Monday, February 07, 2005

Be wary of Ware-1

Dear. Dr. Ware,

I've read the introduction and Part I of your new book with interest. I'll confine my comments to chaps 4-5. Just so that you'll know where I'm coming from, I'm a Calvinist.

1. You say that "God cannot will directly and immediately to cause evil, since all that God wills to do himself (immediately) is good (e.g., Gen 1:31; Jas 1:13,17)...But if God does not directly cause evil, and yet evil happens under his watch...must it not be the case that he permits the evil to occur that he could, in any and every instance, prevent?" (106).

"Could God be the direct-causative agent actually giving the brothers their vengeful motives and jealous disposition, directly willing and causing them to hate Joseph...? The answer is no, for two reasons. First, this is contrary to the very nature of God. God does not do evil and hence he cannot cause (immediately or directly) evil attitudes, motives, or actions (Ps 5:4; Jas 1:13)" (127).

i) What does it mean to deny that God "directly wills" certain things? Willing is a mental act. When an agent wills something to be, there is no intermediary in the act of willing itself. Mental acts are immediate.

Now, perhaps what you mean is that God wills the end via the means. He wills the accomplishment of a given outcome through some secondary agent or agency. If so, that would at least make sense.

ii) I don't see how an "indirect-permissive" model of divine agency absolves God of complicity. Yes, you can define permission as the absence of prevention, but where does that get you? If God doesn't prevent an event, then the event will occur. And why will the event occur? Because God decreed the event. So all that permission means is that God doesn't prevent the execution of his own decree. How does that absolve God of complicity?

It is not as though bad things simply happen, of their own accord, unless God chooses to step in. Rather, they happen because he decreed their eventuation in the first place.

My point is not to say that God is complicit, in some morally compromising sense. My point, rather, is that your permissive model doesn't have what it takes to get the job done.

iii) It begs the question to cite passages like Gen 1:31; Ps 5:4, and Jas 1:13,17. Yes, they say that certain things are incompatible with God's character. Yet they do not define good and evil--either abstractly or ostensively. They don't say, specifically, what is good and what is evil--what it is that God is too good to do.

So what you have unconsciously done is to operate with a preconception of good and evil, which just so happens to dovetail with your main thesis, then invoke these verses under the unspoken assumption that they are talking about the very same thing you are talking about. You have, however, laid absolutely no foundation for that inference.

iv) On the face of it, there are passages of Scripture which attribute to God the very thing you deny. Ps 105:25 is a case in point. So are the cases in which God is said to blind and harden men, whether individually or en masse.

Now, perhaps you would counter this by saying that Scriptural depictions of providence often ignore second-causes. These are taken for granted, but left out of account in order to trace of given phenomenon back to its ultimate source.

And I wouldn't necessarily object to that explanation. But it raises two additional issues. When you deny divine impassibility and timeless eternality, you do so on one or two grounds: (a) the "clear teachings" (145) or "clear and unmistakable language" (138) of Scripture, as well as the further fact that, unlike corporeal representations of God, which are figurative in light of other passages, there are no other verses which deny divine affections.

Now, even if we agreed with your criteria, how does it apply to your passive model? Is the wording of Ps 105:25 or descriptions of divine hardening any more or less clear than descriptions and ascriptions of divine emotion?

And are there any other statements of Scripture which specifically deny that God hardens a man by directly implanting ill-motives, evil attitudes, or a depraved disposition?

To talk about the "clear teaching" of Scripture is ambiguous. Perhaps we need to distinguish between the clear wording or meaning of a given verse, and the clear teaching or meaning of Scripture as a whole.

But if you do that, then you no longer have a knockdown argument against the classical theistic model of God as impassible and aspatiotemporal. Perhaps you can still make your case, but it will take more than simple prooftexting to do so.

2. You speak of a "mechanism by which God controls good as his 'direct-causative' divine agency; so here we can refer to God's control of evil as his ‘indirect-permissive’ divine agency" (106).

But one problem with this causal bifurcation is that evil can be person-variable. That is to say, the same thing can be good for one person, but bad for another. We may classify a flood as a natural evil, especially if it results in the loss of human life. Yet a flood can also be a natural good. The economy of ancient Egypt was dependent on the annual flooding of the Nile.

What about moral evils? As you know, the genealogy of Christ (Mt 1:1-17) numbers some ancestors who were guilty of immorality. Yet it culminates with the Christ-event.

Likewise, should we classify the Crucifixion as good or evil? And should we assign a different mode of divine agency depending on how we answer the question? But, of course, the Crucifixion is both good and evil--in different respects.

3. You cite a number of verses to prove a permissive will. But your appeal suffers from a fallacy of equivocation. You are using "permission" as a sort of synonym for divine nonintervention, according to which things happen on their own unless God takes some special action to prevent their occurrence.

Now, in Mk 5:12-13, what we have is the idea of divine authorization. The demons don't have the right to take such an action unless their superior (the Son of God) gives them the right to do so. Moreover, the purpose of the story is not to illustrate the passive or permissive role of Christ, but, quite the contrary, his sovereign authority as a divine exorcist.

In Acts 14:16 (cf. 17:30), what we have is the idea that God did not bring immediate retribution upon the heathen. Instead, he withheld his judgment in the furtherance of his long-range redemptive plan. Acts itself is structured around this concentric design (1:8).

In addition, by not revealing himself to the heathen as he did to the Jews, God thereby condemned the pagan multitudes to hell. It isn't a historical accident that they were born to live and die outside the pale of saving revelation.

In 1 Cor 16:7, and Heb 6:3, we have a pious disclaimer, based on the writer's ignorance of the divine will. The passive language is epistemic, not ontological. And in Acts 16:7, God's manifest will trumps the provisional plans of Paul.

In Gen 31:7, Laban would do Jacob harm, but God hedges Jacob round about.

In Exod 21:12-13, passive language is used to indicate an active idea, viz., that God arranged the circumstances so that the guilty victim would fall into the hands of the avenger of blood. In premeditated murder, the killer takes the initiative and thereby exerts some control over the outcome by orchestrating the circumstances. But to the unbelieving eye, for the victim to "fall into his hands" would be a luck of the draw. Moses, however, far from treating this as a random event, attributes it to the hidden hand of God. It is a divine happenstance. Even a "chance" encounter falls under God's providence.

Now, none of these verses either says or implies that events ordinarily unfold in some automatic fashion unless God meddles or interferes with the causal continuum. This is the old clockwork model of the universe, where the world ticks along without divine interruption except to rewind the watch or reset the time.

That's is certainly not the Biblical picture of divine providence. The presupposition, rather, is that God is behind everything that happens, but much of the time we don't know his will in advance of the outcome. This is a pillar of a Bible-based philosophy of history (e.g. Gen 50:20; Exod 12:36; Deut 2:30; Josh 11:20; 1 Sam 2:25; 2 Sam 16:20-23; 17:1-14; 1 Kgs 12:15; 2 Chron 10:12-15; 21:16; 25:17-20; Prov 16:9,14,33; 21:1, 30-31; Eccl 3:1-14; 7:13-14; Isa 10:5-7; 14:24-27; 31:2; 37:26; 43:13; Lam 3:37-38; Amos 3:5-6).

The idea is not that, as a rule, things happen apart from divine agency except when otherwise stated. The idea, rather, is that if something happens, God meant it to happen; and if something doesn't happen, God meant it not to happen. God is operating behind the scenes in either case. But sometimes he makes his activity more conspicuous.

If God didn't restrain Laban, that doesn't mean that Laban would be running on his own, self-contained battery-pack, apart from divine agency. Rather, it would only mean that God didn't restrain Laban because God intended for Laban to do something else pursuant to the divine plan.

There is nothing in these verses to imply a disjunctive mode of causality, whereby natural law and human agency represent the default setting, unless God happens to override the process. God is not a parking brake.

4. When, by your own admission, "some of these texts indicate a permission by God for good things to occur" (107), then your causal dichotomy breaks down. In that event we don't have two different engines powering the world--one supplied by God's occasional and immediate agency, but the other by natural law and human agency; with the former effecting good events, and the latter--evil events. If the permissive mode can apply to good events as well as evil events, then it doesn't amount to an alternative causal mechanism, does it?

5. You then mount a case for a Reformed version of middle knowledge. But your analysis suffers from several flaws.

i) You confound middle knowledge with counterfactual knowledge, as though these were interchangeable concepts. They are not.

Middle knowledge literally means mediate knowledge--knowledge mediated by some intermediate source of knowledge. That's why the original designation is scientia media.

But it does not follow that counterfactual knowledge must be mediate knowledge. The question is what serves to ground counterfactual knowledge?

God's counterfactual knowledge is a form of self-knowledge. He knows what is possible, which is a way of saying that he knows what all is possible for him to do. And he knows what would happen if he decreed otherwise. And such self-knowledge presumably figures in his choice of one possible world over another.

But it hardly follows from this that God's counterfactual knowledge has its origin in what the free agents would do, or that his choice is responsive to what they would do.

One might as well say that a little boy arranges his toy soldiers on the basis of what they would do. To the contrary, whatever the toy soldiers do or don't do is dependent on whatever he does with them. They are "responsive" to him, not vice versa.

It is convenient, for ease of analysis, for us to objectify what is possible as a possible world. To visualize the possible as though God were flipping through a mail-order catalog. But we need to keep in mind that this is picture-language.

Counterfactual knowledge is not derivative of the counterfactuals themselves. Rather, the counterfactuals are contingent on the self-application of God's omniscience to his omnipotence. God knows what he could do with any possibility in combination with any other possibility, for "possibility" is only a synonym for divine omnipotence. God knows all possibilities and compossibilities, as well as all impossibilities and incompossibilities. But that is all indexed to the divine nature and will, not the mundane nature and will.

Counterfactuals are not something in-between possibilities and eventualities. Rather, counterfactuals are a subset of possibilities. Specifically, counterfactuals are unexemplified possibilities.

As far as the problem of evil is concerned, I think that a Reformed theodicy is to be found in the fusion of two elements: (i) a supralapsarian teleology and (ii) a compatibilist theory of the will. A number of writers, such as John Fischer and Jonathan Edwards have laid out a detailed case for combatibilism. And a number of Reformed theologians have outlined the makings of a supralapsarian teleology in connection with the problem of evil, but this strategy has yet to receive a systematic exposition and defense.

6. In chapter 5, you note the asymmetry in many textbook discussions of God's relation to time and space. You then contend that we should take a more consistent position--according to which God is present in all the divisions of time just as he is present in every dimension of space.

i) Frankly, this argument is rather obtuse. For one thing, it overlooks the obvious fact that the reasoning is reversible. One could just as well resolve the asymmetry in the opposite direction, viz., if God subsists outside of time, and time is parallel to space, then God subsists outside of space as well.

You offer no explanation for this oversight. Did it never occur to you? To say the least, you're argument is scarcely cogent when the very same form of reasoning can be used to prove the contrary. As Edwards has put it, "it is equally improper to talk of months and years of the divine existence, as of square miles of deity," The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth 1984), 1:72b.

ii) And having ignored or disregarded the convertible character of the proposition, you naturally fail to present any subsidiary argument as to why we should favor your presumption, rather than the reverse.

Why not treat the language of omnipresence (e.g., Ps 139:7-10) as picture-language? As a metaphor for God's omniscience and omnipotence (cf. Prov 15:3; Jer 23:23-24; Amos 9:2)? On that view, what God's "ubiquity" literally means is that God can act at any place and any time. Or, to be even more precise, a timeless God is related to the world, not by acting on the world or in the world, but by enacting a given world--with everything therein.

Likewise, God's knowledge is not limited by the divisions of time because his knowledge is not dependent on the divisions of time. By definition, time and space are limits--boundary conditions--in contrast to a God whose existence comprises an actual infinite.

iii) Since Scripture depicts God, not only as everywhere (Deut 4:39; 1 Kgs 8:27), but as "coming" and "going" (Gen 11:5; Exod 19:20; Hab 3:3), no consistently literal interpretation is even feasible, for to come and goes implies that one is "here" rather than "there," or vice versa.

iv) When Scripture says that the Lord appeared to Abimelech in a dream (Gen 20:3), is the reader expected to conclude from this spatial language that the transaction took place in a little compartment somewhere inside the noggin of Abimelech?

v) You choose to take the spatial imagery in Ps 139:7-10 literally. In consistency, you should also take the visual imagery in vv11-12 the same way. Does God, then, have literal night vision? Can he see in the dark with a pair of physical eyes--like a nocturnal beast?

It won't do at this point to invoke your abstract definition of an anthropomorphism (146, n.19), for even if that were otherwise valid, it would do violence to the literary unity of Ps 139 to treat 7-10 as literal, but 11-12 as figurative.

7. You maintain that God subsisted outside of time and space before he made the world, but in making the world he acquired a spatiotemporal relation.

But how does that follow? How does a creative fiat generate a communication of attributes? Did God sprout fins and feathers when he makes fish and fowl? The creation account (Gen 1) tells us about a change in the creative object (creation), not the creative subject (the Creator).

Even a new relation doesn't necessarily entail a communication of attributes. When a man fathers a son, his father becomes a grandfather, even though his father may be deceased.

If God is truly timeless, then there was never a time when he had not the Creator of the world--although the world would have a first moment in time. Effects can be datable events even if their causes are not. If God made the world, then his fiat was effective at it certain point in time (day 1), but it doesn't follow that God began to act on day 1.

8. You go on to to claim that "in becoming omnipresent and omnitemporal, God did not change in any respect who he eternally is apart from creation. He only adds, as it were, the qualities of is being also immanently related to his creation, in all of its points of space and all of its moments of time" (136).

i) Unfortunately, this is a very big assertion bereft of any supporting argument. You give the reader no reason to believe that a finite mode of subsistence can be annexed to an infinite mode of subsistence without scaling the infinite down to the finite.

This isn't just my personal opinion. You refer the reader to Feinberg's defense of temporal eternality (133, n.4). Yet Feinberg says that knowledge of indexicals "also poses a challenge to temporal eternity and omniscience, for if God is in time, there seem to be things he does not know, since at every moment he learns the truth of a new indexical proposition," No One Like Him (Crossway 2001), 269.

Yours is not a self-evident claim. To the contrary, it is a counterintuitive claim. So where's the supporting argument?

Your comparison with the Incarnation begs the question in several respects:

ii) To say that, at the moment of creation, God assumes a spatiotemporal mode of subsistence is arguably parallel to a kenotic theory of the Incarnation. So the only parallel would be between heretical theology and heretical Christology.

iii) There is more than one model of the hypostatic union. Your claim might be at home in Lutheran Christology, but not Reformed theology--which insists on a categorical Creator/creature distinction, captured by the slogan: finitum non est capax infiniti.

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