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5. Free Will and Divine Sovereignty

Hugh J. McCann Indiana University Press ePub

 

A satisfactory resolution of the problems canvassed in the last chapter can be had in only one way: by according God an active role as creator in the production of human action. To revert to the Openness view would be to give away too much—to accede, in effect, to the anti-theist's objection that belief in the God of tradition cannot be sustained in the face of the world's sin and suffering. And nothing short of a full involvement in the operations of creaturely wills seems consistent with the omniscience and sovereignty appropriate to a God who is as perfect as we can imagine him to be. But what shall we then say about libertarian freedom, which in the standard free-will defense places the primary responsibility for moral evil on us, and insulates God from our sinfulness? One option is simply to drop the idea of libertarianism, and opt for a completely different notion of human freedom. That was the reaction of Jonathan Edwards, who would never have accorded less than complete sovereignty to God, and whose version of free will is straightforward Lockean compatibilism.1 Compatibilist freedom is a conditional matter: I am free in acting just in case I would have done otherwise if some causal condition had been different—if, for example, I had chosen to behave differently, or if behaving differently had been my strongest desire. This kind of account permits both my action and the choice that led to it to have been determined, in which case they simply form part of the natural causal order. If that is all there is to free will, God can easily be complete master of the universe, as well as fully cognizant of all that occurs in it, for he can make the world a completely deterministic affair, in which all that will ever occur is fixed from the beginning in accordance with natural law.

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7. Suffering

Hugh J. McCann Indiana University Press ePub

 

An important aspect of the previous chapter is its emphasis on the fact that sinfulness, in the sense that involves moral blameworthiness, is first and foremost a characteristic of acts of will. This is not to say that culpability can properly be said to pertain only to decision and volition. Often, when we speak of sin we have in mind actions that are objectively forbidden: things like unjustified violence, drunkenness, dishonesty, abuse of authority, selfishness, and so forth. Such actions are certainly blameworthy in normal circumstances, and of course they extend beyond the will: they consist in bringing about actual harm in the world. But where such acts are sinful in the strong sense, the sense of being culpable, their sinfulness is derived from the acts of will upon which they are founded. Thus, the attitude of rebellion that attends sinful acts of will is at the bottom of all morally evil action, in the sense of “moral evil” that puts us at enmity with God. And we have seen that this attitude, the attitude of a sinful will, is defeated in the eventual destiny the sinner himself chooses—in his repentance or in his reprobation, as the case may be. But what of the harm done in the world? Sin in the objective sense, the sense that signifies an act forbidden by the moral law, typically involves such harm—most often to other persons—and that kind of evil is not defeated by the sinner's turning over a new leaf. Furthermore, we have yet to address the issue of natural evil, of evil that does not owe its origin to moral agency but rather arises through the normal operations of the physical and biological world. What kind of theodicy is possible on these fronts?

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2. Creation and the Natural Order

Hugh J. McCann Indiana University Press ePub

 

If we think the existence of a creator is at all likely, it is worthwhile to try to understand as well as we can the nature of creation, and the relationship between God's activity as creator and the doings of the things he creates. That can be a challenging task. The common view of creation is pretty ingenuous: we tend to think of God as a temporal being who, by fiat, put the world in place “in the beginning,” along with whatever principles of operation it might have required, and then “rested.” The scriptural credentials of this view are, of course, impeccable, and it makes for a nice division of labor between God and the world. He is responsible for the world's beginning, and—at least to the extent that it works deterministically—for its subsequent history as well. But he is responsible for the latter only indirectly, for on this picture the things that make up the world have robust and independent natures. They survive and function on their own; and they have the capacity to react to influences that surround them, as well as to effect change in other entities. Indeed, but for occasional acts of intervention—to bring the course of nature into line with human needs, perhaps, or to demonstrate his presence and power to the hard of heart—there is really rather little for God to do in such a world. Such non-engagement has, of course, a certain suspicious quality: one would expect the loving God of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic heritages to be a little more doting, a little more involved with the world. But it also guarantees that the products of creation will be entities of real substance and power, fully capable of independent existence and action.

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8. Divine Freedom

Hugh J. McCann Indiana University Press ePub

 

There are at least two reasons for preferring a theology that seeks to maximize God's freedom in his activity as creator. From the point of view of the present project, perhaps the most pressing is that if God is not free, then neither are we. It was claimed in chapter 5 that even though their actions fall under God's sovereignty, rational agents still enjoy what deserves to be called libertarian freedom. This is so, it was argued, because God's act of willing that I choose as I do is related to my action not as nomic cause to effect, but as will to content. This relationship is too close to undo free will, because in it God's action is not an independent, determining condition of what I do. Rather, his creative fiat provides for the existence of my acts of will in a way that preserves all meaningful conditions of robust free choice. Suppose, however, that God's own will in this process is determined by extraneous circumstances. Perhaps there is some good he is compelled to choose, so that his own volition as to how creation will go is rendered unfree. If that were so, then the game would finally be lost as far as my own freedom is concerned. For on the model of chapter 5, my own decisions are locked up with God's as the content of his will as creator, so that anything which determines him determines me as well.

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11. Divine Will and Divine Simplicity

Hugh J. McCann Indiana University Press ePub

 

The primary purpose of this final chapter is to examine God's relationship as creator to those universals that characterize his own nature. In part, the motivation for so doing is simply to complete the task, begun in chapter 10, of determining the extent to which God can legitimately be held to be the creator of the of the conceptual order—that is, of universals, sets, propositions, and other abstracta. As regards those denizens of the Platonic realm that pertain to the divine nature this promises to be a tricky business. On the one hand, it would strain credibility to hold that although, as was argued in the last chapter, God does create those natures that pertain to creaturely reality, he depends for his own being on universals whose provenance is independent of his will. Such a dichotomy has an artificial ring. Moreover, to accept it would be to capitulate at last on the issue of God's complete sovereignty over all things, which we have thus far been able to defend. On the other hand, to portray God as in any way creatively disposed with respect to his own essence is to court the danger of making God self-creating, which is surely impossible. We need to discern whether a course between these extremes can be charted.

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