God and the Moral Law in Mormonism

After I wrote a review of The God Who Weeps, a book about Mormonism, I told Mormon readers to feel welcome to guest post to answer some of my questions or to add some clarifications.  (Oh, and meanwhile, Joanne McPortland has also written a review talking about the similarities between Mormonism and Gnosticism).   Over here chez moi, Carl Cranney has stepped up to the challenge. Here’s how he introduces himself:

Carl Cranney is a Mormon, yet is a PhD student in systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, where he gets into arguments with Catholics a lot. This is more fun than his MA at Yale, where nobody wanted to argue very much because they were mostly liberal Protestants and generally didn’t care enough about differences of doctrine. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but Carl does enjoy a good disagreement now and again.

In Leah’s recent post on The God Who Weeps from Teryl and Fiona Givens (which book I have not yet read) she ends with this critical point: “Reading through the whole book, it does seem like the authors think that these uncreated souls, in or out of human flesh, have some sort of telos. What I can’t figure out is where that obligation/binding comes from.”

Her concluding point is an interesting one, but ultimately a Catholic one that Mormon theology simply doesn’t really resonate with. In reading her posts over the months since we met, it became clear to me that Leah has a very strong personal belief/need/aesthetic orientation towards the idea of God as the author of the moral law and hence of our moral obligations. After all, one of the most frequently used tags for this blog is “whence moral law?”

However, Mormons have no such view of God as the author of the moral law. I’ll bet that most Mormons themselves believe that God is not the author of the moral law, because God himself was once as we are now, and progressed to become as He is now. I think, personally, that this stems from a misreading of Joseph Smith’s King Follet discourse. Basically, there are two options, and my quotes will be from the King Follet discourse, which is not official LDS canon but is still highly influential in Mormon theology:

1. God is God because he has always obeyed the moral law, and is helping us become as He is. “God found himself in the midst of spirits and glory, and because he was greater, he saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have the privilege of advancing like himself.” Mormons do not, however, have to believe that those laws are the equivalent of the moral law. I would personally rephrase it as follows: God was always God—He was always morally perfect, and then instituted the system-of which this mortal life is a part-that allows us to progress, through the grace of Christ, to be more in harmony with the moral law that God is already in perfect harmony with. This is my personal interpretation of Joseph Smith’s words.

2. God is God because he learned to obey the moral law perfectly, as had his father before him, and his father before him. In short, instead of turtles all the way down, it’s actually Gods all the way down. This idea also finds a cultural place in the LDS Hymn “If You Could Hie to Kolob,” showing that it has some degree of official approval. (“Kolob” here means the star “nearest unto the throne of God” in the very unexplained and esoteric musings on the heavens in Abraham 3.) Smith says, “I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. . . these ideas are incomprehensible to some, but they are simple. It is the simple and first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, that we may converse with him as one man with another. God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible.” Then, later: “Here, then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God. And you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves–to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done—by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.” This is the belief that most Mormons have, even if they recognize that we are clearly getting into speculative territory.

In neither of these options is God the author of the moral law, though he is closer in the first. In fact, in the Book of Mormon the prophet Alma quite clearly states that God could cease to be God if he failed to fully punish sin in accordance with “the law,” a term that is not fully fleshed out (Alma 42:22-25). Hence, the moral law is outside of God.

For Mormons, humanity does not have a telos in the same way that it does in Catholicism. LDS do believe that we can choose to advance, or to not. We choose our own telos, and while there is some sense of damnation (mostly in the sense of permanently halting progression towards godhood), there is no sense of eternally inflicted punishment. For those who choose to cease progressing, there’s simply… no more progression. They are permanently stuck. Further, Mormons believe that those who choose to cease progressing would actually be more unhappy if they were placed with others who continued onward: “Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell” (Mormon 9:4). Then again, maybe I’m pulling from too many unrelated LDS sources to string ideas together, but I don’t think I’m that far off the mark from your average Mormon.

In short, for Mormonism humanity does not have a telos in the strong way that Catholicism says we do, as created beings with an end of resting in our Creator’s presence. There is no obligation for us to continue in the grace of Christ. God opens the door for us, but there is no sense that the door is necessarily our end, and there certainly is no idea that we will be restless (as Augustine would say) outside of the presence of God. We just simply would have chosen not to go on.

We have no idea where the moral law comes from. It appears to just… well, exist, in Mormonism. This, in my opinion, is one of the philosophical weaknesses of Mormonism. Whereas in Catholicism the logically necessary God is eternally the source of the moral law and the telos to which humanity is drawn of necessity by their being created beings in the strict ex nihilo sense, that is not the case in Mormonism. In Mormonism God is not logically necessary (as the creator; Mormons believe that he organized pre-existing matter and taught pre-existing spirits), he is not the eternal source of the moral law, and he is not our telos because we are not created beings in the strict ex nihilo sense. So for someone of Leah’s theological aesthetics, I can see how this answer would be unsatisfactory. (Of course, whether it’s personally unsatisfying to someone has nothing to do with whether or not it is true.)

In one of the more intriguing and thought-provoking sentences ever said to me, my friend Larry, also a PhD student in systematic theology at Catholic U, said (to the best of my recollection) “I used to think that Mormonism only had the weaknesses of atheism, but you’ve shown me that it also has the strengths of atheism, and those are more considerable than we sometimes give them credit.” We Mormons have no idea where the moral law comes from. It just exists. That’s the weakness of atheism that we Mormons share—and Larry and Leah would agree that this is a critical question, one that resonates with their personal theological aesthetics even if the Mormon answer to the question does not. But we Mormons have other (substantial) philosophical strengths. In context of my conversation with Larry, it was Mormonism’s answer to the problem of evil (which is a much more critical question to my personal theological aesthetics than the origins of the moral law). However, that’s a discussion for another day, as I have butchered enough of Mormon and Catholic theology attempting to fit it all into this short blog post.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Brand

    I find Mormonism to be a very strange faith.The vast majority don’t know it but the group,or at least the early members,literally believes God had physical sex with Mary and the product was Jesus.Jesus is the biological son of God.Almost anything is possible in this world and this is proof of it.

    You find something similar in Islam where sura 9:111 says those who die while killing for Allah go straight to heaven,and listen to this,9:111 of the Quran says that THAT is written in the TORAH and the GOSPEL.

    • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

      Just a note to future commenters: the belief referenced here is by no means uncontested. I, for one, do not hold that belief.

      • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

        Yeah, its definitely not a mainstream Mormon belief. Though its crazy and distasteful mostly because the idea of God being fleshly is crazy and distasteful to most.

        • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

          God being fleshly? Like Jesus?

          • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

            My understanding is that Mormons believe Heavenly Father to have a body of some sort, and even that the spirits waiting to be born have a kind of spiritual body. The way it was explained to me, it was clear that these are not “fleshly” bodies as our mortal bodies are, but that they do have a kind of physicality to them. It seems a matter open to some degree of speculation within the LDS church.

            I had heard the theory of Heavenly Father having a kind of sexual intercourse with Mary, but because Heavenly Father’s body is not like our mortal bodies, it was not the same as sexual intercourse between mortals. It doesn’t surprise me that this is a minority opinion, though I’m still unclear on what the majority or mainstream opinion is on the matter.

            I am speaking second-hand here, and am open to correction from practicing Mormons or anyone more informed than I.

          • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

            This entire subject, like much else, is open to speculation in Mormonism, though it is officially stated that Jesus was born of a Virgin. It’s seldom, like much else, officially theologically dissected, and so you’ll come across dozens of competing pet theories.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Yes. In Mormon scripture, it states that the Father has a body of flesh and bone.

    • CarlC

      Yeah, something to be noted when speaking of Mormon Doctrine would be this statement:

      http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

      Orson Pratt, I believe, taught that God has physical sex with Mary. Pratt was a 19th century Mormon Apostle, but as far as I am aware, nobody else in LDS circles of authority has taught this. It’s simply not a doctrine of the LDS church.

    • Darren

      Yeah, funny how unconvincing those beliefs sound when one has _not_ been taught them since childhood and grown up in a culture where everyone else believes…

      Yep, funny that.

    • Iota

      LDS do believe that we can choose to advance, or to not. We choose our own telos, and while there is some sense of damnation (mostly in the sense of permanently halting progression towards godhood), there is no sense of eternally inflicted punishment.

      This was touched on above butI have a question. I seem to remember seeing diagrams showing paths to different destinations after life (the three kingdoms). I think I remember a fourth possible destination. The Outer Darkness, which kind of seems like damnation and not just “lack of progress you could in some sense be fine with”.

      What’s the deal with that?

      • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

        It’s just another level for those who, like Satan and his followers, reject any inkling of God’s moral authority. I guess I see the three kingdoms as based on the highest member of the Godhead one is willing to accept: celestial heirs accept the Father, terrestrial heirs accept Christ (or only parts of the Father’s glory), telestial heirs accept the Holy Spirit (they bow the knee, but don’t wish to accede to Christ’s gospel), and the heirs of Outer Darkness accept none of God’s glory – hence darkness.

        Some Mormons will say that those who go there (minuscule in number, if any!) will cease to exist in any meaningful way, but I don’t think that’s really the case.

      • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

        1). The belief that ‘damnation’ is no big thing is not a mainstream Mormon belief. The belief that damnation does not entail any extra degree of punishment, that its more or less the natural set of consequences that flow from one’s decision to reject God is (though I understand that this is fairly typical in mainstream Christianity these days).

        2. The Mormon typology of the afterlife is Outer Darkness, i.e., being with Satan, which corresponds somewhat to the mainstream Christian notion of hell. The mainstream Mormon description is that these are people who had a full, vivid knowledge of divinity and righteousness through the Holy Ghost but still rejected it. I think of it as the destination for those who utterly reject God and refuse to receive any goodness at all at His hand. The three grades of heaven roughly correspond to serious sins of commision, sins of omission, and righteousness.

        • Iota

          Michael,

          I guess I see the three kingdoms as based on the highest member of the Godhead one is willing to accept: celestial heirs accept the Father, terrestrial heirs accept Christ (or only parts of the Father’s glory), telestial heirs accept the Holy Spirit (they bow the knee, but don’t wish to accede to Christ’s gospel),

          This seems to imply you think of the three as being kind of inferior to one another (Father –> Christ –> Holy Spirit). I’m not really conversant with Mormon ideas about the Holy Spirit, but I kind of wonder about making Christ a “lesser” being than the Father…? That or (a) I misunderstood, (b) you used a poetic metaphor.

          • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

            Well, the basic idea is that Christ is a son of our Heavenly Father, just as we are Heavenly Father’s children; He, however, is the only one to have achieved Godhood before earthly mortality. Both the Father and Christ have physical bodies. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, does not have a physical body, and is thus not limited in ways that the Father and the Son are; hence, the HS is their messenger when they desire to speak to our human spirits. Basically, they have differing levels of glory and different spheres of action, not necessarily inferior one to another.

        • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

          I see the biggest difference is that for we LDS “damnation” means a cessation of progression, whereas for much of traditional Christianity it involves some sense of active punishment (pitchforks and burning in hell or what have you). Cessation of progression would be a terrible thing indeed . . . except that dwelling with the righteous that you don’t deserve to be with and didn’t choose would be a more terrible thing, at least according to Mormon 9:4, as I indicated above.

          But I’m not sure what to make of your “no big thing.” It’s not a technical term, and so I can’t figure out what “big thing” means. Damnation is bad. But it’s not as bad as going to traditional hell.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Perhaps my experience has lead me astray, but every contemporary sophisticated Christian I’ve talked to has not seen hell as a place of active punishment. Same with the one’s I’ve read. Look at Lewis, for instance. In the Great Divorce he’s adopting a view of hell that’s pretty sympatico to Mormon notions of the punishment being self-imposed, though he’s clearly coming from a mere Christian standpoint, not a Mormon standpoint. Whereas in Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress, he speculates that God *does* impose active punishment in hell *as a mercy,* because it prevents the sinners from being left to their own–worse–devices. Hardly at the same level of sophistication at all, but I’ve just read a science fiction update of Inferno by two SF writers (one a secularist, one a Presbyterian) and they also treat the active punishment of hell as a kind of divine mercy.

            Anyhow, to my mind whether damnation is a big thing or not isn’t about how awful the consequences of it are, its about whether damnation itself is morally grave. A couple of the comments here from Mormons such as yourself imply that the human choice to accept grace and escape damnation (stagnation) is just a kind of personal preference with no moral content. I, on the other hand, believe that the mainstream Mormon position is that choosing damnation is seriously morally wrong. A ‘big thing’ in fact.

    • Alan

      I find it strange that someone could find it strange that God had physical sex with Mary leading to Jesus but not find it strange that God didn’t have physical sex with Mary leading to Jesus. Almost anything is possible in this world and this is proof of it.

      • ACN

        I’m glad someone else was thinking this!

        Given what we know about pregnancy, the apparent near 0% probability of parthenogenesis in hominids, and the capacity of humans to lie, isn’t it INCREDIBLY more likely that someone got pregnant from intercourse and lied about it, than someone conceived through parthenogenesis or through temporary suspension of the laws of nature, and told the truth?

        Given this, it seems awfully pot-calling-the-kettle-black to describe the mormon belief as “strange” if you’re a person who believes in the miraculous virginal conception of Jesus.

        • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

          It is “strange” in that it is radically different from the teaching of all mainstream Christianity.

          On the other hand, the “strangeness” of the Virgin Birth is part of the point of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation of the Son of God. It wouldn’t be much of a miracle if it happened all the time, or in a “normal and natural” way, would it?

          • ACN

            Enshrining an idea as a doctrine, and labeling it as a ‘miracle’ does not make it any more probable to actually have happened.

          • Darren

            True.
            At least Jehovah did not disguise himself as a bull in order to sneak into Mary’s bedroom first, cause _that_ would be rediculous…
            :)

          • Darren

            BTW, Robert, took a quick look at your blog.

            Really nice to find a Catholic being concerned about things like torture and killbots…

            More like you, please.

        • Cynic

          There’s a third option that seems even more likely: someone made up the story about the virgin birth after Jesus and Mary’s deaths. Divine beings impregnating ladies is a fairly common motif in myth and it’s easy to imagine that someone might have attached it to Jesus. A messiah claim becomes more impressive if he had a miraculous birth.

          The virgin birth only appears in one gospel, one of the later ones. The two gospels with accounts of Jesus’s birth don’t agree on the details or timing. There’s no proof that the person who wrote that gospel (whoever they were) ever met Mary or Jesus. The prophecy it supposedly fullfilled was mistranslated. Jesus probably had a normal birth without fanfare and then when he became popular as a preacher these miraculous rumours started being spread about him.

    • Seth R.

      What does this have to do with the price of eggs?

    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      To the contrary, the Book of Mormon affirms that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was a virgin through the time she gave birth to Jesus. That is what Mormons teach each other in Sunday School, and we.sing “Silent Night” including the singing about “yon vigin mother, and child”.

  • Joe

    Are there any plans for the author or any other Morman to present arguments in favor for these beliefs or are we to be convinced simply by having them presented to us?

    • CarlC

      Much like Leah’s original post itself, your question betrays an idea that is slightly foreign to LDS thought. While there are LDS apologists and many arguments for why our doctrines might be true, the standard formula for conversion to the LDS church is “study the doctrines and then pray about it.” The missionaries will usually give you a copy of the Book of Mormon and ask you to pray about that. But we don’t argue why you should accept them. You should pray about it to God, and see what He has to say about it. I’m no longer an LDS missionary, but would still encourage much the same thing. More discussion and argument (not in the yelling sense) won’t convert somebody. God will.

      In short, we don’t think that you would be convinced by our arguments. We think you would be convinced by God (though arguments might have a place in that process, and they can be made). In any event, this post was an attempt at explanation, not at attempt to get everybody to believe as I do.

      • Joe

        If the Morman god progressed by following the moral law then why would anyone worship him? Why wouldn’t Mormons progress just by following the moral law? The LDS god seems superfluous.

        • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

          But who teaches humanity the moral law, and what happens when humanity fails? That’s where God (and Jesus) comes in.

      • The amazing typing monkey

        So, did you pray about it and did God answer you? If so, what did he say and how do you know it wasn’t the devil, your own brain or a trickster like Coyote talking back to you?

        When I’ve tried prayer, all I got was silence.

        Are there any prayers you can suggest which are quite likely (+80%) to work?

        • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

          So, did you pray about it and did God answer you?

          Yes.

          If so, what did he say and how do you know it wasn’t the devil, your own brain or a trickster like Coyote talking back to you?

          I don’t. But extended experiences with God and answering prayers has led to some pretty good results. I’d be stupid to ignore them in my own life.

          When I’ve tried prayer, all I got was silence.

          I’m sorry.

          Are there any prayers you can suggest which are quite likely (+80%) to work?

          Nope. I have no idea what God’s timetable is for answering your prayers. Some of my prayers were answered years later, but they were answered unambiguously and at the clearly (in retrospect) right way and time. I’ve rarely had a prayer answered in real time, and the second was one of the most mind-blowing experiences I’ve ever had when it did. But it’s really only happened to me twice.

        • Raymond Takashi Swenson

          Towards the end of the Book of Mormon, the last editor, Moroni (circa 421 AD) invites those who have read the 500+ page record to ask God whether it is a true record or not.However, he makes clear that receiving an answer is conditioned on whether you have read and pondered.the stories and sermons and considered God’s mercy towards mankind. He insists that you have to have to ask in the name of Jesus Christ, having faith in Christ, and with”real intent” and a “sincere heart”, really wanting the answer and willing to change his life if he gets an answer.

          There are millions of people around the world who can testify that the promise works.

  • jenesaispas

    Is Mormonism a bit like Deism?

    • CarlC

      That would depend on how you define “deism.” If you mean a God who wound up the universe and then left it alone, then absolutely not. Mormon scriptures and indeed even the idea of the Latter-day restoration of Christ’s church says that God intervenes much in the experiences of his children. That being said, he does not intervene so decisively as as to basically force a choice in belief (and theoretically moral and ethical action as a result).

      • http://emipiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Epiricismvsfatih

        By what physical process does God intervene?

        Is God made of matter?

        Is spirit measurable?

        • Raymond Takashi Swenson

          The New Testament tells about Jesus Christ as a physical being who experienced hunger and thirst and pain and death. When he was resurrected, he had a physical body which he invited the apostles to see and touch. He ascended into heaven to be with the Father.Christ is clearly embodied still and yet is also clearly God, the Creator and the Redeemer of mankind. The Mormons were taught by Joseph Smith,who saw God the Father as a personage like God the Son: embodied, yet perfect, omniscient and omnipotent, not a being without passions,but
          Perfect in his abilityto understand our feelings.

      • jenesaispas

        Thanks, it was basically this part that made me think Mormonism was actually quite like Deism.

        “We have no idea where the moral law comes from. It appears to just… well, exist, in Mormonism. This, in my opinion, is one of the philosophical weaknesses of Mormonism. Whereas in Catholicism the logically necessary God is eternally the source of the moral law and the telos to which humanity is drawn of necessity by their being created beings in the strict ex nihilo sense, that is not the case in Mormonism. In Mormonism God is not logically necessary (as the creator; Mormons believe that he organized pre-existing matter and taught pre-existing spirits), he is not the eternal source of the moral law, and he is not our telos because we are not created beings in the strict ex nihilo sense.”

        What do you mean by force a choice in belief? Please.

        • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

          If God showed up in person and demonstrated to you, in no uncertain terms with complete metaphysical certainty, that Mormonism (or Catholicism, or whatever) was true and you should follow it . . . that would basically be forcing your belief. He rarely intervenes in such a manner.

  • Darren

    Well, it is at least a workable solution to the Problem of Evil and Euthyhro; no worse ,IMHO, than the Catholic answer.

    • Darren

      Euthyphro…

    • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

      I think the LDS solution to the Problem of Evil has much more to do with our denial of creation ex nihilo for human souls (for the moral problem of evil). Also, the belief in this life as a time to grow and gain experience lends itself to a solution to the problem of natural evil, though I personally don’t think it solves the problem of natural evil completely.

  • Alexander Anderson

    This reminds me of a passage in Pope Benedict’s (while he was still Joseph Ratzinger) book, “Introduction to Christianity.” There’s a part where he reminds us that pagan polytheism could be paired with philosophical atheism (Democritus, Epicurus) or philosophical monotheism (Plato, Aristotle) without contradiction. The case seems to be the same with Mormonism, as the question of ultimate reality is left unanswered, really, just as it is in pagan polytheism.

    So, I’d say one of the most important theological differences between Mormonism and other Christianties is that it is sharply denied that the God of Israel is identical with the God of the philosophers. I guess maybe a Mormon could argue that this identity is the primal mistake of the Great Apostasy, although I’ve never heard a Mormon make that argument. (I’d imagine it would be hard to keep the Gospel of John around if you made that argument, along with a few other issues)

    • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

      The type of intellectualish Mormon who cares about this sort of thing often does argue that the primal mistake of the Great Apostasy is identifying the God of Israel with the God of the Philosophers.

      You are absolutely right that Mormonism leaves the question about Ultimate Reality unanswered. Which in some ways is a strength, since a lot of questions about Ultimate Reality look unanswerable to me. Traditional Christians get around the unanswerableness problem, it seems to me, by treating God as a sort of black box about which nonsensical or contradictory or meaningless things can be said (negative theology, for instance).

      But Mormonism isn’t in quite the same position as your pagan polytheism because whatever the Ultimate Reality is, Mormons accepts that God is congruent with it. We’re willing to be ignorant of the Ultimate Reality, because whatever it is, God is the answer. Which, in a way, means we also treat God as a black box.

    • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

      “I guess maybe a Mormon could argue that this identity is the primal mistake of the Great Apostasy, although I’ve never heard a Mormon make that argument.”

      I hear Mormons make this argument all of the time.

      • Alexander Anderson

        Allow me to add that I don’t claim to have encountered every Mormon argument. I was just kind surprised that I hadn’t run into this yet. But, then again, I haven’t encountered many Mormons of the highly philosophical bent. I still think there’s some problems with the claim. I think it’s fairly established that the writer of the Gospel of John was trying to make the connection between the God of Isreal, Jesus’ Father, and the God of the philosophers. It’s hard to make sense of the opening “logos hymn” if this is not true.

        • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

          Mormons wouldn’t word it the same way you are; they’d probably talk about people who “taught as doctrines the commandments of men” or mingling human philosophy with scripture.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            Yeah, but believing the logos hymn that opens the Gospel of John doesn’t necessitate that I agree with all the ecumenical councils that tried to make sense of what it was saying. Mormons would say that much was added that was unbiblical and untrue. So Jesus is “the logos.” I can agree with that, and not agree with the interpretations of Nicea and Constantinople and all the rest.

        • Raymond Takashi Swenson

          Joseph Smith claimed he reeived a revelation that specifically affirmed the logos hymn as a teaching of John the Baptist, who was a mentor to John the Beloved before the baptism of Jesus. Mormons are consistently taught in the Book of Mormon that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the Creator, the Son of God who gave the law to Moses. The Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon begins with the theophany of a prophet who lived around two thousand B.C., who saw Jehovah’s spirit body, and was told that Jehovah would be born into humanity as the Messiah. Mormons don’t see John 1 as affirming Greek monotheists, but rather as affirming the identity of Jesus with Jehovah.

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  • http://www.brotherpriests.com Benjamin

    If souls are eternal in the full sence (having no beginning and no end) then it is impossible to speak about progression.
    - Are we to suppose that we have been progressing from good to better for all eternity? In which case we would already have reached the climax of maximum perfection, or if there is no climax we would be infinitely above where we started. Is the Mormon position that we are at the point of infinite perfection?
    Furthermore, if souls are eternal, they have no START, so it is impossible to speak about progression because in order to progress one must start somewhere, but eternal beings have no start, by definition.
    - Or do you intend to argue that souls make no progress in eternity, but only when they are in the flesh? In this case God and Christ could only have made progress while they are in the flesh, and I believe this idea contradicts Mormon thinking but let us suppose that this idea is acceptable in Mormonism for the sake of argument.
    In this case we need to ask: is it by our own power that we make progress while we are in the flesh, or is it by the power of another? If it is the first, then we could cause enter the flesh again, and make progress again, and so we would already have reached the summit of perfection or infinity , as above.
    If our progress in the flesh is caused by another being, then we have the problem of infinite regression, which cannot be solved in any way except by the presence of One who is not caused, but who is Himself the uncaused cause. This being would not make progress because he himself would be infinite. This is the True God and not the “God” Mormons talk about. This God is the source of the moral law.
    Therefore, if souls make progress they are not infinite, and if souls are infinite they do not make progress.

    • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

      There are a number of infelicities in your argument, but I will only point out one that wouldn’t be obvious to the average non-Mormon: in Mormonism, the Father and the Son are still in the flesh and always will be, so there are no logical problems with tying progression to being embodied.

      • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

        Yes, but somehow Christ attained godhood (moral perfection, at the very least) before coming to the earth. How is never specified, though there have been some speculative statements that he progressed. I personally like the idea that he, like God the Father, has always been morally perfect, and always had godhood.

        I realize this is very heretical for the Catholics here. But this is touching on the major differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity.

        • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

          I’m more of the opinion that his volunteering to be Savior – and to follow God’s will while doing so – was what qualified Him for Godhood.

        • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

          Your argument–that embodiment is not necessary for Godhood, because Christ was God in 10 BC–assumes a view of temporality and eternity that I am not willing to concede.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            Fair enough. The issue of God’s relationship to time is tricky in Mormonism, no doubt. Yet Ether 3:14-16 clearly seems to indicate that Christ was a God before being embodied. I think I’m on pretty firm ground here doctrinal even if the exact nature of the “before” is fuzzy do to my linear perception of time and three spatial dimensions.

      • Spiral

        Surely that contradicts the second law of thermodynamics? A fleshy body is basically a biological machine and perpetual motion machines are impossible because entrophy always increases. So, no fleshy bodies can exist forever.

        • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

          You assume that God’s body obeys the second law of thermodynamics, or that all matter must exist with the same laws of physics that we are currently a part of. I don’t hold that those assumptions hold when dealing with God.

    • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

      There are several things going on here in your comment.

      1. Your first response gets into issues of God’s relationship to time, something I will not touch with a 10-foot pole in Mormon theology because we have no idea. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Also, just because there’s infinite time doesn’t mean all things are possible. It seems that we do need help to become in harmony with the moral law. Hence, God helps us do so.

      2. I don’t say that. I’ve clearly said that I (personally) think that God has always been harmony with the moral law. But other Mormons disagree with me, and think that indeed God was once a sinful man like us. There are some statements that Christ progressed to perfection and godhood before becoming enfleshed, but they are not central, and I would not use them as Mormon doctrine.

      3. Mormons think that the answer to the “why is their stuff at all?” question could just as easily be Gods all the way down as it could be that there is a single creator God that is the source of everything else. In both instances it boils down to “that’s just the way the universe is.” In short, infinite regression isn’t a problem for Mormons. I personally find it slightly unsatisfying, which is why I read the King Follett discourse the way I do. Trying to have my cake and eat it to, I suppose. God has always been God, yet humans can progress to become as He is, as opposed to we can become as He is because He was once as we are.

      • http://www.brotherpriests.com Benjamin

        It was my understanding before reading this that Mormonism believed that souls did come into existence, but differed from Catholicsm in saying we come into existence before our mortal life, created or generated by God (with the cooperation, I was told, of a wife) and enjoying life with God before the moment of conception on earth.
        Your post, however, says that we were not created in an ex nihilo sort of way, but God organized pre-existing souls. Your response mentions God, but I am more interested in the human soul: does Mormonism believe we are eternal beings (without beginning and without end)? I assumed that to be the case because the only alterantive to ex nihilo creation that I can imagine is being eternal. I cannot reconcile being eternal with changing or progressing.
        If not, when did we come into existence and who brought us into existence? If we came into existence, our telos comes from whoever created us.

  • TerryC

    I believe that your definition/premise of the term “eternity” would not be accepted by most Mormons. It includes the Catholic premise that eternal and unchanging are synonymous. While I agree with that premise, at least as it applies to Catholic theology, I don’t believe that its acceptance is universal. Nor do I believe that it is a necessary condition of eternal for something to be unchanging as a consequence of it’s eternal existence. There is nothing in the concept of eternal existence that requires that the eternal object be unchanging. That concept of constancy has its own name:immutability. Certainly Catholics, and many mainline Christians believe that God is Immutable as well as Eternal, and unique in having those properties.

    • TerryC

      “Certain Catholics” should be “Certainly Catholics”. Sorry.

      • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

        TerryC, I agree with you. “Eternal” denotes an infinite expanse of time (whatever “time” means) and does not necessarily state that progression or regression or no change at all happens during that time. I’m curious which part of the post you think insinuates that “eternal=unchanging” definition? Because yes, that would need to be corrected or clarified.

  • Seraphim

    I am a former Mormon now making my way into the Catholic faith, and one of the things I have struggled with along the way is wondering how well educated, inquisitive minds can remain LDS. By this I do not mean that I find it ridiculous that anyone would ever remain a Mormon, but I wonder how their mindset and convictions differ from mine in such a way that they are able to stay while, to remain intellectually honest, I had to leave.

    My LDS friends and I have, on occasion, debated the underlying philosophies of each faith and what I find most interesting is at some point we struggle to understand one another. I wonder how anyone could deny the reality of Aristotelian causality or virtue ethics while they wonder why I can’t see the supposed flaws of such an archaic framework.

    • Darren

      Um… Okay. While some aspects of Aristotle’s thought have aged well, causality is not one of them.

      So, to be clear, you are curious how your former co-Mormons can be so muddle-headed as to remain Mormons, while you were swayed by a system of thought that has not been considered valid since before Joseph Smith was even born?

      • Phillip

        Not considered valid by whom? An argument can be made that the we can not think coherently about the world or ourselves without something like Aristotle’s notions of causality, yes even final causes. If you can tolerate the polemics, the book The Last Superstition by Feser makes exactly this argument.

        • Darren

          “Not considered valid by whom? An argument can be made that the we can not think coherently about the world or ourselves without something like Aristotle’s notions of causality, yes even final causes. If you can tolerate the polemics, the book The Last Superstition by Feser makes exactly this argument.”

          Well, Newton for one, Copernicus then Galileo, Einstein, Bohr, Hawking, and the rest…

          Aristotle intuitively makes a lot of sense. He did a masterful job of observing the world and devising an explanatory system based on his own (human) intuitions. The amazing thing is that he got so much right. The problem is that the world really does not run the way humans intuitively think it runs: Newtonian mechanics is counter-intuitive and quantum mechanics is downright bizarre. Nevertheless, they are true, or at least closer approximations of what might turn out to be true, than Aristotelian mechanics for all that Aristotle feels the more correct of the three.

          Since Chris Hallquist has done a far better job explaining than I ever could, his review of The Last Superstition.

        • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

          “Not considered valid by whom?”

          At least one of my professors at Catholic U, who said that the Catholic Church needed to abandon the parts of Aristotelianism that had been proven wrong. The causality stuff, especially regarding the final ends of things, seems a bit off in light of current physics. Then again, maybe 100 years from now the then-current physics will redeem him. I’m not holding my breath.

          • Alexander Anderson

            Current physics denies that final causes are a valid input. This makes sense, as far as the goals of physics. But, once you deny it at the input level, you aren’t going to get it at the output level. So final causes can still exist, you would just need a theory other than physics to explain them. This isn’t true for all forms of science, though. Darwin’s theory of natural selection is crawling with hidden final causes (which is odd, considering that his goal was to deny final causes). We certainly haven’t gotten rid of final causes, we just don’t see them because our methodology denies them. The same could be said of formal causes (known by scientists today as “emergent properties”.)

          • Lawrence King

            Our neglect of Aristotle’s causes is exactly why some New Atheist arguments seem strong. There are some recent developments in quantum physics that indicate that entire universes may simply “pop into existence” from nothing, as a result of the peculiar laws that govern quantum mechanics and singularities. Some atheists have said, “See, this refutes your argument for God: these universes are uncaused.” The perfectly reasonable, and perfectly correct, response is to ask, “But who created these laws of physics?”

            Yet this response is an Aristotelian one. Such universes are indeed “uncaused” according to modern science, which recognizes only material and efficient causes; a universe that pops into existence because of the laws of physics has no material cause, nor even an efficient cause (that’s how quantum randomness works). But they still have a formal cause: the laws of physics themselves. So a First Cause is still logically necessary for such universes.

            This is one of many cases where common sense (“but who made the laws?”) is actually an expression of Aristotelian philosophy.

      • Seraphim

        Darren,
        Apparently my last statement was left open to being misunderstood. Forgive me. I never meant to imply that I think my Mormon interlocutors are “muddle-headed” as you put it. I recognize that they are just as, if not more intelligent, than I am. What intrigues me is the different conclusions we have come to in observing the data/ arguments. I don’t think they are idiotic for rejecting Aristotelian causality; instead I wonder what it is about their experiences and cognition that leads them to different conclusions.
        As for Aristotelian causality having been refuted, I too do not disagree with every specific part of the Philosopher’s argument, but I agree with his core claims. I have yet to read any persuasive argument agaisnt Aristotelian philosophy that succeeds. In fact, most critiques I have encountered misunderstand what Aristotle was saying, or simply refute some small aspect of his discussion of causality.

        • Seraphim

          *As for Aristotelian causality having been refuted, I too disagree with some of the specific parts of the Philosopher’s argument, but I agree with his core claims.

        • R.C.

          Yes.

          It seems perfectly clear that where Aristotle’s understanding of final causality falls apart is largely in the macroscopic choice of examples for which we now have better insight into the minutiae. But it also seems likely that had Aristotle himself had access to the observational sophistication we have now, he’d have said, “Okay, bad example” and proceeded to rewrite things in a fashion consonant with quanta. He probably would have also gone on to state that these updated examples, just like the ones before them, were provisional, but that the conceptual framework is sound.

          • Alan

            An Aristotelian Causation of the Gaps theory?

        • Darren

          Seraphim;

          My apologies for thinking your question was pejorative and not honest. My mistake, not yours, and again my apologies.

          Pondering the mental processes between holding a belief to be obviously true .vs. obviously ludicrous is an excellent topic, one I have considered as well. I retained a lot of my evangelical model and can put myself into that headspace, I can remember what it felt like to believe, yet still it is difficult to understand how I once did believe. This article, on Morton’s Demon is pretty interesting and relevant to the topic.

          Aristotelian physics is easy, causality is harder and (sadly) beyond my ability. From my perspective, it devolves into arguing about fundamental axioms: to those who accept as given the reality of a spiritual realm, then of course everything has telos, the world is drenched in the stuff.

          But, Aristotle either just assumes both, or uses each to argue for the reality of the other: Of course everything has a purpose, as God gave each thing a final end; of course God exists, who else gave out all these final ends?

          Theists claim materialists unfairly exclude non-material data; Materialists claim they exclude nothing, being perfectly willing for any Theist to show them the telos…

          But, a claim (by me) does not a proof make. Consider the original objection withdrawn for lack of me being able to prove my assertion.

    • Phillip

      You raise an interesting point. I am also a former Mormon who was received into the Catholic Church last year. I wonder if it depends on whether we feel intellectually compelled to seek for an ultimate answer, an ultimate reality, a metaphysical theory of everything. If we are so constructed then it is easier, I think, to drift towards the ‘God of the philosophers’ that is identified with the orthodox Christian God. If we are more comfortable with the idea of there being multiple independent (or interdependent?) aspects of reality – uncreated matter, self-existing physical and moral laws, uncreated intelligences/spirits, etc. – then Mormonism may seem more attractive. In some ways I think the mental shift from Mormonism to Catholicism is greater than from Mormonism to atheism.

      I admit to having a predisposition towards something like Platonism. Maybe that contributed to my conversion (or my apostasy if you’re LDS)

      • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

        I drift towards the “ultimate answer” myself, which is why I read the King Follett discourse the way I do. However, I drift much more towards a solution to the Problem of Evil, and I find Mormonism’s answer substantially more compelling than traditional Christianity’s.

        But you’ve hit on my point of “theological aesthetics.” What’s a more important question to me personally isn’t a more important question to you personally (or Leah, or Larry). And I’m totally with you on the shift from Mormonism to atheism being a shorter leap than Mormonism to Catholicism. Larry would agree with you too.

        • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

          While I think you and Larry and Phillip are way out to lunch, because religions aren’t primarily philosophical systems.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            Well, at least Larry and I think that the philosophical systems around religions are important. Probably one of the reasons we’re both PhD students in systematic theology. I don’t know if I would classify religion as “primarily” a philosophical system, though in this context it’s obviously the salient part of religion for this discussion.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            That’s not to say I’m out to lunch for other reasons.

          • Lawrence King

            I second Carl’s phrasing: the philosophical systems around religions are important. In fact, I’d compare it to marriage: trusting your spouse, loving your spouse, and sharing common goals with your spouse are more important than being able to converse with your spouse. But a marriage without conversation is still impoverished. Similarly, a personal relationship with God is more important than an understanding of God, but it’s hard to see how I could have a relationship with God if I didn’t have the faintest idea what his/her/its nature was like.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            I disagree with Lawrence King. One can know God’s nature like one know’s any personal being’s nature. Just as one can be metaphysically mistaken about one’s spouse and still have fulfilling conversations with her (since there are happily married atheists, Christians, Deists, panpsychists . . .) and know her character and nature, one can know God through his self-revelation in scripture, through interaction, and through the teaching of the Holy Ghost.

            Your claim is a tautology–having a philosopy about the metaphysics of God is important because if you don’t, you don’t have a philosophy about the metaphysics of God.

        • Seraphim

          “I drift much more towards a solution to the Problem of Evil, and I find Mormonism’s answer substantially more compelling than traditional Christianity’s.”

          I would like to hear more about this. I have heard Ostler and friends make this claim, but I remain unconvinced. Maybe you have a new and unique take on the approach.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            Well, I’d start with David Paulsen’s article “Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil.” in BYU Studies.

            Basically, an all-powerful, perfectly good, completely knowing, absolute creator God could create beings that have libertarian free will that always choose the morally correct actions. Since God did not (clearly), then he must not be all-powerful, or he must not be perfectly good, or he doesn’t have complete knowledge, or (and this is the LDS answer) he is not an absolute creator in the ex nihilo sense. One of those original four assumptions has to go. Mormonism chops out the last one. I’d be deeply uncomfortable worshipping a God in which one of the others had been chopped out-particularly the axiom that states that he is perfectly good.

          • Darren

            Excellent

            ”Basically, an all-powerful, perfectly good, completely knowing, absolute creator God could create beings that have libertarian free will that always choose the morally correct actions.”

            And it is the second half of this sentence that prompts me to rank the Mormon answer above the Catholic answer, which as I have seen it relies on denying that God could have created such a world.

          • Seraphim

            “Basically, an all-powerful, perfectly good, completely knowing, absolute creator God could create beings that have libertarian free will that always choose the morally correct actions.”

            Hold on a minute. Do people still believe in libertarian free will? Further, If God arranges things in such a way that moral agents will always choose morally good actions, how are they free?

            “Since God did not (clearly), then he must not be all-powerful, or he must not be perfectly good, or he doesn’t have complete knowledge, or (and this is the LDS answer) he is not an absolute creator in the ex nihilo sense. One of those original four assumptions has to go. Mormonism chops out the last one. I’d be deeply uncomfortable worshipping a God in which one of the others had been chopped out-particularly the axiom that states that he is perfectly good.”

            Interestingly enough, many of my LDS friends chop out the bits you would be uncomfortable cutting. They are more uncomfortable with the idea that God doesn’t know what is going to happen than the idea that God might not be omnipotent.

        • R.C.

          Is that answer to the problem of evil spelled out succinctly somewhere here? Or is it in another thread? I seem somehow to have missed it.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            R.C., I linked an article above by David Paulsen. I highly recommend it.

            Seraphim, I know that there are other LDS thinkers who chop out the other parts. I think they’re on shakier ground then I am, though. D&C 93:29-33 clearly states that “man was also in the beginning with God” and that “the elements are eternal.” So the LDS clearly deny creation ex nihilo. They do not clearly deny the others, though I’m sure we could dig up quotes that some Mormons do. You would be hard pressed to find a Mormon who thought creation was ex nihilo, however. I cannot think of one.

  • http://brilliantvapor.blogspot.com Marina Lehman

    Thanks for this post, Carl. When my husband and I moved recently we suddenly made lots of Mormon friends, where our only contact before had been missionaries. You’ve helped to clarify a bit some of the questions that naturally come up in my mind about similarities and differences between their faith and my own (protestant leaning towards Catholicism).

  • Lawrence King

    Carl, you are indeed remembering my statement correctly! (Or at least, remembering it identically to how I remember it.)

    Re: your remarks on Catholic theology: I must quibble with your statement that “in Catholicism the logically necessary God is eternally the source of the moral law and the telos to which humanity is drawn of necessity by their being created beings in the strict ex nihilo sense.”

    The idea that God is logically necessary was indeed asserted by Anselm, but it’s hardly Catholic doctrine. Thomas Aquinas rejects Anselm’s argument. Although, to the best of my knowledge, Thomas doesn’t actually state his opinion on whether God is logically necessary, none of his writings seem to suggest that this is the case. All of Thomas’ arguments for God’s existence begin with the world we know through observation. Thomas argues that if anything exists, then there must be a First Cause whose existence is identical to its essence — and therefore it would be logically impossible to have a material universe without a Creator.

    But would it be logically possible for nothing at all to exist? That is: no matter, no energy, no intelligence, no n-dimensional Euclidean spaces (even empty ones), no causes, no effects, and no God? Anselm, who does believe that God’s existence is logically necessary, would object to this complete nothingness scenario. But I believe that Aquinas would have no logical objection to this.

    The same is true for Vatican I’s teaching on the knowledge of God. Vatican I did not teach that humans can know God exists simply by using their reason; it taught that we can know the existence of God from created things by using our reason [Deum ... naturali humanae rationis lumine e rebus creatis certo congosci posse]. In short, there is no Catholic doctrine suggesting that God is “logically necessary” in the strict sense you seem to have meant.

    • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

      Welcome Larry!

      Interesting comment. I had thought that most Catholics thought that God was logically necessary. Some of the other posters here have intimated as much, but I’m glad to know that it’s not a church dogma, whether or not Catholics as a whole believe it or not.

  • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

    For what it’s worth, I’m a Mormon who is not as convinced as the author that men and women don’t have a telos or that the moral law is above and apart from God. My view is a minority one in Mormonism, to be sure, but so is the author’s, because we are both extrapolating answers to things that Mormonism does accept and care about to things it doesn’t. Mormonism believes in the moral perfection of God, the morality of morals (in other words, that Good is an Ought), the close connection between God and morality, and morality and us, but the particular reasons why have been left to individual speculation. Not Important For Our Salvation, in other words.

  • Lawrence King

    In fact, I have two more quibbles with the statement that “in Catholicism the logically necessary God is eternally the source of the moral law and the telos to which humanity is drawn of necessity by their being created beings in the strict ex nihilo sense.”

    (1) In Catholic doctrine, it is true that God is “eternally the source of the moral law”, if this is understood in the sense that God is the source of the moral law and God is eternal. But the moral law isn’t eternal if by that you mean “God could not have created rational beings whose moral law is different than ours.” God certainly could have created — and IMHO may have created — beings unknown to us whose moral laws are different from ours. Of course, such beings would have a moral law that matched their nature, just as we have a moral law that matches our nature.

    (2) Are humans really of necessity drawn to God as their telos, simply because we are His creatures? Probably not; most theologians agree that rocks and squirrels — which are also created by God ex nihilo — do not yearn for any supernatural ends. What if you restrict the question to intelligent beings? This is a disputed question. De Lubac argued that God could have created intelligent beings capable of achieving complete fulfillment through natural means, while Rahner argued that any creature with a spiritual aspect (such as human beings) necessarily had a certain orientation toward God as its end. Where Thomas stood on this question is a matter of heated debate — here in Washington DC you’ll get very different answers on this question from professors at CUA and professors at the DHS! Of course, all of these folks agree that human beings are indeed oriented toward God and cannot be truly fulfilled except by him, but when you start using words like “of necessity” you are entering the realm of speculation as to how God could have made us otherwise.

    Of course, as we have discussed, Mormon theology also encounters interesting questions about this. Could the God of a certain planet/universe choose to procreate spiritual children whose bodies would be fundamentally different than the bodies humans on Earth have?

    [Sorry to hijack Leah's blog for this discussion!]

    • grok87

      Just to help anyone trying to follow…
      CUA= Catholic University of America
      DHS = Dominican House of Studies
      cheers,

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

      Hi Larry! Long time no talk!

      You say:

      God certainly could have created — and IMHO may have created — beings unknown to us whose moral laws are different from ours.

      I don’t follow what you mean by “different moral laws.” Do you mean the Franciscan/nominalist position that “God could have made love of God sinful and hatred of God virtuous and obligatory”?

      Or do you mean that various creatures have different goods appropriate to their natures, and that what is good for one creature – say, chocolate is good for humans – is not good for others – as chocolate is not good for dogs?

      Or are you going down some other path entirely?

      • Lawrence King

        No, I would certainly reject the position that says that God could have made love-of-God sinful. Such a position requires asserting that God can do evil, or asserting that “good” is a completely unfathomable and incomprehensible thing that is merely defined as “what God wants”. This is, as I understand it, the position of nominalist, Calvinists, Jansenists, etc., and such a position has been explicitly or implicitly condemned by the Catholic Church.

        In fact, I would go further than this. God would not create a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy populated with bunny rabbits and no vegetables.

        On the other hand, I don’t see any reason why God couldn’t create a race of intelligent beings who reproduce by fission, each of the two “children” inheriting the complete memories of its parent. Such a race would not be capable of the sexual sins we are, and therefore the sex-related moral laws that are part of our natural law would not be part of their natural law. Moreover, while the natural law for homo sapiens requires us to honor our parents (and a fortiori forbids patricide and matricide), such a law couldn’t be part of their moral world. But they probably would have moral laws that wouldn’t make any sense to us. (If I were writing fiction, perhaps I would suggest the following moral law: If a member of their race is going through a period of anguish and depression, it is morally required for them to refrain from fissioning until their psychological issues have been dealt with, to avoid creating two instances of anguish where there once was one.) Disclaimer: Like 99% of the alien races in sf, this imaginary race is implausibly simplistic, but I’m not capable of dreaming up an imaginary race that is as complex as human beings.

  • Steven

    As always I enjoyed your post. You did an excellent job of putting into words one key difference between the LDS faith and other Christian sects, namely, the nature and purpose of God and our role and importance in His plan. Whenever I am asked by someone sincere about what makes us (Mormon’s) different, I usually fall back on an explanation similar to (but certainly less eloquent than) your post. I also appreciated your response in the comments to how we are supposed to believe a given doctrine, namely, pray about it. People are funny about how if we (Mormons) believe something different than what they (non-Mormons) were taught growing up then it is just too difficult to believe, without reflecting on the fact that their own beliefs taken at face value are every bit as ridiculous as ours (Mormons’). Personally, aside from having personally prayed about what I believe, I think our views of the origins and purpose of God are much more comprehensive and sensible than an ex nihilo approach, and grants existence a much greater purpose.

    And you gotta love the obligatory false and incendiary claims about what Mormons believe in the comments section. Grow up people, this is a forum for mature people of different faiths to have real conversations.

  • TheresaL

    I’m confused about the Mormon idea (or lack of an idea) of telos. It seems like Mormon’s strongly think humanity has telos, which is to achieve godhood. Isn’t that why Mormons follow the tenets of their faith? But the post seems to imply that choosing not to advance to the level of a god is just fine too – simply a personal choice. I would have thought we should all be striving for the best, to fulfill our greatest potential. Or are some souls meant for less than others? If so, what accounts for this inequality?

    • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

      This idea that not striving for Godhood/rejecting grace is OK is definitely a minority view in Mormonism. To be fair, I think the author might have said more than he meant to or you might be misinterpreting him.

      • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

        I wasn’t saying that it was OK, though that’s a thoroughly untechnical term. Just that we get to choose, and that the choosing is the more important part. Also, rejecting grace does not lead to active punishment from God. You just don’t progress any more. Even outer darkness isn’t active punishment. It’s just where you go if you reject all light. God isn’t punishing those who end up there, he’s just letting their actions play out with their consequences, and he weeps for those who reject him so thoroughly.

        Your end fate is completely your own fault in Mormonism.

    • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

      Mormons often teach exactly what you’re saying: that we should strive to be the best we can, to achieve our full potential. People who do not do so of their own free will; they cannot attain the same level of glory and contentment as those who do strive (as well as being eternally alone), but despite their possible regrets they will be more content in lower kingdoms than in the higher ones, the glory of which would be unbearable to them.

      • Lawrence King

        This is also the view of some (though not all) Catholic theologians. Of course, there are some fundamental differences between our understanding of heaven, purgatory, and hell and the LDS understanding of the three kingdoms and the outer darkness. But the idea you are suggesting — that the damned in a very real sense choose their fate, that this fate is truly an unhappy one, and yet they would actually be unhappier if they somehow were forced to live in the presence of God — is held by quite a few Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox theologians.

  • grok87

    “theological aesthetics” huh. Sounds like relativistic palaver to me. It reminds me of this passage from Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (note Sebastian and Ryder are friends at university- Brideshead is Sebastian’s older brother and Cordelia is his younger school-aged sister):

    Brideshead: “I am so sorry to miss so much of your visit. You are being looked after properly? I hope Sebastian is seeing to the wine. Wilcox is apt to be rather grudging when he is on his own.”
    Ryder: “He’s treated us very liberally.”
    Brideshead: “I am delighted to hear it. You are fond of wine?”
    Ryder: “Very.”
    Brideshead: “I wish I were. It is such a bond with other men. At Magdalen I tried to get drunk more than once, but I did not enjoy it. Beer and whisky I find even less appetizing….”
    Cordelia: “I like wine.”
    Brideshead: “My sister Cordelia’s last report said that she was not only the worst girl in the school, but the worst there had ever been in the memory of the oldest nun.
    Cordelia: “That’s because I refused to be an Enfant de Marie. Reverend Mother said that if I didn’t keep my room tidier I couldn’t be one one, so I said, well, I won’t be one, and I don’t believe our Blessed Lady cares two hoots whether I put my gym shoes on the left or the right of my dancing shoes. Reverend Mother was livid.”
    Brideshead: “Our Lady cares about obedience.”
    Sebastian: “Bridey, you mustn’t be pious. We’ve got an atheist with us.”
    Ryder: “Agnostic.”
    Brideshead “Really? Is there much of that at your college? There was a certain amount at Magdalen.”
    Ryder: “I really don’t know. I was one long before I went to Oxford.”
    Brideshead: “It’s everywhere.”

    Religion seemed an inevitable topic that day. For some time we talked about the Agricultural Show. Then…

    Brideshead: “I saw the Bishop in London last week. You know, he wants to close our chapel.”
    Cordelia: “Oh, he couldn’t”

    Brideshead: “It’ll have to go sooner or later, perhaps after mummy’s time. The point is whether it wouldn’t be better to let it go now. You are an artist, Ryder, what do you think of it aesthetically?”
    Cordelia: “I think it’s beautiful” (with tears in her eyes)
    Brideshead:”Is it Good Art?”
    Ryder: “Well, I don’t quite know what you mean.” (warily)
    “I think it’s a remarkable example of its period. Probably in eighty years it will be greatly admired.”
    Brideshead: “But surely it can’t be good twenty years ago and good in eighty years, and not good now?”
    Ryder: “Well, it may be good now. All I mean is that I don’t happen to like it much.”
    Brideshead: “But is there a difference between liking a thing and thinking it good?”
    Sebastian: “Bridey, don’t be so Jesuitical.”
    Ryder: “Isn’t that just the distinction you made about wine?”
    Brideshead: “No. I like and think good the end to which wine is sometimes the means – the promotion of sympathy between man and man. But in my own case it does not achieve that end, so I neither like it nor think it good for me.”
    Sebastian: “Bridey, do stop.”
    Brideshead: “I’m sorry, I thought it rather an interesting point.”
    Sebastian: “Thank God I went to Eton.”
    Brideshead: “I’m afraid I must take Sebastian away for half an hour….”

    When Brideshead and Sebastian returned, Cordelia was sent to bed. Brideshead began again on our discussion.

    Brideshead (to Ryder): “Of course, you are right really. You take art as a means not as an end. That is strict theology, but it’s unusual to find an agnostic believing it.”

    • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

      “Sounds like relativistic palaver to me.”

      Then you’ve misunderstood me, because I really hate relativism. Whether or not something jives with your own personal sensibilities has nothing to do with whether or not it’s true. But as humans we ought to realize that others sensibilities don’t match ours, and see the consequences that might have. And even if one question matters more to me (like the Problem of Evil), that doesn’t mean the other questions are unimportant, just that they are less important to me.

      • grok87

        Thanks Carl. I guess I’m still struggling with the phrase “theological aesthetics” and whether it caries any coherent meaning. As per the Waugh passage, my own view is that art is a “means not an end.” Another relevant quote is perhaps Rene Magritte:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/René_Magritte
        “It is a union that suggests the essential mystery of the world. Art for me is not an end in itself, but a means of evoking that mystery. ”
        — René Magritte on putting seemingly unrelated objects together in juxtaposition.
        I think the phrase “liturgical aesthetics” has meaning. In Liturgy, the way we worship, tastes may vary. I may like a folk mass, someone else the Tridentine rite. They are both “art”, a means to the end of worshipping God.

    • Darren

      That is brilliant – I must track down the BBC version, it would be even better with costumes and suitably British accents!

      • Darren

        Netflix! I so have my weekend viewing!

        Brideshead Revisited

      • grok87

        @Darren,
        Yeah it’s one of my favorite books and the BBC version is really good. The dialogue I quoted is in episode 2 beginning at about 17:30. I took the dialogue I quoted from the book (with cuts). The dialogue in the BBC version is fairly faithful to book, but cuts some of the interesting parts out in this case.
        Thanks for linking to the Netflix, I didn’t know it was available there.
        Enjoy!
        cheers,
        grok

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    I actually think it is a good things that Catholics have a “Problem of Evil.” I much prefer a religion that has a problem with evil to one that has a problem with good as Atheism does. Atheism has evolution as the answer to how good things happened despite there being no force for good n the world. Catholicism has free will as the answer to how bad things happen. Essentially saying there is a force for evil in the world. It is us. A harder answer to be sure but one that calls us to true repentance.

    The idea of God as a creature seem problematic to me. The Catholic answer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster objection is that it misunderstands the nature of God. God is not one being among many. He is the essence of being itself. So we don’t expect evidence for God like we would for a being within the universe. Mormonism seems to bring back that objection. God is just a being and not the ground of all being.

    • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

      Um, the answer you gave to the “Problem of Evil” right here… is basically Mormonism’s answer. But since we go further and say that the agentive essence of humans was uncreated by God, our culpability in evil is even more radical: you can’t say “God created evil [beings]” in Mormonism.

      And about God, you’ll have to distinguish between “creature” and “being.” Mormonism believes that God is a being, yes; but that doesn’t mean that he would necessarily be manifested in the universe through testable evidence. However, God (like humans) is in His essence uncreated, having always existed.

      • Darren

        No, there is a difference between the claims of CarlC and Randy.

        And just because we are over 80 posts and no one has mentioned Hitler yet…

        While the traditional Catholic answer _does_ explain why Hitler’s free will in exterminating 5 million Jews was more important than the freedom of those 5 million Jews not to be exterminated, it does little to address why Hitler’s mother, statistically speaking, spontaneously aborted four of Hitler’s siblings according to God’s plan, but God chose to spare the fetus Hitler allowing him to be born knowing full well the end result of that intervention. Perhaps those other four siblings would have been even worse?

        It also does nothing to address natural evil, for example the million people a year who die from Malaria as an easy one.

        • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

          ” Catholicism has free will as the answer to how bad things happen. Essentially saying there is a force for evil in the world. It is us. A harder answer to be sure but one that calls us to true repentance.”

          You could easily replace “Catholicism” with “Mormonism” there and have it be a correct statement. The differences, as I noted, come when teasing out exactly what each portion of that statement would mean.

      • Darren

        Oops, misstated my own position.

        The free will defense addresses why God considers is Good that humans be free to desire evil. The defense does not address:
        1. Why it is necessary that evil-doors are empowered to actualize their evil desires when mere intent would be sufficient to establish culpability;
        2. Why the freedom of an evil-door to act is preference over the freedom of a victim to not have evil done to them;
        3. The apparent enabling of evil deeds in the design of the world; and
        4. Natural evil.

        The Mormon conception, as stated by CarlC, is not subject (as much) to these four objections.

        • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

          God wants us to freely choose good rather than evil. That means we need to see all the consequences of evil and all the consequences of good. The point is not for Hitler to be culpable for killing millions. The point is for us to see where Hitler’s actions go. Then we have a choice to go there or not go there.

          Then we need to see good and evil in the response to the genocide. We see saints being willing to die for what is right. We see compromise to. We see the people who just followed orders. We see many risk their lives to hide Jews and many decide to try and save their skin by obeying even the most unjust laws.

          I just don’t see your alternative. Intent is not enough. Saving people from the consequences of evil would make evil unreal. Taking evil out of the design of the world would take real choice out as well.

          Natural evil? The greatest natural evil is death. Death is punishment for sin. It is also a quarantine for sin. We are finite because we are sinners but we are also finite because we are meant to become eternally sinless.

          Pain? Is that really an evil? Sort of. Jesus has redeemed pain. We can suffer meaningfully. We still try and avoid pain except when we choose a penance. Sometimes God does not let us avoid it. We just need to trust that if the torture of Jesus was not too much that our own pain is not too much either. It is what God calls us to bear and we trust Him.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            And the biggest weakness is that a perfectly good, all-knowing, all-powerful absolute creator God made this world, full well knowing ahead of time that all the garbage that would happen would happen. Yet he made it anyway.

            I do NOT accept the assumption that this is the best of all possible worlds. That’s just not true.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            The world is a struggle between good and evil. It gets messy. We are called to walk by faith. Faith means the truth is not always obvious.

            Is this the best of all possible world? I don’t know. If the world was bigger would that be better? Maybe. Does that mean God could not have made the planet a big but finite size? The bible says creation was good. Not the best possible but good. Then it says man was very good. The word “very” was not applied to the creation but it was applied to man suggesting something less than the best possible.

  • Phillip

    Since the problem of evil has been brought up in these comments, I thought I would put in my 2¢. For me the problem of evil in orthodox Christianity is more of an emotional problem than a logical one. The idea that an omnipotent God could make a world with rational beings that are truly free and at the same time ensure that freedom is never used to choose evil is a logical contradiction, like requiring that an omnipotent God should be able to make a square circle. Our moral freedom is real, not an illusion. We are not in some kind of cosmic puppet show. God permits evil as a consequence of the true freedom that he bestows on his creation (even non-sentient creation?), but does not will it. Natural evil is more difficult to explain, though I think the explanation has to do both with non-human free will (fallen angelic beings) and with our inability to control/subdue the natural world given our own fallen state. But I also have to confess that when I am confronted with the actual realization of suffering in the world my gut reaction is often that whatever God’s ultimate designs for us, it’s just not worth it. But that’s emotion talking, not reason. Contrary to what I believed as a Mormon, I now think that the concept of Original Sin is a strength, not a weakness, of the traditional Christian worldview.

    The best [orthodox] Christian response to the problem of evil that I have encountered is David Bentley Hart’s book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?

    • Darren

      Thank you, Phillip, I value your thoughts, yetI suspect you have not grasped the difficulty presented by the problem of evil (I know that I did not when I was a believer).

      ”The idea that an omnipotent God could make a world with rational beings that are truly free and at the same time ensure that freedom is never used to choose evil is a logical contradiction, like requiring that an omnipotent God should be able to make a square circle.”

      Untrue on two accounts:
      1. If there are laws of logic in the world, they are creations of God and it does not follow that God could not either violate them at will, or more robustly, forge them initially in such a way as to enable him to achieve his desires. Your example of squaring the circle is an apt illustration. Had God desired a world in which one could square the circle, exactly why would we not be living in such a world?
      2. Second, it does not follow that the freedom to desire evil must be accompanied by the capability to affect that evil. If one desires to commit adultery, one is culpable of adultery. If one covets that which is one’s neighbor’s, one need not actually steal to be guilty. I can desire to flap my arms and fly to China, if I wish, I have that freedom, and to the extent that it would be a morally Good or Evil deed to do so, then I am virtuous or damned in the intent. But, no matter how fervent my desire, the laws of the world and the design of my body do not allow me to achieve my goals.
      To take a slightly less ludicrous example… The female hyena is significantly larger than the male, she has a prehensile vulva, and nasty sharp teeth. Rape of female hyenas is exceedingly rare. Were the sexual dimorphism of our own species reversed, were human females on average 100 pounds heavier than the male and outfitted with vaginal teeth, I suspect rapes would be markedly reduced. Would such a design infringe upon the free will of those would-be rapists?

      ”Natural evil is more difficult to explain, though I think the explanation has to do both with non-human free will (fallen angelic beings) and with our inability to control/subdue the natural world given our own fallen state.”

      Failure to subdue our natural world does little to address why God would go out of his way to create the malarial parasite that is responsible for a million human deaths per year, the majority of those young children. If one wishes to ascribe such evils to demons or mutations post-Fall, this still does not account for God’s allowance of such actions by creatures under his dominion, or creation of such an organism, and the rules under which it would change during the Fall, given God’s foreknowledge of the result.

      • Darren

        Oops, failed to close my quotes:

        Thank you, Phillip, I value your thoughts, yetI suspect you have not grasped the difficulty presented by the problem of evil (I know that I did not when I was a believer).

        ”The idea that an omnipotent God could make a world with rational beings that are truly free and at the same time ensure that freedom is never used to choose evil is a logical contradiction, like requiring that an omnipotent God should be able to make a square circle.”

        Untrue on two accounts:
        1. If there are laws of logic in the world, they are creations of God and it does not follow that God could not either violate them at will, or more robustly, forge them initially in such a way as to enable him to achieve his desires. Your example of squaring the circle is an apt illustration. Had God desired a world in which one could square the circle, exactly why would we not be living in such a world?
        2. Second, it does not follow that the freedom to desire evil must be accompanied by the capability to affect that evil. If one desires to commit adultery, one is culpable of adultery. If one covets that which is one’s neighbor’s, one need not actually steal to be guilty. I can desire to flap my arms and fly to China, if I wish, I have that freedom, and to the extent that it would be a morally Good or Evil deed to do so, then I am virtuous or damned in the intent. But, no matter how fervent my desire, the laws of the world and the design of my body do not allow me to achieve my goals.
        To take a slightly less ludicrous example… The female hyena is significantly larger than the male, she has a prehensile vulva, and nasty sharp teeth. Rape of female hyenas is exceedingly rare. Were the sexual dimorphism of our own species reversed, were human females on average 100 pounds heavier than the male and outfitted with vaginal teeth, I suspect rapes would be markedly reduced. Would such a design infringe upon the free will of those would-be rapists?

        ”Natural evil is more difficult to explain, though I think the explanation has to do both with non-human free will (fallen angelic beings) and with our inability to control/subdue the natural world given our own fallen state.”

        Failure to subdue our natural world does little to address why God would go out of his way to create the malarial parasite that is responsible for a million human deaths per year, the majority of those young children. If one wishes to ascribe such evils to demons or mutations post-Fall, this still does not account for God’s allowance of such actions by creatures under his dominion, or creation of such an organism, and the rules under which it would change during the Fall, given God’s foreknowledge of the result.

        • Mike

          See Peter Kreeft on the problem of evil?

          • Darren

            Thanks Mike, I found this

            The Problem of Evil

            I read through it as I really would like to see an honest engagement from the Theistic side without the hand-waving, equivocation, quaint misleading analogies, and cop-outs. Sadly, this one disappoints.

            I pretty much feel like I have already refuted his justifications, in today’s comments and a few months back. I see nothing new, pretty much the same claims:

            1. Evil is not really so bad, it keeps you from being spoiled / builds character;
            2. Evil is all caused by human sin;
            3. Evil is tolerated for free will;
            4. Evil is not so bad because it allows us to suffer and that is good;
            5. Evil is relative; even if we had nothing to really complain about (like Malaria and Hitler), then we would just change our standards to think that rough towels were unconscionably evil;
            6. God did not create Evil because Evil is just the lack of Good and God only created Good;
            7. Evil is just part of God’s mysterious plan and / or we just don’t understand God’s plan or it would all make sense; and
            8. Who are we to question God, anyways?

            I am not going to spend any more time picking him apart, but if someone wants to go into his article and then come back and explain how what he said really did answer my objections, more power to them. Really.

        • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

          Darren,

          #1 seems silly. God chose a world with a law of non-contradiction. Are you saying you can logically prove that logic is immoral? That any God that creates a universe with reason and order is evil? That God must create a world where you can have your cake and eat it too. Forcing zero sum choices is evil?
          #2 I answered above. Choosing between good and evil requires we see both being actualized in our world. Without that there is no real choice. In fact, we need to see how evil leads to deeper and deeper evil. How good can conquer evil.

          If you desire to commit adultery in a world where the pain of actual adultery does not exist then how sure can you be that it is evil. Sure you have the commandment. That is one level. Still seeing real families destroyed by adultery changes the choice.

          • Darren

            Randy;
            ”#2 I answered above. Choosing between good and evil requires we see both being actualized in our world. Without that there is no real choice. In fact, we need to see how evil leads to deeper and deeper evil. How good can conquer evil.”

            Thank you, I had missed that one in my list of standard Catholic Theodicies: “It is Good for Evil to exist so that Good can conquer it.”
            Very Jobian.

            ”If you desire to commit adultery in a world where the pain of actual adultery does not exist then how sure can you be that it is evil. Sure you have the commandment. That is one level. Still seeing real families destroyed by adultery changes the choice.”
            As with Erick, below, this would seem to make God a Consequentialist.

            This is an interesting thought. I am curious why we must see that immoral choices result in physical evil. Should it not be sufficient that God has told us it is Evil? Of course, if we can see for ourselves that immoral choices result in physical evil, independent of God’s commands, then what need is there for God?

            Therefore it is necessary for evil intent to be expressible as evil act so that suffering will result and all will then know it to be Evil?

            It is insufficient for one to be a homosexual fornicator; one must contract AIDS and die horribly for us to know that homosexual fornication is wrong. Have I got that right?

            Leaving objections of Justice and resemblance to a human conception of Good aside, I would posit the objection that, if this is God’s intent, then he did a poor job in designing the world to prove his point: adulterers prosper, thieves grow rich, liars are feted.

            “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

            How then is evil, and not just evil but heinous evil, necessary so that we can see its evil effects?

        • Erick

          Darren,

          ==Untrue on two accounts:
          1. If there are laws of logic in the world, they are creations of God and it does not follow that God could not either violate them at will, or more robustly, forge them initially in such a way as to enable him to achieve his desires. ==

          You are misconceiving the Catholic conceptions of free will and morality. In the Catholic sense, if God creates a system, then being “free from God’s strings” can mean only one thing – actually being able to break that system. That’s the entire point of “free will” and that’s why it’s valued so much. It is this ability to break the system that gives meaning to morality for humanity. These objections of yours all entail eliminating the possibility of breaking the system. And if you cannot break the system, then there is no meaning to morality.

          =Second, it does not follow that the freedom to desire evil must be accompanied by the capability to affect that evil. If one desires to commit adultery, one is culpable of adultery. If one covets that which is one’s neighbor’s, one need not actually steal to be guilty=

          So, basically you are complaining that humans should have been created as angels instead? Unfortunately for us, in the Catholic sense, humanity is not composed of just the spiritual component. Unlike angels, who are entirely spiritual, we have a material component (our bodies). Our bodies are morally important. God causing bodies to be impotent means that humanity is not really free from God’s strings.

          ==The female hyena is significantly larger than the male,….==

          This is a totally pointless (not to mention sexist) anecdote. How do we know that the human response to a similar scenario wouldn’t be an exponential increase in females raping men?

          ==Failure to subdue our natural world does little to address why God would go out of his way to create the malarial parasite that is responsible for a million human deaths per year, the majority of those young children. ==

          It is the height of hubris to think that you could personally reason out a more optimal design than the wonder the universe is already. There are a lot of things we don’t know about the universe in general, so not knowing the reason for the existence of malaria is not nearly the problem you make it seem to be.

          • Darren

            ”Erick: You are misconceiving the Catholic conceptions of free will and morality. In the Catholic sense, if God creates a system, then being “free from God’s strings” can mean only one thing – actually being able to break that system. That’s the entire point of “free will” and that’s why it’s valued so much. It is this ability to break the system that gives meaning to morality for humanity. These objections of yours all entail eliminating the possibility of breaking the system. And if you cannot break the system, then there is no meaning to morality.”

            Interesting. So, we have made God into a Consequentialist? It was insufficient for Adam to _decide_ to eat his apple, he had to bite, chew, and swallow?

            This is an interesting assertion. To my mind, one becomes a murderer by pulling a trigger, not be being a particularly proficient marksman. I am, however, more fond of deontology and virtue ethics, so perhaps I am displaying bias in rejecting your consequentialist reading of God.

            Do you have any thoughts on how this reads upon the natural law view of the Fall and Original Sin? I am curious as to how Adam’s Pride required physical expression to affect damage to his soul that the mere decision could not accomplish.

            ”Darren: ==The female hyena is significantly larger than the male,….==
            Erick: This is a totally pointless (not to mention sexist) anecdote. How do we know that the human response to a similar scenario wouldn’t be an exponential increase in females raping men?”

            No sexism intended. I have made the claim in previous comments that the world has apparently arbitrary design choices which serve to enable Evil, even heinous evil. This was an attempt to illustrate how one such arbitrary design, the sexual dimorphism of humans, makes one particular moral evil easier to commit. Rape is a trigger issue, though, and my statement could be interpreted as ‘blaming the victim’, which was not my intent. My apologies for the offense.

            ”Darren: ==Failure to subdue our natural world does little to address why God would go out of his way to create the malarial parasite that is responsible for a million human deaths per year, the majority of those young children. ==
            Erick: It is the height of hubris to think that you could personally reason out a more optimal design than the wonder the universe is already. There are a lot of things we don’t know about the universe in general, so not knowing the reason for the existence of malaria is not nearly the problem you make it seem to be. ”

            Where was I when God laid the foundations of the world, eh? One of my favorite books of the Bible.

            But, that is precisely the point, isn’t it? Here stand I, a lowly human and far from the brightest of my species, yet I have managed, with my metaphorical red pen, to bleed all over God’s Composition of the Cosmos. We have clear, obvious flaws in the design of the world, flaws which have led to untold suffering and injustice, and yet the perfect and all-knowing architect of the heavens could not have done better?

            The best answer Judeao-Christianity can come up with is, “Who am I to question God?”. There was a reason I put this at the end of my list of standard Theodicies: it is always the last answer given.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            Is God into a Consequentialist? He does not suffer from some of the serious problems of consequentialism. That is the problem os not being able to see all consequences and the problem of not being able to judge whether they are good or not.

            Sin’s physical expression always damages the soul more than private thoughts. Thinking about murder is bad. Murder is worse. I am not sure where you got the idea that these things are all the same.

            I have made the claim in previous comments that the world has apparently arbitrary design choices which serve to enable Evil, even heinous evil.

            There is always a flip side. Enabling evil means making good choices more impressive. So the fact that man often can easily rape a woman from a physical point of view makes his choice not to rape more virtuous. Yes, more rapes will happen but more virtue will happen to. Man is given strength that is morally neutral. He decides whether to use it for good or evil.

          • Darren

            ”There is always a flip side. Enabling evil means making good choices more impressive. So the fact that man often can easily rape a woman from a physical point of view makes his choice not to rape more virtuous. Yes, more rapes will happen but more virtue will happen to. Man is given strength that is morally neutral. He decides whether to use it for good or evil.”

            Well, yet again we have #1 – It is Good for Evil to exist because it builds character.

            Since this keeps popping up, we should take the time to address it.

            The difficulty with #1 is that the Benefit / Detriment equation is skewed. Those who bear the cost are not those who receive the benefits.

            Yes, I am very pleased that, as a man, I am continually presented the opportunities to be virtuous by continuously not-raping my friends, family, and coworkers. Bully for me. My virtue, though, is paid for by all those unlucky enough to encounter a man not so virtuous as I. Tough luck for them, I guess, but that is what we call taking one for the team; They’re good sports.

            I suppose also that those children with cancer will take comfort in knowing their suffering allows the nurses and doctors to get in some good practice at being compassionate and empathetic. Or perhaps the million who die this year from malaria, and their greaving families, their crippled communities, will derive solace from how very important it is for Bill and Malinda Gates to have the opportunity to found a charity on their behalf.

            Need I go on?

            Such a system is well within God’s power to create. But it is not Just.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            You are conflating a lot of things. When we address the issue of death you seem OK. You don’t demand God make everyone immortal. Yet when kids get cancer you seem to think God has somehow messed up. But they are the same thing. Kids getting cancer is what death looks like.

            Those who bear the cost are not those who receive the benefits.

            This is true. Someone commits a sin and it can cause pain not just for the sinner but quite often for an innocent party as well. That is the nature of sin. God has allowed sin and all the consequences of sin to exist in our world. That means we can hurt people and people can hurt us. It is not just.

            The consequences of sin are ugly in the extreme. Is God supposed to shield us from that? How much pain is He supposed to allow? Jesus took the worst of it Himself. He promises to walk with us when we face it. He does not save us from suffering. He saves us through suffering. So you Benefit / Detriment equations no longer apply.

          • Darren

            “God has allowed sin and all the consequences of sin to exist in our world.”

            Yet suffering and death, the ‘consequences of sin’ predate sin itself.

    • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

      “The idea that an omnipotent God could make a world with rational beings that are truly free and at the same time ensure that freedom is never used to choose evil is a logical contradiction.”

      I completely disagree.

      I am told that there is a logically possible version of me that always freely chooses the good. This is the version of me that will (God willing, in the future) dwell in the beatific vision for Catholics, or the celestial kingdom for Mormons. Why did God not put me there? Why did God not instantiate that version of me? (We’ll call that Carl Point B.) Why did he make this sinful version of me (Carl Point A) that will advance, God willing, to someday become Carl Point B? Nobody thinks that at that point my free will is taken from me in heaven. So why not give me free will now AND the moral disposition to always use it correctly?

      Must God make me at point A, and then aid my advancement to point B? Then God is not all-powerful, because he cannot create a logically possible Carl Point B in one shot. He should have, if we hold that he is all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good, and is an absolute creator. But he did not. This is a logical contradiction. This is not the best of all possible worlds, and I’m not the best of all possible Carls.

      This is not a problem for Mormonism, because the Carl Point A is a brute fact, an eternal truth, a pre-existing condition of the universe. God can either leave me to rot in my Point A-ness forever, or he can help me progress to Point B. Being the nice moral guy that he is, the Mormon God chooses the later option.

      • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

        Another way to get around this objection (perhaps only partway) would be to drain choices of moral content by fiat; according to some Mormon thinkers, this was what Satan proposed to do, so that all mankind would be saved despite its sins. Of course, the reotort could be that since God did not put morality or human agency (in the eternal sense) into place, he cannot actually revoke their eternal implications, rendering Satan’s plan a logical impossibility.

      • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

        We don’t have free will in heaven. Nobody can sin. That is the choice we make. We don’t choose every day in heaven the way we choose here.

        Carl Point B does not ahve free will. He is not a person made in the image of God. He is an animal that follows his innate instincts and can never choose anything but to follow them. Nothig wrong woth animals but God chose to made man in His own image. He chose to give us the greater dignity of free will. That freedom allows us to love Him in a way a pre-programmed being could never do. Carl point A’s choice to love God is meaningful. It involves sacrifice. It is even more meaningful because most of the people in Carl point A’s society don’t make the same choice. Most choose self instead of love.

        • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

          “We don’t have free will in heaven.”

          Well, that sucks. My telos is to become an automaton? You see why Catholicism doesn’t appeal to my personal theological aesthetics, I think, now. Also, I don’t know that the other Catholics floating around here would agree with you, but I’d love to see more of them jump in. Larry, you still around?

          This actually doesn’t change the argument, though, and I still completely disagree.

          All you’ve done is change the definition of Carl Point B. Now Carl Point A chooses to be an automaton in the presence of God. Why didn’t God just create the automaton Carl Point B in the first place? Or even a Carl Point A that merely has one choice-to become an automaton or not, and who will immediately make that choice correctly?

          • Lawrence King

            Regarding free will in heaven: On this issue, the fundamental differences between Catholicism and Mormonism with regard to time must be discussed before the freedom-in-heaven issue is raised.

            On earth, we are creatures within time. (Catholics believe that God, who is outside of Time, created time and created us as temporal creatures.) This fact is fundamental to freedom as we know it. Even without discussing actual evil, time creates a disconnect. Suppose that on Monday, I decide that I will go to the gym every day this week and promise my friend that I will see him there. Then on Tuesday I decide not to go to. Where is the freedom in this scenario? There are two plausible perspectives: (1) My choice on Tuesday is a splendid example of my freedom, for it shows that I am free to change my mind and break my promises. (2) My choice on Tuesday compromises my freedom, for it shows that I was not actually free on Monday to make a true choice or a meaningful promise. Which perspective do you prefer? Chesterton argues strongly for # 2, but I know people who hold strongly to # 1. Regardless of which side you prefer, this illustrates how a person’s temporality enables him to pit himself against himself.

            (Option 1) Consider the person who honestly with their whole heart promises to “have and to hold, till death do us part” on one day, and on some subsequent day asks for a divorce. If heaven were like this, then even those who are saved might later reject God and be cast from heaven.

            (Option 2)If you (like me) believe that the ability to break a promise vitiates the ability to make the promise, then would it be better if humans could make binding promises? What if on Monday, I could decide once-and-for-all “I will go to the gym every day”, causing me Tuesday to be unable to do otherwise? There are two (obvious) problems with this. First, Monday-Larry doesn’t have a full understanding of Tuesday-Larry, and so he might make an unwise promise. Second, Tuesday-Larry might resent being compelled to go to the gym. He might even grow to hate Monday-Larry! Again, there is a division of me-against-me that inevitably results. If heaven were like this, then the saved would be forcibly prevented from sin in heaven, making them sinless but unhappy and unfree.

            If our afterlife involved time-as-we-know-it, then we would be stuck with either option 1 or option 2. But it doesn’t.

            After the general resurrection, we do not know in what sense we will be temporal. We will not be truly eternal like God, for God has no “before” or “after”, whereas in the afterlife our current lives will be remembered as something “before”. But almost all theologians agree that we won’t experience time in the same way we do now. In particular, we won’t experience the myself-against-myself division I have described here.

            What would it mean to not have this decision? Since we don’t know what time will be like in the next life, the best we can do is describe it by analogy. Suppose that Monday-Larry and Tuesday-Larry were in some kind of empathic contact, and taking the fullness of both into account, “they” decided to go to the gym on Tuesday. This decision would not feel “binding” on T-L, because it would be truly his decision, not another’s. This may sound odd to you, but perhaps time is the odd thing — it separates choice from action, allowing me to choose an action and then not take the action I have chosen.

            The choice of heaven, then, is not the kind of choice where Monday-me can choose it and then Tuesday-me can reject it, because this division will no longer exist. That is not to say there will be no temporality in the next life; it’s possible that we will experience many interesting developments and (to use an LDS word) progressions. But we will also experience the healing of the myself-against-myself division that earthly time creates. This will enable us to make one choice — a choice for God — which will be made by the entirety of our resurrected selves, not just by one moment of them. (This is the same way that each angel chose, once and for all, the path of good or evil: see Summa Theologica I.59.3, I. 62,5, I.62,8, I.63.5.) This means that we will not be able to sin in heaven — but this will not be due to a compulsion as in example # 2 above, but due to the unity between our will and our actions, a unity we will experience as a blessed relief from our current divided selves.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            Thanks for that. I knew my “no free will in heaven” comment was too simple but you did a way better jog of expanding on it than I would have.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            I agree with Randy on this one, and I think its because you are assuming a view of time and the way it relates to human identity and responsibility that, for me, doesn’t stand up to inspection.

            If I choose at point A to put myself in a position at point B where I can no longer make certain choices, then my lack of choice at point B isn’t a lack of freedom, its part of the freedom that I enjoyed at point A. I haven’t lost anything because I am the same being.

            Another way of putting this is that freedom is a matter of having meaningful choice and choices that don’t constrain my future range of possibilities therefore aren’t meaningful.

            If I must be free later to sin, I am not free now to develop righteous character.

            I very much look forward to my *telos,* if that’s the word for it.

            I would take it in an even more radical direction, though you can accept what I’ve said previously without accompanying me here: I suspect that for the righteous our eternal destiny involves a kind of radical unity with ourself throughout time, and that much of the gospel is meant to allow this kind of radical unity, from simple commandments like keeping your promises and commitments to sexual fidelity to repentance.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            I should have read L. King’s response first. I agree with the main thrust completely.

            Mormonism accepts that there is something different about time as experienced or used by God than our own experience of time, though what it is we don’t know for sure.

          • Lawrence King

            Adam, your phrase “radical unity with ourself through time” perfectly sums up what I took several paragraphs to say!

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            While I see more clearly here what you mean by not having free will, and Larry’s discussion was most illuminating, you still have not answered the main question. Why did God not simply create me in the state where I can have radical unity with myself through time freely choosing the correct? Why set up a time-bound universe at all? Why make me choose at Point A to get to Point B? And certainly why make Point A so unbelievably crappy and complicated to even get to Point B? While you’ve clarified what it means to have “no free will” in heaven, and I still think that was a poor way to phrase it, you are still stuck with the fact that God could have instantiated that version of me, but chose instead to instantiate this version of me.

      • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

        Playing devil’s advocate–or papist’s advocate, :)–I can see a couple of possible objections to your argument.

        We could argue that creating a creature who is free but who always chooses the good is logically impossible.* Just as God can’t create a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it, he can’t create a free being who always chooses the good. This argument only works if we assume that God didn’t create the rules of logical possibility and of what freedom means, though. In a way, then, this is a way of saving this Catholic theodicy that makes the Catholic account of the ultimate reality of things start to take a Mormon tinge–we start to bump up against things that God can’t change, either because its part of the package of how things are, or because its part of who He is, etc.

        *As a Mormon I would accept this argument. I see real difficulties with your notion of having libertarian free will in the eternities but also always choosing the good.

        • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

          “He can’t create a free being who always chooses the good.”

          Then God is not all-powerful and the Logical Problem of Evil vanishes in a puff of logic. You’ve chopped out one of the other axioms that creates the problem in the first place.

          • ACN

            “puff of logic”

            The babelfish was a dead giveaway, wasn’t it?

            Keep watch for zebras :)

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            That depends on whether you think being “all-powerful” requires God to be able to do things that are logically impossible.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            The discussion on whether it’s logically impossible to create a free being that always chooses the good has been split up a bit. The other thread got into whether it was possible to have free will in heaven. I think the answer is “yes,” but the relationship to time does make it more tricky.

            But in short, if we postulate that there is some version of me whether in heaven, or in time, or on earth, or whatever, that could freely choose the good always (or even be slightly better than I am, we don’t have to go for perfection!) then God should have made that version of me. He did not. He knew I could be better (because he’s all-knowing), he could have made a version of me that was better (because that’s very logically possible, and he’s all-powerful), he wants to make a better version of me (because he’s perfectly good), and he has no prior conditions that affect his ability to make me (because he’s an absolute creator), and you tell me that I am the best possible version of me? Darren’s hitting on this with his Darren A, B, and C. God full well knows which one he’s instantiating, and yet he’s clearly chosen a non-perfect version.

            I still reject any idea that, of necessity, any creature that God creates will be morally flawed. I see ZERO reasons, even in Catholicism with its wholly-other ex nihilo creator God to say that only God can be morally perfect. I do not think it is logically impossible that there is a perfect version of me. At the very least, I do not think it is logically impossible that there is a better version of me. But God didn’t make those versions of me. (This can also easily be extended to the whole world. I vehemently disagree that this is the best of all possible worlds.) Hence, we have the Logical Problem of Evil.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Carl C.,
            you’re making a circular argument here, to the extent you’re making an argument at all. Your postulate that God could make a better version of you is precisely the point in contention.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            Adam G. it’s not circular. You have failed to convince me that this is the best of all possible worlds. Or that it is logically impossible to create an better world (even ever so slightly). I might be wrong. Convince me that this really is the best world that an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good absolute creator can make. Or that it’s impossible for such a being to make an even slightly better one.

            Here’s the argument, off the top of my head. Where’s the circularity?

            1: God has the above four postulates.
            2: Such a God can create anything logically possible.
            3: It’s logically possible to create a better world. (You have not convinced me this is true. Demonstrate to me why this is the best of all possible worlds.)
            4: Such a God would want to create a better world.
            5: He did not create a better world.
            6: Therefore the God with the four above postulates doesn’t exist.

          • Lawrence King

            Carl wrote:

            But in short, if we postulate that [A] there [could be] some version of me whether in heaven, or in time, or on earth, or whatever, that could freely choose the good always (or even be slightly better than I am, we don’t have to go for perfection!) then [X]God should have made that version of me. [B]He did not. [C]He knew I could be better (because he’s all-knowing), [D]he could have made a version of me that was better (because that’s very logically possible, and he’s all-powerful), [Y] he wants to make a better version of me (because [E] he’s perfectly good), and [F] he has no prior conditions that affect his ability to make me (because he’s an absolute creator), and you tell me that [Z] I am the best possible version of me?

            I disagree on a lexicographical basis with referring to any alternate version of me as “me”. But if I were to rephrase your paragraph to avoid this issue (e.g., replace “I am the best possible version of me” with “I, the actual Carl, am the best possible specimen from the space of all possible human beings who resemble me with regard to a list of characteristics that I consider important to my identity”), I think your main point would be retained.

            So I’ll ignore the lexicographical issue and respond to your argument as if it had been altered in this way. I agree with A, B, C, D, E, and F. But I disagree with X, Y, Z.

            It simply is not true that a God who is perfectly good — or even, for that matter, who is very very good — would refuse to create something simply because something better could be created. This is the kind of invalid argument that Anselm makes over and over. For example, he argues that God is all-knowing, and therefore he must know the best possible number of beings who will be saved, and therefore he must have created exactly the right number of angels and humans so that this total would be reached. This is invalid logic. It’s just as wrong as if he said, “God is all knowing, and therefore he must know the largest prime number,” or “God is all knowing, and therefore he must know how Lost should have ended.” But omniscience doesn’t mean knowing the answer to all questions; if a question has no actual answer (like “what is the largest prime number?”) then omniscience means knowing that fact. Leibnitz’ “this is the best of all possible worlds” nonsense has the same flaw, and is less excusable since he co-invented calculus. You can determine the maximum value of the function sin(x) for all values of x in the set of real numbers, but not for all values of x in the set of complex numbers, because there is no maximum in the latter case.

            So consider the function goodness(c), where c can be any member of the set of all possible Carls. If there were some specific Carl that maximizes the goodness function, then you claim God would be wrong (or unable?) to create any lesser-good Carl entity. I disagree, but I might not be able to convince you. So let’s take a simpler case. Suppose there is no maximum? Suppose that given any possible Carl, there exists a different Carl with more goodness, and for any integer N there exists a Carl whose goodness is greater than N. In other words, even though no individual Carl has infinite goodness, there is no upper bound to the goodnes of all Carls. If this were true, by your argument, God would be forbidden to create any Carl at all! This seems very strange to me. Wouldn’t you agree that the burden of proof is on you to prove that God can’t create things that are not as good as other things? Or do you take this as intuitively obvious?

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            CarlC,
            I have no truck with arguments that rely on shifting the burden of proof and on shifting what’s under debate (you’ve moved from the narrow aspect of the logical problem of evil that we were discussing to a general statement of the overall problem of evil). You are doing both.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            Larry,

            “I disagree, but I might not be able to convince you. So let’s take a simpler case.”

            Since I disagree, you can’t take the simpler case. Catholic doctrine teaches that there’s a possible version of me that (God willing) will one day be in heaven eternally choosing God’s goodness in a single eternal moment (or however we’re going to phrase it-your comments were most illuminating on that issue of free will in heaven). I’ll call that “Perfect Me,” and I can still ask why God didn’t just instantiate that logically possible version of me. If you say it’s logically impossible, then I’m just screwed and you’ve turned God into a Calvinist and I’m one of the eternal reprobates that gets to go to hell just for having been made against my will. As you once said, “Calvinism: If God be with us, then who can be against us? But if God be against us, we’re &*(!#$-ed!”

            If you say it’s logically possible, then I think it’s totally fair to ask why God is creating clearly inferior versions, when, by those four postulates, He would want to. What, is he making crappy versions just so He can redeem us? To analogize this to medicine, it’s a pretty terrible doctor to deliberately make someone sick just so he can heal us and show us how amazing he is.
            Even if I allow you the simpler case, let’s say that there are multiple iterations of Perfect Me that could eternally choose God in Heaven, any single one of those is a better option than making me. But He didn’t.

            Adam,

            You are right and I was being inexact and going more general. I’ll try again.

            1: God has the above four postulates.

            2: Such a God can create anything logically possible.

            3: It’s logically possible to create a Perfect Me. (You have not convinced me this is true. Demonstrate to me why this is logically impossible for God to create a version of me that freely chooses the right eternally in heaven.)

            4: Such a God would want to create Perfect Me. (If He doesn’t, then He’s deliberately creating fallen beings and then condemning some of them. This is not a worship-worthy kind of fellow.)
            
5: He did not create Perfect Me. He created me.

            From here I could easily generate a contradiction:

            6: Such a God would therefore create Perfect Me (lines 2, 3, 4).
            7: So God both created me and created Perfect Me.
            8: This is either a logical contradiction, or we’re moving into multi-verse stuff.

            Or I could finish the way I did before:

            6: Therefore the God with the four above postulates doesn’t exist.

            Show me the circularity. I’m open to the possibility that I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m not assuming the conclusion in one of my premises.

          • Darren

            CarlC;
            Nice.

            ”3: It’s logically possible to create a Perfect Me. (You have not convinced me this is true. Demonstrate to me why this is logically impossible for God to create a version of me that freely chooses the right eternally in heaven.)”

            It should be possible for God to create the best of all possible Carl’s; I am not sure if this corresponds to the Perfect Carl, and if not what the distinction might be.
            Within the argument, why do you state you have not yet been convinced it is possible?

        • Darren

          Is it logically possible? Intuitions fail, as we are pondering a being able to forge the laws of logic to suit his purposes.

          But, for an infinite being, even within the current logical framework of the universe, God could come _awfully_ close, just with some judicious tinkering at the gestational level.

          Given that 70-80% of all fertilizations spontaneously abort prior to birth, for every living human we have four siblings that never made it over the wire, so to speak. Adding into that some 300 million sperm per human ejaculation, and for every human on Earth we had somewhere on the order of 1.2 billion potential humans that could have taken his place.

          Armed with full knowledge of how each of those 1.2 billion potential humans _would_ have acted, where they selected to instantiate, and then a we bit of fudging the dice on God’s part, and viola! Every human ever born, all with perfect freedom of choice, and yet all (or almost all) freely choosing the Good, just from simple probability.

          -or-

          If you want to be even simpler, just simulate the entirety of creation, every potential person who might have lived, all their actions if they did, then pick every potential person who would have lived virtuously, create as though they had, and there you go. Every good and virtuous person, all having ‘chosen’ to be virtuous, and with none of the unpleasantness of having those other uncounted billions suffering along the way…

          Which makes me wonder about the world… :)

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            The trouble is that God will have removed every significant choice we make in life. No choice any person makes would effect anyone’s salvation. So all consequences would be temporal and really meaningless in the context of eternity. So we no longer are able to participate in God’s saving work.

            There is also huge meaning in loving those who are damned. Knowing many of those we love will never come to a saving knowledge of Jesus should not deter us from loving one bit. Not just because we don’t know which ones. The truth is every human person is loved by God and needs to be loved by us. If you delete the unsaved you lose the unconditional nature of God’s love.

            It is not as easy being God as you seem to think.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            A simulation of sufficient fidelity may be the same thing as the reality. It’s possible you’ve just talked yourself into a corner.

            If I recall, I think Vox Day is an eccentric Christian who argues that we’re currently in a simulation created by God, or at least that there is no logical distinction between what we are and being simulated by God.

          • Darren

            Adam G.

            Indeed! Indistinguishable, at the least.

            Vox Day, eh? Drat, one more thing I have not invented… His wikipedia page is… interesting.

          • Darren

            ”It is not as easy being God as you seem to think.”

            Bah! Being God is the easiest thing there is!

            If we define Difficulty as Challenge over Capacity, and God’s Capacity is infinite, and any Challenge in creation is finite, no matter how vast, then Difficulty goes to zero!

            People fail to grasp what tagging God with descriptives like “infinite” really means (myself included, but I try really hard).

            :)

          • Darren

            ”The trouble is that God will have removed every significant choice we make in life. No choice any person makes would effect anyone’s salvation.”

            Yet God has perfect foreknowledge of every choice of every person who exists or ever will exist (or ever could exist). The Church claims this and also claims that each of those people yet retain Free Will.

            Let’s back down from 1.2 billion alternate Darren’s and just look at three: Darren A, Darren B, and Darren C:
            Darren-A would always pick Good.
            Darren-B would always pick Evil.
            Darren-C would sometimes pick Good, and sometimes pick Evil.

            God knows, prior to any Darren at all coming into existence, every choice any possible Darren will ever make. So, out of the three, which Darren has free will?
            By whatever logic it is the Church uses to determine that free will can actually exist in a universe with an Omniscient God, then all three of them do, since the presence or absence of freedom is not determined by which particular choice is made.

            Thus would every possible permutation of Darren also have free will, for all that each would be perfectly predicted. The same could be said for all possible permutations of possible Darrens and every other possible person in creation.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            This whole simulation bit reminds that I read some obscure Christian theologian one time who argued that the for the Classical God (the Prime Mover Unmoved, all that) there would be no difference between thinking of something and creating it. We are his thoughts, basically. It wasn’t meant as a response to the problem of evil, but I guess it could be.

          • Erick

            Darren,

            ==Yet God has perfect foreknowledge of every choice of every person who exists or ever will exist (or ever could exist).==

            The term foreknowledge assumes existence within time, which means this description by definition is only from the POV of us humans. In Catholicism, God defined to exist outside of time and is described to be in (analogously) an eternal now. We are not Calvinists who believe in predestination. From God’s POV, all events in time are occurring as if at the same time. So you’re scenario with the various Darrens doesn’t apply.

        • Darren

          Egad, I think I just gave birth to Theistic Simulationism!

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            And for this you win Quote of the Day!

        • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

          Carl C.,

          You say ‘its logically possible to create a Perfect Me.’ Still question-begging, IMHO, because you are still simply asserting this. You haven’t convinced me that it is logically possible from a libertarian free will perspective.

          Here’s the thing. From a libertarian free will perspective, a choice must be uncaused by anyone outside the chooser. There can be influences and such, but there is a wholly unpredictable self-generated element. God cannot therefore create me to ensure that I will, freely, choose good, because that would be causing my choice. The only way God can know what I will choose is to witness it.

          You refer to the future state of the righteous where, even in the libertarian free will perspective, I presumably am honest-to-goodness surefire righteous (its not clear to me that this can actually be true from some libertarian free will perspectives, but that’s orthogonal to our discussion, so let it pass). You then say that if a libertarian free will me at B is possible, why can’t God just create that me at Time A? To answer that question, I think we need to unpack how it would be possible for there to be a libertarian free will you at Time B who is perfectly committed to the good. I see three possible answers.

          The first answer, one that Mormon thinker Blake Ostler gives (although with lots of caveats and qualifiers that aren’t very convincing, imho), is you that can never be perfectly committed to the good because you have libertarian free will. Therefore, since God can’t make me perfectly good at Time B, he can’t make me perfectly good at Time A.

          The second answer is that you lose your libertarian free will. Who you are at Time B flows from your uncaused choice at Time A. So, yes, God could create a version of you at Time B, but that version of you wouldn’t be free, because your unshakeable nature wouldn’t be the product of your own free choice.

          The third answer is Larry King’s idea that you could have libertarian free will at Time A and Time B but still be perfectly good at Time B because ultimately you enter some sort of timeless state where you sum up yourself throughout the future and so your moment of choice is eternal. My perfect goodness at Time B is because I have just at that moment and in all moments chosen to submit myself to grace. Again, though, God can’t *make* me choose to submit myself to grace without stripping me of my free will. The problem with this third option is that its not clear why God wouldn’t just create you and immediately confront you with the choice, good or evil, in whatever form would leave your will unconstrained (which is apparently Larry King’s notion of what happens with angels). The answer pushes in a Mormon direction, though I think you could possibly finagle it for Catholics, and that is that God will let you say partially yes or partially no and so has created a complex world with multiple aspects that allows for partial answers.

          Again, I’m not sure that a God who is constrained by logic is compatible with the Prime Mover Unmoved.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            The mainstream Mormon view that some nub of identity is eternal and likely uncreated makes compatibilist free will compatible with a solution to the problem of evil. People will still sometimes choose nature because of who they are, but God is not strictly responsible for who they are. And that makes sense of putting us in a complex world with other people and with natural evils, because given a variety of pre-existent personalities, the route to any one individual’s salvation will vary and may require suffering or inter-personal love or inter-personal betrayal or who knows.

            But what’s got me curious is if there is a possible view of God who actually creates us that works with both compatibilist free will and the problem of evil. I think there is, depending on (1) the view you take of identity or (2) assuming that existence in all its variety is itself a very strong good.

            1. Imagine if there weren’t just a few archetypes of human existence but billions. Including an Adam G. archetype. Put another way, suppose the solution space for core elements of identity resolved into some very, very large number of unique solutions, one of which I am. Then, if God decided to call that archetype or unique solution into being, even if I make evil choices as a result of my nature, God could not have made a better me. Making me better would make me somebody else. This obviously requires taking a particular view about what constitutes identity. The essential me can’t be some kind of blank-slate monad that has personality layered on, because then I could be radically different (and better) and still be myself, and God would still be culpable for having created me less than better. I’m not sure what I think about this because both notions of identity get you into unacceptable implications–the first that if there were a copy of me, we would both be the same person; the second that I could be someone wholly different with a completely different personality and experience and still be me–but I sometimes like to toy with it as a radical reinterpretation of the Mormon account of pre-earth life. Our pre-existence (suggestive term!) is when we were archetypes or points in personality solution space–we were eternal because archetypes or math are by nature eternal, neither created nor destroyed.

            2. Or, even if God could have created a better version of me that would still be me–if God could have created a hundred billion Christs or Maries or Mother Theresas that would have identical personalities but still be separate identities–you could still justify the creation of non-identical flawed personalities if you put a strong value on variety in existence. I think you should. I think the value of variety in existence flows from the value of existence/particularity itself. But I don’t have a rigorous argument, only an intuition.

          • Darren

            Adam G. and CarlC;

            Take a quick gander at the Wikipedia page for Quantum Superposition.

            ” Quantum superposition is a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics that holds that a physical system—such as an electron—exists partly in all its particular, theoretically possible states (or, configuration of its properties) simultaneously; but, when measured or observed, it gives a result corresponding to only one of the possible configurations (as described in interpretation of quantum mechanics).”

            God need not violate Carl’s Libertarian Free Will in order for the Perfect Carl, or the best of all possible Carls Carl to be the only Carl that actually comes into existence.

            Prior to any Carl existing, there is a vast pool of all potential Carls that might exist. Each such Carl begins identically, yet at every point at which Carl would exercise his free will, the potential Carls diverge: one has the fish and the other the chicken, one cheats on his spouse and the other does not, one speaks harshly to his child and the other does not. Over and over and over again, until we have a vast, though still finite, number of potential Carls. Let’s call it a billion, billion, billion, which is 10^27 Carls, which is a lot, but still probably not enough to account for every possible permutation of Carl throughout his three-score and ten.

            Each and every one of these potential Carls chooses every action freely. There is no supernatural fudging here, God does not have his finger on the scales.

            Which, of the 10^27 possible Carls, is the real Carl? Well, each of them are just as real, or unreal, as the rest at this point; they are all possible Carls.

            So, when God looks forth and says, “Let there be Carl!”, which Carl springs forth?

            If God is the observer (and by being the only being “outside” of existence, that is precisely what he would be), then the moment God considers Carl, all of the potential Carls collapse into one, and only one, actual Carl. It takes no special act of supernatural intervention for God to sort through the stacks of possible Carls and pick the ‘right’ one, it would simply be the physical law under which such quantum collapses operate that the only allowable Carl that can be observed is the best of all possible Carls, the Perfect Carl.

            A quick blurb for those who might balk at such a counterintuitive model. Quantum superposition is a real thing, it really is the way the universe works. Aristotelian mechanics, for all its intuitive beauty, is not real, it is not the way the universe works. This is useful to keep in mind as the Church has built it’s conceptions of God and morality on an Aristotelian model.

          • Darren

            Adam G. and CarlC;

            BTW, from your posts I conclude you are familiar with Quantum Mechanics and would not need to check out a Wiki, the quote was included for any spectators who might not be so well versed.

            Cheers

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Darren,
            I’m not convinced that ‘quantum superposition’ is how free will works or can work. You are simply asserting that a physical model at the quantum level can be applied to consciousness, but I have no reason to believe that. I think if we argue through this enough, your position will basically boil down to God not being able to escape the problem of evil because naturalism or physicalism or material reductionism are true. But if they are true, there are much better reasons to believe that God does not exist. And the truth of naturalism, etc., is something that must be argued and not simply taken for granted.

            I also think that, even taken on your own terms, there is a flaw in your model. The observer does not get to select which state the quanta collapse into. Neither does the observer get to observe the quanta in all their possible states, because it is the act of observation that collapses the possibilities. You could not observe all the possibilities without having them all come into being. So I think this argument runs into the same problem as your simulation argument, which is in that trying to determine a better version of me, God also has to instantiate all the worse versions of me.

          • Darren

            Thank you, Adam, for your thoughts, they are much appreciated and exactly on target.
            1. I have not proven that free will operates according to quantum rules. I have not explained how any one of all possible potential beings actualizes to the exclusion of all others.
            Neither have traditionalists proven that free will can exist in a universe containing an omnipotent, omniscient being “outside” of time. They simply claim it to be so lest they be Calvinists, a position to which they are morally opposed.
            My position is just as valid as the traditional one, and that accomplishes my goal of undermining the free will, we bring suffering on ourselves, and the best of all possible worlds theodicies. In order for a traditionalist to now use those arguments, they must first show how their conception of free will is correct, that it rests upon fewer unproven assertions, than does mine.

            2. As concerns the observer not being able to choose the collapsed observation, this is not insurmountable. In real world superposition, the wave function collapses according to the underlying rules of whatever that system might be; though an electron may possibly be located at any point in space, the vast preponderance of probability places it in certain most likely bands. God, being no ordinary observer, gets to set the underlying rules of the system to be anything he likes, and in fact he _has_ to set them to be _something_, else there would be no rules, therefore he does get to pick which observation he gets.
            Thus God remains morally culpable for which possible Carl collapses out of the field of all possible Carls because God set up the rules under which that collapse occurs.
            Thus, no escaping the problem of evil.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Darren,
            As to your point 1, you are asserting that the burden of proof is on traditionalists because you have offered a possible unproven model of how the universe works. This move strikes me as . . . odd. I think you fundamentally misunderstand the argumentative position of the logical problem of evil. The logical problem of evil is not a proof of God’s existence. Rather, the logical problem of evil is an argument that God cannot exist. So to show that the argument fails, it is only necessary to come up with a possible set of assumptions in which the argument fails. Pointing out another possible set of assumptions in which it doesn’t means nothing.

            2. You concede that quantum superposition is only an analogy. But analogies are actually not very much useful to prove that something is possible, especially when you have to make fundamental changes in the analogy to prove the possibility. Your argument is much like a fellow saying that he can munch his way through a wall, and as proof he points out that worms can eat their way through apples. But walls are harder than apples his interlocutor replies. That’s all right, the fellow says, men are much more important than worms.

          • Darren

            Perhaps I am mistaken. Here is what I understand:

            Darren: “There is Evil in the World. All creatures suffer, many terribly so, to no purpose. An omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God would have made the best of all possible worlds. This world is not the best of all possible worlds, therefore God did not make it.”

            Theist: “Not so. Man must have Free Will. With Free Will comes suffering. Thus, suffering must exist. Therefore this is the best of all possible worlds.”

            Darren: “Here then is a world where none suffer, yet all are free. Suffering need not exist. My world is better, and logically possible, therefore your world is not the best of all possible worlds.”

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            You haven’t shown that (1) such a world is possible or (2) that if it is possible given a number of your assumptions, that those assumptions are ones the theist should share.

          • Darren

            No? Well, now I am confused.
            I can conceive of such a world, were I omnipotent and omniscient, having conceived of it I could accomplish it.
            No more assumptions than what I have said in the above sentence – that anything conceivable can be accomplished provided one is omniscient and omnipotent. That would seem to be well inside the typical Theist assumption-space.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Darren’s quantum superposition analogy is more illuminating than I thought. I just realized that it explains pretty well what libertarian free will is and why God can’t, consistent with libertarian free will, make me be someone who always freely chooses the Good.

            Libertarian free will contemplates that when I make a choice I in some sense contemplate the possible me’s, the possible futures that spread out from that choice, and then I pick one. I pick which one of those possible me’s becomes real. But in Darrin’s example, my choice of which of those hypothetical me’s becomes real is replaced by God’s choice. Ergo,who I am is no longer a result of my own free will. The Great God Hobson says to me that I can choose to be whatever future me I want, as long as I choose to be the future me in the stall nearest the door.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            “No? Well, now I am confused . . . ”

            As a Mormon, I’m not actually sure that God can strip me totally of my free will (though he could probably completely strip my of my ability to act in any meaningful way, which is much the same thing). But let’s concede that He can. So what? To make this relevant to the problem of evil, what you need to show is that God *ought* to strip me of my free will to keep me from doing evil. Good luck. Or else you could argue that God can determine what I choose without stripping me of my freedom of choice, i.e., that God can cause me to make an uncaused choice, but that’s logically contradictory.

          • Darren

            Adam, I am highly amused that I managed to illustrate to you something quite apart from any intention. Ah, well, even a broken clock is right twice a day. :)

            The entire superposition angle began to percolate as I was finishing up the Library of Babel and the best of all possible Harry Potters thought experiment; I thought it to be a neat coincidence that a real thing resembled something I had conjured from thin air.

            I suppose I should not be disappointed in not having converted you to my completely fabricated metaphysics… :)

            Cheers!

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Cheers, and God bless you. :)

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            Adam, my major problem is that if we stipulate that there not a logically possible version of me that freely chooses the good, then we’ve affirmed the following sentence:

            “There’s no logically possible version of Carl that does what he’s supposed to (freely choose the good).”

            That means I will never go to heaven, because that what I’d be doing in heaven.

            So I’m screwed. Why would God even bother to make any version of me, because all of them (all 10^27, or whatever) will never eternally enter into the rest of God in the beautific vision or the celestial kingdom or whatever?

            Darren,

            “Thus God remains morally culpable for which possible Carl collapses out of the field of all possible Carls because God set up the rules under which that collapse occurs.”

            Exactly.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Carl C.,
            “Adam, my major problem is that if we stipulate that there is not a logically possible version of me that freely chooses the good . . .”

            I don’t stipulate that. Of the three libertarian free will possible destinies that I can envision, in two of them it *is* logically possible for you to reach a point where you will certainly always freely choose the good. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2013/01/god-and-the-moral-law-in-mormonism.html#comment-129196
            (Aside: Even if it weren’t possible for me to ever reach a point where I certainly always freely choose the good, God could still create me and still be good, as long as I wasn’t certain to always choose evil either. You’d just have to argue that existence with some mix of good and evil is better than no existence at all, which is a defensible argument).

            But, saying its logically possible for me to libertarian-freely always choose the good is NOT the same as sayings its logically possible for God to create me to libertarian-freely always choose the good. In libertarian free will, my choices must be in part caused only by myself. No other cause can completely determine my choice, because if it does, that choice is not libertarian-free.

            I can always libertarian-freely choose the good only if whatever it is that compels me to always choose the good (my character, my overriding commitment to the good, etc.) is itself a choice that I made that was not wholly determined by outside causes.

            But if God creates me to always choose the good, then my choices are wholly determined by God’s act of creation. Therefore I am not libertarian-free. It is logically possible for me to always libertarian-freely choose the good, but it is not logically possible for God to create me to always libertarian-freely choose the good. God cannot cause me to make an uncaused choice.

          • Darren

            Adam G

            Plantinga, yes?

            Sadly, you have surpassed the level at which I can debate this as it hinges on the validity of Libertarian Free Will, which I cannot even hazard a guess. As I recall, Chris Hallquist has thoughts on this, and he is a far more robust philosopher than I.

            You might check out his Beta Testing a Book, and if you mix it up with him, make sure to invite me to watch!

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Darren,
            to my shame I’ve never read Plantinga.
            Actually, I’m agnostic about libertarian free will. It has some major problems but so do all the other free will theories or the attempts to explain free will away. As a Mormon, I don’t even need libertarian free will as an answer to the problem of evil, so this is mostly an intellectual exercise for me.

          • Darren

            As I recall, and this is from Chris Hallquist’s blog, Plantinga has a pretty well known theodicy that makes heavy use of Libertarian Free Will. So, never read him myself… :)

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            I looked up Plantinga’s free will argument on Wikipedia and it looks like I’m completely aping him here. Great minds think alike. So do his’n and mine.

          • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

            For the record, I don’t buy Plantinga, either. I’d be curious your thoughts on Open Theism though, Adam.

            You said: “But, saying its logically possible for me to libertarian-freely always choose the good is NOT the same as sayings its logically possible for God to create me to libertarian-freely always choose the good.”

            That’s the same thing as saying there’s a logically possible state of affairs that God can’t bring about directly, or that He needs some assistance to make come about. Congratulations. You have just made God not all-powerful.

          • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

            Most sophisticated traditional Christians I know would reject that definition of “all-powerful.” They would say that God being all-powerful means that he can do anything that is logically possible for *him* to do.

            If we take your definition of “all-powerful,” in which God is able to do things that are logically impossible, then most everyone would agree that God is not “all-powerful” and the logical problem of evil becomes trivial.

    • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

      I’m curious how you define “Original Sin.” I’ve come to the realization that Mormons actually do believe in a sort of Original Sin, but it’s more like “the original choice [to leave God's presence]” instead of “sin” or, as it is colloquially used, sex. Original Choice inheres in our very decision to come to Earth/leave the “Garden” of the pre-earth life, something that created the potential of stagnation but without which there could be no exaltation. We are Fallen because we left God’s presence, but that action was not necessarily evil.

  • X

    God sounds a bit like Buddha in the first answer. He has found the path to enlightenment and is trying to guide others along that path. If you don’t practise the buddhist path, you end up stuck in the cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. Or something like that.

    I find it hard to take Mormonism seriously because Joseph Smith seems like an obvious fraud. He used a magic ‘seer stone’ hidden inside his hat:
    “”I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.””
    That just seems like the behaviour of an obvious charlatan.
    The idea that people would ‘stop progressing’ out of choice seems wrong to me as well, as an atheist. I know myself, I know I’ve made honest attempts to find the truth. I know I wouldn’t want or choose not to become a god, if it seemed possible. I don’t believe anyone would make the choice to be ‘stuck’ forever, except maybe people who hated themselves intensely. So, to me, mormonism is an inaccurate description of the world as I know it. I realise religious people say the same about atheism.
    I don’t really believe in moral law as a thing out there in the world, seperate from humans. It seems obvious to me that societies create their own moral laws and every society has slightly different ones. The emotions associated with morality, empathy, sympathy etc, seem to be a result of our ancestors having been selected for sociability. Monkeys and the social great apes seem to share some of our moral inclinations.

    • http://not-atamelion.blogspot.com Michael H.

      “I know myself, I know I’ve made honest attempts to find the truth. I know I wouldn’t want or choose not to become a god, if it seemed possible. I don’t believe anyone would make the choice to be ‘stuck’ forever, except maybe people who hated themselves intensely.”

      Or people that are content with their present moral state. You can imagine, I presume, a person who feels that smoking (or drinking, or being a misanthrope) is morally wrong, but has little desire to change it. Or people that persist in the idea that they are morally right and need no progression. Complacency and inertia are the enemies of progression; if you approach it from that standpoint, choosing to stagnate – by simply not choosing to progress – becomes more comprehensible, IMO.

    • http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com CarlC

      X, I believe that the argument for the moral law is that all societies have some idea of the good. They might disagree on what it is or exactly how to achieve it, but they all have an idea of it being there. Mere Christianity has some good stuff on this, if I recall correctly. But it’s been a while since I read it. I know that Francis Collins’ The Language of God also has some interesting stuff on it, and I’ve read it more recently. The Moral Argument for the Existence of God is why Collins is a believer. Plus, it’s a great book besides on the intersection of religion and science, and how we set up too many false dichotomies in discussing that intersection. But that’s a completely different line of thought.

  • grok87

    @Darren,
    Yeah it’s one of my favorite books and the BBC version is really good. The dialogue I quoted is in episode 2 beginning at about 17:30. I took the dialogue I quoted from the book (with cuts). The dialogue in the BBC version is fairly faithful to book, but cuts some of the interesting parts out in this case.
    Thanks for linking to the Netflix, I didn’t know it was available there.
    Enjoy!
    cheers,
    grok

  • Erick

    @ Darren

    ==Interesting. So, we have made God into a Consequentialist?==

    I don’t see how I’ve made God into a Consequentialist.

    Evil has to be a real option. If evil is not a real option, then there is no real choice to be made. And if there is no real choice, there is no real free will.

    In other words, even in a world where freedom means never choosing evil, God would have given humans with “x” trait that allowed them to choose evil, wherein humans would have to choose to either use their freedom or their “x” trait when making moral decisions.

    ==It was insufficient for Adam to _decide_ to eat his apple, he had to bite, chew, and swallow?==

    We already have a world where deciding to sin is sufficient, and there is no need to physically actualize. That’s the world of angels. And humans do not live there.

    ==Do you have any thoughts on how this reads upon the natural law view of the Fall and Original Sin?==

    You seem to always be neglecting Adam’s body when you talk about moral damage. The Fall and original sin not only damaged Adam’s soul, it also damaged Adam’s body.

    I’ll take you one step further. In Catholic dogma, notice that a “soul only” existence in heaven is not the final fate of mankind. Resurrection in a new heaven and new earth is. Notice how important the body/the physical is?

    == This was an attempt to illustrate how one such arbitrary design, the sexual dimorphism of humans, makes one particular moral evil easier to commit. Rape is a trigger issue, though, and my statement could be interpreted as ‘blaming the victim’, which was not my intent. ==

    The reason I considered your rape comment sexist is the fact that you assumed rape is only a male on female crime. However, rape is also possibly a female on male crime. In which case your solution is pointless because it doesn’t solve the “rape” flaw you identified.

    ==But, that is precisely the point, isn’t it? Here stand I, a lowly human and far from the brightest of my species, yet I have managed, with my metaphorical red pen, to bleed all over God’s Composition of the Cosmos. We have clear, obvious flaws in the design of the world, flaws which have led to untold suffering and injustice, and yet the perfect and all-knowing architect of the heavens could not have done better?==

    I think maybe you misunderstood my point. My point with both the sexual dimorphism rebuttal and malaria rebuttal is that you actually have NOT managed to bleed all over God’s composition of the cosmos. Two things:

    1) You have never actually been able to propose a better solution to what you consider flaws

    2) and what you consider clear, obvious flaws are not and never have been definitively proven to be flaws at all.

    In the case of sexual dimorphism, you gave what you consider a flaw (“rape”). Yet, you’re proposed solution contained the same “rape” flaw (only in reverse gender), which means you haven’t proposed a solution at all. Indeed, it’s arguable whether any solution could ever be proposed that solved any proposed flaw without inviting other flaws into the system.

    In the malaria case, it’s not definitively proven that malaria is a flaw at all. You think it’s a moral flaw, because you cannot rationalize the morally good purpose of malaria in the human experience. You assume that “not knowing now” is equivalent to “not having a purpose at all”. For me, there is still a “later in time” to find out the reason, so not knowing now is not that big a problem.

  • Zach

    First of all, I’d like to express my admiration for the rigorous and civil nature of the debate going on here.
    Darren, I’m sincerely impressed with your very intelligent, well reasoned challenges to all of the dear old Papist arguments (and I am proudly within their motley ranks).
    I do suspect that some of the 8 points in your list above have more to offer than you might think.

    I was wondering what you would make of this assertion.
    If being itself is a participation in God who is being simply, then it is good, and to the extent that God has given anything being ex nihilo, He has gifted it beyond anything the created being could attain for itself. Therefore, even if He allows a person to suffer throughout their existence, and ultimately wind up in Hell, they still possess a gift (a participation in His Perfection of Being -albeit a slight one) that He has given them beyond their merit.
    Therefore, though God could have made them better, He is under no obligation to do so*, and further He already gave them being which is in itself a gratuitous gift.

    *Why does God’s goodness force Him into giving His creatures a good existence, or existence at all? Its not clear to me how we can demand the same kind of justice from God as we can from fellow human beings. Not that our basic concepts of justice and goodness are irrelevant to Him, but exactly how they apply seems to merit a more careful consideration. We are dealing with the Absolute Being here. To some degree, we’re going to have to acknowledge some unintelligibility.
    I’m sorry, that last sentence probably sounds like a cop-out. I really don’t mean to say reason is not important or that you should just ‘get over’ your objections because God is God. But I don’t think reason will ever be entirely satisfied while we flounder around on this side of the grave.
    Btw, hope I don’t come off as a cold-hearted bastard that shrugs off the painful realities of suffering, sin, and damnation. These are profoundly disturbing conditions of human experience that must always be taken seriously.
    But I am unwilling to let the horrors and imperfections of the world push divine love out of the picture.

    God bless

    • Darren

      Zach;
      Thank you for the kind words. Please see my post below for a deeper explanation of how I think God _could_ have created a best of all possible worlds without violating free will or autonomy.
      You bring up interesting points. My short answer is that God is not obligated to give us creatures anything (owing to his being bigger and stronger than us). However, as the principles of charity, kindness, and compassion are espoused by the Church, and ascribed to God in measures beyond human capacities, one could expect God to be a pretty darned good host, at least.
      My other main disagreement is with the issue of informed consent, of which we created beings had none. A gift unbidden, and one which results in suffering, even torment, is not much of a gift.
      While we cannot know God’s purposes, we can imagine the kindest, most merciful, most charitable, most just, most intelligent, most loving _human_, and ask what sort of world that human would create, had he the power. Does that world look much like the one in which we find ourselves?

  • Darren

    Erick;
    thank you for the thoughtful reply. Please do not take my near total disagreement as anything other than a sign of respect… That said, allow me to disagree further. :)

    I had made the claim that an Omnipotent and Omniscient God could have created a best of all possible worlds, a world in which each inhabitant’s every thought, word, and deed was virtuous, and yet where each of those thoughts, words, and deeds would have been freely chosen, thus satisfying God’s supergoal of Free Will. I had claimed that God’s infinite foreknowledge would allow this, but it was objected that God does not have foreknowledge, that God exists extra-temporally, ‘outside’ of time, with all temporal moments occurring simultaneously (to the extent that it is logically coherent to use the words “occurring” and “simultaneous” when one is outside of time). Thus, it was claimed, my reasoning that God could have created a best of all possible worlds was invalid.
    It would not be the first of my claims found to be invalid, but if there is error, I do not think it lies in failure to understand God’s extra-temporal nature. Perhaps if I explain in greater detail, we can at least find the actual source of error, if error is to be found.
    Thus, a though experiment! I shall call upon one of my favorite conceptual spaces, the Library of Babel, and shall endeavor to do it justice.
    Imagine, an infinite library. Well, not infinite, not by a long shot, really, but still quite large. Enormously, stupendously large, in fact; a library extending a far as one can see, or ever could see in one’s lifetime. Spend a day walking in a straight line, still one would be within the library. Spend a week, and still one would be surrounded by nothing but shelves upon shelves of bound volumes.
    And what might be in this near infinity of books? Every story ever told, or which ever could be told. Not just that, but every possible variation of those stories.
    Let us restrict our wanderings to one very small, though still almost infinitely vast, section of the Library of Babel wherein we find one, and only one, story: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (I pick this one as most are familiar, and I know it intimately).
    In our small little corner of the library, we have Harry Potter-TPS and every variation, slight or massive. Let’s ignore the versions with typographical errors, the versions in German or binary, the versions which are actually completely different stories altogether, the versions which are incoherent. It would still be a vast collection: every possible version of Harry Potter, where every possible thought, word, and deed of every character, extending backwards into the characters timelines, and forwards into their futures.
    Now, these characters exist within the confines of their universe, the book. From their perspective, events proceed from past to present to future, moment following moment, page following page. Yet, we readers exist outside of this time, and are free to disregard it at our pleasure. We can skip to the end, we can read through and then begin again at the beginning, though we know already the fate of each character.
    From the perspectives of the characters, each of them exercises free will in choosing their own thoughts, their own words, and their own deeds. Yet, from the perspective of the reader, we know that each is fated to play his part, to speak his lines, to enter and depart, love, hate, rejoice, and suffer as the author has decreed.
    Recall, though, that for every action, every decision, there is a sister volume where that choice was different. Prior to the decision, whatever that decision might be, grave or trivial, the two volumes were identical, in effect the same story, but after the choice, they diverge, each becoming distinct.
    Every choice, every possible decision from that choice, and every choice proceeding from that decision, and every possible variation on those choices and decisions for every character are to be found.
    The math escapes me.
    Now then, the reader might well ask, “Of all these endless varieties of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which is the real one?”
    I think we would have to say that all of them are real, or at least that any one volume is just as real as any other volume. It would depend upon what the reader preferred. Somewhere, in this library, is the version of Harry Potter where: every thought, word, and deed of every character is Evil; all suffer in the most horrifying manner describable; all live in abject misery. This version is the most perfect Hell conceivable, the worst of all possible Harry Potters. I should not like to read it.
    There is also, though, a version where every thought, word, and deed of every character is Good, none suffer, all are happy and fulfilled. There are, in fact, many versions where all is virtue and happiness, but would they not be ‘boring’? What possible artistic merit might such a story possess? What reader would wish to read them? I might answer that a reader who wishes for his characters to be happy, to be virtuous and fulfilled, a reader who distained from inflicting torments for the sake of art might like to read it. But I do not have to give such an answer, I have one better.
    Somewhere in the library, is a version of Harry Potter where all is virtue and goodness, where none suffer, and all are fulfilled. Yes, we have already said so. But let us continue searching, for within the many versions just described, also resides one version possessing artistic merit, and not just some merit, but which is the most meaningful book ever written, a book to draw forth tears from stone – the best of all possible Harry Potters.
    The objection that is forming is that these are only characters. They do not possess free will, they are fated to speak their lines as they are written. Whatever their apparent happiness or the profundity of their story, they are not free beings, they are mindless automatons; slaves to the author’s pen.
    Firstly, were one to be such a character, one might well disagree. From one’s own perspective, one feels free, one chooses freely this or that; it would seem nonsensical to be told otherwise. But, how would a character know? What test could one perform?
    You reply that the characters may not know, but we readers would.
    Fair enough, but I can do better.
    Let us now imagine the same library, the same section of Harry Potter, but now let us imagine that there is no author. No J.K Rowling to pen version after version, each slightly different than the last. Let us imagine instead that the books write themselves. The characters do, in fact, have legitimate and real free will. They choose this or that and chart their own fates.
    How, then, does this library look?
    It looks exactly the same.
    Free agents or not, every possible permutation is still present, the worst of all possible Harry Potters is still there, but so too is the best possible Harry Potter, not a word changed from before, but this time with all of the choices made freely by the characters themselves.

  • http://www.symphonyofdissent.wordpress.com Daniel Ortner

    While I’m not a theology expert in any sense, it seems to me that you are understating the role of God in ( a least every day lived) Mormon Thought. While there is some sense of a pre-mortal existence of uncreated intelligences, there is also a great role for God as the Father of our Spirits. The way I conceptualize intelligence is raw untapped potential. God harvested that potential and have us a spirit which is akin to an engine or propellor that drives us towards Godhood. By ourselves we might exist but we literally would be nothing

  • Darren

    Adam G. and CarlC;

    BTW, this point never got made in all the fun of tossing out my wildly counterintuitive, and certainly completely wrong, models.

    From my understanding of LDS theology, preexisting souls _choosing_ to incorporate is a strong justification for the Mormon God _not_ being defeated by the problem of evil.

    My foundational rejection of the Catholic / Protestant position is the complete lack of informed consent that we created beings had in the affair.

    • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

      Lots of Mormons agree with you. I agree too, to a point. But what does a spirit know about existence as a fleshly body? How ‘informed’ can this consent really be? Not very, I’d argue.

      As for the Catholic/Protestant position, I don’t see that informed consent is a concept that can meaningfully be applied to non-existent creatures.

      • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

        Testing.

  • Lawrence King

    The thread is probably dead but having noticed Carl’s reply to me, I may as well reply.

    Carl wrote:

    Since I disagree, you can’t take the simpler case. Catholic doctrine teaches that there’s a possible version of me that (God willing) will one day be in heaven eternally choosing God’s goodness in a single eternal moment (or however we’re going to phrase it-your comments were most illuminating on that issue of free will in heaven). I’ll call that “Perfect Me,” and I can still ask why God didn’t just instantiate that logically possible version of me.

    No, Catholic doctrine doesn’t teach that. And personally (speaking for myself) I deny it, based on common sense theology. You and I could create a new ending for the show Lost. But that doesn’t mean that there are two versions of “the television show Lost that ran on ABC from 2004 to 2010″ (the one with Damon Lindelof’s ending and the one with our ending). Just so, God could create someone who looked so much like Carl Cranney that he would fool your family, but God could not create a different version of you. Period. If he is not you, then he is not you. If he is you, then he is you. There are no “different versions of you”.

    So when you write,

    If you say it’s logically possible, then I think it’s totally fair to ask why God is creating clearly inferior versions, when, by those four postulates, He would want to. What, is he making crappy versions just so He can redeem us?

    I reject the term “version”. But if by “version” you merely mean “a different human being than me, who is all good”, then I agree it is logically possible for God to have created that person instead of you. And I don’t think it’s “unfair” for you to ask why God created you instead of him. But what I do dispute is your assertion — if I am understanding it correctly — that a perfectly good God ought to have created him instead of you.

    This assertion to be based on the theorem that if X is better than Y, a perfectly good God would not create Y. This theroem, in turn, appears to be based on the axiom that if X is better than Y, to create Y would not be a good act.

    I dispute that axiom. Leibnitz believed it, and you believe it, and I suspect that Anselm believed it, but it seems so bizarre to me that I cannot imagine why it should be believed. Do you have any argument for this axiom, or do you simply find it intuitively certain?


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