Last October we argued that Greg Boyd’s stance on annihilationism was impossible given arguments he put forward in Trinity & Process (TP). We also pointed out an inconsistency present in his claim that annihilationism is the “organic” (built-in/natural) consequence of irrevocable solidification into evil.
We’ve had zero luck in persuading Greg to re-engage TP’s arguments in a serious way. One of our main interests has been arguments made in TP regarding the irreducibly aesthetic nature of God’s necessary triune experience, not an incidental thesis of TP by any means. Greg did respond by saying he had revised his earlier view. No longer is experience of a personal nature an a priori feature of divine being. The divine persons only contingently experience each other. Another of our interests has been Greg’s arguments in TP for God’s “unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction” and, of course, the necessary triune nature of this experience. This too is not a position Greg presently holds.
Look, it’s perfectly fine for a scholar to adjust and even change previously held views. Happens all the time. We get that. But it’s a scholar’s academic responsibility to account for the change by actually rebutting previous arguments and showing where those arguments were flawed and what arguments lie behind the change (especially, I should think, when the work in question is a matter of public debate). Unpack things. Make the case for abandoning your previous metaphysics and spell out a new position. This isn’t necessary for minor points of little or no consequence. But in this case we’re talking core, fundamental theses of Greg’s doctoral work.
A third interest we’ve had in Greg’s present views and his previous work in TP has to do with his present inclination toward annihilationism, specifically whether his version of annihilationism is compatible with arguments he made in TP about the essentially aesthetic nature of the dispositional essence of human beings. Greg tweeted that if he in fact argued in TP that the dispositional essence of human beings was “indestructible,” he was wrong. But the point is not that our dispositional essence is indestructible because it has a life of its own independent of God. That’s a two-storied mistake to begin with. The point, rather, is that our dispositional essence as grounded in God is (a priori, Greg argued) essentially an “aesthetic appetite,” and as the essential ground of our existence, this dispositional-aesthetic appetite defines our possibilities, not vice versa. As Greg says, an “ontologically grounded dispositional understanding of aesthetic subjective aims sets the parameters of intelligibility for a future act.” (emphasis mine) And this “intelligibility” is aesthetic in nature, so our possibilities are by definition irreducibly aesthetic in nature. What we “may become” (ultimately) is given to us by God in terms of an aesthetic appetite (disposition) for God which has God as the ground and determiner of its possibilities. Thus all our choices (all conceivable exercise of our dispositional essence) by definition are already an “aiming at” or an “appetite for” some aesthetic experience. There’s simply no metaphysical room to suppose (as Greg now does) that this same dispositional essence can, via its very orientation, vacate itself of all aesthetic appetite. Any ‘choice’ to do that would, per TP, be an aesthetic choice, never possibly less. One could only ‘dispose oneself’ (into non-existence in this case) as an expression of some aesthetic appetite. But per Greg’s organic annihilationism, one is annihilated on account of having dispositionally foreclosed upon all aesthetic appetite. It’s not possible, given the aesthetic nature of our dispositional essence.
We may be totally misconstruing Greg. We’ve invited him to shed light on the relevant texts/arguments in TP. Or if we’re reading him rightly, then, Greg claims, he was wrong. That’s fine too. But he doesn’t get to end it there. Saying you were wrong is just an announcement, not an explanation.
In a word (or maybe several), Greg had insight enough to outline the ontologically grounded and irreducibly aesthetic dispositional essence of human beings. But he failed sufficiently to think through the implications of this metaphysics, viz., to see that his insight renders choice as such an ecstatic desire or appetite for the transcendental good of our ground. As a priori, no intelligence, not even a demonic one, can conceivably fail to manifest its nature as aesthetic appetite. Our essence is invariably, if only implicitly, a desire for that good which is both antecedent ground and telos and determiner of our possibilities. So the very structure of our dispositional essence makes self-annihilation impossible, since to self-annihilate (as Greg supposes) would require far more than the mere ability to falsely world-construct and contradict our telos in doing so, something we’re doubtlessly capable of. It would require our having an appetite which is no appetite for a telos which is no telos and bringing into actuality that which doesn’t lie within the scope of our possibilities.