light may as well be darkness? It seems as if you deny a link between the nature of goodness of creatures and the nature of divine goodness (or intention, as you will no doubt agree there’s no difference between what God is and does).

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          • It seems as if you deny a link between the nature of goodness of creatures and the nature of divine goodness (or intention, as you will no doubt agree there’s no difference between what God is and does)

            I have no idea what you mean by saying that there’s no difference between what God is and does, in this particular context. Certainly God is simple; but this is different from saying that, for instance, ‘creating butterflies’ is what God is, or that butterfly-creating is the nature of God. We know that God creates butterflies, but what God is exceeds anything that butterflies-being-created-by-Him could conceivably convey about Him.

            Since we are talking about the Thomistic view here, the error the Thomist would see in the above is talking about the ‘nature of divine goodness’ in a sense parallel to the ‘nature of goodness of creatures’. The parallel would inaccurately characterize the analogical character of the terms, in which the goodness of God is prior to and more fundamental than any creaturely goodness. We know what God’s goodness is not and what God reveals to us of His goodness in one way or another; we can know that God is good in a more perfect way than we find in creatures; but we are utterly incapable of fathoming the nature of the divine goodness itself. Creaturely goodness, being entirely an effect of divine goodness, reveals the existence of divine goodness; it reveals the fact that divine goodness is not limited the ways creaturely goodness may be; and it reveals the fact that divine goodness is far beyond any goodness we can conceive. Thus the goodness of creatures is a natural revelation of divine goodness to that extent. But no further. Thomists, at least if they are strict Thomists rather than vaguely Thomistic, take this very seriously: if you attribute something to God it must either be:

            (1) denial of something that belongs to creatures qua creatures;
            (2) what is necessary in God as cause when considering creatures as effects (naturally revealed);
            (3) something confirmed by the testimony of God Himself, as in Scriptural names of God (prophetically revealed, we might call it), in that sense that the Church teaches they are to be understood and no other;
            (4) or, in a kind of mixture remotion and revelation, affirmation that God is not exhausted by, and is infinitely greater than, any of the above.

            In the case of talking about what God does, must, or should choose, (1) and (4) are not in play, so the Thomistic position is that it is utterly unacceptable to say that God does, must, or should choose anything unless we know (a) that He has in fact chosen to do it because that is what He did (e.g., God chose to create butterflies, because we know that’s what He actually created) or (b) that He has told us that He did so (e.g., God chose to select Israel out as His own, because He specifically revealed that He did so). Anything else, in Thomistic terms, is presumptuous. And this is actually the reason for a lot of theological moves Aquinas makes.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            ‘I have no idea what you mean by saying that there’s no difference between what God is and does, in this particular context.’

            Perhaps due to lack of imagination? (sorry I coudn’t resist).

            That God has created butterflies tells us something about God’s nature, and also something about what God’s nature is not.

            My turn to claim ignorance. I have no idea what you mean by your claim that ‘we are utterly incapable of fathoming the nature of the divine goodness itself’ after the affirmation that we do know ‘what God’s goodness is not and what God reveals to us of His goodness in one way or another.’ ‘Utterly incapable’ is what escapes me here. You can’t have it both ways.

            But how this all relates to the main topic, I don’t know, or have forgotten.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Brandon/Matthew,

        Again, here too Gregory’s notion of double creation is of great importance. One can surmise that the food of Genesis 1:30 on this account is not God’s original intention, but rather a feature of the secondary creation out of necessity of the lapse in the Garden. I suspect that insofar ‘natural evil’ is understood to be a divinely intended, original feature of creation it warrants Brian’s criticism as lacking imagination. I don’t see why Genesis 1:30 has to be understood to point to things as their ‘natural’ state.

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        • No one said it had to be understood that way; the question at hand is whether it can be understood that way, and what has to be done in order not to read it that way. One can certainly surmise as you suggest, as I previously explicitly said to Brian. It involves treating God’s speech in 1:29-1:30 as figurative (describing something in terms of things that only arise later in the narrative), and as long as one has a better reason for doing this than getting Scripture to say what one wants — and a Neoplatonist can have such an independent reason, as I previously said — then it’s perfectly legitimate. It is also quite clearly not required by the passage itself; thus, as an interpretation, it is only as good as the actual reason for reading it this way, and there may well be other ways of reading it that have their own advantages and defensible reasons.

          And none of this, again, has anything whatsoever to do with imagination or lack thereof. You do not hold the view you do because God has blessed you personally with a greater abundance of imagination than other people whose views you reject, even if it is true that you are that imaginative; you hold the view because in learning about the subject from Scripture and the Church Fathers you found specific reasons for it.

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          • brian says:

            It never occurred to me that anyone would think I was literally claiming that Thomists lack imagination. Obviously, I intended a specifically theological claim based, as Brandon notes, upon a particular reading of Scripture and theological tradition.

            I don’t think anyone is claiming that one can conceptually comprehend God or that God does not infinitely transcend what we can know of him through his creatures. I cited Erich Przywara’s Analogia Entis; he is clear on God’s “ever greater” dissimilarity from creatures. The question is whether that dissimilarity implies a radical difference between what we know of the Good and Goodness itself such that one is threatened with “theological nihilism.” Certain forms of mystical apophaticism appear to approach a voluntarist level of dissociation between the God revealed in creation and biblical revelation and the “ultimately unknowable God.” God is more than a butterfly-creating power, but now that there are butterflies, I know something about God I would not have known otherwise. My understanding of love is imperfect, but by analogy my experience of love tells me something true about the perfection of love. God is more than that, but not less and certainly not radically other to the point where my use of terms like Good and Evil fall into radical equivocity.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Right Brian.

            Brandon how would you fend off “theological nihilism”?

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  2. David S says:

    Interesting, if true.

    But if it is somehow acceptable for God to create a world filled with evil – despite being capable of eliminating and evil also being totally unnecessary – then why assume it should be any different in the eschaton? i.e. if you’re willing to assume evil in this world is compatible with God’s goodness and omnipotence, why assume it should be any different at the eschaton? (or if you’re not happy with the language of ‘compatible’, and prefer to say evil is a mystery and is just there despite God’s goodness and power, why assume this won’t remain at the eschaton)?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

      I think it’s important here to remember that whatever filled the world with evil is not God. God created, then something alienated creation from God, but neither that something nor its effects have the power to ultimately thwart God’s purposes. That’s a general (and extremely vague) outline of what I believe is going on. The question of what exactly that ‘something’ is and how/why God allows it to wreak so much havoc on creation I do not know. I gather that the mystery here is that evil is not ‘compatible’ with God in the sense of His willing or creating it, and yet it ‘exists’. That it cannot exist in the eschaton seems to be a consequence of what the eschaton is, namely the fulfillment of God’s purposes for creation, which do not include evil.

      I doubt that any of our philosophizing or theologizing will ever fully satisfy us. So long as evil ‘exists’, the problem is at least as much one of confronting it in our lives as it is of explaining why God permits it. Our theophilosophy provides us with hope and allows us to still worship in the face of evil.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Dear David,

      In addition to Matthew’s response I would add that Creatio Ex Nihilo addresses your concern. It is a matter of principle which I take to be the very evangel of the Gospel itself, and which is either accepted or not – that there is no darkness in God. ‘This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.’ I John 1:15.

      God created everything from himself, needing no thing, even without the need for a moment in time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. brian says:

    Nicely done, Robert. I like this sentence in particular. “For Gregory, God’s creative act is not merely an etiological inquiry, a study of causation and origins, but rather primarily an inquiry into the self-revelation of God as to what God is like – Genesis, Pascha (Easter), and the Last Judgment are a single revelatory act of God in whom God reveals himself to be the God who he really is.” Too many moderns — and Christian fundamentalists are conflicted anti-modern moderns — only think efficient and material causality, only understand creation as following out the temporal chain of cause-and-effect that determines nature as an elaborate machine. The message bearing aspect of creation, being’s analogical depth and communicative intent has been lost to modern mathesis that can only understand qualia as subjective sensations with no revelatory power.

    Speaking existentially and not philosophically — as usual, I tend to agree with you on substantial matters — my difficulty is frankly that God permits so much evil. Unnecessary, repudiated by God, healed by Cross and Resurrection — as a pilgrim in time, I still experience the anguish of evil, its abhorrent tenacity, the cruelty and malice of the anti-logos. The suffering of innocence and the complacent, though short-lived triumph of the wicked is not made less appalling by it’s its illicit metaphysical status.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Dear Brian,

      This is not intended to be a justification nor even an explanation, just a thought really – but it seems to me that divine permission is also the occasion for divine suffering. For God suffers inexplicably in the irrational suffering of creation, the absurd tragedy of it all the occasion for his arousal to complete the first creation, in the end to finally create the beginning. This is his promise is our hope. Every tear an occasion, and perhaps a reminder, to yearn for our destiny.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Iain Lovejoy says:

    This essay seems to more clarify the question than answer the problem of evil. It narrows the source of evil to something going wrong back in the mists of time which continues to play out its consequences today, until God ultimately eliminates it and restores creation to its perfection in the last days. What it doesn’t really address (perhaps because it is unknowable?) is what went wrong and when, why God permitted it and why God finds it necessary to take such an interminably long time to sort it out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi Iain,

      That is a fair point, that the problem of evil is not solved. Indeed it seems to me that evil understood as utterly devoid of logos or rational principle is fundamentally without explanation. However I do not think it is a mystery which must not be explored – it is critically important as it relates to and affects how we understand God, ourselves, salvation, etc.

      As to what went wrong, from my reading of Gregory of Nyssa he seems to understand it to point to the transgressive misuse of creaturely freedom stemming from immaturity or imperfection. This fits into his theology of a ‘double creation’ – the actual creation in which we now live was allowed by divine foresight of the fall; it is in contrast to the original, ideal creation as God eternally intended it. In the eschaton the original creation will be finally be fulfilled, a completion which constitutes both a turn from the fall and a return to the original. Following Gregory the notion of a recapitulation, a recovery of what was lost even though it was never actually attained, makes good sense. The metaxu of the fallen creation is then a sort of diversion – the foreseen imperfection made this necessary – and the evil that was spawned has no place in the first and final creation.

      As to why God would make a creation that is immature and imperfect – this seems to me related to the question of time, of progression, of change. Why can’t things just ‘be’?

      At any rate, I think Gregory’s account of the meaning and purpose of evil the most consistent with scripture. In my opinion, the moment we ascribe an eternally persisting function to evil, i.e. evil is no longer confined to the metaxu but endures into the eschaton, the Paschal triumph and the Good News of unwarranted mercy has been subverted into a tale of good works.

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      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        Is there a question then that God creates perfected creation progressively from its immature beginnings in the way he does as a sort of anticipatory fix (or to leave space for a fix) of the subsequent fall?
        The alternative (or additional explanation) would be a need to grow creation from immaturity to maturity in the manner of a child so that it can become a mature and thinking adult, and there have been a whole ongoing series of “falls” and stumbles in the process, culminating in the really big Adamic one, because of the need for a child to mature by learning, and thus to leave space for it to make mistakes if it is going to.
        In the latter case Gregory’s contra-factual creation would include what the history of creation would have been if no stumble or error had ever occurred. It would also presumably mean we will end up where we would have been if everything had gone completely smoothly, only having done it the hard way?

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Iain,

          There seems to me plenty of scriptural support for a ‘progressive maturation’ – language by St Paul about the groaning of all of creation as it awaits its fulfillment, such as Romans 8 ‘For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.’ So some sort of progression and maturation process, however construed as I suppose there are various ways to do so, seems to me not a stretch then. At any rate, I find the idea of a process towards maturation – requiring the radical Paschal triumph over evil in divine creative completion in the Eschaton as it is not something creation can accomplish on its own – intuitively more sensible than other protologies/cosmologies which invariably (be it implicitly or explicitly) attribute evil a divine ‘imprimatur’, assigning a divine rational logos to evil to monstrous results.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Tom says:

    As always, Robert, a joy to read. Thanks for the time and effort.

    I agree with you that there’s a legitimate form of sincere inquiry in which faith can (probably ‘ought’ to) take up the problem of evil. Your essay is that kind of inquiry.

    I love the connection between protology and eschatology. I first began pondering that seriously upon reading DBH’s Notre Dame piece. I think that connection is a huge piece missing from most treatment of the problem of evil; and even where it does come up, it seems the eschatology assumed is already crippled.

    Reading through your post here, I thought of how often the question of evil ends up taking the shape of an inquiry similar to the sort of questioning that got Eve in trouble; i.e., it looks like Eve’s mode of deliberation is a kind of theodicy in that she doubts the goodness of God in light of what the Serpent convinces her is evidence that God can’t be trusted (viz., “God’s holding out on you”) and so she falls into (or perhaps “via”) theodicy. Much theodicy seems to be a version of this sort of thing, which is what we need rescuing from I suppose. (I don’t think your post is this sort of misguided theodicy.)

    I ended up having two questions:

    1) It does come round to how one understands ‘divine transcendence’ relative to the absolute dissimilarity between God can creation. One might argue that an “infinite” distance makes any sustainable correspondence between morality and God’s “goodness” (which correspondence your view, following DHB’s, requires) impossible. One might then take this as license to attribute to God acts which are immoral ‘on any human measure’. In other words, how would you argue against someone who proposes that an absolute/infinite difference between us and God makes applying to God our notions of goodness and evil a violation of transcendence? I’ve had this suggested to me; i.e., “Tom, God transcends us absolutely, he’s not bound to our concepts of good and evil, so your moral objections to X, Y, or Z fail.” How do we prevent someone from employing transcendence as infinite different as grounds for that infinite difference manifesting itself in our moral comparisons?

    2) Secondly, I don’t want to suggest any lack of Christological priority in your beliefs (I know you too well), but I was slightly surprised by the lack of discussion of the Cross. You mention the Resurrection briefly, but I’m especially interested in how the Cross particularly figures into a proper understanding of and answer to the problem of evil. I realize one can’t say everything in a short post, but how the Cross figures into theodicy would be something I’d explore.

    Tom

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    • Tom says:

      Clarification!

      By “How do we prevent someone from employing transcendence as infinite different as grounds for that infinite difference manifesting itself in our moral comparisons?” I meant, “…as grounds for arguing for an equivalent dissimilarity between God and our moral terms?” Maybe that helps.

      Tom

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      • Tom says:

        Ugh. It wouldn’t be the same without typos.

        1) “…missing from most treatment” = “treatments”
        2) “…How do we prevent someone from employing transcendence as infinite different…” = “difference.”

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    • brian says:

      Tom,

      I think we have been over this before, but it seems to me that the kind of radical incompatibility between divine and human goodness that you oppose most naturally follows upon a voluntarist, univocal model of will and being. It is precisely the non-competitive nature of relation made possible by God’s transcendence that renders Goodness both intelligible and open to creaturely participation. Goodness is first ontological. Our conceptual grasp is always inadequate, but because it is rooted ultimately in God’s agapeic gift of beings itself — we have no other ground, coming from nothing — we can be certain that our limited perception of the Good is not abrogated by divine plenitude. Hart follows Przywara’s conceptual understanding of analogia entis. Many understandings of analogy lack the rhythmic dexterity of Przywara’s particular stance. The latter facilitates a complex, more intuitive touching upon a living dynamism that can positively affirm our conceptual grasp whilst always asking us to move beyond its limitations.

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      • Tom says:

        Hi Brian,

        Thanks. Always appreciate your insights, but I don’t think my point is about what you’re calling a voluntarist notion of will, but maybe I think I’m about something else here, particularly how one employs the language of transcendence (as you’re suggesting it) especially within a determinist model for example, but maybe I’m wording things poorly.

        Imagine the following argument employing your “non-competitive” language: Because there is ‘no competition between divine transcendence and human agency’, there can be no competition between God’s doing what WE consider to be evil (say, determining our evil actions, or willing an irrevocable hell for some). If we complain about the morality of attributing such actions to God (as Robert and DBH and the rest of us do), that’s because we’re not fully appreciating the non-competitive nature of divine and human agency.

        This argument assumes a logic of transcendence that takes as a corollary to “God’s will and our will can’t be in competition” the additional truth that “God’s actions cannot complete with our moral intuitions and categories.” Why? Because God transcendence those categories.

        That’s the sort of application of transcendence I’m trying to bring Robert’s argument to bear upon, and “non-competitive” language can be (and is by some) construed as a response to moral arguments against God’s doing or determining actions which our sense of morality universally regards as evil. But the argument (DBH’s, Robert’s, mine, and yours I think) for the morally nonsensical character of imagining divine action along lines so morally incongruous to us entails a certain “competition” between God’s doing some act we regard as evil, on the one hand, and our moral intuitions/categories that inform that regard, on the other. If there’s “no possible competition” between divine and human agency, one can argue, then the moral objections to attributing to God any act we regard as evil can never get off the ground.

        Does that help clarify my interest/issue?

        Tom

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          (my response ended up in the wrong place down below, so here it is where it belongs)

          Tom,

          We don’t take God to participate in goodness, for he is goodness itself; which is to say that God does not transcend creaturely goodness in the sense that this may mean his goodness is evil. Either way, your ‘devil’s advocate’ arguments rest on pure equivocation, which is denied by grounding meaning in the divine ipsum esse subsistens, and our ability to know by way of analogous predication.

          Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi Tom,

      Good questions and thank you for giving this your thought and attention.

      As to the first question: using transcendence to denote a complete dissimilarity so as to render theology impossible. To this I would respond by pointing out that on that account analogy -theological analogous predication – has been abandoned. We are left with but one possibility: radical equivocation of terms. What our God-talk may denote it would be anyone’s guess, it is on anyone’s account vacuous. Revelation, and our reflection on revelation, is rendered meaningless. But this goes counter to the biblical notion of the divine image reflected by and within creation ‘The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.’ To affirm an absolute equivocation is to deny that the image, however dim and obscure it may be, bears any resemblance whatsoever to its prototype. (it is likely no coincidence that absolute equivocation accommodates total depravity and sinful nature anthropologies, for the image has been effectively obliterated by sin).
      More directly – the employment of transcendence as infinitely different points to a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of divine transcendence and immanence. One is thinking of God as an agent among agents who does not transcend the transcendence/immanence binary, according to which divine difference invalidates similarity and vice versa. Transcendence then is construed as equivocation and theology rendered an impossibility.

      As to question 2 – I can see how it may appear that the cross is marginalized. Pascha is not a possibility without the crucifixion of course, and the cross then does figure in theodicy. But two points. Firstly, I utilize Pascha broadly to point to Christ’s incarnation in its totality, from the Annunciation to Ascension. Which is to say that Christ’s suffering and pain – his ‘submission’ to evil – should not be confined narrowly to the crucifixion alone. Any consideration of the problem of evil should account for the suffering of the cross in the larger context of the incarnation. The entire enfleshment from the beginning was a divine passion and scandal. Secondly, to flip things around – I don’t see the cross apart from the Paschal triumph, by this I mean that the cross is not the final word on evil – and this is the point I wish to make in my essay. The final word is that death is dead. This is so because of the Easter triumph, the resurrection of the First of many.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        Thanks Robert. I posted to Brian before reading this. Appreciate the response!

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Tom,

          We don’t take God to participate in goodness, for he is goodness itself; which is to say that God does not transcend creaturely goodness in the sense that this may mean his goodness is evil. Either way, your ‘devil’s advocate’ arguments rest on pure equivocation, which is denied by grounding meaning in the divine ipsum esse subsistens, and our ability to know by way of analogous predication.

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  6. Ed says:

    “In other words, how would you argue against someone who proposes that an absolute/infinite difference between us and God makes applying to God our notions of goodness and evil a violation of transcendence? ”

    In the words of David Hart: “The golden thread of analogy can stretch across as vast an apophatic abyss as the modal disjunction between infinite and finite or the ontological disproportion between absolute and contingent can open before us; but it cannot span a total antithesis. When we use words like ‘good,’ ‘just,’ ‘love’ to name God, not as if they are mysteriously greater in meaning than when predicated of creatures, but instead as if they bear transparently opposite meanings, then we are saying nothing.”

    To see this clearly, one should substitute the words “truth” and “falsehood” for “goodness and evil” in your question. After all, if we cannot apply our notion of good to God, then, to be consistent, we also cannot apply our notion of truth to Him. If that were the case, would not revelation itself be meaningless?

    Liked by 4 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Indeed, pure equivocation guts revelation and the Gospel of meaning and significance.
      DBH drives at this point – to speak of God as ‘good’ may as well mean that he is evil. Why argue about petty details?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Tom says:

    Robert and Brian,

    I think I’ve been reading the refrain “divine and human volition are ‘non-competitive” within a strictly binary menu of options (but I’ll hold you two partly responsible for hammer away on this refrain to mercilessly!). If we back up and say transcendence isn’t captured or exhausted within the truth of the two options in the disjunct “competitive OR non-competitive,” and that analogy means recognizing certain “senses” in which BOTH legitimately capture a perspective on the truth without exhausting the whole truth – then count me in.

    Tom

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    • Tom says:

      *hammering* away *so* mercilessly. 😀

      Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tom,

      I am not sure I can agree with that, as I can’t ascribe legitimacy to divine/human agency conceived to be as competitive (alongside being non-competitive): this appears what is happening, if I understand you correctly. The poles are divine and human agency, not competitive and non-competitive agency; the meaning of the claim that God transcends opposition of the first set of poles includes the affirmation of either agency. To claim that God transcends the opposition of the second set of poles is to also to affirm that God’s agency and human agency are in competition.

      Perhaps the weakness of your argument is exposed by applying it strictly to divinity: a competitive view of divine transcendence and divine immanence is not a legitimate ‘perspective on the truth’ for it is precisely competition which invalidates the meaning of both. In affirming one by means of competition the other is diminished.

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      • Tom says:

        I’m not so sure we disagree, Robert. Perhaps.

        I was trying to express what I take to be a point which Denys Turner makes regarding both cataphatic and apophatic speech, namely, that (a) apophatic denial is not the affirmation of the contradictory of some proposition. If we affirm “God is love,” the apophatic denial of this is not equivalent to affirming its contradictory, “It is not the case that God is love.” As Pseudo-Denys says (Divine Names): “We should not conclude that the negations are simply the opposites of the affirmations….” The opposite of affirmations are the ‘contradictories’ of those affirmations.

        What are apophatic denials? As you say, they’re a kind of denial of the dialectic whose limits are defined by the two propositions “God is __” and “God is not ___” and so apophatic denials represent as strategy for saying that the truth about God isn’t exhausted by this dialectic. God never becomes our cognitive (via language) property. But (I’m still with Denys Turner) there’s still the place for (b) cataphatic affirmations. What is its place? Well, cataphatic speech is the qualified sense in which we do speak of God within the only means we have to speak of God (our terms operating under laws like the law of identity, non-contradiction, etc.). So cataphatically we affirm “God is love” and cataphatically we deny “God is not love.” Transcendence does not open up a way for us, within the embrace of cataphaticism’s proper logic, to deny what we affirm (that “God is love”) or affirm what we deny (that “God is not love”). There are proper limits to what is affirmed and denied cataphatically, and divine transcendence is not a denial of this division of labor between the affirming and denying functions of cataphatic speech. Transcendence, as I understand Turner, is recognized via apophatic speech as the failure of all that we must affirm and deny cataphatically to exhaust the truth about God. God is not reduced to the dialectic of cataphatic affirmations and denials, and yes, that’s because divine being isn’t an instance of created being governed by the terms of cataphatic speech. There is an apophatic place (of silence) to stand outside this dialectic and carefully deny the whole enterprise with respect to its claims to have colonized God and where one can experience one’s self as transcended (lovingly, ecstatically, ineffably) by God.

        I’m not disagreeing with you regarding the mistake that, say, Calvinists make regarding transcendence – i.e., they understand transcendence as licensing a free ‘equivocation’ between the terms of cataphatic speech (so we can attribute to God what *simply* contradicts “God is love”). But transcendence is not *simple* (cataphatic) denial of some affirmation. It’s a way to recognize the failure of all cataphatic speech (speech we MUST carefully engage in and maintain) to reduce God to its terms. But “not reducing God to out terms” is not the same as saying what we place with those terms.

        A bit more of Denys Turner here: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/unspeakably-transcended-part-2/

        Hope that helps! I apologize if this is sidetracking your main point – the problem of evil. I think it applies. Thanks for your help!

        Tom

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Yes I agree with what you have noted – not sure how this is an objection or clarification to Brian’s or my position (as it seems you raised it as a point of contention).

          As far as apophaticism and limits to knowledge and language, I tend favor the model of ‘excess’ or better yet that of ‘superabundance.’ Excess points to the beyond without denying, marginalizing, or dividing from that which it surpasses. Much like the excess 10 lbs which does not detract (alas) from my 180 lbs physique.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            As a follow up to the last paragraph.

            Due to the analogy of being, I don’t see a neat and clear separation between that which we can know and that which we cannot. Similarly I don’t see a tidy distinction between the divine essence and energies. My philosophy of language is more ‘organic’ as I believe a philosophy of knowledge and language must understand analogy as embracing both similarity (from which stems the possibility of our logoi tou theou) and the infinite interval of dissimilarity (to safeguard against idolatry). But this ‘both’ is an interplay, not cast into a delineation according to a predefined schema. We cannot point to the end of the divine energies as a beginning of the divine essence; neither can we point to the end of the cataphatic as the beginning of the apophatic. We can affirm and know both.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Daniel Andreassen says:

    Thought/question: Would this essay help Ivan Karamazov?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Daniel,

      Yes, I do think it would help him in so far as the death of an innocent child is not divinely sanctioned, justified for the greater good, or any such type of hideous exchange. Does it do away with the tragedy, the suffering, the senseless of it all? No of course not, and it won’t ‘help’ in that way. But the insanity is not part of how things are to be and God himself has and will put an end to it. Suffering will not endure into infinity, Hades has been gutted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • brian says:

        Some readers think that Ivan is a standard atheist following the Enlightenment rationalism that is enacted in various ways by Peter Miusov, the paterfamalias, and Smerdyakov. (It’s one of Dostoevsky’s jokes that Miusov and papa Karamazov draw from the same intellectual assumptions.) Ivan, on the other hand, walks with a limp. He wrestles (like Jacob?) or perhaps he is meant to be unbalanced like Descartes’ rationalist dream self.) There is, perhaps, still something jejune in Ivan’s protests. He is still young. Alyosha’s youthful naivete and impulsive romanticism may cause one to forget that Ivan is also young. My guess is that Ivan’s objections are indeed caught up in a form of theodicy that Robert’s essay subverts, but his objection is more than rationalist. It is the eschatological forgiveness that leads victim and tormentor to embrace that he cannot stomach. (And really, who cannot understand his anger?) There is something in the mystery of the person and the ontological significance of relation that his modernist individualism stumbles at. Ivan cannot accept Zosima’s puzzling proclamation that “each is responsible for all.” He will have to suffer and mature in order to understand love’s kenotic presence and ultimate triumph.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. David S says:

    Is it really correct to characterise DBH’s view as compatibilist? The specific article you reference seems to me to give DBH’s strongest espousal of the autonomy of human will that I’ve seen, railing against attempts to reduce human decisions as an aspect of the divine volition.

    In fact the article doesn’t simply see ‘horizontal’ determinism – past causes within the contingent order determining our will – as incompatible with creaturely autonomy. It also seems to rule out ‘vertical’ determinism – God’s transcendently deciding, outside the contingent causal network, what our actions will be. For example, it characterises the Banezian position on free will as stating that ‘so long as it is contingent as regards its antecedent secondary causes, it is by definition free’, before going on to emphatically reject this notion.

    Moreover, it rules out not only attempts to have God determining human’s will directly – as in the Calvinist conception of God positively decreeing every good and evil act in meticulous detail, of building human being’s in such and such a way with such and such a personality that they inevitably acts as God wishes them to. He also rules out God achieving this indirectly – i.e. by neglecting to give certain human sufficient quantities of grace such that they naturally fall into evil, as in the thought of Báñez. Basically, he seems to be against God ‘picking the result’ full stop, however this is accomplished.

    To be honest, despite not using the analytic language of libertarian freedom, I wonder whether DBH in fact effectively endorses it. I know he wants to stress that choice does not occur in a vacuum, that it does not go uninfluenced by the myriad of other causes, that our decisions are not utterly arbitrary voluntarist decisions, uninformed by our ultimate nature. Therefore DBH argues that the natural will – our inborn desire for God – is always active and ultimately informs and is a cause in every decision. But at the same time he still seems to suggest that the gnomic will not only can be deluded, but can *decide* to be deluded – indeed I believe that elsewhere in this very blog he writes that ‘rational nature can interrupt itself’ – and so choose to direct our natural desire for God towards an activity that is not very God-like, i.e. sin. But if the gnomic will can do this – and the gnomic will is neither determined horizontally by creaturely causes, nor determined vertically by God – then surely this is straightforward incompatibilist, indeterminist, libertarian willing?

    Or maybe that’s a mischaracterisation. Perhaps DBH would argue the gnomic will does not enable the human being to have this kind of undetermined autonomy either. Perhaps this is because the gnomic will is, in its (unchosen?) ignorance, just a slave to desire and other factors, themselves ultimately determined. On this view, the gnomic will only wills the wrong things because of its ignorance of the true good that is God. And if we are just irresistibly pulled into ignorance by original sin (or any other mechanism), and this ignorance means the gnomic will must fall into sin, then this must mean we do not have the power of autonomous choice – at least not in the libertarian sense.

    So I suppose the real question is: what is the cause of this ignorance that drives the gnomic will into error and sin? If it is God that causes our ignorance – even ‘indirectly’ by refraining from making the world as good as it could be, by neglecting to adequately illuminate our minds – then surely God is still effectively deciding the result and therefore is still the cause of sin, in much the same way as the God of Báñez which DBH powerfully rejects as evil. But if the gnomic will itself can decide, in a way undetermined by God or finite causes, then surely that is just straightforward libertarian free will? And if it is neither, and the uncreated abyss of evil, the irrational anti-logos, inevitably pulls us into original sin and ignorance… well, this may well get God off the hook. But is our will being determined by an uncreated evil principle really render us any more autonomous than being determined by God?

    Apologies if I’ve focused rather too much on the thought of DBH than was probably expected! I’ve been mulling this issues around for a while now, and I admit I find my inability to coherently and consistently interpret DBH on these points quite frustrating, and that I find the whole business of attempting to reconcile creaturely autonomy with God’s goodness as rather spiritually depressing. I’d really appreciate any thoughts from the author Robert, Fr. Kimel, or anyone else who has the misfortune to read this!

    Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi David,

      Questions concerning the relation between divine and human agency invariably come up against a intractable antinomy. However, upholding the tension within that mystery, I believe, is the key to tackling the subject. We must affirm then the real freedom of the human agent who participates in the divine creative act without collapsing either agency in a reductive scheme of ‘ontic continuity.’ But we can only do so with the deliberate affirmation that God’s transcendence moves beyond the determining and the determined. The key here I think is the notion of the Thomistic principle that God knows actions which He does not predetermine. DBH likes to speak of such ‘compatibilism’ (if indeed we can call it that, as I am sure some philosophical compabilitists would object) as a ‘peaceful order of analogical participation’ – an order in which the contest of wills simply does not reckon. Which is to say that the raw power of absolute divine sovereignty and the non-predisposed voluntarism of pure libertarian, spontaneous creaturely act do not register in the analogy of being. The it ‘solve’ the problem? Not by any account, but it does provide an outline within which we can frame our reflections about this frustrating, but important subject.

      Like

      • David S says:

        Thank you for your thoughtful engagement Robert. This is helpful and makes sense.

        However I’m still a little unclear on exactly how this view differs from straightforward libertarian free will. As I try to say in my previous post, I understand why we would want to move away from a purely ‘voluntarist’ understanding of the will, if this means a totally arbitrary will unconstrained by anything at all, with no nature or teleology behind it. I suppose this is what you mean by a ‘pure’ libertarian act, and DBH does indeed seem to reject this conception of the will. But I’m not sure many libertarians would actually think of the will in this way. I think it’s coherent to say there’s still a basic, underlying ‘cause’ behind all creaturely becoming – God’s will to sustain creation in existence, and the natural impulse towards God that drives every human action – whilst still holding that our individual actions are ‘up to us’ in the ultimate sense, and are neither determined horizontally or vertically by the divine will.

        So we can say there is a God-determined ‘natural’ will – the search for the good which ultimately drives all our willing, the ultimate telos behind every action – alongside a gnomic will determined purely by ourselves. So God, or the impulse towards God, is indeed the ‘reason’ behind every action – yet there are many possible actions we can commit to with this as the reason. Some are good actions, where the gnomic will begins to fall in line with the natural will, others bad actions, where the gnomic will chooses to depart from the natural will – still seeking the good of the natural will and being driven by it, but wrongly choosing to seek to satisfy it in ends other than God.

        But is this not just classic libertarian free will? DBH, after all, is totally insistent that God does not determine our will, certainly not determine our evil willing – neither horizontally, as Calvinists might have it, nor vertically/transcendentally and indirectly, as Thomists like Banez and Hugh McCann would have it. God does not decide the result, full stop. Sure, God still ‘causes’ our action in the sense of being the final cause, the telos behind all our actions. But one can pursue an identical goal in a myriad different ways, some good, some evil.

        I really do need help here. Just what is the difference between libertarian free will and DBH’s (and your?) position? Are you sure that, other than a quibble of terminology and the desire to avoid extremist voluntarist interpretations of free will, there is one? Or to ask a different, but very related question: how would a classical theist like DBH seek to resolve the question of God’s (fore)knowledge of human actions from his eternal perspective, if human actions have genuine autonomy are undetermined by God?

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Here’s how I see it, painting with broad strokes:

          A prior orientation toward the Good is seen as (pre)determination, understood as such a move against freedom. For a libertarian notion of freedom (and one can include many modern variations on this theme of freedom, but they share fundamental assumptions) there can then be no orientation toward the good, or if there is a prior orientation it is understood to effectually constrict or diminish the subject’s freedom. Freedom is defined as choice, any unfettered choice to do ‘the other’, for freedom is not constituted by the object of that which it desires (for indeed it cannot be as this is a determination of the object on the subject) but by the act of choice. It is unlikely that Alvin Plantinga would classify his notion of freedom as ‘libertarian’, but his theodicy is underwritten by this notion of human free-will through and through. On his account, it was necessary for God to create the possibility of evil for there to be true free human agents. God could not have created a world without evil, for had He created a world without the fall, then humanity would not be truly free. For the libertarian, freedom must require the ability to chose other than the good, it requires there to be the possibility evil. On this account without evil, without the real possibility to chose the ‘other than good’, the agent is not free. Even if a prior orientation is deemed to exist (as some will admit), freedom qua freedom is defined as the ability to chose against this orientation. Hence, the contest of the wills. Most theists will write this contest into infinity, with the human free-will holding the trump card against the divine will, resulting in an unending Hell. This is freedom.

          In my estimation the chief problem is a ‘lack of imagination’ to which Brian in a prior comment referred – it does not adequately distance post-lapsarian notions of the will and freedom from the divine Good. It mistakes, in other words, the present state of things with the condition of how things are divinely intended to be: ergo, some, like Plantinga, surmise that divine intention is (or is constricted due to the demands of freedom) to create a fallen world. I believe this stems from a denial of the analogia entis, a rejection of an ontological analogue which affirms a real similarity between the constitution of divine freedom and creaturely freedom. Freedom, understanding the divine as analogue, does not require evil, or the possibility of evil. Such understands the current gnomic equation of choosing to do other as an irrational departure from freedom, a move away from its prior orientation, a slide into the abyss of non-being. I don’t see this as a mere quibble about terminology. Do you?

          As to divine knowledge of human actions from the eternal perspective and our free actions – I don’t think this is to be resolved. Which is to say that God’s freedom and transcendence is beyond this ‘determined and determining’ dialectic. It is beyond in that there is free creaturely participation in God’s free act of creation. But this is no different than affirming the fundamental Creator/creation distinction – for where, after all, does God end and creation begin? This too is not to be resolved, for doing so would amount to a gross distortion – it would weaken the distinction as much as it would reify it.

          Liked by 2 people

          • David S says:

            I would quite agree the points you make on the nature of freedom. However I’m afraid I *still* don’t see how this contradicts the core of the libertarian position. Let me explain why.

            You are talking about the nature of freedom – or rather, I think, what ‘true’ freedom, or ‘real’ freedom is. I quite agree that real freedom would be for one’s will to be utterly aligned with God’s, and that is the kind of freedom God wants us to have. Some think that in order for an act to be truly free in this sense, there must first be a range of options, the ability to do good or evil. I agree that this view is false: God, after all, who necessarily can only do good, is freest of all. God does not want us to have the kind of false freedom of choice between good and evil, he wants us to have real freedom, the kind of freedom he possesses, the freedom which cannot will anything but good.

            So, for whatever reason, we find ourselves in the position of not being irresistibly aligned with God’s will, as not possessing true freedom. However we obviously still possess some kind of autonomy, some ability to choose – and it is the nature of this choice which I am trying to analyse, rather than the nature of ‘freedom’ as you define it (I’ve been quite careful to talk of autonomy and choice, rather than freedom).

            So sure, many (not all) libertarians may argue that their libertarian view of the will is a good thing, that God desires it, and is perhaps even a necessary precondition for ‘true’ freedom. I happen to disagree with them, but no matter. Believing in libertarian choice (I think) simply means believing that our choices are truly left up to us, and are not vertically determined or otherwise settled by God, no matter how transcendentally this settling might be envisaged. Whether that is a good thing or not, and how this might relate to God’s vision of true freedom, is not really essential to the claim.

            So I agree that libertarian ‘freedom’ (or autonomy, as I prefer) is not true freedom, it is not good, and is not what God wants. But this does not mean we do not have it – creation, after all, is fallen. So the question I am trying to answer is: does the postlapsarian, sinful gnomic will act in the way thus described – does it have libertarian choice, such that God does not transcendentally decide what this choice will be? Or is it otherwise determined – either as a slave to ignorance and other causal factors within the contingent order, or in accordance with God’s transcendent will, as Banez would have it? Which do you think?

            P.S. The reason I brought up God’s foreknowledge is that, if indeed the sinful gnomic will acts in the libertarian manner described, this should mean that our choices are, in principle, unknowable until they are actually made – i.e. our choice logically precedes God’s knowledge of that choice, rather than God’s knowledge logically preceding the choice (because otherwise God’s ‘knowledge’ would be determining our action, and it would therefore not be a libertarian choice). And as it is obviously difficult (if not definitely impossible) to reconcile this with God’s timelessness, I was hoping this would tease out one’s understanding of choice.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Hi David,

            I am of the opinion that the gnomic will is autonomous in the sense of not having been predetermined. It does constitute a perversion of the orientation towards the good, inasmuch as it mistakes evil for the good – it is thus less than free (freedom as defined in my previous comment), albeit it is autonomous and divinely undetermined.

            I do not conclude, however, that these autonomous and free acts are therefore unknowable as, following Aquinas, I believe God foreknows actions He does not predetermine. Using DBH’s words God knows ‘the free transgressions of his creatures by way of the good acts he positively wills through the freedom of the rational souls he creates’ (Providence and Causality, p 46). The logic of sequence (first we act, then God knows) breaks down, for divine knowledge does not equate determination.

            If you find this disagreeable you are definitely not thinking freely. 🙂 just kidding.

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          • David S says:

            Hi Robert,

            Thanks for this. So the gnomic will is indeed truly indeterminate – God does not vertically/transcendentally decide what our gnomic will will be, but rather our gnomic will autonomously decides for itself. This position therefore stands in stark contrast to the kind of ‘double agency’ view in which God meticulously determines every single supposedly autonomous action, while somehow avoiding responsibility for sin, e.g. as advanced by Hugh McCaan and explored at length in this blog elsewhere. Correct?

            If that’s the case I don’t quite understand how a timeless God can be aware of our actions. You say that, in line with Aquinas, you believe God foreknows actions he does not determine. But how is this possible?

            The way Aquinas argues this is possible, from what I can make out, is that God determines certain good actions, but avoids determining every action to be good, or as good as it could be. The ‘gap’ between the theoretical purely good act, and the deficient good acts actually determined, is what we call evil – the absence of good. Therefore God is off the hook – he didn’t positively create the evil, he just willed the good act. On this view it is easy to understand how God has foreknowledge – God only really determines certain specific good things, and everything left over is by definition, as the absence of good, evil – solved like an algebra puzzle. And because God is effectively deciding everything after all, he obviously knows what will happen. Simple.

            But as DBH argues – indeed, it seems to be the central point of the entire article – on this Thomist/Benazian view, God is still ultimately responsible for this lack of good, this evil. For Aquinas, God does not genuinely will the good of all – he deliberately foreordains the fall, evil, and damnation. Sure, God may not technically determine an individual’s damnation and their evil acts, but he nevertheless deliberately underdetermines them such that they infallibly occur, by neglecting to create the fullest good possible. But this, for DBH, cannot be. God is not a schizophrenic – he genuinely wills the absolute good of all. God wants more than ambiguous, imperfect and limited good, he wants perfect good.

            Therefore I don’t understand what DBH means in your quote that ‘God knows the free transgressions of his creatures by way of the good acts he positively wills through the freedom of the rational souls he creates’. That would function as an explanation of God’s foreknowledge if was endorsing something like the position outlined and rejected above – God wills us to be good to X extent, therefore we unavoidably sin to Y extent. But you and DBH would not argue that God’s will towards goodness is limited in this way – God genuinely wills, not only the good we all too rarely manage to do, but also the good we in fact fail to do. God does not – in the present world – get exactly what he wants: because the gnomic will is truly autonomous, it does not do whatever God determines. Therefore God must will a multitude of good acts which do not in fact occur. It therefore is left unexplained how God has knowledge even of the good acts we perform (because the good he wills is not coterminous with the good that in fact occurs) and this knowledge of good therefore cannot serve as an explanation of knowledge of our free transgressions. Do you have an explanation you could share?

            Hopefully that wasn’t too disagreeable… although it’s not really agreement either… I suppose it transcends the two? 🙂

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            A gnomic will which is not indeterminate (i.e. not autonomous, not free) can hardly be held to account for its actions. Now if I was inclined to sarcasm I would add that accountability for actions against the will is not a real problem for, with a dose of mystery and equivocity, God can do anything He wants, His justice is not our justice. So we are told. But I don’t like sarcasm, so never mind that.

            I would have to ask how you understand divine timelessness – do events in our time unfold to God in succession? Difficulties arise in projecting anthropomorphic phenomenology onto the divine and onto divine timelessness. Completion of time necessitates determination for us. An undetermined moment can only be known after it has occurred, to us; but the whole point of the claim that ‘God knows actions which he does not predetermine’ is to challenge just this anthropomorphicism – for God already knows, without determination, the free actions we will yet have to make.

            I do agree that God does not ‘get what he wants’ in this present state of creation: for the gnomic will is truly autonomous. However, I would not ascribe this to (a lack of) divine determination, as you seem to indicate the gnomic will ‘does not do whatever God determines. Such determination would point to a contest of the wills and any such oppositional zero-sum equation of divine vs. creaturely will I don’t accept as accurate on the grounds of the traditional doctrine of divine transcendence. I also reject on the same grounds any notion that God must will good acts which do not in fact occur. I suggest the above deficiencies stem from a view of the divine/human agency which foregrounds univocity at the cost of analogy of being, an analogy of participation which insists in upholding similarity within dissimilarity. The explanation I suggest and insist is that God indeed does know our free actions, actions which He nevertheless does not determine. The problems you see that arise from this (i.e. God must will acts that do not occur, and He does not know our good acts) would only hold if God knows, wills and experiences in a univocal sense as we know, will and experience.

            Liked by 1 person

  10. David S says:

    I’m quite perplexed by the language of rejecting a zero-sum game/opposition between divine/human wills, as part of your solution for claiming that God does not determine (or deliberately underdetermine) the actions of our gnomic will. From what I can see this understanding is usually used to justify the exact opposite! i.e. divine willing and human willing are completely different types of things, therefore it’s supposedly coherent to say we are acting autonomously so long as there are no contingent causes determining us on a creaturely level, even if God vertically determines our actions on a divine level. God infallibly determining that we perform a certain act, even an evil act, supposedly does not mean we are not also freely willing that act, because the wills opposite in totally different ways. Certainly this is what I take from Herbert McCabe, Hugh McCann, this blog, etc. But you, I think, use it to argue the exact opposite – God is not determining our will on any level, neither through contingent creaturely causes or mysterious divine vertical causes. Or I am grossly misunderstanding you?

    Anyway I agree that if God determines our gnomic will, we can hardly be held accountable for our actions, and I too want to hold onto a strong sense of God’s transcendence over time. I’m just struggling to see how these two fit together. You claim that an undetermined moment cannot be *known* by us until it happens, but not so for God. But surely, if we are truly autonomous, there is an ontological, not merely epistemological, aspect to this claim. The (divinely) undetermined action is not simply unknown to us until the point it is made. It is not actually determined in any sense until we actually make a decision and determine it. It has no ontological reality until it is made.

    But if in timeless eternity, God has knowledge of our evil acts, surely that must mean the result of our actions are ontologically settled after all _ there is a marker in eternity saying everything
    I will do. Sure, God’s knowledge is not exactly like ours. But to me a kind of knowledge that somehow can logically know undetermined acts at a logical moment before they are in fact determined, I’d to me not just different but the exact opposite of what we normally mean by knowledge and a contradiction in terms – just as theodicies which attempt to resolve the problem of evil by appealing to transcendence and mystery and end up redefining evil as good don’t make sense, I’m not sure how this makes sense either. Sure, as timeless God sees all history before him as one. But how does this work when things inside that history are truly undetermined? How can God’s experience of willing to create me be simultaneously with his experience of me performing a sin, if that particular sin is in principle indefinable and unknowable until it is committed? God’s existence includes his knowledge. But if the ontological grounding of that knowledge – our undetermined actions – do not yet fully exist, in what sense can God be said to exist now, or to logically precede or existence?

    Unless, of course, our choices are made at an eternal level also. But what could this mean?

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  11. brian says:

    Father posted this interview with Eleanor Stump awhile back. I am not a fan of possible worlds type arguments for the most part, but aside from that, there is much that is helpful in her explanation of eternal and temporal modes of existence.

    I would also recur, as I often do, to William Desmond’s distinction between the passio essendi and conatus essendi. We come from nothing. We have no ground other than the perduring gift of God. Yet that gift is both root and telos: God does not determine our acts of conatus essendi; he knows what he makes and what he makes is the eternal flourishing he intends. If one takes into account a proper understanding of divine transcendence, one can infer that God “knows” the “deficit” or privation from the unique good he intends in each temporal “moment” of “becoming,” though in the unique manner of eternity. If the gnomic will is destined to disappear into the perfect freedom of the natural will in eternity, then God displays his agapeic apathia (so to speak) in always gifting (passio essendi) the logoi of creatures in Christ. For us, this appears that God is “waiting to respond,” but for God, He is “always already” responding to each unique moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Thanks Brian, and I found Eleanor’s remarks helpful as well, thank you.

      David – by denying a ‘zero-sum’ equation I mean to highlight that our freedom does not detract from or impede upon God’s freedom – and vice versa. The language of determination all too easily misleads one into thinking along the lines of opposition and competition in which my win is your loss.

      Your questions are good questions to ask, questions that explore the nature of divine/human relation – but a common refrain in my responses, I am sure you will have noticed, is that in my estimation you are not fully accounting for analogue similarity within the always greater dissimilarity. True likeness is affirmed in the acknowledgement of infinite disjunction. Conclusions are drawn, or your thinking goes into a direction, which on the grounds of the analogical ontology are not warranted. So, for example, my response to your the penultimate question in your most recent comment that, ‘if the ontological grounding of that knowledge – our undetermined actions – do not yet fully exist, in what sense can God be said to exist now, or to logically precede or existence?’ is to point out that the undetermined actions don’t have their existence yet to us. They always already exist to God, however. But I will grant you this, it is deeply imponderable for how can something be truly free whilst also already be known? But as mysterious as it is, I find this illogical conundrum plausible still for God who is beyond time, for whom the sequential unfolding of events does not hold. I find the mystery of the truly free which is always already known by God, no greater an imponderability than creatio ex nihilo and the notion that God can create free agents, or to use DBH’s words, create ‘dependent freedoms that he does not determine.’

      Liked by 1 person

      • David S says:

        Brian, Robert, thank you – interesting stuff to ponder on indeed.

        On the zero sum stuff… sure, our ‘freedom’ cannot impinge on God’s freedom, but only when we define freedom such that it by definition means following our natural will, i.e. doing whatever God wants. But do you think we can also say that our autonomous actions do not impinge on God’s actions? We’ve already admitted that God does not always ‘get what he wants’. I’m not sure how this isn’t a competition of wills: our will is not in alignment with God’s will, and God wills a good that is not fully achieved in this life. Normally those who espouse the ‘no zero sum equation’ stuff are claiming that God is vertically determining/deliberately underdetermining reality to be exactly as he wishes, and claiming that autonomous choice is compatible with God deciding the detail of every single choice, so long as this is accomplished through a transcendent cause and not a series of horizontal contingent causes. That is absolutely what I take Fr. Kimel to be saying when he blog on Hugh McCann for example (apologies if this is a caricature), but it seems to me from your comments here that you would disagree, despite the similar language.

        I suppose I just don’t find pointing to the analogical nature of all our language about God as convincing as you guys do. I still find myself asking the question: what is the cause of God’s knowledge that I will autonomously choose to do X tomorrow?

        If is the actual act itself that causes – or otherwise certifies and underwrites God’s knowledge – then it would mean that the sufficient condition (which would be the conclusion of all autonomous acts ever to be made in the history of the universe) for God’s consciousness – His one and only unitary conscious act – would not yet exist. God’s consciousness would be dependent on something that ontologically currently has no existence. Or if we try to solve this by saying that while our autonomous actions do not exist yet to us, they do to God in eternity… doesn’t this imply that these decisions have actually been made in eternity (and if so, by whom, and how?)

        If God, or God’s knowledge, if somehow doing the causing, then clearly that is the cause of my actions, not my gnomic will, and I am not autonomous after all.

        And if we want to avoid the dichotomy between God causing or being caused, determining or being determined… I just find this claim radically incoherent in this context. Surely it must be the case that, if my actions are autonomous and undetermined, then when I choose to perform action X, then action X is the cause of God’s knowledge of my doing action X. I am not saying that God first ‘sees’ my action and then calculates what I am up to, or that my action establishes some mechanism by which we communicate knowledge to God. I simply mean that my action is the logical ground of God’s knowledge, not vice versa – and if it were, our actions clearly would not be autonomous. I don’t see any third option here, other than mysterious eternal uncaused knowledge of our actions, which just sounds like a kind of reheated Molinism to me.

        But anyway, while I’m still confounded by this particular example, I do (or should) appreciate the more general point that human being’s assumptions about causality and the nature of reality are not always correct! Free will is complex, time is complex, God is complex… I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this trinity of incomprehensibles remains incomprehensible when put together!

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I am curious to know what Fr Kimel has to say about the ‘zero sum equation’. I readily grant that it is an imprecise metaphor.

          The cause of God’s knowledge what you will autonomously choose to do tomorrow is what you will choose to do tomorrow: existing always already to God in eternity, while yet open and undetermined to you. This is far from Molinism.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. David S says:

    Sounds to me like we are determining God then. That’s fine to me, but seems to run against the idea that we need to move beyond the dichotomy of God writer as being determined or determining.

    Are you saying the knowledge is present to God, or the action itself? If the latter, how does that work? If the former, this still seems impossible knowledge, analogical or not, if we are truly autonomous. When you make an autonomous decision, do you have the power to alter god’s beliefs in timeless eternity or not? If yes, how on earth does that work – how can those beliefs be there ‘always already’ as part of God’s immutable unitary consciousness, yet changeable? If not, how can we be autonomous when it is literally logically impossible for us to do any other action other than what is already fixed in timeless eternity? There is no alternative.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      The irreducible antinomy remains, the tension will not, indeed should not, be resolved for the ‘divine beyond’ is not to be collapsed into our mode of being; the logic of our mode of being means actions already known must logically be determined, but this is just what the antinomy refuses to concede…. Therefore I maintain that we do not determine the divine – our freedom to freely determine does not take away from God’s freedom, nor does God’s freedom to determine impede on our freedom…this is what the ‘zero-sum equation’ denotes (as I use it anyways). God is beyond the either/or dialectic of ‘either God’ or ‘else the creature’. The creature then freely participates in God’s free creative act.

      This is no greater mystery than God’s creation of the cosmos while denying the cosmos is God – but how can there be anything ‘outside’ of God? Most will agree there cannot be anything outside of God, but in what way then can we say that it is not part of God? The answer there too is that God is not an agent within the confines of time and space, for He is beyond creaturely mode of being, and this is why creatures call Him God.

      If you have not already read David Burrell’s Aquinas: God and Action you may find some worthwhile insight from him there. Robinette’s article (referenced in my post) The Difference Nothing Makes is also very worthwhile, for he connects God’s creative gratuity as the ground for our freedom.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Dear friends,

    As you know I have been unable to follow this most excellent discussion, as my attention has been required elsewhere during the past few weeks. But now that my class on patristic anthropology with Fr John Behr has concluded and I have returned home from Wisconsin, I thought I’d skim through the comments. Wow! This has been an outstanding thread. My compliments!

    I have focused my attention in particular on the ongoing discussion between Robert and David on divine and human agency. Robert and David, it seems to me that you have well identified the critical points regarding what I deem to be a genuine aporia. If I am right that that we are dealing here with a genuine aporia, then we will never be able to advance a coherent explanation for human freedom, at least not on this side of our mortality, as we are incapable of apprehending what Austin Farrer calls the “causal joint” between divine and human agency. But we can, I think, reason our way to the aporia in such a way as to see why we are dealing with aporia and just not a conundrum that we might hope to resolve if we were but smarter than David B. Hart.

    A few observations which will surprise neither of you, given how well read you both are on this topic.

    1) I stand with DBH in his insistence that God transcends our categories of necessity and freedom, determinism and incompatibilism. I think we are presented here with an absolute choice. If we don’t get this right, all of our subsequent reflection down the line will be wrong. This is why I personally find so much of the contemporary analytic debates between compatibilism and libertarianism wrong-headed and unhelpful. The debates are constructed in terms of how we understand finite, this-world causality (which is why atheists can engage in the compatibilism/libertarian debates as vigorously as theists), which is then projected onto the Creator/creature relationship. We thus end up with a competitive construal of divine and human agency: human freedom requires autonomy and independence, i.e., freedom from God. This competitive construal, I am convinced, is wrong and must be wrong.

    2) If God has created the universe from out of nothing–indeed, is eternally creating it from out of nothing–then everything is “caused” by him at the deepest level of ontological gifting. The invocation of “cause” here, as Robert rightly asserts, can only be understood analogically. (Are we dealing here with analogical or metaphorical language? I’m not sure.) Creaturely creation does not confer absolute being, but divine creation does. This means, I think, that everything that exists, everything that happens, including our choices and actions, exist because God brings them into existence. If he did not, they wouldn’t exist in the first place. To infer that human freedom requires independence from God is a mistake. If God were not “causing” me to type this comment at this very moment, I wouldn’t be doing it. How could there ever be a Creator-free zone? So we end up with the mythological notion that God’s act of creation requires some sort of divine self-emptying, perhaps something along the lines of the Kabbalistic notion of tzimtzum.

    3) Yet the mainstream catholic tradition emphatically asserts human freedom. How? I have yet to find a better answer than the one advanced by Herbert McCabe:

    I am free in fact, not because God withdraws from me and leaves me my independence—as with a man who frees his slaves, or good parents who let their children come to independence—but just the other way round. I am free because God is in a sense more directly the cause of my actions than he is of the behaviour of unfree beings. In the case of an unfree creature its behaviour is perhaps its own (in the case of a living thing—for this is what we mean by a living thing), but is also caused by whatever gave it its structure and whatever forces are operating on it. We can give an account of the behaviour of the dog (or we would like to be able to give an account of the behaviour of the dog) in terms of such causal factors. And may we could go back and explain these causal factors in other more general terms of physics and so on. It is only at the end of such a long chain that we come to the end of this kind of scientific explanation and ask the most radical question of all: yes, but how come any of this instead of nothing? God does bring about the action of the dog, but he does so by causing other things to cause it. God brings about my free action, however, not by causing other things to cause it, he brings it about directly. The creative act of God is there immediately in my freedom. My freedom is, so to say, a window of God’s creating; the creativity of God is not masked by intermediate causes. In human freedom we have the nearest thing to a direct look at the creative act of God (apart, says the Christian, from Christ himself, who is the act of God). We are free not because God is absent or leaves us alone, we are free because God is more present—not of course in the sense that there is more of God there in the free being, but in the sense that there is nothing, so to say, to distract us. God is not acting here by causing other things to cause this act, he is directly and simply causing it. So God is not an alternative to freedom, he is the direct cause of freedom. We are not free in spite of God, but because of God. (God Matters, pp. 14-15)

    In my opinion, McCabe here advances the only possible explanation, even though it is an explanation that does not permit us to satisfactorily resolve our concerns that touch on the burning issue of theodicy. The way I figure it, if David B. Hart can’t figure all of this out, I’m not going to feel bad that I can’t. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • David S says:

      Thank you for this Father – and Robert and Brian, whose engagement I am benefiting from greatly.

      Certainly I accept that all creaturely actions are brought into existence by God. Nothing does or can exist apart from God’s will, as the ground of all. But does this mean that every detail of every instance of creaturely acting and willing is specified by and contained in God’s will? Even an open theist could, after all, accept that all *actions* are caused by God, in the sense that God causes the reality that enables an agent to cause either X or Y and, once we have decided to choose X, God will ‘back up’ our autonomy by actualising the state of affairs of X. I think you are going beyond this however, and saying that the very act of me choosing to do X is directly caused by God.

      If that is the case, then surely this is indeed a case of God ‘vertically determining’ all creaturely wills? Or, as discussed above, if we are unhappy with saying God is directly determining sin, he nevertheless meticulously ‘picks the result’ by avoiding creating us with perfect natures and only willing us to does less than fully perfect good acts, making specific sins inevitable?

      This view, of course, poses some difficulties for theodicy. McCabe seeks to justify this with the following:

      “When, therefore, I act in a less-than-human way, this is a failure on my part because acting in a human way is what I am for. But the fact that God has not made me act in a human way is not a failure on his part because this is not what he is for. It needs a kind of cosmic megalomania to suppose that God has the job of saving my soul and is to be given bad marks if he does not do that.”

      God is indeed responsible for our failures then, on this view, but this is judged not to be a problem because human autonomy is compatible with (vertical and divine, but not horizontal and this-worldly) determinism.

      Meanwhile Robert states that a gnomic will which is not indeterminate cannot be held accountable for its actions. This seems to be in line with DBH’s view as well, from my reading of him.

      I am not saying that believing that is necessarily a problem. I am just trying to clarify that, from my perspective, there seems to be a genuine division of views here. Both views stress the mysteriousness of the nature of freedom, and use the transcendence of God to justify an apparently illogical leap. But it seems to me that the transcendence argument is used at rather different points in the argument:

      For McCabe and co, the logical problem is how human autonomy can be compatible with divine transcendence, and how a good God could permit evil if so. We point out, given God’s transcendence, divine and creaturely autonomy is not a zero-sum game and, voila, God can vertically determine every choice we make and yet we still remain free.

      Robert and, I think, DBH, reject this view however. Here creaturely autonomy (albeit not ‘true freedom’) is seen as genuinely indeterminate, and the idea that God could be directly determining (or, less directly, deliberately underdetermining) our will is seen as incompatible with genuine autonomy. DBH indeed dismisses such a God as evil.

      For this view, the logical problem instead if one of how an omniscient, timeless God could possibly know what is going on in the world, when the world is not ‘finished’ yet as it were, and the world is genuinely indeterminate. Again, transcendence is appealed to and, voila, God can mysteriously know such actions anyway (I confess I cannot even begin to understand this view for the reasons I outline in previous posts, and I wonder why DBH and Robert appeal to Aquinas’ view that God knows our undetermined acts (sins) via the good acts he determines, given Aquinas essentially endorses the view rejected above of God vertically determining everything – i.e. it only makes sense as an explanation if we assume God only wills specific good acts and this necessarily and unavoidably means creatures will, given their imperfect natures, ‘freely’ choose sins when not upheld by God, as with Beza).

      I apologise if there is some simplification here, but I am trying to put my finger on exactly what positions are being put forward here. Am I inventing problems or is there a genuine difference in views here?

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        It may well be that Robert and I disagree at the very point you mention, David. I imagine that he and I need to explore that further. I do tend to follow Aquinas more closely than Robert does on this question. On the other hand, I suspect that both Aquinas and DBH would agree that the transcendence/immanence of God, his radical difference, blows all of our categories of determinism and freedom, compatibilism and libertarianism, out of the water. Hence in my view the existence of evil and sin becomes a genuine aporia that cannot be rationalized or explained away.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        David,

        My position is that God knows evil as a privation of the good he wills, thus He knows it without ‘vertical’ determination (for He does not will it).

        As to the question of determination and freedom, perhaps it is helpful to understand the sense of divine eternal timelessness, as does Gregory of Nyssa, by way of relation to the simultaneity of creation. It was created in an indivisible moment before time (for time is inextricably part of the created order, following Nyssa) so that it all was completely created without adding anything later. Words fail as it is not correct to speak of a moment before time – there was no moment (truly ex nihilo, without preexisitng matter or time). But the point is that from this timeless moment of God’s creative act, all of creation, and all of created times, from its beginning to its end, is present to God’s eternity. It is done – and yet to the creature time is open, coming to its being (and completion) by way of change until it’s measure of successive moments is full. The creature is thus able (while time remains available to it) to freely participate in God’s free creative act which is already completed. Completed, for there neither exists extension in time or place to God.

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        • john zande says:

          My apologies for jumping in here, but this comment to David is interesting. It’s a fascinating subject.

          ”The creature is thus able (while time remains available to it) to freely participate in God’s free creative act which is already completed. Completed, for there neither exists extension in time or place to God.”

          I’m assuming you believe that, when completed, Creation will be (despite its present composition) wholly good.

          Given the historical continuum (13.8 billion years) and this world’s relentless movement to greater complexity, and through greater complexity ever-greater expressions of suffering, at which point (in the future) do you see good taking precedence over what has been, to date, only increasing orders of suffering?

          I ask because Creation is, by every meaningful measure, a complexity machine: a self-enriching engine spilling out from a state of ancestral simplicity to contemporary complexity where the greater talents awarded to each succeeding generation of things have always produced evil proportionate to the extent of their powers.

          That is an established and irrefutable fact. By simple but persuasive design the old and the ordinary yield to the new and the exciting, and with the new comes more energetic and capable families of physiological, emotional, psychological and, more recently, economic and technological pain. Indeed, for organisms whose fitness depends only on their own sequence information, physical complexity (be it genetic, behavioural, cultural, technological or economic) must always increase, and as it does so too does that organism’s exposure to an ever more potent ecology of potential suffering; both real and, with the appropriate neurological capacity, imagined in a million busy little paranoia’s.

          So, if the final product is good, when will the good begin to consume the evil, and in doing so, start Creation off towards this conclusion?

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  14. brian says:

    I must say I don’t particularly see any necessary contradiction between the McCabe quote and Hart insofar as there is nothing in Hart that denies secondary causality. In any event, the non-competitiveness of human and divine freedom is both God’s patience in permitting and making possible a secondary causality that frequently derails into sin and God’s nurturing of “becoming being” into an ontological flourishing that properly realizes freedom in a perfection “beyond choice.”

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Howdy, Brian. I read over my comment, and I don’t think I suggested a contradiction between DBH and McCabe. I just like the way states immediacy of God’s action in our freedom.

      Like

  15. brian says:

    Father,

    I suppose I read the opening sentence of section 3: “Yet the mainstream catholic tradition emphatically asserts . . . ” as implying some sort of distinction from sections 1 & 2. I was thrown off by the “yet.”

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  16. john zande says:

    The very presence of theodicies negates the thesis of a maximally good Creator. Theodicies are excuses for why things are not as they should be had matter been persuaded to behave by a benevolent hand, rather than a coherent explanation for why things are as they are in the unignorable presence of a Creator. A genuine truth does not tolerate excuses. A truth that requires annotation is not a truth, but a fabrication.

    Have you ever considered that you might have simply mischaracterised the nature of the Creator, and His Creation?

    Why should the staggering amount of evil be source of enormous confusion for believers on God? Is there any legitimate argument to justify the confusion? Is there any plausible pretext or historically compelling observation to rationally feed and sustain the puzzlement? Is there any credible reason to even suspect that the world has somehow gone terribly, drastically, hopelessly wrong, as opposed to it simply performing precisely as desired by its Creator?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for stopping by. It appears we start from completely different starting points; unsurprisingly these lead us to gather our thoughts along wildly divergent paths. But univocity has never appealed to me as I deem it so terribly lacking of imagination, of freedom, and devoid of hope unable to look beyond the now. I rather gaze in wonder at the astonishing ekstatis that surrounds us, icon ever pointing beyond itself. Call me a dreamer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • john zande says:

        Hi Robert,

        You don’t think even an elemental understanding of the nature of the Creator is essential? I find that impossible to believe. If, as you say, you revel in the wonders of Creation then you are, by default, ascribing some opinion to the nature of the Creator.

        But I am curious: Why should the staggering amount of evil be source of enormous confusion for believers on God? Is there any credible reason to even suspect that the world has somehow gone terribly, drastically, hopelessly wrong, as opposed to it simply performing precisely as desired by its Creator?

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  17. Robert Fortuin says:

    Words fail, but I will try.

    Credible reason you ask? I take it as axiomatic that, let’s say, the senseless suffering of a 6 year old child cursed with stage 4 bone marrow cancer and the horrific slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent Rwandans by machete are without question fundamentally at odds with the Creator’s will for his creation.

    But admittedly this requires hope and faith beyond what we behold, that ray of light ever so small illuminating the hole in the earth.

    We do agree on at least this: like you I don’t think it is possible to do theology without at least some measure of reflection on the nature of God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • john zande says:

      Hi Robert,

      I can understand (and certainly appreciate) the awkwardness of the question, but why is it without question that such suffering is at odds with the Creator’s will for his creation?

      Upon what rational (historical) basis is that assertion made?

      Although being emotionally appealing, simply saying faith and hope [in a benevolent hand, I presume) appears to cast the Creator as hopelessly incompetent; a being who, while meaning good, has lost total control of his creation.

      I’d hazard to say ‘incompetence’ is not a quality you’d quickly ascribe to the Creator.

      God, by definition, is maximally competent. God, by definition, is maximally efficient. There are no mistakes. There can be no mistakes, no missteps, no lapses or miscalculations. What exists, exists for a reason, and to suggest evil (suffering) exists because of some personal ineptitude or imbecilic blunder in the design is athletically—historically—preposterous.

      Perhaps another question (the greatest question never asked) might be appropriate here:

      What purpose do you think Creation serves? Why did the Creator create this artificial world?

      In your understanding, why is there something rather than nothing?

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        John,

        It is based on the Paschal event, inasmuch it is not an affirmation of the status quo but radical triumph over evil and death. Pascha also signals, not coincidentally, creation’s purpose and why there’s something rather than nothing.

        Like

        • john zande says:

          Hi Robert

          With all due respect, but I asked for historically compelling information to support your assertion that suffering is at odds with the Creator’s will for his creation.

          The Easter event you mention didn’t change a single thing in this world. The world the day after was exactly the same as the world the day before, saturated with hunger and thirst, predation, fear, disease, parasitism, starvation, sexual frustration, intraspecific aggression, ostracism, neuroses, complex and not-so complex phobias, and doggedly relentless decay.

          Robert, we’re talking about 13.8 billion years, and if we look at just this planet, the earth, it was only some 210 million years ago when life stumbled upon the chemicals (enkephalin) and cellular structures (opioid receptors) with which it could begin to even recognise the first spasms of something not unlike ‘happiness.’ That means for some 3.5 billion years of terrestrial evolution untold billions of generations of living things had suffered enormously without even as much as the hope of corporeal relief.

          Historically, that appears to any honest observer to indicate a Creator who’s not only fascinated with suffering, but an entity who craves it’s augmentation over time.

          Indeed, when we look at the grand picture we see that suffering is built into the very nature of all things.

          It is growing, and it is growing without interruption or meaningful regress.

          It is not however some emergent, ultramodern phenomena there to be experienced only by those organisms who have reached a level of biological sophistication which an inattentive human mind might equate with sentience. The truth is far more offensive.

          Although not cognitively aware of the sensation of pain, plants (from 3.5 billion years old algae to angiosperms) not only experience suffering in the form of chemical panic felt by the entire organism via electrical impulses transmitted across the plasmodesmata, but it is now known that they live in fear of their ferociously peculiar understanding of pain.

          Located deep inside the plant genome, isolated within the first intron MPK4, lay three ancient genes (PR1, PR2, PR5) that have revealed to researchers that MPK4 is devoted to negative regulation of the PR gene expression. This gene expression is anticipatory. It is expectant. It is preparatory. It is suspicious. It is, in a word, fearful. If translated to the human experience, the PR gene expression is what a human observer would identify with as a deep-rooted, physiologically hardwired anxiety; a most ancient paranoia. It is a neurosis that rages against the night, against annihilation, and it is upon this antediluvian bedrock of fear and apprehension which all terrestrial life is raised; a gentle but persuasive insanity that has been replicated and expanded upon through increasing orders of biological complexity.

          Humans, Robert, are 1.2 million years old. Modern man, 200,000 years, and our presence on the face of this particular planet has not reduced suffering, rather augmented it. Amplified it.

          The event you mention 2,000 years ago changed nothing. In fact, the methods and means by which suffering can be experienced and delivered has only increased since.

          This brings us back to the question I asked in the first comment. Given this unignorable pattern to ever-greater expressions of suffering, have you ever considered that you might have simply mischaracterised the nature of the Creator, and His Creation?

          Where in history do you find any data points to support your idea for a benevolent hand?

          Like

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        You misunderstood me John. Pascha is benevolence. Pascha is the event that informs all other events, provides meaning to all information, it is the Narrative by which all other narratives are held to account. And so, unsurprisingly, I find an explanation of God, of the cosmos, and our existence, following the narrative as you present it, wholly inadequate, failing, and terribly implausible. I don’t think we disagree about information so much as we disagree about the interpretation afforded to data.

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        • john zande says:

          I’m sorry, but I’m a little baffled by your comment. How can one misinterpret hard historical data?

          It is a hard fact, for instance, that it was only 210 million years ago that the physical mechanisms necessary for an organism to experience ‘happiness’ (enkephalin and opioid receptors) came into existence. It’s a hard fact that the PR gene expression in plants is a most ancient paranoia.

          These are historical facts. They are not open to ‘interpretation.’

          Now, whereas I understand you say the Easter event 2,000 years ago satisfies some theological sentence in your belief system, it is not reflected in any way in the actual world.

          Nothing changed 2,000 years ago. Nothing. This complexity machine continued doing what it had faithfully done for the preceding 13.8 billion years: spilling out from a state of ancestral simplicity to contemporary complexity, where complexity corresponds precisely to a forever expanding ecology of suffering.

          Perhaps I can cast my original question in another way by drawing your attention to William Paley’s remarkably accurate observation:

          “Contrivance proves design, and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer.”

          Know then the disposition, revealed as it must be through the design (through the predominant tendency, or output of the contrivance), and one may know the designer.

          Robert, with 13.8 billion years to survey and draw our conclusions from, what is the predominant tendency of the contrivance?

          Like

          • Rob says:

            I hesitate to even enter the debate. But the issues you have are misplaced. God is reasoned to not by any historic calculus, but through ontology and metaphysics. I see that you somehow take seriously Stephen Law’s evil challenge because like Paley you view God has an artificer not donating being. No traditional theist would grant that evil exits as anything other than a probation or distortion; evils are the result of free creation failing to participate in the eternal good that is God. I don’t know where you come up with absurdities like “plants aren’t cognitively conscious but they experience pain and suffering.” Or that they live in “anticipation”, That’s simply a contradiction in termsHow could plants be unconscious and experience anything as experience is a by product of consciousness? And this strange pessimistic/ nihilistic geneological account of fear as the basis of life is just a far flung just-so-story that thinks it gains legitimacy by throwing around genetics. It’s also a story that geneticists would allow for as competent ateiological description. Rather it’s your strange interpretation of historical facts also facts that aren’t quite as hard and fast you’d like. And it’s also incoherent on its own terms. So the reason that organisms exist and continue on is is because they’re “afraid” of dying. Well they couldn’t do that without living first could they? It also leaves out why people (plants?) don’t why to die: it’s because they desire to live. Any “negative regulatory functio” that fear has is not the primary motivation of organisms rather it is a secondary function grounded in prior reality of the joy people and animals (and perhaps analogically plants) have in being-existing. There’s no way around that. That fear can get out of hand and even become unhealthy is also insight based on as being but a part of the human life that has limited function but is not the central motivation of human life. When it is a primary motivation build life very sad lives. And despite your nihilistic outlook most people despite the great suffering they face are not broken by it. Because they have a hope in a reality and good not fully realized here on earth. And if every desire exists for some purpose, we must wonder as Lewis was want to do, why we should have it? And this desire for the good that transcends any good in our world and that condemns the world leads us inexorably to the transcendent. Really I’m just paraphrasing Plato, who was interested in how we always act with some good in mind and went from there and climbed the ladder so to speak.

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          • john zande says:

            Hi Rob

            God is reasoned to not by any historic calculus, but through ontology and metaphysics

            I disagree entirely, and I take your statement to read that you know you cannot study the actual world for that contradicts your theology. I am not burdened by that problem. I do not need to escape to th ethereal world of metaphysics to demonstrate the Creator. I look at 13.8 billion years of history and draw my conclusions from the revealed patterns, and those patterns speak to a Creator who is not only fascinated by suffering, but craves its augmentation over time.

            This does not, however, mean the Creator is evil. Not by our standard definitions.

            You seem to think I’m trying to cast some traditional god concept as evil. I’m doing nothing of the like. I’m not litigating the claims made by any religion.

            And with all due respect, if you’re going to try and claim my words are wrong, you really should attempt to present compelling information to back those claims up. Hand waves, I’m afraid, don’t qualify.

            Plants suffer. I’d urge you to read up on the current literature. I’d suggest starting at Nasir, (2001), Paranoia in plants, Clinical Genetics. 59(5): 302-303.

            If you wish to contest libraries of contemporary studies, I’d be happy to review your efforts.

            Now, granted, from our perspective, it’s an entirely alien expression of suffering, but it is suffering nonetheless, and it serves to highlight that suffering is (historically speaking) very nearly omnipresent. Happiness is not. Indeed, as I have already pointed out, the very mechanisms necessary for an organism to physically experience ‘happiness’ did not even exist in this world until some 210 million years ago.

            Are you aware of the remarkable 2012 Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness? It firmly asserts that the absence of a neocortex does not preclude non-human animals from experiencing genuine suffering. Indeed, the signatories to the declaration stressed that the required neurological apparatus for total awareness of pain—and the emotional states allied to that—arose in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod molluscs, such as octopus, Nautilus, and cuttlefish.

            Based on the overwhelming and universal acceptance among neurologists of the Cambridge Declaration, and drawn from the conclusions of over 2,500 independent studies, Professor Marc Bekoff has since proposed an even broader declaration, a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience, where sentience—and by extension a total awareness of suffering—is defined as the “ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to experience subjectivity.” It is a definition that would not only reach out to include the modest protozoa, but algae.

            It is a defintion that is also supported by Integrated Information Theory.

            Now, I drew Robert’s attention to Paley’s observation because there is truth in it.

            “Contrivance proves design, and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer.”

            Know then the disposition, revealed as it must be through the design (through the predominant tendency, or output of the contrivance), and one may know the designer.

            Rob, what is the predominant tendency of the contrivance?

            What does 13.8 billion years of history inform us of?

            What it tells us is that Creation is a complexity machine; a self-enriching engine spilling out from a state of ancestral simplicity to contemporary complexity, where complexity corresponds precisely to a forever expanding ecology of suffering.

            This is an incontestable fact.

            So, God exists. Evil (here primarily defined as the ways and means by which suffering can be delivered and experienced) not only exists, but its capacity, variety and potency is increasing as God’s Creation faithfully fulfils its elemental instruction: to diversify and specialise, to migrate, to augment and to grow more complex over time.

            Hydrogen fuses into the heavier and more complex helium, helium fuses into the heavier and more complex carbon, helium and carbon combine to make the heavier and more complex oxygen. Single atoms come together to form simple compounds, simple compounds bind to produce double compounds, double compounds bond to fashion simple molecules, molecules marry to create amino acids, amino acids coalesce to model catalysing proteins and enzymes, and proteins and enzymes experiment to prototype self-replicating systems where, according to the accepted paradigm of evolutionary biology, there is a continuum from simple to more complex organisms.

            This is Creation’s impulse, its outward disposition and core personality. It answers to but one basal command, knows but one timeless commission: to persist and grow more complex over time, and as it tumbles forward, gathering content, so too does the amount and variety of evil (suffering) present in the world.

            The paranoia, for example, that aggravates and stirs and twists and bends algae is but an antique abstraction to a 1.5 billion years old protozoa which, despite not possessing a single neuron, is endowed with enough material complexity to resist and fight back against all assaults launched against its existence. To all who care to look, this animated behaviour to a menacing world demonstrates that this gelatinous blob of sensible organic material knows it is suffering. If it did not know this, if it was not acutely aware of the danger in real-time, the protozoa would not, after all, react and defend itself with equal, or ideally greater violence.

            And up through the evolutionary paradigm the pattern to complexity (being synonymous with evil; with suffering) repeats with a ruthless efficiency.

            A 550 million years old, 302 neuron-equipped roundworm’s capacity to experience suffering might be strikingly more complex to the protozoa’s, yet its scope to interact with pain (both real and imagined) is little more than a faint whisper to the genuine fear known to a 400 million years old, 250,000 neuron-endowed fruit fly (see Gibson, 2015, Behavioral Responses to a Repetitive Visual Threat Stimulus Express a Persistent State of Defensive Arousal in Drosophila, Current Biology, Volume 25, Issue 11, p1401–1415). And while the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness firmly asserts that the fly is keenly aware of pain, it could never possibly comprehend the host of complex miseries, disastrous diseases, generous phobias and predatory threats available to the 210 million years old short-tailed shrew whose every lively moment is molested by an unending hailstorm of aposematic-triggered fear.

            In its turn, however, the shrew could never grasp even the outer reaches of the torment and torture and pains and threats and diseases and fears there to be physically and emotionally experienced by a single 200,000 years old, 100 billion neuron-equipped human being; an astonishing organism driven carelessly insane by, of all things, an oversupply of choice.

            Without any historical ambiguity or hint of equivocation, it is clear to all who look that evil is not an aberration. It is not a blister. The world has not gone spectacularly wrong as many have been (and remain) dangerously determined to believe, and despite the existence of a million and one imaginative theodicies pleading the case for some more palatable alternative, is it not simply the case that the increasing volume and variety of evil in this world baffles only because it contradicts the things traditional believers want to believe? Is it not the case that Creation is simply running contrary to how traditional believers think Creation should run?

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          • john zande says:

            And Rob, just so there’s no doubt, here is philosopher and Evolutionary Biologist, Kelly Smith, confirming that this world, the universe, Creation, is a complexity machine:

            “The large scale history of the universe strongly suggests a trend of increasing complexity: disordered energy states produce atoms and molecules, which combine to form suns and associated planets, on which life evolves. Life then seems to exhibit its own pattern of increasing complexity, with simple organisms getting more complex over evolutionary time until they eventually develop rationality and complex culture. And recent theoretical developments in Biology and complex systems theory suggest this trend may be real, arising from the basic structure of the universe in a predictable fashion … If this is right, you can look at the universe as a kind of ‘complexity machine’” (2014, ‘Manifest complexity: A foundational ethic for astrobiology?,’ Science Direct, Volume 30, Issue 4, November, pp. 209—214

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          • Rob says:

            Which is not to say the problem of evil is not often baffling to me. It’s just to point out some issues with your account

            Liked by 2 people

          • john zande says:

            As I said to Robert:

            Why should the staggering amount of evil be source of enormous confusion for believers on God? Is there any legitimate argument to justify the confusion? Is there any plausible pretext or historically compelling observation to rationally feed and sustain the puzzlement? Is there any credible reason to even suspect that the world has somehow gone terribly, drastically, hopelessly wrong, as opposed to it simply performing precisely as desired by its Creator?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Yes John I already provided the argument and observations, but they are not compelling to you. We are going around in circles due to our vastly different first principles. Apparently, if I understand you right, the historical event of maimed, burned, violated and lifeless corpses of 400,000 Rwandans you interpret as a sign God’s will is done – this same historical event I take as a sign something has horrifically gone wrong, contrary to God’s good will. How you can hold to such cruel, hearttless fatalism is beyond me, quite frankly I don’t want to know for it is so abhorrent to me.

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          • john zande says:

            Hi Robert,

            If anyone is going in circles, it is, with all due respect, you.

            Yes, you mentioned an event, Pascha, then made an unsubstantiated (theological) claim that death was conquered. You haven’t advanced anything since then.

            As I pointed out, nothing changed in the actual world after that event. Nothing at all. The complexity machine that is Creation continued doing what it had always done, and the variety of suffering in the world continued being augmented, refined, amplified.

            Your event would be compelling if you could demonstrate a profound, unambiguous, irresistible, measurable shift in the nature of how Creation performed after that event.

            Did the predominant tendency of the contrivance shift and reverse course?

            For example, can you demonstrate that the pattern to complexity reversed after the Pascha event? Following suit, can you demonstrate that the pattern to greater and more refined expressions of suffering reversed after the Pascha event?

            Without demonstrating such things, your proposition is without merit. It is meaningless.

            Now, of course I’m appalled at events like Rwanda, ordered, as it was, by Théodore Sindikubwabo, a Christian Baptist, and aided by the Roman Catholic Church. I’m equally appalled by cluster bombs, predation, disease, thirst, starvation, childhood leukemia, wildfires, animal cruelty etc. Such events cause suffering in me, increasing the overall portfolio of suffering the world.

            I am looking honestly at the world. Are you? You call me cruel and heartless, yet am I not only reporting on the world around me? Is the war correspondent cruel and heartless for reporting on the war?

            Our participation in Creation was never solicited, and by trying to label me cruel and heartless, as opposed to the world that was imposed on us, you come across as someone only interested in half-truths and self-deception. Paley’s intellectual honesty was similarly poisoned.

            “A bee amongst the flowers in spring is one of the most cheerful objects that can be looked upon,” he wrote. “Its life appears to be all enjoyment; so busy, and so pleased.

            Under the microscope, the bee’s outer body is however found to be infested with the ferocious varroa mite, their airways riddled with impatiently greedy acarine (tracheal) mites, their intestines ravaged by the veracious nosema apis, and their hives, where some degree of safety should at least be expected, is instead crowded with gluttonous bacillus larvae and the hideous Brood Disease.

            These are the realities of the natural world: uncensored, untwisted, uncorrupted. As the uniquely qualified evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, David Barash noted:

            “Although the natural world can be marvellous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering is built into the nature of things.”

            That suffering is built into the nature of things… So it is odd of you to accuse me of heartlessness for honestly confronting the facts of this world.

            What seems to be more the case is you’re calling me heartless for showing you the world.

            If you want to be intellectually honest, we can continue this exploration of the world and the identity of a Creator who chooses to remain anonymous. In that world, this world, we only have teleological birthmarks that can be isolated and studied.

            What we have is the predominant tendency of the contrivance.

            Robert, I have asked you this question a number of times, but you have evaded answering it:

            what is the predominant tendency of the contrivance?

            If you cannot be honest here then there really is no point in continuing as it will be clear that you have chosen self-deception over truthfulness.

            Can you (will you) answer the question?

            It takes courage, both intellectual and emmotional.

            If you lack that, then so be it. Enjoy your pantomime version of reality.

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  18. brian says:

    Mythic consciousness usually entails some sense that the world is awry. I am not convinced that one should read Pandora or Adam and Eve as strictly aetiological — they are narrative gestures that evoke a deep-seated alienation in human experience that persists in spite of historical precedent. Voltaire was probably unfair to Leibniz. The earthquake at Lisbon was probably not entailed in Leibniz’s theodicy, but for certain, Deist rationalism is not biblical faith and equanimity before horrors is not part of the biblical notion of the Good. The ecstatic revelation of Pascha is that the predominant tendency (death appears to always triumph over biological life) is suddenly revealed to be defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ. The gospel kerygma is both historical insofar as it proclaims the body of Christ as genuinely raised from the dead and eschatological insofar as the divine work is “kenotically present.” The kingdom is “not of this world” and yet it is the translation of mortal time into everlasting life. The body of Christ carries cosmic import. This necessarily transcends the limits and perspective of any kind of immanent frame. Those who embrace a positivist, univocal reading of being and history will inevitably find the Christian story lacking in credibility. The gnosis of the gospel involves a differing criteria for reason, knowledge, and imagination. It is at minimum a revelation that gives weight to the unique event; it does not determine truth merely by quantitative data and tendencies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Brian,

      Yes indeed. The different criteria constitute an unresolvable dissonance between scientism and Christianity. The only hope for beneficial discussion between the two is recognition of the utilization of meaning making, a shared feature which should serve as a conversation starter. One can hope….

      Liked by 1 person

      • brian says:

        Folks routinely talk past one another. In order to facilitate real dialectic, one would have to clarify terms and recognize the rootedness of particular usages in various historically formed inquires that implicitly bear some kind of narrative. Given that the modern, post-Enlightenment posture has been to dismantle the truth claims of alternate views in an acid of historicism whilst elevating its own truth claims to an ahistorical set of axiomatic presuppositions, it is difficult to see how one could coax the usual group of interlocutors back to the table. As it is, they think they have “facts,” and you are “telling a story.” The idea that “facts” arise out of narrative perspectives generally eludes them. They may play at debate, but what is needed is a gadfly to unsettle their habitual certitudes which have become lazy because they are unused to the notion that their own language is just as historical and “in question” as the views they consider superseded. Until that happens, the mutual pursuit of truth will largely fail.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Rob says:

    John, you haven’t answered really answered any of my objections. Only said that you completely disagree with my basic premise without arguing further and then reiterating, admittedly with some different details what you already said. I also don’t take my cues in the philosophy of mind from actual arguments not decalarations. And you still have the strange notion that you can consider and interpret history without metaphysics despite presupposing your own mechanistic metaphysic in which happiness is some produced by a one to one correlation of certain biochemicals.. In short you take for granted all things I would dispute. And perhaps the same is true conversely. My statement was not that I don’t study any part of the world that contradicts my theology. That is a misreading that is so insipid it almost angers me. But it may be an honest misreading, I don’t mean to cast aspersions. My point was that history is a reality logically dependent on ontology and that you can’t do any philosophy without metaphysics. You obviously adhere to mechanistic metaphysic that I think is utterly wrong and apparently assume it’s obviousS By the way you don’t need history to illustatrate the horror of suffering. One innocent child’s suffering is enough to make the terrible reality known. But again you give precedence to fear (paranoia) as a driving force behind organic life without acknowledging that fear only makes since if a prior desire for life is in place. That point is really unarguable. And I also add that merely citing a philosopher stating that the universe is a complexity machine does not count as an argument. There are many who would disagree with such a notion that I could cite but that would do little. Furthermore, it is a citation that goes against your argument. Because machines fear and desire nothing, they have no intentional consciousness which is the prerequisite for such states. And so if every thing is merely a machine of varying complexity they can’t have all the states you claim they have. Integrated information theory is also not some scientific discovery but a to my mind misguided effort to bridge the gap between subjective consciousness and the supposedly meaningless physical events of the universe, because I misguidedly tries to physically quanitfy qualitative states. Also your analysis of fear as psychological state leaves something to be desired. People overwhelmed with fear hardly survive long. But people with a strong desire to live do. John, I think what’s at issue is that we disagree on so many things particularly in metaphysics ( which you say you don’t need but use anyway) that it’s difficult for us to have a real conversation on a medium such as this. Continuing this conversation and going through all the requisite issues would take hours, so I’ll just leave this conversation as is. Not because dialogue isn’t good but because trading replies in com box rarely brings more light than heat. I’m sure you can see that we disagree on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, moral theory, cognitive psychology and neither of us ( at least I don’t) want to beat all those balls back and forth on the internet. But I wish you a relatively mild late summer and wonderful autumn.

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    • john zande says:

      Hi Rob,

      I rejected your assertion as it is nothing but a convenient, unfounded excuse to not look at the actual world. Nothing more, really, needed to be said on the matter. Teleology indicates the nature of the Creator. 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution indicates the nature of the Creator. We have the data, all we have to do is interpret the observable patterns so as to explain one simple question:

      What is the purpose of Creation?

      What is the purpose of this world we have all awoken, uninvited, inside of?

      I also don’t take my cues in the philosophy of mind from actual arguments not decalarations

      So, you prefer ethereal thought experiments over hard data? Interesting. If, however, you wish to present a counterargument to the conclusions of the world’s leading neurologists and biologists, then by all means, present that counterargument. I’d be happy to read it and assess the data you present.

      In short you take for granted all things I would dispute.

      I am presenting facts. Just because those facts are awkward for you doesn’t make them any less factual. If you wish to dispute those facts, then by all means, present your argument with supporting data.

      Until then, and with all due respect, your hand waves have no merit.

      My point was that history is a reality logically dependent on ontology and that you can’t do any philosophy without metaphysics.

      Inference from observed phenomenon, supported by experimentation, does not require metaphysics. Is metaphysics taught in biology classes, geology classes, astronomy classes?

      No, it is not.

      Rob, I’m at pains here to stress that we are dealing with the actual world; a measurable, quantifiable world, not the pantomime world of popular theologies and their accompanying theodicies (excuses) for why things are not as they should be had matter been persuaded to behave by a benevolent hand, rather than a coherent explanation for why things are as they are in the unignorable presence of a Creator.

      By the way you don’t need history to illustatrate the horror of suffering. One innocent child’s suffering is enough to make the terrible reality known.

      Roundly true, but we are not looking at isolated events. We are looking at the world, at 13.8 billion years, and ignoring the progress of suffering through time is to thoroughly ignore the actual nature of this world. This is why I gave you examples of evolutionary history being synonymous with the augmentation and refinement of suffering.

      But again you give precedence to fear (paranoia) as a driving force behind organic life without acknowledging that fear only makes since if a prior desire for life is in place. That point is really unarguable.

      Desire for improvement in the methods of living is more accurate, and to improve requires persistence.

      The upgrades and development and renovation and change promised by the evolutionary paradigm is compensation (a carrot) for moving, for persisting, for participating in a game no one and no thing was ever invited to participate in.

      Existence might have been imposed without permission, but the continual refinement of the physiological and behavioural characteristics of living things eases the pains of that existence. That which torments and threatens can be quietened, it can be tamed, and this improvement is not only that quieting mechanism, but according to Duke University’s Professor Adrian Bejan, it is the very reason for why things endure through time.

      “In each case the urge [of living] is not toward an ideal. It is toward something better tomorrow, and to something even better the day after tomorrow—relentless improvement and refinement.”

      This urge to a better tomorrow is the structural underpinning of Bejan’s Constructal Law of design and evolution in nature; an entirely new Law of Physics which, said as simply as possible, accounts for the phenomenon of evolution organisation (the configuration, form and design of inanimate and animate systems together) throughout nature.

      Indeed, when viewed as a whole there exists a historically unambiguous universal tendency of design to evolve in a specific direction, and that direction has faithfully produced entities that can move more current farther and faster per unit of useful energy consumed.

      Contingent things persist, therefore, because, as Bejan says, greater and more effective organisation of the forces that flow in and through everything encourages them to persist. Contingent things crawl forward because there is reward for crawling forward; little sugar rushes there to persuade all things capable of being persuaded that existence is—at least at that moment—greater than non-existence.

      This, of course, is a lie. A prison doesn’t require walls and gates and barbed wire to be a prison. Familiarity can pin anything down in one place far more efficiently.

      And I also add that merely citing a philosopher stating that the universe is a complexity machine does not count as an argument.

      I believe I gave examples, but you’re certainly free to try and prove it wrong.

      Can you demonstrate a historically verifiable contradictory pattern?

      Furthermore, it is a citation that goes against your argument. Because machines fear and desire nothing

      Correct, nature is mindless. Nature, though, grows organics and minds, and it is those organics and minds that experience suffering.

      We are the output of the contrivance. Said in another way, Creation is a petri dish.

      We are grown.

      People overwhelmed with fear hardly survive long.

      Nonsense. We all fear thirst, starvation, predation, disease, decay. It’s what keeps us moving.

      So, Rob, if you’re prepared to talk about the actual world, then I’d be happy to continue.

      If, however, the actual world is of no interest to you, then I can see no reason to continue as you have declared yourself only interested in, at best, ethereal half-truths.

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  20. Rob says:

    Sorry for the typos, written quickly. Obviously meant to say I do take my cues from arguments. But I will look into the Cambridge declaration

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rob says:

      Well I checked out and merely found it to be operating under all a bunch of assumptions I and many others find problematic. Like no one knows what “neural substrates” or biochemicals produce consciousness or if they even can, though their something correlative. Okay I’m really done now haha

      Like

      • john zande says:

        If you wish to present a counterargument to the world’s leading neurologists and biologists, then by all means present that argument with supporting evidence.

        Like

  21. David Kontur says:

    Greetings All –
    I must admit up front that I am neither a trained scientist or theologian, but would like to raise a few issues related to this discussion. With that said I also must say that I have a deep respect for both (I will admit that I have been formally trainned in the social sciences). In response to John’s assertions about scientific facts – it seems to me that while you may be presenting scientific facts about certain phenomena in the natural world, that you also jump quickly from stating facts to “interpreting the meaning” of these facts. This is not a criticism but an observation that there is something about us as human beings that longs for and seeks meaning/purpose in our lives and in the world around us. The problem with this is that sometimes we often infer meaning from “facts” that we are looking at in isolation from a much bigger picture that these facts are always connected too – nothing exist in isolation. I always have to chuckle to myself when I hear peopel say such comments as they like CNN or FOX or NY TIMES because they want “objective” news – that “ain’t” happening and never can – we are human beings and as such we are “interpretive” beings. The Phenomonologists, Husserl, Wiggenstien, etc., clearly point out that we never perceive anything completely, but as soon as we see something, we automatically begin “mentally filling in the rest of the picture.” While this may be natural for us as human beings to do, it also means that we may be drawing incomplete or totally wrong conclusions. So does this mean that we should not engage in the sciences??? Of course not. But it does point to an irreducible distinction – science may be able to describe the “what” and “how” of the physical world (but I would add that this is awalys an incomplete picture), but it can never fully explain the “why” or “meaning.” Of course this may be met with the retort that there is no why or meaning – but if that is so, why are so many scientist so quick to jump from facts to interpretation (which supposes some level of meaning).
    Regarding the discussion about Theodicy – we all agonize at times about why there is so much suffering in the world – the very fact that we would even ask such questions reveals the need we have for meaning/purpose. For those of us who believe in a Good and Merciful God, we at times want to shake our hand towards the heavens like the prophet Jeremiah and say, “How could you let this happen?” I also think about the scene in the Book of Job, towards the end when God finally speaks. Job’s friends (and not so friendly friends) have come up with all kinds of rationlizations about why Job is going through the suffering he is experiencing – none of which help or comfort Job So in the scene in which God finally speaks – God does not answer Job with a rational explanation or treatise about suffering at all, but instead with a series of questions, e.g., “Where were you when I established the foundations of the world….?” It seems to me that God is not “playing with Job’s mind”, but rather invitng him to see the whole question from a radically different perspective. This is an answer that we can only “live” into and that is not and can never be resolved in rational explanations.

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    • john zande says:

      Hi David

      The problem with this is that sometimes we often infer meaning from “facts” that we are looking at in isolation from a much bigger picture that these facts are always connected too – nothing exist in isolation

      Precisely, which is why I have been at pains to draw attention to 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution and the pattern to complexity (and complexity to greater expressions of suffering) that is revealed.

      That is a hard fact. It is historical, it is quantifiable, and it is predictable. I have given examples. I can fill pages with examples and case studies.

      The artful refusal of some of the interlocutors here to address the actual world speaks to a level of deliberate intellectual dishonesty, which is a little sad, because those same interlocutors are, quite clearly, highly, highly intelligent people.

      Why though, remarked Nietzsche, should we expect the truth to be comfortable? Has there ever been a valid reason? Has there ever been some rational, intellectual, authentic and defendable justification to expect a pleasant answer beyond those most ancient and self-directed cravings for care, affection, protection and, ultimately, some manner of deliverance (immunity) from the pain and uncertainty of existence?

      Regardless of how bitter or uncomfortable or ill-fitting an answer may be, irrespective of its hazard or grotesqueness, the truly impartial observer’s only duty is to open the shutter and let the photons pour in: uncensored.

      I might have already said this somewhere above, but a genuine truth does not tolerate excuses. A truth that requires annotation is not a truth, but a fabrication, and for the the truly impartial observer there exists therefore just one aspersion-free path down which she must move to assemble a legitimate and robust explanation of the physical world: the teleological survey; a study of design, of results, and as such, an exploration of intent.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        David,

        Agreed. After Gadamer the notion of raw fact or uninterpreted text simply doesn’t stand.

        John – just to be clear, I have not called into question the evolutionary processes over time, the role of death and predation, and so forth. This is old hat and uninteresting, something which only foils those ignorant of Irenaeus’ cosmology or that of the Cappadocians. What is strongly disputed is the novel theological narrative you provide. Alas, earlier comments betray an inability to have a meaningful discussion about the plurivocity of reality, the analog demands of representation.

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        • john zande says:

          Hi Robert,

          True, you have not tried to deny the evolutionary paradigm, but you have failed entirely to address the unignorable tendency of Creation to move in one direction, and not another.

          You have not addressed the pattern to complexity, and complexity to greater expressions of suffering.

          You say you “dispute” it, but you haven’t presented any counterargument to disprove it.

          Hand waves, Robert, aren’t rational arguments. You have to support your position with evidence, and as we are dealing with the actual world, not the ethereal theology of inventive excuses, that evidence has to come from the actual world.

          And again, to be clear, I am not prosecuting the claims made by any religion. I am not accusing your particular Middle Eastern god of the Pentateuch of being evil.

          That being said, I agree with Irenaeus’ principle assertion. The Creator does not create evil (suffering). It is the consequence, however, of the Creator’s choices in creating this artificial world.

          Robert, there is one aspect of the Creator, an uncreated aseitic being, most apologists never, never, never address.

          An uncreated aseitic being cannot not be.

          Alone and with an eternity bottled in a single timeless moment to contemplate this defect (this incompleteness in what should have been rigorously complete), such an unexpected curiosity could not help but grow into a fat, noisy obsession; a category of madness, but not insanity. Not at first. Not completely. Not something chaotic. Not something uncontrolled.

          In its infancy, not being able to not be could only be classified as a dangerously alluring seed, the mother of all “Wet Paint” signs, and the irrepressible urge to ‘touch’ the analogous paint is, it appears, the reason for why there is something rather than nothing.

          This world was inevitable.

          Ultimately, there was no choice.

          Curiosity is, after all, a stubborn power.

          Unable to die, powerless to be no more, incapable of even experiencing the thrill of the fear of approaching annihilation, is it not inevitable that an uncreated aseitic being—God—would come, eventually, to focus His impossible powers to contrive artificial environments (entire worlds) inside which profoundly ignorant avatars could be cultivated and grown to probe and explore this extraordinary curiosity; evolving surrogates through whom He, the Creator, could taste the fear He alone could never savour, feel the suffering He alone could never know, and meet every pedigree of oblivion denied to Him by dying vicariously?

          Is this no more unreasonable than a man walking to the top of a hill, or traversing a mountain range, or crossing an ocean just to see what was on the other side?

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          • brian says:

            John,

            There is perhaps some condescension in “your particular Middle Eastern god of the Pentateuch” — as if one were dealing with a pesky, parochial tribalism. In any event, the metaphysics discoverable upon the basis of the revelation of the TriUne Christian God does not seem to me open to the criticism of deity that you assert. We are not dealing with a Parmenidian surfeit or Aristotle’s truly isolated deity and we are certainly not dealing with a Hegelian Geist that needs suffering and history to realized the “itch of potential.” Surely, the Christian God is uniquely both simple and relational. God does not need the world in order for discoveries or dynamism to be possible. For us, plenitude and adventure appear to be antinomies, but not for the Christian God.

            Further, I do not think “the possibility to not be” is actually a kind of state that could be desired. It is equivalent to giving zero the same metaphysical status as ordinal numbers. It may seem to the creature a possible nirvana or escape from suffering and thus gains a kind of putative “positivity,” but I surmise this is an understandable psychological response to the trauma of the world and not worked out ontological truth.

            Regarding creation and the freedom of God, I do agree that God is ultimately responsible for what happens in this world. The proliferation of evil is not intended or needed, but if it was an inevitable or likely result of creation and God was supremely free not to create — and the Christian God is supremely free — unlike your quasi-Hegelian speculations, there was no need for a creation to make a particular vista visible (and how could this metaphor be the least plausible when God’s transcendence founds the being of creaturely otherness? God is not an “other” that can perspectivally discover vistas) — so God must accept responsibility, even if He did not make death and hates the torment of evil. The Christian gospel is the kerygma that God bears our evils and heals our wounds. It is the announcement that the eternal flourishing of reality is “Good” without remainder. This interpretation is, of course, rooted in receptivity to revelation and the capacity to draw out the ontological consequences of the eschatology thus revealed. Because it is not manifest according to the criteria of modern science or remains largely hidden to secular history does not make it unreal, though naturally, it will appear a kind of fideistic tale to those outside of faith.

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          • john zande says:

            Hi Brian,

            I refer to the Middle Eastern god of the Pentateuch simply because that is what it is. Temporally speaking, the god of the Pentateuch is entirely absent from all but the last 1.25% of human history, and even after its literary debut in the 6th Century BCE failed to register as anything other than a minor Middle Eastern artistic anomaly envisaged by no other culture on the planet. It didn’t materialise independently in mainland Europe, emerge unassisted on the British Isles, or rouse a single word across the entire Far East. It inspired no one in any of the 30,000 islands of the South Pacific, energised nothing across the African continent, stirred naught in North America, and didn’t move anything or anyone in Central or South America. No one across the vast Indian Great Plains or Russian steppes ever heard of it, no Azorean fisherman suddenly spoke of it, no Scandinavian shipwright carved its name in a stone, no Japanese mother ever thought she’d heard it speak in whispered tones, and no Australian aborigine ever dreamed of it. Outside the pages of the bible there is positively nothing in the natural or anthropological landscape which might even remotely lead a person blissfully ignorant of the claims made in bible to suspect that that particular Middle Eastern god has ever inspired anything except the imaginations of a few linguistically specific Iron Age Canaanite hill tribes looking to add a little supernatural spice to their otherwise perfectly terrestrial lives.

            I’m not sure how many times I have to repeat this, but I’m not litigating the claims made by any religion, nor am I trying to paint your particular god as evil.

            Unlike you, I am not starting from a position that claims the world has somehow gone terribly, drastically, hopelessly wrong, rather I am starting from a position that says the world is performing precisely as intended by a mistake-free Creator.

            I do not think “the possibility to not be” is actually a kind of state that could be desired.

            I didn’t say desired. I said, “Curiosity is a stubborn power,” adding, “Alone and with an eternity bottled in a single timeless moment to contemplate this defect (this incompleteness in what should have been rigorously complete), such an unexpected curiosity could not help but grow into a fat, noisy obsession… the Mother of All Wet Paint Signs.”

            So we are at least in agreement: there is just one thing an uncreated aseitic being cannot do; an uncreated aseitic being cannot not be.

            Regarding responsibility, yes, of course, the Creator is responsible for that which He created, and, importantly, for that which He has allowed to be created (through evolution). I should stress though, what empathy exists between the Creator and the created extends only to wishing to experience suffering by proxy (to experience that which He alone could never experience), not to sympathise with the sufferer.

            There is, as such, a truth in Plantinga’s observation:

            “God does not stand idly by, coolly observing the suffering of His creatures. He enters into and shares our suffering.”

            Consider Creation an experiment; a petri dish fashioned in such a way that it could self-experiment and freely evolve from some basal expression fixed between concepts He, the Creator, could never touch, but could impose on an artificial scape: a beginning, a middle, and an end.

            This artificial world is finite. Contingent things are finite. This enables the fundamental emergency of existence.

            We have awoken, univited, inside a timed game.

            Your sentence here is interesting: It is the announcement that the eternal flourishing of reality is “Good” without remainder.

            Lovely words. But, as you say, it is not reflected anywhere in the world. They’re just nebulous words… words that, despite their emotional appeal, are rendered thoroughly meaingless when applied to reality.

            There has been no epoch in the 13.8 billion year evolutionary history of this world where that sentiment has been demonstrated.

            Good has never swamped suffering.

            If you look at the history of this world you will see that good (which does exist, if only at a superficial level) is in fact the greater evil, serving only to amplify the ways and means by which suffering can be delivered and experienced.

            Consider the good of climate, astronomical and geological stability. If daylight hours were not predictable, or the ocean tides were massively erratic, or planet-shattering bolide impacts were far more regular, or perhaps the earth’s tectonic plates flowed at meters-per-hour instead of centimetres-per-year then even the simplest and most resilient illustrations of organic life, cyanobacteria, would be harassed and molested to such a degree that large, stable populations would be impossible to maintain. The corollary of this is, of course, that without those voluminous colonies consuming the sulphurous, carbon dioxide-rich protean earthly atmosphere and excreting oxygen the planet (2.48 billion years ago) would never have been flooded with that sweetest of gases essential for more complex, muscular life to be nudged into being. And if muscles and oxygen-hungry tissue in general were absent from the world then so too would be jaws and teeth and talons and claws and poisons and knives and cluster bombs and lies.

            Consider medicine in the broadest possible context.

            On first inspection few would be willing (or even capable) to see anything but immeasurable good in the wonders of modern medical practices and their astounding effects on, for example, child mortality rates and life expectancy. Outwardly, this mastery over the naturally corrosive effects and uncertainty of life itself appears beyond reproach, but consider the truth as revealed from a greater elevation and a broader spectrum of time: More bodies doing more things over a longer time can only be scored as a stunning augmentation in the overall market of suffering.

            It is a simple, hard, unignorable fact that a general population dying at 35 cannot, by and large, produce the same quantity or quality of suffering generated through the extended life of a general population dying at age 80 or 90.

            In a preferentially-scored portfolio of potential suffering, a 90 year old human avatar (exposed to the pangs of creeping irrelevance and suicidal cells) is a vastly superior product with a far greater potential yield than ten thousand babies born into some miserable sub-Saharan drought who will never live to experience dashed hopes, ruined dreams, perennial pain, psychological torment, confusion, misunderstanding, economic distress, political upheaval, love found, love lost, war, peace, prolonged anxiety, recovery, repair, disease and exhaustion in a game where warm survivors, not cold victims, are far more valuable to satisfying the curiosity of a being who may be identified as simply, The Owner of All Infernal Names.

            Good, demonstrably, births evil.

            Good feeds evil.

            Given enough time, good is evil.

            Indeed, given enough time to play through, good is seen to be the greater evil for it is a mechanism of amplification; broadening, magnifying and deepening the ecology of suffering there to be experienced by the Creator’s avatars, His proxies.

            From the perspective of the Creator, good and evil are one in the same thing, indistinguishable in that they are both mechanisms working towards ever-greater expressions of suffering.

            For this reason, there is no such thing as The Problem of Good, and I can demonstrate this with any example you choose to present.

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  22. Jack says:

    Hey John

    It seems to me that you are unable or unwilling to accept a classical picture of God, in which case it would not make sense to say “your particular god”. You cannot have a plurality of “that without which there would be nothings”. I dont see why its so outlandish to conclude that God revealed himself in a special way through a particular cultural and religious history. Nor do I see how this precludes the same God revealing himself in some way to a pacific islander or australian aboriginal. Without getting into too much of a debate about the vestigium trinitatis, I would expect the “imprint” of the creator to be everywhere, even in conflicting religions and philosophies. So unlike you, I do not see how our “middle eastern god” and his relatively recent literary debut is a problem. Since the bible, and most major religious traditions for that matter, see man man as a microcosm of the whole universe, no one is suggesting that god simply dropped by for a hello in a bygone era. I imagine, in a sense, everything “knows” its creator. It just so happens that literature and narrative may nor be the best witness as to how this is so. This is why I take seriously mystical traditions that emphasize the “wisdom of the body”.

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    • john zande says:

      Hi Jack,

      I guess the question is, Why should I accept a classical picture of the Creator when history informs us that such a picture is fundamentally wrong?

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  23. Jack H says:

    Hi John,
    I don’t agree that history informs us that the God of classical theism isn’t real. I’m not sure it really could. Once again, we are going back to metaphysical axioms here which you do not accept. Fair enough, but I don’t see how we can avoid talking past one another, as some other folks have said, if we don’t clearly define our terms. I’ve noticed that materialists such as yourself keep reverting to a mono/polythistic god with a lower case g when it has repeatedly explained to you that this is not the God of any mainstream monotheistic tradition, let alone Christianity. It makes me think you are either, unable or unwilling to deal with it. Now, you seem to be a pretty intelligent guy so I find the former a bit hard to believe. So I suppose I would have to ask, why are you unwilling to at least humor us and go along with the classical picture of God in your evil God argument? I’m not saying you have to accept the classical picture, I’m just saying you are not going to get very far when you keep making God a god. No classical theist will take you seriously, and will tend to dismiss many of your other arguments out of hand, which I think is a shame because some of them are pretty interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. David Kontur says:

    Hi John, et. al –
    Well this has certainly been an interesting discussion.
    John – I have to say that while I do not share very many of the conclusions that you have arrived at – I would certainly not have any argument with many of the geo-history and human history facts that you have brought out. But now I want to share with you a little more about myself – in the past two years – I lost my Mom (2015), my Dad (2016) and my younger sister (March 2017). Both my mom and my sister suffered terribly from emphysema/COPD. It was very difficult to see my mother reduced down to practically skin and bone and slowly suffocate. I would not wish this on anyone. She, my sister and my Dad were life long smokers – does this mean that they were somehow intrisically evil or being punished for making ill informed decisions – I don’t think so. There were natural physical consequences to their actions that with the smoking had a much higher probability of occuring. Did this make me lose faith? By the way, faith is not primarily an ascent to a specific dogma or statement – it is primarily “trust”. Throught each of these ordeals, even though I was deeply saddened, I also had a sense that as Julian of Norwich (14th Century English Mystic) stated in speaking of God’s love – “In his love he clothes us, enfolds and embraces us; that tender love completely surrounds us, never to leave us.” And in a very deep way I knew that my Mom, Dad and Sister were also now more alive, in HIm, than they ever had been before.
    John – do you ever see beauty in the world? I have seen it in the mountains, coast, and in the ones I love, I see it dail in the world around me. But I have also seen it even in the midst of seeing and being with others as they suffer and die. If you really are convinced that the world is nothing but a tale told by an idiot that in the end is just going to be swallowed up by evil I have nothing that I can contribute toward this narrative. But, I sense that while you cannot seem to get past that at this time, that you are genuinely and desperately searching. At the expense of sounding trite or like a sound bite – here is where I would quote the “most interesting man in the world” from the Dos Equis Beer commercial… “Stay thirsty my friend!!”
    Warmest wisehs!!

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