According to Jonathan Prejean, I asked good questions. Part of good philosophy is framing questions clearly to help get to the heart of the matter. You don’t have all the time in the world, so asking good questions is a way of scraping away unnecessary steps. My question was part of a discussion at Triumphications concerning the nature of grace (and the grace of nature) and the Theotokos. I want to know, qua explanation, if the Catholic model can explain why God has Mary immaculately conceived and free from inherited albeit analogical guilt, why not just skip all of the evil in the world and do this for everyone? Or perhaps more strongly, why not create everyone in a state of confirmed grace? This kind of question is significant for lots of reasons. Currently in the literature on the problem of evil, this essential question has been a major objection to Plantinga type free will defenses. I have seen it proposed in one form or another by everyone from typical atheologians as well as process and open theists. But on to Jonathan’s reply.
Jonathan replied: “I could have prevented the possibility of either of my children committing actual sin by slaughtering them after they were baptized. Why didn’t I do that? This I think shows the inadequacy of your underlying worry about the problem of evil. There is a purpose in people being allowed to be subject to evil, even if that purpose is necessarily inscrutable to reason. I will let my children possibly be damned to Hell, not because I hate them, but because I love them. I suspect it is the same with God.”
I responded with the following: “I don’t think you have given the proper analogy. God could have prevented lots of moral evil, not by doing some evil to human agents but by doing some great good to them. If you could have given your child a proverbial pill to prevent them from not only sinning but ever dying or any serious suffering, wouldn’t you do so? Now, you may object that your ways aren’t the ways of God. Fair enough, but given the imago dei, it is also true that we have via reason, barring Calvinism and Jansenism, a genuine notion of goodness. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be good to give them the pill. Do you?”
I agree with Jonathan that there is a purpose for the possibility of evil, but that is not the same thing as evil having a purpose. The purpose of the former is the possibility of virtue for created agents. A necessary condition for the acquisition of virtue is libertarian freedom, with a Kanian type freedom. That of itself does not imply that evil has a purpose. I’d argue then that the Libertarian then has a principled reason why God could not create persons already confirmed in grace, specifically that it would violate the necessary conditions for personhood. (Moreover, there is a signfiicant difference between God redirecting the outcome of evil intentions after the fact, logically speaking, and evil being even consequently necessary for the occurance of some further good. I can argue for the former without the latter and this seems to be the division I want to make and Jonathan doesn’t.)
On Jonathan’s view, it is much more difficult for me to see how this is an option, seeing that he denies the alternative possibilities condition (AP) on free will. If all that is required is voluntary action without AP’s constituting volition and/or freedom, then creating agents without the possibility of performing morally evil actions seems a genuine possibility. So, if one subscribes to compatibilist type freedom it seems that it was open to God to create a world where there was no possibility of evil and all and only good acts were open to “free” created agents. If that is so, then the existence of evil impugns God’s moral character or his existence. Either disjunct will place theism in a very bad position in terms of an apologetic response to atheism. Either God is not morally perfect and in fact far less so, or God doesn’t exist at all. Since evil exists God either lacks the motivation to preclude it or he doesn’t exist. The assumed premise here is something along the lines of, a perfect moral agent will always eliminate evil when they are able to do so. I find that a very plausible assumption, but perhaps Jonathan doesn’t. I do because I believe in Heaven.
So I think if God could have done that kind of good to everyone, he should have done so. But I just don’t think God could have done so without eliminating the freedom and consequently personhood of every and any created person. Jonathan though does think that God could have prevented every moral evil, but for some reason he didn’t. Jonathan thinks that even though God could have prevented every moral evil, this would not necessarily have been doing humanity a great good.
Why? Jonathan appeals to the “interconnectedness between human beings.” In his following comments, I think he means to say something like the following. Humans are connected in such a way that giving grace or the prevention of evil in one circumstance isn’t such that God can give it equally to all in all circumstances without the loss human uniqueness. I simply balk at this answer. Here are some of my reasons for balking. First, given at least a Thomistic picture of God, and grace as divine life, the grace differs not in God but in the recipient. So in fact the same thing is on his own view is given to each and every person, or so it seems to me. And it seems that the same confirming grace is given at least to lots of people, namely the angels and some humans in the eschaton without annihilating their personal uniqueness. For any two persons who receive divine grace to the same degree and hence experience the Beatific vision to the same degree, their uniqueness remains intact. I think it is plausible on Jonathan’s own principles that there are at least two such persons and so if any two (or more) of them can receive grace in the same way and to the same degree in the same circumstance without eliminating their personal uniqueness, then the interconnectedness of persons cannot be a reason for denying to God the possibility of creating everyone without the possibility of performing morally evil actions.
It is also important to notice what I take to be a confusion on Jonathan’s part. On the one hand he seems to agree that God could have created everyone in confirming grace, but on the other hand that God could not have done so. This seems to be the motivation in his appeal to human uniqueness. If the latter is true, then the former is not. In which case, Jonathan agrees in fact with me in principle that God could not have created everyone in comfirming grace. What we disagree about then is not if God could have created everyone in comfirming grace but if God created the Theotokos with it and the reasons why God could not have created everyone with it.
Further, there is an ambiguity in Jonathan’s answer. When he says, “the interconnectedness between human beings isn’t such that what grace was given to one or another person in some particular situation could be equally given to all in all situations without substantially disrupting the entire arrangement and diluting the context in which people have experiences that make them unique” does he mean that the circumstances make the experiences unique or does he mean that the circumstances make the persons unique? I am not sure on his own view of the Beatific Vision why he would think that either was the case. Even if the circumstances or experiences were homogenous in terms of being all and only good, how would that preclude a genuine difference in the degree of reception? Certainly Jonathan thinks that there is a genuine difference in reception in the Beatific Vision, even though for every agent who has it, it is all and only good qua vision. If that is the case there, why not make it the case for everyone from the get-go? Moreover, appealing to the special vocation of the Theotokos I think does no work for Jonathan. It is simply not the case that the Theotokos can’t have her special vocation without evil in the world. This thesis is entailed by the thesis that the Incarnation would have taken place even without sin. If everyone had been morally perfect and bereft of alternative possibilities with respect to moral evil, and the Incarnation still occurred, the Theotokos still would have had her special vocation. If God can create someone confirmed in grace, then it seems plausible that God can do both, namely give in some measure a confirmation the grace he gave to the Theotokos, on Catholic principles, to all and the Theotokos possess a special vocation. Again, the confirmation in grace, given to all in the eschaton doesn’t “wash out” all of the differences between persons. Grace does not obliterate nature by anyone’s reading, save Calvinists and Jansenits and grace isn’t opposed to nature or more specifically created hypostases. The only way I see that it could, would be if person and nature were confused (or if God were absolutely simple) so that we’d need some other principle of individuation, namely evil or a defect, to discern persons.
But to take evil as a principle of individuation places us right back at the Platonic hierarchy where the Good is on top and evil its necessary opposite on the bottom. Good is therefore not autonomous with respect to explanatory power and this signals an implicit dualism. And I think it is just false that what grounds our deeper experience of God is some vague “interconnectedness” but rather the Incarnation itself. Even though Christ recapitulates all of creation in himself, he does not take on angelic nature, but human nature. Jonathan is looking to general principles when he should be looking to a single concrete case. What differentiates us in part from the angels is not our rung on the hierarchy of being, but the Incarnation. In any case, it seems flat out false to say that if all receive the grace of confirmation, then there’d be no unique persons. Even on Thomistic principles following Aristotle, we can individuate modes or ways in which people all receive the same grace to preserve personal uniqueness. Ultimately, I don’t think such a move works, but it at least is a plausible way of staving off the conclusion that confirmation in grace implies the elimination of personal distinctions.
So, Jonathan I think is still wrong. Creating everyone confirmed in grace does not imply or entail that said persons would be denied the opportunity to “grow and to have their own experiences and to be their own people.” To think so implies that in order to “be their own people” that evil is necessary, which is false.
Jonathan advocates some other theses that I am confused about. He writes that God not only tolerates evil acts but does so to give the wicked an opportunity to repent. I agree, but I do so on Libertarian principles. Jonathan is not a Libertarian since he denies the AP condition on free will. So I simply do not know what he means by “opportunity” if the wicked are theologically or metaphysically determined to make the choices that they do. Jonathan also writes that to give “sanctifying grace” to all would undermine the entire Christian life a la baptism and the Eucharist. Does he think that it did so with the Theotokos? When she was presumably present with John the Apostle and John administers the Eucharist to the faithful in Ephesus, does she take a pass? If she doesn’t then this implies either that she had a deficient Christian life, or none at all, or Jonathan’s thesis is false. (It’s false.) Moreover, why was Jesus baptized if sin is precluded? Certainly we have a concrete case then of someone being baptized even though there is nothing lacking in this person’s life. Presumably the archetype for the Christian life had the Christian life in full measure without defect as a basis for individuation. As an aside, baptism in its fullest form then seems to me to be an act on creation (water), rather than a washing away of corruption. Baptism regenerates because of Christ’s activity in His baptism rather than the baptism doing something to Christ. (this grounds Protestant confusion concerning it, which is assuaged, they think by making it the fullfillment of an empty legal reqirement.) So I don’t think that if everyone were created confirmed in grace it would necessarily preclude the sacraments. Certainly Adam and Eve were married prior to the Fall. Granted that they did not on Catholic principles possess confirming grace, but they did possess “original righteousness” and they still partook of a sacrament. Presumably Adam was a priest of God as well. Besides, one wonders why Christians have often understood the Tree of Life in the Garden as bearing the Eucharist if moral perfection would render it useless to a deified person.
Jonathan also speaks of God’s “risk” in creating the kinds of agents and circumstance that he has in mind. If everything is determined and/or there are no alternative possibilities of created agents, I simply do not know what he means by “risk.” Lastly, Jonathan counsels us to be epistemically humble with regards to the reasons why God permits evil. I agree, but the issue here isn’t if Jonathan in fact meets the conditions on knowledge for the reasons why God permits evil. The issue is metaphysical and apologetical. Even if it were true that we should be epistemically humble and only hope for meager epistemological crumbs from the table of divine knowledge, it would still be the case that Jonathan and the Catholic (and Protestant) picture faces significant problems, and problems that I don’t think the Orthodox one does. Counseling epistemic humility doesn’t remove metaphysical difficulties and it certainly doesn’t silence, persuade atheists and skeptics, or silence the doubts of one’s own heart.
But I don’t think we need be that humble, at least apologetically speaking. I think rather what is appropriate here is Socratic humility. Socrates didn’t know what the truth was, but he knew falsehood when he saw it. Given the imago dei and the falsity of Calvinism and Jansenism, I think I can know a bad reason when I see it. I do not need to know what God’s reasons in fact are, I need only be able to properly identify what he reasons weren’t, namely bad reasons. I take answers of the kind of “God just loves some people more” given by Michael Liccone to be a bad reason.And given say Thomistic or Scotistic theological determinism, God could have created a world such that no one ever sinned even wiuthout confirming grace, thereby rendering Jonathan’s defense based on the Theotokos moot. on Scotistic and Thomistic grounds, the elect unto glory do not have confirming grace at conception and yet I see no reason why the elect could not have been theologically or metaphysically determined to always choose the right and why every created agent could not have been one of their number.As to evil, I can’t see any significant difference between what Jonathan offers and what Plotinus does. Plotinus (and Augustine, Hegel, et al) argue that every past evil while evil in and of itself, not only contributes to the good of the whole but goodness if deficient without it. The silence between the notes makes the whole piece of music sound better. I simply balk at the suggestion that my three year old suffering and dying of Leukemia or the children at the Russian school in Beslan who suffered and died somehow makes the whole world better in the end. The Good doesn’t need evil to be the Good. If it did, it wouldn’t be the Good.