Monday, September 1, 2014

Olson contra classical theism


A reader asks me to comment on this blog post by Baptist theologian Prof. Roger Olson, which pits what Olson calls “intuitive” theology against “Scholastic” theology in general and classical theism in particular, with its key notions of divine simplicity, immutability, and impassibility.  Though one cannot expect more rigor from a blog post than the genre allows, Olson has presumably at least summarized what he takes to be the main considerations against classical theism.  And with all due respect to the professor, these considerations are about as weak as you’d expect an appeal to intuition to be.

Given his emphasis on what he claims we would come to think about the divine nature “just reading the Bible,” you might suppose that Olson’s objections are sola scriptura oriented.  However, in a combox remark he says: “I didn't say it's not true just because it's not in the Bible.  My argument was that it conflicts with the biblical portrayal of God…” (emphasis added). So, what arguments does Olson give to show that there is such a conflict?  None that is not fallacious, as far as I can see.

Consider Olson’s populist appeal to what the “ordinary lay Christian, just reading his or her Bible” would come to think.  I certainly agree with him that the average reader without a theological education would not only not arrive at notions like divine simplicity, immutability, etc., but would even reject them.  But so what?  By itself this is just a fallacious appeal to majority.  Moreover, Olson does not apply this standard consistently.  The average reader might also suppose that God has a body -- for example, that he has legs with which he walks about the garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8), eyes and eyelids (Psalm 11:4), nostrils and lungs with which he breathes (Job 4:9), and so forth.  But Olson acknowledges that God does not have a body.  Since Olson gives us no explanation of why we should trust what the ordinary reader would say vis-à-vis divine simplicity, etc. but not trust him where divine incorporeality is concerned, we seem to have a fallacy of special pleading. 

One of Olson’s readers points out that Olson himself “repudiate[s] much of the biblical portrayal of God,” such as God’s “commanding capital punishment,” and asks how Olson can do so given his appeal to consistency with scripture.  Olson’s response is: “Surely, if you've read me very much, you know the answer -- Jesus.”  But of course, that is no answer at all, since whether Jesus would approve of Olson’s position (vis-à-vis capital punishment or classical theism) or that of Olson’s critic is itself part of what is at issue, so that the reply begs the question.  (Olson also tells the reader -- who, quite rightly, wasn’t satisfied with Olson’s response -- that the reader intends only “to challenge and argue and harass” Olson and lacks a “teachable spirit.”  What Olson does not do is actually answer the reader’s objection.) 

Then there is Olson’s characterization of classical theism, which is a straw man.  He accuses the classical theist of “start[ing] down the road of de-personalizing” God.  But Scholastic classical theists argue that we must attribute intellect and will to God, and these are the essential personal attributes.  To be sure, Olson also says that “feelings and emotions are part of being personal,” that classical theism portrays God as “unemotional,” and that “scholastic theology tends to portray the image of God as reason ruling over emotion, being apathetic.”  But this is a tangle of confusions.  First of all, by itself the claim that “feelings and emotions are part of being personal” just begs the question.  Second, the claim that there is some connection between “reason ruling over emotion” and “being apathetic” is just a non sequitur. 

Third, the claim that classical theism makes God out to be “unemotional” is ambiguous.  If by an “emotion” we mean a state that comes upon us episodically, that varies in its intensity, that has physiological aspects like increased heart rate and bodily sensations, etc., then it is certainly true that the classical theist maintains that God cannot possibly have such states.  However, if the insinuation is that classical theism makes God out to be “unemotional” in a way that entails that he cannot be said to love us, to be angry at sin, etc., then that is certainly false.  To love is to will the good of another, and for the classical theist God certainly wills our good, acts providentially so that we attain what is good for us, etc.  Hence he loves us.  The classical theist also holds that God wills that sin be punished, and acts so that those who are unrepentant are in fact punished.  Hence he is in that sense wrathful at sin.  And so forth.  Hardly “apathetic.”

Now, a response sometimes made to this (though not by Olson) is that the “intellect,” “will,” “love,” “wrath,” and the like that the classical theist attributes to God are bloodless and inferior to the thinking, willing, love, anger, etc. that human beings experience.  They are (so it is claimed) like the coldly mechanical processes we might attribute to a computer.  But this is based on confusion.  To see how, consider the following analogies.  A vine “seeks” to reach water with its roots and it “tries” to grow toward the light, but of course it does not do so in the way an animal seeks and tries to do things.  There is clearly an analogy between the vine’s “seeking” and “trying” and that of the animal, but given the sentience associated with the animal’s seeking and trying, they are, equally clearly, radically different.  There is also a clear analogy between the seeking and trying that non-human animals exhibit and that which human beings exhibit, but, no less clearly, the conceptual content that human beings bring to bear on the objects of their seeking and trying make what they are capable of radically different from what the animal does. 

Now, given the radical differences between them, there is no way a plant can understand the nature of the “seeking” and “trying” that an animal is capable of, and no way an animal can understand the “seeking” and “trying” that a human being is capable of.  But it would obviously be ridiculous for a plant to conclude (if plants could “conclude” anything in the first place) that what the animal does, given its sentience, is inferior to what the plant does.  On the contrary, it is superior to what the plant does.  Similarly, it would be ridiculous for a non-human animal to conclude (if non-human animals could “conclude” anything in the first place) that what human beings do, given the conceptualization they bring to bear on their acts of seeking and trying, is inferior to what the animal does.  On the contrary, it is superior to what the animal does.

But by the same token, it is ridiculous for human beings to think that the divine intellect, the divine will, divine love, etc. must be inferior to ours if God is immutable, impassible, incorporeal, etc.  On the contrary, they are unimaginably higher and nobler than our thinking, willing, loving, etc. precisely because they are not tied to the limits of created things.  God does not have to reason through the steps of an argument or to make careful observations in order to know something; his love does not vary in intensity given alterations in blood sugar levels, the state of the nerves, over-familiarity, etc.

This does not make him like a computer, because (contrary to the muddleheaded fantasies of computationalists -- which I’ve discussed here, here, here, here, here and elsewhere) a computer is sub-rational.  It is far less than a human intellect, whereas God is far more than a human intellect.  When we project our own experiences or machine metaphors onto God as conceived of by the classical theist, we are doing something like what a plant would be doing if it modeled animal sentience on what plants do or on what stones do; or like what an animal would be doing if it modeled human conceptual abilities on what animals do or what plants do.  (Imagine a dog saying: “Humans ‘conceptualize’ what they perceive?  That’s like what a plant does when it ‘seeks’ the light!  How cold and bloodless!”  That’s about as clueless as some “theistic personalist” characterizations of classical theism are.)

Hence -- to return to Olson -- when Olson writes that classical theism is “spiritually deadening” and “leaves one cold as ice with God seeming to be unfeeling and anything but relational,” he is aiming his attack at a caricature.  He is also arguably committing a fallacy of appeal to emotion, since whether we feel moved by a certain view about God’s nature by itself tells us nothing about whether that view is true or whether the arguments for it are sound.

Similarly irrelevant are the character traits (or purported character traits) of those who defend classical theism.  Olson claims that:

[V]irtually all theologians who portray God as unemotional are men and men are often inclined to view emotions as feminine and therefore unworthy of God.  Could it be that traditional scholastic theology is infected with a tendency to justify male aversion to emotions…?

Never mind the dubious pop sociology underlying this claim.  (The major theistic personalist critics of classical theism -- Plantinga, Swinburne, Hartshorne, Hasker, Basinger, Pinnock, et al. -- are also men; and the Scholastic theologians who hammered out Christian classical theism are also often accused of idolatrous devotion to a woman -- the Blessed Virgin Mary -- and of attributing near-divine authority to an institution conceived of in feminine terms, viz. Holy Mother Church.  So should we conclude that theistic personalism constitutes a “boys’ club”?  Should we judge the Scholastics to be proto-feminists?  These suggestions are silly, but I challenge anyone to show that Olson’s suggestion is any less silly.)  The more important point, of course, is that even if classical theists were motivated by a “male aversion to emotions,” that wouldn’t show that classical theist arguments are mistaken.  To suppose otherwise would be to commit an ad hominem fallacy. 

Finally, Olson fails even to consider, much less respond to, the reasons why classical theists have insisted on divine simplicity, immutability, etc.  As I have explained many times elsewhere (e.g. at length here), the classical theist argues that if God is in any way composite -- if he is a mixture of actuality and potentiality, for example, or of an essence or nature together with a distinct act of existence, or a substance which instantiates various properties distinct from it -- then he will require a cause of his own, and thus fail to be the first cause of all things (contrary not only to sound philosophical theology but also to biblical revelation).  But if he is capable of change or of being affected by anything outside him, then he will be a mixture of actuality and potentiality, and will thus be composite rather than simple, and will thus require a cause of his own.  Etc. 

Now these are, of course, reasons of the sort that have led philosophical theologians, including Christian philosophical theologians, to deny also that God can be corporeal -- a denial Olson endorses.  Olson and other critics of classical theism thus owe us an explanation of why such considerations should not lead us to embrace the rest of the classical theist package, and of how their alternative “theistic personalist” position can avoid making of God a creature in just the way attributing corporeality to him would.

An appeal to what is “intuitive” does not suffice (especially not if backed with fallacious arguments).  If the “intuitions” are sound, then it should be possible rationally to justify them with sound arguments -- in which case the intuitions fall away as unneeded.  And if there are no good arguments in defense of the intuitions, while there are good (and certainly unanswered) arguments against them, then that is a reason to reject the intuitions rather than the classical theistic claims with which they conflict.

193 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Doc, good article. Btw, do you have anymore books coming out on natural theology

Shane Scott said...

Dr Feser
As a newcomer to the debate between classical theism and theistic personalism, one question I have is related to the difference a trinitarian concept of God has on this debate. Since God is pure actuality, would it be fair to say in scholastic terms that the love between the Father, Son and Spirit is pure, actualized love? That being said, any response of love made by God toward human beings would not truly be a potential being actualized, but an actuality being shared with human beings. Is there merit to this line of thinking?

Since stumbling across your blog, I have been wrestling with these sorts of issues. From what I gather, among Thomists there is a debate as to whether classical theism = determinism, as in Calvinistic theology. And I think that is why Olson reacted so strongly - he is an Arminian, and sees a link between CT and Calvinism. I am an Arminian as well, but from what little I grasp, I don't think CT inevitably leads to determinism.

Thanks for sharing so much of your work for armchair philosophers and theologians like me!
Shane

Edward Feser said...

I've removed a couple of comments which were completely irrelevant to the topic of this post. No threadjacks please.

Tim said...

Shane,
The summary I give here is overly simplistic and I welcome correction by others who post to this blog. The line taken by Calvin (and Luther) toward strict predestination is basically that of Augustine. However, the eastern Orthodox, Anglicans (including Wesley and later Wesleyans), and most Thomists and indeed most Catholics nowadays, is closer to the position of Arminius than Calvin regarding free will and predestination. You are correct that there is nothing in Classical Theism that demands determinism or predestination.

Timotheos said...

@ Shane and Tim

It should also be noted that Calvinists have a history of badly distorting what Augustine actually taught; he's actually much more in line with St. Thomas and more modern Catholics (they have a history of doing this to Aquinas as well, but I digress...).

We also have a nasty tendency to read our modern dabates back in to earlier thinkers, so the Thomism vs. Molinism debates suddenly turn into a Calvinism/"Augustinanism" vs. Arminianism/"Molinism" debates, even though their talking about two related but different things.

This gets especially annoying when one tries to interpret someone like Wesley in this fashion. It makes absolutely no sense to treat Wesley as either a Molinist or a "Molinist" (William Lane Craig style Molinism) since the former was something almost completely confined to Schoolmen in Catholic countries and the latter would probably appear heritical to Wesley's eyes (he was a Oxford-trained High-Church Anglican theologian after all; Classical Anglicans have always been MUCH closer to classical theism than theistic personalism, if not just synonymous).

So while it is true that Wesley was an Arminian, it does not follow that he was a Molinist. Similarily, while it Is true that St. Thomas was an Augustinian, it does not follow that he was a Calvinist.

Glenn said...

Rhetorical questions, or questions intended to be rhetorical, sometimes backfire. At least apparently.

Roger Olson: I don't agree with [Emil] Brunner about everything, but he was right to take the doctrine of God back to the Bible and strip it of philosophical theism--especially attributes derived from the Greek idea of perfection. The God of the Bible is intensely personal, relational, interactive [emphasis added]... Or shall we throw Hosea out of the Bible?

St. Thomas: The first cause of the defect of grace is on our part; but the first cause of the bestowal of grace is on God's according to Osee 13: "Destruction is thy own, O Israel; thy help is only in Me."

Neil said...

I sometimes wonder if the objections often coming from evangelicals that classical theism and philosophical theology is "bloodless" and "unfeeling" etc. is explained in part by much of the style of their preaching and worship. There is a high emphasis on emotion in those circles and the language of classical theism is by comparison bloodless and unfeeling. Of course that doesn't make it false and it is foolish to mistake the dryness of the language for dryness of the reality it tries to describe.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

I'd be interested in reading a fuller account of human and divine personhood in Thomism, as part of your defense against the theistic personalists. Lately you've been pointing to the analogous attributes of intellect and will in God as evidence of his personhood, but this raises a question for modern readers: how do intellect and will amount to personhood in the first place? To most people, abstract talk of "intellect" and "will" does not have an obvious bearing on consciousness, i.e. the "I" that continues to exist even when other parts change. In fact, I've even seen two Thomist-inspired thinkers (Mortimer Adler and John Haldane) deny the existence of first-personal experience in several cases, most notably conceptual knowledge.

As far as I can tell from my reading, Aquinas did indeed believe in "transcendental apperception", such that the intellect reflexively perceives itself in act. This would line up reasonably well with modern consciousness lingo, and it would confirm God's personhood over against the "information processor" strawman proffered by the personalists. I could be wrong (in which case Aquinas's philosophy of mind is deeply flawed), but I'd bet that I'm not; and I think a more systematic take on this subject could finally put down a major personalist sticking point, with which I've also struggled in the past.

Neil,

Regarding the "dryness of the language", I have a hard time believing that anyone who's read Pseudo-Dionysius, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa or the other Church Fathers could think that about classical theism. The often dry and dull writing of the scholastics can't be blamed on the system in which they worked.

Bob said...

And with all due respect to the professor, these considerations are about as weak as you’d expect an appeal to intuition to be.


Indeed they are.

Jakub Moravčík said...

Now these are, of course, reasons of the sort that have led philosophical theologians, including Christian philosophical theologians, to deny also that God can be corporeal

I am absolutely sure that if I would now say that this implies that Jesus is not / could not have been God, I would be told that I am of course mistaken. But if I really am, then in what? To say that Jesus was God in one respectus but not in the other requires to explain a) how this goes together with hypostatic union, b) where this respectus is subjected, c) how this all goes together with absolute divine simplicity. Looking forward for the replies.

Daniel said...

“scholastic theology tends to portray the image of God as reason ruling over emotion, being apathetic.”

As opposed to one 'where Reason is the slave of the passions'

@Rank Sophist,

From my understanding Thomas' claims self-awareness does accompany every thought but our awareness of ourselves as a thinking being is only explicit on reflection (Kant I believe makes a similar distinction between the 'I-Think' which accompanies each mental act and the act of self-reflection). To use Addler's terminology we are aware of knowing, and since knowing is knowing through an 'idea' (species) we are aware of the 'idea' though said 'idea' can only become a proper object of thought upon reflection. Coplestone has interesting things to say about this in his little guide to Aquinas where he contrasts the Saint's view on self-awareness with that of Descartes. I doubt Addler really meant much different (in Haldane’s case there is the dreadful shadow of Ludwig the Tongue-Tied).

Daniel said...

Put it another way: If I intend Socrates I am aware of my intending Socrates, though I can only become fully aware of my intention on reflection. The intention is not a real separable component of my noetic Ego, not something in consciousness, but my noetic Ego's reaching out towards, and on the Thomistic framework at least, becoming the object in question. If I want to talk about the intention as a thing in itself (not in the Kantian sense) then I must objectify it.

Anonymous said...

A question not entirely irrelevant to the post topic. Does Catholic Dogma insist on classical theism, or are at least some of the more orthodox variations of "theistic personalism" permissible?

Anon3

Anonymous said...

(Perhaps I should have written Doctrine? I hope no one is bothered by my use of the word Dogma, as it was not intended to offend, merely due to a lack of carefulness in writing prose)

Anon3

Irish Thomist said...

I'm inclined to think that Aquinas didn't give us a complete picture of how God's will, immutability,predestination and human freewill interact. In fact I think in part it may turn out to be wrong. So this debate is one that interests me. Although I would agree on Prof. Feser rejecting Olson on his line of thinking/argument.

[N.B. Dropped the 'The' from my alias]

Derrick said...

Dr Feser,

In light of classical theism, how should some of the more controversial passages in the Old Testament be interpreted, such as God commanding the sacrifice of Isaac, God commanding the slaughter of the Canaanites, God commanding the killing of innocent Midianite boys, etc.?

I suspect a lot of the motivation to reject classical theism comes from the fact that, if true, reading the OT becomes very, very difficult, to the extent that some may perceive a tension between classical theism and Biblical inerrancy (where "inerrancy" is understood in either the Protestant or Catholic sense).

After all, how can a non-personal God directly "command" anything to humans? It seems that the only way to read the OT as some sort of history would be to presuppose the personalist God.

Would the proper classical theist response be to just read the entire Old Testament allegorically (like St. Gregory of Nyssa does in his Life of Moses), and not as a factual history? And if so, would doing so make nonsense of the claim that the Bible is "scripturally inerrant" (again, where that includes the more nuanced Catholic understanding of the term)?

Daniel said...

@Derrick,

I may be misremembering here but did not WLC also claim in the Moral Argument section of his Reasonable Faith book that Old Testament passages explicitly conflicting with the Divine Goodness and Justice ought to be taken as the opinion or interpretation of the chroniclers? If one claims God can actively order the killing of innocents then it would seem one has explicitly allowed Evil into the Godhead regardless of whether one is a Theist Personalist or not, a far more radical and heretical claim than that those passages should be taken figuratively.

The Abraham issue is different and was discussed in great depth by Thomas and Scotus.

‘After all, how can a non-personal God directly "command" anything to humans? It seems that the only way to read the OT as some sort of history would be to presuppose the personalist God.’

Well the God of Classical Theism is above the finite concept of Personality yet still possess from itself ‘personality’ of a higher order (as the Thomist would say something analogues to personality but infinitely greater). What it would mean is that divine interaction is from eternity (as is the case of Creation) and that the individuals, though free, cannot surprise God.

Anonymous said...

WLC is famously on record, though, for defending the slaughter of Canaanites, Midianites, etc. Craig claims that, as God is the "author and giver of life," he is perfectly within his rights to take life away through any means he deems appropriate. I have even seen and have heard Catholics defend this line of reasoning, out of fidelity to "inerrancy."



I'm with Derrick in thinking that only the personalist God is compatible with a strict historical reading of the Old Testament.

Tom said...

@Daniel: I believe Craig is a Divine Command theorist, so in his view any command made by God is morally justified by virtue of God's making it. Thus, the slaughter of the Amalekites and Canaanites and the other unfortunate groups in the way of the Israelites is justified. A lot of atheists aren't big fans of Craig for that reason, and they do have a point.

With respect to the story of Abraham and Isaac, it has to be understood that in that culture at that time, child sacrifice was a common way to honor their native gods. For that reason, God telling Abraham not to kill Isaac is the important part.

Irenist said...

Neil,

I agree that it's often cultural. It's reminiscent of how the feminine emphasis of Catholic Marian piety (and much Catholic art and churchmanship) can repel Christians from traditions steeped in macho hellfire exhortation. Presenting Scholasticism in a way that appeals to such Christian brethren would be an important rhetorical project.

Derrick,

This is how I understand God commanding, or otherwise interacting with humans and other creatures: Imagine spacetime as an unspooled film reel with a picture of the universe on it. Each frame is a moment in time. Imagine eternity as the space in which that reel exists. Imagine the eternal unchanging God as the spool around which the reel is wound, a spool big enough such that every frame is always already in contact with the spool, and thereby capable of "interacting" with it. From a live lived "within" the film frames, passing from one frame to another, each interaction with the wheel is temporal. From the eternal now of the spool, the "pure act" (to misuse a phrase) of immanently touching the film is always already happening without any need to "move" as the subjectivities of the films' characters "move" from one frame to another. God, pictured here as spool, is always already right now immanently in touch with the Big Bang frame of the film, the 3pm Good Friday 29 A.D. frame of the film, our now's frame of the film, and the Doomsday frame of the film. This analagoy presents God and us as inert (spool and film frames) but ignoring that, and remembering that the spool is big enough that it needn't turn, I think that's how Someone eternally unchanging outside time can be immanently present within time, and be perceived within time as commanding, etc., at different moments.

Jakub Moravčík,

The Incarnation is a Mystery, but I imagine that the Logos is specially immanent in the above analogy's "film frames" corresponding to 4 B.C.- 29 A.D. Relatedly, I think that being in touch through God both with the now of a given sacrifice of the Mass and the now of the first Good Friday is what allows each Mass to re-present and be in touch with the Sacrifice of the Cross, offered only once (cf. Hebrews) and not re-offered at the Mass but re-present.

But these imprecise thoughts are only the hunches of a layman and a Feser fanboy. A real Scholastic might punch myriad holes in them.

Jakub Moravčík said...

Irenist:

The Incarnation is a Mystery

But how do you discern mystery and contradiction? You know, somebody could reasonably say: you tell that something is mystery or "above reason" always when you need to hide uncomfortable contradiction

Adherent of some monist religion could also say that monism is above reason or "mystery" and that it doesn´t entail a contradiction ...

Irenist said...

Jakub Moravčík,

Christian mysteries aren't deduced from first principles, or concocted in a vaccuum. If multiple inferential chains seem to you to converge upon, e.g., the Catholic Church, then the priors on the credibility of its suite of mysteries are raised, too.

That said, a mystery (e.g., the Trinity or the Incarnation) revealed in Scripture can exceed what is knowable through unaided reason, but should be compatible with unaided reason rather than contradictory. E.g, we can't fathom God's essence, but we can know that He exists through his effects, and reason out that He exists essentially.

We can't fathom the economy of the Trinity or the psychology of God Incarnate, but we can catch glimpses of how they might be: the Incarnation might be something like my (poor!) film analogy; the relationship between being, knowing, and loving in a human mind suggested itself to the ex-Neoplatonist St. Augustine as an analogy for the Trinity, as the three leaves of a single shamrock apocryphally suggested the Trinity to St. Patrick.

That God exists is demonstrable to reason. That Jesus is God does not contradict reason. But more than reason is necessary to accept the latter.

BTW: Love the Count Duckula icon!

Mr. Green said...

Derrick: After all, how can a non-personal God directly "command" anything to humans? It seems that the only way to read the OT as some sort of history would be to presuppose the personalist God.

But God is personal — He’s not “a” person, like you or me, but He’s hardly “impersonal”. (Yes, “theistic personalism” is a lousy name.) Of course, God is not only described by us in anthropomorphic terms — because being anthropoi that’s necessarily how we think — but also presents Himself to us in anthropomorphic terms (again, because that’s how we think); but it is only a representation.


Daniel: If one claims God can actively order the killing of innocents then it would seem one has explicitly allowed Evil into the Godhead

What it seems to me is that it is another example of modern descent into emotionalism — an attempt to bring God down to our level, make Him some sort of peer. God is the Author of life and death, so where is this evil supposed to be coming from?

rank sophist said...

Daniel,

Adler's view is actually very different from that. From his Ten Philosophical Mistakes:

"We apprehend objects of thought, but never the concepts by which we think of them."

"[T]here are the cognitive ideas that have existence in the mind but, being the means whereby we apprehend all the objects we do apprehend, are themselves never apprehended".

"[T]he mistake of treating our ideas--our perceptions, memories, imaginations, and conceptions or thoughts--as objects of which we are directly aware or conscious".

Not much like Aquinas's view, which (from my reading) is along the lines you describe. He seems to state clearly that we are aware of the percepts and concepts by which the world is perceived and understood, which is to say that we experience apperception at every level of thought. That would allow for the analogical defense of divine personhood that Prof. Feser keeps talking about, since God would not merely be the impersonal "supreme container" but the unlimited personal consciousness to which our own are analogous. That, I think, would be an important point to make against those who call classical theism dehumanizing.

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

God is the Author of life and death, so where is this evil supposed to be coming from?

"For God made not death: neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living" (Wisdom 1:13).

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: Regarding the "dryness of the language", I have a hard time believing that anyone who's read Pseudo-Dionysius, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa or the other Church Fathers could think that about classical theism.

Indeed… or even anyone who’s read Aquinas’s hymns. A bit of dryness in advanced technical passages is somewhat of an occupational hazard, but the anti-intellectualism that pervades modern society is upsetting. Appealing to emotions, as folks are wont to do nowadays, is bad enough; but it’s not even as though it were some universal or natural human reaction. Some of us are thoroughly appalled at the warmed-over pagan vision of God. Isn’t it obvious that any “comfortable” God, any God that can fit (even partially) inside my head cannot really be God?

Daniel said...

'What it seems to me is that it is another example of modern descent into emotionalism — an attempt to bring God down to our level, make Him some sort of peer. God is the Author of life and death, so where is this evil supposed to be coming from?'

That said actions contradict a standard of Goodness which follows from the Divine Nature or, more accurately, is the Divine Nature seen under a certain perspective. God is not able to alter the Transcendentals, one of which is Good, as the Transcendentals reflect His nature.

The Classical answer to the Euthyphro dilemma is that Goodness is rooted in a being's nature and thus rooted in God since God is the author and ground of all natures; however that does not mean that even God can revise what is good for that nature. Note I am not saying the point I raised necessarily constitutes a criticism of Christian theology, only that it should apply if one admits that such events were the murder of innocents. The obvious answer to the query raised is that the individuals in questions were not innocent, that they were evil nations and thus justly deserving of punishment (this raises the question of the Hebrew's having a version of 'Blood-guilt' but that is another issue). I am sure the Hebraic people would not have first needed to reference God in order to perceive the killing of their fathers and the forced slavery of their sons as morally wrong. Whether they had any objective ground to do so is of course a different question.

Random biographical details. As for the suggestion I am displaying 'a modern descent into emotionalism' I have often asked what grounds atheists and indeed a lot of theists have for postulating such a thing as objective 'Evil'. One of my youthful Agnostic reasons for so distrusting atheism was it implied moral relativism yet the majority of its proponents spent a great deal of time both propounding moral imperatives and waving their firsts and demanding one excrete tears for their dead children.

More Random biographical details: I will also note that I am not a member of any of the Abrahamic religions and thus have no vested interesting in determining whether or not the Old Testament passages under discussion really constitute a problem for Christians (my view is that they don’t unless one takes up the crudest ‘God has a body’ type literalism).

Daniel said...

Err that the latter paragraphs of that previous post may come over rather belligerent which was not my intention.


@Rank Sophist,

That is most odd... I have that book of his though last read it years ago. I find it hard to belive that he actually thought what you (justifiably from those quotes) imply he did. May be its worth looking through his books on psychology and angels in case they shed any further light on this? I'll check through them when I get a spare moment.

An aside: I remember Franz Brentano briefly critiquing Thomas' views on self-awareness in Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint - he (Brentano) was a Representationalist though I don't think that was actually related to his remarks on this subject.

Apologies for the brief response. Must rush out soon.

Anonymous said...

"What it seems to me is that it is another example of modern descent into emotionalism — an attempt to bring God down to our level, make Him some sort of peer. God is the Author of life and death, so where is this evil supposed to be coming from?"


One major issue I take with this "God is author and giver of life, thus he's free to do whatever he pleases with it" line of thought is that it seems to make absolute rubbish of the concept of intrinsic evil, a concept that's absolutely central to natural law theory and Catholic moral theology.

More to the point, and as Dr. Feser himself has written on this blog, killing the innocent is intrinsically evil.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/happy-consequentialism-day.html

Furthermore, quoting Feser, "it is never, never permissible to do what is intrinsically evil that good may come – not even if you’d feel much happier if you did it, not even if you’ve got some deeply ingrained tendency to want to do it, not even if it will shorten a war and save thousands of lives. Never."


So intentionally killing the innocent is always wrong. But how can this be squared with a strict historical reading of the OT, in which God commands the intentional slaughter of innocents? In Numbers 31, for example, Moses on behalf of God explicitly commands the killing of captive Midianite boys and captive Midianite women (who aren't virgins). This is a clear case of intrinsic evil (and it strikes many if not most readers as depraved to think that Jesus would command such things). But if we let God off the hook for this under the banner of "Author of Life," then all that keeps a genocide from being permissible is a commandment from God. "Intrinsic" evil becomes completely conditional.

(This is one reason why I'm lead to support an allegorical reading of the Old Testament.)



Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Craig doesn't hold to voluntarism. He's a divine command theorist, but it's as I recall a bit different. More along the lines of Alston's "What Euthyphro Should Have Said", I think.

Anon3

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: "For God made not death: neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living" (Wisdom 1:13).

Of course; but that’s not the relevant context here. There isn’t anything outside God’s command; any death that ever happens is under God’s control, so dying of natural causes is no different in terms of God’s moral standing. But of course God does not have moral standing like a creature. There is no counter-god, a dualistic Evil being that did literally make death, which is the only way the charge of God’s issuing an immoral command could make sense.


Daniel: however that does not mean that even God can revise what is good for that nature. Note I am not saying the point I raised necessarily constitutes a criticism of Christian theology, only that it should apply if one admits that such events were the murder of innocents.

Well, calling it “murder” begs the question; what would makes these deaths unjustified killing as opposed to dying in an earthquake, say, if God commands a mountain to fall? (I don’t think innocence is the point, although it factors in somehow.)

As for the suggestion I am displaying 'a modern descent into emotionalism’

Sorry, I should have been clearer — I was actually thinking of more, er, colourful presentations of that claim that I have come across, not your particular post. Certainly someone who rejects classical metaphysics in the first place may have an argument that God couldn’t issue such commands, but typically people simply seem to find the idea emotionally unpalatable. Under the classical scheme, though, it isn’t a problem (in itself): the emotional response may be the correct one when faced with human actions, but God transcends creation, so His actions can not simply be judged alongside similar actions done by creatures.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't Christianity speak to us at both an intellectual and emotional level?

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, but this isn't really the place for writing poetry, Mr Other-Anonymous.

Anon3

Crude said...

Shouldn't Christianity speak to us at both an intellectual and emotional level?

Depends on what those things mean. And if it doesn't, is the flaw in Christianity or in us? Especially on the emotional front.

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

There isn’t anything outside God’s command; any death that ever happens is under God’s control, so dying of natural causes is no different in terms of God’s moral standing.

Then you fall victim to Calvinism. That's really all there is to it.

Neil said...

"Regarding the "dryness of the language", I have a hard time believing that anyone who's read Pseudo-Dionysius, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa or the other Church Fathers could think that about classical theism. The often dry and dull writing of the scholastics can't be blamed on the system in which they worked."

Agreed. I think what I had in mind the other night was the terminology as used in textbooks written by folks unsympathetic or antagonistic to classical and scholastic writers. Ah, college...

rank sophist said...

Daniel,

I came across Brentano's objection in my own reading, last year-ish. I think he misreads Aquinas. His complaint, if I remember correctly, is that the common sense is a material faculty and therefore incapable of grounding the experience of an immaterial consciousness. He then argues for a fuller account of consciousness along phenomenological lines. His point about the common sense is true, as far as it goes. However, Aquinas actually believed in two forms of apperception: the common sense, or apperception of the sensitive faculties; and intellectual reflexivity, or apperception of the intellectual faculty. He held, from what I can tell, a two-tier system of consciousness, in which one type (the common sense) was shared with non-human animals and the other was not. At least, that is what I've put together.

Anonymous said...

>>Well, yes, but this isn't really the place for writing poetry, Mr Other-Anonymous.

If true, then it has all the hallmarks of a truth that can likely be reasoned to, so why sneer at it?


>>Depends on what those things mean. And if it doesn't, is the flaw in Christianity or in us? Especially on the emotional front.


For the record, I don't think emotion should ever be developed apart from reason; after a certain point both should (and do) influence each other. Furthermore, it seems obvious to me that Christianity should embrace the whole person. And hey, I'm not sure where or how to draw the line between illegitimate offensive ideas and legitimate offensive ideas, but "Jesus Christ has a decorated history of genocide and infanticide" certainly belongs in the latter category, and won't be tolerated by me.

Anonymous said...

Hello, all.
Any Bruce Lee fans here? Yeah, I know that's out of left field, but bear with me. For those who may not know, Bruce wasn't just a kung fu badass but also studied philosophy at the University of Washington. In the book 'Bruce Lee: Artist of Life' (which is a collection of his writings) he mentions Aquinas (in Hong Kong as a kid he was taught by Catholic priests). He begins by mentioning a saying by a Chinese friend who says: take the paint out of this can and you may paint the room any color you want. This, apparently, is how Bruce thinks of Aquinas. His point is that if you accept the first premise of any philosophical system, then what follows from that system must be accepted. Here's an excerpt:
'Now when Aquinas begins his argument he presupposes Being or Existence, for to talk in terms of motion implies that something exists; that is, that some thing is in motion. What Aquinas is asking then, in Article Three, is for me to accept from his 'can of paint' the Absolute Being that he conceives of as God'
Any thoughts?

Tony said...

Then you fall victim to Calvinism. That's really all there is to it.

Not so, Rank, not so.

First, we need to keep in mind the distinction between moral evil and physical "evil". As I understand it, from a Divine point of view physical evil isn't even in the same category: an antelope being killed and eaten by a lion undergoes pain and death, but the whole economy of the natural order is good in that event. The physical evil is qualifiedly evil, not absolutely evil.

But the same hold for man undergoing pain and suffering, even death. These are ills of a different order than moral evil, and they aren't evil absolutely speaking.

When God uses natural causes to cause the death of an antelope or a human, he is not being evil, he is overseeing the providential economy of creation.

When a human murders another human, God permits the ill of the physical order but is in no way the cause of the SIN in the will of the murderer. If God did not permit it, and if God did not continue to keep in act that murderer's being and his capacities, he could not carry out his act of killing. Thus God is in control of the death of the victim by permitting it, and is not the cause of the murderer's sin.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: Then you fall victim to Calvinism. That's really all there is to it.

Well, if those were the choices, then better to be a Calvinist than a Manichee! That’s really all there is to it.

(I am curious as to your view on those passages, though. Would you claim that there simply were no such commands? Or that any commands covered no innocents?)


Anonymous: it seems to make absolute rubbish of the concept of intrinsic evil, a concept that's absolutely central to natural law theory and Catholic moral theology.

That doesn’t follow. It is of course wrong for you to kill innocents, or for me; but the whole point is that you are not God, nor I, and although the rest of the time we can safely omit “…for a human being” from our moral discussions, we cannot take that for granted when we are not in fact talking about human beings any more. God’s transcendence is necessary to ground natural law in the first place; nor can God anchor it from the inside as though just another creature.

all that keeps a genocide from being permissible is a commandment from God. "Intrinsic" evil becomes completely conditional.

Which, understanding what it means for God to command something, is to say that all that keeps something from being permissible is its being impermissible. Not sure I can argue with that. And in a sense everything is conditional — upon God’s free choice to create any of it in the first place. Again, when we are talking about matters on the human scale, it’s unconditional because we have no power over what God created, but obviously God has the ability to choose whether and what natures to create in the first place.

(This is one reason why I'm lead to support an allegorical reading of the Old Testament.)

The Old Testament must be read allegorically. It must also be read historically (not a trivial matter, especially through modern eyes).

Jakub Moravčík said...

Irenist:


BTW: Love the Count Duckula icon!

Thanx :-)

That Jesus is God does not contradict reason.
But you know: you must not only say, you must show in what, because I may tell "it can be said, but it cannot be thought". I raised an objection. And I bet that if there were any "competitor incarnated God" in some other non-christian religion, christian philosophers would use similar argument as mine to rebut the other-religion-competitor-so-called-incarnated-god possibility (because of some contradiction).

E.Seigner said...

There are several ways to reconcile the doctrine of divine simplicity with the heinous acts in OT directly attributed to God. The most obvious one to me is that the same way as God's goodness is incomprehensible to us, we don't really know what is evil either, and e.g. the commandment to slaughter the babies on some specific occasions don't really count as evil. The problem with this view is of course that it's suitable only for those who don't entertain many notions of natural law theory, such as inherent evil and absolute innocence.

Then again, natural law theorists should not emotionally blow their concepts out of proportion. Of course it's most natural that, e.g. one man belongs to one woman in marriage, but nobody blames patriarchs of the heinous crime and despicable evil of polygamy. There are times and places for polygamy. See how Jesus handled the Mosaic law on divorce: "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."

Similarly, there was a time, place, and manner to kill the babies. Remember that the context of the command was conquest of the Promised Land. From the point of view of Canaanites, it's an intrusion, invasion, colonization and annexation. The concept of the Promised Land itself implies genocide, and thereare reasons for this. Israelites had left Egypt and they were without homeland all the way. They had left specifically because a new land had been promised. If the land is inhabited at their arrival, it has to be cleansed. OT calls it cleansing of the Promised Land what we call genocide these days. "Murdering of innocent babies" is in this context.

Moreover, from Canaanite point of view, Jehovah is just another tribal God standing up against their tribal gods. In that bronze age culture, the way to drive home the point that Jehovah is the mightier tribal god was to win battles, and the way to make room for the people of Israel was genocide. Also, genocide was the way for Israelites to keep their own mode of worship. As the stories of Exodus and many side-incidents during the conquest of the Promised Land indicate, Israelites were quite easily corrupted by idolatry. That's why genocide, burning, pillaging, and eradicating the earlier culture of the land was given to Israelite soldiers, not done directly by Jehovah. It would have made sense for Jehovah to cleanse the land for Israelites, if Israelites were weak at heart and sensitive to blood, but they were not. Israelites would have hardly appreciated the Promised Land, if they didn't have to fight for it.

There are more points to be made about this. In our times, when we read these stories, it should be self-evident that we get no benefit of it by interpreting literally. We have to reconcile the emotional and moral conflicts. We have to struggle for our faith. Why should the conquest over the problem of evil in ourselves be easy? Are we wusses? Reading the Church Fathers and medieval mystics speak on the same topic, they handily interpret the stories in terms of internal struggle, winning our own souls for God. This struggle is not easy, cannot be easy and, I'd say, if it were easy, we would hardly appreciate the victory.

E.Seigner said...

The stories of slaughtering the babies are interpreted by the Church Fathers as what we experience when we cleanse our own souls to be fit for worship of God. This is the right interpretation, because whoever has taken mystical purification seriously knows that this is exactly how it feels. Several proverbial babies must go out with the bathwater, because one notices to have fed the baby with the stinking bathwater and the baby is ruined now. It's not easy to give up one's own baby, which in terms of internal struggle may mean, e.g. the concept of "inherent evil" translated to "killing innocent babies", but these adjustments happen along the way. It turns out not all babies are innocent. As to bronze age Israelite soldiers, it was not up to them to interpret who was innocent and who was not. Soldiers obey orders.

For me it's not too hard to accept that God of OT is different from God of NT. OT is the Jewish scripture. Jesus clearly instituted a new religion, so the concept of God as it appears in OT is basically left behind. To reconcile OT with NT is harder when one overemphasises OT and takes it to be Christian scripture, which it isn't. For example, OT says God spoke to Moses from the bush, whereas NT says it was an angel. Moreover, it's reported in the Acts that Stephen the first martyr said this in front of some Jewish highups. Stephen basically outlined how the Exodus story led up to Jesus who instituted a new law. Stephen was killed of heresy and it became clearer to everyone that a new religion was being formed.

I personally am not too fond of divine command theories. I am perfectly comfortable with God as detached and far removed from mundanity. To me the doctrine of non-intervention makes perfect sense. I have no problem with God being viewed as impersonal, even though it's more accurate to say that where God is, "personal" and "impersonal" are the same thing. God is transcendent. Just like when you think of temperature, you are not thinking warm and cold as separate things. Warm and cold are the same thing as temperature.

Some intermediate view can also be proposed. Instead of directly telling in words to do this or that, God may impel, so that it "makes sense" to do this or that. Something may make sense so strongly that, in order to stay true to one's own conscience, one cannot do otherwise. And when it's done, it turns out to have been divine providence. Different people perceive these things differently. For some "presence of God" occurs in the form of words and whispers, for others in the form of intuition and conscience, while for still others in some different way. There is always a check in place too. If you are a believer, you know what I am talking about.

For bronze age Israelite soldiers in the middle of conquest of the Promised Land, there were also elements in place that made the order of killing babies sensical to them rather than nonsensical. First, it was war. They were carrying out the order collectively as an army. Second, the orders came through Moses who had been the leader of the nation for decades and demonstrated miraculous powers. You can't argue with that. Third, the people against them were themselves pretty brutal. From what we read in OT, Canaanites sacrificed their own babies to their tribal gods. To leave someone alive who's soaked through with this type of worship would mean to leave the door open to fall back to that type of worship. And as we know, Israelites did not kill everyone even though it had been commanded - and they suffered the consequences of this.

Jakub Moravčík said...

E.Seinger:

Are we wusses?

I´m sorry but this is the appeal to emotions fallacy.

This struggle is not easy, cannot be easy and, I'd say, if it were easy, we would hardly appreciate the victory.

I think this is a little the same type of thinking as if somebody said "how would you like the world in which all the people would equally tall or equally pretty?" I think such a question is not legitimate because we simply do not have experience with something like that and won´t ever have, so we cannot judge it, because we have only the experience of the world with differently tall/pretty people. Therefore every evaluation is necessary based only on our (contingent) experience.

More, what if original sin was not commited, or Lucifer haven´t falled? Do you think that there would also be similar, equal or even harder internal struggle in our souls for winning them for God? If so, why, what would cause it? If not, then what you have written does not follow.

Jakub Moravčík said...

Furthermore, quoting Feser, "it is never, never permissible to do what is intrinsically evil that good may come – not even if you’d feel much happier if you did it, not even if you’ve got some deeply ingrained tendency to want to do it, not even if it will shorten a war and save thousands of lives. Never."

And what about the hypothetic case when this intrinsic evil would somehow cause (much) more people salved than in case it was not commited?

When a human murders another human, God permits the ill of the physical order but is in no way the cause of the SIN in the will of the murderer. If God did not permit it, and if God did not continue to keep in act that murderer's being and his capacities, he could not carry out his act of killing. Thus God is in control of the death of the victim by permitting it, and is not the cause of the murderer's sin.

That´s exactly why I do not like free will concept. Its only purpose in christianity is to explain (moral) evil and justify one´s eternal damnation. There is no need to establish a free will entity in order to explain any (moral) good.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Mr. Green writes,

Of course; but that’s not the relevant context here. There isn’t anything outside God’s command; any death that ever happens is under God’s control, so dying of natural causes is no different in terms of God’s moral standing. But of course God does not have moral standing like a creature. There is no counter-god, a dualistic Evil being that did literally make death, which is the only way the charge of God’s issuing an immoral command could make sense.

I don't know, but perhaps what causes death and other evils is simply privation, a lack of goodness. It is not God then who creates evil, but evil is just a lack - in the end literally nothing, so it is not a dualistic entity parallel to God. God, perhaps, gives the paradoxically positive qualities - what we experience of death - to such situations, but all the evil in them is ultimately nothing.

Sorry, I should have been clearer — I was actually thinking of more, er, colourful presentations of that claim that I have come across, not your particular post. Certainly someone who rejects classical metaphysics in the first place may have an argument that God couldn’t issue such commands, but typically people simply seem to find the idea emotionally unpalatable. Under the classical scheme, though, it isn’t a problem (in itself): the emotional response may be the correct one when faced with human actions, but God transcends creation, so His actions can not simply be judged alongside similar actions done by creatures.

Well, C.S Lewis famously repudiated any view that made God's goodness and our usual ideas of goodness totally incommensurate as devil worship.

I'm inclined to agree. Is not goodness in creation a reflection of God's goodness? Whilst it is true God and his goodness transcends creation, does this not imply an analogy between God's goodness and created goodness that means the latter cannot be totally opposed to the former. Of course, this leaves some room for our inability to fully grasp God's goodness, but it does suggest some limits to what God good command.

Glenn said...

>> ...the emotional response may be the correct one when faced with human actions, but God transcends creation, so His actions can not simply be judged alongside similar actions done by creatures.

> Well, C.S Lewis famously repudiated any view that made God's goodness and our usual ideas of goodness totally incommensurate as devil worship.

Mr. Green hadn't said that God's goodness and our usual ideas of goodness are totally incommensurate, only that God's actions can not simply [my emphasis] be judged alongside similar actions done by creatures.

In support of Mr. Green's statement, and notwithstanding Lewis' famous repudiation, there is, e.g., Matt. 16:21-23, where Peter "began to rebuke [Jesus], saying, Be it far from thee, Lord [that thou must suffer many things and be killed]; this shall not be unto thee", and Jesus, brooking no interference from a meddling human, says of Peter that he is "Satan" and an "offense", and that he is savoring the things of men rather than those of God.

Glenn said...

In short, I think Mr. Green was speaking, not of things being tally incommensurate, but of things not being wholly commensurate.

Craig Payne said...

A recent post on Prof. Olson's blog suggests that the only way God could redeem humans would be that God Himself (the Divine in Christ, as the poster puts it) suffer and die. It really doesn't take much of an initial error for well-meaning and devout Christians to skid off the rails.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Glenn,

But surely what is being referred to are precisely acts that are very hard to square with any idea of human goodness?

Glenn said...

Jeremy,

That does seem to be the point, yes.

Glenn said...

I should say, rather, that that seems to be part of the point.

The other part of the point seems to be God is not necessarily bound, restricted and/or constrained by human ideas of goodness, or ideas of human goodness.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Sorry, my phrasing was poor. I meant human ideas of goodness and not whether man is good.

I don't think saying God is limited or bound is the correct way to put it, but I would say that as our ideas of goodness come from and reflects God's goodness, then, yes, in a sense he is limited by them (but it is not us or anything outside God limiting him, but his own nature - so, limit is probably the wrong term).

Of course, I agree that God's goodness transcends our human ideas of goodness, and the latter is only analogous to the former. But what we are talking about are commands that I think would compromise even this analogous relationship.

Anonymous said...

>>"But what we are talking about are commands that I think would compromise even this analogous relationship."


Indeed. There is something fundamentally absurd about claiming that Jesus Christ is a killer of women and children.

Step2 said...

The other part of the point seems to be God is not necessarily bound, restricted and/or constrained by human ideas of goodness, or ideas of human goodness.

Okay, but then why should humans call him perfectly good if there are no boundaries? In any event, it doesn't follow that God can transfer his transcendent morality to humans in the form of commands to order intrinsic evils like genocide. As a political matter support of those extermination verses is a giant abyss at the heart of everything pro-lifers have been claiming is morally absolute and inviolable. Even on its own terms it doesn't make much sense, the Canaanite culture was so wicked they sacrificed innocent young children as blood offerings so therefore they must be completely destroyed, including killing all their children? No, there's something deeply wrong with that logic.

Mr. Green said...

Glenn: In short, I think Mr. Green was speaking, not of things being tally incommensurate, but of things not being wholly commensurate. […]
The other part of the point seems to be God is not necessarily bound, restricted and/or constrained by human ideas of goodness, or ideas of human goodness.


Thank you, quite so. And not just ideas, but of human goodness itself — a key point being that there is such a thing as human goodness, which while completely grounded in God is also entirely dependent for its character upon human nature, which God does not have! Certain bacteria thrive in hostile acidic environments — hostile to us, but not to them. What is good for the bacteria and what is good for man is not the same, even though both ultimately are rooted in God’s goodness. God is not merely a different being, not merely a different kind of being, He is not “a” being at all, but Being Itself. God, being supreme, omniscient, omnipotent, is never in the same situation as us with respect to any event. God's goodness is benevolence, not creaturely goodness of living up to given nature (i.e. natural law comes from God, not from above Him).


Jeremy Taylor: But what we are talking about are commands that I think would compromise even this analogous relationship.

Yes, that is what would be necessary for the claim to work. But what exactly is it that compromises it, then? If it’s only a gut reaction then — well, that’s good in itself, because it’s always wrong for a human to act that way, and our emotions are human emotions, so they could, when working perfectly, hardly fail to move us any other way. But the only strict conclusion to draw from such a (presumed accurate) feeling is that it is wrong for men to behave that way. And indeed it is. That simply does not tell us what God could do in such a situation. So if there is an actual argument here, then what is it?

I don’t think I’ve ever seem such an argument, at least not along Thomistic lines. (Not surprisingly, since Thomas himself did not accept this claim.) There are arguments offered by those who reject natural law for some divine command theory, or who consider God to be just another person like us, except a bit more invisible, who consider Him to be subject to some Kantian imperative or somehow under moral laws [of His own making?]… and of course, much emotional outrage. But from the perspective of classical theism and natural law, I say the argument can’t be made. The closest we had so far was an appeal to Scripture, to which I say: ”See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal,” [Deut. 32:39] (or 1 Sam. 2:6, or any number of similar passages).

What is typically missing from these attempts is any analysis of what makes it wrong for humans to kill each other. It is generally taken for granted, and of course if it is simply stipulated as a premise, then there is not much to say. But there are reasons: we do not grant life to other men, so it is not our prerogative to take it away. We do not know the state of someone’s soul at the moment we might kill him; nor the totality of his place in the world, let alone his place in God’s comprehensive Providence. We have various obligations to care for our neighbours in all sorts of ways, both natural, and especially under the Christian dispensation.
There is also what is perhaps the most obvious reason, which I don’t think anyone touched on yet, the reason given in Scripture itself. I’m surprised at how often it is overlooked.


Anonymous:There is something fundamentally absurd about claiming that Jesus Christ is a killer of women and children.

Well, sure, because such a claim is literally not true. Fortunately, it’s also not one anybody made.

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

Your position compromises God's transcendence by involving him in an economy of violence. See the conversation Brandon and I had back in June.

Tony,

God never "uses natural causes to cause" anything, unless you stretch the idea of God's empowerment of secondary causes to near-nonsense. Either that or you're just proposing occasionalistic determinism in fancier, more palatable words. In truth, God gives creation the power to move itself. He does not need to co-move each individual movement: he simply sustains the motion of the cosmos, as the final cause desired by the Primum Mobile. Through the chain of secondary efficient causes leading down from the Primum Mobile, God indirectly causes every movement--and all motion would cease without his influence. But he does not exert any kind of direct control over natural motion. If he did, then "natural motion" would be a veiled and contradictory way of talking about God himself. Aquinas's arguments about divine causality and the First Way are heavily damaged when one removes them from this ancient cosmology.

Tony said...

Rank, I disagree with your characterization of how God moves mobiles in the world. It is also, I think, directly contradictory to the way St. Thomas accounts for mobiles moving.

But whether God moves things the way you suggest, or the way St. Thomas says, it would still be true that other than intelligent free agents acting, all events in the world are caused by God. For this discussion, there is no point in interposing nature between God's agency and the contingent event for something like an earthquake. Whether God is to be understood only as the cause creating (beings of) nature and sustaining (those beings of) nature and the final cause of (the beings of) nature, or God is also to be considered the agent cause of the specific series of events that triggered the earthquake, it is still true that God is ultimately the cause of it and He must be accounted the cause of the deaths that happen directly from it. Which is attested by the Psalms and Wisdom through and through. And as St. Thomas says, even when God causes something to happen according to the mode of contingent causes, He is still the first cause of it happening. That it is contingent doesn't mean He is not the cause.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy Taylor,

Out of curiosity, why did you leave the Church of England?

Anon3

Jeremy Taylor said...

Mr. Green,

Well I was going to try and bring the focus to the Calvinist idea of being predestined to hell despite not having no choice in sinning or having faith. Yes, you are right that it is questionable whether death in itself is an evil. But what, according to your view, stops God commanding anything, like, for instance, the creation of a world mostly consisting of the eternal torturing of babies?

This is why I would question whether you don't risk making God's goodness (and as a Platonist I consider God the Supreme Good) and our notions of goodness.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Anon,

Well, the female bishop's decision was the final straw, but there were many, mounting reasons. An important one was the growing realisation that Calvinism and Protestantism were always key parts of the Church of England, and that to try and remove them and get back to some kind of Anglo-Orthodoxy would involve the removal or eclipse of a lot of Anglican history. This was perhaps the main underlying reason why I relinquished loyalty to historic institution of the Church of England. I still have great love for the High Church Anglican tradition, and even aspects of the Cranmerian tradition, but I realised you can't get rid of the rest of Anglicanism and keep these bits without ending up with something lacking in historical continuity to the Church of England. That is even before all the modernist nonsense dividing the Church.

But I'm now in the hapless positioning of lacking a Church. I still continue with a vaguely English Orthodoxy, but I'm not sure where to go institutionally.

Jeremy Taylor said...

That should have been:

"This is why I would question whether you don't risk making God's goodness (and as a Platonist I consider God the Supreme Good) and our notions of goodness wholly incommensurate."

Anonymous said...

Jeremy Taylor,

Thank you for your reply. I turned away from the Church of England for similar reasons. I suspect a lot of Anglicans are having problems like this right now.

At least, given the setting up of these official "Ordinariates" to welcome former Anglicans by the Vatican, I figure it must be.

But, if someone walked up to me and asked for direction to a church, I would feel uncomfortable sending them to the local Anglican church. I worry they would be mislead, when it comes to matters of orthodoxy. Modernist nonsense indeed.

Anonymous said...

(Incidentally, I'm not myself Roman Catholic. My understanding is that I would then have to defend Divine Simplicity in its full Thomistic glory and I'm unsure I'm prepared to do this. Still researching.)

Anon3 (the previous post was by me as well)

Irish Thomist said...

'Anonymous' raised an interesting point i.e. Bruce Lee's written views on Aquinas. Although not sure how relevant it is to this actual book Feser wrote. I am still reading it.

The topic concerning Eastern ideas versus Western has come up before on this blog.

Thomas Aquinas and Bruce Lee

This book of Prof. Feser covers the analytical interaction with Scholastic thought (mostly Thomism). It really beefs out points he was making in 'Aquinas' & 'TLS' etc. I am a visual learner so if anyone can point me in the direction of a 'mind map' connecting all these words and their relations I would be grateful

Irish Thomist said...

@Anonymous (the former Anglican)

home?

Shane Scott said...

Is anyone aware of a discussion of how the classical theist conception of trinitarian love relates to God's love for us? I have never read any Aquinas, so I'm guessing he discusses this...any pointers as to where?

The reason I am asking is that I think some people view classical theism as a cold and heartless view of God, but a trinitarian model would add an interpersonal dimension (is that even the right language?!?) of eternal love that humans are invited to share in. Just thinking out loud.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Shane Scott: In the Summa Theologica I.37.2, Aquinas discusses love in the Trinity, but he doesn't discuss how this relates to us, except a little bit in the Reply to the third Objection. If I think of any more later, I'll get back to you again.

Shane Scott said...

Thanks, Craig!

rank sophist said...

Tony,

My view is Aquinas's view, as recovered by Lonergan in his extensive historical research.

In any case, I have no idea why God would directly move non-free agents. That makes no sense. He does not directly move anything except when producing miracles. Earthquakes and other natural disasters result from efficient causes within nature, which lead back to God only insofar as God is the final cause of the Primum Mobile. Barring miracles, efficient causes of motion exist only within the natural order. This distinction neutralizes your point below.

it is still true that God is ultimately the cause of it and He must be accounted the cause of the deaths that happen directly from it.

God does not cause the death of anything. He creates and sustains a fallen order in which death, as a result of human sin, may occur. Aquinas's distinction between permission and will is incoherent unless taken in this way. If God's causality is not both direct (i.e. made to happen) and indirect (i.e. allowed to happen in the course of nature), then Calvinism is true and the universe is God's sadistic puppet show.

Thursday said...

A big part of the confusion is that moderns use terms like passion, will and intellect to refer to different things than did the premoderns. A good deal of these disputes are unnecessary, and a good number of people who are actually classical theists refuse to call themselves that because classical theism hasn't been properly explained to them.

Reformed pastor Derek Rishmawy shows how it is done.

Timotheos said...

@ Jeremy Taylor

"Well, the female bishop's decision was the final straw, but there were many, mounting reasons."

When I heard the news about that, I was wondering what your response was going to be, and so I've been meaning to ask you about it.

As it happens, I'm currently going Catholic (from Methodism), but I will admit, 60 years ago I probably would have gone Episcopalian (I was a very high-church Methodist, so it would have been a more natural adjustment).

Considereing the issue today though, I wouldn't want to touch the Episcopal church with a 100,000 ft. pole, and I didn't want to go continuing Anglican either (Women priests are a deal breaker for me anyways, at least at this point).

The Calvinism in the Anglican church has always been an issue, although obviously John Wesley was an exception to this, albeit a rather late and not perhaps very influential one, at least amounst Anglican theologians.

(I've never quite understood this; Wesley's sortieology seems to match up quite well with "catholic" tradition, and he was a high-church Anglican theologian for his entire life. The only thing that might be considered unorthodox was his denial of the necessity of the 3 part priesthood and belief in the possibility of priests being able to ordain priests in his later life, but, and please correct me if I'm wrong on this, didn't Jeremy Taylor believe this as well? I guess the Anglo-Catholics and High Church saw him as too "enthusiastic" and the Evangelicals saw him as too "catholic". But I digress...)

As far as Eastern Orthodoxy is concerned, what are your thoughts of the filloque? That was an issue that drove me away from considerering them, since I thought they were wrong on both the theological and administrative aspects of it. (And without the filloque, or at least something like it, it's hard to justify their separation with the Catholic church; I suppose papal infallibility itself could be considered grounds, but without at least another potential heresy, that case looks a little scanty)

Good luck with finding a church though; I'll keep you in my prayers. (And just a friendly reminder that if you haven't started already, you might as well start praying with Mary; all the choices left pretty much encourage it, and it will only help you with the task)

Sam said...

Anonymous:"There is something fundamentally absurd about claiming that Jesus Christ is a killer of women and children."

Mr. Green: Well, sure, because such a claim is literally not true. Fortunately, it’s also not one anybody made.



Frankly, I'm not sure where Mr. Anonymous is going wrong.



p1) One who orders the killing of children has killed children (via an army) in a targeted manner, and one who orders the killing of women has killed women (via an army) in a targeted manner.

p2) God ordered the killing of women and children.

p3) Christ is God.


C: Therefore, Jesus Christ killed women and children

Crude said...

"There is something fundamentally absurd about claiming that Jesus Christ is a killer of women and children."

But claiming Christ is a killer of men is just peachy?

Either way, in answer to the latest anon, I take Green (and hey, I could be wrong) to be denying it even makes sense to think about God's actions in those terms. I can see the reasoning, even with a non-classical view of God - once you're dealing with the Creator of the universe, omnipotent and omniscient, and who also is presumably both capable of and going to resurrect all someday, talking about their being a 'killer' in anything but the most strained sense seems odd.

And if we are working with a strained sense after all, then we can go right to the New Testament for some choice examples. Christ withered the fig tree, that monster.

The whole Calvinism topic seems to be one where many people consciously let emotions drive most of the debate. As a guy who thinks emotion should be separated from debates like this as much as possible, I'll pass on that metric. There's a little too much of that nowadays.

Scott said...

@Sam:

"Frankly, I'm not sure where Mr. Anonymous is going wrong."

At the very least, in p3 he's/you're relying on the wrong sense of the word is.

Ronald Reagan is said to have thought on one occasion that Copenhagen was in Norway. Copenhagen is of course the capital of Denmark. But it doesn't follow that Reagan thought the capital of Denmark was in Norway.

Tony said...

Rank, I won't debate you on Lonergan's approach to Thomas. It's too far afield here. Let me direct to to TA, Prima Pars, Q 105, A 5, of which I provide just a part:

First as an end. For since every operation is for the sake of some good, real or apparent; and nothing is good either really or apparently, except in as far as it participates in a likeness to the Supreme Good, which is God; it follows that God Himself is the cause of every operation as its end.

Again it is to be observed that where there are several agents in order, the second always acts in virtue of the first; for the first agent moves the second to act. And thus all agents act in virtue of God Himself: and therefore He is the cause of action in every agent.

Thirdly, we must observe that God not only moves things to operated, as it were applying their forms and powers to operation, just as the workman applies the axe to cut, who nevertheless at times does not give the axe its form; but He also gives created agents their forms and preserves them in being.
.

That God is the final cause does not preclude his also be the efficient cause as well. And St. Thomas's argument seems to be that the WHOLE CHAIN is a chain of efficient causes, not just that God is the final cause of the first mobile, and the first mobile is the efficient cause of all the rest. St. Thomas seems to reduce all of the agents moving to God as agent cause.

In any case, I have no idea why God would directly move non-free agents. That makes no sense. He does not directly move anything except when producing miracles.

I don't suggest that he is directly the agent cause moving all things, he uses intermediate agents. But he does move some things directly, he directly move the will, see Prima Secundae, Q 9, A 6:

Reply to Objection 3. God moves man's will, as the Universal Mover, to the universal object of the will, which is good. And without this universal motion, man cannot will anything. But man determines himself by his reason to will this or that, which is true or apparent good. Nevertheless, sometimes God moves some specially to the willing of something determinate, which is good; as in the case of those whom He moves by grace, as we shall state later on (109, 2).

and Q 109 A 1:

Hence we must say that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs Divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act.

In order for man to exercise his natural power naturally, he needs God's power to reduce his power to act. This is not a miracle, though it is God's direct action, for he is moving the will in its natural operation. And we do not call natural motions miraculous: Q 105, A6,

If therefore we consider the order of things depending on the first cause, God cannot do anything against this order; for, if He did so, He would act against His foreknowledge, or His will, or His goodness. But if we consider the order of things depending on any secondary cause, thus God can do something outside such order; for He is not subject to the order of secondary causes;

The motion of the intellect or will proceeding to act in its natural mode from God's causing it to move is its natural action, as dependent on its first cause, and so is not miraculous.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Lonergan showed that the standard reading of the passage you quoted (and other passages related to God "applying" agents) is actually flawed, because it fails to take into account the Aristotelian cosmology that Aquinas was trying to incorporate into his theology at the time. It isn't far afield at all. The standard Banezian reading of those passages is anachronistic: it tries to interpret Aquinas without reference to the false natural science of his historical period. Lonergan made this case very clearly in "St. Thomas's Theory of Operation"--which I've linked in PDF form quite frequently over the years, although the old file appears to have been taken offline. A clipped preview is still available on Google Books, in Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, Volume 1.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: God does not cause the death of anything. […] then Calvinism is true and the universe is God's sadistic puppet show.

I don’t really follow how insisting on God’s transcendence compromises it. But “sadistic” here is just an emotional term; there’s no argument. I can be just as emotionally outraged: after all, if my view is “sadistic” then your view is just as sadistic — all the same evils in the world still happen anyway — plus God passes the buck and blames everyone else. “I’m not beating you, this stick is! I’m just holding the stick, that’s all.” Or at least, that would be the obvious misinterpretation of your view that corresponds to the misinterpretation of mine. After all, I’m not the one who said God “puts to death and makes to live”; God did. What I am saying here is meant to be interpreted comparably to those Scriptural passages. (I’m assuming you don’t simply reject those verses wholesale — please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Mr. Green said...

Jeremy Taylor: Well I was going to try and bring the focus to the Calvinist idea of being predestined to hell despite not having no choice in sinning or having faith.

Sorry, I don’t follow the connection. Human goodness doesn’t have to be (indeed, cannot be) equal to divine goodness in order to be commensurable. We have to take into account the difference between God’s position and ours. Cairo is south of London but north of Sydney — the very opposite, but that doesn’t make English notions of directions incommensurate with Australian ones. What is it that makes killing wrong for humans that also applies in the same way to God?

But what, according to your view, stops God commanding anything, like, for instance, the creation of a world mostly consisting of the eternal torturing of babies?

I was hoping someone would bring that up! Just so that I can confidently state: yes, if God commanded us to torture babies then absolutely it would be a good thing for us to do. What “stops” God from doing this is a little thing called Natural Law. The funny thing is, natural law actually is a Divine Command theory… if we recognise what it means for God to command something. Where do the natures come from for there to be a natural law? From God’s commandments, of course: when God wants some light, He just commands it into existence. ”Fiat lux!” And there was luminal nature.

The reason natural law is in practice distinguished from divine command theories is that we tend to think of God’s commands as parallel to creaturely commands, something above or alongside nature, rather than constitutive of it. But if God said, “Thou shalt torture babies”, then that’s is just another way of saying that babies have a nature that flourishes under torture. (God could have, after all, created a very different world in which, say, infants reacted like baby Kal-El under Earth’s sun, and attacking them with drills and hot pokers and thumbscrews merely tickled them… babies love getting tickled!) However, for God to create babies as they actually are in this world is for Him to command, “Let there be little munchkins that are damaged and distressed by torture, that break down and perish because of it”; and at the same time to command “Torturing babies is a good thing” is a simple contradiction: that’s why He could never give such a command in this world, the way it is. He’s already given a command on that matter, by creating babies with the nature that they have.

Of course, the devil is in the details, but that’s the underlying principle: God is not constrained by some outside morality. The modern reaction (not that it never existed before, but it seems to have spread a lot recently) that there is some supreme Goodness out there against which we can judge God is disturbing. If God really did command something that we couldn’t stomach, then the only possibility is that we are wrong, not God! God is “bound" only by His own choices, so for Him not to be able to command Abraham or the Israelites to kill, it would have to entail some contradiction of what God had already done or commanded. This might apply to something like annihilation — arguably, for God to eradicate a creature that by its nature lasts forever (e.g. a being with an intellectual soul) would amount to trying to create something that is both temporary and permanent. And indeed, I think that that is an important reason why God cannot simply annihilate the wicked instead of leaving them in Hell. But death is not a metaphysical contradiction. We all die.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: yes, precisely.

Crude: Either way, in answer to the latest anon, I take Green (and hey, I could be wrong) to be denying it even makes sense to think about God's actions in those terms. I can see the reasoning, even with a non-classical view of God - once you're dealing with the Creator of the universe, omnipotent and omniscient, and who also is presumably both capable of and going to resurrect all someday

Bingo. This is the obvious point I referred to. Everyone knows the story of Abraham, but seems to forget about St. Paul. Abraham isn’t off the hook because he didn’t actually kill Isaac or because he was culturally disposed to accept human sacrifice or all the other reasons that are usually put forward. Not that those reasons are wrong, but the most important one, the one Paul cites as the reason is that God can raise up the dead and restore them to life. Abraham had faith, aka trust, in God because he trusted that even after killing Isaac, God could and would resurrect him. You and I cannot do that, and it’s a pretty big difference between us and God that clearly affects any evaluation of killing.

If I hop into your car and drive off never to be seen again, that’s stealing, and it’s immoral. If I take your car and bring it back, that’s borrowing. Under certain circumstance, I may not even be morally obligated to ask your permission first — but I still have to return your car. Likewise, taking somebody’s life only to restore it is not even in the same ballpark as just taking it, full stop. It’s the ultimate theft: another man’s life is not mine to take — I didn’t give it to him, but God did. I can’t give it back, but God can. I don’t know its full purpose and fate, but God does. The chasm between man as killer and God is, unsurprisingly, infinite. How can anyone expect Creator and creature to be on the same side of this matter? And yet even man is permitted to kill, under certain narrow circumstances.

God is able to command the death of anyone He wants because He is able — and in fact, we know that He will — raise up that person, as all men, good and evil will be resurrected. To say that God cannot temporarily put someone into suspended animation makes no sense. As the author of life, He has the author-ity to do so; we have no claim against Him, no “right” to some undisturbed life that He freely bestowed on us in the first place. And again, we all die — what complaint can we legitimately have as to the particular manner or timing of our death? How would that not equally apply to everyone who ever dies? Yet God does not only restore everyone to life, but He even raises up to a higher life (or at least, those of us who do not reject His offer). Note the passages that say God puts to death and gives life; it is He who wounds and He who heals. Life comes after death in all these verses. God is not merely saying, “I brought you into the world, I can take you out of it” — though that is quite true — but He makes us to live again, after death. That’s rather important, and we shouldn’t be able to have this discussion without this fact immediately leaping to everyone’s mind.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Mr. Green,

But, on this view, why does God have to do what is good for his creatures?

Mercer said...

the sheer terror, horror, and heartache experienced by the children as they were pinned down and put to the sword doesn't matter in the slightest bit, since God's gonna make everything better in the end. life is his, and he's free to do whatever he wants with it, however he wants, whenever he wants, however many times he wants.

'ts all good.

oh, and when reading those passages, the following song invariably keeps popping into my head. really captures the mood. no doubt it spilled forth back then in copious fashion from the clouds as well, in the midst of all that Amalekite blood and gore, and as a Jewish soldier stared mirthfully into the eyes of a little girl he'd just impaled:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmjOkeS9Azo


to hell with emotions.

viva la pure reason!







Irish Thomist said...

Pardon my last three posts. For some reason I had the last blog post in mind when replying. My bad!

Irish Thomist said...

@Mercer

Ever heard of the literary style
Direct attribution?

Jimmy Akin

Mr. Green said...

Jeremy Taylor: But, on this view, why does God have to do what is good for his creatures?

As I said, it’s a matter of contradiction. Even phrasing it as what God “has to do” is perhaps infelicitous: God doesn’t have to do anything save what He wills — but He can’t will something and also not will it. Posing the question this way implicitly frames it as (a) God creating some creatures, then (b) doing something to them. But God has only one eternal act of creation/conservation. The creating-and-doing are part of a single act, really. For God to do what is not good for a creature would be for Him to create a flaw, like an author telling a story with a plot-hole. God doesn’t create flaws: He’s omniscient and omnipotent, so if He creates beings with an immortal component (e.g. intellect), then He doesn’t also cease to create them (annihilate them). He can’t create a “temporarily-eternal” being. If His goal were to create some temporarily existing creature, then that’s what He’d do (say, creating an animal, perhaps). Of course, by making creatures with free will, flaws (either physical or moral evils) can enter the world, but God’s foreknowledge and providence take that into account too.

Step2 said...

Likewise, taking somebody’s life only to restore it is not even in the same ballpark as just taking it, full stop.

In your analogy of borrowing a car there is supposedly a reason God needs to take a life (implicitly conceding that it requires justification), but a perfect and necessary being cannot have such a need. Again, the problem goes further than what you suggest in that God didn't take those lives himself, he ordered creatures who couldn't restore life to take those lives. I also find the notion that God couldn't command the torturing of infants, because that's a simple contradiction, but did command killing them to be nonsense on stilts.

Anonymous said...

Irish Thomist,

I'm unsure what you are asking when you write, "home?" Do you mean to ask where I'm from, or am I missing something?

Anon3

Tony said...

The standard Banezian reading of those passages is anachronistic: it tries to interpret Aquinas without reference to the false natural science of his historical period.

Ah, I see, you are attributing my reading of TA as Banezian. Well, since I don't hold perfectly with Banez, that discomfits me not at all.

However, if you suppose that the CORRECT understanding of Thomas's theory of nature (and grace) is dependent intrinsically on a false science of nature, I cannot see how anything other than a false theory of nature and grace can be the "correct" view of Thomas's teaching. If you suppose, rather, that whatever the errors of natural science at the time, the theory of Thomas on nature and grace depends rather on the certain and true natural philosophy that models matter and form, etc, then there is room for not resting a reading of Thomas on the defective natural science of the time. Either it is right that Thomas's theory is ineradicably dependent on false science, or it is NOT ineradicably dependent on false science.

In either case, I mostly just try to read St. Thomas, not his secondary explainers.

Greg said...

This part should have been quoted:
Our doctrine of God should not be derived from philosophical presuppositions about what is appropriate for the divine but should be derived primarily from the biblical story of God—beginning with Jesus Christ as the fullest revelation of God’s person and character and spreading out from there to embrace the passionate God of the Bible who dared to open himself up to pain and peace, sorrow and joy in relation to the world and who could do that because feelings and emotions are part of being personal and God is eternally personal.

The problem I would have with Olson here is that it isn't an either/or scenario--one can be moved by both the relational status God has with the world (and oneself) while also engaging in natural theology. But having read this blog for some time, it isn't tough to see how an exorbitant focus on the latter can cause a devastating lack in knowledge of the former.

BenYachov said...

@Stept2

>In your analogy of borrowing a car there is supposedly a reason God needs to take a life (implicitly conceding that it requires justification), but a perfect and necessary being cannot have such a need.

God doesn't will somebody's physical death because He "needs too". Dude ditch the theistic personalism.

THERE IS NO THEISTIC PERSONALIST SO CALLED GOD.

There is only the God of Abraham and Aquinas.

>Again, the problem goes further than what you suggest in that God didn't take those lives himself, he ordered creatures who couldn't restore life to take those lives.

Killing is not unlawful or intrinsically evil. Murder is unlawful & intrinsically evil otherwise no death penalty even for the wicked is possible.

Murder is the unlawful taking of human life.

>I also find the notion that God couldn't command the torturing of infants, because that's a simple contradiction, but did command killing them to be nonsense on stilts.

Torture is the deliberate inflicting of pain for it's own sake or to coherse another's will toward an action. Torture is also intrinsically evil. Killing is not otherwise there could be no death penalty even for the wicked.

You can in the OT Common Wealth be stoned to death if convicted of a Capital Crime. That is they bind your hands and feet & push you off backwards from a two story height unto a pile of stones so you can break your neck. Two individuals with a large rock will be standing by to clobber you and put you out of your misery if you survive the fall.

Sicne Rabbinic Tradition says executions should be quick and as painless as possible.

But God can't order anyone to Sodomize you too death since Sodomy is intrinsically evil & so is Torture.

So God can't command the torture of infants.

BenYachov said...

>the sheer terror, horror, and heartache experienced by the children as they were pinned down and put to the sword doesn't matter in the slightest bit, since God's gonna make everything better in the end. life is his, and he's free to do whatever he wants with it, however he wants, whenever he wants, however many times he wants.

I reply: As opposed to being slowly burned to death & suffering torture as a Sacrifice to Baal?

OTOH according to Rabbinic Tradition the Ancient Israelites allowed the Canaanites to either flee beforehand or accept the Seven Laws of Noah and they would be spared.
Only those who stayed would be killed to the last man woman and child.

Additionally according to Rabbinic Tradition the Canaanites practiced Beastiality, Incest and Sodomy so can you imagine what it must be to be a Child in such a Society?

Have you heard of what has been going on in that town in northern England. 1400 raped children. Do the Math? What makes you think the Canaanite children might not welcome death?


> Amalekite

According to Philo the infant Males where spared with the Infant females. The Greek version of the OT seems to lend to that belief.

BenYachov said...

Hmmmmm?

Maybe I am thinking of the Midianites?

Tony said...

Again, the problem goes further than what you suggest in that God didn't take those lives himself, he ordered creatures who couldn't restore life to take those lives.

Step2, I don't quite see where you are going. Is it OK for a good God to arrange a universe with lions and antelopes, where lions kill antelopes for food? Is that an evil creation unfit for a good God?

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

Your idea of "transcendence" is to put God beyond good and evil. Because he writes the rules, he can't fall under them. That's no better than Ockhamism.

Further, you sound even more like an Ockhamist or a Calvinist when you say that, no matter how morally repugnant your theology may be, those who disagree with it have a merely "emotional" dispute with it. But my word choice (sadistic) was perfectly accurate. It's an analogy. Any human who gave birth to sons and daughters only to control their every action--leading some to horrible suffering and death, others to virtue and godliness--would be a monster. Amplify that beyond all comprehension and you have your god. The scriptural passages you quoted are vague and open to non-literal interpretation, particularly when placed against the very clear Wisdom 1:13 (and 1:14) and the entire message of Christ's death.

Tony,

You may not line up perfectly with Banez, but you have been citing typical Banezian prooftexts while using the kind of language in which that group trades. I also prefer to read Aquinas straight, but so much of his work is vague or contradictory that you have to rely on his interpreters to decode it. Such is the case with the theory of motion that makes the First Way tick.

Aquinas's ideas about motion, and his talk of God's control over nature, become deterministic when removed from the cosmic hierarchy in which God moved the spheres (as a final cause) and the spheres efficiently moved the next lowest level of being, which efficiently moved the next--and so on until one reached the very lowest level. Take that hierarchy away and God's control over motion can only be direct: he directly co-moves every here-and-now action of every substance, which leads irrevocably to determinism. Perhaps there is some way to reconcile his metaphysics with a modern (non-hierarchical) cosmos, as Lonergan himself claims, but I have yet to see it done convincingly.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"…the entire message of Christ's death."

…part of which is that God can not only resurrect the dead in some mechanical fashion but can bring from even the greatest evil and suffering so much greater a goodness—goodness that, in fact, would not have existed without the prior evil—that even those who suffered the evil will afterward praise God for allowing it? Is that the message you mean?

If so, then it's perhaps clearer to you than it is to me how Mr. Green is contradicting it. ;-)

Tony said...

Take that hierarchy away and God's control over motion can only be direct: he directly co-moves every here-and-now action of every substance, which leads irrevocably to determinism.

Well, I don't claim to be able to answer every possible objection, (including the ones I haven't seen) but I don't think TA's theory of motion and God's causality depends on the spheres in any critical way. I think it depends on natural philosophy, which ALSO does not depend on the spheres in any essential.

St. Thomas explicitly provides that God moves some things according to contingent causality - he completely rejects determinism in nature. So if he is at all consistent, his notion of God's causality must make room for that.

TA also provides that God works through intermediate causes, which have their own causality - though their causality is also received ultimately from God. So, again, God's causing A to move B isn't SIMPLY a disguised way of saying God moves B, TA is saying that A really causes B to move. That "really causes" is also something that you have to use to understand TA's theory of motion and God's causing.

And again, while a husband and wife certainly cause a baby to be generated, they don't do it without God's direct involvement in the coming to be of the rational soul, so whatever causality you ascribe to God here, you have to do it while leaving room for the parents also being causes as well. But even though it requires God's direct action, nobody requires us to call this a miracle, i.e. something that steps out of the order of nature, because God's fashioning of human nature was specifically a nature that needed his direct action to generate new members. So while the action exceeds any natural agent's capacity, the action is not apart from the natural order.

All of these things help in discerning what TA was NOT saying. He was not saying that God moves the will deterministically. He was not saying that He moves everything else in nature deterministically. And he was not saying that His causality makes other causality unreal or pointless. And anyone who claims that his account of the principles of motion and God's causality depended inherently on false physics, and yet does not fail due to that false physics, had better be prepared to explain himself quite thoroughly.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

The problem is that it's not clear how an "intermediate cause" can exist outside of that classical cosmic hierarchy. For a cause to be really intermediate, rather than simply a disguise for God's own agency, its causal power must be derived from a cosmic hierarchy that ultimately terminates in God as final cause. It needs to have an agency really distinct from God's, and it must be capable of acting without God's direct, efficient interference--even though its agency ultimately derives from God, who moves the spheres. (As Lonergan points out, this system makes all causality instrumental, which, combined with God's place in the hierarchy, allows Aquinas to say without determinism that God applies all agents to their actions.) Without this system, how can an agent be intermediate rather than a mere cipher? The hierarchy-free alternative of positing God as a co-mover of each specific action, such that any given action requires God's immediate (read: unmediated) efficient causality to cooperate with an agent, reduces secondary causality to a word game.

The example of conception doesn't work as an analogy here. Critically, conception involves the creation of a new soul from nothing. Only God can perform this feat, so of course his direct involvement is required. To make it even less relevant, God does not use the parents as instruments: the matter they produce is implanted with a new soul without any mediation, because no agent other than God can produce something from nothing. Whether or not you refer to this process as natural, the fact remains that it has nothing to do with God's movement of secondary agents.

And anyone who claims that his account of the principles of motion and God's causality depended inherently on false physics, and yet does not fail due to that false physics, had better be prepared to explain himself quite thoroughly.

The principles of motion (i.e. act and potency) do not rely on false physics. However, the argument from motion to God definitely rested on the classical cosmic hierarchy, no less for Aquinas than for Aristotle. While I criticize the failure to reference that framework by those who interpret Aquinas's comments about divine causality, I am agnostic about the First Way. I'm also agnostic about modern cosmology. Perhaps Aquinas's argument from motion can be excised from Ptolemaic cosmology without loss--I have no idea. Perhaps modern cosmology, despite its chaos and godlessness, is true--again, no idea. After years of wrestling with the First Way without luck, I've given up on it. I'm more than willing to be shown how it avoids determinism without reference to Ptolemaic cosmology, but I no longer lose sleep over it.

Step2 said...

God doesn't will somebody's physical death because He "needs too". Dude ditch the theistic personalism.

Dude, it was Mr. Green's analogy so I'm not ditching anything until he does.

Killing is not unlawful or intrinsically evil.

I entirely agree killing can be lawful in some strict circumstances.

Murder is unlawful & intrinsically evil otherwise no death penalty even for the wicked is possible.

Also agree. The war crime that is the intentional killing of innocent civilians is a type of murder.

Torture is the deliberate inflicting of pain for it's own sake or to coerce another's will toward an action. Torture is also intrinsically evil.

Okay, I'll agree with that also. That doesn't mean murder is somehow less evil than torture.

Step2, I don't quite see where you are going.

Tony, please remind me what my favorite movie quote is. Thanks.

Tony said...

Step2, I am going to guess that your favorite movie quote is "it is OK for a good God to arrange a universe with lions and antelopes, where lions kill antelopes for food."

Did I get it right?

By the way, I am not arguing Mr. Green's or Ben Yachov's issues, I am arguing determinism and the question of whether God is the cause of human deaths.

Tony said...

The example of conception doesn't work as an analogy here.

Rank, I was not trying to analogize that. I was showing that - consistent with St. Thomas's teaching - God does intervene directly in the events of the world as agent cause, without miracle. So it need not be true in the rest of nature that he never directly moves non-free agents except by miracles.

It is also true that God causes some things under a contingent mode, so that they happen non-deterministically.

In any case, whether God moves primary agents through final causality who then efficiently move other agents which cause deaths, God is still the cause of the deaths. When the general who moves the colonel who moves the major...down to the sergeant who moves the soldiers, the general is indeed a cause of the soldiers acting. That the intermediate agents don't act deterministically doesn't lead to the conclusion that the general didn't cause the soldiers to act.

BenYachov said...

Step2,

Saying God can murder (when He either acts directly to take a life or commands others to do so) is intrinsically absurd.

It's on the level of asking "Who Created God?(Who created the Un-created?)".

God can take any life at anytime or command it to be taking by public divine revelation(which ended at the death of the last Apostle).

Wither Waterboarding is torture or what constitutes torture is an interesting side issue.

But deliberately inflicting pain for it's own sake is universally held to be intrinsically evil. Wither you agree with Mark Shea or not on waterboarding.

So God cannot ever command the torture of Babies.

Accept it.

BenYachov said...

additional:

http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/boapw.html

God is not obligated to create us & God is not obligated to sustain our existence with our living bodies united to our souls.

So how can if be unlawful for God to take life?

BenYachov said...


>>But what, according to your view, stops God commanding anything, like, for instance, the creation of a world mostly consisting of the eternal torturing of babies?

>I was hoping someone would bring that up! Just so that I can confidently state: yes, if God commanded us to torture babies then absolutely it would be a good thing for us to do.

I smell equivocation. So I will play along.

If God "created babies to be tortured" then it would be the "nature" of those babies to suffer torture.

Therefore logically babies with a "to be tortured nature" would need to be tortured to fulfill that nature.

Thus to not torture those babies would be to inflict evil on them since you would be depriving them of their "to be tortured" nature. They simply would not like that at all.

Torture Baby(with a thick NYC accent).

"HEY BUDDY!!! WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA NOT TORTURING ME YA MOOK?!!!"



BenYachov said...

" Do not court death by the errors of your ways, nor invite destruction through the work of your hands.

13 For God did not make Death, he takes no pleasure in destroying the living.

14 To exist -- for this he created all things; the creatures of the world have health in them, in them is no fatal poison, and Hades has no power over the world:

15 for uprightness is immortal."

I don't think the above excludes Augustine's interpretation that God created prey animals to feed on others or mere natural death.

Rather I think what is meant here is spiritual death.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Timotheos,

Well, I'm a Platonic universalist and perennialist, so we probably have somewhat different perspectives. Before I joined the Church of England, I considered other faiths but Christianity, and I'm half-heartedly doing so again now, although this time I want to make sure I choose one I stick with (Christianity is my first choice, though, don't get me wrong).

I have much respect for the Roman Church; however, I do agree with those who consider Vatican II a grievous blow for that Church, so I'd be more attracted to traditionalist Catholic churches, and even those that are outside the contemporary mainstream. But I have no desire to enter a Church to immediately be thrust into such internecine conclicts.

I have only looked briefly at the filoque controversy in the past, but from what I remember, I think my sympathies were with the Orthodox. Certainly, I tend to side with them on eccesiastical organisation. But I don't put too much stress on the exactitude on these complex doctrinal formulas, largely because of my Platonic universalist underpinnings. I side with the Eastern Orthodox and Western Churches over both the Oriental Orthodox and Church of the East, but that would not stop me joining either of these latter two. I tend to avoid anything but relative judgments on such questions. Even when it comes to traditional Calvinism, I think it a valid if very limited branch of Christianity. It expresses an important aspect of God's relationship to the world, as well as a salvic path worthy, if (again) limited, in itself. It is just somewhat myopic and contrary to aspects of spirituality I most cherish.

What I look for is a religious tradition that is living; has a doctrine that I feel is representaitve, overall, of metaphysical truth; is sacramental; has a profound symbolism and imaginal aspect; seems to bear the imprint of divine revelation and inspiration; provides an esoteric or mystical path, the path of sanctification and not just salvation; and fits the ambiance I personally desire. Except for the last two, traditional Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Calvinism/Reformed Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Church of the East all fit my prescription for a valid religious tradition. Only Eastern Orthodoxy provides the regular mystical outlet, and only High Church Anglicanism has quite the right ambiance I'm looking for (but this is the least important criteria, and I will surrender it if needs be).

rank sophist said...

Tony,

The general analogy is actually quite good, because it illustrates exactly the point I'm making. A general stands at the top of his army and issues sweeping commands. His direct inferiors receive his commands perfectly, but his message gets fuzzier and less persuasive once you go down a few ranks. The average sergeant or private isn't under the general's control except in an indirect way: he deployed them, but he does not determine their individual actions. Thus, if a private is found guilty of committing war crimes, the general cannot be blamed: he didn't order that the crimes be committed. Now consider Lonergan's summary of Aristotle's cosmos:

Now while Aristotle's wheeling heavens do necessitate continuous change on earth, it remains that they do not account for anything more than the continuity of that change. They make it necessary that something keeps happening; they do not determine precisely what is to happen. And much less does the first mover do so, for he acts simply as final cause. Thus the idea of divine design and controlling providence is simply absent from Aristotle's cosmic scheme; he compares the world to a household: the heavenly bodies, like the sons of the family, have their conduct mapped out for them; the terrestrial agents, like slaves and domestic animals, move a good deal at random.

Further:

A motion taking place at a given time presupposes more than the existence of mover and moved, else why did the motion not take place sooner? Obviously there must have been some inability or impediment to account for the absence of motion. With equal evidence this inability or impediment must have been removed when the motion was about to take place. It is even more evident that such removal must itself be another motion, prior to the motion in question; and though St Thomas did not use the term, we may refer to this prior motion as a premotion. Finally, the premotion necessarily involves a premover, and, if the problem of causation in time is to be solved, the premover must be distinct from the original mover and moved.

This Aristotelian doctrine of premotion must be carefully distinguished from the later Bannezian doctrine. The latter postulates a premotion whenever a creature is a cause; but the Aristotelian doctrine postulates a premotion whenever a cause acts in time. [...] In the second place, the Bannezian premotion is natura prius and not tempore prius. But the Aristotelian premotion evidently is tempore prius: it led Aristotle to infer the eternity of the world on the ground that, since every change presupposed a prior change, there could be no first change; and St Thomas refuted this conclusion, not by substituting a premotion that was natura prius, but by arguing that what came first was not in the category of change but creation, and that creation, so far from taking place in time, includes the production of time itself. In the third place, the Bannezian premotion is constituted by a greater actuation of the agent; it gives the created agent a special participation of the pure act of being; and it tends to identify this special participation with an anti-Aristotelian and anti-Thomist actio in agente. On the other hand, the Aristotelian premotion as understood by St Thomas affects indifferently mover or moved, agent or patient; explicitly is it vel ex parte motivi vel ex parte mobilis; and what it brings about is not some special participation of absolute being but, again explicitly, some relation, disposition, proximity that enables mover to act upon moved. Finally, while the Bannezian premotion is a metaphysical mystery, the Aristotelian is as plain as a pikestaff. On the latter view an iceberg at the Pole will not be melted by the sun; to have the motion 'melting,' it is necessary to change the relative positions of the sun and the iceberg; and this may be done either by sending the iceberg towards the equator or moving the sun up above the Arctic Circle. Nothing could be simpler or more evident.

rank sophist said...

As for Aquinas's addition to this system:

In Aristotle, terrestrial contingence had its ultimate basis in his negation or neglect of providence: events happened contingently because there was no cause to which they could be reduced except prime matter, and prime matter was not a determinate cause. Antithetical to this position was the Christian affirmation of providence, for divine providence foresaw and planned and brought about every event. The Thomist higher synthesis was to place God above and beyond the created orders of necessity and contingence: because God is universal cause, his providence must be certain; but because he is a transcendent cause, there can be no incompatibility between terrestrial contingence and the causal certitude of providence.

[...]

Why did not St Thomas affirm in the commentary on the Sentences that God applies all agents to their activity? Why did application in its technical sense make its first appearance in the Contra Gentiles? The obvious answer is that before the latter work St Thomas had not solved the speculative problems incident to the conception of the causal certitude of providence. In the commentary on the Sentences and in the De veritate one can find affirmations of both Christian providence and of Aristotelian premotion; one can find them not only separately but also conjoined, as when the remote preparation for justification is explained by the loss of health or by a preacher's admonition or by anything of the sort that will stimulate the will, because all such things are due to divine providence. It remains that in these works divine providence cannot be associated with Aristotelian premotion in any but a vague manner. Only when St Thomas settled down to the vast task of thinking out the Christian universe in the Contra Gentiles did he arrive at the truth that divine providence is an intrinsically certain cause of every combination or interference of terrestrial causes. By the same stroke would he arrive at the practically identical truth that God applies every agent to its activity.


Basically, Aquinas's theory that God applies all agents derives from a simple extrapolation from Aristotle's system:

1. All movements are applied by prior movements.
2. All prior movements themselves are applied by other prior movements in the Aristotelian cosmic hierarchy.
3. The Aristotelian cosmic hierarchy terminates in God.
4. Therefore, God applies all movements.

This avoids Aristotle's appeal to irrational, random events "caused" by prime matter without sacrificing the freedom allowed by the Aristotelian cosmic hierarchy, as demonstrated by the example of the general. Even though the general technically applies his privates to action, by ordering them via intermediates toward this or that sweeping goal, this application is not identical to micromanagement. Thus the privates are free to choose their goals without being radically independent of their general, and without their general being blamable for their mistakes and evils.

rank sophist said...

Clarification:

Thus the privates are free to choose their goals without being radically independent of their general

"Goals" should be "proximate goals". Their sweeping goal is set out by the general, just as God wills that all things act toward good.

2042 said...

Rank, clearly statements 2 and 3 would have been just as true of ANY series of intermediate motions and agents.

I haven't the least clue whether Lonergan correctly recounts Thomas's development of thought on the subject, nor is it germane: God is a cause of all that is not sin. Whether he is so in Lonergan's approach or Banez's approach, either one accounts that the motions that result in the natural deaths of humans have their source in God.

Anonymous said...

"At the very least, in p3 he's/you're relying on the wrong sense of the word is."




So Christ didn't *identify* himself as God?

Among other things, John 1:1 seems pretty direct on this point. And then there's the "Before Abraham was, I AM" claim.

Scott said...

"So Christ didn't *identify* himself as God?"

That's very obviously not what I said, so if you're serious, reread the thread up to that point, and if you're not, go troll somebody else.

Anonymous said...

Okay. So then Christ is the God of the Old Testament, and IF the Old Testament accounts of genocide, infanticide, etc. are read as history, then Christ ordered genocide, infanticide, etc.

There is plainly no way around that unless you deny that Christ was God during the time of Moses.

Scott said...

Or, again, you could go troll somebody else.

</final response to sophomoric twit looking for attention>

rank sophist said...

2024,

Whether God is the cause of death or merely its allower is possibly the most important distinction in theology. You can brush over the issue by calling God the "source" of the motions that lead to death, but to do that is to miss the point entirely. Does God will death or does death occur as an undesired side-effect of motion? Aquinas, thanks to classical cosmology, was able to affirm the latter proposition. Interpretations of Aquinas that ignore classical cosmology cannot help but affirm the former proposition, in my (admittedly limited) experience.

rank sophist said...

2042,

Further, the difference between "natural" human deaths and sin-based ones is problematic at best. If "sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin" (Rom. 5:12), then how does it make sense to call any death natural? (Aquinas's own answer to this question, notably, teetered on the edge of nonsense.) And, if some deaths are natural and caused by God, does God take responsibility for Hurricane Katrina? If so, then what differentiates him from a capricious pagan god, or even from Satan?

Anonymous said...

""

Um, initiating name-calling (and bizarre psychoanalysis) doesn't make you look good. Nobody insulted you. You, for no apparent reason, assumed I was a troll.

This had no chance of going anywhere.


Scott said...

"This had no chance of going anywhere."

Precisely. Good night.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: Your idea of "transcendence" is to put God beyond good and evil. Because he writes the rules, he can't fall under them. That's no better than Ockhamism.

Well, yeah, ’cause that’s what “transcendence” means: “beyond”. You can’t be saying that God is under the rules (where “rules” are just natures—assuming you’re not denying natural law too)? And “Ockhamism” is definitely an insult, but even Ockham couldn’t be wrong about everything. God’s goodness is that of benevolence; saying that God does not have moral goodness like a creature should not be controversial. (Don’t make me sic BenYachov on you!)

(In fact, nothing I’ve said is novel… if it seems that way, it’s owing only to my poor expression. Perhaps someone can better explain what I’m trying to say if it’s not clear. I suspect that what we have here is largely a failure to communicate, and we probably agree more than not.)

when you say that, no matter how morally repugnant your theology may be, those who disagree with it have a merely "emotional" dispute with it.

Actually, out of several emotional responses, yours is the only one to come with an actual argument. But you’re throwing in pointless emotion too. (Throwing out melodramatic imagery is not going to convince me that the argument is wrong.) If what I’m saying is true, then it isn’t morally repugnant in the least, regardless of how you personally happen to “feel” about it.

Any human who […] would be a monster. Amplify that beyond all comprehension and you have your god.

Going “beyond comprehension” would certainly explain some of the reactions. But what’s “any human” got to do with it? You can’t say something applies to God because it applies to a creature! Any human who permitted such suffering when he could so easily stop it would be a monster too. So on your reasoning[?], we can always make God come out a monster one way or another. Which is funny considering that a “monster” is a corrupted nature, a defective creature, whereas God is super-natural, and has no form to be de-formed.

The scriptural passages you quoted are vague and open to non-literal interpretation

They aren’t vague at all, and anything can be interpreted all sorts of ways. More useful would be your own interpretation (and some defence thereof). Wisdom 1:13 is clearly referring to the cause of death’s entering the world in the first place, while 1 Sam 2:6/Dt. 32:39 clearly refer to individual instances. And even if you think you have a justifiable interpretation that skirts the obvious meaning of those verses, I can’t see any reasonable way around the direct commandment to Abraham, nor Paul’s explicit reference to it in Hebrews 11:19 — and the reason for Paul’s saying that if didn’t mean what it says.

If "sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin" (Rom. 5:12), then how does it make sense to call any death natural?

Surely Mr. 2042 means death by “natural causes” as opposed to human intervention. Metaphysically speaking, all death can be considered unnatural in that it was not part of our created nature; or death can be considered natural in that it does not require a miracle but happens through the exercise of natural powers. And natural causes (in either sense) trace back to God through primary causation. I don’t see how a problem follows from that.

does God take responsibility for Hurricane Katrina? If so, then what differentiates him from a capricious pagan god, or even from Satan?

For starters, Satan can’t kill people. And the difference is God is the Ultimate Ground of Being, not a being. The difference is not that those pagan gods were such meanies while the real God is a swell guy (swell through He may be, that isn’t the point). But I have a question for you: suppose you get gangrene or something in your leg. Could God (miraculously) amputate it to save your life?

Step2 said...

Saying God can murder (when He either acts directly to take a life or commands others to do so) is intrinsically absurd.

Saying humans stabbing young children aren’t committing murder is intrinsically absurd.

So God cannot ever command the torture of Babies. Accept it.

I accept that half of your original definition of torture has disappeared. Perhaps a wave hit it. Furthermore, I’ve already granted that torture is intrinsically evil, but I also claim that God cannot command murder either. It’s no good to say that the command itself overrides any potential conflict; its determination as murder is intrinsic to the target, not on who commands it.

Glenn said...

Rank,

[God] creates and sustains a fallen order...

I can understand that God sustains a fallen order.

And I can understand that God created an order which subsequently became fallen.

I also can understand that God creates an order which subsequently becomes fallen.

What I cannot understand, however, is either:

a) that God created an order that never was not fallen (i.e., that He created a fallen order); or,

b) that God creates an order that is never not fallen (i.e., that He creates a fallen order).

Surely the 'fallen' aspect of any order created by God... arises, so to speak, subsequent to the creation of that order, and not concomitantly with its creation.

Or am I missing something?

machinephilosophy said...

The evangelicals have a woody for reason even though they 1) commit fallacy after fallacy, and 2) when cornered use the faith-beyond-reason card.

If faith is beyond reason, then STOP REASONING ABOUT IT.

Evangelicals are schizoid about their beyondananda blik-faith, and I think Nietsche's right about there being ulterior motives---such as the lust to morally scold people.

Plus there's not going to be funding for evangelicals in a few years, as the old-timers now propping it up are dying like flies.

The Catholic church has its problems as well, but it's certainly not because of intellectual insanity about it's theoretic (and meta-theoretic) foundations. The Thomists are the only group of I know of who are facing problems and questions that almost the entire rest of Christendom and the secular intellectual world have made a way of life out of avoiding like the plague.

Yet in fact, for the most part, the rest of Christendom and the secular intellectual world ARE the plague.

Anonymous said...

Machinephilosophy,

I understand what you're saying concerning the lack of intellectual bravery among many protestant, evangelical movements, but I feel like your statement is a little too sweeping. I mean, I think it's unfair to call protestant evangelicals like Bill Craig and Alvin Plantinga intellectual cowards. I'm also unsure every Catholic facing problems and questions is a Thomist. Does anyone know if Alexander Pruss, for instance, is a Thomist?

Anon3

machinephilosophy said...

Yeah, "for the most part" is a sure sign of sweeping universality in the world of cognitive knuckledragging.

So juvenile pretension comes back to bite itself in the butt, in addition to it being flatly false that I called Craig, Plantinga, et. al. cowards.

Isn't it fun to ignore qualifications so that you can claim that statements were made that you only want to be true but can't actually crank up enough brain cells to actually present an argument for?!

Maybe ask Craig how abstract objects can adjudicate their own ontological status, and how one can ward off any questioning of that self-contradictory sleight-of-hand by simply never mentioning the issue.

Tony said...

Sorry, Gents: my "2042" was my error, it was the Captcha requirement, I just entered it into the wrong space. My mistake. I didn't intend the comment to be anonymous.

Further, the difference between "natural" human deaths and sin-based ones is problematic at best. If "sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin" (Rom. 5:12), then how does it make sense to call any death natural?

Come now, everybody understands what the coroner means when he pronounces "death by natural causes." It's not that hard.

If you want to push further into the underlying reality, we can, but it doesn't change the outcome. God made man with a nature that is composed of matter and form, and like all such natures it is not designed for permanence insofar as its own nature provides. In Adam He raised that nature to a supernatural ordination to the Beatific Vision, and that ordination provided the wherewithal of the will, being subject to God, to assume complete control of the lower faculties and thus freedom from death from interior causes. God also, at the same time (through preternatural gifts), subjected nature to an ordination to support men so that there would be no death from external causes either. Sin destroyed those supernatural gifts of orderliness and thus destroyed man's freedom from physical death. So the order of nature(s) without supernatural constraints kicked in, and thus death to which physical living things are naturally subject to on account of their composition of body and soul.

Genesis is remarkably silent (or perhaps it isn't remarkable) on whether ALL of nature was revised and revolutionized so as to require no deaths of any natural creature during the period of the preternatural gifts. It is left to us to investigate, and natural science leads us to see that nature has animals and plants whose normal, designed, successful operations include killing other things for their own lives, such as wasps that lay their eggs in the body of a spider. It is difficult to conceive of an "elevation" of their ordered lives - other than a total transformation as in glorified bodies, which Adam and Eve did NOT have - which could have dispensed with their natural operations to such an extent that they had no need of killing other animals and plants.

So, it is very probable that the "through sin, death" refers only to man's death, not that of the rest of nature.

Once you allow for ANY natural deaths to be part of God's providential order of creation, you have no way of marking off man so that the deaths of humans by natural causes is not - in addition to being caused by Adam and Eve's sin - due to God's causality. There is, then, more than one cause. One is the cause of natures and the natural order and the motions proper to it and the providential design for the whole. The other is a deficient cause, the cause of a higher protection or impediment to death NOT being present.

Anonymous said...

I admit, I did notice the qualifiers afterwards and nearly qualified my comment with a second comment. But I was in a rush to leave to somewhere, and didn't expect such a swaggering, crude reply.

"The Thomists are the only group of I know of who are facing problems and questions that almost the entire rest of Christendom and the secular intellectual world have made a way of life out of avoiding like the plague."

I was thinking of this comment here. "The Thomists are the only group I know of who are facing problems and questions that almost [...]." Well, which is it? Are they the "only" group you know of, or are only almost the rest of Christendom ignoring the problems and questions? I hope you can see where I got the idea you were making a fairly sweeping statement, despite the qualifiers.

Anon3

Tony said...

"For God made not death: neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living" (Wisdom 1:13).

One way to understand this passage alongside of

Man was made in God’s image, and whoever sheds a man’s blood must shed his own blood in return. (Gen. (:6)

and

If a man commits adultery by having commerce with his neighbour’s wife, the lives of both, adulterer and adulteress, must pay for it. (Lev. 18:20)

(and similar for 35 other sins), and

The Lord killeth and maketh alive, he bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again. (1 Sam. 2:6)

and

The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them along with Korah, whose followers died when the fire devoured the 250 men. And they served as a warning sign. (Num. 26:10)

is that God does not take pleasure in the death of the soul, but in its life. God did not make sin, but righteousness. God does bring about anyone's sin, and does not delight in the destruction of the life of the soul. If God unequivocally gave the law to Moses that prescribed the death of those guilty of certain evils, God's righteousness must include that He is the cause of death in some men. Any attempt to write out of the Old Testament God's intending and causing physical death to men in some circumstances must so alter the clear meaning of so many passages that it is impossible to say what the Old Testament could actually mean without it.

Tony said...

Correction: God does NOT bring about anyone's sin.

BenYachov said...

>Saying humans stabbing young children aren’t committing murder is intrinsically absurd.

How do we know that in an allegedly amoral reality?

>I accept that half of your original definition of torture has disappeared. Perhaps a wave hit it.

Not the relevant part since you can’t extract information from infants by any means since they
lack the power to give information.

>Furthermore, I’ve already granted that torture is intrinsically evil, but I also claim that God cannot command murder either.

It’s a contradiction. Murder is the unlawful taking of human life. If God commands it then it’s not unlawful.


@Step2
> It’s no good to say that the command itself overrides any potential conflict; its determination as murder is intrinsic to the target, not on who commands it.

You have invented ad hoc a moral dogma here that says all killing across the board is murder. But since God created a Universe with natural death then killing in and of itself isn’t always intrinsically evil. Merely evil by accident.

Peace.

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

Well, yeah, ’cause that’s what “transcendence” means: “beyond”. You can’t be saying that God is under the rules (where “rules” are just natures—assuming you’re not denying natural law too)?

Aquinas's God does not write rules. That's the problem with your position. A rule-writer must be beyond his own rules, and therefore beyond good and evil--an amoral enigma. For Aquinas, God is transcendent because of the purity and perfection of his goodness, from which emanate the lesser, fallible goodnesses of creation. Therefore we find God not by rejecting all that we know as incomparable, but by looking to the best and purest things of the world and drawing analogies. What does a good father do? He loves all of his children; he would never arrange for some to become promiscuous drug addicts and others to become monks or nuns. Nor would he arrange for some to die in a horrific natural disaster while others took a trip to the Sistine Chapel. What does a just ruler do? Does he arbitrarily force some to rot in iniquity while he bestows unlimited favor upon others? No. And does he micromanage all of his people's sins and virtues (as in totalitarianism), or does he grant them the freedom to choose one or the other?

To say that these moral analogies have no bearing on God is, essentially, to reject analogy entirely. It's certainly true that God is not a deliberating, finite agent like the ruler or father--but this does not make him somehow "less similar" to these people. In fact (and paradoxically), God is infinitely more similar to those people than they are to themselves, in that he always already has a pure and unlimited form of their goodness, with all of its best elements (its love, its justice) on an infinite scale.

Any human who permitted such suffering when he could so easily stop it would be a monster too.

You have totally missed the point, which could have been avoided if you'd read the conversation on the economy of violence between Brandon and myself. God does not permit suffering that he could prevent: he creates a fundamentally good order that, as a result of metaphysically necessary imperfection, must contain suffering. The only other option is not to create (or cause motion) at all, which would deprive the universe of almost all of its goodness. See Brandon's illustration of this concept:

rank sophist said...

Suppose you're given the opportunity to create a sandbox-universe, to make it beautiful. And suppose one of the things you can put into your sandbox-universe a violet that is extraordinarily beautiful, but the kind of beauty it has is very fragile, so that it will likely last only one afternoon.

One way of approaching this, the Manichean way, is to say: "This violet is corruptible, inherently passing, and its corruptibility taints its beauty with ugliness. It could only be allowed if its beauty, or the beauty of things coming from it, were greater than the ugliness of its destruction."

But another way of approaching this, the Thomistic way, is to say: "Though the violet may pass away, it is extraordinarily beautiful, and thus will play an important role in the fullness of beauty that is the end of the sandbox-universe, even if we only have it one afternoon. As for its passing away, we can even set things up so that its contribution of beauty to the universe continues even when it is destroyed by its making possible other beautiful things. By giving up its beauty it will have a share in the beauty of others."


So it is with motion. To cause motion is to allow the suffering and decay of fallible natures. But motion is never caused for that reason: it is caused because, without it, almost no goodness could exist. Motion is caused under the order of goodness exclusively; suffering and decay are unwanted side-effects that derive from the intrinsic imperfection of the here below. A just ruler would not dissolve his polis simply because thieves and prostitutes thrived there; neither would God cease to generate goodness in creation simply because of creation's corruptibility.

Could God (miraculously) amputate it to save your life?

To amputate a leg for any reason is to enter the economy of violence, wherein one deleterious option is chosen to avoid an even more deleterious option. It's the unfortunate but necessary moral logic of limited creatures in a fallen world. God transcends such limitations: he could (if he wished) banish the gangrene without harming the leg. He would have no reason to lower himself to a creaturely level by amputating it.

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

Quite right. That was sloppy grammar on my part; sorry for the confusion.

Tony,

First, man was created to be naturally immortal in the state of innocence. Aquinas's hand-wringing qualifications of this immortality do not keep it from being natural. Why? Because to claim that death is natural is to reject the entire logic of scripture: death was an unwanted and horrifying intruder into God's "very good" creation, and men had been subjugated by death since Adam; Christ overthrew this economy and freed people even from hell. In this he returned what Adam lost. At the same time, Christ offered man godhood (the Beatific Vision)--something superior even to the state of innocence. If death is natural, then it's not clear why man would want to escape it in the first place. Our nature, after all, dictates what is good for us--so why reject it now? A virtuous life ended by death is natural, so why bother fighting it?

Second, not even the Catholic Catechism states that Adam had the Beatific Vision. Aquinas's claim, mirrored in that document, is that man had and lost "original justice". Had Adam experienced the Beatific Vision, he would not have been able to sin at all.

Once you allow for ANY natural deaths to be part of God's providential order of creation

I don't. I'm aware of Aquinas's sophistical argument that carnivores (for example) were not "given every green herb for meat", contrary to Gen. 1:30. However, I think he's clearly wrong. I'm of the mind that our current natural order--which is certainly red in tooth and claw--did not exist in Eden. More importantly, though, it does not follow that God wills natural death even if you allow Aquinas's argument. See the comment from Brandon that I quoted above.

Finally, regarding Wisdom 1:13, your reading does not work when that passage is set in its full context:

"For God made not death: neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living. For he created all things, that they might have their being: and the generations of the world were healthful; and there is no poison of destruction in them, nor the kingdom of death upon the earth: (For righteousness is immortal.)"

machinephilosophy said...

"I hope you can see where I got the idea you were making a fairly sweeping statement, despite the qualifiers."

What a freakin ignorant-ass statement.

So if I say Some S are P, I'm STILL saying all S are P, in spite of that dismissable and insignificant qualifier "Some".

Go troll somewhere else, and keep avoiding actual reading and thinking in philosophy.

But maybe there's just tons of books, journal articles, and dissertations on things like self-reference and background criteria, and I'm just somehow not seeing them. A single example of where this can be found anywhere, not just among the wheel-of-circularity blik-faith evangelicals, might give some credibility to those who make unargued claims about other people's statements while giving their own a pass.

And maybe "evangelical" is not tantamount to "philosophically infantile dumbass talking in circles in GreatPumkinese" after all, and they're not really pompously using abstract objects as a basis for denying their own reality.

And maybe all pigs are well-fed and ready to fly.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

But doesn't the fact that God (usually) does not banish the gangrene undermine your moral argument from analogy? In other words, if any person could effortlessly relieve the suffering of a person (say, banishing gangrene without amputation) but chose not to do so, we would find that choice to be quite immoral. On your line argument here, why isn't God immoral for not banishing gangrene (or cancer, or whatever)?

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Second, not even the Catholic Catechism states that Adam had the Beatific Vision. "

Nor, as I understood him, did Tony. He said that Adam was supernaturally ordained to the Beatific Vision, which I didn't take to mean that Adam was given the Vision itself.

Scott said...

A similar confusion arose in the replies to this post, starting here.

Anonymous said...

Machinephilosophy,

"Go troll somewhere else"

I mean, I don't think anyone looking at the difference in tones between our last few posts would think I'm the troll, with your litany of cheap smears and vitriol. So I leave that to the other contributors to decide.

I've already admitted my fault in reading your first comment too quickly, and pointed to the section that resulted in my initial statement, so I have nothing more to say about that part of your comment.

The rest is literally just cuss words and angry smears.

Anonymous said...

The previous post was by "Anon3", which is how I've been signing my comments to differentiate myself from the other anonymous poster.

machinephilosophy said...

"The rest is literally just cuss words and angry smears."

Prove your points, Mr. Dismissive.

So far, you haven't argued a single claim. I'm sure the "other contributors" are shocked by that.

And most of the other contributors here know me very well from years back, and that I actually argue my points, unlike the stupid pretentions of dimissive posturing trolls who can't seem to ever construct a single argument about anything.

Surprise, suprise, suprise.

Step2 said...

@Ben
Murder is the unlawful taking of human life. If God commands it then it’s not unlawful.

Intrinsic evils must be grounded in the characteristics of the object, not merely the legal circumstance or intention.

You have invented ad hoc a moral dogma here that says all killing across the board is murder. But since God created a Universe with natural death then killing in and of itself isn’t always intrinsically evil. Merely evil by accident.

Quite the opposite, I’ve explicitly refuted the notion all killing is murder. I'm also not saying anything pro or con about God's own ability to take life, naturally or supernaturally. To borrow your parody example of Torture Baby, you are basically claiming there were Death Children where God’s command changed their basic natures into something that was morally obligatory to kill.

Anonymous said...

Machinephilosophy,

What points? I haven't actually tried to argue anything with you, Machinephilosophy. All I did was make a fairly placid comment.

I don't know enough about Thomistic philosophy to argue about it, which is why most of my posts in the short time I've been here have been asking questions. Would you rather me be like the hundreds of posters bringing useless, poorly researched and thought-out arguments to the forum and wasting everyone's time?

As I said, the only thing I have brought up was merely a comment. It turned out you in fact agreed with it and that I had read your post too quickly.

As for my dismissiveness, well you make it awfully hard not to dismiss you when 4/5ths of your post is pure, unadulterated vitriol. There's no arguing with that.

But perhaps you think I made some other comment that I didn't, or something, and you're attacking me for something I know nothing about from the past. Maybe you think I'm some other poster.

Anon3

rank sophist said...

Scott,

Specifically Tony wrote, "In Adam He raised that nature to a supernatural ordination to the Beatific Vision". A vague sentence. It did seem unusual for Tony to make the rookie mistake of saying that Adam had the Beatific Vision, so perhaps your interpretation is correct.

Anon at 3:40 PM,

God does not have an obligation to perform miracles. Indeed, if he did, then miracles (i.e. free gifts from God) would be meaningless. They'd be subsumed to the general operation of the cosmos, thereby becoming no more than natural occurrences.

I have been arguing, specifically, against the view that God wills death as part of the cosmic order. A good father does not will the death of his children, and a good ruler does not will the corruption of his polis. That death or corruption is allowed, however, in the very act of having children or building a polis. In the same way, God's creation of the world is concomitant with the allowance of suffering in the world, because the world is (as a finite, changeable plane below God and the spheres) corruptible out of metaphysical necessity. The only other option is not to create at all. This is true whether you hold my view or Aquinas's on the Fall.

Now, God may perform miracles to suspend or heal suffering in the world, but (again) he has no obligation to do so. Miracles are mysteries that stand outside the created order: no human logic can comprehend them or determine when one should occur. God has created a "very good" world, none of whose evil he causes--and he has sent Christ to prepare an unworthy mankind for the world's rebirth. Further, he regularly answers prayers for miraculous intercession. What more could we possibly desire?

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Specifically Tony wrote, 'In Adam He raised that nature to a supernatural ordination to the Beatific Vision'. A vague sentence. It did seem unusual for Tony to make the rookie mistake of saying that Adam had the Beatific Vision, so perhaps your interpretation is correct."

I expect so. As I said, Tony wrote that Adam was supernaturally ordained to the Beatific Vision. I was closely paraphrasing his own words, which seem clear enough to me (ordain being the verb corresponding to ordination). And as you say, Tony isn't inclined toward rookie mistakes.

BenYachov said...

I'm confused by your response Step2.

Are you arguing God can or cannot order the killing of infants?

Tony said...

Aquinas's hand-wringing qualifications of this immortality do not keep it from being natural.

I'm aware of Aquinas's sophistical argument that carnivores (for example) were not "given every green herb for meat", contrary to Gen. 1:30. However, I think he's clearly wrong.

This avoids Aristotle's appeal to irrational, random events "caused" by prime matter

My view is Aquinas's view, as recovered by Lonergan in his extensive historical research.

Rank, I submit that your view is Aquinas's view only if you omit a number of facet's of Aquinas's view that you obviously don't like. Which means something like "my view is partly consistent with Aquinas and partly not." And, for that reason alone, I would take it as highly problematic whether Lonergan's account of Aquinas is sound: possibly he simply misunderstood Aquinas, or possibly Aquinas in his later Summa Theologica simply corrects his earlier errors (which Lonergan may have not noticed). But to take Aquinas earlier work as correcting his later work which is "sophistical" is certainly a strange way of saving his theory.

Rank: "Second, not even the Catholic Catechism states that Adam had the Beatific Vision. "

Scott: Nor, as I understood him, did Tony. He said that Adam was supernaturally ordained to the Beatific Vision,

Quite right, Scott. Thanks for the back-up.

First, man was created to be naturally immortal in the state of innocence.

It is a completely wrong reading of Thomas to suggest that HE was saying that Adam was created in such a way that he was ordained toward the Beatific Vision as a to an end which is possible under the powers of its nature. You could argue that maybe Thomas was WRONG about this, but to attribute the opposite to St. Thomas because you think the opposite was true is bad academics.

Though a rational being is in some sense capable of apprehending "Being Htself" as He is in itself in its intellectual capacity, it can by no means actually attain such an act by its own powers. St. Thomas's work means nothing if the rational being cannot be said to have natural powers by which it apprehends things, and those natural powers cannot possibly extend to apprehending God as He is in Himself. That such an act supercedes man's natural powers in every way is all over St. Thomas, and to remove it from Thomas would eviscerate the whole.

To call Adam's original state of justice "natural" does just that - it eviscerates TA's distinction between nature and that which is above nature. It was certainly the state God wanted man to be in, but that state exceeded man's natural capacities by reason of a gift that exceeds EVERY nature.

I understand that you have a lot of reservations about TA's theory of nature and grace and the elevation of man above natural powers. It would be more fruitful to just disagree with TA all around and admit that, than to try to crab-wise force a reading of TA into his works that his last work clearly doesn't work with and which last work you clearly don't accept.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Rank, I submit that your view is Aquinas's view only if you omit a number of facet's of Aquinas's view that you obviously don't like.

When I wrote that "my view is Aquinas's view", I was referring to this comment from you:

"whether God moves things the way you suggest, or the way St. Thomas says"

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough on this point. The later comments I made about Aquinas's "hand-wringing" and "sophistical argument" were related, specifically, to his discussion of death in Eden--which Lonergan does not even mention. I find Aquinas's view on this issue ridiculous, but it has (as Brandon explained in June) no bearing on whether God wills death in nature. And I'm not sure what my comment about Aristotle's theory of random, irrational causation has to do with my opinion of Aquinas. While it's true that I don't agree with absolutely everything Aquinas said, I agree with him more often than not.

It is a completely wrong reading of Thomas to suggest that HE was saying that Adam was created in such a way that he was ordained toward the Beatific Vision as a to an end which is possible under the powers of its nature.

I never suggested this, and, indeed, to hold that view at all would be Pelagian heresy. Immortality and the Beatific Vision are very different, as even Aquinas admits. Man's immortality was caused by his "original justice", for Aquinas--the Beatific Vision was something else entirely. When "original justice" was lost, man became subject to death. My disagreement with this is simple: making immortality a supernatural addition to man, rather than a part of his nature, threatens to topple the coherence of scripture. This has nothing to do with the Beatific Vision, which is unearned and undeserved divinization.

Finally, regarding the nature-supernature distinction, too much has been read into Aquinas on this count. It was later scholastics who invented "natura pura" and the rest of the secularizing views attributed to Aquinas. I don't have many objections to Aquinas's own handling of nature and supernature, barring his theory of original justice--which, again, doesn't have anything to do with our debate about God and motion.

machinephilosophy said...

I believe the resentment, anger, rage, and violence against Christians around the world is partly a direct result of 1) general evangelical insanity in on the one hand wanting to be seen as the rationally superior view, yet doing so through bogus, contradictory, even sociopathic reasoning and rhetoric, and with an good intellectual conscience (2) and then having the gall to actually deny that very same reason itself, all the while arbitrarily exempting that view itself from the strictures it tries to enforce for all other views.

Now if you don't want to think, isn't that just wonderful?

"It's just like a cognitive convenience store, Mildred! No more reasoning at all! I'll get the Hot Pockets out, you turn on Diseased Shore!"

So the evangelicals assume reason's necessarily-assumed ultimacy, universality, undeniability, and God-level decisiveness of the same reason, in that very process of denying all those same things about reason.

And it's cheaper than a lobotomy!

Religious believers are not the only parties that can play the beyond-reason game.

And 3) A number of world elites see this during their education in America and recognize the bad arguments, marketing tricks, and facades for what they are, even in notoriously bad arguments in Christian apologetics, and are understandably infuriated. This trickles down through their cultures.

And except for possibly Kalam and the Thomistic 2nd Way, maybe a few others, theistic arguments simply fail from their weakest inferential links, dependencies on changeable scientific theories, unargued assumptions, and unwillingness to attend to logical detail.

And it's the worst arguments that the evangelicals trot out to the world.

Talking in circles, equivocating, being logically sloppy, rationally condescending while never getting down to the nitty gritty of the problems with those bad arguments, never addressing lingering questions, and a hundred other convoluted evangelical goofball sales propaganda tactics is getting people killed.

And it's pissing me off that they are influencing people to hate other people as well as them, merely because of a common generic belief in God, however vague the various notions may be.

And since they refuse to face the logical music, I make sure the world sees just what kind of intellectual racket they're running, and exactly how they run interference and do head-fakes against detailed logical scrutiny, the one thing they dedicate their entire lives to avoiding above all else.

And their own youth are abandoning them like rats on a sinking ship.

Anonymous said...

machinephilosophy,

Are you drunk?

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, the fellow asking about drunkenness is another Anonymous.

On second thought, I am going to sign up for an account to prevent confusion in the future.

Anon3

Jeremy Taylor said...

You can enter your chosen username under the name/url option.

Tony said...

Man's immortality was caused by his "original justice", for Aquinas--the Beatific Vision was something else entirely.

No, actually that's not what Aquinas proposed:

First, on the part of matter--that is to say, either because it possesses no matter, like an angel; or because it possesses matter that is in potentiality to one form only, like the heavenly bodies. Such things as these are incorruptible by their very nature.

Secondly, a thing is incorruptible in its form, inasmuch as being by nature corruptible, yet it has an inherent disposition which preserves it wholly from corruption; and this is called incorruptibility of glory; because as Augustine says (Ep. ad Dioscor.): "God made man's soul of such a powerful nature, that from its fulness of beatitude, there redounds to the body a fulness of health, with the vigor of incorruption."

Thirdly, a thing may be incorruptible on the part of its efficient cause; in this sense man was incorruptible and immortal in the state of innocence. For, as Augustine says (QQ. Vet. et Nov. Test. qu. 19 [Work of an anonymous author, among the supposititious works of St. Augustine): "God made man immortal as long as he did not sin; so that he might achieve for himself life or death." For man's body was indissoluble not by reason of any intrinsic vigor of immortality, but by reason of a supernatural force given by God to the soul, whereby it was enabled to preserve the body from all corruption so long as it remained itself subject to God. This entirely agrees with reason; for since the rational soul surpasses the capacity of corporeal matter, as above explained (76, 1), it was most properly endowed at the beginning with the power of preserving the body in a manner surpassing the capacity of corporeal matter.


So, it is Aquinas who says immortality was by reason of a supernatural addition to the soul.

Further, it is by a grace that was intimately tied to sanctifying grace making Adam pleasing to God and capable of meriting the Beatific VIsion - the state of being raised up to the ability to merit heaven and BV wasn't an independent rider to the state of original justice by which he was gifted with immortality.

When you say "I don't have many objections to Aquinas's own handling of nature and supernature, barring his theory of original justice" you are saying that you disagree with his teaching on nature and supernature. It all goes hand in hand - give him the honor of at least being internally coherent in a rather prominent part of his teaching.

Tony said...

Sorry, Rank, I meant to highlight your comment here:

My disagreement with this is simple: making immortality a supernatural addition to man, rather than a part of his nature, threatens to topple the coherence of scripture. that I was disagreeing with.

Anonymous said...

Anon3 said (in reply to machinephilosophy), "As for my dismissiveness, well you make it awfully hard not to dismiss you when 4/5ths of your post is pure, unadulterated vitriol. There's no arguing with that."

Perhaps he should re-read his own blog. ;-)

John West said...

Thank you, Mr Taylor.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

I know that Aquinas called immortality a supernatural addition to man's nature. That's exactly what I just said, and it's why I criticized him. I find the whole theory of original justice, which reduces the Fall merely to the loss of supernatural gifts, questionable. The Beatific Vision, again, is irrelevant to this particular point, regardless of the BV's connection to original justice in Aquinas's thought. Other Christian thinkers defended the BV against Pelagianism without claiming that death was natural.

But we are very far afield from the topics of motion and cosmic order that started this debate, and I'm not really interested in arguing about original justice. I think I'll bow out.

Tony said...

Rank, I think you are right that we just aren't going to convince each other here. I'll stop here also.

BenYachov said...

Somebody named "JC" posted this on a Catholic website.

So I nicked it

Enjoy.

QUOTE"Most of the Canaanites were actually spared if they ran away. Genocide was not the object of Israel's invasion, and there was no Canaanite genocide.

God said he would send terror upon the Canaanites (Exodus 23:27). How do you send terror? By creating an awesome reputation for God, and an invincible one for Israel. The plagues on Egypt, the defeat of the Amorites east of the Jordan, and the crossing of the river were all to convince the Canaanites they were not to fight, but run.

After Jericho and Ai, most Canaanites were too afraid to defend the cities and fled. Just put yourself in their position after hearing of the "magic" that Israel wielded at Jericho. The evidence can be seen in the following:

1) The 5 city alliance of the Gibeonites decided on guile rather than risk conflict. They offered to be slaves to Israel as long as they were spared.

2) The Canaanite kings tried two alliances in open battle rather than depend on their walls.

3) Israel took some cities in 1 or 2 days (Joshua 10:23, 32, 35). Compare this with 37 men at Harlech Castle holding off the entire Welsh Army in 1294AD. This was only possible if the cities were severely undermanned. No miracles or tactics were recorded.

4) Isaiah 17:9 tells us many of the cities were deserted as Israel approached.

5) If genocide was the goal, no Canaanite would dare return to any city after Israel had taken it. And yet, Caleb found some in Hebron to drive out (Joshua 15:14).

6) Joshua chapters 15 to 22 lists approximately 260 cities allotted to the tribes, all with no record of battles or sieges.

7) Thutmose III, pharaoh of Egypt circa 1500BC claimed over 350 Canaanite cities paid him tribute. Joshua 12 lists 31 kings and their cities actually defeated (less than 10%!)

8) There is no archaeological evidence of massed graves in Canaan for that time period.

God built a formidable reputation for Himself in Egypt, and an awesome one for Israel over 40 years in the wilderness, culminating with the destruction of the Canaanites east of the Jordan. An invincible reputation was supposed to be established at Jericho and Ai. This would have forestalled any resistance and saved lives. Too bad one greedy man stole what was reserved for God at Jericho, and Israel suffered an initial defeat at Ai. This encouraged some Canaanites to fight.

God directed Israel against the strongest and most organized of the Canaanites. Once they were defeated, further killing was minimized. Only those Canaanites most responsible for the evil culture, and those who had the most to lose would have stayed and fought. These were slain to the last man or woman. It was the genocide of a wicked culture, not the genocide of a people. The people who ran away were later driven out.

Should this be called cultural genocide? Even today, some nations in the world have laws where citizenship can be revoked, and people deported. God has His own thoughts on religion, culture, race, and politics. Leviticus chapters 17 and 18 lists sins that God says "cut off from his people". Since this applies even to foreigners, it means foreigners are cut off from their own nations, and not just from God or Israel. In other words, people who commit those sins were not considered a religion, culture, race or political group. We can go by what the world says, or we can go by what God says.

(Perhaps it should not be even called a culture. This was a culture imposed from the top by cruel kings and sadistic priests. This culture did not arise from the common people, who were poor and uneducated.)

JC END QUOTE

Step2 said...

Ben,
Even if it wasn't yours, that's the best attempt at a justification I've seen. You should reward yourself with a martini :)

Alan said...

It was Rome, not Israel that destroyed the Canaanites last city, their culture and their human sacrifices with the destruction of Carthage in BC 146.

BenYachov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BenYachov said...

@Step2

Thank you.

OTOH in Israel's dealings with the Midianites it seems Moses ordered all the males both infants and adults and adult women put to death but spared the infant female children.

But Philo of Alexandra passes on a Tradition that says the male infants where spared also.

There are two acceptable opinions on the Haram Command. One is it wasn't meant literally and was not carried out literally.

The other is pointing out that it is not intrinsically evil for God to take human life.

I am open to either position.

Still in Judaism and classic Christianity Haram is not an open ended on going command. It can only be given by a public revelation to the God appointed public authority.

With the coming of the Messiah the Israelite Commonwealth has passed away and so their is no God appointed public authority. Also all public binding revelation ends with the last Apostle till the Second Coming.

Cheers.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: To amputate a leg for any reason is to enter the economy of violence, wherein one deleterious option is chosen to avoid an even more deleterious option.

Right, so as Anonymous noted: to say that God could not amputate your leg but that He could leave you suffering and dying is “monstrous”, because it would be monstrous for a good human father to do so. But of course God is beyond the good or evil of created moral agency, because God is not a creature. His goodness is not that kind of goodness. It can’t be, because He’s not that kind of being. We do not find God by describing a good man and sticking “… and even more so for God” onto the end. A good father makes his children suffer for all sorts of reasons; the point is that the suffering is not for its own sake. True, God has no “need” to perform an amputation; God also has knowledge and reasons that no human father does, so trivial examples of what a creature might or might not do are simply not good enough.

You have totally missed the point, which could have been avoided if you'd read the conversation on the economy of violence between Brandon and myself.

I have read it, and you’re making the same mistake you did in that conversation. Nobody is claiming that God says to Himself, “Hey, this universe I made is good… boringly good. I think I’ll create some sin to spice it up a bit. And if anybody calls Me out on it, I’ll just throw in some good at the end to cover for it. Mwah-ha-ha-ha!!!” God does, however, have to conserve everything in existence, even you, even your freely chosen acts of ill will. Or else your will would not exist to choose evilly. It is wrong to call this “God doing evil”. It is right to call this primary causation. Maybe it would make you feel better to say not ”God commanded the Israelites to kill the Canaanites”, but rather ”God permitted the Israelites to kill the Canaanites”.

Consider a student who fails an examination because he didn’t do any studying. Is it right to say the that the teacher gave him a failing grade? Well, we might say that the student effectively gave himself a failing grade by not doing the work. After all, a good teacher does not will that any of his students fail. And yet it is also correct — literally speaking, it is more correct — to say that it was the teacher who gave the student the failing grade. You can accuse the teacher of wallowing in an pedagogy of violence if you want, but the teacher has done nothing wrong.

I'm of the mind that our current natural order--which is certainly red in tooth and claw--did not exist in Eden.

Sure, because Eden was not “natural” — it was a garden, not a jungle. The very word “garden” indicates something that is tended, as opposed to an unrestrained wilderness.

Because to claim that death is natural is to reject the entire logic of scripture:

Like Gen. 3:22? You still haven’t supplied your interpretation of the various passages which seem obviously to acknowledge that God controls everything, even death. Rewriting Scripture to get around all the verses where God explicitly claims sovereignty over life and death, over joy and grief, where He commands the death penalty, where He sends us punishment or trials, etc. is a tall order, but it might at least shed some light on the context you’re applying here. I especially want to see what you do with the law concerning circumcision. Going by what you’ve said, God could not command someone to inflict pain on an innocent child, so you’ll basically have to cut out (so to speak) that part of the Bible.

Step2 said...

The other is pointing out that it is not intrinsically evil for God to take human life.

Ben, you should stop conflating God taking life with humans taking life. That is one of the main distinctions in play here and you keep treating it like they are the same thing. To go back to what I wrote near the beginning, God’s morality cannot be transferred to humans. As far as I'm concerned you’ve already granted this point in saying God cannot command torture, so I'm not okay with you playing games with it now.

Tony said...

Step2, I am curious: what would you say about angels? Is it intrinsically wrong for angels to take innocent human lives?

JB said...

If there comes a moment, wherein the will enjoys a certain primacy, even with Scotus but not the voluntarists who followed, it arrives within the context of an epistemic movement, wherein the intellect's moment will have necessarily preceded it. The will and intellect are integrally related. There can be no authentic or free act of pathos apart from its relationship to logos and ethos.

Faith ensues in the wake of certain preambles, even if, for many, those presuppositions are implicit.

It seems to me that the demands of epistemic virtue obligate one, who pursues truth, to at least provisionally adopt a realist metaphysic, then to exhaust all available strongly inferential knowledge, for example, pursuing logical soundness through formal, discursive, syllogistic reasoning, then to examine, even, all weakly inferential reasoning, for example, using inductive, abductive and retroductive or inference, or informal reasoning, which accounts for much of what is called intuition.

Beyond these inferential cycles, even when explanatory adequacy, empirical verification and falsification elude us and the conclusions of rational demonstration are unavailable, our meta-interpretive stances still aspire to a plausibility that requires external congruence, internal coherence, logical validity, interdisciplinary consilence, hypothetical consonance & fecundity, abductive facility, ontological parsimony, existential actionability, evaluative appeal, and so on.

This is not to suggest that all believers are consciously competent and can articulate philosophical presuppositions, explicitly, but it is to acknowledge that a great deal of what we call common sense reflects these implicit, unspoken assumptions, which have accumulated in our traditions. Yes, this is as true for scientism as it is for classical theism.

When the will enjoys its primacy, it will have scaled the epistemic cliffs to an appropriate height and suitable hermeneutical angle, prior to taking its leap of faith, plunging courageously and fruitfully into an ocean of love, buoyed by its mysteries, guided by its hagiographic beacons.

If not, one will learn the hard way, that without reasonable preambles, without establishing at least a modicum of epistemic parity with other meta-interpretive stances, which have no too little performative significance, existentially, even when adding no new informative significance, evidentially, one can land in rather treacherous, fideistic waters or even perish on the nihilistic rocks, below.

Daniel said...

Admittedly I have arrived rather late for this discussion, however there is a point that may be relevant, namely what is our ontological justification for talking of things being 'intrinsically evil' and of 'moral obligations'? If we want to claim that these things are objective we must establish their ontological grounding so to speak: to start from ethics and thence go to metaphysics is to get things backwards.

I say this because though Rank Sophist's account of Thomas' God as not being a rule writer is correct Mr Green's statements about 'that's monstrous' criticisms alone merely being expressions of emotive outrage is also correct. Surely though it further highlights the need to recognise Goodness as grounded in the nature of Being and of beings. An ‘Ethics without Ontology’ is an Ethics without reality.

On an unrelated note I think treating Death as the greatest evil leads to many of the errors and inadequacies of Natural Law ethics. Much of the fear we associate with it stems from ignorance of its nature and of our own. The central manner in which it is often an evil is that it prevents our further realisation in this world, something the majority of us still have a long way to go with (which is why we do not ‘starve and get to Heaven faster’, so to speak). The wise man or the saint has no reason to fear Death, for it is what confirms him in Eternity.

(I am aware that the last paragraph may not be compatible with certain tenants of Christian Orthodoxy)

Step2 said...

Tony,
I'm only slightly aware of the great medieval interest in angelology and the dispute between Bonaventure and Aquinas, but my own take is that angels are aspects of the Holy Spirit that were separated and anthropomorphized, perhaps from cosmological, mystical or pagan beliefs and influences. As extensions/children of the Holy Spirit, they either have the same divine immunity as the Trinity or their separate natures are so alien they have a completely different moral system.

BenYachov said...


>Ben, you should stop conflating God taking life with humans taking life. That is one of the main distinctions in play here and you keep treating it like they are the same thing.

Moi? I think not.

> To go back to what I wrote near the beginning, God’s morality cannot be transferred to humans.

God is Morality or Holiness Itself. He doesn't have morality.

But given the nature of His relation to creatures He has absolute rights of life and death. But because of Him being Holiness Itself He cannot command what is intrinsically evil but he can command actions that have extrinsic evil.

>As far as I'm concerned you’ve already granted this point in saying God cannot command torture, so I'm not okay with you playing games with it now.

Now you have lost me.

Tony said...

Step2, that's fair enough. I naturally don't agree with the option of angels being extensions of the Holy Spirit, but granting that they are so alien that they have a completely different system of morality implies the possibility that it is not intrinsically evil for them to kill innocent humans.

Which, I think, means that it is not MERELY the creature / creator distinction that makes it intrinsically wrong for humans to do it but not for God. Which implies that we need to explain the difference by more than "well, DUH, he's God, you know, not a human!"

JB said...

Daniel wrote: what is our ontological justification for talking of things being 'intrinsically evil' and of 'moral obligations'? If we want to claim that these things are objective we must establish their ontological grounding so to speak: to start from ethics and thence go to metaphysics is to get things backwards. <<<

Daniel, I share your intuitions. Mortimer Adler suggested one could couple a self-evident prescriptive premise to a descriptive premise and then reason one's way to a normative conclusion. I suspect this applies to our attempts to model reality, interpretively, even before we aspire to explain it, meta-interpretively.

Even before a metaphysician chooses a root metaphor (like substance, process, event, etc), even from a more vague phenomenological perspective, there seem to be such dynamics as transcendence, telos and deontology in play.

From an emergentist stance, consistent with evolutionary epistemology, semiotic sciences model physical reality using not only morpho-
and thermo- but teleodynamics. The transcendence relates to social obligations, as we are radically social animals. The telos relates to various occurrences of downward causation in nature (e.g. Baldwinian evolution). The deontology relates to the moves we all make from the descriptive to the prescriptive, from the given to the normative, from an "is" to an "ought."

Admittedly, modeling reality and explaining it are two different enterprises and I have only described what might be called a minimalist transcendence, minimalist telos and minimalist deontology, all minimalist in the sense that, for example, they don't necessarily involve violations of physical causal closure, and, further, in the sense, that they wouldn't be inconsistent with any number of philosophy of mind approaches or any number of meta-interpretive stances toward primal realities or even the intitial, boundary and limit conditions
of our cosmos.

In my view, then, given the epistemic virtues of emergentist takes on physical reality and the lessons of semiotic science, it would be eminently reasonable and not at all implausible for one to choose to live as if reality is governed by a more robust telos, a stronger deontology, a transcendence with a capital "T" which would not just ontologically ground our ethics but ground them transcendentally. We might not be able to a priori know which aspects of our temporal reality might be predicated univocally, equivocally or analogically of a putative transcendent, primal reality but we can be assured that our stance is not unreasonable, equiplausible and existentially actionable.

Tony said...

Why, that's just what I said, JB!

Step2 said...

Now you have lost me.

Join the club. When Christians say their objectively good moral grounding could, even if only in theory, mandate the mass killing of innocent persons, I'm completely lost.

I naturally don't agree with the option of angels being extensions of the Holy Spirit, but granting that they are so alien that they have a completely different system of morality implies the possibility that it is not intrinsically evil for them to kill innocent humans.

I'll grant it better fits the biblical narrative if they are separate beings since some angels are fallen from heaven. Whatever type of alien moral code they have, and if Aquinas was correct it could be different for each particular angel; they could also have the ability to intrinsically violate that code.

Tony said...

True, Step2. But it would be very odd indeed to accredit to Genesis 19:

“Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

a stance of angels about to destroy 2 towns against God's will as well as violating their own moral code.

JB said...

re: ontological grounding of natural law

see http://www.theamericanconservative.com/the-problem-with-natural-law/

The ontological grounding comes from recognizing that one can meaningfully speak of a human nature, situated in telic dynamic. But that is distinct from any gnoseological aspect, how we come to recognize these obligations, which is through our weakly inferential abductions or intuitions, closely related to connaturality and what we call our participatory imaginations, much less through conceptual map-making and strongly inferential syllogistic logic.

How well our concepts of ground, being, cause, goal, destiny, etc will map onto any putative primal ground, primal being, primal cause and so on, transcendentally, we cannot know a priori and with apodictic certainty. The closer we get to t=0 of the Big Bang, the less our models of reality's primitives, givens and axioms function.

The only reason that Hume's problem of induction doesn't cause us much trouble, for all practical purposes, is that, in our far from equilibrium environment, we experience enough continuity that weak inferences like induction and abduction work well enough for our survival and adaptation. But these laws of thermodynamics and apparent rubrics of thermodynamics may have very well evolved, themselves, and, cosmically, may be as local as the by-laws of your neighborhood bridge club. Do they even have a primal analog? Would any transcendent versions be predicated univocally or equivocally?

Nonfoundational and weak foundational tautolgies, like fallibilism, interpret our probabilistic, physical reality well enough, as theories of knowledge. Meta-interpretations of putative primal or transcendent realities that are foundational, a prioristic, infallibilistic, essentialistic and rationalistic make for a more plausible account than nominalisms and vulgar pragmatisms, as realist tautologies are more taut, for all practical purposes. But the nominalism-essentialism tension best be avoided by a more pragmatic, semiotic realism, which doesn't seriously devalue weak forms of inference or tremendously over-value deductive, syllogistic logic, especially when its merely valid and not sound.

JB said...

more about the truth-indicative but weak inferences

no question that there are epistemic disparities as we move from the robustly probabilistic to the weakly plausibilistic, this due to the amplification of epistemic risks realized as we move from deductive to inductive to abductive inference

one might wonder, though, whether this necessarily entails a decrease in epistemic virtue, which, obviously, need not be the case, at least, not as long as these epistemic risk increases yield concommitant value-
realizations?

those who disagree and suggest
we abandon the plausibilistic inferences of our metaphysical
tautologies must not realize that this would be corrosive of our scientific methods and progress?

a tautological approach doesn't add new information but that doesn't mean it isn't true, because the practical upshot of incompleteness theorems is not that we cannot construct our system axioms completely and consistently but only that we cannot formally prove that we have when we have

but how much performative significance have we necessarily lost from such incompleteness?

well, one would have to travel halfway through the Principia with Whitehead and Russell to establish the axioms for 2 + 2 = 4 but I doubt most of us would find that necessary or even interesting?

who's to say, then, that, one day, we might not similarly encounter a proof of primal realities that is so universally compelling, a "theory of everything" tautology so very taut, that we wouldn't worry about its axioms, the truth of which we will be able to taste and see, as simple as 2 + 2 = 4?

as it is, we cannot a priori know when it is that our ignorance derives from some intractable, in principle, ontological occulting or
from a more tractable epistemological thwarting, which
might be overcome methodologically?

if we look for our lost keys in the park only under the nearby lamp post and not in the dark field beyond, it's not because our keys are necessarily not in the field but only because we have little hope of finding them there before the sun comes up?

so, on one hand, the amplification of epistemic risks needn't necessarily cause a loss of epistemic virtue, but, otoh, the epistemic risk disparities can indeed result in different degrees of normative justification, some stances more universally compelling, many not so much?

BenYachov said...

>Join the club. When Christians say their objectively good moral grounding could, even if only in theory, mandate the mass killing of innocent persons, I'm completely lost.

Not at all. Only God can command the taking of human life. No human being before God has a right to exist and only exists at God’s gratuitous beneficence. No human being has a right to natural biological life before God. Thus it is natural and reasonable that for His own Providential purposes He may choose to end human life. Death is natural for human beings. Eternal life is a gift of Grace not nature.

Makes perfect sense to moi.

>. Whatever type of alien moral code they have

Angels wither fallen or not cannot and will not take human life apart from God’s Command. God angels are moved by divine grace and virtue to obey God in all things & fallen angels are slaves who have no choice but to obey even if their hearts cannot consent due to their rebellion.

Step2 said...

But it would be very odd indeed to accredit to Genesis 19...a stance of angels about to destroy 2 towns against God's will as well as violating their own moral code.

First, I'm agreeing with you that for some angels it may not be intrinsically wrong to kill innocent humans. Not that it matters in this case because the angels did not destroy the towns, it was attributed to God's direct action. Second, the story claims that everyone in the town was guilty, as improbable as that may seem. Third, you conveniently left out the part where Abraham argued with God to save the lives of the righteous and appeals to justice to withhold punishment if only ten were found. Fourth, the main offenses of the cities were their complete cruelty to strangers and beggars, to the extent of brutally killing people who showed any kindness.

Makes perfect sense to moi.

Only because you continue to conflate God's actions with human actions and now refuse to distinguish between guilty and innocent.

...fallen angels are slaves who have no choice but to obey even if their hearts cannot consent due to their rebellion.

Are you claiming Lucifer acts as an agent of God?

BenYachov said...

Step2


>Only because you continue to conflate God's actions with human actions

This charge makes no sense to me since I dogmatically believe God cannot be compared to creatures
in an unequivocal manner. God has the right to take life based on his unique relation to His creatures. We don’t. On the flip side of the Haram Command to quote Augustine “If a private individual without public authority takes the life of an evil
doer he shall be accounted a murderer because he has dared to usurp that which belongs to God alone.”

God’s relation to us as creator, sustainer and giver of life gives Him absolute right of life and death over us.

> and now refuse to distinguish between guilty and innocent.

This is your fallacy. No innocent person has a right to exist before God or to exist with their soul united to their body.
No innocent person has a right to life before God. Life and existence are pure gifts of God that He does not owe us and
may revoke at anytime for any reason at His good pleasure.

Why is this hard?

>...fallen angels are slaves who have no choice but to obey even if their hearts cannot consent due to their rebellion.

>Are you claiming Lucifer acts as an agent of God?

No devil may act without God’s permission and no devil can resist God’s Command. At best they are indirect agents
in so much as it is part of the Goodness of God to bring Good out of evil. But God never directly commands them to do evil.
He may allow their evil but he never actively wills it.

Tony said...

Not that it matters in this case because the angels did not destroy the towns, it was attributed to God's direct action.

That's a very debatable position. It was indeed attributed to God's action, but whether direct or indirect is not stated in the text: "and thereupon the Lord rained down brimstone and fire out of heaven, the Lord’s dwelling-place,". We know that some things that God does he does indirectly by angels, and yet they are attributed to God, so being attributed to God is not the same as attributed to God directly. Some Bible versions say that the burning bush was a manifestation by an angel, There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. while others simply say it was a manifestation of God: And here the Lord revealed himself through a flame that rose up from the midst of a bush. And St. Luke attributes it to an angel in Acts: Likewise Exodus indicates the Law was given by God, but other passages indicate it was delivered by angels.

It is more in keeping with the passage in Genesis to read it as angels being tasked with the destruction, and the fire and brimstone falling from heaven as from God but through the action of angels.

Second, the story claims that everyone in the town was guilty, as improbable as that may seem.

That's not what I see. It says they are towns of ill repute, going from bad to worse. Nothing about "all".

Third, you conveniently left out the part where Abraham argued with God to save the lives of the righteous and appeals to justice to withhold punishment if only ten were found.

You know, that's an interesting point. My reading of that entire passage was Abraham basically saying: well, I know it is fundamentally just for you to kill the whole place, just and unjust alike, but is that how you are going to manifest justice to the nations? Instead, if there are only 10 just people, spare it...but if there are FEWER than 10 just people, well, OK, yeah, just go ahead and destroy the whole place.

Abraham accepts the righteousness of God destroying the entire place if there are 9 just men.

Step2 said...

God’s relation to us as creator, sustainer and giver of life gives Him absolute right of life and death over us.

I've also accepted this principle at every point in the debate. For some unfathomable reason you continue to misunderstand my position that this isn't about God's rights, the dispute is about the rights and wrongs of humans who say they are acting on God's orders.

Compare these two statements:
No devil may act without God’s permission and no devil can resist God’s Command.

Angels (whether) fallen or not cannot and will not take human life apart from God’s Command.

According to this, either God commands the taking of human life by devils or devils never actually take human life. Either way, rank sophist's description as a sadistic puppet show seems appropriate.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

Here are three gems from Olson’s article:

«Without body, okay. But without parts or passions? … The God of the Bible is intensely personal, relational, interactive, emotional, even reactive.» So God is without a body, yet he has passions and he is emotional? Did he seriously write that?

«How does one relate to a God “without passions?”» The same way you relate to a God without a body, I would presume.

«Interestingly, virtually all theologians who portray God as unemotional are men and men are often inclined to view emotions as feminine and therefore unworthy of God.» Yes, it’s not like any of them wrote tons of beautiful hymns. Not a single defender of classical theism could ever write hymns like this, or prayers like these. No siree!

BenYachov said...

>the dispute is about the rights and wrongs of humans who say they are acting on God's orders.

Then the issue there is wither or not God really ordered someone’s death or not. Because it is not

wrong per say to be an executioner or a solder.

Of course divine revelation tells us God has given all governments in the world the power

to use pre-meditated force and capital punishment to deal with evil doers. Haram Commands can

only be given by Public revelation to divinely appointed public authority(both of which have passed away).




>>No devil may act without God’s permission and no devil can resist God’s Command.

>>Angels (whether) fallen or not cannot and will not take human life apart from God’s Command.

>According to this, either God commands the taking of human life by devils or devils never actually take human life.

Rather I was merely commenting on the fact Devils are slaves to God and don’t serve him freely & neither the fallen

nor the elect angels act without God’s command. Personally I don’t think God actually uses fallen angels to

take the lives of persons He has judged.

>Either way, rank sophist's description as a sadistic puppet show seems appropriate.

Even though I am fond of RS & more than sympathetic to many of his Eastern Christian views I am more likely to side with Mr. Green here.

Calling god “sadistic” makes you guilty of conflating God's actions with human actions.

Glenn said...

Step2,

Tony wrote: God’s relation to us as creator, sustainer and giver of life gives Him absolute right of life and death over us.

And you responded: I've also accepted this principle at every point in the debate. For some unfathomable reason you continue to misunderstand my position that this isn't about God's rights, the dispute is about the rights and wrongs of humans who say they are acting on God's orders.

FYI, Tony posted the following here -- where you also posted a comment -- at August 25, 2014 6:10 AM:

"One of the important differences between the OT and the NT is that we now have the Church to weigh and sift and reflect on God's revelation of His will for us. A person who is demonstrably mentally ill, and thinks he hears God's voice telling him to kill others, can be restrained precisely because we can discount what he is 'hearing' as mental illness even apart from its specific content. Similarly, a person who lives a degraded moral life can be assumed NOT to be hearing God, (but maybe he really is hearing a demon) if he thinks God is telling him to sleep with as many women as he can, because we have a more sure guide to God's will than his interior voice, we have the Church. And, in any case, we have the obligation to act in protection of life until we are assured, within the bounds of human ability to discern, that this person's life is [not] protected: the assumption of every person's right to life is general but can be overcome by circumstances...that provide that their right to life is at an end. If God really does't want us to prevent Billy's killing a person, He will make it that we either CAN'T interfere, or that we SHOULDN'T interfere and we know (through other means) that we shouldn't interfere."

Tony said...

I will only add that the "general right to life can be overcome by circumstances" intended to refer to things like (a) he is guilty of grave crime, or (b) an enemy soldier, and so on.

Step2 said...

Likewise Exodus indicates the Law was given by God, but other passages indicate it was delivered by angels.

If the distinction is unclear in the text and they can be exchanged for one another without changing the meaning I don't know why it is problematic to say that angels are aspects of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing about "all".

Genesis 19:4 - But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house… Besides, I already admitted the obvious that it was improbable yet it was still mentioned in the story to give the appearance of justice, of total depravity that deserved total punishment. Why not just say God destroyed Sodom and the other cities entirely for no reason if it is still good and just without any such reason?

Because it is not wrong per say to be an executioner or a solder.

It is wrong if they are executing innocent people or slaughtering noncombatants.

Rather I was merely commenting on the fact Devils are slaves to God and don’t serve him freely & neither the fallen nor the elect angels act without God’s command.

If the fallen angels "only" act with God's commands then you are back in the same dilemma of God directly commanding evil. If not it makes no sense to write about it the way you do. Even if the fallen angels do have "internal rebellion" but cannot resist God's commands, you have a situation where the only reason they cause harm is because God doesn't command them to stop doing evil and do loving acts instead. Basically every moral instruction given to mankind in history is omitted when it comes to angels, that doesn't make sense either.

Glenn,
To borrow Acton's famous saying: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

BenYachov said...

>It is wrong if they are executing innocent people or slaughtering noncombatants.

It is not wrong for God to take their lives or directly order His agents to take their lives. Their lives are his gift
and he may take back that gift as He sees fit.

>If the fallen angels "only" act with God's commands then you are back in the same dilemma of God directly commanding evil. If not it makes no sense to write about it the way you do.

Only if he directly commands them to do something intrinsically evil(i.e. rape the Amalikite children to death). Which He cannot do.
If I am not clear then I must point out I recall also saying Fallen Angels act with God’s permission to do evil.

> Even if the fallen angels do have "internal rebellion" but cannot resist God's commands, you have a situation where the only reason they cause harm is because God doesn't command them to stop doing evil and do loving acts instead.

Rather they can only do harm with God’s permission “Behold He[i.e. Job] is in thy Power but spare His life”. He doesn’t command it directly and He is not obligated to use them in that manner.

>Basically every moral instruction given to mankind in history is omitted when it comes to angels, that doesn't make sense either.

Angels are not men & no angel can kill without God’s active command or passive permission.

Glenn said...

Glenn,
To borrow Acton's famous saying: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."


And to parrot an observation of a perspicacious Shaw: "Power doesn't corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power."

Glenn said...

Btw, you sound slightly resentful that the New Law renders moot your objections based on some goings-on which took place when the Old Law was in effect. Why is that?

Tony said...

To borrow Acton's famous saying: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Except for God. Who has absolute power but is not corrupted thereby.

Of course, he is unchanging, so that's different.

And except for the good angels, who have great power but are confirmed in good.

And except for the saints...

If the distinction is unclear in the text and they can be exchanged for one another without changing the meaning I don't know why it is problematic to say that angels are aspects of the Holy Spirit.

Well, as you said, there is this little problem of the evil angels. And I don't suggest that there isn't ANY difference between God delivering the 10 Commandments himself and doing through an angel, I am suggesting that the difference cannot be found in texts that don't attempt to state that they came from God directly. There are things that we cannot attribute to angels, such as sanctifying grace, and forgiving sins. Obviously anything a good angel can do God could do directly - except (mis)-represent that it is a creature doing it on God's behalf instead of God doing it directly.

Tony said...

Genesis 19:4 - But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house

It is very easy indeed to read this, in English, as referring to every single man, including the young men and the old men. Not babies, not girls, not women. And if indeed the babies and toddlers were indeed part of the crowd surrounding the house, how might that be read to imply that they deserved a punishment of destruction along with their elders?

Step2 said...

It is not wrong for God to take their lives or directly order His agents to take their lives.

Obviously I disagree that God can make humans his agents in this regard. God can do it directly, and perhaps indirectly through angels, but never through humans. The potential for abuse is absurdly high, the supposed "divine command" acts entirely as an exception to the normative principles of murder, and even the greatest prophets were still men who were imperfect.

Rather they can only do harm with God’s permission “Behold He[i.e. Job] is in thy Power but spare His life”.

My point was that God does give fallen angels permission to cause harm and this could be easily remedied by denying permission or commanding them to act beneficially.

"Power doesn't corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power."

I suppose this explains why Solomon was corrupted, his legendary wisdom.

Well, as you said, there is this little problem of the evil angels.

There are ways to get around that.

And if indeed the babies and toddlers were indeed part of the crowd surrounding the house, how might that be read to imply that they deserved a punishment of destruction along with their elders?

It implies we are reading about a tribal morality where God judges based on involuntary or silent participation in collective actions instead of personal guilt. On the other hand, if only ten of the crowd had denounced the attempt at group violence against innocent people the entire town would have been saved. Something to consider when choosing the right course of action, yes?

BenYachov said...

>Obviously I disagree that God can make humans his agents in this regard. God can do it directly, and perhaps indirectly through angels, but never through humans.

I reply: The reason for this I suspect is you don’t want to imagine a real God ordering YOU to kill Canaanite children.

But since humans are as much His creatures as Angels logically & if His Incarnate word can make one
Of his followers his Vicar or make David a King. He can order the Israelites threw Moses to carry out a
Haram command.



> The potential for abuse is absurdly high, the supposed "divine command" acts entirely as an exception to the normative principles of murder, and even the greatest prophets were still men who were imperfect.

In the case of religions who shall remain nameless who have open ended commands for Jihad or their version of Haram I agree. But the godless(theistic and Atheist) never needed an excuse for mass murder and Christian revelation does tell us all public revelation ends with the death of the last Apostle. Which is a condition for God to issue a Haram command.

So anyone now claiming God has given him a Haram command is full of it and ought to be arrested.

>My point was that God does give fallen angels permission to cause harm and this could be easily remedied by denying permission or commanding them to act beneficially.

God is Holiness Itself but God is not a moral agent unequivocally compared to a human moral agent.

He has no obligations to us.

God is thus not obligated to not give permission to an evil spirit to act against us directly and will only do so within limits.

Most evil spirit temp humans to activities God would never let them do directly in a million years.

Tony said...

It implies we are reading about a tribal morality where God judges based on involuntary or silent participation in collective actions instead of personal guilt.

And wouldn't the logical conclusion of God judging this way be that God could judge the Canaanites or Midianites to be all guilty by this same tribal morality and tell Moses or Joshua to kill them all as guilty?

I wouldn't have jumped down this road, myself. It strictly isn't necessary: from allowing that God can justly take the lives of innocent people, and allowing that He can use good angels for the same purpose, we can simply attribute the angels at Sodom with the killing of the children and be done with it.