Whether the Old Testament Lord Is Evil?

Bradley believes that God as He is described especially in the Old Testament is an evil, immoral figure because of the violent actions He commanded or authorized or threatened people with, including (P1) the slaughter of innocents, (P2) giving captive virgins to the troops, (P3) causing people to cannibalize their relatives, (P4) condoning child sacrifice, and (P5) fire and brimstone for the unbelievers. (132-142)

Now (P1)-(P4) are unique to the OT; (P5) is unique to the NT. Let’s apply to the former deontology first and consequentialism second.

First, that God had the right to take life in those days (and only in those days) I defend in my “Understanding the Salvation History” and elsewhere.

Second, how does Bradley know that the good that came out of God’s actions in the end did not outweigh the evil that He caused? God, given his perfect foresight, could easily calculate the consequences of His actions from the beginning of the universe till kingdom come. If God is a perfect utilitarian, then He’ll work to maximize human happiness as much as possible. And here is a plausible good that resulted from all those battles and punishments and whatnot: the coming of Christ through Israel and redemption of mankind, the establishment of the Church, the elevation of all humans to the rank of servants of God, and salvation for billions. But even if our author disagreed with this assessment, it would be up to him to show that the evils God inflicted on various people in the OT are not justified by some greater good. As long as the scenario I described is possible, I don’t think that God can be shown to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

And as for (P5) threats of hellfire in the NT, well, you’ve got to be forgiven for your transgressions to go to heaven, and

(1) not believing in Christ entails not believing in the existence of the only being who can forgive all your sins;

(2) not believing in the Holy Spirit entails not believing in the only being who can cleanse and heal and uplift you into fellowship with God; and

(3) not believing in the Father entails not believing in the only being who is pleased to give you the kingdom.

However, we are saved by Christ not by Christianity, so this answer is insufficient.

I answer, therefore, that it is permissible for a Christian to hold that (1) hell exists and is indeed a place of eternal horror but actually is and always will be empty; and further that (2) hellfire is restricted to purgatory and to especially severe cases of sinfulness or self-destruction, where it functions not as punishment but as an ultimate and perfectly serviceable incentive to human moral monsters to reform. No one can feel the hellfire and fail to be reliably terrified into mending his ways right then and there.

It is then possible to go to hell, and moreover one must avoid hell through his own efforts, but God’s mercy is so great that He ultimately saves everyone.

Miracles As Evidence Against the Existence of God?

How does Overall justify such a surprising idea? She says, first, that miracles are gaps, “moments of chaos” in the causal structure of the universe. These events are “misleading to human beings who, as knowledge-seekers, attempt to understand the world by discerning the regularities and patterns in it. The extreme rarity of miracles and the difficulties and controversies in identifying them are an impediment to the growth of scientific and philosophical comprehension. A benevolent God would not mislead his people.” (150-1) This argument seems strange. For if miracles are extremely rare, then the “gaps” in the matrix of the laws of nature occur very rarely, and so causality almost always works as expected. This makes discovering natural laws as easy as if miracles never occurred at all. Physicists and chemists and the lot of them are never afraid that their experiments will be compromised by miraculous interventions. So, what’s the problem?

(I don’t even mention the possibility that God can miraculously inform some scientist of a hitherto unknown law of nature.)

Perhaps Overall wants miracles themselves to be as predictable and open to study as regular events. On the one hand, this is unwise, since miracles do not happen mechanically according to physical causation. God is not a slot machine whereby pulling a lever causes a “miracle” to occur. On the other hand, miracles do point to something, which she terms “the pattern of the miraculous. Thus, for the religious believer, two very general patterns are discernible: the pattern of natural events, which is studied by science, and the pattern of divine events, consisting of interventions in the natural order.”

Here she poses a dilemma to the effect that either miracles are very infrequent, and then it is hard to discern any pattern they make up, or miracles happen every day, and so they are “disruptive of human efforts to see the world as forming a coherent, unified, consistent pattern.” (151) She need not worry; I can tell her what the pattern of miraculous events is right now. All miracles are signs of the divine power and goodness. They are attributed specifically to God the Father since, though He “completed the work he had been doing; He rested on the seventh day from all the work He had undertaken” (Gen 2:2), it presumably makes sense occasionally to remind the people that “God lives.” Miracles never happen without someone’s noticing them and interpreting them properly, i.e., that there exists an Author of nature who retains full power over it.

(We are now dealing with miracles other than those performed by Jesus which then testified to the Son’s nature and mission.)

Given this singular purpose of miracles, it is no longer plausible to call God “capricious and biased” and His miracles “trivial and arbitrary.”

Overall admits that “some slight confusion in our growing understanding of the world is but a small price to pay for the other goods that a miracle would afford us.” Indeed so. One must then balance the good of miracles as versus the good of keeping the causal structure of the world intact. Some sort of “constrained optimization” must take place. Thus, there is a point at which the good resulting from an increase in the number of miracles even by single one will be outweighed by the evil of rendering the world more unpredictable (and of fighting men’s battles for them too much), and, on the other hand, the good of making the world more predictable will be outweighed by the evil of reducing the number of miracles even by a single one. And it’s God’s job to optimize this system, such as to do miracles until their marginal benefit falls below their marginal cost.

Second, she asserts that miracles “seem to make use of human weaknesses — for example, fear, suggestibility, ignorance, and awe of the unknown.” (151) Meh.

Miracles make use of man’s awe of God’s infinitude, power, goodness, and so on. And to have this kind of awe is a strength.

Man is ignorant of God’s essence, forever so, but to recognize that a finite mind cannot comprehend the infinite is itself a true and useful piece of knowledge. We obtain this knowledge after witnessing a miracle by realizing that God’s ad extra power extends to infinity, as being able to create anything; and therefore His knowledge and essence are infinite also.

If one interprets a natural event as miraculous, then it is appropriate to condemn that person as suggestible, but not if he interprets the event as a miracle correctly. (Or if he is, in fact, suggestible, then this trait is a virtue, e.g., “openness to genuine religious experiences,” while the contrary to it skepticism is a vice.) Etc.

Third, “if accomplishing good, communicating divine teaching, or reviving religious awareness are divine purposes, miracles seem scarcely adequate to their accomplishment, for few people have been helped, and many remain skeptical” (152), our author writes. That few people have been helped is false; thus, St. Thomas writes:

Now, it is plain that whatever the saints have believed and handed down to us concerning the Christian Faith is confirmed by God’s seal, which is to be seen in those works which no mere creature is able to do, namely, the miracles by which Christ confirmed the doctrine of the Apostles and of other saints.

And if anyone says that nobody has seen those miracles done, I reply that it is a well-known fact, related in pagan histories, that the whole world worshiped idols and persecuted the Christian Faith; yet now, behold all (the wise, the noble, the rich, the powerful, and the great) have been converted by the words of a few simple poor men who preached Christ.

Now was this a miracle or was it not?

If it was, then you have what you asked for. If you say it was not a miracle, then I say that you could not have a greater miracle than the conversion of the whole world without miracles, and we need seek no further. (AC, 1.I.A.5.d)

In short, billions of Christians have been helped. And as for that “many remain skeptical,” well, whose fault is that? Perhaps Overall’s point is that miracles are inherently poor signs of God’s abilities. Well, what else would Overall have God do? If a miracle is not taken as evidence of God’s existence and properties as natural theology describes them, what will be? Should God align the galaxies to spell out Genesis? Should He perhaps show Overall His glory? With all due respect, our author is neither Jesus nor even Moses.

Whether God Allocates Salvation, etc. Unfairly?

Schoenig aims to convict God of “unfairness.” On the one hand, God seems unfair to people who do not attain the state of moral accountability by damning them, or sending them to limbo, or annihilating them, thus not giving them a chance to succeed and achieve salvation. On the other hand, He may slight people who do attain this state by saving them only on the condition of virtuous behavior, while the unborn, young children, the mentally retarded, etc. go to heaven automatically, without having to work for it.

The argument then is as follows:

A = the set of persons who die without ever attaining the state of moral accountability.
B = the set of persons who die only after attaining the state of moral accountability.
O = the gain of postmortem eternal salvation and avoidance of postmortem eternal damnation.

Let further RPT stand for reward/punishment theology. Then

1. If God treats A under RPTD [damnation], RPTL [limbo], or RPTA [annihilation], then God acts unfairly toward A in comparison to B with repect to O.
2. If God treats A under RPTS [salvation], then God acts unfairly toward B in comparison with A with respect to O.
3. God treats A under RPTD or RPTL or RPTA or RPTS.
4. Therefore, God acts unfairly toward either A or B with respect to O.
5. If a person acts unfairly, then that person is not omnibenevolent.
6. Therefore, God is not omnibenevolent.
7. Therefore, God does not exist. (171)

Our author writes about the first kind of unfairness, “Given that the maximal ecstasies of heaven are available, the nebulous consolation prize of limbo would be a bland and unfair eternal destiny for those whose destinies were never in their own hands in the first place.” (172) One reply is that the A-persons in “limbo” never really know what they are missing.

He writes about the second kind, “Why… was Hitler not automatically saved by being naturally aborted?” (176) Well, God may have preferred to give Hitler a chance at “maximal ecstasies” despite (foreseeing) the fact that Hitler would foul it up, rather than have Hitler a perpetual zygote in some celestial nursery. Alternatively, perhaps Hitler’s soul was sacrificed for some “greater good” that would not have been possible unless he was allowed to become a B-person (even if perhaps ultimately damned).

Now it is plain that attaining the state of moral accountability and living morally from then on must be rewarded (at least according to RPT). St. Thomas writes that one’s happiness depends on how well one sees God in the hereafter, such that

Of those who see the essence of God, one sees Him more perfectly than another. This… will take place because one intellect will have a greater power or faculty to see God than another. The faculty of seeing God, however, does not belong to the created intellect naturally, but is given to it by the light of glory, which establishes the intellect in a kind of “deiformity”…

Hence the intellect which has more of the light of glory will see God the more perfectly; and he will have a fuller participation of the light of glory who has more charity; because where there is the greater charity, there is the more desire; and desire in a certain degree makes the one desiring apt and prepared to receive the object desired. Hence he who possesses the more charity, will see God the more perfectly, and will be the more beatified. (ST, I, 12, 6)

But charity can be only in those who reach the age of reason. What happens to those who do not?

This is a difficult mystery in Christianity which has never been solved to my satisfaction. I suggest that premise (3) in Schoenig’s argument may be a false dilemma. First, “heaven” and therefore human “eternal destinies” may be far more complicated than we can imagine. Second, an obvious missing option is reincarnation which largely resolves this issue and for which there is, as far as I’m concerned, a preponderance of evidence.

God’s “Incompatible Properties,” 1

Drange presents for our consideration supposedly incompatible attributes of God.

1) Perfection vs. Creation:

1. If God exists, then he is perfect.
2. If God exists, then he is the creator of the universe.
3. A perfect being can have no needs or wants.
4. If any being created the universe, then he must have had some need or want.
5. Therefore, it is impossible for a perfect being to be the creator of the universe (from 3 and 4).
6. Hence, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 5). (186)

My reply: Premise 4 is false, since God created the universe according to neither physical nor teleological causation. God’s nature is not dualist but uniquely triplist, with the 3rd level understood as “goodness.” Therefore, God neither had to create as if a machine, nor wanted to create as if an imperfect dissatisfied spirit. God created through the overflowing of His goodness. I have of course dealt with this in great detail earlier.

2) Immutability vs. Creation:

1. If God exists, then he is immutable.
2. If God exists, then he is the creator of the universe.
3. An immutable being cannot at one time have an intention and then at a later time not have that intention.
4. For any being to create anything, prior to creation he must have had the intention to create it, but at a later time, after the creation, no longer have the intention to create it.
5. Thus, it is impossible for an immutable being to have created anything (from 3 and 4).
6. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 5). (187)

My reply: We can distinguish logically between ad intra and ad extra divine faculties. Regarding God the Father as Creator, since God is eternal, there is, however, no temporal distinction: the Father (unlike the Holy Spirit and the Son) has always been good, and the world was always meant to be. The Father’s intellect, will, and power have always been adequate.

Regarding intention, I argue that as the human (1st-level) body moves, so the God’s (2nd-level) spirit loves; that is, as the body moves without any external forces moving it, so the spirit loves by creating things and infusing being without any dissatisfaction felt by the lover — without any external object, the non-possession of which causes God displeasure.

Nothing other than (3rd-level) goodness moves God’s will. The Father chooses the state of affairs “2nd-level God + the world” over the state of affairs “God alone,” but only by reason of His goodness, or mysteriously in order to show forth and communicate His goodness. The world for God is not a consumer good from which He derives utility.

Therefore, God never had an unsatisfied desire that vexed Him until He scratched His itch, either in time or in eternity. According to the First Vatican Council, God created “not for increasing his own beatitude, nor for attaining his perfection, but in order to manifest this perfection through the benefits which he bestows on creatures.” (Catechism, §293)

3) Immutability vs. Omniscience:

3. An immutable being cannot know different things at different times.
4. To be omniscient, a being would need to know propositions about the past and future.
5. But what is past and what is future keep changing.
6. Thus, in order to know propositions about the past and future, a being would need to know different things at different times (from 5).
7. It follows that, to be omniscient, a being would need to know different things at different times (from 4 and 6).
8. Hence, it is impossible for an immutable being to be omniscient (from 3 and 7).
9. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 8) (189)

My reply: Ad intra, without reference to the creation, God is both absolutely immutable and omniscient. Regarding His knowledge of “enunciable things,” i.e., propositions, St. Thomas argues that God does not in His inner life think by forming propositions in His mind and contemplating them. He “knows each thing… by understanding the essence of each thing; as if we by the very fact that we understand what man is, were to understand all that can be predicated of man. … Now the species of the divine intellect, which is God’s essence, suffices to represent all things. Hence by understanding His essence, God knows the essences of all things, and also whatever can be accidental to them.”

Yet he insists that God knows and at least is able to entertain propositions: “Since it is in the power of our intellect to form enunciations [thoughts expressing propositions], and since God knows whatever is in His own power or in that of creatures…, it follows of necessity that God knows all enunciations that can be formed.” (ST, I, 14, 14)

The main puzzle concerns indexical propositions, i.e., those varying in reference with the individual speaker though words like I, now, here. If God knows (has a justified true belief) that today is Wednesday, then tomorrow he will cease to know that it is Wednesday. If God knows that Socrates is sitting, then His knowledge will change when Socrates stands up. St. Thomas is fully aware of this problem, himself raising the objection: “God knew that Christ would be born. But He does not know now that Christ will be born; because Christ is not to be born in the future. Therefore God does not know everything He once knew; and thus the knowledge of God is variable.” (15, objection 3)

As a result, things are considerably more complicated regarding God’s ad extra attributes. Now God the Son died at the hands of goodness not once but three times for the sake of the improvement of each of His faculties — intellect, power, and will (from merely ad intra to ad extra). His first death allowed Him to choose which possible Father’s and potential Holy Spirit’s world should become actual. God’s natural knowledge is ad intra and fixed from eternity; His middle knowledge is ad extra, generated upon the decision to create, but also fixed from eternity. The Father’s creative act was a miracle; the Holy Spirit bestows grace; and the Son solicitude regards nature. Thus, the Son’s first kind of free knowledge, concerning every action of both creatures and Himself as ruler of the communion of saints into their everlasting lives, became fixed upon the Son’s free decision at creation. The resulting best actual world may be called the “Path.” Once the Path has been fully mapped, God is mostly done.

(A possible caveat already mentioned elsewhere is that before His incarnation, the Son did not know what would happen afterwards and so was not ad extra omniscient.)

Further, God is easily able to distinguish between this world’s present, past, and future by virtue of His atemporal eternity and superiority thereof. God does not exist “outside of time” but in time perfected and transcended. He is eternal, surveying all time. As a result, God does not absurdly attempt to change the past or interact with a future person, etc.

But God’s second kind of free propositional knowledge, regarding what time it is now and what’s happening now and what’s in the past or future, is ad extra and variable in time.

Incompatible Properties, 2

4) Immutability vs. Love:

3. An immutable being cannot be affected by events.
4. To be all-loving, it must be possible for a being to be affected by events.
5. Hence, it is impossible for an immutable being to be all-loving (from 3 and 4).
6. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 5). (190)

My reply: St. Thomas solves this problem in an exceedingly simple way: “a thing has existence, or any kind of good, only inasmuch as it is willed by God. To every existing thing, then, God wills some good. Hence, since to love anything is nothing else than to will good to that thing, it is manifest that God loves everything that exists.” (ST, I, 20, 2) Clearly, no immediate threat to the immutability of God is present in this understanding.

However, Drange asks us to consider the concept of love as “agape, which is the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of others.” (190) Such love must exist in God. But how is it manifested, and how is it compatible with immutability?

The proof is in the 3 sacrifices of God the Son. Each time a potency was introduced in Him which reduced Him to almost nothing, yet in actualizing this potency, the Son was reborn in glory.

The first death uplifted His intellect. The Son was blinded and yet upon choosing to take part in creation, He obtained in addition to His natural vision and full comprehension of God the free knowledge of the world that He could not have otherwise. The reason why the Son was in ultimate control, taking the natural and middle knowledge as inputs and directing both the Father and the Holy Spirit, was that the world was made for Him, and He is its ruler.

The second near-death occurred at His conception. The Son was reduced from God to a zygote. His power was thus dialed down to zero, yet upon His embrace of life and public ministry (perhaps at His baptism), Jesus grew up with the omnipotence equal to the Father’s, as manifested by His subsequent miracles. That’s the sense of “kenosis.”

His final death and self-sacrifice occurred through the Christ’s passion on the cross. He was tempted with hating mankind yet found us worthy at the end by rising from the dead, loving us with His will so much as to draw all unto Himself as branches to His vine.

God therefore is absolutely immutable by His 2nd-level nature, but can be made mutable by 3rd-level goodness. Since God is by nature pure act, any potency added to Him all but destroys His nature, but each time His nature was restored along with the world without end.

God’s self-sacrificial agape for us has therefore been demonstrated in action 3 times. Each death and rebirth changed God, but having accomplished all, God’s love for us now is once more immutable. “To sorrow, therefore, over the misery of others belongs not to God; but it does most properly belong to Him to dispel that misery, whatever be the defect we call by that name,” says St. Thomas (ST, I, 21, 3).

5) Transcendence vs. Omnipresence:

1. If God exists, then he is transcendent (i.e., outside space and time).
2. If God exists, then he is omnipresent.
3. To be transcendent, a being cannot exist anywhere in space.
4. To be omnipresent, a being must exist everywhere in space.
5. Hence, it is impossible for a transcendent being to be omnipresent (from 3 and 4).
6. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 5). (191)

My reply: Drange himself points out that premise 3 is vulnerable: “a being could be partly inside space and partly outside.” However, he finds this idea incoherent.

Let’s then clarify both concepts. God is present in each point in space both materially and spiritually. For material omnipresence, see

God Causes Inertial Motion;
God As Unmoved Mover; and
Proof of God’s Material Simplicity.

If God were omnipresent as simple 1st-level matter, then He would by that fact exclude all other bodies from space. It follows that He is omnipresent rather as rest energy.

This divine energy or wave-vibration permeates all things and all space. Its very universality within all created “fabric of reality” makes it ordinarily undetectable by us.

Regarding spiritual omnipresence, God is everywhere by “essence, presence, and power”: by essence which is existence, “inasmuch as He is present to all as the cause of their being.” (ST, I, 8, 3) “But being is innermost in each thing and most fundamentally inherent in all things since it is formal in respect of everything found in a thing… Hence it must be that God is in all things, and innermostly.” (1) St. Thomas summarizes this point: “God is in all things by His power, inasmuch as all things are subject to His power; He is by His presence in all things, as all things are bare and open to His eyes; He is in all things by His essence, inasmuch as He is present to all as the cause of their being.” (3)

Transcendence means that God is not contained in the universe in any sense whatsoever, that He is not the world-soul, that He is “above all things by the excellence of His nature,” (1, reply 1) yet, unlike in the philosophy of process theism, the world does not also transcend God, since all things pre-exist in God as in the first cause.

6) Transcendence vs. Personhood:

3. If something is transcendent, then it cannot exist and perform actions within time.
4. But a person (or personal being) must exist and perform actions within time.
5. Therefore, something that is transcendent cannot be a person (or personal being) (from 3 and 4).
6. Hence, …

My reply: The previous argument considered space; this one deals with time.

Now premise 4 is an unhappy one. God exists in eternity and would remain a person or rather the Trinity even without creation. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would each possess their own intellect, power, and will, and so would be persons.

Again, God does not exist “partly inside time and partly outside time,” a straw man of an objection to his own argument that Drange considers (which I agree would be incoherent). God’s eternity consists in “simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life,” i.e., a package of past, present, future, and timelessness wrapped into a single moment in which God lives and is in pure act. See, for example,

God’s Eternity, 1,
God’s Eternity, 2.

What Drange probably means is that a transcendent eternal God cannot be related to by us, if He cannot come down to our human temporal level.

But one of the perks of being thus eternal or transcendent with respect to time is precisely the ability to inspect all 4 time periods from a vantage point. A being as absolutely superior as God can always communicate with His creatures.

Drange mentions a related argument that opposes transcendence and freedom. As already argued, God ad intra has a will, but no free will, because He does not need freedom, being perfectly happy. Freedom is needed to choose between pleasures, to pick one and for its sake reluctantly sacrifice all others. But as Mises argued,

For an [ad intra] all-powerful being there is no pressure to choose between various states of uneasiness; he is not under the necessity of acquiescing in the lesser evil. Omnipotence would mean the power to achieve everything and to enjoy full satisfaction without being restrained by any limitations.

But this is incompatible with the very concept of action. For an almighty being the categories of ends and means do not exist. …

For the almighty being every “means” renders unlimited services, he can apply every “means” for the attainment of any ends, he can achieve every end without the employment of any means. (HA, 69)

But ad extra, in relation with the created universe, God is free by having chosen and created (again, as part of the Son’s death and rebirth) the best possible world out of an infinitude of all possibilities, by issuing grace to the just, and by governing the communion of saints in both time in this life and aeviternity in the next according to His counsel.

Thus, God is both transcendent away from and immanent within the world.

Incompatible Properties, 3

7) Non-physicality vs. Personhood:

1. If God exists, then he is nonphysical.
2. If God exists, then he is a person (or personal being).
3. A person (or personal being) needs to be physical.
4. Hence, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1-3). (193)

My reply: First, God is not “non-physical.” He has a 1st fully physical level which is materially simple and efficiently free. This “body” entails no potentiality in God.

Second, insofar as the opposition between non-physicality and personhood is an entailment from materialism, it suffers from all the problems of this doctrine.

Drange himself points out that “not all nontheists would accept 3. … This argument turns on the issue of whether the idea of a ‘bodiless person’ is consistent and coherent. That is a difficult and highly controversial issue, and I shall not pursue it here…”

Well, alright then.

8) Omnipresence vs. Personhood:

My reply: I see no contradiction between omnipresence and God’s personhood. As already stated, the former is not only material but spiritual, as well.

9) Omniscience vs. Freedom:

3. An omniscient being must know exactly what actions he will and will not do in the future.
4. If one knows that he will do an action, then it is impossible for him not to do it, and if one knows that he will not do an action, then it is impossible for him to do it.
5. Thus, whatever an omniscient being does, he must do, and whatever he does not do, he cannot do (from 3 and 4).
6. To be free requires having options open, which means having the ability to act contrary to the way one actually acts.
7. So, if one is free, then he does not have to do what he actually does, and he is able to do things that he does not actually do (from 6).
8. Hence, it is impossible for an omniscient being to be free (from 5 and 7). (194)

My reply: Once again, God ad intra is not free, or perhaps free vacuously, by virtue of not needing freedom to choose between satisfactions. He is perfectly and infinitely happy and wants nothing for Himself other than what He already has.

But ad extra, there is a problem of the seeming inevitability of the inference from God’s foreknowledge to the nonexistence of God’s own freedom of the will. The solution is the same as in the usual variant of this puzzle which deals with human freedom. As a matter of fact, Drange’s version of the problem is even easier, because we don’t need to know how God knows future contingents. God knows what He wills, because He wills it; if He had willed differently, then He would have known differently. In logical moment 1, God has decided to actualize the best possible world, but He does not yet know what that world is. He then crunches some numbers and finds this world. Having found the solution in logical moment 2, God wills it and in so doing learns what it is that He willed.

Regarding creation, the act of willing and the realization of what is being willed are of course “simultaneous” in God’s eternity.

We thus deny the natural ad extra omniscience of God. But omniscience is restored to God in the form of complete free (as distinct from natural and middle) knowledge.

10) Justice vs. Mercy:

1. If God exists, then he is an all-just judge.
2. If God exists, then he is an all-merciful judge.
3. An all-just judge treats every offender with exactly the severity that he deserves.
4. An all-merciful judge treats every offender with less severity than he deserves.
5. It is impossible to treat an offender both with exactly the severity that he deserves and also with less severity than he deserves.
6. Hence, it is impossible for an all-just judge to be an all-merciful judge (from 3-5). (195)

My reply: St. Thomas’ solution is that

God acts mercifully, not indeed by going against His justice, but by doing something more than justice; thus a man who pays another two hundred pieces of money, though owing him only one hundred, does nothing against justice, but acts liberally or mercifully.

The case is the same with one who pardons an offense committed against him, for in remitting it he may be said to bestow a gift. … Hence it is clear that mercy does not destroy justice, but in a sense is the fullness thereof. (ST, I, 21, 3, reply 2)

Rothbard, too, points out in Ethics of Liberty that forgiving offenses or debts is not unjust. (86; 89; 145)

Here’s what seems to be the Christian view. Almost every human who reaches the age of reason will have done things in his life that are both good and evil. Now the effects of sin are threefold: corruption of nature, debt of punishment, and stain on the soul.

Regarding the first, God’s mercy consists in having made human nature self-correcting and self-healing.

Regarding the second, God’s shows mercy by forgiving the debt, because even a single unforgiven sin will prevent a soul from reaching heaven. Unless mercy is shown to a person, he is summarily executed and sent to hell, from which there is no salvation.

Regarding the third, God’s mercy lies in graciously restoring the soul’s beauty after sin.

In short, God is merciful in that for humans, unlike for angels, sins in this world do not fully bar their way to glory. In other words, mercy converts the infinite badness of a sin into merely finite badness, just as the sacrament of confession does. It gives you a second (and sometimes third, etc.) chance and lets your avoid hell; it cannot earn you heaven.

But God is just, insofar as when this life ends, so does forgiveness of sins, and each soul is then judged 100% according to its merits and character.

Hence we can ask God to “have mercy” on ourselves or friends including the dead, but it makes no sense to ask to “give glory,” for the latter is guaranteed to be allotted objectively and precisely according to desert, nor can divine justice be swayed by impetration.

Whether Indexical Propositions Threaten God’s Immutability?

Let’s summarize the argument. First, God in knowing Himself does not think in propositions but comprehends Himself all at once as a simple essence in a pure act.

However, God can easily form propositions in His mind and in fact interacts with humans by enunciating propositions. For example, the being of light in many NDEs speaks to the separated soul, though telepathically, nevertheless often by using ordinary language.

Second, God is not “timeless,” since timelessness is the mode of existence of abstract objects, such as propositions. “2 + 2 = 4” is purely timeless, existing in neither the past, nor present, nor future. Rather, God is eternal, perfecting and transcending time — all 4 of past, present, future, and timelessness — as possessing His entire life and pleasure all at once in a super-alive divine moment. God’s eternity and its superiority over temporal existence entail that God is fully aware of when the present moment is in this world.

Third, God knows eternally propositions of the sort, “At moment t, this is everything that’s going on” at every t both in the past, present, and future.

These points would make God omniscient and immutable, if it were not for the problem of God’s free knowledge of certain indexical propositions (call it FIP-knowledge):

  1. Is Socrates sitting?
  2. Is Christ’s birth in the past or in the future?
  3. How far apart right now are these two cars that are moving in opposite directions?
  4. What day of the week is it? (When and in what time zone?)
  5. Are oranges a good food? (According to whose tastes?)
  6. Is this capital good underpriced? (As per the plan of production of which entrepreneur?)
  7. Am I in the mountains? (Who and when?)

Regarding omniscience, God would have to know (1), (2), and (3). He cannot answer (4) – (6), nor of course can anyone else, without further information.

We can see that God knows only those indexical propositions that are at all possible for Him to know.

Regarding immutability, God’s perfection is not endangered but in fact is safeguarded by His changing knowledge, insofar as it involves knowing all truths. Although at any given time the content of God’s FIP-knowledge is different from the content of His knowledge at any other time, He still knows everything there is to know at all times.

Kretzmann, for example, agrees with this, saying that such changes indeed prevent God from getting worse or from any deterioration. But, he objects, God still seems to lose His pure actuality, because there is now a process of change in Him. Perhaps Kretzmann thinks that the world moves and changes and in so doing forces God to adapt to its change. God has no choice but to change in the content of his FIP-knowledge as the world changes. The world drags God along with it who then becomes dependent on the world.

But is any potency introduced into God by the changing world? Now matter is potential to being divided, to being moved, to being given a form, and suchlike. There can be potential energy that can be converted into many kinds of kinetic energy. But none of these kinds of potencies are relevant. A spirit’s most general potentiality has the sense of dissatisfaction. But no suffering is seemingly introduced into God even if He is duty-bound to change in His FIP-knowledge according to the flow of the creation.

My solution will consist in three points.

First, as regards the changing FIP-knowledge, so what? And why expect otherwise? We are real creatures and have a claim on God, and God is not inaccessibly distant. As I have argued, God underwent a grueling death and rebirth precisely in order not to be aloof.

Second, that a certain state of affairs involving God (since God knows and interacts with the world) has changed does not mean that God himself has changed really rather than merely apparently. It became true at some point in history that (let’s assume) Socrates was shorter than me or came to be admired by me. The changes in these situations involve no change in Socrates (who, being dead, can’t possibly change at all).

Third, if God need not think in propositions, then perhaps even His FIP-knowledge can be expressed in His own mind differently and in a uniquely divine way that would be unchanging.

Whether Divine Omniscience Requires Ungodly Experiences?

This question is asked by Blumenfeld who argues that God cannot be omniscient, because He can’t know what it’s like to have certain emotions. God doesn’t know what fear, frustration, and despair feel like, and therefore His knowledge of them is deficient.

It is further claimed that God must possess this experiential familiarity with some concepts in order to fulfill His duty of being all-knowing.

Our author is relying on what he calls a very weak version of “concept-empiricism”: “for some objects, in order to fully comprehend them, one must have had the experience of an instance or exemplification of them.” He goes on:

I am not denying that such a person could know a large number of true propositions about the sensation of red.

He could know, for example, that it is produced under conditions Q, R, and S; that it is correlated with (or, on some views contingently identical to) brain states of types X, Y, and Z; and so on.

Perhaps it could be said that this information would give him a partial grasp of the sensation of red. But he could not have an absolutely complete grasp of this concept without having had the sensation itself. (223)

Perhaps Blumenfeld will agree that God could see in a person feeling fear his C-fibers firing in the brain and his soul undergoing changes; He could see the source of his fear and his attempts to overcome it; He could help him deal with his fear with grace; in other words, God could look at a human being experiencing fear as a kind of a diagram, a schematic, such that every piece of information about that individual’s internal state of will, mind, and body would be accessible to God. Further, God can know things in Himself, “inasmuch as His essence contains the similitude of things other than Himself.” (ST, I, 14, 5) God would know all the causes and consequences of feeling fear for human beings and could even respond to an instance of such a feeling appropriately. And yet, Blumenfeld maintains, God would not thereby “know fear” by failing to appreciate its “feel.”

The reason why God cannot feel fear is obvious: it involves a belief in being in danger, but God is all-powerful, impassible, and perfectly secure in His happiness ad intra. He knows that nothing whatever can harm Him. Similar reasoning shows that God cannot feel frustration, despair, embarrassment, etc., as well as effects of sin such as guilt.

One interesting question is how God would recognize fear in us humans, having never experienced it Himself. Since God knows secrets thoughts, He by that fact would know when one believed himself in danger. Yet this belief, though required for feeling fear according to Blumenfeld, is different from the experience of feeling it. For God does not feel my even more secret feelings. This is because God lives His life, and I live my own. Even if God loves me greatly, and there is union and mutual indwelling between us through charity, God is not me and can only understand me not be me.

Well, perhaps fear makes a human soul “smell” like something very specific and detectable by God. God can smell fear. God by perceiving this smell with his intellect, since He is in all things by presence, can be fully assured that a person is afraid.

Blumenfeld argues that not knowing what fear feels like in a first-person experience is a defect of knowledge. I beg to differ. Feeling fear and knowing fear are two very different things. Any human feeling must be interpreted in order to become actionable — it must be understood what the feeling means; thus, fear can be interpreted as causing the heart to race; unpleasant in itself yet useful, e.g., by inciting a desire to run away from danger; needing perhaps to be overcome through courage; and so on. This interpretation suffices to make fear fully, to the extent that it at all can be, intelligible.

I have suggested that God can always know that Smith feels fear; God can know all the interpretations of fear, both possible and actual, going on in Smith; finally, God can understand and sympathize with Smith when he is afraid. These are sufficient for God to claim omniscience: He could know all there is to know about fear without ever feeling it.

Whether the God of the Common Man Is an Absurdity?

So says the editor of this book, Michael Martin. Unlike the philosophers, the common man, Martin alleges in proof, holds that God knows at least as much as man, and that, since many men “know” lust and envy by experience, God must also know lust and envy by experience. Or, at least, that is the meaning that the vulgar attach to the term “knowledge.” Our author wants to show that this God of the common man does not exist. But of course, lust and envy are sins, and God cannot sin, so there is a contradiction, and God disappears from the scene. Take that, you wretched multitudes. (Ch. 20)

My reply is that it is simply not true that ordinary men believe that God is familiar with sin by experiencing it. Most people know of God by reading the Bible (or by listening to preachers who are generally acquainted with it), and Biblical passages such as:

  1. “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord? Who is like you, magnificent among the holy ones? Awe-inspiring in deeds of renown, worker of wonders.” (Ex 15:11);

  2. “The Rock — how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways! A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he!” (Deut 32:4);

  3. “God’s way is unerring; the Lord’s promise is tried and true; he is a shield for all who trust in him.” (2 Sam 22:31);

  4. “When the trumpeters and singers were heard as a single voice praising and giving thanks to the Lord, and when they raised the sound of the trumpets, cymbals, and other musical instruments to ‘Praise the Lord, who is so good, whose love endures forever,’ the cloud filled the house of the Lord. The priests could no longer minister because of the cloud, since the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.” (2 Chr 5:13-14);

  5. “The Lord is just and loves just deeds; the upright will see his face.” (Ps 11:7);

  6. “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” Etc. (Ps 19:8-12);

  7. “O Lord, you are my God, I extol you, I praise your name; For you have carried out your wonderful plans of old, faithful and true.” (Isa 25:1);

  8. “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48);

  9. “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” (Mt 16:27);

  10. “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

are all over the place, well-known, and accepted as authoritative. So, what is Martin talking about? Perhaps children might not be clear on these matters, but no adult who takes his Christianity with even a trace of seriousness will believe that God can sin. I dare our author to find in the Bible a passage in which God is shown to be lustful or envious.

Yet God knows enough about these to announce: “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Ex 20:14,17), going so far as to teach that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt 5:28)

And the author of Ben Sira responds: “Lord, Father and God of my life, do not give me haughty eyes; remove evil desire from my heart. Let neither gluttony nor lust overcome me; do not give me up to shameless desires.” (Sir 23:4-6)

Therefore, it is false that the common man accepts premise (4), “If God knows lust and envy, God has had the feelings of lust and envy,” by which fact Martin’s argument is undone.

“Conflicts” Between the Divine Attributes, 1

1) Involving Omniscience.

This part of Martin’s essay builds on the argument in the previous post. He distinguishes between propositional knowledge or knowledge-that (KT), procedural knowledge or knowledge-how (KH), and knowledge by acquaintance (KA). (Ch. 21)

I do not accept this distinction. First, KH is not knowledge at all but rather power. Martin’s example is the KH of “how to do gymnastic exercises on the parallel bars” (243) which, Martin is of the opinion, God cannot possess. I agree that God has never competed on parallel bars, but the feelings attendant on competing and the skills and training (such as “muscle memory”) thanks to which exercising on parallel bars takes place effortlessly and without conscious control are different from the knowledge of how to compete. What God lacks is not the KH but the power of using the bars. He has KT in intimate detail of the necessary and sufficient conditions of the states of a person’s body and mind which will enable him to perform these exercises successfully.

Gymnastics is an exercise of human bodily power, i.e., of control over the body and external objects. We can assure ourselves of this by considering that such power is at its most graceful and primal precisely when one has let go of conscious control, freed himself from all inhibitions, hang-ups, and self-doubts, and is working almost on instinct. A master gymnast does not in fact have any “knowledge how”; he just performs with self-forgetful competence. Again, a cheetah is not rational and has neither KT nor explicit KH of, say, how to hunt. But it hunts beautifully nonetheless, not only despite its lack of conscious knowledge but precisely because it is not burdened with such.

I concede therefore that God does not “know how” to swing on parallel bars. He does not have a body, and a fortiori, He does not have a body which is trained to do the exercises in question. However, to the extent that it is at all a “limitation” of any sort, it applies to God’s power not His knowledge, and hence is beside the point.

A mere algorithm, such as instructions on how to boil an egg or indeed a coach’s art and tricks of training gymnasts, is fully an instance of KT.

Second, KA belongs neither to the intellect nor to power but rather to the will. KA is in of the will (including through the sensitive appetite) whereby the mind remembers the feeling (such as becomes able to identify a similar feeling in the future). God is perfect and cannot sin, in particular entertain thoughts of lust or envy; nor can He fear or be frustrated. As a result, it is true that God is unfamiliar with these feelings and therefore cannot remember them. Again, however, this is a natural “limitation” on God’s will not on His knowledge and cannot be used as an argument against divine omniscience.