Revisions to Chapter 4 of God, Reason, and the Evangelicals (University
Press of America, 1987).
Copyright held by N. F. Gier
Published as "Three Types of Divine Power," Process Studies 20:4 (Winter, 1991), pp. 221-232.
The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages, uncertainly. . . .But the deeper idolatry, of fashioning God in the image of the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rulers, was retained. The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar.
--Alfred North Whitehead
The creation of the world. . .is the victory of persuasion over force.
The novelist is still God, since he creates. . . . What has changed is that we are no longer the gods of the Victorian image, omniscient and decreeing; but in the new theological image, with freedom our first principle, not authority. . . . There is only one good definition of God: one freedom that allows other freedoms to exist.
-- John Fowles
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The initial words of the Apostles' Creed testify to the prominence of divine power in Christian theology. Placing omnipotence first, even before divine goodness and wisdom, is the preference not only of Christianity but also Judaism and Islam. Anna Case‑Winters observes that in Judaism “power becomes a paraphrase of the divine names, a kind of euphemism for God.”1 In these Abrahamic religions, more so than in the Asian, divine power has been conceived in terms of political power. In Islam, Judaism, and Christianity God is seen as a cosmic king, exerting absolute and uncontested rule over the universe and everything in it. Political terms such as pantokrator (“all‑ruling”), sovereignty, and kingship dominate western descriptions of God. In his book Kingship of God Martin Buber argues that Yahweh is different from the other middle eastern gods in that he demanded control in all areas of human life, not just the religious.
The epigraph from Whitehead suggests that our views of the divine nature are a reflection of our social and political systems. A widely accepted view of omnipotence, explained below, appears to be an uneasy mixture of ancient authoritarianism and classical liberalism. This view, I maintain, is an unsuccessful synthesis of power monopoly and power sharing. I contend that process and feminist theologians are correct in their exclusive commitment to the power sharing model. They agree with John Fowles that God must be a “freedom that allows other freedoms to exist.”
In Section A, I lay out three types of divine power. I reject the view of divine omnicausality because of its denial of free‑will and its imputation of evil to God. In Section B, I use Kant's moral theory to criticize the second view of divine power, the contemporary favorite among philosophers and theologians. In Section C, I assess Nelson Pike's attempt to make divine power sharing intelligible without giving up God's ultimate control. I argue that Pike fails, and that the first two divine powers essentially collapse into one another. In Section D, I argue that David Basinger's reformulation of divine power is incompatible with the Christian orthodoxy he firmly defends. I conclude that these two philosophers have not demonstrated a way in which God can share power and yet retain the control that tradition demands. Section E contains a discussion of divine power and evil.
A. DP1, DP2, and DP3
In the history of Christian theology, at least three views of divine power can be discerned. First, there is the belief in divine omnicausality (I abbreviate it DP1), which holds that God is the only subject of power – the active, immediate, and originative cause of all things and events. William of Ockham, Martin Luther, John Calvin, neoorthox theologians, and contemporary evangelical Carl Henry believe that this is the correct view of divine power. But let Luther speak for them all: “By the omnipotence of God. . . I do not mean the potentiality by which he could do many things which he does not, but the active power by which he potently works all in all. . . . This omnipotence and the foreknowledge of God, I say, completely abolish the dogma of free choice.”2 Luther would be dismayed to learn that the option that he rejects – “the potentiality by which he could do many things which he does not” – has become the most prevalent conception of divine power in contemporary theology and philosophy of religion. Although God could exercise all power, God instead chooses to delegate power to a self‑regulating nature and self‑determining moral agents. (This type of divine power, attributed historically to Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus, Arminius, Leibniz, and Kant is abbreviated DP2.) In the current literature, this God is described as having the power, if he chooses to use it, to bring about any logically possible state of affairs. In traditional theology, the delegation of power is sometimes called God's “permissive” will. In addition, this deity possesses what Nelson Pike calls “over‑power” – “veto” power, I call it – or the coercive power of traditional theology. This is a direct power (as in DP1) for God to perform miracles, to “harden hearts,” to make himself a man, and ultimately, to bring nature and history to an end, and to judge the righteous and the damned.
Evangelical Carl Henry believes that DP2 too speculative, too philosophical, and too humanistic. It is unbiblical, because it is incompatible with God's absolute sovereignty. Henry contends that the biblical God does not act through secondary causes (but, for example, sends down hail directly from heaven), and he does not appear to share power with any creature. Alvin Plantinga's proposal that God ponders alternative universes, is according to Henry, a most alien philosophical invention. Furthermore, God cannot share or delegate power because, Henry uses Barth approvingly, God is the only subject of power. Henry also praises Barth for returning divine omnipotence to its proper, preeminent place in Christian dogmatics.
Henry also rejects the assumption of DP2 that God is limited by the laws of logic. He states that logic does “not set limits to which God must conform; God himself wills the law of contradiction as integral to both divine and human meaning.”3 Although Henry can find support in Augustine, Calvin, and even Descartes for this idea, most philosophers would be very uneasy about making the laws of logic dependent on any will, even the divine will. Henry would have no sympathy at all for the position advanced by the process theologians and accepted by feminists, who insist that genuine freedom requires complete immunity from divine control. (This view is abbreviated DP3.) J. L. Mackie has described a crucial aspect of this position: “If men's wills are really free, this must mean that even God cannot control them. . . .”4 If one takes seriously that idea of a universe composed of actual things in real relations with other actualities, then the idea that all power is concentrated in one actuality is nonsensical. The process theists believe that the only way to solve the problem of evil is to assume that human wills and nature as a whole have their own autonomy. This view entails a complete dismantling of traditional Christian doctrine, including: creation out of nothing, the finite duration of history and nature, miracles as direct divine acts, and the final triumph of good over evil. In process theology, God is intimately related to the world, but his power is always persuasive, never coercive. Process theists believe that both DP1 and DP2 are simply projections of the absolute power once invested in, but no longer given to, patriarchs and kings.
The three types of divine power can be expressed nicely by an analogy with driving a car. This analogy does not come out very well for DP1. Here God is the driver and each of us passengers have kiddy seats with plastic steering wheels, clutches, brakes, and accelerator pedals. We are all going through the motions of heading in our own directions, but God obviously is still in complete and direct charge of our destination. In DP2 the vehicle is a driver training car equipped with dual controls. I am at my wheel and God is letting me drive, but he can intervene and take control of the car at any time. In DP3 I have an ordinary car and God is a very persuasive “back seat” driver; or, as one of my students suggested: God is in the trunk and her5 suggestions are barely audible. My student's quip embodies a common criticism of the process God: that it is a godling who has been marginalized and made insignificant. If the God of DP1 is a tyrant, then the God of DP3 is a wimp. I will attempt to defend the process God against this charge.
B. A Critique of DP2
If we are committed to the freedom of the will and the concept of individual moral responsibility, I believe we must reject divine omnicausalism outright. DP1 is not mentioned in contemporary discussions in philosophy of religion, but I believe that it is important to include this alternative. It is after all the position of the Reformers, their neoorthodox followers, and a major evangelical theologian. Many Christians rightly contest their claim that this is the biblical view of divine power, for the Bible has no monolithic view on most all theological issues. As Erasmus pointed out in his debate with Luther, God would not have called us to choose him if Luther's position were correct. One would have to agree, however, that divine omnicausality certainly dominates in many biblical narratives.
I will now focus our attention on what I believe to be major shortcomings of DP2. My argument in part will be based on Immanuel Kant's moral theory. Kant's second form of the categorical imperative states that we should always treat persons as ends in themselves never merely as means to our ends. I propose, then, that the existence and ultimate use of divine “veto” power in DP2 constitute a violation of this form of the categorical imperative. I am assuming that we can appropriate this principle from Kant's moral theory without assuming the rest of it as true, including his restricted view of what a person is. In addition, a process view of self‑determination, for example, will be quite different from Kantian doctrine.
My argument has its best chance if Augustine and Aquinas were right about the reasons for creation. They both believed that God created the world to glorify himself. If this is true, then one could conclude that God does use nature and creaturely wills as simply means to his own ends. William T. Jones phrases Augustine's position aptly: “It was a greater demonstration of God's power and glory to create a sinful man and then to use this creature as an instrument of his larger purpose than it would have been to create a sinless man.”6 Aquinas has the same view: “Now God wills and loves His essence for its own sake: and it cannot be increased or multiplied in itself, as it appears from what has been said: and can only be multiplied in respect of its likeness which is shared by many. Therefore God wishes things to be multiplied, because He wills and loves His essence and perfection.”7 The categorical imperative obviously allows us to use other people for our own ends, but only if there is sufficient respect for persons. But if God's real intention for creation is self‑glorification by using his creatures, then it is difficult to see how this condition can be met.
The best biblical support for this argument is the story of Job. Even the evangelical New Bible Dictionary has to admit that Yahweh does not give a moral justification for his actions against Job.8 Yahweh's answer out of the whirlwind is essentially an expression of raw cosmic power, not a compassionate response to Job's legitimate concerns. In effect, Yahweh has used Job as means to win a wager with Satan. In the end Job's fortunes are restored twofold, but his original children were lost to him forever. Using Kantian terminology once again, a price could be placed on his livestock, but his children had dignity as persons and were irreplaceable. They, too, were sacrificed for Yahweh's own ends.
There is, however, a neo‑Platonic justification for divine creation: God created the world out of unbounded love for creatures themselves. Catherine of Siena is especially eloquent on this point: “So it was love that made you create us and give us being, just so that we might taste your supreme eternal good.”9 The claim of divine self‑glorification contrasts sharply with Catherine's emphasis on God's humbling himself in the Creation and the Incarnation. “In name of this unspeakable love,” God emptied himself of his glory and became a human being. I cannot imagine a traditional theist who would not choose Catherine over Augustine‑Aquinas on this point. If Catherine is correct, then there does seem to be sufficient respect for persons in God's plan for creation.
The primary difference between DP2 and DP3 is that the classical God has the freedom to intervene or not, while the process God cannot intervene, even if she wanted to. Proponents of DP2 can then draw some moral implications from their view, which initially seem quite attractive. The God of DP2 can exercise power in all things and events, but, for the most part, chooses not to. Using my own argument to their advantage, my critics would say that God does this primarily because he has a Kantian respect for persons. This God, then, is like mature, loving parents who allow their children to choose freely and allow them to make their own mistakes. One could say that this requires enormous restraint on God's part, as well as, of course, allowing the development of virtue in human beings. Furthermore, the traditional God can insure the final triumph of the good and the defeat of evil. Process theologians openly admit that their God, while totally committed to goodness, truth, and beauty, cannot bring about the perfection of these values unilaterally.
In traditional theism nature has no intrinsic value, so the fact that it exists merely for God's purposes and then destroyed is of no moral consequence. Under DP2 God has created a self‑regulating nature as a predictable framework in which we can freely choose our destinies. But in the end, according to traditional beliefs, nature will have only instrumental value and will ultimately be discarded. Again the Platonic view appears more acceptable. In the Timaeus Plato assures us that the world is everlasting and contends that only an evil being would “undo that which is harmonious and happy” (36e;41b). In the medieval period, God's absolute dominion was expressed in the concept of private property as the right to create and destroy – to use and abuse – the fruits of the earth. This is a philosophy of property that, unfortunately, is still being practiced today. In a world in which Earth Day has become a major world holiday, such a theology of nature is simply no longer acceptable. A process theology of nature, in which every occasion of experience has some power of self‑determination, is one of the best options for environmental ethics today. It requires that we not only give up the notion of divine ownership of the earth, but also divine ownership of our souls as well.
Proponents of DP2 might respond by quite gladly giving up the view that nature has just instrumental value. This is a definite possibility, but the full implications of DP2 may force them to give up far more than that. The main reason that nature lacks intrinsic value is necessarily linked to the orthodox idea of creatio ex nihilo, a view that essentially makes all created things completely contingent upon divine power. Staying within a religious view of the world, there are at least two ways to conceive of nature having intrinsic value. First, pantheists believe that the being of the world is divine, so it would obviously be absurd for God to destroy it. Second, there is the Aristotelian‑Whiteheadian view that God and nature are equiprimordial. One might say that Moses Maimonides, a medieval Jewish philosopher, escapes my critique, because, as he says: “We do not consider it a principle of our faith that the universe will again be reduced to nothing.”10 But Moses' cosmos is still lacks intrinsic value, because it is completely contingent upon God's sustaining power. I believe that self‑determination and value are necessarily related, so it is only the Aristotelian‑Whiteheadian view, coupled with DP3, that can ground individual inherent value. More argument on this issue is obviously needed, but we can provisionally conclude that an acceptable theology of nature must reject creatio ex nihilo. It is safe to say that giving up this doctrine is tantamount to giving up classical theism.
The initial superiority of traditional theism over process theism erodes even more quickly when we look at the problem of evil. The implications for DP1 for the origins of evil are clearest in Luther's claim that Satan is a “mask” of God. This provocative view is expressed in many biblical passages where God is cited as the direct cause of evil (Ex. 5:22, 32:12; Jer. 18:11; Amos 3:6; Micah 1:12, 2:3; 1 Kgs. 22:20‑22; Job 42:11). The theology of these accounts is summed up in Second Isaiah: AI form light, and I create darkness: I produce well‑being, and I create evil, I Yahweh do all these things” (45:7, AB). When confronted with this verse, most Christians try to mitigate its prima facie meaning. But Carl Henry criticizes those who wish to soften its meaning and reasserts his Calvinist view of absolute divine sovereignty and the implication that all evil is by divine commission rather than permission.11 Returning to Job, the traditional reading of this story assumes that God delegates power to Satan and allows him to persecute Job by divine permission. However, if one reads the story carefully, Job, his wife, and his friends all clearly acknowledge God as the source of Job's woes. They seem to be unaware of both the existence of Satan and the wager he and God have made. At the end of the story the author explicitly speaks of “all the evil that the Lord had brought upon [Job]” (42:11). Whether this is DP1 or DP2, evil by commission or permission, clearly, both views imply that God is responsible for evil.
Let us look at our driving analogy again. (This particular example is derived from Nelson Pike.) Let us say there is a car with dual controls and Arthur is the driving instructor and Bailey is the student driver. Let us imagine that Bailey is approaching an intersection at which he is required to stop. Out of inattention, Bailey fails to stop, and is just about to run into a school bus loaded with children. Arthur quickly takes over the controls, stops the vehicle, and averts the impending disaster. If Arthur had not done this, we would have condemned him for his inaction and would have held him jointly responsible for the great loss of life. Pike's scenario is obviously designed to show the mechanics of DP2, i.e., the delegation of power to free creatures – but also the direct complicity of God in the evil these agents do. (Pike's attempt to resolve this by an appeal to Augustine's view that there is ultimately no real evil is unconvincing.) Responsible earthlings, such as Arthur, do attempt to intervene when they are able, and within reason, to prevent harm to others. Even though the traditional God has the power to extend aid in a decisive way, it appears as if he has not and will not intervene to prevent unnecessary evil.
Why does not the traditional God do much more? Why doesn't God do what Arthur could do in our example or others in similar positions do everyday? This is the principal moral challenge to the God of DP1 or DP2. Friedrich Nietzsche expressed the point most provocatively: “As a father, God does not care enough about his children: human fathers do this better.”12 We can blame the classical God because, according to DP2, God can intervene if he chooses to. But we cannot blame the process God because she cannot intervene. Initially, the classical God's option of unilateral action appeared to be a virtue, but now it is looking more like a deficiency.
All of us know the evocative phrases of the Lord's Prayer very well: “Our Father who art in Heaven/Hallowed be Name/Thy Kingdom come/Thy will be done/On earth as it is in Heaven. . .” (Matt. 6:9‑10). Viewed in the traditional apocalyptic way, this prayer appears to be a request for God to discontinue the system of DP2 (the implication of the permissive will is clear), and replace it with a DP1 regime. It is also a recognition that the latter is the preferred state, and that the former is simply a means to the full exercise of God's sovereign power. The Lord's Prayer is a request for God to substitute his direct power for his permissive power. It is a petition for God to use his “over‑power” all the time, rather than just some of the time. If we phrase the preceding conclusion in Kantian terms, we realize that the Lord's prayer is a request that our lives be fully heteronomous, not autonomous. To put it more provocatively: we are praying that our autonomy, the noble badge of Kantian morality and the grounds for the value of persons, be taken away from us.
Our return to Kant at this point reveals a troublesome inconsistency in his moral theory, one that I have pursued in a separate study. Kant's moral argument for the existence of God requires divine “over‑power” to make our souls immortal and to actualize the fulfillment of justice. Here his conception of the Kingdom of God appears to be thoroughly orthodox. On the other hand, the third form of the categorical imperative requires full autonomy to join the Kingdom of Ends. Kant's moral argument for God demands a deity who exercises power in the traditional manner, but his principal moral theory requires that he become a process theist on the question of divine power.
Another analogy suggests itself at this juncture. Let us imagine a child learning how to ride a bike. In my own case, I held my daughter's bike while she got a feel for the right balance. Within a couple of weeks she was happily riding on her own, so free in fact that she had an accident and got a big bump on her head. According to traditional theology, God will ultimately take full control of our bike‑wills. This biking analogy is especially apt for Erasmus' view of divine power. In his famous debate with Luther he proposes a “doctrine which attributes entirely to grace the first impulsion which stimulates the soul, but which leaves to the human will. . .a certain place in the unfolding of the act. Since all things have three parts, a beginning, a development, and a completion, those who hold this doctrine ascribe the two extremes to grace, and admit that free will does something only in the development.”13 Erasmus' view is very elegant, but it simply does not conform to our strong preferences for autonomy over heteronomy. This is especially true if I think of the advisability of intervening in my teenage daughter's “biking” now or later on in her adult life. My intervention seems not only inappropriate but also immoral. As John Cobb and David Griffin have so eloquently said: “If we truly love others, we do not seek to control them.”14 One could argue that, paradoxically, we ultimately have more power by gentle persuasion than by overbearing coercion.
You may have noticed that at this point I have ceased distinguishing between DP1 and DP2. Both views preserve God's essential monopoly of power, and, in the end, according to the implications I have drawn from traditional doctrine, DP2 collapses into DP1. Divine over‑power is the preferred state of affairs. If I am correct, then we should reject both of them for the same reasons. First, in these views nature has only instrumental value and this conflicts with the strong moral intuitions that we now hold from environmental ethics. Second, the logic of divine over‑power makes God responsible for all unnecessary evil in the world. Third, the ultimate value of individual wills has also been undermined. I believe that we must agree with Mackie that the only will worth having is one that is immune from external control.
One might say that the foregoing argument hinges too much on the assumption of a traditional Last Judgment. Classical theists might hold instead that God brings about the triumph of good without punishing the wicked and destroying nature. But this “kinder and gentler” view of divine justice would still require a substantial reordering of both human wills and nature. Some classical theists are now saying that natural evils – such as famines, floods, and earthquakes – are due to the constraints of any created world, not to acts of divine intervention. On this view such events might be called “necessary” evils. David Basinger and Bruce Reichenbach contend that God could not have, for example, created water to quench thirst and clean without it also drowning mammals and eroding the foundations of buildings.15 But if Basinger and Reichenbach believe that God can unilaterally cause the defeat of evil, then their God will have to use his “veto” power not only to restrain evil wills, but also to eradicate natural evils as well. David Griffin has made the keen observation that creating a liquid that quenches thirst and cleans but does not have negative consequences is a logically possible state of affairs.16 The classical God, while being prevented from creating a round square, would have no trouble creating completely “good” water.
In an article “Over‑Power and God's Responsibility for Sin,”17 Nelson Pike has produced the most innovative defense of DP2. Using ingenious analogies from electrical circuitry, Pike attempts to make divine power sharing intelligible and compatible with divine “veto” power.
The first circuit is one in which Arthur (A) has complete control over the light bulb. Bailey (B) can use his switch all he wants, but he does not have any control over the light. Pike says that this circuit models the way Calvin views divine power and it obviously represents DP1. The second circuit is one in which Bailey has the possibility to light the bulb. If Arthur leaves A1 open but closes A2, then Bailey is now able to light the bulb. At the same time, Arthur has not lost any power, or possibility of acting, by sharing power with Bailey. Indeed, by closing A1, Arthur can assume full control in the operation of the light. Here is the second diagram above changed to "divine veto mode."
Clearly Pike wants us to assume that Arthur is playing the role of God in these circuits. Therefore, it seems as if Pike has successfully explained a previously unclear aspect of DP2, the idea of divine power sharing. If God distributes power as we distribute electricity, then we can see how he could delegate power without losing any of it, and still maintain the control that orthodox theology demands. There is, however, a fatal weakness in both the electrical and driving analogies. They essentially beg the question about the source of power in both the circuits and the cars. We must also ask how the agents themselves are empowered to operate the switches. To complete the electrical diagrams above, a central power source must be attached to the lead wires at the left; furthermore, additional wires must lead from this source directly to all agents and their switches. God's veto power is maintained by direct lines to each agent. This is shown in the diagram below.
Using a main switch for all of creation would not allow God specific discretionary power – e.g., to control the will of Judas, but not John and the other disciples. In my expanded circuitry there is no main switch; or if there is one, it would be closed all the time. Without this provision the universe, by analogy, would fall into nothingness. The result is that Pike's attempt to salvage DP2 actually collapses into a form of DP1. Another way to see this collapse is to imagine God, as he would during and after the Last Judgment, permanently closing switch A1 and leaving A2 open forever. The second circuit would then be essentially the same as the first Calvinist one. Following my lead, Pike's diagrams naturally lead one to think of God as a power plant, upon which many autonomous systems draw their current. In such a system, it would be absurd, for example, to blame the power plant for a disastrous fire caused by a short circuit in one of the appliances. But the notion that God is some passive source of power is totally alien to all revealed religion as well as most natural religion. If one adds the divine attributes of active will, intelligence, beneficence, providence, and foreknowledge to the source of power, then our conclusion about the hypothetical fire is a very different one.
Our power plant God with these attributes, just like the driving teacher above, would not allow such a disaster to take place. Furthermore, if such an agent was also the creator of the appliances, then it would also be responsible for the defect that caused the fire. The complicity of the classical God in evil is now even more fundamental than before. Not only can such a deity can be blamed for not intervening, but also held responsible, by virtue of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, for natural defects as well as deficient wills.
Next, I consider David Basinger's critique of DP3 in his book Divine Power and Process Theism. Basinger believes that he can have all the advantages of DP3 without giving up the concept of God's unilateral control. Basinger believes that process theists, and by implication many traditional theists, have misconstrued how God is able to coerce. God does not veto our decisions by making us completely impotent (coerciona); rather, God simply makes it impossible for us to fulfill our self‑determined desires (coercionb).18 In the terminology of the free‑will debate, God can prevent us from acting freely by obstructing our open alternatives, but he cannot disempower us from making the choices in the first place. Basinger believes that he is endorsing a type of DP3, but he is actually still within the framework of DP2. His two types of coercion lead me to distinguish between two subtypes of DP2--DP2a and DP2b--with the latter not collapsing into DP1. Basinger implies that coercionb is easy to comprehend because it is analogous to the ways in which we can physically restrain others without determining their desires in any way. Indeed, Basinger appears to expose process theists to an embarrassing inconsistency: we can exercise the power of coercionb, but the process God is impotent in this regard.
David Griffin, however, has explained away this oddity in a compelling response.19 We humans can coerceb primarily because we can use our bodies (or technological extensions thereof) to restrain the actions of others. The process God is fully embodied in the universe and is obviously unable to exercise power in this way. The classical God is not embodied at all, so it is exceedingly difficult to imagine how this God could use coercionb either. Not only is Basinger unable to make divine coercionb intelligible, he also appears to be wrong in implying that the traditional God does not exercise coercion in the strong sense of unilateral determination. If we understand creatio ex nihilo, the Incarnation, miracles, and the Last Judgment in orthodox ways, then these doctrines seem to require divine coerciona. Creating the universe from nothing, forging a union of human and divine natures, and causing the defeat of evil – each of these events would involve full ontological determination by God. I have already argued that conceiving of divine justice in less traditional ways does not alleviate the need for divine over‑power.
God could restrain the Pharaoh from jumping into the Nile after he had freely formed the desire to do so (coercionb), but he could also harden the Pharaoh's heart so that he could not form a desire to free the Hebrews (coerciona). Clearly, orthodox Christians want to support the possibility of both types of divine action. Concerning miracles, one might say that one kind, such as restraining a person from falling off a cliff, requires only coercionb. But if we look at the major type of miracles found in the Bible and claimed by popular piety, we are dealing, for the most part, with unilateral divine action. Furthermore, there are at least two problems with the first type of miracles. (1) It is virtually impossible to tell whether these are really miracles. Divine acts of this sort could be happening all the time without our ever knowing it. (2) It is difficult to conceive, as we have seen above, of the mechanisms by which God could exercise power in this way. How did, for example, God make the earth stand still so that Joshua could finish his battle? Did he physically hold it in place (coercionb) or did he fail to give it impetus (coerciona). If such a God exists, it seems eminently more reasonable to assume the latter. (If God made other heavenly bodies hold the earth still, then that also required an act of divine over‑power.) Attributing coercionb to God would be making him into the deus ex machina that has long been rejected in philosophical theology. As David Griffin observes: “Although traditional theism insisted verbally that God is incorporeal, it in effect regarded God as a ubiquitous Superman.”20 The superman deity uses Basinger's coercionb, and he must realize that the disembodied God of classical theism can, if he is actually able, only coerce in the strong sense (coerciona).
Returning now to Pike, we can see that there is yet another problem with his driving analogy, as well as his other example of a government commission with a veto power analogous to divine over‑power. He says that the driving instructor is different from God because unlike God, Arthur cannot control the desires of his students. (Similarly, I could force my daughter to get on her bike, but I could not force her to form the desire to do so.) Arthur can only prevent his students from acting on the driving decisions they have freely made. Pike has to acknowledge that both the instructor and the commission have the power to coerce in the weak sense only, while clearly the traditional God must have the power to coerce in the strong sense. Therefore, we must conclude that both Pike and Basinger have failed to make intelligible a view in which God can share power and at the same time maintain the over‑power that orthodoxy demands. Power sharing must be conceived in John Fowles' new theological image: “with freedom our first principle, not authority.”
Although Pike believes that he has salvaged creaturely freedom with his arguments, he does conclude that God is responsible for the evil that could be prevented by the use of divine over‑power. Let us return to Pike's story of Arthur and Bailey, the driving instructor and his student. Bailey is of course responsible for the accident, but Pike argues that the teacher Arthur is equally culpable. Let us look at Pike's explanation in full: “...The circumstances clearly indicate that Arthur may not be just responsible but liable. Look at it this way: Bailey was a trainee – inexperienced, nervous from the outset...However, Arthur was the instructor – experienced and confident as a driver...He should have anticipated the problem and been ready to act as soon as disaster began to unfold. To be sure, Bailey did it – he ran the stop sign, hit the bus, and killed the children. But the point is that although he had operational control of the vehicle, he shouldn't have had it – Arthur should have had it. Arthur had over‑power.”21 If one substitutes a nervous, but experienced sinner for Bailey and God for Arthur, the theological implications are devastating for the concept of an all‑powerful, beneficent God."22
Another analogy suggests itself. Imagine that a city government has the opportunity to buy a foolproof crime prevention system. Imagine that it would be some advanced technology which could incapacitate any would‑be criminal carrying out a robbery, beating, killing, etc. Assume that such a system could be obtained at a reasonable cost. Should a benevolent government purchase such a system? I contend that it would be morally obligated to do so. Pike's driver example was inspired by Aquinas' idea of a ship's pilot who is not responsible for a wreck “except in the case where the pilot could and should have been at the helm.”23 But if God is beneficent, God “could and should” intervene just as the city must buy the surveillance system and Arthur must use his over‑power.
One might object that God, in granting creaturely freedom and promising to respect the dignity of human choice, must allow evil as well as good actions. While this sounds persuasive in the abstract, it does not ring true in the context of my example or Pike's. Any driving teacher should and would immediately intervene to prevent an accident. In my example the surveillance system is simply a technological extension of the police officers on the street. They are obligated to prevent a mugging or rape if they are able. Indeed, the general denial of freedom to criminals is the cornerstone of our system of jurisprudence. Human benevolence is always concerned with minimizing evil as well as promoting good. There is no sign that God acts like a divine police officer in eliminating evil. Again we are forced to concede the truth of Nietzsche's dictum: Even some of the most negligent earthly fathers do more for their children than the orthodox God has apparently done for his. Again, the process God, prevented from intervening by the very nature of the cosmos, seems to be the preferred option.
In discussions about the problem of evil, it is customary to distinguish among three types of evil: (1) “moral” evil, produced directly by deliberative will; (2) “physical” evil, pain and suffering due to disease, mental disturbance, or natural catastrophes; and (3) “metaphysical” evil, i.e., contingency, finitude, and corruptibility. A short analysis of these types of evil reveals that both moral and physical evils are actually based on metaphysical evil: e.g., incorruptible humans would not sin or experience pain, and a perfect earth would not crack and swallow up houses and people. But the earth's crust could not be broken if it had not been originally made fragile by the Creator himself. It is clear then that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo means that the omnipotent Creator is the efficient cause of metaphysical evil, and is therefore responsible for moral and physical evil.
In The City of God Augustine attempts to absolve God of any responsibility for evil by proposing that moral evil came into the world because of deficient wills. According to Augustine, to say that God is the efficient cause of evil would be to say that a good will is the cause of sin – a most absurd proposition."24 Augustine's argument would work if he were not wedded to creatio ex nihilo. Augustine says that creaturely wills are deficient because they are made from nothing, but he fails to acknowledge that God is the efficient cause which made them from nothing. There is a further implication in Augustine's view. In the same passage he states that “our first parents fell into disobedience because they were already secretly corrupted.” Augustine identifies this secret corruption as overweaning pride, but he ought to have recognized a more fundamental corruption: creation itself. In creating a world apart from himself, God created some thing fundamentally different from the divine nature. Creation, then, was necessarily contingent, finite, and corruptible. Although declared heretical, Tillich's daring proposition was correct: the Fall began with Creation and not in the Garden.
An engineer friend of mine was once hired by an auto insurance company to analyze the steel in a broken drive shaft. He discovered that it was some of the cheapest steel that Chrysler could have bought for this crucial part of the chassis. With photos from an electron microscope, my friend was able to show a judge the air pockets that were the cause of the axle's easy fracture. Now it would have been absurd for Chrysler's attorneys to follow Augustine's argument, viz., that the company was responsible for the positive elements of the steel but not its deficiencies. At the same time it would be unfair to demand that the steel manufacturer make sure that there were no air pockets at all. This we could demand solely of an omnipotent Creator. As the exclusive manufacturer of all natural things, the orthodox God is fully responsible for the deficiencies in his products.
Evangelicals such as C. S. Lewis, Carl Henry, Stephen Davis, and Alvin Plantinga propose resurrecting the traditional view that physical evil is done by Satan and his demons. David and Randall Basinger call such a hypothesis “defensive” and “ad hoc.” Indeed, theists have trouble enough arguing for the existence of God, and many must be embarrassed by the use of this most unlikely story. Even if we grant its plausibility, it still does not absolve God from the responsibility for evil. Returning to Pike's driver training example, God is still sitting next to Satan as he drives into school buses, or more drastically, as he shakes the earth in Mexico or Columbia. In his defense Satan could tell the judge that God gave him not only permission but the power to bring all those evils upon Job and countless other innocents who have been visited by gratuitous evils. Insofar as Plantinga accepts DP3, he can affirm something that the other three cannot: viz., that Satan's will cannot be controlled by God. But if one holds that Satan moves the earth, seas, and heavenly bodies with a power truly his own, then one walks right into the Manichean heresy, which does, as we have seen, infect some fundamentalist thinking; and now seems to be implied in Plantinga's explanation of the origin of natural evil.
In Being and Nothingness Jean‑Paul Sartre argues that orthodox creationism cannot support the concept of true, objective existents. Things created out of nothing would be completely passive and could not be independent in any way.25 Sartre concludes that such created things must still be counted as part of the being of God. Deficient in real substance, such things would dissolve and merge with the divine nature. Orthodox monotheism wedded to creatio ex nihilo actually turns into pantheism. Aquinas' “demythologizing” of creatio ex nihilo can also be expressed in a manner consistent with Sartre's critique: “There is nothing that does not owe its being, goodness, intelligibility, and reality to God.”26 By separating God and creativity and rejecting creatio ex nihilo, Whitehead and the process theologians have eliminated basic ontological dependence on God. In this article I have shown that proponents of DP1 and DP2 preserve, even celebrate, this dependence. They, however, pay a high cost: they must not only impute all evil to God but they also undermine human dignity and freedom, the basic humanistic values of western culture.
Carl Henry claims that Plantinga's demon hypothesis is needed to make theism consistent. I contend, to the contrary, that process solutions are a much more credible way to demonstrate the coherence of theism. A theology in which God shares creative power with self‑actualizing and self‑determining agents may not be fully biblical; but I have already suggested, using the principle of contextualization, how Christians can reject the Yahweh of solitary, oppressive power.
Throughout the history of the church Christians of all persuasions have resisted the thesis of this section, viz., that God is directly responsible for evil. Such an imputation, however, would not have offended the ancient Hebrews in the least. For example, Moses accuses his God: “O Lord, why hast thou done evil to this people?” and then later demands that Yahweh repent of this evil (Ex. 5:22; 32:12). Yahweh declares: “I form light, and I create darkness: I produce well‑being, and I create evil, I Yahweh do all these things” (Is. 45:7, AB); “...I am shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you” (Jer.18:11); or “does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). The prophet Micah speaks of the evil which Ahas come down from the Lord” (1:12); and tells of Yahweh “devising evil” against a particular family (2:3). In a dramatic scene in Heaven Yahweh asks: “Who will entice Ahab?” (1 Kgs. 22:20). A spirit (presumably Satan) among the heavenly host volunteers to be “a lying spirit in the mouths of all Ahab's prophets” (v. 22). Completely in line with of DP1, Yahweh is the one who puts the lying spirit in the mouths of the prophets and it is Yahweh who speaks evil (v. 23).
Instinctively following out the logic of his view of omnipotence, Carl Henry uses these same citations and criticizes those translators and commentators who try to soften the meaning of Is. 45:7. Henry stresses the parallelism between good and evil and light and darkness, and contends that we cannot get around the straightforward meanings of 'ra as “evil” and “wickedness.” True to DP1 Henry rejects the solution that God merely permits evil and affirms the biblical notion that God is the cause of it. Although he hedges several times and resorts to the Satan hypothesis frequently, Henry is the one evangelical who comes closest to agreeing with Luther: “Since... God moves and actuates all in all, he necessarily moves and acts in Satan and godly man.”27
1. Anna Case‑Winters, God's Power, Traditional Understandings, and Contemporary Challenges (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1990), p. 27.
2. Luther's Works, eds. N. Pelikan and H. T. Lehman (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955‑76), Vol. 33, p. 189.
3. Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Six Volumes (Waco: Word Books, 1976‑1983) vol. 5, p. 325.
4. J. L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence,” Mind 64 (1955); reprinted in Baruch A. Brody, ed. Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice‑Hall, 1974), p. 165.
5. In what follows the orthodox God will be referred to as “he,” and the process God will be referred to as Ashe.” Most preferable, I believe, would be the pronoun “it,” but this leads to some very awkward locutions, awkward only because we are so ingrained in thinking of God as having gender.
6. William T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy: The Medieval Mind (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Janovich, 2nd ed., 1969), p. 107.
7. Summa Contra Gentiles I, 25.
8. The New Bible Dictionary, 2nd ed., p. 637.
9. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke, O.P. in The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), p. 49.
10. Moses Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, trans. M. Friedlander (New York: Dover Publications, 2nd ed., 1904), p. 201.
11. Henry, op. cit., vol. 6, pp. 293‑94.
12. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1954), pp. 293‑94.
13. Desiderius Eramus, “On Free Will,” trans. Mary M. McLaughlin in The Portable Renaissance Reader, ed. James B. Ross and Mary M. McLaughlin (Penguin Books), p. 686.
14. John B. Cobb, Jr. and David R. Griffin. Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 53.
15. David Basinger, Divine Power in Process Theism (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988), p. 65; and Bruce Reichenbach, "Natural Evils and Natural Laws: A Theodicy of Natural Evils,” International Philosophical Quarterly 16 (June, 1976), pp. 179‑198.
16. David R. Griffin, Evil Revisited (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991), p. 91.
17. Nelson Pike, “Over‑Power and God's Responsibility for Sin” in God and Temporality, eds. Eugene Long and Bowman Clark (New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1984), p. 88.
18. Basinger, op. cit.
19. Griffin, op. cit., pp. 108ff.
20. Ibid., p. 104.
21. Pike, op. cit., p. 89.
22. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in The Portable Nietzsche, pp. 293‑94.
23. Aquinas, Summa Theologica I‑II, ques. 79, reply art. 1, Blackfriars ed., vol. 25, p. 207.
24. Augustine, The City of God, XIV, 13.
25. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. lxiv. Sartre's point is borne out nicely in a basic ambiguity found in most of Augustine's discussion about the “being” of creation: is it simply God's being mixed with nothing or is it a separate created being? To my knowledge Augustine never answers this question.
26. William T. Jones, The Medieval Mind, p. 230.
27. Luther's Works, Vol. 33, p. 189.