Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Two Harts beaten as one

At the blog Jesus and the Ancient Paths, PhD student Seth Hart defends his namesake David Bentley Hart against the objections I raised in my Public Discourse review of the latter Hart’s new book You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature.  What follows is a response to the former Hart’s four lines of criticism.  In case you are wondering, the article informs us that there is no relation between the two Harts.  To avoid confusion, I’ll mostly refer to them as “S. Hart” and “D. B. Hart” in what follows.  I am, in any event, thrilled by the prospect of some new cringeworthy puns.

Thin skin for me, but not for thee

D. B. Hart’s predilection for gratuitous invective is so central and well-known a feature of his style that no reviewer can entirely avoid mentioning it – any more than the reviewer of a Steely Dan album can avoid discussion of production values and jazz influences, or any more than the reviewer of a David Mamet movie can avoid a reference to Pinteresque dialogue.  At the same time, the topic of Hart’s rhetoric is at this point so hackneyed and boring that, unless there is some special reason for discussing it, a passing reference is all that is called for. 

Hence, in my review I devoted only a single paragraph (out of 26) to citing some choice examples from the new book – primarily to illustrate the implausibility of Hart’s claim to “disinterestedness,” though also to indicate how much heavy lifting abusive rhetoric is really doing given that Hart does not even mention, much less respond to (as a truly scholarly book on his topic should have), the actual arguments of specific contemporary Thomists such as Feingold, Long, and Hütter.  Having done that, I devoted the rest of the review to more interesting and substantive matters.

But even this mild, passing, unavoidable reference to D. B. Hart’s rhetoric was too much for S. Hart, who judges it “petty,” and indeed among the “rather extreme examples” (!) of the foibles of a review so “weak” and “egregious” that it reads like an “an April Fool’s joke” (!)  The elder Hart’s stream of vituperation, we are assured, is in reality “rather tame” and indeed “quite playful.”  And here we see that curious combination of psychological traits so often observed in the D. B. Hart fan base – frothy-mouthed relish of every insult Hart tosses at an opponent, coupled with lemon-juice-on-paper-cut hypersensitivity at the slightest criticism of the Master himself.  Not being a psychiatrist or spiritual director, I cannot claim entirely to understand the complex.  Anyway, at the moment I’m less interested in discussing D. B. Hart’s rhetoric than S. Hart is, so let’s move on.

Laptop lacuna?

In my review, I used the analogy of a laptop computer in order to illustrate the idea of an obediential potency.  I trust that most readers don’t need to be reminded that an analogy doesn’t need to be perfect in order to make some narrow point, and that only certain features of the analogues are playing a role in an analogy.  For example, when Christ compares himself to a thief in the night (Matthew 24:43; Revelation 16:15), the fact that thievery is sinful is irrelevant to the specific point of the analogy.  Hence it would be inept to object to the analogy on the grounds that Christ could not sin.  The disciples would have to have been pretty thick to respond: “Lord, how can you compare yourself to a criminal?  Is this an April Fool’s joke?”

In the case of the laptop computer analogy, the point was just this.  There is an obvious sense in which the laptop, considered just by itself and without anything you might connect to it, is complete.  You might in principle use it for years without ever plugging anything into one of the USB ports or downloading new applications, without it ever malfunctioning or otherwise failing to do what it was designed to do.  This was meant to be analogous to the notion of natura pura or “pure nature.”  Had human beings never been offered the supernatural end of the beatific vision, there is a sense in which they would have been complete as long as they had the natural knowledge of God available via philosophical argument and the like.

At the same time, the laptop is designed in such a way that you could add software and equipment to it in a way that would make it capable of doing things that would not otherwise be possible.  For example, you could download movie playing software, a speaker system, and the like, in order to make of it a home entertainment system.  These additions would have to come from outside the existing system; just using the software already on the machine wouldn’t do it.  At the same time, there is something about the computer itself that makes such upgrading possible, such as the presence of USB ports, the fact that it has a sufficiently powerful operating system, and so on.  (For example, you could not download existing software of the kind in question on an old Commodore computer or Apple II Plus.)

This was meant to parallel the idea that divine causality operating on human nature from outside can raise us to the possibility of the beatific vision, but that there also nevertheless already has to be something present in human nature to makes us suitable for such elevation, namely our rationality.  Non-human animals are not capable even in principle of being raised to the beatific vision, not even by divine action, precisely because they lack rationality.  They are analogous to computer systems that have not been constructed with any means of adding on to them new hardware or software.

Obviously, I am not saying that human beings are in any other respect analogous to laptop computers, any more than Christ was saying that he is in any other respect like a thief.  And of course, the analogy is not perfect.  In the nature of the case, you are never going to find perfect analogies for the supernatural in the natural order.  But it is a good enough analogy to make the specific point I was trying to make – that something can in one sense be complete even if at the same time it can also be raised to a higher end, and only because of something already built into it.  And having something already built-in that makes it possible for a thing to go beyond its operations as an already complete instance of its kind is what having an “obediential potency” involves.

If you want to criticize the analogy, that’s fine.  But I fail to see in it the “April Fool’s joke” level of stupidity S. Hart hyperbolically attributes to it.  Certainly his specific objections draw no blood.  Yes, as he notes, human beings are true substances with intrinsic teleology, whereas computers are mere artifacts with extrinsic teleology.  So what?  How does that affect the specific point of the analogy, any more than the fact that thievery is sinful and Christ sinless undermines our Lord’s analogy?  It is good enough for the narrow purposes of the analogy that computers have the relatively stable (even if extrinsic) teleology that longstanding artefactual kinds have, and that some of the specific applications and equipment that could be added to them later might not be foreseen by the designers at the time they were designed.

It is true that Aristotelian-Thomist philosophers (myself included) often hammer on the sharp difference between true substances and artifacts.  But the A-T position does not entail that we can draw no interesting analogies whatsoever between true substances and artifacts, and I know of no A-T writer who would say such a ridiculous thing.  To insist that apples and oranges are different does not commit you never to acknowledging any similarity at all between the two.

S. Hart writes:

Feser’s example seems to only prove Hart’s point.  The very fact that laptops have USB ports and the capacity to download new software means that their creators intended their further upgrading.  In a sense, they are teleologically directed toward the further actualization of their various features.

End quote.  The problem with this is that though the laptop’s creators intended further upgrading in a general way, what is relevant for the specific purposes of the analogy is that (a) there is nevertheless a sense in which the laptop is complete as it is, and (b) there might be some particular upgrade that was not intended by the creators – for example, a specific app that was not invented at the time the laptop was made.  The USB ports and downloading capacities leave the laptop open to upgrades in a general way, but without aiming specifically at that upgrade in particular.  Similarly, rationality leaves human nature open in a general way to the possibility of a supernatural end such as the beatific vision, but without actually aiming at it in particular.

Bat analogy or bad analogy?

I also borrowed Thomas Nagel’s famous example of our being unable to know what it is like to be a bat, in order to make a different, if related, point.  Rational beings that we are, we can raise the question of what it is like to be a bat.  At the same time, we might judge that this particular kind of experiential knowledge is not possible for us, given that we and bats have such very different physiological natures.  Because it is not a kind of knowledge we are “built for” in the first place, we need not experience this inability as a deprivation, the way people do experience the inability to see or hear, or the loss of a limb, as deprivations. 

By analogy, even if human beings in a state of “pure nature” could raise the question of what it would be to have direct knowledge of the divine essence, they might still judge that this is simply not possible for beings of our limited rational nature.  And if so, they would not regard the impossibility of achieving the beatific vision by our natural powers as a deprivation, any more than they would experience the impossibility of knowing what it is like to be a bat as a deprivation.  (That is, of course, not for a moment to suggest that the inability to know what it is like to be a bat is remotely as significant as the inability to achieve the beatific vision.  That is not the point of the analogy.)

S. Hart’s objection to this is that, from my own A-T point of view, I would have to agree that contemplation of the forms or natures of things is the highest form of knowledge.  Yet knowledge of what it is like to be a bat has nothing to do with knowing its form.  Therefore (Hart’s conclusion seems to me, as far as I can follow the convoluted discussion of this passage from his article), my bat analogy fails.

The problem with this is that the analogy would fail only if I was claiming that the specific way that (a) knowing what it is like to be a bat is analogous to (b) the beatific vision is that they both involve knowledge of the form or nature of a thing.  But I made no such claim.  I claimed only that they both involve knowledge of some kind or other.

For my specific purposes, the analogy requires only the following parallel between the two cases.  Because we, like bats, are capable of sensory experience (considered as a general mode of cognition), we can raise the question of what it is like to be a bat, but without actually being aimed by nature toward that specific (bat-like) sort of experiential knowledge.  That’s why our ability to raise the question does not entail a sense of deprivation.  Similarly, as rational creatures, human beings in a state of “pure nature,” like human beings to whom the supernatural end of the beatific vision has actually been given, can raise the question of what it would be to have direct knowledge of the divine essence.  But because those in a state of “pure nature” are nevertheless not directed naturally toward such knowledge, it does not follow that they would experience that inability as a deprivation. 

Pantheism schmantheism

S. Hart isn’t too keen on my characterization of D. B. Hart as a pantheist.  He begins his criticism as follows:

Feser finally accuses Hart of collapsing God and world into an undifferentiated unity, committing him to pantheistic heresy.  Indeed, there are points in isolation that seem to suggest this, such as the line, “God is all that is.”  However, Hart is nearly always quick to qualify this response.  In this case, he follows it with, “Whatever is not God exists as becoming divine, and as such is God in the mode of what is other than God.  But God is not ‘the other’ of anything.” 

End quote.  So far, then, S. Hart’s defense of D. B. Hart against the charge of pantheism seems to be:  True, that first unambiguous statement sure looks like pantheism – but hey, check out this second, clear-as-mud statement!”  Not promising.  But actually, there’s more, so let’s move on.  S. Hart then writes:

There is, then, a nonidentical relationship between God and creation, though such a distinction is much more fluid than anything Feser will allow. 

End quote.  How S. Hart can be so sure of this, I have no idea.  After all, in the line cited as mitigating the pantheism, D. B. Hart says that what is (only seemingly?) not God actually “is God in the mode of what is other than God” and that “God is not ‘the other’ of anything.”  Which sounds to me like a God-world collapse after all, as far as I can make anything of it.  If there’s any wiggle room here, though, that’s not because D. B. Hart has been more precise than I let on in my review, but precisely because he is so imprecise.  Anyway, to continue on with S. Hart:

[Feser] thus compares Hart to Spinoza, apparently unaware or unconvinced by Carlyle’s reevaluation of Spinoza as a panentheist…

As further proof, Feser cites Hart’s positive treatment of Advaita and Vishishtadvaita Vedantic thought, apparently unaware that “Vishishtadvaita” means qualified nondualism.  These very qualifications prevent any flat identity of God and world.

End quote.  Well, yes, Seth, I know what “Vishishtadvaita” means, but thanks for the free lesson.  I also know something our erudite grad student appears not to, viz. that “pantheism” is, historically, a very fluid concept.  It needn’t always entail “an undifferentiated unity” (to borrow S. Hart’s phrase) but can include doctrines that allow for some kind of differentiation between God and the world even while affirming an ultimate unity between them.  That’s precisely why everyone from Vedanta thinkers to Parmenides to Marcus Aurelius to John Scotus Eriugena to Spinoza to Hegel to Einstein to Deepak Chopra have – rightly or wrongly, and despite their important differences – all sometimes been classified as pantheists.  If you check out the old Catholic Encyclopedia article on pantheism, you’ll see that it emphasizes the great diversity of forms of pantheism, opines that there probably has been no pure form of pantheism, and proposes that the key notes common to the varieties of doctrine labeled “pantheist” are as follows:

• Reality is a unitary being; individual things have no absolute independence – they have existence in the All-One, the ens realissimum et et perfectissimum of which they are the more or less independent members;

• The All-One manifests itself to us, so far as it has any manifestations, in the two sides of reality-nature and history;

• The universal interaction that goes on in the physical world is the showing forth of the inner aesthetic teleological necessity with which the All-One unfolds his essential being in a multitude of harmonious modifications, a cosmos of concrete ideas (monads, entelechies).  This internal necessity is at the same time absolute freedom or self-realization.

End quote.  Now, I submit that D. B. Hart’s position is pretty clearly pantheist by the Catholic Encyclopedia’s standard.  (Indeed, some of that gauzy passage almost sounds like Hart could have written it.)  And this is extremely important from the point of view of Catholic theology, because the Encyclopedia reflects what Catholic writers had in mind by “pantheism” in the era when Pope Pius IX, the First Vatican Council, Pope St. Pius X, Pope Pius XI, and Pope Pius XII repeatedly made a point of condemning pantheism as a clear and present danger.

Naturally, I am well aware that philosophers of religion and theologians these days prefer to draw sharper terminological boundaries between “pantheism,” “panentheism,” and so on.  However, being the card-carrying reactionary unreconstructed Baroque Scholastic manualist Thomist that I am, I am more interested in what the Catholic theological tradition has had in view when analyzing and criticizing pantheism.  And I think it is pretty obvious that Hart’s views fall within the range of doctrines that Pius IX, Vatican I, Pius X, Pius XI, Pius XII, et al. would condemn as “pantheist.”

I don’t think D. B. Hart would deny this; on the contrary, I think he’d wear it as a badge of honor, at least in private when knocking back a few drinks with the posse.  Certainly he is not shy in You Are Gods about the fact that his views cannot be reconciled with what was hammered out as official Catholic teaching on matters of nature and supernature by the time of Pius XII. 

It is also rather rich for S. Hart to accuse me, out of one side of his mouth, of being insufficiently precise in my analogies – while, out of the other side of his mouth, approvingly citing D. B. Hart’s imprecise and inconsistent formulations as evidence that he ought to be acquitted of the charge of pantheism.  Rich, but not in the least surprising, given that “Heads, Hart wins; tails, Hart’s critics lose” is standard shtick with the Hart fan base.

S. Hart’s remaining point vis-à-vis the pantheism issue is one I confess to being unable to make heads or tails of.  It seems to amount to this: “Because Feser himself routinely defends the form/matter and essence/existence distinctions, he cannot consistently complain when Hart deploys these notions in what Feser takes to be a pantheist manner.”  But this is such an obvious non sequitur that I fear I must be missing something.  Any reader who can come up with a more plausible interpretation will win a no-prize.

Well, that’s it.  I’m sorry if I’ve been a little hard on Hart the younger, despite his asking for it.  But I’m sure he won’t mind, delighting as he does in “playful” invective and all!


  1. Here's a probably interpretation of what S. Hart was trying to say.

    So, in the classical theist worldview, God's essence is identical with all of His attributes. This includes the contents of His intellect, which are the different forms that He used as the extrinsic formal cause of creation. Furthermore, since He is Existence itself, all things that have existence participate in the divine essence.

    Hence Charles Journet's Dark Knowledge of God says that "it is an aberration to think that it is the nature of a creature to be 'something that God is not.' God is all that the creature is; how could one find in the creature an atom of being that is not in God? But that which the creature is in a deficient and attenuated manner, God is in a pure and super-eminent manner... God, existing in the creature, is more really the creature than the creature can possibly be, for He is the creature infinitely; that is, as the perfect cause of the creature's imperfect being, God's being reaches to the inmost being of the creature."

    Journet then quotes Chardon as saying "God, in heaven, is more truly my heaven than heaven itself; in the sun, He is more truly my light than the sun itself; within the air, He is more truly my air than the air I breathe" and St. Paul as saying "God is not far from any of us, for it is in Him that we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

    To certain kinds of Christians, this probably would sound like pantheism. I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.

    1. I don't think it makes sense to classify Hart as a pantheist. I think his view is representative of what you just wrote.

      One might also mention the existentialist thomists, including Fr. Phelan who once said "God is Father Phelan, but Father Phelan is not God".

      Hart's proposition seems perfectly clear to me in light of this kind of view. God, being the cause of all things, pre-possesses in himself the perfections of all being. As the source of all actuality, God has all actualities in himself. Creatures are, in this manner, limited forms of God's actuality - distinct from God (again, God is not the other of anything, God is God) but still nothing but limited configurations of what is already in God (eminently). The old medieval analogy would be God being the ocean of Being and creatures being flasks taking up the water from the ocean in different limitations (shapes of each flask).

      None of this entails substance monism. You could say that there is a *property* monism, in that every property ultimately must reduce to Being/Esse (perfect and infinite in God, and in different finite modes in creatures) while maintaining that there are many different substances, and no creature is identified with God.

    2. The problem is that all of what I said was perfectly in line with Thomism, belief in Hell, and Christian orthodoxy. None of what I said entails anything that D. B. Hart said. You don't have to go to Hinduism to draw out these things out either - just go to St. Francis' Canticle of the Sun.

    3. Interesting points, Mister Geocon, it reminds me of the analysis make be the Calcutta School of Indology of the similarities and diferences between our good and old thomism and advaita vedanta when dealing with God.

      While there are clear diferences, it is amazing how the two traditions do afirm together some things but the language is quite diferent. That D. B. Hart meant something similar is possible. That was probably S. Hart best point.

    4. OK, maybe I don't understand. The comment Mr. Geocon made initially, to me sounded pretty close to pantheism straight up though with enough ambiguous phrasing to ALLOW for being taken differently, if you strain just right. Unknown's comment, to me, sounded JUST LIKE taking Mr. Geocon's comment in the "strained just right" approach, and (by adding distinctions very carefully avoided in the original), clarifies how it can be understood in a not-out-and-out panthesistic way. But the critical point is that in order to do so, it is necessary to state (as he stated) "distinct from God"...

      Mr. G[s phrasing of "Furthermore, since He is Existence itself, all things that have existence participate in the divine essence. " makes that - to the say the least - not an obvious way to take the position. That phrasing makes it sound exactly like some sort of substance monism, or at least that's what I would be trying to assert if I used that sentence. Is it readily compatible with saying "created things are, in their forms, like in kind to perfection God has eminently, but distinct in number? If so, was it phrased that way in order to be made obscure?

    5. Tony,

      I think what has to be understood here is what Journet said: "that which the creature is in a deficient and attenuated manner, God is in a pure and super-eminent manner." When I quote Chardin, he does not say "God is the sun," but rather "God is more the sun than the sun itself." There is a distinction here that is being overlooked by the pantheist.

      My point here is that, to the untrained eye, this looks like a crude sort of pantheism, especially to someone like S. Hart. God is ultimately not to be identified with the world because the world is finite and God is infinite, the world is complex and God is simple, the world has goodness and existence while God is Goodness and Existence, etc.

      Again, I'd really like to know what Professor Feser has to say about this.

    6. I concur with Tony in that the straightforward interpretation of both Mr G's initial statement and Journet's quote is pantheistic or at least panentheistic.

      Notably, the straightforward interpretation of
      Paul's quote from Epimenides' Cretica in Acts 17:28a, "in Him we live, and move, and are;" is also pantheistic/panentheistic, and surely Paul's Stoic audience would have understood it that way.

      Whereas Epimenides' quote can be interpreted in a classical theistic sense with some heavy hermeneutic work (see e.g. [1]), Journet's quote is pan(en)theistic beyond redemption. I will address below Mr G's statement.

      We have to distinguish contingent existence (or act of being) from Subsistence Existence.

      The contingent act of being of a created entity, which is sustained by God, is bound to, and bounded by, the ousia/essence of that created entity (with ousia/essence understood as a particular, not a universal).

      In contrast, the Subsistent Act of Being, which is self-sustained, is not bound to, or bounded by, an essence that is distinct from the Subsistent Act of Being itself. Thus, the divine essence is absolute, unbounded Existence.

      Therefore, the participation of contingent existence in Subsistent Existence must be understood in an analogical, not univocal, sense, as they are essentially qualitatively different.

      [1] https://www.gotquestions.org/in-Him-we-live-move-have-our-being.html

    7. Therefore, the participation of contingent existence in Subsistent Existence must be understood in an analogical, not univocal, sense, as they are essentially qualitatively different.

      Thank you, Johannes, that's very helpful. Though I would have said "numerically distinct" as well: they are qualitatively different by one being intrinsically subsistent, the other not, and numerically distinct in that one's being is not, univocally, the other's being.

      When I quote Chardin, he does not say "God is the sun," but rather "God is more the sun than the sun itself." There is a distinction here that is being overlooked by the pantheist.

      Geo, even here, Chardin's comment is obscure, and easy to consider meant in a pantheistic sense. If God is, say, more sun-like than the sun, one can say the "-like" allows for the distinction in number between them. But if God is "more sun than the sun itself" it allows - fairly easily - taking it as the sun is merely a "part" of God, and in that part it is only even a portion of God's sun-ness. So that God's ENTIRE sun-ness exceeds the sun's sun-ness, but the sun is really just part of God.

      Sure, one can read it in a not-pantheistic sense (as one can read the St. Paul quote), but I rather think that by the time we get to the 19th or 20th century, unless one is engaged in poetry, one would fail to add clarifying and disambiguating phrasing to what Journet or Chardin said, only for the reason one would expect to be taken as saying something patheistic and desired just that.

    8. Tony,

      Journet has the title servant of God. Your comment that he's some kind of crypto-pantheist is ridiculous.

      Again, everything I said follows directly from Thomistic metaphysics and everything you said about the sun being a portion of God's sun-ness is a non-sequitur.

    9. Dear Mr. Geocon, perhaps it was your mis-identification of "Chardon" as "Chardin" that threw me off initially, for we know well that Chardin held all manner of error, including pantheism. I took the trouble to go and read the entire passage in the The Dark Knowledge of God, and when you read the pages that come before, it is clear that he is not attempting to promote a pantheist (or even semi-pantheist) position. Indeed, the error he is refuting does not need us to interpret his words at all angling toward pantheism.

      Nevertheless, inserting the slice into a discussion about pantheism, and without mentioning the error he was refuting, his words CAN be taken in a pantheistic manner. I repeat: the ambiguity can be cleared up by adding "but numerically distinct" without harm to the (valid) principle that God is more "sun-like" than the sun itself, as well as God being the agent cause, exemplar cause, and final cause of the sun - and remaining numerically distinct.

    10. Tony,

      What did you think I was trying to accomplish here by quoting Journet? Did you think I was promoting pantheism?

    11. No, but I couldn't tell for sure what you meant to say with the passage. I had to go read 4 or 5 pages before the quote you gave to figure it out. I thought, for instance, that perhaps you were missing what Journet meant.

    12. Tony,

      So, in Feser's article, he wrote:

      S. Hart’s remaining point vis-à-vis the pantheism issue is one I confess to being unable to make heads or tails of. It seems to amount to this: “Because Feser himself routinely defends the form/matter and essence/existence distinctions, he cannot consistently complain when Hart deploys these notions in what Feser takes to be a pantheist manner.” But this is such an obvious non sequitur that I fear I must be missing something. Any reader who can come up with a more plausible interpretation will win a no-prize.

      Well, that’s it. I’m sorry if I’ve been a little hard on Hart the younger, despite his asking for it. But I’m sure he won’t mind, delighting as he does in “playful” invective and all!

      What my initial comment was trying to do is speculate why someone like S. Hart would think that the Thomistic position amounts to a kind of pantheism.

  2. However, being the card-carrying reactionary unreconstructed Baroque Scholastic manualist Thomist that I am,

    Can I get one of those cards? I think it will save me all sorts of trouble in arguments.

    1. He does mention that a lot doesn't he. I remember he mentioned it in a talk on Immateriality of the Mind for Thomistic Institute.

      I think if a movie were to be made on Prof Feser. It would be titled "Dr Edward Feser: The Card Carrying Thomist". The promo line would be "And he is not afraid to show it".

      The narration would proceed like:- "Hidden within the boundaries of California lies one man whose journey from Atheist to Card Carrying Thomist has yet to be celebrated in song and folk dance. He is fast, He is smooth and He's got a card. Yes! He is a card carrying Thomist and he knows it, And soon you will too. Buckle up and get ready for the real distinction folks cause.... it's gonna blow your minds. Coming to theatres soon on 16th April."

    2. A friend of mine, once but no longer in the Trady movement, was given a cigarette lighter sporting the visage of Marechal Henri Petain. Another friend has an Otto von Hapsburg medallion. Where is Joseph de Maistre when we need him?

    3. I'm a Juan Donoso Cortés guy myself.

    4. It reminded me of the last Intellectual Development milestone of Dr. Steven Baldner, Chair of the Department of Philosophy of St. Francis Xavier University:

      "1977: Baldner meets Father James A. Weisheipl, with whom he studies Aristotle's Physics and Posterior Analytics and Thomas' Commentaires thereon. Baldner becomes a card-carrying Thomist of the strict observance and learns the secret handshake."


  3. It seems to me that even to admit that we are generally opened up to supernature by our capacity for reason, is to cede the whole argument to Hart (D.B. or otherwise). Why would we, qua 'pure nature', not be created without reason? We do not have reason by some logical necessity. The fact that we were created with this rational capacity for 'integration,' so to speak, with supernature seems to suggest Divine intent for such integration. Why create us with such capacities if not?

    1. I am not sure where you are going with this, but the first question is: what "we" are you referring to? The Thomist position assumes that God made man as a rational being. Given that nature as a starting point (i.e. HUMAN nature), and that alone, does man have as his "end" the supernatural union of the BV?

    2. @Anon

      Why could not God create a being that, by itself, is not capable of getting the BV and would sorta of live while not having it WHILE intending all along to give the capacity of having it to the being.

      Being a catholic, i suppose that Ed agrees that the hypothetical state of pure nature is, well hypothetical. I think that i remember reading a mention of something like that on the cathecism some days ago.

    3. Talmid, are you asking if it is possible for God to create (1) a rational being, one with an immaterial intellect, a spiritual nature; which (2) by that very nature has the obediential potential to be raised up by grace to union with God; and (3) intended that creature to live without that grace for a time; while (4) God intended to give that grace later in his existence so that he could then enjoy union with God?

      I am not sure we can give an affirmative answer to this. In addition to the limits of what we CAN know about this, I have 2 reasons for thinking that the answer is actually in the negative. First, we have (by revelation) information about 2 kinds of rational beings, men and angels. For both kinds, what we know is that God made them from the very beginning in union with Him by grace. (Actually, since each angel is its own distinct species, the number of "kinds" made from the beginning with grace is in the millions or even more.) We don't know of any that God did not elevate by grace immediately.

      Secondly, being in the state of original sin is often described as "being in the state of not having grace", lack of the sanctifying grace that gives us that supernatural union with God. The sheer fact of not having the grace is accounted a disorder, a defect, not merely a kind of non-being.

      I admit that the latter could, in theory be explained away by saying that it only applies to us humans who God did freely design to have grace from the very beginning of our lives.

      But a third argument is more general and responds to that: sanctifying grace does not only begin in us the elevation of that obediential potency by which it is possible to enjoy the Beatific Vision, it is, in itself the proper rectitude of the rational soul toward its Maker. This is indicated by Thomas:

      But the very rectitude of the primitive state, wherewith man was endowed by God, seems to require that, as others say, he was created in grace, according to Ecclesiastes 7:30, "God made man right." For this rectitude consisted in his reason being subject to God... (Q.95, A1)

      The implication seems to be (and I think is carried consistently throughout the Summa) that it is the proper orientation of the rational soul, that it be oriented to God as in the way grace does it. This is stated also for the angels. This is why being without said grace (the state of sin) is a defect, not merely a condition of not having a benefit.

    4. @Tony

      I did not intend (3), but reading again i can see how one could understand it that way.

      Anon seems to suggest that it does not make sense to create us with the obediential potential suggests that God intended to unite us to Him all along, something that Hart could use to make his case.

      What i tried to say is that perhaps God could create us while intending to never fullfil or potency, for we can kinda get by withnot it, but on the actual world He did give us the chance of having the BV. It seems to me that this would adress Anon point about a potential objection that Hart could make, for them God did really intend all along to give us the BV while having the thomistic antropology.

      As i understand your post, your problem is with a position that accept (3), so i guess that there is no disagreement here.

  4. Those people who miss the point of analogies and act as if the compared things have to be similar in all respects for it to count are amongst the silliest ones you can engage in a conversation with.

    A usual example I give to make them understand the silliness of such an objection is the following:

    If I say that Usain Bolt is fast just like a cheetah is fast, it doesn't mean Usain Bolt is a quadricep, it doesn't mean that he is a feline, it doesn't mean he is hunting for prey in the savannah, it doesn't mean he has spotted fur.

  5. Time Lords have two hearts. Hmm...

  6. Feser: "There is an obvious sense in which the laptop, considered just by itself and without anything you might connect to it, is complete." The qualification 'there is an obvious sense in which' is the same sort of fallacious equivocation that Feingold uses: a beatitude that's "simply speaking, imperfect, but in some sense, perfect, in proportion to human nature." Fine, there is a sense in which the laptop, by itself, is 'complete' (or 'perfect'); but it's not complete (perfect) in the relevant sense.

    1. Yeah, there's the rub.

      For example, you could download movie playing software, a speaker system, and the like, in order to make of it a home entertainment system.

      OK, but you can ALSO plug in a USB-driven fan that runs off the (tiny) current over a USB port, and unlike most other plug-in additions, this represents an add-on that is really unlike computer capability: computers are "for" taking data and manipulating the data to produce some other output ("information") that is useful. The fan, however, is not doing this: it is taking an ordered input of a lower order than "data", (that is, electrical energy on an AC system) and turning it into a LESS ordered output of kinetic energy (wind), a reduction of order and a loss of information. This is not what computers are "for", and the ability to structure a USB plug to run a fan is wholly incidental to the computer as a middle-man - you can run the same fan merely off an AC USB adapter, no computer involved.

      In an important sense, no computer is "complete" precisely because it is an artifact and has no "nature" of its own, its teleology is wholly extrinsic to it. The "being complete" is entirely a matter of outside agents (humans) mostly having a moderate number of similar purposes for computers, in a purely statistical clumping. A person using a laptop as a lever to transfer mechanical energy, in a pinch, would not be using the computer for something other than "its teleology" in any formal sense, only in the statistical sense that few others use it for that.

      It would be better to use an example in natural beings, but there Feser put his finger on the problem: perhaps it really takes a rational nature to even ALLOW for the possibility of "an end" that is not the end under the things natural powers, but could be an end under added power that can be added without changing the nature. Man is unique in having both reason and body, so Feser is limited to poor(er) analogies by the nature of the case.

      I suppose one might try to construct a theoretical illustration using natural beings. Suppose we have an animal that is fully color-blind (e.g. seals), having rods and no cones in their retinas. And suppose we manipulate their genes to generate cones, (including nerve hook-ups that route into the optic center). Then one might posit that we have added to their power of sight the ability to see color. The question that would arise is whether merely providing the HARDWARE under which color vision could occur would enable the animal to actually experience and interpret color vision, i.e. whether the animal's soul could actually use the new data to generate meaningful information. Arguably, at least, there is no reason to assume it COULD NOT, since the animal's soul DOES already have the faculty of vision; adding "color" to vision is not making vision into some other faculty. This would, I think, better illustrate the difference between having a power ready to be actualized, and an obediential potency to receive a power ready to be actualized. (It suffers, obviously, from a rather large assumption in the middle that is not verified experimentally.)

    2. It would be a LESS clear analogy to suggest taking an animal (say, man, because he would be able to report his experience) and try to alter genes that implant the necessary mechanical structures to carry out the operations of some other kind of sense than the 5 we have naturally: say, the geo-magnetic orientation of canadian geese. It might, arguably, be necessary to add in a physical structure that maps the neural input into the vision (or hearing) center of the brain, with the result that the man experiences the input visually in some weird way. Doing so would leave it unclear whether we had truly elevated the "sense of sight" in an unambiguous way, and it might actually interfere with normal vision.

      Feser's point, that we don't experience the NOT HAVING the ability to receive that geo-magnetic input as a loss or lack of fruition, still holds, though. I wonder, however, if you successfully provided a seal with cones and it successfully experienced color vision, and then something happened to its cones and they all failed, whether the animal would in that instance experience the black-and-white vision as "something missing".

      I guess I am asking to what extent are we talking about the subjective experience of a desire, or of a not-having a good, versus the objective fact of not having the good which WOULD be fulfilling if experienced. A person who had never heard any music in their life might not experience that as a loss, a lack that he is unhappy about, but it would still be the case that upon hearing music he would FEEL a fruition he was not feeling beforehand. We might have to spend some effort making distinctions about the subjective experience and the objective reality.

    3. chicken of bristolApril 6, 2022 at 6:16 PM

      What about instead of direct genetic modification, our natural example is domestication?

      A wild animal is not missing anything before it becomes domesticated, but the fact that some animals can become domesticated (whereas others effectively cannot) seems to indicate something like the "potential for a potential" that Dr. Feser was getting at.

    4. chicken, does the domesticated animal have (or feel) a satisfaction in a higher way than the satisfaction of life in the wild? In some cases (like pets) they have a longer life, and they have more of the natural pleasures of a full belly, warm place to sleep for the night, etc., but it's not clear that the fruition they experience is on a higher plane.

    5. Tony,
      I have read certain authors discuss the situation in which dogs, for example, become (in a limited sense) part of the human family in that they are genuinely affected by the plight of the family members to which they have become attached. Arguably, the telos of the dog has been elevated in some way above its usual nature but in accordance with an obediential potential. I do not necessarily advocate this view but I think it possible.

    6. @Tony,

      I think Feser's notion of an 'obediential potency' is unintelligible.

      The only sense that can be made of a potency for a potency is via orders of actuality and potentiality that belong to a substance by nature. For example, we can extend Aristotle's talk of 1st and 2nd actualities as follows. A human being, in virtue of its substantial form (1st actuality), has the 2nd potentiality to become a language speaker, say, an English speaker. And once an English speaker (2nd actuality), that human being has the '3rd potentiality' to become, say, a reader of Feser's books. In this way, we can understand the capacity to learn English as a 'potency for a potency', the potency to read Feser. But that's a completely natural potentiality for a human being.

      If the latter potentiality mentioned in the phrase 'a potency for a potency' doesn't belong to the substance by nature, then the miraculous 'addition' of such a potentiality is, in fact, the annihilation of the one substance and the creation, in its place, of a different substance that has the new potentiality. For example, Feser's position is similar to the claim that a stone has a 'obediential potency' to become a child of Abraham because God could miraculously raise up a child of Abraham from the stone. But there's no such thing as a stone 'becoming' a child of Abraham. Rather, the stone would be annihilated and, in its place, a child of Abraham would be created.

      And Feser's poor analogy with an artifact that has (as you point out) no intrinsic ends at all, does nothing to rescue his notion of 'obediential potency' from absurdity.

    7. If the latter potentiality mentioned in the phrase 'a potency for a potency' doesn't belong to the substance by nature, then the miraculous 'addition' of such a potentiality is, in fact, the annihilation of the one substance and the creation, in its place, of a different substance that has the new potentiality.

      Buddy, I recognize the difficulty of seeing through the thicket here, but I am not seeing that you have provided a better argument / account than Feser. First, let's take a truth that can be understood by natural reason without any supernatural assistance, except that it cannot be acquired by natural reason, since it requires information only accessible to God. So God comes along, and tells you the fact. (E.G. A reason why God did X in the past in human history.) You have all the "natural" potency you need to apprehend the truth, but you could never have done so without assistance. Is this possibility of knowing properly to be called a "potency" that is "completely natural"?

      Secondly, whatever we want to say of it, we must account for these: (1) God will bring us into the beatitude of seeing his essence directly; (2) This operation is beyond ANY created nature (angelic, too); and (3) we are created beings, distinct in being from God. However you want to carve up the understanding of "our nature", you aren't going to get an inherently supernatural activity out of it on its own steam. So, which are you leaning toward rejecting: that we will have the Beatific Vision in heaven, that the BV is supernatural; or that we are created beings distinct from God? Any such choice has problems.

    8. in which dogs, for example, become (in a limited sense) part of the human family in that they are genuinely affected by the plight of the family members to which they have become attached.

      Tim, I have argued something almost like that myself. I suggest that when a pet is pulled into the family, it is elevated, in a sense, in that it is (sort of) living out the life of reason, not because it is using reason itself, but because its model of life is subordinated to OUR reason. But this clearly involves a couple of layers of "in a sense", and I hesitate to take it too far.

      God already subordinated ALL OF NATURE to the action of reason, because he subordinated the entire universe to HIS OWN providential plan. What we do with a pet is to impose a secondary, more local application of reason, to more determinate facts than the laws of nature do: where nature has a dog by instinct fight dogs in other packs, we impose a different plan because its instinct is not useful in the concrete local circumstances. But this highlights that the dog, also, is NOT living for a purpose entirely suited to its own welfare, but to ours (we don't let the dog breed as much as it can, which is the natural optimum, but only to further our own purposes which don't take "pass on this dog's genes" into account.) A dog cannot literally enjoy the true common good of a family in its proper sense, which requires intellect; it can only enjoy the goods appropriate to dogs in an unusual way: for the affection it gets and gives are fully doggy behaviors well within the scope of its nature, just applied to a special object. I think.

    9. Tom,

      Is this possibility of knowing properly to be called a "potency" that is "completely natural"?

      I think that it is. Consider a similar case. A toddler has a natural potentiality to become an English speaker. But he cannot actualize that potentiality on his own. He needs the help of someone who is already an English speaker. Nevertheless, because the potentiality to speak English belongs to him by nature, it is ‘completely’ natural.

      In the same way, a human being has the potentiality to become divine. But he cannot actualize that potentiality on his own. He needs the help of that which is always actually divine, God. Nevertheless, because the potentiality to become divine belongs to him by nature, it is ‘completely’ natural.

      (2) This operation is beyond ANY created nature (angelic, too)

      I would prefer to say ‘This actuality is beyond ANY creature’s ability to bring about.’

      that we will have the Beatific Vision in heaven; that the BV is supernatural; or that we are created beings distinct from God.

      Likewise, since I think that the human potentiality for the Beatific Vision is natural, I would prefer to rephrase the second claim as something like ‘actually seeing the Beatific Vision requires supernatural assistance.’

      Finally, an addition to the last paragraph of my previous comment. Feser’s laptop example is ineffectual because, in the relevant sense, an artifact has no ends at all and, therefore, in the relevant sense, it is neither complete nor incomplete. Thus, Feser’s attempted analogy is merely a category mistake.

    10. In the same way, a human being has the potentiality to become divine.

      Buddy, do you mean that a human being has the potentiality - in a sense - to become divine?

      Likewise, since I think that the human potentiality for the Beatific Vision is natural,

      I would pose this question for Dr. Feser: If God were to reveal to his putative, hypothetical man "in the state of pure nature" that (1) God is able to raise up a man's intellect so that it is capable of the BV, and (2) that God is willing to do so in the right conditions, would the man then desire to achieve the right conditions and be granted the requisite elevation of intellect for the BV? Would such desire be natural or supernatural?

    11. Tony (sorry, I called you Tom above),

      do you mean that a human being has the potentiality – in a sense – to become divine?

      I mean that a human being has the potentiality to become divine in exactly the same sense as he has the potentiality to become anything else: an English speaker, a parent, a philosopher, etc.

      I think there are only orders of natural potentiality and actuality (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) and (hence) that (Feser’s notion of) ‘obediential potency’ is nonsense.

      would the man then desire to achieve the right conditions

      I doubt Feser will deign to answer. My reply is that man, as a rational person, desires the Beatific Vision without the need of any special revelation. Borrowing a line from Sartre: “the fundamental project of human reality is the desire to be God.”

    12. Well, I suppose that helps clarify. Sort of. I don't know how a creature can "become" the Uncreated one, but whatever.

      Repudiating Sartre: if the project of a certain man is to become God, simply speaking, that man is bent. But we are just contradicting each other, not providing arguments.

    13. Tom,

      I too have no idea how a creature can become the Uncreated. (I once heard Feingold explain that, in the Beatific Vision, through our participation in Christ, we will be able to think the Father through His own thought of Himself, the Son, and hence love the Father through the Spirit, i.e. we will live the life of Trinity. I don’t really know what that means, but I want it nonetheless. Here’s the interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8XCp9MG-FM&t=3568s)

      But that a human being, entering into the Beatific Vision, will become divine is just part of the tradition. As Paul says, he will “know fully” just as he is fully known (1 Cor. 13:12); and Peter, we will become “participants in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4); and Irenaeus, “the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that he might bring us to be even what he is Himself” (Against Heresies, 5, preface); and Clement of Alexandria, “the Word of God became man, that you may learn from man how man may become God (Protrepticus, 1); and Athanasius, “the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (On the Incarnation, 54:3); and Augustine, that “the Son of God has been made partaker of mortality, in order that mortal man may be made partaker of divinity” (Exposition in Psalm 52, 5), and John of Damascus, that “He took himself a share in our poor and weak nature, in order that He might cleanse us and make us incorruptible, and establish us once more as partakers of his divinity” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4, 13); etc., etc.

      So, that God deifies, i.e. makes men divine, is something I’m just assuming. Our discussion, I take it, is not over whether or not man can become divine, but whether or not the potential to do so is natural. Right?

    14. So, that God deifies, i.e. makes men divine, is something I’m just assuming. Our discussion, I take it, is not over whether or not man can become divine, but whether or not the potential to do so is natural. Right?

      While the main discussion is whether our nature inclines toward that end naturally, another part is on the WHAT of the BV, because if we are talking about different things being "the BV", then we might have different answers as to whether we incline toward it naturally.

      I have absolutely no difficulty with any of the citations you gave, and would add to them only that by "becoming divine" we mean, also, that we retain our human nature, and even (to take it a step further) that we "become divine" in a sense and not simply speaking. Peter indicates this himself: "participants". We become divine in the sense of participating in His life and nature, which we will have in the BV by an added gift, and not "by our nature". We will retain human nature, and will not "be God" simply speaking. Augustine, too, points to this with "partaking" of divinity.

    15. Tony (got if right this time!),

      by "becoming divine" we mean, also, that we retain our human nature

      You (seem to) think that ‘becoming divine’ and ‘retaining our human nature’ are in tension with each other. But I think that to be a human being (or any other finite rationality) just is to be something that, when its nature is fully actualized, is divine. In other words, to be a human being is to be something that naturally becomes divine. This, of course, is just a way of restating the disagreement we’ve been discussing

      we "become divine" in a sense and not simply speaking. Peter indicates this himself: "participants". We become divine in the sense of participating in His life and nature, which we will have in the BV by an added gift, and not "by our nature".

      I think Peter’s claim is stronger than that. The Greek word translated as ‘participant’ is koinonos, a communicant or sharer in something. If we share in, and hence, have a share in, God’s own nature, then . . . what? Something’s nature is what makes it what it is. If we share in God’s nature, what then are we? As Irenaeus puts it, God did “become what we are, that he might bring us to be even what he is Himself,” i.e. bring us to be God simpliciter. (Side note of possible relevance: the root word, koinonia, communion or participation, is one of the words Plato’s Socrates uses for the relationship that particulars have to a form, e.g. this and that beautiful thing are beautiful because of their koinonia with Beauty itself. Now, on what I take to be the correct understanding of Platonic forms, each and every beautiful thing, for example, is Beauty itself appearing to be many. As Socrates puts it at Republic 476a4-7: “The same argument also applies then to justice and injustice, good and bad, and all the forms; each is itself one, but, by showing up everywhere in a community [koinonia] with actions, bodies, and one another, each is an apparitional many.” Similarly, one might expound Peter by saying that God is One, but, by showing up in community with human rationality, by sharing his own nature with humanity, He appears to be many.) I certainly don’t have a fully worked out view on this, but I think I like the expression ‘finite aspect of God’ as a definition of human being. So, again, human nature just is the capacity for being God and, therefore, a fully actualized human (e.g. Jesus of Nazareth) is God.

    16. Now, on what I take to be the correct understanding of Platonic forms, each and every beautiful thing, for example, is Beauty itself appearing to be many. As Socrates puts it at Republic 476a4-7: “The same argument also applies then to justice and injustice, good and bad, and all the forms; each is itself one, but, by showing up everywhere in a community [koinonia] with actions, bodies, and one another, each is an apparitional many.”

      Right. To the extent that the Platonic approach differs from the Aristotelian / Thomistic, to that extent it errs. In general, substances of like kind are one in form, many in number, they "share" a form but do NOT share substantial being. But I am not arguing this here, just NOTING that we will dispute such points.

      i.e. bring us to be God simpliciter. (Side note of possible relevance: the root word, koinonia, communion or participation,

      If we "become God", simpliciter, then we become our own creator, simpliciter, also, for God is the creator of all that is. Which is absurd. And so would unravel all effort to even speak about such things. Nothing about any of the quotes from Paul, Peter, or the Fathers, nor the meaning of "koinonia", requires adding "simpliciter" to the becoming by which we adhere to God. Further, Paul distinguishes between Christ's sonship and ours, in that Christ was God's Son by origin, being God from the beginning, whereas we are not. But if we become God simpliciter, this distinction fails to be possible. This explains also why even the saints in heaven cannot answer our prayers of their own power but only by petitioning for God's power to be applied in our cause. (And why we certainly DO NOT worship them.)

      I am merely showing ways in which your position differs from the Catholic position. I don't expect to sway you by this, and I don't see further effort useful here.

    17. I think the conclusion you draw—that for a human being to become God simpliciter is for him to become his own creator—confuses nature with person.

      I don't think there is any such thing as the Catholic position, but we probably disagree on that too.

      Thanks for the conversation.

  7. Dr. Feser,

    Would you say your summarization of the Thomistic position on this issue align with Fr. Thomas Joseph White? I do not know if his essay, " Imperfect Happiness and the Final End of Man: Thomas Aquinas and the Paradigm of Nature-Grace Orthodoxy" is a fair summary of views held by someone like Lagrange.

  8. Let's consult the wikipedia entries of the school Vishishtadvaita [1] and the denomimation that follows it, Sri Vaishnavism [2].

    In [1] panentheism is unmistakable in the repeated statements that Brahman or Ishvara (there is a subtle difference) is not only the efficient cause but also the material cause of the universe, which is his body. Choosing two paragraphs to quote:

    "Ishvara (denoted by Vishnu (Narayana)) is the Supreme Cosmic Spirit who maintains complete control over the Universe and all the sentient beings, which together also form the pan-organistic body of Ishvara. The triad of Ishvara along with the universe and the sentient beings is Brahman, which signifies the completeness of existence. Ishvara is [...] causeless, eternal and unchangeable — and is yet the material and the efficient cause of the universe and sentient beings."

    (BTW, note the blatant contradiction between Brahman or Ishvara being both unchangeable and the material cause of the universe, as the universe evidently changes.)

    "Brahman is assigned two kāraṇatvas (ways of being the cause):

    Nimitta kāraṇatva — Being the Efficient/ Instrumental cause. For example, a goldsmith is assigned Nimitta kāraṇatva as he acts as the maker of jewellery and thus becomes the jewellery's Instrumental cause.

    Upādāna kāraṇatva — Being the material cause. For example, the gold is assigned Upādāna kāraṇatva as it acts as the material of the jewellery and thus becomes the jewellery's material cause."

    From [2] I will quote a paragraph that contrasts Vishishtadvaita with Dvaita (dualism):

    "Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita asserts that Atman (souls) and Brahman[note 1] are different, a difference that is never transcended.[33][34] God Vishnu alone is independent, all other gods and beings are dependent on Him.[35] However, in contrast to Dvaita Vedanta philosophy of Madhvacharya, Ramanuja asserts "qualified non-dualism",[36] that souls share the same essential nature of Brahman,[36] and that there is a universal sameness in the quality and degree of bliss possible for human souls, and every soul can reach the bliss state of God Himself. [33][37] While the 13th- to 14th-century Madhvacharya asserted both "qualitative and quantitative pluralism of souls", Ramanuja asserted "qualitative monism and quantitative pluralism of souls", states Sharma."

    Notably, there is yet another difference between Vishishtadvaita with Dvaita that will make the first agreeable to Hart and the second to Feser:

    "The other philosophical difference between Madhvacharya's Vaishnavism Sampradaya and Ramanuja's Vaishnavism Sampradaya,[note 2] has been on the idea of eternal damnation; Madhvacharya believed that some souls are eternally doomed and damned, while Ramanuja disagreed and accepted the Advaita Vedanta view that everyone can, with effort, achieve inner liberation and spiritual freedom (moksha).[40][41]"

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vishishtadvaita
    [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Vaishnavism

  9. Well Hart is kind of ambiguous and imprecise in his use of language being more rhetorically oriented then being a rigorous philosopher.

    So maybe he is not in his Heart of Harts a literal "Pantheist"? But using the imprecise provocative language he uses he is nor going to do anything other then give the impression he is one. So that is on him.


    1. Yakov... Yeah, rhetorical bomb throwers seek damaging effect as their first object. Precision is not their primary calling

    2. Reminds me of an article by Peter Krasniewsk, Teilhard de Chardin: Model of Ambiguity for a Future Pope

      Ambiguity as a weapon and as an objective.

  10. I always thought Panentheism taught God is to Creation what a Soul is to the Body and or the Cosmos is in a sort of a Hypostatic Union with God? Or the Cosmos is God but God is more than the Cosmos etc...

    All of these concepts are contrary to Classic Theism and Catholic Christianity's understanding of it.

    I would concede there is some similarity. God in the Classic Sense is present to all creation and actively sustains all creation in existence. Thus God is in every being and every being is in God.

    But created being's relationship to God is a real one and God's relation to created being is not. Created being is dependent on God but God is not dependent on created being.

    Panentheists often tries to claim God is in some sense dependent on creation like a Cause is dependent on an effect.

    A true Classic Theistic view must reject this error.

    1. God's relation to created being *is* a real one. It just doesn't involve intrinsic change in God.

    2. There are no physical distinctions within the Trinity Son of Yakov, or indeed metaphysicql ones, but there are mysterious distinctions. That's ok then. But can God ride a bike?

    3. Yes, God can ride a bike.

      Metaphysics is a human construct, not a rulebook that God follows.

      Tom Cohoe

    4. "But can God ride a bike?"

      Without even becoming incarnate, God already has every power included in "riding a bike" minus the limitations.

      So God cannot literally ride a bike, but only because this presupposes being limited (being in a certain spatial location and not somewhere else, for example). But everything positive/perfect involved in riding a bike, God can do it. By omnipresence, God is present everywhere and as such has no need to go from A to B - God is always present at both locations with his power. And of course, God can move a bike if he chooses to do so. He can move the pedals, all that. He doesn't need feet to do so.

      So the answer is God can do everything perfect/real/powerful involved in the act of riding a bike, minus its intrinsic limitations/weaknesses.

    5. @ Anonymous,

      "So God cannot literally ride a bike, but only because this presupposes being limited (being in a certain spatial location and not somewhere else, for example)."

      God can literally ride a bike just as He can and does exist as a corporeal presence limited to specific places when we celebrate Mass. His glorified human body could show up as a fully human person at any time and place to ride a bike if He so willed to do so. Furthermore, He would not need to "become" incarnate in finite time. That has already happened and will not happen again.

      As a related aside, in his recent, ill-advised, broadcast debate with the doubter (whose name I cannot recall), Jimmy Aiken fumbled his response to the doubter's question about how Jesus could have remained with the disciples who obeyed His order to stay in Jerusalem until the descent of the Holy Spirit and also appear in the same period to the disciples who, having not yet been fortified with the Holy Spirit and thinking it was all over, disobeyed and went fishing. Well, just the same way He can be in my mouth and, at the same time, be in the mouth of someone 500 miles away. It is part of what we have always understood that our incarnate, glorified Lord can do. Not a hard question actually.

      Tom Cohoe

    6. Unknown I am nor going to forget ye misrepresented Brian Davies. I dinny trust you so on yer bike.

    7. I'm sorry Son of Yak'ov, but I genuinely do not know who Brian Davies is and fear that you are jumping to unwarranted conclusions about my identity. I am infact Deacon Ghostly.


    8. https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2022/02/the-failure-of-johnsons-critique-of.html?showComment=1646167961760#c2055357771824517096

      Quote"Yes, I am the one who said that "Davies and Yakov simply think our ethical statements are entirely equivocal when applied to God.", and I stand by that."

      Basically get lost trolls I am nor in the mood. Tom ye are alright.

      Anonymous and Unknown jog on.

    9. SOY, you should learn not to interact with those you deem - correctly or not - to be trolls, yet you never fail to minimally acknowledge them and ( given the chance ) have a punch up with them.

      Show some self control man!

    10. Well,Anonymous,I am the only real Anonymous. And you should Google Fr.Brian Davies, O.P., Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University. He is one of the world's finest Thomistic philosophers.

    11. Yes, Yakov, I was the one who called out Davies. I did not misrepresent him - if it wasn't clear yet, my point was that Davies's book is useless for the problem of evil (since it doesn't get us beyond theodicy in any way, we still need it), and the only way it could do so would be if it were to involve an abandonment of analogical terms to God. Which Davies does, when he tries to avoid theodicy.

      This has nothing to do with God riding a bike, however. I maintain my position and I find Tom Cohoe's idea quite puzzling - is he suggesting that the consecrated host can ride a bike? All I said is that if God isn't incarnate, he cannot *literally* ride a bike insofar as riding a bike involves limitations. God can always, in the divine essence, perform all perfections involved in riding a bike, however.

    12. @Unknown

      You are a liar sir and a shameless one. You did not read one word of Davies. Not one.

      >if it wasn't clear yet, my point was that Davies's book is useless for the problem of evil...

      You did not read one word of Davies and anything you now claim to know of him is likely a result of me quoting him directly at you when you misrepresented him. For example you claimed Davies taught God could will evil as a final cause and Davies explicitly stated the opposite. You claimed Davies (and myself)taught God could allow evil for no reason at all and again Davies explicitly said the polar opposite...etc...etc...

      I quoted him then you dropped out of the conversation when you where exposed as the fraud you are sir.

      So I think you are either a troll or you need professional help. I cannae abide liars......

      >Which Davies does, when he tries to avoid theodicy.

      More proof you STILL haven't read any Davies. He doesn't avoid theodicy. He rejects God is a moral agent and that means theodicy does not apply to God at all anymore then a batting average applies to evaluating the skill of a long distant runner(Davies uses similar sports analogies).

      If you have really read Davies (or at least remembered my citations) you would also know Davies defines theodicy in terms of moral evaluation of God and God is not a moral agent like us in the univocal sense.

      BTW FYI Tom Cohoe is saying Jesus can ride a bike. DUH!!!! The Divine Essence by itself cannot ride a bike.

      >This has nothing to do with God riding a bike.

      This has nothing to do with my comments on Panentheism either. You are just being a troll.

      So really jog on. New Atheist trash I hold in deep contempt. I GREATLY respect an honest Atheist who is trying to argue philosophy against Classic Theism and does so honestly.

      I have no respect for post modernist trash like you who so deeply disbelieve in the objective existence of truth you just want to shut down all argument and communication.

      Again jog on trolls. Go back to twitter where ye belong...till Musk shuts you down that is....

    13. Gotta tone it down, Son of Yakov.

    14. Sorry about that then. But these are the people yer gonna meet on Twitter and worst their kind run the place.

      BTW thanks fer not posting my more colorful responses. I mean that. Thanks fur looking oot fur me. Cheers boss.

      God bless.

    15. @ Unknown,

      "I find Tom Cohoe's idea quite puzzling - is he suggesting that the consecrated host can ride a bike?"


      Tom Cohoe

    16. @Yakov

      "BTW FYI Tom Cohoe is saying Jesus can ride a bike. DUH!!!! The Divine Essence by itself cannot ride a bike."

      No, this is what I said. Tom Cohoe said he could do so without becoming incarnate: "Furthermore, He would not need to "become" incarnate in finite time. That has already happened and will not happen again" That was the source of my puzzlement. But rereading it I get it that he understood "becoming Incarnate" in what I said as presuming that God hadn't become Incarnate before, which wasn't my intention. I used "becoming" in a loose sense, which could also include God "showing up his glorified human body" at any time as Tom Cohoe put it.

      We are in agreement that God can literally ride a bike if God is incarnate, and (I assume, as that was my entire point) that the Divine Essence can do everything perfect/powerful involved in riding a bike, too, minus the limitations.

      Yakov, I haven't checked back that thread from before so I don't know what exactly you mean. The thing is, I read Davies many years ago and the problem I have is that whether or not God is a moral agent in Davies's terms just ISN'T relevant to the problem of evil, or (if it is), it is at the cost of destroying analogy and other issues.

      If you actually have the capacity of debating this matter like a civilized person, you are welcome to do so. I suggest we "reset" the whole thing and start over a blank slate. I think the real issue is with the term theodicy. Perhaps I really am being a fool and have misunderstood both you and Davies.

      So what do you mean by theodicy? Why do you reject it? How do you think God "not being a moral agent" helps with the problem of evil?

      You don't have to give detailed answers, but responses to these 3 questions would go a long way in clarifying the issues.

      Meanwhile, I will try to clarify, in a simple and summarized form, what my critique is:

    17. @Yakov

      So here is where the problem really lies for me:

      Whether God is or isn't a "moral agent" in a technical sense doesn't really help with the problem of evil.

      There is a problem of evil. This isn't a problem in the sense that there is a planet with only sharks in the ocean with no fish ever, anywhere, for them to feed on (which would run counter to their nature and, as I understand, you recognize would be a problem). There is a problem of evil in the ordinary sense that there are people suffering horrible things. For example, there is a man being horribly tortured and murdered right now. And there is also a child suffering from some horrendous disease right now. PRIMA FACIE, these aren't things we would expect if a good God were making and overseeing things. Simple stuff.

      If you say that we can't judge God because "he is not a moral agent", this is a little tricky. God is not a moral agent (henceforth MA), but neither is a rock a MA. And yet the sense of "not being a MA" here is different. The rock is not a MA because it simply lacks all perfections associated with MA, whereas God actually has all perfections involved in moral agency in a supereminent manner (since you and Davies seem to think "MA" only refers to finite beings).

      So if God is not a MA, this isn't in the same sense that a rock isn't a MA. God is supposed to be even greater than what MA is - in fact, God is the Good itself. Most people believe that moral goodness must be included in the perfect form of Goodness. And hence there is still a problem of evil: why does the Good allow the innocent man to be tortured and murdered? Why does the Good allow the child to suffer from that horrible sickness?

      Theodicy is simply an attempt to give a reason as to why God allows such things. For example: the free will theodicy holds that God has to allow evil men to freely exercise their acts at least sometimes; soul building theodicies hold that the suffering here is all for the sake of our growing in virtue; etc.

      *Aquinas himself engaged in theodicy like that*. And there is no escape from it, lest we suggest that the Good is completely indifferent to the many horrors in our world. But this is insane and then, in any case, would make the "Good" unworthy of worship.

      Good/God cannot be indifferent to all the suffering in the world. Thus, theists have to accept some kind of theodicy, which is a cost. This is all the problem of evil is, and what philosophers of religion are interested in. God not being a moral agent doesn't change that, except if by that we introduce imperfection in God (by making him indifferent to all the evil and suffering in the world).

    18. Also, just FYI, I'm not an atheist, a new atheist, or a post-modernist. I'm a theist. A classical theist, actually, since I believe there are no parts or distinctions in God and that he undergoes no intrinsic changes whatsoever, being purely actual. My metaphysic is broadly thomistic, too.

      (I would however argue that God is a "moral agent" just like God is "intelligent". By the ways of causation, remotion and eminence, God possesses all perfections in any creatures in an eminent manner in himself. I believe "moral agency", although finite in us, ultimately refers to perfections, which cannot be lacking in God. I think saying God is not a moral agent tends to confuse people, just like "theistic personalism" is a terrible name for neo-theism, since it gives the impression that in classical theism God isn't personal, which is false if personhood is a perfection - or a conjunction of perfections: life, intelligence, will, etc.)

    19. @Unknown

      I honestly don't believe a word you just said.

      Yer story keeps changing and I don't for a minute believe you read even one word of Davies because based on my early interactions you over the issue you attributed to him views he absolutely does not hold if not negates entirely and explicitly. Also you keep asking me questions Davies plainly answers in his books. Especially in REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL his seminal work.

      I believe this is called "Sealioning".

      Today you claim "The thing is, I read Davies many years ago."

      Yet a month ago you said...

      "It's quite weird to suggest I'm just a troll and know nothing about natural law etc. when I was a traditional Catholic for many years; was heavily into thomistic philosophy (my metaphysic is still broadly thomistic to this day, too); in NL I favored the classical view against NNL and so on - have read Garrigou-Lagrange, Maritain, Herbert McCabe, Feser, Oderberg, John Haldane, Philippa Foot, etc. I've also read Brian Davies and I do maintain that his work on the problem of evil is garbage.

      You haven't read a word of Davies because you attribute to him views he doesn't hold AND the only corrections you apply flow from me informing you and quoting Davies directly.

      >If you actually have the capacity of debating this matter like a civilized person, you are welcome to do so.

      A month ago of Davies you said "The analogical attribution of "morally good" to a God who allows children to be raped and murdered for no reason.."

      Which contradicts Davies claim God cannot will evil for no reason at all or as a final cause which I quoted too you.

      Also I told you a month ago I believe you where a troll and to get lost yet you still wish to interact with me? Why? To make me loose my temper so ye can get a laugh?

      Sorry but I love interacting with honest debaters but I honestly don't believe for a second that is you.

      As I recall a month ago I told you to jog on. You can't seem to take the hint? Why?

      (answer because your really are here to troll me not debate in good will).

      BTW I answered yer "questions in the past in this thread.


      I see no reason to repeat myself.

      Now go away please.

    20. Sealioning is a harassment tactic by which a participant in a debate or online discussion pesters the other participant with disingenuous questions under the guise of sincerity, hoping to erode the patience or goodwill of the target to the point where they appear unreasonable. Often, sealioning involved asking for evidence for even basic claims. The term comes from a web comic depicting a sea lion engaging in such behavior.


    21. @Yakov

      I have read Davies's book, but it was many years ago, and if I misrepresented him in any way, I apologize. My thing was that:

      1- The contention that God is "not a moral agent" does not make any positive relevant difference for the problem of evil, especially as it matters both for ordinary believers and for philosophers of religion;

      2- *in trying to be charitable to Davies* I have allowed for an interpretation of his that makes the attribution of moral terms to God to be equivocal. This is because if this is not the case, theodicy cannot be avoided and no difference is made to the problem of evil, see point 1 and what I have tried to explain;

      3- I didn't "change my story". I never said I read Davies a month ago or anything. I read Davies many years ago. Just like I've read McCabe many years ago (and McCabe, too, I would say, has positions which veer towards making otherwise analogical predications of God turn into equivocal ones, but nvm);

      4- I will read what you wrote on that thread and respond here. The way you act here makes it seem like *you're* the one who's into trolling people, not me. I'm honestly just interested in discussing this topic from a philosophical point of view. Is it so hard for you to stop the personal attacks and focus on the arguments? If my arguments are no good, then just show it already.

    22. @Yakov

      I'm sorry, but in the link you just posted, you didn't answer to the questions I made here.

      Once again:

      What relefant difference does God "not being a MA" make for the problem of evil as discussed by philosophers of religion, and theodicy? You agree that God cannot be indifferent to the suffering of creatures (at least rational creatures), right?

      If God cannot be indifferent to the suffering of rational creatures, he either delights in it or hates it (by which we do not mean any intrinsic changes in God, remember Aquinas himself talks about that). Obviously, we can rule out the "delight" option. So God hates kids suffering from horrible diseases; men being tortured and murdered, etc.

      So why does God allow such things? There must be a reason, otherwise God would be indifferent to the evil - which, as we've stipulated, is not the case. God can't allow these things for no reason at all. But the reasons simply are what constitute theodicy. *this is what theodicy is!*

      Have you heard of the free will theodicy? Of soul building theodicy? And so on? They're examples of potential theodicies.

      And the acceptance of theodicy always involves a certain rational cost. Because it *is* costly to have to believe that somehow there is a greater good behind God's plan for him to allow every child to suffer something horrible, and so on. That's a serious cost. I happen to think it can be outweighed by the positive arguments for theism (I'm a theist, after all), but it is a cost, and this is what atheists press against us.

      Again: whether God is or isn't a moral agent doesn't make any relevant difference to the problem of evil as discussed by ordinary believers and philosophers of religion. In the end, the big problem is still there, and the "solution" still involves a cost - the cost of theodicy.

      The ONLY way around this, by my lights, is if by "God not being a MA" we mean something that entails God can be indifferent to the suffering of rational creatures. But *that*, I contend, would be to make attributions of "moral goodness" to God completely equivocal.

    23. @Unknown,

      I am not buy it. I don't believe you. Please go away. We are done. If you really are sincere you will go. If not well that proves yer a troll like I said.

      I answered you before many times. I will not repeat myself. I have better things to do then go down yer rabbit hole.

    24. "If you are really sincere you will go"

      So if I really am sincere and I want answes to my questions, I have to stop asking you? That makes no sense.

      Yakov, honestly, I am not a troll. I have granted that if I misrepresented Davies, then I retract everything I said about him. I do not intend to misrepresent him, and if I did, I retract all of my comments against him.

      My thing, however, is that I'm convinced classical theism doesn't have any relevant advantage with the problem of evil when compared to neo-theism/theistic personalism. I was under the impression that Davies subscribed to such a view. If he doesn't, then I was wrong on that and just completely misunderstood him. But that is the only thing I really am arguing: that CT doesn't have an advantage here. Whether or not God is a moral agent, the problem of evil retains pretty much all of its force, for the sense in which us classical theists would say "God is not a MA" is not one which would allow God to be indifferent to evil, or to not want to protect the innocent against evil-doers etc. This is sufficient to lead to the PoE, and then we are forced to believe that some theodicy or other is true. This is falling into PoE and theodicy *by definition* as you find in philosophy of religion. If, however, God were truly indifferent to evil to the point where we could not even prima facie expect him to prevent it, then *that*, I contend, would make attributions of moral perfection to God equivocal (and I think you would agree? As I said, Aquinas himself defends theodicy as I put it, so there's tacit agreement on his part).
      And if you wanna agree to disagree on any point here, you can do that, but at least point out where the disagreement is. At this point I'm not sure whether we're getting through to one another and I don't wanna misrepresent you (since I might have misrepresented you before?)

      Your answers in the other thread refer to God not being able to give evil commandments, commandments that go against a being's nature, etc. I agree with that. And in the other thread I really was just asking clarifications.

      I maintain that classical theism has no special advantage over neo-theism with respect to the problem of evil, and still needs theodicy just as much. I've explained my argument. If you refuse to respond to it, it's your choice, but I don't want my perspective to be misunderstood here.

    25. Son of Yakov

      Regardless of whether God can be properly regarded as a moral agent with moral obligations and duties to his rational creatures, if he is good, loving, benevolent,merciful etc ( as repeatedly attested to by scripture ) then he would surely behave in a loving, good,benevolent and merciful manner, which at first blush seems to be contradicted by the empirical evidence. You studiously ignore this point, except in claiming that the listed qualities of God are only analagous to those exhibited by humans. Trouble is of course that this move is an infinitely stretchy piece of elastic and in your hands completely alters the meaning of the predicates from those generally accepted and understood. So for example ,I would suggest that being good ( let alone infinitely so ) amounts to a lot more than simply making sure there are fish around somewhere for fish eating creatures to eat ( even if in a different body of water or indeed hemisphere! ).

      Unfortunately you choose never to respond to the above critique.

    26. @Unknown

      Yep a troll and a shameless one.

      >So if I really am sincere and I want answes to my questions, I have to stop asking you? That makes no sense.

      You cannot have answers because I don't trust you are sincere and you have further proven yer not by beating this dead horse against my wishes. What part of "Go away" do ye not understand? You will get no "answers" from me. Like Mr. Darcy from a Jane Austin novel my esteem once lost cannot be recovered. Live with it.

      >Yakov, honestly, I am not a troll.

      You have just proven otherwise by disrespecting my wishes.

      You may leave us. Take yer Sealioning & galish gallop somewhere else.

      Good day to you sir. I said good day.

    27. Son of Yakov

      You humiliate yourself by repeatedly interacting with those you deem to be trolls ( instead of ignoring them as anyone with an iota of self control would ), but even more so by failing to address their actually quite substantive points, or at least points which seem to be substantive to some and surely deserve addressing. You seem to be quite obsessed by trolls and trolling and are using this as an excuse to evade philosophical disputation.

    28. More trolling by dishonest self serving trolls and shameless ones at that.

      But I will post this for my fellow Classic Theists and Philosophically adept Atheists of good will.

      I am now even more convinced Gnu Atheism is for the mentally and intellectually inferior. It is not a thinking man's form of non-belief. It is not the Atheism of Oxford or Cambridge Intellectuals but of silly sub-educated gender ambiguous teenage Ticktoc posters.

      What I would give right now for a clear, rational and philosophically knowledgeable Atheist to show up and challenge some aspect of Classic Theism philosophically.....

      The Gnu Atheists cannot salvage the problem of evil by arguing from special pleading that Classic Theists ought to ad hoc believe in a Moral Agent God for unspecified "reasons".

      God because of His Supreme Goodness cannot make evil a final cause in and of itself since the evil in the material world is the result of something seeking its own good at the expense of something else. Also rational creatures sin by desiring an inferior good at the expense of the greatest good or contrary to their own natural good.

      But even in those cases God is not making evil a final cause.

      The Gnu Atheist's non-argument is this, if God is supremely good & omnipotent then no evil whatsoever would exist at all for "reasons". That is the sum of it. We would not even have paper cuts much less holocausts, hurricanes and or slavery.

      But none of them can tell me why? They just assume it un-argued.

      Given God's nature in Classic Theism augmented by what is revealed in Divine Revelation I have NO GOOD REASON to believe if God is both All Good and All Powerful then He would not even passively let any evil exist.

      Non has convinced me thus far and in principle non can do so as far as I am concerned anymore then I can be convince there is a possible world where 2+2=5.

      It is just not rational like yer average Gnu Atheist troll is nor rational only silly.

    29. Gnu Atheist trolls are the sort, who try to with a straight face, convince a Theistic Evolutionist God does not exist because Six Day Young Earth Creationism isn't true! LOL!

      They wind up simultaneously acting as religious apologists for YEC to vainly try to convert their Theistic Evolutionist opponents to YEC so they can then use their arsenal of YEC polemics without begging the shite oot of the question with non-starter arguments. It is just so tiresome and pathologically stupid.

      In a like manner God, not being a moral agent neuters the problem of Evil. Even if there are no gods if you are a rational being you must except this. If you don't yer no better in my eyes then the YEC who believes in a 6000 year old Earth and twice as silly.

      That is life.

    30. Aquinas never advocated for Theodicy as Davies conclusively shows in all of his writings. Those who claim otherwise have NOT read the writings of any Thomist and are just taking the piss. They certainly have never read Davies.

      Theodicy is the giving of a moral justification for God's inaction in the face of evil. Merely giving a generic reason for God's inaction(for example soul building) is not the same as mere giving a reason(since God could soul build without inflicting suffering) to morally justify God not acting to stop evil.

      For example if I was about to shoot some scum bag who was in the process of beating a small child and I notice his companion had a gun to my own child's heid (& I dinny want them harmed) that would be a good moral reason for me not shooting the bastard.

      Plantinga argued(successfully I think) that given there are superior goods that God can only give by allowing evil it would be morally justified for God to allow that evil. Like a doctor performing painful surgery to save a life. He is inflicting evil but for a greater good reason.

      But Rowe and Nick Trakakis argued rather successfully that there are evils which appear gratuitous and given God's power there is no moral justification for God to allow it.

      Like giving free will. As Davies himself clearly argued in almost all his works the deficiency with the Free Will defense is God could have just created beings He foreknew would only freely choose the good.

      All theodicies fail IMHO. But if God is merely onto-logically good & metaphysically good but not univocally morally good like a maximally virtuous rational creature is morally good(because given His Classical Nature it is incoherent to claim God is thus) then all moral criticisms of God are non-starter objections.

      When faced with this God the argument from evil becomes a non-starter. The only thing a rational atheist can do is concede it is a non-starter. Just like an Atheist arguing God doesn't exist because the world is not 6000 years old is giving a non-starter objection to a Old Earth Creationist or Theistic Evolutionist.

      My final message to Gnus is stop boring me to death with yer haverings over a "god" neither of us believe exists. But I know that won't happened because a troll has got to troll.

      Silly Gnus....

    31. Son of Yakov

      After wading my way through your 'War and Peace' style response to those you consider trolls ( replete with bizarre insults of course ) I see that your critics are correct - ie you hold that God is not good, benevolent, just, merciful, loving etc in a manner that is not light years removed from the ordinary meanings of these words. . Thank you fot that admission. It is a perfectly consistant one of course. You do not feel the need for theodicy because you believe in an imperfect God without a recognisably moral character.

    32. Sorry buddy but there is only the Catholic Definition of "good, benevolent, just, merciful, loving" yer definition means nothing to us.

      This definition tells us God did not have to create us at all but in His Benevolence & Charity did so. He also became Incarnate and Died for Our Sins and from that gave all of us sufficient grace for eternal salvation that is somehow truly sufficient. So salvation is in some mysterious sense possible for all who are given it.

      But because mere sufficient grace is resistible by the will(we are nor wee Calvinist chief) some or many(that is another debate) will not be saved. Those who are saved are so by the mercy of the One who saves and those who fall do so of their own fault alone since they had truly sufficient grace.

      Yer personal definition of "good, benevolent, just, merciful, loving" is not the "ordinary" one it is merely the popular and plebeian one. At best it is a post enlightenment novelty.

      It is not the one taught by the Church Fathers, Apostolic Tradition, Jewish Tradition nor is it taught in the Bible ("God is not a respecter of persons" etc then there is the whole book of Job).

      A "god" who owes us stuff is nowhere taught in Holy Writ nor Catholic Tradition.

      Like I said Gnus and Trolls define God's goodness to mean God doesn't let any evil whatsoever exist. This they assert Ad Hoc without rational argument. It is merely their subjective preferences which I dinny fancy.

      Thus in their view God is not good if he allows paper cuts much less slavery or the existence of persons who refuse to respect the pronouns of others(really awful stuff like that last bit).

      >You do not feel the need for theodicy because you believe in an imperfect God without a recognisably moral character.

      Sorry but God is perfect by the standards of scholastic philosophy and metaphysics and those are the only important standards.

      That He is not "perfect" by yer own subjective standards means nothing.

      But YES God is not morally good in the univocal way a maximally virtuous rational creature is morally good. I keep telling ya.

      So I trust you will not bore us all in the future havering aboot a "god" nobody here believes in.

      I appreciate that. Well done! Do THAT and we can get on.

      Now on yer bike mate. Cheers.

  11. On the distinction between pantheism and panentheism, let's note first of all that the most authoritative Catholic magisterial document dealing with the subject, the Dogmatic Constitution "Dei Filius" of the Vatican I Ecumenical Council, condemns both positions in the canons of section I "On God, The Creator Of All Things":

    3. If any one shall say that the substance and essence of God and of all things is one and the same: let him be anathema.

    4. If any one shall say that finite things, both corporeal and spiritual, or at least spiritual, have emanated from the divine substance; or that the divine essence by the manifestation and evolution of itself becomes all things; or, lastly, that God is universal or indefinite being, which by determining itself constitutes the universality of things, distinct according to genera, species, and individuals: let him be anathema.


    Some resources on the difference between pantheism and panentheism:

    Cooper, John W., "Panentheism - The Other God of the Philosophers: From Plato to the Present", Baker Academic, 1 nov 2006.

    Mullins, R.T., "The Difficulty with Demarcating Panentheism", SOPHIA 55, 325–346 (2016).

    Culp, John, "Panentheism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

    Gilead, Amihud, "Why Spinoza was Not a Panentheist", Philosophia 49, 2041–2051 (2021).

  12. Knowing Feser, Seth should have written this piece under a pseudonym. "Two Harts beaten as one" lol.

  13. From a simple person’s perspective, there is clearly something of being in general that is sustained by god. All things in this world have their properties in relation to something else. If there is nothing absolute that all of it is in relation to, then none of it can really exist. We are not absolute, and we do exist. So god exists, and is absolute.

    Creation must be like a space he has created within himself, for whilst beings cannot have Being unless in relation to Him, all wills are not His will. The fact that we are independent beings with our own conscious will, capable of choosing both good and evil, is just one example that proves that he is not his creation (unless you deny that god is good, which conflicts with all experience of him). Those who only see horizontal causation, and deny free will, have no right to an opinion, for they can only be automatons.

    Panentheism and pantheism really makes no sense, either in reason (eg. the necessary presence of evil) or in scripture. He can clearly be present at any point of creation and at any time, as he wills and not without influence from our wills. To me this is Paul’s “in Him that we live and move and have our being”. Paul is clearly describing life ‘in the spirit’, the new life of the new covenant, not a general statement on the human condition. Most modern nonsense in theology seems to ignore that Paul’s letters are directed at a specific audience, not meant as a general metaphysics! Heaven cannot contain him, his grace flows where it will. Something more like what the Palamites call his ‘energies’. We can’t conceive of heaven, how can we even imagine that we can conceive of him? He is before heaven, even the ‘space’ in which he created space can never be empty of him. But that is very different to the forms that emerged when he spoke the universe into existence, being the same as him.

    All of scripture is ultimately about this free will he gave us. All of it is stressing the importance of aligning our will to his, by choosing love. If we are just thoughts in his mind, ripples in the lake that is him, drops in the ocean, or some other version of pantheism that denies that it’s pantheism, then all of this is ultimately meaningless, and god is reduced to a schizophrenic. It’s nonsense. The universe and all it contains must in some deep way be monist; the distinction between mind and matter, between material and immaterial, more subtle than any cartesian segregation allows; a fractal hierarchy rather than a division. But the distinction between god and creation, between the eternal and the evolved, is absolute. The mystery of the union of the eternal and the created, of the creature perceiving the creator, must remain a mystery. We can’t expect to understand such things, and it seems that sometimes the ‘wise’ understand them even less by thinking too much about them.

  14. We learn in The Book of Genesis that YAHWEH took strolls in the Garden of Eden instead of instantly translocating about. Why could he not just as well have perambulated about on a bike? I am afraid that the position frequently defended by SOY ( that God cannot ride a bike ) is quite unscriptural. What say ye SOY?

    1. Anonymous,
      Your comment was so penetratingly and devastatingly astute that no one on this blog was able to respond. Amazing.

  15. Simon

    If God is immutable, He cannot create a space within Himself.

    1. @ Walter Van den Acker,

      "If God is immutable, He cannot create a space within Himself"

      Since God pervades all of space - and he created all of it - what part of that space is not inside him?

      Tom Cohoe

    2. I would suggest that "in" and "inside" are not identical in meaning. Further, "in" is one of those words that has about 80 meanings, so it's easy to equivocate.

      The "in" that is meant when we say something is "inside" another something is usually one of place, or of part, or of some non-local accident: my spleen is inside the place of my abdomen. On the other hand, my knowledge of math is "in" me but not by reason of place, rather by being an accident belonging to my intellect, which is PART of me, and also is not locally in some place inside of my skin other than through being part of me.

      God pervades all space, but not locally: he does it by way of causality, which does not require that he inhabit space locally. The dimension of any portion of space is not applied to God as if size could be said of God.

    3. @Tony

      Would this explain how God is omnipresent, without saying that God is extended in space or with equating God with universe?

      Would we say that God is omnipresent because He continuously gives existence to everything?

    4. @ Tony,

      I think that equivocation is precisely the reason that Walter's assertion is meaningless in its significance, and it is also precisely the way that you can find me wrong, but even if my answer is outside the normal channels of your thought, it is a good answer. So ... any created space that you can define is inside God. This signifies nothing except that Walter plays games and is relatively harmless.

      Beyond that I can actually say what I said and not be wrong I mean nothing important.

      That I can't say that some place is inside God ... you've got to be kidding!

      But peace, brother. I recognize your intellectual chops.

      Tom Cohoe

      Tom Cohort

    5. @Michael

      Exactly. God "is" everywhere because He sustains everything that exists, as Aquinas explains here: https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1008.htm

    6. Good answer, Tom. Thanks. I agree that Walter's comment is inapposite.

    7. Tony

      Your first reply to me actually made my point, because, whatever "in" or "within" God (notice that I did not use "inside") means it is either some sort of accident belonging to God (or his intellect), which is impossible since an immutable being cannot have accidents. Accidents are things that may or may not be there, hence they entail that the thins having them can be different.
      Or it is a necessary aspect of God, but that leads you to panentheism, which you want to avoid.

      So, Tom's answer is no answer at all. It's a string of words. Tom does not understand what I am talking about.

    8. @ Walter Van den Acker,

      "Tom's answer is no answer at all. It's a string of words. Tom does not understand what I am talking about."

      If you think that my answer is just a meaningless string of symbols, the one sure thing is that you can't understand what _I_ am talking about. It is very funny that you consider yourself superior to me, Tony, and Ed in what the things we say ourselves mean.

      Perhaps you can just read pur minds and explain how our thoughts are wrong and we can take it easy. Get yourself a turban and Bill yourself as The Great Swami Mind den Hacker.

      Tom Cohoe

    9. @ Walter Van den Acker: “ If God is immutable, He cannot create a space within Himself”

      If you are confident that you know what “immutable” means in the case of God, how do you explain the incarnation? How do you explain his act of creation, or his listening to prayer, or his inspiring of scripture? God has knowledge of our prayer ‘before’ we pray, knowledge of all creation ‘before’ he created. We are temporal beings, no amount of imagination can really conceive even an abstraction of what these things are to Him. There must be mystery here, in this life.

      It does seem that God’s temporal ‘acts’ are somehow linked to the incarnation. Something about the relation between the Father and the Person born in time - but also from before time - is like a fulcrum of the act of creation itself, from outside of time. But how can we really understand that? God from God, bound by the spirit of love, One as the three poles of creation. We are like ants climbing the wall of a cathedral, debating how it was constructed. Perhaps ants would have a better chance!

      I would also say that ‘making space’ is certainly not meant in the nominalist sense, physical space emerges as a consequence, but we may as well imagine geometry or rolling bread dough, rather than attempting a metaphysical description. More like he creates a point, perhaps his own crucifixion, then stretches that out, then turns it, then stretches that out, forming a sphere that he then spins - creating threads of essence backwards and forwards. But of course this is just senseless images to us, and as far from the reality as anything else we can imagine. It’s very interesting and we can’t help ourselves speculate, and some things we can be confident are wrong. But the immutable god you describe cannot create, or incarnate, or act at all.

    10. Simon

      A truly immutable God cannot create or incarnate.
      Thomists claim that God's immutability does allow for various 'acts' including the, IMO, completely intelligible notion of creatio ex nihilo, but that seems simply special pleading to me.

    11. Hi Walter

      Let’s look at it from the other perspective then. As far as we can tell, time itself emerged with the big bang. So whatever the conditions from which the big bang emerged, from our perspective it was (is) timeless. Our thinking breaks down here, and so you get theories of cyclic universes etc, but that just kicks the can down the road. Everything in this reality changes, we are wired in every way for time, we cannot even think without time. We can sometimes experience something of timelessness, but we can even think of them afterwards, let aline describe them.

      So we know that time has a beginning, what can we say of the nature of that from which time came? Can there be changes ‘there’?

    12. Simon

      Of course there can be changes 'there', because time came from it. that is a change.

    13. I can only assume you don’t understand what time is or what change is… just because we can’t understand *how* time can emerge from timelessness, doesn’t mean that change can occur without time.

      Of course it’s *possible* that there is a more fundamental dimension of time that our time emerges from, and so there could be change in that dimension, and our space and time emerges from this substrate. That would then allow change ‘before’ our time started. But that is irrelevant to god, because he will always be ‘prior’. At some point you get to absolute, to eternal. So both in reason and in scripture, god the Father does not change.

      With the incarnation, and creation, things change *in relation to* god the Father. But god the father is not a thing, and so normal logic that serves us well in this life is of no use here.

    14. Simon

      Time simply is change. It's incoherent to talk about time when nothing changes.
      Hence, if reality has An immutable stage, there can never be change (or time). So 'that from which time came cannot possibly be immutable.
      'Normal logic' tells us that circles don't have four sides and that ex nihilo nihil fit, but if normal logic is no use, everything goes.

    15. @ Walter Van den Acker,
      @ Simon Adams,

      Does an infinite, bit by bit random, number, change? It has every finite subsequence, infinitely repeated in randomly placed positions. Anything that can be represented in any computer occur in this infinite sequence and yet it is immutable.

      Tom Cohoe

    16. @ Walter Van den Acker,
      @ Simon Adams,

      Note further that this infinite random number is not God. It is a mere image of God. Your mind does not comprehend the image, so it does not comprehend God. Rather, God comprehends you.

      Nor can you begin with the premise that neither randomness nor the infinite exist, for that would be to assume your conclusion which would be circular reasoning. So you are cutting down the tree in which you perch.

      Tom Cohoe

  16. It seems to me that Hart's view is extremely maximian. Trying to place Hart's view outside of the orthodox Christian tradition would probably do the same to Maximus et al.

    1. So much the worse for Maximus then...

  17. Proclus says that the demiurgic god that fashions the universe does so by means of being and out of its own being. That's why we know that the demiurge as a whole entity is both one and many, because the universe is so.

    Does DBH put forth a doctrine like that? If so, he seems pretty clearly a neoPlatonist and not a Christian. If not, it seems maybe he needs to be clearer on how the being of the universe is or is not the being of the creator.

    1. I think Hart would have no problem putting up a narrative like this:

      The world is utterly estranged from God under the powers of "archons", like Satan for sure but maybe even ones like St. Michael as well that are "lesser imperfect beings" In this Jesus is the one who comes down from Hevean who alone knows the secrets of the Father and comes to liberate all from the trappings of the utterly fallen creation and estrangment of God. Mixed with that narrative interpretation from John he would probably classify the Jesus of the Synoptics as an Apocolyptic political revolutionary, and through his interpretation would kind of relate that Apocolyptic activism to Tradtion. This would also imply a kind of radical alienation. It also helps explain Harts truck with materialism. Is that neoplatonist? Is Hart? Probably to a degree, but Hart also claims to be a monist (?) as well I think. And the claim now being put forth is he may well be a Pantheist. So those issues are going to have to be resolved in any criticism of him. To add to that I think Hart may have a somewhat "elitist" spiritual view. I think part o his goal is to alienate and shock many "conventional" Xtians to show them that Xtianity is largely unpalatable to most people in our times, and maybe any other. I think he has also stated that even in ancient times only a few (like Origin, who as important and great a man he may be isn't even Orthodox, even though Hart claims he is) really "got it". I also think he mostly draws on the Fathers that are ante-nicene and usually of an Alexandrian bend and would then pick up with Russian Idealism in people like Bulgokov, in spite of the fact that it isn't really the main way to go about being an Orthodox, these are heterodox positions in the main of Orthodoxy to say the least But this seems to be the kind of thing that wakes Hart up in the morning, as is typical for a certain kind of intellectual I guess. All cultures have their tropes, limitiations, orthodoxies, dogmas, and sterotypes. Intellectual culture, custom and, tradition from my observation seems to have it in spades.
      It's possible that Pantheism / monism / Neoplatonic / Gnostic thought wether being dualist or monist are somewhat forced to occupy similar intellectual ground when compared to the more traditional view, I have a hunch that they have some relation. But the work would have to be shown as to why.

  18. The link provided below won't be of much interest to connoisseurs of pantheism, panentheism, panentheism plus, panentheism double plus with an aperçu, and similar varietals.

    But having a less developed palate, not to mention appetite for theology in general, I found this fellow's (he is apparently an Orthodox priest) blog post interesting because he takes an historically minded slant to the matter of the presuppositions and assumptions and alignments which go into the generation of David Bentley Hart's theology.

    It provides some useful contextual reminders. Or so I see it.

    As I have not read many of the comments I apologize if I am representing someone elses' contribution. Perhaps Ed can snuff the comment out if he notices I have done it.

    " DAVID BENTLEY HART AND MARCIONISM " Archpriest John Whiteford


  19. Tony,

    Sorry, I keep calling you Tom for some reason.

  20. Are you planning on responding to Hart's reply?


    Or are you hoping no one will notice?

    1. Hart took almost three weeks to reply to my review (which is fine, he's very busy), but if I take more than three days to write up my response (I'm very busy too) that's because I'm sheltering in place hoping no one notices? Do you double check this stuff before you hit "publish"?

  21. In terms of theological substance i tend to find DBH has the better arguments and overall vision than Feser does, but I do think Feser is right in highlighting that DBH is making no attempt to present his theology in a way that is palatable to educated catholics on the middle-conservative slice of the spectrum, who care about things like the specifically latin dogmas and latin theological schools. It's the one major complaint I have about DBH. His universalism and everything checks out as far as I care, but it's not going to be received by western catholics if he's not going to at least attempt to propose a compatible interpretation of the relevant latin dogmas. It won't do to just write the whole thing off. So long as there is a single TLM-only sedevacantist out there, we need to understand his theology and present ours in a way that is palatable. Dismissing the dogmas of Trent, Vatican I etc simply won't do.

  22. "but I do think Feser is right in highlighting that DBH is making no attempt to present his theology in a way that is palatable to educated catholics on the middle-conservative slice of the spectrum, who care about things like the specifically latin dogmas and latin theological schools"

    Not to be that guy, but Hart got criticized by orthobros before and i suppose that conservative evangelicals would not exactly like that language, let alone the universalism!

    Acting like it is just a problem of trad catholics sensibilities is just silly. Put some of his quotes in front of the church fathers and you will see Hart having to explain somethings better quite quickly!