Has Tom Oord solved the problem of evil?—Part 1

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Somewhere along the way I started calling Tom Oord “TJ” to distinguish him from myself in online discussions we were having. So I’ll just stick with that for now. I’ve had it in mind to post why – given TJ’s own Process (or quasi-Process) metaphysics – his preference for God being, necessarily, the creator of an infinite series of worlds, each created out of the previous, rather than a single world, in fact reduces to a single world and that any advantages TJ might think his series of worlds has over a single world disappear upon closer examination, and that in terms of his own assumptions.

But that post will have to wait. Instead, I’d like here to add a reflection or two to the ongoing conversation between Tom Oord and John Sanders. Recently, Sanders posted a response to Oord’s overall project, and today Oord published a response. The point I’d like to add is simple: Given the constraints of the Process metaphysics at work in TJ’s work, on his own terms he’s far from having solved the problem of evil. If you’re unfamiliar with Oord’s work, or Process theism in general, he reviews the essentials of his approach in his response to Sanders.

I like initially to see if a person’s proposal is consistent with its own fundamental assumptions. And without introducing my own beliefs about God or evil or the world into the mix, it seems to me that Oord’s proposal is unimaginable on its own terms. Even if TJ is right that God doesn’t exhaustively control/coerce any created entity (be it the simplest “actual occasion” or a complex “society of occasions” – and, for the record, such less-than-exhaustive determination of things is a claim I tend to agree with in an important sense), one can still make a case that the problem of evil remains. If God can exercise a level of influence great enough (near total but not exhaustive – and TJ grants that divine influence may be very great indeed) to get a miracle as historically unique as the resurrection of a dead person, and achieve it on the predicted day of his choosing, then we’re talking about a kind of relating (even if not ‘exhaustively determining’) that essentially reintroduces the problem of evil – even for Oord. A divine way of relating to the world capable of achieving physical resurrection would, arguably, be able to prevent a great deal more of the evil that occurs in the world that it does, even if it wouldn’t reasonably prevent every evil.

Let’s grant TJ the kind of non-exhaustive coercion/influence that is a chief claim of his project. Even so, if God can effectively relate (kenotically, i.e., less than exhaustively determinative) to dead cells and raise them on cue, it’s easy to see how the problem of evil essentially remains. Why isn’t a God whose way of relating to the world includes achieving resurrection more successful generally? True, how much God is able to achieve in any given circumstance depends upon the level of cooperation from created entities. But this doesn’t get us much because it doesn’t prevent us from concluding in general that a world in which God can resurrect the dead would certainly be vastly better than ours is.

41ogx8m9aul-_sy344_bo1204203200_TJ supposes that Jesus’ spirit/soul cooperated with God in re-animating the cells of Jesus’ dead body. I’m not sure what sort of reality Oord supposes this ‘spirit’ to be. He describes it a bit. But it’s certainly not convertible with a conscious, functioning brain in the dead Jesus. Some other sort of volitional influence, distinguishable from a functioning brain, seems to be in view. But positing a level of influence on the part of Jesus’ spirit doesn’t solve the problem in TJ’s terms because the “dead cells” of Jesus’ body (apart from all other influences – divine or those attributable to Jesus’ own spirit) must contribute their own freely self-determined surrender to the possibility of resurrection. Is that imaginable within Process metaphysics broadly construed? I think not.

Consider the Process metaphysics at work. All “actual occasions” retain some inviolable measure of self-determining/self-organizational capacity. Outcomes are always cooperatively achieved in light of God’s “subjective aims” for entities and the free exercise of the creative capacities of those entities. That is, actual occasions are free to self-determine within a scope of possibilities provided by God’s subjective aim for that entity’s ideal state of becoming. So far so good. However, those subjective aims are also relative to that entity’s present state. Salt can dissolve in water. Water can freeze in sufficient cold. Salt isn’t going to produce a rose bush as its next creative step of becoming. Why not? Because the complexity of a rose bush lies outside the scope of the possibilities that define salt. Will Process metaphysics allow us to suppose that “dead cells” have it within their natural capacities as societies of actual occasions (i.e., “as dead cells”) to reanimate themselves into a conscious state? Supposing they do involves a leap of faith that resurrects the problem of evil along with Jesus.

Why do I say this? Because in Process terms, a dead body is a complex system of actual occasions incapable of the kind of free cooperation Oord needs them to be in order for those dead cells to play their Process part in becoming a conscious subject. I don’t confess to being an expert in Process metaphysics (Hasker, Rice, Greg Boyd, and others can confirm my point), but Hartshorne, I believe, showed that some outcomes (say, conscious, self-aware, rational subjects) require higher forms of consciousness to begin with. The higher, more beautiful, more complex events we call conscious subjectivity and aesthetic perception, require sufficient complexity as their immediately antecedent data. No mysterious quantum leaps allowed! A rock cannot perform calculus. Why not? Because its present reality “as a rock” isn’t sufficiently complex enough a state of awareness to begin with. A non-conscious, non-rational, society of occasions (say, a dead body) does not enjoy the same scope of possibilities as does a conscious, rational, subjectivity. Oord is asking Process metaphysics to support the claim that dead cells in themselves are sufficiently complex a state as to be capable of cooperating with God’s subjective aim for its reanimation.

This seems too much to ask of Process metaphysics. Per Process, the “divine subjective aims” offer possibilities that lie within the capacities of given actualities (all other divine contributions aside). That’s hardly imaginable in the case of dead cells, even if we view those cells in Process terms as a society of actual occasions which on a fundamental quantum level of existence still contribute something to their possibilities of becoming in the next nanosecond. The metaphysics doesn’t get you the kind of event we have in Jesus rising from the dead.

I appreciate that it may solve the problem of evil for Oord or for those disposed to Process cosmologies who are already theists convinced on other grounds that God is the Good, the Beautiful, the True. But it seems incredible to others. In particular, it seems incredible to imagine an that atheist who thought seriously about Oord’s proposal, who appreciated the problem of evil in its most acute forms, and who understood the inherent limitations of the Process metaphysics at work in Oord’s project (whatever its advantages), would feel the problem of evil was “solved” by the supposed good news that God raised Jesus’ dead body miraculously but couldn’t stop (to go with an example Oord frames his model around) a stray rock from striking a woman’s head and killing her because the “cells” of Jesus’ dead body cooperated with God’s subjective aims for them while the “molecules” of the rock didn’t cooperate with God’s subjective aims for them. This is where Sanders is spot on in his criticism of Oord – to the extent Oord succeeds at articulating a view of God’s relationship to the world that has room for “miracles,” it fails to solve the problem of evil.

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26 comments on “Has Tom Oord solved the problem of evil?—Part 1

  1. Tom,

    Thanks for your note. A couple of things that should help clear up things for you.

    First, when God does miracles, creatures cooperate (at whatever appropriate level) or the creaturely conditions are appropriate for such miraculous working.

    When miracles do not occur, creatures did not cooperate or the conditions were no appropriate.

    So I can affirm both that God is not culpable for failing to prevent evil (solving this aspect of the problem of evil) while also saying God does miracles (assuming the creaturely issues I mention).

    Second, process metaphysics allows for what I argue and more. It affirms agency at the micro level and the macro level. It fits nicely with the notion that we have a mind that interacts with other bodily members, especially our brains. (See David Ray Griffin’s work on this; he’s address it in many books, but especially Unsnarling the Worldknot.)

    What your quick analysis doesn’t seem to account for is the organization or social relatedness of entities, especially in bodies. So the cells and organs of Jesus both have individual agency but are also highly influenced by the broader societies in which they exist. This is why we can by thinking make some changes upon our body but not others.

    I hope this helps,

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      So good to hear from you Tom (TJ!). Hope you’re well. (Hey, I’m moving to Sacramento the first of the year. Holler at me if you’re ever in town.)

      You might have read me too quickly.

      I assumed that for every event (from the most fundamental actual occasion to higher more complex events), creation has to cooperate in appropriate ways that make God’s subjective aim possible. And I assumed as well that when miracles happen, those conditions are met (or not, in which case no miracles occurs). As for agency at the micro and macros levels, I assumed such agency as well. It’s assuming these, Tom, that creates the problem.

      Part of the problem is that the scope of possibilities any entity enjoys (as expressed in God’s subjective aims for it) is relevant to that entity’s actuality. So, the question is whether it is reasonable to assume, on Process grounds, that ‘dead cells’ can be thought to exercise an agency (given all the mirco and macro factors involved) capable of freely cooperating with God’s aim for resurrection. I’m not doubting that all actual occasions cooperate on some level. I’m doubting that all actual occasions enjoy all possible futures – precisely, whether ‘dead cells’ can reasonably be thought capable of cooperating toward resurrection. If I was the only one thinking this an unreasonable stretch of Process categories, one might be justified in dismissing my point. But it’s a point others share as well.

      You may be right – dead cells may in fact exercise the requisite agency. The point is that it doesn’t ‘follow’ from (but arguably violates) Process commitments that they should be capable of such cooperation. If one finds that explanation satisfying in the face of our world’s evils, fine. But it’s not at all unreasonable to conclude that a world in which “God + dead cells + the right micro and macros factors (whatever those may be – one needs to specify them reasonably Jesus’ case)” results in Jesus’ resurrection would also certainly look much better than it does generally. At the very least, those who feel your view is, like other theodicies, vulnerable to the problem of evil, don’t have to call upon categories or convictions outside of Process metaphysics to make a consistent case.

      Tom

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, TB. (By the way, most people called me “TO” in high school. But it’s been a long time since I was called my initials. Thanks!)

        I do think the Whiteheadian framework allows for the responsiveness of cells cooperating with their larger societies long after the person is deemed dead. Hair and nails continue to grow weeks after a person has died, for instance.

        In Whiteheadian lingo, the actual occasions continue their moment by moment becoming, both prehending and perishing. Eternal objects continue to be provided to each, with graded relevance pertaining to God’s lure. These possibilities do change over time, given the influences in the entity’s immediate environment. But those eternal objects don’t disappear, and God always works with the societies of occasions.

        There is another angle on this that I’ve pondered for some time but not put into print. Maybe it can help us here:

        Sin sucks. Sin disrupts God’s creation. Sin violates the law of love. Sin damages the structures of our bodies and minds. Sin has negative residual effects throughout environments.

        What would the bodily members of one without sin be like? They would not suffer the negative habits, damage, structures, etc. normally associated with sinful people like you and me. Of course, sinful people could harm those structures, as they did when these sinful people crucified Jesus. But the historical continuity and psychosomatic unity between a sinless person and his body would be powerful.

        (Relevant side note: one group of people with the highest number of 100-year-olds are the Seventh Day Adventists. Their lifestyle, diet, etc. increases the possibility they will live long lives.)

        So… I have no problem thinking the cells, organs, and bodily members of the sinless Jesus could have the kind of psychosomatic responsiveness that means an increase in likelihood that they would respond to God’s call and to Jesus’ spirit wanting them to join in the resurrection.

        Hope that helps some!

        Tom

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Thank you Tom. I appreciate the conversation and visit.

        Actually our nails and hair don’t continue to grow after we’re dead. Our skin retracts as it dehydrates which gives the appearance of growth. But actual growth of nails and hair requires glucose and oxygen which cease when we’re dead. But never mind that! 😀

        Let’s assume as you say that Jesus’ sinless life – an life of unbroken obedience in alignment with God’s aims, without suffering the “structural damage” that comes with sin – habituated his body so thoroughly that his cells remained inclined/responsive even in death the cooperation with God that animated them in life because of Jesus’ sinlessness. Let’s go with that.

        Given what you suppose is required to explain how Jesus’ resurrection occured, how would you explain Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead?

        We do seem to agree that in the Process terms underlying your view:

        (a) actual entities (or their societies) enjoy a scope of possibilities relative to their actuality. You then seek to explain how…
        (b) the cells of Jesus’ dead body have to be understood as intrinsically capable of freely cooperating with God’s aim that the reorganize/reanimate.

        Let’s say (b) is plausible: Jesus’ impeccable/sinless life of unbroken obedience to the divine will explains how his body was habituated during life so completely that the cells of his dead body remained minimally cooperative with God’s will – sufficiently cooperative to freely reverse the effects of death and restore his body to its fullest conscious state. Something like this has to be true if the metaphysical beliefs you hold about God and the world hold.

        But nothing like this can explain how Lazarus’ dead cells cooperated in their reanimation.

        Can you appreciate how someone can understand your arguments and line of reasoning, but feel like there are too many gaps to justify saying you had solved the problem of evil?

        Tom

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom,

        I’d better make this my last response. I’m committed to finishing some other projects.

        1. Yes, I can appreciate how someone can understand my arguments and line of reasoning but feel like there are gaps.

        It is widely recognized (including by John S.) that my essential kenosis proposal solves the problem of evil, at least in terms of its key question about God’s love and power. But my accounting for miracles through essential kenosis, given the view of divine power in affirms, seems problematic to some. I get that. I’m still working things out too.

        Perhaps it would help to see it from another perspective. We might get at this perspective by asking a question:

        Do we have ANY evidence that any miracle REQUIRED God to control creatures? I’d say no. None.

        We can’t have such evidence, in part, because causation itself is not observable (see Hume). We make inferences, however.

        We can’t have it, in part, because God cannot be perceived with our five senses.

        And I find no evidence of this in the biblical narrative.

        Many of us have assumed that God has the kind of power to control others. We’ve assumed that God sometimes uses controlling power to do miracles. Our assumptions have likely arisen from a number of sources. For instance, we’ve had an a priori assumptions about what God’s power is like; we made assumptions about how the world works, including the responsive capacities of cells (or lack thereof); we’ve made assumptions about causation that cannot be verified in any straightforward way. Etc.

        So what if we try to understand the world through a different metaphysical vision, one that says all events have both divine and creaturely causes?

        This could help us solve some major mysteries of the faith: the problem of evil, the problem of errant revelation, the problem of unjust distribution of goods, the problem of randomness and providence, etc.

        But if we adopt this metaphysical vision, we’d also have to account for miracles. For many years, I was skeptical this was possible. (And I judge you’re still skeptical!) But in reading the biblical text, I found example after example of miracles in which creatures played a role. In fact, the majority of miracle stories explicitly talk about a creaturely role. And some stories say God cannot do miracles because creatures do not cooperate.

        Admittedly, some miracle stories don’t mention a creaturely role. So should we assume there was none? Should we assume these miracles require divine coercion in the metaphysical sense? Or can we speculate that creaturely cooperation or appropriate creaturely conditions were also present and contributing?

        I think we can make such speculation. And I think there are strong reasons — given the major mysteries that can be solved when we adopt this alternative metaphysical vision — to do so.

        2. I’ve also thought about the Lazarus case (and many other reported resurrection cases throughout history). It’s tricky!

        A common way theologians account for Lazarus in comparison to Jesus is to call one a resuscitation and the other a resurrection. I’ve done that myself. But I’m now not sure how much sense it makes. It’s surely based on very little evidence, if any. But if one bought into this distinction, one could say that the cell activity is different in resuscitations than in resurrections.

        What makes things more complex is that the Apostle Paul keeps insisting that we will get spiritual bodies after we die. Does this also apply to Jesus? If so, we don’t have much to worry about when it comes to explaining the physical features or accepting a bodily resurrection. We’d just say it was a spiritual resurrection.

        But perhaps Jesus is a special case, someone different than all the rest of us. Suppose he’s the only one whose body is resurrected and everyone else undergoes spiritual resurrection. If this is so, the argument you and I are having over the whether Jesus’ cells cooperated is virtually meaningless. We couldn’t appeal to analogies or other creaturely cases. Jesus would be the truly unique case of a resurrection.

        But if this were so, my metaphysical hypothesis that resurrections require creaturely response is as solid as any alternative. So saying Jesus is a one-off case doesn’t undermine my theory.

        3. Last, thanks for clarification on the hair and nails illustration. I didn’t know that!

        This has to be my last post. I’ll let you have last word! : )

        In friendship,

        Tom

        Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        Thank you Tom! I may reply later too, but I wanted to jump on to say thanks, blessings, love and a wonderful Christmas to you and the fam!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oord’s proposal is interesting, but doesn’t work for me because it ultimately reduces to Dualism. Just who or what makes it the case that “in order for God to achieve aim x, such and such has to cooperate by doing y”?

    If God’s nature is *necessarily* related to things other than himself, rather than *contingently* based on his will, then God can’t be God all by himself. He metaphysically needs something other than himself to exist. But then he ceases to be the ultimate explanation and first cause – in short he ceases to be God – and we’re left with a Dualism in which although each thing can explain the other we have no explanation for why two realities or “principles” exist in the first place.

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    • Tom says:

      Tom affirms divine aseity but insists God creates necessarily. I’ve read his explanation but I can’t make it work. To me, divine aseity entails an antecedent actuality that doesn’t entail any created order. Tom will grant a kind of divine fullness that doesn’t derive from creation, but in his view that fullness is inconceivable apart from its overflow in creative expression – not entirely unlike what you get in Bulgakov and other classical theists who (I think) fail to separate God’s creative act from God’s own self-constituting act because all God’s acts are self-constituting – all there is to God is what God is essentially and immutably.

      In the end, I don’t really find that much difference between Process and Classical theists on this point – neither can affirm an antecedent divine actuality that is ever actually not determined to created. For both, God has no idea what it’s like to actually be God not determined to create, no experience of himself that doesn’t include having (immutably) determined to create. The Process theist admits God isn’t free from creation and seeks to use this positively. Classical theists will insist God is free from creation but then adopt a view of God’s actuality as eternally and immutably determined to create, which makes divine freedom an abstraction (since God is never ‘actually’ not the creator of the world).

      Liked by 2 people

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        ‘For both, God has no idea what it’s like to actually be God not determined to create, no experience of himself that doesn’t include having (immutably) determined to create.’

        Nyssa? Basil? John Damascene? Aquinas? Hart? Turner, Davies? Burrell? Classical theists all and none hold that God is determined by creation, no not none.

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      • Tom says:

        Maybe I can clarify it a bit. By “not determined to create” I don’t mean “determined by creation.” I mean “not having determined (himself) to create,” i.e., God has no experience of himself which does not eternally, immutably include his having determined himself to create, but it’s precisely this determination which God if free in making (or not making). That doesn’t seem to bother classical theists, and I’m not sure I can do a good job of expressing the problem I see in it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        I fail to understand the distinction you made. If I understand you right there’s not a classical theist that I am aware of that holds to ‘God has no experience of himself which does not eternally, immutably include his having determined himself to create’

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  3. Robert Fortuin says:

    You are drawing conclusions based on a grave misunderstanding of the classical theist position of the likes of Basil, Nyssa, John Damascene, Aquinas, Hart, et al. What is real to God and what is real to us is quite different, due to the infinite difference in the mode of existence between the two. Intention, experience, change, knowing – all these must take into account the interval which the difference of the mode of existence presents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Robert. I’m frustratingly unclear. Sorry.

      I’m looking for the likeness that’s equally as inherent in that interval. I can appreciate that God’s mode of being is not a maximally great version of temporal becoming. And what I’m trying to get at here doesn’t require God to be a Zeus-like god of passionate, temporal becoming. But categorically speaking, our notions (love, justice, freedom, goodness, etc.) survive the analogical journey from us to God sufficient to still speak truthfully of God – at least Hart felt strongly enough that they do in arguing for the evil and injustice of the ‘eternal conscious torment’ view (based on our notions of goodness, justice, etc.). The interval cannot tolerate an absolute abyss (as Hart argued). I’m simply bringing the notion of ‘freedom’ into THAT conversation to see what comes of it.

      I don’t think God is a subject of creaturely becoming who needs to deliberate among infinite options, weigh their relative goodness in light of (exactly, in light of what?) something other than his own plentitude. But I do think that when we say God is ‘free’ from creation we at least mean God is free from ‘creatING’. And it doesn’t seem a grave misunderstanding of the classical position to view God’s determination to create – given simplicity and immutability and actus purus – as eternally and immutably God as anything we might say about God who is immutably pure act.

      True, classical theists will make the distinction between God’s essential triune acts and God’s determination to create, saying the former are natural and essential (not contingent) while the latter is free – that the former doesn’t require the latter for its plenitude. I appreciate that. I don’t suppose the classical tradition supposes something else. What I’m suggesting (I’m suggesting it; I’m not suggesting classical theists suggest it – they in fact deny it) is that this distinction (between God’s self-constituting [Weinandy’s terms, not mine] acts and his ‘free’ act of creation) is vacuous IF the supposed free determination to create is as eternally and immutably God as anything else. In other words, God’s freedom from creating cannot describe any ‘actual’ freedom realized by the divine actuality since that divine actuality is, necessarily, simply and immutably determined to create. This ‘freedom from’, at the very most, is an abstraction we construct and posit about God, but it’s never an experienced actuality for/in God, i.e., God’s actuality, being immutable in every sense, is never other than immutably determined to create.

      Tom

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      • This is the problem I get at in my post on 4 problems with actus purus – i.e. that if God can be reduced to a single act of existence, and if this act is both immutably necessary and immutably contingent, then isn’t there either a contradiction, or doesn’t this mean that God has two distinct acts of existence?

        But, I think we may be both muddying the waters by supposing that God’s necessary existence free from creation must be – or must have been – physically “out there” at some point in time “experienced” by God. For the “being freed from creation” is not ONLY an abstraction. It is an eternal reality which is itself inseparable from (and constituted by?) the very actualization of the contingent creation itself. One could ask – but WHERE is God’s freedom from creation, his necessary existence? One could say “there, in the enjoyment of his own good, it’s just that this enjoyment, which is satisfied fully by the persons, he has freely chosen to constitute by a relation to a creation as well.

        I don’t know if this makes sense. Can God’s act of self existence somehow be both a) necessary in the THAT it exists; and b) contingent in the WAY IN WHICH it exists? And if so, does this posit that God’s simplicity, pure actuality, mode of essential being, etc. transcends modality, but not in such a way where both terms “contingent” and “necessary” are destroyed, but rather established?

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Tom, my point is that your take on the ‘given simplicity and immutability and actus purus’ and ‘God’s actuality, being immutable in every sense, is never other than immutably determined to create’ is fundamentally at odds with how classical theists understand simplicity and immutability and actus purus. I can only point you and Malcolm to the source material, and hopefully that won’t sound like a put-down, as it is certainly not meant to be that in any way, shape or form. But from all that I can gather from your comments (and I know Tom you have admitted not having read Aquinas) is that you both have not engaged with let’s say Nyssa or Aquinas on simplicity or immutatility. Actus Purus is bandied about, but have you really engaged with the primary source on this? I think you will be hard pressed to conclude from a reading of Aquinas that ‘God’s freedom from creating cannot describe any ‘actual’ freedom realized by the divine actuality since that divine actuality is, necessarily, simply and immutably determined to create.’

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      • Tom says:

        Thanks Robert. Either I’m expressing myself very poorly, or classical theism’s actus purus admits unrealized potential and change in God. I’ll leave it to simmer a bit.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Tom,

        Let’s suppose to think outside the either/or you posit and ask what ‘change’, ‘act’ and ‘unrealized potential’ may signify to God. Aquinas, for one, has quite a bit to say about this. We may not all agree with Aquinas, nor understand him to say the same thing, but even so not reading him is not an option if we are to make informed value judgments about these matters. All in love.

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    • Robert – just a word of personal opinion. Your comments often show a lack of engagement with the other view in terms of the other view’s actual point. Of course I am sure you ARE considering what the other person is saying – you ARE trying to see their point of view and understand the problem they are articulating – but your comments don’t reflect this. Perhaps it would benefit both parties if you tried to look at the problem *as the other person is seeing it* and then give reflections on that. Do you ask yourself “hmmm I wonder how or why he thinks this? He’s a smart guy, so there must be something there that’s causing puzzlement. If he is right, all the sooner I should listen and correct my own views. If he is wrong, then my task is to *help him see logically how that is so*” ?

      On the other hand, throwing out names and the sort of veiled anathemas you do is neither charitable nor going towards furthering our perception of the truth.

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    • Robert, how do you handle the following puzzle, without sending me to source material: God’s act of being is singular and one; God’s act of existence is necessary; God’s act of creation is contingent. Is God’s singular act both necessary and contingent? Does it transcend modality? How do we get away with saying it is only one act, and not two, since contingent and necessary are mutually exclusive properties?

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Hi Malcolm,

        A few things to note which have a bearing on the ‘puzzle’ and understanding the analogous approach by which classical theism offers answer(s). First, ‘act’ is an inherently analogous term, characterized as all analogies do by likeness in an ever greater unlikeness. With this I mean to say that there remains in understanding God’s existence and actuality some reality, some aspect which makes creaturely definition of ‘act’ and ‘existence’ (and related terms such as being and creating) inherently and profoundly inappropriate. A very important caveat, then, which serves as a red flag warning: the subject under discussion is profoundly unlike ordinary subjects and we must proceed with caution ever ‘cognizant of a cognitive rupture’ (or a ‘knowing unknowing’ as some refer to it). Second, and this follows on the first note, it is therefore more accurate to say that God’s being is act, not an act. Or better yet, ‘God is in act.’ Third, following the analogical principle of likeness/unlikeness, that divine simplicity and the lack of composition is not understood to mean deficiency as it does in creatures. Another way of expressing this is to say that singularity in God does not denote absence but rather fullness. Divine existence is God in act: plenitude and unbounded actuality which is pure actuality without unrealized potentiality. Simplicity then signifies divine transcendence over the dialectics of the one/the many, stasis/motion, passivity/activity, necessity/contingency, potentiality/actuality. God transcends these notions as He whose way of being is not a mode of being because He is being itself. Which is all to say, and to answer one part of the puzzle, that God transcends all modalities. Fourth, following the implications of the analogous interval (the cognitive and ontological rupture), God does not create like creatures create – what this means for God ‘in act’ that the creative act of God did not require an additional act for God to do some ‘thing’ to create; at the same time, it denotes creation as completely gratuitous, without necessity as it would have to mean to creatures. God’s existence of as plentitude ‘in act’ does not require creation to reach divine fullness of being (as such then it is understood that creation in God does not constitute a real change in God, which is not to say that it is not real to God). With this then I am attempting to put into words that God differs differently.

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  4. Perhaps reality’s regularities and freedom are both being too vaguely conceived. If we more narrowly define freedom in terms of that type which belongs to a person and better distinguish between regularities by employing more precise telic conceptions, there would be less freedom at stake for and fewer regularities to necessarily be sustained by an essential kenosis.

    These moves wouldn’t be ad hoc but eminently defensible, phenomenologically, prior to using a particular metaphysic or root metaphor. The freedom of a human person is not just quantitatively but qualitatively different, semiotically. It is robustly telic or teleodynamic, rather than merely teleonomic, as in other sentient animals. Other teloi or regularities are thus not agentially end-intended or teleodynamic but are otherwise merely end-directed or teleonomic, end-stated or teleomatic or variously end-un/bounded or teleopotent. Those types of regularities and “freedoms,” in my view, to the extent they wouldn’t be intrinsically inviolable, metaphysically, needn’t necessarily be subjects of essential kenosis, could otherwise be objects of divine prerogatives.

    https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/logical-defense/

    I’m only considering logical possibilities, not evidential plausibilities.

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    • Tom says:

      Thank you Pax! I’ll need to let what you’ve shared simmer to make sure I’m following you. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom, thanks for your gracious reply. I’ve had no formal coursework, am only an earnest autodidact, re: philosophy and theology, so my prose can be frustratingly dense and idiosyncratic. But attempting to dialogue has helped me better articulate my intuitions over the years.

        On the aseity distinctions, I find the Palamitic approach helpful, where the divine energies express the divine will, from which divine creativity or procreativity would ensue, contingently, apart from divine essences and hypostases. It may be that conflating creatio with love proves too much, says more than we could possibly know regarding divine necessity. I affirm the notion that takes love as necessity, but agree that creatio reveals our contingent participation in divine energies. To that point, consistent with the distinctions on which I reflected above, we must further distinguish between natural participations in the divine energies and those gifted rational persons. Again, it’s only the latter I’d make a concern of any essential kenosis. That’s to conclude, I suppose, for example, that any sustaining of natural regularities would be a by-product of God’s sustaining our personal freedom, the end product. But those natural regularities, which naturally but not rationally participate in the divine energies, wouldn’t a priori and in every instance necessarily be sustained. Thanks, again, for any guidance. I have long lurked in your and TO’s conversations. They help me immensely, I hope, to love God, others, the cosmos and even my self.

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  5. Tom says:

    I’ll come back to this later, but I wanted to restate what I take Oord’s reply to be about Lazarus’ resurrection.

    TomO insisted that Jesus’ resurrection is explainable on the grounds that the cells of his body were solidified/habituated over the course of a life of perfect, uninterrupted obedience – so that even in death those cells, conditioned by all the antecedent data from 30 years of cooperating with God, were able to continue cooperating with God in their resurrection.

    I asked how this would explain the resurrection of Lazarus – a sinner who hadn’t lived a life of uninterrupted obedience to God and whose cells were not habituated to cooperate with God in death to achieve their resurrection.

    TomO replied:

    (1) One “common way theologians account for Lazarus in comparison to Jesus” is to call one a resuscitation and the other a resurrection. Tom’s done this himself but now isn’t so sure because there’s no real evidence for it. But IF one adopted this distinction, one could say the cell activity between Jesus and Lazarus’ dead bodies is different enough to explain things.
    (2) We’re all going to get “spiritual bodies” when we’re resurrected, unlike Jesus who was physically resurrectetd. Tom’s 2nd point here is a bit unclear to me.
    (3) Perhaps Jesus is a special case, someone different than all the rest of us. He may be the only one whose body is resurrected. Everyone else undergoes “spiritual resurrection” (i.e., receives a “spiritual body” ala 1Cor 15). If this is so, then there’s no comparison between Jesus and Lazarus; Jesus remains utterly unique and his sinless life explains how his dead cells were habituated to cooperate with God in death for resurrection.
    (4) Given the above options, TomO’s hypothesis that resurrections require creaturely response is as solid as any alternative.

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    • Tom says:

      Well, a quick reply (for the record):

      Possibility (1) (i.e., to suppose that Jesus in the tomb for 3 days ought to be followed by a “resurrection” while Lazarus’ being in a tomb for 4 days can reasonably be thought to be followed merely by a “resuscitation”) seems ad hoc. I can believe resurrection stories are myths, but to grant resurrection for Jesus but only resuscitation for Lazarus?

      Possibilities (2) and (3) equally suffer from the mistake of distinguishing what happened to Jesus’ dead body from the embodied destiny of all in Christ. For Paul (the whole point of 1Cor 15), the resurrected Jesus is what we shall be. What Jesus’ body became, our bodies become (Phil 3.21 and other passages, Christ will “take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies [Paul’s “spiritual bodies” of 1Cor 15] like his own”).

      I don’t think Oord has a viable way of distinguishing between Jesus and Lazarus.

      Tom

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