Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Theological Journal, Part 4

            This week’s reading included both views of God and creation and divine providence. I particularly enjoyed Feinberg’s discussions on the various theories of origins; these were not a glossing over, but a real treatment of the issue. Discussing God as creator and what follows from that was also particularly interesting. Of note, I found stating that because God has created all things, he owns all things to be reassuring.[1] When it comes to the days of creation, Feinberg argues that while there are similarities with Ancient Near Eastern culture, the account of them need not be construed as identical with such literature.[2] For me, I am much more sympathetic to those who view Genesis 1-2 as longer periods of time or more poetic in language than I have been in the past. While I still believe in a literal six day creation, I am open to evidence from the text suggesting otherwise.
            The next section dealt with divine providence. This was a very controversial issue and a very interesting one for me as well. In evaluating the essays, I found Helseth’s to be the most abrasive. For instance, at one point he argues that the major reason people reject his view of divine providence is due to a pagan attitude: “The primary difficulty with the doctrine is found . . . in the increasingly pagan milieu that makes the doctrine sound almost completely implausible to contemporary listeners.”[3] While on the next page he throws out the bone stating Christians would not like to believe in pagan gods, he nonetheless lumps those within and without the church in this original problem.
            I appreciated Ron Highfield’s critique of this essay. There was not much for Highfield to disagree with, inasmuch as his view is very nearly Helseth’s. The one major point of disagreement surrounds God’s causing evil. Highfield expressed what I have long thought to be obvious. He stated, “It should be axiomatic for Christian theology that God does not ordain evil and never uses evil as means to an end” (emphasis in original).[4]
            I also enjoyed and mostly agreed with the essay by William Lane Craig. I have been convinced of Molinism prior to this class, and did not find the objections presented by the other three very compelling. Helseth seemed to think the abstract objects that are possible worlds were necessarily-existent alongside of God, and hence a kind of paganistic dualism unfolds. However, this is only so if one assumes a sort of Platonic view of abstract objects.[5] Helseth even takes Craig to task for allowing “philosophical speculation over the careful examination of what God has revealed in His Word.”[6] But since philosophy is just applied reasoning, just how is one supposed to carefully examine God’s Word? Reason takes logical priority over communicated language precisely because reason must be employed in communicated language. Now perhaps Helseth merely wishes to say Craig is using philosophy in spite of the text; but that would be question-begging.
            Boyd’s objections seemed equally weak and confused. While I found his defense of his open theism interesting and spirited, it was his attacks on Molinism that seemed to evince the most misunderstanding. As an example, Boyd notes Craig’s point that would-counterfactuals of divine freedom cannot be known to God in middle knowledge, since that would destroy divine freedom. Boyd thinks that whatever logic is in play here equally applies to why would-counterfactuals of middle knowledge would destroy human freedom.[7] It is apparent, then, he does not understand the logic Craig is using here.
            For Craig, the moments are logical, not chronological. Thus, if God knows in his middle knowledge what God would do, and middle knowledge, strictly speaking, describes contingent truths not under God’s control, then by definition God does not have control of them. But if he does not, then by definition God is not free in these truths. These truths can only be known in an analysis of his free knowledge. These are logical, not chronological, relationships. But then, the apparent analogy Boyd would like to draw makes no sense. How does it follow that if God does not have control over his actions in middle knowledge that other free agents would not have control of their free actions known to God in middle knowledge? The point is that God has to know truths of how he would act in his free knowledge, since it is he who has willed them! Middle knowledge truths are truths over which God has no faculty of control (i.e., will). I found this book incredibly interesting!
            This week’s reading continued the discussion on divine providence and added Feinberg’s discussion on the problem of evil. For Feinberg, he was tasked with defending God against the problem of evil in virtue of a compatibilist view of the human will. This view precluded him from using the Free Will Defense.[8] I thought his defense against it was robust, and at times even compelling. However, there is one glaring problem left remaining: the origin of sin and evil in the first place.
            How is it that sin originates? Feinberg mentions sin comes from the desires of men, and that even Adam sinned from his desire.[9] But how did Adam have this desire? If we must speak in compatibilist terms, then it seems Adam’s desires were not created by a libertarian nor character-forming prior choice, but rather by God himself. But in that case, God just is the author of evil. This line of reasoning goes completely unaddressed. He wants to say that if God were to create a human who would not ever sin, then this would contradict what it is to be human.[10] In that case, barring God’s initial involvement in sin (which Feinberg rightly denies on page 790), libertarian free will was at least present in Adam. But if libertarian free will is essential to Adam’s freely performing an initial act of sin, why is it not essential to performing an initial act of sin for everyone?
            The most interesting thing I thought about concerning Feinberg’s chapter had to have been the problem of the intensity of evil. As a basic example, Feinberg suggests the patient who has cancer. “The critic of theism may grant that God has a purpose in allowing this person to have cancer, but the critic wonders what is accomplished by God’s inability or unwillingness to staunch the pain even minimally.”[11] I found it problematic at first, but inadequate as an objection.
            First, it assumes there is some kind of metric for devising morally sufficient reasons for allowing pain. For example, it would be like suggesting whatever reason God has for permitting the patient to have cancer would come to pass with 55 units of pain, but not 54. Whatever that threshold may be, it seems absurd to think that the cancer patient could not have suffered for even one less millisecond, lest God’s purposes be thwarted. I agree with the objector that this is absurd. However, I disagree that God’s morally sufficient reasons ought to be linked to intensity of pain or amount of time spent in pain. Rather, God has morally sufficient reasons for bringing about states of affairs. If the state of affairs of having cancer for the person is removed, then God’s plan does not follow or is imperiled. However, this is not the problem of the intensity of evil but the problem of suffering simpliciter. The state of affairs of the person’s having cancer will take a natural course, which may include much or little pain. The question then only becomes this: when God does intervene in natural affairs, why has he done so?
            The other segment of reading this week concerned Highfield’s and Boyd’s views on divine providence. I did not find Highfield’s view to be much different than Helseth’s, other than that he does not wish to affirm God as causing evil even while affirming God’s omnicausality. Boyd’s version of open theism is interesting, although I think hopelessly confused. First, central to Boyd’s claims is that “x will occur” and “x will not occur” are not contradictory.[12] On one level, this is correct. Technically speaking, a contradiction is a and not-a, so that “x will occur” and “not-x will occur” are the contradictories. However, it should go without saying that if something such that it is “not-x” occurs, then by definition x has not occurred, and thus it is true that “x will not occur.”
            Next, Boyd seems to have an incoherent view when he suggests the future is ontologically composed of such truths via the truths of might counterfactuals. If will counterfactuals are both true, then their contradictories (contra Boyd’s suggestion) entails logically contradictory states of affairs (e.g., X will happen and X will not happen). Even if one accepts Boyd’s curious way of discussing might propositions, he seems to equivocate on how they are used.
            First, it is suggested by Boyd that these are possibilities.[13] In this case, we can construct these modally as “could” counterfactuals. Boyd wishes to affirm that God knows more than mere possibilities. He knows things with such ability to be able to bring about good from evil. But how can he know this? With each passing day, billions of decisions are made. Even assuming that a majority are “character-formed” decisions and so could be known to God reliably, what of those other truly free decisions? Even if one says God is so intelligent he would know with a 99.99999999% probability what decision would be made, probability theory tells us it is overwhelmingly likely that God not only gets some beliefs wrong, he gets them wrong every single day.[14] I thought this was highly problematic, and makes God just simply a smarter version of human beings.

                [1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 557-60.

                [2] Ibid., 569-70.

                [3] Paul Kjoss Helseth, “God Causes All Things,” Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 38.

                [4] Ron Highfield, “Response to Paul Kjoss Helseth,” Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 67.

                [5] Indeed, the same “problem” would plague anyone who believes in numbers, math, laws of logic, etc. It does no good to claim these are part of God’s nature, for unless God just is numbers, laws of logic, etc., then the dualistic problem remains. Hence, whatever solution is available to these people is also available to the Molinist (namely, a factionalist or nominalist account of abstract objects solves the problem nicely).

                [6] Paul Kjoss Helseth, “Response to William Lane Craig: A Tendentious Analysis,” Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 104.

                [7] Gregory A. Boyd, “Response to William Lane Craig,” Four Views On Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 132.

                [8] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 789.

                [9] Ibid., 790.

                [10] Ibid., 790-92.

                [11] Ibid., 778.

                [12] Gregory A. Boyd, “God Limits His Control,” Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 197.

                [13] Ibid.

                [14] Since probabilities are multiplied together to form a collective probability of a conjunction of states of affairs occurring or being true, one can multiply the probabilities, using this number, together. After only 20 calculations, the probability of God’s getting every one of those beliefs correctly has been reduced to 99.9999998%, or a reduction of 0.00000019%. While seemingly harmless, once it is considered that there are billions, not just 20, of decisions made every day, it renders it overwhelmingly probable that at least one of those beliefs, on a daily basis, is false for God.

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