Divine Action and the Problem of Evil: POB pt. 3

…it is impossible not to notice how close the concept of the UR at which we have arrived stands to what the theistic traditions have meant by the notion of God. Theists conceive ultimate reality as an infinite personal reality, a reality that has no intrinsic need of the others whom it freely and lovingly creates. We seem then to have arrived at, or close to, a theistic view of UR. Indeed, this theism or almost-theism might also be said to have a “christological tinge,” insofar as it conceives the UR as intrinsically involving the compassionate and self-giving relation to others that is associated in Christian thought, with the character and actions of a particular human being. – Clayton and Knapp pg. 42

This is where Clayton and Knapp have landed after their first two chapters. It could be said that these two chapters serve as a response to the first of five reasons for doubt that the authors raised at the beginning of their book, namely science. Indeed, the author’s arrival at a view of the ultimate reality as a mindlike, personal and benevolent (non)being has come by means of a scientific, or more specifically, a cosmological examination of the universe we find ourselves in.

What about the problem of evil? Does the reality of suffering in the world serve as a barrier to theism? How do Clayton and Knapp deal with this problem?

To answer this question the authors lay out an argument for divine action that is essential to the rest of their argument throughout the remainder of the book. Essentially, it could be summarized as follows:  The purpose (or at least one of the purposes) God created our universe was to bring about the existence of finite rational agents capable of entering into communion with God’s self. It would seem that God has achieved that purpose by creating a universe in which events are consistently governed by the laws of nature. It is hard to imagine how beings with rational agency could evolve in a world without such regularities and laws or, in other words, in a world in which God could intervene and break the laws of nature whenever God pleases.

Let us assume for a second that God can and does break the laws of nature in order to bring about the greater good. For example, let us say that God intervened in order to stop the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 from ever happening. It must be asked: if God has this type of power why does he not use it more often? Indeed, it would seem that such an action would then require God to act in order to alleviate suffering in any and all instances. Of course, if God did indeed intervene in all instances then we are faced with our first problem once more: a universe without the regularities of natural laws cannot yield rationally autonomous creatures like ourselves.

To summarize: God cannot act in such a way as to break the laws of nature. If he did it once he would be obligated to do it every time and if he did it every time then we would be left with a lawless universe unable to allow for the evolution of rationally autonomous creatures.

If not in this way then how does God act? This will be the topic of my next post.

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3 responses to “Divine Action and the Problem of Evil: POB pt. 3

  1. Garret, love the blog! This is going to get interesting.
    To start: can you expand on why God should be obligated to break the laws of nature every time if he can do such thing? You don’t seem to have given one, although I assume your underlying assumption goes something like this:

    A being who is intrinsically good will act good in all circumstances and do so to the best of his ability.
    God is an intrinsically good being.
    Therefore he will act good in all circumstances, and to the best of his ability.

    From there you could go on to infer that because we don’t witness consistent divine action in service of the good, God must not act apart from the laws of nature.
    Are we drumming to the same beat here? I want to make sure we are before I continue.

    Secondly: what business do we have calling a “law of nature” a law if God “breaks” it? It seems to me that we should have to prove that God does not break the laws of nature before we come to such a conclusion…which I don’t believe we have. Otherwise, can’t God just do what he wants? And what would a law be in the first place? Unless we have this understanding, the argument seems to run something like this:
    I don’t think God breaks the laws of nature because I don’t think God breaks the laws of nature.
    This is, of course, a caricature of the argument you have presented, which believe is an induction based on scientific findings and inferences about the workings of the universe. However, I believe it still stands to reason that more evidence needs to be presented before we say things like “God cannot break the laws of nature”. Unless we have an objective understanding of what good is and what the best possible universe should be, how can we say how God should therefore act?

    Thirdly: in what sense is it clear we simply could not understand the universe if it did not act regularly at all times?

    Thanks for your patience 🙂 I’ve purposely overstated all of the above for the sake of good dialogue!

  2. Thanks for your comments, Josh. I’ll try and keep my responses somewhat brief.

    First: You’ve pretty much captured the gist of Clayton and Knapp’s argument. They call it the not-even-once principle. In essence they argue that a benevolent God could not intervene even once without incurring the responsibility to intervene in every possible instance where suffering could potentially be alleviated. The assumption–and I think it’s a good one–is that God is morally consistent and not arbitrary or capricious.

    Second: I’m a bit confused with what you’re trying to get at here but I’ll attempt to answer to the best of my ability and then let you indicate if I’ve grasped your thinking or not. Essentially, I don’t think we have any business calling a law of nature a “law” if God could potentially intervene to break that particular law. The fact that the name “law” has stuck would seem to imply the level of regularity at which these phenomena occur. All scientific inquiry is founded on the assumption that the universe works in a particular way–that is, it is governed by certain regularities and laws that cannot be broken. It would seem that this assumption is pretty well founded since all of what we call the laws of physics or the laws of nature remain unflinchingly consistent no matter the environment. Does this make sense?

    What’s more, if God did have the ability to break what we call the laws of nature we would have to ask ‘why doesn’t he do so more often?’ At this point we’ve ended up back at the moral predicament that you’ve articulated in your comment (the not-even-once principle).

    Third: Clayton and Knapp argue that the development of rational and autonomous agents requires a greater degree of regularity than might initially be obvious. For example, the regularity involved in the mechanisms of mutation allow for the evolution of increasingly complex organisms. If these regularities did not exist, the authors argue, neither would we.

  3. Pingback: How Does God Act in the World? – POB pt. 4 | garret menges blog

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