GodFirst

..Jesus answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.’ Luke 10:27

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Evil and the Goodness of God is such a ‘big’ subject, a subject that fills the shelves of libraries; indeed many have devoted their lives to attempting to resolve it. The question of, how an alleged God of Love, who is ‘All Powerful’, can allow such evil to continue to exist is one that will not go away. But why is it that we humans have the temerity to demand an explanation from God or to doubt the existence of the God of the Bible because we find [this particular] God under qualified or wanting?  Doesn’t it strike one as rather odd that our very argument against God’s goodness comes from the notion of the actual existence of ‘good and evil’—a belief that owes its origins to the Judeo/Christian Scriptures—and a malevolence that has its origins in another source. What guarantee have we that these precious social mores (that we in the ‘West’ take for granted) do not evaporate ‘overnight’ under the weight of ‘other ideas’—ideas that are socially engineered and not universally absolute? Of course many societies adhere to other ideas—ideas that see ‘black as white and white as black’—yet there is a strange notion of injustice at the ‘heart’—and that is because of the existence of GOD—The Alpha and Omega: ‘who was and is and is to come.’ (Revelation 1:8)

No ‘other’ GOD

In this section we shall, briefly, address, what may be considered the ‘straw men’ (demeaning caricatures) of modern and post-modern attempts at lessening the culpability of the classical ‘image’ of God in the light of evolutionary theory—and also in the light of contemporary religious and philosophical notions of the reality of God. The views offered here are considered incontrovertibly necessary to the defence of the God of the Bible against other notions and ideas that may be seen a better fit the evolutionary paradigm but that only serve to remove the problem by the substitution of the God of Scripture with a lesser ‘deity’.

     The God portrayed and ‘defended’ here is the God of the Judeo/Christian Scriptures. A God whose eternity, Peter Sanlon (Simply God: Recovering The Classical Trinity) describes as a qualitatively different kind of existence to one of his creatures: ”Being outside of time does not mean that God cannot know what happens inside of time, nor that he cannot interact with a temporal order. Quite the opposite! It does, of course, shape the way he does these things.” As Sanlon makes clear in the same passage:

It would perhaps be odd for him to create something with which he could not interact. Similarly, God created time. It is part of the created order. And though God is not himself temporal, he can interact with and know all that occurs in, the times he has made. Indeed, precisely because God is not temporal, he has perfect knowledge of all events in time.

This God is not to be confused with any other ideas/notions/theologies or philosophies of God—either pre-modern, modern or post-modern—as shall be made clear throughout the development of this argument. In developing his argument regarding ‘The Mind of God’, (Bentley Hart) Hart refers to “…provocatively counterintuitive ways of expressing the difference between God and every contingent reality—that God, as the source of all being, is, properly speaking, not himself a being—or, if one prefer, not a being among other beings…that God is no particular thing,or even ‘no thing’…or even, as ‘ein lauter Nichts’—a ‘pure nothingness.” The above, as Hart points out,though ‘appearing blasphemous or paradoxical’, is meant to give us pause for thought and reflection on the ‘nature’ and person of GOD—“…in order to remind us as forcibly as possible that God is not to be found within the realm of things, for he is the being of all realms.” (Bentley Hart)

Constraints on #god

Should God be limited in his ability to produce or concoct the best possible plans for fulfilling his creative objectives, God would not be omnipotent. Christopher Southgate argues that the sort of universe we have, in which complexity emerges in a process governed by thermodynamic necessity and Darwinian natural selection, is the only sort of universe that could give rise to all that the earth has produced.

To affirm evolutionary process as being ‘the only way’ through which God could achieve his objectives one has to assume that God was unable (lacked the ability) to bring about his creative objectives, i.e. without this astronomical/biological framework ,or that God’s use of such a process was the best possible means through which God could bring about the best of possible outcomes. The aforementioned is, a similar point to the one noted in Alexander, (Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?) that sees biology as a ‘package deal’.If biology should be a ‘stand-alone-package-deal,’ i.e. a package deal that has no significance other than it being the product of creative genius; then it is reasonable to suppose that the creator’s benevolent characteristics could be called into question—unless there is more to the story other than God’s desire to create. We are, of course, assuming that there has been an intentional pathway within the evolutionary process otherwise there would be no reason to suppose that any such future outcomes could be considered anything other than random outcomes within the naturally selective process of evolution. 

Jeff Astley (Evolution and Evil:The Difference Darwinism Makes in Theology and Spirituality) asks whether or not God could have ordered nature differently and then answers his question by saying, ‘perhaps not’. Astley goes on to say however that materiality inevitably involves imperfection—a tendency to disorder, decay, fragility, and mortality. Astley’s point is significant as it is the case that the accusation against the ‘designer God’ is often that of incompetence—the design is simply under par or faulty. Ergo, God is either impotent or fails to meet the necessary criteria or the presuppositions of the complainant. This assertion is false as shall be argued in another part of this book. Keith Ward’s (Divine Action:Examining God’s Role in an Open and Emergent Universe) comments are insightfully apposite when he refers to ‘natural’ evil as ‘an inevitable consequence of this kind of world’.  We hasten to add here though—that it is not that this world is governed solely by ‘natural forces’ but that this world is probably the only possible world in which carbon-based-life could obtain and the telos of the Triune God be established. Moreover, there are other [unseen] forces that bring about deleterious

effects on the biosphere (even the physical laws) through means that are, presently, beyond the comprehension of any material analysis—even Angels.

 

Monism [2] Pic
 

Questions of Ontological Veracity

 

In this section we shall briefly, though importantly, address the notion of ‘God’ as the ground of being rather than as a determinate entity; in other words that the creation, though not purely the product of chance and necessity, was not the ‘design product’ of personality/personal ingenuity. Should the term ‘God’ refer only to a ‘ground of being’ first cause,  i.e. a first cause that defies description or a ‘first cause’ that may be loosely described as ‘nature’—then there would be no case to answer for the existence of evil—at least not on ‘god’s’ part, because there would be no personal creative-agent against whom a charge may be brought. It is the case that,should the term ‘God’ refer only to a ‘ground of being’ first cause—a first cause that defies description or that may be loosely described as ’One’ as in Pantheistic Monism or as ‘Nature’ as in Naturalism and Atheistic Materialism then there is no case to answer—for there is, indeed, no personal agent that may be found guilty of failure of any sort. The notion of a ‘Ground of Being’, presumably, thought by its advocates, to deal with, what might be considered, as more intellectually coherent  case for ‘god’ or that might better fit with the problem of natural evil ,  does nothing of the sort apart from demeaning the God of the Bible. However, it is such a view that is commonly espoused by philosophical theologians such as Wesley Wildman. Wildman opines (‘Narnia’s Aslan,Earth’s Darwin and Heaven’s God’) that any notion of ‘ultimate reality’ is bizarre but adds that ‘most theologians and a few philosophers are captivated by such (ultimate reality) speech’ and that they even choose it while understanding its ‘final futility’. In his section on ‘Determinate-Entity Theism’ Wildman, regarding this alleged futility, asks what kind of entity the divine reality is? The conclusion is that the God of the Bible seems to be made in the image of its authors (not an original thought). In short, God’s determinate nature is known in our longings. Everything else we say theologically (Wildman suggests) must serve this overridingly important version of ultimate reality, and this (according to Wildman et al.) becomes the crucial criterion of determinate-entity theism. Wildman’s ideas seem to have little to do with any perceived notion of the goodness of the Triune God of Scripture as Wildman’s picture of God bears no resemblance whatsoever to this God. Wildman’s rationale seems to be that, “Speaking of God as The Ground of Being removes the possibility of proposing a divine character that is profoundly different from the character of the world.” i.e. the evolved/evolving biosphere.

Wildman is correct in his assertion that “Determinate-entity theism requires a divine goodness that our best scientific vision of the cosmos does not easily support, and so positively requires some ontological distance between God and the world and a layer of theological explanation for why the world is the way it appears to be—despite the purported impeccability of God’s moral character.”  We agree with Wildman when he says that, “Ground-of-being theism needs neither to explain a discrepancy nor to distinguish among events to articulate the divine nature.” (Wildman 2007). The question needs to be voiced: Is this a valid reason for the ‘fabrication’ of a ‘god’ made in the image of other theologies or of  ‘prevailing ’  world-views?

Wildman’s views are clearly expressed. Indeed, it would seem that the notion of God as a ‘determinate entity’ creates huge philosophical questions—especially with regards to the problem of [natural] evil. It is, of course, possible that the God revealed in the Bible is a figment of the imaginative wishful thinking of latter-day ‘hominins’—particularly the authors of the Old Testament. Wildman states that the ‘divine goodness’ described in the Scriptures is a difficult fit with the apparent evidence. However, it is striking that many distinguished theologians and philosophers are content to hold to a more classical approach.

Keith Ward (Why There Almost Certainly Is a God) comments that to call God good is to say that God actualises within himself the best of all possible perfections—moreover, Ward suggests that “If such a God produces a universe like this, then God remains good, whatever the universe may be considered. A supremely good God might, then, necessarily create this universe, or some universe with similar characteristics.” By ‘necessarily’, we take it that Ward means that the sovereign God chose to create this universe in order to bring about the best of possible circumstances, i.e. the ‘best possible world’. However, this does not imply lesser capabilities on God’s part, but rather that this world is the best of possible worlds in which God’s ultimate ‘Good’ purposes can be achieved.

As far as Biblical Theism is concerned, there should be no willingness to dilute God’s attributes; however, should there be any attempts at ‘dilution’ the most likely candidates would be those of omnipotence or benevolence. Should God be declared ‘less than powerful’ or ‘not quite as powerful’ as previously thought, the question of God’s benevolence becomes less crucial because a ‘less than powerful’ deity cannot be held responsible for that which is outside the scope of its influence. Omnipotence, however, remains crucial to any theodicy that takes the legitimacy of the biblical narratives seriously. The ‘God is not omnipotent’ view seeks to remove the notion of both evil and benevolence from the ‘stage’ but, nevertheless offers a reason for the existence of ‘harms’. For proponents of this position, the argument is likely to be that God does not have the necessary characteristics that enable him to behave with consistent benevolence. Wildman gives an outline of the possibilities: Firstly, he makes clear in his view that, (a) a personal, benevolent, attentive, and active deity cannot create through evolution and (b) that therefore God the creator is not a personal, benevolent, attentive, and active deity. He states that we can preserve those affirmations symbolically (for whatever reason), but goes on to say that:

… they no longer refer to a divine being with intentions and awareness, with feelings and intelligence, with plans and powers to act. Rather, they refer to the ground of being itself, to the creative and fecund power source in the depths of nature, to the value structures and potentialities that the world manifests. They refer to the God beyond God, which is to say the truly ultimate reality that hovers behind and beneath and beyond the symbolic gods we create and deploy to satisfy our personal needs, to make sense of our world, and to legitimate the exercise of social control. (‘Narnia’s Aslan,Earth’s Darwin and Heaven’s God’)

There is neither time or space to discuss Wildman’s assertion that the God of the Bible could not have created through an evolutionary process, though we disagree entirely with Wildman’s conclusions. But,it is accepted that this does offer, to some extent, a challenge regarding providence within the evolutionary process. Wildman’s ‘god’ though lacks ‘substance’ lacks any notion of benevolence—indeed lacks anything in real terms. Naturally, this ‘god’ cannot manifest personal concern for the products of any likely creative processes because this ‘ground of being factory’ has no ‘mind’ and no personality from which to proceed. Nevertheless, Wildman’s alternative is somehow able to ‘allow for’ the transformation of the material in the cosmos that, in turn, allowed for the evolution of the biosphere.

Wildman’s apparent disillusionment with the biblical notion of God provoked him to strong language. Clayton and Knapp (Divine Action and The Argument from Neglect) make the following reference to Wildman’s disdain, quoting him thus: “Frankly, and I say this with the utmost reverence, the personal God does not pass the test of parental moral responsibility. If God is personal in this way, then we must conclude that God has a morally abysmal record of inaction or action.”[1]  

Wildman’s view, as pictured here, offers a not dissimilar view to Sigmund Freud. Freud’s view offered by Nicholi (Nicholi)—that the very idea of ‘an idealised Superman’ in the sky—is so patently infantile and so foreign to reality seems, most likely, to stem from a total miscomprehension—even caricature of the God of the Bible. It is no doubt the case that some may naively interpret the biblical notion of God in the way that Freud expresses;but some (an increasing number even) may, due to this kind of reasoning or lack of a plausible notion of the God of the Bible, wish to find an alternative ‘god’; this, is totally the wrong direction to take as it leads to another path—a path void of any notion of ‘God’ whatsoever—at least to anything other than an unworthy caricature of the God that Scripture reveals.  

Wildman’s view is that ‘ground-of-being theologies’ are important because of their denial that ultimate reality can ‘possibly’ be a determinate entity—that this establishes a valuable theological contrast with determinate entity theisms. The ‘ground-of-being’ view of the ‘personhood’ of God as well as God’s possible interaction with the world may, as Wildman suggests, produce an enthusiastic intellectual response to these pervasive evils. But, at the same time, this view favours, what Wildman considers to be, philosophical logic over and above the revelation of Scripture. Wildman, we suggest, is mistaken in his deliberations—his alternative ‘deity’ an unreasonable caricature. It is unacceptable for two reasons. Firstly, as a result of his dissatisfaction/ disappointment with the ‘performance’ of the God of the Bible Wildman offers an extra-biblical, pantheistic alternative. Secondly, the substituted, ‘ground of being’, alternative, fails to convince us that ‘it’ has any substance whatsoever.

Regarding, the ‘narrative to Scripture’, Peter Sanlon, rightfully says that:

[F]or the drama to be of any significance whatsoever there must be real actors in the play. If the metaphor of a drama has to be developed further, then it must be insisted that the scriptwriter is also real. The God who creates, speaks, directs, interacts and participates must be a real person before he can do any of these things. In technical terminology, ontology is prior to revelation and salvation. Systematic theology recognises this, and asks the entirely appropriate questions ‘What kind of being is he?’ And: What may we know of him from his words and actions? (Simply God: Recovering The Classical Trinity).

God is the Triune ‘determinate entity’ who has created all things and who sustains all things for His ‘good’ purposes. Ergo, the God of Scripture is the ultimate ontological reality.

Process Thought and Omnipotence

In this section, we take a cursory glance at process theology as it applies to ‘omnipotence’.

Cobb & Griffin (Process Theology) state the dominant position of process theologians clearly enough when they pose the question of why evil exists when there is in existence, according to classical and biblical theology, a God with ‘controlling power’—suggesting that:

… a major reason that Christian theism has clung on so long to the notions of God as a Controlling Power is that thereby it can assure believers that God’s will, despite appearances, is victorious—for the sake of this assurance it has risked seeing God as the author of needless suffering and even moral evil. It has risked the implicit denial of human freedom and the rebellion of humanistic atheism.  (Process Theology)

There is something to be said for this critique. However, the above depiction is an extreme caricature and it is not the picture of sovereignty that is anywhere near to that is adhered to by the author of this book—or even of ‘Open Theism’, which offers freedom without, mostly, denying the overall sovereignty of God[2]. Indeed, the Process interpretation of God offers a rather simplistic view of sovereign reality as it does not allow any means with which to comprehend any notion of ontological veracity for this alleged ‘ground of being’ other than that of a nebulous force akin to that of pantheism. Indeed, it does not offer anywhere near sufficient reason to replace the God of Scripture with any ‘straw man’ scenario in the form of dialectical hypothesis. Wildman acknowledges the difficulty in that whatever God is, on the process account, it is exceedingly resistant to anthropomorphic modelling, ‘and certainly nothing like the personal God of so many sacred texts and religious pieties’. Wildman ‘s summary accurately describes the problem from both perspectives.

The God of process theology is considered to be a God that does not abuse, or ‘coerce’ but persuades—throughout nature and in living beings. The God of process theology cannot override free will; it is not that he (it) will not but rather that he (it) cannot (cannot as in does not have the potency to so do). According to Griffin & Lubarsky (Jewish Theology and Process Thought) the redefining of the omnipotence of God may be the solution that dissolves the problem of evil as there is no likelihood of culpability on the part of this particular notion of God. Any possibility of continued adherence to the biblical view of omnipotence is ruled out as is made clear from the following, rather long but pertinent, quotation from Griffin:

Because our universe was created out of chaos rather than out of absolute nothingness, so that creative power is inherent in the world (as well as in God), the creatures’ twofold creative power of self-determination and efficient causation cannot be cancelled, overridden, or completely controlled by God. On this basis, process philosophy denies the second premise in the argument…saying instead that although God is all-powerful—not only in the sense of being the supreme power of the universe but also in the sense of being perfect in power, having all the power one being could possibly have—God cannot unilaterally prevent all evil. If being ‘all-powerful’ is taken to mean being omnipotent in the sense of essentially having all the power, however, then process philosophy simply denies the first premise’s assertion that a being worthy of the name God is all-powerful by definition. (Reenchantment without Supernaturalism)

Both the logic and implications of this kind of thinking are clear. There is, according to this view, in the world of matter (matter that pre-existed the emergence of God) an inherent creative capability out of which appears the process of evolution—a process that ‘God’ could not interfere with but only persuade. So it is from within the alleged ‘inherent creative capability’ of matter itself that the force of evolution manifests itself (ex nihilo, nihil fit)—and not out of the MIND of the God of Scripture—ex nihilo. Griffin states that ‘God’, though having all the power possible, does not possess ‘ALL POWER’ and therefore is not capable of preventing evil or of much else regarding the biological evolutionary process.[3] In contradistinction to the views espoused by Griffin, Wildman et el,.

John Leslie (Universes) suggests that:

Neoplatonism is [today] often expressed in such a formula as that God is not a being but the Power of Being. On my interpretation, what dark sayings say that God is the world’s ethical requiredness or, equivalently, that God is the creatively effective ethical need that there should exist a (good) world. (Leslie)

The idea that any such imagined requiredness could exist as a de facto state of affairs—conjured up’ as a more convenient replacement for the God of Biblical Theology—is hardly convincing. Moreover, the notion that ethical principles (or any other come to that) are likely to emanate from anything other than the actual character [Mind] of The God, who is by His very nature ‘the ultimate good’ is equally unconvincing. Here, we are in agreement with Gregory Boyd (Satan and the Problem of Evil) who suggests that “…unless God’s essential nature is necessary and actual—apart from his interaction with the world, neither the enduring nature of God nor the contingent nature of the world can be rendered intelligible. God must be self-sufficient within himself, creating and relating to the world out of love instead of metaphysical necessity.”

        In the light of the problem of creaturely suffering the process ‘alternative’ may seem an attractive proposition—one that may fit in with some current understandings of reality—but it cannot be taken as the final word regarding the God of the Bible as it fails miserably to do justice to the character of that God. This view of God, ‘helpfully’, dissolves the problem of evil. A God with restricted or limited ability can hardly be held responsible for failing to address the problem of suffering in any significant way. Indeed, this ‘god’, it could be said, cannot entertain any kind of ‘planned intention’—vis a vis the creation of anything much—most certainly not creation ex nihilo. This ‘god’ though could not be mistaken for the God of the Judeo/Christian Scriptures as this view of God is a step into the unknown and ‘unknowable’, and is not a God we could visualise and, most certainly is nothing like the Triune God of the Bible.

Paul Copan and William Lane Craig offer a helpful summary regarding the difference between ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’ objects:

We have seen that God, though immaterial and spatiotemporal, would be classed by everyone as a concrete object in view of his being a personal causal agent. Perhaps that provides a clue to the distinction between concrete and abstract entities. It is virtually universally agreed that abstract objects, if they exist, are causally      impotent; they do not stand in causal relations. Numbers, for example, do not effect anything. (Copan)

End.

Works Cited

Alexander, D. Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? Oxford: Monarch, 2008.

Astley, J. “Evolution and Evil:The Difference Darwinism Makes in Theology and Spirituality.” Reading Genesis after Darwin. Ed. D. & Wilkinson, S.C. Barton. Oxford: OUP, 2009.

Bentley Hart, David. The Experience of God:Being,Consciousness,Bliss. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2013.

Boyd, G.A. Satan and the Problem of Evil. Downers Grove: IVP, 2001.

Clayton, P. & Knapp, S. “Divine Action and The Argument from Neglect.” Physics & Cosmology (Scientific Perspectives on the Problem of Natural Evil). Ed. N. Russell, R. Stoeger, W Murphy. Vatican City: Vatican Observatory Publications, 2007. 179-180.

Cobb, J.B. & Griffin, D.R. Process Theology. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1976.

Copan, P. & Lane Craig, W. Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration. Leicester: Apollos, 2004.

Griffin, D. Reenchantment without Supernaturalism. New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Griffin, Lubarsky &. Jewish Theology and Process Thought. New York: NYSU, 1996.

Leslie, J. Universes. London & New York: Routledge, 1989.

Nicholi, A.M. The Question of God: C.S. Lewis And Sigmund Freud Debate God,Love,Sex And The Meaning Of Life. New York: Free Press, 2002.

Sanlon, P. Simply God: Recovering The Classical Trinity. Nottingham: IVP, 2014.

Ward, K. Why There Almost Certainly Is a God. Oxford: Lion, 2008.

Ward, Keith. Divine Action:Examining God’s Role in an Open and Emergent Universe. London: Collins, 1990.

Wildman, Wesley. “‘Narnia’s Aslan,Earth’s Darwin and Heaven’s God’.” DIALOGUE [a journal of Mormon thought] 44.No2/Summer 2011 (2011).

[1] Wildman says, regarding the use of the word ‘evil’, that ‘suffering is a more useful category than evil because suffering is more neutrally descriptive and does not prejudge the moral character of…[?] regarding  natural disasters, predation and the like’. Here, Wildman may well be correct.

[2] According to Clark Pinnock, “God as the creator of the world  (italics mine) can make the kind of world he likes—in this case, a world with free creatures in it…God exercises power in ways appropriate to the creation project…He gives creatures the room decides things and binds himself to the promises he makes. Thus God exercises sovereignty by sharing power, not by dominion…God uses omnipotence to ‘free’ and not enslave…It takes omnipotence to create and manage freedom…” (Pinnock 2000)

[3] Madden & Hare (1987) conclude that the process God is, “…unable to move toward an aesthetic end and without an enormous cost in pain (his own and others); he is apparently so weak that he cannot guarantee his own welfare. If he is that weak, obviously he is not able as a theistic God should be, to ensure the ultimate triumph of an end of his choice.”(29)

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