Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why Did God Create? What Kind of World is This One? McCall, Piper, and Christianity's Options part 3

           Okay, so last time I laid out why and how Piper views this world as the best possible one, and how that it is not in spite of but because of the proportion of evil and suffering in this world that we can say that it is in fact the best possible world (or one of or from the set of best possible worlds). Piper says, and McCall in his last article recognizes that Piper says, that God could have refrained from creating this world, that is, God is a se and therefore needs nothing outside the Trinitarian life. However, says Piper, if god creates, He must create in such a way as to glorify Himself maximally or He will be considered an idolater.
            Now obviously many will disagree with Piper, and many will, with McCall, call this whole scheme of theology into question. But, without defending Piper’s scheme (and this is important to me that everyone understand that I am not defending Piper, and one can miss my broader purpose if they miss this), I want to show how this is an important issue to consider and is tough for all involved in the process of theologizing. Let me quote from Piper’s article to show this idea:

            “The question of aseity arises for me because a huge part of my theological burden is the answer to the question why God created the universe. I recall wrestling in the Spring of 1971 in a class at Fuller Seminary with the dilemma of, on the one hand, thinking of God’s creation as purposeful (and therefore giving the impression that he depended on the accomplishment of that purpose to be complete or happy) or, on the other hand, thinking of God’s creation as unpurposeful (and therefore, apparently, whimsical and capricious). In the first case, we would sacrifice his aseity, in the second, we would sacrifice his wisdom.
            “I point this out to emphasize how difficult this problem is for all of us. The problem is not unique to one theological tradition” (Piper, 2008).

            I think that I agree with John Piper on this point. Perhaps I don’t agree with him so much on the issue of God’s aseity (as I will make a passing reference to in the next post), but I do agree with him about the issue of the relationship between why God creates and how God creates. My ideas of the relationship between why and how (mainly just the options and a brief consideration of the implications of what each particular option means) will be considered in the next post. There is no question, if you are a Christian theist of the traditional type (creedal), that God creates. But how, or in what way concerning quality, does God create? Is this the best world God could have created? That, as we will see, depends on one’s criterion. Now Piper’s second case, where the world is unpurposeful (or whimsical), is one which, as Piper points out, one could call into question God’s wisdom, and no doubt rightly so. But I want to call into question God’s omnibenevolence given that this is not the best possible world (or one of the set of best possible worlds, or, if you don’t like that phrase, one of the worlds that it is not possible there be a better). My argument is going to be very simple, but I think that it will have the desired affect. Let us define what it means for God to be omnibenevolent. According to Alvin Plantinga, in God, Freedom, and Evil, for any being to be omnibenevolent that being “could perhaps always do what is morally right, so that it would not be possible for it to be exceeded along those lines” (91). Now let me add to this. In order for a being to do what is morally right, that being most do and intend what is best in the circumstance that being finds him/her/itself. Now for a being to be omnibenevolent, that being must do what is best in every circumstance that being is in. Let me say here, right off the bat, that the idea of “best” is sort of slippery when it comes to God, for, is there a standard distinct from God that determined what is best? I have questions and some unresolved issues with divine command ethics, but just for the sake of appeasing those who might bring up this point, let us just give any reader what standard of ethic God recognizes. To be honest, this issue is somewhat irrelevant to the larger point.
            Now most traditional believers in God believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. But if God is omnibenevolent, God always does what is best. God created this world, and in creating this world, it would follow that He created a world in which it is not possible that there be a better. But this world not only had the possibility of sin and evil and suffering, but God knew that it would actually have sin and evil and suffering. Then a world that actually has sin and evil and suffering is a world in which it is not possible to be better. Therefore this world (the actual one) is a world in which it is not possible that there be a better world. Simply, if God always does what is best, and God created this world, then it follows that this world is a best possible world. So this “dilemma” is a little different from Piper’s. In this one, we either deny that God is omnibenevolent and that this is not a world in which it is not possible that there be a better, or we affirm both that God is omnibenevolent and that this world is a world in which it is not possible that there be a better. The latter option is good for affirming a traditional conception of God, but bad in the sense that we must explain exactly how this world, with huge amounts of evil and suffering and sin, is a world in which it is not possible that there be a better one. Now this at first may bother some Christian theists, but please do not be alarmed, this issue is not new or novel. There are good answers to this problem, and the issue really boils down to (in a large way) what is the criterion by which we understand “do and intend what is best.” Piper gives us one of these options by saying that the criteria that determines what a “best” world is, is that God is maximally glorified. In such a world, the existence of evil and suffering is just a means or avenue by which God is maximally glorified, and even though God hates evil in itself, in relation to Him being maximally glorified it is part of the world in which He is glorified the most (that is, the most possibly, so that it is not possible for Him to be glorified more in a creation or world). So our last post on this topic will be one on the criterias for creating and those of creation (a best world).  

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