Tuesday, October 26, 2010

God, obligation, and the Euthyphro dilemma

Does God have obligations to us? No, He doesn’t. But doesn’t that entail that He could do just any old thing to us? No, it doesn’t. But how can that be? To see how, consider first another, related false dilemma: the famous Euthyphro problem.

The Euthyphro dilemma goes like this: God commands us to do what is good. But is something good simply because God commands it, or does He command it because it is already good? If we take the first option, then it seems we are committed to the possibility that God could make it good for us to torture babies just for fun, simply by commanding it. If we take the second option, then it seems we are committed to saying that there is a standard of goodness independent of God, to which He refers us when He commands. Neither option seems a good one from the point of view of theism. The first makes morality arbitrary, and the claim that God is good completely trivial. The second conflicts with the core theistic claims that God is the ultimate cause of all things, and in particular the source of all goodness. So, we have a problem, right?

Actually, we don’t, because the dilemma is a false one – certainly from the point of view of Thomism, for reasons I explain in Aquinas. As with all the other supposedly big, bad objections to theism, this one rests on caricature, and a failure to make crucial distinctions. First of all, we need to distinguish the issue of the content of moral obligations from the issue of what gives them their obligatory force. Divine command is relevant to the second issue, but not the first. Second, it is an error to think that tying morality in any way to divine commands must make it to that extent arbitrary, a product of capricious divine fiat. That might be so if we think of divine commands in terms of Ockham’s voluntarism and nominalism, but not if, following Aquinas, we hold that will follows upon intellect, so that God always acts in accordance with reason. Third, that does not entail that what determines the content of morality and God’s rationale for commanding as He does is in any way independent of Him.

The actual situation, then, is this. What is good or bad for us is determined by the ends set for us by our nature, and given the essentialist metaphysics Aquinas is committed to, that means that there are certain things that are good or bad for us absolutely, which even God could not change (since God’s power does not extend to doing what is self-contradictory). Now God, given the perfection of His intellect, can in principle only ever command in accordance with reason, and thus God could never command us to do what is bad for us. Hence the first horn of the Euthyphro dilemma is ruled out: God can never command us to torture babies for fun, because torturing babies for fun is the sort of thing that, given our nature, can never in principle be good for us. But the essences that determine the ends of things – our ends, and for that matter the end of reason too as inherently directed toward the true and the good – do not exist independently of God. Rather, given the Scholastic realist understanding of universals, they pre-exist in the divine intellect as the ideas or archetypes by reference to which God creates. Hence the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma is also ruled out.

Keep in mind also that, as I noted in my post on Law’s “evil-god challenge,” the metaphysics underlying the arguments for classical theism lead to the conclusion that God is not one good thing among others but rather Goodness Itself. Given divine simplicity, that means that what we think of as the distinctive goodness of a human being, the distinctive goodness of a tree, the distinctive goodness of a fish, and so on – each associated with a distinct essence – all exist in an undifferentiated way in the Goodness that is God. As I put it an earlier post, “in creation, that which is unlimited and perfect in God comes to exist in a limited and imperfect way in the natural order… The divine ideas according to which God creates are therefore to be understood as the divine intellect’s grasp of the diverse ways in which the divine essence might be imitated in a limited and imperfect fashion by created things.”

Divine simplicity also entails, of course, that God’s will just is God’s goodness which just is His immutable and necessary existence. That means that what is objectively good and what God wills for us as morally obligatory are really the same thing considered under different descriptions, and that neither could have been other than they are. There can be no question then, either of God’s having arbitrarily commanded something different for us (torturing babies for fun, or whatever) or of there being a standard of goodness apart from Him. Again, the Euthyphro dilemma is a false one; the third option that it fails to consider is that what is morally obligatory is what God commands in accordance with a non-arbitrary and unchanging standard of goodness that is not independent of Him. (As Eleonore Stump points out in her book on Aquinas, its role in resolving the Euthyphro dilemma is one reason theists should take seriously Aquinas’s doctrine of divine simplicity.)

Now, let us return to the question of whether God has obligations to us. To be obliged is to be subject to a law, where, as Aquinas says, “a law is imposed on others by way of a rule and measure” (ST I-II.90.4). Moreover, “the law must needs regard principally the relationship to happiness,” that is to say, the realization of what is good for those under it (ST I-II.90.2). But God has no superior who might impose any law or obligation on Him, there is no good He needs to realize since He is already Goodness Itself and therefore already possesses supreme Beatitude, and there is accordingly no rule or measure outside Him against which His actions might be evaluated. He is not under the moral law precisely because He is the moral law. “[A]ll that is in things created by God, whether it be contingent or necessary, is subject to the eternal law: while things pertaining to the Divine Nature or Essence are not subject to the eternal law, but are the eternal law itself” (ST I-II.93.4, emphasis added).

But to understand what this means is precisely to understand that God can only ever will what is good for us. For as noted above, God can only ever will in accordance with reason, and it would be perverse and irrational to will to create some thing without willing what is by its nature good for that thing. If “nature does nothing in vain” (Aristotle, De Anima III.9 432b21), then neither does God, the Author of nature. He allows evil, but only because He can draw good out of it (ST I.2.3). Thus, Aquinas, says, “as ‘it belongs to the best to produce the best,’ it is not fitting that the supreme goodness of God should produce things without giving them their perfection. Now a thing's ultimate perfection consists in the attainment of its end. Therefore it belongs to the Divine goodness, as it brought things into existence, so to lead them to their end.” (ST I.103.1)

In this way God loves us and loves us perfectly, because to love is to will another’s good, and God cannot fail to will what is good for us. Since moral goodness concerns the will, it follows that God is morally good, and perfectly so. But His moral goodness is not like ours, since it does not involve fulfilling obligations, acquiring virtues, or the like. Contrary to what some theistic personalists seem to think, that does not make His moral goodness somehow inferior to ours. It makes it infinitely superior.

95 comments:

Mr Veale said...

Brilliant stuff! How on earth do you make a topic this abstract so readable?

I teach religion in a High School in Ulster. Have you written anything on the art of teaching? Or would you consider putting a few posts together on that subject? (We get taught techniques and methodologies - but nothing about the art, or the virtues, of being a good teacher).

Anonymous said...

Dr Feser,

This is off-topic but I wanted to post this in a place where it'd get your attention.

In this thread you linked to, someone posed an argument to the effect that if God is pure act, then everything he can do is what he does do -- and thus every possible object exists; or else if there are some possible objects that God could have created but doesn't, then he has potentialities and is not pure act.

In that thread, it was posted by JT.

Could you briefly cover that issue if you have the time?

DmL said...

"...to think, that does make His moral goodness somehow inferior to ours. It makes it infinitely superior." should be "...to think, that does NOT make..." ?

Josh said...

Even though this is revelation, and I'm not familiar with Kierkegaard's writings on it, how does God's commandment to Abraham to sacrifice Issac fit in to the classical theistic concept of God not willing what is bad for us?

Also, as an aside, just wanted to thank you for writing Philosophy of Mind. It's really helping me and some friends dive into and comprehend a field that I thought was out of reach.

awatkins69 said...

Hey Josh. You might be interested in what Blessed John Duns Scotus has to say about some of this.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/duns-scotus/#NatLaw
http://percaritatem.com/2008/06/04/scotus-on-the-difference-between-natural-law-in-the-strict-and-extended-sense/

Anonymous said...

As usual, thanks for the post, Dr. Feser. A few questions, though, centering around this quote:

"Rather, given the Scholastic realist understanding of universals, they pre-exist in the divine intellect as the ideas or archetypes by reference to which God creates. Hence the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma is also ruled out."

First, with reference to the whole A-T metaphysical system, what is the difference, if any, between essences and universals?

Does this mean that the universals that pre-exist as ideas in the divine intellect are literally God, since they are not in any sense prior to God (I was about to ask, "Are they parts of God?" But that seems to be ruled out by the doctrine of divine simplicity)? If so, are we forced to say things like "God is Redness Itself", "God is Squareness Itself", etc.?

Lastly, where did Aristotle and Aquinas explicitly argue for the moderate realist understanding of universals?

Ilíon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig/feser2.html

Hi Dr. Feser,
I found this article by you on google.
one of the first few hits. But I hadn't noticed it before.

Vincent Torley said...

I would like to congratulate Professor Feser on a brilliantly argued post, which I have added to my list of recommended articles for skeptics (see my Web page, "Autumn Reading for Jerry and Friends" at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/jerry.html ). I think the differences between us on God's obligations to creatures are largely semantic.

As I define "obligation," A has an obligation to B if and only if:
(a) there is some good that A should give to B (as something due to B), or there is some evil that A should not inflict on B; and
(b) there is some law regarding this obligation, such that failure to fulfil the obligation would make A morally culpable.

Nothing in the foregoing definition stipulates that the law has to be external to A, the bearer of the obligation, OR that A's failure to fulfil the obligation has to be a real possibility. Hence when I say that God has an obligation not to lie to us, I simply mean that having freely decided to create us, God should not lie to us, because that would be bad for us, since our minds are designed for truth. If, per impossibile, God were to lie to us, He would be going against the eternal law, which is identical with Himself. In other words, God would no longer be God, which is a contradiction.

But as Professor Feser uses the word "obligation," the law in condition (b) needs to be "imposed on others by way of a rule and measure” (S.T. I-II, 90.4) from outside. In that case, as he correctly points out, "there is accordingly no rule or measure outside Him [God] against which His actions might be evaluated.... He is not under the moral law precisely because He is the moral law." Well, if that's what Professor Feser means by an obligation, then I would likewise affirm that God has none.

just thinking said...

Thus, Aquinas, says, “as ‘it belongs to the best to produce the best,’ it is not fitting that the supreme goodness of God should produce things without giving them their perfection. Now a thing's ultimate perfection consists in the attainment of its end. Therefore it belongs to the Divine goodness, as it brought things into existence, so to lead them to their end.” (ST I.103.1)

So, aggressive cancer IS praiseworthy since it perfectly achieves its end - death of its host.

The quote may satisfy the philosopher's intellect as he piously kneels before God in praise, but it does not so resonate with the whole emotional psyche - it demeans one's view of such a God.

To a great degree, this is the key problem better handled by other theisms. I'll bet hospice priests sound an awful lot like process theologians.

Anonymous said...

To echo what JT said, is the ichneumon wasp, which paralyzes caterpillars and lays its eggs inside them, so that when they hatch, the larvae proceed to eat the caterpillars alive from the inside out, praiseworthy, since the wasp realized the end towards which it was directed? What about parasites or other predators (ex. great white sharks) that feast on humans? Are they also praiseworthy when they fatally attack a human being?

I feel that I can't buy into this idea that all the ends that we presently observe in nature are definitely and imperishably good. One of the central doctrines of Christianity, after all, is that the reality we inhabit is in some sense a "fallen" reality. How do we distinguish the "good" ends from the "fallen" ends?

Anonymous said...

@Anon 5.29.

Non-human creatures have no free will, no rights/obligations. As such what is good for them is their own flourishing. In the case of the Wasp it cannot flourish unless its larvae feast on the worm. It is 'bad' in a sense for the worm to be eaten alive, as it is not part its nature to be eaten by the wasps, but the wasp has no obligation not to feast on it and needs to in order to flourish as wasp.

As for shark attack on humans, it is tragic that a human should be fatally wounded by a shark, but there is no prior obligation on the part of the shark not to attack. The shark has no free will, and thus does not freely choice to attack a human, any more than it does to attack a seal. The misfiring of shark instinct in attacking a human doesn't prove that it is wrong or bad for the shark to attack things. The shark needs to attack things (seals/penguins etc) to survive, to fulfill its ends. Otherwise, it would be wrong for any predator to attack and kill any creature. And we would be morally obliged to intervene (since we can, and we can understand morality) and prevent predators from attacking other animals, which is absurd.

So the main point is that creatures have definite aims which they need to fulfill if they are to flourish. If this upsets the ends of other creatures it may be in one sense bad, but it in no sense implies that the 'ends' included in being a worm include 'not being eaten by a wasp', or the 'ends' of being a human include 'not being attacked by sharks'. It just upsets the ends of the those individuals under attack/being eaten.

Tony M said...

Just Thinking's comment is, of course, one of the perennial "problem of evil" types of problem. If everything that God does and creates is good, how can He have created a natural order than includes so much evil.

Setting aside the question of whether nature would operate in this manner if it weren't for Adam's sin (there is a viable theory that all animals, by special above-natural ordinance, lived without attacking other creatures: humans would probably live off off milk, honey, fruit, nuts, etc. in this theory), this presentation of the problem conflates moral evils with evils not of a moral nature. Evils of pain, injury, and death from one animal attacking another have nothing to do with moral evil at all. It is not in the least clear why a good God cannot be the direct cause of such a natural order, because this sense of evil is an equivocation. When one animal fulfills its nature at the expense of another's existence, the good of the first is contrary to the continued good of the second. But the higher order that contains both is not harmed in the least. In that sense, it is a natural fulfillment of Nature that stronger carnivores eat weaker animals, and so Nature is not at odds with herself.

It is only moral evil that deserves the name "evil" that can even begin to present a problem for theism.

BenYachov said...

If I believe Atheist Philosopher Thomas Nagel(& I do) there is no scientific way to test or know the subjective experience of Animals.

Thus I have no proof an animal really suffers in the same sense that an intellective conscious human being does. Causing animals pain for no good reason is immoral since it is the act of carrying out an evil will. But we should no more weep for the suffering of animals than we should weep for the "pain" of the Planet Jupiter when it is struck by Comets.
Of course naturally question begging Atheists assume since we are material beings only that our subjective experiences of suffering must be unequivocally the same as animals who are also mere material beings like us allegedly. I cry foul!!

BTW even if animals have some type of primitive "consciousness" that is aware of themselves as "a self that suffers" their souls are still mortal. Thus by Epicurean standards they will cease to exist upon death and forget forever their suffering which might as well have not occurred.

I am & remain most unimpressed with the whole "argument from gratuitous evil" meme put forth by modern Atheists. It's creative but in the end a boat load of horse hockey.

just thinking said...

I did not mention animal suffering, but from those who oppose what I posted above, I hope you are more sensitive to your family members on their deathbeds than to continuously remind them that their cancer is seeking its own goodness at their misfortune – that’ll perk ‘em up for sure.

But we should no more weep for the suffering of animals than we should weep for the "pain" of the Planet Jupiter when it is struck by Comets.
Of course naturally question begging Atheists assume since we are material beings only that our subjective experiences of suffering must be unequivocally the same as animals who are also mere material beings like us allegedly.


Go talk to a veterinarian

I cry foul!!

And I cry MORON.

Anonymous said...

If a person would say that there is no moral difference between a human being smashing a rock and a human being dissecting live dogs or setting stray cats on fire, he should seek out medical attention IMMEDIATELY.

BenYachov said...

@just thinking

Yo buddy learn to read ok? The person who posted after you brought up animals & I added my 2 cents. It's not all about you. Wow what an ego!

>Go talk to a veterinarian
>And I cry MORON.

I reply: You should change your name to "Just Emoting". Really you should. Typical Fundie Atheist. All emotion no logic or reason.

Even Daniel Dennett doubts animals are conscious the way we are so get over it.

BenYachov said...

>a human being dissecting live dogs or setting stray cats on fire, he should seek out medical attention IMMEDIATELY.

I reply: What part of "Causing animals pain for no good reason is immoral since it is the act of carrying out an evil will" do you brain dead Atheist fundies not understand?

Still it would be fun to know your views on partial birth infanticide(i.e. abortion).

Are all Fundie Atheists a bunch of Emos or what?

BenYachov said...

@Just Emotion

>I hope you are more sensitive to your family members on their deathbeds...

How dare you! I've watch my relatives die from various sicknesses & you have the nerve to say something so personal & insensitive? It's called being a hypocrite!

Wow! I'm just stunned!

Anonymous said...

"Causing animals pain for no good reason is immoral since it is the act of carrying out an evil will"

Are you saying that napalming cats is evil, not because of what the cat experiences, but because of the damage it does to my soul? I reply: What if I mentally condition myself to react to the napalming of cats the same way I react to the smashing of rocks or the tearing of leaves? Or what if I'm just born psychopathic? On your view of animals (animal "pain" is really no different than planetary "pain"), and under these conditions, it cannot possibly be evil.

And fyi, Mr. Yachov, I am about as far away from atheism as it is possible to be, and as such I detest the very idea of abortion. Please don't be so presumptuous in the future.

just thinking said...

Ben

What have I posted that you identify as hypocritical here in this combox?

Wow! I'm just stunned!

I'll grant you this characteristic as well, if you wish.

Vincent Torley said...

Just Thinking and Anonymous:

The following may be of interest to you (please read it through to the end of section 7 plus the appendix):

http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/thomas2.html#section4

It's from my online response to Professor Tkacz, and includes my tentative thoughts on the problem of evil, for what they're worth.

A word of advice. However passionately you may disagree with someone's views on a moral issue, belittling their intelligence or their character is certainly not going to induce them to change their mind.

BenYachov said...

@Anon801am

>Are you saying that napalming cats is evil, not because of what the cat experiences, but because of the damage it does to my soul?

I reply: Yes, since it would not be immoral to medically experiment on a Cat to cure let's say Autism(I'm the Father of Three Autistic Children. God help any of you Peta wannbe chuckleheads who stand in the way of that! It morally sickens me how some idiots equate animals with people). It is always evil to willfully cause an animal pain for no good reason.

>Or what if I'm just born psychopathic?

Then morally you are no different than another animal who attacks one of it's fellows. Since when are the mentally ill morally responsible for their acts?

>What if I mentally condition myself to react to the napalming of cats the same way I react to the smashing of rocks

Then you are acting out an evil will. Don't you read English?

>Please don't be so presumptuous in the future.

Physician heal thyself, before you imply I condone torturing animals by misreading & or ignoring what I wrote.

BenYachov said...

@Just Emotion

>What have I posted that you identify as hypocritical here in this combox?

I just said so. Pretending you can't understand plain English is a tedious trick employed by most Trolls. I refuse to play that game.

Unless you want to respond intelligently to my points on animal suffering without attacking me I have nothing to say to the likes of you.

BenYachov said...

Vincent Torley,

Thanks guy.

BenYachov said...

@Anon801am


additional:"is evil, not because of what the cat experiences,"

We don't scientifically know what the cat experiences & we can't know. However philosophically we can conclude animals have no rational intellective souls or free will. I have no memory of having my foreskin cut off when I was an infant. Thus I have no experience suffering even though at the time I clearly felt pain if I believe my mother which of course I do.

I don't believe feeling pain is always the same as suffering. Since some pain is worth it & contemplating oneself as a being who is in pain and has no hope is what fuels true suffering.

Anonymous said...

"God help any of you Peta wannbe chuckleheads who stand in the way of that!"

I'm not a member of Peta nor a vegetarian. I do not embrace anything resembling Peter Singer's philosophy. As far as I can tell, though, you appear to be the total flipside of Singer. I want to steer a middle ground.

"Then morally you are no different than another animal who attacks one of it's fellows. Since when are the mentally ill morally responsible for their acts?"

I should have been more specific and I should have left out the word "condition": What if I am born perfectly normal in all of my human aspects except in the one that concerns how I view animals? Now let's say I feel bored one day, I see a bunch of stray cats, and I burn them. To me, this event is no different from throwing or smashing a rock. Of course, as you pointed out, I am not responsible for my action, but that wasn't the point I was trying to make. What I wanted to ask was: Is there *anything* evil, in any significant sense, about this situation? I inescapably think there is. If I see an individual committing such an act, even if he is mentally impaired when it comes to animals, I will ALWAYS think, "That should not have happened." But on your view of animals, such a mental statement would be totally unintelligible.

jt said...

My OP had notiing to do w/ animal rights, but cancer and Feser's theistic take on it.

Address that, and I'll happily take up my views on animals after.

BenYachov said...

@Anon801am

Setting fire to the Mona Lisa is unreasonable & a destruction of private property thus immoral. Even thought a painting feels no pain. Killing an infant human even painlessly is immoral. It is always evil to willfully cause an animal pain for no good reason. You are rational moral being with free will. If your Will is impaired then you are not morally responsible for any animals or humans you harm from that defect. If not then you are responsible.

If the former then I believe Tony M's reply is the answer you seek. Evil is the existing privation in any situation. Cancer is not good. Cell growth is good. Defective Cell growth is evil because the cells are growing beyond what nature intends for them. God does not create privation. He merely allows it & he is under no obligation too correct it. But He will our ultimate end toward Himself. We either consent to it or we rebel and endure the natural consequences.

BenYachov said...

@Just Emotion
>My OP had notiing to do w/ animal rights, but cancer and Feser's theistic take on it.

>Address that, and I'll happily take up my views on animals after.

I reply: I was STILL addressing the post that came after yours. I wasn't originally talking too you. Get over yourself!

Talk to someone who gives a Smeg about your post. I don't.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Yachov, you say, "It is always evil to willfully cause an animal pain for no good reason." Then in light of this, and given your previous comments about soul damage, you would certainly agree with the following:

"It is evil for an individual to willfully cause an animal pain for no good reason ONLY IF causing an animal pain damages the individual's soul." If A="It is evil for an individual to willfully cause an animal pain for no good reason" and B="causing an animal pain damages the individual's soul", then the formal statement is:

A -> B.

But in the case of the person who, though he has sympathy towards humans, is not born with any sympathy towards animals, we have a case of ¬B.

So we have:

1)A -> B
2)¬B

Conclusion: ¬A,i.e., it is *not* evil for this individual to willfully cause an animal pain for no good reason.

BenYachov said...

@Anon801am

>"It is evil for an individual to willfully cause an animal pain for no good reason ONLY IF causing an animal pain damages the individual's soul."

The above statement is not rational or logical. It's like saying "Raping a woman is evil ONLY IF raping her damages the rapists'soul". Or having sex with her while she is unconscious(& thus can't give permission which is still rape) etc...

Rape is intrinsically evil. Doing something willfully that is intrinsically irrational like "willfully causing an animal pain for no good & necessary reason" is also intrinsically evil.

BTW are we talking moral evil(you murdering me) or natural evil(a Tiger eats me)?

Don't conflate the two.

jt said...

I made a valid first post, and somehow it got lost in all the animal talk. We had discussed cancer a few comboxes back, but I saw no strong arguments either way on its being of God and so praiseworthy. In light of Ed's quote of the friar, it appears cancer is a goodness seeking its end - the awful destruction of life and disruption of families.

Anomynous said...

Just Thinking,
So much of what you say is so removed from the human experience.
Most of your attempts at being difficult (no offense) and bringing up these assumed defeaters are just sterile.
You seem to forget that there are real people with real lives who go through this.

Suffering from and dying due to a disease of any sort:

Real people are in these situations. People struggle accepting their own mortality. You can say "I can appreciate the fact that I will die". But that's very different from "I am on the verge of dying and will be gone at a moment that is very close".

This fact brings them face to face with things that are vastly more important than being comfortable... namely, is there meaning to life, why am I here, is there something beyond this that helps it all make sense. From my lowest lows to my highest highs - is there some purpose to my existence and experiences..... or is it all a cosmic and existential joke.

Real people deal with these situations and thoughts. And real people come to the conclusion that there must be something greater.

Hard times make a person reflect on these things. Sitting comfortably on your couch while enjoying your favorite sitcom is probably not likely to lead one to profoud thoughts. It's not likely to move one to something greater.

Struggling with death and impending death makes one reassess how they view life.
You can get angry at the fact that you're dying with cancer.... close up shop emotionally and coast to death. All the while wondering to yourself "in this vast uncaring universe.... why do I have the propensity to care, to be angry and this injustice".
If you're right about their being no point to any of, then why care at all?

This can happen.


But you can also come to the conclusion that you were intended for much more than this earthly existence. There is something very real to your thoughts and emotions. And where and how those thoughts and emotions were directed actually did matter.

People typically don't come to these conclusions in the luxury of their indifference to all things beyond them.


People, in dealing with death of themselves or loved ones, come to God. Something that makes all of the difference in their life. Something that gives meaning to them and their life.

Cry at the injustice of ever having to suffer directly or indirectly from some malady. But if you're right there is no injustice.... people die, wind blows, rocks crumble.

Anomynuos said...

Just Thinking,
So much of what you say is so removed from the human experience.
Most of your attempts at being difficult (no offense) and bringing up these assumed defeaters are just sterile.
You seem to forget that there are real people with real lives who go through this.

Suffering from and dying due to a disease of any sort:

Real people are in these situations. People struggle accepting their own mortality. You can say "I can appreciate the fact that I will die". But that's very different from "I am on the verge of dying and will be gone at a moment that is very close".

This fact brings them face to face with things that are vastly more important than being comfortable... namely, is there meaning to life, why am I here, is there something beyond this that helps it all make sense. From my lowest lows to my highest highs - is there some purpose to my existence and experiences..... or is it all a cosmic and existential joke.

Real people deal with these situations and thoughts. And real people come to the conclusion that there must be something greater.

Hard times make a person reflect on these things. Sitting comfortably on your couch while enjoying your favorite sitcom is probably not likely to lead one to profoud thoughts. It's not likely to move one to something greater.

Struggling with death and impending death makes one reassess how they view life.
You can get angry at the fact that you're dying with cancer.... close up shop emotionally and coast to death. All the while wondering to yourself "in this vast uncaring universe.... why do I have the propensity to care, to be angry and this injustice".
If you're right about their being no point to any of, then why care at all?

This can happen.


But you can also come to the conclusion that you were intended for much more than this earthly existence. There is something very real to your thoughts and emotions. And where and how those thoughts and emotions were directed actually did matter.

People typically don't come to these conclusions in the luxury of their indifference to all things beyond them.


People, in dealing with death of themselves or loved ones, come to God. Something that makes all of the difference in their life. Something that gives meaning to them and their life.

Cry at the injustice of ever having to suffer directly or indirectly from some malady. But if you're right there is no injustice.... people die, wind blows, rocks crumble.

just thinking said...

O.K.

Praise God from whom all cancer, sharks, and gratuitous excruciating and pointless animal suffering flows.

So, my theological challenge to the tenets of simplicity and Ferser/Aquinas's God is nothing more than whining that I am not as strong as a Stoic.

Lets look at VJ Torley's link on theodicy and talk animal suffering instead.

I have several quotes from his sections 4-7 to comment on.

Anomynuos said...

I never said that - I said that you're taking this out of the human context that it occurs in.
And that's true.

just thinking said...

VJ Torley wrote about theodicy and animal suffering. Since that is what folks want to talk about, lets do it.

VJT**Aquinas did not stop here in his theodicy; he went further. Aquinas taught that there was just the right amount of natural evil in the biological world:*

 On average, it is a cozy 72 degrees everywhere. But it is damn hot when staked to a post in the Sahara and left to die.

 This must mean nuclear weapons cannot do much harm.

 Neither can the hemangiosarcoma our 12 year old pet dog Sissy was diagnosed with after a spleenectomy. This cancer knows no bounds, and she’ll be gone in only a few months when it takes another organ and causes it to rupture and bleed out.

VJT**I conclude that much intellectual spade-work remains to be done by those Christians who (like myself) are deeply troubled by the occurrence of animal suffering, and who would also contend that God has certain basic duties towards His sentient creatures. We need to answer Aquinas' defiant question: what would you have God do, in order to either prevent their suffering or undo the terrible effects of it? Some questions that need to be considered carefully include the following: [See VJ’s 5 good questions on animal suffering and souls]

While questioning the infallible Friar is quite unpopular here, I sure want to do it, too, VJ.

VJT**demonic intelligences were allowed to wreak havoc on creation in this way, only because God foresaw that the first human beings, Adam and Eve (who were also the custodians of creation) would reject His offer of friendship.

I have no desire to try and explain this assumption to a dying loved one, nor do I see why animals have a part to play in whatever that bad, bad couple did all those years ago – what about a statute of limitation?

VJT**Would it be possible for God to design a world with the same laws of physics, chemistry, genetics and cell biology as ours, in which animals never suffered extreme pain, whether from natural or accidental causes?…I would therefore argue that not even God could design a natural pain regulation system, governed by psycho-physical laws, that worked infallibly in an indefinite variety of situations.

Why not. He can make a mountain so large that he can’t lift it, but come back and lift it anyways just to prove he is almighty, right? (credit here to George Carlin)

The pain suffered by a fawn in a forest fire is distressing enough, but it is an accidental death. I would argue that the pain a fawn experiences during a forest fire does not detract from the goodness of God in the same way as the emotional suffering resulting from the perverted but apparently "natural" behaviors of animals (e.g. the terror felt by an infant chimpanzee as it is being clobbered to death by an adult member of its troupe, or the terror experienced by a piglet as it is being eaten alive by its mother). For if these behaviors were indeed natural, then their Designer could not possibly be good.

Like a priest once jokingly said in response to ‘Why would God allow this?’ – “Because God is just no good.”

But rather than say God is no good since he designed us to suffer gratuitously excruciating pain (and worse yet, non-Christian animals who have no idea what they did to deserve it), I think Process Theology has it better in saying God is evolving with the cosmos, not in control of it. So, the God of Process Theology is not much to brag about either.


Let’s cure cancer, not praise it.

And let’s work to usher in the ‘Peaceable Kingdom’ - prophesized in the OT and established by The Palestinian of the NT - wherein we and all other creatures are vegetarians.

Anomynuos said...

You're a funny variety of atheist, JT.

For an atheist you sure hate God.

It's almost (it is) like you wish He would exist just so you could hate Him to His face.

jt said...

i'm no athiest!

I am skeptical of a God anywhere close to resembling Aquinas'.

A personalist theism would be more believable IMO.

And I do greatlt sympathize with Stephen H Webb's theology of the peaceable kingdom.

And like he said in his work _On God and Dogs_, process theology delivers a God who allows all the suffering so that the world can evolve freely. Shit, if he can stop it he should cuz that is too big a price.

I see myself as theistically agnostic and searching.

Timothius said...

Feser says, "Now God, given the perfection of His intellect, can in principle only ever command in accordance with reason, and thus God could never command us to do what is bad for us."

Timothius: Is this an Aquinas development? I'm a beginner in Aquinas. I will be reading your book soon, btw. I've seen it mentioned more than once at FirstThings.

Where does such a statement come from? Certainly not from studying the scriptures.

Feser says, "...only ever command in accordance with reason..."

Timothius: Reason is granted way too much importance here. But what should I expect from a philosopher? Sometimes scary, simple-minded, faithfulness is difficult for the educated, not easier. The Holy Spirit, the "Divine indwelling" as Peter called it, what's that!?

If God says, "Kill your son," you kill your son. If God wants to prove something to Satan, and you (Job) are virtually destroyed in the process, you endure it faithfully - somehow.

Reason? Reasoned to what? One aspect of this is that it all seems to be in "reasoned harmony" when the way of the "faithful" to God coincides with the way of the "dominant cultural baseline."

For example, Christians and atheist alike agree that it is "good," to help those in need. No problem.

But what happens when the Christian believes contrary to the cultural norm, that "goodness" on certain issues is outside the cultural norm? Why, the Christian is now a fanatic, fundamentalist, irrational, etc.

For the faithful to God, this dilemma solves easily. If God says to kick the baby, you kick the baby.

Seems strange to say that,and if ever faced with this command precisely, honestly, I don't know what I would do.

As well, I think of the scenario where a church leader might ask me to do something very strange in the name of the Lord.

Sure, there are dangers on the path of the faithful, the naive, the trusting.

But so far anyway, my experience with God, through imperfect - yet earnest - faithfulness, has unfolded what I believe to be what He intended for me specifically, and all of us generally.

What informs you that you've arrived at a reasoned argument? A sequence of thus-and-therefores? Cause and effects? Foreseeing a reasonable path to a favorable outcome? Real life does not always provide such luxuries.

I see this comment-thread ebbing toward discussing "The problem with pain," aka theodicy. I will keep my eyes peeled for your specific address of this.

Timothius said...

I see this comment-thread ebbing toward discussing "The problem with pain," aka theodicy. Perhaps Mr. Feser would kick-off this topic specifically.

TheOFloinn said...

We had discussed cancer a few comboxes back, but I saw no strong arguments either way on its being of God and so praiseworthy.

Cancerous cells are not separate beings, but parts of beings. In seeking the natural end, you must ask what the cell is naturally ordered toward. It is natural for the cell to divide; but it is also natural for it to cease dividing after a time. Cancerous cells are thus an evil, since they represent a privation of the natural good of limited cell division.

That any help?

Anonymous said...

Anon here, from way back in the thread.

I think the trouble some of us non-Catholics are having with this subject is the notion that all of the ends that we presently observe in this reality are imperishably good. I've always believed, as a part of my theology, that the reality we inhabit is a fallen reality that has been shattered at its very depths, and, if this is true, if our reality has been "infected" or "wounded," who is to say that all of nature's current products are good? True, some of the ends we observe in nature are certainly good - I have human morality in mind here - and I am astonished by the explanatory power of Thomistic natural law in settling certain moral issues. However, I cannot accept that the ends of all of the things in this reality are all good. As a couple of people have plainly stated in this thread, animal pain among the higher beasts is one clear instance of this.

PatrickH said...

I share the last Anon's question about all natural ends being good. Unless, perhaps, those ends that are not-good are actually tendings in some way to nothingness, to their own self-destruction. In that sense, "evil ends" are really the privatio boni kind of ends, so to speak, and so constitute not a real end at all, but a kind of parasitical pseudo-end that only shares the fact of being an outcome with real ends, but is not actually a tending to or dispostion to anything at all, anything real.

Dunno.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

A few quick comments. I think The OFloinn hit the nail on the head when it comes to cancer. A cancer is not a living thing in its own right. It does not have a good of its own, in the way that a horse has, or even a bacterium. Cancer should be fought tooth and nail.

Regarding good and evil, here is the best article I've seen anywhere on the Web. It's gutsy, orthodox and very honest. I think JT might like it:

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/01/tsunami-and-theodicy
("Tsunami and Theodicy" by David Hart.)

My own speculations on the problem of evil, at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/thomas2.html#section4 (sections 4 to 7) may contain a few nuggets of truth, but they are probably wrong on several points. I just don't know how many, or which ones.

Regarding the question of whether all natural ends are good, I would tend to agree with PatrickH's comment, and I would add that some of the ends we see in Nature now are not really natural. I can't believe God designed chimpanzees to kill infant chimps, or pigs to kill and eat their own young. That would be both irrational and sick. That's why I believe the cosmos we see now is a damaged one.

Regarding the sacrifice of Isaac, this article by Christian apologist Glenn Miller addresses the question very well:
http://christianthinktank.com/qkilisak.html

Hope that helps.

just thinking said...

VJ

You are right, I found the Hart blog post and comments very interesting and absolutely applicable to the discussion of gratuitous suffering in this combox.

What I did not see was anything more than clutching to this or that finely honed take on the perennial and simple criticism of Christianity:

Buck up and cheer up, the more suffering you endure on earth, the more rewarded you will be after you die. (And hey, lose that stupid concern over senseless animal suffering.)

The conversation of the First Things blog post and countless others just like it, if nothing else, make it ever more clear that agnosticism is the most rational approach to theology.



TheOFloinn,

“Cancerous cells are not separate beings, but parts of beings. In seeking the natural end, you must ask what the cell is naturally ordered toward. It is natural for the cell to divide; but it is also natural for it to cease dividing after a time. Cancerous cells are thus an evil, since they represent a privation of the natural good of limited cell division.

That any help?”

Nope, not in the least. It might satisfy a dogmatic Essentialist, but surely you are aware that there are other metaphysical knife cuts which give very different ontological status of the actuality of cancer.

The Friar ain’t the only metaphysician out there, my man.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

So the cancer problem metastasizes once more.

In the earlier thread in which it was first diagnosed, I said:

"Cancer is analogous to cellular gluttony, or greed, depending on your imaginative tastes, and is therefore a species of evil."

"...I take your point to be that maybe even evils like tumors can display an intrinsic goodness of their own by seeking to flourish. Hence, even some evils are goods, on a privation theory of evil, which does not seem to be very good for the coherence of that theory. If this is the line you are taking, I have two problems with the scenario.

"First, I don't know how much sense it makes to think of tumors in isolation from the organism in which they appear. … Hence, while you could, I suppose, see some goodness in the growth of a tumor as far as the vitality of its cells is concerned, I think that's missing the forest for the trees. Remove a tumor from the body and harvest it in a culture, fine. But then it's no longer a tumor: it's just a bunch of cells with their own functional tendencies. (E.g. A severed hand isn't really a hand anymore, since a hand is a tool of the body.) Further, the tumor cells are parasitic on the host, and therefore actually fails to actualize themselves like they could if they result in the host's death.

"Second, using one evil (an ant[i]-tumor) to remedy another evil (other tumorous tissue) is precisely what Christians mean by saying God can bring good out of evil. Just as human agency can see to it, based on human nature's proper ends, that "the evil of tumors" shall not prevail in the end, so too divine agency, based on the consummative glory of God, can and will see to it that "the evil of evil" (so to speak) shall not prevail in the end. The Cross might then be the ant[i]-tumor God used to consume and conquer all evil. Once the ant[i]-tumor is used FOR a higher good, it is no longer an evil: it is a surprising instrument of good. This is rather the inverse of what happens when a tumor is surgically removed from obstructing higher goods (the host's life) is no longer evil: it does not become good but does cease to be evil."

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I would now also like to point out that, just as an evil can be transfigured into a means of higher good by God, in the larger context of all things seeking their end in Him, so, conversely, an otherwise neutral and/or good phenomenon (like cell reproduction) can be disfigured into an evil by the misalignment of natural ends by the impact of moral evil (as propagated by humans and demons).

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

James Chastek also replied to JT:

"Cancer has a likeness to poison, and taken in this way Augustine's observation is helpful: "if poison were evil in itself, it would kill the snake first". The idea is that it is not the thing taken absolutely or in its nature that is evil (since in this case it would destroy itself first) but rather the disharmony or incompatibility of two things. In fact, the evil consists not in the cancer taken as cancer (for then it would be evil even if it were not in a man's body; and the tumor would consume itself first) but in the corruption of a man who has the tumor.

"There is nothing wrong in saying "cancer is evil", but it is not a statement about the nature of the thing, but about its incompatibility."

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I have reposted the old comments to point out that JT has been answered, and in the same basic way TheOFloinn responded. Seeing, however, how sourly JT responded to the latter, it seems JT has argued himself into a corner, and is rather happy about the fact. His assertion that it is ever more clear that agnosticism is the best position to take reveals two things: i) an agnostic believes his agnosticism is praiseworthy, and ii) this agnostic is ethically obliged *not* to be convinced, which of course means further reasoning is a bit of a waste of time.

I would like to add two positive points in reply to the kind of problems JT is advancing.

First, it has always, always, always been at the core of the Christian Gospel that Christ really and truly suffered and died, and did so for our sakes. This means the Gospel has always been about the truth that God is radically present in "the problem of evil." Hence, to say that the Christian God doesn't care or doesn't understand, is disingenuous.

Second, if any metaphysic being disputed here gives grounds for praising or condoning cancer, it is process theology. For on that theology, all things inevitably and naturally 'emerge' from the primordial knot of, well… emergence. All things have their legitmate place at the ontological table, simply because they have managed to emerge themselves to the table. If everything must be met as an infinitely rich process that connects with everything else––free from those crusty ideas like essence and finality and absolutes––, then evrything must be allowed to"work itself out." We need to respect "the way of the Godhead" as much as "the way of the tiger" as much as "the way of the panda"––and as much as "the way of the tumor". If it's speciesism to favor human flourishing to non-human flourishing, then, on process thought, it's just a more subtle form of speciesism to favor the procession of dog-webs to the tumor-webs in them.

just wishing? said...

Good thinking, as always, Codge

I have reposted the old comments to point out that JT has been answered, and in the same basic way TheOFloinn responded. Seeing, however, how sourly JT responded to the latter, it seems JT has argued himself into a corner, and is rather happy about the fact. His assertion that it is ever more clear that agnosticism is the best position to take reveals two things: i) an agnostic believes his agnosticism is praiseworthy, and ii) this agnostic is ethically obliged *not* to be convinced, which of course means further reasoning is a bit of a waste of time.

No, I am not a happy agnostic, rather a perplexed agnostic seeking something I can believe in. I am 55 years old, and have been a ‘student’ of things theological for like – ever. I have been fundamentally convicted of orthodox theologies in the past, and devoutly Catholic. I am not proud of agnosticism, but resigned to it for now. I seek a compassionate embrace of life that legitimately addresses all suffering creatures. I seek conviction, but hold all suggested beliefs up for critical analysis.

I would like to add two positive points in reply to the kind of problems JT is advancing.

First, it has always, always, always been at the core of the Christian Gospel that Christ really and truly suffered and died, and did so for our sakes. This means the Gospel has always been about the truth that God is radically present in "the problem of evil." Hence, to say that the Christian God doesn't care or doesn't understand, is disingenuous.


If I believed the last sentence, I would be a happy athiest.

Second, if any metaphysic being disputed here gives grounds for praising or condoning cancer, it is process theology. For on that theology, all things inevitably and naturally 'emerge' from the primordial knot of, well… emergence. All things have their legitmate place at the ontological table, simply because they have managed to emerge themselves to the table. If everything must be met as an infinitely rich process that connects with everything else––free from those crusty ideas like essence and finality and absolutes––, then evrything must be allowed to"work itself out." We need to respect "the way of the Godhead" as much as "the way of the tiger" as much as "the way of the panda"––and as much as "the way of the tumor". If it's speciesism to favor human flourishing to non-human flourishing, then, on process thought, it's just a more subtle form of speciesism to favor the procession of dog-webs to the tumor-webs in them.

PT does not get discussed very rigorously here. I erroneously assumed Ed was going to in this series of classic v personalist theism. No bigge, them’s the breaks.

Anthony Flood’s most excellent website has been instrumental in helping me come to know and appreciate “a lot’ of PT. He has a wealth of Catholic process theologians’ work on his site.
But, as I pointed out, the process God is not very praiseworthy, being a ‘70% diety’ as some have quipped. But what is true is that the creative advance comes about via individual subjective decisions under the influence of a luring-for-betterness God. I like that

Ilíon said...

"The conversation of the First Things blog post and countless others just like it, if nothing else, make it ever more clear that agnosticism is the most rational approach to theology."

Whatever it takes, Dude, to keep up the pretense.

just saying said...

Iloit

You are just so darn cute - I just wanna eat you up!

Not only agnosticism is the most rational approach to theology, but science, too.

We should be Missourians and hold to a steady 'show me' stance in theology and science.

Faith is a different matter.

William said...

Maybe we there is some mis-understanding of 'natural' ends. In the case of animals we can say that its end is towards flourishing, by eating, drinking (vegetative aspects of its soul which subsist in its animal soul) and moving to find these things, reproduce and pass its genes on, and so on. It is not in the animals 'ends' to eat/club to death its offspring. We could say that this may be a misfiring of its instincts (things which help it to fulfill its end), as when the shark attacks a human believing it to be a seal. (It is fulfilling its end in attacking that which it is instinctively programmed to attack in order to survive. But it cannot reason and find out if it is a seal or not so it is not morally responsible for the action). But even if we found that it was a part of the 'ends' of the pig/chimp in order to flourish say we still have to consider that 1)it is not a moral evil here, but a physical one (the pig/chimp as no obligation not to eat/club to death its young, it is not free); 2)there may be benefit in this (say preservation of resources in the group, or whatever); 3)(slightly unrelated) are we so concerned about the instances where chimps/pigs behave abnormally or seemingly cruelly that we think it would be better they didn't exist and therefore have no ends that might misfire or no possibility of physical suffering? [I am inclined to think that we could call it a misfiring of instinct, and I am happy to call this part of the fallen world. However, I think it is philosophically possible to have animal suffering and all good natural ends]
From this I would conclude that we need to be careful in our understanding of such things as what an end is (the cancer for example is a privation of the good end of cell division, not an end in itself). We need also to make sure that we understand that suffering exhibited by animals is only a physical (not moral) evil, and it would be absurd to say that animals shouldn’t exist if they suffer physical evils, or if they inflict them (either by being carnivorous or by mistake).

@Torley 7.39 I think your last response was right on target. I just wanted to add a little of my reflection on the topic.

just me again said...

VJ's question as to why nature could not have a built-in pain threshold conscious shutdown mechanism for excruciating suffering seems to me to be a very big roomful of pachyderm.

BenYachov said...

The problem with JT(one of many) is he believes dogmatically in the lie that there is such a thing as the "Best of All Possible Worlds". There isn't any such thing, anymore than there is intellective animal consciousness. Didn't Aquinas say there is no world so good God is obliged to create it?

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

JT said:
>Why not. He can make a mountain so large that he can’t lift it, but come back and lift it anyways just to prove he is almighty, right? (credit here to George Carlin)

So many things wrong with the above irrational statement. JT has NOT been paying attention here at all. Descartes would believe the above nonsense but not Aquinas. Feser has answered it in the past.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/02/dawkins-on-omnipotence-and-omniscience.html

For a "Skeptical Agnostic" JT channels the dogmas of Fundamentalist Atheism with abandon.

Yikes!

This is not thinking this is emotion.

jt said...

FWIW

Modern cognitive research shows us the we make heavy reliance on oue emotions when making rational decisions. This is how we know what to value and what to discard. When emotional neural structures are damaged but not the logic processes, such a person is unable to do something as simple as select a box of cereal.

Oh, quit using your clairvoyance on me - I assure you, you are wrong.

And stunned.

And a...

BenYachov said...

>When emotional neural structures are damaged but not the logic processes, such a person is unable to do something as simple as select a box of cereal.

All that shows is that a damaged brain makes it impossible for the mind to compel the body to preform certain functions. It doesn't in anyway shape or form show the mind & the brain are identical. Related yes but clearly not identical.

Your implicit unstated materialist monism is noted. But it begs the question.

jt said...

"It doesn't in anyway shape or form show the mind & the brain are identical."

What 'da f...Who the hell said anything about that?


OMG!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

JT:

I don't know if you use Faceborg, er, Facebook (I admit, I do), but if you do, try to get in contact with a fellow named Jean-François Virey. He's a very devout Catholic and an extremely passionate supporter of animal compassion in a theological key. He's got an Amazon.com profile too.

I intend to post some remarkably pertinent sections (for me, at least) from the Summa contra gentiles tomorrow or this weekend; they concern some obiter dicta St Thomas makes about God's unique moral status, animal virtues, etc.

I know you dislike how little air time PT gets here, but I would like to note that I am at least attempting to make what I think is a fundamental critique of it in this debate. Here we go again: if nothing has an enduring, substantial nature (i.e. essence), then nothing has ends truly proportionate to that nature (i.e. no finality). If nothing has proper ends, then nothing anything does can be a deviation from the thing's "proper form and function." Ergo, a tumor is just as 'natural' to 'human nature' as child birth (cue, e.g., the ideology of abortion, which treats pregnancy like and STD!), growth, etc. The upshot is that process metaphysics has no substance on which to hang its complaints about natural evil(s). Which means you don't either. You are outraged that cancer might be construed as a natural good "in its own right", since it is manifestly an assault on the proper finality of, say, your dog's health, or any dog's health. But by what measure (ratio, logos, forma) do you state that cancer is a deviation (privatio) from canine health? It's all "just part of the process."

Finally, I think you are reifying privatio, which I and others have said is a mistake. Falsity presupposes truth and privatio boni (defect in good) presupposes bonum naturae (good of nature). To imagine that just because cancer flourishes, it has a legitimate, original teleological design by God is as confused as saying that death is so designed, since it's so prevalent and inevitable. Death is the quintessential privatio of bonum vitae, but I don't possibly see how you can twist Catholic theology into saying it has a proper share of finality in God's creation. The same goes for cancer: it's primarily a defect relative to a substantial good and only accidentally a case of finality in se.

Best,

Timothius said...

The "problem" is not cancer-cells. The "problem" is pain. Whether it be the pain of childbirth, baby's first cry, or the likely pain associated with each of our eminent deaths. Hunger, starvation, or a hang-over from too much drink. Epic natural disasters to twisting an ankle.

The Christian belief and understanding of God is not "God is watching us," as Bette Midler sang, it is Emmanuel, "God is with us."

However we wrestle with the "the problem of pain," the Christian accepts that God controls all.

The wrestle is with-in us. It us saying "this should not be."

What's interesting to me is that some level of "pain reduction" is with-in our control. So a stoic, indifferent acceptance is not the answer.

Conversely, we soon grasp that we will never, ever, be able to master pain.

Pain stirs us. Pain cracks a unique whip on each of our backs. It sets our course more than we give it credit for.

I don't mind the asking of "why did God do it THAT way?" I love inquiry too. But to let this be the obstruction between us and God, for years on end, is foolhardy.

BenYachov said...

JT,

You emote, you do not really think or reason. You clearly hold a set of unexamined assumptions about good & evil, God, religious doctrine, the human mind, the nature of free will etc....

Also for you Rowe's fawn is absolute dogmatic proof you should be uncritically skeptical about the existence of God.
(I OTOH find it an emotionally manipulative, question begging & rationally absurd argument like most of the Atheist arguments from gratuitous evil). No rational argument will convince you otherwise.

To argue with you is no better than trying to convince a Mormon his "burning in the bosom" is not as valid reason to believe in the Book of Mormon.

The intellect moves the will not the emotions unless you choose otherwise & I see no rational reason to do so.

just emoting said...

Ben

To be fair, you must be aware that a whole lot of rational people have written theories on theodicy from Liebnitz, who coined the term, down to now. Yet no satisfying answer stands unshaken and not wanting.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

JT:

Who says we need a theodicy? What if defusing the problem of evil suffices? Need we really be able to mount a complete justification of God's ways? Cf. Michael Liccione's paper/blog on "The Problems of Evil".

BenYachov said...

>To be fair, you must be aware that a whole lot of rational people have written theories on theodicy from Liebnitz, who coined the term, down to now. Yet no satisfying answer stands unshaken and not wanting.

I reply: I don't believe that. I believe all theodicy is based on the idea God's Goodness = the goodness of moral agency. But what if God's Goodness is not the goodness of moral agency? Then it's a non-issue.

The key phrase for you is satisfying answer for me substitute the word rational for satisfying and I am satisfied.

If I may invoke emotion I don't which I hate more? The 3rd rate process theology deity or the 4th rate theistic personalist one? Tough choice but in the end I prefer the True God of the True Church.

PatrickH said...

Cadgerator: Who says we need a theodicy?

Exactly. And more...the Book of Job is a sustained, even brutal attack on and dismissal of all theodicies as not only factually wrong, but fundamentally immoral, even evil in themselves.

We not only don't need a theodicy, we should run away from theodicy-mongers as fast as we can, lest we end up like Job's three "friends", on the bad, bad side of a very pissed off God, who did not appreciate ONE LITTLE BIT being told what His reasons were for doing what he did.

just gellin' said...

...lest we end up like Job's three "friends", on the bad, bad side of a very pissed off God, who did not appreciate ONE LITTLE BIT being told what His reasons were for doing what he did.

I always knew that Dude had a 'tude!!!

I'm tired. I guess God'll still be around tomorrow as a subject of interesting discourse.

Ilíon said...

Just Pretending To Be “Nice”: Iloit

You are just so darn cute - I just wanna eat you up!


Oddly, I have completely the opposite reaction.


Just Pretending To Seek Answers: Not only agnosticism is the most rational approach to theology, but science, too.

We should be Missourians and hold to a steady 'show me' stance in theology and science.


But of course, advocating a “show me” stance with respect to claims advanced is not quite what Just Pretending is talking about, and certainly not what he does.

“Show me” will admit to having been shown.


Just Pretending To Be Rational:Faith is a different matter

Just Pretending seems not to understand what ‘faith’ means.

Ilíon said...

Just Trolling:We should be Missourians and hold to a steady 'show me' stance in theology and science.

Just Trolling:Modern cognitive research shows us ...

As I said: advocating a “show me” stance with respect to claims advanced is not quite what Just Pretending is talking about, and certainly not what he does.


Modern science isn’t even about truth: any particular “scientific statement” may be true or to may be not-true, and there is no “scientific” way to determine which it is.

When someone tries to play the “science says” card, he shows himself to be either ignorant or dishonest.

Ilíon said...

Timothius:The Christian belief and understanding of God is not "God is watching us," as Bette Midler sang, it is Emmanuel, "God is with us."

Indeed, “God Is With Us” … and this is why all our sins are offences primarily against God: for in sinning, no matter how “small” the sin, we drag God through the mud.

“God Is With Us” is/was always true; the Incarnation didn’t change God. The Incarnation can be seen as a demonstration-in-time of what God (in the Person of the Son) has always been doing: giving his life that his creation may live.


Timothius:… But to let this [that pain exists and that world does not go as one thinks it ought] be the obstruction between us and God, for years on end, is foolhardy.

In fact, what it is is but another form of demanding to be God.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean "idiot"?

You sound stupid.

Roy IV said...

If there really is a troll around here I hope everyone knows better than to feed it.

Just Daryl and my other brother Daryl said...

"Just Pretending seems not to understand what ‘faith’ means."

So, what is faith?

Vincent Torley said...

Ben Yachov,

Thank you for your latest post. I would have to query your claim that "God's Goodness is not the goodness of moral agency." With respect, I don't think that's what Ed is saying. Here are a few statements he made in his post:

"Since moral goodness concerns the will, it follows that God is morally good, and perfectly so."

"God can only ever will in accordance with reason, and it would be perverse and irrational to will to create some thing without willing what is by its nature good for that thing."

"God loves us and loves us perfectly, because to love is to will another's good, and God cannot fail to will what is good for us."

Additionally, Ed quotes Aquinas as asserting that "it is not fitting that the supreme goodness of God should produce things without giving them their perfection" (ST I.103.1). (To be continued.)

Vincent Torley said...

Ben Yachov,

It is true that Ed goes on to say, "His moral goodness is not like ours," but he immediately explains why: "since it does not involve fulfilling obligations, acquiring virtues, or the like." As Ed uses the word "obligation," to be obliged is to be subject to a law – but "God is not under the moral law, precisely because He is the moral law." And God has no need to acquire virtues, as He is by nature eternally perfect.

In short, I can't see anything here to support the claim that God's goodness is not the goodness of moral agency. As I read him, Ed believes that God is indeed morally good; hence He does indeed possess moral goodness (or putting it more accurately, He is moral goodness). It's not as if God possessed a special kind of non-moral goodness, which is unlike our moral goodness. Rather, what's different about God is not His goodness, but His agency. That's why Ed doesn’t regard God as a moral agent.

BenYachov said...

Vincent Torley,

I'm using the terminology & phraseology employed by Brian Davies in THE REALITY OF GOD & THE PROBLEM OF EVIL whom Prof Feser cites favorably in both TLS & on this very blog. Also from his work INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION. Obviously I mean what he means.

>In short, I can't see anything here to support the claim that God's goodness is not the goodness of moral agency.

That is because you are drawing your conclusions from a few scant posts. I'm arguing from the big picture. Never the less there is nothing in principle I disagree with in you analysis other than to say you are quibbling over terminology. Aquinas, Davies & Feser understand God's morality to be different from ours. God is not a human moral agent since he is not a member of the human community.

All existing theodicies treat Him as one & naturally that is wrong.

God is not a moral agent. What Feser means by God being moral is God by nature can never be AM (in the Elison story) or Law's "Evil God". That is what Aquinas means as well but God is under no obligation to keep either you or me from temporal evil.

TheOFloinn said...

So what is faith?

"Holding true to a standard," "the duty of fulfilling one's trust." From Old French: feid, foi "faith, belief, trust, confidence, pledge."

Hope this helps.

just thinking said...

Definitions of faith on the Web:

* religion: a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny; "he lost his faith but not his morality"
* complete confidence in a person or plan etc; "he cherished the faith of a good woman"; "the doctor-patient relationship is based on trust"
* religion: an institution to express belief in a divine power; "he was raised in the Baptist religion"; "a member of his own faith contradicted him"
* loyalty or allegiance to a cause or a person; "keep the faith"; "they broke faith with their investors"
* Faith is the confident belief or trust in the truth or trustworthiness of a person, concept or thing. The English word is thought to date from 1200–50, from the Latin fidem or fidēs, meaning trust, derived from the verb fīdere, to trust.


YheOFlinn

I needed to flesh out what you said a bit more. Both your definition and those from the web tend to support what I said and Ilion challenged, namely, that faith is not theology. Rather, one can confidently believe a given theology, and that would be an act of faith. It is first and foremost a value judgement of an individual.

just clarifying said...

"that faith is not theology. Rather, one can confidently believe a given theology, and that would be an act of faith. It is first and foremost a value judgement of an individual."

Let me clear that jibberish

Faith is not theology. It is more a confident belief that a given theology is right. Faith is an individual's value judgment.

In the case of faith in God - theism - it is a profound conviction that you value God to the point of rsteem.

Ilíon said...

"If there really is a troll around here I hope everyone knows better than to feed it."

Well, you know, in the end, each person has to decide for himself whether the behavior of the person who keeps raising the same objection(s) means that:
1) he just can't get it, ever;
2) he is misunderstanding something logically prior to the point of his objection(s);
3) he is declining to understand that his objections have been answered;

or:
0) he is raising a good point, and it is one oneself who is misunderstanding something: either one’s own position or its implications or his objection.

And, of course, human beings are notorious from making decisions on other than the proper evidence.

Ilíon said...

Just Pretending: "So, what is faith?"

Faith is “reasoned trust.” Faith is the proper rational response to a rational and critical evaluation of the evidence.

What people call “blind faith” is the very opposite of actual faith.

good ole' jt at your service said...

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

If rationality were the key, maybe JC should have said this of the Pharisees, don't 'cha think there?

Ilíon said...

… Isn’t it odd that human beings so often employ “blind faith” to “believe” something which is not reasonable and to which the evidence runs counter (for instance: Bernie Madoff’s rate-of-return; or that he (or she) will “respect me in the morning”), and yet employ selective hyper-skepticism to justify avoiding the rationally inescapable conclusions that: there is a God, who is a ‘who,’ and who is good; and who created us and all the world; and who cares about and loves us.

jt said...

I'll be around a while Ilion, if you want to comment, maybe?

Ilíon said...

Morality is interpersonal and relational --
1) only persons *can* have moral obligations and moral expectations, and only with respect to other persons;
2) all persons' moral obligations (and expectations) follow from their relationships with/to other persons.

No one has a moral obligation to a rock, nor to a painting (no matter how beautiful and/or historic it is); nor do (nor can) such things have moral obligations to persons.

Similarly, no one has moral obligations to persons with whom he has no relationship whatsoever.

For instance: If there are persons in the Alpha Centauri star system, we have no moral obligations to them … for we have absolutely no relationship with them. On the other hand, pretending that physics allowed such a thing, should some group of Mad Scientists here on Earth build a device that would allow them to cause Alpha Centauri to go nova, we collectively have a duty to stop them from using it; for we now have a minimal, if tenuous, relationship to the persons at Alpha Centauri.

SO:
God is personal, and being a trinity of Persons, God is interpersonal (and, incidentally, God *is* morality);
We are persons;
God created and creates us (God “upholds” our very existence);
God desires deeper relationship with us, such that he willingly calls us, and invites us to be, his ‘sons’ and ‘daughters.’

Ergo: God *does* have moral obligations to us, and we have moral expectations of him. His obligations to us are different from ours to him and from ours to one another. His obligations to those who desire to be his ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ differ from his (non-existent) obligations to those reject relationship with him.


Morality and moral obligations (and expectations) are not imposed from without; rather, they are intrinsic to the interpersonal relationship.

God freely chooses to create us; God freely chooses to invite us into the Divine Relationship; God free chooses to enable us to enter into the Divine Relationship; God free chooses to bring into the Divine Relationship all of us who are so willing -- God freely chooses to make us real and permanent, and to enter into real relationship with us.

Now, one may certainly argue (and I will not dispute it) that to say, "God does have moral obligations to us, and we have moral expectations of him" may be misleading -- for someone may fail to have properly understood the concepts behind the statement. But, of couse ... and that's true of everything we say; it cannot be otherwise.

Ilíon said...

When Mr Feser says: "Does God have obligations to us? No, He doesn’t. But doesn’t that entail that He could do just any old thing to us? No, it doesn’t" [and goes on to explain what he means] he is not speaking a falsehood; nor (for the most part) does what he has said disagree with or dispute what I have said.

How can that be?!

We are both giving incomplete answers (nor we ever give full-and-complete answers), though mine is a bit less incomplete than his. BUT, we are looking at the issue from different asapects.

Mr Fesser is *actually* answering the question: "Are we God's peers?"

just thinking said...

Let’s see… On 'faith'...


Ilion: [JY] seems not to understand what ‘faith’ means."



JT: So, what is faith?



Ilion: Faith is “reasoned trust.” Faith is the proper rational response to a rational and critical evaluation of the evidence.

What people call “blind faith” is the very opposite of actual faith.



JT: Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

If rationality were the key, maybe JC should have said this of the Pharisees, don't 'cha think there, [Ilion]?



JT: I'll be around a while Ilion, if you want to comment, maybe?



Still wondering, there, Ilion. Was Jesus mistaken?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

In all fairness, JT, Ilìon is not saying that faith is "deduced trust," only that it includes a basically rational recognition of what is involved in trusting. If children can be taught not to talk to strangers, to hold their parent's hand when they cross the street, to wash their hands "because Mommy say so," etc., they can be granted a level of rationality in coming to Jesus just because they grasp that it's 'rational' to trust in "the good guys." The great Scholastic distinguo and the Ignation rule of charitable discourse always helps defuse petty feuds!

As for waiting, have you taken note of my "direct assault" on PT?

Best,

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

ERRATA:

says*
Ignatian*

just theologizing once more, with feeling! said...

Hey Codge

Well I went from not knowing about it to being given a pretty over-rational definition (IMO).

I didn't know you wanted to do much hashing with process. You've probably been able to note that I am not as keen on it as I once was. Some readings, esp Stephen H Webb's criticism of the God unable to handle the suffering of the cosmos, have led to PT's losing some luster. I still think a lot of good philosophical problem solving is there, but as one author said, Whitehead's cosmology can and maybe should be taken as somewhat mythical. That appeals to me.

But there certainly are big Catholic supporters of ANW, like Bracken, Felt, and Hosinski. Hosi wrote a wonderful tectbook on process. I think I once reported here to thunderous applause (no, that ,ust've been something else!) that at a conference where Catholics like Felt and W Norris Clarke were attending and Clarke was pushing thePersonalist Theism of both Popes, John Cobb stood up and said "you guys are simply saying what we process dudes have been saying for 50 years (= 1/2 a Hartshorne :) ). That the essence of humanness is to be in relations. But the Catholics, hung up on the friar just will not extend this obvious reality to ALL creatures, as did Hartshorne et al.

The subjective Person is any conscious, sentient organism. This is similar to the actual entity of PT.

Fr Felt amends ANW to mate with the friar, and refers to the Primary Being instead of the actual occasion. Very good theological work from a Jesuit.

I didn't mean to go on so, but now that I did, I do feel let down that Ed is only presenting 1/2 the classic v personalist theism picture. There is a lot of good thinking in Personalism Theology.

just processing said...

Not to dodge the Codge


I reread something you said earlier, and basically agreed w/ it, which is why I didn’t bring it up.



“if nothing has an enduring, substantial nature (i.e. essence), then nothing has ends truly proportionate to that nature (i.e. no finality). If nothing has proper ends, then nothing anything does can be a deviation from the thing's "proper form and function." The upshot is that process metaphysics has no substance on which to hang its complaints about natural evil(s). Which means you don't either.


Reality is objective and subjective experience. There is the event wherein a subject decides to act upon its perceived immediate past (subjectivity); the past is all similar subjective events already decided, concretized, and now a fact of existence (objective reality). The PT God is there guiding and luring each subjective experience towards its best possible decision – WITHIN LIMITS. That is the rub, as God can’t address suffering.

But there substantiality in two modes: objectified experience become physical, and subjectivity, or mentality.



“You are outraged that cancer might be construed as a natural good "in its own right", since it is manifestly an assault on the proper finality of, say, your dog's health, or any dog's health. But by what measure (ratio, logos, forma) do you state that cancer is a deviation (privatio) from canine health? It's all "just part of the process."


Well, I mean like, it sucks and makes me feel bad – I suffer from this tumor’s experiential reality, either in sympathy, empathy, or directly. But, yes, the God that ANW tacked on to his cosmology is pretty weak – and Hartshorne’s embellishments mainly seem to have created Cleremont Scholasticism.

jest yabberin' to myself said...

Since I just seem to be talking to myself now, anyway, I'd like to clarify something I told me.

"That is the rub, as God can’t address suffering."

This is coming down too hard on PT. God presents us with the best possible decision, but WE DECIDE. He is luring, not coercive. We are his hands - we are the means by which to bring forth less suffering, we are free to not listen to the Lord, and that is what we do all too often.

One other positive point of PT, God is in intimate relation w/ us in every lured event, which means He suffers with us.

We are His hands on Earth, and frankly, I am displeased with how we are doing.

Frank Bunne said...

Is God literally goodness? Or is it just a poetic idea? If you’re being literal, are God and goodness identical (as in, "a starfish is a sea star"), or is God a subset of goodness (as in, "a starfish is an echinoderm")? If God and goodness are identical, does that mean that goodness has all the properties of God, such as fluency in Lakota?

It seems a silly conclusion that goodness should literally be fluent in Lakota, but if God is literally fluent in Lakota, and God and goodness are identical, then goodness is literally fluent in Lakota, in the same sense that Sitting Bull was literally fluent in Lakota.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I am currently in my AS A level and want to be able to show strong Catholic arguments that are in accordance with what the Church and Christian Philosophy really says. This has helped me extensively with at least one of my essays and I will certainly refer to your ideas and quotes in the future.