Open Theism and Impassibility in Feeling

By | November 18, 2014

Among open theists there has been a running in-house debate between what I will call the “passibilist” and “impassibilist” camps. T. C. Moore has lately been leading the charge on behalf of the passibilists, while Tom Belt and Dwayne Polk have been leading the charge for the impassibilists. (As noted below, by “passibilism” and “impassibilism” here I’m speaking strictly with respect to passibility in feeling.)

I find myself genuinely sympathetic to both sides because it seems to me that both sides genuinely want to affirm something valuable about God and want to avoid certain deeply problematic extremes. My hope is that with some careful definitions and distinctions we can find room for at least a partial rapprochement.

First, let me state some preliminary assumptions that I hope all parties can agree on.

  • The Anselmian intuition that God, whatever else we may say about Him, is necessarily and essentially the greatest possible being. As Plantinga glosses this idea, God is “maximally excellent”, i.e., instantiates a maximally great property set in all [metaphysically] possible worlds. Most philosophical theists, myself included, take this intuition to be axiomatic for theism. Debates among theists tend to center around what that maximal property set consists in, not whether God instantiates such a set. For example, classical theists tend to think that a maximally excellent being must be immutable, timeless, wholly impassible, etc., whereas open and relational theists tend to think that such a being need not be any of those things.
  • That God created ex nihilo, from which it follows that all beings extrinsic to God ultimately owe their existence wholly to God. (This is very plausibly an entailment of the Anselmian intuition. If some beings exist in even partial ultimate independence of God, then God’s sovereignty is less than absolute and His power must be restrictively qualified in more than just the standard can’t-do-the-logically-impossible, etc. ways.)
  • That God’s intra-Trinitarian experience prior to creation is one of perfect, unalloyed bliss. God doesn’t create because He’s unhappy or bored with His existence. Creation is a wholly gracious act by which God freely undertakes to extend the circle of Divine Love. (Again, this is very plausibly an entailment of the Anselmian intuition. A God who, because of some lack, needs to create seems emotionally co-dependent on creation and therefore less than maximally excellent.)
  • That God has differential preferences from among the various causally possible futures. There are some causally possible futures that, relatively speaking, God would prefer not occur and others that, relatively speaking, God would prefer to occur. For example, given the Bible’s explicit declaration that God hates evil (especially moral evil, i.e., sin), it is clear that, all other things equal, God prefers futures with less moral evil over futures with more moral evil.
  • That God is impassible in nature and passible in knowledge, to use Richard Creel’s helpful distinction between four different types of impassibility (nature, will, knowledge, and feeling). Impassibility in nature means that God’s character is immutable and essential to God. God cannot become less than perfectly loving, perfectly holy, etc. Passibility in knowledge means that what God knows depends, to some extent, on what creatures do. This sort of passibility is an entailment of open theism, to which all parties to this dispute are committed. Whether God is impassible in will or not, depends on whether God has done exhaustive contingency planning from the get-go. Since I believe that God can do such contingency planning and that God has compelling moral reasons to do so if He can, I believe that God is necessarily impassible in will, but some open theists (e.g., John Sanders) demure, preferring to see God as making some decisions on the fly in dynamic response to creaturely developments. Let’s set this issue aside. The primary issue here is whether God is passible in feeling, that is, whether God’s original intra-Trinitarian tranquility can come to be perturbed, even slightly, by creaturely actions. There are, I believe, strong considerations pulling in both directions.

On behalf of the impassibilists

That God is impassible in feeling is plausibly thought to be entailed by the Anselmian intuition and creation ex nihilo. Thus, if God by definition is essentially an intrinsically maximally excellent being, and if being in a state of emotional bliss is a genuine perfection, then it seems that God’s intra-Trinitarian bliss prior to creation must be essential to Him and therefore cannot be lost or perturbed.

In addition, if God does exhaustive contingency planning from the get-go, then He can’t ever be caught “off guard” by anything that creatures may do since He’s already prepared for every possibility. Hence, it may be argued, nothing creatures do or can do could possibly upset God’s pre-creation intra-Trinitarian bliss.

On behalf of the passibilists

Setting the Incarnation and Crucifixion aside because they involve metaphysical complications that would take us far afield, the differential preferences thesis poses a serious challenge for impassibilism. If that thesis is right—and how can open theists avoid it?—then God cannot be indifferent concerning how things turn out. God must, rather, be at least somewhat disappointed when we choose selfishness over love and when we gratuitously inflict pain on others. For while God permits us to do such things, He also clearly desires that we not do so. And since many such evils have occurred, God must be keenly aware of the rather large gap that exists between all of the more ideal “what could have beens” and the relatively screwed up “what is”. Recognition of that gap is the basis for disappointment, and it’s a sentiment that the Bible amply attests when it speaks of Divine repentance, regret, sorrow, and anger in response to human sinfulness.

Steps toward a rapprochement?

Emotional perturbation obviously comes in degrees, from being emotional overwhelmed by events to the point that one freaks out and has an “emotional breakdown” to complete indifference. Let’s distinguish, therefore, between three different positions corresponding to different points on this spectrum:

  • Strong passibilism in feeling: God’s emotions can be perturbed by creaturely actions to the point that God can be, if not temporarily overwhelmed by them, then at least temporarily functionally impaired by them. In other words, in response to, say, a major unexpected disappointment (the Fall?) God may need some time to “process” it (by “venting”?) before continuing as usual.
  • Weak passibilism in feeling: God’s emotions can be perturbed by creaturely actions, but the degree of perturbation is such that God cannot in any degree be functionally impaired by them.
  • Impassibilism in feeling: God’s emotions cannot be perturbed at all by creaturely actions. God’s intra-Trinitarian bliss is maintained is perfect equanimity regardless of creaturely actions.

As I see it, the second view (weak passibilism in feeling) is clearly the most defensible and may, if accepted, go some distance toward a rapprochement by avoiding the extremes that may worry passibilists and impassibilists, respectively.

A God who could be emotionally perturbed to the point of functional impairment would not be omnicompetent. He would be emotionally fragile in a way that is all too human, but unfitting for a maximally excellent being as per the Anselmian intuition. An essentially omniscient God who creates ex nihilo would know ahead of time the extent to which evil is possible in creation and how such evils would feel to His creatures (since He designed them with the capacity to feel in just that way), and He would know in advance that He is competent to deal with even the worst-case scenario, should it come to pass. So there’s no reason why God should be overwhelmed or even functionally impaired by disappointment.

A God who couldn’t be perturbed at all couldn’t be omnibenevolent given the open theist commitment to morally significant creaturely freedom and an open future. The mere fact that God has differential preferences regarding creaturely outcomes requires that God be able to feel disappointment, in some sense, when things go contrary to God’s preferences, and be pleased, in some sense, when things go according to God’s preferences. In other words, while believers in divine meticulous providence may consistently affirm that God is impassible in feeling because on such views God gets exactly what God has chosen and so shouldn’t be even slightly disappointed or pleasantly surprised by anything, on open theism and doctrines of general providence more broadly, God should feel differently depending on what happens.

But then what about the idea that God’s intra-Trinitarian bliss prior to creation must be essential to Him and therefore cannot be lost or perturbed? I think what open theists have to say is that it’s not that God’s pre-creational bliss cannot be perturbed, but that it cannot be perturbed apart from God’s choice. God’s inner tranquility is not essentially independent of creaturely actions, but it is initially so independent. God is not essentially invulnerable to disappointment, but can willingly make Himself so vulnerable, for such is a necessary concomitant of creating a world containing morally free creatures. A God that couldn’t make Himself vulnerable to disappointment could also never be pleasantly surprised by anything, and therefore would necessarily miss out on an important positive emotional experience that humans can enjoy. It may be argued, then, that God’s maximal excellence is not diminished but is actually enhanced by the ability to make Himself vulnerable to disappointment.

33 thoughts on “Open Theism and Impassibility in Feeling

  1. T. C. Moore

    Thanks for this Alan.

    I think it does map some of the terrain well. You’ve been up front about setting aside some major components of the rift so as to simplify the conflict (e.g. the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, etc. of Jesus Christ). While I think that may be helpful, I also think this may lead to a normalization of a non-christocentric theological methodology. The life of Messiah Jesus of Nazareth, as it is passed down by the apostolic Evangelists in the New Testament forms the starting place and anchoring commitment for my theological method. So, while I believe I can indeed affirm the “Anselmian Axiom,” the set of attributes that obtain in a maximally excellent God will never trump the attributes that can be discerned in God’s self-revelation in Jesus. For me, Jesus reveals the maximally excellent God and no other god exists.

    Your conclusion (i.e. that God can be and indeed is perturbed by human sin and evil, but is not “functionally impaired” by it) is what I’ve advocated from the start. Even when Jesus reveals that God is passionate and is perturbed by human sin, it does not prevent him from carrying on in his mission. I would, however, register a complaint about the term “overwhelmed”. In normal use, this term is a perfectly adequate descriptor of Jesus’s response in many cases. I still don’t know anyone who has sweat blood, while I have read that it is possible and medically documented in rare cases. Jesus also wept when his friend Lazarus died, all the while knowing he had the power to raise him from the dead.

    Finally (for now), I think the view you outline and call the most defensible is actually just “passibilism.” No one (that I know of) has argued that God is “functionally impaired” by God’s response to sin. So, semantics and labels has been a large part of what has perpetuated this rift. Tom and Dwayne don’t want to be associated with “passibilism” for whatever reason (they link it with kenoticism for some reason and consider kenoticism a heresy, from what I can tell), so they have only conceded to what they call “weak impassibility”. But if they affirm what you’re calling “weak passibilism in feeling” then they would be affirming what I’ve advocated all along.

    Thanks again for this post.

    Reply
    1. Alan Rhoda Post author

      Thanks for the comments, T.C. I’m glad that you like my proposal of “weak passibility in feeling”. I’m hopeful that Tom and Dwayne can accept that as well. Of course, their accepting it wouldn’t eliminate room for further distinctions and debate concerning the ways in which or the extent to which divine disappointment (and pleasant surprise) makes a broadly emotional difference in God. I’ve only argued that, for open theists at least, it must make a difference, one that I characterized purely negatively as not functionally impairing.

      As for Jesus being “overwhelmed” by emotion, the reason I set the Incarnation aside is because it introduces complications about how the two natures of Jesus relate to each other, complications that go well beyond what’s required by open theism simpliciter. Given human finitude, it is no surprise that Jesus-qua-human can be, and sometimes was, overcome by emotions like grief and sorrow. But it is not a trivial matter to infer from there that Jesus-qua-divine can be and sometimes was overcome by emotion in similar fashion. For my part, I think the Anselmian intuition weighs rather strongly against such an inference.

      Reply
  2. Dwayne Polk

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful engagement in this area, Alan. Your voice is an extremely important in matters of open theism…and I trust that goes without saying. 🙂 Along with T.C., I think you’ve laid things out pretty well. If you would allow me, I’d like to mention a place of agreement and possible disagreement…as well as kind of note where I believe Tom and I stand. Let it be said that we agree with the preliminary assumptions that you mention. I’d like to focus on one in particular: the idea that God has differential preferences. Let me back into this by looking at what you say:
    .
    “But then what about the idea that God’s intra-Trinitarian bliss prior to creation must be essential to Him and therefore cannot be lost or perturbed? I think what open theists have to say is that it’s not that God’s pre-creational bliss cannot be perturbed, but that it cannot be perturbed apart from God’s choice. God’s inner tranquility is not essentially independent of creaturely actions, but it is initially so independent. God is not essentially invulnerable to disappointment, but can willingly make Himself so vulnerable, for such is a necessary concomitant of creating a world containing morally free creatures. A God that couldn’t make Himself vulnerable to disappointment could also never be pleasantly surprised by anything, and therefore would necessarily miss out on an important positive emotional experience that humans can enjoy. It may be argued, then, that God’s maximal excellence is not diminished but is actually enhanced by the ability to make Himself vulnerable to disappointment.”
    .
    I think that Tom and I would agree with the following idea…
    .
    ———–
    With God’s free choice to create, God created the context for differential preferences and correspondence differing aesthetic content based upon outcomes.
    ———-
    .
    In other words, in creating, God has covenanted with himself to be sensitive and responsive to expectations He has for Creation…and whether or not (and to what degree) those expectations are met. The free choices of sentient creatures can determine the quantitative amount of creaturely beauty that God can and does experience at any given time. And Creation can either fail or meet divine expectations to certain degrees…and God knows and appreciates the variances appropriately. This ensures morally significant creaturely freedom. It’s how God graciously allows us to truly MEAN something to God.
    .
    Now, we have to look at where I believe that we disagree, Alan. In looking at your statements, I come away with the following impression…
    .
    ————
    Equanimity (via inner fullness) **necessarily entails** absolute indifference/insensitivity to all possible outcomes that can happen, and therefore, absolute indifference/insensitivity to all preferences. This means that perfect equanimity, in effect, DENIES that God has differential preferences.
    ————
    .
    Tom and I (following Greg ala “Trinity and Process” )would say that equanimity means that a person’s self-defining emotional states are NOT circumscribed by preferences and outcomes (met or unmet) dealing with external factors. This is not the same thing as saying that equanimity involves absolute aesthetic indifference/insensitivity to differential preferences and outcomes. Taken to God, the qualitative experience of the intra-Trinitarian infinitely intense love, joy, and peace (bliss) defines God as God; it simply IS divine “fullness of life” that satisfies God aesthetically and renders God “without lack”. At the same time, having this love, joy, and peace does NOT preclude God from having differential preferences and expectations for Creation…and aesthetic response corresponsive to met and unmet expectations. It is conceivable for a personal being to have self-defining “fullness” and perfect acceptance of reality as it stands…while having appropriate emotional response to achieved or non-achieved goals and working for a better future.
    .
    For example, let’s say that you have a praise dancer who dances out of an “inner fulness” that she has from her relationship with Christ, such that all of her dancing does not constitute her fulness but merely expresses it. The dancer can miss a step or two of her choreographed dance, recognize such, and experienced “what could have been” aesthetically…and concentrate to do better. It is also possible that the dancer could performed a particular move flawlessly which she expected to flounder, and experience the pleasant surprise of pulling it off. Both experiences can be experienced by the dancer while NOT defining/constituted the “fullness” she has, either positively or negatively. If the above example is intelligible (and I believe that it is), this shows that fullness-borne equanimity does NOT necessitate indifference/insensitivity to preferences and outcomes.
    .
    Looking at everything, I would say that Tom and I fit well within a combination of your “weak passibilism” and “impassibilism”: the self-defining aspect of the divine emotional life (ala perfect equanimity grounded in intra-Trinitarian fullness of infinitely intense love, joy, and peace) cannot be perturbed…while the totality of God’s emotional life does allow for variance of aesthetic experience corresponsive to differential preferences. We would completely deny the strong passibilism option, as you have it described.
    .
    I would submit that if a person AGREES with Tom and myself that equanimity via fulness does not NECESSITATE aesthetic indifference/insensitivity to differential preferences, such a person may find that “weak IMpassibilism in feeling” (a place between your “weak passibilism” and “impassibilism”) is the most defensible position.
    .
    Thanks again for your engagement, Alan! Be blessed, brother! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Alan Rhoda Post author

      Hi Dwayne. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments!

      I’m not sure I perfectly follow what you say. I had thought that the way I characterized “weak passibilism” and “impassibilism” didn’t leave room for any logical space between them, for one affirms and the other denies that God can be emotionally “perturbed” by creaturely actions. (I might add that I’m using the word “perturbed” in the sense of “making a difference”. I don’t mean anything more by it than that.) Yet you seem to want to straddle that distinction in advocating for “weak impassibilism”.

      You seem to take me to be saying that “Equanimity (via inner fullness) **necessarily entails** absolute indifference/insensitivity to all possible outcomes that can happen, and therefore, absolute indifference/insensitivity to all preferences. This means that perfect equanimity, in effect, DENIES that God has differential preferences.”

      But I don’t think I am saying that. I’m only arguing that God’s having differential preferences, which we all agree on, plus a genuinely open future, which we all agree on, entails that certain creaturely actions must make a genuine emotional (or aesthetic, if you prefer) difference to God, a difference that I’ve characterized as either “disappointment” or being “pleasantly surprised”, as the case may be. I argued, further, that this difference cannot be “functionally impairing” for God. But I didn’t offer any positive account of what such differences amount to. I think that’s where there’s room for further refinement and debate.

      In straddling the “weak passibilist” / “impassibilist” distinction you make a distinction between the “self-defining aspect of the divine emotional life” and the “totality of God’s emotional life”. I’m not sure that I understand this distinction. That may be in part because you use terminology (e.g., “self-defining”) that I don’t find readily intelligible, although I’m sure makes sense to you. If what you mean by the “self-defining aspect” is simply God’s essential nature, then I agree that that is impassible. In fact, it almost goes with saying that God’s experience simply qua God’s and independent of creation is, well, independent of creation. But this is a rather abstract way of looking at things since, as things concretely stand with respect to the “totality of God’s emotional life,” there is a creation that God stands in relation to and with respect to which God has differential preferences. If I’m reading you correctly, I think you actually agree with what I’ve called “weak passibilism in feeling” with an added emphasis that God is emphatically not passible in nature.

      Am I following you correctly?

      Reply
      1. Dwayne Polk

        Alan:
        “If I’m reading you correctly, I think you actually agree with what I’ve called “weak passibilism in feeling” with an added emphasis that God is emphatically not passible in nature.”

        Dwayne:
        You are correct. The issue is that God’s impassibility in nature is inextricably linked to a degree of impassibility in feeling, simply because the inter-Trinitarian “bliss” is an non-contingent feature of the triune essential existence of the necessary God. You can’t separate God’s character and self-relational triunity, for that triunity is **how** God IS essentially love. At the same time, you cannot separate the triunity from the FEELING/aesthetic reality involved in that triunity self-perceived by God. When you work all this out, it says that creaturely actions do make a genuine emotional difference to God, but they don’t disturb, increase, or diminish the emotional content of God’s experience of his own triunity. In other words, God’s emotional experience of Creation doesn’t make ANY difference to the divine satisfaction and emotional equanimity found in the infinitely intense beauty of triune self-relationality. See what I’m saying?

        Reply
        1. T. C. Moore

          Dwayne: “…God’s impassibility in nature is inextricably linked to a degree of impassibility in feeling…”

          T. C.: This simply isn’t Open theism, and *IS* simply Classical theism, perhaps even Thomism. This is to affirm complete impassibility—which we have already ruled out as a possibility for Open theists.

          Here’s what Alan wrote: “A God who couldn’t be perturbed at all couldn’t be omnibenevolent given the open theist commitment to morally significant creaturely freedom and an open future.”

          Dwayne’s conception of God cannot be perturbed, therefore, Dwayne’s conception of God is incompatible with the Open theist conception of God.

          Reply
        2. T. C. Moore

          “So the open view of God draws some important parallels between divine and human experience, but it does not by any means equate the two. God is like us in being sensitive to the experiences of others, but radically different from us in the profound depth of his feelings. Like traditional theism, the open view of God affirms divine transcendence, the radical difference between God and all things human. But whereas traditional theism seeks to safeguard God’s transcendence by denying divine sensitivity, the open view of God does so by maintaining that his sensitivity and love are infinitely greater than our own.”

          – Richard Rice, _The Openness of God_, p.43

          “Impassibility is the most dubious of the divine attributes discussed in classical theism, because it suggests that God does not experience sorrow, sadness or pain. It appears to deny that God is touched by the feelings of our infirmities, despite what the Bible eloquently say about his love and his sorrow. How can God be loving and not pained by evil? How can God be impassible when the incarnate Son experienced suffering and death?

          The suffering or pathos of God is a strong biblical theme—God’s love, wrath, jealousy and suffering are all prominent. God suffers when there is a broken relationship between humanity and himself. In this context, God agonizes over his people and says: ‘My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender’ (Hosea 11:8 RSV). God is not cool and collected but is deeply involved and can be wounded. The idea of God’s impassibility arises more from Plato than from the Bible.

          The theme of suffering strongly brings out God’s openness to the world. Not aloof and impassive, God does not just imagine what it would be like to suffer, he actually suffers because of his decision to love. God has chosen to be open to the world and to share in its suffering because of his love. God’s transcendence over the world does not prevent him from interacting with the world or from being affected by the world.”

          – Clark Pinnock (God rest his brilliant soul), _The Openness of God_, p.118-119.

          Reply
      2. Dwayne Polk

        The best analogy I have is a Christian’s relationship with Christ and the Father in the Spirit. It is conceivable that a Christian’s emotional experience of the world doesn’t disturb, increase, or diminish the “soul satisfaction” and emotional equanimity said Christian has in their intensely intimate love, joy, and peace they have in the Trinity. Not that a Christian doesn’t really experience true emotional variation with experiences in the world…but NONE of those variances define the their identity in Christ or the emotional content of that identity for them. It’s the same way with God’s relationship to his own triunity, as I see it. Feel me?

        Reply
      3. Dwayne Polk

        Alan:
        ” I had thought that the way I characterized “weak passibilism” and “impassibilism” didn’t leave room for any logical space between them, for one affirms and the other denies that God can be emotionally “perturbed” by creaturely actions. (I might add that I’m using the word “perturbed” in the sense of “making a difference”. I don’t mean anything more by it than that.) Yet you seem to want to straddle that distinction in advocating for “weak impassibilism”. ”

        and…

        “–Weak passibilism in feeling: God’s emotions can be perturbed by creaturely actions, but the degree of perturbation is such that God cannot in any degree be functionally impaired by them.

        –Impassibilism in feeling: God’s emotions cannot be perturbed at all by creaturely actions. God’s intra-Trinitarian bliss is maintained is perfect equanimity regardless of creaturely actions.”

        Dwayne:
        It seemed to me, Alan, that your definitions meant that the “perturbability” of God’s emotions by creaturely actions and the preservation of intra-Trinitarian bliss (and the corresponsive perfect equanimity) were mutually exclusive realities. My point is that it’s not an “either/or” situation; it’s a both/and. Hence, my straddling the distinction. 🙂

        Reply
      4. Dwayne Polk

        Let the following be proposed:

        “Weak impassibilism in feeling:
        God’s emotions can be perturbed by creaturely actions, but the degree of perturbation is always contextualized by God’s intra-Trinitarian bliss and accompanying equanimity.”

        Would you accept this as a possibility, Alan? I think it fits on the continuum between “complete breakdown” and “complete indifference.” And it preserves Tom’s and my concerns. What say you? 😉

        Reply
  3. Tom

    Thanks for challenging us on this issue, Alan. Very grateful.

    On the Anselmian intuition, agree. On creation ex nihilo (CEN), agree. On Creel’s distinctions (impassible in nature but passible in knowledge), also totally agree, though I think his misapplies ‘(im)passibilism’ throughout his book. I think he means ‘mutable; in knowledge. (Im)passibilism has to do with affective states or aesthetic perception (experience of beatitude), not mutability per se. But I agree with his point. I agree that none of us in-house would identify with your ‘Strong Passibilist’ (though there’s a point here I’d make about the relationship between God’s ‘character’ and ‘competency’ and God’s experience of aesthetic value, cf. below).

    I think the differences between us might emerge with your differential preference thesis (cf. below).

    Some quick comments:

    (1) TC suspects that philosophical thought “may lead to a normalization of a non-christocentric theological methodology.” I’m equally suspicious of displacing Christ within our methodology, but I don’t think an impassibilist needs to displace Christ to discern impassibilism within NT Christology. Making the apostolic witness to Christ a methodological center doesn’t get you passibilism in any straightforward way.

    (2) Whether what I believe qualifies as ‘open theism’ is beside the point for me. I’m not interested in these issues from that perspective.

    (3) I think there’s a fair question to be asked of all passibilists regarding what it is about God (which ‘would’ have to be immutable) which secures God’s competency once God’s aesthetic experience is viewed as being mutable. While passibilists would agree God remains competent, I’m not sure they have a satisfactory defense against the claim that it is at least conceivable, for example, that a passibilist God would be rendered less than competent in some measure. For Dwayne and me, divine competency and character can’t be extracted from divine aesthetic satisfaction; i.e., his competency is the competency of a particular aesthetic satisfaction, or said otherwise, divine competency and character are a function of his experienced beatitude.

    (4) On God’s differential preferences we’re talking about the very nature of how what’s happening in the world ‘motivates’ God. I read you as saying that God’s having such preferences poses a threat to impassibilism. You understand God’s preferences has affectively motivated by the relevant good or evil of the possibilities contemplated such that God couldn’t be said to ‘prefer’ the possibility of our feeding the poor over the possibility of our ‘ignoring them’ without his experiencing a measurable diminishing of beatitude when contemplating the latter over the former possibility. And this measurable difference in feeling motivates God to prefer the former. On that reading of motivation God’s ‘aesthetic experience’ fluctuates and that in itself is passibilism.

    …comments re: (4) continued…

    Reply
    1. Alan Rhoda Post author

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for chiming in. I greatly appreciate it. As I have time I will reply to each part of your reply in turn. In the end, I don’t think we’re necessarily as far apart as you seem to think.

      Briefly, though, I agree with (1).

      Regarding (2), I think openness is relevant in this context in that it’s much easier to maintain a strong impassibilist position on the assumption of meticulous providence since God’s ultimate (or sovereign) will can never be disappointed.

      Regarding (3), you say that “it is at least conceivable … that a passibilist God would be rendered less than competent in some measure.” I’ll grant that it’s conceivable, but it doesn’t strike me as plausible. I would need to see an argument for the claim that passibilism necessarily diminishes competence.

      Regarding (4), you misstate my view when you say that in simply “contemplating” the possibilities of one’s feeding the poor versus ignoring them God experiences a “measurable diminishing of beatitude”. There are two things wrong with this. First, I don’t think God’s mere *contemplation* of possibilities, however dispreferred, poses any difficulty for impassibility. Rather, I’m suggesting that it’s God actual *experience* of a dispreferred outcome that poses a problem. Second, I never suggested that whatever *difference* disappointment would make for God would in any sense be “measurable”. Maybe it would. Maybe it wouldn’t. I leave it as a further question as to *how* exactly that difference would be *felt* by God.

      Well, that’s all I’ve got time for right now. I’ll reply to your other comments a bit later. Cheers! 🙂

      Reply
      1. Tom

        Thanks for clarifying (4). Interesting. So your ‘differential preference thesis’ doesn’t apply to God’s preference of “possibilities”? It’s only “actualities” which God (dis)prefers. That does seem strange. I certain prefer some possibilities over others. But if you’d agree that God prefers possible goods over possible evils, how does this “preferring” obtain consistently with, say, impassibility? Wouldn’t the “preference” obtain equally in aesthetic/felt terms? I should think so (on the view you’re describing). I’m not suggesting there’s no difference between possibilities and actualities. But I don’t see that “preference” relates only to the latter. The ‘preferring’ of one possible outcome over another is at least an instance of the same species of preference which is experienced relative to actualities. So it seems to me that if God cannot be indifferent to actual evils, as you say, surely he cannot be indifferent to possible evils (though the feeling would obviously be different). And the (dis)preference in each case would be of the same species (aesthetically speaking). And once you agree that contemplated possibilities are proper objects of differential preference, then I’d like to know how you think they’re integrated into an unalloyed bliss sans creation.

        Secondly, if “measurability” doesn’t fit, my point is to refer to the “change” or “difference” you suppose outcomes must make to God. If the difference you’re wanting to secure isn’t measurable (by God even if not by us), then I don’t see the point, i.e., I don’t see how impassibilism is threatened. Essentially, all I mean by a ‘measurable difference’ in this instance is ‘perceivable difference’. It may not clock-out on any means or scales we have for discerning that difference, but surely God would perceive the ‘depth’ or ‘sense’ or ‘extent’ to which dispreferred outcomes ‘affect’ him.

        Reply
        1. Alan Rhoda Post author

          Tom: So your ‘differential preference thesis’ doesn’t apply to God’s preference of “possibilities”? It’s only “actualities” which God (dis)prefers.

          Alan: No. God has differential preferences concerning possibilities. My point was that any sense of disappointment could only come in response to actualities, not mere possibilities.

          Tom: If the difference you’re wanting to secure isn’t measurable (by God even if not by us), then I don’t see the point, i.e., I don’t see how impassibilism is threatened.

          Alan: I take impassibilism to entail a *no difference* thesis, whereas I’m arguing for a *difference* thesis. But that difference can be understood in ways that are more or less congenial to impassibilism, and that’s why I said that our positions aren’t necessarily that far apart. A difference that decreased or augmented God’s joy by a finite percentage would be very far removed from impassibilism. But a difference that was only infinitesimal would be very close to impassibilism.

          Reply
  4. Tom

    Several things re: (4):

    (a) It would seem impossible on this view of divine preference to go on to say, as you do, that whatever God feels, God freely chooses to feel (i.e., “…God’s bliss cannot be perturbed apart from God’s choice”). Presumably God’s choices by definition already include his feelings, so what feeling would motivate God’s choice to allow himself to be perturbed? I don’t follow how that would work.

    (b) We have good examples of loving responses to human suffering that don’t include any perceivable diminishing of joy. Creel mentions several. One of his examples was my own experience recently while camping (the child with a skinned knee and the father who demonstrated preferential love without any measurable loss of joy). It seems clear to me that Greg’s definition of love as “meeting another’s need at cost to one’s self” is just mistaken. It “may” involve a cost or sacrifice, but ‘sacrifice’ isn’t intrinsic to every act of love. This is an important point because it has to do with your claim that unless God could be perturbed then (given the open view) he couldn’t be love.

    (c) I’ve discussed the self-motivating fullness of God’s beatitude here (http://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/divine-experience-of-beatitude-the-summum-bonum-part-2/). I don’t see why God should be thought to be impersonal and insensitive if it were the case that he needn’t be motivated to act in our best interest by first being made to feel measurably worse by our pain. That would make grace on behalf of restoring our well-being also intended to restore his own well-being. It seems to me that the differential preferences thesis only need entail that acting in love to relieve the suffering of another must be motivated and that such acts are in response to the suffering of others. But it seems possible to conceive of a personal satisfaction which need not be diminished by the suffering of others before it can benevolently intend their well-being and act on their behalf. A present fullness may be its own motivation to pursue the well-being of others as an expression of its own completeness.

    Dwayne and I may differ slightly on this. I may lean more impassibilist (minus absolute immutability and timelessness of course) than him. Not sure. Talk of divine motivation in the psychological terms derived from our experience is tricky. That said, Dwayne suggested a good analogy that helped me. Take the instance of Jesus and his disciples pushing through the crowds. Everybody’s touching everyone else. Yet one lady in faith touches Christ and Jesus feels ‘power’ (or ‘virtue’) leave him. He stops and asks who touched him. You know the rest. Human need accessed God’s power to heal and Jesus perceived the transaction. Did this “leaving” of power constitute a “diminishing” of power? I think not. There was a real perception by Christ of grace going out of him to respond to human need, but there’s no consequent diminishing of grace or power in Christ.

    If we don’t have the language to express this in aesthetic terms, hopefully we’ll find them. But that’s roughly an analogy (Dwayne’s) of how God genuinely responds to human need, how there’s an ‘expenditure’ (to use that word for the moment) to meet that need, but no consequent ‘expense’ in terms of depletion. Does God perceive our suffering as an occasion for reaching out to us in love to meet that need? Of course. Is this perception an ‘aesthetic evaluation’ or, to use your phrase, a ‘differential preference’ which defines God’s response to less than perfect situations? I’m fine with those terms. Does this mean God is “disappointed”? Here I pause, because that word suggests to me a measurable depletion of aesthetic value in God. Given the father’s response to his daughter’s skinned knee as loving and compassion without any measurable loss or “disappointment,” I don’t know that disappointment is intrinsic to ‘preference’ (of imagined or actual evils) per se. I don’t pretend to have this all hammered out in perfect terms that don’t require any further adjusting. But I can say that most of the passibilist construals of God I run into have zero appreciation for these distinctions.

    Reply
    1. Alan Rhoda Post author

      In my previous reply, Tom, I addressed a couple ways in which your point (4) gets my view wrong. Some of those remarks may apply to your (4.a)-(4.c) as well, but here I’ll just take each point on it’s own.

      Regarding (4.a), what I meant by “…God’s bliss cannot be perturbed apart from God’s choice” is not that God could directly *choose* to have a less than perfectly blissful experience, but rather that God could choose to create a world in which he could come to experience genuine disappointment as a result of creaturely actions. In other words, God doesn’t choose to be perturbed, He chooses to bring about circumstances in which it is possible for Him to be perturbed.

      Regarding (4.b), you say that “We have good examples of loving responses to human suffering that don’t include any perceivable diminishing of joy.” In reply I would make two points: (a) human cases, supposing they are as you describe, do not readily transfer to the divine case. No human can possibly feel our pain as fully as God can. (b) A key word here may be “perceivable.” It’s akin to your use of the term “measurable” when you expressed your point (4) above. But I’m not committed to any such qualifier. All I’m arguing is that given open futurism creaturely actions must be able to make some *difference* to the emotional quality of God’s experience. I’m ready to grant that that difference might be infinitesimal–a drop of disappointment in an infinite ocean of joy–but there must, I think, be a difference, for if there isn’t then God’s experience would be *exactly as if* God doesn’t care.

      As for Greg’s definition of love, I agree with you that it is false. As you aptly put it, “‘sacrifice’ isn’t intrinsic to every act of love.” But my claim is different than Greg’s. My claim is that unless God *could* be perturbed, given open futurism and differential preferences, then He wouldn’t be perfectly loving. Love (for another free person) doesn’t require that a cost be paid (pace Greg), but it does entail the *possibility* that a cost will be paid.

      For (4.c) you write that “I don’t see why God should be thought to be impersonal and insensitive if it were the case that he needn’t be motivated to act in our best interest by first being made to feel measurably worse by our pain. That would make grace on behalf of restoring our well-being also intended to restore his own well-being.” I agree, but I don’t think I said or implied anything like that. (I observe that you use the word “measurable” again.) I said nothing in my post about divine motivation, but for the record I think (as you do) that God’s love is all the motivation He needs to act on our behalf. My point was that if God really *wants* what’s best for us (and He does), then when due to our own poor choices we bring about tragic circumstances that are emphatically *not* good for us when we could have chosen otherwise, then He *should* feel something like disappointment. To remain completely *unmoved* when preventable tragedy befalls those one loves is a failure of love, not its perfection, or so it seems to me.

      Reply
  5. Tom

    One last comment; actually a question for you, Alan. We both grant that God eternally knows causally-open possibilities. You mention this as part of your understanding of the ‘differential preference thesis’. This knowing also involves God’s eternally preferring some possible outcomes over others. Given your understanding of preference as involving a felt difference or discomfort (whichever term best explains the aesthetic apprehension involved in not preferring some outcomes), wouldn’t it follow for you that God is eternally discomforted or ‘perturbed’? I think it would. I’m wondering what this might mean for how you conceive of God’s pre-creational triune “unallowed bliss.” How unallowed is it if God is eternally defined by the perturbation or dis_________ (whatever word works to express the less than optimally positive feeling chosen to account for divine preference) God experiences over non-preferred outcomes?

    Reply
    1. Alan Rhoda Post author

      Tom: Given your understanding of preference as involving a felt difference or discomfort (whichever term best explains the aesthetic apprehension involved in not preferring some outcomes), wouldn’t it follow for you that God is eternally discomforted or ‘perturbed’?

      Alan: Well, since I don’t think *preference* involves felt difference or discomfort, this doesn’t follow for me at all. My argument is that differential preferences + open futurism entail the *possibility* of divine disappointment, on the one hand, and pleasant surprise, on the other, and that such feelings must make some real *difference* to God’s emotional state, however that difference be understood. Perhaps it only makes an infinitesimally small difference, but that’s still a difference.

      Reply
      1. T. C. Moore

        Alan: “My argument is that differential preferences + open futurism entail the *possibility* of divine disappointment, on the one hand, and pleasant surprise, on the other, and that such feelings must make some real *difference* to God’s emotional state, however that difference be understood.”

        Well put, Alan. I agree. If the world makes no “difference” to God, then Jesus can’t possibly reveal a God who is love, nor a God concerned about the world enough for the Son of God to lay down his life for the world on the Cross. Not only is your thesis necessary for Open theists, it is necessary for Christianity.

        I’m also a little “perturbed” that Tom is only willing to allow the world to make an “infinitesimally small” difference to God. It seems to me that if the Father was willing to give up the Son on the Cross, the world means a lot more than an “infinitesimally small” amount. But, either way, if the state of the world makes *ANY* difference to God, then God is “passible.”

        Thanks again for all your work on this. 😀

        Reply
        1. Tom

          It wasn’t me that suggested passibilism need only reflect an infinitesimal difference to God. That was Alan. I was just following up on it.

          To conclude that I don’t believe we make a difference to God is to interpret me in terms of your view. I’ve clearly said we make a difference to God. I’m just not convinced that difference must be either aesthetic improvement or diminishment, and there are no shortage of good analogies that make my view conceivable, actually, plausible if we’re talking about existential/emotional health.

          Reply
          1. T. C. Moore

            So, it’s emotionally-healthy *Not* to emphasize with people who are hurting. Actually, no, it’s not. It’s emotionally-unhealthy if a person cannot emphasize with others. In the extreme, it’s sociopathic. Certainly, the God revealed in Jesus is not a sociopath.

  6. Tom

    Thanks so much Alan. I have some serious questions about several things, but I’ll shelve them for now because evidently I’m not following your ‘differential preference thesis’. Perhaps Dwayne has a better grip on it and I’ll see it in due time. I will say, though, that IF we’re defining “impassibilism” as the view that we “make no difference” to God, then I’m not an impassibilist, for I believe creation means something to God and I think he prefers good and disprefers evil. I’m less inclined to agree this difference amounts to a devaluation of God’s (aesthetic) experience. If, as you say, the conversation over just what constitutes this “difference” and what motivates this preference is open, then I’m fine. But you argue this ‘difference’ could only be a felt depreciation in aesthetic value for God. Dwayne seems to have an easier time than I in agreeing to that sort of difference, but if it can play out in terms of some of the analogies I’ve suggested, then I don’t have an issue with it, but I’m disinclined from the very start to agree with your definition of “impassibilism.” I don’t know of any impassibilist who’d agree to boiling it down to a “makes no difference” claim. But IF that’s the proposition we’re debating, then I don’t hold it.

    I think the number of passibilists who limit divine disappointment to the kind of infinitesimal perturbation you’re arguing for is equally small. ;o) And given the kind of experiences passibilists attribute to God, the extent to which God should be thought of as “pissed off” or unworthy of worship, I’m inclined to define impassibilism in terms of your infinitesimal difference and camp there just for the advantage of dissociating myself from the belief that love equals being pissed off. Give that sentiment, I have far more in common with impassibilists. But if you can get TC to agree that we make an infinitesimal difference to God, I’ll follow you anywhere!

    Reply
  7. Tom

    Alan, are you saying that God’s *differential preferences* are just his eternal evaluation of causally open futures (possible good and evil outcomes) and that:

    (a) these preferences only *may* mean something to God *should God create* (not that they may or may not make such a difference to him once they’ve occurred–indeed, you’re arguing God wouldn’t be perfectly loving if he wasn’t ‘affected’ aesthetically), and then that…
    (b) this evaluation or differential preferencing of possible outcomes doesn’t constitute a *meaning* that *makes a difference to God* sans creation, because it’s only actual goods and evils that *make a difference* to God, and that…
    (c) they only end up making this difference to God because of his antecedent differential preferences?

    OR do you imagine differential preferences to be determined by God on the spot once good and bad things occur?

    Reply
  8. Tom

    Re-reading several times now, Alan, I think I follow your DP thesis. It seems pretty clear that the thesis describes divine evaluative judgments of causally-possible future goods/evil and is the ground upon which God is later disappointed or pleased regarding actual outcomes). I still think this commits you to believing God feels differently regarding possible goods and evils as well (i.e., the thesis, on your account, cannot consistently be limited to God’s response to actualities but is also God’s evaluative judgment of contemplated possibilities), which in turn makes an “unallowed bliss” inconceivable, but I’m happy to stretch that conversation out long-term if you’re open to it.

    Regarding your comment about the analogy of the father’s undisturbed (to our notice) response to his daughter who skims her knee, you thought this probably doesn’t transfer over to our understanding of God since “no human can feel our pain as fully as God can.” But this assumes the point of debate (exactly how God feels our pain), and in the end it’s beside the point (of the analogy): we in fact do demonstrate loving behavior toward others who are suffering without experiencing any noticable pain. That God perceives the truth of things more accurately than we do is irrelevant here because the father’s attention to his daughter is not rendered other than genuinely loving by anybody on account of having a perspective on her pain that doesn’t cause him perceivable pain. Nobody thinks he’d be more loving (more like God) if it cried as she did, or if the difference his daughter made to him was a felt disappointment over her pain. I don’t see any reason to suppose a perfect love for her (indeed, God’s very love for her at that moment) would suggest a felt decrease or diminishment of please. But it would be wrong to suppose that this means she means nothing to her father. If she meant nothing, he’d ‘do’ nothing (not notice, not attend to her, not extend his arms, certainly not ‘smile’ as he moved in her direction).

    Regarding my earlier (2) (i.e., that whether what I believe about this qualifies me as an “open theist” in the eyes of other open theists is beside the point for me), you seem to have taken me to me that the truth of open futurism’s core claim (future causal openness and divine epistemic openness) was irrelevant. I don’t think it’s irrelevant. I agree this core thesis is very relevant (as you say, it’s how/why it is that God’s prefers this possibility or that possibility). What I’m saying is that what motivates me to seek truth on the question of (im)passibility is not whether or not a group that self-identifies as “open theists” continues to consider me a member.

    Thanks again,
    Tom

    Reply
  9. Tom

    TC: So, it’s emotionally-healthy *Not* to emphasize with people who are hurting. Actually, no, it’s not. It’s emotionally-unhealthy if a person cannot emphasize with others. In the extreme, it’s sociopathic. Certainly, the God revealed in Jesus is not a sociopath.

    Tom: If there’s anyone incapable of lovingly empathizing with me, TC, it’d be you. But anybody who knows my view knows I don’t think emotionally healthy people disregard the feelings or well-being of those in need or manifest the antisocial behavior of a sociopath.

    Are you OK with Alan’s *infinitesimal difference*, that the difference our worst pain makes to God is a “drop of disappointment in a sea of joy”? I’ll meet you there, TC. And if you’ll meet me there, I’ll concede to Alan’s performing our wedding ceremony and I’ll agree to adopt the family name of ‘Passible’ in your honor.

    No marriage yet, Alan!

    Reply
    1. Jeff Scott

      Tom: This knowing also involves God’s eternally preferring some possible outcomes over others. Given your understanding of preference as involving a felt difference or discomfort (whichever term best explains the aesthetic apprehension involved in not preferring some outcomes), wouldn’t it follow for you that God is eternally discomforted or ‘perturbed’? I think it would. I’m wondering what this might mean for how you conceive of God’s pre-creational triune “unallowed bliss.” How unallowed is it if God is eternally defined by the perturbation or dis_________ (whatever word works to express the less than optimally positive feeling chosen to account for divine preference) God experiences over non-preferred outcomes?

      J: That seems right to me, too, Tom; i.e., if divine omniscience is defined as the foreknowledge of all future contingencies at any past time. But I’m not an Anselmian in that sense, so I only posit those divine beliefs and classes of beliefs that actually explain some facet or aspect of my experience that seems otherwise inexplicable. This seems reasonable to me since I have no idea how to account for the correspondence of divine beliefs and reality non-serendipitously in the first place. I think C.S. Lewis, Noah Porter etal showed that apart from competent, benevolent teleology, we can’t conceive of an intelligible distinction between warranted belief and unwarranted human belief that coheres with our claims thereof. But I see no way to account for the “warrantedness” (i.e., the non-serendipitousness) of divine belief. Nevertheless, that means there is a theistic way to account for what an atheistic epistemology can’t, true or no. And it’s an utterly important accounting.

      Tom: Finally (for now), I think the view you outline and call the most defensible is actually just “passibilism.”

      J: I agree. But I can’t see how we can come up with a formula that implies passibilism equates to incompetence no matter how great divine suffering might be. God either has the power to act loving despite that suffering or not. Such a capacity must just be posited of God to render God explanatory. By analogy, soldiers refuse to divulge military strategy when torchered by their enemies merely because they have the inner strength to restrain themselves despite the impulse to alleviate the suffering. This doesn’t seem psychologically problematic to me. So I’m not seeing how Alan can logically limit a quantity of divine suffering or perturbation once we’ve entered into bona-fide passibilism. As I see it, God’s necessary, perfect, long-term perspective is the necessary source of His motivation which renders Him competent against any finite amount of suffering. I posit that God’s long-term perspective is compelling in its impelling because of how it relates to His sentient nature. Indeed, I think that’s why faith is so important for us. The stronger the belief, the more compelling the impulse to act off of the belief rather than mere immediate circumstances.

      As Hebrews says, Jesus endured the shame for the JOY set before him. This seems to just be perfectly conceivable long-term, teleological motivation. Of course it also seems to require that the moral order is such that all LONG-TERM self-interest is consistent with and conducive to the greatest LONG-TERM self-interest of all others. You might find that view of love problematic since it’s consequentialist. I find the negation of it to be the elimination of all explanation since desire/motivation has to be unto some yet future sentient state per the definitions of those words. This is why motive is used in court cases–because it explains events. No motivation (as defined in conventional language), no explanation of those events. Moreover, it explains why God’s benevolence in no way contradicts the scriptural claim that creation is for the Father and the Son rather than for creatures.

      As such, I have to limit myself to a necessary sociality of God the Father rather than a necessary blissful social interaction with the Son. In short, I don’t know how to give up desire/motivation as defined in conventional language and explain anything. Because even the validity of induction (and therefore a discursively-discovered true foundationalism) is based upon the teleological fit of the real and the preferred as even Hart admits.

      Note the relation of impulse (“impel,” “compel,”) in the definitions below to desire:

      syn: desire, craving, longing, yearning suggest feelings that impel a person to the attainment or possession of something. desire is a strong wish, worthy or unworthy, for something that is or seems to be within reach: a desire for success. craving implies a deep and compelling wish for something, arising from a feeling of (literal or figurative) hunger: a craving for food; a craving for companionship. longing is an intense wish, generally repeated or enduring, for something that is at the moment beyond reach but may be attainable in the future: a longing to visit Europe. yearning suggests persistent, uneasy, and sometimes wistful or tender longing: a yearning for one’s native land.

      Reply
      1. Jeff Scott

        I should clarify a bit about my claim about the necessary conditions of explanation. By my comments, I mean to say that explanations or predictive heuristics (like analogical extrapolation) that actually have enough relevance to the future (as opposed to merely the past) to help us know how best to choose depend upon the use of motivation. E.g., there is no way that I’m aware of to account for the validity of induction unless there is a non-serendipitous fit between what humans prefer and how extra-ego beings will behave in the future. And the only conceivable way, to my knowledge, to account for that fit is by a benevolent, competent design of such an order. But design/teleology is conceived of in terms of motivation unto some end or ends which instantiates or possibly (when the design is risky) instantiates some yet-experienced sentient state.

        But even when a design is risky, the risk is FOR an end whether or not the end is attained. And this is why we can conceive of even divine teleological risk as a free act. If the NT is on to the truth about such matters, it seems safe to say that God has rendered creation risk-free for the Son; at least in the sense that the Son’s sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the joy attained thereby. The same works for humans. But maybe Greg is right in saying that at least the Father can just plain risk in the sense that He might end up truly sacrificing some temporal over-all bliss (if the choices of creatures aren’t fitted to God’s preference) to assure that the Son and humans are competently loved.

        This is how properly-conceived open theism in part (I don’t see how it does all the theodicy work by itself) explains rationally how a competent, benevolent Designer can create freely (i.e., by teleological risk). I see no logical problem with that kind of theism. On the other hand, I see no implications or elements of implications, and therefore nothing about “god” that gives me a clue how to live, of any putatively real events by the positing of a truly impassible God. And that’s why I think the Eastern Orthodox are right to appeal to mystery rather than rational explanation to do that. But if they’re right about theism, I can’t see how theism has any epistemological role whatsoever in the thinking of those who receive no a-rational “knowledge” from God.

        Reply
        1. Jeff

          There’s one other consideration I think is worth noting with respect to the relation of open theism to divine passibility. And that’s how we can rationally hold to creation ex nihilo.

          Free divine risk has the advantage of accounting for bona-fide creation ex theo (aka creation ex nihilo or CEN). Because a freely taken risk is not something that one has a perpetual, innate impulse unto. It has to be consciously and intentionally contemplated and chosen precisely because there are motives contrary to the risk-taking as well as motives unto the risk-taking.

          But any other explanation of creation like, e.g., a divine motive to extend the circle of divine love, or a divine motive to gift god-self, have no conceivable contrary motive if God is sentiently impassible. Thus, these “explanations” are not rational explanations at all of creation ex nihilo, best I can tell. Because a divine motive to something for which there is no counter-motive amounts to divine compatibilism rather than divine freedom. And this in turn amounts to a necessary god-world relationship unless you just posit that God is a-temporal sans creation.

          But an a-temporal existence of God sans creation has 2 problems:

          1) It is hard to even conceive of a-temporal existence. Because we seem foundationally-wired to think of existence as having positive duration to even be contrasted with non-existence.

          2) It seemingly requires that God causes creation instantaneously such that cause does not precede effect (since God can’t exist temporally prior to creating), and that seems to imply that God, in the act of creation, acts causally without being conscious since a distinguishable state (conscious vs. unconscious) of absolutely zero duration seems unintelligible. Nor does positing a-temporal existence of God sans creation explain anything whatsoever about the world of beings we infer exists. Nor does it solve any logical problem that I’m aware of. As such (and if so), it has no inductive plausibility. For per induction, plausibility has to do with the existence or normative quality of explanations or predictive heuristics, not mere non-explanatory/non-predictive positings. For such positings tell us nothing about how we should adjudicate our future voluntary choices. Let alone is there any obvious reason why humans should disassociate with one another or discriminate against one another over such positings.

          The problem with a necessary god-world relationship enters in if the necessary world contains volitional beings. For in the first place, a volitional being is the one kind of being that rules out absolute creatio continua. There seems to be no way to reconcile absolute creatio continua with a bona-fide capacity of non-divine beings to act as final causes. Because creatio continua just seems to mean that the state of affairs of all non-divine reality at any given time is literally instantiated by God alone. This includes the mental states and mental content of every non-divine, conscious being. I suppose one way out is to assume, if it’s categorically conceivable (and it doesn’t seem to be to me), that time is not continuous. But is this assumption any more plausible than divine risk in the first place?

          On the other hand, if creatio continua is not the case for a necessary god-world relationship, then induction wouldn’t seem to be valid for that “world.” For induction seems to require that explanation has finality for finite minds and that causality is valid as a principle. For, if causality is not true as a principle, then we’d need a criteria for determining which events are caused. But there is seemingly no such criteria. An uncaused event can’t be expected in terms of any conceivable criteria. This means that the inductive criteria that would otherwise be useful for judging best explanations is pragmatically worthless since there is no reason to believe any event is caused in the first place if causality is not true as a principle. But if induction requires that world (i.e., non-divine) events have finality of explanation and that events are caused, there must be a beginning of world events unless there are no such thing as means (i.e., naturally-caused events). But if there are no means, then such a necessary world would be neither teleological nor cognizable in terms of induction.

          Thus, if we believe induction is valid in our “world,” then our world can’t be the necessary world such a God is putatively necessarily in relationship with. Because induction seems to require both the finality of explanation of world events and the validity of the principle of causality. And that seems explicable only in terms of a freely-created (hence, the finality of explanation consistent with the principle of causality) world that we are inductively inferring. Thus, we seem to live in a world that is created (assuming induction is valid) freely (even naturalists incessantly speak of evolution in teleological verbage, using the teleological infinitive and so on, precisely because there is no extant hypothetico-deductive explanation of, or even predictive heuristic for, biological evolution).

          But if we’re not in the world that God is necessarily in relationship with, how does a necessary God-world relationship explain anything at all about our world?

          In conclusion, I would love someone to show me where I’m amiss in my reasoning and intuitions if indeed I am amiss. Because I’m not seeing how theism even gets on the cognitive radar non-mystically unless it explains something about the world we commonly infer inductively. And the positing of either a necessary god-world relationship, an a-temporal sans creation divine existence, or an impassible God seems to explain nothing about the world we commonly, inductively infer. This is why the only way I can reconcile the seeming axioms of induction with a non-mystical theism that accounts for free-will in non-divine beings and CEN is by positing free, divine risk—i.e., divine passibilism. The alternative seems to render God non-explanatory of CEN, or anything else. Even Greg, in T&P, expresses this very concern (p. 95) when speaking of the problem of not being able to affirm anything positive of God in terms of merely human categories when arguing against Neville, who contended that “God could not function as the all inclusive unifying explanation for complex determinates” since “God would” then “be one being among others, not ‘being itself”:

          “But in this case, one must ask, how can Neville argue that ‘first principles’ must be determinate and complex? Is not ‘being-itself’ here functioning as an explanatory ‘first principle?’ Indeed, if all intelligibility is contingent upon determinancy and complexity–and I agree that it is–then the concept of a wholly indeterminate Creator must be unintelligible. But in this case it is not clear how God can function as an ‘explanation’ of anything?”

          Now, I’m not convinced that those (like Neville) who deny categorical determinancy to God are using “being-itself” as an explanatory first principle. I think they’re saying God can only be “known” a-rationally/mystically. This is why some of them, at least, speak of acquiring “knowledge” of God by meditation, etc rather than reflection, analysis, etc. David Bentley Hart seems to be in this camp. But Hart also claims to believe that humans qua humans know something about God. This would mean, seemingly, that Hart believes all humans know about God a-rationally/mystically. On the other hand, he does seem to be open to being wrong about all humans knowing about God (The Experience of God, p. 15). But whether only some subset of humans can know about God or whether all humans know about God, albeit only a-rationally/mystically, there is, per those premises, seemingly no place for rational discussion of theism in publicly-funded philosophical contexts. And that was the very issue Greg was addressing in T&P (see, e.g., p. 12). Greg even admitted in T&P that his thesis seemed paradoxical, although he thought he overcame it (e.g., Trinity and Process, p. 381, n. 64):

          “The metaphysical necessity of God’s self-relationality means, I believe, that it is not possible to conceive of the death of the Son as anything other than an expression of the intense love of God’s inner life. This paradox shall be discussed shortly, …”

          So it’s not as though he thought he could, in any clear or obvious way, account for the coherence of his thesis in terms of both human categories and divine impassibilism .

          Reply
  10. Tom Torbeyns

    “As I see it, the second view (weak passibilism in feeling) is clearly the most defensible”

    I agree and great blog post! 🙂

    Reply
  11. Tom Torbeyns

    And it seems to me that the “eternal bliss of emotion” was broken when Jesus cried out: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”. But this is a difficult verse to perceive. Do you have any articles on this verse Alan Rhoda?

    Reply
    1. Alan Rhoda Post author

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything specifically on that verse. As you point out, on an orthodox Christology it’s hard to see how this verse doesn’t imply some kind of passibility in God.

      Reply
  12. Jeff

    Tom, I haven’t bought it yet, but the following book deals with just the verse you mention I think (or so it seems from the description):

    Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters by Thomas H. McCall

    It’s available from Amazon.

    Reply

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