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God: Eternity, Free Will, and the World

Rather than present a systematic defense of all the divine attributes involved in this article, my purpose here is to explore some philosophical doctrines about God whose interrelationship appears perplexing, if not outright contradictory – drawing on whatever elements of natural theology are needed. Starting with a proof of God’s immutability, I will then consider his eternal life and how it is possible for him still to have free will. Finally, I will consider how it is possible for an eternally unchanging God freely to create and interact with a temporal world that constantly undergoes change. Since some claim that this entire metaphysical scenario is radically incoherent, careful philosophical explanation is mandatory.

Some of the logical steps entailed in this topic are fairly straightforward. Understanding the inferred metaphysical concepts is somewhat more challenging.

God's Immutability and Eternity

As has been shown previously, a key inference of St. Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for God’s existence is that God is the Uncaused First Cause. Since God is uncaused, he cannot be the subject of motion or change, because whatever is moved or changed must be moved or changed by another. Hence, God is immutable.

Moreover, the Uncaused First Cause must be pure act, since change would require moving something from potency to act. But, if no change is possible, God must have no potency to further act. Hence, he is pure act, which means pure being. In fact, as the absolutely simple first being, God is not even composed of essence and existence. He is pure act of existence without any limiting essence, that is, the Infinite Being. Only one such being is possible, since if there were two, one would limit the infinity of the other.

Some, confusing activity with motion, misconstrue God’s immutability as meaning frozen, static, lifeless, and impotent. Quite the contrary, the Infinite Being already possesses all existential perfections so completely that change could give no greater activity or power.

God’s immutability entails his eternity, since what is immutable has neither beginning nor any progression through time. God is utterly outside of time, existing as it were “all at once.” Ordinary language betrays human understanding of God’s eternity. Eternity does not mean endless duration: time without beginning or end. God’s eternity means the simultaneous and complete possession of infinite life. It is the term defining the divine life of God. We know God is living since he is the cause of that positive existential perfection that we call “life” in creatures. The term, “life,” in God must be understood analogously in that he does not live with the limitations inherent in earthly organisms, but rather possesses pre-eminently whatever positive perfections life entails in created living things.

In the divine eternity, God experiences no succession of events. Because of divine simplicity, God’s knowledge of himself and, thereby, of the world he causes, is one with his singular causal act whose multiple objects are the unfolding sequence of temporal world events -- events novel to us, but not to God. God cannot change his mind or will or any aspect of his being during his eternal existence.

Objections to Free Will in God

For us, free will entails considering various alternatives, knowing we can choose one as opposed to others, and then finally, making a choice one way or another. This process takes place through time. But, God is not in time. He cannot choose between alternatives as we do. Since to choose freely requires that there be a real difference between the potency to various alternatives and the actuality of choosing a single option, time is needed to make the choice. God’s eternal immutability appears to preclude him having free will.

Again, if God is pure act, there can be no distinction between potency and act, meaning that there is no real distinction between what God can do and what he actually chooses to do. Since a thing’s nature determines what it is able to do, it would appear, then, that God’s nature must determine both what he is able to do and what he actually chooses, since there is no distinction between them. Hence, God’s alleged “choices” appear to be determined by his nature, and thus, not free choices at all.

God Possesses Free Will

Still, since the positive perfection of intellect is found among creatures, God must possess intellect – for God could not create finite intellects unless he possesses that perfection himself. Just as the intellect knows being as the true, the intellectual appetite desires being as the good. The intellectual appetite is called “will.” Thus God must have will as well as intellect. In fact, the divine simplicity requires that his will is identical with his intellect.

It may seem odd, but it is possible to have a will that is moved necessarily toward certain objects. For example, God wills his own goodness necessarily. As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it:

“The divine will has a necessary relation to the divine goodness, since that is its proper object. Therefore, God wills the being of his own goodness necessarily, just as we will our own happiness necessarily….”1

Thus, the notion of will itself, as the intellectual appetite for the good, is not inconsistent with an absence of free choice.

And yet, despite being utterly immutable and eternal, God does possess free will with respect to some things. While he necessarily wills those goods that are equivalent to his own being, such as his own existence and his own goodness, he nonetheless does not necessarily will lesser goods than his own goodness, such as his will to create this world or that world or not to create at all. Again, St. Thomas explains:

“God wills things other than himself only insofar as they are ordered to his own goodness as their end. … Hence, since the goodness of God is perfect and can exist without other things, inasmuch as no perfection can accrue to him from them, it follows that for him to will things other than himself is not absolutely necessary.”2

St. Thomas maintains a suppositional necessity here, saying, “… supposing that God wills a thing, then, he is unable to not will it, since his will cannot change.”3

The immediate evidence of the existence of such freedom by God to will lesser goods than himself is the evident fact that the finite world in which we live actually exists, as opposed to an unlimited number of possible other worlds he could have created. Is he necessitated to create this world? No, because this world is a lesser good than his own goodness which already includes every possible perfection of goodness. Hence, God creates this finite world in which we live by a perfectly free act of his will.

Objections Answered

First, some think that God being the Necessary Being is inconsistent with the contingency of his free will choosing to create this world, which did not have to exist at all. Although God is the Necessary Being, this necessity refers primarily to his act of existence, since his essence is identical to his existence – thus, making it impossible for him not to exist.

The term, “necessary,” with reference to the divine nature cannot be capriciously defined to suit some contrived anti-theistic argument. Its meaning originates in the context of St. Thomas’ Third Way, which refers solely to a being whose necessity for existence comes from itself and not from another.4 Such a being must be that being whose essence is its very act of existence.

Hence, God’s necessity means primarily the necessity of his existence. As shown by St. Thomas above, that necessity also pertains to God’s willing his own goodness, since it is equivalent to his own being -- but it is not necessary for God to will things other than himself.5

Thus, when God chooses freely to create this world as opposed to any other, this choice does not make him to somehow become a “contingent” being. He is still the one and only Necessary Being, but he makes a free choice that in no way contradicts his existential necessity.

Second, some object that God cannot have free will, since that would necessarily entail a change in him, which his immutability and eternity forbid. But this is to make the gross error of thrusting God into time – as though he was first not making a choice and then later making one, which would be a change in him.

Unless one misconceives God in a material, temporal fashion, the metaphysical insight required is to grasp that God’s very substance is an eternal act of will in which some objects are willed necessarily and others are willed non-necessarily. This is not an act having temporal duration in which choice begins at some point. God is simply his own act of choosing – a choice eternally identical with his very substance through divine simplicity.

Third, it was objected that God’s choices are not really free, because his choice is identical to his nature, and therefore, is determined by his nature. It is true that God’s nature determines what he is able to do and that his actual choice is identical to that nature. But, this will prove to be unproblematic.

While God might have made other logically possible choices (and there might be other logically possible Gods), such hypothesized alternatives are not metaphysically possible – given that the one and only actual God, who is immutable, has made the choice he has actually made. These hypothesized alternatives may be metaphysically possible in an absolute sense, but they are not so de facto – given that only one God actually exists and has made the actual choice he has eternally made.

What is de facto metaphysically impossible renders the alternative “logical possibilities” not logically possible at all, except as contrary-to-reality mental imaginings. That is, they are not actually real possibilities at all.

God is actually able to do only what he actually freely wills to do, since on the supposition that he wills a certain choice from all eternity, that will cannot be changed -- because of the divine immutability. Thus, there is, in fact, no distinction between what God is able to do and what he does do – but what he does do, he does freely with respect to goods that are less than his own goodness.

Given the divine nature, God is determined to will his own existence and goodness necessarily. But, he is also determined to will lesser goods than his own existence non-necessarily, which means that he is determined by his own nature to act freely. That is to say, with respect to the willing and creation of lesser goods than his own goodness, God is determined to be not-determined. His nature determines that the divine will’s act with respect to certain specified objects, such as the creation of this particular world, is not necessary, and therefore, is perfectly free.

Thus is resolved the problem of God’s nature “determining” his choice.

How God's Eternity Relates to the Temporal World

Finally, while God’s general relation to the created world is a topic far too vast for this article, the question logically arises as to how an eternal, unchanging God can cause the dynamic, changing world we inhabit – without being subject to change himself.

God is utterly outside the created world -- existing in timeless eternity. But, according to Christian revelation, the world had a temporal beginning. Moreover physical creation is subject to constant change and motion. Indeed, that very coming-to-be is the starting point for the most famous proof for God’s existence, St. Thomas’ First Way.6

Some argue that every change in the temporal world requires a change in God to initiate that new causation that changes the world. For, how can one thing initiate new motion in another without itself changing in the very act of “sending forth” its causal influence to the world?

Such reasoning may make perfect sense to a mentality mired in philosophical materialism. But, it makes no sense at all in existential metaphysics. Physical agents change as they cause effects. But to think that this also applies to spiritual agents is absurd and illogical.

Since whatever is in motion or is changed must be moved or changed by another, maintaining that a cause cannot cause change without itself changing would entail an infinite regress among simultaneous caused causes and make impossible an Uncaused First Cause. This is because it would mean that every cause would be an intermediate cause in need of a prior proper cause. If every cause has a prior cause, any causal regress among proper causes would have to regress to infinity. But, I have shown elsewhere that an infinite regress among simultaneous proper causes is metaphysically impossible. For one thing, the sufficient reason for the final effect would never be fulfilled. Therefore, it is manifestly false to claim that every cause must itself change in order to cause a change in another.

Causality in metaphysics is simply a subdivision of the principle of sufficient reason. The notion of causality arises from metaphysical analysis of the effect, not of the cause. If every being must have a sufficient reason for its being or coming-to-be, then either a thing is completely its own reason for being, or else, to the extent that it does not completely explain itself, something else must. That “something else,” or extrinsic sufficient reason, is what we call a “cause.”

Thus, the causality principle states that every effect requires a cause. What is changing or in motion fails to explain its own coming-to-be, and hence, needs a cause. Nothing in this explanation of causality logically implies a change in the cause as causing – only something happening to the effect.

God Remains Immutable as Temporal Events Unfold

Furthermore, since change takes place in the effect, not in the cause as such, there is no problem with God being eternally unchanging, while the world could have a beginning and events unfold sequentially in it throughout time.

God, in a simple eternal act of will, causes all events in physical creation to take place at their appointed times. All beginnings and changes take place in creatures, not God. Indeed, time and space themselves are part of the world’s created limitations. If Christian belief that the world began in time is true, God simply willed the creation of the world to be with a beginning in time – again, something happening to the world, not to its timeless Creator.

This article is not the whole of natural theology. And yet, it does explain how God can be changeless and eternal, while still having a free will through which he causes the sequential unfolding of events in a temporal world of which he is not part – but reigns as its sole and timeless Creator.

Notes:

  1. Summa Theologiae I, q. 19, a. 3, c.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Summa Theologiae I, q. 2, a. 3, c.
  5. Summa Theologiae I, q. 19, a. 3, c.
  6. Summa Theologiae I, q. 2, a. 3, c.
Dr. Dennis Bonnette

Written by

Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. He taught philosophy there for thirty-six years and served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He lives in Youngstown, New York, with his wife, Lois. They have seven adult children and twenty-five grandchildren. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. Dr. Bonnette taught philosophy at the college level for 40 years, and is now teaching free courses at the Aquinas School of Philosophy in Lewiston, New York. He is the author of two books, Aquinas' Proofs for God's Existence (The Hague: Martinus-Nijhoff, 1972) and Origin of the Human Species (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, third edition, 2014), and many scholarly articles.

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  • George

    If God sees our universe and all the events as one thing, almost like a tapestry or a storyboard, are his supposed interventions in our history something that he is bound to carry out? Coming to Earth as Jesus, miracles, stopping the sun, supposedly giving information to humans etc.

    I keep thinking of stories where the protagonists are in a story that they have access to, and find that their reading it is part of the story. Alan Wake. The Dark Tower. Even the current Westworld has shades of this.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      "God, in a simple eternal act of will, causes all events in physical creation to take place at their appointed times."

      Of course, God sees and causes reality to unfold in accordance with its own nature, that is, things that take place necessarily do so necessarily, things that take place contingently do so contingently, and things that take place freely do so freely.

      God is not a grand puppet master, but a respecter of secondary causality in the proper natures of his creatures.

      • George

        Are these natures independent from God?

        Things that occur freely still appear visible to god though, right?

        Would you say freedom requires chaos?

        I'm just trying to figure out how this is all supposed to work. Is time an illusion from God's perspective, real only to us? Does god see the entire timeline as simultaneous? And second, is that timeline/universe more like an artifact that God discovers, rather than a planned creation?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Responding in the order of your questions:

          No natures are independent of God, since he must create their very being for them to be at all.

          Free actions are "visible" to God, since all of creation depends on him making it. If he makes it, he knows it.

          Freedom does not require chaos. That makes it sound like there is freedom only if things happen without any reason. A free agent has reasons for his choices, while the reason for his choosing this option as opposed to that one is ultimately in his own nature as a free agent: the will.

          Time is no illusion to God. It is a limit place on our existence as finite creatures and he knows fully anything that he creates.

          Saying God sees the timeline as simultaneous is confusing, since the term, "simultaneous," means all at the same time. Since God is in eternity, totally outside of time, the term has no actual meaning for God, but is the limp way we express his eternity in our terms. God simply knows all of his creation in knowing himself fully: the creation is limited in time and space because that is how he creates it.

          Unfolding events in time is not something God discovers, or else, he would depend on creation in order to observe it. Rather, God knows all creation by knowing himself as the cause of creation -- and he creates creation as an entity that has an unfolding sequence of temporal events.

          • michael

            "Freedom does not require chaos. That makes it sound like there is freedom only if things happen without any reason. A free agent has reasons for his choices, while the reason for his choosing this option as opposed to that one is ultimately in his own nature as a free agent: the will.". This is answering the problem by merely paraphrasing it. It's splitting hairs because Catholicism teaches that the will is uncaused. That's what is meant by "Free will".

          • michael

            Catholics say God sees in "one act", which doesn't make sense since we observe sequentiality, while from an eternal perspective said sequentiality would not be logically visible, since seeing one thing happen, and then the next, is change. immutability does logically mean being frozen in the same state endlessly. For such a state to exist with sequentiality outside of eternity is confusing.

  • Stephen Edwards

    I agree with the above article. However, I am not sure about this:

    "he is also determined to will lesser goods than his own existence non-necessarily."

    What does it mean to be determined to will something non-necessarily?

    Why can one not simply say that 'how' God uses His will is distinct from His actual will itself?

    • Stephen Edwards

      Maybe I am misreading it though, is it simply saying that God is determined to be free in what He creates?

      • Dennis Bonnette

        Yes. The word, "determined," tends to confuse us.

        It just means that God's nature is such that, with respect to the creation of goods less than himself, he is perfectly free to create this or that or nothing at all.

        • Stephen Edwards

          If God's choice is identical to His nature and His nature could not have been other than what it is, then I imagine one might object that God's choice thereby could not have been other than what it is. This would seem to then entail that God's choice is not free. I would respond that God's will is identical to His nature, but 'how' God uses His will is distinct from His will. Would you agree with that or no?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Because of the divine simplicity, you have to be careful about statements of "distinction" between how God uses his will from the will itself. The will and how it is exercised is identical in God. But, that does not lessen the fact that it is eternally in the act of specifying itself to whatever objects God freely chooses.

            One has to be very careful to avoid "language tangles" here. The metaphysics is quite clear, provided one does not confuse it with arbitrary definitions that do not conform to reality.

          • Stephen Edwards

            Well I understand that we don't want to introduce distinctions within God, but it is hard to grasp how God is not necessitated in His choices if His choices are equivalent to His necessary will. The way I think of it is that choices are not attributes, so distinguished/contingent choices do not make God's being contingent or distinguished. But I can understand if one wants to avoid that language.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I think part of the problem comes in when contingency gets defined as 'could have been otherwise' which I have realized is not the best way to define contingency in this context (though many use it this way).

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are right. When people start defining words, like "necessary" and "contingent," and then start using logic to try to prove a case against God, one has to be very careful of the exact meaning and context of these terms in reference to God. That is why I addressed the proper use of these terms in the context of proofs for God's existence and free will under the "Objections Answered" section in my article.

            My use of the terms is intended to be consistent with the manner in which St. Thomas uses them -- not as some of the Rationalist philosophers may have.

          • So as long as my belief system is consistent according to how its terms are defined within that system, I'm good to go?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am sure you don't expect me to answer that in the affirmative.

            Unlike the Rationalist philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, St. Thomas does not simply try to define God into existence.

            Spinoza defines substance as that which exists in itself and through itself. From this, he infers that substance, which is God, necessarily exists -- without any appeal to an empirical starting point.

            On the contrary, St. Thomas begins his Third Way with “things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated.” From these, he then argues to the existence of “something the existence of which is necessary,” meaning that it must exist. This makes clear that when he finally concludes to “the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity,” he is using the term, “necessary” strictly as meaning something that has existence of itself (which he calls God).

            This is why I say in my above article: “The term, “necessary,” with reference to the divine nature cannot be capriciously defined to suit some contrived anti-theistic argument. Its meaning originates in the context of St. Thomas’ Third Way, which refers solely to a being whose necessity for existence comes from itself and not from another.”

            I follow St. Thomas’ definition of “necessary,” not because he arbitrarily defines it, but because, unlike Spinoza, he grounds the definition in reality derived from empirical observation.

            A proper definition in metaphysics is not merely consistent with its own system, but must be an accurate description of some demonstrable reality.

            I trust that you understand that classical metaphysicians do not reduce all rational demonstration to Positivism's mere empirical verification.

          • I am sure you don't expect me to answer that in the affirmative.

            No, I expected you to say “That’s not what I’m doing,” and I was wondering how you would try to defend that assertion.

            I trust that you understand that classical metaphysicians do not reduce all rational demonstration to Positivism's mere empirical verification.

            Of course. If they did, the positivists wouldn’t say what they say about classical metaphysics, would they?

            Spinoza defines substance as that which exists in itself and through itself.

            I have read none of Spinoza’s work, and I have heard nothing about him that makes me wish I had.

            St. Thomas does not simply try to define God into existence.

            I suppose not directly, but he does infer God’s existence from certain metaphysical propositions. Whether God’s existence is a valid inference from those propositions depends on how certain key terms of those propositions are defined.

            This is why I say in my above article: “The term, “necessary,” with reference to the divine nature cannot be capriciously defined to suit some contrived anti-theistic argument.

            When I say “this is what I mean by ‘necessary’,” I don’t think I’m being any more capricious than Aquinas was. Words are defined by usage, and they are defined at any given historical moment by whatever usage is current at that moment in the user’s linguistic community.

            St. Thomas begins his Third Way with “things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated.” From these, he then argues to the existence of “something the existence of which is necessary,” meaning that it must exist.

            Aquinas had his ideas about what constitutes possibility and necessity, which I assume he got from his reading of Aristotle’s metaphysics. He obviously accepted Aristotle’s metaphysics, at least in a general way. I don’t.

            Its meaning originates in the context of St. Thomas’ Third Way, which refers solely to a being whose necessity for existence comes from itself and not from another.”

            In my intellectual odyssey, I have yet to find a good reason to believe that anything exists necessarily. At the same time, I have found no good reason to believe that nothing does exist necessarily. There is just no compelling argument one way or the other, as far as I can tell.

            I follow St. Thomas’ definition of “necessary,” not because he arbitrarily defines it, but because, unlike Spinoza, he grounds the definition in reality derived from empirical observation.

            He can ground his definitions as he wishes. I have never observed anything to leads me to infer that something has to exist necessarily. And neither has anyone else, to my knowledge.

            A proper definition in metaphysics is not merely consistent with its own system, but must be an accurate description of some demonstrable reality.

            I believe modern science provides as accurate a description of reality as we can reasonably expect. I see no reason to think Aristotle’s description was better.

  • George

    What happens if you consider a hypothetical where there is no free will in god or humankind?

    • Dennis Bonnette

      It is not a genuine hypothetical, since we have already proven in the OP that God must have free will with respect to created things. He could have made no creatures with free will, but then, mankind would not exist, since to be human is to be free. Free will comes with intellect, and man is a rational (intellectual) animal.

      • George

        I'm wondering what would be so different if Yahweh didn't have free will of its own.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          This is like wondering what it would be like to have a circle that is a square.

          • George

            How so?

          • Rob Abney

            If God doesn't have free will then He is not God.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I suggest that you carefully reread the section of my article entitled: "God Possesses Free Will."

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          You are asking what we would expect to be different in our experience of reality if God did not have free will, right?

          I think the answer is something like: if God's will was not free, then only that which is absolutely necessary (i.e. God himself) would exist. Which is to say that neither we nor anything in the universe would exist. This would of course be a marked departure from reality as we currently experience it.

  • I still have difficulty with the concept of free will. What exactly is it? The ability to make choices? I can program a computer to do that, but I doubt many people would say that computers have free will.

    So, let's take a hypothetical. Let's take two otherwise identical humans except that one has free will, and the other does not. What differences should I notice about the human with free will when I compare it to the human without? Does the idea of free will even give rise to testable predictions, or is this something that people assert without any way to test?

    As far as I'm concerned, there's mounting evidence that free will, and our ability to make choices, is an illusion. Machines can predict our choices a full 10 seconds before we're aware of the "choice" we'll make.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      The topic of this OP is about free will in God, not in human beings.

      • That doesn't help me very much if I don't know what free will is in the first place.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Will is simply the name for the intellectual appetite.

          As the article explains, this is why God can have a will that is, surprising to our expectations, necessary with respect to his own existence and his own goodness.

          But the notion of a free will is that of an intellectual appetite that does not act of necessity, that is, it is "forced" neither by its own nature nor any external cause (either external to its substance or some interior force, such as a biological or psychological impulse).

          Free will does not mean the absence of any reason for acting, since God has reasons (known only to himself) why he chose to create this world and not another. But it does mean that the ultimate reason for the choice between competing "reasons," that is, alternatives for which there are motives, lies in the will itself. That is, God is his own sufficient reason for his will's choice in non-necessary objects.

          In man, free will means much the same thing. We have reasons why we might want to rob a bank and reasons why we ought not. Free will means that the ultimate choice between the alternatives proposed by the intellect is not caused by anything external to the will, either outside the human being or inside the human being (some psychological or biological impulse). While God moves the will to choose, and while the intellect proposes various options and even counsels by prudence what we ought to do, it is the will that finally inclines the self to the ultimately chosen object.

          But I am not trying to defend human free will here, since the topic is free will in God, and that is treated in the section in the OP entitled: "God Possesses Free Will."

    • Stephen Edwards

      I would say that free will is the ability to have chosen differently than one chose in a given situation. A computer must choose the same way every time because it is a programmed machine and so it does not have free will.

      • If I hooked this program up to something that measures the amount of radioactive, and all "decisions" were made according to how many particles decayed from the source, then the program could very well have chosen differently, as long as our quantum interpretation allows for randomness.

        Is acting randomly all we mean when we talk about "free will"? This is part of why I find the discussion of free will so nebulous.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Is acting randomly all we mean when we talk about "free will"?

          I don't think so.

          For starters, in saying that a collection of observations exhibits "random" behavior, we neither affirm nor deny the existence of an intelligible cause giving rise to those observations. It is simply a way of referring to unpredictability from a particular epistemic vantage point.

          Because desire is ultimately hidden from empirical investigation, the effects of agency do often manifest in unpredictable (i.e. "random" ways). Hence the need for statistical inference in population biology and sociology. But that just speaks to the fact that intentional causes are (partially) hidden, not that they are arbitrary.

          To summarize, I would describe the relationship between agency and randomness this way. Where we hypothesize agency we should expect randomness, but the converse is not true: where we observe randomness we can't safely infer agency (because, after all, impersonal deterministic causes can be hidden as well).

        • Stephen Edwards

          I wouldn't say that free will simply amounts to acting randomly. I would say that free will also amounts to the use of reason to make a decision (as in conscious reflection). A computer does not have reason at all. It is not conscious. So even if it were to have chosen differently because the choice lacks reason it also lacks free will.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I would venture the answer that there would be no difference in what you would predict for those two hypothetical people. All the antecedents that shape a person's choice would, by hypothesis, be identical for those two people, so the only potential predictor that would take different values for the two individuals would be something related to their "intellective desires" (I have to use scare quotes there because the one lacking free will doesn't actually have any intellective desire). But then, true desire is hidden from direct empirical investigation. We can ask people what they desire, and we can infer desires from words and actions, but that is necessarily inferential and usually based in large measure on trust. We can include putative proxies of desire as predictors in our models, but we can't ever really put desire itself in there as a predictor.

      Therefore, I think a more basic form of your question would compare two otherwise identical people where one had true desires and the other simply acted as if he had desires. Is there a scientific line of inquiry that could distinguish them in a third-person-verifiable way? If not, should we conclude that there is in fact no such thing as desire? Or is it reasonable to treat our first-person experiences and our received second-person accounts as part of the body of evidence relevant to the question?

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I think part of what makes this hard is trying to imagine how analogies of appetite and desire are supposed to work with respect to God.

    Given the classical understanding of the will as the intellective appetite, there is the question of how there can be something analogous to "appetite" that does not at the same time involve something analogous to "hunger". If God lacks nothing, isn't God's intellective appetite already sated? Is a sated appetite still an appetite? Does it make sense to speak of that which is already complete as having "desire"?

    I bet Benedict XVI's reflections on God's eros and agape are relevant to my question, but I'm not sure.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      One has to distinguish sense appetite from intellectual appetite. The movement of the sense appetites is what we call passion, and that is what we mostly think of in terms of appetite.

      But the term, "appetite," is taken from the Latin "ad" for "to or towards" and "petere" for "to seek." We can have intellectual appetite with no immediate passion at all. For example, we pay a traffic ticket simply because we don't want to face the legal consequences of not doing so. No great passion involved. An official pays off extortion because of the intellectual fear of having his crimes made public -- but this need entail no great physical passion at the moment.

      So, too, God's intellectual appetite is ordered to the good -- but without any sensitive passions involved at all. Of course, we all should understand that the Biblical references to God's passionate love for us are so written for the sake of our understanding and is not to be literally predicated of God.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        That's a good answer, thanks.

        Though, not to be a pain in the neck, but "passion" itself is a very richly layered and complex word. This may sound like glib word-play but I mean this sincerely: does it not seem odd on the face of it that a dispassionate God would most fully self-reveal in an event that we literally call (with good reason) "The Passion"?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Splendidly put question. But the answer is simple. While God has no passions, the human nature of the Second Person in Christ does. Thus well can the term "passion" be applied to what Our Savior suffered in his human nature on Good Friday.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yeah ... I accept the validity of those distinctions, but doesn't entirely resolve the tension for me. Whatever trinitarian and/or Chaledonian distinctions we might make, the idea is still: if you want to know and understand God, focus on the life of this Jesus of Nazareth. We can say that The Passion was experienced in the human nature of the Second Person, but that still has to be understood as in some sense revelatory of the First Person.

            (Not necessarily expecting you to resolve this for me. Just thinking "out loud".)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I can only point out that the Person of Christ is divine and he told us that "I and the Father are one."

            I do appreciate that last paragraph and do pray you can find a good theologian -- since that is not me! :)

          • David Nickol

            It struck me earlier today that God, as he is described in the OP and in Thomist philosophy in general, is far stranger than anything in science fiction. How Jesus could in any way be connected "person" to "person" to the God of Thomist philosophy is difficult to imagine. That God doesn't in any way sound to me like a "loving Father," let alone a "dad" or "daddy" (Abba).

            I think that in order to pray or otherwise try to "interact" with God, one has to scrap all the philosophical speculation and imagine him as a "person" within time.

            On another front, I checked two of my Jewish references today regarding Exodus 3:14, which is translated in the NAB as follows:

            God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.

            The two sources I checked The Jewish Study Bible and The Torah: A Modern Commentary ascribed no weighty philosophical meaning to the passage. Indeed, the NAB has a note reading in part as follows:

            The Septuagint has egō eimi ho ōn, “I am the One who is” (ōn being the participle of the verb “to be”). This can be taken as an assertion of God’s aseity or self-existence, and has been understood as such by the Church, since the time of the Fathers, as a true expression of God’s being, even though it is not precisely the meaning of the Hebrew.

            So here is another case in which Christianity has found something in Hebrew Scripture that actually wasn't there.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"I think that in order to pray or otherwise try to "interact" with God, one has to scrap all the philosophical speculation and imagine him as a "person" within time."

            Is it really so difficult to understand that God raised up human nature in the Person of Christ precisely to allow man to understand God's love for him in a human manner?

            Must we anthropomorphise God in order to make him acceptable to our imagination -- even if the true God transcends all human imagination? Thrusting God into time in his divine nature entails all the misunderstanding that my article shows can be avoided by a proper understanding of God and his relation to the world.

            Making God in our image and likeness is precisely the hallmark of superstitious primitive belief systems. The science of metaphysics avoids these errors, but still comports with the truths of God known through revelation.

            As for Exodus 3:14, does not John 8:58 make the same metaphysical point when Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I AM." And the Jews sought to attack him for claiming he was God. Also consider John 1:1, where the Word of God is seen to exist from all eternity before his incarnation in the coming of Christ.

            I see no problem for Christianity here, but only for attempts to reduce God to the level of man -- rather than man being raised up to the union with God that God wills for all men in the world to come.

          • Sorry if I appear a bit irritated in the following, Dr. Bonnette, but I believe this stuff really matters so I don't want to … pull my punches. My tens of thousands of hours debating atheists online has made me indefatigably locked to the evidence, but not evidence as they construe it: I look for how new understanding leads to increased capacity to love (agape) God, brother, sister, neighbor, and enemy. If I cannot detect such evidence in an ostensible understanding of God, I hold that understanding very tenuously. Maybe it's like string theory might be, needing more theoretical work before there is practical application. But without [value-laden!] evidence, I keep my skeptical hat firmly on.

            Is it really so difficult to understand that God raised up human nature in the Person of Christ precisely to allow man to understand God's love for him in a human manner?

            I'm tempted to say that we sorta-kinda should have predicted that God incarnate would act as Jesus did, from YHWH in the OT. Perhaps Simeon and Anna were the only ones who did. What I'm going for here is a crucial kind of continuity between YHWH and Jesus incarnate. Truly eschewing Marcionism is a nontrivial affair.

            Must we anthropomorphise God in order to make him acceptable to our imagination -- even if the true God transcends all human imagination? Thrusting God into time in his divine nature entails all the misunderstanding that my article shows can be avoided by a proper understanding of God and his relation to the world.

            I think this is radically unfair to David. Any human thinking is a thinking locked in finitude. There is absolutely nothing built into us which makes our thinking of the infinite any less perverted and broken than our thinking about the finite. Indeed, I am inclined to think that any brokenness in us is only amplified when we try to think of the infinite and not just the finite. The Enlightenment belief that our various errors will simply cancel each other out over time and/or across humans is simply arrogance.

            Making God in our image and likeness is precisely the hallmark of superstitious primitive belief systems. The science of metaphysics avoids these errors, but still comports with the truths of God known through revelation.

            I would only believe the bold upon empirical evidence of demonstrated superior ability to love in the ways God obviously values in the OT and NT. Is there such evidence? Jesus said to judge trees by their fruit, not their rational attractiveness. The Greeks may have loved their ideas and forms and thoughts, but as Claude Tresmontant convincingly argues in A Study of Hebrew Thought, the ancient Hebrews were intensely occupied with creation—matter and form. One does not escape error by moving from particular to universal; indeed, trusting too much in universals could well be idolatry!

            As to your first sentence, I worry that too much of the A/T understanding of God is based on a series of negations of various things we see as bad. Our emotions are unstable, therefore God cannot possibly have anything like them. Predicating one's responses on others can lead to being manipulated and so God is never acted upon. Sometimes not knowing something can harm my purposes and thus God knows everything. Existing in time can lead to decay and so God must be timeless. Now, I understand that A/T metaphysics has a rational construction which is ostensibly unguided by aversions to perceived badness. And you know I find A/T metaphysics very interesting. But if it were actually the core truth, wouldn't it more obviously provide a powerful aid for us to love others? Modern science has shown that reflective, theoretical understanding of reality gives us profound powers. I don't see that A/T metaphysics does this. I am thus more inclined to see it as a product of finite minds, approximately true in some domains, useful for certain purposes. Were it more important, surely we would find it more explicitly in scripture?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >" And you know I find A/T metaphysics very interesting. But if it were actually the core truth, wouldn't it more obviously provide a powerful aid for us to love others?

            I mean no disrespect to the concerns you express here, but I do think that our respective understanding of the role of metaphysics in human knowledge differs.

            Metaphysics (like speculative theology) is a speculative science. "Speculative" means that it is studied for its own sake, and not for the sake of something else.

            I could be quite wrong, but I get the impression from you that metaphysics should almost serve an apologetic or emotionally moving role in human knowledge. That role seems to me proper to the science of apologetics itself and to the mission given by Christ to go forth and teach all nations all things that he has commanded to be taught -- including the infinite love of God for man.

            Metaphysics does have a role in defending certain basic truths about knowledge, nature, and God which is played by no other human science. And, in doing so, I make no apologies for its ability to attain apodictic certitude in its own proper realm, even though it is merely human knowledge.

            I know that there are some people who want and need to know speculative truth. Metaphysics and epistemology can answer speculative questions that no other science can. Not everyone even wants to know those answers. But, for those who do -- be they believer or unbeliever -- there is no other science that can address these types of questions.

            Nor do I concede that just because metaphysics is a "product of finite minds," it cannot attain truth with certitude. The proof of this lies in doing the science itself, and one never knows these certitudes except by understanding them for himself.

            I applaud the work of scripture scholars, ministers, priests, pastoral theologians, practical philosophers, and all those who seek to spread the Gospel of Love to all mankind. Surely, revelation and Scripture provide fruitful material for such insights that persuade the human soul of God's love.

            But I must insist that there is also a role for purely passionless epistemological and metaphysical sciences to explore and answer the hard questions that speculative reason can pose and insists must be answerable.

            As long as there are human minds questing after such answers, the role of metaphysics will bear its own kind of fruit. And, as for Scripture, there is at least a hint of a foundation for this purely rational role given in Romans 1:20. Few may be directly moved to believe in God by a metaphysical demonstration of his existence. Still, such demonstrations are needed in order to confirm the intuitive convictions of many believers and to refute the skepticism of those who do not believe or do not know how belief can be rational.

            The role of the philosopher is not itself devoid of passion. The philosopher must have a driving passion for truth, and the human mind is never fully satisfied unless truth can be discovered both in this life to some degree -- in the afterlife in the vision of Absolute Truth Himself.

            Moreover, metaphysics and natural theology play a role in the discovery and defense of the preambula fidei -- the rational presuppositions, such as God's existence and veracity, which are needed in order to support the act of faith itself. For how could we know that the words of Scripture themselves are to be believed unless we have a prior way of knowing that God is not a liar?

          • David Nickol

            Must we anthropomorphise God in order to make him acceptable to our imagination . . . .

            Absolutely!

            He seems to me to be anthropomorphized throughout the entire Bible. I would love (or probably hate) to see someone rewrite the Bible starting with the creation accounts and the story of Adam and Eve depicting God as outside of time and willing things "from all eternity."

            When I was in Catholic high school, one of the prayers we said at the end (as I recall) of every school day began with Psalm 130:

            Out of the depths I call to you, LORD;
            Lord, hear my cry!
            May your ears be attentive
            to my cry for mercy.
            If you, LORD, keep account of sins,
            Lord, who can stand?
            But with you is forgiveness
            and so you are revered.

            None of that makes any sense addressed to a being out of time. And God even has ears!

            I am not saying that all of the Thomist theologizing about God isn't true. It may be, for all I know, although I remain agnostic about the existence of God. But I just don't see how human beings can imagine interacting with a being outside of time. How is a God who cannot change capable of forgiveness? How can Jesus say in Gethsemane, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." These are not words addressed to a being outside of time who already knows the past, present, and future.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I do not disagree with what you are saying, but a distinction must be made.

            I was talking about anthropomorphizing God in himself, whereas you are talking about doing it in reference to our perception of him as related to us in Scripture.

            It is one thing to say that God is angry with us for our sins, since we realize that we are subject to his justice. But it is another thing to say that God in himself suffers the passion of anger. Scripture writes in the first manner, so that we humans can better understand our situation in purely human terms. But the science of metaphysics tells us the ontological truth that God suffers no passions because he is Pure Act.

            There is no contradiction between these two ways of speaking, provided we understand which mode we are employing.

            As a metaphysician, I am primarily focused upon stating the objective truth of God's actual being, not on the way we speak of him from our human subjective point of view.

          • Stephen Edwards

            Personally, I don't see a problem. We can ask God in prayer for things to happen, and He is aware from all eternity what those requests are and responds to them from all eternity. Placing Him in time does not seem to change the interaction that much to me, it only places the feedback and petitioning in time.

          • David Nickol

            He is aware from all eternity what those requests are and responds to them from all eternity.

            The question in my mind is what is meant here by "from all eternity"? Although it sounds like it means something like "an eternity ago," it actually must mean something like "in his existence outside of time." (Or so it seems to me.) But as I understand it, a God who is outside of time and who cannot change is a God who cannot respond to requests. A request has to come first, and only then can there be a response. So it seems to me this is not a simple matter.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Although it sounds like it means something like "an eternity ago," it actually must mean something like "in his existence outside of time."

            The "outside" spatial metaphor is also problematic, because it seems to imply "outside and not inside", and the latter can't be said of an unconditioned and limitless God. So, I think to be more precise one needs to say something like: "in a manner not limited by time" or, "in a manner transcending time".

            As a loose analogy, the ocean is in the sandbar in the sense of permeation (i.e. the sand is always wet with ocean water), but the ocean is not in the sandbar in the sense of containment. The ocean transcends the sandbar, but it is intimately intermixed and interactive with it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "A request has to come first, and only then can there be a response. "

            You are implicitly assuming that God's actions are bounded by time. If time is a limit built into physical creation, God is not bound by that limit.

          • David Nickol

            I'm not sure I am assuming anything. I am trying to figure out how it can be said that a being unbound by time who cannot change can grant a request made by a human being. Recently I quoted the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." I don't see how we can make sense of such a request, especially on the part of God incarnate. It clearly implies a belief—at least a momentary one—that God can change his mind. You have argued that such biblical passages are written so that mere humans can have some understanding of what was going on. So the question becomes . . . what was really going on?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Without giving all the metaphysical underpinnings, the general outline of what is going on is that divine providence is taking place. This is the eternal world plan and its fulfillment in time. Since God is omniscient, he knows all things -- past, present, and future (to us), including those things that will happen contingently --- contingent on human free will actions, such as prayers needed in order to justify certain acts of mercy and grace. I know there is a lot of metaphysical explanation needed in some of this, but you asked what is going on and this is the general outline of the explanation.

            Even though the Word knew from all eternity that he would be born in time, live, and die for our sins, he still prayed to the Father as do we -- both because it is a fitting example of conformity to the divine will and because part of that divine governance entails asking for things that will not be granted. Nothing is wasted, since compliance with the will of God is always rewarded in the end.

            Jesus knew full well what the Father's will was, because it was his as well -- thus the careful wording, "not my will but yours be done." Remember he had both a divine and a human will. Sometimes we say, "I wish something were otherwise, but I know that what is best does not allow my wish to be fulfilled."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Respectfully, I think this is a confusing way of phrasing things.

            We usually use the name Jesus to refer to Christ in his human nature, so when you say something like: "Jesus knew full well what the Father's will was, because it was his as well" I think you may risk inadvertently promoting a form of Apollinarism.

            Conversely, when you speak of what the "Word knew from all eternity", you can only be referring to Christ in his divine nature. But it is not true that The [eternal] Word was born in time, live[d], and die[d] for our sins. What is true is that "The Word made flesh (where the italicized clarifies that we are not referring to the eternal Word)" was born in time, live[d], and die[d] for our sins.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your points are well taken and I appreciate the clarifications in the exact use of the names here.

            This underlines the great complexity of this subject and the fact that I am not a theologian. My primary concern, though, is to show that the doctrine in no way contains a metaphysical contradiction -- as has been alleged.

            Nonetheless, there are precise denotations and connotations that need to be carefully preserved in order to avoid any misunderstandings, and -- as I said -- your corrections on these nuances are important and appreciated.

            My article does not address the Trinity or Incarnation because it is a philosophical piece. Others have raised theological issues which I did not address. Any further articles I may write for this site will also remain within purely philosophical themes, since that is the proper field of my background and education. Nonetheless, it is a properly philosophical task to test the coherence of doctrines from any discipline.

          • Stephen Edwards

            God answers all at once from His existence outside of time. He has known from all eternity what the requests would be and has decided to respond from all eternity in the way that He has. He still responds to requests, only He did it all at once.

          • David Nickol

            You still haven't explained what you mean by "from all eternity." It sounds like it means something like "from the beginning of time," or maybe even "before the beginning of time."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You exhibit a good grasp of many elements of Catholic teaching. So, I am a bit surprised that you would be asking for an explanation of "from all eternity." You know that the concept of eternity is difficult to express in human language and our understanding, since we are creatures immersed in and confined by time. But I think you really know what it meant by "from all eternity." If you don't, what really confuses you about it?

          • David Nickol

            So, I am a bit surprised that you would be asking for an explanation of "from all eternity."

            I was asking Stephen Edwards what he meant by "from all eternity." As with almost anything about Catholic teaching, or Thomist philosophy, there are a vast array of sources I could consult when I want to know "official" teaching. And, indeed, I frequently suspect we might all spend our time more profitably by just reading good books than by conversing here with each other. But I would like to think that there may possibly be something to be gained by having these exchanges, and one of those things is to find out what individual believers themselves understand to be the meanings of the formulas they recite.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I mean from outside of time all at once. I don't mean a long time ago.

          • OMG

            At http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-name-of-god, the Jewish Virtual Library explains Exodus 3:14. In Jewish thought a name conveys nature and essence. A name "represents the history and reputation of the being named."

            A person's reputation is designated by his "good name." A company's "good will," is often considered a tangible asset, with proprietary rights of use. The Hebrew concept of a name is similar.

            When Moses asks God His "name," Moses is asking "who are you; what are you like; what have you done." God responds that he "is."

            As our understandings of science, of culture, of many fields of endeavor have developed over time, so Christianity has developed from Judaism. Jesus was Jewish.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think I share some of your reservations / doubts / objections, but in my mind it's not quite as problematic as all that.

            It does seem to be the case that certain understandings of petitionary prayer are rendered problematic by the conclusion that God is impassible. Although petitionary prayer sometimes seems to me to be a natural and correct way to relate to God, nonetheless I have to confess that if I try to analyze that activity, I don't quite know what the hell I am doing. On analysis it seems a bit like having a conversation with a person who keeps saying, "Yeah, yeah, I already know all that", and that hardly seems like a personal and compassionate response.

            However, aside from my conceptual problems with petitionary prayer, I would say that in general I have no problem relating to the source of all being as a loving father. Whatever is the source of all being surely knows the depths of my desires and my being in the most intimate possible way, with an intimacy akin to (but infinitely exceeding) the intimacy of a parent and a child. Far from finding it problematic to refer to the source of all being as "daddy", I have at times found it irresistible to respond to the depth of being with some sort of intimate relational proto-word like "baba", "mama", "dada". On that basis, I am fairly convinced that Jesus and Aquinas were both talking about the same thing, though obviously in very different ways.

            To summarize, I think it is more likely that most of us need to refine our understanding of petitionary prayer, rather than scrapping our classical philosophical understanding of God.

            Perhaps Doctor Bonnette could pen an post on the metaphysics of petitionary prayer in relation to God's impassibility?

            P.S. I was vaguely aware that some scholars had problematized the Christian philosophical reading of Exodus 3:14, and I'm in interested in learning more about that. However, I don't think that particular passage is a decisive pivot anyway: we could still look to Genesis 1 as painting a picture in which it is reasonably clear that God is the source of all creation (and time), rather than as something in creation (and time).

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not sure I would want to attempt an entire article on the efficacy of petitionary prayer, but I see no particular problem in relation to God's impassibility.

            God knows from all eternity the prayers we will offer to him and thus in justice may grant us positive responses according to his will. This is merely part of divine providence.

          • It does seem to be the case that certain understandings of petitionary prayer are rendered problematic by the conclusion that God is impassible. Although petitionary prayer sometimes seems to me to be a natural and correct way to relate to God, nonetheless I have to confess that if I try to analyze that activity, I don't quite know what the hell I am doing. On analysis it seems a bit like having a conversation with a person who keeps saying, "Yeah, yeah, I already know all that", and that hardly seems like a personal and compassionate response.

            But … is that a good model of how God actually interacts with us, going by the OT and NT? Is that our model of how a good parent interacts with his/her children? Just imagine an adventure in the woods with a five-year-old son who is in awe at the littlest things; is the best parental response "Yeah, yeah, I already know all that"? Now don't get me wrong—I understand that traditional understandings of omniscience make that a very predictable simulation of God. But it seems emotionally all wrong. Instead of God having a beautiful, wonderful creation he is excited for us to explore with him, we have an exasperated God.

            It is my firm belief that better imitating God ought to result in our experiencing more goodness in reality and in our relationships with others. There will often be a temporary cost in suffering—the butcher's bill for sin, as it were—but there is a definite forecast in both the intellectual and affective domains of betterness. I'm fully open to MacIntyre's "To move towards the good is to move in time and that movement may itself involve new understandings of what it is to move towards the good." (After Virtue, 176) But shouldn't there also be a kind of continuity, that our earlier affective predictions are not completely violated and subverted? And yet, I struggle to see how fully shaping myself to God as understood by A/T philosophers satisfies this continuity condition.

            Ok, let me push back against my argument now. Suppose that we view God as somehow not knowing about our needs, such that he has to wait for us to ask. Well, we know that sometimes we ask for the wrong things. But if our insides are opaque to God, maybe he'll give us the wrong things and make everything worse! If God is to be maximally good, then he has to somehow not make those mistakes. Traditional conceptions of omniscience and impassibility accomplish this. But perhaps they are not the only ways. Perhaps those are only first-order approximations. (Strictly speaking, one would speak of kenotic self-limiting when it comes to omniscience & omnipotence, and self-chosen exposure to hurt when it comes to impassibility.) This all being said, if our intellects are not error-free, then exactly what we think the problem is could be wrong and then exactly what we think the solution is would likely also be wrong. Fortunately, successive approximation seems to work in theology as it does in science. :-)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Just imagine an adventure in the woods with a five-year-old son who is in awe at the littlest things; is the best parental response "Yeah, yeah, I already know all that"? Now don't get me wrong—I understand that traditional understandings of omniscience make that a very predictable simulation of God. But it seems emotionally all wrong.

            Exactly. This what I was trying to get at. I know there is something more going on in petitionary prayer, but my understanding of omniscience and impassibility doesn't leave any obvious conceptual space for whatever that "more" is.

            ... kenotic self-limiting when it comes to omniscience & omnipotence, and self-chosen exposure to hurt when it comes to impassibility.

            I agree. I think that's probably a good direction to move in thinking about this.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I have mentioned this before, though maybe not to you: the movie Her was a neat little reflection on the connection between finitude and the seemingly necessary "shape" of love. If you haven't seen it, the (human) guy starts dating an operating system. It goes pretty well for a while, but then the OS finds ways to run on a larger and larger network of computers (or something like that) and as "her" computational resources grow, she eventually starts having relationships with other people (and maybe with other OS's, I forget). Her availability for relating to him isn't impaired, but what is of course lost is the particularity of their earlier relationship. It makes you wonder if finitude and self-limitation aren't just the necessary flip-side of a love that is particular and personal.

          • No I've not come across Her; thank you. It kind of reminds me of ELIZA. I will check it out. Dunno if I could convince my wife to watch it with me …

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I have fun memories of ELIZA. My dad was a high school math teacher, and when his school bought a couple TRS-80 computers in the very early 1980s, he sort of just became the computer science department by virtue of the fact that he was the only one to take them home and figure them out. So, without ever buying one ourselves, we were the first family I knew to have a "microcomputer" in the house, when I was about 11 or 12 years old. My friend and I would write BASIC programs, play Raaka-Tu, and consult ELIZA. Whatever may have been ELIZA's faults, she probably had the right idea with some of her Freudian inquiry into our sexual anxieties :-)

            From those first forays on our borrowed computer, my friend went on to study AI at Stanford and then became part of a very small team that implemented Lumiere as the backbone of the first iteration of Microsoft Office Help (No, you can't blame him for "Clippy" per se, but he did write a lot of Clippy's "brain").

            Tragically, I didn't pursue my love of computing with the same vigor that my friend did, instead turning my attention to doomed pursuits with sports, girls, and guitar playing. Had I followed my friend's path, perhaps I too could have retired at age 30!

            ETA: Notwithstanding my high-school distractibility, I did choose a career path that has always involved some degree of programming. As a result I have been a fairly regular EMACS user for most of my career, and was delighted when someone pointed out to me that I could invoke good old ELIZA in EMACS with "M-x doctor".

          • I think that in order to pray or otherwise try to "interact" with God, one has to scrap all the philosophical speculation and imagine him as a "person" within time.

            There are some potential problems with this, which David Bentley Hart briefly describes.[1] (transcript) The worse we understand 'personhood', the less helpful it is to think of God as a person. So for example:

            “You give your mouth free rein for evil,
                and your tongue frames deceit.
            You sit and speak against your brother;
                you slander your own mother’s son.
            These things you have done, and I have been silent;
                you thought that I was one like yourself.
            But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
            (Psalm 50:19–21)

            It seems that one has to do some philosophical speculation to understand what the above is even saying. I'm skeptical that this goes all the way to the kind of speculation we see from A/T Catholics, but unless we refuse to in any way question ourselves—really, deeply, question ourselves—we would seem to need to do at least a small-signal version of what we see in the OP.

            Perhaps the contention is this: when humans are purified of false beliefs and evil inclinations (the two are often intertwined), will they be anything like our conceptions of what they will be like? That is, how purified and accurate are our concepts? (We know our behavior has some serious problems.) The authors of the Bible take stances on this; for example:

            Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2–3)

            Am I making any sense?

            [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSHoDqF0xaY

          • Dennis Bonnette

            “It struck me earlier today that God, as he is described in the OP and in Thomist philosophy in general, is far stranger than anything in science fiction.”

            Is that really problematic? My understanding of classical Christian mysticism is that the incomprehensibility of God is part of its spirituality.

            “How Jesus could in any way be connected "person" to "person" to the God of Thomist philosophy is difficult to imagine.”

            Again, is that really surprising? If God is just some kind of a transcendent human mind, then the Incarnation is redundant. Christ is the living analog of God. He is God translating himself into human nature as far as it can be done.

            “That God doesn't in any way sound to me like a ‘loving Father,’ let alone a ‘dad’ or ‘daddy’ (Abba).”

            God is not a human father. Rather human fatherhood is modeled on the mystery that is God. Human fatherhood is the pale copy. Not vice versa.

            “I think that in order to pray or otherwise try to ‘interact’ with God, one has to scrap all the philosophical speculation and imagine him as a ‘person’ within time.”

            Unfortunately, Christian mystics, such as John of the Cross and other spiritual writers, including Jewish ones, would say that to take such “imaginings” literally would be idolatry. It is far easier to love God than it is to understand him.

            Regarding the meaning of Exodus 3:14, you cite a note in the NAB translation:

            “The Septuagint has egō eimi ho ōn, ‘I am the One who is’ (ōn being the participle of the verb ‘to be’). This can be taken as an assertion of God’s aseity or self-existence, and has been understood as such by the Church, since the time of the Fathers, as a true expression of God’s being, even though it is not precisely the meaning of the Hebrew.”

            Translations are sometimes also an interpretation. The Septuagint by its translation develops the deeper meaning of the text.

            “So here is another case in which Christianity has found something in Hebrew Scripture that actually wasn't there.”

            Here you appear to read Hebrew Scripture from a sola scriptura perspective, which is not in the Hebrew tradition. Moses Maimonides was a classical theist and he taught the aseity of God even before St. Thomas did. In fact, many followers of St. Thomas do not realize just how much he “borrowed” from the Jewish Maimonides.

          • Stephen Edwards

            God reveals His person hood in the Passion by willing to undergo the suffering for our sake. I don't see a difficulty with that personally.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I understand that love proves itself in suffering, and that The Passion can therefore be understood as a revelation of the depth of divine love. The conceptual problem is that suffering seems to inherently involve a lack or a deficit. Lovers suffer ("passionately") because they cannot be together, and so forth. But (in the classical understanding, at least) nothing is lacking in God, so in what sense is God capable of suffering for love?

          • Stephen Edwards

            I agree that God does not lack. But He was willing in His divine person hood to undergo human suffering. So in that sense He demonstrated His willingness to undergo suffering. But I think it is also important to consider that all positive attributes are found within God, so if there is a positive attribute to suffering then it seems that that would be found within God.

  • Craig Roberts

    The problem with God is that he has no problems. Humans can't relate to (have compassion for) a 'person' that does NOT have any problems.

  • VicqRuiz

    One can reason logically to the conclusion that there is a God, and that that God must have a particular set of attributes.

    However, there is no way to logically reason to the conclusion that the God of the Hebrew scriptures is that same God. Particularly since the God of those scriptures is described as being changeable, and as causing evil (among other anthropomorphic attributes).

    It might be possible to make the case that there is a "God above God" who is the entity described and "proven" by the scholastics, and that the God described in the Bible is a lesser, created, imperfect being.

    • Stephen Edwards

      Or one can recognize that God revealed Himself imperfectly at times through Scripture in order to meet the understanding of His audience.

      • VicqRuiz

        God revealed Himself imperfectly at times through Scripture

        This must be the point where you tell me that someone in the Vatican, working on the next edition of the catechism, has a better understanding of God than did an ancient Israelite to whom God actually spoke in person.

        • Stephen Edwards

          The Church teaches that God spoke through human words in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. While God may have directly revealed Himself at certain periods of time (like to Moses etc.) the Bible is not God's direct speech. The Bible is God's truth told in human language.

          • VicqRuiz

            Okay then, let's get specific.

            The Bible famously tells of how God commanded Abraham to take his son up to the altar, lay him down upon it and cut his throat in the same way as he would cut the throat of a sacrificial lamb or calf.

            Fact, or folklore?

          • Stephen Edwards

            It depends upon what the story is meant to communicate. It is often taken as a factual story, but it could be a combination of fact and legend. I don't know, to me it's a debatable point.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            So exactly what is the scandal, presuming we take it as fact?

            Does not God have total dominion over life and death? Are we not all under a sentence of death by being mortal? The correct definition of murder is not simply "killing," but the deliberate and unauthorized taking of an innocent human life.

            God alone can authorize the taking of a life -- and ultimately he authorizes that all of us shall die. You assume that any taking of a human life is an outrageous denial of human rights? Does this apply to abortion as well in your opinion?

            What is really at issue here is whether God's command to Abram was licit in itself or something intrinsically evil. If it was licit that God take Isaac's life, then it was licit that he instruct Abram to act as his instrumental cause. The fact that he stopped him is irrelevant, since God could never order that an intrinsically evil act be performed in the first place.

            The act was not intrinsically evil and God had every right to order it. Perhaps, what bothers you is that there exists a God who does have dominion over life and death.

            Recall, that, if you accept Scripture as genuine revelation, this was not how things were intended by God to be in the first place, but someone's misuse of free will changed the course of history.

          • VicqRuiz

            If God's command to take Isaac's life overrides the God-given moral principle that the taking of innocent life is not licit, then we have arrived at full-fledged divine command theory. What God commands is licit, because God's nature is such that he cannot give an illicit command.

            Usually the Euthypro dilemma is the counter to this. I prefer to suggest that your argument might be used by the housekeeping crew at an Aztec temple. "Look, I know this job makes you a bit queasy. But remember, we work for Tezcatlipoca. He's the boss, and what he says goes."

            And for what it's worth, I am opposed to any abortion past the point of "quickening", which in past centuries was also the position of the Catholic Church. I reject both the idea that the fetus is mere tissue until the moment of birth, and the idea that two conjoined cells are a human being.

            (Edit)

            Perhaps, what bothers you is that there exists a God who does have dominion over life and death.

            No. What I reject is the idea of a God who could do things, or order the doing of things, that we would consider monstrous if done by one human to another, and and the same time demand that we consider him "good" and "loving".

            A God who has dominion of life and death, and uses his power as a child uses his power over captured insects in a jar, seems to me quite consistent with the world as I observe it.

          • David Nickol

            You have made a very powerful case here. If God has "total dominion over life and death," and if he can delegate, then anyone who genuinely believes God wants him or her to kill innocent people can do so in good conscience. Occasionally there is a story in the news about a mother who kills one or more children because (she says) God wanted her to do so.

            Killing an innocent child is indeed intrinsically evil, and not even God can give permission to commit an intrinsic evil.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are confusing a properly formed conscience with a badly warped one.

            You are right that no intrinsic evil can ever be licit. But you have not proven that God's taking back the life that he has given is intrinsically evil.

          • David Nickol

            You are confusing a properly formed conscience with a badly warped one.

            I don't think there can be properly formed consciences if one believes that God can order an individual to take the life of an innocent human being. How do we judge whether the conscience of an ancient Israeli solder is warped or not if he slaughters babies because Saul told him that God wants him to do it?

            I think a good rule to follow is that if you think God is commanding you to kill an innocent person, no matter how persuasive the alleged voice of God is, you can safely assume it is not God.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think I have essentially responded to this point in my reply to you about five comments above.

          • Rob Abney

            I think that you have missed the essence of the two stories. Abram did not kill Isaac although he demonstrated that he would obey the word of God. Saul did not obey the word of God because he was beginning to worship himself. Abram had a habit of obeying God so he knew it was God making the command. Saul did not have that habit so he easily persuaded himself that he knew better.
            So your advice to assume that God is not talking to you or that you know better is a Saulian solution rather than an Abrahamic solution.

          • David Nickol

            I think that you have missed the essence of the two stories.

            The essence of the stories is not what is at issue.

            So your advice to assume that God is not talking to you or that you know better is a Saulian solution rather than an Abrahamic solution.

            Surely we are to understand from the biblical accounts that Abraham was right to obey God and that Saul was wrong not to obey God. But tell me, what is your advice to people who sincerely believe the voice of God is telling them to kill innocent children. Should they trust that voice?

          • Rob Abney

            You could ask me if I still beat my wife, you seem to like limiting the options.
            The situation you are describing has occurred very few times in history and only as part of the deposit of faith. So it’s very highly unlikely to happen.
            But God does communicate with us on some level everyday and most of us ignore Him so, again you should not be too concerned that it will happen.

          • David Nickol

            You could ask me if I still beat my wife, you seem to like limiting the options.

            It is not a matter of limiting the options. It is a matter of sticking to the point under discussion, which you are apparently unwilling to do—and admittedly it is a very difficult question.

            The issue is twofold. Is the the direct killing of an innocent human being by another human being an intrinsic evil? What is your answer? If so, if a human being is commanded by God to kill another innocent human being, is he or she obliged to obey, and if so, is he or she morally blameless? What is your answer.

            I acknowledge that these matters are not the point of the various, but they are nevertheless worthy of discussion.

            But God does communicate with us on some level everyday and most of us ignore Him so, again you should not be too concerned that it will happen.

            Whether or not God communicates with us, there are many people who sincerely believe God wants them to act in a certain way, and sometimes what they feel obliged to do is wrong (for example, killing abortion doctors). One of the issues here for people of faith is this: If you believe God is telling you to do something, how can you be sure the communication is really from God?

            Also, there is a more philosophical or theological question raised by VicqRuiz: If the deliberate killing of an innocent person is wrong when God says not to do it, but right when
            God says to do it, isn't that "divine command theory"?

          • Rob Abney

            Can you give a real situation rather than a hypothetical? Abram didn’t kill Isaac and Saul was engaged in acceptable war theory at the time.

            The surest way to know if God is communicating with you is by spending a lot of time in prayer and fasting and to receive frequent sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist.

          • David Nickol

            Can you give a real situation rather than a hypothetical?

            Unless you don't believe 1 Samuel 15, the story of Saul and the Amalekites is not hypothetical. Also, the armies of Saul really did carry out the slaughter of the Amalekite people (except the king). They spared some cattle to later be sacrificed. So in the story, God commands the slaughter of men, women, children, and cattle, and Saul's disobedience is that he slaughtered all the people but not the cattle.

            and Saul was engaged in acceptable war theory at the time . . .

            Are you implying that when Samuel tells Saul that God commands him to slaughter the Amalekites, Samuel is not to be understood to be speaking on behalf of God, but rather telling Saul what he (Samuel) fallibly and incorrectly believes the will of God to be? I am perfectly willing to accept that as a solution, but I can't imagine you are. My Dictionary of the Bible (by John L. McKenzie, S.J.) says the following:

            The practice of the ban, like a number of other features of ancient Hb law and custom, is a survival from primitive and more barbarous times which finally disappeared with the growth of a more enlightened morality and a more civilized manner of life. These mass murders of hostile people were doubtless done in good faith by the early Hebrews, but they cannot be justified morally in any way by the fact that the Hebrews believed that the action was pleasing to God, and the growth of the Hb understanding in this respect is exhibited in the historical books, where the practice does not appear after the war of Saul with the Amalekites.

            I think that is a perfectly acceptable interpretation, but you and Dr. Bonnette seem to take the position that God (through Samuel) really did command Saul to slaughter all the men, women, and children; that God had every right to command slaughter; and that if Saul was commanded to slaughter men, women, children, and cattle, it was sinful of Saul not to carry out those instructions to the letter.

          • Rob Abney

            you and Dr. Bonnette seem to take the position that God (through Samuel) really did command Saul to slaughter all the men, women, and children; that God had every right to command slaughter; and that if Saul was commanded to slaughter men, women, children, and cattle, it was sinful of Saul not to carry out those instructions to the letter.

            True, I agree, but I don’t speak for Dr. B.
            You are mainly concerned with innocent children but later in Samuel the young David slays Goliath and women can bring down armies as demonstrated by Judith’s beheading of Holofernes!
            Can you get be a modern day example of this problem?

          • David Nickol

            You are mainly concerned with innocent children but later in Samuel the young David slays Goliath and women can bring down armies as demonstrated by Judith’s beheading of Holofernes!

            Are you implying that in wartime, there are no innocent civilians?

            The Catechism says:

            2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation." A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons - to commit such crimes.

            You said above

            Can you get be a modern day example of this problem?

            We are discussing the Bible, so I am not going to try to invent a modern example. But I don't understand how anyone can think that the direct, deliberate killing of innocent human beings is not always wrong. If it can be justified by claiming God has commanded it himself, it can be justified by claiming that God wants it to be done in some specific case.

            I don't want to get into a discussion of abortion here, but I have at times argued with those who are completely dismissive of the Catholic position on abortion by saying that it is certainly not a bad rule that it is never permissible for human beings to deliberately and directly take the life of an innocent human being. I think you would have to argue that it is a bad rule, because there are exceptions. Directly and deliberately taking the life of innocent human beings is not always wrong. It is virtuous to obey if God commands you to do it.

          • Rob Abney

            I understand that you are strongly in favor of life, but I’m almost certain that Abraham was even more strongly opposed to killing Isaac. Another point of the story is that you should value your relationship with God over everything, even things you consider the most sacred to you.

          • David Nickol

            True, I agree, but I don’t speak for Dr. B.

            We periodically get reminders here that Catholics are not fundamentalists. I think some Catholics (for example, the author of my Bible dictionary, a Jesuit priest) would consider your reading of 1 Samuel to be a little too far on the side of fundamentalism. Surely the religious point of the story of Samuel and Saul is that one is required to obey God, not that it is morally good to slaughter the innocent if God commands it.

          • Rob Abney

            Surely the religious point of the story of Samuel and Saul is that one is required to obey God, not that it is morally good to slaughter the innocent if God commands it.

            For the record, I did say obedience was the essence of both stories.

          • David Nickol

            For the record, I did say obedience was the essence of both stories.

            And nobody disagreed with you. The problem is that, like a fundamentalist, you do not limit yourself to believing that the Bible sometimes teaches only the "essence" of the stories it tells. If the Bible says the sun and moon stood still in the sky (for Joshua), you apparently believe that most be literally true.

          • Rob Abney

            You keep wanting to engage in hypotheticals which is a good way to avoid committing to a strong opinion one way or another. Now you can guess how I believe on a certain issue without asking me, I call that prejudiced, you are pre-judging.
            Here’s where you and I differ, although we both are against killing of innocent children I have as my highest standard a need to obey God, you do not have that standard, you have another standard to guide your decisions which I won’t try to guess or assume.

          • David Nickol

            I have as my highest standard a need to obey God, you do not have that standard, you have another standard to guide your decisions which I won’t try to guess or assume.

            Let me make this perfectly clear. If the God of Judaism and Catholicism exists (and for the purposes of this discussion, I am taking that as a given), then any command God gives must be obeyed. It would be absolute folly to believe in the God of Judaism and Catholicism and even consider disobeying God. Everyone is under the most serious of all obligations to first and foremost conform to the will of God. To do otherwise would be the highest form of self-destructive behavior imaginable.

            The issue here is not whether to obey God. It is whether God would ever command genocide. I say he would not, and you and Dr. Bonnette seem to say he would, and if he did, then he would have to be obeyed.

          • Rob Abney

            "God had an ancient quarrel with the Amalekites, for the injuries they did to his people Israel when he brought them out of Egypt. We have the story, Exod. 17:8-16, and the crime is aggravated, Deut. 25:18. He basely smote the hindmost of them, and feared not God. God then swore that he would have war with Amalek from generation to generation, and that in process of time he would utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek; this is the work that Saul is now appointed to do (1 Sam. 15:3)" Matthew Henry commentary.

            Everyone is under the most serious of all obligations to first and foremost conform to the will of God. To do otherwise would be the highest form of self-destructive behavior imaginable.

            I agree, and that is how I understand God to "command" that the Amalekites be wiped out. Samuel the prophet is the one who gives the command, he has authority over Saul, Saul has authority over his soldiers. If a soldier disobeyed then he answered to Saul, when Saul disobeyed he answered to Samuel who spoke for God because he knew Him intimately, he knew God's will.
            In my opinion the Amalekites were responsible for the killing because of their previous and often-repeated actions against God and His people.

          • David Nickol

            You could ask me if I still beat my wife, you seem to like limiting the options.

            Just a brief comment here on the above statement. It is uncalled for. I in no way asked you a "loaded question" or tried to entrap you. Your comment to me would be quite complete if you had omitted this remark, which amounts to an accusation.

          • Rob Abney

            I don’t see it that way. I was simply illustrating a dilemma.

          • VicqRuiz

            Exactly. A God who would command the death of an innocent child is not a God whom I can worship.

          • Rob Abney

            Would you worship a God who can give eternal life to everyone, innocent or guilty, young or old?

          • VicqRuiz

            Not if that God also commanded evil.

          • Rob Abney

            Do you consider it evil to kill and eat animals?

          • VicqRuiz

            If they are killed humanely, no, not at all.

          • Rob Abney

            Why are you upset about Isaac being threatened to be killed but you are not bothered by animals being killed?

          • VicqRuiz

            I can think of two worldviews in which the difference between Isaac and a dumb animal might not matter.

            First, a naturalist atheist worldview in which humans are animals, animals with a few extra evolutionary tweaks but animals all the same.

            Second, a theist worldview in which God, who is the grounding of all that's good, can properly command the slaughter of a child just as he commands the slaughter of a calf, since he created them both.

            I hold to neither of these worldviews. I view humans as above animals, and the command to slaughter a child as evil in a way that commanding the slaughter of a calf is not.

          • Rob Abney

            Good answer. Follow up question: on what basis do you consider humans more valuable than animals? Is it just because you are a human or is it because we are made in the image of God or something else?

          • VicqRuiz

            Fair enough. I do believe that man's awareness of himself, his questions about his past and his future, as well as his sense of right and wrong, differentiate himself from the animals.

            It's because I don't know where those things come from that I am an agnostic-slash-deist rather than either a theist or atheist.

            I do agree with the atheists that we cannot be made in the image of a God that would command a man to cut hit son's own throat.

          • Rob Abney

            This is what we all want to avoid, inconsistencies; iow we want to know the truth and follow the truth. I really liked Peterson's interpretation of Cain and Abel, where he explained that Cain killed Abel because Abel represented what Cain saw as the truth, yet he couldn't achieve it so he killed the truth.
            You reject a story that exemplifies deep truths (and did not result in a death) but at the same time you arbitrarily (without reason) approve of actual killing of animals and very young humans. I don't say that to provoke you, we've had a number of discussions, I want you to find the answers you are searching for. Keep listening to Peterson, you might like his Lafayette college interview where he describes one's religion as "what you act out" based upon your implicit axioms. He doesn't think any of us know ourselves well enough to say, with any precision, what we believe in.

          • VicqRuiz

            You reject a story that exemplifies deep truths

            I don't reject the truths about human nature that are embedded in this or other bible stories. And I find Peterson's analyses of them to be very much on point.

            But unless those stories are just very instructive and very meaningful myths, then God is in many ways a jealous, capricious Big Guy in the Sky with a Beard, which is exactly what Christians keep telling me he is not.

          • Rob Abney

            You've got a long way go to develop your understanding to an adult level if that's what you believe. Do you also believe that the Holy Spirit is a bird? Maybe you could catch Him and eat Him!

          • VicqRuiz

            Let's wrap this one up for now before it gets testy. See you around.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            What is this matter of acts being "intrinsically evil?" Do you realize that is using the terminology of natural law ethics, whose metaphysical niche is entirely that of classical theism?

            As Jean-Paul Sartre well recognized, if things have natures to be respected, it is because there is a God who fixes their content and limits.

          • David Nickol

            What is this matter of acts being "intrinsically evil?" Do you realize that is using the terminology of natural law ethics, whose metaphysical niche is entirely that of classical theism?

            I am quite familiar with the idea of intrinsic evil as it is used in Catholic moral theology, and of course I used the term deliberately. (I am not saying I am in perfect agreement with the concept, but I believe I understand the Catholic point of view.) If the deliberate taking of an innocent human life is not intrinsically evil, then I don't know what is. And I don't think an alleged command from God lets anyone off the hook. Nor do I believe (if Catholic moral theology is true) God would command a human being to commit an intrinsically evil act.

            The idea that killing can be acceptable if God orders it is particularly disturbing in 1 Samuel 15 when God orders Saul to slaughter the men, women, children, and cattle of the Amalekites. This is God delegating to Saul, who in turn has to delegate to thousands of soldiers, who are apparently supposed to believe Saul when he tells them that God has commanded them to commit genocide. It is one thing to receive a command from God. It is another thing to hear from a commanding officer that he has received a command from God that he is passing along.

            God is totally sovereign not over life and death, but over everything, If he can grant a license to an army to slaughter innocent children, then certainly he can command them to rape and torture (two other intrinsic evils).

            I have no problem with the idea of God deciding who is to die, and when, and how. So I don't have any moral objections to the Flood (although I don't believe it is a historical occurrence). But I find it nearly impossible to believe that the idea of God delegating his powers over life and death by ordering the killing of innocent human beings can be defended.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >“If the deliberate taking of an innocent human life is not intrinsically evil, then I don't know what is.”
            >“I have no problem with the idea of God deciding who is to die, and when, and how. So I don't have any moral objections to the Flood (although I don't believe it is a historical occurrence).”

            These two statements you make contradict each other.

            You have no problem with the Flood. Yet, unless you assume that every human being at the time was evil (no children involved?), God must have taken innocent human life in the Flood. Yet, taking innocent life is always evil, you say.

            So, God can licitly take innocent human life, after all.

            “ But I find it nearly impossible to believe that the idea of God delegating his powers over life and death by ordering the killing of innocent human beings can be defended.”

            Well, if God CAN licitly take human life – as you affirm, why cannot he order others to do the same on his behalf? Is it the question of “delegating his powers?” It is not evident that he ever simply “delegated his powers,” since presumably any biblical figure who acted licitly did so precisely at the direct command of God. Your own wording above begins by saying “God ORDERS Saul….” Later, you call it “delegating.”

            If it is on the direct command of God, I see no ethical difference than if God himself directly acts. Surely, creatures have the right to obey their God in fulfilling his licit actions.

            A side note in ethics: As to the notion of what is “intrinsically evil,” the simple act of taking a human life is NOT intrinsically evil. Otherwise, self-defense could not permit doing so even to the point if killing the assailant. That is why we add the notion of innocence or guilt in determining the liceity of taking a life. And that is why the authority of God trumps our complaints about the taking of innocent life – as your own words above admit.

            Unlike the taking of a human life in proper circumstances, natural law ethics teaches that rape and torture ARE intrinsically evil acts that no broader context can justify. Natural law is not a positivistic ethics, such as Luther held, which says God could make adultery a moral good or make 2 + 2 = 5.

          • David Nickol

            A side note in ethics: As to the notion of what is “intrinsically evil,” the simple act of taking a human life is NOT intrinsically evil.

            This is very much a side note, since we are talking only about murder, and I never maintained that taking a human life was intrinsically evil. I have made it clear that I am discussing the act of one human being directly and deliberately taking the life of another, innocent, human being.

            And regarding self-defense, it is my understanding of Catholic moral theology (influenced greatly by Aquinas) that when it comes to self-defense, the intention must never be to kill, but to use the minimum force necessary to protect oneself. If only deadly force will be effective, then it is permissible to use it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are quite correct in your analysis here -- up to the point at which we disagree. We describe abortion as intrinsically evil for the simple reason that the usual definition of murder is simply the direct killing of an innocent human being.

            It appears that our one disagreement is over whether God has the power and right to take any life -- innocent or not -- and whether he can delegate that authority.

            If you grant that God has that right, I do not find it coherent to say he cannot delegate that authority -- despite all the hypothetical instances in which it might be false or abused.

            To my mind, the problem is that you define murder exactly as do I -- with that single unusual exception of the added qualification about "authorization by God," who is the Author of Life.

          • David Nickol

            Well, if God CAN licitly take human life – as you affirm, why cannot he order others to do the same on his behalf?

            The simple answer, it seems to me, is that there is an absolute prohibition on the taking of innocent human life, that is important enough to be included in the Decalogue. I am aware of the fact that the commandment is against murder, not simply killing, but I do not understand how it can be said that the direct, deliberate taking of a human being by another human being is not murder, even if God commands it (which in my opinion he would not).

            Direct abortion is an intrinsic evil. Would you maintain that one of Saul's soldiers, commanded by God to slaughter the Amalekite men, women, and children, could have licitly snatched a baby from its mother's arms and cut off its head with a sword, but it would have been wrong to perform an abortion on a pregnant woman? If we accept your argument, it seems that God cannot command rape, torture, or abortion, but he can command killing "post-born" babies.

            Clearly we disagree on the definition of murder. I say it is the direct, deliberate taking of an innocent human life by another human being, and you (presumably) say that the direct taking of an innocent human life by another human is not murder if God commands a person to do it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As I just said in another reply to you, we appear to disagree solely about the "authorization by God" qualification of the concept of murder.

            The position that abortion is always intrinsically wrong is often stated even by Catholic bishops, I suspect. That is because the possibility of something like this being ordered by God is so remote as solely to be described in biblical records.

            Nonetheless, I just read a footnote in Douay-Rheims edition, which says that God included children in his order to slay that tribe in order to prevent them from being raised in the wicked ways of their parents. Since God takes human life at all stages by "natural causes," the concept that he might end a life before it falls into a life of hell-tending sin is not that repugnant to me.

            Again, it appears we are in virtual agreement over the direct taking of an innocent life -- except in the case where God takes it himself or orders a human being to do it.

            As the Author of Life who routinely calls us back to accounting through natural causes every day, I see no rational objection to God doing it directly by more direct, even violent means.

            And, if God has the right and authority to end human live at any stage -- innocent or not, then I find it incoherent to insist that God is powerless to delegate that authority to a human being. We might debate the problems with how this would be validly implemented, but in principle I do not see how you can object to God being able to do this.

          • David Nickol

            The position that abortion is always intrinsically wrong is often stated even by Catholic bishops, I suspect. That is because the possibility of something like this being ordered by God is so remote as solely to be described in biblical records.

            You seem to be making the astonishing claim that abortion is not truly an intrinsically evil, and that it could be morally right to have or perform an abortion if God commanded it. On the other hand, I understand you to be saying that rape and torture are truly wrong intrinsically, and so God could not command someone to commit rape or employ torture. So God could not command someone to use contraception (another "true" intrinsic evil), but he could command a couple who conceived to procure an abortion.

            I don't see how you could reasonably argue with, say, a woman who becomes pregnant and is utterly and sincerely convinced that God wants her to have an abortion. If God can approve of—indeed, command—the slaughter of babies by an army, who is to say he cannot speak directly to an individual and approve of her abortion?

            In the biblical story under discussion, how were individual Hebrew soldiers capable of knowing the will of God. We don't get specific details, but it seems unlikely God spoke to every soldier. Instead, Samuel made a pronouncement, Saul acted on it, and so at best it was Saul who informed his soldiers to engage in wholesale slaughter. In actual practice (particularly if one believes the dubiously large numbers of soldiers involved, the command to slaughter would have likely reached individual soldiers through a relatively long chain of command.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You make some good points, but as a general rule it is best to get the principles clarified before trying to argue the details.

            The concept of "intrinsically evil" is based on the notion that something is evil by its very nature. This concept, though, is normally applied to something like the taking of the life of the innocent while prescinding from the extremely unlikely possibility that one is dealing with those few instances in human history in which God directly intervenes to order the death of someone.

            Thus, we normally just say that abortion is intrinsically evil -- because it is considered without reference to any possible divine intervention. Nonetheless, we think nothing of there being possible moral implications about God letting the forces of nature terminate a pregnancy through a miscarriage.

            So, with all these questions of "intrinsically evil" acts, the real question is whether they are "intrinsically evil" of their very nature without any exception because of God, or whether the question of divine authorization must be added in using the phrase, "intrinsically evil," without qualification.

            Some things are intrinsically self-contradictory, which is why they are intrinsically against nature. Given the nature of the marriage contract, adultery is intrinsically evil, and even God could not make it licit -- even though Martin Luther, following moral positivism thinks otherwise.

            For the same reason, even God could not make 2 + 2 = 5.

            Thus, in looking at things like abortion, rape, and torture, whether they are considered "intrinsically evil" without qualification entails checking to see whether they are self-contradictory in nature, or whether they are simply absolutely prohibited to any man acting on his own authority.

            I won't even try to sort out the three examples I just gave, since what really matters is applying the principles correctly and you can do that as well as I can.

            As to all your examples of people possibly misreading the will of God -- be they a woman with respect to aborting herself or a soldier being ordered to kill the innocent, these are simply questions of difficult application of universal principles -- which sort themselves out if one just thinks about them a bit. The sole question is whether the command really comes from God or not.

          • David Nickol

            A fascinating footnote (about footnotes):

            In the original edition of the New American Bible, regarding 1 Samuel 15:3, there is the following footnote:

            Under the ban: in such wars of extermination, all things (men, cities, beasts, etc.) were to be blotted out; nothing could be reserved for private use. The interpretation of God's will here attributed to Samuel is in keeping with the abhorrent practices of blood revenge prevalent among pastoral, seminomadic peoples such as the Hebrews had recently been. The slaughter of the innocent has never been in conformity with the will of God.

            In the NAB (Revised Second Edition) that note is replaced by the following:

            Put under the ban: this terminology mandates that all traces of the Amalekites (people, cities, animals, etc.) be exterminated. No plunder could be seized for personal use. In the light of Dt 20:16–18, this injunction would eliminate any tendency toward syncretism. The focus of this chapter is that Saul fails to execute this order.

            Both editions are on the Vatican web site.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You do excellent research. I am honestly impressed.

            Of course, there is no infallibility attached to footnotes -- right or wrong.

            The general moral principles are what matters and I have discussed them in some detail in another reply to you today.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Would you accept the idea that we live in a world in which death is part of the natural order of things -- and yet such a world is created by a benevolent God?

            Part of the problem from my perspective is that I know that the proofs for God's existence demand precisely this conclusion -- regardless of what I might like to think about how I would have ordered the world were I the creator of it.

            Moreover, I know that God is good, since he is the very basis for the creation of anything good in the world.

            I probably should not have opened up the problem of good and evil, since it is highly complex -- but to say that God is evil because evil exists in the world is a non sequitur on close analysis.

            I suspect that most people would not deny the existence of a good God simply because natural death is the order of nature. What seems to shock you is that Abram should be ordered to impose a violent death on Isaac. But that has to do only with the manner of death, not the fact of death itself.

            Thus, whether we die by natural causes, fire, auto accident, volcano, earthquake, or the order of God, death is the natural result of the separation of soul from body which the Creator originally infused into each of us.

            It is precisely because God is the Author of Life that he has the natural right to do what no human being can do -- that is, take back that gift of life which he gave to each of us in the first place.

            To assume that this is intrinsically evil is to fail to give God the credit for having a plan of salvation that promises each of us eternal happiness, provided we do not make ourselves unworthy of it.

          • VicqRuiz

            I tried to reply, but it was "detected as spam", and I know by experience that trying to resubmit does not work.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Sorry. I never have understood just what makes a comment look like spam. Just be glad that God isn't a computer software program designed to detect those who are to be rejected from heaven.

          • VicqRuiz

            I'll certainly tip my hat to you for a nice segue ;-)

          • David Nickol

            I have been posting here for many years. I have always used Macs, and generally used Safari or Firefox. I can't recall ever having any message blocked as spam. Once in a blue moon when I have tried to post a message, something goes totally awry and the whole thing is lost. But I have never had a problem with anything being blocked as spam.

            It might be interesting to know if those having the problems are using PCs, and what browser they use.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I've been posting here for at least 5 years or so, and it is only in the last month that I have had fights with the spam filter. The most frequent failure mode seems to be when I post a message and then immediately try to edit to fix grammar, spelling, html tags, etc.

            I'm not an expert on this sort of thing, but it seems most likely that it would be purely a server side thing and unrelated to browser. (But FWIW, I use Chrome).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Re-submitting an exact copy may not work, but I have add luck when I just make a minor modification and re-submit, e.g. just add a line like: "[Re-submitting after rejection by spam filter.]"

          • VicqRuiz

            (resubmitted to clear spam filter)

            Would you accept the idea that we live in a world in which death is part of the natural order of things -- and yet such a world is created by a benevolent God?

            Yes, although it would require a usage of "benevolent" somewhat different from that which we use with respect to the interactions of human beings.

            A benevolent God in the way I understand the word would never command an intrinsic evil, and I agree with David Nickol's comment in this thread that the killing of an innocent child is an intrinsic evil.

            If you do not recognize this as different from allowing a person to die peacefully of natural causes, I don't think we have common ground.

            If I were to receive what sounded like a command from God to kill my son, I hope that I would have the innate character to reject that command outright, as being either a symptom of insanity, or a communication from a malevolent spiritual entity. And the God I would find worthy of worship would help me to reject such a command.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            First, since I cannot spend much more time on this thread, please look at my response to David Nickol about ten comments below this one.

            >"A benevolent God in the way I understand the word would never command an intrinsic evil, and I agree with David Nickol's comment in this thread that the killing of an innocent child is an intrinsic evil."
            >"If you do not recognize this as different from allowing a person to die peacefully of natural causes, I don't think we have common ground."

            I think you have to realize that, from God's point of view, whether one dies of "natural causes" or by "direct killing," there is no essential difference, since the "natural causes" are fully within God's power to govern. Letting one die of old age is simply letting God take your life by his own natural processes for ending your life. He could equally allow you to live in this life forever, as was initially the promise to Adam and Eve.

            But, as I explain in reply to David Nickol below, the notion of "intrinsic evil" simply does not apply to the taking of a human life, since we have a natural right to self defense, even to the point of taking another's life. That is why the qualification of "innocent" is added. What many do not realize is that another qualification of "authorization" is also applicable -- but solely in the case of God, who is the Author of Life and thus can take back licitly what he has freely given.

            And, since all men are mortal, it appears that we are subject to this "taking back of the gift" at God's command. Saying that this is unjust is another matter, but then we have to take into account the possibility of eternal reward that puts the value of life in this world into an entirely different context.

          • Rob Abney

            Here’s another perspective
            https://youtu.be/-yUP40gwht0

          • VicqRuiz

            I have in fact been working my way through that lecture series and am about 3-4 chapters short of this one.

            My one-paragraph take on Peterson's message is that the biblical stories are telling us real things about the world and how we can live our best lives. This is true without respect to whether the Garden of Eden, the Noachic flood, the Tower of Babel are historical events.

            And I could not agree more. He is one hundred percent right.

            But that can of course be applied to any event in the Bible, up to and including the resurrection of Christ. And it seems to me that if Peterson extends his series to cover the NT, he would be conveying the same message.

            There are a number of apologists who adopt the position that this and this and this in the Bible are allegorical, because they do not conform to our understanding of God's benevolent nature, and that and that and that in the Bible are literally true, because they do.

            Now it's fine with me to believe that way, but those who do have no grounds to criticize Thomas Jefferson, who cut up the NT and re-pasted it together again, fitting the life and teachings of Christ into the model that Jefferson conceived it to be.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            There are a number of apologists who adopt the position that this and this and this in the Bible are allegorical, because they do not conform to our understanding of God's benevolent nature, and that and that and that in the Bible are literally true, because they do.

            Conformity with our conceptions of "the good" need not be the primary basis for making those distinctions.

            The genre of the given Biblical material is usually a more primary consideration. E.g. the literary structure of Genesis 1 makes it relatively clear that its authors and their ancient audience understood that material primarily in what we would call mytho-poetic terms. This is not to say that the ancient audience would not also have assumed some degree of factual historicity; it's only to say conveyance of historical facts wasn't primarily what they cared about; the primary function of those stories was to structure society, not to convey historical facts.

            Fast forward to the Gospels and you seem to have a very different genre. It isn't in the genre of "history" in the rigorous way that we now understand that term, but part of the literary intent is clearly to convey the news of something that actually happened (albeit to convey that news in a manner laden with symbolism and theological gloss such as we would not find acceptable in modern works of "nonfiction"). Whether they were lying or fabricating or something like that is another matter, but the intent is clearly, in part, to "deliver the news". This is a marked departure from a book like Genesis.

          • Rob Abney

            I am intrigued with Peterson's way of describing the important events of life as fitting into the categories that are repeated over and over. He refers to the stories as myths and the actors as mythological characters. But he considers the myths to be true, and he considers the characters to be heirarchial. For instance he considers Jesus to be the highest form of the hero character. Spoiler alert, he considers Abraham to be the highest form of a character who will sacrifice the present for the future.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I think it can be a combination of fact and legend. It's a debatable point.

  • "Furthermore, since change takes place in the effect, not in the cause as such, there is no problem with God being eternally unchanging, while the world could have a beginning and events unfold sequentially in it throughout time."

    In this case Jesus could not have been tje same as God, God did not grow die and resurrect because these things must be changed in time. Whatever the relationship between God and Jesus, God did not change but Jesus did. They can't be the same entity or if they are there is a way for God to change.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      To fully address your argument would require many pages of complex theology -- and I am not a theologian. Still, the key is to realize that there is no problem with either the metaphysics or the theology here. But it did take the Church about three hundred years to get the basic formulations rightly understood and defined.

      Christ is God because his person is the Second Person of the Trinity. But he has two natures: divine and human. In his divine nature, change is impossible. But his human nature was created in time and given the person of the unchanging Second Person. The union of divine and human natures is called the hypostatic union, meaning that in Christ the two natures are really united in the person of the Son. Christ thus has both a human intellect and will, and a divine intellect which is identical to the divine will because of the divine simplicity.

      The central point to remember is that all the changes here are on the part of human nature, NOT the divine nature.

      God cannot be born, die, and rise from the dead. But Christ means the Man-God in whom the same divine person is united to both a human and divine nature. It is in his human nature that Christ lives as man, dies, and is resurrected. This is not a change for the divine nature, but since the person of Christ shares both natures, the supposit which is Christ undergoes these changes solely with respect to its human nature.

      Since Christ's person is the Second Person, we can say that God lived as man, died as man, and rose again as man. But these changes that Christ undergoes do not touch the divine nature at all.

      Thus, from the perspective of the person who is Jesus, all such changes take place in his human nature exclusively, not at all in his divine nature. But since the same person is present to both natures, it is possible to speak of these changes as occurring to Christ, who is both true God and true man -- although the changes take place solely with respect to his human nature, NOT his divine nature.

      No, this is not an easy doctrine to understand. What I find amazing about it, though, is that Christians knew and taught from the beginning that Christ was God -- even though it took decades and centuries to work out an explanation that was coherent. You may not yet find it coherent because my explanation is inadequate and we have not gone through together the hundreds of pages of speculative theology that explain how all this works in detail.

      Nonetheless, I submit that were this doctrine as absurd as it appears on the surface to you, no one could ever have discovered any explanation at all -- and Christianity would have self-destructed in its infancy.

      The early Christians had faith that the object of their belief was rationally intelligible -- and time proved them right. The most complete explanation will be found, not surprisingly, in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

      • "would require many pages of complex theology..."

        Or we could use Occam's razor and just accept that Jesus was not this God you describe .

        "Christ is God because his person is the Second Person of the Trinity. But he has two natures: divine and human."

        This contradicts you position that God is absolutely simple.

        "But his human nature was created in time and given the person of the unchanging Second Person."

        So this human nature cannot be God because God is not created and doesn't exist in time.

        "The union of divine and human natures is called the hypostatic union, meaning that in Christ the two natures are really united in the person of the Son."

        How can something absolutely simple have two natures? It can't, it has to be one thing with one nature, or two things with two natures. Or it needs to be a composite.

        "The union of divine and human natures is called the hypostatic union, meaning that in Christ the two natures are really united in the person of the Son."

        Look you cannot avoid this contradiction if God doesn't change but Jesus resurrected, and resurrection is a change, Jesus is not God.

        It is not just absurd it's incoherent.

        • Ficino

          Aquinas defends the Trinity by saying that there can be real distinctions in God without God's being composite. A god who is pure act cannot be composite. But Aquinas says that God is both "omnino simplex" and has distinctions that don't imply composition; if not composite, then simple.

          • You don't address issue. If God cannot change he cannot ressurect because a ressurection is by definition a change.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are paying no attention to the careful distinctions I offered you in our exchanges elsewhere. There is no need to repeat them here, but the simple formula is that Christ is God and Christ's human nature changes, which means that, taken as a whole, it is licit to say that God suffered and died for our sins -- since, although composite in his own being, he is still one, whole being of whom what is predicated of part can be licitly predicated of the whole.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          >"would require many pages of complex theology..."
          >Or we could use Occam's razor and just accept that Jesus was not this God you describe.

          I told you this would take many pages of theology – meaning in order for you to understand – and this is why you don’t. Atheists love Occam’s razor since their first impulse is to shave off God.

          >"Christ is God because his person is the Second Person of the Trinity. But he has two natures: divine and human."
          >This contradicts you position that God is absolutely simple.

          God IS absolutely simple in his divine nature – and Christ as God IS absolutely simple. No one says that Christ as man is absolutely simple.

          >"But his human nature was created in time and given the person of the unchanging Second Person."
          >So this human nature cannot be God because God is not created and doesn't exist in time.

          That is correct. But no one says that Christ’s human nature is divine or God. His Person is divine.

          >"The union of divine and human natures is called the hypostatic union, meaning that in Christ the two natures are really united in the person of the Son."
          >How can something absolutely simple have two natures? It can't, it has to be one thing with one nature, or two things with two natures. Or it needs to be a composite.

          What is absolutely simple is the divine nature of Christ. Christ himself as both divine and human is NOT absolutely simple -- and no one ever said he was.

          What the hypostatic union means is that the human nature is given its actual existence by God. It entails the raising of human nature in Christ by having the Second Person be its personhood. This entails a change in the human nature not in the Second Person. And, if you think this is a change in God, remember that the unchanging God has willed from all eternity that this union take place in time.

          >"The union of divine and human natures is called the hypostatic union, meaning that in Christ the two natures are really united in the person of the Son."
          >Look you cannot avoid this contradiction if God doesn't change but Jesus resurrected, and resurrection is a change, Jesus is not God.

          But the resurrection is a change solely for the human nature of Christ, NOT for his divine nature which never died.

          >It is not just absurd it's incoherent.

          I told you it took Christian thinkers three hundred years to figure out how all this was possible in principle – and you expect to understand it in a few paragraph on this blog thread?

          What matters is that the early Christians knew that Christ was both man and God, since he lived among them and they knew that he professed his divinity and that he raised himself from the dead to prove it.

          Christian speculation was then left with the complex task to understand how this was possible – but they knew, unlike modern day skeptics, that it was a mysterious, but true, fact.

          • >I told you this would take many pages of theology – meaning in order for you to understand – and this is why you don’t

            Hard to tell what your position is. You seem to be saying you cannot explain it in this forum then follow several paragraphs of explanation.

            >But no one says that Christ’s human nature is divine or God.

            So Christ has a part that is not God and that is what resurrected? So it could have been any human nature? I thought the whole point of the resurrection was that a deity suffered died and was raised. If something human and non-god did, well so did Lazarus.

            >I told you it took Christian thinkers three hundred years to figure out how all this was possible in principle

            They didn't figure it out, they did exactly what you're doing. Said this sounds impossible so just get a master's in theology then you can begin to understand. Sorry, there is an obvious better explanation, that it just doesn't make sense and theyre trying to use rhetoric to avoid admitting it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >”But no one says that Christ’s human nature is divine or God.”
            >So Christ has a part that is not God and that is what resurrected? So it could have been any human nature? I thought the whole point of the resurrection was that a deity suffered died and was raised. If something human and non-god did, well so did Lazarus."

            This is the only part of your comment that addresses a doctrinal issue.

            The point is that the human nature involved was not just any old human nature, but that unique one that God raised by the hypostatic union to having as its personhood the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

            The human nature of Christ is not a person, because it does not have its own act of existence. Rather, it subsists by virtue of the divine act of existence of the Word (the Second Person), thus participating in the Word’s divine personhood.

            By sharing in the Second Person’s divine personhood, when Christ died and rose again in his human nature, one can properly ascribe these events to the Second Person, even though that same Person, with respect to his divine nature, is impassible.

            Obviously, you do not think that there is any intelligibility here to understand or explain, because you do not believe that Christ is God or that God himself even exists.

            Still, for those who believe these things, the human intellect seeks to understand how these great truths can exist without contradiction. Remember that the shocking belief that Christ was both God and man should easily have been refuted – just as the conflicting properties of Santa Claus are – were it not true.

            The fact that careful reasoning can make a case for the rational coherence of this belief should give you great pause before so facilely placing it in the same category as Santa Claus.

            Aside from your inherent skepticism, why should you be so surprised that it takes serious theology to penetrate this great mystery?

            Unless you can demonstrate that these doctrines are, indeed, self-contradictory, your allegation that they are incoherent merely reflects your own atheistic beliefs.

          • >but that unique one that God raised by the hypostatic union to having as its personhood the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

            So not a nature that is distinct or non-god, but in a sense god itself. So god God did change, he died and was raised?

            >The human nature of Christ is not a person, because it does not have its own act of existence.

            Sure so not God independent. So God died, god changed.

            >Obviously, you do not think that there is any intelligibility

            Its perfectly intelligible, it's just contradictory .

            >the shocking belief that Christ was both God and man should easily have been refuted

            And it has been. Most people don't believe it, and by your own statements most Christians don't understand it.

            I'm not surprised that intelligent people spend years working on a phosophical problem and think they get it right but are wrong. It happened to Bertrand Russell.

            I accept many things as true despite them seeming impossible, based on authority because it would take much more education for me to grasp. But to do so I would need some empiricism and near consensus. The Trinity lacks this. Its not even biblical.

            I believe I have shown the contradiction. Despite admitting that you lack the credentials or resources to provide an explanation, what I find surprising is that you keep trying to explain this in a few paragraphs .

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Let me meet your basic objection head on. To do this, I must pick up a couple points you make to Stephen Edwards above:

            > “Irrespective of the seeming strangeness of having multiple "natures". Because God has no parts the human nature must be in every sense distinct from God Isn't the whole point of the resurrection that God suffered for our sins not a human?”
            > “Whatever the relationship between God and Jesus, God did not change but Jesus did. They can't be the same entity or if they are there is a way for God to change.”

            And then citing from your comments to me:

            “but that unique one that God raised by the hypostatic union to having as its personhood the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.” (DB)
            > “So not a nature that is distinct or non-god, but in a sense god itself. So god God did change, he died and was raised?” (BGA)
            “The human nature of Christ is not a person, because it does not have its own act of existence.” (DB)
            > “Sure so not God independent. So God died, god changed.” (BGA)
            > “Its perfectly intelligible, it's just contradictory .” (BGA)

            You have a perfect right to challenge whether the Christian concept of Christ is self-contradictory. Still, we must remember that a contradiction in terms must be discerned in the exact same terms and from the same perspective. I don’t think you have proven that.

            The Council of Chalcedon makes a distinction between speaking about Christ (1) concretely and (2) abstractly, where “concretely” means making statements that speak about the whole of Christ in a total manner – whereas, speaking “abstractly” entails precise statements as to which exact part of Christ is involved. This is important.

            Concretely, we say that God suffered and died for our sins. But you have to realize that the connection between God and Christ’s human nature is not that the nature is a part of God (since it IS a creature), but that, unlike all other creatures, the act of existence of Christ’s human nature is the uncreated existence of God himself. Any change is on the part of the receptive human nature, not God, whose existence activates and sustains that human nature.

            Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is identical to the divine nature. Thus, Jesus is God. But Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is NOT identical to his human nature nor is he identical to the Father.”

            What is clear is that the Person of this created human nature is God himself, whereas what we know to be changing by dying and rising is the human nature of Christ that is given its personhood by the Second Person.

            However mysterious this may sound to you, the fact remains that there is a distinction between the Person of Christ, which is God himself, and the human nature of that Person, which we know can be changed as any other creature can be.

            How this exactly relates the human nature to the Person is not clear, but unless the contradiction regarding change pertains to the same term, it is not a contradiction – and person is not identical to human nature in Christ. Still, concretely, since these elements exist in the same entity, Jesus Christ who is God, we can say truthfully that God died and rose from the dead.

            Yes, this is very mysterious. But, unless you can point to the exact same aspect of Christ as being that which changes and that which does not change, there is no contradiction and the mystery remains a perfectly coherent object for belief.

            Why do Christians struggle with this mysterious belief and atheists do not? Simple. We have what are for us convincing reasons to believe in Christ and that make it necessary to accept this revealed dogma -- as long as an evident contradiction cannot be demonstrated. And it cannot. Since atheists do not believe, they see no point in making the effort.

            But then the issue returns to the deeper question as to whose reasons for belief are more compelling – and that is where theists, like me, find atheism rationally incoherent.

            Finally, you ask why I attempt to answer this complex question when I am not a theologian and space is too brief. The answer is simple. You and other atheists are attacking Christian beliefs and they need defending in the name of truth. If I am an inadequate messenger, then shoot me, but realize that you may still have missed defeating the revealed mystery.

          • "Concretely, we say that God suffered and died for our sins."

            So if by concretely you mean the whole of God, and since God has no parts this unchanging entity of Pure Act lived suffered and died.

            "Any change is on the part of the receptive human nature, not God,"

            That would be fine, but this seems to contradict your statement above that "God concretely suffered and died"

            Again, I know why you are doing these rhetorical gymnastics of essence, personhood, concrete, abstract and see on. I'm a litigator, I see it all the time. Just comes down to this for the resurrection to save us, something that is god had to undergo a change, but this s contradicts your theology that God has no parts and is unchanging.

            >However mysterious this may sound to you...

            It doesn't sound mysterious it sounds contradictory. It makes perfect sense as an unhappy marriage if the god of classical theism and Jesus mythology.

            "Yes, this is very mysterious."

            I was wondering when this would come up .

            "But, unless you can point to the exact same aspect of Christ as being that which changes and that which does not change,"

            I can, it's the God aspect.

            >We have what are for us convincing reasons to believe in Christ and that make it necessary to accept this revealed dogma -- as long as an evident contradiction cannot be demonstrated. And it cannot.

            You don't have convincing reasons, but you either have to accept this contradiction is real and go with the god of classical theism or Jesus but not both. But because of a never of cognitive biases you look for a third way, you employ hoardes of theologians to come up with erudite rationalizations.

            Since atheists do not (have any good reason to) believe, they see no point in making the effort to digest these dense volumes of rationalization .

            "If I am an inadequate messenger, then shoot me, but realize that you may still have missed defeating the revealed mystery."

            If only there were some supernatural entity that would be a perfect messenger and could explain this with zero effortperfectly and loved us all and wanted to save humans so wanted to ensure we all understand!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            > “Concretely, we say that God suffered and died for our sins." (DB)
            >”So if by concretely you mean the whole of God, and since God has no parts this unchanging entity of Pure Act lived suffered and died.” (BGA)

            NO. You misconstrue the meaning of “concretely” here. Since Christ’s Person is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and since in his HUMAN NATURE he died and rose from the dead, we can speak of God suffering and dying for our sins – since in the “concrete” order it is the same Christ –considered as a WHOLE -- who died and rose. And, since Christ IS God, we can truthfully say that God suffered and died for our sins.

            BUT the changes entailed here are referred solely to Christ’s human nature, not to his divine Person in respect to his DIVINE NATURE, which cannot change.

            As a litigator, you know that the exact terms of a contract have specific meaning. That is why I said that to prove a contradiction you have to have the exact same terms contradicted.

            You may not like the complexity of Christ, but since he is a single Person with two distinct natures, the doctrine says that the change is in his HUMAN nature, not his DIVINE nature and not in his Person, whose divine nature is rightly called, “impassible.”

            Since the doctrine says that the change is in his human nature and not in his divine nature, there is no contradiction.

          • "And, since Christ IS God, we can truthfully say that God suffered and died for our sins.'

            So either God changed suffering and dying don't count as change? I'm confused.

            "BUT the changes entailed here are referred solely to Christ’s human nature, not to his divine Person in respect to his DIVINE NATURE, which cannot change."

            So the part of Christ that changed was not God? But you just said Christ IS God.

            If "the exact terms of a contract have specific meaning" that people didn't constantly dispute, there'd be no need for litigators.

            There is no contradiction if you say Christ had a god part and a non-god part and the non-god part did not die or change .but this would take the rug out from the feet of the resurrection's significance, wouldn't it, if all that suffered and was raised was human?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are forgetting that Christ is one being with two natures, which is what poses the metaphysical mystery as to exactly how God raised a human nature to such existential union with the Second Person -- all the while remembering that the elevation and change takes place with respect to the human nature, NOT the divine nature.

            But, since it is the SAME PERSON who has the two natures, when we say that Christ died and rose from the dead, we mean that Christ, who is a single unified, but COMPLEX, being, died and rose solely with respect to his human nature, not his divine one.

            How can one part of a thing change, but not another, and yet the whole thing be said to change?

            Consider this example, using A-T hylemorphism with respect to your own single, unified substance.

            If I chop off your toe, have you changed at all with respect to your being fully a human being? No. Either you are human or not. But, with respect to your bodily extension in space, with respect to your matter, you have really changed.

            So, did you change or not? Yes, as a whole being, you underwent change. But with respect to your being fully human, with respect to your substantial form, you either are human or not, and, since you still are fully human, you did not change in that respect.

            Thus, like Christ, you have changed in part of your being, but not another -- while it is true to say your whole being changed.

            So, too, Christ died and rose with respect to his human nature. And, since, Christ is one living human being, these changes affect the WHOLE of his being -- but NOT with respect to his Person's divine nature.

            And, since Christ IS God, his sacrifice redeems the world.

            Edit: Note please. I have chopped off a part of your body. (Nothing personal!) But I have NOT chopped of a part of your immaterial soul. It remains as it was.

          • >If I chop off your toe, have you changed at all with respect to your being fully a human being?

            Yes, I'm missing a toe.

            >So, did you change or not? Yes, as a whole being, you underwent change. But with respect to your being fully human, with respect to your substantial form, you either are human or not, and, since you still are fully human, you did not change in that respect.

            No, I changed pure and simple. What's left of me is still in the category human, but it is different than it was before.

            But I'm not challenging that composite things can have some parts change and others remain.

            "And, since Christ IS God, his sacrifice redeems the world"

            That doesn't make sense if nothing that was God changed. And this is the point you keep dodging . If nothing that was god was sacrificed then any sacrifice or none would work. God would not cure sin with gratuitous suffering

            I don't have a soul immaterial or not for you to chop so don't worry.

          • Stephen Edwards

            What is wrong with saying that God changed *as man* but did not *as God* ? His person hood was united to changing humanity, but this does not entail a changing divinity?

          • Nothing is wrong with saying that. It does contradict Dr Bonnette's claim that God cannot change .

          • Because this implies that god in some sense has parts and can change. He has a part that can be human and die, if he doesn't than the resurrection was entirely a human endeavor. It was a human being, human nature that this happened to. nothing that was God ressurected.

            Now you can say that there still was a divine connection so this counts but that doesn't resolve the contradiction.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            In all fairness, this time I shall chop off MY toe.

            Since you don't accept hylemorphism, I am not sure the point was made effectively.

            If the matter is changed, but not the form, we can still say the entire substance was changed.

            The analogy (none are perfect) is that the change in Christ's human nature is like the change in my body when the toe is removed. It does not change my substantial form, just as the change in Christ's human nature does not change his divine nature -- but, just like the chopping off of my toe changes my entire substance because of a change in only a part, so, too, the change in Christ's human nature changes his entire substance.

            This means, since he is God, that we can say God is changed, even though this change never touches his divinity.

            What part of this is not clear?

            You said: "That doesn't make sense if nothing that was God changed. "

            I just showed you how something that was God, namely Christ, is changed in virtue of the change in his human nature.

            Do you deny (for purposes of this argument) that Christ is God as the Church defines his being? The Church says he is God in virtue of his Person.

            Do you deny that part of Christ is changed? According to what the Church teaches about him, his human nature is part of his being. So, part of Christ is changed.

            Do you deny that a change in part of a substance constitutes a change in the substance considered as a whole? That was the point of my toe analogy.

            So, what are you specifically denying in the logic that I have offered here? You just keep saying the same thing over and over, namely, that God either changed or he did not -- but you do not address in specific terms the complexity of Christ, who is both true God and true man according to Catholic teaching.

            Is it not simply that you deny the Catholic teaching here? If so, fine. I know you are not only not a Christian, but also an atheist.

            But that does not mean that your complaint about what the Church teaches about Christ is correct -- assuming you accept the definitions of the doctrine as taught.

          • "since he is God, that we can say God is changed, "

            Oh okay, I thought you took the position that God could not change.

            "even though this change never touches his divinity."

            Ok so only the human part of God changes, I thought you took the position that God doesn't have parts.

            Sorry I misunderstood!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are paying no attention to the careful distinctions I offered you in the prior comment.

            More importantly, you are not replying to the questions I pose to you there -- since their logic would entail that your position is incoherent.

            There is no need to repeat them here, but the simple formula is that Christ is God and Christ's human nature changes, which means that, taken as a whole, it is licit to say that God suffered and died for our sins -- since, although composite in his own being, he is still one, whole being of whom what is predicated of part can be licitly predicated of the whole.

            Your last comment shows how you are not carefully following the logic of my statements:

            "Ok so only the human part of God changes, I thought you took the position that God doesn't have parts."

            Read what I say carefully. I said CHRIST has parts, NOT that GOD has parts.

            Since you are no longer following the logic of our discussion, you may have the last word.

          • I'm only responding to what you say, you've said quite clearly that:

            ""since he [Christ] is God, that we can say God is changed, even though this change never touches his divinity."

            I don't know how to make sense of this other than to say God changes.

            I think a better way to ask is, are you saying that all that suffers and dies and is raised is not the God of classical theism? Or is some element (whatever you want to call it) of that what suffers and dies the God of classical theism?

            If we are talking strictly logically, pursuant to the laws of logic, God is what it is, is not what it is not, and is nothing in between. I think your problem is that you want to rely on a strict definition of God as absolutely simple and unchanging, in this sense he cannot be in any sense something that changes and is composite. In other words, whatever God is, whether he has multiple natures, whether the absrabst or concrete sense, it cannot be that which changes.

            But of course you must rationalize this with religious doctrine that insists that in some sense this deity resurected. You just can't have it both ways .

            " I said CHRIST has parts, NOT that GOD has parts."

            But you've also said Christ is God. "...the simple formula is that Christ is God..."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are still ignoring the simple fact that the nature of Christ is complex, but that it is still correct to say that Christ is God.

            Do you not realize that saying, “Christ is God,” is shorthand for “Christ is the Person of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who is Incarnate of the flesh of the Virgin Mary?”, or, “Christ is the Word of God Incarnate?"

            If you are the Word of God Incarnate, then you are God. But we make qualifications and distinctions. Why is this so difficult for you to understand?

            The divine Person of the Word is the unifying factor between the divine and human natures. It can be said the divine Person of the Word “suffers” through his human nature even if his divine nature does not suffer.

            Unless you want to contort the Catholic doctrine out of all its actual meaning, the language used is both coherent and understandable. Again, I refer you back to my prior comments in which I defined for you the exact usage and definitions entailed in what Catholics say about Christ's complex nature.

          • >Christ is complex, but that it is still correct to say that Christ is God.

            Yes, im still confused and I'm never sure how you are using words. Generally when people say A is B, they mean A is the same as B.

            Let's take this in small pieces, is all that is Christ also God, or is part of Christ God?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I have laid out the principles several times, so I won't repeat them all. They are in the comments above.

            But, to make this as simple as possible, if you hit me in the stomach, I do not say, Why did you hit my stomach?" I say, "Why did you hit ME?"

            Although the change was only in part of me, since I am one whole substantial being, a change in part of me can properly be predicated of me as a whole.

            Thus, a change in a part of Christ can be predicated of him as a whole. But, as a whole, since his person is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and since he has a divine nature, we properly say that Christ is God.

            Thus, we say properly that the suffering of his human nature means that Christ, who is God, suffered for our sins -- even though his divine nature remains unchanged.

          • So the question is, "is all that is Christ also God, or is part of Christ God"

            I get that not all that is Dennis, is the same as Dennis' stomach. So if I punch Dennis' stomach I have changed Dennis, but only the stomach part.

            If I crucify Jesus I have changed many parts of him, but not his tooth enamel for example, because his tooth enamel is part of him that is unaffected by the crucifixion.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The point is that a living substance is one thing. Therefore, a change in any part of that substance can be properly expressed by saying the "substance changed."

            Following Catholic doctrine, we can licitly say that Christ is God, even if not all parts of him are divine in nature. Thus, a change in any part of him is a change in Christ, who is the Word of God and who is God.

            No one is saying that Christ, who is God, cannot change in his divine nature, but is changing in his divine nature. That would be a contradiction. But we can say that Christ, who is God, does not change in his divine nature, but does suffer, die, and rise from the dead in his human nature.

            What is so hard to comprehend here?

          • Rob Abney

            Maybe comprehension is not his goal! He just reported in another comment that belief in a risen Christ is demonstrably false. Now he's searching for a way to demonstrate that.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, the problem for atheists who attack Christian doctrines is that, even should they succeed in their efforts (which they cannot), they will still be left with the God of classical theism as demonstrated by sound metaphysics and natural theology.

          • You are dodging the question because you the answer leads to a contradiction or a theological problem.

            Is all that is Christ also God, or is part of Christ God?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are treating the form of your question as if it were an exclusive disjunction, whereas it is in fact an inclusive disjunction -- being that it is a set of operands that is true if and only if one or more of its operands is true.

            In the instant case, both statements are true.

            That is to say, it is true to say that Christ is God, speaking of him as one whole, but complex, being -- and it is true to say that part of Christ is God, speaking specifically of his divine Person and divine nature.

            I have repeatedly and carefully explained the exact manner in which both statements are true in the previous comments above. Please reread them.

          • Okay, so did the divine person and divine nature parts of Christ suffer and die?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            How many times do you have to be shown that 2 + 2 does not contradict 4?

          • That is not an answer to my question. Its a dodge.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This is no dodge, since I have explained this to you multiple times above -- and you simply do not like my answers. I told you I would now just cut and paste, so here it is:

            "Thus, a change in a part of Christ can be predicated of him as a whole. But, as a whole, since his person is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and since he has a divine nature, we properly say that Christ is God."

            "Thus, we say properly that the suffering of his human nature means that Christ, who is God, suffered for our sins -- even though his divine nature remains unchanged."

          • BCE

            Again, Since you don't believe in God let me ask you... can something be black and white?
            You are using an old syllogism. Such that...if God is unchanging and Jesus is God, then Jesus must be unchanging.
            However, you might not be familiar with Boole or Russell(and others)who
            recognize the problem.
            Your premise insists Jesus can't be both God and man, so that his human nature can change ( whilst his Divine nature does not )

            Instead if God is divine and unchanging and Jesus is divine and human
            then only his human nature changes. Your argument confirms, if there is a change, it is not to his Godliness, but only his humanity.

            If Brian is a human and has brown hair, but today he dyes his hair the same color blue as my car....then is Brian less human? Does Brian become a car?

          • David Nickol

            Instead if God is divine and unchanging and Jesus is divine and human then only his human nature changes. Your argument confirms, if there is a change, it is not to his Godliness, but only his humanity.

            And of course it is perfectly obvious not only how God Incarnate can have a human nature and a divine nature, but how those two natures can somehow operate independently. For example, his human will at least momentarily is at odds with the divine will over an upcoming crucifixion and death.

            If these doctrines (dogmas) are true, how it can be so is really a great mystery. Occasionally in books about the historical Jesus, an attempt is made to speculate about the consciousness of Jesus, but I can't recall having read anything that made any sense.

            As I have tried to make clear, I am agnostic about most of these issues, but I believe I have something approaching an open mind. So maybe there is a Trinity, and maybe Jesus was God Incarnate and had two natures, but there is nothing obvious or simply about any of this.

            If you try to "explain" something by saying, "Oh, well, it's all made clear by the hypostatic union," you are (even if these teachings are correct) invoking the idea of one of the greatest mysteries imaginable, which really isn't an explanation at all.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are absolutely right about the Incarnation being the greatest of mysteries.

            The work of reason is not to explain why this must be true, but rather to help us understand why such a mysterious doctrine does not entail a contradiction in terms.

            Edit: Of course, I am sure you know that Christians amass arguments and evidence as to why we believe this mystery to be true. But that kind of argument is based on things Christ did and said -- and on the authority of God revealing.

            What I mean when I say the work of reason is not to show why this must be true, I mean it is not something like the proofs for God's existence. Proper theological arguments have their role to play here.

          • >can something be black and white?

            Sure, things with parts.

            >Your premise insists Jesus can't be both God and man, so that his human nature can change ( whilst his Divine nature does not )

            No, that isn't my point.

            My point is, again: Christ can have a human part and a god part and only the human part changes. This maintains god's simple and unchanging characteristics. But then you can't say God resurected. You can't say that the passion fixed the problem of sin because something divine, god itself suffered for our sins.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You seem to forget that I have addressed this objection in great detail and with logical specificity in this thread. Why are you raising it again with someone else?

            Should I just copy/paste back my explanations?

            No need. Just look up and down a few comments.

          • Thank you but please answer the question I asked in our discussion.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Here is the copy/paste:

            "Thus, a change in a part of Christ can be predicated of him as a whole. But, as a whole, since his person is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and since he has a divine nature, we properly say that Christ is God."

            "Thus, we say properly that the suffering of his human nature means that Christ, who is God, suffered for our sins -- even though his divine nature remains unchanged."

            Thus, contrary to your allegation, we CAN say that God died and resurrected for our sins -- Christ, who IS God, did this.

            You simply do not accept the Catholic definitions of who Christ is and why he is God. You refuse to admit he is a single being with a complex nature, but that the being as a whole IS God.

            Why this even concerns you is puzzling to me, since you are an atheist and believe neither that Christ is God nor in the Trinity.

            But you must remember that even if you try to avoid the Christian dogma on these questions, the natural reasoning of metaphysical demonstrations still prove that God exists. So, getting rid of Christianity does not get rid of God.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            As Bill Clinton once said, "It all depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is". He was being more than a bit disingenuous, but there is nonetheless some truth in that statement.

            One way that the nature of Christ is expressed in the Gospel of John is:

            "No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him."

            If I try to apply a similar sort of statement to myself, it might come out like this:

            "No one has ever seen my 'interior life', but my words issue forth from my interiority and reveal who I am." Working with that understanding, one can then make a further distinction, between my words as mental realities and my words as physical phenomena. The physical phenomena consist of sound waves that issue forth in time and space and eventually die out, but the mental reality in some sense exists outside of time, or in any case perdures beyond the merely physical expression.

            You might object: "But your words are not you!". And that is certainly true in one sense. But sometimes words express who a person is so well that we say something after hearing them like: "Now THAT was Jim". So, again, it all depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.

    • BCE

      For Christians, in humility forgive me, least I say something wrong about the trinity. Any analogy imperfect

      Now back to anti-theists.

      While it might seem perplexing, there are things that give us an illusion.
      I keep using math ( because I try to meet anti-theist where they are)
      so I'm not debating god, but their premise.
      I've explained this before, but I'll repeat it.

      Let's say I have X and X equals ALL. In this case ALL the pure gold (Au) that every was/is.
      X never changes
      Because X represents ALL, it includes ALL, without circumstance.
      The largest bit of gold or the smallest bit is Au.
      If some Au is in Montana, X does not change, because X(all the gold that is and ever was) already assumes into itself any gold.
      Any Au seen or unseen, does not change its substance.
      The X you hold on 5/28/2018 is the same X as was on 500bce.
      .
      Let's say Au(pure) gold, is in the form of a cup. Being in the form of a cup, doesn't make it more or less gold. It doesn't change the gold(to glass)
      and it is just as much Au now, as a vessel, as before (of 2 million years prior). Yet it is, to us, a vessel.

      It's difficult for those who don't understand algebra.
      Such as a super set being a single thing, though a composite.

      • I don't see how this addresses my comment .

        • BCE

          Of course you can't.
          Remember that logic syllogisms are equations (algebraic)

          For Christians, I am not expressing who Jesus is.
          For Brian, I'm trying to prick his imagination, so that he can see
          how a thing can be part of something unchanging, yet be different.
          I assume you don't realize, when you say Jesus and God,
          you are setting up a set?
          Or maybe because Jesus and God, being two things, and
          gold is one thing, I confused you.
          But the premise is how can Jesus be God, if God is unchanging.
          So I used gold( pure Au ) as my unchanging thing. And
          a cup as something distinct.
          So if you are a cup, and Jesus becomes a cup, you share being cups.
          Still Jesus shares being gold, like his father, as pure, as brilliant, as much Au as his Father is Au, from the beginning.

          • "something unchanging, yet be different"

            What do you mean by "different"?

            "Or maybe because Jesus and God, being two things, and
            gold is one thing, I confused you."

            Well this is the question, are they two things or the same thing. What do they share?

            "So I used gold( pure Au ) as my unchanging thing."

            But I am talking about a deity and a human, not an element.

            "Still Jesus shares being gold, like his father, as pure, as brilliant, as much Au as his Father is Au, from the beginning."

            No idea what you are trying to communicate with this sentence .

    • Stephen Edwards

      I know others have responded similarly to you, but simply put: Jesus has a divine nature and a human nature, the human nature changes but the divine nature does not.

      • I get that but it still doesn't answer the question. Irrespective of the seeming strangeness of having multiple "natures". Because God has no parts the human nature must be in every sense distinct from God Isn't the whole point of the resurrection that God suffered for our sins not a human?
        L

        • Stephen Edwards

          Having two natures means being united to two substances (or things). God's person hood is united to His divine substance and a human substance. So God really did suffer as human because His divine person hood is united to a human substance. At least that's how I understand it.

          • "So God really did suffer as human because His divine person hood is united to a human substance."

            So that which is God suffered means God changed. God was in a state of non-suffering, suffered, then was in a state of not suffering.

            This has to count as a change, which contradicts Dr Bonette 's statement that God is unchanging .

          • Stephen Edwards

            Through the Incarnation, God (from all eternity) united the person hood of the Second Person of the Trinity to a human nature. The divine person hood *as man* changes but the divine person hood *as God* does not change. I believe that is the correct way to understand it, but one can correct me if this is not orthodox.

          • Thanks, by divine personhood you don't mean divine like a saint you mean actually God right?

            Otherwise isn't Jesus just a saint?

          • Stephen Edwards

            Right, I mean divine = God. Jesus is the 2nd person of the Trinity.

          • Ok so God changed .

          • Stephen Edwards

            The divine reality does not change. Rather the 2nd person of the Trinity became united to a human nature and the human nature changes. To me the difficulty is if the person of Christ undergoes any change. This is tricky because we do not want to say that the divinity changes, but we don't want to say that the person of Christ is not human. So I suppose one can say that the humanity changes but the divinity does not, but the person acts as both divine and human. Only the human part changes though.

          • But if only something human, non-god, suffered and changed how can this have been sufficient to solve the problem of sin for all humanity?

            And if we are to say that something that is god was united to something human and the human thing changed then if we really mean"united" how can that which is united to something that suffers and dies be unchanged?

            This unification must be far more profound than god's universal relationship to all creation to sustain it. It wasn't just a selected or preferred human, it was Jesus, the body whose suffering and death fixed sin. If god could have just done this in some abstract way, the whole Passion loses its meaning .

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Since you posted this reply to Stephen Edwards after I posted my rather complete explanation that answers your question here, I will have to repost my reply to you some dozen comments below this one:

            Let me meet your basic objection head on. To do this, I must pick up a couple points you make to Stephen Edwards above:

            > “Irrespective of the seeming strangeness of having multiple "natures". Because God has no parts the human nature must be in every sense distinct from God Isn't the whole point of the resurrection that God suffered for our sins not a human?”
            > “Whatever the relationship between God and Jesus, God did not change but Jesus did. They can't be the same entity or if they are there is a way for God to change.”

            And then citing from your comments to me:

            “but that unique one that God raised by the hypostatic union to having as its personhood the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.” (DB)
            > “So not a nature that is distinct or non-god, but in a sense god itself. So god God did change, he died and was raised?” (BGA)
            “The human nature of Christ is not a person, because it does not have its own act of existence.” (DB)
            > “Sure so not God independent. So God died, god changed.” (BGA)
            > “Its perfectly intelligible, it's just contradictory .” (BGA)

            You have a perfect right to challenge whether the Christian concept of Christ is self-contradictory. Still, we must remember that a contradiction in terms must be discerned in the exact same terms and from the same perspective. I don’t think you have proven that.

            The Council of Chalcedon makes a distinction between speaking about Christ (1) concretely and (2) abstractly, where “concretely” means making statements that speak about the whole of Christ in a total manner – whereas, speaking “abstractly” entails precise statements as to which exact part of Christ is involved. This is important.

            Concretely, we say that God suffered and died for our sins. But you have to realize that the connection between God and Christ’s human nature is not that the nature is a part of God (since it IS a creature), but that, unlike all other creatures, the act of existence of Christ’s human nature is the uncreated existence of God himself. Any change is on the part of the receptive human nature, not God, whose existence activates and sustains that human nature.

            Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is identical to the divine nature. Thus, Jesus is God. But Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is NOT identical to his human nature nor is he identical to the Father.”

            What is clear is that the Person of this created human nature is God himself, whereas what we know to be changing by dying and rising is the human nature of Christ that is given its personhood by the Second Person.

            However mysterious this may sound to you, the fact remains that there is a distinction between the Person of Christ, which is God himself, and the human nature of that Person, which we know can be changed as any other creature can be.

            How this exactly relates the human nature to the Person is not clear, but unless the contradiction regarding change pertains to the same term, it is not a contradiction – and person is not identical to human nature in Christ. Still, concretely, since these elements exist in the same entity, Jesus Christ who is God, we can say truthfully that God died and rose from the dead.

            Yes, this is very mysterious. But, unless you can point to the exact same aspect of Christ as being that which changes and that which does not change, there is no contradiction and the mystery remains a perfectly coherent object for belief.

            Why do Christians struggle with this mysterious belief and atheists do not? Simple. We have what are for us convincing reasons to believe in Christ and that make it necessary to accept this revealed dogma -- as long as an evident contradiction cannot be demonstrated. And it cannot. Since atheists do not believe, they see no point in making the effort.

            But then the issue returns to the deeper question as to whose reasons for belief are more compelling – and that is where theists, like me, find atheism rationally incoherent.

            Finally, you ask why I attempt to answer this complex question when I am not a theologian and space is too brief. The answer is simple. You and other atheists are attacking Christian beliefs and they need defending in the name of truth. If I am an inadequate messenger, then shoot me, but realize that you may still have missed defeating the revealed mystery.

  • Stephen Edwards

    @briangreenadams:disqus Jesus has a human mind and will which change and a divine mind and divine will which do not change. His personhood is united to both and it presumably does not change. Now I am assuming that you will say that this is problematic because the "unification must be far more profound than god's universal relationship to all creation to sustain it. It wasn't just a selected or preferred human, it was Jesus, the body whose suffering and death fixed sin. If god could have just done this in some abstract way, the whole Passion loses its meaning."

    However, Jesus' personhood is united to both His divinity and humanity. God did not merely sustain Jesus' body (since that would not be an incarnation). Rather, God's personhood acts in union with the humanity and will of Jesus. However, I do not see how this entails that Jesus' personhood must change, as opposed to just His mind and will.

  • Stephen Edwards

    @dennisbonnette:disqus

    Aquinas said: "These processions are two only, as above explained (I:27:5), one derived from the action of the intellect, the procession of the Word; and the other from the action of the will, the procession of love."

    I know you had said that the intellect and will are analogous to the Trinity, but I don't understand what this is supposed to mean when all the persons of the Trinity partake of the same mind.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Without doing a lot of research, one has to recall that the two processions entail three Persons because of the logic of the relations involved. The procession of the Son from the Father, and then the spiration of love between them entailing the third term, the Holy Spirit.

      But the key is that the only real distinction in God is a distinction of relation between the terms of these processions. While the relations found in God are analogous to our own knowing of self and loving of self, the mystery is that in God this act of self-knowing and self-loving beget relations with terms that are actually distinct Persons, whereas in us, we remain a single person.

      As to the mind, though, or intellect, just like the divine will, they belong to the divine nature which all three Persons share equally. This means that the mind and will of each distinct Person is ontologically the self-same thing.

      I think your question is how can they have the same mind (and will), while being distinct Persons. The answer is that they share the same nature, but differ solely as to the distinct TERMS of that nature's act of knowing and willing (loving).

      That is to say, God as knowing himself, establishes a two term relationship. (1) God as knowing, and (2) God as being known by himself. The distinction between knowing and being known somehow makes the terms distinct Persons in God. Spiration, the procession of love, somehow makes a third term, but not a fourth -- hence, the single added term, the Holy Spirit.

      In myself, I know myself by a reflexive act of consciousness -- and I love myself at the same time. In God the two acts of will and of knowing are absolutely identical because of the divine simplicity. But, unlike man, the terms produced by that ontological act of knowing/willing constitute distinct real Persons. That is the mystery. Not that there are distinctions of relations in God, any more than that we have them in us as human beings.

      The authentic mystery is that the terms of this real relation constitute distinct Persons, whereas in us, they do not.

      • Stephen Edwards

        You said: "But, unlike man, the terms produced by that ontological act of knowing/willing constitute distinct real Persons."

        But are saying that by the fact that God knows the Son is generated and by the fact that God loves the Holy Spirit spirates? If so, this would sound like that God the Father has an intellect and will prior to the Son and Holy Spirit?

        Or are you saying that God's knowing is identified as the Son and that God's will is identified as the Holy Spirit?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Clearly, there is no temporal priority here. In the act by which I reflect on myself, I can look at that one and the same act in terms of myself either as knower or as being known. In me, that does not make me two people. But in God it does.

          Although I can distinguish myself as knowing and as being known, it is one and the same mind that knows both terms simultaneously. God appears to be like that. The self-same mind and will which is God exists as an eternal act with distinct polar aspects, such that the poles of the relations constitute really distinct Persons -- while sharing the exact same single act which is one of both mind and will.

          • Stephen Edwards

            Right, so are you saying that the fact that God has an intellect manifests as the 2nd person and the fact that God has a will manifests as the Holy Spirit?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Except that his intellect and will are identical as his knowing and his loving are identical. Rather, these are different dimensions of the same act which is God's very substance. There is good reason this is called a mystery -- but, contrary to the concerns of our atheist/agnostic brethren, this does not mean it is self-contradictory.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I guess I would be inclined to think that will and intellect are conceptually distinct because God necessarily knows 1 + 1 = 2, but God had to choose to create the world. However, I don't see that distinction between intellect and will as creating a division within God because will and intellect are not different parts or substances, but I notice you use the word "dimensions" so perhaps that works better.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Frankly, I step very lightly here because I am only a philosopher and not a theologian. I am reminded of G.K.'s famous statement in his Romance of Orthodoxy, where he observes that orthodoxy is like standing upright. There is only one angle at which one can stand erect, but infinite ones through which we fall over -- just as there are infinite possible errors in doctrine.

            When you talk about the necessary vs. the free in God, recall that all objects less than the divine goodness and existence do not flow from God of necessity. So, while his knowledge of mathematics is necessary, his choice to create the world is not. Still, it is by the same eternal act that both flow.

            The amount of theological and magisterial literature on these topics is so great that I hesitate to say more, since I am sure a far better explanation can be found already in print elsewhere.

            What skeptics should remember, though, is that even if they somehow found -- per impossibile -- a contradiction within the revealed doctrine of the Holy Trinity, all this would prove is that they then have go to back to facing the natural truths about God already established by sound metaphysics and natural theology.

          • Ficino

            Sort of OT: on another board there has been some discussion of whether God is rational in Thomism. I found a quotation from Ed. Feser in which it sounded as though God's operations can be called rational, but God is not rational - since He is not a person - but rather might be called Reason itself or the like. Does that sound correct?

            But then, are God's operations distinct from God?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The confusion is that we think that the ability to understand shows that someone is rational, and since God can understand all things, he must be rational.

            But rationality primarily refers to the process of reasoning which we, as humans, use to "reason" to the truth of a conclusion. That is, we engage in "reasoning" by moving from premises to a conclusion, where the premises are "reasons" for us knowing that the conclusion is true. Thus, man is said to be a "rational" animal. This process is also called "rationation."

            Now God knows all things, but not through a process of reasoning. Since God cannot change and does not need to change, he does not go through a process of reasoning in order to know the truth. Rather, he is "Truth itself," knowing eternally all being perfectly through an immediate act of pure understanding. For him, no reasoning is necessary.

            So, in that sense, God is not a "rational" being. But that is no detriment to him, since he is far better than merely rational, since he knows all things without having to learn anything or go through any process of reasoning.

            I don't know the quotation from Dr. Feser to which you refer, but he was probably just saying that God is rational because we think of being rational as a perfection over irrational animals. If we mean that God can understand all nature and judge all truth, God can do that. But he does not have to go through the third quality of man, namely, "reasoning," in order to know truth. I assure you that Dr. Feser knows all this perfectly well.

          • Ficino

            Thanks, what you write is consistent with what I understood. I had already surmised that "rational" implies "reasoning discursively," so I'm glad to see you confirm my snap judgment.

            Feser was not claiming that God is "rational." He said that an "intellectualist tends to think of God as essentially a Supreme Intellect, as (you might say) Subsistent Rationality Itself."

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/11/voluntarism-and-psr.html

            Just to follow up, in SCG we read that God’s operations are not anything other than the divine substance, because if they were, there would be some end other than Himself, so God would not be his own Goodness, because the good of anything is its end, SCG I.45.6. Should we then avoid saying that God's operations are rational, if God is not "rational"?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The same explanation applies. We can say God is rational and his operations are rational, but we must recognize that we are speaking loosely when we do so. That is why philosophers try to nail down terms precisely.

            Not only is God not "rational," strictly speaking, but, as you just pointed out, his operations are not distinct from his very substance -- so they are not "rational" either.

            Simply put, it is hard for us poor humans to talk about divine things without making technical mistakes. That is why we have to keep defining our terms carefully. There is always some skeptic "out there," waiting for us to put our foot into our mouths!

          • Ficino

            Well, I'm a skeptic, and I put my foot in my mouth multiple times a day!

            I guess when Feser said this on the linked post, sc. "in itself what God wills and does is always rational or intelligible through and through, and would be seen to be by a sufficiently powerful intellect," perhaps he would have made his statement more precise had he just said "intelligible" and left out "rational." Since what God does is an operation, and God's operations are/are of His essence (cf. e.g. In I Sent. d. 2 q. 1 a. 2 ad 2, also d. 42 q. 1 a. 2 co., SCG I.95.2, IV.19.6, various places in De Potentia, etc.). Or had Feser specified a scope of "rational" limited to how we understand the operation.

            Thank you for answering these questions.

  • Guy McClung

    Dr. DB, Great work, and thank you. Your thoughts on this: First principle of the natural law translated as "Make good, avoid evil" rather than the usual "Do good, avoid, evil". Hinges on translation of the verb T Aquinas used, facio, facere. And each unique person can do a good act which no other unique person can do- ie that particular good cannot be done by anyone else, and that particular good cannot be made by anyone else. That good is not created ex nihilo, but it is made. Thanks. Guy McClung, Texas

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Thank you for your kind words. "Facere can mean either "to do" or "to make." In the latter reading, we do, as you propose, "make" our acts that are good and which no other person can produce. Thereby, each of us makes our own unique contribution to the "producing" of that great collective work of God which is this created world. Excellent insight.

      Of course, God's initial making of the world with a beginning in time was a creation ex nihilo -- which God then looked upon and pronounced to be good. And, by sustained creation through time, God maintains its goodness -- all the while permitting man the dignity as secondary causes to contribute to the perfection of God's creation by the making of morally good acts.

  • michael

    Frankly, I tried to be impressed by the article, and it did not happen. it simply begs for the answers in it, rather then demonstrates the answers objectively, so that anyone who reads ti will be forced to understand and agree with them.

  • Dr Bonnette,

    I find myself returning to this article again and again, as I struggle with the question of divine freedom and divine creation. I have found the section "Objections Answered" particularly helpful. Thank you. I have a couple of questions, but I shall ask them in separate comments. Thank you in advance for your assistance.

    In my readings on this topic of divine freedom, I keep running into the objection, considered by some (many?) to be a decisive, namely, modal collapse (https://philarchive.org/archive/MULSIA-2v1). I find myself struggling to really understand what it really entails. I was hoping you might help me get a better grasp of this objection and then respond to it directly.

    Fr Alvin Kimel

    • Jim the Scott

      Hello Father.
      Dr. B sent me to chime in on this one. First what is modal collapse? I lifted this definition off the net.

      God is traditionally taken to be a necessarily existing being who is unsurpassably powerful, knowledgeable, and good. The familiar problem of actual evil claims that the presence of gratuitous suffering in the actual world constitutes evidence against the existence of such a being. In contrast, the problem of possible evil claims that the possibility of bad worlds constitutes evidence against theism. How? It seems plausible to suppose that there are very bad possible worlds. But if God exists in every world, then God exists in those, too. And if God exists in very bad worlds, some say, God is culpable for not ensuring that they are better.

      My responses channeling my inner Fr. Brian Davies and general Thomism.
      1) The premises are all wrong. There is no such thing as the "best of all possible worlds". Only God alone is perfect and if He makes a world He can always make a worst or better one then the one He actually makes. Aquinas proved God is not obligated to make any particular world and that there is no world so good God is obligated to make it and none so bad that as long as it participates in being God should refrain from making it. 2) Heaven is not the "best of all Possible worlds" since Heaven is basically the saved soul gazing at the Beatific Vision(or if you prefer participating in the divine energies) which you should know Fr. Kimel is uncreated & divine omnipotence means having All Powers. There is no "power" to "create the uncreated" as that is incoherent and a contradiction. Thus God is still omnipotent & yet can't do something. 3) God is not a moral agent unequivocally compared to human moral agents as such God thought metaphysically good and ontologically good (thus being the Good in all good things) has no obligations to His creatures. (see Davies). 4) I've read your blog in the Past Fr. Kimel and in short this whole argument presupposes a Theistic Personalist view of God that a Catholic Thomist like myself and an Orthodox Priest like yourself rejects. Speaking personally I hate Theistic Personalism with the fire of ten thousand suns as I hate all idolatry. Go Classic Theism! Long Live the God of Abraham, Aquinas and even Palamas! Cheers Father. Pray for me a sinner. In summery there is not such thing as either "the best or worst of all possible worlds". Whatever world God makes he can always make a worst or better one then He has made & He is not obligated to make any of them.

  • Karun Sagar

    Untill you prove that god grants free will, god is utterly irrelevant to free will. It is just as sound to claim god annihilates the possibility of free will.

    Also, "free will" as you're defining it isn't "choice", it's "choice independent of who you are".

  • IdPnSD

    “God’s existence is that God is the Uncaused First Cause. Since God is uncaused, he cannot be the subject of motion or change, because whatever is moved or changed must be moved or changed by another.” – This definition has two problems: (1) It cannot mean that the God is the creator of the universe. Every soul has the above same property, every object has a soul, and that soul has created that object. (2) Changing does not mean someone is changing it. It only means a soul is experiencing knowledge by interacting with physical objects. Reincarnation of subtle body makes a soul knowledgeable.

    Bible says – “God is spirit”, and a spirit is same as soul. Bible also says “we are made out of dust.” This dust is nothing but the cosmic dust, and is known as the root material in Vedas. This dust is also in uncaused. Every object is created by a soul from this dust. Thus there is no God that created the entire universe. For more on destiny and yogic power take a look at the free book on soul theory at https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/

  • Vince

    Thomism really doesn't have a good answer on how to reconcile Divine freedom, Divine omnipotence, Divine simplicity, and the contingency (in the modal sense) of the actual world. You switch back and forth between what is the case given that God created the actual world (in which case yes, it's impossible for Him to "change His mind" and create another) and what is the case merely given God (in which case other worlds are possible), and it is the latter which is at issue.

    I'll define "cworld" as created world - meaning everything except for God.

    And here are the following aporetic premises.

    There are possible worlds in which God creates a different cworld then the actual cworld. (Otherwise the actual cworld is modally necessary (modal collapse), and God's will to create this cworld is necessary).

    God's will to create differs across those possible worlds (since His will to create in any world entails that particular cworld).

    God's essence is identical across all of those possible cworlds (Divine aseity - otherwise "God" is not a necessary being if different Gods exist in different worlds).

    God's essence is identical to His will to create (Divine simplicity).

    And the last statement, which entails that God's will to create is identical across possible worlds, contradicts the second, which says it is not.

    So the choices are to accept modal collapse, accept non-determinative causation, deny Divine aseity, or deny Divine simplicity.

    • BCE

      I don't think so.
      Like sets.
      A super-set is one single thing, regardless of multiple sub sets; even new things are assumed into its wholeness
      It can appear that the supper-set changes, but it's not a number of things, it
      is always whole.