Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sovereignty, Sin & Culpability: Part 1 Q&A

There were some very good questions raised in response to the first installment of this series, and rather than chance them getting over-looked in the comments section I thought I would bump them up to a main posting.

Let me start to respond by saying that what I am presenting here are thoughts and musings related to philosophical theology and a not a systematic dogma that I intend to make disciples by. That said, I am glad to hear about any holes in my thinking—I see them as helps to troubleshoot the ship I'm building as opposed to cannonshot to sink the ship I'm riding in!

  • Justin said: "Your model seems to answer the issue of evil in general, but don't you find that it is not [just] any evil at all that causes problems, but the gratuitous or excessive evil that many stumble over?"

I wonder why you make a distinction between evil and gratuitous evil. Is one ok for the networks and the other only for cable? I jest, but I sincerely don't understand why the distinction is made. I assume you are thinking of things that are just completely repugnant to normal people, as well as to God—I think of the holocaust, or the rape and murder of children, or really most violence done to innocents. Even radically pagan people find such things done to innocents to be hideous evil. That said, the most gratuitously evil act in the history of the world—the violent, unjust death of the only truly innocent man in history—is ascribed to both evil men and holy God. I reject that there is any chaos in this creation which God merely allows since He knows He can reign it in and still accomplish His purposes. I will delve into this in a later post and so won't support it here other than to say my reasoning is tied up in God's omnipotence, and is well supported by scriptural evidence. For now, I will simply reiterate Rom 8:28, that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. I take the "all things" to mean truly every act. Which I find comforting, that there is no pointless evil.

  • Justin said: "Will you address the problem middle knowledge seems to cause in your paradigm"
  • And, "I am a bit confused as to how God is bound to his own determined plan. I understand that you distinguish between the universe in the mind of God and the actualized universe that is created, but isn't this a false distinction? Why would the truth aspects of the non-actualized creation be any different from those which are actualized?

I am a bit acquainted with middle knowledge, and frankly find it wanting, at least in Craig's formulation, which seeks to presume exactly the idea that I called silly in the original post—i.e. that the imagined creature might express an imaginary will which he exalts over the real will of the real God (who is doing the imagining) and in the process exert his own free will at the expense of God's freedom. The idea that this "solution" distances God from responsibility in sin is what I was referring to as silly (I will deal at length with my solution for removing culpability for sin from God in a future post, so stay tuned). The problem I see is that Craig is presuming that God runs scenarios in order to see how free men will act in order to decide the best plan. This is how I read him at least, and I could use a refresher so please correct me if I am wrong. If you happen to be referencing Only Wise God in relation to the discussion on middle knowledge, I'd like to point you to page 130, where Craig asserts that (the as-yet imaginary) Peter is "entirely free" in the scenario God is imagining He might place Peter in. Please explain to me how an uncreated idea of a man in the mind of God (a man who may or may not ever actually exist) can behave autonomously according to his own will, even (as some might assert) imagining evil acts that God is unable to imagine, and exalting his own will over and against the will of the God who is imagining him—to say nothing of the power of the actual man exalting his will over and above the God who empowers his every action, who is sovereign over his every circumstance, and has every right to overcome the creature at any time!

I agree with Craig that God's logically prior knowledge, which he calls natural knowledge, is exhaustive. For everything God creates He knows not only every aspect of the item's composition and every interaction it will have, but also every possible interaction between it and every other created item. He knows that much about everything He could create as well. He has ultimate knowledge about His own power as a creator and sustainer.

Skipping the second phase of God's knowledge for a moment we come to God's actualized knowledge, what Craig labels free knowledge. This amounts to God's knowledge of His divine plan for creation which He has foreordained. It is His certain knowledge that based on His choice of initial states and divine intervention that all that He has foreordained will come to pass (though Craig would be sure to point out that it only will, not must, come to pass—another point on which we differ).

The second phase, that of middle knowledge, attempts to answer how God can have sure knowledge of what would have happened were some event to have occurred, even though the event never occurs. The answer is that God knows every conceivable world, every possible world, and the only actual world—each relating to the three logical phases of God-knowledge. The middle type, every possible world, is constrained by the free choices of men—suggesting that there are many other, more perfect worlds God could conceive of but was unable to create since free men would not cooperate (also p. 130). Mind you, all of this resistance and autonomy is happening in the mind of God by imagined men prior to His foreordination and creation. I assert that the problems middle knowledge seeks to answer are instead answered in the exhaustive natural knowledge of God, i.e. His knowledge of every possible contingency, and have no reliance on foreseen free acts of men. Craig seeks to make free choices of men normative and the intervention of God occasional. I refute this, and assert that God is omnipotent and could create any world He conceived of and is in no way bound by creatures, real or imagined.

If the whole of the design of creation is prior to the act of creation, as I assert, there is no real freedom expressed in the design except for the freedom of the designer since there are no other real entities at the time of the design to be represented. To put it another way, consider a lone novelist considering his next book. He creates the characters, sets the scenes and controls the whole sweep of the plot. As he writes he decides who will perform which acts to move the plot along. He may decide that the protagonist should not perform a certain action, that it would be out of character, and instead have another player do it instead. Or, he can have the protagonist do something out of character to dispell predictability! I think of all the good deeds God allows god-haters to perform, it is out of character. The bottom line is that the playwright is at complete freedom to write the play any way he wants to. The characters are figments of his imagination and have no ability to protest the way they are being written. Once the book is published and a reader takes it up, the characters come alive in the reader's mind. He has no idea what events will transpire next, and the characters become real and their actions seem free enough even though the words are indelibly stamped on the page. The only real escape from a deterministic creation is open theism (I'll post more on this later, too).

I do think there is a function of middle knowledge, though. Middle knowledge is not that sphere in which God might explore the free acts of imagined men, but rather where He might explore the free choices of God in how He might limit and express Himself in His creation. Ultimately that is the only real variable. It is by God's self-restraint that evil is possible, and it is by His self-disclosure that good is possible. And that is the subject of a future post.

  • Justin said: "[your model] sets into motion a "regression of omniscience" (similar to the infinite regress in Epistemology) that makes the creation a necessary event. However; a paradigm with a "limited" sense of free will endowed by the Creator, and resultantly, some type of middle knowledge will avoid this and thereby provide a greater fit of the available evidence.

I do not agree that any created thing is a necessary being. As I said in the original post, God was under no compunction to create. He was at liberty to consider every world possible and then to choose to not create. This knowledge of possible worlds would not be violated by His non-creation, just as His knowledge of other possible worlds is not violated by His creation of this one. In fact, I will go so far as to say that this natural knowledge of all potentialities is not so much a facet of knowing external things but the self-knowledge of God and His powers of creativity and sovereign control. Frankly, I am consistently amazed by the suggestion that God is unable to know possibilities, whereas ours is rather developed. Who is the all-wise-One here? God has infinitely more knowledge about possibilities than we do. He does not create without knowing and He knows intimately and exhaustively everything He can create.

As for the concern about infinite regression in the omniscience of God… who is sufficient for these things!? I will stand with Craig and say that just because there is a logical priority to these phases of knowledge (one is dependent on its predecessor) there is no need for chronological succession, since God is not time-bound. Do I know how to explain non-hierarchical thought in the mind of God? At this point I'll cry "mystery"!

I do, finally, agree that in this world God has endowed us with a "'limited' sense of free-will" to which I will say a hearty amen! I have a sense of free will since I have no awareness that I am being coerced into doing anything by God. I quoted you to be sure of what we are agreeing about. I suspect that you meant to say that a preferable system would employ a limited free-will in some sense (how's that for a "sharp rebuttal" ;-) As I alluded to above, any system that allows for less than complete determinism employs some form of open theism, about which more later.

  • Jeff said: "Those seeking to preserve the free will of man, such that [they] can choose God over sin, eternal life over eternal death, holiness over godlessness, and adoption by God over the biblical witness that we are children of wrath, by playing slight of hand tricks with the attributes of God in eternity past are erecting a philosophical castle on the [shifting] sands of human certitude rather than the strong biblical witness of God's beautiful, independent but awesomely dependable, monergistic work in salvation.

Um, wow… I mean, Amen! (That Jeff, once you get a bee in his bloomers he really takes off! ;-) Certainly my hope is in the firm foundation that Christ has laid and not in my philosophical musings, or those of Craig, or Aquinas, or any other. Indeed, as I pursue these topics I am genuinely looking to get as big a picture of God as I can, which is much opposed to the attempts of many to get as big an understanding as possible so that they can comprehend God (in the classical sense, that is, to fully understand; to envelope). So, while I do seek to broaden my own understanding, I also seek to see God magnified far beyond my own comprehension.

Finally, for any who don't know, Jeff, Justin and I are close friends and are in accountability with one another, lest our jesting and jousting be taken for backbiting. Sincere thanks to each of you for sharpening me and taking the time to present such compelling considerations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Forgive my tardiness in formulating a response! Of the three main points you responded to, I will humbly ask that the second objection (that referencing middle knowledge) be tabled for the time being. Of the many things you said, I would especially like to know where you are going with your dilemma of determinism v. open theism. Do not mistake this parley for horns sounding the retreat! Counter-counter battery fire will be delivered!
I will though, better illuminate my first objection. When I speak of gratuitous evil, I reference the unique problem that arises when a excessive amount of suffering or evil occurs. For example, consider a child who is burned to death inside her house. Let us assume that your Greater Good Theodicy (GG) holds and for God to accomplish the good end He wills this small child be burned to death. I will grant you this. Now let us say that in this scenario, the child is slowly burned alive over a period of 8 minutes and 12 seconds. Why must she suffer this long? I accept that her death may be needed, but why must she be tortured for all 492 seconds? Why not only 300 or 200. Why not even 491 seconds? Could she not has asphyxiated to the point of unconsciousness and then been burned to death? Could not God in his infinite wisdom have accomplished the same goal with even a minuscule decrease in suffering or evil? Would a moment of mercy have ruined His entire plan?
My mind is already racing to think of possible reasons why this would be so. One is simply that God sovreignly wills what he will and we are not to question a la Romans 9. Another, and far more plausible in my mind, is the notion that God has so supremely determined the sequence of world events that even the extra heat that is released by her body, or the precise positions of the theorized vibrations of strings arranged in quarks that compose protons, neutrons, and electrons, in furthering levels of complexity are needed to line up within his perfect will according to his perfect plan.
I feel neither really hold up, but I personally have much to work out on this issue.
Thank you in advance for this exchange, I greatly enjoy the interactions as I'm sure most of your posters do!