The difference God makes

image002We’d like at this point to begin summarizing a response to Alan’s proposal. Bits and pieces of our responses are found throughout the comments section on Alan’s post, but we’d like to begin consolidating our thoughts here. To begin with points of agreement, however, Alan’s Anselmian intuition, affirmation of creation ex nihilo (CEN), and Creel’s distinction between “impassible in nature but passible in knowledge” (though a bit convoluted in its construction) all seem right to us. But as discussion there revealed, the differences between us and Alan converge on his differential preference thesis which states (via the open view) that God prefers some outcomes over others and that outcomes in turn thus make a difference to God by affecting the felt quality of his experience. God feels differently given what occurs.

Our response has almost entirely to do with how this differential preference thesis is conceived. We don’t disagree that God prefers good outcomes over evil ones, or that we ‘mean something’ to God or ‘make a difference’ to God. Not only would denying this much contradict values open theists want to embrace, but it would fail as recognizably Christian in our view. But how this difference is best conceived in aesthetic terms (given other Anselmian intuitions we follow with Boyd’s Trinity & Process) is the question we’d explore. We’d disagree with an account of it that essentially describes God’s beatitude as the difference of an equation, i.e, preferred outcomes minus dispreferred outcomes = how happy God is.

At this point, then, we’ll begin with a first observation in response to Alan.

Aesthetic Value as transcendental a priori. The first and perhaps most important point for us is the notion that God is the transcendentals (which are, per definition, indivisible and mutually imply one another). Traditionally the transcendentals are held to be Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Others are contended for in addition. Hart advocates for Consciousness. Whitehead/Hartshorne (and Greg) argue for Aesthetic Value (as well as Relationality and Perspectivity). But even if Consciousness and Aesthetic Value are not recognized explicitly as transcendentals alongside Truth, Beauty and Goodness, they are nevertheless fully implied in the traditional three. Truth, Beauty and Goodness are inconceivable apart from some conscious experience of aesthetic value. There is no truth apart from an act of knowing, no goodness apart from some act of willing, no beauty apart from experienced beatitude or aesthetic appreciation. Greg sorts through the reasoning in his appropriation of Hartshorne’s aesthetic a priori in Trinity & Process.

The relevant question here has to do with the nature of God’s experience of aesthetic value as the transcendental ground of all valuation and aesthetic pleasure within creation. And the question seems to be, can it be the case that (the transcendentals in general, or) the transcendental of aesthetic value in particular (that divine experience of aesthetic value which grounds and establishes the value of all created valuations) suffer negation (depreciation or diminishment) as Alan is proposing? If we’re talking transcendentals, then it seems to us the answer is no. We attempted to approach this earlier (beginning here) by identifying God’s experience of beatitude as the summum bonum. Indeed, it seems to us (following Boyd) that apart from some such unchanging experience of value as the ground of all other valuations, those valuations (or ‘differential preferences’) simply never get off the ground. Without some summum bonum as ultimate ground and end of all finite ends, finite acts of valuing this or that end are relative and irrational. As we see it, you need something like an immutable, transcendent experience of beauty (God as summum bonum) to explain created experiences of beauty/value at all. As transcendental, God’s experience of aesthetic value is the antecedent necessary actuality which, to use Process categories, prescribes the divine subjective aim for all actual occasions.

Our essential difference with Alan, then, has to do with what is best thought to be involved in God’s trinitarian experience of beatitude, an experience we think (a) best explains what it is about God that makes his creating at all gratuitous and (b) grounds and prescribes the scope of beauty achievable/instantiable by finite subjects. Alan’s “unalloyed” experience of beatitude expresses it very well, but where (following Greg) we think (a) and (b) are best explained by the necessary character of such beatitude, Alan feels our meaning and significance to God can only be explained by its contingent character (that is, if this divine experience is vulnerable to increase and depreciation as part of God’s intending a benevolent relationship with an open and free creation).

That said, Alan does grant that though God’s antecedent intra-trinitarian undisturbed bliss can be made perturbable (vulnerable to diminishment and improvement), this depreciation/disappointment may be no more than “a drop in an infinite ocean of joy.” The metaphor is worth exploring, because even on Alan’s view this “ocean of joy” isn’t just the sum total of the world’s preferred outcomes experienced by God. God is his own (triune) source of delight. He experiences the world’s preferred and dispreferred outcomes within the scope of his own transcendental perspective on himself as Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Aesthetic Value. It is this which is the “infinite ocean of joy” into which drops of disappointment descend. Our point is, Alan’s proposal involves the relativizing of created goods and evils within the scope of this triune perspective. Such relativization is what accounts for our deepest pains being, for God and within his own perspective, a drop of disappointment in an infinite ocean of joy. The analogy is worth thinking on long and hard.

True, the challenge for Dwayne and me is to find an acceptable way to ground our (even relative) meaning to God in something which is neither an appreciation nor a depreciating of that essential divine experience which is the transcendental of Aesthetic Value. Tough job. But we love it!

We’ll stop here for now. In an upcoming post we’ll comment on the ad intra/ad extra distinction that Greg uses to explain how it is the world means something, or makes a difference, to God, as well as try to describe differential preferences which needn’t involved depreciation of experienced value.

(Picture here.)

3 comments on “The difference God makes

  1. tgbelt says:

    I was just thinking on Alan’s description of creation ex nihlio (CEN). In his blog post he writes:

    “That God created ex nihilo, from which it follows that all beings extrinsic to God ultimately owe their existence wholly to God. (This is very plausibly an entailment of the Anselmian intuition. If some beings exist in even partial ultimate independence of God, then God’s sovereignty is less than absolute and His power must be restrictively qualified in more than just the standard can’t-do-the-logically-impossible, etc. ways.)”

    It seems to me this misses the point of CEN. True, all non-divine beings owe their existence wholly to God. But a theist who denies CEN can affirm this much. Process theists as a general rule deny CEN but affirm that all that is other than God ultimately owes its existence wholly to God. One doesn’t need CEN to affirm that all things ultimately depend upon God for their existence.

    As we recall (Alan will have to confirm this for us ’cause we can’t remember where or if he expressed it), Alan seems to have expressed the view that given God’s benevolent nature and goodness, God’s creating is in fact inevitable because a perfect divine goodness would necessarily want to maximize all possible good.

    If this is Alan’s view, then agreement on the aesthetic question may be impossible, for it seems on this view that God would never believe himself as happy without us as he could be with us (however “unalloyed” his bliss sans creation may be). Creation’s gratuity would thus not be aesthetic in nature. That would be a problem for us. We admit that nothing along the lines of God’s aesthetic triune fullness is conceivable outside of creation’s gratuity in the aesthetic sense. This is the whole of Greg’s Trinity & Process. But I don’t see that gratuity in Alan’s description of CEN, so I’m wondering if it’s there at all. Of course, Alan might simply mean that God created ex nihilo in the sense I’ve just described and that as a matter of fact it follows from this that all beings ultimately owe their existence to God. That would be true, but not interestingly related to the (im)possibility question.


  2. tgbelt says:

    Alan, if you happen to drop in, a question for you.

    Going with your view that preferred outcomes make a positive felt difference to God (an improvement to or increase of God’s essential aesthetic experience), how would you conceive this occurring post-creation but prior to the occurrence of any dispreferred outcomes? For example, assuming God’s initial creative act(s) was(were) were as God intended and thus preferred outcomes. A preferred creation with no dispreferred outcomes. So the increase of aesthetic satisfaction God derives from creation would be an improvement upon God’s intratrinitarian bliss per se (not an increase upon an already depreciated divine aesthetic experience due to existing dispreferred outcomes).




    • tgbelt says:

      Alan forwarded me a brief reply which he’s given me permission to share:

      Hi Tom,

      Good questions. Thanks for pressing me on these issues.

      My bottom line is the intuition that because of God’s having differential preferences it must make some felt *difference* to God whether contingencies turn our well or poorly. I’m very open to different ways of understanding what that felt difference amounts to.

      I hear what you’re saying about CEN and positive additions to God’s aesthetic experience. The worry, I take it, is that if the quality of God’s experience could be significantly *improved* then God’s state sans creation would seem to be somehow deficient. On the other hand, if it can’t be improved but can be diminished, then it seems like it’s all downhill for God, which might be a disincentive to create altogether.

      So there’s reason to say that God’s pre-creation aesthetic state can neither be improved nor diminished. But then how is the difference that good or bad outcomes of contingencies makes to God to be understood? Non-aesthetically? Perhaps. But I don’t have a clear grasp on what that amounts to. My suggestion that maybe it’s like the infinite drop of disappointment in an infinite ocean of joy was an attempt to square this circle by suggesting a way in which such differences could be thought of as both real and negligible. Another possibility would be to suppose that God has set up things such that *eventually*, no matter how poorly things may go in the short term, they will inevitably turn around permanently for good, as on some versions of universalism. I suppose then that in that case God need not be perturbed by short-term setbacks because He’s got His sights fixed resolutely on the long term. I’m not entirely comfortable with that because it seems to negate the tragic nature of moral evil, but then I’m not really sure what else to suggest. I welcome your thoughts.

      Thank you Alan. Good thoughts.


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