David B. Hart on “What God Wills and What God Permits”

“It is a logical truism that all secondary causes in creation are reducible to their first cause. This is not a formula of determinism. It merely means that nothing can appear within the ‘consequents’ of God’s creative act that is not, at least as a potential result, implicit in their primordial antecedent. So, even if God allows only for the mere possibility of an ultimately unredeemed natural evil in creation, this means that, in the very act of creation, he accepted this reality—or this real possibility—as an acceptable price for the ends he desired. In acting freely, all the possibilities that the agent knowingly accepts are positively willed as acceptable conditions of the end the agent seeks to achieve. If I freely and knowingly choose a course of action that may involve the death of my child, knowing that that death will then be an ineradicable detail of the pattern of what I bring about, morally I have willed his death within the total calculus of my final intentions, as a cost freely accepted, even if in the end his death never actually comes about. One cannot positively will the whole without positively willing all the necessary parts of the whole (whether those parts exist in only potential or in fully actual states). And so, if God does indeed tolerate that final unredeemed natural evil as the price of his creation, he not only thereby reduces the ‘goodness’ of his creative act to a merely relative goodness; he also converts that natural evil into a moral evil, one wholly enfolded within the total calculus of his own venture in creating, and thereby reveals himself to be not God, the Good as such, but only a god who is (at most) relatively good.”

Read the entire article at Public Orthodoxy:

What God Wills and What God Permits

 

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131 Responses to David B. Hart on “What God Wills and What God Permits”

  1. Tom says:

    My favorite of his arguments; essentially his creation ex nihilo and UR paper at Notre Dame. If properly understood, it’s all that should need to be said.

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  2. joel in ga says:

    Are created, i.e., finite personal agents also first causes insofar as their acts are self-determined? “A free act by its nature is a new beginning, and hence is not represented before its occurrence by anything that must lead to it. Hence a free act, until performed, is only a possibility, and not a fact.” Borden Parker Bowne (1847-1910).

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Not according to traditional metaphysics – all that springs from that which is created by definition falls under secondary cause. Bowne operates on assumptions about freedom which stem from typical libertarian notion.

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    • Tom says:

      Joel: Are created, i.e., finite personal agents also first causes insofar as their acts are self-determined?

      Tom: “Insofar as their acts are self-determined,” yes. In my view, there’s something true to affirm in what you say. “1st and 2nd causation” doesn’t name a temporal distinction between the two (as if both are the same ‘causation’, the 1st coming temporally prior to the 2nd). But there has to be a sense in which creaturely agency is self-determining without culpability running back from 2nd to 1st and implicating God in bringing about sin/evil. To hold people (not God) accountable, or to hold people accountable in a sense God isn’t help accountable, is to recognize creatures as (at least sometimes) final arbiters in their choices.

      Passages like the one you quote can be found in Bulgakov, who insisted on the integrity of the creature’s ability to create (not in an absolute ontological sense, of course, but in the self-determining sense I take you to mean).

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        but now we are changing what is normally meant by first cause and secondary cause in metaphysics…..

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        • Tom says:

          If I’m mistaken re: 1st and 2nd causation (that is, if they really are 2 instances of a single species of causation related temporally – which I can’t imagine to be what is meant), then I’ll remove that part of my comment. My bad. Joel seemed to say something that was fairly clearly true. We can’t be creative in the divine sense (ex nihilo), but we are creatively self-determining in the sense Joel mentioned.

          Joel, don’t mind Robert and me. Every spring he and I do a dance around this topic. It’s our way of emerging out of the sleep of winter into the sunshine of a new season of theological debate.

          Bulgakov: “In this sense, creation – in both the spiritual and the human world – cannot bring anything ontologically new into this world; it cannot surprise or enrich the Creator himself. But the very choice and creative actualization of these possibilities, that is, the domain of modal freedom, remain entrusted to creation and to this extent are its creative contribution.”

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  3. David says:

    “if God does indeed tolerate that final unredeemed natural evil as the price of his creation, he not only thereby reduces the ‘goodness’ of his creative act to a merely relative goodness; he also converts that natural evil into a moral evil, one wholly enfolded within the total calculus of his own venture in creating, and thereby reveals himself to be not God, the Good as such, but only a god who is (at most) relatively good.”

    The term ‘final unredeemed natural evil’ is a little ambiguous here: Hart’s primary target here is presumably the traditional hell of everlasting torment, but I take it that by this term he also means to include annihilationism – after all, the final loss of a rational soul, even if ‘only’ to mere non-existence, is clearly an eternal tragedy.

    I agree that DBH’s moral argument is airtight with respect to traditional conceptions of an everlasting hell, but I am less certain that it works as well against annihilationism.

    That is, the Good could never will anything that included the chance of eternal hell for even a single individual – the possibility of such suffering could obviously never be a cost worth paying for any good. So under all circumstances, it would be immoral to have a child, knowing that the price of this finite good was that they may end up in eternal torment.

    But if the worst outcome that the child could possibly undergo was natural death, then it doesn’t seem obvious that creating them would be immoral. There is a strong moral intuition that human life is good despite its limitations: basically, it’s not immoral to have kids just because you know they’re going to die. I think that remains true even if one didn’t have the hope of the life to come.

    So, if the analogy holds, it seems that while it would be immoral for God to create finite goods, if the cost of those finite goods was eternal hell, but it does not seem that he would be immoral to create finite goods if the cost of those finite goods was natural death. We do it all the time.

    (now don’t get me wrong, I think that all of DBH’s other arguments provide airtight positive proofs for universalism, and that his moral argument + reflection on God’s omnipotence and therefore his ability to achieve his desired ends eventually is absolutely persuasive. Of course, arguments about God’s goodness vs. arguments about God’s power are both wrapped into reflections on creatio ex nihilo, so maybe it’s not fair to artificially separate out the arguments in this way. I guess I’m just wondering whether, in the hypothetical scenario of a ‘God’ who could not actually achieve his ultimate ends (and so basically not really God…), would such a being be immoral to create a world of finite goods involving permanent natural death if that was the best he could do?

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    • DBH says:

      The question is answered in the book. And don’t forget Meditation Three.

      But let me ask: If God wills the salvation of all, does not the final destruction of a rational soul constitute a “natural evil?” And would it not then be a morally evil consequent of God’s creative act, every bit as much ad an eternal hell? And so the logic is the same.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        It’s silly really – as if dissolving little Johnny in a vat of acid is acceptable whereas caging him as an animal for 45 years is a moral outrage. A tidy solution to a nasty little problem. It seems to me if it is truly believed that God is the Giver of Life then annihilation is no less a moral offense than is an infinity of pain and suffering. I’m holding out for the shepherd who seeks, may God have mercy.

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      • David says:

        I suppose I should be clearer that my question is directed at a purely hypothetical and nonsensical world in which God has to deal with ‘brute facts’ which includes propositions such as ‘God cannot guarantee in advance that all beings will choose him’. I don’t believe God has to contend with that proposition, but let’s suppose.

        To reuse my analogy, when human beings have children, are they not also effectively willing a natural evil – i.e. the eventual and inevitable death of their child – a moral evil consequent on their freely chosen act of procreation? The moral evil, the death of the child, is the necessary and inevitable consequence of willing the moral good of their being born in the first place.

        So my question is: what is the significant moral distinction between these two acts? Well I suppose we might contend that God would be actively annihilating the damned, whereas when human parents have children, they are merely complicit passively in the annihilation of their children. I suppose there is a significant moral difference between, say, having children while knowing their life will eventually be taken by disease or some other evil, vs. having children under the condition that you agree to one day kill your children (even if for some contrived reason it is literally impossible for you to have children without making this terrible concession)

        So if that’s right I can accept that, if the nature of free will were structured such that some souls could become so evil that they could never choose God and that the ‘least worst’ option was therefore to annihilate them, it would have been better never to have made anything in the first place, and therefore God would be immoral to create under such conditions.

        1) But what if, rather than God actively annihilating these lost souls, it is conceived that souls are simply unable to exist unless they choose God by a certain point? i.e. God just doesn’t have the power to raise the wicked, just as he doesn’t have the power (under internalist and annihilationist modes of thinking) to turn the wicked to become good?

        2) Or what if God choose not to annihilate these bad souls, but quarantines them in as comfortable conditions as possible?

        To respond to my own questions, I’d wager that 1) is pretty ad hoc and with no reason to suppose it is true – it’s not a ‘contradiction in terms’ in the same way that God making a square circle definitely is, or a person with free will who always chooses heaven plausibly might be (although as a universalist I think not) – so should be rejected as irrelevant.

        And 2) *might* be morally acceptable if God actually could keep them in ‘comfortable conditions’, but I’m minded to think that, if it were possible for a rational soul to somehow turn permanently away from God, than that very process of turning away would both be a hellish experience in itself (and so an unacceptable risk to the divine goodness), and the resulting mindset of the strange shadow-creature that would persist afterwards would be incapable of experiencing basic pleasures of goodness.

        So I’ve perhaps ineloquently answered my own question there.

        But it’s just that I’m trying to make it explicit that, as best as I can tell, consistently holding that ‘divine creation that requires future annihilation = bad’, whereas ‘human creation that requires future natural death = good’, requires a metaethics that holds there is a significant moral distinction between creating something that you know will inevitably suffer death, vs. actively causing the death itself (even if serving an otherwise good goal). I thought it was important to bring that out given that some ethicists would wonder whether such a distinction is meaningful or helpful – and I actually also wondered whether there was any interaction with your own views that, there is no real moral difference between God actively ordaining many to hell vs merely ‘allowing’ them to choose it themselves (although I take it your point is not that there is no distinction moral distinction between active and passive actions, but that, as the transcendent Creator of the world ex nihilo, all of Gods acts are in some sense ‘active’.)

        Sorry for the many thoughts, please blame the ADHD.

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      We must assume, if God is to be said to be good at all, that finite evils are somehow a necessary part of achieving greater good arising from our creation (otherwise why would a good God inflict them on us?). This argument obviously doesn’t work for final, irrevocable and irrecoverable evil, however (which is the point of DBH’s book).
      It would be possible, I think, to see annihilation compatible with a good God, if, somehow, it were incompatible with some greater good for created beings, or some created beings, to always be preserved for ever. However, even then, to be just to any being so created, it would have to be the case that that such a being’s creation was neverthless a good to that being itself. If a finite created being both lived the best life it could have before that life was necessarily irrevocably ended, and overall that life was worth living, then creating a such a being, despite its ultimate annihilation, could be a good act.
      The trouble is, annihilationism posits annihilation not for those whose life has been good, but for those whose life has been bad: indeed it posits annihilation precisely for those beings whose life has (due to their falling into sin) *not* been worthwhile. It is very difficult to see how creating such a being under those circumstances would be a good act.

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    • David says:

      I suppose I should be clearer that my question is directed at a purely hypothetical and nonsensical world in which God has to deal with ‘brute facts’ which includes propositions such as ‘God cannot guarantee in advance that all beings will choose him’. I don’t believe God has to contend with that proposition, but let’s suppose.

      To reuse my analogy, when human beings have children, are they not also effectively willing a natural evil – i.e. the eventual and inevitable death of their child – a moral evil consequent on their freely chosen act of procreation? The moral evil, the death of the child, is the necessary and inevitable consequence of willing the moral good of their being born in the first place.

      So my question is: what is the significant moral distinction between these two acts? Well I suppose we might contend that God would be actively annihilating the damned, whereas when human parents have children, they are merely complicit passively in the annihilation of their children. I suppose there is a significant moral difference between, say, having children while knowing their life will eventually be taken by disease or some other evil, vs. having children under the condition that you agree to one day kill your children (even if for some contrived reason it is literally impossible for you to have children without making this terrible concession)

      So if that’s right I can accept that, if the nature of free will were structured such that some souls could become so evil that they could never choose God and that the ‘least worst’ option was therefore to annihilate them, it would have been better never to have made anything in the first place, and therefore God would be immoral to create under such conditions.

      1) But what if, rather than God actively annihilating these lost souls, it is conceived that souls are simply unable to exist unless they choose God by a certain point? i.e. God just doesn’t have the power to raise the wicked, just as he doesn’t have the power (under internalist and annihilationist modes of thinking) to turn the wicked to become good?

      2) Or what if God choose not to annihilate these bad souls, but quarantines them in as comfortable conditions as possible?

      To respond to my own questions, I’d wager that 1) is pretty ad hoc and with no reason to suppose it is true – it’s not a ‘contradiction in terms’ in the same way that God making a square circle definitely is, or a person with free will who always chooses heaven plausibly might be (although as a universalist I think not) – so should be rejected as irrelevant.

      And 2) *might* be morally acceptable if God actually could keep them in ‘comfortable conditions’, but I’m minded to think that, if it were possible for a rational soul to somehow turn permanently away from God, than that very process of turning away would both be a hellish experience in itself (and so an unacceptable risk to the divine goodness), and the resulting mindset of the strange shadow-creature that would persist afterwards would be incapable of experiencing basic pleasures of goodness.

      So I’ve perhaps ineloquently answered my own question there.

      But it’s just that I’m trying to make it explicit that, as best as I can tell, consistently holding that ‘divine creation that requires future annihilation = bad’, whereas ‘human creation that requires future natural death = good’, requires a metaethics that holds there is a significant moral distinction between creating something that you know will inevitably suffer death, vs. actively causing the death itself (even if serving an otherwise good goal). I thought it was important to bring that out given that some ethicists would wonder whether such a distinction is meaningful or helpful – and I actually also wondered whether there was any interaction with your own views that, there is no real moral difference between God actively ordaining many to hell vs merely ‘allowing’ them to choose it themselves (although I take it your point is not that there is no distinction moral distinction between active and passive actions, but that, as the transcendent Creator of the world ex nihilo, all of Gods acts are in some sense ‘active’.)

      Sorry for the many thoughts, please blame the ADHD.

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      • JBG says:

        David: “To reuse my analogy, when human beings have children, are they not also effectively willing a natural evil – i.e. the eventual and inevitable death of their child – a moral evil consequent on their freely chosen act of procreation? The moral evil, the death of the child, is the necessary and inevitable consequence of willing the moral good of their being born in the first place.”

        If I may interject: There are indeed people who choose not to have children on moral grounds. It is called antinatalism. It is not so much the child’s eventual death that makes procreating morally unjustifiable, but the suffering they would invariably experience in life.

        Remember, people don’t choose to have children for the sake of the children, as they don’t even exist yet. Likewise, choosing not to have children cannot be construed as a deprivation as there is nobody existing to be deprived.

        So David, if some people are astute enough to make this moral calculation, what about God?

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      • David says:

        JBG.

        My point was that, if we assume for the sake of argument that having children is not immoral, even though it inevitably involves suffering and death – something affirmed by Christian tradition and a pretty intuitive moral truth to everyone – then we had better make sure we don’t imply that God would be wrong to create along similar lines, IF that kind of divine creation would be analogous to regular old human procreation. It may not be, as I’ve suggested.

        Personally I’m no fan of antinatalism and would not characterise their observations as ‘astute’ as you do, as it seems to me that the good of life is worth the risk of some suffering and death (though not eternal torture). But for a universalist, it does not matter much where we fall on this question either way, given that from this perspective death is not true annihilation but instead the gateway to eventual eternal happiness for all, i.e. there is no being for whom it is ultimately true to say ‘it would have been better had he never been born’.

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        • JBG says:

          The choice of the antinatalist is moral given its context. Obviously this person would have no belief in the salvation of anyone (let alone everyone) and so every life ends in permanent extinction.

          Given that, in addition to the general inevitability of suffering and the real potential for an extremely unhappy life, the choice not to procreate is the most moral choice one can make if one’s definition of morality involves the reducfion of suffefing.

          It seems to me that the same would hold true for God if existence ends in permanent death for anyone.

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        • JBG says:

          The morality of the decision to procreate would depend on the parent’s knowledge or assumed knowledge. I’ll give you an example. Years ago I saw a documentary about a woman with ectrodactyly (lobster claw hands) who wanted to have children but was told that there was a 50% chance that her child would inherent the deformation. Well, she decided to have a child and it was born with the condition. Then she decided to have yet another child and it too inherited the condition. In an interview, both of her children (then in their early 20s) talked about how much they suffered over their hands, how they wish their mother had chosen not to have them, and how they thought it was extremely selfish of her to do so especially since she was well aware of what may happen.

          Was her choice the moral one?

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        • David says:

          If morality really were nothing but ‘reduction of suffering’, then that position would hold, but that is not a view every ethicist shares.

          But yes it is interesting to reflect whether, if we assume objective morality is real but there were no life beyond the grave, DBH’s views would imply that it would be immoral for anyone to have a child (given he seems to hold that it would be morally wrong – DBH, please correct me if I am wrong – for God to create even a pretty good world if there were no life beyond the grave, or indeed just a risk of no life beyond the grave for the wicked).

          However there may be a significant moral difference between active vs. passive actions, between actively creating an evil vs. creating a good which is tragically constrained by certain outside conditions beyond one’s control / have an evil that is parasitic on it – e.g. there seems to be a significant moral difference between, say, giving birth, even while knowing it will eventually end in death, vs. murder (perhaps the biggest moral difference in the world in fact). Or between sending your child to school, knowing he may be bullied, vs. actually bullying the child. If there is no difference, I don’t really see why antinatalists don’t go the whole way and advocate blowing up with nukes and gassing every creature alive, as that’s clearly the most efficient way to ‘reduce suffering’.

          There may be other significant moral differences between God actively annihilating parts of his creation vs. humans giving birth even while believing all things will eventually whither and die, which others might want to point out.

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          • JBG says:

            David: “I don’t really see why antinatalists don’t go the whole way and advocate blowing up with nukes and gassing every creature alive, as that’s clearly the most efficient way to ‘reduce suffering’.

            Because there is obviously a clear distinction between ending an already existing life and choosing not to produce the life in the first place. Even for the individual, wishing to have never been is not the same as wanting to die. The survival instinct is a formidable beast.

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          • David says:

            JBG: I agree that there is obviously a clear distinction. It’s just that if your *only* ethical principle or criterion were that one should ‘reduce suffering’, there would be no such distinction and it would imply that it would be morally acceptable to destroy the whole world (at least if via some painless method somehow). So I’m making the point that anti-natalists must accept some ethical principle beyond ‘reduce suffering’ if they aren’t also content with saying they’d press a button that released a silent nerve gas that would instantly and painlessly destroy life on earth.

            Re: your earlier comment on the unfortunate lady with the inherited illnesses, I would be uncomfortable judging any specific case, but it may well be that in certain cases where severe genetic abnormalities are very likely to be inherited, then choosing to procreate is not the morally best course of action – however that need not imply that *every* decision to procreate is immoral.

            And I thought I was one for going off topic! Sheesh… 🙂

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  4. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    I have a question regarding the goodness of a god who gambles with creation. It would seem that there is generally a combination of potential goods achieved & probability of achieving those goods that would sufficiently outweigh even the most horrendous of downsides, rendering it possible to be morally in the clear for gambling with such high stakes. As an example, If I were to roll a billion sided die with the wager being that if it lands on number 3 then I will marry but have no children, if it lands on 937,289 then I will have a daughter who will suffer with epidermolysis bullosa before dying tragically at age 10, but if it lands anywhere else then I’ll have a daughter who will live a long and blissful life. If I were to roll that die, it would seem that I was not behaving immorally, and indeed that this die is much better than the actual gamble we take when we reproduce (and nobody questions us for doing so). My basic question is this: were it impossible for God to create without the possibility of some soul being eternally damned is there any possible scenario on which that creation could be morally permissible for him? If the odds were like pulling a single electron out from the universe of a single soul (say Hitler) being damned, and otherwise everyone was destined for eternal bliss, then it would seem odd to say that such a gamble would be impermissible. After all, I think that each of us would take such a gamble without flinching.

    Granted, I don’t think that we occupy a world where God cannot guarantee universal salvation, but I feel like there’s prima facie reason to suppose that there are scenarios in which creation would be justified absent that guarantee. I’m having a hard time understanding why such a gamble would relativise God’s goodness *if* the only options were not creating or gambling in this way. Is it simply a matter of saying that any potential for infinite loss carries an infinite weight and no good, infinite or not can justify introducing such a weight into the cosmic balances?

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    • TJF says:

      Does a guy rolling billion sided dice sound like the infinite and omnipotent Holy Trinity? That’s the problem. Any such bargain reduces God to a god, some guy (granted a really powerful guy by our standards) who is just doing the best he can but can’t guarantee that he will deliver on his promises. That’s not God and not worthy of worship, respect maybe but not worship and that version of god is not the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

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    • Tom says:

      Hi Matthew.

      If there is a gamble or risk (and I hear Orthodox speak of creation in such qualified terms), it’s only a risk this side of the eschaton. Essentially, God is on every side of your billion-sided dice [pardon the modern standard ‘dice’ for both singular and plural] finally redeeming whatever tragedy is writ thereupon. (Rom 8.18, “None of the sufferings risked, on any of Matthew’s million-sided dice, can be compared with the glory that shall be revealed,” my free translation). That is, there can be no side which describes final, irredeemable loss for any.

      “My basic question is this: Were it impossible for God to create without the possibility of some soul being eternally damned is there any possible scenario on which that creation could be morally permissible for him?”

      Hart argues at length that the answer to this is ‘no’ – right?

      “If the odds were like pulling a single electron out from the universe of a single soul (say Hitler) being damned, and otherwise everyone was destined for eternal bliss, then it would seem odd to say that such a gamble would be impermissible.”

      DBH discusses this very possibility in his Notre Dame essay. If even Hitler was the price of infinite bliss for all others, God could not be called ‘the Good’ or ‘Love’ as such.

      “After all, I think that each of us would take such a gamble without flinching.”

      Perhaps that is why Hart’s argument fails to convince. At this point in my life, I would not take that gamble, for to take it is to concede God is the kind of God who takes such risks – and at that point, what about him assures you of anything regarding the future?

      “I don’t think that we occupy a world where God cannot guarantee universal salvation, but I feel like there’s prima facie reason to suppose that there are scenarios in which creation would be justified absent that guarantee. I’m having a hard time understanding why such a gamble would relativise God’s goodness *if* the only options were not creating or gambling in this way.”

      Wouldn’t the answer be in what you grant about God when you say you believe we live in a world where God has guaranteed universal salvation? Whatever it is about God that you agree guarantees this world’s universal universal salvation would have to define every possible world; i.e., God would be that kind of God invariably to/in/with all possibilities he grounds. So, what kind of infinite, transcendent goodness grounds all possibilities but freely wills to guarantee the final salvation of only some? Once you grant that God can create a world whose universal salvation he does not guarantee, you can’t have grounds for supposing this isn’t that world?

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    • DBH says:

      Read the argument again. And again if necessary.

      What you venture you have already (morally) sacrificed. If what you have sacrificed is a rational spirit…

      Say you undertake the risk of your child being killed to achieve an end you think good. Perhaps the likelihood is vanishingly small. Maybe one in a trillion. Already, your willingness to sacrifice your child for that end is part of the pattern of the good you seek to achieve. You have for all intents and purposes made the sacrifice. Can the end you seek then ever be a good end in se? Or will it not always be a good end dependent upon a certain evil, whether actual or potential? Obviously the latter. And therefore it can be only a relative good: good relative to an even worse reality, but evil relative to a still more perfect good that required no such oblation.

      Even if Hitler–unrestored, unredeemed, never reduced to a state of real rational freedom and confronted by a true knowledge of the Good–is the price paid, it is still a price, and therefore a transaction that reduces the goodness of creation to an evaluation, a proportion, not an absolute. And the agent–God–who accomplishes it is only a relatively good creator.

      Moreover, if it so happens that you were under no compulsion to pursue creation’s end in the first place, your own goodness is of only a relative degree. If you were under such a compulsion, then you are still only relatively good–a finite being required to compromise with evil.

      (And, again, see Meditation Three.)

      This isn’t really hard, Matthew. I’m not sure what you’re failing to see. Either God and God’s acts are good in themselves or they are tragically contingent and therefore relative. There is only one way in which the former can be the case.

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      • TJF says:

        I understand and agree with what you’re saying, but I do somewhat see the point of others pointing out that we do experience suffering and pain in this life. It would seem to me then that a corollary of your argument would have to be that the suffering we experience now is somehow necessary because I fail to see why God would allow even this suffering even if it is overcome with victory later. Wouldn’t it be better if He had created a creation that never fell and never knew pain and sorrow at all? Why didn’t He then? How can we avoid saying God made a gamble with provisional suffering? I’m failing to see why we have to suffer at all. I totally understand atheist critiques that ask why God created people who didn’t ask to be created just for misery like a young woman a read about years ago who was born as the child of man raping his own daughter and he locked her in a dungeon and raped her every day of her life for 20 or so years until she died. What a horrifying existence! How do we overcome this problem? Just say I guess it’ll be worth it in the end? Why can’t we say God could’ve or should’ve done better?

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      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        I appreciate the replies, and forgive me if I seem to be obtuse. I own, but have not yet read TASBS so perhaps it answers all my questions (I didn’t realize that this blog post was from the book). I’ll do my best to get through it asap. It’s a little difficult for me to properly get at what my hang-ups are here and I feel like don’t usually do well getting to the heart of things (no pun intended). I *think* that I see the force of the argument, but I still find myself with pesky concerns that won’t allow me to rest in it. Let me try a few bullets:

        – If taking on a risk is morally the same as having already performed the undesirable act, then this seems to imply that it is morally reprehensible or at least questionable to do many of our most ordinary things. If I take my daughter for a car ride to go get some ice cream, there’s a chance that she will die in an accident or choke on a piece of her cone. But who would say that my decision to treat my daughter was evil? Does this imply that none (or few) of our actions are good in themselves? Or does this principle apply more narrowly than I’ve interpreted it?

        -It would seem that since we know that evil is a feature of the world, that some amount of it is a price that God is paying for creation. Does this not relativise God’s goodness simply because it is finite?

        Let me see if I can answer my own questions. God, as goodness itself, cannot have even an infinitesimal of evil entailed within his being or actions (else he would not be *purely* good). Any action that knowingly and willfully involves even the possibility of an evil outcome is less than fully good (excepting cases where the agent must make a choice between different options that all involve degrees of evil). This implies that since God is fully good, he cannot act in any way that entails even the possibility of an evil outcome. God is also not in a position where he needs to create, so if it were impossible for God to create without the possibility of an evil outcome then it would be impossible for God to create. Finite evils can be accounted for somehow because of creaturely causality, but I’m fuzzy on how that would work. Finite evil may indeed be a price paid for creation, but it is a cost that reduces to zero in the light of eternal glory. This side of the eschaton, we are forced to make various decisions that entail possible evils, so a different sort of calculus applies to us. Wagering my daughter’s life for the sake of an ice cream cone is permissible given the particulars of our world.

        Again, thanks for the interactions. I’m really trying here. I wish I had more time to devote to thinking about these things at present.

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      • David says:

        I don’t want to interrupt, but for the avoidance of confusion, it might be worth distinguishing between acts that are 100% ‘morally good’ vs acts that are ‘good’ in the sense of being ‘as good as they possibly could be’.

        e.g. we might hold that Mary was 100% morally good, so she could not be any better morally – but that in the second sense of good, her act of living a sinless life was not as ‘good’ as Jesus’ life of serving as saviour of the world.

        I take it that DBH would hold that an act was not 100% morally good was only a ‘relative good’ and ‘evil relative to some other good’, but I’m not sure if he would hold that the goodness of Mary and Angels or whatever were only ‘relative goods’ as well. Perhaps not given that it doesn’t sound right to claim that ‘Mary/angels are evil relative to God’.

        I find this relevant because clearly Mary will have done all the various things that Matthew describes in his first bullet: giving treats to her (step?) children knowing that this could put them in some risk, likely encouraging younger family members to have kids knowing that this would inevitably result in children being born who would suffer and die, etc.

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      • David says:

        Just to clarify what I was getting at.

        I just don’t know whether, when DBH says a God who created a world without universal salvation would not be good, and that his act would involve a compromise with evil, whether he means either:

        1) Such an act of creation would be less than maximally great and therefore God would not be maximally great, and therefore not worth of the name God and so not ‘good’ in the sense of ‘not great’; or
        2) The stronger claim that God would immoral/evil for creating under such conditions; it would be morally better for God not to create at all

        Now DBH is very clear with respect to the moral status of a ‘God’ who created eternal hell, where he obviously claims 2), that God would be immoral.

        But it’s not immediately clear to me whether he is making the same claim with respect to views where God simply couldn’t do any better than create a world that was broadly good but had the stain of a few souls who, while not experiencing hell, ‘just’ suffered natural death and God was not able to raise them. DBH *is* clear that, as he’s said above, such a God would at least be 1) only relatively good’ in the sense of ‘relatively great’. But I don’t think that he explicitly engages with whether such a God would be 2) evil.

        If DBH does hold that such a God would actually be 2) evil, then I think it requires a clear answer to the questions that Matthew raises – i.e. how do we avoid the conclusion that very ordinary human acts like buying our children icecream when there’s a risk that might choke, or bringing children into the world when we know they’ll suffer and die. This seems exacerbated when we reflect that even apparently sinless and morally perfect humans like Mary will have engaged in or at least encouraged others in similar activities.

        Whereas if DBH doesn’t hold to this stronger claim, but is merely claiming that such a God would be 1) i.e. not maximally great and not God… well, I can only say ‘duh!’. It is pretty obvious that the God of classical theism must be able, as goodness/greatness itself, to achieve what he wills – God would hardly be omnipotent if he willed the salvation of all but could not achieve it. DBH conclusively and devastatingly demonstrates this point elsewhere.

        BUT I thought the whole point of the thought experiment behind meditation 1 is that we begin by saying something like ‘even IF we take certain incorrect internalist assumptions for granted – namely that there are some things God wills as an end but cannot achieve (i.e. a world where all freely choose him) – then, in that case, such a God would not merely be incompetent but would actually be evil to have created this world, for it would be better never to have created at all (and that therefore the internalist assumption must be incorrect). But that point isn’t established if we have only shown 1) but not 2). Yes such a God would be less than maximally great. But the infernalist has already essentially assumed that in holding that God can’t get what he wants, or at least that God is subject to certain logical laws that limit that maximal greatness means. Yes DBH holds that the true God can’t have such limitations, and yes those arguments succeed, but for the purpose of engaging with infernalists I still want to be able to answer the question ‘but what would God’s moral status, not merely greatness status, be if God somehow were like that?’

        (I would find my mind greatly mentally settled for some positive engagement from DBH on this specific point – admittedly I have a learning disability, but a few other of his fellow- admirers whom I’ve discussed this with agree they are a little puzzled on which of these, so I do think this is a point where more clarity would be greatly welcomed and appreciated by all)

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  5. JBG says:

    DBH: “If God wills the salvation of all, does not the final destruction of a rational soul constitute a ‘natural evil?’ And would it not then be a morally evil consequent of God’s creative act, every bit as much ad an eternal hell? And so the logic is the same.”

    I don’t see how the consignment of a rational soul to any duration of suffering fails to constitute a moral evil. Aren’t all forms and degrees of human misery—sometimes unimaginably intense and lasting an entire lifetime— an obvious consequent of God’s creative act? This isn’t morally evil because it isn’t eternal?

    This seems to be the logic here. The consignment of a rational soul to suffering that went on forever (otherwise known as “hell”) would obviously be morally evil, but the consignment of a rational soul to an entire human lifetime of sheer agony is not morally evil.

    So, to be clear, the infliction of torture isn’t morally evil as long as it long as it fulfills the following:
    b.) it isn’t eternal b.) it will eventually be resolved in a postive end?

    The incalculable misery incurred during the span of one human lifetime is entirely acceptable? What about the durational equivalent of the span of two lives, or three, or one hundred, or one thousand? When exactly would the line be crossed that would make any of these become morally evil? It all seems rather arbitrary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      JBG – Suffering and death are manifestly unacceptable and without justification as God defeats them, puts misery out of its misery – and this by personally taking the route of the via dolorosa.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      JBG,

      If you cannot distinguish between the cases, then you need to do some basic logical spadework. It is obvious that we cannot say in this life whether it was all worth it. So what? It remains logically possible for a transient suffering to lead to an end that would be of such a nature that the one who suffers still “gladly confesses” or “praises” the end reached. A final and unredeemed suffering, however, leading to nothing at all but annihilation or eternal misery would be another matter. A surgeon’s table is not a torture chamber; it may still hurt quite a lot, however. To suggest that the distinction is arbitrary is simply absurd. And to suggest that a very long period of suffering is the issue, rather than an ultimate suffering that terminates only in suffering or nothingness, or that somehow the former is more or less a modality of the latter, is utter nonsense.

      Since that difference is obvious, your argument is vacuous. Yes, theodicy may fail. But that has absolutely nothing to do with what is at issue here. The two cases are not equivalent, not analogous, not even meaningfully related to one another. If you want to know my views regarding matters of “theodicy,” I have written about those elsewhere. But this is not an argument about theodicy.

      Liked by 2 people

      • TJF says:

        So was it not possible then for God to create without “bargaining?” It seems sort of like God took a risk we might fall and have to endure suffering for a temporary time. It’s definitely not on the same level as eternal misery, but it still seems like something an omnipotent, benevolent, omniscient, and infinitely free God could’ve avoided. Why didn’t He? Is the only answer that we shall find out on the other side of the veil? I read your book and am convinced in the main, but I did not find this issue adequately addressed, but perhaps that’s because it can’t be.

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      You are right: universalism in no sense solves the problem of asserting a good God in the face of suffering, but then it doesn’t actually claim to. It deals with a remarkably narrow point.
      We only know what happens in this life. We don’t know what happens beyond it. We can look at the sufferings on this life and quite validly conclude that God cannot be good, regardless of what may happen after. If we do, arguments over our ultimate destiny are irrelevant: God is not good. However, if we are prepared to accept that, not having the full picture, God might, despite how our present suffering makes it appear, be good, then the argument about ultimate destiny becomes relevant.
      This is where the issue of universalism stands: assuming there is one which is compatible at all, what possible ultimate destiny for us is compatible with still leaving open the possibility that God is, despite present appearances, nevertheless good? Creating us only to consign us to eternal torment, even at hazard, is obviously evil. Creating us knowing that this suffering life is all, or may be all we are going to get (annihilationism) is also, I would say, pretty obviously evil. Creating us knowing with certainty that our lives were going to make sense, be worthwhile and ultimately end in the best possible good is at least potentially good, despite them also containing a modicum of temporary suffering. For this to be so, however, our ultimate good must entirely recompense and outweigh the suffering, and, crucially, the suffering of any creature must be only such that is absolutely necessary for the purpose of equipping that creature for its own ultimate greater good. If that is impossible or illogical, God simply isn’t good, and all the arguments over universalism are irrelevant, and we may as well assume eternal torment as being precisely the kind of horrible thing that he, in his evil, would do.

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  6. JBG says:

    DBH: “It remains logically possible for a transient suffering to lead to an end that would be of such a nature…”

    It may be logically possible but the question is whether it is logically necessary? The latter would be contingent upon a clear demonstration that it was the suffering itself that was an indispensible ingredient leading to this desired end, and that it would have been absolutely impossible for the achievement of this end without it.

    More to the point: the question concerning the allowance of human suffering and whether or not it constitutes a moral evil hangs on whether human suffering (in every particular manifestation) was absolutely necessary for the achievement of the desired end.

    DBH: “A surgeon’s table is not a torture chamber; it may still hurt quite a lot…”

    This is probably not the best metaphor. With surgery, the pain is not the reparative mechanism, the scalpel is. Pain is not necessary for the surgery to be successful. If it was, we wouldn’t employ the use of local and general anesthetics.

    Nonetheless, if human misery is really just the “surgeon peforming his surgery”, the question still remains: how much is enough (in terms of form, intensity, and duration)? How much isn both necessary and sufficient to achieve the desired end? It just so happens span of one human life is at the maximal end of a proper duration? Banzai!

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    • brian says:

      JBG,

      Hart treats these matters in The Doors of the Sea. There is a perduring mystery regarding the aetiology of evil that makes all these discussions intrinsically limited in probity, but you ought to know that Hart wrote a whole book repudiating the kind of necessary evil you find objectionable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • JBG says:

        Might this “perduring mystery regarding the aetiology of evil” be an indication of the fundamental irreconciliablity of one’s assumptive premises?

        Like

  7. JBG says:

    To be clear, I am not an exponent of a belief in hell. Nor am I arguing that durationally finite suffering is comparable to eternal suffering or that the possibility of the latter can be extrapolated from the existence of finite suffering. That would be a gross misunderstanding of what I am saying.

    Let me state it in a different way. If the only prospects for suffering that would constitute moral evil are suffering that is endless or suffering that culminates in extinction, then it would follow that any duration of suffering could be justified as long as it is not endless and provided it eventually yields to bliss.

    After all, one billion years of suffering is just as “non-eternal” as one single lifetime. One billion years has the same incommensurable relation to eternity as a mere nanosecond.

    It would be impossible to defend the notion that one limited duration of suffering is morally perfect while another limited duration of suffering is a moral evil.

    Like

    • brian says:

      Here’s the rub: the gospel allows for a way of reading temporal evils as encompassed by a healing redemption. It does not make them less evil. Annihilation or the eternal hell of the infernalists closes off redress and radically impugns the absolute Goodness of God. (This has been pointed out in the thread.) Why God’s permissive will allows the breadth and intensity of evil in this world is a source of perplexity that one must existentially endure. Job is preferable to Job’s counselors.

      Another way to approach this regards the theological understanding of the Fall. All of historical time is Fallen. How do we know this isn’t simply a universal constant since for us history is an unending slaughterboard? Only in the light of Cross and Resurrection is the TriUne revelation manifest, so only in the light of divine love can one properly infer a paradisial state transcendent of time as we know it and an eschatological consummation that heals all wounds. As T.S. Eliot announced, you come to know the beginning by arrival at the end. Evil moves from a tragic fact to something provisional and ultimately vanquished: hence Paul’s joyous hymn at the end of Romans 8. None of this admits a tolerance for evil as evil. It is an enemy defeated by the love of God.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Right Brian, and if the Christian story is to be believed, God does evidently not accept temporal suffering and death as the last word about the matter, in such a way as to personally intervene. All nice and well, but or course it does not explain the mystery of evil, and certainly the Christian story doesn’t pretend to be such an explanation – as DBH indicated earlier theodicy is another matter. But the point stands – suffering and death are not ultimate “acceptables” to an end. They are trumped to make earth great again 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • JBG says:

          I for one don’t think that theodicy is simply an interesting but ultimately irrelevant ancillary matter or that it can be neatly dismissed as though it is not a gaping lacuna that immensely weakens the entire system of belief. It is inescapably integral to the whole. It is like attempting to build a house of cards without the supportive cards at the base.

          Hart admits that theodicy may fail. It’s not that it may fail, it has failed. It has failed utterly and competely. Where does one go from there?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Nope, no one is dismissing theodicy as irrelevant or something to be dismissed, but simply that it goes beyond the issue at hand. Of course theodicy to justify evil, yes you will find objections coming from these corners, and I for one would hope theodicy would fail miserably at doing so.

            Liked by 2 people

          • DBH says:

            Who cares? It is not relevant to this argument. The book’s claim is that any but a universalist understanding of Christianity is incoherent. Other questions about the plausibility of Christian claims are other questions.

            Simply stating over and over that there’s too much damned suffering is emotionally satisfying, I have no doubt. It may be true. Probably is. But it is not an argument, it is not illuminating here, and it simply is not relevant to this book.

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          • JBG says:

            Fair enough but in my estimation it has relevance to all theological arguments. It is a cornerstone; a foundation. So, the best one can say is that Christian universalism is—within extremely narrow confines— internally coherent. It is logical only in the abstract. It is the capstone devoid of any structure on which to place it.

            But what happens when you place that proposition back in its the larger context wherein it must be situated and to which it must logically correspond? It is a logical proposition that all will be saved from suffering even though there is no logical reconciliation of the existence of suffering and the existence of God? I see a problem here.

            Doesn’t the utter lack of logic in that larger question reflect on anything? It seems to me that one would have to have a logical grasp of the origin, “purpose”, and mechanics of suffering to have any reasonable grounding of a belief that suffering can be forever eliminated. In the absence of that knowledge,nconfidence in the logic of salvation would be incredibly flimsy at best.

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  8. brian says:

    JBG,

    Whether one finds any or all attempts at theodicy insufficient — how could they not pale next to the extravagance of evil? — there remains the beauty of the Good which one must work hard not to perceive at all. If one experiences the radiance of Christ and his saints, one is drawn into a particular story with its own impetus and metaphysical implications. Even if one claims to be left indifferent by the gospel, the structure of knowing and willing entails the transcendental Good as the horizon that differentiates between meaningful actions and nihilist despair. Implicitly, the human desire for knowledge and understanding presupposes the Good. So alienation cannot touch the core of reason which ecstatically reaches out beyond the essays of discursive thinking. I wrote a long piece some time ago for Eclectic Orthodoxy: The Vates Christ Jesus and the Struggle to Say Amen. To rest in flourishing praise is not a superficial act; it is the eschatological conclusion of life that has wrestled with darkness. If theodicy fails for you, one can resign oneself to loss, conclude an absurdist universe, or continue in agon-y, pursuing the Good amidst anguish and often rebellion. Resignation is a kind of tragic wisdom, but it’s not as wise or profound as joy which is comic, child-like, and winsome. You might vent considerable rage along the way, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. mercifullayman says:

    What if fundamentally JBG, it could be an and/both situation. We look for the outcome of the argument for theodicy in this world, and as DBH (I believe) discusses in not TASBS but rather in BOI, the question is an aesthetic answer we have to understand now. They beauty of the infinite is wrapped up solely in the slave who died on the Cross and what that calls into the cosmic order as we know it. All powers, suffering, death, sin, Satan, whatever you want to phrase it, have been stripped of any real existential power. The interesting part that I find from Origen, Nyssen, Maximus, Isaac, and Theodore is that everyone of them seem to somewhat admit that a creature, in theory, could move towards non-being…but why would God allow them to do what is intrinsically irrational to do? The problem is that in this world, as all of the great patristic fathers have hit on, is that God already shows how to handle this in this world…Christ is the only true answer for theodicy that is wrapped up in theophany. As a more recent saint described, “One cannot measure God’s justice in human terms. To address justice in this world, He sent his Son to die. Not to act as a despot… What father would do that?” (St. Silouan via paraphrase). God allows us to move towards non-being because that is a part of the rule of creation. In all of our potentiality and then realized actuality, movement is still going to ultimately occur in a direction. As the Nyssen and Maximus point out, (and I think George MacDonald grasps this as well) that God would be willing to allow someone to experience non-being is merely him allowing movement to occur. But what would that look like for a being? When the literal root of being allows you to hang dangling from the abyss so to speak. When the weight of realization hits…God would still even be there, in that abyss. You got what you asked for, but it would be so contrary to any experience how would one even know if they could maintain it? It is the literal furthest distance from Him that is possible…..and yet…you are still ever so near. In the scheme of creation, all things must inevitably move back.

    The next piece of this, I believe, is ultimately rooted in a microcosm/macrocosm debate of man. The Nyssen/Maximus understand humanity as both micro and macro…As did really all of the great theologians regardless of Alexandria or Antioch. We as humanity in the macro sense will still ultimately move towards God even if in our desires we misplace where we are moving. We commit a million atrocities towards one another in the micro sense, and that adds up at the macro level. We all experience pain, suffering, evil, as a culmination of the privation of Good. That has had effects not only on us interpersonally, but intra-personally, and in the world at large. We might act irrationally (via not choosing for the transcendent good) and those consequences are felt, but that doesn’t change the fact that the ultimate good lies in store of a final answer.

    It’s as I tell people…there is no reason my mother has multiple sclerosis. We live in a world where potentiality and actuality meet. As much as I know DBH hates Hegel and the process side, I think even Bulgakov would admit as I saw above, that there is some realization of a moments that occur on their own. Actuality can seemingly defy expectation at the interpersonal level. If I blame God as the cause of that, because He “wills it” then I’ve missed the point. The world we are in allows for a thousand scenarios and suffering will be a mere part of that. Yet in the Garden, when the damage was done, it was God Himself who crafted the “skins” to cover Adam and Eve. There is a blessing, even in the fallenness of the world, and just as He didn’t force the “apple” to be eaten, He doesn’t force the world to behave as it does. We do. Athanasius does a good job of pointing out that law is law, in On the Incarnation of the Word. God’s goodness must uphold the decision of the Garden. His mercy however, must also be equal to his justice…and all penalties are his to repay.

    Yet, just as Silouan stresses….even if in our terms of understanding what we believe should happen…if a God is willing to die for us, what else would He be willing to do for us? And if that meant letting us experience what we ask for in rejecting Him, inevitably He will wait that experience out as well. The only balance you will find has to occur beyond the veil, precisely because we can’t stop making decisions that occur on this side of the veil. And if we want to argue that God should just end it all to reduce further suffering, then we miss the point, because maybe the story of creation, the internal will of Him, hasn’t finished reducing the suffering of what has come prior and is to come within our here and now. Just like all great symphonies, the recap is always more glorious than the exposition and development, but you have to get through a lot of crap to get there.

    (maybe in my laymen mind I’ve missed the point you were making, apologies if I have, it’s just how it makes sense in my mind.)

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  10. JBG says:

    Maybe it is a tragic flaw in my particular nature, but I can’t help but realize that the most probable explanation for the apparent irreconcilability of God and human (and animal) misery is that the two propositions simply are irreconcilable.

    We are trying to square the circle. More precisely, we maintain that circle can be squared but only “on the other side of the veil.” Yet this promissory logic can be utilized in the service of supporting any religious notion, regardless of how inane it may be.

    Even many hell-mongerers maintain that, although divinely sanctioned eternal torment may seem an irrational stumbling block at present, on the other side of the veil it will all make perfect sense and everyone will know that it is entirely justifiable and that God took the right course of action.

    But the logic of hell doesn’t make sense in the here and now (on this side of the veil) and its nonsensical nature is a signal that something is wrong with the notion. The problem lies in the notion itself not with our logic or our positioning vis-à-vis the veil.

    So, it seems hypocritical to highlight the vacuity of a promissory logic when applied to one belief and yet maintain its soundness in the context of another.

    Sometimes propositions are just irrational. The reason why the equation (2+2=5) appears irrational and inoperable might not be because we are on the other side of the veil and are peering through a glass darkly, or lack the ability to discern divine things. Maybe it is just irrational and maybe appeals to a resolution waiting on the other side of the veil are just a red herrings.

    But one would never admit this—and could never admit this— if they reflexively adopt the unwavering conviction that this insoluble problem must have a solution and that it will only find its resolution in the future post-veil existence.

    It is revealing that this is deemed acceptable for this problem but not others. It is also revealing that the insolubility of the problem in the present is taken to have no bearing on the validity of the entire belief system.

    Like

    • BolusOfDoom says:

      To extract the part of JBG’s comment that IS on topic, why can’t an infernalist use promissory logic to defeat universalism?

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      • JBG says:

        Exactly.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Because Bolus the contradiction remains – not all three tenets can be true simultaneously: God as the Good, creatio ex nihilo, and eternal damnation. But this has been all hashed out ad infinitum.

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        • JBG says:

          And yet the infernalist is not swayed, for they would reply: “There is, in actuality, no contradiction here. On the other side of the veil, you will see how these all fit together in perfect harmony.”

          Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            This too has been treated JBG – the beyond-the-veil argument constitutes nothing other than the changing of terms, of what “good” or “the Good” may mean.

            Liked by 1 person

          • JBG says:

            But they don’t see it as a “changing of terms”. That would imply them operating in bad faith.

            Obviously hell-mongerers are well aware of these three statements and yet they are certain that there is ultimately no contradiction.

            They contend that logic is in their favor because they are heeding divine logic and the universalist is heeding fallible human logic. Any apparent contradiction is due to the inability of human logic to penetrate these three aspects of reality and view them in their proper light.

            My question to you, Robert: Why do you suppose they aren’t swayed by what is obviously a logical contradiction? Why do you suppose they aren’t influenced by reason?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            JBG, difficult to tell what goes on with people. Bottom line is that it would mean to admit that one is wrong, that what one has believed doesn’t hold up to muster. Many alas are very committed and thus willing to accept even the irrational and the reprehensive. They come to that dreaded place, a place against which a prophet once warned, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

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          • Patrick says:

            Dude, I don’t think you understand the argument. I can totally see why DBH finds objections like these insufferable. You may not be able to follow the argument, and that doesn’t make you a bad guy, but if you’re engaging in this dialogue in good faith you should try to grasp the reasoning from semantics DBH is making.

            And, you’re also speaking about infinitude in a way which is really bizarre. Time can’t be used as a referent when speaking about the eternal. Time isn’t absolutely real; it’s created.

            Like

          • JBG says:

            I’m glad this doesn’t make me a bad guy. Thanks for reassuring me about that. Also, it’s not really my objection. I don’t believe in hell.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            The contagion of equivocity problem must not be neglected here. The infernalist claim That you describe reduces all theological language to meaninglessness, including the language of the claim itself. The result is the equivalent of “This statement is false.”

            Please remember that the book’s argument must be taken in its totality. Every objection to one part of the argument is dealt with in another part. I assure you, all the exits are sealed.

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            Thank you Professor Hart,

            I do see that they are two different issues and my apologies if I am conflating them, although to be more clear I don’t think I am, though my thinking is still muddled and not fully clear. Since they are separate issues, I was wondering what wisdom you or anyone had to shed on theodicy or the problem of evil, since I can’t really fathom it and I’m sure it vexes more people than just me. The only answer I can turn to right now is just “Well, hopefully there’s a reason and I will discover it in the age to come,” which is fine, I understand we are to walk by faith and not by sight, but it isn’t altogether comforting. I am persuaded by your argument though, thank you for giving to the world, it really helps!

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Absolutely right. This cannot be overstated. And once one is willing to go there, literally anything – any arbitrary value – can be assigned to fit one’s whim. It’s a free-for-all absurdity.

            Like

  11. Grant says:

    This comment section has gone into odd tangents, it being basically, Persons A starts a discussion begun about say the Trinity vs non-Trinity views of God, Persons B comes along saying, but surely the question of the existence of God at all is important, nay, more important, as is central to your belief systems altogether. Persons A says that is indeed an important question and point, but not one we are having discussion about, in order to have this discussion we are accepting the existence of God so we can discuss point at hand, there are things said and written about that, one of which a person of Persons A has written that those in Persons B can look to, but for now we are addressing this other question, which isn’t about the former.

    Persons B – but it still calls all your beliefs into question.

    Persons A – perhaps it it does, perhaps other stuff does, but were looking at this question, which is a different question, as the former is not reverent to this argument.

    Persons B – but it still undermines it.

    Persons A – sigh

    Sorry if it comes across as a little sarcastic, I’m trying to put people down, but the comment thread is a bit frustrating read it, people are talking past each other, and it’s clear some people want to discuss a related but different issue to the specific issue of the article and the argument at hand.

    Simply, does the problem of evil bring into question a Christian conception of reality, it surely does, with Christ’s revelation proclaimed to show God is fundamentally against death and suffering, comes to undo and unmake it, and will, yet is the transcendent Creator and allows this current state to be. People and animals suffer in all sorts of myriad and horrible ways, yes it is a problem to be faced. And yes, it can be said to call the proclamation into question, and how you face that may decide on whether you remain a Christian or follow a different belief system.

    Is it the same question at hand here, no, it’s a different question, and should really be discussed on a article or blog post actually addressing that question, not the question at hand.

    Those are my two cents anyway.

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    • Grant says:

      Sorry I meant I’m not trying to put people down 😉 , can’t edit anything here 🙂 .

      Like

  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Grant is correct. This discussion has been interesting but has wandered far afield. I think it’s best to ask everyone to restrict their comments to DBH’s article. Those who wish to discuss atheism and theodicy, you’ll just have to wait for an article to get posted on this topic. Sorry. This is a blog, but a FB forum. Thanks for understanding.

    Like

  13. David says:

    To stick to the article:

    “there are three cardinal tenets of Christian tradition that—if the teaching of eternal damnation be accepted—cannot all be true simultaneously: that God freely created all things out of nothingness; that God is the Good itself; and that it is certain or at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God. ”

    Here, as DBH states more explicitly in page 90 of TASBS, it is judged coherent to suppose that God *could* be the Good as such *and* the world could include the natural evil of eternal oblivion, so long as God did not create ex nihilo. This sounds like it is saying this: God would obviously be evil to create the world if he were creating ex nihilo within unconstrained conditions yet still freely chose a world with some permanent natural evils inscribed in it: he could have gone better, yet chose not to. *But* if God isn’t able to create ex nihilo and therefore has to operate within pre-existing constraints and necessities, he could still be the Good – which I take it must include at least being completely loving and moral, wishing only the best for all. He would not be all-powerful, not the creator ex nihilo, he would be a failure. But he would still be the Good, and so he would not be behaving immorally by creating (within the limited form of creation open to him), it’s just we all wish he could have done a more competent job, but that’s not his fault.

    But elsewhere in the article:

    “if God does indeed tolerate that final unredeemed natural evil as the price of his creation, he not only thereby reduces the “goodness” of his creative act to a merely relative goodness; he also converts that natural evil into a moral evil, one wholly enfolded within the total calculus of his own venture in creating, and thereby reveals himself to be not God, the Good as such, but only a god who is (at most) relatively good.”

    Here it appears the argument is this: if part of the decision to create involves tolerating an unredeemed natural evil – the final oblivion of a rational soul – then God would be committing a “moral evil” in choosing to create. And surely that would mean that this God would be immoral, and therefore not the Good at all.

    Basically I do not understand which of these views DBH means to endorse. Is creation within limited constraints theoretically be the moral course of action if that were the best that you can do, or is it evil? Does “relatively good” mean such a ‘God’ would at least be 100% moral and not be committing a sin by creating (just as we don’t normally think it’s a sin to have kids despite the necessity that they will suffer and die), but just suffers from the defect that he doesn’t have the power to pick the best option; or does “relatively good” mean God is actually evil, or at least less than fully moral and not

    I fully expect that my questions are a result of my failure to understand the nuances of DBH’s thought, and my general difficulties in understanding the complexities of communication, rather than any actual contradiction, but please allow that I am a bit of a thicko with these things and am sincerely doing my best to understand and have read the article and the relevant parts of the book several times. So any insight would be much appreciated!

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      David, DBH’s argument rests on the contradiction eternal damnation presents to two key principles of the Christian faith, the first tenet being that God freely created ex nihilo, and the second that God is the Good itself. It is no more complicated than that. That’s the view DBH endorses.

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      • David says:

        Hi Robert – thank you for your response.

        I agree with you but I suppose I’m still not clear on DBH holds that both those two key tenets need to be present in order for there to be a contradiction (and of course, quite apart from what DBH holds, what is actually true about the matter)

        In the first quotation I provided above, DBH implies that eternal annihilation would not actually be a contradiction if God were the Good itself *but* did *not* create ex nihilo – that this ‘god’, although of course not the true transcendent creator ex nihilo, could still be ‘the Good’, and could at any rate still be perfectly moral, if he chose to create under such limited conditions. i.e. moral perfection + oblivion is not a contradiction, but goodness + ex nihilo + oblivion is a contradiction.

        Whereas the second quotation implies that any act of creation that created under such limited conditions would be evil full stop – immoral and not the good i.e. moral perfection + oblivion is a contradiction, ex nihilo or not.

        Could you hazard a guess as to which equation is the right one?

        It would be honestly enlightening if anyone could provide an opinion on whether you think that ‘relative good’ is used to describe such a ‘god’ that allows for the possibility that he is morally perfect/sinless, but just not perfect Being full stop and so unable to perfectly realise all his plans (like Mary), or whether ‘relative good’ has the stronger force of this ‘god’ being actually morally imperfect (like a sinner).

        Ditto for whether a human being is sinning when he has kids, despite believing that the unavoidable consequent of that will is that their kid will suffer and eventually permanently die; and he’s not sinning, then what the moral distinction would be between human procreation vs. a ‘god’ who created but could not raise certain souls from oblivion (e.g. is it relevant that God could be conceived as ‘actively’ destroying his creations, whereas we just make ‘creations’ that end up dying ‘naturally’, or is that barking up the wrong tree?)

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          David the two most very fundamental metaphysical principles of Christianity from its very early foundations has been that God both is the absolute Good and that God created everything ex nihilo. So, operating from these two fundamentals, as DBH does (and he is quite explicit about embracing these), you can deduce the answer; to wit that indeed “goodness + ex nihilo + oblivion is a contradiction”.

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          • David says:

            Thank you Robert. I realise that DBH affirms ‘goodness + ex nihilo + oblivion is a contradiction’ – that is obvious (both obviously a contradiction and obvious that DBH affirms it)

            What I am asking whether, in addition to this, we could also affirm that ‘goodness + oblivion’ is a contradiction in itself, whether ex nihilo or not. i.e. is the ‘oblivion’ on its own sufficient to mean God is immoral, or does that only hold if God is creating ex nihilo (and so truly omnipotent)?

            Yes I know that the classical tradition holds God is both these things, so why bother asking the question, but the fact is that many – even those who think they are classical theists – in practice reject ex nihilo because they think God is bound by certain rules (like ‘human free will’) which mean he cannot achieve his desired results.

            And besides, asking the question appears to actually be a basic thought experiment within the first meditation – an ‘even if’ God could create no better world than this one, even if His hands were somehow tied and not fully transcendent, would God still be immoral to act in a way that required the risk of oblivion?

            In TASBS DBH states “We are presented by what has become the majority tradition with three fundamental claims, any two of which might be true simultaneously, but never all three: that God freely created all things out of nothingness; that God is the Good itself; and that it is certain or at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God.”

            So DBH explicitly endorses that, as a thought experiment, that “any two” of these propositions “might be true simultaneously” i.e. that “God is the good itself” and “it is at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God.” could be true simultaneously, so long as “that God freely created all things out of nothingness” is false.

            i.e. here he appears to hold that ‘goodness + ex nihilo + oblivion’ is a contradiction; BUT ”goodness + oblivion, but without ex nihilo, is *not* a contradiction’

            But elsewhere the claim is that any act that involves the risk of oblivion as a consequent would be immoral full stop – in which case ”goodness + oblivion” would, even without ex nihilo, still *be* a contradiction.

            Do you see what I’m getting at? And why I’m wondering whether having kids in a godless universe, which at least ostensibly holds the risk of oblivion, would be immoral? And if not, why would it be wrong for God to do something similar and create say, an otherwise lovely creation but with a few souls who fall into painless oblivion? Is it that ex nihilo make a moral distinction because it would mean God was actively destroying elements of his creation – creating the oblivion ‘ex nihilo’ – rather than being just working with deficient material like we do? And so just as that gets us off the hook, it would also get a morally perfect demiurge off the hook, but not the transcendent creator ex nihilo? Is that it?

            I know it’s tiring, but any explicit engagement on these points would honestly do my soul the world of good 🙂 I am obviously just not getting it.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Thank you David.

            In either case (with, our without, ex nihilo creation) indeed it would be immoral – however the logic of the argument would fall apart. We must keep in mind the implications of ex nihilo and how it functions in the argument – it not merely denotes that God created without prior constraint or necessity (i.e. God creates freely) but also and more importantly that the creative act and that which proceeds from it, comes from God alone. God did not need any thing or any time or any place,
            i.e. nothing non-God to create. It all comes from Him – the buck stops with God, He alone is fully responsible. To put it differently – without creatio ex nihilo there could be something else to blame, whatever that may be – imperfections in a prior state or condition, constraints on the creative act, an unrealized potentiality, faulty material – whatever. And as aside (I am not sure DBH has argued this) I would also add that without ex nihilo God would not be the Good as such, but rather a relative good at best, as this god would be a mere technician, merely re-shaping goods which came prior to this god.

            This also addresses your quandary about having children.

            I hope that helps.

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  14. Tom says:

    David: What I am asking whether we could affirm that ‘goodness + oblivion’ is a contradiction in itself, whether ex nihilo or not; i.e. is the ‘oblivion’ on its own sufficient to mean God is immoral, or does that only hold if God is creating ex nihilo (and so truly omnipotent)?

    Tom: As far as I read DBH, CEN (creation ex nihilo) is a necessary part of the way his arguments build and are thus to be taken together. If God doesn’t creation from nothing, then he’s essentially dependent upon some finite creation or other, in which case what counts as ‘good’ for God is circumscribed within that dependency. Thus, what can be concluded about God as the Good “as such” is quite different from what can be concluded about the Good “as co-dependent upon” some created finite order. If CEN isn’t part of the argument, then all bets are off, for there is no God “as such.” God would just be the God-World relation and what one could logically say about what is maximally good in the case of divine actions would be posterior to, not antecedent to, that nature of that dependency. It’d be like debating the source and ground of ‘goodness’ within the Greek pantheon of gods.

    David: Elsewhere the claim is that any act that involves the risk of oblivion as a consequent would be immoral full stop – in which case ”goodness + oblivion” would, even without ex nihilo, still *be* a contradiction.

    Tom: I could be totally missing Dr. Hart’s point, but as I read him, he has no interest in even attempting to venture into which arguments for universalism work and which don’t work were one to begin by assuming CEN was not true. That would be a hopeless task.

    David: I’m wondering whether having kids in a godless universe, which at least ostensibly holds the risk of oblivion, would be immoral? And if not, why would it be wrong for God to do something similar and create say, an otherwise lovely creation but with a few souls who fall into painless oblivion? Is it that ex nihilo makes a moral distinction because it would mean God was actively destroying elements of his creation – creating the oblivion ‘ex nihilo’ – rather than being just working with deficient material like we do?

    Tom: As far as I can tell – yes, it’s precisely CEN which supplies us with a conception of goodness that is ‘absolute’ (to which all created orders are relative) because that Good is what it is sans creation, unconditioned by any created order, and in light of which one can contemplate the relative goodness of various proposed ends for creation. But take CEN off the table and you then have to imagine God’s acts in/toward creation “in light of” this or that necessity binding God to World and/or World to God.

    For Hart, I imagine, it’s CEN or bust. Drop that and I doubt he’d be interested in arguing for or against any particular eschatology, because the number of conceivable ‘ends’ would be as great as the number and nature of conceivable ‘dependencies’ or ‘necessities’ that might define God essentially in relation to some world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Wouldn’t wanna disappoint Fr Al and Brian M…

      Correction in my first paragraph: If God doesn’t ‘create’ (not ‘creation’).

      Liked by 1 person

    • David says:

      Thanks for the engagement Tom and Robert, this is really clear and helpful and much appreciated.

      I should probably have been more careful in distinguishing ‘the good’ and ‘completely moral’. For example, Mary, or some redeemed human soul, would count, I think, as ‘completely moral’ – would make the best moral choice in all situations given the circumstances, filled with self-sacrifical love for all, etc. – but they would not be the good as such.

      So let’s say we have a demiurge with the morally perfect soul of Mary. Said demiurge is sadly all on its own but has the chance to ‘create’ – yes not transcendent ‘ex nihilo’ creation, but he still has a moral choice over what the right thing to do is. He can either create a world – not as naff as this one, but a really good world where everyone basically gets on, no really horrendous suffering occurs, but sadly a few will die of natural causes to meet permanent oblivion. Basically like having a trillion kids en masse in a nicer world than this one. Alternatively he could just hum along on his own: there’s no metaphysical obligation to have kids, to shape a world.

      Am I right in thinking that, according to your interpretation, it would be morally permissible for said demiurge to make the world – i.e. a morally perfect being could opt for at least a pretty good but imperfect world, if it was a choice between that or no world at all – but that, for the transcendent ex nihilo creator, he would be immoral to create such a world?

      Personally I think that is quite possibly coherent – having kids that will one day die is not the same as having kids on the strict condition you kill them, even if painlessly, on their 70th birthday or whatever – so I’m not trying to locate a contradiction in your thought, it’s just that when you say it out loud it can initially be a bit counter-intuitive.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        This demi-urge can point to a “prior” as the reason for the regretful outcome of the demise of some unfortunate souls – but for God pointing to a prior (or some such unrealized potentiality) is by definition not a possibility. There’s no comparison that holds up.

        One can then either use this to commence the blame game – or instead behold what is discovered about God’s moral character as revealed by Jesus and get a fresh perspective of what is meant by redemption, mercy, love, patience, beauty, truth.

        Liked by 1 person

        • David says:

          Robert, I agree completely. The demiurge operates within constraints, while God does not. And obviously this demiurge would not be ‘the good’, he would not be the definition of perfection. He would be flawed, lacking in power, and operating within conditions externally imposed on him.

          I’m just trying to clarify whether we can agree that it would be morally permissible for the demiurge to ‘create’ under such conditions – i.e. could a 100% moral, Mary-like but non-God sinless being morally consent to give rise – give birth – to such a very good but non-perfect world as described? Or would it be immoral to do so, and this sad demiurge should have just stayed on their lonesome if that were possible? I would assume the former, just as you would not hold, I think, that atheists behave immorally when they seek to have children, just because they think the child will sadly one day meet their end, and that’s in so miserable a world as this one.

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  15. brian says:

    So, I am so child-like or perhaps childish if you like, so unreconstructed by the years and education and whatnot as to think it is a horror that any creature be utterly lost so I am opposed to say Aquinas who countenances a heaven of rational souls and minerals without dandelions and humpback whales, not to mention camels. I think Traherne is much better on what to hope for or any child for that matter who cannot believe a good God will not include a beloved pet in heaven. On the particular question of children, I do not really believe it would be okay to imagine purely mortal progeny as compatible with goodness and I don’t think anyone ever really does, even if on the surface they are atheists and materialists. There’s something metaphysically telling in parenthood. Cf. Charles Peguy’s The Secret of the Man at Forty.

    Liked by 3 people

    • David says:

      Brian, I’d absolutely agree that mortal progeny is incompatible with goodness, at least in the sense that a perfectly good world would not include such horrendous defects, and that any being who had mortal children, when he could have made them immortal, would be immoral. I think all would hold to that.

      Do you mean just that, or would you go further and say that, if we lived in a world where all children / people had happy lives, but would eventually sadly die and stay dead – then it would be immoral to have children? My intuition is that most parents hold that the life of their child is a great good – even infinitely valuable – and that the value of having that child and the happiness that child will enjoy is one they were right to give rise to, even if sadly that life will one day come to an end – and that this seems to be true regardless of whether parents conceive of this end as a permanent or a temporary one. Better to have loved and lost than never loved before and all that.

      That said, I can see where those who might hold it would be better to never have children even in those circumstances are coming from. Death is indeed a horror, a natural evil. But I would tend to see the choice to cause the existence of something as good as a child, even while knowing the parasite of death would eventually ensnare and strangle it, is a moral one, regardless of the conditions of the choice being less than perfect.

      (now risking eternal hell is another matter — if having children risked them being tortured forever, then I reckon it would pretty clearly be immoral to have them in the first place)

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      • brian says:

        David,

        I certainly understand the desire to affirm the unique goodness of the dear and that one might express this affirmation as acceptance of a radically immanent metaphysics where the beloved vanishing into nothing is judged compatible with love. I also recognize the flash of beauty that is perceptible in the passing, transient moment, something nuanced and considerably more compelling than what can be articulated in “monumental” aesthetics that betray a kind of adolescent awkwardness in their titanic efforts to exhibit mastery over fate. And further, I empathize with the grief of creatures who do not have the power to defeat death. It is easy to see in the Demiurge an image of the best of humanity writ large, making every effort to ameliorate an intrinsically flawed condition. One might even find this affirmation despite mortality displayed in Nietzsche’s poignant attempt to say Yes to a tragic nature. I am always moved by the protest of the dying Nietzsche, deranged, syphilitic, refusing the brutality of a cabbie beating his broken down nag of a horse. Yet ultimately one has to reject all that. As Bulgakov asserts, Christ reveals to us not only the Divine, but the Humanity. We are called to participate in the healing redemption of the cosmos. The Good is not weak, but bathed in Unfading Light. Christ enacts the deepest moral impulse which is never anything less than rescue, flourishing, delight. I think Chesterton’s description of God’s joy in Creation at the end of his book, Orthodoxy, superior to any purported ethics of the Twilight of the gods. Mirth is more profoundly good. Upon reflection, the “better to have loved and lost” is not a Christian maxim. By loving, one eternally discovers.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Thomas says:

    > In acting freely, all the possibilities that the agent knowingly accepts are positively willed as acceptable conditions of the end the agent seeks to achieve.

    If one accepts a generally Thomist framework for God’s will, one avoids the conclusion that God needs to positively will sin (and perhaps serious suffering), despite the fact that sin would not occur had God not created the world.

    For St. Thomas, things are related to God’s will in three ways: what he wills, what he permits as a means to an end, and what he absolutely does not will. Sin falls in the last category for St. Thomas. I’d want to put abject suffering in that category as well (St. Thomas disagrees).

    Now it is neither acceptable nor coherent to say that God wills sin in any fashion, even as a means to an end. For many of us today it is not acceptable to say that God wills the victimization of a child as a means to an end. Such things are absolutely contrary to the divine will, and defect from God’s plan for the world.

    Given that sin does occur, and would not occur without the existence of sinners, how can we say God doesn’t will sin? In the first place, by being very careful about what we mean when we say “God wills x”. This is not equivalent to saying “God wants x to occur” or “God desires x”. It is to say that God orders x to the good. To say that sin (and perhaps abject suffering) are not willed by God is to say precisely that they are not means to a good end, and God does not will them in any way. They are rather nullities that serve, ultimately, no intelligible purpose.

    The triple distinction, then, between what God wills, permits as means to an end, and what is contrary to God’s will explains what was right about “Doors of the Sea”. Abject suffering and moral evil are not conditions of salvation, they have no positive role to play and no contribution to make. They are objective falsities to be overcome, not conditions of the next age — not even provisional conditions.

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    • DBH says:

      Thomas is clearly wrong, for precisely the reasons adduced in this article and the book’s first meditation. Will and permission necessarily coincide at the eschatological horizon precisely because of the metaphysics of creatio ex nihilo. Quod Thomas dixit is a bad dialectical strategy under any conditions. When quod Thomas dixit has been logically demonstrated to be false, as it certainly has, it seems strange simply to repeat Thomas’s failed argument as if it were still tenable.

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      • Thomas says:

        > Thomas is clearly wrong, for precisely the reasons adduced in this article and the book’s first meditation. Will and permission necessarily coincide at the eschatological horizon precisely because of the metaphysics of creatio ex nihilo.

        Well, part of my point is that there are not just the two (Banezian) categories considered on p. 82 of TASBS, but three.

        > Nor, for the same reason, does it help here to draw a distinction between evils that are positively willed and evils that are providentially permitted for the sake of some greater good. A greater good is by definition a conditional and therefore relative good; its conditions are already and inalienably part of its positive content. That All Shall Be Saved, p. 82.

        Now admittedly you are speaking primarily of natural evil here, and for St. Thomas natural or relative evils are indeed willed indirectly as a means to an end. For St. Thomas, the torments of hell do fall in this category. But that is because for St. Thomas natural evils are not absolute evils, they are not evils when considered in the broader context of the order of the universe.

        In addition to the “evil by which this putative good has been accomplished” (ibid), there are evils by which no goods are accomplished, which serve no purpose, which are not willed by God, and which are not part of his providential plan.

        All I’m saying is that if one denies this last category (on the premise that “all the possibilities that the agent knowingly accepts are positively willed as acceptable conditions of the end the agent seeks to achieve”), then one is committed to the view that God wills sin. I take this to be unacceptable, and therefore we should reject the initial premise.

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        • DBH says:

          You are being inexact in your reading. God can positively will the *possibility* of sin as a necessary condition without willing the sin directly. Read the wording of the sentence.

          My point is clear enough, I think. From the vantage of creatures, and within the context of creaturely causality, there is indeed a legitimate formal distinction to be drawn between that which God wills and that which he permits. But that vantage and that distinction are both only relative.

          From the vantage of creation as an eternal act of the omnipotent and omniscient God, terminating in a realized eschatological state, the willed and the permitted are at most two differing modalities of a single divine intentionality. At the eschatological horizon, precisely because of the metaphysics of creatio ex nihilo, any number of moral and metaphysical distinctions collapse into that one positive intention: the difference between the determinate and the merely stochastic, the difference between the antecedently and the consequently willed, and the difference between the willed and the permitted.

          Note, I speak of a positive intention, not a “direct” determination. Assuming that anything within the realm of secondary causality is truly indeterminate (and I am more than willing to make this assumption), it remains the case that all the possibilities conducing to the end God elects are positively entailed in God’s creative act, and all have been accepted by God as part of the “venture” of creation. That means indirect consequences have already been willed as part of the calculus of the total consequence of the creative act, but not necessarily in themselves. The *moral* distinction between what God wills and what he permits becomes, in the final pattern achieved, nugatory. But only in that pattern.

          Liked by 1 person

          • JBG says:

            DBH: “God can positively will the *possibility* of sin as a necessary condition without willing the sin directly.”

            DBH: “If I freely and knowingly choose a course of action that may involve the death of my child, knowing that that death will then be an ineradicable detail of the pattern of what I bring about, morally I have willed his death within the total calculus of my final intentions…”

            The second statement seems to imply that positively willing the mere possibility of an event is the equivalent of morally willing it.

            If God freely and knowingly chooses a course of action that may involve sin, hasn’t God morally willed sin within the total calculus of his final intentions? The fact that sin is eradicable changes the calculation?

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            I would like to see this clarified as well, because to my understanding it seems like he is saying that we know for sure that that evils that are not provisional, which persist for eternity are absolutely against logic and are not possible. It seems like he is saying that God did enfold provisional evils in his creative intentions, but it’s ok because it is possible that the good that comes from this will be so overwhelmingly good, they will seem trivial in comparison. This is the part I’m fuzzy on, because as I said earlier it does seem to me that it would’ve been better if God had created and nothing bad happened ever, but I guess that just means that is impossible. But if that is impossible, does that mean that God isn’t truly free, there is some constraint that makes it so he must allow for the possibility of sin, and that provisional evil must be given free reign though it will be eradicated later? This is all so confusing and over my head. Not sure how to make heads or tails of it, but I am sure that if Christianity is true, the only version that passes muster is universalism.

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  17. Tom says:

    David: Let’s say we have a demiurge…

    Tom: Let’s not, since God isn’t a demiurge and doesn’t utilize a demiurge to create.

    I’m a bit confused by the comparison of ‘moral perfection’ in a demiurge to that of God who is ‘the Good’ as such. Not following ya, so I’l suggest this (which I gather is Hart’s view but I could be wrong) and then bow out…

    I cannot imagine God’s choice to create in terms of a deliberation among innumerable options, flipping through a menu of alternative worlds, some better than others, but all of which are “possible worlds.”

    I know those of a more analytic bent like to talk about innumerable ‘possible worlds’, but I think such talk is (forgive me) nonsense. I do think there are innumerable possibilities ‘this’ world faces, all of which inhere in the one Logos. But fundamentally other worlds? A kind of pre-creational slate of innumerable and contrary options of which our world was but one? This all seems impossible to me now. I think it’s fair to say as much is true of DBH’s view.

    I know this is a radical claim, but the sense I get from him is that it’s either this world or none at all (to the extent we contemplate options at all).

    No creation is conceivable that is not loved by God. And nothing is loved by God that is not intended for the greatest possible union with him. And the union with God of any conceivable world is achieved in/through Incarnation. So I take it that there is only one possible creation: Incarnation. Creation and Incarnation are one and the same possibility in God, and that’s it.

    All other varieties and created distinctions don’t constitute a range of options God chooses between; rather, they are all potentialities inherent in the capacities and dispositions God breathes into his one determination to create for Incarnation, i.e., this world.

    What of Leibniz and talk of a “best of all possible worlds”? This has to be mistaken. God already is (if I can put it this way for a sec) the best possible world, and whatever God creates has its best possible end in him. When God is viewed as the summum bonum, the end of everything creatable, there can be no one best possible world among an infinite number of possible worlds, no ‘better or worse’ creatable world in God (if we multiply worlds for the sake of argument). Every candidate possibility has God as its end. And as the value of anything created ex nihilo derives entirely from God and has its end in God, no world-order God brings into being can be any better or worse than any other order God brings into being. There is no ‘best possible world’, for anything God does is as good as anything else God does.

    Tie me to a stake and lite me up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      “Light” me up. How embarrassing.

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      • brian says:

        Later generations will be grateful for proof that this was written by authentic Tom and not that spurious pseudo-Tom fella known by lack of typos.

        Liked by 2 people

    • David says:

      Tom, thanks for your engagement. I’m really sorry for the way I’ve expressed myself here, both because I’m sure it’s come across as a little impatient, and also because I’ve obviously not succeeded in communicating my thoughts properly.

      So please allow me to clarify that I’m really not trying to make a comparison between the moral perfection of a demiurge and God as the good. I agree that creation ex nihilo is totally incommensurable to finite ‘creating’ (making) out of pre-existing constraints. I’m not trying to play a game of “gotcha” where I say ‘well, you agreed it would be morally permissible for the demiurge to do this, so why can’t God?’ Just because it may be morally permissible for the demiurge to do the best he can with shoddy materials, it doesn’t make it morally permissible or intelligible for the unlimited absolute to do so. God does not operate under such constraints and so they cannot provide moral cover for him.

      I was really just after a simple ‘yes or no’ answer to the question of whether it would be immoral for a demiurge to craft such a world, in the same way that one could give a simple ‘yes or no’ answer to the question of whether it is morally permissible for humans to have children (so ‘yes’, I assume) – I’m sorry I didn’t communicate that clearly, my brain obviously doesn’t work in the same way as many of you.

      The reason I think I would be helped by this answer is that I think it would greatly aid my understanding of some related moral points. Specifically, it sometimes sounds to me like DBH is arguing that *any* act – whether by God or men – which involves the risk of some evil would be immoral (not just ‘not perfect’ or ‘not the good itself’ but ‘morally wrong’, i.e. something Mary would not do) but this seems strange as it would seem to imply that (as Matthew helpfully ponders above) apparently moral acts like having children (the unavoidable consequent is that they’ll die), giving them icecream (they might choke), or my demiurge doing his thing (not everything is 100% perfect) is immoral.

      So I’m assuming either it must be that those things really are immoral – which I doubt – or, those things actually are moral despite the risk of evil, and therefore the principle must be incorrect or at least more limited than I’ve expressed it e.g. is it only supposed to apply in the limit case of creation ex nihilo, on the grounds that ‘God could have done better’ when we couldn’t?

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      • Tom says:

        David: I was really just after a simple ‘yes or no’ answer to the question of whether it would be immoral for a demiurge to craft such a world, in the same way that one could give a simple ‘yes or no’ answer to the question of whether it is morally permissible for humans to have children (so ‘yes’, I assume).

        Tom: Yes, sure. Some couples have children freely and do so knowing their choice will expose their kids to the risk of great evil. We do this kind of risk-assessment all the time by means of some over-arching good ‘for the sake of which’ we deem the risks ‘worth it’.

        BUT – and this is Hart’s argument – what greater good will make the risk of ‘unmitigated evil or loss’ worth it? Hell is eternal, infinite, unending suffering, and annihilation is irretrievable loss of infinitely loved persons (to say nothing of the effect upon saved parents of their contemplating the final annihilation of their beloved children – look at the nonsense Aquinas has to assume here). As Hart says, here “the price is raised beyond any calculus of relative goods [like being justified in risking this-worldly evils implied in having kids] and into the realm of absolute (infinite) expenditure.” The logic of risk-assessment is categorically different depending on whether we’re assessing interim evils (finite evils that can be mitigated) or unmitigated suffering and loss.

        David: It sometimes sounds to me like DBH is arguing that *any* act – whether by God or men – which involves the risk of some evil would be immoral…

        Tom: Nah, that’s not his view. He knows the ‘possibility’ of evil is inherent in God’s act of creating. He grants that, obviously. But ‘evil’ here is understood as a temporary thing, exceeded in its potential to harm by the potential for unending beatitude which defines the destiny of all persons. So straight away you can see what greater good justifies all risks – the all-encompassing good of unending union with God vs temporary evils (however great).

        Liked by 1 person

        • David says:

          Thanks Tom, again that’s really helpful. I always love your conversation summaries – I wish my posts were as clear and quick at getting to the meat of the matter!

          Just to clarify, I can see that you hold that you do indeed hold that parents behave morally when they have children, assuming they trust in the universalist story of eternal happiness to all. But I’m still not quite sure – and I’m so sorry to put another question to you – whether you’re saying they could still have children morally *if* there were no such guarantee? I’m not envisaging a scenario where they think they’re risking hell – which obviously seems immoral when you think about it – but merely one where they believe they are risking (in fact guaranteeing) the ‘eternal loss’ of oblivion, in as much that they know their child will eventually sadly die. Basically what much of the Western world thinks: you’re dead and that’s that.

          So, if there were no perfect happy ending for everybody, would it be morally obligatory to be an antinatalist, even in a world where everyone lived moral and happy lives but sadly eventually died and that was that? Or could it still be moral to have kids in this scenario, despite the guaranteed ‘eternal loss’ of painless oblivion, *if* that was the best we could do, i.e. happy but flawed kids or nothing?

          I’m so sorry if this seems like I’m asking a question that’s already been answered. It’s just that in your earlier posts I thought that you were broadly agreeing with me that demiurge-“creation” and parenting would be / is morally acceptable, on the grounds that we are limited agents working with pre-existing material – we can’t do any better, it’s our limited good or nothing – whereas God doesn’t get off the hook so easily because, as God, he obviously *could* do better, and besides there is a moral difference between having a child while knowing it will sadly pass on, vs. actively killing it. But your latest post to me sounds like an argument for holding that this kind of ‘risk of oblivion’ would be wrong, even for limited agents like us, as opposed to just being wrong for the God who could do better if he wished. So I’m not sure which of those positions represents what you’re saying best.

          Alas my addled brain seems destined to detect (or invent…) ambiguity at every corner, hence why I often need my questions answered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer 🙂

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          • Tom says:

            David: So, if there were no perfect happy ending for everybody, would it be morally obligatory to be an antinatalist?

            Tom: In my view, frankly, yes. I think it follows from the logic of Hart’s first (moral) argument.

            I can imagine one way to avoid this in our case (but not in God’s case). One could argue that parents who have kids knowing they’re risking the final-absolute loss of their children do not in fact have those children in the requisite ‘free’ sense (the sense we understand God to be free with respect to creating). We might say we imagine parents secure enough in their own love to introduce children into the mix in a completely gratuitous manner. But human nature, one could argue, is so defined by certain specieal (adj of ‘species’?) needs (i.e., survival and propagation) that no choice to propagate can ever be absolutely free from those needs. It might be that while infernalist-believing parents think they’re free to ‘not have kids’, were we able to understand choice perfectly, we’d see ‘some’ mixed motivation at work.

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        • DBH says:

          Why is this hard to follow? If there are only transient evils that may conduce to a greater good, one to which creatures will ultimately give their glad consent (Phil. 2:10-11), the end may redeem the means employed to achieve it. Nothing is lost. Nowhere–not even in the interior experiences of some derelict soul–does evil persist as a “relativizing” counterweight to the goodness of that end.

          If, however, so much as a single final and unredeemed evil persists as part of the pattern of reality in its ultimate end, then the story is very different. And, at such a cost, the relatively good end achieved may legitimately be regarded, by any sane and rational calculation, as morally compromised in its very foundation. A rational creature–being perfectly capable of evaluation wherever relative goods are involved–might very well and very justly conclude that creation is an essential evil resulting in many accidental goods, and so not worth the effort. The original and foundational sacrifice (the willingness to abandon spirits to eternal torment) renders everything that follows from it corrupt.

          Those who walk away from Omelas could not be faulted.

          Liked by 1 person

          • David says:

            Thank you for this reply DBH. If you want the short answer to you query, it’s because I forget things easily, I’m thick, and have a learning disability. My thicko questions are an attempt to understand your thought better, not disparage it.

            Anyway, I’ve mentioned a few times that the risk of eternal torment would – obviously – not be a foundational sacrifice worth paying. I was asking exclusively about whether ‘mere’ oblivion were risked – not actively causing the oblivion of some pre-existing good, but having a child, or making a world, knowing that one day it will sadly meet oblivion, again not because you directly cause it but because you just can’t do any better (and let’s suppose that’s its not in as rubbish a world as ours, but a much nicer one where everyone is good and the only evil is painless oblivion after a happy life) If you think that that would be immoral, then fair enough, but it is obviously pretty counter-intuitive – when atheists have kids, they don’t think they’re committing an essential evil, but I assume then you would hold that they are? (or at least they would be if their atheism was correct).

            By the way, the reason it wasn’t clear to me what you might think on this point is because curiously – as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this comment stream – you appear to have written that it is conceivable that ‘the good’ and ‘oblivion’ are actually logically compatible, so long as ‘creation ex nihilo’ is not also true. That rather sounds like, and forgive me if I have misunderstood, it would be possible for ‘the good’ itself to bring about finite goods, even if an evil like oblivion would inevitably infect those goods from without, so long as this did not involve creation ex nihilo.

            ”We are presented by what has become the majority tradition with three fundamental claims, any two of which might be true simultaneously, but never all three: that God freely created all things out of nothingness; that God is the Good itself; and that it is certain or at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God.” TASBS p. 90

            How is it possible that ‘God is the Good’ and ‘some rational creatures will endure [oblivion]’ could be true simultaneously? Shouldn’t he avoid making an Omelas, shouldn’t he endorse cosmic antinatalism, ex nihilo or not?

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          • TJF says:

            The problem I think, is that it seems like God could’ve made everything without any pain or suffering since He is absolutely free to do so,so why didn’t He? Is there still a price to be paid, although not as high? I do believe universalism is the only coherent account, but I’m still mystified as to why things had to be this bad in the first place, because if God is infinitely free couldn’t He have chosen not to create things this way? It seems like the worst story is ECT, a better story is universalism, and the best story is that nothing ever went wrong in the first place. Why didn’t that happen? Can someone explain this to me please?

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          • DBH says:

            TJF, What seems to be true to you may yet be false. What logically must be true cannot be false. Thus, once again, these are two different issues. Please stop raising questions of theodicy. They really are not relevant to the strictly logical issues here.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            David

            Those two propositions by themselves contain no contradiction. So, formally speaking, both could in some sense be true propositions. Thus the Platonic demiurge.

            That said, it is not a real possibility. Creatio ex nihilo is a truth of reason (see The Experience of God), and one can easily establish (on other grounds) that the Good and Being itself must be convertible with one another.

            You are getting hung up on a very trivial issue by mistaking the rhetoric of the statement for its logic. To say “If God were not the creator of everything, then it would be conceivable that…” is not to say that it is really possible that God is not the creator—any more than it is really possible that Socrates was not a man and therefore not mortal.

            Just keep your eye on The prize.

            Like

          • David says:

            Thank you DBH. That does clear things up a lot.

            The problem (on my end) was that, when you wrote that those two propositions could theoretically both be true, I was incorrectly imagining that you meant something along the lines of this: that ‘the good’ could willingly and deliberately give rise to an imperfect world of the kind described (involving oblivion) when ‘do nothing’ was also a valid choice, so long as that were the best it could muster (i.e. creation ex nihilo were not an option), and that, as the good, it would not be morally in the wrong for doing so – which puzzled me as it seems like your thought otherwise implied that it would always be immoral to creation any world that involved even painless oblivion, no matter what other goods result – nothing is better than a million good things plus 1 oblivion, and therefore the good should have done nothing at all.

            But I see now that, of course, if we imagine a completely powerless ‘the Good’, alongside an unexplained demiurge, said demiurge could immorally (or at least mistakenly) choose to create the goods of this world at the cost of future oblivion. But the Good would never have chosen this, and neither should the demiurge have – but in this thought experiment ‘the Good’ and ‘oblivion, could indeed co-exist, albeit not through a choice that ‘the Good’ would willingly have made.

            Anyway, as you say, these aren’t real possibilities, just statements that are merely internally consistent if we artificially try to bracket God out the picture.

            As it happens I’ve always intuitively felt that a world with hell would never be worth it without universalism, and indeed that the world as it stands – untold pain, misery, suffering – would not be worth it either. Endless ages of animal suffering throughout the bloody twists and turns of evolution, just for me? Earthquakes and influenza? And that’s before we mention the innumerable additional miseries the human race chooses to pile up on top of those. But I did tend to think that if all lives were good and happy, even if they eventually met an end, it would be worth it for the individuals concerned, so I have a bit of a hard time fully accepting that it wouldn’t be. I do think it is important to question these things – when a moral ‘system’ ends up implying very counter-intuitive results, no matter how clever the system appears, it should us cause to pause and to question the system (I certainly wish infernalists had done so with their systems!) even if we eventually decide to sign up to the system in the end. However the logic of your position does commend itself to me, so perhaps I shall my plant my flag squarely there after all.

            And you’re right, it is trivial – my tendency to get hung up on the minor is alas a major failing – and we certainly don’t live in my imagined ‘good’ world anyway. Besides, other reasons for universalism – the irresistible nature of the Good, the nature of justice, the soul’s natural orientation towards the good – have me more than convinced anyway. Thanks for helping convince me.

            Like

      • JBG says:

        It seems that you struggle with the notion of how an action that is not broadly understood to be immoral for people would be immoral for God.

        I think the morality of the choice to procreate would be commensurate with the knowledge (and assumed knowledge) of the procreating agent. Obviously the human agent’s knowledge is partial, skewed, and highly dependent on general background assumptions.

        In response to the example of the woman with ectrodactyly, you wrote “…it may well be that in certain cases where severe genetic abnormalities are very likely to be inherited, then choosing to procreate is not the morally best course of action…”

        It is the possession of this knowledge, although partial and indeterminate, that leads one to impugn the morality of her course of action. But her chosen course of action, being that it is predicated only on partial and indeterminate knowledge, is not absolutely immoral.

        God’s choice would be absolutely immoral by virtue of God’s absolute knowledge. So yes, that which is relatively immoral for a person is absolutely immoral for God, owing to the contradistinction of their natures and concomitant knowledge.

        In terms of assumed knowledge, what about the procreator that is operating from the assumption of the reality of eternal torment? For them, endless torture is a potential outcome of the life of their child (to a greater or lesser degree depending on their denomination). Would having children be the best moral course of action in the context of this belief?

        That someone, genuinely believing in the very real potential for the eternal misery of their child, should choose to have children is unfathomable. It depends on a stupendous degree of cognitive dissonance. Of course, one defers responsiblity to both God and their child’s future self, thereby conveniently liberating oneself from all culpability. Yet, if eternal torment was a very real possibility for a person, then having a child would be the ultimate sin.

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  18. Tom says:

    I will say that a couple days ago I saw that DBH, in his 39 Aphorisms essay (on the eschatology of the text), served up “grammer” instead of “grammar.”

    Like

    • brian says:

      Hmm. Clearly the work of a nodding amanuensis.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Dear me. So you imagine typos are anything other than editorial oversights? “DBH” never “served up” anything of the sort.

      More troublingly, some editor of The Beauty of the Infinite, just before publication, changed the word “principle” to “principal” on a few occasions, apparently unaware of which word was which. Thus Nietzsche was quoted as speaking of “the first principal of our philanthropy.” All I could think of when I saw this was Mr. Buchoff, the principal of my High School, with whom I never got along very well.

      I don’t know if they ever fixed that, come to think of it.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Tom says:

        Ah, quite right. My bad! But in my defense, that was an editorial oversight.

        Like

      • sybrandmac says:

        A second-hand copy of exactly this book was delivered this week. Since I probably won’t understand a jot of this book, I will carefully look for the principals! 🙂

        Like

  19. brian says:

    David,

    Most people don’t seek wisdom. If they cannot immediately get the point, they often assume there is no point. Socrates would love to have conversations with folks like you. It’s the busy folk who already have it figured out (i.e. they accept without reflection the doxa of their era so that they may readily attend to pursuits deemed necessary for “success”) who are “thicko.” I do want to reiterate my suggestion you look over Peguy’s essay, though unfortunately the only English translation I am aware of is in the appendix to a somewhat pricey book on Bergson and Descartes. The secret is nearly laughably obvious. The man of forty has lived through jejune optimism, the romantic idols of youth have wore down, and it has become evident to the level of banality that there are no happy people. And yet, the wonder of it is that despite this, every forty year old father hopes and even expects that his children will thrive and be happy. Peguy discerns a metaphysical hope embedded in the ordinary, and what I propose is that at some deep level of being more inward than the constructions of ideology, even the atheist who thinks his child at bottom the product of a universe built upon stochastic events nonetheless carries an implicit recognition that the beloved is meant for eternity. And to follow up a bit on what Tom had to say, this is because there are no multiple universes, but just the one that arises from and returns to the Father. So even the fella who thinks in terms of a lesser good intends the only one fitting for the actual reality we inhabit.

    Liked by 3 people

    • David says:

      Thank you Brian, for your encouraging and thought-provoking words. This was just what I needed.

      I am a little way off forty yet, so perhaps that is the source of my problems! Although the vision you describe seems familiar enough already. I shall attempt to track down that essay.

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  20. JBG says:

    TJF: “…it does seem to me that it would’ve been better if God had created and nothing bad happened ever, but I guess that just means that is impossible.”

    Right, is God’s willing of the possibility of temporal evil something God is inexorably compelled to do? In other words, must it be logically true that it was impossible for God to achieve his end without willing the possibility of sin/evil/suffering?

    One speaks of the permittance of the possibility of evil, implying that the plan of God would have come to fruition with or without this unfortunate diversion into suffering. This understanding necessitates that evil carry no original purpose, as it could have been averted with no deleterious ramifications on the achievement of God’s end. If it was entirely possible for God to achieve his end without the appearance of evil, then the appearance evil is an epiphenomenon of creation.

    But this is not just any unnecessary diversion. Sin, evil, and suffering are, we are told, intrinsically repulsive to God.

    Therefore, we have God permitting what is both:

    a.) entirely unnecessary to the achievement of his end
    b.) intrinsically repulsive to himself

    It is no wonder the existence of evil is so impenetrable. It is impossible for people to disambiguate this model because it is so abjectly foreign to the behavior of a rational agent.

    Forgive the crude analogy, but when I build a dog house, whacking my thumb with my hammer is entirely unnecessary for the achievement of my end and its occurrence intrinsically repulsive.

    A dog house builder that makes no effort to prevent whacking his thumb would not be a rational agent. A dog house builder that could absolutely eliminate the possibility of whacking his thumb yet abnegates this power and chooses allow for this possibility, knowing full well that the allowance of this possibility and the actualization of this possibility will avail him nothing in the pursuit of his goal, is deeply problematic indeed.

    Like

    • TJF says:

      I’m about where you are JBG, I wish someone wiser than I would respond and solve the problem of evil, no small task I know.

      Like

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        look to Pascha, there you will find the solution…..

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        TJ, I do not believe that a philosophical solution is available to us, even for a brilliant mind like David’s. Hence I. no longer both myself with theodicy. It is, as Robert remarks, a DOA project. Ultimately we are confronted with a terrible aporia. In response we can either embrace atheism/agnosticism or we can embrace Pascha. I see both as fideistic positions. This is why I posted the conversation between the witch and Puddleglum the other day. I have known my own share of suffering that posed to me the either/or existential decision. I decided then, and I decide every day, to live as if the good God of Christ exists and his love will ultimately triumph. If I’m wrong, well, as C. S. Lewis once wrote to Sheldon Vanauken, I will have given God a compliment he doesn’t deserve.

        Liked by 3 people

        • TJF says:

          Thank you Fr. Aidan, those are words I needed to hear. I too choose to embrace Pascha, the other alternative is too terrible to contemplate and, I suspect, too terrible to be true.

          Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hence theodicy, as a justification of God vis a vis evil, is a DOA project. One cannot rationalize, make rational, that which is without a rational principle and without true being. And so the Christian confession of the Paschal tide as God’s ultimate refusal to justify death. In Pascha we come face to face with God’s approach to evil – a total and utter denunciation of evil, death, suffering, abandonment. At total annihilation of evil, the tombs and Hades itself is robbed, death is no more.

      Liked by 3 people

      • TJF says:

        Maybe there is something I’m not seeing. I too find such devotional language uplifting and I’m not trying to justify or rationalize evil. I’m having trouble understanding how a God who is infinitely free was either unable or unwilling to create a world without any stain of pain or sorrow. I know it’s been revealed he hates evil, death, and sin, so why did He allow it at all. It all boils down to either he was unable or unwilling to stop it. I guess the answer is that it’s worth it and he was unable to do it any other way. IDK, I do see these critique as getting more close to DBH first meditation than I think many other people see. Perhaps I’m wrong. I still think DBH is right, I just don’t know how to fix this last lacunae.

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      • JBG says:

        Robert: “One cannot rationalize, make rational, that which is without a rational principle and without true being.”

        Robert, we are speaking about God’s free choice in willing the possibility of evil. If this choice to will the possibility of evil is not rational, then we have a problem.

        Hart’s essential thesis is that universal salvation must be true because it is the only rational outcome; it is the only outcome of a rational God.

        But if permitting the possibility of evil is ultimately not rational, why must it follow that salvation be rational?

        Like

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          JBG/TJF/et al – as Dr Hart pointed out earlier there is a distinction between the willing of possibility and the willing of sin directly.

          Also pointed out earlier – one has to make the distinction between universalism and theodicy – do not conflate these. Related, yes. But the case for and logic of the former is not that of the latter.

          Do not mistake the language of Pascha as a resort to schmalzy devotion – it is the very theo-logic responding to the aporia of evil. The answer is not an explanation, it is a person revelation, it is the Word of God in deed and in the flesh.

          Liked by 2 people

          • JBG says:

            Robert: “Dr Hart pointed out earlier there is a distinction between the willing of possibility and the willing of sin directly.”

            Yes, I understand that.

            The question: Is it rational to will the possibility of evil?

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  21. brian says:

    I think one has to conclude that God could assume the consequences of sin and heal the wounds, but not even God could create a world without the possibility of sin — assuming a world with rational agents and genuine liberty. In JBG’s formula above, the entirely unnecessary may nonetheless be unavoidably possible. What follows is the objection of some that the gruesome extent and intensity of evil in creation is a difference in degree, but not of kind from annihilation or eternal damnation in Hart’s argument. One cannot abjure the latter and accept the former. This is false. The argument of TASBS is not a theodicy. It does not justify the horrors of this world. The theological gist is that the Goodness of God revealed in the gospel is not compatible with irredeemable evil. That’s all. If sin and death are conquered, the argument holds, even if we find the permission of penultimate suffering repugnant and deeply painful. Faith is a wrestling, it’s struggle in a mirror darkly. You’re not going to vanquish the intolerable with an argument or pious rhetoric for that matter. And Hart explicitly acknowledges how difficult all this is. It’s why the Last Judgment is necessary to dispel the dark cloud of perplexity cast by evil. The telling of the story allows every creature to truly recognize the lovingkindness of God and to agree that the cost is worth it. (But that awaits the eschaton, so for now, the gentle, the sensitive, the perceptive are precisely the ones who cannot sweep evil under the rug and so they learn the endurance that only grace can provide.)

    Liked by 4 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Right. I think that this thread has demonstrated (once again) that David’s argument in TASBS is not refuted by the appeal to horrific suffering. It only demonstrates that the irredeemable suffering of everlasting hell is incompatible with infinite Goodness. On the other hand, apokastasis does provide an answer to suffering, along the lines suggested by E. L. Mascall in in the passage I posted a few months back.

      Liked by 3 people

      • JBG says:

        Thanks for that passage.

        I’m torn. On the one hand, I love the idea of a state from which the horrific agonies of earthly existence are seen to “not really matter.” On the other hand, the fact that all of this misery is perfectly pointless and contributes nothing to the final end is even more nauseating.

        Even if, from another vantage point, the agonies of earthly existence seem as if they don’t matter (as wonderful and dreadful as that prospect is), the agony nonetheless still happened.

        Maybe we won’t care, but it still happened and nothing can ever erase the fact that it happened. And maybe we won’t care, but it would have been better had it never happened at all, given the fact that it didn’t even matter.

        Like

        • brian says:

          I rather suspect that the language we employ is not quite right. I had a friend, years ago now, who understood redemption as a “return to Eden.” In that sense, the defeat of sin and death merely brought us to where we should have been had the fall never happened. I was never satisfied with his conjecture. Among other things, this view loses sight of the felix culpa, the idea that somehow we gain by travails. On the other hand, one should assiduously avoid the idea of necessary evils, any notion that evil is required for the unique Good to result. Perhaps our conceptual efforts are bound to fail given our finitude and the apophatic reserve that limits our imaginary regarding the eschaton. Nonetheless, I don’t think the metaphor of the woman in labor makes birth pangs nugatory. The story of birth includes them as an episode. So I am not inclined to “read history” as one long unfortunate wandering in the desert. The human way is to conclude an eternal flourishing via the path through time. If that time is fallen, marked by death, suffering, and anguish, then those unnecessary, but actual events become woven into the thread of destinies. It would have been better had horrors never happened at all, but that does not mean they “do not matter.” The perduring of Christ’s wounds in the Resurrected Body bears plurivocal signification. At minimum, it suggests the fecundity of grace where healing does not equal a restoration that renders the past forgettable to the point of triviality.

          Liked by 1 person

    • JBG says:

      brian: “I think one has to conclude that God could assume the consequences of sin and heal the wounds, but not even God could create a world without the possibility of sin — assuming a world with rational agents and genuine liberty.”

      I suppose that might require an argument demonstrating the logical problem entailed by God creating rational agents that are both moral and free, assuming that rational agents that are both moral and free are possible beings and therefore could have been created by God.

      Like

      • DBH says:

        All rational agents are both “moral” and “free.” That is essential to the very definition of rational agency. Whether they can be morally *good* without the possibility of sin requires two other questions: 1) Can any finite rational agent possess a perfect “morning knowledge” of the good, or does finitude entail a knowledge of the good only under the form of a rational appetite progressively informed by the good? 2) Can a finite rational agent then be morally good in any way other than the tuition–with all the dangers of error along the way that must be corrected–of those appetites by way of that progressive formation? I suspect that the correct answer to both questions is “No.” If so, many problems disappear. You see, the issue is finitude and goodness by participation as opposed to God’s infinite and simple goodness by essence.

        Liked by 2 people

        • JBG says:

          DBH,

          Thanks for your response.

          I’ll pose this question in a different way. Assuming that the union of a created rational agent with God is a possible condition, what would logically preclude God from creating beings directly into a state of union with him?

          Moreover, if the union of creature and creator is the ultimate aim of God’s act, and that this state is not only logically possible but logically inevitable (a la universalism), what precisely is the aim of the protracted, circuitous, suffering-suffused path toward union?

          The fact that creation was not placed directly into union would lead one to suspect that this union with God cannot have been sole intention of the creative act. It seems that the struggle of humanity to “self-realize” beauty, truth, and goodness and progressively advance toward the source of these is as much of an intention as union itself.

          But one is still left wondering what value this movement holds vis-à-vis the inevitable union with God that would render this process as necessary. Our progressive self-formation via our “free will” is as inexorable as iron shavings gravitating toward a magnet or water flowing downhill. What is this process truly accomplishing; what is it contributing to the eventual state of union, such that the state of union would be different without it? Does the struggle of progressive formation augment the experience of union with God?

          Like

          • DBH says:

            Isn’t that obvious? Part of finitude is its very mutability in moving from potency to act, its necessary synthesis of essence and existence, and so forth. So there are two answers to your question:

            1) To be created already in perfect union with God is not in fact to have been created at all (that is, not having emerged ex nihilo toward the final cause of deification), and not to be truly finite (that is, never truly to be composed by the real synthesis of “becoming what we are”). The very concept of God creating such creatures is a logical nonsense. You might as well ask why God does not create a square circle. You are asking why a being that is essentially an act of becoming—an act of emerging from nothingness by being drawn into God, moving from nothingness into the infinite—could not be created without becoming what it is, or without that becoming having a real beginning in a state of nonbeing.

            2) In another sense, all things are created already in union with God, since all things are created in their last end. From the perspective of eternity, we are already gods in God, immersed in the divine presence like iron immersed in fire. In time, which is the necessary form required for a finite nature to become itself (obviously) we freely progress toward that end. In time, we are being created even as we are being divinized—indeed, the two things are one and the same—and it is only thus that a finite spirit can come to be.

            I really don’t see why you find this obscure. You could not exist as a finite spirit if this temporal diastema of moments were not constitutive of your nature, just as you could not exist except as a composite of parts, or as a synthesis of essence and existence, or as a dynamic free movement from nothingness into infinite being.

            Liked by 2 people

  22. brian says:

    JBG,

    Hart just stated that he suspects the answers to his questions are in the negative. Hence, it follows that finite rational agents cannot “begin” at the end. A process of becoming is necessary, unavoidable, etc. You also continue to use the language of determinism “iron shavings to a magnet” which carries with it the connotation of a mindless inevitability. Let’s say one is talking about sentient beings with spiritual awareness. How about the metaphor of courtship rather than inanimate attractions? Does it matter that love is consummated as the fruition of an extended courtship or is all that preamble a senseless exercise? Maybe there is a beauty to the journey through time that flowers in eternity as well as an inevitable necessity given the nature of finitude. Moreover, there is a “co-creativity” opened up by time that allows the person to “have a say” in the manner in which their unique being is “worked out.” The default position that it’s a puzzling requirement is not self-evident.

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    • JBG says:

      brian: “A process of becoming is necessary, unavoidable, etc.”

      No amount of self-formative creaturely “becoming” moves the finite agent any closer to—or more worthy of—union with the infinite. We are as near to union with God in the beginning as we are at the end of this pre-union process, which is to say not at all. An infinite gulf remains that could only be bridged by God, not creation.

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      • brian says:

        JGB:

        You are either willfully obtuse or missing the point. Do you think grace somehow nullifies the intrinsic nature of creaturely finitude? If not, then becoming is simply the way “being unfolds.”

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        • JBG says:

          brian: “becoming is simply the way “being unfolds.”

          Oh, it happens this way because this is simply the way it happens. Of course, that explains it!

          And thanks for the insult. That is always constructive.

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          • DBH says:

            In Brian’s defense, when you are repeatedly given a perfectly adequate and logical answer to your question and then seem to be pretending it doesn’t make sense, it is tempting to doubt either your good will or your attentiveness. As for the obvious observation that no amount of creaturely progress brings us “closer” to God’s infinity, it seems to presume that divine infinity is an external object toward which the creature is moving, rather than the infinite into which the creature is forever growing. Didn’t Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus cover this already? And, regarding the language of determinism, hasn’t that been dealt with ad nauseam?

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  23. JBG says:

    I’ll leave with this:

    When DBH concedes that there is probably “too much” suffering, I wonder what this could even mean in the context of all of this.

    And it also seems that we could theoretically go on “becoming” forever without the transition into “divinization”. Specifically, at what point in our “becoming” does God grant the type of union that marks the end of suffering, and what makes it appropriate then. I presume that might be yet another mystery.

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    • brian says:

      Too much suffering, of course, is a rhetorical gesture that acknowledges the genuine horror and magnitude of evil in the world. The promise of the gospel does not make the anguish of evil go away. That is why trust in God is an existential effort as well as a gift of grace.

      Theosis should not be construed as merely the end of suffering. Try looking up Gregory of Nyssa and epektasis. Divinization is a “neverending story.” It’s like the conclusion of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. Each continuing chapter is better than the one before. So, it’s a progress of joy and continuing revelation. (Those who think one might possibly be dull and sated in heaven never really begin to think the experience of God.) And none of this is mystery as obfuscation. It’s the excess of plenitude that exceeds the limits of finite imagination.

      Where the modern tends to see mystery as a problem to be solved, a vanishing quality replaced by determinate knowledge, an older wisdom recognizes an elusive depth that apophatic theology at its best bears witness to. Despite evil, there is a theophanic symbolism that calls creation beyond its finitude. The implication that mystery is an evasion of facts or logic frequently coincides with metaphysical presuppositions that fail to take into account the plurivocity of being or the unique implications of creatio ex nihilo, Triune God, or the analogia entis made most acutely evident in Christology.

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  24. JBG says:

    I think the abundance of evil and suffering indicate something else entirely.

    DBH: “Simply stating over and over that there’s too much damned suffering is emotionally satisfying, I have no doubt. It may be true. Probably is. But it is not an argument…”

    It is not an argument? Actually, it is.

    Is a Good God Logically Possible? by James P. Sterba (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame)

    “Argues that the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God is logically impossible, based on the problem of evil.”

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I now officially declare this conversation on suffering and divine goodness concluded. Thank you all for playing THEODICY. The winner will be announced when (a) Jesus returns in glory or (b) the universe reaches maximal entropy. Good luck everyone!

      Liked by 1 person

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