The Problem of Evil: Aesthetic Considerations
By Barry Whitney
Few would be willing to argue an intellectually viable resolution of the problem of evil ('theodicy')1 is possible. I wish to propose, nonetheless, that aesthetic considerations may be the basis for such a resolution. I refer to it as an “aesthetic solution” although its aesthetic aspects do not constitute the entire theodicy. The solution may seem disconcertingly harsh and unconventional, but given the current state of discussions on the theodicy issue, I think the solution proposed here is sound and an appropriate option that ought to be pursued in theodicy discussions.2 One of its strengths is that it does not succumb to what I shall describe as an illicit, question-begging methodology utilized in many theodicies, both historically and contemporaneously.
Before outlining the proposed solution, it is important to distinguish it from versions of the aesthetic theme found in the historically predominant theodicies of Augustine and Aquinas.3 The aesthetic theme has had a privileged history in these traditional theodicies (and also in contemporary theodicies), yet I think there are serious problems both with the historical use of the aesthetic theme and the understanding of divine attributes (omnipotence and others) with which it is so closely correlated. The aesthetic theme has been based on an interpretation of divine power which holds God responsible for evil, either as causing evil or as permitting evil4 as part of a good whole or a means to a good end. Evil, as such, in supposedly serving a divinely ordained purpose, contributes toward the realization of good ends which otherwise would be unattainable. But, of course, the obvious and oft-cited criticisms of this view is the argument that while some evils may contributing to the good of the whole, and while some evils may promote good ends, not all evils do. Indeed, there seems to be far too much evil than is necessary for the attainment of good ends or as parts of the good whole.5 The presupposition of divine unilateral power, moreover, ultimately denies the reality of evil as such. Evil, given by God to secure good ends, by whatever means (punishments, tests of faith, discipline, etc.),6 would no longer be genuinely evil. Augustine and Aquinas acknowledged as much, implicitly if not explicitly. From our limited human perspective, they argued, evil only seems to be evil, while from the divine perspective it is really a good in disguise, a divinely sanctioned means to achieve the desired good ends. The world supposedly is a perfect whole, ordained as such by God. What we perceive as evil is a good, we are infmed, since it serves God's providential plan.
Some may question this interpretation of the traditional aesthetic theme, but I will not digress to substantiate my view by rehearsing the numerous passages in the writings of Augustine, Aquinas, or those of a host of other theologians who have utilized this version of the aesthetic theme. Nor do I think it necessary to resume the debate between process theists and more traditional theists about whether unilateral, coercive power is an accurate representation of Augustinian-Thomistic theism, or the related issue as to whether traditional interpretations of divine causation (via omnipotence and omniscience) are compatible with human freedom.7 My limited but considerable task here is to outline a version of the aesthetic solution that seems to me the basis of an intellectually viable rational theodicy.
A major aspect of this solution is that it seeks to resolve the theodicy issue without (what I consider to be) the question-begging, illicit circular methodology utilized by most theodicies. I am aware that this contention may seem an outrageous indictment of traditional and contemporary theodicies, but my view is that theodicies have erred in assuming religious beliefs, the belief in God's existence in particular. The solution to the theodicy problem, I contend, ought to be based solely on rational knowledge in isolation from the presupposition of religious beliefs. It is inappropriate in the formulation of a rational theodicy not only to presume God's existence but to conjecture possible reasons for God's causing or permitting evil. This common approach not only asks the wrong question ('Why does God cause or permit evil?') but is a question-begging and illicit circular logic, since it presumes what the theodicy problem seeks to establish. Astonishingly, to my knowledge, this approach has never been challenged.
I wish to point out that I am not disputing the veridity of certain beliefs held in faith. That is quite another matter. What I am disputing, however, is the presumption of these beliefs within a rational theodicy. God's existence cannot be presupposed either as a belief held in faith or as an a priori necessity,8 since it is this very belief in God which is challenged by the evil and suffering in the world. A rational, intellectually viable theodicy must provide convincing reasons to justify belief in God's existence, despite the world's evil; it must provide also a defensible interpretation of the divine attributes and demonstrate persuasively why belief in God is not undermined by the pervasiveness of the evil and suffering which saturate our existence. If theodicy assumes God's existence and/or the related beliefs (that evil and suffering are means by which God attains good ends, or that God is testing us, or punishing us, that evil is the result of the Adamic 'fall', that there is an afterlife compensation and/or fulfilment provided by God, that suffering is caused by evil powers, or that suffering has been redeemed by Christ, etc.), all of this presupposes what is at stake. A rational solution to theodicy must proceed in isolation from such beliefs, or at least hold them in suspension.
This presumably is a controversial point. But I wish to distinguish my view from one possible misunderstanding. Some time ago, Nelson Pike asserted that 'when the existence of God is accepted [in faith] prior to any rational consideration of the status of evil in the world, the traditional problem of evil reduces to a non-critical perplexity of relatively minor importance'.9 1 am not aware of any detailed response to this view, but my response is that the assumption of religious beliefs may perhaps resolve the problem of evil on the existential level, since a person's faith provides religious certainty of God's existence and this in turn provides certainty that there must be a 'morally sufficient reason' for the evil and suffering in the world. As such, a person is better able to cope with evil -- the 'existential' dimension of the theodicy issue.10 Yet this leaves the rational problem of evil unresolved. Faith in God, based on biblical texts, institutional teachings, or personal religious experience, etc., may provide theists with reasons for God's causing or permitting evil (as tests, trials, punishments, and the like -- largely biblically based reasons), but this presumption of religious beliefs begs the question and, as such, seems hardly the means to a rational resolution of the problem of evil. To presuppose in faith, moreover, what rational theodicy seeks to demonstrate surely would not be acceptable to those who do not hold the same religious beliefs. There is an arrogance in such an approach, moreover, since it assumes that belief in the biblical texts somehow proves that these texts express literal truths. Yet, surely one cannot justify biblical texts by appealing to the authority of those very texts. The same question-begging methodology could be utilized by any religious tradition to claim the veridity of its scriptures.
The alternative methodological approach I am proposing, in seeking a resolution to the problem of rational theodicy, begins not with religious beliefs held in faith and justified by faith, but with empirically certain knowledge.11 But what is this certain knowledge? I submit that there is substantial agreement that human beings are finite and imperfect creatures, the product of millions of years of evolution, of an evolutionary process which operates randomly. Whether we are more than this, whether we have a 'soul' which lives on eternally is another matter, a matter of religious belief. Some may feel this belief too is a certainty. Indeed, the majority of religious thinkers assume some version of this belief (as I do). Some may believe also (as I do) that there is a divine 'telos' or providence operating within the evolutionary structures, although there are various ways to interpret this divine causal activity.12 My contention, however, is that the presumption of such beliefs in a rational theodicy may not be appropriate.
Obviously, there is much more to be said about the methodological question,13 but my present task is to continue to outline my aesthetic solution. Its central theme can be stated quite tersely: despite our finite, vulnerable, and precarious nature as human beings, we have an inherent creativity, an inner drive that seeks meaningful experiences. Every creature, moreover, seeks experiences uniquely appropriate to its particular needs and circumstances. I submit that creatures not only have this need for meaning and value (the former gained through the latter, as aesthetic value) but that we also have the opportunity at every moment -- to varying degrees, of course -- to experience it. Indeed, no matter how bleak, limited, or disadvantaged our circumstances may be at particular moments, there is always an opportunity to experience at least some aesthetic value. This value is defined as 'aesthetic' since it is the experience of intensity and harmony, and experience which strives toward and incorporates unity amid the diversity, harmony amid the chaos.14 It is mistaken to think that absolute order, in particular, is the aesthetic goal and that a world without disorder, a hedonistic paradise presumably, would be the only kind of world consistent with an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity. Experiences of pure order would be stifling to freedom and dominated by numbing predictability and conformity. Creatures seek experiences, rather, which avoid the extremes of complete order, complete chaos or disorder, as well as avoiding the extremes of too much complexity or intensity and too much triviality or superficiality. All creatures, in sum, have the opportunity to actualize possibilities which bring about the most appropriate experiences, the best possible aesthetic experiences at each moment, experiences which can render life meaningful, despite the circumstances in which we may find ourselves from time to time.
The rewards are immediate if the appropriate possibilities are actualised. Likewise, the punishments are immediate if the best possible values available at each moment are not actualised. Every choice we make limits or expands our future choices. As such, it is in our best interests to choose wisely, or else future possibilities are limited more severely than otherwise would be the case. No one creature alone, I would add, is responsible for the goods or evils which befall it or any other creature. Every creature is affected not only by its own chooses, but also by the choices of other creatures, and indeed by the whims of unconscious and amoral natural forces. Yet, despite poor choices and despite the considerable influence of others and of external forces, there is the opportunity, for experiences of at least minimal value at every moment in the lives of all creatures, experiences of aesthetic value appropriate to every creature's nature and present situation. That this is the case even in moments of extreme despair, terror, pain, and the like, may seem unlikely (I presume) to many critics. The discussion to follow addresses this central issue, as well as other issues of direct relevance to the aesthetic theory I am proposing.
Some might argue, for example, that the solution is merely an exercise in natural theology, resulting in an anti-theodicy, a humanistic anthropodicy rather than a theodicy. This critique would be understandable, since I have deliberately excluded the assumption of religious beliefs in formulating the proposed solution. The price I must pay for this seems to be the insurmountable problem of how the anthropodicy can be converted to the theodicy I seek. Theodicy, after all, seeks to justify belief in God, not merely to explain evil as a necessary product of finite reality. My contention, however, is that the aesthetic solution proposed here functions as both an anthropodicy and a theodicy. The anthropodicy, in sum, and some of its major implications, are as follows. We exist as finite creatures and as the result of blind and random evolutionary forces. The natural laws which support our existence as human beings affect us in an amoral and unconscious manner. As such, there is no reason why any creature should expect to experience anything other than minimal value, let alone maximum value, a surplus of value, or complete fulfilment.15 To expect more than minimal value would be asking to be other or more than what we are: we are finite creatures, free (within limits) and capable of experiencing a sense of meaning through the appropriation or actualization of possibilities which provide aesthetic value and meaning. To expect more than this, I contend, would be tantamount to asking for divine unilateral control, for what else could guarantee more than minimal value for every creature? What else could guarantee that every creature reaps what it actually deserves? Our finite existence, I submit, is justified by the opportunity to act freely and to experience at least minimal value -- and often we experience much more than merely minimal value. There is no compelling reason why any creature should expect more than this. Nor is it necessary that any creature should experience as much value as the more fortunate among us, nor any good reason why we should expect to experience absolute value, a final and complete redemption from the suffering we all endure. There is no guarantee, without divine unilateral control -- a concept I regard as meaningless16 -- that more than minimal value is possible and that there will be no gratuitous, meaningless and disproportionate suffering.
Indeed, since most of the evil and suffering human beings endure has its source not in natural forces but in free human choices (our own and those of others), the responsibility for evil and its unjust distribution is largely the result of human beings, not God's doing. As such, we have the moral responsibility to ourselves and to all other creatures to choose wisely among the possibilities available to us at each moment. Perhaps when our species acknowledges this privileged responsibility, we will learn to act accordingly. The point here is that the human species, more than any other factor, is responsible for the suffering we endure. For too long theologians and philosophers have argued pointless apologetics for God's distribution of evils, assuming that evils and suffering must be attributed to God's mysterious will (despite verbal acknowledgment of human freedom)17 and assuming also that the evils and suffering are divinely ordained (by direct causation or indirect permission)18 toward good ends. Once it is understood that most suffering, although not all, is the result of the poor choices of human beings (ourselves and others), the result of our failure to actualise the appropriate values possible at every moment, we may be more inclined to seek to reduce significantly these poor choices. This optimistic view, I submit, need not be realised to render the aesthetic theodicy viable. I am not under any idealistic delusion that the human species will learn to act more ethically and responsibly, although I retain the hope that this might occur eventually.
This much is largely humanistic anthropodicy. But there are various ways to convert the anthropodicy to function also a solution to the theistic problem of theodicy. Perhaps the simplest way to do this is to acknowledge that finite creatures should expect no more of God than the opportunity to live a meaningful life, even if this life has minimal value. We must take full cognizance of our finitude and the considerable influence exerted on us by other people, other creatures, and by natural laws. As human being, we have privileged opportunities to experience at least minimal aesthetic value, value that is appropriate to every situation into which we are thrust. The goods and evils we actualize, accordingly, are consistent with the existence of a loving and powerful God. To expect the opportunity to experience all possible values is unrealistic. A life of pure order, a life of aesthetic ecstasy without disorder, would be possible only on the assumption of divine unilateral power -- although even on this assumption such an idealised perfect world seems impossible.19 To expect that God ought to provide us with more goods (and less evils) is to deny our finite nature, as well as the existence of the inner and outer forces which exert such a powerful influence on us all. From God, we should expect a world in which there is genuine freedom and the opportunity for at least minimal aesthetic value and meaning. Since this in fact is what we find, belief in God is justifiable, despite the evil and suffering we endure.
There is another way to convert the anthropodicy to a theodicy. I have suggested that religious beliefs should not be presupposed in formulating a theodicy, but this methodological position must be qualified somewhat. Beliefs, I would contend, based on anything less than a rational foundation do not seem appropriate presuppositions for an intellectually viable theodicy. Such beliefs, as noted above, presuppose what is at issue in rational theodicy -- that God exists and that the evil is consistent with God's existence. If God's existence, however, can be argued on rational grounds, rather than presupposed as a given article of faith, this would go a long way to avoid the vicious circle which inundates and discredits so many theodicies. But how can this be done? Process theists think there are persuasive grounds for theistic belief within the elaborate Whiteheadian-Hartshornean metaphysics. The argumentation for this is complex but, in short, concludes that at various critical points in that metaphysical account of reality, God is the best explanation to account for the reason things are as they are. Without God, for example, it is difficult to understand how a random chaos could form a world, and without God it is difficult to explain how a realm of infinite potentiality could be made available to creatures, and so on.
All of this would be challenged, I assume, by humanists (including process humanists), but without digressing to argue this complex point, my contention here is that God can be understood as the source of potentiality and as the persuasive lure which enables us to appropriate the aesthetic value which gives our lives meaning. Such a God is exonerated for permitting suffering, since God continually provides significant opportunities for meaningful experiences, appropriate to every creature at every moment of its existence. I grant that at various points in a creature's life, the opportunities for value and meaning are minimal, but the circumstances that bring on such consequences are not due to unilateral divine causation, but are attributable to our finite natures and to the forces exerted on us by an amoral nature, by other people and by non-human creatures (viruses, and the like).
So, perhaps, the opportunity for minimal value is all we should ask of God and all we should expect as finite creatures in a world of evolutionary randomness. I note that the God of process metaphysics is not the creator ex nihilo who, as such, would have absolute control over creatures.20 The process God, rather is conceived as an interactive Being, sine qua non, without which nothing could exist. God lures and persuades creatures toward the appropriate values possible at each and every moment. There is no divine guarantee that any creature will experience anything other than what the creature itself chooses, although the divine lure is powerful, and the actions of other creatures and natural forces also affect us very significantly.
Why would God create a world such as this? The divine act of creation, in luring the primeval chaos into this constantly evolving universe, with all of its aesthetic potential, is justified since the alternative would have been for God to have left the chaos merely as a chaos. But this would have resulted in the loss of all the value achieved by countless billions of creatures during the history of our physical universe. By analogy, the decision of a man and woman to procreate is similarly justified: despite the suffering the child of the union will endure, the value lost from not existing would be a great loss. The alternative, moreover, to a God whose power is 'persuasive' rather than 'coercive' is a God whose unilateral causation would render creaturely free will problematic, to say the least, and the problem of justifying the evil and suffering this God permits would continue to be the serious problem it has been for theodicy. Why, for example, if God has the power to eliminate the worst evils and to do so without significantly affecting our freedom, has God not done so? Those who condemn the process God as 'too weak' or 'too limited' in power to merit worship have misunderstood the process vision of God and seem to think that the traditional vision of a God of absolute power is more consistent with a world saturated with evil and suffering. There have been no compelling reasons offered by such thinkers, historically or contemporaneously, to explain why this God has permitted the most appalling of these evils and why God has permitted so much apparently gratuitous evil.
Relevant here is the contention of process theists, furthermore, that this God does not coerce, indeed cannot coerce its will on us, but persuasively lures us to choose the appropriate values.22 I submit that this theistic vision of a solely persuasive God, when combined with the aesthetic solution, constitutes at least one viable basis for a solution to the problem of theodicy. The aesthetic theme, nonetheless, despite its importance to process theodicy, has not been sufficiently exploited by process writers nor given the critical attention it merits by others. Debates about process theodicy have been focused far more prevalently on the process theologians' reinterpretation of divine power. The aesthetic theory is at least as important, if not more so, although the version of the aesthetic theory I have proposed here does not necessarily assume the process metaphysics nor a specialist's familiarity with it. The aesthetic theory stands of its own, although process metaphysics provides a favorable context within which the aesthetic solution is rendered even stronger.
But there are other issues to consider. One anticipated criticism likely will be that my solution is elitist?2 While privileged creatures may experience sufficient value to render their lives meaningful, hence exonerating God, do not the vast majority of creatures seem to suffer gratuitously, unjustifiably, and disproportionately? Is not the majority denied sufficient opportunity to experience the aesthetic values experienced by the elite among us? In response, I acknowledge with empathy the apparently futile lives of countless millions of people, lives of despair, pain, terror, and countless other torments. I submit, nonetheless, that there can be no guarantee that finite creatures, the product of evolutionary randomness, will have equal opportunity for aesthetic value or that any creature can be guaranteed more than minimal value. Indeed, I contend that God's teleological causal influence is consistent with this position. God works continually, yet solely persuasively, within the world and within creatures to make available the appropriate opportunities for aesthetic value. The opportunities for at least minimal value are present no matter how bleak the situation in which we may find ourselves,23 although in certain desperate situations the possibilities for meaning are so minimal than they seem all but nonexistent.
This, of course, is the critical question. Is there at least minimal value in every moment, in the most sinister and ignoble moments? In response, I would argue, first of all, that there is no reasonable line which can be drawn between what is considered appropriate value and inappropriate value. What may be appropriate for one person in a unique circumstance may, of course, not be so for others in uniquely different circumstances or even in much the same circumstances. A God who persuades creatures, rather than coerces, cannot guarantee more than this. Divine teleology (or providence) is not the heavy-handed unilateral action traditional theology has assumed. Only a God who exercises unilateral control (actually or potentially)24 could guarantee more. Yet the price that would be paid for conceiving God as a unilateral coercive power, the traditional interpretation of divine power, has been a rendering of the theodicy problem as unresolvable and hopelessly problematic. Whether such a vision of God is meaningful is doubtful since, among other factors, it is incompatible with human freedom, despite impressive and long-standing compatibilist arguments to the contrary.25 The alternative vision of God in process theology has no need to fight this unforgiving battle. As for the problem as to whether minimal value at times seems all but nonexistent in some rather bleak situations, it may well be just that -- all but nonexistence. Yet, value does exist, for even in situations of apparently complete hopelessness, there is some good from some perspective, even if it is not experienced by the person who is suffering. I do not mean to deflect the issue from the problem of minimal value for the sufferer. Taken in context, I would suggest that the experiences which constitute the lifetime of any creature have at least minimal value. There would be no other reason for the creature to seek continued life. This contention is not merely an unsubstantiated assumption: it is justified by empirical experience, although there is much that needs to be said to justify this point.26
The issue of elitism, however, could be pressed, especially as it relates to the problem of gratuitous evil. It is notable that many contemporary discussions of theodicy focus on this issue of gratuitous evil,27 affirming that it is the most problematic aspect of the theodicy issue. Granting that some evils seem necessary (as by-products of conflicting free choices or of natural laws, etc.), is not the distribution of evil unfair? Some evils may lead to good ends, but surely not all do. In response, some traditional theologians who hold fast to the traditional view of divine omnipotence, have argued that the alternative to gratuitous evil, a world in which there is no gratuitous evil, would be worse.28 A world in which every good is rewarded with good, and every evil action punished with an appropriate consequence, would be a world in which the basis of morality would be undercut, since creatures would soon learn that good acts are in our (selfish) interest. We would learn to act for rewards and to avoid punishment, rather than to act for the sake of goodness itself.
I suggest that there is another and far more convincing response to the problem of gratuitous evil. If the aesthetic solution I am proposing has any validity, there is no gratuitous evil, since there is at least minimal value in each experience,29 even granting the prevalence of the most hopeless, desperate, painful, and terrorizing experiences. Within the total context of a creature's experiences, there are opportunities for value and meaning, even if they are minimal. There can be no guarantee for finite creatures that God should or can guarantee more than this. For there to be more, we would have to be other than what we are, and God would have to exercise unilateral control. Neither option is acceptable.30
There is a further anticipated criticism of my aesthetic solution, one that I have levied earlier against the traditional versions: does not the aesthetic theme reduce evil to a mere illusion? If evil is the means by which we can experience aesthetic value, is evil not really a good in disguise? Does this not render evil less than genuinely evil?31 Would we not be interfering with God's plan, moreover, if we seek to eradicate the supposed evil with which God is working to produce good ends? In response, I contend that the traditional version of the aesthetic theory indeed does succumb to this oft-cited critique, since it holds that God deliberately and specifically distributes (or permits) evils for divinely preconceived good ends. How this evil is genuinely evil is problematic, at best. Yet, if we understand that evil and suffering result, rather, from a combination of poor choices of free finite beings and of amoral natural forces beyond our control, it can be understood as genuinely evil. There is no hidden divine plan to use evil to seek specific good ends. Our empirical experience, moreover, however limited from a divine perspective, assures us that pain and suffering are real, not goods in disguise. Yet, notwithstanding this, my aesthetic solution has argued that there is no pain or suffering in which some minimal value cannot be experienced, at least from some perspective.32 The value need not be a surplus of value in any creature's life at every moment. There need be only some value, however minute and limited, for God's goodness and power (as defined by process theism) to be justified.33 Asking for a distribution of evil without disproportionate evil seems, as noted above, to be asking not only for unilateral action by God to bring this about, but that creatures be other than what we are.
Exceptions merely prove the case. Those unfortunate human beings, for example, who live in a state of seemingly relentless despair, fear, or pain, and who apparently believe life is not worth living,34 rarely choose not to live. The vast majority of us go on living, despite the despair, amid the apparent hopelessness of pain and terror and other such suffering. The explanation is that there is at least minimal value in human experiences, and given our experiences as a whole, there is enough meaning to render our lives tolerable at worst, and meaningful at best.35 The experiences, moreover, that provide us with more than merely minimal value serve to sustain us in the bleaker moments and seem to be the force behind our decision to choose to live, to continue to seek value despite the suffering and misery to which we are all condemned.
I suspect that some would demand that we should expect more. Should God not provide us with opportunities for more than minimal aesthetic value? Indeed, can God's creation of this world of suffering be justified other than by a divine guarantee that we will reach a state of ultimate value and perfection? This, of course, brings us to the question of heaven?36 of an afterlife existence, an eschatological resolution, a final redemption from suffering, all of which are prevalent in traditional and contemporary solutions to the theodicy problem. Yet, as a resolution to the problem of evil, I submit that the circular question-begging problem resurfaces. The presumption of the confessional belief in heaven assumes God exists and that this existing God provides us with this afterlife exoneration for our suffering. Despite biblical assurances and mystical testimonies in support of this fundamental religious belief, I suggest that it should not be presupposed in a rational theodicy. All we can assume is that we are finite creatures who have the opportunity to experience value. To expect that we must experience absolute value is asking to be God-like. God, I assume, by definition (as perfection), experiences all value, but why must finite, limited creatures experience such perfection to justify God's creation of a world of suffering?
I say this in my proposal for a rational theodicy, despite my personal belief in a heaven). I have argued in more detail elsewhere against the assumption of heaven as a resolution to theodicy, concluding that the appeal to an afterlife redemption is at best problematic and at worse insidious.37 The point I wish to make here is that the aesthetic solution stands on its own, without such an appeal, hence avoiding a supernatural resolution to a rational problem, to an issue which seeks a rational resolution. IN this sense I understand the rational theologian who would contend that if belief in heaven were to be eschatologically confirme, it would be a 'problematic luxury' at best,38, that it is not needed to resolve the theodicy issue. I agree on a personal level only with the latter statement.The fact that we have the opportunity to experience value in this earthly existence, no matter how unfair the distribution of opportunities, justifies earthly life and belief in God. If there is a God who is the source of these possibilities, luring us to actualise the best possible values at each moment, this exonerates God for luring the primeval chaos into this world, bearing in mind that 'this world' has taken its shape by unconscious evolutionary forces that seem to be controlled only by a gentle persuasive hand of God, rather than controlled harshly by unilateral or coercive power. The evidence, I submit, is for a persuasive God, since the world and its suffering certainly does not seem the product of coercive divine teleology. Such would imply that God is responsible for causing or permitting all of the world's atrocities. Divine persuasive teleology, on the other hand, is consistent with a world of suffering and also a world of opportunity, despite the evil and suffering. Free, finite creatures should expect no more than this. Yet if the mystical vision of an afterlife in the presence of God (as I believe personally) then there is more than this physical world of affliction and anguish. Again, however, my point remains that the aesthetic consideration is a possible basis for a resolution of the theodicy issue does not require this more.
But some may want to push the issue further. Does not an adequate theodicy require more of an eschatology than I am willing to concede?39 Indeed, without it, without some reward and punishment scheme, without some final accounting and resolution of the goods and evils we have experienced, would there be any incentive for human beings to act morally? Would not the basis of morality be undercut? Would not the least moral among us be inclined to act in such a way as to obtain for themselves all the value they can, even if it deliberately hurts others? Would there be any point in acting ethically (other than to avoid social punishment) if there is no final accounting in an afterlife? In response, I note that while the vast majority of theodicies, historically and contemporaneously, assume an afterlife compensation or resolution to the problem of suffering, and while some notable process theists (John Cobb, David Griffin, Marjorie Suchocki, Lewis Ford, and Joseph Bracken, in particular)40 have argued -- against the formerly prevalent Hartshornean view -- for the possibility of the continuation of human existence in an afterlife, my position is that while I believe this personally, it is not an essential aspect of a rational theodicy.41
My position, in sum, is that the aesthetic solution answers the questions supposedly answered by an immortal post mortem realm of redemption from suffering. The aesthetic solution makes it clear, for example, that it is in our best interests to treat others morally since we cannot escape at least some of the consequences of our actions in this earthly realm. Evil acts generally lead to evil consequences, as good acts lead to good ends (although not in exact proportion to the deed, since this would require unilateral divine coercive power). The point is that what we do here and now does matter and does affect us. Bad choices severely limit future possibilities. Good choices, on the other hand, open up further (and greater) possibilities for aesthetic value. Thus, despite having argued that there are opportunities for good in every situation, I submit also that our possibilities for good are enhanced by good acts, good choices by ourselves and by others and by natural processes, all of which affect us. This, for me at least, is justification enough to act for good ends, without the lure of an afterlife reward for doing so and without the threat of an afterlife punishment for not doing so. It is also justification enough, for me, to believe in a God who has given human beings and other species the opportunity, despite our finite nature, to experience aesthetic value appropriate in every situation. I do not think we should expect more than this from God, at least in seeking a purely rational theodicy that holds personal religious beliefs temporarily in suspension. Rationally, minimally, it is a privilege to 'be' and if we accept what we are, asking for more seems to be asking to be other than we are, and asking for God to be other than God is. God has provided at least minimal aesthetic value and is active in leading us into actualizing the best options we can at each moment. Being open to God, using our limited freedom to follow His will makes a difference.
1. 'Theodicy' refers both to 'the problem of evil' and to 'a solution to the problem of evil'.
2. For complete bibliographical data on the problem of evil, see Barry L. Whitney, Theodicy: An Annotated Bibliography on the Problem of Evil, 1960-1990 (New York: Garland, 1993), updated in a second edition, Theodicy: An Annotated Bibliography on the Problem of Evil, 1960-1991 (Bowling Green State University Press: Philosophy Documentation Center, 1998). See also Barry L. Whitney, What Are They Saying About God and Evil? (New York: Paulist, 1989) and Evil and the Process God (Lewsiton, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1985).
3. Hick is correct in arguing that Augustinian theodicy is the dominant theodicy of Christian theological history. See his classic Evil and the God of Love (New York: Harper and Row, 1966; 2nd ed., 1977). See also David Griffin's seminal writings, God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976; republished by University Press of America, 1990); Evil Revisited: Responses and Reconsiderations (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991), etc.
4. I find the distinction between 'permitting' and 'causing' to be problematic. Like some of the early Reformers, contemporary process thinkers and others like John Hick, I see little, if any, difference between God permitting and God causing evil. See David Griffin's detailed discussion of this point in his God, Power and Evil: A Process Theodicy. See also John Hick's Evil and the God of Love.
5. Among the numerous critics who have argued this, see Hare and Madden, Evil and the Concept of God (Springfield: C.C. Thomas, 1968).
6. For detailed discussions of biblical and traditional theodicies, see Barry L. Whitney, Evil and the Process God, What Are They Saying About God and Evil?, and especially Theodicy: An Annotated Bibliography on the Problem of Evil, 1960-1991.
7. For references to the detailed discussions on this and related issues, see Barry L. Whitney, Theodicy: An Annotated Bibliography on the Problem of Evil, 1960-1991.
8. Hartshorne's attempts to resolve the theodicy issue by a priori theistic proofs is documented in Barry Whitney, Evil and the Process God. For a thorough discussion of Hartshorne's theistic proofs, see Donald Wayne Viney, Charles Hartshorne and the Existence of God (Albany: SUNY Press, 1985).
9. Nelson Pike, in God and Evil, edited by Nelson Pike (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1964), 102.
10. I have distinguished various types of theodicies and their implications in 'Rational, Existential, and Mystical Theodicy' (Manuscript: August 1993).
11. I am not suggesting the simplistic and erroneous view that empirical or scientific facts are objective, certain truths, while religious knowledge is merely subjective, illusory or at best uncertain. I accept the views of Thomas Kuhn and lan Barbour, among other contemporary philosophers of science, who have pointed out the subjective side of science, and who have shown parallels in the epistemological bases of religious and scientific 'myths, models and paradigms'. All knowledge, religious or scientific, is 'theory-laden', and saturated with presuppositions and biases, as well as being socially, culturally and intellectually conditioned. My point, nonetheless, is that basic scientific 'truths' have more universal agreement than do the religious truths of a particular traditional.
12. See Barry L. Whitney, 'Process Theism: Does a Persuasive God Coerce?', Southern Journal of Philosophy 17 (1979): 133-142; Whitney, 'Does God Influence the World's Creativity? Hartshorne's Doctrine of Possibility', Philosophy Research Archives 6 (1981): 613-622. See also Whitney, Evil and the Process God.
13. I have done so in 'Faith and Theodicy: A Methodological Problem for the Problem of Evil' (Manuscript: August 1993).
14. For a more detailed account, see Whitney, Evil and the Process God, Ch. 9. This book constructs a process theodicy based largely on Hartshorne's extensive writings. Hartshorne himself has not provided a systematic theodicy (nor, for that matter, did Whitehead).
15. Here I differ with Hartshorne. See Whitney, Evil and the Process God, Ch. 9.
16. Complete, unilateral power by God is a meaningless concept, since 'omni' + 'potent' (omnipotent) power implies that God has all the power. This, as Hartshome has argued, would be power over nothing. See Whitney, Evil and the Process God.
17. This, of course, is the critique of process theists against traditional theism: it acknowledges human free will and responsibility for evil and yet attributes to God an omnipotence which renders this freedom suspect, to say the least. See Griffin's God, Power and Evil and Evil Revisited, and for numerous references to the contemporary debate as it relates to the problem of theodicy, see Whitney, Theodicy: An Annotated Bibliography on the Problem of Evil, 1960-1991.
18. See Note 4.
19. For numerous references on this point, the 'best possible world theodicy', in particular, see Whitney, Theodicy: An Annotated Bibliography on the Problem of Evil, 1960-1991.
20. See Griffin, 'Creation Out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil', in Encountering Evil, edited by Stephen Davis (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981): 101-136. See also Lewis S. Ford's 'Can Freedom Be Created?', Horizons, Journal of the College Theology Society 4 (1977): 183-188.
21. The best defense of this view is Griffin's in Evil Revisited (1991). See also recent criticisms of the process view in Whitney, Evil and the Process God (1985), and David Basinger, Divine Power in Process Theism (Albany: SUNY Press, 1986). Griffin has responded to Basinger's critique in Evil Revisited. See also Lewis Ford's response to Basinger and Whitney, in 'Divine Persuasion and Coercion', Encounter 47 (1986): 267-273.
22. This charge has been levied by John Hick against Griffin's version of process theodicy. Griffin's response is in Evil Revisited.
23. Some of the most powerful testimonies of this are recorded in S. Paul Schilling's God and Human Anguish, Ch. 3 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1977). Despite apparently hopeless situations, he cites examples of how people have found meaning in a trusting faith.
24. The popular view of divine self-limitation to permit human freedom does not resolve the problem. God still would have the power to eliminate evils. Likewise, the traditional Thomist distinction between divine 'causing' and 'permitting' is problematic, since whatever is permitted by God is caused by God. David Griffin has defended in some detail the perspective to which I adhere: see his God, Power and Evil and Evil Revisited.
25. For numerous critical discussions of this point, see Whitney, Theodicy: An Annotated Bibliography on the Problem of Evil, 1960-1991.
26. I have begun this justification in Evil and the Process God and have expanded the arguments in an essay, 'A Resolution to the Problem of Gratuitous Evil' (Manuscript: August 1993).
27. See, for example, Michael Peterson's Evil and the Christian God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982).
28. See especially, John Hick, in Evil and the God of Love.
29. See Whitney, Evil and the Process God, Ch. 9. See also Note 26, above.
30. See Ninian Smart's 'God, Evil and Supermen', in God and Evil, edited by Nelson Pike (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1964): 103-112.
31. See, for example, Hare and Madden, Evil and [tie Concept of God. Among the most thorough defenses of the Whiteheadian aesthetics is Maurice Barineau's The Theodicy of Alfred North Whitehead (Lanham: University Press of America, 1991). Barineau contends that 'Whitney is incorrect to positively excluding from process theodicy the idea that God may "deliberately will certain evils for aesthetic ends'" (106-107), citing my Evil and the Process God. This is a misunderstanding of my argument. I argued that God does not deliberately cause evils for any purpose, a rejection of the 'classical' God of unilateral power. Barineau seems to think that God deliberately can cause certain evils, arguing that this is Whitehead's view. This, of course, is neither Whitehead's view, nor mine, nor any process theologian known to me.
32. I do not intend this to be a way out of the difficult central issue I have posed for my theory. I hold that every experience contains at least minimal value. At times, when the value seems all but nonexistent, we could hold that there is, nevertheless, some value in the experience from some perspective. The sufferer, however, experiences value, insofar as within the lifetime of experiences, he/she lives a life which is justified by at least the opportunity for minimal value.
33. Hartshome argues that there is no 'utterly senseless' or 'unredeemed evil' since 'any evil has value from some perspective, for even to know it exists is to make it contributory to a good, knowledge itself being a good'. See his A Natural Theology for Our Time (La Salle: Open Court, 1969): 80. See also my detailed discussion in Evil and the Process God, Ch. 9.
34. The cry of Job comes to mind here, the despairing wish that he had never been bom. Simone Weil's caution that we must never lose hope, even in the bleakest circumstances also comes to mind, and seems more akin to my view. See her Waiting on God (London: Coll ins, 1959). Yet, while Weil refers to situations in which there is no apparent hope, I suggest there is always some value, however minimal.
35. One recent example of gratuitous evil which has been discussed often is William Rowe's scenario of the wounded fawn dying in the forrest, unknown to anyone. Rowe claims that this is purely gratuitous evil. See his Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1978). A recent response by William Hasker, 'The Necessity of Gratuitous Evil', is in Faith and Philosophy 9 (1992): 23-43. Endless examples might be proposed. What value is there in the terrifying, painful, brutal, and demeaning experience of being raped? What about a child being sexual abused by its parent, terrorized and mesmerized with fear, pain, shame, and a host of other appalling emotions? I would answer that there is very little, indeed, minimal value at most. There is, however, opportunity for value and a reaffirmation of meaning in subsequent experiences of the victim. The fact, moreover, that we are finite creatures, the product of chance and of free choices by ourselves and others provides the possibility of such experiences. The only guarantee against such evil acts is a God of unilateral power and should such a God use its power, freedom would be violated and if such a God withheld its power, it would be blameworthy for doing so. Traditional theism's view of the all-powerful God has, as such, be a thorn in the side of the theodicy issue.
36. Hartshorne cites Berdyaev who refers to the doctrine of rewards and punishments (in a heaven and hell) as 'the most disgusting morality ever conceived' (cited in Whitney, Evil and the Process God, p. 163). For a discussion of Hartshorne's rejection of 'subjective immortality' in some post mortem existence, see Evil and the Process God, Ch. 9.
37. See Whitney, Evil and the Process God, Ch. 9.
38. The phrase is Hartshorne's. See his Reality as Social Process (Boston: Free Press, 1953), 211. See the discussion in Whitney, Evil and the Process God, Ch. 9.
39. The fact that evil is 'overcome' by God is relevant here. See Whitney, Evil and the Process God, Ch. 9, for a detailed discussion of this point from Hartshome's perspective. There are also numerous references to Whitehead's defense of this point.
40. For references, see Whitney, Evil and the Process God, 222. Later references are found in David Griffin's Evil Revisited, Griffin's God and Religion in the Post-Modem World (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), Marjorie Suchocki's The End of Evil (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988), and Joseph Bracken's Society and Spirit (Susquehanna University Press, 1991).
41. See my Evil and the Process God, Ch. 9. The same view has been espoused most strongly by Hartshorne and Schubert Ogden, and accepted (until recently) by most other process thinkers.
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