A Dialogue on the Origin of Natural Evil

January 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Catholic Apologetics, Dialogues, Featured

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This conversation (posted with permission) covers a number of difficult aspects of theodicy – especially concerning predation, evolution, the origin of natural evil, and how the overall bloodbath reconciles with God’s goodness.

There’s also a succinct proof for the entire Christian worldview (redemptive suffering, theosis, etc.) at the end. Really.

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Sri Nahar
Do you have a moment, please?

Christopher McHugh
Yes.

Sri Nahar
Can I play Devil’s advocate to your theodicy for a bit?
Christopher McHugh
Please do.

Sri Nahar
Mind you — I think your theodicy is the best of all, but here’s an objection I’ve come across
It is this: while it is fitting that God will only the highest good of all rational creatures, it is not necessary that He do so
I suppose you would agree with St. Thomas Aquinas’ argument (in SCG and others, including De Malo) that nothing is evil in itself, but only in relation to something else?

Christopher McHugh
Let me know when you’re done.

Sri Nahar
Let us also postulate that God created carnivory
If so, if there was an accidental connection between a carnivorous animal seeking his prey and a man seeking his livelihood, what would have happened?
OK, not livelihood, just a man who was taking a walk in the jungle
Let’s also assume that Adam and Eve never fell

Christopher McHugh
Done yet, or is there more?

Sri Nahar
Done for now

Christopher McHugh
Okay… good questions.
Here are the good answers:
“It is this: while it is fitting that God will only the highest good of all rational creatures, it is not necessary that He do so”
On the contrary, it is necessary that God wills that which is highest and best for all rational creatures.
By “necessary” I do not mean a necessity of compulsion from without.

Sri Nahar
I agree, and what is highest and best is God Himself

Christopher McHugh
By “necessary” I do not mean a necessity of compulsion from within the nature of God.

Sri Nahar
Me neither — this necessity flows from the Divine nature, which is Goodness itself
Um, what/
What?*

Christopher McHugh
By “necessary”, I mean “by the perfection of God’s free charity, we can conclude that God does not will anything less than that which is highest and best for his beloved.”

Sri Nahar
OK
I agree

Christopher McHugh
God’s act of charity, though singular and eternal, is nonetheless a free act.

Sri Nahar
Yes

Christopher McHugh
Though there is no possible world in which God is not charitable, it is still a free act.
Though God’s charity is logically necessary, it is still a free act.

Sri Nahar
But one could say that a carnivorous animal killing and eating a man would not hinder man’s attainment of theosis in the long run

Christopher McHugh
I am getting to that.
Just to finish the point about God:
God’s singular and eternal act of love is metaphysically coextensive with all possibility, but is still free.
Next: “I suppose you would agree with St. Thomas Aquinas’ argument (in SCG and others, including De Malo) that nothing is evil in itself, but only in relation to something else?”

Sri Nahar
In other words, it extends even to accidental relations?
Divine charity?

Christopher McHugh
Yes, no being is evil in itself. Evil is a matter of relation.
Divine charity is logically necessary, in that it obtains in all possible worlds.

Sri Nahar
Indeed

Christopher McHugh
Including that possible world in which God does not create.

Sri Nahar
Yes, but there charity exists only among the Three Persons

Christopher McHugh
The fullness of divine charity is perfectly expressed in the life of the Trinity even sans creation.

Sri Nahar
Amen

Christopher McHugh
Next:
“Let us also postulate that God created carnivory”
Rather, let’s not.

Sri Nahar
Um, what?

Christopher McHugh
God did not create carnivory.

Sri Nahar
Hmm

Christopher McHugh
I can prove it for you, if you like.

Sri Nahar
It seems intuitively true, if we grant that Divine charity extends to all of reaqlity

Christopher McHugh
Taking the axioms of divine chastity in hand, we can reverse-engineer the nature of the cause of carnivory:

Sri Nahar
Hmm
The Devil is in the details, quite literally

Christopher McHugh
“We can never give too great prominence to the Scholastic principle that God never does through Himself what may be achieved through created causality… For any result which does not require actually infinite power, God will sooner create a new spiritual being capable of producing that result than produce it Himself.” (Abbot Anscar Vonier, The Human Soul)

Christopher McHugh
We know that if it is logically possible for God to delegate a responsibility to some created agent, then necessarily he does do so.
He does not retain the power for himself, and that delegated area of action is no longer under God’s direct control.

Sri Nahar
Well, I wouldn’t say that

Christopher McHugh
I would.

Sri Nahar
It is under God’s control, insofar as it is God Who wills that state of affairs to continue in existence

Christopher McHugh
“God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1884)
“God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 386)

Sri Nahar
OK, created causality

Christopher McHugh
Yes, he holds it all in being, but he is not directly controlling the

Sri Nahar
Hmm

Christopher McHugh
He guides all things to their final end, of course.
Nothing escapes his justice.
But he is not running things directly.

Sri Nahar
If by this you mean that He is not the proximate cause, then yes

Christopher McHugh
For example, God is not controlling the state of affairs in my home. I am.

Sri Nahar
Not proximately, yes

Christopher McHugh
If I choose to be an abusive husband, it is not God who is doing it.

Sri Nahar
Agreed

Christopher McHugh
And if I default on my role as father, God cannot replace me. I am the only one who can be a human father to my children.

Sri Nahar
God only moves your will, He does not move your will in the specific direction it goes

Christopher McHugh
If I give my whole will to God, he does in fact possess me.

Sri Nahar
Yes

Christopher McHugh
And he does, then, govern my actions.
But this has to be my choice to do.

Sri Nahar
Indeed

Christopher McHugh
Now, it is logically possible for God to have delegated the ordering of the material universe to angels.
That is, to created immaterial spirits.

Sri Nahar
Yes

Christopher McHugh
Because it is logically possible that such responsibility be delegated, we can conclude that it was.

Sri Nahar
I would say that given the existence of natural evil, the only way it can be squared with the existence of God is if we postulate the existence of these mediating agents

Christopher McHugh
“Look back over the evolution of the universe. See all of the prehistoric animals that have come into being and passed away. Everywhere in the unfolding of the cosmos there have been biological sprouts that came to dead ends. Everywhere, there are blind alleys. But you ask, ‘Why should the sin of the angels affect the universe? ’Well, one reason might be that lower creation was put under the supervision of some of the angels. And when they rebelled against God, the effects of it in some way registered in the material universe. Nature became dislocated.” (Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Original Sin and Angels)

Sri Nahar
Indeed
Here is one solution I can give to my own question:
Man as God intended him to be, would be, qua his animality, the overlord of the animal kingdom

Christopher McHugh
Yes.

Sri Nahar
And indeed, the overlord of the earth itself

Christopher McHugh
“In the material order, there is both tremendous beauty and artistry combined with a horrendous cruelty and disregard for life. The order of the animal kingdom follows the pattern of the strong victimizing the helpless, and (even though it involves non-personal creatures) it is difficult to reconcile this with the intentions of a good God.
…in accord with the delegation of power given in divine chastity, authority concerning the unfolding of the material order was given to the angels. With power over the material world, the fall of the rebel angels would necessarily register in the material order in serious ways. God’s will is to create life, but the will of the rebel angels is to countermand this at every opportunity. Hence, there is an interplay between life (which is facilitated in obedience to God by the good angels) and death (through the work of the evil one and his allies). Ultimately this discord (through the mechanism of survival of the fittest life forms) was directed providentially (through the guidance of God under the co-operation of the good angels) towards the creation of more advanced life, and ultimately the body of man emerged despite the best efforts of the evil angels to destroy life absolutely through mishap and omission. Possibly, as the union of matter and spirit, it was man’s role to redeem the material world from the effects of the angelic fall. Though the material order was good in itself, it seems that man (through the use of preternatural gifts) was originally commissioned to subdue and reorder the world in a way that would cause it to reflect the glory of God more perfectly.” (anonymous, Revelations of Divine Justice)

Christopher McHugh
Instead of being obedient to God, we became obedient to Satan.

Sri Nahar
Maybe, but I would say that man would have been created even if the angels had not sinned

Christopher McHugh
And consequently, there began to be a demonic dominion over those who would have liberated material creation from demonic dominion.

Sri Nahar
Yes

Christopher McHugh
Man would have been created had the angels not sinned.
However, it would not have been through “nature red in tooth and claw” that man’s body came to evolve.

Sri Nahar
Indeed

Christopher McHugh
Neither would there have been, as the order of nature, a paradigm of “survival of the fittest” which is the antithesis of the Kingdom of God.

Sri Nahar
Indeed

Christopher McHugh
Such is the model of Satanic dominion, not God’s dominion.

Sri Nahar
Indeed

Christopher McHugh
Now, behold, none of this contradicts anything we know from science or history.
It all coheres.
And it is all fully deducible from divine chastity.

Sri Nahar
Agreed
Alleluia

Christopher McHugh
And divine chastity is fully deducible from “that than which none greater can be conceived”.

Sri Nahar
Guess what else this theodicy coheres with?

Christopher McHugh
And the existence of “that than which none greater can be conceived” is fully deducible as a matter of logical necessity, given the coherence of the concept.
And the coherence of the concept can be proven with other axioms.
This is all sure as can be.
“Guess what else this theodicy coheres with?”
What?

Sri Nahar
This theodicy coheres fully with the ancient Israelite concept of the Divine council
Christopher McHugh

This is interesting.
Sri Nahar
God ruled the universe through the Divine council, conisisting of the Sons of God

the Benei Elohim
C.f. Psalm 82

Christopher McHugh
Interesting, indeed.

Sri Nahar
But they rebelled
And they enticed mankind away from the worship of God, and this led to God having to let go of most of mankind

Christopher McHugh
Where can I read about this?

Sri Nahar
Hear of Dr. Michael S. Heiser?

Christopher McHugh
No.

Sri Nahar
OT scholar, Presbyterian, I believe

Christopher McHugh
Please connect me with the work.

Sri Nahar
Sure

Christopher McHugh
May I post this dialogue?

Sri Nahar
Just a minute
Please do

Christopher McHugh
Oh, wait, there’s more.
“If so, if there was an accidental connection between a carnivorous animal seeking his prey and a man seeking his livelihood, what would have happened?
OK, not livelihood, just a man who was taking a walk in the jungle
Let’s also assume that Adam and Eve never fell”
If our first parents never fell, we would have dominion over all of nature.

Sri Nahar
Do go on

Christopher McHugh
Our authority to reorder it would be the authority of God himself.

Sri Nahar
Indeed

Christopher McHugh
We would not be in danger through natural evils, but would have the joy of adventuring, exploring, and conquering.

Sri Nahar
Indeed

Christopher McHugh
Indeed, we would surely have populated vast expanses of space by now.
We, as a race, would have been much smarter and more creative. Science would be incalculably more advanced than it now is.

Sri Nahar
Yes

Christopher McHugh
And it would have been a whole lot of fun.

Sri Nahar
But the Incaarnation would nevertheless have occuured
occurred*

Christopher McHugh
Yes.
God is generous.

Sri Nahar
Well, here is Dr. Heiser’s doctoral disssertation topic, which was on the Divine council:
digitalcommons.liberty.edu

Christopher McHugh
Interestingly, as it is now, with sin having happened, the endowment offered to us is greater than what would have been possible had sin never happened. Indeed, in both cases, God gives the highest good it is logically possible for God to give.
However, with the advent of sin, there is a greater good which God was not morally free to give on his own.

Sri Nahar
Which is?

Christopher McHugh
I say God was not morally free to give it because God is not morally free to do evil or approve of evil.

Sri Nahar
Yes

Christopher McHugh
The good to which I refer is the radical heroism of saving the entire human race from disaster.

Christopher McHugh
This is different in character from a life of peace and joy.

Sri Nahar
God’s act of solidarity with the human race

Christopher McHugh
The triumph of the victory.
What we don’t often realize is that this triumph is the eternal destiny of each individual.

Sri Nahar
Indeed

Christopher McHugh
It is not something which God the Son keeps for himself, though he won the victory.

Sri Nahar
Indeed

Christopher McHugh
“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
“To the victor, who keeps to my ways until the end,
I will give authority over the nations.
He will rule them with an iron rod.
Like clay vessels will they be smashed, just as I received authority from my Father. And to him I will give the morning star.” (Revelation 2: 26-28)

“THROUGH THE REDEMPTION, HUMAN SUFFERING HAS BEEN TRANSFIGURED (CONNECTION TO THE FIRST REVELATION)
Instead of eternally separating man from God, as even the smallest suffering would have done apart from the redemption, the pain experienced by each is changed (through mystical union with God the Son) to take on the significance of the redemption of the entire world. When the redemptive meaning of suffering in union with Jesus is revealed, one comes to experience the glory of striking the death-blow to all that which harms innocence. In this definitive counterstrike against evil, which is given over to those who are the victims of evil, God ordains it to be that the possibility of the forgiveness of all past sins of humanity and every good thing to be bestowed in God’s self-gift to creatures throughout all eternity proceeds from exactly what the individual has suffered. In union with Jesus, each becomes the irrevocably necessary conduit of God’s gift of love to pass to every other, and thus (united to Christ the redeemer), each becomes the savior of the world with reference to every other person. Anything less than this transformation of the meaninglessness of human suffering to be one with Christ in his act of redemption would entail that any occasion of suffering (no matter how small) necessarily diminishes man permanently, thus forever alienating him from his creator for the reasons expressed in the first revelation.” (anonymous, Revelations of Divine Justice)

“If the glory of this vengeance against evil through redemptive suffering were not entrusted to man, then the victims of evil
would never be perfectly compensated by God for their sufferings, for they would remain mere bystanders who have been passively liberated by an external source. Their suffering would not have value in bringing about this liberation, and thus it would remain a permanent diminishing factor because of its meaninglessness. Hence, God has ordained it to be that death is conquered by means of death, and through this conquest, the glory of the Trinity becomes the inheritance of the poor in spirit.” (anonymous, Revelations of Divine Justice)

“THOSE WHO SUFFER MAKE THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS POSSIBLE
The fact that God’s generosity remains undiminished despite the threat of evil means that man is still able to receive the total gift that God intends. This gift is the fullness of God’s love, the maximal dignity of freedom, power, and universal importance, and the fullness of the unity of humanity, where each is perfectly important to all. Another word for this gift is heaven. God has not compromised the fullness of his gift in any degree in response to the threat of or the actuality of evil, and only because God has remained faithful in offering the fullness of his gift by loving man according to this undiminished dignity does heaven remain open. However, in order that God continue to love sinful man according to this maximal dignity, each person must remain free and universally important no matter what. If the dignity of freedom and importance were to be taken away, it would hurt a person permanently, for one would no longer have universal causal significance, and thus would be excluded from the unity of humanity. Therefore, in order to safeguard man’s eternal destiny, God must forever preserve the universal impact of the free actions of each even though they have done evil. Though man sins, the impact of his actions remain universal, and thus he retains the same dignity of freedom and causal importance as when he was created. However, others must pay for this high dignity to be retained through their suffering of the universal effects of his sin while God directs these evil consequences in such a way that his providence draws a greater good from them. Consequently, it can be said that those who suffer make it possible for sins to be forgiven because they allow God to continue to love sinners as if they were innocent, bestowing maximal undiminished dignity upon the guilty despite their abuse of God’s gifts.” (anonymous, Revelations of Divine Justice)

Sri Nahar
Amen
“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…”

Christopher McHugh
Indeed, he is risen. Alleluia.

Sri Nahar
Alleluia!

Christopher McHugh
And this is a simple proof of it all:

Christopher McHugh
THE ARGUMENT FROM THEOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY
“Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, ‘that all may be one. . . as we are one’ (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (Guadium et Spes, 24)

1) If our gift is not that “than which none greater can be conceived”, then we are necessarily in a position to negatively evaluate our own gift. [If we define “evaluate” as comparative value, and if we’ve correctly concluded that our gift is not “that than which none greater can be conceived”, then we are in a position to negatively evaluate our own gift.]

2) Therefore, if we are not necessarily in a position to negatively evaluate our own gift, then our gift is “that than which none greater can be conceived”. (from 1 by Contrapositive)

3) “It is possibly an axiom of life that we are never in a position to [negatively] evaluate our own gift.” (Gabriel’s postulate)

4) Therefore, our gift is “that than which none greater can be conceived”. (From 2 and 3 by Modus Ponens)

This means that, necessarily, in our authentic self-gift we are giving the gift of God, who is “that than which none greater can be conceived”.

Some supporting quotes:
“Accordingly, souls possess the same goods by participation that the Son possesses by nature. As a result they are truly gods by participation, equals and companions of God. Wherefore St. Peter said: May grace and peace be accomplished and perfect in you in the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, as all things of his divine power that pertain to life and piety are given us through the knowledge of him who called us with his own glory and power, by whom he has given us very great and precious promises, that by these we may be made partakers of the divine nature [2 Pt. 1:2-4]. These are words from St. Peter in which he clearly indicates that the soul will participate in God himself by performing in him, in company with him, the work of the Most Blessed Trinity because of the substantial union between the soul and God. Although this participation will be perfectly accomplished in the next life, still in this life when the soul has reached the state of perfection, as has the soul we are here discussing, she obtains a foretaste and noticeable trace of it in the way we are describing, although as we said it is indescribable.” (Saint John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle)

“In the fifth revelation, it was shown that, in accord with divine justice in bestowing maximal causal significance to each individual human being, it has been ordained that in the new order of creation, the actions of each are made necessary for the salvation of all. In the eighth revelation, it was shown that in being brought into union with Christ in his mission of redemptive suffering, each human being becomes the conduit of grace to flow upon every other for the purification and redemption of the whole world. All providence in the redemptive order obtains through, with, and in each person united to Christ, flowing from glorified wounds. Thus, one with Christ, each broken human person becomes eternally and irrevocably the means through whom all good things come to every other creature. Through this union with Jesus, the self-gift of God to the entirety of creation and the self-gift of the individual human person become identical. It should be noted that (according to Catholic doctrine) Mary, in being the first instance of this new order of creation, is understood to be the first to exemplify this role of maximal importance in the salvation of every person who will be saved. Thus, she is the fountainhead through whom all graces come into the fallen world from the Holy Trinity.” (anonymous, Revelations of Divine Justice)

“…entrust to the Lord the hardships and sorrows that you have to face and in his plan they will become a means of purification and redemption for the whole world.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Papal Address at Pavia Hospital)

Sri Nahar
Wow

Christopher McHugh
Yes. The necessity of God’s saving justice is at the level of logic itself.
Since God’s existence is logically necessary, the action of divine justice is, too.