Friday, February 22, 2019


Why doesn't God stop evil more often? Why doesn't God answer prayer more often? There's a principle common to the problem of evil and the problem of unanswered prayer. 

When I'm driving in town, it would sure be convenient for me if all the traffic lights were green in my direction. That would expedite my trip. But what's convenient for me would be inconvenient for all the drivers waiting at red lights so that I have unimpeded egress. 

It would be convenient for me if, instead of waiting for a bus, the bus waited for me. Suppose I could leave the house at any time, and a bus just happened to be at the bus stop. But while that would be convenient for me, that would inconvenience all the other bus riders. It would make the bus schedule totally unpredictable. What's best for me may not be best for somebody else. What's good for me may be bad for somebody else. 

Here's the principle: the more agents there are, the more complicated it is to coordinate everybody's interests. Adding agents reduces the number of consistent outcomes. What every agent does must be consistent with every other agent's actions. Only so many outcomes can be crammed into one time and place.

We can see this in the difference between the past, present, and future. 19C New York City can't coexist with 21C New York City. WWI can't coexist with the Napoleonic wars. There's only so much room for different simultaneous events. Everyday may use up all the space for what can happen that day. Agents form a network of interactions. Adding or subtracting agents triggers a chain-reaction. 

One reason God doesn't answer more prayers is because all answers to prayer must be compossible. There's potential conflict between acting in the interest of one agent and acting in the interest of another agent, because each agent's life has a longitudinal impact that may counteract what's best for another agent. 

That seems to limit what even an omnipotent God can do. Even in the case of Calvinism, where God isn't hindered by the independent freedom of human agents, the feasible options are not unlimited because it's a question of what's mathematically possible in terms of spatiotemporal coherence. Some chains of events are incompatible with other chains of events. 


  1. Reminds me of a Jewish tale of a man with two daughters. One was married to a pottery maker, the other to a farmer. He went around visiting. At the older daughter's house, she asked her father to pray for sunshine so the pots could continue drying. At the younger daughter's home, the girl asked her father to pray for rain so the crops would be healthy. Upon reaching his own home, he looked up at the heavens and said, "Alright Adonia, now what??" :)

  2. This reminds me Aquinas' description of concurrences. Our notions and apprehensions of causality barely scratch the surface. People think simplistically. That prayer for this, this prayer for that. God is co-mixing billions of actions, wills, requests and desires into his Plan.