Ep63-A Mormon Process Theodicy - Vol 4

Topics Discussed:
• Precedents in Mormon Thought for a Process Theodicy
• Basic Commitments of A Mormon Process Theodicy
• Criticisms of Process Theodicy

Show Notes:

A Mormon Process Theodicy

 Theism is the view that God transcends the natural order because God is its creator ex nihilo. God is therefore logically prior to all else that exists. Pantheism is the view that God is identical with the natural order. Finitism is the view that God exists within a prior-existing natural order to which God is subject. God is logically subsequent to the law-like order already present in the natural universe given finitism. Panentheism is the view that God is immanent in reality and all reality is embodied in God. Panentheism maintains that God is as eternal as the universe (or multiverse) and whatever order exists is a result of God’s influence. God logically co-exists with the universe.

 A. Precedents in Mormon Thought for a Process Theodicy

This trajectory of thought draws on the views of brothers Orson and Parley Pratt and B. H. Roberts.

 The Pratts adopted a form of panpsychism which is the view that mental properties are inherent in all physical realities to some degree. They viewed the nature of intelligences as defined by their ability to be interpenetrated with and given some level of active power by the light of God that is in and through all things. However, the intelligences also eternally have some level of active power of their own.

 In addition, each of the intelligent particles acts upon and influences each other. Human intelligence and individuality arose only with the organization of these more basic intelligences. Thus, they held that human intelligences had a beginning when they were organized by God to form spirits. These spirits are then embodied in human flesh to become mortals.

 Similar views were later developed by a member of the Quorum of Seventy, Elder B. H. Roberts, who maintained that God is immanent in every part of nature as its organizing power and also that every part of nature is immanent in God.

 Unlike the Pratts who held that individual identity had a beginning with the organization of lower-grade intelligences, Roberts held that each individual human identity was uncreated and eternally existed as an intelligence. Each intelligence eternally had properties of intelligence, moral volition, consciousness of self and the external world, and ability to deliberate, think, and imagine.20 Further, Roberts clearly saw that the existence of such essentially free eternal intelligences placed conditions on both God’s power and knowledge. Roberts defined the divine power:

What then is meant by the ascription of the attribute of omnipotence to God? Simply that all that may or can be done by power conditioned by other eternal existences - duration, space, matter, truth, justice, reign of law, God can do. But even he may not act out of harmony with other eternal existence which condition or limit even him.

In addition, Roberts recognized that the fact that God’s knowledge depends on experiencing what has and presently exists entails that God’s knowledge is progressing and growing as the present unfolds in becoming what was once future

 Armed with these clarifications, Roberts constructed a theodicy. First, he argued that God’s purpose in organizing the world and allowing the spirits to encounter evil is to deify, or endow with divine glory, not merely the intelligences, but every aspect of reality.23 He argued that evil is inherent in the eternal structure of reality as a part of the total harmony of good and evil. The possibility of evil is inherent in the total harmony of the world because there are eternal intelligences who inherently possess moral volition to choose evil as well as good – and God cannot have it otherwise. He also argued that moral evil is due to the eternal freedom of intelligences which God cannot control. Further, God always does his best to eliminate evil, but his mode of acting through the influence of his immanent spirit on “intractable material” entails that God cannot unilaterally end evil. God is responsible for neither the level of intelligence nor the level of moral development of the intelligences

 Roberts was attempting to reconcile the notion that God created the universe by bringing order out of chaos with the notion that at some point “our god” became divine within the confines of an already ordered universe. He relied on a notion of the immanent influence arising from “an eternal race of divine beings” as the source of such order. For if there is an infinite regression of gods who constitute the divine council of gods, then there is such an eternal entity that acts in complete unity as one “God” to order the universe. The problem is that the ordered universe is logically prior to the unity of the gods to order the universe on such a view. However, Roberts didn’t address that problem. Nevertheless, I don’t see any uncontroversial reason why it couldn’t be true “for all we know’.

Basic Commitments of A Mormon Process Theodicy.

Given the basic commitments of Mormon theology, we can elucidate a complete, and I believe generally satisfying, process theodicy. The theodicy can be created by adopting: (A) the Pratt brother’s recognition that all of reality is constituted of basic realities that manifest some level of “intelligence” and therefore have independent power to act on their own which cannot be controlled by God; (B) Roberts’ recognition that such limitations condition God’s power and knowledge; (C) the recognition of both the Pratts and Roberts that God’s power is always exercised as co-creative power so that God cannot unilaterally bring about any state of affairs without cooperation of the eternal realities with which he is working. The basic structure of the process theodicy to deal with the global argument from evil is as follows:

(1) God’s purpose in organizing the world is to bring the intelligences to share the fulness of his own glory and thereby to deify both the personal intelligences and the entire world to the extent each has the capacity to receive God’s light in order to maximize the flourishing and enjoyment of experience of each reality in the world.

(2) There are eternal realities with which God must work to achieve his purposes, including a continuum of intelligences that ranges from those essentially having some minimal level of freedom for the simplest “low grade” intelligences to full moral and self-determining freedom for “higher level” and complex intelligences.

(3) God acts in relation to intelligences of all grades by granting the grace of his immanent light which: (a) may be incorporated to a greater or lesser into “becoming” in each moment of each entity’s existence; (b) provides co-power to each basic reality to become part of an organized entity abiding a law-like governance; (c) provides a vivifying energy to the extent accepted by that entity; (d) provides an organizing co- power which empowers higher grade intelligences (persons) to organize their experience into a synthetic whole of conscious experience and have capacity for free will to act as a self-determining agent.29

(4) God cannot, of metaphysical necessity, unilaterally coerce the intelligences of any grade to receive his light and therefore the action of God’s light on the world is necessarily persuasive and alluring rather than coercive and controlling. In addition, persuasive power is generally morally superior to coercive power. (D&C 121: 41)30

(5) There are metaphysically necessary correlations between power and value of experience entailed in “opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11-12) such that: (a) the capacity to freely bring about good is correlative of the capacity to freely bring about evil and suffering for others; (b) the capacity to enjoy intrinsic goodness is correlative of power to suffer intrinsic evil; (c) the power to influence others for good is correlative of the power to influence for bad; (d) the capacity to freely choose to love is correlative of the capacity to freely reject and resist others.

(6) Persons require opposition and challenges to be able to make free choices such that they can grow toward God’s likeness and deification.

(7) God acts in the world by seeking to persuade individuals and every aspect of reality to actualize the optimal realization of possibilities that are open for them to co-actualize.

(8) The process of integrating God’s light by which the world is glorified fully with celestial glory and persons are deified with a fullness of divine light is an eternal process that was ongoing before this life and continues into eternity after this mortal life; it cannot be brought to a fullness of fruition in a single mortal life-time because God’s glory is an ever-increasing expansion of possibilities and there is no upper limit to such progress by its very nature.

(9) God’s perfection is eternally self-surpassing, however, at any given moment, God is the most advanced of all and incorporates into his being a fullness of experience and knowledge derived from the experiences of all existing realities (this notion is sometimes called “panexperientialism” by process thinkers).

So this view provides that God has immense persuasive power to act on all things in the universe (multi-verse) as co-creative power. However, God does not have coercive power. God acts by granting the grace of his light which he offers for incorporation into individuals to the extent freely accepted to a greater or lesser degree. This light conveys knowledge, intelligence, information, vivifying power and organizing energy. However, it is only one influence among many to be chosen to be incorporated into the experience of the intelligences.

In fact this view has advantages even over standard process thought. Those who promote standard process views must address the issue as to why God would lure the higher-order realities into existence when the capacity for such greater evil is inherent in the correlative power of more highly organized realities. God does not have foreknowledge and thus could not know whether the universe would evolve into a reality worth having – a world where evil far outstrips the good sought by God but which could not be guaranteed. On the Mormon version of process thought, God has no choice about the fact that already higher-order intelligences exist. God’s choice wasn’t whether they should exist; but what is the best that can be done for them given that they do. The choice was made for God already in the fact that there was no other possibility for further progress and growth toward divine glory and deification. Further, it was the choice of each intelligence whether to further progress. God gave the choice to each and it was the decision of each intelligence whether to seek the possibility of increased glory in relationship with God.

How does God deal the radical evils on this view?

It is the means of God’s power that prevents coercive physical action at a distance, not the amount of power that God possesses.

We here understand, that the sacred writers say that all these things were done by faith. It was by faith that the worlds were framed. God spake, chaos heard, and worlds came into order by reason of the faith there was in Him.”39 According to the Lectures on Faith, order arises because of the responsive faith of chaos to God. Indeed, God’s creative power to organize chaos depends on the responsive power of chaos. God does not simply create by fiat, but by persuading the chaotic realities to trust him and align with his words. Presumably if chaos had not trusted God and thereby exercised faith in God, the chaos would not have been ordered on this view.

 Thus, we can provide a comprehensive outline of a process theodicy that also has the resources to answer the challenges presented by the tragic instances of evil taken in all of their particularity. Here is the outline of the global response:

1. God is Almighty, omniscient, all-good, and exists.

2. God is conditioned by the existence of coeternal realities such as:
     a. Inherently free and self-determining Intelligences (necessarily existing selves).
     b. Chaotic mass/energy.
     c. Metaphysical and moral principles of love which require that God act only persuasively.
     d. Physical laws or regularities defining how low-grade entities act.

3. God is Almighty if he can potentially persuade the optimal realization of potential among states of affairs (i.e., power to bring about all states of affairs consistent with there being other eternally existing realities).

4. An omniscient being knows all that is knowable up until now.

5. A perfectly good being prevents all the evil and promotes all the good it can without thereby preventing a greater good.

6. Moral evils occur and God is not responsible for them because:
     a. Human nature is uncreated (2a).
     b. Humans are inherently self-determining and categorically free so that God cannot                              unilaterally bring about human choices (2a).
     c. Humans are morally imperfect and potentially perfectible
     d. God's purpose in creation is to provide the opportunity for intellectual and moral                               development of persons and glorification of the world (2a, 5).
     e. Moral opposition is necessary to moral development (2a, 2c).
     f. God did not create human nature either virtuous or depraved (6a,6b).
     g. Humans sometimes choose evil (6b, 6c).
     h. God is justified in not contravening evil moral choices (3, 5, 6d, 6e).

7. Natural evils occur and God is not blameworthy for them because;
     a. Chaotic mass/energy is uncreated (2b).
     b. The laws governing mass/energy depend in part on the inherent powers of eternal                              actualities and on God’s concurring light (2b, 2d).
     c. The organization of actualities to reflect stable natural regularities reflecting causal                               principles is necessary for biological life to evolve and moral choices to be possible (2d).
     d. Adverse physical circumstances may enhance moral and intellectual development of   Intelligences depending on their free response to such challenges (2a, 2c, 6c).
     e. The nature of causal principles is such that many indiscriminant natural evils occur that                       God cannot prevent (7a, 7b, 7c).
     f. God may justifiably allow some natural evils that he could otherwise prevent (3, 5, 7d).
8. Whatever evils occur are:
     a. Unpreventable by God consistent with individual autonomy.
     b. Unpreventable by God without thereby preventing a greater good.
     c. Unpreventable by God without cooperation of the basic realities in the world.

Criticisms of Process Theodicy.

Inconsistent with traditional view of God's power

The strongest argument against process theodicy is that God does not have perfect power if he cannot exercise coercive power. Since we know that we can coerce our children by picking them up and putting them to bed when they resist us, we know that coercive power is possible. But if God lacks this power then he lacks a kind of power that it is logically possible to have.

the mere fact that God’s power is conditioned by other realities does not, by itself, render God less worthy of worship or less perfect.

Prayer problem
Scriptural issues

A process view defines miracles as something like the loving persuasion of God remarkably influences a situation or intelligence in an unusual way that is contrary to expectation based on common experience.

David Ray Griffin:  I conceive God to be perfect in power (as well as goodness), which means having the greatest power it is possible for one being to have. Accordingly, what is at issue is not a God whose power is imperfect in contrast with a God whose power is perfect; rather, what we have is a conflict between two conceptions of perfect power.

God's power is more like Professor X than Superman

Griffin notes: “One of the stranger complaints ... is that, given the enormity of evil in the world, a deity that is doing its best is not worthy of worship. The implication is that a deity that is not doing its best is worthy of worship.”

Advantages over free will theism

Hasker and gratuitous evil

The real message of this process theodicy is that God cannot do it all alone. He needs our cooperation to accomplish his purposes for the world. The fact that God needs us to cooperate in his project of creating a world worth living in means that something real is at stake in our moral decisions and cooperative efforts to improve world. We cannot sit by assured that God has everything in hand and the world will turn out just fine regardless of what we do.

 if adding our action and faith to God’s light that acts through immanent persuasive influence in the world increases the likelihood of overcoming heinous moral evils, diseases, natural disasters, cancer, and so forth ad nauseum, then we are maximally morally motivated to put down this stupid book and get to work making the world a better place as co-creators of the world with God.


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