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Contents:
  1. An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.
  2. Two Aspects of the Problem
  3. Science and Religion (Problems in Theology) (Problems in Theology) Jeff Astley: T&T Clark
  4. God, Evil, and (Non)Violence: Creation Theology, Creativity Theology, and Christian Ethics
  5. Theological Determinism

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

The traditional doctrine that evil is not a subsistent thing should not be mistaken for the neo-Platonic view that evil is mere non-being. Evil, as disordered creation, has power to distort and destroy creatures. Judgment belongs to God as Creator, and thus wrath and retribution are off limits to humans.


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As Paul observed, that the cosmos is subject to evil is not metaphysical necessity but historical contingency, neither describing cosmic origins nor determining cosmic destiny. The beginning of the end of evil has begun through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, by which God has judged the disorder of sin and conquered the dominion of death that enslave humanity and frustrate creation.

This traditional cosmology and eschatology carries ethical implications. Evil is neither normal nor necessary in creation. Because God has conquered evil through Christ, Paul exhorts us to actively resist evil by means of our mortal bodies in the power of the Holy Spirit. The doctrinal tradition does prompt troubling questions: Why would God allow creatures to despoil creation?

Why would God allow evildoing to the point of innocent suffering? Why love enemies and leave judgment to God? To take up the sword and save oneself is to refuse to take up the cross and follow Jesus. Even so, Kaufman took hope in the fact that this creativity has also generated nonviolence-trajectories e. The creativity at work in our universe—in the course of bringing us humans into being—has brought us to a point where we can entertain the possibility of living in a moral order that is nonviolent, can deliberately choose to work at bringing about such an order, and can train ourselves and our children to live and act in nonviolent ways however unlikely the realization of such a dream may be.

This development, quite unlike what occurred in the interrelations of creativity God with many other spheres of the cosmic order, is—at least in the judgment of those who count ourselves as Christian pacifists—of great significance. We thus cannot expect a historical end to violence apart from the evolutionary end of humanity. That conclusion in turn destabilizes a historical-human rationale for nonviolence.

From the historicist angle, with no transcendent ground for ethical norms, the only criteria for action are those derivable from history; but history can warrant at most an ethic based on the goal that a certain human-historical trajectory should continue.

How Long? (A Thought on the Problem of Evil)

A historicist ethic is in effect a pragmatic ethic in which the criterion of right is success in prolonging a humanly-preferred present into the future. The pragmatic success of nonviolence in human history—humanity overcoming its violent ways—is evolutionarily unlikely. Because God-as-creativity serendipitously generates violence-trajectories in human evolution, we cannot expect an historical end to violence apart from an evolutionary end to humanity. Overcoming violence-generating cosmic creativity requires transcending evolutionary history.

Two Aspects of the Problem

Any historicist hope for overcoming violence would thus require appealing to a kind of creatio ex nihilo , by which cosmic creativity serendipitously generates something new from nothing that has come before. Because violence-generating cosmic creativity is ultimate reality, there is no cosmos-transcending possibility of a permanently violence-free order that might be actualized historically, not even serendipitously.

Where, then, does this leave the righteous sufferer? One could look to Jesus, who, forsaking sword for cross, exhibited self-sacrificial nonviolence as a human-historical possibility. This, however, seems insufficiently compelling. In fact, on that account, taking up the sword to save oneself could make much more sense than taking up the cross to follow Jesus, for, after all, nonviolence did not save him.

Must the gospel norm of nonviolent discipleship be grounded in the confessional commitments and ontological entailments of doctrinal tradition, or could a pragmatic appeal to historical reality suffice to motivate nonviolence? For the sake of motivating a sustainable commitment to nonviolent discipleship, the serendipitous movements of God-as-creativity in evolutionary history are a poor substitute for the overarching purpose and ongoing activity of God-the-Creator in the created order.

Darrin W. Ben Ollenburger critiqued Reimer for inadequately distinguishing between the ontological entailments of Christian confession and the metaphysical theories of Greek philosophy, which gave the impression that Christian confession should be grounded in Greek metaphysics: see Ben C. In any case, I am concerned here with the ontological entailments of Christian confession.

Science and Religion (Problems in Theology) (Problems in Theology) Jeff Astley: T&T Clark

For a critical comparison of Reimer and Kaufman, see Thomas N. Press, ; William P. Press, ; Terence E. Marlin E. Martens , ed. Laura L. Brenneman and Brad D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines , 5th ed. London: Continuum, , ; Ronald E. Closely related to the concept of divine aseity is the medieval conception of God as pure act actus purus. If the divine causality is not predetermining with regard to our choice To illustrate his point, Garrigou-Lagrange asks us to imagine that when God gives two men grace to fight temptation, one cooperates with this grace while the other does not, but that the difference between their responses is not determined by God.

Garrigou-Lagrange concludes:. God is either determining or determined, there is no other alternative.


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  • His knowledge of free conditional futures is measured by things, or else it measures them by reason of the accompanying decree of the divine will. Our salutary choices, as such, in the intimacy of their free determination , depend upon God, or it is He, the sovereignly independent pure Act, who depends upon us. In response to this argument for theological determinism, Eleonore Stump contends that the dilemma presented by Garrigou-Lagrange—that God either determines or is determined—is a false one, if determination is taken to be equivalent to causation.

    She offers examples of both divine and human knowledge in which the knower neither determines what she knows, nor is determined by it.

    God, Evil, and (Non)Violence: Creation Theology, Creativity Theology, and Christian Ethics

    On the human side, a person might know that an animal is a substance, but the human obviously does not determine this truth. Likewise, on the divine side, God presumably knows of His own existence without determining that He exists; but neither, presumably, is God determined in His knowledge of this truth , pp.

    One thing to note about the examples offered by Stump—of a human knowing that an animal is a substance, or of God knowing that He exists—is that the truths known are in both cases necessary. One question that a theological determinist might raise is whether, when it comes to knowledge of contingent events, the indeterminist can likewise maintain that the knower neither determines nor is determined by what she knows. While our coming to know necessary truths on the basis of, say, complex mathematical reasoning would seem to be quite an active process, our coming to know contingent truths on the basis of some very clear and distinct perception—say, that we have hands—would seem to be more passive.


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    • Furthermore, even if the theological indeterminist can defend a conception of divine foreknowledge on which God is not determined by some of what He knows, in the sense that He is not caused to know some truths, it is very hard to see how He would not in some sense be dependent on something outside of Himself for that knowledge.

      The question for theological indeterminists is whether this sense of dependency is compatible with a conception of God as supremely perfect. So far we have considered arguments that theological determinists have put forward in support of their view of divine providence, as well as some objections raised to these arguments.

      Critics of theological determinism not only object to the positive reasons offered in favor of the view, but also to certain negative implications.

      Theological Determinism

      One major issue theological determinists must grapple with is how there can be any creaturely freedom in a world in which all events are determined by God. The claim that at least some creatures are both free and responsible for their actions is a central part of traditional Western theisms—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—and most contemporary theological determinists affirm this claim, though as we will see, some within these traditions dissent from it.

      Below, several theological deterministic conceptions of human freedom are discussed. Perhaps the most common conception of free will espoused by theological determinists is the standard compatibilist one: that determinism of any sort—whether theological that is, determination by God or natural that is, determination by antecedent events in accordance with the laws of nature —does not automatically rule out free will. Theological determinists espousing this view often appeal to secular theories of freedom and arguments for the compatibility of such freedom with natural determinism to support their claim that theological determinism is also compatible with free will.

      For instance, according to the classic compatibilist position defended by Thomas Hobbes , a person is free to the extent that she finds no impediment to doing what she wants or wills to do. Contemporary compatibilists, recognizing the limitations of this position—for example that it allows for actions resulting from brainwashing to be free—have offered various refinements, such as that, in addition to being able to do what one wants or wills to do, one must act with sensitivity to certain rational considerations the reasons-responsive view , or one must have the will one wants to have the hierarchical model.

      One proponent of the latter view is Lynn Rudder Baker. More generally, theological determinists point out that on all such contemporary compatibilist accounts of free will, divine determination does not automatically rule out human freedom, since none of these accounts specifies what must be true of the first causes of human volition and action. This lack of specificity, however, is precisely the problem that incompatibilists—those who hold that determinism of any sort is incompatible with determinism—find with the compatibilist position.

      They reason that if either God or events of the distant past are the ultimate causes of our actions, then our actions are not under our control. The debate between compatibilists and incompatibilists has a long history, and is ongoing. While many theological determinists take the standard compatibilist line, some differentiate between natural and theological determinism, and maintain that only the latter is compatible with free will.

      McCann should not be interpreted as denying theological determinism here—that is, as saying that God does not determine what creatures do , but only what they are. Rather, he means that, unlike creatures who can only make other creatures do things, God has the unique ability to make creatures themselves; and rather than first bringing creatures into being, and then making them do certain things, God by one and the same act makes creatures doing the things they do. However, theological compatibilism, like its natural counterpart, has been criticized by standard incompatibilists.

      One of the most influential arguments for the incompatibility of causal determinism and human freedom—the Consequence argument—relies on the premise that, in a deterministic world, the ultimate causes of our actions are events of the distant past.

      The reason why this is considered a problem, though, is simply that such causes lie outside of our control. As mentioned already, however, some who seem to espouse theological determinism deny that God should be considered a cause at all, at least in any univocal sense as creatures are.

      Thus one finds some theologians who seem clearly committed to theological determinism when considering the order of the Creator, speaking of the possibility of libertarian human freedom in the context of the order of creation. The trouble with such a view, however, is that it seems to face a dilemma. On the other hand, if such fundamental concepts do apply to divine causation in something like the way they apply to creaturely causation, then arguments against the compatibility of theological determinism and human freedom must be considered and responded to, rather than simply dismissed as involving a confusion of categories.

      One final position that theological determinists may adopt on the issue of human freedom is the standard incompatibilist one, admitting that determinism of any sort is incompatible with free will and thus that there can be no creaturely freedom. This view, called hard theological determinism, has historically won few adherents, in part because of the centrality of the belief in human freedom to so much civic and religious life. On the civic side, the assumption of free will has been thought to underwrite reactive attitudes such as resentment, indignation, gratitude, and love, and the moral and legal practices of praise and blame, reward and punishment.

      On the religious side, human freedom has seemed crucial to the logic of divine commandment and judgment, and to such reactive attitudes and practices as guilt, repentance, and forgiveness. However, some hard theological determinists have challenged such assumptions about the centrality of free will. Derk Pereboom, for instance, has argued that, while theological determinism is not compatible with the basic sense of desert that is, deserving praise or blame simply because of the moral status of what one has done it is compatible with judgments of value for example, that behavior is good or bad , as well as the reactive attitudes and practices which are most central to traditional theism, and which might seem to presuppose basic desert.

      Furthermore, even if hard theological determinism is compatible with such attitudes and practices central to theistic traditions, it is another question whether the denial of free will and moral responsibility in the basic-desert sense is itself compatible with the teachings of these religions. One question that remains for hard Christian determinists, for example, is how to make sense of the many New Testament passages that discuss the freedom found in Christ cf. Galatians , 2 Corinthians As with the former issue, their responses to the latter are many and varied.

      Below a number of distinct responses are discussed. Some theists attempt to offer a theodicy , or plausible explanation of why God has created a world in which evil exists.