Back to theodicy and David's theories: Ed Feser's take (The nature of a \'Creator\')

by David Turell @, Tuesday, April 13, 2021, 21:44 (114 days ago) @ David Turell

Feser is a theological philosopher who follows Thomism. This essay away the problem of evil and discusses proper allegorical treatment of God. There is no way I can edit it into a valuable summary. I'll give a few snippets, but warn you it takes 20+ minutes to read all of it. But it does explain how I view God the way I do. Also I do not agree with all of his theology, but my approach to thinking about God is very similar. Note the reference to ecosystems, animals do what animals do.

https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/12/4/268/htm

For the Thomist, when one properly understands what God is and what morality and moral agents are, it simply makes no sense to think of God as less than perfectly good or as morally obligated to prevent the evil that exists.

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For Thomists God is utterly distinct from the natural order of things, creating and sustaining it in being ex nihilo while being in no way affected by it in turn. But the “logical problem of evil” implicitly presupposes that God is himself part of the natural order, or at least causally related to it in something like the way that entities within that order are related to one another.

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Goodness or badness as general features of the world are, on this account, to be analyzed in terms of how fully a substance actualizes the potentials which, given its nature, it needs to actualize in order to be a flourishing instance of its kind.

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Sometimes what is good for one kind of physical substance, given its nature, will be bad for another kind, given its different nature. For example, it is good for beavers to gnaw at and fell trees. They cannot flourish as the kinds of things they are without doing so. But obviously, their doing so is not good for trees. Now, a natural order with both beavers and trees in it has more kinds of goodness in it than a natural order without both. Hence, an increase in the amount of goodness in the world can in some cases entail also an increase in certain kinds of badness as a necessary concomitant.

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Now, where does God fit into this picture? The answer is that he does not fit into it at all. He is no more a part of the natural order—and thus no more part of the moral order that is a segment of the natural order—than an author is part of a novel or than a painter is part of a painting. Rather, he is the necessary precondition of there being any natural order at all, just as an author is the necessary precondition of there being any novel at all and a painter is a necessary precondition of there being any painting at all. And conceiving of God on the model of a natural substance is like conceiving of an author as an additional character in a novel, or conceiving of a painter as one of the images in a painting.

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When a natural substance brings about an effect, it works through parts (such as the hand you use to move a stick) and itself undergoes change over time as it does so (as when your arm flexes and changes position when moving the stick). Nothing like this happens with divine causality, since God is non-composite, immutable, and eternal. When a natural substance exercises causal power, it does so in accordance with the laws of nature that describe its characteristic mode of behaving. But God is not governed by laws of nature, since those laws are themselves precisely among the things he causes in creating the natural order that the laws describe.
For these reasons, the Thomist holds that the language we use when describing God and his causal relationship to the world must be understood in an analogical way, where analogy is a middle ground sort of usage lying between the univocal and equivocal uses of terms.

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The “god of the gaps” approach is indeed feeble, but it has nothing to do with the arguments of Thomists and other classical theists. They are not trying to fill explanatory gaps within the natural order studied by science, but rather explaining what empirical science itself presupposes but cannot account for—namely, the fact that there is any natural order at all in the first place. The “god of the gaps” approach is like supposing that to say that a painting presupposes a painter amounts to positing an as-yet unseen person lurking somewhere in the image (“Where’s Waldo?” style), or that to say that a novel presupposes an author amounts to positing a character in the story who somehow escaped the reader’s notice on a first reading

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Since God cannot possibly be in danger and has no appetites, he cannot intelligibly be said to possess virtues like courage and temperance. More generally, God is not subject to the natural law, any more than he is subject to physical laws.

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More generally, if you are going to create a natural order with all the specific kinds of goodness that ours exhibits—the goodness of lions, gazelles, birds, worms, bacteria, and so on—then, given their natures, certain sorts of badness (gazelles eaten by lions, worms eaten by birds, diseases caused by bacteria, etc.) are going to be a concomitant. The overall order is good, and the badness that accompanies it is a necessary part of that good, without which that particular kind of good could not exist. You might have a world with things that looked like lions but did not eat gazelles, but they would not be lions. If you want lions, the occasional dead gazelle is part of the package.


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