Edward N. Martin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology
Thomas Aquinas often wielded the idea of an infinite regress in his theological and philosophical treatises. In the famous Five Ways, the notion of the impossibility of a regress of events or operations plays a key role in each of the first three proofs for God’s existence. In a similar fashion, Aquinas incorporates this idea in his Summa Contra Gentiles in the section on the existence of God.  In this later work, it becomes eminently clear that Aquinas derives the idea of the impossibility of an infinite regress ‘among movers and things moved’ directly from the work of Aristotle. According to the opening words of the First Way, Aquinas believed that the argument ex motu was the most evident way to prove God’s existence. It should not surprise us, then, that there is a certain amount of capital appearing in the proof ex causalitate that is borrowed from the proof ex motu.
It is true, though, that there are certain cosmological arguments that are based on the idea of an infinite regress of events in time that Aquinas did not accept. Various arguments of this sort, called today the kalam cosmological arguments, were spawned first in the works of John Philoponus in the sixth century  , and then developed by the Arabic schools of philosophy during the next five centuries. The Western world during these centuries had more or less lost contact with Aristotle’s philosophy; however, the Arabic school both preserved and developed Aristotle’ thought. At issue in the kalam argument is whether reason can tell us that the world has a beginning in time. That is, the kalam brand of the cosmological argument was thought to prove that the world, contra Aristotle and the Greeks, was in fact not eternal, but had instead a beginning in time, was ‘created’, if you will.
Aquinas has proposed in his Summa Theologiae  that there are two types of truths: truths of reason and truths of faith. And he makes it manifestly clear that he accepts the biblical doctrine of creation as a truth of faith, not reason. Aquinas holds that reason cannot prove that the world had a beginning in time. For all he knows and can demonstrate, the world may be ‘created from eternity’ by God: not only dependent on God for its existence, but eternally dependent on God. 
So, there are times in his work in which Aquinas invokes the idea of the impossibility of an infinite regress with sheer finesse; however, in other (though similar) contexts, Aquinas refuses to invoke it due to some epistemic untidyness that he perceives in the reasoning at hand. In the kalam argument, Aquinas perceived that one could use an infinite regress argument to prove both that the world has a beginning and does not have a beginning in time.  So, he was satisfied to accept by faith that the world had a beginning in time, according to Genesis 1:1.
In this paper, then, I shall investigate the use of the ‘infinite regress’ argument in Aquinas’ Second Way. What does Aquinas find in the argument from motion and efficient cause that is not at issue in the kalam cosmological arguments of Philoponus and the Arabic scholars like al-Ghazali? In order to answer this question, I shall investigate Aquinas’ use of the principle of infinite regress, especially as he receives this doctrine from Aristotle. Some interpreters, among them Patterson Brown and Richard Sorabji, have attempted to explain the impossibility of a causal regress in terms of legal responsibility. I believe that the idea of a kinematic cause and that of legal responsibility are at work in the Second Way. In fact, by attempting to allocate responsibility to an initial cause, interpreters have been able largely to avoid the issue of Aquinas’ outdated scientific views. In the end, to attribute legal responsibility to a cause seems to rest on the principle of sufficient reason, itself not possibly able to be proved or disproved. So, in this paper I would like to discuss Aquinas’ general tack in the Second Way. I shall answer the question: If Aquinas has a ‘vertical’ series of causes in view, and if such a series is impossible, what has he proved? To answer this question, in section I, I introduce some necessary distinctions that Aquinas makes in several texts of his work. In section II I attempt to reconstruct the Thomistic cosmological argument, showing the relevance of Thomas’ notion of an essentially ordered series. And, in section III, I make some concluding remarks.
I. SOME DEFINITIONS AND DISTINCTIONS
For Aristotle, to cause something to change and to cause something to be are very related ideas. Thus, there are many similarities between Thomas’ First Way, based on motion and change, and his Second Way, based on efficient cause. In the First Way, Aquinas invokes the somewhat mysterious infinite regress move in key positions of his arguments.
It is impossible that in the same respect and in the same manner anything should be both mover and moved, or that it should move itself. So whatever is in motion must be moved by something else. Moreover, this something else, if it too is in motion, must itself be moved by something else, and that in turn by yet another thing. But this cannot go on forever.
Why can’t it go on forever? Because
if it did there would be no first mover, and consequently no other mover at all, since second movers do not move except when moved by a first mover, just as a stick does not move anything except when moved by a hand. And so we must reach a first mover which is not moved by anything: and this all men think of as God. (ST, Ia,2,3) 
In SCG Thomas extends his argument for God’s existence from motion, and argues in a similar fashion. However, in SCG Aquinas offers explicit arguments for the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes, taken directly from Aristotle’s Physics.  We’ll come to this argumentation below. For now, notice the similarities and differences in the argument in ST and that below from SCG.
Everything that is moved is moved by another… Therefore, it is moved by something else that moves it. This mover is itself either moved or not moved… if it is moved, it is moved by another mover. We must, consequently, either proceed to infinity, or we must arrive at some unmoved mover. Now, it is not possible to proceed to infinity. Hence, we must posit some prime unmoved mover. (SCG I.13.3) 
Of great import, as Antony Kenny points out, is the verbal idea of movetur, that can mean ‘either “is being moved” or “is (at some time or other) moved’.  There is an ambiguity here between the interpretation; it is unclear whether the direction of movement is regressing temporally or ascending causally. How does Thomas intend us to understand his use of movetur, ‘it is moved’? Are we to understand ‘it is moved’ by
(1) a series of simultaneous movers,
(2) a series of movers stretching back into time.
The interpretation that one settles on is important, for it will decide what one takes Aquinas to mean by the impossibility of an infinite regress. But we must ask, as this notion has already been presented in the quotes above: is the regress to which Thomas alludes simultaneous or temporally regressive?
The decision about the term movetur in the First Way will also reflect the meaning of ‘series of efficient causes’ in the Second Way, on account of the example given at the end of the First Way (more on this below). It seems reasonable that Aquinas should draw upon the example cases of motion and causality in the First Way to express the kind of relations he has in view in the Second Way, given that he does not provide any examples in the text of the Second Way (in ST).
To support this view, one must examine his other texts to see if there is a manifest relationship between the hand-stick-stone example of the First Way and the interpretation of the ‘order of efficient causes’ of the Second Way. Here I will introduce a distinction that seems extremely important for Thomas to make in his discussion of the cosmological argument. That is the distinction between an accidentally ordered causal series and an essentially ordered causal series. There are, to my knowledge, at least two different locations in which Aquinas explicitly names and describes the difference between these two types of causal series. The first passage is within the Treatise on Creation, in discussing the eternity of the world, ST, q. 46, a. 2, reply obj. 7.
In efficient causes it is impossible to proceed to infinity per se–thus, there cannot be an infinite number of causes that are per se required for a certain effect; for instance, that a stone be moved by a stick, the stick by the hand, and so on to infinity. But it is not impossible to proceed to infinity accidentally as regards efficient causes; for instance, if all the causes thus infinitely multiplied should have the order of only one cause, their multiplication being accidental; as an artificer acts by means of many hammers accidentally, because one after the other is broken. It is accidental, therefore, that one particular hammer acts after the action of another, and likewise it is accidental to this particular man as generator to be generated by another man; for he generates as a man, and not as the son of another man. For all men generating hold one grade in efficient causes–namely, the grade of a particular generator. Hence, it is not impossible for a man to be generated by man to infinity; but such a thing would be impossible if the generation of this man depended upon this man, and on an elementary body, and on the sun, and so on to infinity. 
There are a number of interesting comments to be made about this distinction. If this distinction is so crucial, why did not Thomas incorporate it in the Second Way early in ST? Three responses might be made.  First, the ST is after all a summary of theology, so intricate distinctions were probably often left unsaid.
Second, due to the wide-spread interest in the newly translated texts of Aristotle, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Simplicius, John Philoponus, and Themistius, the two types of causal series had received a fair share of attention in academic circles. The distinction was made in Aristotle’s Physics 8.5, and developed by Simplicius, Maimonides, and Avicenna, among others.  In fact, Aristotle (in Physics) employs the example to which Aquinas evidently alludes in the First Way: a hand moving a stick that in turn moves a stone. And it is here that Aristotle actually makes the distinction between these two types of causal series, naming one of them ‘an accidental causal chain’. It also becomes clear in Physics 8.5 that Aristotle is speaking of one type of causal series (that Aquinas names an ‘essentially ordered series’) that is a simultaneous series of causes. According to Sorabji,
His ultimate interest [in Physics 8.5] is in explaining the motion which in Physics 8.1 he has argued to have no beginning. If it has no beginning, its cause will not exist before it.
Third, we should notice the distinctions between the hand-stick-stone example and its artificer-hammer counterpart. In the hand-stick-stone series, that is, the essentiallyordered series, the causes and effects are simultaneous, and the relationships between causes are transitive. Letting ‘C’ mean ’causes’ and x,y,and z be individual causes, it is the case that if xCy and yCz, then xCz. If the hand moves the stick (at time t) and the stick moves the stone (at time t), then one can properly say, in an essentially ordered series, that the hand moves the stone (at time t). On the other hand, an accidentally ordered series, such as the artificer-hammer example, is neither simultaneous nor transitive. Aquinas recognizes that the example of generation is even clearer than that of the artificer-hammer. He has in mind here the non-transitivity of generators. Let A=Abraham, I=Isaac, and J=Jacob, and ‘b’ be the causal relationship of ‘begets’. It is not the case, as in the essentially ordered series, that if AbI and IbJ then AbJ. As Aquinas says, ‘for he generates as a man, and not as the son of another man.’ (supra) It is necessary for a number of years to elapse until A’s son, I, is able to beget J. So, it is clear from this example that an accidentally ordered series is neither transitive nor simultaneous. So, in summary, we might define the two types of series as follows:
Accidentally ordered series: a series in which each member that has a predecessor depends upon its predecessor for something other than its very act of causing its successor.
Essentially ordered series: a series of causes in which each member depends upon its predecessor for its very act of causing its successor. 
Another place at which Thomas makes this distinction appears in Book 2 of SCG. Here Thomas provides an extended argument for and against the eternity of the world. At 2.38.6, among the arguments he adduces that represent those philosophers who attempt to demonstrate the non-eternity of the world, Aquinas includes one that is based upon the notion of efficient causality.
Then, too, it follows that it is possible to proceed to infinity in the line of efficient causes, if the engendering of things has gone on perpetually–and this in turn follows necessarily on the hypothesis that the world always existed; the father is the cause of the son, and another person the cause of that father, and so on endlessly.
At 2.38.13, Aquinas refutes the above argumentation by way of the distinction between types of causal series.
Nor does the objection to the theory of the world’s eternity that is raised in the fifth argument [as above] have compelling force. For, according to the philosophers, it is impossible to proceed to infinity in the order of efficient causes which act together at the same time, because in that case the effect would have to depend on an infinite number of actions simultaneously existing. And such causes are essentially infinite, because their infinity is required for the effect caused by them. On the other hand, in the sphere of non-simultaneously acting causes, it is not, according to the partisans of the perpetual generation theory, impossible to proceed to infinity. And the infinity here is accidental to the causes; thus, it is accidental to Socrates’ father that he is another man’s son or not. But it is not accidental to the stick, in moving the stone, that it be moved by the hand; for the stick moves just so far as it is moved.
Notice once again the hand-stick-stone example; in all probability an allusion to Aristotle’s Physics. Here Aquinas refers to ‘the philosophers’. To which philosophers does Aquinas refer here? Most likely it is to a group of Arabic philosophers. For in ST, Q. 7, art. 4, Thomas attempts to answer whether an infinite multitude of things can exist. In the respondeo, Aquinas attributes a similar distinction among infinities to the Arabic school of philosophy.
Some, as Avicenna and Algazel, said that “it is impossible for an actually infinite multitude to exist absolutely, but an accidentally infinite multitude is not impossible. A multitude is said to be infinite absolutely when an infinite multitude is necessary that something may exist”.
Aquinas’ response to this point is interesting, and supplies another instance in which he refers to the two types of series (though here not causal series per se). Here, while he uses the term ‘accidental’ and ‘absolute’, he is talking about whether an actual infinite of entities can exist.
Now this is impossible, because it would entail something dependent on an infinity for its existence, and hence its generation could never come to be, because it is impossible to pass through an infinite medium.
Getting back to an earlier question, we now can look more closely at the question of the Latin verb movetur. Aquinas, I submit, is using movetur in the First Way as a series of simultaneous movers. At the end of the First Way he alludes to Aristotle’s hand-stick-stone example. This would have been enough given his audience, who was very familiar with the example, to establish the type of causal relata that he had a vested interest to discuss. According to his description in SCG 2.38.13, it seems reasonable to conclude that Aquinas intends his readers of the Second Way to imagine the causal series spoken of to be a simultaneous relationship. Further evidence can be gathered from the fact that in both passages in which Aquinas makes this important distinction between types of causal series, he says of the essentially related series that they are in ‘order’. However, the strongest evidence for the question at hand is the explanation of SCG 2.38.13, as above. 
II. EXPOSITION OF THE SECOND WAY
Aquinas’ Second Way consists of four basic premises, and rests on a number of causal principles. Each of these four premises must be evaluated separately to ensure the cogency of the argument. I shall introduce Aquinas’ causal principles in the text as needed.
(1) In sensible things we find an order of efficient causes.
(2) It is impossible for this order of causes to proceed to infinity.
(3) There must be a first efficient cause.
(4) This first cause is God.
I have argued above that we are to interpret (1) as a series of essentially ordered causes. That is, a series of causes that is simultaneously transitive, from earlier causes to the latest cause. In using the terms ‘first cause’, intermediate causes’, and ‘ultimate cause’, one may think that Thomas is guilty of question-begging in using these terms. For to posit a first, intermediate, and last cause seems at once to assume the conclusion that there is a first cause of each essentially ordered series to which we can refer. However, I do not think Thomas is guilty in this way. If he is successful, he will have shown that the number of intermediate causes is indeed finite. If he is not successful, there is simply an infinity of causes through which the ‘moving cause’ causally moves or is transferred to arrive at the ultimate cause. After all, it is the ultimate cause that we ‘see’; we can only ‘sense’ some intermediate causes. For example, in the hand-stick-stone case, we can sense that the stick is transferring a kinetic causal force from the hand to the stone, on account of seeing the stone being moved as it is. Is this always the case that some causes we see and others we only ‘sense’? Perhaps. In the case of the wind causing the windmill to turn, we do sense that there is something that accounts for the windmill turning as it presently is. Thus the principle that Thomas evokes in the Second Way:
(c1) It is not possible that a thing be the cause of itself.
This principle is to causality what the principle that ‘whatever is in motion, must be moved by something else’ is to motion. (c1) is the causal relative of this principle that Thomas utilizes in the First Way. It hinges on the Aristotelian notion of potentiality and actuality. For Aquinas says in the First Way that it is impossible that anything should be both mover and moved ‘in the same respect and in the same manner‘. (supra) While I shall not attempt to establish the principle of motion here, I shall work with the Second Way in a manner that is indifferent to the Aristotelian principle of motion. However, I shall continue to show similarities and relations between the First and Second Ways, for there are many relations that do not explicitly involve these similar underlying principles. This will become clear as we look more closely at the Second Way. It seems that in a simultaneous series of causes, it is never the case that any link c(n) in the chain of causes is a being that comes to be on account of its predecessor c(n-1). That is, the intermediates of which Aquinas speaks are already existing substances, either material or immaterial. For Aquinas says in SCG that
in things made by way of motion, to be made and to be are not simultaneous, because the production of such things involves succession. (2.37.6)
So, to be an intermediate cause means to transfer a cause that is possibly transferable and intrinsically transitive. The cause that is transferred must be transitive. This is only one of the ways in which the First and Second Ways are related: motion is one type of transitive causal relationship. As we have seen from other contexts, begetting is not considered to be a transitive causal relationship. Modern science has shown that the idea of simultaneous transitive causal relationships is questionable. Imagine a train, presently at rest, consisting of a locomotive and 10 boxcars all linked together. A moment later, at t1, the locomotive starts in motion. While its motion is distributed transitively to the rest of the cars, there is likely at least a moment at which the engine’s motion precedes that of the cars behind it. Because of the elasticity of the couple that links the cars together, the transferred cause can be sensed to be present sooner in those cars that are nearer to the engine.  Even so, the motion is transitive, in that the car before the caboose can be said to move the caboose, even as the engine can be said to move the caboose. In this case, the pre-caboose car is an instrumental cause of the caboose’s forward motion, while the engine is the primary or first cause.
Step (2) of the Second Way was stated as: It is impossible for this order of causes to proceed to infinity. Aquinas’ argument for this is explicit and initially compelling. Is it not evident by now that there are different types of efficient causes at work here? Some are transferring causes, some ultimate, and some primary. And it appears that while they all fall under the category of ‘efficient causes’, that they serve diverse functions. Aquinas states that in efficient causes it is impossible to proceed to infinity because
in all efficient causes following an order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or one only.
Immediately we encounter a problem of possible inconsistency with Aristotle. For the Philosopher had written that
Clearly there is a beginning, and the causes of things are not infinite, either as a series or in a kind. For neither can one thing come from something else as from matter ad infinitum (for example, flesh from earth, earth from water, water from fire, and so on without end), not can the source which begins motion (for example, a man is moved by air, air by the sun, the sun by Strife, and so on without limit) be such. …And the case of the essence is similar. For of the intermediates, of which there is a last and also a prior, the prior must be the cause of the posterior. For if we had to say which of the three is the cause, we should say the first; certainly not the last, for this is the cause of none, not yet the middle, for it is the cause of only one (and it makes no difference whether it is one or many, or whether infinite or finite in number). But of things which are infinite in this manner (and of the infinite in general) all the parts are alike intermediate, except the last; so that if there is no first, there is no cause at all. 
This seems to contradict the Thomistic account of intermediary causes. Thomas argues that the series of intermediate causes must be finite in number; on the other hand, Aristotle says in this passage that there may be an finite or infinite number of causes. The fact is Aristotle uses two different notions of infinity, a potential and an actual infinity; and, he denies that there is ever a presently-existing actual infinite. In Physics 3.5-7, Aristotle describes his notion of an infinite collection of things.
For in general infinity exists through one thing always being taken after another, what is taken being always finite, but ever other and other. 
It seems safe, then, to conclude that Aquinas and Aristotle are not in disagreement here. They can both, despite the above semantic impediments, consistently maintain that number of intermediate causes could be extremely large, though not an actual infinite in number.
Looking more closely now at (2), ‘it is impossible for this order of causes to proceed to infinity’, we are struck by the plausibility of the claim as it is presented in the Second Way. On the one hand, assuming that an intermediate causal link merely transfers a cause to its successor, if there is no first cause-to-be-transferred, there will be no transferred cause, and hence no ultimate cause. If there is no ultimate cause, there is no ultimate effect, or ‘seen’ cause (as I have designated it above), and hence no action or motion in the world. Yet this is manifestly absurd. So, suppose that there is an ultimate cause. Therefore, given (c1), there must be a transferred cause. Either the transferring causes are one or many in number. If they are one, then we have a primary cause. If they are many, then they are either finite or infinite in number, since finitude and infinitude are the two possible cardinalities of numbers.
If the transferred cause is finite, then we arrive at a primary mover. However, what of the possibility of a series of transferred causes being infinite in number? From a modern science standpoint, there is a compelling kinematic argument that the number of causes in an essentially ordered series must be finite. I might state my kinematic argument in this way:
(2a) During a causal interaction between any two material relata, there is always a loss of energy, whether potential or kinetic energy.
(2b) In an infinite number of causal interactions, there is an infinite amount of energy lost, whether potential or kinetic.
(2c) There cannot be an infinite amount of energy in one kinetic system.
(2d) Therefore, any causal interaction must consist of a finite number of causes.
(2e) Therefore, there is a primary cause in this essentially ordered causal series.
The least plausible premise here is (2c); for if there is an infinite amount of energy in the universe, if the universe is infinite in time, space, and energy, then it is initially plausible that one kinetic system, that I am taking here to be an essentially ordered causal series, could feasibly serve to disclaim (2c). Given this argument, the only way in which we can ascertain its truth is be to assume that the universe is finite in space, time, and energy. And, according to reason and a limited knowledge of the scope of the universe, it seems difficult to sustain this conclusion. However, there is a way to narrow the scope and thus bolster this argument. What follows can be seen as a development of a statement in SCG 2.38.13, that it
is impossible to proceed to infinity in the order of efficient causes which act together at the same time, because in that case the effect would have to depend on an infinite number of actions simultaneously existing. And such causes are essentially infinite, because their infinity is required for the effect caused by them. [emphasis mine]
I shall assume that every one of the causes in the essentially ordered series under discussion is material in nature, whether that material be in the form of energy, light, electromagnetic radiation, or matter. (Recall here the Principle of the Conversation of Energy: in a closed system, matter is neither created nor destroyed; it only changes form(s).)
(2a’) In the universe, a causal interaction between two or more material relata will involve a loss of kinetic energy, on account of at least one of these three: (i) gravitational pull on either side of the causal material that slows it, (ii) the giving off of sound in an interaction, or (iii) the giving off of heat via friction between the material causes.
(2b’) In an infinite number of such causal interactions, there is an infinite amount of kinetic energy lost from the system.
(2c’) There cannot be an infinite amount of kinetic energy in one kinetic system.
(2d’) Therefore, any causal interaction must consist of a finite number of causes.
(2e’) Therefore, there is a primary cause in this essentially ordered causal series.
In reformulating the Second Way to account for modern science, it is probably best to do away with the notion of simultaneity from our conception of essentially ordered series. As in the example of the elasticity of the couple that links the box cars, so also in the reconstruction of Thomas’ Second Way we see a case in which simultaneity will apparently not work. However, there are considerations that come along with a rejection of simultaneity that may play in the favor of the defender of this argument. The plausibility of (2c’) increases when it is remembered that to be present in a kinetic system means to be causally accessible to act as either the first cause or one of the intermediate causes of an essentially ordered series. However, there are two implausibilities attached to this fact, one Thomistic and the other from modern science.
(I). Thomas adopted the common sense notion that, at least for intermediate causes, all causality is local. Another way to state this is
(c2) For any material item x to causally interact with material item y, where such an interaction would form part of an essentially ordered series of causes, x must be either physically continuous with or contiguous to y.
On this point, we witness Aquinas in his first of three proofs for the impossibility of an infinity in an essentially ordered series, given in SCG.
Furthermore, that it is impossible for the above-mentioned infinities to be moved in a finite time Aristotle proves as follows. The mover and the thing moved must exist simultaneously. This Aristotle proves by induction in the various species of motion. But bodies cannot be simultaneous except through continuity or contiguity. Now, since, as has been proved, all the aforementioned movers and things moved are bodies, they must constitute by continuity or contiguity a sort of single mobile. In this way, one infinite is moved in a finite time. This is impossible, as is proved in the Physics [7.1 and 6.7]. (1.13.13)
(c2) represents the second principle that Aquinas assumes to be true of transitive causal interactions. Here we see the coming together of the First and Second Ways in yet another way. In the quote above, that is an attempt to establish (2) as it is used in the argument from motion in SCG, Aquinas uses (c2) to argue that the movers and the things moved must ‘constitute by continuity or contiguity a sort of simply mobile’. That is, a body taken to be one whole through which a cause in to be distributed. We then see a third causal principle employed, viz.,
(c3) An infinite cannot traverse a finite in finite time.
Aquinas states this principle in SCG 1.13.12. Now in SCG 1.38.13 (supra), Aquinas states that
it is impossible to proceed to infinity in the order of efficient causes which act together at the same time, because in that case the effect would have to depend on an infinite number of actions simultaneously existing.
We must decide, it seems, whether simultaneity is essential to this brand of causal series. I have relinquished it for reasons of modern science–and hence to speak to contemporary listeners a language that seems more plausible. To employ an already used example, if the elastic couple stretches a bit when it is pulled, then there seems to be some time lapse between the engine starting in forward motion and the box cars starting in forward motion. But perhaps the move available to us, to ‘thomisize’ the modern science outlook, would be to consider the train as a simple body. What if we view the engine, the elastic couple to its to posterior cars, and well as each of those cars and their links, as one, as a unit that is moved? Would this help matters at all?
There are two possibilities. If the time lapse is large enough between causal links in a unit body as above, then, the cause that proceeds down from the prior causes would never arrive, for it would be equivalent to counting down from infinity, which is impossible. Notice here that we have come to a position that sounds very much like thekalam cosmological argument. For the kalam argues that if we equate each moment with a natural number, then the number of moments that have gone by cannot be any larger than one could possibly count using natural numbers. For the coming and going of each day is very much like the counting of numbers, one following the other in a uniform manner.
The second possibility is to maintain the simultaneity of the causes, by adopting the ‘simple body’ thesis. To do this, we must account for the simultaneity of the transferred cause in a way that overcomes the elasticity of the simple body’s parts. This has seemed an achievable task to some modern philosophers.  What Aquinas avoids by endorsing the simultaneity of the causes in an essentially ordered series is the problems of interpretation regarding the cardinalities of infinity that figure prominently in the kalam argument of Philoponus and his Arabic followers. If we interpret the ‘one simple mobile’ thesis as not being able to pass through an infinite in finite time (i.e.,simultaneously), then the argument seems right. And it seems right for the very reason that Aquinas argues:
Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, not any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes, all of which is plainly false. (ST I, art. 2, q. 3)
(II.) Above I promised to give some reasons stemming from modern science in favor of (2c’), ‘There cannot be an infinite amount of energy in one kinetic system.’ An appeal here is made to the construction of space-time. Given any continuous space-time ‘worm’ (x1,y1,z1,t1 + *t) to (x2,y2,z2,t1 + *t), there would have to be an infinite amount of energy available to this worm in order to transfer the cause through an infinite number of intermediaries. Now, if we adopt two theses, (i) the universe is relatively uniform in its distribution of matter, and (ii) principle (c2), the principle of material continuity or contiguity, then it seems reasonable that there are no essentially ordered causal series that possess infinite energy. To possess infinite energy would be for a continuous space-time worm to possess an infinity of matter.  We have never observed this sort of entity before. And it is not a causally impossible state of affairs to have an infinite amount of energy available at one time slice at every point in space. The recent thesis of John Bell of non-local causality could supply the necessary underpinnings of such a position. As well, if one admits super-luminary particles in one’s theory of physics, it could be argued that an infinite amount of energy in this sense could be accounted for. I find these accounts unlikely, though, for reasons that I need not explain here. 
The third premise of the Second Way is (3) there must be a first efficient cause. We have seen that (3) follows if (2) (the denial of an infinite regress of causes) is true. Thomas attempts to prove that there are and indeed must be only a finite number of intermediate causes between the prior cause and the ultimate cause. There must be a first prior cause, the first cause. If there is nothing doing the moving, no movement happens. If one is able to point to a mover somewhere in the essentially ordered series and say, ‘it is responsible!’, then he has located what Aquinas calls the first or primary cause. We cannot deny that there are orders of efficient causes in the world. What is the cause of the effects that we see? Earlier I said that legal responsibility was at work in the Second Way. It is in the present situation that it can be fruitfully employed.
Imagine, for the nonce, that Mr. Alpha is standing in line at the carnival, and there is an infinitely long line behind him, including (in order) Mr. Beta, Mr. Gamma, Mr. Delta, and so on.  Suddenly, from way back in the line somewhere comes a shove, that inelegantly is transferred through the mass of people, until finally Mr. Delta pushes Mr. Gamma, Gamma pushes Beta, and Beta Alpha. Alpha plummets forward into an onlooker’s puff of cotton candy, spreading a thin coat of pink goo evenly across the front of his face. Alpha, furious over this unfortunate spill, demands to know who pushed him. When he asks the person immediately behind him, Beta quickly tells him that it was Gamma who had pushed him. Upon examination, similar responses are elicited from each predecessor in line. No one will claim responsibility; yet, something obviously happened. Aquinas says it’s impossible that such an event could have an infinite number of causal nexuses; there must be a first shover, or else no shove at all.
In concluding, we come to premise (4), the first efficient cause is God. It has not been my purpose here to establish the theistic conclusion of the cosmological argument; rather I have attempted to examine carefully a certain aspect of Thomas’ Second Way.  If we grant that Aquinas’ argument from step (1) to (3) is successful, that there must indeed be a first cause in any essentially ordered series, what is it that Aquinas feels he has proved?
In argument (2a’)-(2e’), I assumed that all of the causes in the essentially ordered series were material. But perhaps the best approach in an argument of this nature is that of a reductio ad absurdum. If one could reduce to absurdity the idea that there can be an infinite chain of material essentially ordered causal series, then perhaps he could proceed to establish that there must be a first, immaterial cause.
The potential bugbear appears, though, at this juncture between cosmological argument and the Thomistic reasoning about God. For the proof offers justification of the claim that there is a first cause. However, Aquinas offers us the explanation that God is the first transcendent cause, which, given God’s eternality and immutability, isprima facie very hard to accept. To jump from a first immanent cause to a first transcendent cause appears to be one of the most questionable moves in the Thomistic program. If a coherent doctrine of atemporal causality can be identified, the move between first transcendent and immanent causes would be justified. One must admit that there is a lot of theoretical potency in the Thomistic Theistic system (and in general in the Theistic system). Perhaps Thomas’s way out here is to make yet another distinction: one need only say that at each specified cosmologial time t, the transcendent first cause wills from eternity a change at t (that doesn’t imply that he changes his will at t or at any other moment of cosmological time), and wills that the world be in state S at t. Thus God’s will for the cosmos is a unitative, robustly complex sufficient cause determining and allowing the whole nexus of causality to be as He wills it to be at each cosmological time to achieve His good ends. The omnipotent, transcendent cause can indeed bring about a string of imminent causes on such a theory, and Thomas’s view is seen to be consistent. However, it would take much more on the notion of eternal and transcendent causes to be fully justified in this theoretical analysis of transcendent and immanent causes just given, but I cannot dwell here more on the notion of eternal or atemporal causality. 
I have shown that Aquinas fosters the idea of an essentially ordered series in the Second Way. I presented an interpretation of a vertical, transitive causal series while trying to be sensitive to present scientific concerns and approaches to cosmology.
As to what Aquinas takes himself to have proved in the Second Way, there is evidently some principle to which Aquinas appeals so that he can go from premise (3) to (4). In SCG 1.16.7, the kernal of his First and Second Way is seen in broader, cosmological terms. In this section Aquinas argues that there is no passive potency in God. One can recognizes the relationship to the principle of motion in the First Way  .
We see something in the world that emerges from potency to act. Now, it does not educe itself from potency to act, since that which is in potency, being still in potency, can therefore not act. Some prior being is therefore needed by which it may be brought forth from potency to act. This cannot go on to infinity. We must, therefore, arrive at some being that is only in act and in no wise in potency. This being we call God.
This passage instructs us to remember planetary motion in his First and Second Way. Aquinas must have had the constant motion of the crystalline spheres in mind, the spheres in which the stars and planets traveled on their courses in the heavens in Aristotelian astronomy. Every essentially ordered causal series is addressed in the Second Way, but some amount of prominence should be given to the idea of the constant motion of the heavenly bodies. This cosmological view has been shown to be inadequate; is the Second Way therefore emptied of its significance? I’m not sure. I hope to investigate these matters more closely in another essay.
In conclusion, then, Aquinas seems to foster the idea of an essentially ordered series in the Second Way. I have presented an interpretation of a vertical, transitive causal series while trying to be sensitive to present scientific concerns and approaches to cosmology. The Second Way was shown to be related to the First Way in many ways. In fine, it appears that these two Thomistic cosmological arguments hinge prominently on the principle of motion (c0); to the degree that the principle is plausible, the Thomistic First and Second Ways (save the problems I have pointed out earlier) will be, under one interpretative approach, at least as plausible. 
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles, I.13 passim.
 E.g, in a work (now lost) entitled ‘On the Eternity of the World’.
 I shall now represent this work as ‘ST’, and abbreviate his other Summa by ‘SCG’.
 As a ball that is found sitting in the sand causes the indentation in the sand simultaneously from its position in the sand. If the ball were sitting in the sand forever, the indentation is unswervingly caused by the ball’s position, yet it would be the case that the causal relation between the ball, sand, and indentation is one that had no beginning in time.
 Of course, this goes back to Aristotle, who wrestled with the problem of infinite regress arguments (for example, when he attempts to solve Zeno’s paradoxes of motion). It is also numbered among Kant’s ‘Antinomies of Pure Reason’; cf. Kant’s First Antinomy, in his Critique of Pure Reason.
 Translations of Thomas’ text of the Five Ways are taken from Antony Kenny’s book The Five Ways (New York: Schocken, 1969), 6-69.
 Chapters vii. and viii.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles (Notre Dame, 1975), vol. 1: trans. Anton C. Pegis; vol. 2: trans. James F. Anderson; vol. 3: trans. Vernon J. Bourke.
 Kenny, op. cit., 12.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English Domican Province, in Great Books of the Western World, ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins, vol. 19.
 Keen insight regarding these issues can be found in Richard Sorabji, Time, Creation, and the Continuum (Ithaca: Cornell, 1983), 226-231.
 Many of the translations of these ancient and medieval texts became available to Aquinas through his friend William of Moerbeke. See F. C. Copleston, A History of Philosophy (Garden City: Image, 1985), book I, vol. 2, 207; for references to these other works see Sorabji, op. cit., 229-230.
 Sorabji, op. cit., 227.
 I thank William Rowe for these helpful definitions.
 While the relationship between Aquinas’ use of the word ‘order’ and the essentially related series of causes looms large, still in ST q. 46, art. 3, reply obj. 7, Aquinas does use this word while speaking of an accidental causal series: ‘But it is not impossible to proceed to infinity accidentally as regards efficient causes; for instance, if all the causes thus infinitely multiplied should have the order of only one cause, their multiplication being accidental.’
 Miles Brand, “Simultaneous Causation”, in Peter van Inwagen, ed., Time and Cause (The Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1980), 139.
 Aristotle, Metaphysics 2.2, 994a1-19; in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, trans. Hippocrates G. Apostle (Indiana, 1966), 36.
 Quoted in Sorabji, Time, Creation, and the Continuum, 210.
 So Myles Brand, op. cit., offers an interpretation: ‘If we divide these events [the engine’s moving, the couple’s stretching, etc.] more finely, and consider only the event of the locomotive’s moving from the point after the couple has been fully stretched to the point before it beings to compress and, similarly, the event of the caboose’s moving from the point after it is fully stretched to the point before it begins to compress, then they appear simultaneous.’ (139) I cannot tell whether Brand defends the notion of simultaneous causation or not, but in this passage he attempts to defend Richard Taylor, who does hold that there are some essentially ordered series that transfer their causes simultaneously. Taylor, incidentally, is the inventor of the ‘train’ example.
 On Einstein’s supposition that energy equals matter times the square of the speed of light, or, E = mc2.
 For further investigation of these issues, see James T. Cushing and Ernan McMullin, eds. Philosophical Consequences of Quantum Theory: Reflections of Bell‘s Theorem (Notre Dame, 1989); Nick Herbert, Quantum Reality (New York: Anchor, 1987).
 I’m indebted to Patterson Brown, “Infinite Causal Regress”, Philosophical Review 75 (1966), 510-525, for the example.
 What could possibly justify the move from (3) there must be a first efficient cause,to (4) this first cause is God? The best response, it seems, is that of William Rowe: that is why Aquinas wrote the rest of the Summa. See his The Cosmological Argument (Princeton: 1975), 5; 168-269.
 For a Thomistic account of eternal causation, see Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, “Eternity”, Journal of Philosophy 78 (1981), 428-456. See also the author’s M.A. thesis, “The Eternal Generation of the Son of God in the Cappadocian Fathers,” Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1990, for various arguments for the coherence of the notion of eternal or atemporal causality.
 That is, what we will call (c0): whatever is in motion must be moved by something else.
 For a rigorous defense of (c0), see Jan Salamucha, “The Proof ‘Ex Motu’ for the Existence of god: Logical Analysis of St. Thomas’ Arguments”, New Scholasticism 32 (1958), 334-372; Laurent Larouche, in a series of four articles, “Examination of the Axiomatic Foundations of a Theory of Change”, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, I: vol. 9 (1968), 371-384; II: vol. 10 (1969), 277-284; III: vol. 10 (1969), 385-409; and IV: vol. 12 (1971), 378-380.
God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes,
by Millard J. Erickson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1998.
303 pp.) ISBN 0-8010-1154-X. $26.99.
REVIEWED BY EDWARD N. MARTIN, PH.D.
Associate Editor of the Global Journal of Classical Theology
Dean of Philosophy, Apologetics and History
Trinity College & Seminary
Newburgh, Indiana 47629
In this book Millard Erickson tackles some of the most difficult and key issues in philosophical clarity and explanatory legerdemain. He presents a well-constructed coverage of the topics discussed and a surprisingly methodical explanation of some difficult concepts, views, and terms. While Erickson does tend to rely heavily upon the leaders in the field–the likes of Alvin Plantinga, Thomas V. Morris, Norman Kretzmann, William Hasker, Richard Swinburne, and a long list of others, he does weigh and evaluate the various texts of these individuals with fairness in light of his goal: to lay out a comprehensive idea of God that is amenable to the critically-minded contemporary evangelical systematic or philosophical theologian. Much of the work that needs to be done for the advanced undergraduate or graduate student is to translate and understand the leading literature in the field of contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. Erickson has done a good job at providing such a translation and understanding.
A basic precis of the book might read something like this: Erickson provides a classic investigation of the metaphysical attributes of God, especially as these divine characteristics relate to the created order, showing the need for the evangelical scholar to steer between an excessively Thomistic and an excessively process theological view of God. What is interesting in this approach is the undeniably Thomistic methodology that imbues much of Erickson’s fine analysis of God’s attributes, especially in how we are to conceptualize or imagine what the divine attributes are ‘really’ like or how we are to comprehend them. We cannot get around the need for analogical thinking in the area of properly considering what God’s nature and properties might actually be ‘like,’ and the method of via analogiae comes to the forefront in this analysis, as it rightfully should. Thomas would be quite satisfied with Erickson’s preference for and use of this method ; however, Aquinas would be eager to respond to some of Erickson’s reasons for being quite careful and dubious of the Thomistic conceptions of some of the attributes of God, classically conceived (as in the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologica).
At first, I confess being skeptical of Erickson’s overall project in this book, wondering why such a book was really needed, in light of three excellent somewhat similar books that have appeared in recent years, viz. Stephen Davis’s Logic and the Nature of God (1983, Eerdmans), Ronald Nash’s The Concept of God (Zondervan, 1984), and Thomas V. Morris’s Our Idea of God (InterVarsity/Notre Dame, 1991). Morris’s book, which is referred to regularly in Erickson’s text, itself makes a point of departing from the classical views of eternity, simplicity and allied metaphysical characteristics of God as seen in both Aquinas and Anselm. However, there seem to be enough salient differences between these texts and Erickson’s text to warrant the recommendation, usefulness and intrinsic value of Erickson’s text at this time.
First I shall speak of the text’s helpful layout; then the unique endeavors and contributions it makes; and finally some criticisms of the text.
The layout of the text, covering four main sections, includes an introduction, challenges to the traditional understanding of God, the attributes of God, and a conclusion. This layout communicates clearly to the reader that there are some very nontraditional approaches to God presently being touted and bandied about, no part of which ought to be confused with a considered conservative view of God. Erickson is seeking, as is Nash, Morris, and Davis, to steer between the two lurking enemies that have haunted classical theology since its inception, namely, the Scylla of pure being theology, and the Charybdis of pure becoming theology.
The developed, or at least considered, evangelical intuition is that Aquinas is a scholar who can both enlighten our philosophical theology and frighten with his overpowering Grecian form of pure being theology. “Use his clever and ingenious methods and distinctions, but be very careful of the results!” seems to be the feeling of many evangelical scholars. Some, like Norman Geisler, being trained for the advanced degree at a Catholic institution, may wonder whether my characterization is too strong. It may be that there are more ‘peeping Thomists’ around than we think, and why not? Aquinas looms large as an absolute watershed in the history of Christian thought as a theoretician in excelsis. But it is still proper to ask if there is too much of an on-going influence in Christian theology of Greek metaphysics, for example, in our intuitions about substance, essential and accidental properties, actuality and potentiality, and allied topics. (Concepts all of which are, I might add, so nearly necessary to our current day analytical philosophical theology that it would be hard to imagine the latter without the use of the former.) Because of the history of ideas, and the undeniable, unchangeable influence of Socratic, Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy upon Christian theology, this question will continuously have to be asked; it will not go away, because our language, our thought patterns, our definitions of key philosophical concepts are and will probably always be significantly influenced by the thinkers who formed part of the birth of Western philosophy.
I would submit, however, that most scholars in our camp try consciously to steer clear of the concept of God that is traditionally found in writers like Aquinas, since the feeling one comes away with after reading the Summa Contra Gentiles is that God is not a person but an impersonal, at once a kinetic akinnesis (showing a sort of incomprehensible infinite energy but having no real relation to temporal change possibly to move), unmoveable, religiously-unavailable deity. After the fashion anachronistically of Spinoza, Aquinas spins out the implications of his atemporally eternal God, leading him at one point to conclude that[i]n God however there is no real relation to creatures, but a relation according to reason only, in so far as creatures are referred to him.
God according to this view can enter into no real relations with his creatures; it is at once a disturbing if theologically fecund idea.
The swing of the pendulum to the opposite extreme from Aquinas takes us to the process view of God where God is so religiously available that he is too much like us, ultimately lacking transcendence and the omnicompetent properties (such as omnipotence and omniscience) as fondly found in Aquinas’s idea of the almighty God.
Nash, Morris, Davis, and now Erickson wish to steer us between this impending Scylla and opposing Charybdis by synthesizing the classical view of God as found in Aquinas with the commonsense notions that there can be analyses of knowledge, causal input, power, being, simplicity, goodness, and outside influences wherein God is maximally perfect, religiously available to his people (the latter being made in his image), and also wonderfully the creator, sustainer, and sovereign Lord who redeems his people through his son Jesus Christ.
To achieve this end, of laying out a way between a pure being and a pure becoming theology, Erickson stresses the importance (a la Grenz and Olson in InterVarsity Press’s 20th Century Theology ) of God’s being both transcendent and immanent in some sense: above his creation in some relevant ways, while also being within his creation, in other salient ways (again notice the center-stage positioning of Aquinas’s analogical thinking). Of course, theologians have often referred to these two terms as a sort of deus ex machina: a way to explain what seems intrinsically unexplainable, or a way to say something, as Augustine reminds us in De Trinitate, so as not to be silent. Traditional theists know that the transcendence of God and the immanence of God have to play a key role in the final account of how God can be both maximally perfect and also available to his people who pray and call out to this God. The question has always been how exactly to characterize this relationship between these two aspects of the divine being, without falling into an undesirable account of any of the individual properties traditionally attributed to God. Also, another live question that philosophical theologians have had to deal with is how much to say about each of the individual properties of God, and about the conjunctions of the properties, or how the properties relate one to another.
In essence, Erickson’s solution is to look at the traditional concepts of God’s omniscience, omnipotence, sovereignty, eternality, and omnipresence with a “both/and” eye: God both possesses, in some sense, the traditional set of ‘omni’ properties, eternality, simplicity, and sovereignty, but must possess these characteristics in a way that is beyond or that transcends our basic notions of these properties.
Of course, being a trained philosopher himself (having taken, as we discover in a footnote on p.226, the M.A. degree in Philosophy at the University of Chicago in 1958), Erickson wants to carry out his examination in such a way as to determine that the traditionally-named ‘old’ metaphysical property names of God such as eternality, aspatiality, acorporeality, and the like can preserve our evangelical hermeneutical intuitions about God in his being and as related to the world, as seen in Scripture while tendering a sufficiently robust view so that God remains the ultimate being, the maximally great being, the one than which none greater can even be conceived.
It is also important to note the format of most of the individual chapters. The outline of the chapter on Divine Eternity will again help us here. The subtitles in this chapter, with page numbers (to weigh proportion given to each idea/concept), include:
Biblical Data (p. 114)
The Issue (p. 115)
The Atemporalist View (p. 117)
The Temporalist View (p. 124)
The Biblical Concept of Eternity (p. 128)
The Position of Cullman: Eternity as Extended Time (p. 128)
James Barr’s Criticism (p. 130)
A Mediating Position: Relative “Timelessness” or “True Temporality” (p. 131)
A Synthetic Position (pp. 134-140)
Erickson’s synthetic conclusions can be seen to ‘synthesize’ the data reviewed and criticized not only to steer between pure being and pure becoming theology, but also between mere philosophical or rational reflections on what God’s properties might be like and the data of Scripture. Again, this point is similar to Morris and others who have written in this genre, but Erickson does take more time, and is keenly aware, of what the Scriptures report concerning (what appears often to be) the ‘real’ properties or characteristics of God (as opposed to something merely metaphorical or anthropomorphic).
II. UNIQUE FEATURES
One of the unique features of the book is the willingness and riskiness to propose new terminology that is argued to be needed to express some meaning that should be included in a given concept but seems not to be. Often new terms show up when Erickson is trying, via the via analogiae to form some slightly different concept by which we might picture God’s relationship to time, or space, or governance, or knowledge, or the like. A good example of this tendency can be found in Erickson’s helpful discussion of God’s eternity. You will not find large sections of text here, again, that score high on originality; the keen review and assessment of the current writers in the field make up a great percentage of the text. However, at various junctures Erickson does a good service to suggest insights that repay our efforts to grasp them. For example, at the end of chapter 6 on God and eternity, Erickson ends with this point:
It would probably be desirable to formulate some new terminology for these aspects of God’s relationship to time. The adjective “atemporal” is negative in orientation. If we followed the pattern of the other attributes of God, we would speak of him as ‘omnitemporal,’ although the idea of omnitemporality may be contained within the concept of omniscience. And to capture the idea that time, at least thought of as cosmic time, does not limit God, we might speak of him as being ‘supertemporal.’ (p. 140)
Erickson here shows that we have perhaps expended all of the linguistic and etymological support of some of the words associated with God’s properties, classically portrayed, and that after sufficient criticism and extension of the terms by scholars over the last forty or so years, the old terms either have perhaps finally run their course or are in need of some timely auxiliary concepts. As above, there are several instances in the book in which the author attempts to point to new directions where our conceptualization of some specific attribute of God may wish to go in the future. It is at these points (after extended summarization and critique, which is usually quite incisive but fair) that Erickson, though terse, is at his creative best indicating where some future philosophical theological developments might focus.
III. CRITICISMS: SOME REFLECTIONS
Erickson’s book does read a bit colloquially at most points, which is in some ways a welcome relief from the sometimes nearly incomprehensible articles found on similar topics in the professional journals (say) Nous and Review of Metaphysics. Still, the book smacks of having been written too quickly. Ambiguously referring demonstratives pepper various sections and cause some consternation; some phrases not-so-well formed crying out for explanation or clarification interrupt otherwise pellucid discussions. It would be overly tedious to present each of these passages, so perhaps a short example will suffice. Consider for example the sense conveyed in this text:[Concerning theodicy, the classical theist has an upper edge over, e.g. the free will theist.] For God, who knows all things and all possibilities, deemed even the consequences he would experience, including the death of his Son, to be worth the total benefit. (p. 288-89)
The question that Erickson generates here is, “the total benefit when achieved and for whom?” The author offers no clarification here. However, it is clear that Erickson here aligns himself with the traditional ‘greater-good theodicy’ in the classical camp. Admittedly our own camp could be more unified and clear in our thinking on this particular point regarding the ‘greater good defense.’ (No better a treatment can be found than Keith Yandell’s “The Greater Good Defense,” in Sophia [Australian journal of contemporary philosophy of religion] 13 (1974): 3-14.) At any rate, I found this passage (and a few similar to it) to be unclear, but to contain nothing that could not be cleared up and explained had more simply been written to avoid meaning or referential ambiguity or underdetermination (in which the data provided concerning some point in the text is not sufficient to warrant a particular statement or conclusion).
Again, there are virtues in this sort of quasi-colloquial presentation: technical terms are used sparingly; the audience (advanced undergraduate or beginning graduate students are probably in view) is likely to track with the models of explanation that are copiously sprinkled throughout the text, and especially numerous in the chapter on the transcendence and immanence of God (chap. 12); and allied positive benefits of simplicity and comprehensiveness accrue without the technicalia. However, for those trained in philosophical theology with such writers as Thomas Morris, William Rowe, Alvin Plantinga, Phillip Quinn, William Hasker, Keith Yandell, William Wainwright, and other leading figures, the book will not satisfy the philosophical theologian who is a purist at heart. Such readers would find happier hunting grounds in the works mentioned previously by Stephen Davis, Thomas Morris and Ronald Nash.
In reading this book, I found that the last chapter on practical implications of the doctrine of God seemed quite inviting, and so I actually read it first. I would recommend the same for most readers, since proceeding in this fashion offers a summary of the most important conclusions drawn in the main text, laying out the strengths and some weaknesses (that are really quite livable in comparison to the opposing views) of the considered classical (and now updated Evangelical) conception of Deity.
It is the last two chapters that put a nice capstone on Erickson’s text and warrant finally a satisfactory review. The titles for these two chapters here indicate their purpose well: “God’s Immanence and Transcendence” [chap. 12], and “The Practical Implications of the Doctrine of God” [chap. 13]. These sections again are a synthetic attempt to show how the doctrines of transcendence and immanence must play a role in the resolution of our views of the divine attributes. Also, they show the wonderful theoretical explanatory strength–by way of practical implications of the doctrine of God–that is inherent in the Christian theistic view of God and his created order. A scripture index and a general index are supplied at the end of the book.
Erickson’s book is in one way extremely patient and measured, in another way in need of at least one extra chapter. On the one hand, he slowly looks at what he takes to be many of the leading theorists (mostly philosophers, but as we saw above in mentioning Cullman (obviously his Christ and Time is in view, above)) regarding some property or position. Only after fairly assessing each position does Erickson offer his ‘synthetic’ position. The extra chapter should be added in a specific, patient, and measured view of the meta-issue that Erickson touches on at some points explicitly (e.g., p. 283), but merely presupposes to be in place in the rest: the issue (as above) of analogical predication. I believe the book would be not insignificantly improved if there was a specific chapter devoted to how the Evangelical is justifiedly to think about God’s essence, nature, personhood, and attributes in a fashion that is analogical to our attributing same-named properties or states to other possible or actual beings. With respect to the personhood of God, Erickson does say something extremely helpful, albeit terse. He writes in his discussion of divine simplicity:
God is a unitary being. Sometimes one gets the conceptions that the nature of God is a bundle of attributes, somewhat loosely tied together: God, however, is not an attribute or a predicate. He is a living person, a subject. Perhaps what we need is a new metaphysic of persons. Much of the discussion has been carried on in terms of a substance metaphysic, in which reality is a substance possessing certain attributes. A better way of thinking may be to conceive of reality as fundamentally personal rather than impersonal. Thus, God is a subject, a person–and a very complex person at that. (p. 231)
I believe a rich field of inquiry lies in this general area of a person-based metaphysic, and think that Erickson has nicely stated the sort of insight that needs to be part of a chapter justifying some of the methodological issues that need to be decided on and justified up front in such a study.
Our talk of God’s goodness or knowledge, and of his being a person, assuredly are to be taken in some sort of analogical fashion. Our considered analogical predication theory, I think, has to be roughly equivalent in structure and context to Aquinas’s doctrine of analogy. I submit, in conclusion, then, that Erickson would do well to provide this missing justification and treatment of this important methodological meta-issue (that of predication of terms of God) in such a book. Providing this missing feature would enhance the book’s value, and help the student to appreciate more readily the practical implications of God’s relations (both actual and possible) to us and his world. So, perhaps Erickson’s use of the analogy doctrine needs to be examined and justified to be of value, or more value, to the contemporary members of our camp. Even if the unjustified analogical predication doctrine is a bit of unacknowledged borrowed Thomistic capital, still Erickson has treated us to a fine survey of contemporary analyses of our idea of God.
Edward N. Martin, Ph.D.
Trinity College & Seminary, Newburgh, IN
This is a paper about God, evil, and the soul-making theodicy. Too often we pair together this theodicy with various liberal philosophical theologians (e.g. John Hick), and miss the importance of the rich resources that we find in the theodicy itself. I would like to propose that we not overlook the continuing importance of this theodical method, for this method or approach to theodicy seems squarely in line, in its essential parts, with the New Testament conception of the development of Christian character and the theological virtue of hope. Consider Paul’s sentiment in the Book of Romans.
“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom 5:3,4 [NIV])
Obviously, for suffering to ultimately produce character and hope for the believer there has to be a structure in place whereby the intrinsic evil of suffering can “produce” this sequential process, from suffering to perseverance to character and finally to hope.
What ought we to say, however, for the unbeliever? Is there a structure in place in the human psyche or the human mind such that suffering can, in some way, produce hope for this person as well? The “hope” in view here need not be true, conscious Christ-focused eschatological hope, or a true instantiation of the theological virtue of hope (which takes knowledge of Christ as personal savior as a necessary condition for obtaining). Although Paul was addressing believing Christians in Romans 5, perhaps there is a sort of “first level” of hope whereby even the unbeliever can get a foretaste or shadow of the true hope which we find in Christ.
Let us examine this possibility by means of an investigation of the structure of our belief-forming mechanisms. Since suffering is what sets this chain of implications in motion of which Paul speaks in Romans 5, we know that suffering therefore plays a key role in this process. It is the door, the gateway, that can lead the human heart and mind ultimately to hope.
I will employ a sort of transcendental approach in this paper, that approach offered by Kant in his first Critique. The transcendental argument-type one may employ would be to observe an X, and to ask: what are the conditions for the possibility of the instantiation of X? The strength of this approach for theodicy is that it allows for two important steps in properly expressing a theodicy. First, the theist is allowed to start with basic knowledge claims that both sides of the debate can agree upon. We might call this set of claims that he starts with “common background knowledge.” Second, it allows the theist to “tell the theodical story” with a goal in mind of supplying sets of plausible or not irrational sufficient conditions for God’s permission of evils. Many theodicists, for example, have started with basic assumptions such as the following:
1. There is a vast amount of evil in the world.
2. Our belief-forming mechanisms are wonderfully complex and exhibit intelligent design.
3. We do note that some evils do patently give rise, once followed out in an historical situation, to a greater good.
4. Some evils, when followed out for a significant space of time, for reasons we cannot perceive do not patently give rise to an observational greater good.
What are some sets of sufficient conditions that could, or might, plausibly give rise to worlds in which the above agreed-upon realities are true?
In order to begin here to answer this question, let us look at the framework within which the soul-making theodicy is usually given. It is clear that the theist must include, as part of his presentation, a good bit of ethical theory by which to explain and help understand God’s duties as a creator, the definition of virtue, suffering as a possible extrinsic good, and the like. Some recent developments in the area of epistemology are also, I believe, of great relevance to theodicy. Recent work by Alvin Plantinga and others holds that epistemic justification or “warrant” hinges on the idea of the “proper functioning” of one’s cognitive mechanisms in one’s environment at a time, in the absence of significant epistemic defeaters, overriders or undercutters. If we form a belief in a circumstance, such as “my shoe is on fire,” and we are lead to believe this by means of possession of a properly functioning belief-forming apparatus (our minds), which functions according to a “design plan,” and those minds are functioning within the environment in which they are “designed” to function at peak capacity (on Earth, say, rather than in the fiery atmosphere of Alpha Centuri), then we are justified or warranted in that belief, that “my foot is on fire.” (Thankfully, at this time, this is a false belief and one that I rightly do not possess.) The terms I have employed here, “design plan,” “designed,” and the like have been carefully selected so as not to beg the important question of etiology of these epistemic mechanisms. Darwinian evolutionist and theist alike could speak of the “design plan” of a tulip, which might entail the flower’s “way” of reproduction and propagation, its genetic constituents, and whatever teleological (or seeming teleological) systems may be enjoyed by the tulip (such as heliotropism, turning towards the light of the sun during the day, etc.). Evolution might be said to have “designed” such a system. Though strained, I believe this is right, and therefore it does not beg the question to use these terms.
Theists hold that our belief-forming mechanisms are created by God not only to provide us the ability to form true beliefs about ourselves and our environment, but also to lead us, at some opportune moment, to freely believe in Him. Part of Plantinga’s emphasis is to underline the fact that our minds have to be operating in the environment in which He designed the mind to function and achieve peak performance. We may ask: how do our belief-forming mechanisms operate in our environment in such a way that they cooperate with God’s work in our hearts, working as a necessary but not sufficient component for fully human rational thought and consciousness? For obviously there was a time in each of our lives at which we did not believe in God. However, through various experiences and the prodding and effectual call of the Holy Spirit upon our lives, we came to put our trust in God for salvation. It is not irrational to think, but eminently rational, that if our belief-forming mechanisms had not been functioning properly in the past, and were not functioning properly now, we may well have not “seen” God, seen that object for which the properly-functioning mind was designed to “see” (“see” in the sense of “perceive”).
One false conclusion to draw from this last point would be that since unbelievers do not “see” God and have not put their faith and trust in Him, they must not have properly functioning belief-forming mechanisms. But I believe this would be a faulty inference. According to Ephesians 4:23, it is the “spirit of the mind,” not the mind itself, that is renewed in salvation. The spirit or helmsman over the human mind is evidently the will, not the mind itself. With respect to Natural Theology, there have been divisions on this point, e.g., surrounding the issue on what truth the mind of the unbeliever can come to regarding God with the mind alone in its pre-saved state. Augustine claims that
if those who are called philosophers, particularly the Platonists, have said anything which is true and consistent with our faith, we must not reject it, but claim it for our own use, in the knowledge that they possess it unlawfully.
C.S. Lewis, in contradistinction, in the context in which Lord Digory is telling Eustace and Lucy, in The Last Battle (vol 7 of the Narnia series), how this present life is but a shadow of the reality of heaven that is to come, says that this truth is “all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!” The point is that the mind is functioning properly or largely properly in the unbeliever; however, the will is not allowing the evidence of creation, the written Word of God, and the voice of God within, to convict properly and lead to a repentant heart that longs to know and “see” God again and again. What the mind is designed to “see,” the heart is designed to will to desire time and time again. Augustine spoke wisely when he said, in the opening lines of Confessions, that “our hearts find no peace until they rest in you [the Lord].”
The experience I would like to focus on here that gives rise to religious and moral awareness in humans is the experience of pain and suffering. It goes without saying that every human individual has experienced great pain on many occasions in his life, and that pain, among its many useful qualities, has one in particular that makes it perhaps a singularly unique quality. This property is the virtuous property of being able to completely take hold of and sustain our attention until such pain should be eradicated, or the dimensions of the pain are understood. For example, if my wife puts a cool and refreshing drink on my desk while I am not looking, I may leisurely discover the source of this blessing later on in the day. However, if my left big toe is beset with a terrible cramp, I turn all of my attention to eradicate or alleviate this painful condition. Indeed, pain is God’s “megaphone” by which God awakens the soul, again and again, from its dogmatic slumbers.
My claim here would be that part of our “belief-forming mechanisms,” those mechanisms with which God has so outfitted us to form beliefs upon experiencing certain cognitive or psychological states in this life, is the same part which gives rise to an awareness of a state which we might call “exasperation by evil.”
If indeed we are “naturally outfitted,” with our minds so constructed, whether Christian or pagan, when experiencing a sufficiently dreadful evil situation, to give rise to feelings and beliefs of exasperation, then one should conclude that it is therefore “natural” to cry, as the Psalmist did, “How long, O Lord? How long?” (cf. Ps 13:1)
Our belief-forming mechanisms naturally lead us to form such beliefs as these when we experience debilitating or soul-destroying evil.
Suppose we say that when in a pain state, which is sufficiently long-lasting and violent, I form the belief that there is no loving heavenly Father who loves me as a Father loves his children. Call this a “D- ” or “Doubt-belief mechanism,” and the formation of such a belief “D-belief formation.” So far, we are saying that both a Christian and pagan are outfitted to form such a belief by God’s creative activity. So, it is therefore “natural” to form beliefs of doubt, or D-beliefs, concerning God’s existence and the existence of a loving heavenly father who loves us as an earthly father loves his children. To appreciate what I am up to here, I do want to point out a few very important ideas. First, it may well be that the Christian believer has immediate cognitive defeating mechanisms, such as a thoroughly considered past array of experiences whereby positive belief in God was maintained due to positive experiences in one’s life. However, as part of my analysis, I am breaking down the act of belief formation and the mechanisms important to such formation of beliefs into some of the important component parts. But by so distinguishing between the belief mechanisms, I am not meaning to imply (and probably would rather want to deny) that many of the belief-forming mechanisms that we enjoy definitely do not work simultaneously to produce their intended effects.
Second, let me add that this model I’m presenting is also consistent with the person who is so certain of God’s existence and goodness that he/she does not doubt at all, even in the midst of exasperating evil. While I have perhaps never met someone who would fall into this category of human persons who are able not to doubt (posse not dubitare?), still such is possible. In such an instance, we could say that the person is either so resolute and assured of God’s goodness that D-beliefs never come to his mind; or, never come consciously, on that occasion, to his mind; or, his mind simply lacks some part of the design plan which usually functions so that D-beliefs are formed in those circumstances. I do not mean to build in auxiliary hypothesis into my model here that causes it to be unverifiable and resilient to testing. But the experience of the formation of D-beliefs is so well verified in common experience (and in the literature of the world) in common day to day life that such exceptions would seem exceptionally rare. Even Jesus praying in the garden before his arrest is akin to this idea of forming D-beliefs, in a natural way, when he experiences the pangs of exasperating evil.
Forming a belief of doubt, or “D-Belief,” then, is part of the natural process of soul-maturation, and, importantly, is not essentially sinful. It is important to note, in the general context of the soul-making theodicy, that this point is consistent, I believe, with that theodical approach as well as with the traditional account of Adam’s original created state. Recent versions of virtue ethics work well in this proposed model, and, when applied to Adam, see Adam as one who was not created as absolutely morally perfect, but rather morally spotless and in process of undergoing moral growth toward moral perfection. He was so disposed that he was able not to sin, being able to grow incrementally by responding to progressively revealed commands and moral situations by God. Adam would not be considered as created absolutely morally perfect, for moral perfection has significant moral experience through which one has lived as a necessary condition, which is not the case for Adam according to traditional Genesis account. However, Adam failed in one of the steps that was revealed to him as a commandment of God to be resolutely followed, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, and this was sufficient to warrant the consequence that God had declared, namely, that his disobedience would spell death. Let us examine the phenomenon of evil as we experience it in day to day life. Is it morally blameworthy to form a belief such as, “I’m doubting whether God exists and cares about me and my pain?” While it may be morally permissible to form belief in the uncaring nature of God (which would entail the nonexistence of God, after all) when evil makes a situation almost unbearable, it is not morally permissible, one could hold, to maintain and harbor belief in the nonexistence of God due to evil. Remaining in doubt without making use of positive reasons for God’s goodness and existence would be to misuse the good aspects of one’s own existence, and to defeat the overall purpose of the natural formation of D-Beliefs. We know that God’s creative activity always tends to secure goods which otherwise would not have been present. Secondly, we accept as a moral principle that to will some end necessarily implies willing the means to that end. Thus, if God wills some good end by allowing us to form D-beliefs, we know he also wills some means to that end. It would not be surprising if those means were some sort of defeater to this ability of the mind to sustain D-beliefs. We also hold that God’s excellent beneficence is dead set, ceteris paribus, against any evil that does not bring about a greater good, or, is highly likely to bring about a greater good, at some time in the life of humans. Yet, we see that upon severe suffering, Christians as well as nontheists form the belief, “I’m doubting whether God exists because of this or that evil situation.” What, then, is the intended good, in God’s good design of the human belief forming mechanism, in programming humans naturally to form such beliefs?
The intention, the soul-making theodicist maintains, of D-Beliefs is manifold, but perhaps one of the most important reasons for the existence of D- or Doubt-beliefs would be that a person consciously comes to a decision, by experiencing harsh evils, that he cannot secure a truly happy life on his own steam. This is the first stage, at least, in what we commonly call conversion. To see that one cannot live this life on one’s own steam means to come to see, taste and acknowledge that one is not an island unto himself, but rather a dependent being whose existence is frail and evidently upheld by another. This “another” is an outside source who has been merciful enough not to destroy one for the sinful attitudes, thoughts, and actions he has committed or entertained, but also merciful enough not to allow the person to continue in the illusion that human happiness consists in a life of seeking only one’s selfish human projects and ends.
There are, however, some “second-level” rational considerations that theodicists in general would do well to keep on the theodical playing field. In going back to Kant’s transcendental approach, if we know certain things to be likely true or eminently rational (where “rational” means being consistent with the belief that a properly functioning mind aimed at truth would form), we can ask “what are the conditions for the possibility of the truth or rationality of these things?”
To begin to develop this second-order, reflective stage, we can say the following. Each human person, in order to transcend the evil that besets him, must seek succor in one who is sufficiently strong to deliver him from the present evil and pain. In short, one is lead by experiencing tragedy to a relationship with the living God who desires to deliver us from these circumstances. One finds through the experience of almost insurmountable evils what one is really made out of, that this life in the flesh is fleeting and transient, and that certain decisions (about morality and spirituality) in this life are indeed the decisions that demand our deepest and most resolute attention.
This second stage, whereby we can come to warranted conclusions about evil, God, and existence, might be described as a belief-stage whereby we go behind what John Rawls has called the “veil of ignorance.” Imagine a situation in which you, as a benevolent rational spectator, consider characteristics of the world to be created, without knowing exactly what your existence in that world would be. Here we come to believe that God must have a certain nature if he created us as beings who on the one hand share many of the attributes that we naturally attribute to Deity or Godhood (rationality, self-consciousness, language, types of reasoning, mathematic ability, etc.), and yet suffer greatly in this life.
The Gestalt experiment I bring up here using Rawls’ veil of ignorance is a rational inquiry into the type of world a God who is all-good and all-powerful and all-knowing would make. Figuring that the following four possibilities are presented to a benevolent inhabitant-to-be in the world to be selected, what world would you choose to be the case?
1. A world in which no one suffers;
2. A world in which humankind suffers but God does not suffer.
3. A world in which humankind does not suffer but God does suffer.
4. A world in which both humankind suffers and God suffers.
I dare say that our sense of justice would preclude the mind behind the veil of ignorance to choose either 2 or 3. Therefore, there remains for consideration option 1 or 4. If we are committed to the view of Romans 5, that suffering is a necessary, in fact, logically necessary, condition for obtaining a good character which in turn is necessary for securing hope (that is, assurance of future beneficial experiences for the conscious mind), then it seems we are lead to elect option #4 over option #1.
Secondly, we can see that evil and suffering do not just occasionally act as extrinsic goods for human agents, but are in fact logically necessary for the attainment of certain great goods. For example, if God desires Ralph to acquire the property “bearing pain courageously,” it is logically necessary for Ralph to experience pain to possibly gain this property. To acquire virtues, according to Christian and Aristotelian ethics, one must persevere through a danger (to acquire the habit of courage), or live through significant pressure (to acquire the habit of fortitude), or overcome temptations (to acquire self-control), etc. In short: to acquire virtues, one must acquire good habits through encountering significant evils. A virtuous character is one who can, in time, help to turn an intrinsic evil into (or largely into) an extrinsic good. In the Christian view of things, the virtuous character, who has “love” as a binding agent over all that it does (cf. Col 3:14), is able to help turn “suffering,” with God’s grace, into perseverance, giving rise to Christian habits of long-suffering, self-control, and the like, which in turn produce hope of gaining a truly happy life.
We have held, then, that forming D-beliefs in God is not essentially sinful. What, though, of maintaining D-beliefs? Here, the theodicist may posit the existence of another type of, as it were, “defense mechanism” in the human belief forming mechanism which, it is being held, is a function that is created by God. The defense mechanism is the forming of M-beliefs and meta-M beliefs. M-beliefs, or memory beliefs, are formed and often retained when a human experiences life in all of its convolutions, twists and turns, as well as in everyday life and living. Meta-M beliefs are warranted beliefs that are formed, synthesized, on the basis of M-beliefs. Meta-M theistic beliefs are the beliefs that show the positive cumulative weight of reasons for belief and trust in God (cf. Romans 1:18ff).
Meta-M beliefs are the natural defense mechanisms against D-beliefs. For is it not true that what gets the Christian believer through doubts and valleys are the certitudes of seeing glimpses of God’s face, of the mountaintop experiences of seeing God’s healing and miraculous hand at work in one’s life? Is it not a miracle that sinful human individuals are brought to actually see their vileness, to confess it, and to put their trust in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins? Is there not a whole array of intellectual reasons, testimony, and other evidences whose cumulative effect is the conclusion that there is an eternal God who cares for us and holds us within his careful watch? We conclude that Meta-M beliefs are God’s built-in defense mechanism in humans to defeat D-beliefs. We simply must remember that God, who is awesome, made us many promises that fly in the face of the present evil, promises that say, “if you bear the pains of this life, and believe in me and my promises, you will enter into my rest.” The same Psalmist who cried “How long, O Lord?” completes the psalm by saying these words significant in this context:
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death. My enemy will say: “I have overcome him, and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. [M-beliefs here overcome the D-beliefs] (Ps 13:3-6 [NIV])
But consider also the situation of the nonbeliever. It must be maintained that it is not morally and intellectually justifiable to maintain and harbor a D-belief. Does the nonbeliever have sufficient resources of data by which to construct coherent Meta-M beliefs that are sufficient to defeat the invasive doubt beliefs whose implication is that God does not exist?
There are many other significant rational considerations, besides what going “behind the veil” has told us, about God and evil. I note just four below:
1. A caring, saving God would appear only once in history to save humankind as we know it (he would not make no appearance, because He cares; not more than once, because two or more epiphanies would cause equal numbers of claims of superior and authoritative revelations of God).
2. If God revealed Himself, there would be a textual aspect to that revelation (because that is the most effective way in this world to preserve thoughts the longest without corruption by opinion and false report).
3. God would not necessarily eradicate evil at that exact point when it got to be too much to bear for any single human individual (for we would inductively learn this, and transfer all “bearing” of pain to God immediately upon suffering, which would defeat the end of soul-making).
4. God and humans would be called upon in this life to bear pain commensurate with their metaphysical stature (this concerns the amount of evil born and the effect of humans and God bearing evils).
The Rawlsian thought experience told us that God, if He exists (the unbeliever might reason), would likely create a world in which both man and God suffer. What this means, when added to point four (4), above, is that God would bear an amount of pain and suffering in this world commensurate with the pain and suffering of any human individual. We know that the passion week of Christ, the time of the active and passive humility of Christ, meant for Jesus a most excruciating amount of pain and suffering. I have heard of only a few stories of torture and difficulty that begin to approach the agonies of Calvary and the Passion Week that our Lord bore in His body on the Cross. I am not saying here that by using this Rawlsian thought experiment, the sufferings of Christ suddenly become clear for the unbeliever. Clearly they do not. Rather, I am saying that there are significant rational tools by which we can get the unbeliever to acknowledge that his sense of justice completely agrees with the Christian story, this story that a good theodicy will no doubt tell and bring to light, in a way consistent with the conclusions that the unbeliever can come to acknowledge using the “steam” of his reason alone.
Thus, evil shows itself to be an important extrinsic good in a moral universe in which we (both theists and atheists) are commanded (by our conscience) to overcome the naturally-formed D-Belief by using another naturally-formed set of beliefs: M-Beliefs (memory beliefs), and the structure of a good “life worth living” seen in one’s existence formed by the recombination of those M-Beliefs.
One epistemological criticism is obvious, and demands an answer. Could not the atheist simply respond, “I could just as well say that D-beliefs are the ‘natural defense mechanism’ against wishful thinking such as are expressed in ‘Meta-M theological beliefs.’ Therefore, we are at a draw and neither side wins. If anything, the evils of this world defeat the idea that God exists, because the evidence for God’s existence dwindles in the shadow of the concentration camps of WWII alone.” However, the epistemological consideration saves the day for the theist. For he holds that it is precisely in the fact that the mind exhibits intelligent design that shows that D-beliefs are not the “correct” belief, but rather are corrected by remembering God who created the mind to defeat such beliefs by the memory of His mercy and grace in our lives.
Let us tie together some conclusions from our short study. The context of our inquiry is the soul-making theodicy. Paul says that hope is made possible by suffering. Aristotle concurs that suffering is essential for character development. Character and hope development are important ends for the Christian.
As each episode of exasperating evil occurs of which we become aware, there is a mechanism by which humans form the rational belief that can defeat or undercut or override the D-belief mechanism from forming and harboring a belief in the nonexistence of God.
Reason gives some insights that can be useful in a theodicy to get the unbeliever to form the belief that he cannot obtain a lasting happy life on his own steam. The result of our Rawlsian thought experiment was the belief that God would favor those worlds in which both God and humans suffer evil. A further belief, possibly formed here, would be that God and humans in this envisaged world would suffer to an extent commensurate with one’s own internal metaphysical stature.
The results for the soul-making theodicist from our study are two-fold. First, evil is shown to be an extrinsic good, because when God wills that we ought to morally mature, he simultaneous also wills the means to that end. The means to come to acquire the property of “courageously bearing pain” is clearly the human bearing pain of some sort as a logically necessary condition. Secondly, we form D-beliefs in the face of evil, which shows, in effect, that we are concerned with human being (because one person is caring for another, etc.). But this clearly shows that we value persons, meaning that, again, we necessarily will the means to the end of building the character (“souls”) of people. But if this is so, it acts as a powerful reason to show that we will that evil should exist, since it is a necessary condition for the building of persons. We cannot ultimately complain, therefore, about evils, since they are necessary conditions for the maturity of persons.
We believe God has a good reason for the evils that He allows. When we become exasperated with evil, we form D-beliefs, which are not sinful to form, but natural and in line with our design plan. But God’s past goodnesses to his human creatures, of which it is reasonable to believe any sound rational human mind would be sufficiently aware, warrant the formation of Meta-M beliefs that defeat or override harboring D-beliefs. That is, past goods overcome present evils, and cause us to hope, if we persevere, to enjoy the promise of a happy future existence.
Perhaps if I have contributed anything to the continuing debate on theodicy here it is to give some reasons (besides attributing it to immaturity) that even a seasoned Christian will form D-beliefs about God’s goodness when evil strikes in his life. God deserves all of our worship, and desires to give us a true, lasting happiness. To get us to worship Him properly and to accept His gracious gift of happiness freely, He allows enough pain and suffering so that we form a habit and virtue of faith from the constancy of experience. God uses evil as a logically necessary willed means to the end of soul-making, to bring us to be more and more into the image of Christ and to make us fit vessels for eternal fellowship with Him. The first logical step on the road to Christ-likeness, I have maintained, is for a person to form the belief “I cannot secure a lasting happiness on my own steam.” God is too merciful to allow us to continue in the illusion that we can solve all of our own problems. But He calls us to be builders. And we will build the habit and virtue of love as we keep the Lord’s commands, and we will build the habit and virtue of hope as we persevere doing what is right and good, in spite of the ever-present reality and awfulness of evil.*
**********footnotes********** Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford, 1993).  In The Christian Theology Reader, ed. Alister E. McGrath (Blackwell, 1995), p. 6.  C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (Collier Books, 1956), p. 170.  St. Augustine, Confessions, trans.R.S. Pine-Coffin (Penguin, 1961), p. 21.  I think especially here of Linda Zagzebski and Keith Yandell in this context. See, for example, Yandell’s “Tragedy and Evil,” in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 26 (1994), pp. 1-26.  John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard, 1973).  In this context, it is no surprise to the rational mind, I am claiming, to understand or accept that God would have “a chosen people” to whom He intimately revealed Himself as creator, savior, providence and judge.  You could of course say that the human could just seem to be in pain. But, seeming to be in pain and being in pain are indistinguishable and therefore functionally equivalent in human experience. Also, God would not be a deceiver on such a vast scale in a world, so that almost universally our belief-forming mechanisms would tell us that we were experiencing pain daily, when in actuality there was no pain in that world.
*I thank John Warwick Montgomery and Melanie Martin for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper.