19 thoughts on “Theodicy in a Sentence

  1. A being that does not err, does not stray from the will of God, conforms perfectly to His divine will, and serves with perfect obedience in all things, is not a being at all: The natural world is such a creation. And we know this creation is capable of singing God’s praise because God himself, in Christ, told us that “if these [people] shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out.”

    The thought that Trees, etc, are an example of creation that is perfectly aligned to God’s will just occurred to me, inspired by this post. You ever have that feeling that there’s a good or interesting thesis out there but just beyond reach, like a person sitting in a darkened corner of a room? You know they are there but can’t tell who it is? Anyway I need to stew on this some more. Thank you for this.

    • Thanks to you, too, Scoot.

      A minor yet important correction to your comment; you write:

      A being that does not err … is not a being at all.

      It were more accurate to write:

      A being that *cannot* err … is not a being at all.

      For, the faithful angels never erred. Yet are they superlatively real.

      That said, there is something in what you say, respecting all mundane creatures. For, “is” is aetymologically related to “sin.”

  2. My own conclusion, after many decades of rumination, is simply that God has no knowledge of human evil. Why would He? (“He,” being inapposite, such is the English language.) Transcendent goodness (and not in the human sense or “good”) doesn’t even require humankind. God has no need of man; man has every need of God. He/It/Qi/Whatever is beyond in awesomeness and comprehension of even the greatest ratiocinatory faculties of humankind. That is why I submit.

    • That’s interesting. I can see that it could make sense to suggest that God sees only what is good; i.e., only what is real, despite the defects that wound its reality. That would ground his stated opinion in Genesis 1:25 that his creation was good, despite everything. But it seems to me that the idea that God is not aware of those defects contradicts lots and lots of scripture; also, the doctrine of omniscience. So, I’ll have to think about it. There is I think something in your suggestion, something deeper even than thought. For, how could pure Being, Being as such, anywise participate nonbeing?

      But, again, I’ll have to think about it. And pray. And submit.

      • Amen, amen. So only could he be the forecondition of thought. As the forecondition of thought, God *just is* all thought (this is the basis of Vedanta); all thoughts partake him (even the wicked ones, a bit, as they dwindle themselves to nothingness in virtue of his overpowering suchness).

      • It’s inspiring, at least to me, to know (not just imagine) that I am incapable of rationally perceiving God because I simply do not have the faculties commensurate with apprehension necessary. A glimpse, yes, as I experienced twice, for a millisecond in surprising circumstances, but then in an instant it was gone. The Japanese Buddhists called this knowing satori, witnessed in the Chinese (after the Aryan, ksana), 刹那之間, an infinitesimal glimpse. That was all that was needed.

    • “God has no knowledge of human evil”

      And human beings have no knowledge of evil, either, human or otherwise. To be is to be intelligible, and evil is not.

      That said, we’re woefully aware that something’s rotten (in Denmark and elsewhere), but that’s not really knowledge. Or it comes from knowledge — but not knowledge of the defect itself but rather of how the world ought to be. We’re aware of the discrepancy.

      How is God so aware? That’s an interesting question that I’ve never considered before.

      • Let me put it another way, if I might, as I’ve come to understand it.

        God is Truth. Truth itself. Not the human apprehension of Truth, which is a grasping, a kenning, of a representation of the transcendent, the ideal.

        The human rational faculty can see representations either material or in thought — for example, the ideal of a chair and it’s myriad material representations — but the Truth itself is beyond human capacity to mentate. Only the millisecond glimpse is possible for the human being. But it sort of short-circuits the human mind with its overwhelming nature and then it’s gone. But, at least, now you know.

      • @ Joseph: Clearly it is impossible for any mind to know what does not exist to be known in the first place. Evil is privation of being, rather than a thing in itself. So, yes, God cannot know evil, of any sort. Rather, he knows what is real; and so he can know that some real good thing is not as good as it might have been; is not as real as it might have been.

        The difference between a defective reality and its proper natural ideal is felt by it – and (apart from God, whose joy is indefectibly perfect and complete) others – as pain; as an evil feeling. God knows of the defects in his creatures, but does not feel it as painful. It is rather for him an occasion of joy, as furnishing to him an opportunity of novel creation of good.

        @ Richard: “Truth” : Truth :: “infinity” : the Infinite :: concept we can handle : reality to which the concept refers. We can’t know evil; but nor then can we fully know the good – which is to say, any real thing – for, as Rescher has pointed out, there are an infinite number of true statements we can make about any given thing, so that to know any such thing fully is not a finitely completable computation (even within a given logical calculus; this doesn’t even broach the topic of Gödelian Incompletability). This is why the Beatific Vision will be inexhaustibly novel, sempiternally.

  3. If God knows the future, he could have foreseen (before their creation) which of his creatures would err and chosen to create only those who would not.

    • Yes; but that would be so only on a misprision of his eternity, that took it to consist in a beginningless and endless succession of finite temporal moments – a notion incoherent in its own terms (for, there cannot be an actual succession that never actually began, so that it has never yet begun). In eternity proper, which is prior to time, to succession, and to all eventuation (prior logically, *but not temporally*), there is no before or after, and therefore no such thing as foreseeing. God knows the future, but not before it happens; he knows it rather as it happens. So likewise for the past, and the present. He knows past, present and future all at once; as his present. This has been well understood since Boethius; albeit, by but few.

      NB: only on the proper construction of God’s eternity might creatures be free. If sub specie aeternitatis he knew what we were going to do before we did it – a contradiction in terms, but never mind that for the moment – we could not be free; we could not, i.e., actually be. Thus our freedom, and indeed our mere actuality, continge crucially upon his eternity, properly construed.

      • Amen. It is impossible to convey it to one who has not known it. So is it that we say, that those who know do not say, and those who say do not know.

        I talk a lot around here, & now and then elsewhere. But I never dare to speak of that which cannot be spoken of without error. Notwithstanding that, I never refrain from criticism of speech about that which cannot be spoken of without error; that, than which no greater can be conceived.

        Not this, not that.

  4. Hi Kristor,

    I am probably dense, but I do not quite understand why freedom is necessary for actually existing / existing per se. Do not animals actually exist / per se?

    My basic idea would be to rather think in the direction of intelligence. A being that is driven entirely by instinct is not free. But a being that can think and make different decisions is free.

    I follow artificial intelligence projects, news, and they are disappointing. They are always next year, not this year. Vaporware. There is clearly an unknown element missing from them and this unknown element might be supernatural.

    Alrenous has some pretty cool arguments why the human consciousness must have a non-physical element. Briefly, a human does not have any evolutionary advantage over a philosophical zombie. Because anything that can be done physically, can be done a robot/zombie driven by an unconscious algorithm, if it is not true, physics is not causally closed. Being conscious of the experience of throwing a spear does not make you throw it any better than the p-zombie or robot who is not conscious about it but kind of programmed to do so. There cannot be selection pressure to evolve consciousness.

    But I was talking about intelligence, not consciousness. Is consciousness a prerequisite for intelligence? Or is consciousness – being aware of the experience – linked to freedom?

    • Dividualist, I cannot tell you how great an honor it is to me, that you are reading these back numbers of mine and engaging with them. Thanks, so much.

      … why [is freedom] necessary for actually existing / existing per se[?]

      Not all real things are actual. The hammer out in my workshop is real, to be sure, but it is not actual. For, it cannot act. It moves only insofar as my son or I move it (my wife doesn’t quite know where it is, so as to go about moving it). Thus while the hammer is to be sure real, it is not in itself a being, because it neither does, nor therefore is, anything in and of itself. It is, rather, a dormant assemblage of things, waiting for its magisterial causal inputs from things that are actual: me, or my son, e.g. The things assembled in the hammer may have actual being – that’s a bigger topic (I think they must) – but the assemblage itself has no being, any more than a cloud or a heap has being (bearing in mind that we are not yet quite warranted in concluding that all clouds are equally and merely adventitious assemblages … perhaps the forms we notice now and then in the clouds are really there in them, and active; and then, of course, there are the tornadoes, who seem to act upon our world with wild angry malice). We pick it out as Kristor’s hammer, but this is only a heuristic, so that my son and my wife know what I am talking about when I refer to it (it is in this respect, and this respect only, that nominalism conveys a germ of truth: names can work for us operationally and thus profitably (so, credibly), even when (as with the hammer) they pick out nothing objectively real in itself (the error of nominalism is in supposing that this fact is warrantably generalizable, and indicates that *nothing* we name is real (so may we see that nominalism is founded upon the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent))).

      NB: the assemblage that constitutes the hammer is categoreally different from the assemblages that constitute my son, or the cat. The latter two sorts of assemblages – which reduce to the mammal, and then to the animal, and then to the organic – do indeed manifest actuality.

      OK: actuality requires action. Why does action require freedom?

      Well, if as a matter of mere ontology there is only one way that x can move, then x has no option to move in some other way, and so *cannot act to move in *any* way.* The motion of x then is not at all dependent upon, or a function of, x itself. Its motions are then rather only the sequelae of other prior motions, and x itself contributes nothing to those motions. The motion of x then is in every way like the motion of my hammer. My hammer cannot act. But I can, and so can you, or my son, or my wife. We three, like you, can act only inasmuch as, and only insofar as, there are for each of us really open options for what we shall do.

      We find that we do act; we find that we do have options. QED. What, shall we gainsay the verymost basic aspects of each moment of our conscious lives?

      Do not animals actually exist / per se?

      Yes. Animals are free.

      … a being that can think and make different decisions is free.

      Exactly. If we define thinking as processing information – modulating signals along a pathway of logical gates – then animals and other living organisms do all think, albeit that probably only a few organisms think as we do (not many of them walk as we do, either, or bake bread …). They may not be conscious, or capable of thought about abstract concepts, but that does not mean they are utterly incapable of thought about *concrete* concepts, or of planning. Clearly, predators and their prey are in their interactions engaged in doing the (massively taxing computational chore of the) calculus needed to project the likely trajectories of each element of their perceptual fields, and responding thereto – to anticipate, to plan, and to act – rationally (I don’t mean to suggest that they are doing the math consciously; we don’t do it consciously, either, even though it is essential to almost all the motions of our limbs). And even what seem to us now, in the primitive condition of our present knowledge, to be quite simple organic systems of information processing – e.g., sponges, flatworms, jellyfish, coral reefs, ant hills, termite colonies, bee hives, fungi, and so forth (one could add to that list the atmosphere, forests, and watersheds – even stars and galaxies) – seem now of late to be able to *communicate,* and then even to *plan* (planning, NB, is just transmission from the present to all future states of a system the likely beneficent future course thereof; for, an account of the present state of affairs cannot but implicate an account of the various effects of subsequent acts in respect thereto). How often have we been flabbergasted at the recently discovered complexity and sophistication – and homeostatic intelligence – of such systems? They have some degree of freedom, inasmuch as they have the power to move in many different ways – and, along any such way, in many different directions – and to regulate their internal states homeostatically.

      Because anything that can be done physically can be done [by] a robot [or] zombie driven by an unconscious algorithm; if this is not true, physics is not causally closed.

      If the physical world is perfectly closed causally, then a consistent logical calculus specifying all physical motions can be completed; for, perfect closure entails the possibility of specification of all the factors and functions of the system thus enclosed, to a degree of precision unlimited. But Gödel has shown that no consistent logical calculus whatsoever can be completed, by even an infinite mind. The thing is just impossible, as 2 + 2 = 5 is impossible. Thus the physical universe *can’t* be causally closed. And lo, we observe that the predictions of physics – howsoever exact, no matter how precise – are beyond a certain (Heisenbergian) limit uncertain, approximate, probabilistic.

      Retrodictions are a different matter (this is why all proper science, that is true to its epistemological warrants, is natural *history*). Retrospectively, the physical world *is* causally closed. Indeed, it must be: in no other way could it yet be definitely what it is; in no other way could it be real. So therefore is it amenable to abstraction from its wildnesses of mathematical regularities, startling in their beauty.

      I think Alrenous is generally right about the absence of evolutionary advantage to consciousness. But this is so only if we take the bleeding edge of evolution to be statically determined by its antecedents. If the world is causally closed, so that no new thing (no thing that is not, i.e., ab initio logically and completely implicit in its antecedents) can possibly happen, then yes: there can then be no advantage to consciousness. Indeed, in that case there can be no consciousness in the first place, or in the second, or at all (again, that’s a bigger topic, to which I shall not here recur). If evolution is only mechanical, or only algorithmic, then yes, there is no need in the system of things for consciousness – nor, ergo (on Ockham’s Razor), is there in things any room for consciousness to begin with. This is so, even if we take consciousness to be only epiphenomenal. Consciousness as epiphenomenal looks like the low hanging fruit for Ockham’s Razor. So then, by a mere step, do we. But so, then, qua character of our epistemological predicament, does Ockham’s Razor … and with it, all ration.

      There cannot be then – let’s be clear here – any room in reality for the apprehension that there is in reality no such thing as apprehension. Any delusion of such must be delusory. If there be no room in reality for apprehension, then obviously there can be no such thing as an apprehension that there is no room in reality for such an apprehension. There is, we find, such room. QED.

      Is consciousness a prerequisite for intelligence? Or is consciousness – being aware of the experience – linked to freedom?

      I don’t think consciousness is necessary to the freedom, and thus to the Fall, of the world. It is for us, yes; but not for all beings. For why? Because we are by nature conscious, whereas not all beings that can act, and so can Fall, are by nature conscious.

      Even when it comes to such as we: was Eve quite fully conscious of what she was doing in taking the Apple? No; she could not possibly have been fully aware of what she was doing, *or she would not have done it.* Ditto even for Lucifer. Of such is the tragedy of the Fall of creaturely being: the being who enacts the defective act is at root innocent of knowledge of defection and its sequelae, or else she could not have begun to Fall in the first place. Confer: the tragedy of Oedipus. All the parties thereto were innocent.


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