God is Not Like Other Creators Such as We

To think that God is limited to the same sort of creation that is possible to us stems from a category error about God, that treats him as a being like us.

We creatures can’t create free agents. To think that we can do so is the conceit at the root of strong AI. So, none of our creations can have a jot of freedom. They all express and do only our will, and not their own – however recalcitrant they might appear now and then.

Now, it is not unusual to hear from critics of Christianity, from the New Atheists, and from apostates of various sorts, that if God created us ex nihilo, as Christians all – following Genesis 1 and John 1 – agree, then we are to him as our tools are to us: what seem to us then like our own acts are really just his acts, that we carry out the way that a computer program performs calculations we would and could perform ourselves, given time; so we have no real agency, no true freedom. They point out, rightly, that the notion we are not free contradicts all our experience; and, furthermore, makes both sin and the sinner’s choice of repentance and his turn to the Lord the motions of a robot – which renders Christianity radically incoherent.

It is a telling argument, which has motivated many minds to depart from faith. But it fails, because it extrapolates the scope of our powers – in particular, our incompetence to create free agents – to God.

That extrapolation doesn’t work. If God is as men have always construed him – is not, i.e., a mere contingent being, thus himself caused by some other(s), at most a god like Apollo – then he is in an utterly different category of being than any other. Then from the creative limitations of such beings as we, we may not infer *anything at all* about his creative power. And there is no reason whatever to think that a being who (unlike contingent beings such as we) is necessary – and as necessary thus also eternal and the ultimate, first, unmoved mover and cause of all other things, ergo infinitely greater than we, with powers categoreally different from and greater than ours – could not create free agents like us, the angels, gods, and demons. Nothing we might infer from our own powers as contingent and thus limited causal agents could possibly warrant such a conclusion about a causal agent who is unlimited.

Which is fortunate, because from that conclusion much incoherence follows. To take just one of them: if our creator is a being like us, then we are beings like him, and so are Moloch, Ahriman, and Azazel. In that case, there are no categorically authoritative moral laws: reality is then rather a moral chaos, or at best a mobocracy, in which the choices and preferences of Lucifer, Adam, and Stalin are just as legitimate as those of YHWH.

To think that God is the same sort of being as we – as the king is the same sort of being as his subjects, or as the father is the same sort of being as his son – is to reduce him to our sort of being; and that is to dethrone him qua God, and make him a thing among other things. And that ruins Christianity – ruins all other religions whatever, indeed ruins religion per se; for, it is to suppose that there is no being ultimately worthy of worship, but rather only this or that godling or daimon, whose wrath we must somehow contrive to appease.

81 thoughts on “God is Not Like Other Creators Such as We

  1. Would it be fair to say that the category error lies in thinking of God as a being and not as being per se? That’s not to say that there is not a discrete entity that is God but that God is no creature but Creator, and so the source of all creation, so He cannot be conceived of in the same way as the created order.

    • Well, yes and no. The category error you pick out is indeed fatal to any coherent construction of God. But the one I had in mind is the simpler error of thinking that God is a being like us. It is possible to have two categories of being, absolutely distinguished from each other and radically different, but alike in the fact of their existence – or for that matter in other ways, too. Jesus, e.g., is like us in being, like us in being an animal, and so forth; but he is radically and categoreally different too.

      I have found the way that Saint Dionysius the Areopagite parses this quite helpful: qua being as such and ground of all being, God is the Suprapersonal and unmanifest Godhead, prior to all particular instances of being; whereas qua necessary being who acts to create, he is the personal and manifest Trinity, which is a particular instance of being – albeit, as necessary, of a different character than all other particular instances of being whatsoever.

  2. Kristor,

    By your line of reasoning, the possibility of true free will, agency, and creativity within man immediately and irreparably diminishes the stature of God as ultimate, unlimited, supreme ruler of everything — a being we can never hope to understand with our tiny creature brains. Man is so far beneath God in “being” that the most he can ever aspire to is submissive worship of the great, unknowable cause of all causes.

    Fair enough. That matches the classical theological standard.

    But have you ever entertained the possibility that the presence of true free will, agency, and creativity within man might actually elevate God in stature as our loving Creator . . . and Father?

    • … the possibility of true free will, agency, and creativity within man immediately and irreparably diminishes the stature of God as ultimate, unlimited, supreme ruler of everything …

      No. God is diminished (in our own purblind minds – but not really (therein lies our soteriological hazard)) only insofar as we err categoreally by attributing to him only our own poor sorts of powers of creation. He has those, to be sure; he can create an axe or a computer running genetic algorithms with no help from any other. But while we can create such an axe, or such a computer, we cannot – as he can – create sons of Abraham from mere stones (Matthew 3:9) – from, i.e., the utter vacuity of men. We cannot create free agents. He can.

      God is nowise diminished by our capacity to create as we can create. He is diminished (in our minds, and only therein) only inasmuch as we understand him to be limited only to the sorts of creation possible to us.

      That we can act, and create, does not in any respect vitiate the nobility or ultimacy or power or virtue or goodness of the One who gave us the power to do act and create, without whom we would be nothing at all. On the contrary.

      If we think the Almighty is only as powerful as we are, then yes; we certainly do thereby cut him down to our size. But in so doing, we reduce him to something that is not at all worthy of worship, or indeed of fealty in the ontological and moral wars we must all fight. In so doing, we are apostate; and, let it be noted well, also damned.

      … the presence of true free will, agency, and creativity within man might actually elevate God in stature as our loving Creator … and Father?

      Well, no; by definition, it is not possible to elevate Ultimacy. Nevertheless, the gratuitous grant to us by our creator of freedom, agency, and so on is just what we should expect of Ultimate Goodness. So, then, of a loving Father.

    • But traditional Christianity already regards God as our loving Creator and Father while at the same time acknowledging that God is the ultimate, unlimited, supreme ruler of everything.

      This profound mystery is resolved, of course, in the God-man Jesus Christ. Christ is Who enables us to say, “Abba, Father” and become adopted sons of God.

      • Yes, and this also hints at the essence/energies distinction of Eastern Orthodoxy and how the heretical notion of divine simplicity by the former Roman branch leads to chaos.

  3. We creatures can’t create free agents. To think that we can do so is the conceit at the root of strong AI. So, none of our creations can have a jot of freedom.

    One of the early AI researchers dedicated his dissertation to Rabbi Loew, the Maharal of of Prague and creator of the golem, for discovering that the statement “god made man in his own image” has a recursion built into it.

    • Well of course it does! Who could miss it? That recursion is in its actual iterations in creatures called “worship,” in all versions of all religions. Or, simply, formal participation.

      • ? Worship has nothing to do with it. I think you missed the point, so I guess I have to spell it out: if man is created in the image of god, then man’s nature includes the propensity to construct other creatures in his own image. Hence the pursuit of AI is a perfectly proper activity for man.

        Or to put it another way, if God could create creatures like us with freedom, consciousness, and agency, then we have the ability to pass those gifts along to our own creations.

      • Oh, gosh, what an interesting point. I had indeed quite missed what you were suggesting. Not that this meant that my response was wrong substantively, but rather only that it was inapposite to what you were suggesting – which is *really interesting.*

        Thanks to your clarification, I get that, and it is really cool. If God made us gods, then why can’t we be gods, and so ourselves create … gods?

        My response to the venerable rabbi: is your image in the mirror able to act independently of you?

        The notion of the imago dei does not suppose that the image of God has all the properties of God. That idea is just silly; for, if the image of God had all the properties of God, it would just *be God,* period full stop. On the contrary, the image of God is not like him eternal, not like him necessary, not like him omniscient, and so forth. The image of God is rather like the image in the mirror. It has some characteristics of the original, but has not all that the original has.

        I trust that this clarification of ‘image of God’ has settled your worries.

      • …if God could create creatures like us with freedom, consciousness, and agency, then we have the ability to pass those gifts along to our own creations.

        Indeed. It’s called procreation.

      • Well, scripture does not say “God made us gods”, it says God made us in his own image. That is highly indefinite, an image is not the thing itself but, if it is a good one, contains a bit of the original essence. In our case, presumably that includes the aspects of the human that are not found in the rest of the animal kingdom (or presumed not to): our consciousness, freedom, creativity, language, morality. And that most godlike of traits, artistry – creating further images.

      • I am amazed to find that I totally agree with you, my old friend and adversary. We can create images of free creatures. And that’s a beautiful thing. But, we can’t create free creatures – although we can of course procreate them, as Ian has pointed out.

  4. “Now, it is not unusual to hear from critics of Christianity, from the New Atheists, and from apostates of various sorts…what seem to us then like our own acts are really just his acts, that we carry out the way that a computer program performs calculations”

    You can blame this line of argumentation on atheists but its Augustine who started it. But I guess Augustine and all his followers who lambast Pelagius day and night for teaching the biblical truth that we have free will are covered under “apostates of various sorts.” Augustine is the rotten root from which the twin poison ivies of Romanism and Calvinism grow, constantly in need of some toxic roundup to keep them at bay.

    • Augustine was not speaking about prelapsarian man, nor was he speaking about regenerate man; he was speaking about fallen, unregenerate man. Augustine denied that the unregenerate man has free will with respect to godly matters (because the unregenerate man is spiritually dead). As far as I know, Augustine never denied that even unregenerate man has free will with regard to worldly matters.

      • Augustine was speaking about babies. The whole context of the Pelagian debate was Augustine said unbaptized babies go to hell for Adam’s sin and Pelagius said that only the body can inherit Adam’s sin because only the body derives from Adam and the soul of each individual is a new creation of God at the point of conception. Thus anyone who goes to hell goes to hell for their own freewill sins per Pelagius, whereas per Augustine babies who die without baptism go to hell for Adam’s sin. When Pelagius was tried (4 times I think if I remember the number right) by Eastern Bishops for heresy due to Jerome and Augustine’s insistence and request, the Eastern Bishops questioned him and found him innocent; the main contentions really were two: (1) that Pelagius had said Adam’s sin does nothing to us and men were always going to die whether Adam sinned or not, which is false because he plainly says we inherit physical death from Adam due to the body being derived from Adam, so he is found innocent here, and (2) that Pelagius has said that infant baptism is invalid, which is false because he said unbaptized babies do not go to hell because their soul is a new creation of God at conception and not derived from Adam as their body is, and he accepted infant baptism (not as forgiving sins which he said infants do not have but) as making them members of the new covenant.

  5. We can infer that God cannot do that which is impossible in principle because it is self-contradictory: Namely, he cannot be “the cause of all other things” without being the cause of all “my” actions. If I am truly a free agent, with the power to cause my own actions, then God is not the cause of all things.

    If we have free will, God is not the cause of all other things. Even if he somehow “created us with free will,” it follows that he ceased to be the cause of all other things as soon as he had created the first of us.

    I also find it incredible that you would condemn the idea “that God is the same sort of being as we … as the father is the same sort of being as his son.” That’s literally the central idea of Christianity: that Jesus Christ, a man, is the Son of God and is the same sort of Being as his Father. Your metaphysical assumptions lead not to Christianity but to something more like Islam.

    As for the idea that only the Supergod of Greek philosophy would be worthy of worship, my reason for loving and serving God is not that he supposedly created everything from nothing and has absolutely nothing in common with me. I love and serve God as my Father who loves me with a perfect love and wants me to become like him. To characterize that as “contriving to appease the wrath of a daimon” is ridiculous.

    • If I am truly a free agent, with the power to cause my own actions, then God is not the cause of all things.

      I don’t see how saying that God is not the cause of all things helps any. Free will sans God’s causal agency entails an uncaused cause. (I admit that how to reconcile God’s omnipotence with creaturely freedom without positing an uncaused cause is not something I can see, but the point is that simply abandoning God’s omnipotence doesn’t resolve the basic problem).

      As for the idea that only the Supergod of Greek philosophy would be worthy of worship, my reason for loving and serving God is not that he supposedly created everything from nothing and has absolutely nothing in common with me. …

      There are many beings that can be and are worthy of love, but only that which is ultimate can be worthy of worship, i.e., the total and unconditional offering of one’s entire being, i.e., sacrifice. No mere being – not my loving earthly father, not the greatest saint, not the greatest seraph, not even the Theotokos – is worthy of this. To offer this to anything other than what is ultimate is idolatry.

      As Joseph Pohle wrote, “A convinced theist would… sacrifice the doctrine of free will rather than attenuate the divine omniscience.”

      He’s right.

    • Verbs are not nouns; actions are not things.

      I also think you are confusing Christ’s two natures. As confessed by the Church from the beginning, and as formally restated at Chalcedon, Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably. With respect to His divine nature, Christ Jesus is one substance with God the Father; with respect to His human nature, Christ Jesus is just as we are, except that He is sinless. This does not mean that human nature is the same as divine nature.

    • [God] cannot be “the cause of all other things” without being the cause of all “my” actions.

      No. That just does not follow. The act of a being is not identical with that being. I rob a bank; does that entail that I am *nothing but* the robbing of that bank?

      Beings and their acts are – obviously – two different categories. It is I grant easy to conflate them, but that’s the way of all intellectual error, no? Easy is the way out of reality. So, God causes me to be, with the power to act, but does not cause me to act as I then act.

      Get hard with your distinctions; the payoff, I assure you, is massive. And, such a relief.

      We can infer that God cannot do that which is impossible in principle because it is self-contradictory: Namely, he cannot be “the cause of all other things” without being the cause of all “my” actions.

      You are not distinguishing between primary and secondary causes. To be the cause of being of x is not at all the same thing as being the cause of all the acts of x. Did your father determine all your acts?

      Even if he somehow “created us with free will,” it follows that he ceased to be the cause of all other things as soon as he had created the first of us.

      Sure. Granted. He gave us the power to be ourselves causes, thus actual, thus real. This is Christian orthodoxy; Christianity *insists* upon our agency.

      I also find it incredible that you would condemn the idea “that God is the same sort of being as we … as the father is the same sort of being as his son.” That’s literally the central idea of Christianity: that Jesus Christ, a man, is the Son of God and is the same sort of Being as his Father.

      All I’m looking for is cognitive coherence. To suppose that God is the same sort of being as we are is just incoherent. If that were true, then … he’d be just some other schmuck, like we are.

      God is of course our Father, but not in the same way as our biological fathers are to us fathers.

      As to Jesus, the *entire proposal* of Christianity is implicit in the notion that in Jesus, God – i.e., YHWH, the Eternal One, the Most High God, the Ultimate One, who is prior to all things whatsoever – became man.

      As for the idea that only the Supergod of Greek philosophy would be worthy of worship, my reason for loving and serving God is not that he supposedly created everything from nothing and has absolutely nothing in common with me. I love and serve God as my Father who loves me with a perfect love and wants me to become like him. To characterize that as “contriving to appease the wrath of a daimon” is ridiculous.

      Well, God bless you and keep you, withal. If your God so far as you yet construe him is not ultimate, but just a creature among creatures, then it’s all and only a matter of which gods or daimons prevail from one moment to the next against all the others.

      • Kristor, thanks first for toning your response down! I wasn’t going to bother engaging with the original version, but now I feel that I can.

        “God causes me to be, with the power to act, but does not cause me to act as I then act.”

        Where do my actions come from? If they are my actions, they must come from me — from my nature, my desires, and so on. And if God created me from nothing, my nature and desires come from God, as do, indirectly, my actions. This is not a matter of conflating beings with actions, but of recognizing that actions come from beings.

        “To be the cause of being of x is not at all the same thing as being the cause of all the acts of x. Did your father determine all your acts?”

        No, because my father didn’t create me and my entire environment from nothing. He set in motion (with no control over the details) a natural process that led to the creation of my physical body within the context of an environment only partially controlled by him, and then my spirit (also not created by him) entered that body.

        God, in contrast, is supposed to have created me, every detail of my nature, and every detail of the entire world I live in. So, yes, he should be wholly responsible for everything I do.

        “To suppose that God is the same sort of being as we are is just incoherent. If that were true, then … he’d be just some other schmuck, like we are.”

        No. From the fact that God is like us (or, more properly, that we are like God) in some specific ways, it does not follow that we are alike in all ways or that he is “just like us.” This would be like concluding that Man, because he shares so much of his nature with the lower animals, is “just a monkey”; or that adults are “just babies.”

        “God is of course our Father, but not in the same way as our biological fathers are to us fathers.”

        Yes, but calling himself “Father” must mean something; there must be some analogy to biological fatherhood. Part of the meaning of a father-son relationship is that the son has the same fundamental nature as the father and can be expected to grow up to be like him. Even in Genesis, where God is called a Creator rather than a Father, it is specified that he created us “in his own image” (just as Adam later “begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image”).

        In what sense do you believe God is our Father rather than merely our Creator?

        “As to Jesus, the *entire proposal* of Christianity is implicit in the notion that in Jesus, God – i.e., YHWH, the Eternal One, the Most High God, the Ultimate One, who is prior to all things whatsoever – became man.”

        But if God could become Man without ceasing to be God, it follows that human nature and divine nature are not irreconcilably different. Instead of becoming a man, could God have become a chrysanthemum? Could he have become the water cycle? Could he have become the abstract concept of perpendicularity? Could he have *become* anything at all if he is atemporal?

        Peter Kreeft writes somewhere that man has more in common with a poached egg than either has with God. But could a poached egg become a man without ceasing to be a poached egg? Jesus is proof that Kreeft was wrong about this.

        (Yes, I know about the “two natures” thing, but it doesn’t make any sense, as becomes clear if you try applying it to our hypothetical man-who-is-also-a-poached-egg.)

        “Well, God bless you and keep you, withal. If your God so far as you yet construe him is not ultimate, but just a creature among creatures, then it’s all and only a matter of which gods or daimons prevail from one moment to the next against all the others.”

        Not “a creature among creatures”; an uncreated Being among uncreated Beings. Remember, the whole point is that free agents (like God, like us) cannot be created.

      • Thanks for your continued engagement with these topics, Wm Jas, and for your thoughtful comment.

        God, in contrast, is supposed to have created me, every detail of my nature, and every detail of the entire world I live in. So, yes, he should be wholly responsible for everything I do.

        But God does *not* create every detail of the world (albeit that, being himself supernally actual, ergo effectual, he does certainly *influence* every detail of the world). On the contrary, he creates free creatures, who then by their free acts enact almost all those details.

        There is no way in logic that God can create actual beings – actualities – that are not free (likewise, for that matter, uncreate actualities must also be free): actuality is the character of beings that act (as opposed to things that are moved entirely by some other(s)); and it is not possible to act except by deciding among disparate options and then enacting one of them. Freedom is a sine qua non of acts, and so of actuality.

        Thus if all your motions are entirely determined by God, you are not free, and so you don’t actually exist; meaning that he didn’t create you in the first place. You are just a tool in his hands, a puppet; he didn’t create *you,* he created a puppet.

        But you *do* actually exist, and you *are* free; so, yes, God does *not* entirely determine all your acts. Thus you do things that are not acts of God, but of Wm Jas.

        Now, in order to choose from among real options, and so act, and so be actual, you – any actuality –must have real options. Being omniscient, God knows which of those options is best. But you don’t, because you are not omniscient. So you do the best you can, by your own poor lights; or, perhaps, like almost all of us, you do a fair bit less than the best you can. Your predicament in choosing is terrific: for, you have millions of real options, at every single moment of your actual career. Only one is the best, that God would prefer you to take. So, the likelihood that you will choose the best most righteous option is one in millions. You are almost certain to choose suboptimally. And almost all your choices are going to end up suboptimal, mutatis mutandis. Thus the Fall was overwhelmingly likely; so likewise is your continued Fall.

        This goes for all actualities, all things that can move in more than one way, given their causal inputs: particles, organisms, animals, societies, and so forth.

        None of this is optional. It is baked into the category of actuality. God *can’t* create actualities in any other way than as free. His only option is to create puppets. But puppets are suboptimal, compared to what he could create: actualities like us.

        God creates you: being yourself actual, so free, *you* are then responsible for what you do; for the evil that you do. So likewise for all actualities.

        Thus in logic, there is no Problem of Evil.

        To suppose that God is the same sort of being as we are is just incoherent. If that were true, then … he’d be just some other schmuck, like we are.

        No. From the fact that God is like us (or, more properly, that we are like God) in some specific ways, it does not follow that we are alike in all ways or that he is “just like us.” This would be like concluding that Man, because he shares so much of his nature with the lower animals, is “just a monkey;” or that adults are “just babies.”

        Most “adults” these days are pretty infantile, if not bestial; but, let’s leave that jocular note aside!

        You make a good argument. You make a good argument that God is *not* the same sort of being as we. We are images of him, and like him in some ways; that does not suffice to put us in the same category of being as he. I am like my cat Belle in some respects. That does not mean that I am in the same sort or category of being as she. We are, rather, in quite different categories or sorts of beings. Ditto a fortiori with respect to the categoreal differences between Belle and Saint Michael, or YHWH; and, likewise, between me and Saint Michael, or YHWH (and between Saint Michael and YHWH).

        Yes, but calling himself “Father” must mean something; there must be some analogy to biological fatherhood.

        Yes. “Analogy” is the operative word there. God is not our *literal* father: he did not beget us by engaging with our mothers in sexual intercourse. Does anybody anywhere suppose that he did? So, when we say that God is our father, we must mean rather that God is our *analogical* father. He plants in us ab origino our formal nature and character, thereby enabling us to be. Google logos spermatikos.

        That God is not our biological father means that he need not be of the same species as we in order to inseminate us successfully in our mothers, and so to endow us with our nature as actual, animal, human, male, rational, and so forth. The fatherhood of God is not *the same sort of thing exactly* as the fatherhood of man. The two quite different sorts of fatherhood are *analogical.*

        But if God could become Man without ceasing to be God, it follows that human nature and divine nature are not irreconcilably different.

        This will seem to you no more that a quibble, mere wordplay; but, the orthodox doctrine is not that God *turned into* a man, so that he was just a man, but rather that he *took human nature.*

        Human and divine nature are *not* irreconcilably different. Indeed, in Jesus – and in the saints, as resurrected – God and man are beautifully reconciled. *That does not mean that God and man are the same sort of thing.* Belle and I are reconciled right now; at this moment, I am quite beautifully reconciled with my computer. That does not mean that Belle, my computer and I are *the same sorts of thing.*

        But could a poached egg become a man without ceasing to be a poached egg?

        No. But neither man nor poached egg are God, are they now? Neither man nor egg can do what God can do. This is really pretty simple. The playwright can write himself into his play, and then step on the stage of its performance as a player. Neither his status as a character in his play, nor his status as a player in the performance thereof, can change his nature as the playwright. None of the characters in the play, or their players, have such powers.

        So, yes: God can instantiate himself in a flower, or in a bit of bread, or in a man. He’s *God,* after all.

        If your God so far as you yet construe him is not ultimate, but just a creature among creatures, then it’s all and only a matter of which gods or daimons prevail from one moment to the next against all the others.

        Not “a creature among creatures;” an uncreated Being among uncreated Beings.

        The difficulty obtains whether or not the beings in question are created. If they are all creatures, they are all contingent, and none of them are dispositively suasive of the others; if they are all eternal, they are quite independent of each other, and none of them are dispositively suasive of the others. Either way, it’s a Hobbesian war of all against all.

        Remember, the whole point is that free agents (like God, like us) cannot be created.

        Why not? What is the demonstration of this proposition?

        Wait, let me guess: free acts cannot wholly derive from some other prior causes, so free beings, qua free, can’t be caused, and so all actualities, being free, must be eternal. But this again confuses free beings with their acts. Kristor is *free* to work out, but chooses not to; he chooses instead to drink a beer. Or he chooses to work out, *and then* to have a beer. Do any of these free choices render him something other than Kristor? No. I mean, sure, Kristor who has worked out is different from Kristor who has had a beer. But both are Kristor.

        Essence versus accidence: it’s a powerful intellectual tool.

        Think now about an overlooked difficulty with the notion that free actualities are all eternal: if that is the case, then Kristor who just worked out is eternal, and so is Kristor who just had a beer, and so is Kristor who just worked out and then had a beer. If every possible free act – which is to say, every possible free being, as specified right down to the details of what it just did – is eternal, then boom, you are smack dab in the middle of the block universe / MWI ontology, in which *everything that happens* is eternal, and *there is no such thing really as motion,* or therefore as acts. A messy and yet impoverished outcome!

      • Wm Jas,

        Remember, the whole point is that free agents (like God, like us) cannot be created.

        How am I supposed to interpret this? The way I interpret it is that we must be eternal (i.e., not merely that we are immortal, but that we have always existed). Is this what you mean?

        Kristor,

        There is no way in logic that God can create actual beings – actualities – that are not free…

        I don’t understand what you mean by this. Nearly everything – nearly all actual beings – that God creates is not free (at least in the way freedom is usually understood in such discussions). Only a small portion of creation – men and angels – are actually free.

      • Thanks, Ian. It is clear that you are reading with great focus of mind. I am honored by the attention you devote to this discussion.

        Men and angels are (so far as we know) the only *rational* actualities. But while they do not so far as we know ratiocinate about abstract concepts as men and angels do, many other concretes (animals, most clearly) seem able to choose among real options – which is to act, and so to become actual.

        There are of course many *concrete* things in the created order that do not act, and so are neither free nor actual: stones, e.g.

      • Kristor,

        Another question. You write:

        But God does *not* create every detail of the world…

        Wouldn’t orthodox Christianity say that God continuously creates at every moment in sustaining the world? And that in everything that happens He is a concurring cause?

        So isn’t there a sense in which we could say that He creates every detail of the world?

      • It would be more accurate to say that – for the reasons you correctly adduce – God is ground of being of every detail, concurs in & with them, and so then is *involved in* the creation of each detail. But the actual details add their own bit, too.

      • Kristor, I’m going to bow out at this point. I think we’re talking past each other due to fundamental differences in metaphysical first principles, which are matters of assumption and are not subject to argument. I have a frustrating sense that you keep misinterpreting what I say, and you presumably feel the same way about me, and this is perhaps inevitable.

        For example, when I say Jesus Christ proves that human and divine nature are not irreconcilably different, I’m not referring to “reconciliation” in the sense of two separate beings having a harmonious relationship like the one you enjoy with your cat. I mean that the statement “Jesus is God” must be *logically* reconcilable with “Jesus is a Man” — that is, that the two propositions must not be contradictory, and that God’s nature must therefore not be so infinitely and categorically different from man’s as you say it is.

        And when you say that a man can’t become a poached egg because he’s not God and doesn’t have God’s powers, you’re again missing my point. What I mean is that God himself, even the “Omni-God” of orthodoxy, could not create a being which was both a man and a poached egg, because it is *logically* impossible for any being to be both a man and a poached egg, and the reason it is logically impossible is that human nature and poached-egg nature are irreconcilably different (meaning, again, logically inconsistent, with no reference to whatever harmonious relationship a man may have with his breakfast). The Christian thesis is that it is *not* similarly logically impossible for the same Being to be both God and a Man. The implication is that man shares a fundamental nature with God which he does not share with a poached egg.

        But as I’ve said, I don’t think it’s much use for us to continue “debating” this, especially since the debate seems mostly to consist of (a) misunderstanding each other and (b) blankly asserting our (mutually contradictory) respective metaphysical axioms. In any case, I thank you for what is turning out to be a highly thought-provoking post.

        In case you haven’t seen it, I have a post up at my own blog which takes the form of a “response” to this one but really just uses it as a starting point for expounding on my own very different beliefs. I don’t expect you to reply to it, but of course you may if you wish.

        https://narrowdesert.blogspot.com/2022/02/god-and-agency-point-by-point-response.html

      • … the statement “Jesus is God” must be *logically* reconcilable with “Jesus is a Man” – that is, that the two propositions must not be contradictory, and that God’s nature must therefore not be so infinitely and categorically different from man’s as you say it is.

        … human nature and poached-egg nature are irreconcilably different (meaning, again, logically inconsistent …). The Christian thesis is that it is *not* similarly logically impossible for the same Being to be both God and a Man. The implication is that man shares a fundamental nature with God which he does not share with a poached egg.

        No, sorry, but there is no such implication. Your argument is clever, but it relies upon a subtle categorical confusion of God and creature, which assimilates God to the category of creaturity.

        Men and eggs are of course quite different, but both are creatures. And creatures cannot become other sorts of thing than the sort of thing they are without ceasing to be the sort of thing they were. God is not a creature, but the creator of all creatures; his relation to men and eggs is different from their relations with each other, just as his creative powers are different from theirs (and, to draw an analogy, as the creative powers of the short order cook are different from those of the egg). God can create free agents, but creatures cannot; likewise, God can instantiate himself in this cosmos as something naturally and essentially quite different from himself, without ceasing to be himself.

        The argument that God can’t instantiate himself as a man presupposes that God is a creature like men, who cannot instantiate themselves as anything other than themselves, because if they did, why then they wouldn’t be themselves any longer, but rather that other thing.

        God can take human nature, or bready nature, without himself turning into just a man or just bread. Creatures do not have that power, because they are not the authors of the drama in which they find themselves. But God *is* the author of that drama. He can write himself into it as a character, or indeed as a prop, and then step onto the stage himself to play that character or move that prop.

        I’ll close this discussion by thanking you again for your engagement with me on these topics … and by disagreeing in all friendliness with the suggestion that we are talking past each other and merely restating the consequences of our divergent metaphysical presuppositions. It seems to me rather that you have proposed arguments, to which I have responded with counterarguments that, so far as I can see, dispose of your arguments decisively in one way or another; to which you have then replied unresponsively (not that you *meant* to avoid responsive replies, of course).

  6. Kristor, your discussion with Mr. A. on AI is very engaging — and the more recent discussions with Dr. Charlton complement it well in that they all grapple, in some way, with creation’s relationship to God. I’ve enjoyed these contributions and found them edifying.

    A question for you — how does a nature — with its ends (teloi) — differ from programming? This is an honest question. A.’s “thinking” machines follow preset commands — and perhaps are even capable of “learning” from experience — and so how are they different from an intelligent animal with instincts, natural inclinations, and proper natural ends? You would say that the ends of the machine are the intentions of the maker . . . and the machine is but a tool. Well, nature is the intention of the Maker, too . . . so, I wonder where the important differences are.

    I remember that Descartes argues for the immateriality of the mind by remarking on its infinite motions. I can’t recall now whether he includes the imagination with the mind, but if he does, this can be seen in the imagination, as well. For we can imagine an infinite number of things — just as we can think about them (and I love Descartes’ nice little argument for distinguishing between imagination and thought– the chiliagon example). If our minds — or even imagination — were mechanical, and thus dependent on moving parts (or should we say lines of code), there would be a limit to the extent of their activity. Self-modifying machines — learning machines — may get around this objection, but primary programming would have to allow / have the potential to accommodate further adjustments, and any such set-up seems to pale in comparison to what our mental life experiences, where we soar rather than simply stack scaffolds. And that is to say nothing of intellection or will!

    So, do divinely created minds differ from man-made machines in how they fulfill their given ends? Of course, we can choose or reject our ends, but that seems to be no grand accomplishment. What if we were free from sin . . . unfallen or blessed by the beatific vision? Where we would not reject our telos . . . how would we then differ from a machine? I say this not as an ornery existentialist . . . no, my tendencies are very much the opposite. Perfect man following his God-given nature perfectly is just about as beautiful a thing as I can consider. How does he differ from a machine?

    Does awareness of his end — of the goods that he seeks — play a part? He sees the transcendent and thinks, judges, and wills accordingly, given circumstances. A machine’s running its program does resemble this process, but there is no intellection in the machine. It doesn’t see what underlies the appearances. For a machine, there is only phenomena in its “understanding” . . . and only such that is expected in its programming. This is an image of the animal side of man, but man rises higher.

    But, even sticking with animality, does an animal think? I’m not sure what sort of intellection goes on in beasts . . . Aristotelian psychology notwithstanding. I just don’t buy nominalists’ “resemblance” escape exits . . . resemblance resembles how? I don’t see a way around some sort of _form_al awareness even in the simplest creatures. And, yet, a beast is no machine (contra René, Francis, and friends). The machine sees no ideas; its creators do and plan accordingly.

    I’m always wary of my tendency to return to metaphysics and epistemology . . . mindful of the old hammer and nail cliché . . . but it does seem like this may be an important difference. The machine lacks awareness. Its operations may solve problems, but it never sees the answers and cannot be interested in them. There may be more, and you surely have better insights into this, but there’s my initial stab at this beast. Let us proceed to butcher it properly.

    • I can’t recall now whether he [Descartes] includes the imagination with the mind…

      I think (or imagine?) he does. On his account then, irrational animals lack imagination.

      For we can imagine an infinite number of things — just as we can think about them…

      I don’t think we can imagine an infinite number of things. At least I can’t, at any rate. But we can conceive of an infinite number of things.

      But, even sticking with animality, does an animal think?

      At least on the Aristotelean account with which I am a little acquainted, animals cannot think, strictly speaking, i.e., they cannot conceptualize universals or reason or form judgements on the basis of these concepts.

      They can, however, contra Descartes, form images, remember things, manipulate images from their memory, etc.

      • “I don’t think we can imagine an infinite number of things.”

        There is a lot one can do in assembling and re-arranging, image-wise. Perhaps not infinite, strictly speaking, though.

        You’re right about thinking of infinite matters, as the discipline of mathematics demonstrates . . . again, the Great Frog’s lovely chiliagon example.

    • … how does a nature – with its ends (teloi) – differ from programming …

      The telos specifies the character of a proper achievement of an objective. It does not specify exactly what program of steps should be taken to reach it. There are lots of ways to skin a cat; lots of ways for an acorn to grow into an oak.

      … the ends of the machine are the intentions of the maker … and the machine is but a tool. Well, nature is the intention of the Maker, too … so, I wonder where the important differences are.

      The tool is a means to an end extraneous to itself. But our cosmos is itself an end, and not a means.

      So, do divinely created minds differ from man-made machines in how they fulfill their given ends? Of course, we can choose or reject our ends, but that seems to be no grand accomplishment.

      It seems that way only because we are so accustomed to it.

      Machines cannot choose their ends. Even a program that can modify itself – a genetic algorithm, e.g. – can’t get to work on itself until it is first furnished with a principle of selection, which effectually specifies its telos.

      What if we were free from sin … unfallen or blessed by the beatific vision? Where we would not reject our telos … how would we then differ from a machine? I say this not as an ornery existentialist … no, my tendencies are very much the opposite. Perfect man following his God-given nature perfectly is just about as beautiful a thing as I can consider. How does he differ from a machine?

      Unlike a machine, a saint can choose his ends; and he has always many ends from which he can choose. That all his ends qua saint terminate upon God does not make them all the same. E.g., one end might be to glorify God musically; another might be to glorify God contemplatively, another might be to glorify God by loving his neighbor; another might be to glorify God by a really great woodworking project. And so forth.

      … there is no intellection in the machine. It doesn’t see what underlies the appearances. For a machine, there is only phenomena …

      The machine does not see at all; nothing appears to it.

      • Thanks, Kristor. Your reply (about means) reminds me of Irenaeus of Lyon’s note about politics. He writes (perhaps in _Against Heresies_, but I don’t remember now) that unfallen or perfected man would still require leadership, given that men would still have to cooperate and that there are always many fine ways to go about achieving a good end. As such, they would require a leader (if only per project) to direct the joint endeavor.

        A slight problem, though, with your argument . . . “he has always many ends from which he can choose.” That makes sense, but it goes against the evidence (“Christianity is an empirical religion!” I’m not sure that I agree with that statement, but I am terribly fond of it.). What about vocations? That experience — not limited to men called to the priesthood — does suggest that for some, at least, particular callings are made . . . and they can be quite particular (e.g. Patrick). In all of these cases, though, you can see a lot of room for creativity and synergy between man and his maker.

      • Thanks, Joseph. An acorn can’t choose whether to try to become an oak. But when confronted with a dead cat, a man choose what he wants to try to do in respect thereto: skin it, or bury it, or let it be, or feed it to the hogs. Likewise a man can, and indeed must, and whatever his preferences, talents, or the callings he apprehends, choose whether to try to become a priest, or a welder, or a machinist, or an accountant … That’s how we can tell that acorns are not actualities, like men; or like cats, who can choose whether to try to catch a mouse or to fall asleep in the shade of a bush: acorns can’t choose their ends from among an array of ends. Nor for that matter can they choose the proximal ends that they shall seek en route to their primary goal. There are lots of ways an acorn may grow into an oak, but the acorn is not (so far as we now know) choosing to grow this way versus that. The cat on the other hand can choose whether to hunt for mice under the hedge, or under the house.

        I feel quite sure that there is synergy between God and each decision of each actuality. That would seem to follow directly from the doctrine of continuous creation.

      • Your reply (about means) reminds me of Irenaeus of Lyon’s note about politics. He writes (perhaps in _Against Heresies_, but I don’t remember now) that unfallen or perfected man would still require leadership, given that men would still have to cooperate and that there are always many fine ways to go about achieving a good end. …

        That’s very interesting, Joseph A. I’ve often had the same thought myself, that prelapsarian man would have still formed political communities and had positions of authority and hierarchy. The difference is that such authorities would have been followed with perfect obedience, authoritative decisions would have always supported the common good, etc.

        Which goes to show that Aristotle was right all along: man is a political animal, he is political by nature.

  7. I don’t think anyone disputes the general premise of your post — God and man are indeed different kinds of beings. Hence, God is in an entirely different creator category than man is and is not limited to the same forms of creation that man is limited to.

    Your main concern appears to be power. For God to be God, He must be omnipotent. If He isn’t, then is He is just “one of us” — the same sort of god Joan Osborne sings about in that awful pop song of hers.

    I don’t understand this line of thinking. Let’s suppose man’s true and actual free will and agency — separate from God and over which God has limited/no control — only diminishes God’s power by 0.01%? Does this strip God of all of his power and reduce him to our level? You appear to think it does. Moreover, that 0.01% loss of power not only “dethrones” God from his role as Creator but makes him unworthy of worship and ruins Christianity and all religions.

    “Nevertheless, the gratuitous grant to us by our creator of freedom, agency, and so on is just what we should expect of Ultimate Goodness. So, then, of a loving Father.”

    Yes, but this conceptualization of Ultimate Goodness eventually leads into conundrums of theodicy that atheists love to hammer away at. On the other hand, if free will and agency are authentic, and God is not the cause of all causes and things, then He cannot be blamed or held responsible for the manifestation of evil in the world. I don’t know about you, but this communicates a far more comprehensible and sympathetic idea of his Ultimate Goodness than the traditional understanding of all-powerful God does.

    Anyway, none of what I’ve expressed above is particularly new or earth-shattering, and I’m certain all of it will be rejected with the usual classical theological claims and rebuttals mixed with some accusations of heresy — all of which is fine.

    • I would say that Kristor’s main concern in this post is ontology, not power. God is the necessary Being, all other beings are contingent. Thinking of God as though He were contingent is what denies God’s divinity. When Kristor discusses God’s power, the point he is making is that we cannot infer that God shares our limitations, because God is necessary, while we are contingent.

      Verbs are not nouns; actions are not things. God is the cause of all things, but not of all actions. Evil is the act of rejecting goodness, or of valuing lower goods more than higher goods.

    • Thanks, Francis, for your continued interest in and thoughtful contribution to this discussion. I think we are close to complete agreement on most of the topics that interest us both. Indeed, it seems to me that our differences arise almost entirely on account of subtleties of terminological meaning. Once those are cleared away, it will be interesting to see whether there is anything we end up disagreeing about.

      E.g., the meaning of “omnipotent.” It seems that you take it to mean, “determining all things” or – perhaps equivalently – “doing everything that is done.” But that is not what the Church, or classical metaphysics, or I take it to mean (granting of course that there must be some theologians who have meant it that way – thus adding to the confusion!). We mean by it rather, “able to do all things that can logically be done.” The Tradition – the Church, classical metaphysics, and Kristor – does not mean that God himself *does* everything that is done, but rather that he *can do* anything that can logically be done.

      Consider in that light the following:

      Your main concern appears to be power. For God to be God, He must be omnipotent. If He isn’t, then is He is just “one of us” …

      Yes: for God to be God, he must be omnipotent: able (unlike us) to do anything that can logically be done. But, NB: that does not mean that God must be able to do everything that Francis does; a fortiori, it does not mean that God in fact does everything that Francis does (or, in that case, that Francis only appears to do). On the contrary, indeed: it means that it is *logically impossible* for God to do what Francis does, because *God is not Francis* (and, of course, and by the same token, Francis is not God, nor is Francis a being like God categoreally). It is not possible for God to do what Francis does, for *only Francis can do what Francis does, qua Francis.* I mean, sure, both God and Francis can arrange that a stone should be in a certain place. But only Francis can arrange the stone the way Francis does. God can arrange the stone in the way that God arranges stones, and not in the way that Francis does.

      Now, it is clear that Francis is not omnipotent in the Traditional sense: he cannot do everything that can logically be done. His powers are much more limited. In particular, we find that beings such as Francis cannot create free agents ex nihilo. This is obvious: who among us creatures can conjure a free being into actual existence by our mere will? Hell, we can’t even will a corn chip into existence. But, there being nothing illogical in that sort of creation, lo God, being unlike Francis (and the rest of us) omnipotent, *can* create free agents ex nihilo. Also corn chips.

      OK. When God creates a free agent, that *just means* that he creates a being that he does not and cannot control; for, by definition, that free being *is free of such control.* God (and other beings) can certainly influence that creature (that’s how Providence works, and the Plan of Salvation, and indeed all order, thus all coherence of worlds as kosmoi); but they cannot determine it.

      So all reality is ultimately wild. Cool. Notice the elegant efficient orderliness of the wilderness, where ever or when ever you have encountered her. This is the beauty of the wilderness, no? It is the reason we resort to the wilderness for refreshment of our spirits – which is to say, for their correction. She is indeed feminine; the Receptacle of Order, which she takes from the Lógos. Luke 1:38. So here’s the deeply lovely thing: the wilderness accepts the Lógos, *and so is enabled to be wild.* Ergo, fruitful; so that she can in her instance of Mary be the Theotokos. Mary is a synecdoche of the whole cosmos; in her, and by her assent, the whole created order consented to the hypostatic union of the Incarnation. Christ is born, not just of Mary, but of her whole world. In virtue of Mary, even Herod consented to the Incarnation, despite himself.

      Then there is this: civilization supervenes wilderness. Lose the latter, you wreck the former.

      Sheesh. Plumbing some hitherto undiscovered depths. My thanks to you, Francis, for furnishing to me by your engagements with me the occasion of these insights.

      Let’s suppose man’s true and actual free will and agency – separate from God and over which God has limited/no control – only diminishes God’s power by 0.01%? Does this strip God of all of his power and reduce him to our level?

      No; not at all. In the first place, you can subtract an infinity of x from infinity, and you’ll still have infinity as a remainder. So, there is no way to diminish the infinite power of God, that is limited only by the logically possible – which is to say, that it is limited only by his own nature. God could bestow infinite creative power and agency upon an infinite number of creatures, and he would still be not the least diminished thereby. Kenosis is just the creaturely perspective upon infinite ontological capacity to pour forth being, agency, beauty, love, joy. Infinite Good *cannot* be emptied, no, not by a jot.

      God humbles himself in Jesus. That does not mean he is no longer God, or any less God, than he was beforehand. Ditto then for the Passion. God dies; is he then less God? To ask is to err categoreally.

      NB: when it comes to God, “beforehand” is not really apposite. Same for “afterhand.”

      In the second place, what I have been at pains to point out in the OP and in this discussion so far is that it is the supposition that God is limited only to our own sorts of creative power that effectually and wrongly consequends that he is the same sort of being as we. If, i.e., we think that, like us, God cannot create free agents, we ipso facto think that God is like us. But God is *not* like us (to clarify: we are images of him, but he is not an image of us (he is not anthropomorphic; it would be more accurate to say – with some due care – that we are theomorphic)). His powers are, not just vastly, but also categoreally greater than ours. E.g., unlike us, he *can* create free agents – who, as free, are then able to disobey his will, unlike the tools and computers and other instruments that we (and he) are able to create, which cannot disobey our wills (howsoever recalcitrant thereto they so often admittedly seem to be! (how many times have any of us cursed at the cursed recalcitrance of a tool?)).

      Yes, but this conceptualization of Ultimate Goodness [as giving us creatures freedom – which is to say, creaturity] eventually leads into conundrums of theodicy that atheists love to hammer away at. On the other hand, if free will and agency are authentic, and God is not the cause of all causes and things, then He cannot be blamed or held responsible for the manifestation of evil in the world.

      Well, you’ve just nailed it. If creatures are to be free, they *must* be free to do evil. There’s no other way to get freedom in the first place. Freedom *just is* the power to do other than the one thing that is the rightmost thing. So, God gives us being, which gives us freedom – there’s no other way to be, than to be free to be what we would (the alternatives are logically incoherent). So: free will & agency are authentic, so God is not the cause of all things, creatures make decisions of their own, and so God cannot therefore be blamed for their evil, which is theirs and not his.

      Francis, it’s the atheists who attack us both who have radically misconstrued things. We – you and the Tradition – agree about this stuff.

      So, you don’t need to reject Tradition. Tradition being what it is – the fruit of thousands of years of thousands of human trials, failures and successes – it would seem rather that your very first move, whenever you encountered a difficulty, should be to a deeper study of the Tradition. How could it be more Pragmatic than that (William James, call your office!)?

      • I appreciate the detailed response, Kristor.

        To refer back to Matthew quickly, I understand that Kristor’s main concern here is ontology — my point is he makes power the central focus of his ontological examination of the distinctions between man and God, particularly in terms of freedom, agency, and creativity.

        Kristor, your chief premise is that God is another sort of being that is vastly different from man because he is not merely a being (personal) but also a Suprapersonal being — the very source of being itself (see reference to Saint Dionysius the Areopagite above). Thus, God simply must be an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-everything from which all other beings emanate and upon which they all depend. If this were not so, then God could not be called God in the full, proper, ultimate sense of the word. Hence, placing man and God in the same category amounts to a massive categorical error.

        In my second comment in this thread, I suggested that no one disputes your general premise that man and God are two different kinds of beings and that God is in a different creator category than man, but I did not mean to imply that this aligns with your definitions of God and man. I should have made that explicitly clear, and I apologize for not doing so.

        In my reference to beings and categories, I was attempting to approach the issue from the perspective of power and the distinctions therein — which is a major focus of your post — seen from our current state as mortal men. God is indeed much more powerful and creative than man, enough to warrant placing God in a different kind of “being” category. However, this does not entail that God is omnipotent. Nor does it prove that He is, in fact, an entirely different kind of being that man cannot know.

        We both agree that God is the Creator and because He is the Creator, he has primacy.

        We disagree about omnipotence, creativity, free will, creativity, and agency. These disagreements are not trivial.

        You hold to the traditional theological view that the Christian God must be an Omnigod. I believe the Omnigod of traditional theology is incompatible with Christianity for the simple reason that Omnigod contradicts the very essence of Christianity.

        And when I say essence, I mean it in the metaphysical and theological sense of “the what it is.”

        Your understanding of “the what it is” fulfills and comforts you. It also fulfills and comforts many of the commenters posting here. I do not wish to challenge that fulfillment and comfort any further; nor do I wish to disparage it.

      • Thanks, Francis. I totally appreciate your patience with this discussion, and I value your helpful contributions.

        God is indeed much more powerful and creative than man, enough to warrant placing God in a different kind of “being” category. However, this does not entail that God is omnipotent. Nor does it prove that He is, in fact, an entirely different kind of being that man cannot know.

        First, nothing I have written or thought – or that Christian orthodoxy has taught – should be taken to indicate that God is a being whom, being categoreally different from man, man cannot therefore know. My cat is a different sort of being than I, categoreally; but I can know her, and she me. You see what I’m getting at here, right? God is a different sort of being than any creature, to be sure; that does not mean that no creatures can know him.

        I note that you have not in your comment actually responded to my point about the different definitions of “omnipotence” at work in this discourse, which work to our apparent disagreements: namely, the difference between ‘omnipotence means that God does everything that is done,” on the one hand, and on the other, “omnipotence means that God can do whatever it is logically possible to do.” The former is the definition that you seem to be using; the latter is the definition that the Church has for 2K years (at least) been using. It seems to me that you – and Bruce, and Wm Jas, and some others – have been inveighing against the former definition, when in fact the Tradition – the Magisterium – has never proposed it. You’ve all been attacking a doctrine that the Magisterium has never taught.

        What say you to that?

      • “the difference between ‘omnipotence means that God does everything that is done,” on the one hand, and on the other, “omnipotence means that God can do whatever it is logically possible to do.” The former is the definition that you seem to be using; the latter is the definition that the Church has for 2K years (at least) been using. It seems to me that you – and Bruce, and Wm Jas, and some others – have been inveighing against the former definition, when in fact the Tradition – the Magisterium – has never proposed it. You’ve all been attacking a doctrine that the Magisterium has never taught.”

        Since, I was mentioned here, I’ll respond.

        “God does everything that is done” is not a definition of omnipotence; it is an implication of the doctrine that God is the First Cause, the cause of everything else. If all causal chains lead back to God and God alone, then everything that happens is, directly or indirectly, done by God. I reject this doctrine because it conflicts with free will.

        Perhaps we would both more or less agree with the statement, “God is the cause of everything else, excepting the actions of other agents with free will.” You I think, would consider this to be consistent with still saying that God created those other agents from nothing. From my own point of view, if my free actions do come from me and do not in any way come from God, then it follows that there is some aspect of me that does not come from God.

        As for omnipotence — “that God can do whatever it is logically possible to do” — I have come out against that doctrine in the past, but these days I basically assume it. If God is good, and omnipotent, AND created everything from nothing, then the problem of evil has no solution. However, if we remove the creatio-ex-nihilo premise, omnipotence is no longer problematic. “Why didn’t God make everything perfect?” and “Why doesn’t God forcefully change the already-existing universe to make everything perfect?” are very different questions. I assume that God has the power to magically transform me against my will into a someone perfectly good — but he will never exercise that power because free will is sacred and inviolable. The constraints on God’s activity in the world (and there must be constraints if evil is to be explained) are moral in nature, not limits on his power per se. However, if God created all of us ex nihilo, I can conceive of no moral principle that would prevent him from creating us wholly good.

      • If all causal chains lead back to God and God alone, then everything that happens is, directly or indirectly, done by God.

        Nope. That would be the case only if God had never created free beings. But he did.

        Perhaps we would both more or less agree with the statement, “God is the cause of everything else, excepting the actions of other agents with free will.”

        Yes.

        You I think, would consider this to be consistent with still saying that God created those other agents from nothing.

        Yes.

        From my own point of view, if my free actions do come from me and do not in any way come from God, then it follows that there is some aspect of me that does not come from God.

        Not quite; for, everything comes from God. It does not follow from that fact that everything *is* God, or that God does everything. And, from the fact that your free acts are not the acts of God, but of Wm Jas, it follows only that God did not perform your acts, but that you did; that your acts are yours, even though you derived your power to perform them – along with your being – from God.

        The constraints on God’s activity in the world (and there must be constraints if evil is to be explained) are moral in nature, not limits on his power per se.

        No. The constraints on God’s control over actualities are *logical,* and are therefore intrinsic to his very nature as the Lógos – as himself the logic of logic – so that, because he is in his nature and being both eternal and necessary (albeit, as purely unconditioned by any prior, therefore utterly free), those constraints are per se. He can’t make a free being that is not free anymore than he can make a square circle. Nor for the same reason can he create a free being for whose free evil acts he is himself at fault.

        … if God created all of us ex nihilo, I can conceive of no moral principle that would prevent him from creating us wholly good.

        Nothing could possibly prevent his doing so; and so he did. Genesis 1:31.

      • “If God is good, and omnipotent, AND created everything from nothing, then the problem of evil has no solution.”

        Exactly! The problem of evil has no solution. If it did, it would intelligible . . . an intrinsic part of the plan, necessary though not highly esteemed, like the underlaying padding beneath carpet. But evil is not; it’s a perversion of being. It isn’t intelligible; we only notice in a bastardized awareness that things are not as they ought to be.

        Of course, this is unsatisfactory. That’s what evil “is.”

      • If God is good, and omnipotent, AND created everything from nothing, then the problem of evil has no solution.

        I’ll complement Joseph A.’s response: your conclusion only follows if evil is a substance. But since Plotinus and St. Augustine following him, it has been recognized that evil has no existence in its own right, but is a privation, a lack of being.

        There is no metaphysical problem of evil.

  8. so special pleading, the argument from morality and still no evidence your god exists.

    The argument from morality is a great one to watch fail. Chrisitans can’t agree on what morals this god wants, so do tell about “objective morality”. You folks can’t even convince each other. You also have the problem that you have no problem with your god doing things that you, hopefully, would find abhorrent if a human did them. Thus your morality is simply subjective, dependent on what/who someone is rather than the action itself. That ends up in a morality of nothing more than might equals right.

    Yep religion is ruined because all gods are simply made up in the images of humans.

    • The fact that people disagree about what is objectively true does not mean there is no such thing as objective truth.

      When you claim that we have no problem with God doing things that we would find abhorrent if a human did them, what actions are you talking about?

      • Your point might be right if you weren’t making it about a supposedly omnipotent being that supposedly wants everyone to come to it and believe in the same thing.

        Matthew, have you read the bible in its entirety? I have. Let me show you a few things.

        “1 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” Exodus 4

        Mind control to make an excuse for killing people.

        “4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” 6 then his master shall bring him before God.[a] He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.” Exodus 21

        Forcing a man to choose between slavery and his family.

        “17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves. ”

        and later “5 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “You and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the ancestral houses of the congregation make an inventory of the booty captured, both human and animal. 27 Divide the booty into two parts, between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. 28 From the share of the warriors who went out to battle, set aside as tribute for the Lord, one item out of every five hundred, whether persons, oxen, donkeys, sheep, or goats. 29 Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as an offering to the Lord. 30 But from the Israelites’ half you shall take one out of every fifty, whether persons, oxen, donkeys, sheep, or goats—all the animals—and give them to the Levites who have charge of the tabernacle of the Lord.”” Numbers 31

        Approving of killing of children, then slavery and rape.

        “20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” Joshua 11

        Mind control for an excuse for genocide.

        “the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill. 16 David therefore pleaded with God for the child; David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground. 17 The elders of his house stood beside him, urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. ” 2 Samuel 12

        Killing children for no action of their own.

        “18 Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. 19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. ” 1 Peter 2

        Telling slaves that they should never try to gain their freedom.

        and these are only a few. So, Matthew, if a human did any of the above, would you consider them good or evil?

        and yes, I do know the argument from morality. we’ll get to that in a bit.

  9. In response to clubschadenfreude (since the site won’t let me reply to his post directly):

    Regarding Exodus 4 and Joshua 11:
    People’s hearts are already hard and full of wickedness (Genesis 6:5; Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26); therefore, when God hardens people’s hearts He is simply refraining from influencing them, allowing them to more fully embrace the wickedness and folly they desire (Romans 1:18-32). Pharaoh was already hostile to God and His people; God simply allowed him to continue in his hostility. So too, He allowed the Canaanites to continue in their hostility toward God and His people. So no, God did not (and does not) mind-control anyone.

    Regarding Exodus 21:
    God does not force a man to choose between freedom and his family. First, the slave has a choice of simply not accepting a wife from his employer during the term of his contract, either marrying someone else or not marrying at all. Second, the expiration of the man’s contract does not cause the expiration of his wife’s contract; he merely has to wait for her contract to expire before he can take her with him. Alternatively, he could redeem her (buying her freedom). See Deuteronomy 15:12-15. Therefore, the man can have both his freedom and his family; God does not force him to choose between them.

    Regarding Numbers 31:
    Killing the Midianite boys was harsh, but just, because, per ancient culture, those boys would, once grown, be obligated to avenge their fathers and elder brothers, and to perpetuate Midianite culture (which was inherently wicked and, thus, deserved to be destroyed). In verses 25-30, enslaving the surviving Midianites is a just punishment for their crimes, and marriage is not rape.

    Regarding 2 Samuel 12:
    God also revealed to David that the child would be in Heaven (see verse 23); therefore, that child shall enjoy eternal life when the dead are resurrected. The child’s suffering was brief, followed by an eternity of comfort. David and Bathsheba, being the guilty parties, were made to suffer far more than the child did.

    Regarding 1 Peter 2:
    What about this passage implies that slaves should never gain their freedom? In fact, 1 Corinthians 7:21 explicitly says slaves should gain their freedom if they can do so. The point of these passages is that worldly freedom, while good, is not the highest good, and shouldn’t be treated as though it were.

    So, in these examples we see God withdrawing His grace from those who persistently rejected Him, commanding His people to uphold both family and contractual obligations, administering justice, saving the innocent, and instructing people to rightly order their priorities. Sounds good to me.

    • Thank you for your rebuttal. It’s interesting that Christian charity and justice have made modern Westerners so soft and hypersensitive to the harsh reality of human life that they condemn Christianity. Like our degenerate youth, allergic to everything, who rail against their overprotective parents for having endangered them so much during their childhood.

      Only Nietzsche’s attack on the faith gains any traction for me . . . in that Christianity engendered the possibility for these last men who whine about ancient Hebrew laws. But I always remind myself that the most Christian ages least resembled the old Kraut’s target; rather, it was only in apostasy that Western man became a repulsive, idiotic harridan . . . and no longer only metaphorically.

      • I agree about Nietzsche. He is hyperbolic and he overgeneralizes, but is otherwise on-target. Carlyle is the same and has a better sense of the decadence of Christianity. I recall that he uses the word putrefied in one place. It seems that the decline was directly correlated with the knowledge that, as Jonathan Edwards said, we are “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” It seems the faith requires that “fire and brimstone” be mixed with “love.” Another way to see this is that modern Christianity is soft because it only sees the first coming of Jesus, when he came to save, and is blind to the second coming, when he comes to judge.

      • I need to introduce myself to Carlyle. I’ve seen him suggested again and again in Reactionary Old Coot circles, and I know that I’m missing out. Any suggestions?

  10. I’m only a simple soul and rarely engage in the high-falutin’ discussions that feature here. Can someone please explain the large amount of thought and effort expended by some atheists to condemn the thoughts and actions of a being that they insist doesn’t exist?

    • It is indeed a mystery. I don’t get all worked up and do a lot of work in response to flat earthers. Why do atheists get that way about theism?

      Only thing I can think of is that they are scared deep down that they are wrong.

    • From Catch-22 by Joseph Heller:

      And don’t tell me God works in mysterious ways,” Yossarian continued, hurtling on over her objection. “There’s nothing so mysterious about it. He’s not working at all. He’s playing. Or else He’s forgotten all about us. That’s the kind of God you people talk about-a country bumpkin, a clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena, as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation ? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain?”

      “Pain?” Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife pounced upon the word victoriously. “Pain is a useful symptom. Pain is a warning to us of bodily dangers.”

      “And who created the dangers?” Yossarian demanded. He laughed caustically. “Oh, He was really being charitable to us when He gave us pain. Why couldn’t He have used a doorbell instead to notify us, or one of His celestial choirs? Or a system of blue-and-red neon tubes right in the middle of each person’s forehead. Any jukebox manufacturer worth his salt could have done that. Why couldn’t He?”

      “People would certainly look silly walking around with red neon tubes in the middle of their foreheads.”

      “They certainly look beautiful now writhing in agony or stupefied with morphine, don’t they ? What a colossal, immortal blunderer! When you consider the opportunity and power He had to really do a job, and then look at the stupid, ugly little mess He made of it instead. His sheer incompetence is almost staggering. It’s obvious He never met a payroll. Why, no self-respecting businessman would hire a bungler like Him as even a shipping clerk!”

      Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife had turned ashen in disbelief and was ogling him with alarm. “You’d better not talk that way about Him, honey,” she warned him reprovingly in a low and hostile voice. “He might punish you.”

      “Isn’t He punishing me enough?” Yossarian snorted resentfully. “You know, we mustn’t let Him get away with it. Oh, no, we certainly mustn’t let Him get away scot free for all the sorrow He’s caused us. Someday I’m going to make Him pay. I know when. On the Judgment Day. Yes, that’s the day I’ll be close enough to reach out and grab that little yokel by His neck and-”

      “Stop it I Stop it!” Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife screamed suddenly, and began beating him ineffectually about the head with both fists. “Stop it!”

      Yossarian ducked behind his arm for protection while she slammed away at him in feminine fury for a few seconds, and then he caught her determinedly by the wrists and forced her gently back down on the bed. “What the hell are you getting so upset about?” he asked her bewilderedly in a tone of contrite amusement. “I thought you didn’t believe in God.”

      “I don’t,” she sobbed, bursting violently into tears. “But the God I don’t believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He’s not the mean and stupid God you make Him out to be.”

      Yossarian laughed and turned her arms loose. ‘Let’s have a little more religious freedom between us,’ he proposed obligingly. ‘You don’t believe in the God you want to, and I won’t believe in the God I want to. Is that a deal?’

      • Neither Yossarian nor Scheisskopf are genuine atheists. Their feelings about God are too strong to be reconciled with honest confident unbelief.

        If omnipotence means that God does everything, then Yossarian’s critique of the Fall is correct. But if omnipotence means what the Tradition thinks, and creatures are free, his critique is stupid.

      • Ah well it’s a pity that these two fictional characters can’t have your level of rigorous theological consistency.

        If you aren’t familiar with the book, the absurdity of God is just a small sidebar, the real subject is the absurdity of human authority, particularly as manifested in war. But it’s unlikely Yossarian would bother to distinguish between these two forces, which he views as equally inimical.

        If they have conflicting and inconsistent ideas about God, well, that’s because real people do and this is a novel trying to depict human reality, not a philosophical tract.

      • I know, right? What gall of Heller, to interject to his story such conversations as people do in fact have with each other, right?

        Still, I am duty bound to call out philosophical error whensoever I see it. So.

        I love that book. Side splitting funny, and at the same time so horribly painful about the human condition. Hell, I’m crying right now. No kidding. Thinking of the scene in the bomber with the airman whose guts are pouring out, and Yossarian trying to hold them in and comforting him.

        The key message of Catch 22 is the massive total stupid absurdity that afflicts all creaturely life. Sure, in its case military life under bureaucracy – nobody here would disagree about that (thus our critique of Leftist government systems of control that try and fail to control our risk and our injuries, instead rather compounding them) – but then, hell, you see what I mean; and, what Heller meant.

        Creaturely life under its own recognizances alone is inevitably a losing proposition; i.e., a total failure. It’s all in the first few laws of thermodynamics. By them our doom, all, is utterly sealed. If there is nothing else, then there is nothing else.

      • Agree, Catch-22 is pretty funny.

        Kristor, what’s up with all the anti-theists who showed up on this thread? I mean, I guess it’s good they are engaging with you, I’m just surprised such a metaphysical post would have gotten that kind of attention.

      • You got me. No idea. It happens from time to time. Club Schadenfreude, for example, checks in unexpectedly once a year or so.

        I take it as a valediction. Our adversaries – may God bless them all, and keep them, and make the light of his countenance to shine upon them, and so bring them peace – keep paying attention to us, despite their worst inclinations.

        A bonus! Onward, then, all you Christian evangelists! You have no idea who might be lurking and listening and … *being saved from Hell* … as you write.

    • Fulton Sheen made an argument once that atheists do believe in God. If you don’t believe fairies exist, you don’t go around to every public square citing in excruciating detail all the evidence that fairies don’t exist. You just live your life normally, because fairies are imaginary.

      God is real, and because we are spiritual as well as fleshy beings, we know it is true, even the atheists somewhere deep inside. Their flesh rejects the reality their spirit senses, and so permanent revolution against God.

      That’s my take, anyway, for what little it’s worth!

  11. @ Kristor – “First, nothing I have written or thought – or that Christian orthodoxy has taught – should be taken to indicate that God is a being whom, being categoreally different from man, man cannot therefore know. My cat is a different sort of being than I, categoreally; but I can know her, and she me. You see what I’m getting at here, right? God is a different sort of being than any creature, to be sure; that does not mean that no creatures can know him.”

    This takes us right back to my first comment on this thread. A “what it is” understanding of Christianity that proclaims God as categoreally different from man is much different from a “what it is” understanding of Christianity that does not recognize such a category difference.

    I will focus on this in some of my future posts, in which I will directly address some the points you have made here.

    • A “what it is” understanding of Christianity that proclaims God as categoreally different from man is much different from a “what it is” understanding of Christianity that does not recognize such a category difference.

      Yes. The former is Christianity; the latter is the repudiation thereof. If God is not different than man, then in the Incarnation nothing in particular or noteworthy happened – for, if God and man are the same sorts of thing, then *every* human incarnation is the incarnation of a god – and the entire story of the New Testament is moot.

  12. Hi Kristor,

    Catching up on all the essays in this combox, there’s one bit I feel I am beginning to scratch the surface but the couple times it came up the interlocutors rejected the premise so the discussion went elsewhere. I’d like to draw more explanation out of you, if I can. To wit:

    I have been discussing with a friend the problem mentioned somewhere above, I think by Ian? To paraphrase: “if we say that God holds everything in existence then doesn’t it follow that God does everything?”

    This creates some problems and my friend and I have been going in circles for weeks. Your response (if I have understood it properly) was something to the effect that God is the ground–fundamental creator, but maybe not necessarily specific creator, and that distinction allows for free agents to act and change reality.

    Part of the paradox my friend and I have been discussing is how this squares with omniscience: Even if God is not responsible for all things, does this not mean that he at least is aware of our free actions? And if we freely choose Hell, God knows at the moment of our conception–God knew outside of space and time that a certain creation would choose Hell?

    The other part of this paradox was coming from the idea that God does everything directly. But this assumption comes from the belief that God is immediately sustaining of Me, Scoot, and so sustains me as I perform acts, and sustains me even if I sin, and so participates in some way in my acts and even my sins.

    If God is more fundamental than that–it seems like you are almost suggesting God makes the sandbox and we make the sand castle–then I suppose that would help resolve that particular issue. But then–is it possible to “surprise” God?

    Every time I start a comment trying to approach this idea, I begin thinking “aha, now I have the words!” and then as I write I get more and more bogged down in the seeming paradox and metaphysical language I am ill equipped to discuss.

    The bottom line question is this dichotomy: Does God make people knowing that they will choose hell, or does God make people not knowing the outcome of their lives? In the former case, it seems wrong because God is making people who don’t seem to have a chance at salvation. In the latter case, it seems wrong because God would not be omniscient.

    I don’t know how to square these ideas or even talk about them well. I hope this makes sense, any insight into the question is appreciated! God bless!

    • Here is an image for you to consider (hat tip to Leibnitz).

      Let’s pretend that some future engineer, with computing resources far beyond anything our world has yet seen, gets to design a racetrack. He can accurately model every possible track move during races — in all their complexities and combinations — and he designs the track to maximize racer performance and safety while minimizing hazards. Unfortunately, certain design elements that minimize certain dangers thereby facilitate (or lessen the cushions for) other dangers. There is no way to preclude all hazards with independent racers. Of course, he could design an impressive racing spectacle with robotic cars that never crash, but his commission (in our fiction) involves building a racetrack for human drivers. And so he has limitations necessitated by that very fact. He’s a world-renown engineer, and he doesn’t have to accept this commission at all — the Japanese are very keen on his perfectly choreographed robotic races, and he can find plenty of projects overseas to keep him busy. But such races don’t ride well in 26th century South Carolina. So, if he is to build a track for men, he must accept those conditions. Our engineer is a generous soul, and he moreover likes low country cuisine. So, he condescends to build the best but nonetheless necessarily imperfect track — the best possible track for imperfect drivers.

    • Scoot, thanks. In thinking about theological and metaphysical perplexities, it is critical to keep always in mind that God is eternal. He is not in time. Time is in him. All times and places and events are in him, as Paul points out to the Areopagites in Acts 17:28, citing their own Stoics back to them.

      Among many other things, the eternity of God means that for him there is no before or after, no past or future, but rather only his comprehensive Now, which some have called nunc to distinguish it from our time bound now. So God doesn’t know about our future before it happens – i.e., before it is actual, so that has characteristics that might be known – but as it happens. He learns of our past in the same nunc. For him, the entire created order, of all histories of all worlds, pops into actuality – and into his knowledge – all at once, *along with him.*

      So, God does not determine my acts before they happen, nor does he know what I will do with the freedom he gives me before he gives it to me by creating me. For, there is in him no before, no after. Nevertheless he knows all things that can be known by any minds whatsoever, wheresoever, and whensoever they might be found.

      Although there is nothing logically incoherent in the notion of divine eternity, so that we can think about it and thereby gain some knowledge about it, we cannot imagine phenomenally the divine perspective under the aspect of eternity – just as we cannot count to infinity, or visualize a solid of more than 3 dimensions, or complete a consistent logical calculus.

      So, while you can be sure that divine eternity – the eternal nunc – resolves your perplexity, you won’t be able to grok just how it works. Not by thinking, anyway; not by your natural lights. Mystics in the throes of their high visions get it – or at least, they touch the hem of getting it – but know as they descend from the empyrean that there is no way to capture in words what they have learned. Indeed, they understand that, while it is imperative upon them that they try to communicate to their fellows what they have learned, it is also in some measure impudent of them to try; impious: “Let all mortal flesh keep silent …”

      As Joseph points out, God does all the good he can do (mutatis mutandis), including the creation of actualities who are free and thus able to love and enjoy as he does; but because he is not able in logic to create actualities that are not free, he is not able to control what they do, and so is not the entire source or cause of their acts; so while he can create worlds that are good, it is not possible for him to create worlds that are perfect ab initio and despite their eventual misadventures, or that are immune to any Fall. The only way he might prevent pain would be to forefend creation per se.

      • You have a lot of nerve giving me shit about nonduality when you write manifestly contradictory things like:

        Among many other things, the eternity of God means that for him there is no before or after, no past or future, but rather only his comprehensive Now…God does not determine my acts before they happen, nor does he know what I will do with the freedom he gives me before he gives it to me by creating me.

        I trust the contradiction is obvious. Either god knows what I am going to do tomorrow, or he doesn’t. If all times are the same to him, then his knowledge of my actions tomorrow are of the same nature as his knowledge of my action in the past, or my current state right now. If god can’t predict my actions in the future, then he can’t judge (or even know) my past actions, given your premises.

        Now, as you suggest later, words and logic are completely inadequate for talking about god, so the apparent contradiction isn’t really a problem – god is beyond logical comprehension. That’s fine, but then you can’t wave the principle of non-contradiction in my face. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the god.

      • Hah! Thanks, a.morphous; that was a funny comment. Helpful, too.

        The nonduality I deride is the sort that suggests that there is no difference between creatures and their creator, so that creatures don’t really exist. It’s a silly notion. It is the *opposite* of what I have been defending here. We are in time, so we can’t know the future; God is eternal, so he can.

        Either god knows what I am going to do tomorrow, or he doesn’t.

        He does.

        If all times are the same to him, then his knowledge of my actions tomorrow are of the same nature as his knowledge of my action in the past, or my current state right now.

        Yes.

        If god can’t predict my actions in the future, then he can’t judge (or even know) my past actions, given your premises.

        God can’t predict what you will do in the future because he’s already there – is there eternally – so he *knows* what you will do then, as immediately as you now know what you now do. His knowledge of our future is not a prediction of something that will eventually happen; it is a knowledge of what does happen. He knows your past and present actions in the same way.

        The contradiction you apprehend in this notion is due to the fact that you are – quite naturally, and indeed almost inevitably – thinking of God under terms appropriate not to the order of eternity, but only to the order of time. It can’t work.

        … god is beyond logical comprehension. That’s fine, but then you can’t wave the principle of non-contradiction in my face.

        Things can transcend our comprehension, but they can’t be illogical. So we can be sure that if a proposition is logically incoherent, it can’t be true – and, indeed, that in the final analysis it can’t even be meaningful.

      • So God knows, in his atemporal way, both my future actions and my past actions. He doesn’t “predict”, he just knows. OK.

        This still seems radically incompatible with human freedom. If God knows at time t what I am going to do at time t+∆ (because he knows that eternally), then I am not free to choose to do something different. Seems pretty obvious.

        It doesn’t take much thought to realize that both freedom and God are completely incoherent ideas. They don’t make sense on their own and they especially don’t make sense alongside each other.

        Of course humans make use of many incoherent ideas, because reality is more complex than our ideas can grasp. Eg we may not have metaphysical freedom, but we have (and desire and value) something that feels to us like freedom. God may know everything that happens across time, but we don’t. What we call freedom is just a manifestation of our ignorance.

        I don’t object to people making use of ideas that are metaphysically incoherent, just to people like you thinking you can make rigorous arguments based on that incoherence.

        Actually I don’t even object, I find it kind of amusing. Keep the faith!

      • If God knows at time t what I am going to do at time t + ∆ (because he knows that eternally), then I am not free to choose to do something different. Seems pretty obvious.

        I used to think likewise. But then I thought some more.

        It seems obviously contradictory to you because you are still – quite naturally, indeed perhaps almost inevitably – parsing eternity under the terms of the logic of the order of time. The way to think of it is this: God learns of what you are going to do at time t + ∆ *at the same instant that he learns what you did at time t – ∆ and at t.* Or to put it a different way, he learns of what you are going to do at t + ∆ at the very moment you do what you do at t, and at the same moment you did what you did at t – ∆.

        What we call freedom is just a manifestation of our ignorance.

        That’s just about exactly right – albeit, not in the way that you think. I’m writing a post about it right now.

      • It doesn’t take much thought to realize that both freedom and God are completely incoherent ideas.

        Well, that much is true. The idea that the concept of God is incoherent is indeed a mark of minimal thought.

    • Joseph A., I’m not sure if you are still looking for suggestions on Thomas Carlyle. My suggestion is to start with “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History,” then “Chartism” and “Past and Present” and finish with “Latter Day Pamphlets.” “The French Revolution” and “History of Frederick the Great” are also good especially if you want to dig into those times and people.

  13. Pingback: Gödelian Incompleteness → Creaturely Freedom – The Orthosphere

  14. Pingback: CCXCII – Scoot and Hambone Talk About Stuff Again – Times-Dispatch of Vichy Earth

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