God’s got nothing to do with death or gratuitous evil

As always, there are some depthful conversations going on here: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2021/01/20/if-god-is-going-to-deify-everyone-anyway-why-not-deify-everyone-immediately/

While no systematic theology can avoid all mysterian appeals or some degree of skeptical theism, those strategies should be reserved for matters involving divine modal identities & ontologies (that, what, this, where & when), as Christianity remains in search of a metaphysic.

We should not engage them in our existentialist & personalist understandings of God (how = Who) or of His operations (why), as gifted by revelation.

So, I thus hold fast to the belief that the divine nature remains sufficiently intelligible in terms of humanity’s shared aesthetic sensibilities & moral intuitions. To remain existentially satisfying for & rhetorically persuasive to me, no theological anthropology should sacrifice such intelligibility.

Pastor Tom Belt has well explicated what he calls DBH’s moral argument or what I refer to as his game theoretic analysis, which is an element integral to DBH’s multi-pronged defense of universalism. It demonstrates why the infernalists cannot coherently invoke the antecedent – consequent divine will distinction without sacrificing God’s moral & aesthetic intelligibility, eschatologically.

Faced with a choice between consistency & completeness, our accounts must remain consistent with revelation (e.g. per exegetical & patristic sources) vis a vis God’s moral & aesthetic intelligibility. We must otherwise accept the incompleteness of our metaphysical explanations.

To otherwise pretend that we have consistent metaphysical accounts, e.g. henologically & ontologically re the trinity, creation & incarnation, but an inadequate account of God’s moral character, seems bassackward to me.

Now, some seem to be arguing that what’s good for the game theoretic eschatological goose seems to be good for the morally inculpatory temporal gander.

Admittedly, on its face, that argument would appear to ignore the difference between an infinite & eternal quasi-Manichean parasitic evil and a finite & temporal one. But, even once stipulating to that quantitative & qualitative difference, the more salient takeaway that’s being urged is that the antecedent – consequent will distinction can’t salvage God’s moral intelligibility vis a vis finite, temporal parasitic evils, either. And I’m wholly sympathetic to that stance: God’s got nothing to do with death or gratuitous suffering. FULL STOP.

What we do not adequately grasp is not God’s moral & aesthetic intelligibilty. Rather, we lack formal definitions for the other Anselmian divine attributes, all in terms of “that which is greater than which cannot otherwise be conceived without falling into theological contradiction, anthropological absurdity & metaphysical incoherence.”

Our creedal contours define apophatic constraints on the God-references of our exploratory meta-heuristics. They don’t pretend to provide formal God-definitions in terms of explanatory metaphysics. That’s a feature – not a bug – of any coherent systematic theology.

Guess what. A materialist monist nihilism is also a mere exploratory meta-heuristic & not a robustly explanatory metaphysic. It, too, must avoid mereological contradiction & metaphysical incoherence, even as it asserts anthropological absurdity.

There are Gödel-like constraints on ALL theories of everything. Given the ineluctable equiplausibility of many competing worldviews, it’s eminently reasonable to choose among them based on their varying degrees of existential actionability.

God is love – yesterday, today & forever. He has nothing to do with death or gratuitous evil, eschatologically or temporally, instrumentally or permissively, antecedently or consequently. Death & evil did not ensue in the wake of some ontological rupture located in the past, even though they indisputably interfere with our teleological strivings oriented to the future.

We do profess an adequate understanding of divine omnibenevolence & omnipathy, theologically, even as our grasps of divine omnipotence, omniscience & omnipresence remain rather inchoate, metaphysically. Such a theoretic metaphysical incompleteness is no more fatal to classical theism than it is to a nihilistic materialist monism (which apparently prefers to grapple with gratuitous beauty).

I wrote the following (link below) musing before encountering DBH’s game theoretic analysis in TASBS. While the arguments in TASBS aren’t advancing a theodicy, I appropriate them as an indispensable prerequisite to any coherent logical defense or evidential theodicy, as well as for any exegetical & patristic inventory of the divine character (the latter sufficing for me).

https://sylvestjohn.org/2019/09/27/marrying-the-theological-anthropology-of-david-bentley-hart-to-a-more-compelling-systematic-theology/

Addendum – my contribution to a related thread at EO

I am deeply sympathetic with the earnest affective dispositions toward and grateful for your thoughtful probity of the problem of evil by various contributors at EO. That said, I do most strongly resonate with the stances shared by Robert, DBH & Jordan DW.

What eventually got God out of the dock for me, to use a criminal law metaphor, wasn’t mostly based in case theory (logical defenses, soul-making, evil as privation, free will) or circumstantial evidence (theodicies). Juries are instructed that they can rely on character witnesses, alone, for not guilty verdicts. Ergo, revelation satisfied me, existentially, i.e. Jesus revealing God as Daddy, Romans 8, etc

I can’t explain why God’s not guilty given the circumstantial evidence but do tenaciously hold THAT He simply can’t be morally culpable.

I still vacillate regarding – not only whether evidential theodicies could succeed, but – whether they’re even morally defensible, as they can risk trivializing the enormity of human suffering & immensity of human pain. So, I mostly take refuge in a skeptical theism.

BUT – I have speculated, nonetheless, looking for something – not just sufficiently compelling for me, but – more widely compelling to other earnest seekers.

This is not a suitable forum to go into the details but, generally, I adhere to versions of divine simplicity, although weakened, & impassibility, except with a thin passibility.

If creation is Incarnation, then, per an eternal simultaneity, God will have self-determinedly & kenotically opened Himself to a divine omnipathy. God will have known, then, how every creature will have felt, retro|pro-spectively vis a vis Romans 8, i.e. eternally aware that every scintilla of any Karamazovian nyets will have been replaced by Marian fiats, once affectively energized by the realities of universal restoration. God thus knows, eternally, via divine omnopathy, that no tickets will have been returned by Ivan, by any lion or lamb, by any quake or quark.

Beyond that, I have speculated, re creatio ex nihilo & ex Deo, that they needn’t necessarily be conceived as incompatible with a co-eternal prevenient  chaos or tehomic  profundis. Why must a co-eternal void (or abyss or  tohu va bohu or chaos or  tehom), whatever else its ineluctable logic might necessarily entail, be conceived in absolutely dualistic terms, i.e. as if any quasi-Manichean residue would have to remain eschatologically?

The exnihilating dynamics of creatio ex nihilo & Deo may also be operating ex chaos & profundis across a multiversal plenitude of incipiently telic realities?

It seems coherent to me to conceive of a dualistic, even pluralistic reality, without conceiving it in robustly Manichean terms. The bigger caveat would be the need to avoid a wimpy, nominalistic process God. I believe that folks like Joe Bracken & Norris Clarke navigate such conceptual shoals. And they can precisely accommodate the brilliance of those who anticipated them, e.g. especially Maximus, Bulgakov, Bonaventure, Eriugena, etc

I more exhaustively address such matters in my notes:

https://www.academia.edu/43938792/PanSEMIOentheism_A_Neo_Chalcedonian_Franciscan_Cosmotheandric_Universalism

To be clear, I rely on neither my putative accounts of divine omnipathy (which doesn’t impair intrinsic perfections) nor of creatio ex chaos (non-Manichean dualism) to resolve the problem of evil, nor on logical defenses or evidential theodicies.

But I’m not wholly dismissive of such attempts & haven’t desisted from same, myself. Rather, I essentially take refuge in revelation and a nuanced mysterianism.

It is my fervent prayer that all may attain the consolations I have come to enjoy and avoid the desolations that can afflict us all, when beset by doubt, deep suffering or the existential angst that can set many on such a theodical quest.

The Re-Enchantment of a never, truly disenchanted Reality

It’s not so much choices of root metaphor, metaphysically, or whole-part stances, mereologically, that will logically force an a/theological conclusion or foreclose divine aseity & human freedom.

Rather, it’s facile conceptions of telos – not predicated equivocally as teloi.

Metaphysical & mereological choices merely leave different questions begging, eg “Why not rather nothing?” changes to “Why not rather something else?”

Causal realities require more nuance than generally employed, not only differentiating ultimate & temporal teloi, but even within the created order of determinate realities, recognizing the plurality of teloi presenting as different kinds of “aboutness.”

These telic realities will reflect various degrees of indeterminacy, which, while ontologically suggestive, remain epistemically undecidable.

Couple a much too facile & univocal conception of telos to the Principle of Sufficient Reason [PSR] with any metaphysic cum mereology du jour — and

that naive realism will morph mere methodological stipulations into full blown metaphysical philosophies, e.g. Spinozan (PSR on steroids), Denettian-Dawkinsian materialism & rationalistic theisms, which, being sylly, rely – not on faith, but – syllogisms.

A rigorous emergentism has now rehabilitated, semiotically, the never truly disabled formal-final causes, re-enchanting our never truly dis-enchanted reality.

These telic causal joints don’t present as metaphysical gaps into which we’d fideistically place our gods, but neither can the neo-Nietzscheans guard the metaphysical perimeters, where reality’s initial, boundary & limit conditions can’t a priori be declared brute rather than a donative fruit.

Is reality thus brute, fruit or mute?

For most persons & most of history, reality has been interpreted as – not at all mute, but – having spoken.

A robust existential actionability has been cashed out of that interpretation & normatively justified in terms of augmented unity, beauty, goodness & freedom.

Conceptions of divine interactivity have ranged between the remotest of deisms & most intimate of spousal mysticisms.

Such conceptions aren’t urged or constrained by our metaphysics, though, only by our theodicy-free theophanies!

Misconstruals of Classical Theism’s Analogia are often located on the anthropological side

Many misinterpretations of classical theism, and its analogia, are not so much grounded in misunderstandings regarding the revealed divine nature, which as primarily love seems straightforward enough, but in impoverished conceptions of nature, in general, human nature, in particular.

If we don’t begin with a good anthropology of humanity and good phenomenology of nature …our analogical predications between our existential orientations (such as via an aesthetical primacy) and the transcendental imperatives — both suggested in nature, metaphysically, and specially revealed in the divine attributes, theologically (such as via an aesthetic teleology) — will be impoverished.

A theonoetic of divine omniscience gets misinterpreted due to misunderstandings of the nature of the future (open?), metaphysically, the nature of the human will (in/determined?), anthropologically, and the nature of freedom (libertarian & absolute?), itself, phenomenologically.

A theopathic account of divine omnipathy gets misinterpreted due to misunderstandings of the nature of passibility, substantially and accidentally rather than relationally, such as vis a vis the esse naturale or esse intentionale, whether divine or human, such as between natural formal distinctions and divine trans-formal distinctions.

And so on and so forth, re the theoethics, theo-perichoretics and theopoietics of omnibenevolence, omnipresence and omnipotence.

Below is just An Inventory of Questions.

It’s not an essay, just a punch-list of categories to help identify distinctions that can make a difference anthropologically, phenomenologically and theologically.

are metaphysics moonshine?

trying to thread the needle between an epistemic humility or hubris, epistemic virtue or vice, between apophatic and kataphatic, affective and speculative, or encratism, quietism, fideism, pietism, rationalism, evidentialism, as well as univocal, equivocal and analogical predications

but, before these are epistemological issues, theologically, we encounter them metaphysically, not just vis a vis divine causal joints but vis a vis emergent layers of complexity and their respective teloi or creation’s causal joints, hence, e.g. trans-formal distinction

so, metaphysical agnosticism and theological skepticism go hand in hand
re epistemic warrant, normative justifications, evidentiary standards and burdens of proof, all which must attend to the given subject matter at hand in an apposite way

are evidential, plausibilist arguments im/possible and/or un/necessary vis a vis various interpretations, whether quantum or theo-logical?

if im/possible and/or un/necessary in metaphysics, how so, then, theologically?

the weaker our arguments (via suitable epistemic humility and warrant) the less necessary any evidential, plausibilist argumentation, e.g. peirce’s humble argument or reformed epistemology’s proper basicality and the stronger our metaphysical agnosticism and/or theological skepticism, the less possible any evidential, plausibilist argumentation

the stronger our argumentation (via an unsuitable epistemic hubris and imagined epistemic warrant) and the stronger our metaphysical rationalism, the more necessary our evidential argumentation?

any perceived need for a plausibilist evidential argumentation is proportional to and commensurate with the perceived degree of epistemic warrant (scholastic notations?) for any given argument (abductively and deductively, possibly inductively)

epistemic parity metaphysically extends theologically and both thus require equiprobabilist principles and evidentiary standards applied to normative justifications

cumulative case of abductive-deductive musings like Peirce’s neglected argument contrasted with the virtually impossible evidential theodicies, which are, in many ways, like irreducible complexity arguments

the reasonableness of faith’s leap, an existential disjunction, avoids fideism via epistemic parity (equiprobability principle and normative justification), avoids rationalism via epistemic humility (e.g. metaphysical agnosticism and theological skepticism), avoids quietism via analogical predication and epistemic warrant, avoids encratism via analogical predication and liturgical cultivation

philosophical theology

reality of God, established via equiprobable epistemic warrant and defensible normative justifications

existential disjunctions at equiplausibility junctions w/axiologically forced, existentially vital and equiprobably live options

logical, abductive-deductive argument akin to argument, not argumentation, for reality, not being, of god

evidential theodicy, plausibilistic argumentation as im/possible and/or un/necessary?

type of creatio, whether ex nihilo, profundis, tohu bohu?

mereological relationships vis a vis fallacy of composition, mereological reality as mute, brute or fruit?

Divine Attributes

attributes of God, variously established

omniscience

via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

analogy of anthropo-noetic vs theo-noetic?

misunderstandings, phenomenologically re nature of future and anthropologically re nature of human will?

open vs foreknown, but bad phenomenology re nature of future, 3ns, even 4ns?

compatabilist or incompatabilist? but bad anthropology re libertarian free will which involves epistemic distancing of personal agency via formative dynamics, freedom as authenticity?

omnipathy

via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

analogy of anthropo-pathic vs theo-pathic?

misunderstandings of the nature of passibility, substantially and accidentally rather than relationally?

omnibenevolence

via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

misunderstandings re nature of evil, hence of goodness, privatio boni

e.g. moral vs ontic privation, suffering vs pain, intrinsic vs ontic, proportionalist vs consequentialist vs deontological?unavoidable double effect, essential instrumental vs unavoidable

instrumental vis a vis human moral calculus, anthropologically?

and God’s relationship to evil, moral and natural?

analogy of anthropo-ethical vs theo-ethical realities?

omnipresence

via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

and per

panen- via classical or process, which must be phenomenologically triadic/pentadic and theologically penta/trini/tarian?

misunderstandings re communal and social-relational realities?

analogy of anthropo-perichoretical vs theo-perichoretical realities?

misunderstandings regarding essential, modal, conceptual and formal distinctions as well as univocal, equivocal and analogical predications

omnipotence

via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

analogy of anthropo-poietical vs theo-poietical realities?

misunderstandings re nature of evil, e.g. moral vs ontic privation, suffering vs pain, intrinsic vs ontic, proportionalist vs consequentialist vs deontological, unavoidable double effect, essential instrumental vs unavoidable instrumental vis a vis human moral calculus, anthropologically?

and God’s relationship to evil, moral and natural?

omnipotence compatible or incompatible with evil?

if incompatible, no genuine evil
evil genuine or illusory?

consequentialist or nonconsequentialist?

essential vs unavoidable?

irredeemable vs instrumental?

and in/defensibility of presuppositions re nature of divine constraints (essential, metaphysical and/or kenotic) vis a vis sovereignty?

and in/defensibility of logical arguments vis a vis the integrity of our god-conceptions (christopher mchugh) vis a vis compossibilities?

  • omnipathic defense
  • free will defense
  • tehomic defense
  • greater good defense
  • soul making defense

and in/defensibility of evidentialist argumentation?

arguments, logically, not argumentation, plausibly, evidentially?

anti-theodicy?

epistemic distance and theosis are necessary and sufficient, so, suffering and evil are not necessary or essential, just unavoidable

epistemic dx as formative & exculpable vs moral & sinful?

ontic privations (absence of pleasure and/or presence of pain w/o suffering)

suffering & moral evil not in divine economy, none necessary or essential, not raw materials, some unavoidable waste products? recyclable vs irredeemable?

consequentialist or essential & nonconsequentialist or unavoidable?
some instrumental and/or recyclable vs irredeemable?

some essential or unavoidable, pain and ontic privation of epistemic dx?

epistemic distance via ontic privation w/o essential or necessary suffering or moral evil (nonconsequentialist) using epistemic dx and theosis as necessary means, but some suffering or evil instrumentally transformative, recyclable, some irredeemable, perishable

plus apokatastasis and constellation of eternalized human goodness: all wholesome trivialities, every beginning of a smile, an eternal constellation of luminaries of various intensities and diverse multiplicities

key concepts:

  • essential constraints
  • metaphysical constraints
  • kenotic constraints
  • cumulative case
  • forced, vital, live options
  • pragmatic – but not vulgar
  • equiplausibility
  • epistemic warrant
  • existential disjunction
  • normative justification
  • too weakly probabilistic
  • mere competing plausibilities
  • too bayesian, no consensus re priors
  • logical defense vs evidential plausibilities or theodicies
  • naturalist moral realism
  • minimalist aesthetic teleology
  • aesthetic Teleology
  • pentametric holonic
  • metaphysical agnosticism
  • theological skepticism
  • pneumatological imagination
  • panSEMIOentheism
  • anti-theodicial
  • pluralistic theologoumena
  • polydoxic
  • diverse sophiological trajectories
  • essential soteriological trajectory
  • human authenticity
  • lonergan’s conversions

Soul-making & the Greatest Good as divinely willed ends in an Anti-theodicy

As I have grappled with the problem of evil, I have been rationally satisfied by different logical accounts of the divine economy, all which seem, more or less, consistent with special revelation, some seeming not to be necessarily mutually exclusive from others, none seeming to necessarily be the case.

I view soul-making and the greatest good as divinely willed “ends” for which neither evil nor suffering are divinely willed “means,” which, instead, include, for example, epistemic distance and theosis.

Epistemic distance necessarily introduces finitude and contingency, which, while they can constitute failures to cooperate with grace, merely result from “inabilities.” While moral evil can also constitute such failures, those result, instead, from “refusals” to thus cooperate, in a word, sin.

An anti-theodicy can logically affirm both divinely willed soul-making and the greatest good as “ends,” while denying evil and suffering as necessary “means” in the divine economy? God would never intend evil or suffering but whenever confronted with same could work — not with, but — providentially against and around them and seemingly, perhaps, could even opportunistically exploit every new set of circumstances to bring about the greatest good (Romans 8).

Now, in this scenario, anthropological questions would beg for me about why we wouldn’t necessarily suffer from mistakes, only from sin (but, oh what a better world it would be!) Still, I’d rather remain theologically skeptical, on one hand, about how epistemic distance and theosis, alone, might have (even if somewhat implausibly so) operated in a possible world without evil and sin than, on the other hand, skeptical regarding God’s lack of moral intelligibility vis a vis what might exculpate Her from employing sin and suffering as necessary means (often seemingly repugnantly so).

Did Hugh McCann offer a soul-making, greater good evidential theodicy, arguing — not only “that,” logically, but — “how,” plausibly, sin and evil were “necessary” divine means?

Or did he otherwise recognize that, logically, the realities of sin and evil, even if probable, were definitely not necessary, and could successfully be worked around without overwhelming the divine economy with its eschatological, soteriological, sacramental, ecclesiological or sophiological ends?

As for the uninstantiated “possibilities” for moral evil, as logically entailed by freedom, they would have no ontological status. Arguably, too, sinful choices would result in axiological privations, evil, itself, having no ontological status?

Also, God, in McCann’s acount, appeared to be ontologically authoring, pre-morally, only an indispensable ontic evil (via epistemic distance as finitude not sin), which a proportionate reason would underwrite with the currency of a greater good, but otherwise remained teleologically uninvolved with any intentional agency, who, alone, would have directly intended such an evil, hence, alone, committing a morally culpable act.

Perhaps this is all more consistent with Scotus, who believed that the Incarnation was in the divine will from the cosmic get-go and not occasioned by some felix culpa.

God neither needs nor wills sin. Epistemic Distance requires ontic privations, not deontic depredations.