Permission vs. Causation


Hemant Mehta shared the above cartoon by Kristian Nygård. Despite being a somewhat silly attempt at humor, I think it actually highlights issues related to how people sometimes talk about God causing and/or permitting things in the universe.

What do you think? Is it the kind of thing that can actually be a jumping-off point for useful discussion?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • myklc

    I find the concept of divine complete foreknowledge to be problematic at best. I see the book revealing a God who is surprised, changes His mind and regrets things. Those don’t mesh with knowing everything from the instant of existence. IMO.

    • myklc

      Which I think has a significant impact on how we view permission versus causation, and if there is actually a difference between those if the outcome is perfectly foreknown.

  • The Slicer

    The whole topic is riddled with anthropomorphism. Coincidentally the cartoon captures that – however irony is often difficult to convey in a cartoon and some may take it as a representation of how ridiculous they see theism to be. Maybe that was even the intent?

  • John MacDonald

    People are sometimes liable if they could have prevented something bad from happening, but out of indifference just failed to act. And, supposing God is omniscient, he could be complicit in murder for lack of action. For instance, if a mother prayed for God to heal her terminally ill son, and God did heal that son, and the son grew up to be a murderer, then God would be complicit in the murders. This raises interesting questions as to under what conditions God will answer prayer?

    • David Evans

      If God has complete knowledge of the future, it was never a possibility that the son would not become a murderer. But also it was never a possibility that God would not answer that prayer. Ideas of liability and complicity become problematic.

      • John MacDonald

        In United States law, depraved-heart murder, also known as depraved-indifference murder, is an action where a defendant acts with a “depraved indifference” to human life and where such act results in a death. In a depraved-heart murder, defendants commit an act even though they know their act runs an unusually high risk of causing death or serious bodily harm to someone else. If the risk of death or bodily harm is great enough, ignoring it demonstrates a “depraved indifference” to human life and the resulting death is considered to have been committed with malice aforethought. The example that comes to mind for me is God creating a world with earthquakes, which have killed millions over our history. On the average about 10,000 people die each year as a result of earthquakes. God could have easily created our world without earthquakes.

        • David Evans

          I agree, but I’m making a different point. If God’s omniscience extends to the future, he always knew that he would create this world, with earthquakes. In what sense was he free to do otherwise than what he omnisciently knew he would do? This isn’t a moral question, it’s a question about whether the different properties assigned to God are consistent with each other.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think it makes sense for God to be omniscient, since if we start tracing history backward, and God never came into being but always “was,” we would have to keep going back indefinitely and we would never get to the point when God started “deciding to do stuff.” Positing God as eternal and omniscient seems to exclude the possibility of God deciding to do things, because there would be no moment when god “decided.” The portrayal of God in Job shows God changing his mind, doing something he never intended to do because Satan incites him: “And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason (Job 2:3).”

          • myklc

            Indeed. My current solution is that the future is not knowable because it doesn’t yet exist. The problem is our poor understanding of time. God having perfect foreknowledge of God’s own future actions and choices means that God has no free will.
            Alternately, God could have simply created all those God perfectly foreknew to choose Him, not create those who would not, and do away with the whole issue altogether.

        • John MacDonald

          Given what has been said above, if I was a prosecutor of the divine, I would prosecute God for “depraved indifference” to human life.