Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Does God tempt? 6

Previous posts in this series:

Where is God?
Questionable Explanations
What is evil?
Pain is not Evil
Does God tempt? 1

And now to continue:

... So what center point are we to choose?  The question it seems is the following.  Is God more or less directly responsible for moral evil?  Or is he more indirectly the cause?

On the one hand, since the third century or so, it has become a near universal Christian belief that God was the entire creator of everything in the universe.  In the 100s, Gnostic Christians attributed evil to the material world, something God did not create.  It was arguably in the context of this debate that most Christians came to believe that God created the world out of nothing, ex nihilo as they say.

But if God created the world and everything that exists in this universe out of nothing, then God must have also created moral evil--or at least the possibility of moral evil.  Here is where many Christians today part ways.  One side sees God more or less directing everything that happens in the world, including moral evil.  They may see God causing Satan to cause moral evil, but everything Satan does, he does under orders.  This what we might call the hyper-Calvinist option. [1]

The other side, the one for which I am arguing, gives God sovereignty (or absolute control) over the creation, like the other side.  But it distances God from directly causing moral evil.  Rather, in creation God created the possibility for moral creatures like Satan and humanity to sin and do evil.  He gave humanity the power to do evil or not to do evil.  But he does not actually do anything evil.

Notice the way I worded this.  God does not do anything evil.  According to our definition in the previous section, we mean to say that God never at any point has an evil intent.  By wording it in this way, we are not necessarily saying that God could never tempt or that God could not cause someone to act evilly, although these are hard things to imagine.  We are saying that anything God does, he does righteously.  He does nothing with an evil intent.

So if God were ever to cause pain or suffering--indeed, if we could ever imagine God causing someone to do evil--he would never do so with evil intent.  The Christian center points are surely the twin points of love and justice within God.  God never does anything that is unloving. Justice is not unloving.  Justice is when God does not show mercy and allows/administers the consequences of one's own choices.

In general, our approach is to say that God primarily allows evil and pain in the world rather than more or less orchestrating it.  The evil that happens in the world happens because of God's permissive will rather than his directive will.  I am unsure whether we can completely eliminate the possibility that God might at some point direct someone to do evil.  What we can say is that he would only do so with an intent for good.

We also prefer to see God's justice much more as his allowing the consequences of one's choices to play out.  This is the picture we get in Romans 1, where God "abandons" humanity to spiral into the consequences of its own sinful actions.  Whatever hell might be, the most coherent understanding is that it is not so much a place where God sends people as the playing out of the consequences of one's evil intentions, with God simply not intervening to stop the process.

So does God tempt us?  James 1 is basically saying that we are ultimately to blame for our own evil actions.  If we have to answer yes or no, the best answer is surely no.  But James is not writing philosophy.  It is wisdom literature, which is proverbial in nature.  Although it is hard to imagine, we probably cannot say that God would never tempt under any circumstances whatsoever.  We can say he himself would never do so with evil intent.

Therefore, in the light of the totality of Scripture and a more precise sense of God's nature, we should see the Old Testament passages about God directly tempting and causing people to do evil things as very imprecise presentations that we can refine.  Rather than God sending an evil spirit that caused Saul to try to kill David, we can say more accurately that God allowed the various powers both spiritual and individual to do these things.  God far more allows moral evil in the world rather than directing it.  And indeed, perhaps he never ever directs it.

[1] I say hyper-Calvinist option because Calvin himself seems to have believed that it was possible that Adam might not have sinned, but since he did, humans are evil.  This view would not make God the direct cause of evil because he would have given Adam a choice.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

You STILL have a FIRST CAUSE, by default, as there is an assumption that there is "order" in the universe! Laws are what order the world, but are these laws man made laws developed to explain the world, or do they explain the world in "all that is"?....and those that want to use the science/religion frame do so assuming a certain view/theory of the universe, too. (What about other theories?

Isn't it Spinoza's God? Wholistic understandng, or collective thought? The problem is that wholism doesn't take the individual into account. There is no Personal Space for those "at the bottom of the food chain"!

Leaders who make the plans (those who are to re-invent the wheel) are responsible NOT any supernatural being. And in our world, those that do unjust things are accountable under our laws! It has nothing to do with a supernatural being, other than it might appease thse that choose to believe such nonsense, AND those that are responsible for the "mess"!

Fatalism toward life's "consequences", or "submission" is the result of such a view, as it puts the blame on the one "out of the loop" of leadership...it scape-goats, because leaders don't want to be accountable or responsible for thier choices!!!! This is unjust, when those responsible choose to tell those under their authority that it is the result of their not being "compliant", or "cooperative"! (as if those "out of the loop" know the full story!). Is it just to ask people to cooperate without taking their own responsibilities seriously? What is self-governance, then, if leaders can pre-destine one's "place and function" without input, or information concerning that place or function? Is this respectful?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Is God like a crocidile?
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last”......Winston Churchill

Scott F said...

This would be easier to comment on if I knew what the future sections would cover since many definitions and questions are setup to be dealt with later. A wise man would not comment at all until the series concluded. Oh well ;)

Two issues that I hope receive further attention:

1) "God far more allows moral evil in the world rather than directing it."

How much responsibility is God stuck with for creating a universe that allows evil in the first place? If there is no Sin in heaven then we know he could have created such a place (unless of course, heaven can only exist as part of a whole that includes a possibly fallen world).
[May be echoing Angie, here]

2) When Christians focus on the Consequences Theory of Evil, I never feel like they are addressing the world as it actually exists. Sure, bad people willfully cause cause great suffering but historically, huge amounts of suffering have occurred that are not the result of an action of the victim or inaction of others. Until recently childhood cancer was completely untreatable. Communication and transportation systems were wholly inadequate for dealing with famine. There was no defense whatsoever to earthquakes and tsunamis. I hope this discussion addresses this part of the issue eventually because it is possibly the most vexing and, as far as God's responsibility is concerned, damning.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Scott (and Ken),
I am so frustrated over what I see, or how I understand what is happening in our own nation, and the furtherance of dis-order abroad.

I listened to a lecture by a Harvard prof today, Sandel was his name. He was asking those in the audience about moral dillemmas, and how they could "solve them" and what was their reasoning...interesting.

But, the whole question was based on a "Society First" mentality, instead of a individual or personal stance. Self governance resulted in society's flourishing, but to try to resolve "outcomes" beforehand, is a little presumptive.

I think this is happening due ot the concern of human rights activists and the bleeding heart liberals. I read yesterday an article about the redistribution of wealth and how it was immoral to hold savings or have more than neccessities when others have nothing.

Maybe I react to such thinking because I recognize what enabliing behaviors do. I guess I am a little baffled at what motivates people to revolutionalize our very way of life.

Can anyone really bring about socal justice, when one has to make a moral judgment in the first place?

The arguments go that Kant's universals are within the brain, as humans are universally concerned with survival. But, it is not "fair" for the fittest to ride rough shod over the "least of these"....this is the reasoning, I suppose. So everyone must be "conformed" to the "conforming standard" of caring for the poor, ignoring the values of personal liberty, chosen values, and specified concerns!

And I "see" a totaltalirian regime that is the best form for carrying that out. Are we going to see the Caliphate, or a dictator, or an elite ruling party, that will make "moral justifications" and moral demands upon our personal lives and the limitation of our choices? A PATERNALISTIC government that will never get off our back or out of our pockets! Ego is seen by such as "evil" and 'selfish". I'm much rather be selfish than enable domination and control of every aspect of our lives!!!

Anyway, so much for the ranting today....so does God tempt?

Scott F said...

I do not follow you down that particular slippery slope. The "survival of the fittest" meme just doesn't correspond to the way human societies operate. There is no winner-take-all because no such winner could survive for long without his supporting tribe. Human life involves as much if not more win-win interaction as it does cut-throat competition. Studies reveal that higher primates are wired with finely tuned sets of "fairness detectors". For this reason talk of fairness and redistribution, no matter how flawed the implementation must be, doesn't bother me. They have been features of human civilization from the beginning. It is also the reason that I treat most forms libertarianism as sophistry.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You, then believe that those that do not choose to equalize the playing field will be made to do so, as this is how human develop "moral sense" about the "tribe"? That does sound co-ercive to me.

The "is" of the world does not predestine me to choose A particular way to address it in an "ought"! The "ought" is one that is enforced by moralists or moralistic philosophies that project a particular "should" upon everyone else...

Scientists would understand that the way that the world exists is the way in which it is best addressed. Work with the innatedness that is already within the world, which means that all humans desire certain things for their lives. These things are what make for negotiating a "Win-Win" situation. Is this what you are saying?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

This is what I think of "tribes"

"Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule."
Fredrich Nietzche

Scott F said...

I guess I am saying that you have to work within the constraints of the laws and drives that exist in your environment. The ash heap of history is littered with philosophies that ignored human nature to their own ruin.

I have a special lack of patience for those who abstract "Liberty" as the only true human good to which all else must be sacrificed. Their so-called Liberty almost always turns out to be unattainable and, frankly, undesirable. So when people use words like "coercion" my visceral response is "that's the price you pay for living in a civil society. Get over it!"

Are there egregious instances of injustice. Heck yeah. But let's not philosophize ourselves so far away from reality that we forget that every idea must be tested against the crucible of an unmerciful universe.

I'll be damned if I can figure out how we got here from Ken's post!

[I don't have much use for Nietzsche but he is not the first or last to remark on human folly. No points for remarking on the obvious.]

davey said...

I suppose if God can do the things you identify without evil intent so no moral wrong, maybe humans can also do the same sorts of things without doing moral wrong. So they may, for example, withhold information that leads to others suffering etc. ? I'm just exploring the issues!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Those that cry from moralistic concern do so with certain "evaluatons" in mind, as to moral judgment. Groups, such as "tribes" have "higher" reasons than civil laws!

Civil laws protect both parties interest. But, those that want to "hide behind the law" to do what they want will plead innocent because "the intent" was good!! This is why transparency in government or leadership is of mandantory importance.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

We "got here" due to "God's ordination of suffering". I claim that leaders are those that cause such suffering, not God.

Civil laws protect liberty of conscience, concerning reliigious values. I am not "proclaiming" that one can "get away with murder". I am only claiming "equal right" under law as a citizen.

As to metaphysics/physics, I agree that the practical experiment is of value, but how is one to carry out the thought experiments upon human beings and know for a FACT as to control groups, or comparing a particular person's response, from another's as to the unique individual differences?

What you are concerned with it getting people to choosing an action. But, that is the point of liberty, isn't it? Choice about what one chooses to do or be! That is a cultural value we have. No one 'presumes" or controls anothers choices, and those that try (such as overbearing parents), we judge as unhealthy.

There is no difficulty to obeying laws that protect one's life and liberty. We all want this, don't we? Or maybe not everyone in the world does, these we judge as barbarians. And we sanction their behavior to control their future actions.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

No, leaders "set people up", to understand or see (investigate) human choice and action. This is the way that the social sciences "prosper".

How things are "set up" though is a matter of judgment, and such judgment might not have "ill intent", in fact, it might even be for a "good", but the problem is with moral agency.

The individuals involved do not have power over all contingencies, nor do they necessarily understand all the people or situations created by such contingent variables...Therefore, planning too specifically is an undermining of "choice", unless it prepares for it.

Suppose that leaders planned for a certain outcome, but that outcome was not forthcoming. Are the leaders ressponsible for the failure of outcome, or is another factor or person to be blamed. This is the question.

Such planning does not leave room for various choices, which make for a determination which ever way choice is made by thsoe so determined!