Monday, October 29, 2012

The natural law theodicy

…to preserve the lawlike regularity of the world there must come a point at which God will refrain from saving a fawn from fire, for example, even though performing this act of mercy would not significantly decrease the lawlike regularity.

Assuming that God sees value in creating a world with meaningful freedom and stable order, it is doubtful that he would intervene often to…disrupt the natural order unless the overall balance between goods and evils began to tip in the direction towards evils.

D. Baggett and Jerry Walls, Good God (Oxford 2011), 144,153.

A few observations:

i) Up to a point, I think a natural law theodicy has some merit. There are advantages to a world that doesn’t operate like a lucid dream or Alice in Wonderland. Too much sameness is tedious, but too much fragmentation is depressing, even maddening.

And, indeed, if the world were like a lucid dream, it wouldn’t be a world, but many worlds. You’d have as many worlds as you’d have lucid dreamers (or the equivalent). To have a collective social existence, some stability is necessary. We must inhabit the same world. And to be the same world, it can’t conform to every individual whim.

So I think a natural law theodicy is a useful counter to the atheist claim that if God exists, we’d expect him to miraculously intervene on a regular basis.

ii) By the same token, a natural law theodicy doesn’t select for freewill theism. It’s possible to incorporate a natural law theodicy into Calvinism.

iii) However, there are limitations to a natural law theodicy. Nowadays it’s increasingly common for Christian thinkers to focus on the resurrection of the body rather than the immortality of the soul, the new earth rather than heaven–as the locus of the afterlife. For a good exposition, cf. Christopher Wright, The God I Don’t Understand (Zondervan 2008), chap. 11.

Indeed, Christian physicalists have no alternative. Mind you, I think the Bible teaches both the intermediate state and the final state.

If we we’ll have glorified bodies, then embodied agents need a physical habitat. So that dovetails nicely with Biblical depictions of the new earth.

But that in turn raises a question: will the new earth have a stable environment? Will the new earth still have natural laws?

If so, will God protect the saints from natural hazards on the new earth? Will he intervene, if necessary, to prevent death or serious injury on the new earth? Even on the new earth, it’s naturally possible to drown or die from falling off a cliff. Fatal accidents are naturally possible. There’s also the question of whether the new earth will still be subject to natural “disasters.” After all, a natural “evil” can be a natural good. What makes it “evil” is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If God’s protective intervention in the world to come is compatible with a stable environment, then why not now? In that respect, how does the freewill theist draw the line between this world and the world to come?


  1. More importantly, I hope we will still eat meat in the new earth.