Creaturely Flourishing

Fox Grub Predation

In his book, The Groaning of Creation, Professor Christopher Southgate gives much attention to the hope of a future state of affairs (heaven) where creatures that have, through the effects of Natural Selection–predation, etc. have not been able to flourish—to ‘fully self’, in other words to have had the best of possible ‘life-experience’. Whether or not this failure to ‘fully self’ is a question of moral failure on God’s part or of the necessary consequences of Natural Selection—or both— it does require qualification—as the alleged moral failure of God is at the center of the Problem of Evil—both evidential and philosophical.

The philosopher and Episcopal Priest Marilyn McCord Adams argued against the falsity of Christianity on the grounds that the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, pleasure-maximiser is incompossible with a world such as ours, because Christians [at least those taking the Bible seriously] have never believed that God was such a ‘pleasure-maximiser’ anyway. (1999). It is a question of whether the purpose of  life is to provide what some philosophers describe as ‘a good thing’ and not the opposite—so that the end of this ‘good thing’ isn’t an issue—excepting when that ‘experience’ is neither good or fully experienced. Contrary to McCord Adams, atheist philosopher William A. Rowe argued that: should there be one example of an opposite experience to ‘the good’—either for humankind or for animals—whether sentient or otherwise–then the claim for the existence of  ‘the deity’ is but a fabrication. Much has been written in response to Rowe; his view—that creatures with high order consciousness (at least) should have a positive experience of ‘life’—the implication being that should that not be the case then we can rule out any notion of benevolence. There is, of course, much more to Rowe’s views than the above caricature—but even in its philosophical sophistication—it is not sufficient enough of an argument to deny the existence of God, i.e. the God of The Judeo/Christian Scriptures—particularly as this God is not some kind of divine ‘pleasure-maximiser’

Thomas Aquinas concludes that the word ‘evil’ does not signify any essence, form or substance. Evil, he advocates, can only be described as an ‘absence of goodness’. Anything that lacks ‘goodness’ can, according to Aquinas, be described as ‘evil’, which, for Aquinas, simply means  less than good. God, according to Aquinas, did not, and could not have created anything less than good. Aquinas concludes that the word ‘evil’ does not signify any essence, form or substance. Evil, he advocates, can only be described as an ‘absence of goodness’. Anything that lacks ‘goodness’ can, according to Aquinas, be described as ‘evil’, which, for Aquinas, simply means  less than good. God, according to Aquinas, did not, and could not have created anything less than good. If it is the case that, as Aquinas maintains and as I argue in ‘God’s Goal in Creation’ that which God creates is ‘GOOD’. This is not to be confused with perfect—especially as the notion of perfection is a man-made construct —a comparison with other states of existence and of experience. “What God does is, de facto, The Good.” (Aquinas, 2003)

With regards to flourishing—i.e. ‘to grow or develop successfully’—it is the case that, in this world, things, so often, do not either ‘grow or flourish’—and even the things that flourish and grow–eventually fall fowl of the physical laws of the universe. Ergo, they perish or decay. The question is: Can this state of affairs bring about a charge of failure or ineptitude on behalf of the Creator? Would it be acceptable therefore to accuse God of injustice? Indeed, Can God be accused of moral failure? Accusations against God that are based on the notion of God’s apparent [moral] failure to produce a world in which ‘Human’ or ‘Animal’ rights are being fulfilled, and in which Southgate’s  ‘Creaturely Selfing’ is a given, seem to ignore the fact that the [present] created order is the way it is because of the functioning of its physical laws. There are, of course, other factors and influences—not least the anthropic influence. However, is it really God’s sole responsibility to provide the best of possible life-experiences for all of the created order? Of course, should it be the case that God has no influence whatsoever regarding the creative state of affairs that produce much of the misery experienced by both animals and humans alike then we may well conclude that God is an ‘under achiever’. However, the notion that GOD has to bring about a state of affairs in which creatures can ‘sail through life’—experiencing the best of possible outcomes whilst avoiding the less than popular experiences is based on the rather anthropomorphic assumption that even none-sentient life forms should realise any kind of life-experience that would warrant a more wholesome ‘re-run’ of that ‘experience’—without the predation etc: That God, whilst having to be, from this perspective, the ‘pleasure maximiser’ rather than the ‘pain condoner’, has some kind of moral responsibility to produce the best of possible experience for every creature in the history of the biosphere is based on a false assumption. Moreover, regarding the thumb-endowed creatures with the proclivity to live life according to their own self-directed desires—their having the best of possible future experience whilst living this life as if there were, in existence, no such ‘benefactor’ seems to be a somewhat unreasonable notion.

And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write these things down, for these words are trustworthy and true.(Revelation 21:5)

I shall end this section with the words of C.S.Lewis as written in his classic apologetic work ‘The Problem of Pain’:

There is a kindness in love but love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness is separated from the other elements of love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object—we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer….Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided that it only escapes suffering…If God is Love, he is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense. (Lewis, 1996)

There is, much more, to say on the matter…

Derek J. White

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