Friday, February 20, 2015

Process Theodicy - Creation out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil (David Ray Griffin): Part 2



The freedom to choose


It could argued that if humans have the power for self-determination, then why is it that God did not make us determined to be rational saints and always choosing the good? The answer, according to Griffin, is that God could not. This is not because the idea of God creating such a being is logically contradictory, only that God could not create a self-determining being who is only capable of choosing to do good. In other words, God could not have created us with free will and to make us only do certain things. For Griffin this is a logically contradictory notion.



"Those beings with the greatest power of self-determination, and hence the greatest power to deviate from the divine will for the good of the whole, necessarily have the greatest power to influence others - for good or ill. The capacity to create and the capacity to destroy go hand in hand." (David Griffin)

So to ask why God created a world with evil and suffering in it is the wrong way to approach things. Evil and suffering would always (in theory) be present in any number of 'possible worlds', so long as are there are beings in it who are responsible for their own actions. In short the correlating principles of power/value would be a fundamental tenet in any world or universe God created.


The consequences of choice


Although the world cannot (logically) exist without the presence of suffering in it (for there will always be someone or something making 'bad choices'), God's benevolence keeps things from being worse than they might be. Although the world may look like it’s in a bad state, it is still a place where humans have the potential to become 'morally good beings'. As such, it cannot be all bad! Furthermore, if the world were not capable of producing morally good beings then suffering would be pointless and God would be rightly held accountable for this. So although we live in a 'less than perfect' world, we should not feel disheartened:



"While every advance in the creative process has been a risk, since greater sufferings were thereby made possible as well as greater goods, this has never been a risk which God has urged us creatures to run alone. It has always been a risk for God too. In fact God is the only being who has experienced every single evil that has occurred in the creation. This means that God is the one being in a position to judge whether the goods achievable have been worth the price." (David Griffin)

So freewill explains moral evil (E.g. murder, rape), but what of 'natural evil' (E.g. earthquakes, volcanoes)? To answer this Griffin introduces the problem of evil and suffering at the sub-human level. Now the usual response to this amongst theologians has been to say either that evil never occurs there, or any malevolent act is the work of a diabolical agent (E.g. Satan). Griffin rejects both these options in favour of one which sees all creatures, no matter how big or small, as having the power to deviate from the Divine Will. Although 'low-grade' entities do not have that much power in themselves to deviate significantly from the Divine Will, taken together they can result in significant deviations. Of course, the net result of this appears to be that (in theory) there was never a time when the world was perfect.


Why is God so limited?


All this begs the following question: Why doesn’t God change things in order to make the world a 'better place' (such that there would be no more evil and suffering in it)? Well, aside from the fact that the world God created would be the best of all 'possible worlds' (because it is the one God actually brought into existence out of all the available options), God simply cannot force anyone or anything to do what God wants. All God can try to do is persuade something to achieve its highest potential. Any change God desires to bring about must respect freewill.


Now where we find 'higher' levels of self-determining activity (E.g. in humans), change can happen quickly, but with 'low-grade' entities (E.g. cells, atoms), self-determining activity is not as developed so any change will inevitably occur over a longer period of time. In the case of non-sentient things, these cannot be influenced or persuaded by God to change their behaviour.


So on the basis of all this Griffin offers three working hypotheses:



  • Things which cannot deviate much from the divine will, cannot be influenced by God very quickly.
  • Things which can be influenced by God quickly, can deviate drastically from the divine will.
  • Things which can do nothing on their own, cannot be directly influenced by God at all.

The key point here is that in order to preserve freewill God cannot change things directly, but only indirectly through persuasion; inviting those things which have a will to consider alternative courses of action (or activity).


Concluding remarks


With Process Theodicy David Griffin rejects any belief based on 'revelation' which is 'self-contradictory'. For example, he rejects the idea that God determines all events and humans are free beings and responsible for their own actions. For Griffin, this is sheer nonsense. Either God determines all events, and so we are not free to choose to do what we want, or God does not determine events and we are free to choose what we do.


Secondly he rejects the idea that beliefs must be logically consistent, in favour of the notion that beliefs should present/reflect the most probable view of reality. In light of this Griffin believes it is important for theologians to assess Christian 'revelation' as it relates to their present social and scientific context. They should not, 'try to hold onto their formulations at any price'. If a scientific theory has such weight of 'evidence' that it has acquired 'factual status', then this must be acknowledged (and addressed) within the theological enterprise:



"It is the task of the Christian theologian to help people arrive at a set of beliefs that are worthy and that can, at that time and place, be somewhat readily apprehended as convincing, so that the beliefs about the Christian God can become a perception of this God as the Holy Reality." (David Griffin)

Finally, holding onto what we believe are 'orthodox' notions about God when attempting to construct a credible theodicy (e.g. God is omnipotent), may ultimately lead us into theological and philosophical positions which discredit Christian belief. For instance, if we accept the presence of genuine evil in the world then its existence should be adequately explained from the Christian standpoint, and in terms of Process Theodicy, Griffin believes rejecting divine omnipotence is the key to presenting a viable theodicy today.


1 comment:

james said...

Hey man, I think this is really cool. No clue how many other people have read it but I think you did a great job summing up his argument without getting to caught up in the details. Really got at the meat of it with good explanatory examples.

You should check out some of the subreddits on religion if you are ever looking for discussion. :)