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Friday, March 4, A.D. 2011
Kristor Poses Evil Problems

Kristor has responded to my “Before Choice” post:

I should like to clarify first that I do not think that Lucifer’s Fall was unconditioned, or arbitrary, or even blind. It was not wholly ignorant, for Lucifer was acquainted with goodness (in just the same way that the goodness of apples was quite familiar to Eve, before she took and ate the forbidden fruit). When he took a sinful course, he must have apprehended the good that was potential in it. Its defects must not have appeared to him as such, or he would never have taken it. Before he Fell, he was ignorant of evils, but knowledgeable about goods. This is the only way we can construe him as a rational being; and the same goes for Adam, and Eve. If we do not assume that they were ignorant of evil, then we are forced to the conclusion that their behavior in choosing it was purely arbitrary – just what you are rightly concerned to avoid.

We must remember that for creatures the middle term between absolute indeterminacy and complete predetermination is not excluded. There is such a thing as partial predetermination. So, behavior can be orderly without being wholly preordained. If it were not so, there would be no such things as creaturely decisions, or actions, or therefore sins.

As to the unintelligibility of evil, I think we are both indicating the same reality with different gestures.

The image of the boy writing badly, even with the master orthographer’s hand to guide him, is like my image of the baby thrashing on the changing table. The errant movements of the baby or the boy are not chaotic, or unconditioned, or arbitrary, or irrational, or unintended, or wickedly motivated, or even inherently evil; they are merely errant, and error may wreak either good or ill.

Now, whether we name the original factor of that error “ignorance,” as I do,  or refuse to name it, as you do,  either way we indicate a species of ultimately unintelligible evil, by using what is to gesture toward that which is not, and which cannot therefore be referred to directly (“ignorance” is in- “not” + gnarus “aware”). Whether by saying, “no-thing,” or by saying nothing, we both refer to the same unintelligible darkness. And there is no way to make sense of that darkness; no way to come up with an explanation for an innocent adversion thereto, that will enable us to understand how Lucifer could have come to a fully informed, rational conclusion ex ante that, mutatis mutandis, it was a good idea to sin. We agree that he could not have done so: you emphasize that to do so is impossible, in any case; I agree, and emphasize that he could not therefore have had the equipment to do so.

But this introduces a deeper problem. Consider first that ignorance is a defect of being, for ignorance is lack of information – is, i.e., formlessness; that same formlessness endemic to unconditioned prime matter: tohu wabohu, formless and void, as Genesis has it. And a thing is unintelligible in itself to the extent that it is deficiently formed – that, i.e., it is less than fully formed. But how could tohu wabohu ever have come to pass? Or, how could any tiny bit of formlessness have come to pass? How could there be a defect of form anywhere? If God exists, how can anything that is be less than perfectly formed, according to its nature? For, to be at all is to be informed by God; and to be informed by God at all is to be informed by him through and through.

Put another way: given God’s infinity, and the consequent utter pervasion everywhere of his uncreate Light, how can there be darkness anywhere, of any kind? The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. But, how could there ever have been any darkness in the first place, given the eternal presence everywhere of that Light?

So we see that the Problem of the Fall is just a special case of the Problem of Evil. Given the possibility that he might do evil, and given the fact that, as you say, there is no way to understand evil in itself, we can see how Lucifer might have done it without fully understanding what he was getting himself into (is it even possible, metaphysically, for a creature ever to understand fully what he is getting himself into, beforehand?). We see how it could happen, even though it doesn’t make any sense, and can’t make any sense. Fine. But if God exists, how could there be even a possibility of doing evil? If God exists, how could there be such a thing as unintelligibility or ignorance, anywhere?

God cannot prevent non-god. Being as such cannot prevent non-being. Indeed, being entails the possibility of non-being: if there is a thing, then there is an alternative to that thing, while if there is no thing at all, then there is no alternative thereto, either. If there are no numbers at all, then there is no 0. But if there is 1, then there is 0 (I know, I know: 0 is not nothing; the analogy to the numbers is metaphorical, rather than strict). Thus the question why there is something rather than nothing is nonsense; unless there were something, there could not even be nothing. But given that there is something, then necessarily there is the possibility of something else; and the alternative to being as such is non-being. Thus the mere fact of God’s existence entails the possibility of non-existence.  God cannot, then, create a world that is not subject to the risk of evil, just as he cannot create a stone that he cannot lift. NB that it is not a defect in God that he cannot actualize nonsense. Thus evil is not a defect in his coding. We do not say that a coder is guilty of writing bad code because his program does not do something that the very logic of the programming language disallows.

The risk of creaturely evil, then, is entailed by the existence of God; and this would be so, even were there no creatures. So, the option of evil was necessarily open to Lucifer ab initio; it was not an extra added feature that God threw into the mix. And since evil was metaphysically unintelligible to Lucifer prior to his sin, he could intend evil in a non-arbitrary way without having any rhyme or reason to rationalize his decision: in that decision was no pattern, no logic or order, but rather the absence thereof. That being the case, there is no explanation for what he did. All we can say of Lucifer’s sin is that he could do it, and he did do it.

The problem of the fall is indeed part the larger problem of evil, and I confess that I do not know how to approach the unapproachable, unintelligible puzzles thereof. Insofar as we can lay the groundwork for an understanding of evil, I am anxious that we do not betray a few basic principles—namely, that God is good, that evil has no being of its own, and that evil is not a necessary constitutive aspect of reality. People may think that the “unintelligible, uncaused, uncausing” approach to the problem is a dereliction of philosophical duty, but I subscribe to it, as unsatisfying as it is to our minds that naturally seek to understand, because it holds an “apeironic” space where I cannot see a rational explanation. It is a parenthesis of ignorance, and while that troubles me, I see no way to resolve it. To use the imagery of groundwork, again, I would rather have somewhat disjointed architecture due to the refusal to build upon bad and unstable land than the construction of an impressive edifice upon a rickety foundation. I judge modernity to be the latter, and to keep its consequent building from toppling over constantly requires ever new methods in rigging supports. Ultimately, collapse will occur, and each brilliant, novel support beam is merely a delay of the inevitable. In mentioning this, I am not stating that Kristor’s approach warrants the same fate; I just do not know how do you solve a problem like evil (I would much rather spend time bothering with less burdensome quandaries, like Maria Rainer).

As an aside, I think that we ought to distinguish between non-being and nothing as I argue in “Imperfection”:

A cantankerous metaphysician might claim, following old Parmenides, that the world is really a confused mixture of being and non-being. Things asserted to be are not just as they are. If you make any positive statements about anything formal or particular, you simultaneous and implicitly assert that they are not many other things. The even is not odd, and the pear is not an apple. Each being is not everything else. Hence, reality demands both being and non-being. From the Eleatic to Plato’s Sophist to today, we can see how such a statement makes sense.

Yet, I claim that non-being in the sense of negation within the matrix of reality is not the same as nothingness—evil or anti-being—which is the negation of being as such. God is the source of being and non-being, but we ought not to claim that God is the source of nothingness. That would indicate that God’s act of creation is paralleled, Hindu-style, with God’s act of destruction—and not creative destruction, by the way. Such a cosmic view makes good and evil equal forces from their transcendent source beyond good and evil, the dualism of which annihilates all of our ethical views where we privilege being over nothingness.

As with my different levels of imperfection, I risk irritating some folks due to my “Christianist” tendencies; yet I think that these two meanings of non-being and nothing are distinct. Negation has an intelligible role in affirmation. Similarly, what the Aristotelians call potentiality is an intelligible sort of non-being. Even the concept of pure non-being, as in pure potentiality or Aristotelian “prime matter,” ought not to pose a problem for us. Its unintelligibility results from its formlessness, but its particular kind of formlessness has meaning and a role in the cosmic whole. For I suppose that I am another happy parricide against the venerable Parmenides. The world is a hierarchy of being, and such an order requires the more intelligible and the less intelligible. Pure possibility, perhaps תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ from Genesis, may be a requisite for the world of becoming—the counterpart to pure being, which I take to be the energies of God. For formlessness is a necessary condition of creation—of being’s manifesting its image in time and space in a necessarily imperfect world. I distinguish such imperfection, and its unintelligibility, from evil and its unintelligibility . . . condemning myself to be a little bit more Bonaventuran and a little less Plotinean than Platonic purists would like.

Here are the previous posts for this thread:

“Orthodoxy and Evolution”

“Kristor on the Fall”

“Evil Christians”

“Unde Malum”

“Kristor Promotes Ignorance”

“Kristor Elucidates the Darkness”

“Before Choice”

Posted by Joseph on Friday, March 4, Anno Domini 2011
Religion | OrthodoxyPatristicsScriptureNon-ChalcedonianismProtestantismRoman CatholicismComments
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