CHAPTER SIX

THE HYPOTHETICAL WILL OF GOD

The reason I say this is that it seems to make impossible the very thesis of this whole study. How can the way the world is be a "contingency plan" if there wasn't a "master plan" which for some reason got thwarted?

The answer lies in what is behind some of the more profound understandings of what was unfortunately called the "permissive" will of God: there is a hypothetical will of God. That is, on the assumption that God not only knows what does happen but what would have happened if some actual event did not happen, then this knowledge (which is identical with God's will because he is simple) is also God's will for what would have happened. That is, if God knows it would have happened, then clearly if it had happened, God would have had to will it (because in itself as finite it would have been impossible without his creative act, which is identical with his will).

So, for instance, God knows what the world would have been like if our progenitor had not sinned; which means that, on the hypothesis that he did not sin, God's will for the world would have been thus and so.

In Modes of the Finite and The Finite and the Infinite I gave no evidence that there is or could be such hypothetical knowledge and hypothetical will on the part of God. Is there any? Nothing conclusive, I suspect, because in order to establish such a thing conclusively in philosophy, we would have to have the hypothetical event actually occur, in which case it would be part of the real and not hypothetical world.

There are at least hints, however, It would seem that evolution, as not following the path that you would expect from the Second Law of Thermodynamics (in which the tendency of the more organized is to become less organized), indicates that God is intervening in the world by manipulating the chance element of the bodies that interact in the world. I mention this in Modes of the Finite Part Three, Section 1, Chapter 5 But it is difficult to see how this could be done to achieve a definite result if God were not aware of what the possibilities are in the organism he wishes to "lift beyond" itself. Let us take the virus-like particle that is going to be capable, with a little genetic alteration, of becoming something like a bacterium, which sustains itself at a super-high energy level by taking in energy from the environment. The complex inanimate particle (which is inanimate and whose equilibrium is its lowest-energy condition) has one particular genetic alteration which will support the organizing activity of a living organism (which then has an additional high-energy equilibrium which for a while at least overrides the ground-state one). But this is one possibility out of billions of possible alterations which will do nothing but destroy the particle.

Since there are so many other possibilities which are going to lead to nothing but setbacks, the laws of probability would say that the particle in question has in practice no natural chance to get into that configuration. But the event actually happened. It seems to me that this indicates that God had to know what would have happened in all these other configurations, and that this one out of all the other billions of possibilities had to have the circumstances in which it could occur by some manipulation of the convergence of natural forces acting on it. How else could the one event have been selected, since chance can't really account for it--or if you argue that it could because it is statistically possible, remember that a whole unbroken string of billions of events each as unlikely as the one in question had to occur in order for evolution to have taken the path that it took. If any one of these excessively improbable events did not occur, evolution would have stopped at that point and started backward.

But if philosophy gives clues but still leaves it possible to say that God does not really know what does not but could happen, confirmation that God has such knowledge comes from Scripture, which sometimes talks about what would have happened. God tells Abraham that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah; but then says he will not if as few as ten virtuous men can be found in the city. Apparently they couldn't be found, so the city was destroyed. The city of Nineveh in Jonah's time would be destroyed if the people didn't repent; they repented, and the city was not destroyed. Jesus laments on how he would have gathered the people of Jerusalem under his wings, except that they would not come; he makes the terrible pronouncement that it would have been better for Judas if he had never been born--and so on. Scripture is replete with what might be called "contingency-predictions."

Hence, we can take it that God not only knows what actually happens, but what would have happened under various actually unfulfilled conditions.

If we add this type of hypothetical knowledge (and hypothetical will) to what was said above about good and bad, then we can correct some of the false implications in what is called the "permissive will" of God. Since "good" and "bad" are due to the human type of knowledge that conceives ideals and compares the fact with them, then we can say that God has no preference of one possible world over another.

That is, God knows what the real world is, and also what the real world would be under various conditions; but he has no notion that one of these states is better than any other. He recognizes, of course, that people in the world would regard one human condition (say, a condition without suffering) as better than another; but from God's point of view, each is equally acceptable, because from God's point of view, each is only limited reality, and (a) any limited reality is ipso facto less than it could be, and (b) there is no ontological demand in it that it be limited only to one given degree rather than another. Any limitation it can have is obviously a limitation it can have; and so there is no real contradiction in its being limited in this way or to this degree.

For instance, the human body is capable of existing without the capacity to see; and so there can be blind people. From our point of view this is bad, because we compare ourselves with what most (even "practically all") people can do, and God looks on the being as he is, with the limitations that he has. We have eyes only in the front of our heads, however desirable it might be to have an extra eye on the back of the head; but no one complains about this because we regard it as a limitation, not as a deprivation of what we "ought" to have. But a deprivation, in the last analysis, is merely a limitation that does not occur in most instances of the kind of body in question; and by what law of nature is it that a being must be limited only to the degree that the "normal" body of this type is limited?

And this, as I point out in Modes of the Finite, Part One, Section 5, Chapter 12 is where the fallacy lies in Augustine's definition of "evil" as "privation of a due good" (i.e. lack of an existence or activity that is somehow "owing" to the being). The act is "due" to the being only from the human point of view, the point of view from which you compare the being with the average of its class. As an individual, it is simply limited existence.

Therefore, there is no reason for saying that "God permits evil so that he can draw greater good out of it." This could not be the case, if there are people in hell (and at least the devils are in hell). If you say that the world is better off for the people's being in hell, then how can any temporal advantage compensate for eternal frustration? I point out to my classes that it isn't worth it to tell a little lie to save the whole world from dying in excruciating agony. Suppose it takes a million years of the minor frustration of the liar in hell to equal the days of agony before one person dies; so that after a million years, the liar has suffered as much as the suffering he has saved this one person from because of his lie. There are, let us say, a billion people in the world. Then when the liar has suffered in his minor way for a billion times a million years, then he has equaled the suffering he has saved the world from by his lie. From then on, he has increased the suffering in the world, because the suffering added to the world by his suffering is greater than any suffering he has saved the world from. So any eternal suffering, however insignificant, is always greater than any temporal agony, however terrible or widespread.

You might say that the person is better off in hell because he chose the suffering he brought upon himself; but by whose standards is he "better off"? I know that when I sin, what I choose is (a) to do what will in some respect bring me suffering but (b) what in another respect will bring me pleasure or fulfillment, and (c) I choose the fulfillment minus the suffering, even though (d) I know that the choice is unrealistic because I can't have the one without the other. The point is that, though I did choose the suffering, I didn't want it by my self-contradictory choice; that, in fact, is the essence of immorality: to make a choice that one knows is unreal and to will the unreal to be real, knowing that it won't be real just because one wills it. But it is absurd to say that I think I am better off in having the suffering which I actively didn't want in the choice which entailed it.

Nor am I ontologically better off for trying to violate my own reality. True, I have exercised my choice; but I could have exercised it consistently, and actually made myself ontologically better off. But I choose to be better off by doing something which I knew would make me worse off; so I not only make myself worse off, I knowingly do so.

No, there is no way you can twist and turn and make any "objective" sense out of a person's being better off for being in hell. He got what he asked for (but didn't want), that's all. There is no "objectively greater good" that comes of this. And of course, there can't be, because "good" means only that the object in fact agrees with my preconceived idea of the way it "ought" to be, which means that the basis of goodness is always subjective, not objective.

The reason I am harping on this is that it goes against the grain so much. The factual element in goodness (that the object does in fact agree with my subjective standard) blinds us to the fact that the standard itself is subjective, and the goodness isn't "out there" except in the sense that the relation to the standard actually obtains. But the "goodness" is not a "property" the object possesses, any more than existence is a property or truth is a property. In fact, goodness is just truth looked at backwards, since truth occurs when my idea of an object (in the sense of my concept of it, not my sensory impression of it) agrees with what the object actually is. The truth-relation and the goodness-relation are the same relation; it is just that in the truth-relation the object is the standard the idea has to "tune itself into" and in the goodness-relation the idea is the standard that the object is supposed to conform to. Truth, then, is objective (even though it has a subjective pole), because the standard is the object; and goodness is always subjective (though it has an objective pole) because the standard was created by the subject.

What is the upshot of this? That there is no necessity for God to "bring greater good" out of the evils that happen in this world, because from God's point of view there is no evil, because God has no standards. For God, what is is.

What then of the Law? The Ten Commandments? Are not these God's standards for our behavior? Not really. What they are is a spelling out of the various ways in which a person can act at cross-purposes with himself. For instance, we are creatures, and so are always dependent on God for everything we do, and can never be God's equal, still less greater than he. Therefore, it is inconsistent to act as if we were equal to or greater than God. We must worship God, which is to say, acknowledge our absolute dependence on him and only him; and so any person who chooses to be independent of God is frustrating himself in that very choice.

Again, any person who steals is in effect saying "What's mine is mine (because I am human) and what's yours is mine (so I want you not to be as human as I)." But taking an object and so wanting it to belong to you doesn't make it belong to you and you know it. And so on.

And since, as I point out in Modes of the FinitePart Three, Section 3, Chapter 6, our choices, as spiritual, are eternal acts, then making one of these self-frustrating choices means eternally setting up a goal for oneself that in part cannot be achieved because it contradicts itself; and so making a choice that violates one of the Commandments means choosing one's eternal frustration.

So the sin is the punishment. The Commandments, then, are not what God "would like" us to do or "would rather" have us do. They are simply his laying out the facts for us: "If you want to frustrate yourself eternally, then do one of these ten things." And if, knowing this, you choose to do it, God is not disappointed in you. If frustration is what you want, God is perfectly happy with your frustrating yourself eternally.

The notion that God only allows evil in order that a greater good may be brought out of it actually implies that God would not create a universe at all. Why is that? On the assumption that goodness is something objective (and that being and goodness are convertible terms), then God is infinitely good. Now if you add a finite good (a creature) to infinite goodness, you have not increased the amount of objective goodness in the universe. Hence, a universe with nothing but God in it is infinitely good, and a universe with God and any number of finite creatures is no better than the universe with God alone. But if God permits evil only in order that a greater good may come from it, then this implies that he would prefer that evil not exist (or "occur," if you prefer the term, since evil doesn't exist as such), and only allows it because he has to in order to achieve the greater good.

But there is an alternative for God: that there be a world which is the greatest of all possible goods, without any evil in it at all--the universe that contains no creatures whatever. Hence, if goodness and evil are objective, and God (who is good) allows evil only for the sake of having the universe with the greatest amount of good in it, then there are no creatures.

I will therefore take it that God has no ideals, no preferences, even though he knows hypothetical universes. So if he gives us a chance to fulfill ourselves and we deliberately reject it and choose our own frustration, then his active will for us and his only will for us is our frustration; even though on the hypothesis that we made a different choice, his will for us would have been our complete happiness.

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