I will make the thought-experiment of imagining myself as being this Omni-God, having made creation - and desiring now to make Men who would have genuine individual agency.
Clearly, it would be useless to make many Men and control all of them directly - because that would simply be to make a puppet show.
But a more common argument is that God made Men and placed within each Man a small portion of himself - a 'divine seed' - and it is this divine seed within each Man that enables him to be a genuine free agent; to think and choose independently from God.
But this does not work either! If the direct-control God would just be a kind of puppet master - this 'remote-control' God would just be a kind of playwright, whose characters only superficially appear to be agents.
If God makes all the ingredients, then no matter how these ingredients are divided and mixed - every-thing is still God. All agency is still God's.
Thus, a Man whose agency depends on a divine seed from the Omni-God is still the Omni-God - albeit just a part of that God - like a character in a play is always a part of the playwright.
Thus, a dramatist can make a play with twenty different, and differently-motivated, characters... But ultimately all of these characters are just fragments of the playwright's own character.
Their differences do not make the characters have free will - each is still 'inside' the play. Likewise the fragments of an Omni-God do not have agency - each is still inside the creation, All of which has been made by Omni-God.
The Omni-God may then try to make his 'characters' develop agency - even if they did not have agency to begin with...
He might reason that - even though each character in his play begin as just a fragment of God; by interacting with his environment and by learning, each Man will potentially develop independence of will - and will learn agency.
This would be analogous to the playwright setting-up his drama with characters - each a fragment of his own character - but then as the play proceeds, the characters will interact and experience events in unexpected ways that might surprise the playwright - and were not predicted by him.
The characters 'become real' to the author, 'take on a life of their won' - as writers sometimes say...
But that is just another superficial illusion in the case of the Omni-God; because all possible interactions between all Men and all environments are still just a part of God. And even the capacity to learn from experience was a quality implanted by that same Omni-God.
Furthermore, the Omni-God already knows the result of these innumerable interactions, because he is omniscient - so he will not even experience the surprise of a human playwright!
So, it turns out that the Omni-God does not generate agency; whether as a puppet master or as a playwright.
When no individual 'human agency' goes-into the mix of creation; and when all of creation comes from the Omni-God - then no amount of dividing and mixing and interacting can make human agency emerge from creation.
My inference is therefore that if human agency is real - as Christianity requires it must be (and if this thought experiment is valid*); then the Christian God cannot be an Omni-God.
For human agency to come-out-of creation - human agency must have gone-into creation.
Note: the intention of this thought experiment is to clarify my argument: to make it more comprehensible. Of course, it does not prove anything - because no thought-experiment can prove anything! But it may lead to an understanding of the argument explaining why there is no way to get personal-agency out-from the assumptions of an Omni-God; and why Christians for whom the issue of free-will/ agency is primary (and who are not happy that it should be regarded as wholly an incomprehensible mystery) therefore need to discard the Omni-God concept.
When you say this,
“ If the direct-control God would just be a kind of puppet master - this 'remote-control' God would just be a kind of playwright, whose characters only superficially appear to be agents.
If God makes all the ingredients, then no matter how these ingredients are divided and mixed - every-thing is still God. All agency is still God's.
Thus, a Man whose agency depends on a divine seed from the Omni-God is still the Omni-God - albeit just a part of that God - like a character in a play is always a part of the playwright.”,
aren’t you making God a kind of Super Man rather than God? If we are sons of God we are made of the same spiritual stuff as God and that gives us our free self, albeit on a smaller scale than his which is the template from which ours is made. Perhaps the difficulty arises from looking at a spiritual act of creation in material terms?
Im finding it hard to figure out why what you're saying feels wrong?
I wonder if you are putting too much weight on agency/free-will?
Perhaps there is more to this?
Also, there is a context that I find to be useful and that is thinking about the difference between Eternity, Immortality and Mortality.
Eternity - no beginning and no end.
Immortality - a beginning but no end.
Mortality - a beginning and end.
To me it seems, there is no mortality without eternity.
There is no pendulum swing without the still point where it is held in place.
Yet these things are not separate, maybe a better word would be disparate.
“if human agency is real …; then the Christian God cannot be an Omni-God.”
What you call the Omni-God is what has long been known as God (or by other names and terms, and is for us conceptually ever a work in progress); and what you call the Christian God has long been known as not God, but rather as a mere god (like Woden or Jupiter or indeed Yahweh) or a superhuman creature, or simply a figment of myth and imagination. After discounting God entirely, as you advocate, why should we take up this new god of yours, or Yahweh (if it’s Yahweh you mean) instead of Woden or Jupiter? What claim does this god have over us that the others don’t?
Your argument (if this is it, roughly — modus tollens: if p, then not q, q, therefore, not p):
If God (“Omni-God”) — who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent — exists, then Man has no free will (but would be like a character in a play written and directed by God)
Man has free will
God (“Omni-God”) does not exist
is a seldom-seen argument for atheism!
Why do you believe that God’s omnipotence, omniscience, or omnipresence implies that Man has no free will? That is not an implication within the terms of classical theology.
You have turned into Greg Boyd. I am deleting your blog.
@D - I answer your questions in the links!
As for stating that the OG just-is God - that is untrue. The definitions are essentially a matter of what professional theologians have said - 'what God is' would include what innumerable actual Christians believed (which may have been implicit - how they acted, and what that implied about their true beliefs) - and (perhaps most decisively?) what is in The Bible. I would say it is very obvious that God in the Old Testament is Not an OG, since there are so many instances of God not knowing things, having limited power etc.
Indeed, I do not think the OT Hebrews would have been able even to conceptualize the OG - especially not the concept of creation from nothing. These are very strange and abstract ideas, after all! Probably nobody in history had such ideas until the ancient Greeks, and only a minority of them.
Even in the Gospels and the NT - you would search in vain for any clear and explicit definition of God in terms of the Omni qualities - the definitional idea seems to have been pieced-together from (often ambiguous) dispersed fragments some time after the texts were written.
This is what is so astonishing about the grip the OG idea has come to have on Christian intellectuals! When I read the only eyewitness account of Jesus's words and teachings in the Fourth Gospel - and I consider how Jesus talked to and about his Father - it is so utterly different from the later philosophical conceptualization that the mismatch is stunning.
@JPQ - "You have turned into Greg Boyd."
A joke, I assume? Read my comment to yesterday's post: https://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2022/02/how-important-to-you-is-real-personal.html
(BTW - My blog has apparently Not yet been deleted - since I am writing this...)
Have you looked at Svatantrya?
“Svātantrya (from the Sanskrit sva meaning self and tantram meaning dependence – 'self-dependency', or 'free will') is the Kashmiri Shaivite concept of divine sovereignty. Svātantrya is described as an energy that emanates from the Supreme (Paramaśiva), a wave of motion inside consciousness (spanda) that acts as the fundament of the world, or in another view, the original word (logos, pārāvak). It does not use any external instrument as it itself is the first stage of creation.“
Bruce, thanks for your further explanation and clarification - and the very useful note at the end of your post.
(BTW, I was reminded of the joke about a tenured Professor being censured for 'faking the results of a thought experiment'.)
I also appreciated that you implicitly drew attention to the difference between 'validity' and 'soundness' of an argument; I think your argument is valid; whether it is sound would involve us in deep semantic waters and even hermeneutics as to the truth of the premises.
Thanks again; a daily dose of your thoughts never fails to stir this dogmatic slumberer!
“I answer your questions in the links!”
I can’t find where you lay out why God’s omnipotence — as classically understood — must be contrary to Man’s free will. (I presume it’s omnipotence you have the main problem with.)
“The definitions are essentially a matter of what professional theologians have said”
No, they are largely a matter of what philosophers and theologians have rationally discovered. Is there any tradition or edifice of knowledge — its every discovery, its every bit of truth, its every insight, its every line of rigorous argumentation — that cannot be hostilely characterised as essentially a matter of what people have said? That’s the postmodernist’s game. I’m not playing!
“'what God is' would include what innumerable actual Christians believed (which may have been implicit - how they acted, and what that implied about their true beliefs) - and (perhaps most decisively?) what is in The Bible.”
Though Christians, especially the medievals, have added greatly to the tradition of gaining some understanding of what God is (little though this understanding was, is, and will be in comparison to the object), they were not the first, nor the only ones, to advance it. Christians don’t own God and have no exclusive rights on discovery or definition — unless, of course, by “God” they mean merely a tribal-ethical god of the Christians (and perhaps the Jews), in which case, he’s not God, but at least he’s all theirs.
“I would say it is very obvious that God in the Old Testament is Not an OG, since there are so many instances of God not knowing things, having limited power etc”
Yes, agreed, God is nowhere to be found in the OT.
“I do not think the OT Hebrews would have been able even to conceptualize the OG”
Well, they weren’t as clever or as thoughtful as the Greeks. But why throw out Greek genius and understanding just because the Hebrews couldn’t match it?
“Probably nobody in history had such ideas until the ancient Greeks”
That’s one up for the Greeks for being the founders of theism and rational theology!
“Even in the Gospels and the NT - you would search in vain for any clear and explicit definition of God in terms of the Omni qualities”
Perhaps you’re looking for God in the wrong place.
Within the context of this thought experiment, most Christians hold fast to the belief that the existence of true free will and agency would diminish the stature of God by challenging his ultimacy and supreme reign over Creation. If God is not omni-everything, He cannot really God.
At the same time, few Christians seriously consider the notion that true free will and agency might actually elevate God's stature as our loving Father and Creator.
Thought experiments like this one are immensely useful. They reveal much about how we think about, understand, and relate to God, ourselves, and Creation.
"Yes, agreed, God is nowhere to be found in the OT. "
In the spirit of 'why say in a page what can be stated in a sentence' I offer this pithy rejoinder: You can not know that.
Unless - you have a particular concept of 'god'; then of course we are into another discussion before we discuss your denial, above.
I do heartily agree that the jump from "Omnipotence of God" to "no human agency", if not unwarranted, needs to be unpacked more fully. I think Bruce knows this, as he did point to 'validity' rather than 'soundness'.
All praise to the ancient Greeks (at least, a very few of them) for their sense of wonder and subsequent philosophies, however lacking. How could they have known that time is NOT infinite, for example?
@Frank - Yes, I find the attitudes revealed to be very telling. It is my impression that most intellectual Christians have essentially a pure-monotheistic concept of God and of appropriate attitudes to God - but rather superficially obscured by dogmatic form-of-words mysteries.
As I have said before, I think it likely that Islam grew and displaced Christianity from its heartland exactly because its concept of monotheism was clearer and more comprehensible than the blatantly paradoxical/ self-contradicting doctrines of the nature of Christ and the Trinity - which sound like (and are) sophistry/ self-deception.
What is quite bewildering to me (so I hardly know how to respond) is when people claim that only the Mono-Omni-God is 'worth worshipping'; all other concepts being petty, unworthy, incapable of generating strong faith etc. There are just So Many counter examples... but perhaps the longest lived, most stable, most coherent, most pervasively-religious empire of history - Ancient Egypt - will suffice. Apparently they did not realize that their gods 'weren't worth worshipping' - if only somebody had told them...
By their prefixes “mono-” and “poly-”, the words “monotheism” and “polytheism” often serve to introduce a confusion of semantic origin, by which it is held that the only or principal distinction between the two stances is that of number, eliding the fact that the crucial distinction lies in what is meant by the prefix-modified “-theism”. The “-theism” in “polytheism” does not typically mean belief in God, whilst the “-theism” in “monotheism” does; and the “-theism” in “monotheism” does not typically mean belief in gods, whilst the “-theism” in “polytheism” does. A polytheist may or may not believe in God. A monotheist may or may not believe in gods.
Since the “-theism” in “monotheism” and “polytheism” refer to different orders of being, it is quite possible to be a monotheistic polytheist without contradiction (but it still constitutes an awful linguistic mess left over from the seventeenth century). Platonists (or “neoplatonists”) are a good example, and presumably they found both God and the gods worth worshipping. Some Hindus too. Heavily based on Platonism is the beautiful theology in Tolkien’s legendarium, which has both God and the gods (i.e., “Powers” as demiurges). The elves at least seem to be “monotheistic polytheists” (yes, still an ugly term), since, whilst they (presumably) believe in Eru Ilúvatar, i.e, God, they also believe in the gods (or “Powers”), having a particular reverence for Varda.
In the matter of words, if things had gone otherwise and we in the West had called God “the One” (as did the neoplatonists — “polytheistic monotheists”!) or Actus Purus, or somesuch, instead of “God”, we might at least have been spared, at the cost of a lovely word, the boast of the simple atheist: that he has simply gone one god further than the monotheist. He would instead have found it easier to go one step further in sophistication by grasping a simple thing: God is not a god. Without his being bound to this spell of words, he might have understood that the typical monotheist of today has this in common with him: that he too does not believe in any gods whatsoever.
With most atheism, the “-theism” for which the “a-” is the rejection is “-theism” in the typical sense of “polytheism”. In other words, most atheists are atheists in polytheism’s typical sense of theism: they reject every kind of god. Of God, however, they are usually quite ignorant, and hence do not reject him, but simply do not have an idea of him to reject. Hence, in monotheism’s sense of theism, they are atheists in the trendy new-fangled sense in which my armchair is an atheist.
Another confusion is that there are self-named monotheists who are theists in polytheism’s typical sense of theism, that is to say, they are believers in just one god (and not worshippers of one god amongst many as in henotheism), but who are atheists in monotheism’s typical sense of theism (ie., classical theism), that is to say, they don’t believe in God, but just in a god.
Clearly, it's time for bed.
"But a more common argument is that God made Men and placed within each Man a small portion of himself - a 'divine seed' - and it is this divine seed within each Man that enables him to be a genuine free agent; to think and choose independently from God."
That's a direct borrowing from Stoicism, particularly Epictetus, who said God (Zeus to him) did this precisely to make up for his inability to make the world perfect. This is the position of Christians whose minds are naturally leading them to similar conclusions as the Stoics, who will of course be persecuted by the "orthodox" if they word it the way they're really thinking it, i.e. exactly as Epictetus that God wasn't able to make the world perfect and that this should not bother us.
@e - For a Christian, this evanescent mortal life comes before immortal resurrected life - so, for a Christian, this mortal life is no, cannot be, is not intended to be 'perfect'. It is intended to be a 'school', a place of learning and preparation for Men with agency.
Late to the party again - I found a nicely done paragraph over at the Orthosphere blog.
He makes a fine point.
"That extrapolation doesn’t work. If God is as men have always construed him – is not, i.e., a mere contingent being, thus himself caused by some other(s), at most a god like Apollo – then he is in an utterly different category of being than any other. Then from the creative limitations of such beings as we, we may not infer *anything at all* about his creative power. And there is no reason whatever to think that a being who (unlike contingent beings such as we) is necessary – and as necessary thus also eternal and the ultimate, first, unmoved mover and cause of all other things, ergo infinitely greater than we, with powers categorically different from and greater than ours – could not create free agents like us, the angels, gods, and demons. Nothing we might infer from our own powers as contingent and thus limited causal agents could possibly warrant such a conclusion about a causal agent who is unlimited."
What think ye?
@DB - The argument you quote works very well for God as conceptualized by Judaism or Islam - but not for Christianity. I don't know what kind of 'evidence' would convince you personally - but if you regard the Fourth Gospel as valid and foundational to Christianity, then that demonstrates very explicitly a very different view of Man's relationship to, and knowledge of, God - overall, and especially in John Chapters 13-17 inclusive.
Thanks for the response.
John's gospel is one of my favorite books as well, though I could not go as far as saying it alone is 'foundational' to Christianity. I'm more of a 'Romans' guy, but aside from personal preferences, we do have an abundance of other testimony available.
I won't belabor the point. We agree on much, I'm sure, but I too often let my feistiness
eclipse my otherwise pacific nature. :-)
@DB - My position about the Fourth Gospel is that - if it is believed, then it is not a matter of having favourites. The Fourth Gospel ought to be regarded as foundational and accorded the greatest authority of all sources (for the obvious reasons of its authorship); and Not treated as just one among a large number of Biblical texts with supposedly-equal authority. One (very small) consequence of this, is that it should Never have been called John!
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