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

1o-holbein-christ

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.

Advertisements

Moore misunderstanding

2192192956-c9023211ca-620x354

I need to follow up on my previous clarification of Chalcedon. In that post I responded to TC Moore’s use of a 2012 blog post by Robin Phillips in which Robin expressed his reasons for leaving Calvinism in terms of problems he believed Calvinists have affirming the synergy of divine and human wills (entailed in the Sixth Ecumenical Council). Robin unpacks this in relationship to comments of Calvinist R. C. Sproul. But none of Robin’s criticisms of Sproul apply to Dwayne and me. TC remains unconvinced however, and insists that Dwayne and I are every bit as guilty as Robin believed R. C. Sproul was of denying the Sixth Ecumenical Council’s conclusion regarding Christ’s ‘two wills’, and more importantly (and very strangely), of denying the—hold on folks—passibilism of the divine nature which TC believes is established by the Sixth Ecumenical Council as well as by other Orthodox Fathers (like Maximus and Cyril of Alexandria).

In his latest post on this, TC returns to accusing Dwayne and me of Nestorianism because we limit the sufferings of the person of the Son to his human nature. He supposes this to be a resurrected version of Nestorius’ heresy. In addition, Dwayne and I “lust for the exotic faith of the Eastern church,” a lust which has “degenerated into self-righteous doctrinal certitude” and an “arrogance that has left [us] blind to [our] radically unfaithful views of Jesus’s life and work.” In the end, the God we worship is no longer “God” but merely “[our] god.” Previously, TC has described us as “returning to the classical theism of tradition the way a dog returns to its vomit,” having been “re-infected by the virus” (of classical theism) and of “attempting to infect others.”

We’ve addressed all this before and the ridiculous nature of TC’s accusations are on record. If you doubt our Christology on these points, ask any Orthodox. TC simply is not interested in understanding what we believe or why we believe it and how we distinguish ourselves from “classical” theism. He just knows that Dwayne and I don’t agree that God is ad intra rent asunder and reduced to agony by the sufferings of the Cross and that this must mean (a) we are no longer admissibly ‘open theists’ and (b) we are Nestorian heretics because holds the Son to have suffered only in his humanity and not in his divinity. (Hint: Even Cyril and the entire assembly of bishops at 431 AD who condemned Nestorius all agreed Christ suffered in his humane nature and not in his divine nature.)

tumblr_inline_o2np6hgiv21qega5p_500

I wish I was making this up. TC understands Orthodox Christology so poorly he’s essentially written himself out of the conversation. In believing in God’s essential abiding, undiminished beatitude we have abandoned “open theism” and embraced “classical theism.” But if he thinks Dwayne and I are classical theists, then he doesn’t understand classical theism. In the end, I don’t think TC can be taken seriously in this conversation at all. For conscientious thinkers who are interested, Dwayne and I have never suggested that Jesus’ sufferings are merely his human nature suffering independently of his person. Of course the ‘person’ of the eternal Logos suffers on the Cross. I can only guess that for TC that this ‘person’ suffers must mean both ‘natures’ suffer since both ‘natures’ are united in the one ‘person’, i.e., whatever the ‘person’ suffers, both ‘natures’ suffer. But while it’s true that no ‘person’ suffers apart from ‘nature’, and no ‘nature’ suffers apart from its ‘person’, it doesn’t follow that a person with two natures cannot have experiences unique to a single of his natures.

As for the Sixth Ecumenical Council and Maximus (which Robin draws on), does TC really believe that the Orthodox gathered at these councils were passibilists with respect to the divine nature? Does TC think Maximus believed the divine ‘nature’ suffers? One can disagree with the Orthodox positions, sure. But at least state them accurately. Synergy of wills? Of course, yes. But attributing to the divine nature the sufferings of the human nature because both natures are the natures of a single person? Neither the Sixth Ecumenical Council nor Maximus, nor any Orthodox Father does that.

_____________________

NB This will be our final response of any kind to TC on any subject. We have a history with TC and have been friends. For that reason, as well as wanting to clarify for interested readers the orthodoxy of our position on this, I’ve posted these comments. But this will bring our engagement with TC here to an end.

The disappearing open theist

disappear-from-search-enginesOK, look, I embrace the open view of the future. Let me get that out of the way. I embrace it because I think it makes best sense of things existentially, philosophically, and yes, overall biblically speaking. But I gotta tell ya, I don’t think any of the biblical authors were open theists in the sense that they held to the sine qua non of the view today, that is, divine epistemic openness (regarding future contingencies). Let’s abbreviate that as DEO to save me typing.

When I say there’s biblical evidence for the open view, I mean I think there are examples of biblical authors conceiving of the future in open terms, that is, they believed human beings were responsibly free, faced genuine options, weren’t victims of fate, and that their lives, choices and prayers made a genuine difference to the course the world took. And they believed God truly related to them and engaged the world in such terms, all convictions which form the basis upon which modern-day open theists argue for DEO. And yes, I do agree that DEO makes better sense of these convictions, just the way I think the doctrines of the Trinity (later conceived) and of Christ’s two-natures (later conceived) best explain the Bible’s overall narratives.

But the more I ponder things, the idea that the biblical authors, Old or New Testament, actually espoused DEO seems nearly impossible to imagine. In the end I think they were all substantially Arminian (obviously an older term, but let me use it here) on these questions. That is, they believed in pre-recorded open theism, you might say. They affirmed freedom and contingency, the genuine relatedness of God and the world, and the consequential nature of prayer that motivate open theists to adopt their unique view in the first place.

Yes, the biblical texts do sometimes describe God as contemplating an open future. I don’t at all think these are explainable either as God accommodating himself to our ignorance by presenting himself as contemplating an open future or as human authors presenting God in such terms while actually believing otherwise. If biblical authors very occasionally stumbled into a way of thinking about God’s knowledge and engagement of creaturely affairs in terms of DEO (and I can hardly imagine it) it is far from being the established “biblical” view of things. I simply think the biblical authors never reflected philosophically along the lines of the particular questions (compatibilism/incompatibilism) that overwhelm the conversation today.

If cornered on the specific question of DEO, I think Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul or any other biblical figures would’ve said, “Well, of course God knows what’s going to happen.” Perhaps—perhaps—Paul, given some of his arguments and his philosophical training and disposition, might have cared enough about the matter to contemplate the problem.

Here’s the thing. I simply don’t know how to account for the absolute disappearance of DEO from biblical faith on the assumption that it was an intentional, studied, contemplated belief of biblical authors. If as open theist authors have argued, the Old Testament authors, and Jesus, and all the Apostles and the Apostolic church all held to the core open view doctrine of DEO, then the obvious question is ‘What happened?’ because in no time at all the Church and its leading thinkers had no abiding commitment to such a belief, not even the memory of anything like DEO having been the belief of former generations. Irenaeus (disciple of Polycarp who was a disciples of St. John himself) holds to the traditional (Arminian) view and never even hints that St. John taught DEO to Polycarp. Come on. That doesn’t seem remotely suspicious to my open theist friends? True, by Origen’s day the question of prayer’s relevancy in light of divine foreknowledge had become enough of a philosophical-existential issue that Origen wrote a book on it. But he shows zero awareness that anything like DEO was ever believed by any Christian, anywhere, of any generation. There’s just no good explanation for the disappearance of DEO on the assumption that the Apostles and their churches explicitly held such a belief.

disappearing-cycleway2It will be claimed (by Greg Boyd and other key open theist writers) that Hellenism is to blame, that in virtually no time at all pagan Greek philosophy corrupted biblical faith and DEO was among the first beliefs to go. All this damage occurred within St. John’s lifetime  and his supposed belief in DEO never makes it to Irenaeus, not even as an academic interest in what former generations believed. And the effects of Greek philosophy upon Christian belief were so thorough and universal that not a single mention by any Christian thinker of even the memory of previous Christians having held a view on foreknowledge different than the traditional view, appears anywhere on the horizon even though the problem of foreknowledge does appear early (in Origen). This strains credibility.

I’m open to seeing the evidence for the universal disappearance of DEO and its very memory from Christian thought by the opening of the 2nd century under the influence of pagan Greek philosophy, but this better bey good (Greg). My own sense is that DEO does cohere best with the biblical themes of personal freedom, responsibility, the efficacy of petitionary prayer, divine-human synergy, etc., but that it simply was not explicitly held to by any biblical authors, though their texts make perfect sense in light of DEO. They were less than consistent. So what? But—to anticipate a certain reply—wouldn’t the actual beliefs of biblical authors be normative for us today? The short answer, for me anyhow, is ‘No’. I think it’s obvious that their beliefs—as they held them—are not all automatically normative for us simply because those beliefs appear in the text. But that’s another subject.

Just to be clear, and to forestall misunderstandings—I do hold to DEO, and I do believe it makes best sense of things. But I don’t believe any biblical author held to it. That is, I don’t think any biblical author was an ‘open theist’.

God wills our improvisation

jarrett_3

American pianist Keith Jarrett. It might not be your thing, but I promise, if you set time aside to sit, quietly and alone, and listen to his 1997 CD “Las Scala” (named after its venue, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan), you shall be transfigured.  Well, not literally. But “La Scala” is a musical Mt. Tabor, an unveiling within finite human capacity of God’s creative design. Now, as you listen, keep in mind that Parts 1 and 2 are live improvisations. He’s on stage—creating. Yeah. The final rendition of “Over the Rainbow” is an equally beautiful improvisation upon that wonderful piece.

Improvisation. What’s it have to do with God and us? Everything, I think.

I seem to find myself in conversations about created freedom and divine will these days. And part of what often creeps up in these conversations is a certain fear of occasionalism that attends the claim that God knows creation only by knowing himself (i.e., his own sustaining acts within creation). It can’t be, so I’m told, the case that God knows I’m typing these words “because” I’m typing these words. That would suggest God is being “acted upon” by my typing, and that can’t be. God’s knowledge of the world cannot be the effect in God of our doing that which he knows we’re doing. So God doesn’t “get” his knowledge of the world “from” the world. This does seem to reduce creation to the divine will as a mere ‘occasion’ for the latter. The answer I seem to get from my Orthodox friends on this is, not surprisingly, “It’s a mystery.” I’ll leave that as it is. I think there’s plenty of mystery in a certain sense of “mutuality” too, but I don’t want to get into a dispute over that here. Rather, I wanted to share a question I asked David Bentley Hart (regarding God’s will for human being as such) last Spring. Let me share the question and then come back at the end to make a suggestion regarding this whole debate over God’s will and created freedom.

My question to Hart:

On p. 320 of Beauty of the Infinite, with reference to Michel de Certeau’s “Autorités Chrétiennes et Structures Sociales,” you concede the possibility that in our final fulfilled form Christ offers (in Certeau’s words) “a style of existence that ‘allows’ for a certain kind of creativity and that opens a new series of experiences” as opposed to, say, Christ specifying every particular of our continuing existence without remainder (even if, as you say, Christ comprises the fullness of every contingent expression).

My question has to do with created agency as fulfilled in Christ and enjoying a ‘scope of loving possibilities’ within which to freely/creatively determine how it shall reflect divine beauties. Going with Certeau’s suggestion, might we imagine the logoi of created beings as embodying or specifying a “range” or “scope” of beautiful expression and not the particular of every form? The divine will (or logoi) would terminate not in the final form of creaturely expression but in the range of creative possibilities offered to creatures to uniquely shape their expressive form (unique not in the creation of beauties not already comprised in Christ as the summum bonum, but simply as the creature’s contribution to the consummate beauty of ends synergistically achieved). Would the gnomic will retain a unique function in this case?

Hart’s reply:

Sure, works for me. I know that Maximus often speaks of the gnomic will as simply the sinful and deviating will. Something tells me–more a phenomenology of consciousness than a moral metaphysics–that it might be better to think of it as the “third moment” of the conscious act, so to speak, the first two being the primordial intention of the natural will and the power of intellect (both being rational). Then the gnomic will is that supremely rational moment of (ideally) assent or love or creative liberty that completes the “trinitarian” movement of the mind and makes it genuinely rationally free. That is obscure. Sorry. But, yes, I prefer to think that, healed, [the gnomic will] remains, and that it makes each soul’s reflection of and participation in divine beauty a unique inflection or modulation of the whole, which makes each individual indispensable, of course, to that glory. (emphasis mine)

The conversation was generally about the gnomic will. But the relevant point is the terminus of the divine will being the provision of a ‘scope’ or ‘range’ of beautiful expression, not the specific form that expression finally takes in created particulars. I hope you see how consequential this is for the question of God’s will in its immediate sustaining of creation as such, on the one hand, and the determination of creation’s actual expressive forms, on the other hand. These are not convertible ‘ends’. That is, God’s will in sustaining is assymetrical (we don’t share in sustaining our existence, we are given being), but what God gives is itself a “scope” of possibilities whose particular determined forms are not asymmetrically willed by God; they are left to created agency to decide. (I see some squirming going on as some read this.)

keith-jarrett3I’d like to suggest that this should shape how we understand God’s relationship to creation as qualifiedly mutual—that is, asymmetrical (non-mutual) in the giftedness of life because the logoi are God asymmetrically present in us, but truly mutual in the gift’s improvisational return to God. A Bach composition or a Gershwin piece offers a scope or range of interpretive expression. These are never played twice the same way, nor can they be performed at all apart from some interpretive license. This is not due to any limitation in those who play either composer. It is what Bach and Gershwin wanted. It was their will to be so improvised upon. But apart from that, improvisational license is inherent in any creative act.

If the logoi of created beings can be analogously understood, then the divine will ends in defining the ‘scope’ without prescribing or determining the actual creative expressive ‘form’ which Truth, Beauty, and Goodness take in us—as us. But this means, I believe, that God’s will in sustaining creation as such embraces created improvisation on our part, which means—I’m afraid to utter it—the divine will (viz., logoi) is given to us to improvise upon. I mean, if you want to retain mystery, there you are. The endless possibilities are God’s, their final arrangement is ours. But if this is his will, then it seems to me that the mode of God’s knowing creation would reflect the mode of his willing; that is, God would know the improvisational form which divine logoi finally take in us as a knowledge of form ‘apprehended’ or ‘received’ and not only a knowledge of created being as ‘given’. What the world gives to God is what it gives back to God in improvisation upon and within the grace of being.

Prayer

You are the themes, the scope, the rhyme
We improvise upon in time,
Are not made less giving away
Your temporal form to what we say;
These forms are what you will to be,
A mirror of your Trinity.

God’s infinite “specious present”

11578032996_f0709bb7c4_b
This is one of those freely speculating posts where I just think out loud. I know some think that’s pretty much all I do anyhow. If that’s you, then this won’t be any different. Why I’ve chosen Bernini’s (the greatest sculptor of all time) Blessed Ludovica Albertoni is something I’ll let the post explain (or not). (Hint: it has something to do with the immediacy and ecstasy of fulfilled desire relative to temporal becoming.) Bernini dedicated this work to a wealthy Roman widow who devoted herself to the poor and who (like his The Ecstasy of St. Teresa that pursues the same theme) testified to having unusual spiritual ecstasies. Both works are a kind of perichoretic embodiment of the rapturous experience of mystical union with God. This is no doubt a strange introduction to thoughts about God and time, but let’s see where it takes us.

In Trinity & Process (a work we’ve discussed a great deal), Greg Boyd constructively critiques Process theism (PT). Much of his criticism parallels criticisms that Fr Tom Hopko made in his doctoral dissertation on PT. More interestingly, Greg’s conclusions at points end up articulating Orthodox insights without having any real knowledge of or appreciation for Orthodoxy as such. That said, one critique of PT that Greg engages is PT’s thoroughly dipolar doctrine of God with respect to divine temporal becoming. I’d like to think aloud on this aspect of Greg’s thought and make a suggestion that takes Greg’s thought in a direction that he perhaps didn’t intend.

Dipolar theism is a complicated philosophical project which has since Whitehead diverged into a variety of conflicting views. I wish only to pick up on Greg’s treatment of God and time through his use of the concept of the “specious present.” By “specious” I don’t mean “misleading” or “false” in appearance. The term “specious present” was coined in the late 19th century by E. Robert Kelly (known under the pseudonym E. R. Clay) and popularized by William James. It roughly describes the time duration wherein one’s perceptions are considered to be in the present, one’s “intuited duration” (Pringle-Pattison, 1913). It’s a concept that I think helps us imagine God as temporally immutable and open to the temporal world. By temporally immutable I mean experience having neither beginning, end, nor succession, an extended interval without becoming. Can such an experience nevertheless be open to contingent relations with the changing world?

The life and experience of finite creatures who derive their existence from God is one of irreducible “becoming.” We know that much. Our experience is temporal in the sense that it is always mediated within the given restrictions of material existence. In particular:

…we possess our life as “becoming,” as an ever-moving process in which we determine ourselves in the present by relating our perceived past (the data of past experience; i.e., memory) to perceived possibilities at which we aim ourselves in the hope of becoming what we are not (i.e., more than we are). We just are this ever-moving act of becoming, a perpetual negotiation between the perceived effects of the past and the perceived possibilities of the future.

Let me say unequivocally here that I don’t see how God can be reduced to such “becoming” even if the process is qualified by saying it occurs “necessarily.” Giving such “becoming” the status of necessity doesn’t make this concept of God fundamentally unlike that of Zeus or other members of the Greek pantheon.

clock_silhouette_by_ginnyhahaThat said, by “specious present” I am not talking about a totum simul, which is how Bill Craig takes it in his criticism of the idea. And I don’t particularly have in mind Robert Jenson’s curious description of Jesus as God’s “specious present,” but I agree with Jenson’s pursuit of a divine temporality of which he says, “God’s duration is without loss.” I say yes to this. And so I’m asking if it’s possible to conceive of an infinite “specious present,” an experience not divisible into or reducible to more fundamental experiences, having neither beginning, end, nor succession; i.e., an “experience” which is not an experience of “becoming.” Can we conceive of God’s eternity, his essential, triune plenitude, as such a “specious present” but which is not intolerant of or incompatible with the possibility of relations with the finite “specious presents” of created entities that occur within it?

An infinite “specious present” not a moment of “becoming” would encompass rather than preclude specious presents of finite duration and accommodate real relations with the world. All creation’s possibilities would be tacitly enfolded within its fullness. All our “specious presents” would have the movement of their temporal becoming—their past, present, and future as they contingently and freely unfold—within the embrace of God’s single, indivisible “specious present.” And the world’s finite becoming would freely self-determine itself within the all-encompassing fullness of God’s accomplished beatitude. Time would “flow from” God as God is present to and within the world. This would (I think) roughly parallel the sense in which Bulgakov suggested that God “posits himself outside himself.”

God’s eternity, we’re suggesting, is an infinite “specious present”—a “moment” (just to go with the analogy for now) analogous to our “moments” of experience but which, unlike our “specious presents,” does not exist as ‘memory informing a present resolve to become what one is not in light of future possibilities’. We’re thinking of a “moment” of experience as such, a simple act not composed of beginning, end, and succession (i.e., it does not “become”) because it does not possess itself as ‘memory informing a present resolve in light of future possibilities’. God’s specious present does not “take time” to “become” in this way, but it does not negate created ‘becoming’ or relations to created entities. It is becoming’s possibility and so compatible with it without being an instance of it. As such God’s specious present is the infinite ground of every created specious present of finite duration (i.e., experiences of finite perspective and surpassable beauty which have beginning, end, and succession—i.e. they ‘become’).

One specious present may contain other specious presents. To unpack this a bit, here’s Greg Boyd in TP:

Self-identity [for Hartshorne], therefore, whether at a human or sub-atomic level, is abstract, partial and relative. It is, in contrast, the present moment of becoming which is concrete, complete, and absolute, as we have seen. There can, for Hartshorne, therefore be no concrete self-identity which preserves over time. The only concrete reality is in the “specious present,” the present momentary experience of becoming. For human beings, for example, the concrete self becomes anew “every tenth of a second or so.” This alone constitutes truly concrete reality. Everything else concerning human self-identity is an abstract feature of this.

This means, clearly, that one’s self-now is not the same as the self of one’s childhood, or even one’s self an instant ago. To be sure, the self-now must relate to (prehend) the self-past. But it must also prehend other past occasions. And it is, strictly speaking, no more concretely identical with the past self than it is with any other past occasion.

a9818396559c4039e0998b5ce79f128aHartshorne defines finite, temporal “becoming” as the prehension of immediately past data via creative synthesis. One’s “identity” supervenes upon and is derived from this process. But this sort of becoming could not describe God’s essential-necessary actuality. God’s identity could not supervene upon a process that prehends ‘past’ data from which his actual ‘present’ is determined in light of some desire to become in the ‘future’ what he is not now. That’s very important (for Dwayne and me) to say.

To borrow Whitehead’s language (but not how he understands it, since he rejects creatio ex nihilo): God’s essential triune act would be the “epochal immediacy of an occasion’s subjective indivisible unity.” Our suggestion is that God be understood as an infinite such occasion. Moving on with Greg in TP:

Beyond the already discussed difficulties with this understanding of the dipolarity of God, one must wonder what is intrinsically contradictory about saying that a being can be actual in different respects? Why cannot one aspect of the divine actuality be necessary and eternal, and another aspect of God’s actuality contingent? It seems that, in at least one sense, even Process thought must admit that this is possible in terms of its own categories.

According to Process thought, any given “society of actual occasions” can be made up of entities whose “living immediacy” and “specious present” varies from one another considerably. A “specious present,” according to Hartshorne, can vary about as far as the imagination can stretch: from less than one millionth of a second to more than a century is one suggestion Hartshorne toys with.

Now it seems that there is no a priori reason why a “specious moment” may not be eternal, though the society which it “dominates over” includes occasions whose “specious present” is finite. Just as the mind, the dominate occasion of the human person, consists of “specious presents” whose durations vary from those occasions which it rules over, so too we might conceive of God’s essential self as an eternal specious present which encompasses other “specious presents” of finite duration within itself. (emphasis mine)

…So far as I can see, then, there are no grounds for supposing a priori that the “specious present” of an experiencing actuality could not be both definite and actual, while being, at the same time, endless in its duration.

After some discussion, Greg continues:

The only remaining question, then, is whether or not one subject could be both infinitely and finitely, both necessarily and contingently, actual at the same time. Here again I see no reason to deny this. One subject can, in Process terms, be constituted by numerous occasions of varying duration of subjective immediacy, as we have said. But then what in principle is there from disallowing the possibility of a subject who is necessarily constituted by an everlasting…experience, on the one hand, and yet who has finite contingent experiences on the other?

We can render this point clearer by appealing to the analogy of human experiences. We have, it seems, the ability (however limited) to be aware of different things in relatively different modes of consciousness at the same time. If, for example, I go to the art museum and become absorbed in (say) Munck’s painting “The Scream,” I do not completely block out the noise around me; I am not completely oblivious to the people around me. If a person next to me faints, I will no doubt notice it and turn to help him or her. But clearly my awareness of my surroundings is relatively tacit in relation to my awareness of the painting.

I thus pick up, in a relatively tacit manner, the moment by moment changes in my environment, but my dominant sense of time is measured not by these changes, but by my experience of the work of art. What constitutes my consciousness-now are many experiences had at differing levels of distinctness, but all are now conditioned by the dominant experience of Munck’s painting.

My “specious present,” then, is in one respect very long—hence my “ordinary” sense of time is distorted in such experiences. Yet the fact that I am at least tacitly conscious of the bustle around me shows that I also have, at the same time, occasions whose “specious present” is much shorter. Every sensed alteration in my environment is, in Hartshorne’s view, a new “specious present” for some actual occasion(s) I am composed of.

Or again, when listening to a symphony, one is aware of the minute moment by moment tonal changes of the many different instruments, and yet it is the over-all musical piece, not the individual contributions, which is enjoyed. One could not enjoy the wholeness of the piece without, in some sense, attending to each of the individual instruments, and indeed to each tonal change that was made every fraction of a second or so. But the “mode of consciousness” is quite different with respect to the individual changes than it is with respect to our appreciation of the whole.

Thus experience, including the experience of consciousness, can be multifarious and multidimensional. Indeed, at a human level it always is. Hartshorne, of course, argues that it is only the “lowest” dimension of consciousness the minute alterations in our experience, which are “truly concrete.” Our experience of wholes, whether they be of art, music, or the world around us, is “abstract.” But this supposition we have already shown to be the result of an arbitrary reductionistic presupposition. Once the definition of “concrete” and “abstract” are recognized are being perspectivally contingent, the actuality (concreteness) of our phenomenological experiences, as well as (from a different perspective) the actuality of the minute alterations which, in one sense, comprise these experiences, can be admitted. To say that our normal sense of consciousness is multifarious is thus to say that our dominant perspective always encompasses relatively tacit perspectives.

Prima facie, then, no obvious absurdity is committed in maintaining that God can be, in one sense, necessarily actually infinite while further maintaining that God can also be, at the same time but in another sense, contingently actually infinite. This is, from another angle, simply to say that God can have a necessary eternal perspective on Godself which may include a perspective which encompasses non-divine perspectives. God is eternally and necessarily defined by this one’s eternal experience of Godself, and this experience may encompass, and find expression in, the interaction of non-divine creatures.

When we say that God might be actually eternal and actually contingent, therefore, we do not mean to suggest that God is essentially defined by both an eternal and contingent actuality. God is essentially defined only by this One’s necessary actuality. Thus we have not in the preceding said simply that “God’s essence is God’s existence,” but rather, “God’s essence is God’s essential existence.” For if there can be contingency in God, then God’s existence can encompass more than what this One essentially and necessarily is. God can be “more than necessary.” (emphasis mine)

_____________________________

www-St-Takla-org--Moses-Prophet-05-Burning-Bush-CopticThere is much to question in Greg’s project when it comes to how theological language functions, and I don’t mean to endorse every point he makes. But I don’t think our differences undermine the helpfulness of his main thought here. We believe it’s possible to conceive of God’s essential-necessary triune fullness as the living immediacy of a ‘specious present’, an experienced plenitude which is not an instance of temporal becoming (i.e., it has neither past nor future). But neither is it the negation of such becoming. On the contrary, it is free and able to open itself to ‘specious presents’ of finite duration which aim at contingently expressing (not constituting) the beatitude of God’s abiding present.

An immutable temporal interval that does not “become” (i.e., has no past or future or the kind of present which negotiates the two)? I think so, yes. It’s the temporal equivalent of a ‘burning bush’. I call it a ‘temporal’ interval because I believe it has living-loving content and that leads me to default analogically to ‘temporal’ (as opposed to ‘atemporal’). I’d rather say ‘temporal’ and then qualify it (i.e., it isn’t an instance of temporal becoming). That is—it’s a bush. And it’s on fire without being consumed. Doesn’t make sense, but there it is. At the same time it’s is not the experience of a “becoming” subject (viz., a subject in temporal pursuit of personal realization). We have to say this also, because it’s fire that does not need the bush for fuel. It’s an off-the-map sort of experience.

The controversial claim we make here is that God’s infinite specious present would not preclude real relations with finite creatures and changing states of knowledge with respect to the world. Created realities do indeed come to be and pass out of being. These are possibilities immutably contained in God. However, which particular possibilities come to be the actual world (and, for my Orthodox friends, the relevant point here is that not all possibilities pre-contained in God come to be) is not something immutably pre-contained in God. God would know the ‘actually contingent’ contingently, i.e., in its contingent actuality, without suffering any negation of the living immediacy of his immutable specious present. That is to say, the world “lives and moves and has its being” in God. It is then not the case that God lives and moves and has his being in the world (viz., PT).

Does this make God just another finite subject of “becoming,” one who possesses his identity and full beatitude in the realizing of possibilities given him under the constraints of past experience negotiating his way toward some unfulfilled desire? I don’t see that it does. If God were to know the changing contingencies of the actual world with a knowledge that changes as well, this “as well” needn’t be understood as introducing “loss” into God’s special present. God’s duration is without loss (Jenson).Surely we are not confined to an occasionalism in which God’s sustaining of the world reduces the world to divine will, nor to an opposite occasionalism which views God as reduced to the world’s becoming (viz., Process theism) simply for holding that God’s knowledge of the changing world changes.

Prayer

Always fulfilled, always at rest,
You never wait to be your best;
And yet you can take time to be,
To stoop in partnership with me.
You know me within my own time,
And yet remain wholly sublime.
Give me a heart to give myself
In poverty to your great wealth.

God always the same

Dali2

Aidan Nichols, O.P. has the wonderful ability to condense the complex works of brilliant thinkers into simpler terms that make those works accessible to non-experts like me. Besides his primer on Bulgakov from which I quote below, Nichols has similar introductions on von Balthasar, Aquinas, Pope Benedict (to name a few) as well as primers on the Catholic Church, the Byzantine Church, Anglicanism, and other helpful guides. Thank God for original, pioneering thinkers who stretch tradition in new ways, but thank God also for gifted people who can re-present that thinking in more accessible terms for the rest of us.

In light of conversations about God and time we’ve been enjoying, I wanted to share a passage from Nichols’ primer on Bulgakov. Bulgakov (1871-1944) was a brilliant Orthodox priest-scholar whose career began in Russia and, after a short stint in Prague, ended in Paris. Anathematized by some Orthodox and tolerated by others, Bulgakov continues to be a controversial figure within Orthodox circles. Some offer high praise of aspects of his work. David Bentley Hart, for example, praises the Christoloy of The Lamb of God as “the most remarkable and impressive work of Christology produced in the twentieth century.” I think of Bulgakov as an example of the kind of synthesis Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) recommended when he wrote:

Orthodox theology must keep its patristic foundation, but it must also go ‘beyond’ the Fathers if it is to respond to a new situation created by centuries of philosophical development. And in this new synthesis or reconstruction, the Western philosophical tradition…rather than the Hellenic, must supply theology with its conceptual framework. An attempt is thus made to ‘transpose’ theology into a new ‘key’….

Among Bulgakov’s more controversial speculations are his thoughts on God and time. Consider this Nichols passage (from his primer):

Eternity and time
Time is not of course eternity. In one sense, it is opposed to eternity, and this is how we commonly think of it. But in another sense time is put in place by eternity, has eternity as its foundation and its final cause, the goal to which it is moving. And in this second sense, time only has coherence because it reflects eternity. Bulgakov compares it to a mosaic, where individual moments are like so many individual pieces of coloured glass that, taken together, nonetheless make up a whole. It becomes easier to grasp this this is we realize that what we are talking about is creaturely wisdom—which is in time—on the one hand, and divine Wisdom—which is eternal—on the other. Time is full of eternity, and tends to approach eternity while never becoming eternity, precisely because these two wisdoms are one. They have one content.

Of the two, however, only divine Wisdom exists in God. Shall we say, then, that for God time has no reality, that he is not engaged with temporal realities as such? Is it true to say that for God only eternity exists? Bulgakov answers with a resounding ‘No’.

The entire Christian religion presupposes for its truth-value the reality of time not only for the world but also for God, and the one conditions the other.

To treat God’s relations with the temporal as merely a human way of speaking would be to “shake the entire content of our faith.” It would mean transforming the biblical God, the “Creator, all-might, living, merciful, saving,” into the “immobile Absolute of Hinduism in which all concrete being is snuffed out and the whole world becomes illusion.” It would make nonsense of the Incarnation where earthly events happen to One who was God. But what about the way that Scripture and the doctrinal tradition speak of God’s immutability, his unchangingness? Bulgakov replies by drawing a distinction which we also find in such modern Western Catholic theologians as the German Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904-1984). He [Bulgakov, not Rahner] distinguishes between God as he who is changeless in himself, in eternity, and he who can be involved in change in another, in time. He writes:

In himself, God is eternal by virtue of the divine everlastingness, the plenitude of his life, by virtue of immutability, and total happiness. In himself, God is eternal by virtue of the divine everlastingness of his tri-personhood which is the eternal act of love of the Three in their reciprocal relations.

That is certainly a plain statement. But there is another side to the question which also requires stating. Bulgakov says:

God is also the Creator, creating life outside himself and himself living there outside himself. The reality of this world is determined by God. The reality of this world is determined by God. The reality of the time of this world is also valid therefore for God, since it is his own work, and, taken as a whole, his own ‘placing’ of himself. Going out of himself in the kenosis of the creation of the world, the love of God puts time in position even for God himself. It brings it about that God also lives in history and shares in this sense in the world’s becoming, for the sake of the world.

…Bulgakov emphasizes that in no way does the Creator’s relation with time in the creation lessen or limit his eternity. Temporality—the time dimension—is on a different ontological level from eternity, so the two are not in any kind of conflict. Time has its roots in eternity, is nourished by eternity, and penetrated by it.

_________________________

I’m no Bulgakov expert, but some who know him well agree that his position on the qualified sense in which God experiences and knows the temporal world is not merely a restatement or re-presentation of traditional Orthodox views. That is, Bulgakov makes novel and controversial claims about God and time. Personally, I think there is room here for the sort of qualified sense in which I think we can say God ‘temporally’ knows and experiences the world. And though I want to spend more time in Bulgakov before resolving on a firm opinion, I suspect I could agree to what Bulgakov is here describing. For example, I recently speculated with a friend:

There is neither ‘past’ nor ‘future’ to the Father’s begetting of the Son and the Spirit’s proceeding. It cannot “take time” for God to be the triune, self-existent, God. And without such a past and future, there can be no corresponding ‘present’ if by present we mean the metaphysical sibling of the sort of past and future just ruled out, an instant where the past as ‘what was’ and the future as ‘what might be’ meet and dialectically constitute God’s being as ever-becoming. With respect to God’s self-existent trine reality and beatitude, I don’t see how there can be beginning, end, or succession in God, not in the sense of it ‘taking time’ for God to be God.

And I earlier suggested:

In addition, we’ve argued here that God cannot suffer ‘existential loss’ in the sense of pining for the good of some past experience or future good. Why not? Because “every good and perfect gift comes from God.” Whatever past goods there may be to God (on the assumption the creation’s past is past in some sense for God as well), God remains the goodness they were, and whatever good is to be redeemed for the created bearer of such goodness, God is always already the source and fullness of it. Hence, there can be no loss of experienced goodness for him whose necessary life is the fullness of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. In short, the passage of time could mean nothing to the existential fullness or beatitude of God’s being. Here I don’t mind Boethius’ phrase: “Eternity is the simultaneous and complete possession of infinite life” by which all I would mean is a fullness of life which is not a temporal achievement. That is, I wouldn’t historicize the fullness of God’s triune being as if that fullness is ‘temporally derived’. That just seems to follow from necessary existence. (emphasis mine)

Or again, more explicitly:

What would ‘past’ and ‘future’ be for [God] whose very existence is satisfied in every self-constituting way? The ‘past’ couldn’t be remembered with any sense of regret, longing, or pinning for what was or what might have been. The past would cast no shadow upon the present by suggesting a correction or alternative to it that would increase God…Likewise the future could not interpose itself into the satisfaction of the present by casting upon its bliss any expectation or desire for a satisfaction not present. The future (so far as it might be conceived in the present) would be entirely the product of present bliss, a realm of possibilities that express (but do not constitute an improvement upon) the present. (my emphasis)

____________________

daliThis all agrees, it seems to me, with Bulgakov’s concern that time not “lessen or limit his eternity.” God’s “eternity,” as Bulgakov describes it, is God’s self-constituting fullness. That fullness has neither beginning, end, nor succession. I not only have no problem (as one who advocates the ‘open view’) affirming this, I view it as essential. My problem is with thinking this precludes there being succession in God’s knowledge and experience of that which does not constitute God in this essential way, that all the world’s temporal realities are, in their actuality, eternally-immutably known by God. I think Bulgakov saw this problem as well and attempted to stretch our thinking in this regard. I could be wrong, but I don’t know how else to take his statements in this regard in The Bride of the Lamb.

Denys Turner suggests that our understanding of God can’t be reduced to the scope of the contradiction held out to us in the either/or of conventional ‘temporal’ vs ‘atemporal’ options. Both terms (David Bradshaw suggests) should reveal God, say something truthful about God, without either negating the other. An analogy of this, as I recently shared, is Moses’ encounter with God in the Burning Bush. We have established understanding of both ‘fire’ and ‘bush’. We know what they are and what the do. We know that fire depends upon what it consumes for fuel. We know that bushes are consumed by fire. But we have no concept of ‘fire’ or ‘bush’ or the possibilities of their meeting that explains bushes on fire without being consumed. And yet there before us is the burning bush.

Now, some Orthodox urge such transcendence upon me as a reason to hold that God cannot change in his knowledge of and relationship to the changing world. They might take the ‘burning bush’ to be the analogical equivalent to God eternally-immutably knowing the world’s actualities in their temporal, free, self-determined becoming. As far as I can tell, this is indistinguishable from the sort of negating ‘timelessness’ one gets with the either/or option thinking. But why should transcendence not as obviously incline us to suppose God may change in his knowledge of and relationship to the world without compromising his essential, immutable beatitude and triune identity? That is, we are not only to suppose God is not reduced to the world; we also suppose that the world is not reduced to God; nor that God’s knowledge of and intimacy to the world undermines the world’s becoming. It seems to me that to think that any change in God’s knowledge of the changing world would turn God into a temporal, finite ‘being among beings’ is perhaps to forget that God is transcendent; i.e., perhaps transcendence can embrace such change without undermining God’s ‘eternity’ (as triune fullness of beatitude).

God’s creative options

hqdefault

Just thinking out loud here. No commitments. Just speculating.

In the immediately preceding post I noted Hart’s criticism of those who imagine God’s choice to create in terms of a deliberation among infinite options. There are some, for example, those of a more analytic bent, who revel in talk of ‘possible worlds’, logical constructs depicting God’s creational ‘options’. Most suppose these to be infinite, since God is infinite. But certainly they’re innumerable. God could have created, say, a world with no sentient beings in it at all. Or he might have created a world populated with beings programmed to do only his bidding, or he might have — and on and on the possibilities go.

I think talk of an infinite number of possible worlds other than this one, possible worlds God deliberated and from which he picked this world to create, is mistaken. I do think there are innumerable possibilities this world faces, possible futures this world’s own inherent dispositions and capacities might or might not realize in time. So talk of possible ways this world can become is certainly meaningful. But other initial states, i.e., a number of other beginnings or fundamentally different original orders, a pre-creational slate of infinite and contrary ‘options’ of which our world was but one? This all seems impossible talk to me now. I think Hart is right. God doesn’t choose from a menu of innumerable possible worlds he deliberates, because there are not an infinite number of worlds God could have created, and certainly no ‘best of all possible worlds’ debate to have in Leibnizian fashion.

I know this is a big claim. So why make it? The main reason to think God either creates this world or none at all lies in an Incarnational metaphysics of participation. Consider non-human (specifically, non-hypostatic or non-personal) creatures and entities. How do they achieve their end or telos in God? How is God “all in all” (1Cor 15.28) in them? Paul taught (Rom 8.22) that all creation groans “waiting for” the children of God to be revealed, that creation is only finally liberated when it is “brought into the freedom and glory” of humankind. Non-hypostatic realities find their telos not immediately in God, but mediately through human beings. That is to say that creation’s perfection is implicated in humanity’s perfection. I take this to be a fundamental metaphysical principle definitive of created being per se. I don’t know how to prove this, but my hunch is that Romans 8 is best understood as describing a kind of mediated teleology: all things other than human beings are implicated in humanity’s perfection, and all humankind is implicated in the perfection of the Incarnate One. This defines the scope of possible worlds because it defines the path of perfection which any creation must take.

The word Options on a cork notice board

Certainly no creation is conceivable that is not loved. And nothing is loved by God that is not intended for the greatest possible union with God, i.e., that does not have its end in God, its share in and contribution to God’s being “all in all.” For if God is the summum bonum, all possible worlds end in God’s being “all in all.” But none of this is possible apart from Incarnation. That is basically what I wanted to say. God would not create that for which he would not will himself as end, and as no non-hypostatic reality has its end in God immediately but only through implication as an aspect of the hypostatic existence of another (Rom 8), such created hypostatic reality becomes essential to any conceivable creation as the means by which God brings that order in its entirety to fulfillment in himself. Essentially then,

…there’s only one possible creation—Incarnation. Creation and Incarnation are one and the same possibility in God.

God either creates to bring all he creates to fulfillment in/through Incarnation, or he doesn’t create at all. All other varieties and created distinctions don’t constitute a range of options God chooses between. They are all potentialities inherent in the capacities and dispositions God breathes into his one determination to create for Incarnation. It should then be impossible not just to speak of this creation apart from Incarnation/Christology, but to speak of God’s creating at all apart from the intention to incarnate. Indeed, I’m suggesting that all possibilities for creation derive from and return to the one possibility of Incarnation.

What of Leibniz? We talk of the logic of infinite possible worlds and whether there is a “best of all possible worlds.” But God is the best possible world and whatever God creates has its best possible end in him. When God is viewed as summum bonum defining the end of every world (which must be the case), there can be no one best possible world among an infinite number of possible worlds (if we multiply worlds for the sake of argument) since every candidate possibility has God as its end. And thus,

as the value of anything created ex nihilo derives entirely from God and has its end in God, no world-order God brings into being can be better or worse than any other order God brings to be. Hence, there is no ‘best possible world’. Anything God does is as good as anything else God does.

In the end, there is in fact only one possible world to create—an initial state suitably fitted and sustained for the emergence of sentient-hypostatic/personal life for the sole purpose of Incarnation.

Prayer: Be all in all in me today, Incarnate One. May all I do—my seeing, my thinking, my touching, my speaking be your home.