Theodicy in The Urantia Book

Picture of me blowing smoke

If God is infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and wholly good, why is there evil or, if that is too loaded a term, even merely pain, in the universe? This is the fundamental question of what philosophers of religion call theodicy. How can there be evil in a universe governed, ultimately, by an infinite God who must, himself, be good?

I have addressed this question in various papers (see in particular the “Prolegomena to a Future Theology”,  and “Why Free Will?”). Here I want not only to review those answers, but specifically explicate the view of “The Urantia Book” (from now on “the UB” for short) on the theodicy question. It is this book from whence comes the distinction (I do not find it anywhere else in philosophy) between accident, error, evil, sin, and iniquity. Various philosophers with whom I’ve corresponded challenge this five-way distinction. The root of the challenge is philosophy’s implicit assumption that anything bad that happens to us, anything that causes death, pain, or disability, is evil. In short, evil is “any bad-stuff that can happen to us”. That this is mistaken I have pointed out in various ways. For example this conflation often includes even animal death (or pain). But consider; if the dinosaurs had not been wiped out (presumably painfully), we humans would likely never have evolved to be asking these questions.

As I say I have made note of all these objections in various essays. Here my purpose is to summarize the UB’s answer to the theodicy question. The distinction between accident, error, evil, sin, a distinction I find nowhere else, rests on that book’s entire ontology and teleology. In particular the first two categories, accident and error, needs some digression into purpose of the whole of the material creation is, according to that book.

Before beginning, a note about a few common terms. “Human”, “animal”, and “mind” as used here are not limited to creatures that we find on Earth. The UB claims the stars we see in the sky on a (increasingly rare) clear dark night are not a light show for our benefit. “The myriads of planetary systems were all made to be eventually inhabited by many different types of intelligent creatures?” [UB 1:0.2]. By inhabited the book means evolved biological beings on evolved physical worlds. Evolved here implies cosmological (solar), geophysical (the planet) and biological evolution of primitive life and up to the point of minded and personalized beings, in short people. This is the claim although the specific physiology and the entire planetary ecology, physical and biological, can vary greatly from the course taken on Earth. Perforce I take my examples from the human experience on Earth.

A second matter must be born in mind throughout. We tend much to associate evil with pain and death. UB theology hangs together as a piece. As concerns death (I deal with pain below), from the UB’s viewpoint [almost] nobody dies. Yes there is physical death, but that is not death from God’s viewpoint but more like sleep from ours. Everybody “wakes up” somewhere else (I’ll not get into details here see “What is the Soul?”) as something else. Importantly, in that awakening, the entity recognizes the continuity between the new self and the old one. The new self is immediately aware of having “survived mortal death” as the same self.

This the UB calls this “personality survival”, and its view is in great contradistinction to the doctrines of religious institutions world wide. It should be said that some few mortals do experience physical death and no survival. Such a person would, by their own choice, have become utterly iniquitous — see iniquity below. The UB characterizes this as “cosmic suicide” compared to ordinary suicide or the vast majority of physical deaths. Importantly according to the UB, no one, and I mean no one, experiences cosmic elimination because of the first category, accidents, nor for that matter the second, error. This “matter of fact” assertion of post-mortal survival underlies the book’s theodicy for obvious reasons.

The UB, however, does not lay-out its theodicy in any straight forward manner. It is left to bubble up by implication from the book’s description, broadly, of the nature and character of God, the nature of the time-space domains (our physical and moral universe), and the relation between the two. What follows then is my humble attempt to pull these implications together. Excellent electronic copies of The Urantia Book can be found here for as little as $4

THE FIRST CATEGORY: Accidents, wants the most discussion about what the UB claims is the over-all purpose of the physical universe as we find it. All the other categories (error, evil, sin) rest, ontologically, on this one. This physical universe includes such events as exploding stars, earthquakes, disease, and other such disasters that can and do maim and kill both animals and human beings. How can a “wholly good God” have created a universe in which natural processes hurt us? Why is this “fact of the matter” about the physical universe not evil?

Note that I use the term ‘accident’ here in the old philosophical sense meaning something like “accidents of time”, what moderns call “natural disaster” and becomes “natural evil”, an oxymoron if ever there was one. This category includes all sorts of potentially human (or animal) harming events, classical examples of which include earthquakes and disease, even death due to old-age (body parts wearing out). What all such events have in common is they are the outcome of natural physical processes that have nothing to do with human choice.

I am not talking about the conventional use of the word ‘accident’, for example a person driving a car who accidentally slams on the gas instead of the brake, killing someone. Such an “accident” belongs to the second category, error, I address below. To understand why “accidents of time” are not evil in the UB’s view I must review what the UB says is the point of the physical creation as it stands.

The point of the physical creation, cosmological evolution in time, is to produce, eventually, the “best possible universe”. This is not, by the way, a phrase the UB uses, but it serves, standing-in for “whatever God creates must be the best of its kind there can be.” The UB asserts this, but it happens also to be a logical deduction from God’s infinity. “Best possible” does not entail perfection in every possible attribute, a quality of God’s infinity itself. God must want the best there can be. Simultaneously, what God creates is (or as the UB contends, will be) the best that could be created.

While philosophers of the past (Leibniz for example) have correctly inferred that a good God must create the “best possible universe”, they have [mostly] mistakenly assumed the universe, as it now stands, is that universe. Their view has been that “best possible” is meant synchronically, best now and going backwards and forwards in time forever — or at least as far back in time as the physical universe goes. According to the UB this view is a mistake. Time is an essential ingredient of the process. God intends to produce the “best possible universe” through time. The universe is not complete now as it will be complete in the future. It achieves that state by evolution through time. The UB’s view is diachronic.

In UB terms, “best possible universe” comes out to a condition reminiscent of what Teilhard de Chardin called the Noosphere (the collective mental milieu of the planet) evolving into a unified mental space of all the people of the Earth culminating in the Omega Point, the manifestation in the universe of the God-complete.  Exactly in what this unity consists is left vague, but implies the synthesis of a single mind, the manifestation of God. There is a reflection of this in the UB, not a literal unification of minds, but a freely elected agreement upon one point (all else being free to vary), the desire of all people to do the will of God.  It isn’t merely the Earth either, but the entire inhabited universe! Literally the entire universe of creatures having freely elected to love one another, and that this condition obtains for all future time. Such a state of affairs would obviously preclude war, crime, and other negatives that amount to humans deliberately harming humans.

Even that future however does not preclude “accidents of time”. The perfection implied by God’s doing the “best possible” is moral at least and may extend to other domains, but it does not amount to “infinite perfection”. Nevertheless, the humans of that future era would have long since learned to mitigate the effects of accidents. No one lives in houses that collapse in earthquakes.  Intellectual and economic differential might yet exist, but nobody is poor, all find creative work and so on. According to the UB many changes (physical, mindal, spiritual) occur in the universe when this status comes about. I haven’t room here to sketch them, their description constitutes a goodly part of the book.

Why should the best possible universe be diachronic? God is omniscient and omnipotent. He surely can see that his evolutionary universe will cause pain and death to the creatures that occupy it. Why not just create the best possible universe immediately? Why can’t “best possible” be synchronic? The UB gives us three answers.

First, God already did that. There is a “universe” (the UB means this term in a technical sense. It has parallels in what Max Tegmark in “Our Mathematical Universe” called the “Type I multiverse”) consisting of a billion worlds on which live morally perfect immortal beings. In common with us these beings live “in time” and are not in all possible ways perfect. They must learn, but as concerns the moral, they are immune from error and were created that way. They have a perfect totalizing grasp of any moral situation they might face. They know what God himself would do in their situation and always do that. They do not, indeed cannot, make moral mistakes, though perhaps they may err executing their choice. From this they learn. I am not going to say more about this answer, it is irrelevant to what follows having to do with our universe in which such universe-wide moral perfection plainly is not the case.

The second answer is embedded in the UB’s process theology. The existential God manifests himself in different ways, and one of those ways it calls “The Supreme”, God manifested in timespace, what process theologians like Teilhard thought might be the God. But that manifestation is, presently, incomplete and will not be complete, not be recognized by timespace creatures (persons throughout the universe), until the “best possible universe” is fully evolved. Yet incomplete as The Supreme is now, there is a hierarchy of agency within timespace that has much to do (as do we) with his evolution. I will return to this answer briefly at the end of the essay. It will be the subject of a future paper.

The third answer, the one I am most concerned with here, begins from a certain principle of psychology expressed as “She who learns the most in achieving a goal is the most appreciative of the achievement and what has been learned”. A classic example in Earth-human terms a convert to some religion as compared with someone born into the institution. Converts, it is commonly observed, are more zealous participants in the institution (for good or ill notwithstanding). We see this in many other areas of life. People who “work hard” for what they achieve appreciate it more than those who do not. The greater the personal gap (economic, social, intellectual, spiritual) between the starting and finishing points the greater is the achievement and the appreciation for it. While not philosophically rigorous, this effect appears to be a fundamental feature of human psychology.

In the phrase set out above, the “best possible universe”, its moral perfection (at least), is in someway an outgrowth of the most learning possible among the minds, and particularly the personalized minds, of the universe — all of them. The people who most understand what the “best possible universe” achieves when manifest are those who took part in the achievement. They are those who learned the most about how to create a “best possible universe” (universal love) and what it means to get there. In short, according to the UB, this is the whole point of the physical universe as it stands. God intended the widest possible gap that could, conceivably (and that by God), be crossed.

So what manner of physical universe would give God the greatest possible gap? God can only be purposeful. He cannot do anything without a purpose. The same is true in the main for any minded creature, though to be sure “in the main” here hides many skeletons, but the “greatest gap” lies between the infinite-eternal purposefulness of God and something purposeless. That, is exactly what material physics gives us, a universe of purposeless mechanism. There is no teleology (purpose) in the mechanisms of the purely physical world. This does not mean the physical as a whole is purposeless, but mechanism, physical cause within the physical, is properly purposeless and this is one of the fundamental insights of all science.

Is this as far as God could go to create the most contrast there could possibly be? Although the mechanisms of the physical are purposeless, they are after all, regular, predictable. Would not a greater gap exist between God and a physics whose mechanisms were not only purposeless, but irregular? Yes and no. Could God create a universe of irregular purposeless mechanism? Probably, but not at the same time getting from it evolution to minded-status via that mechanism alone! An irregular physics would preclude the very evolution that is (seemingly) God’s objective — emergence of the intended end without further intervention.

God cannot do the logically impossible. Incompatibility of intent can rise to logical impossibility. God cannot set up an X (the farthest gap) that accomplishes Y (produces the greatest universe) through process Z (evolution of value discriminating free-willed minds) if the nature of the X precludes Z! This universe, our universe, is at the level of physical mechanism, the most unlike God there is while still supporting evolution of the necessary complexity. To get personalizable minds, there first had to be animal minds, and before that ecology and biological evolution beginning with non-minded forms. Before any biology there had to be the right sorts of planets, stars to produce concentrated energy, and for them galaxies, and so on up the chain to the Big Bang.

The evolutionary processes that produce people happen sometimes also physically to kill them and if we include “natural death” stemming from entropy (perhaps the key to the stability (regularity) of purposeless mechanism), always physically kills them! If ignition of a star and evolution of a life-suitable planet are not evil then those same processes cannot suddenly be evil because living beings are sometimes in the way of them. While bad and tragic from the human view these processes cannot at once be good when they foster our existence and evil when they don’t. Humans, and in particular philosophers, must get over this immature straw man. Not everything that is bad in our experience is evil.

What about pain? For complex creatures to evolve there had to be some mechanism that signals damage to some part of a creature’s body, locates the damage, and grabs the creature’s immediate attention. The mechanism worked out (mindlessly) by evolution and not God directly is something we call pain. Can we imagine some other sensory mechanism that achieves the same result? Signaling damage? Yes. Locating the damage? Yes. Immediate attention? No. It is precisely that we can easily ignore every other sensory experience that makes them unsuited to the task. Yes we can ignore pain too, but not so easily.

All of this then gets us to an answer for the category of accidents. The only way to generate the “widest possible gap” and at the same time evolve participants in the making of the “best possible universe” was to evolve those creatures out of purposeless mechanism, which, since it is purposeless (mindless), cannot “take note” of its causing harm to living beings (minded or otherwise). The same regular physical processes that produce stars also produce earthquakes and earthquakes sometimes harm us. Put otherwise, unless one is to claim that all physical mechanism is evil, accidents cannot be evil because they are not the product of processes controlled by any mind, even God’s.

THE SECOND CATEGORY: Error. When we make the move from accidents to error (and then evil and sin) we cross a divide from the mindless to the minded (for the UB’s philosophy of mind see “From What Comes Mind?”). Errors are mistakes made by minds, and not only human minds. A lioness chasing a zebra might zig to the left just as the zebra zags to the right. The lioness misses the zebra and goes hungry. It made a mistake, an error. To be sure this is not a moral error. Only humans can make moral mistakes because only humans discriminate values (Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, see “What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness”). But moral errors and evil are related in that the former signal the potential for the latter.

Like accidents, error can and often is hurtful, causing pain and sometimes death. The manager who failed to put enough concrete into the wellhead beneath the BP Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed a dozen people, caused billions of dollars worth of damage, and hundreds of years of ecological problems for the Gulf. All of this is bad, the same category of bad that happens when a driver, seeing a child dart out from between two parked cars accidentally slams on the gas instead of the brake killing the child.

Besides such errors bringing about accidents in the common use of that term, there are moral errors, errors entangled with the values, and this is why moral error is potential evil. These vary in severity from the catastrophic to the trivial. You settle down on your couch to watch the big game on TV when a friend calls asking you help getting his car unstuck from a snowdrift. You refuse because you want to see that game. This is a moral error because in a universe where all people are brothers given a “Universal Father” no game is more important than assisting a brother when such assistance is easily (and sometimes even not so easily) within your power. Even if, in the end, your friend gets himself unstuck and no harm comes from it all, you have made a moral mistake.

As “accidents of time” stem from the purposelessness of physical nature, error stems from the perspectival (a term from John Searle) nature of individual minds. Subjective experience associated with brains is necessarily individualized. Although human brains (on Earth) are similar as are the minds that spring from them, each has a narrow individual viewpoint. An individual of necessity directly senses the world only through the deliverance of its own sensory systems. Human individuals may try intellectually to expand their native individuality to gain wider purchase on a theoretical universal viewpoint, but such attempts can never reach full universality. Even intermediate goals (for example the viewpoint of my local community) will not succeed in erasing the limits of my individuality.

Error and accidents have in common their inevitability. It is for this reason that neither is evil. Evolution (and within it the accidents of time) give us ourselves. Our individual perspectives, because they are limited, make mistakes (moral and otherwise). The point of mistakes is to teach us how to do better. When, given a certain set of circumstances, we choose a certain course of action that turns out badly either for us, others around us, or both, under normal circumstances we “learn from the mistake”. The next time we experience the same (or similar circumstances) we choose a different course of action, which of course might also be a mistake, an error. From this we learn yet more. Eventually we come to a course of action that results in few or no bad outcomes.

Error, in particular moral error, is [supposed to be] our great teacher. If some “honest mistake” precipitates a disaster, we are expected to learn from it and not make that same mistake again. God knows that minds evolved out of purposeless mechanism have limited perspectives. It would be impossible for such minds properly to grasp all the implications of every, even most, choice-action. Inevitable error then cannot be evil even though “bad” can clearly follow from it. As pain is intended to grab our attention immediately, error, more precisely its consequences, are intended to teach us about which sorts of choices work and which do not. Such mistakes are “natural consequences” of limited perspective just as stars and earthquakes are natural outcomes of purposeless mechanisms. For this reason, neither is evil.

THE THIRD CATEGORY: Evil. Finally we arrive at genuine evil, actual evil as compared with the potential for evil in moral error. Like error, evil is always a product of some mind. Unlike error, which may or may not have some moral part, evil always has a moral component. Evil is “deliberate error”. It is, if you will, making a mistake knowing that you are making a mistake and choosing (making it deliberate) to make that mistake. It is this choice that always invokes the moral because it is, due to its deliberateness, in opposition to one or more of the values (truth, beauty, goodness). Since the values are the pointer to God’s character that human mind is able to discriminate, anything done in knowing contravention of them is done in opposition to God’s intent and character exhibited in the values. That is what makes it evil!

Evil is characteristically different from error even if its worldly effects are sometimes identical. The error destroying the BP Horizon oil platform killing a dozen men could conceivably have been evil, the potential rising to the actual. The manager making the decision to stop pumping concrete might have done it knowing it would destroy the platform and likely kill people. Crucially, errors teach lessons to those still around after the results have propagated through the world. This includes the mind that committed the error!

Under typical circumstances, a man who makes a mistake, even a moral mistake, not only accepts responsibility for it, but actively works to mitigate its effects. Evil is not usually like that. Others, those who experience its consequences may learn to better prevent or mitigate them, but the one who commits the act already knows it is error. He often commits to disguising his responsibility for the act (a lie, yet a further evil) and not committed to any sincere effort to mitigate its effects.

The deliberateness that characterizes evil does not entail any intellectual grasp of the root ideas of truth, beauty, or goodness in some purely abstract philosophical sense (today even most philosophers don’t understand this). It is enough that the individual involved deliberately acts in such a way as to likely cause death or destruction (including more subtle forms like emotional hurt and so on) and knows this is the case. One need not directly intend any particular death or destruction let alone grasp that the choice is in some sense in opposition to God’s will.

For example a man hijacks a car and leads police on a high-speed chase ending in the death of an innocent bystander. On stealing the car and stepping on the gas, the man did not intend that particular death. He certainly wasn’t thinking of his act’s relation to the value goodness. But he did know (or as we say “should have known”) the act was dangerous and likely would end in some death or injury. He did it anyway and that doing does happen to oppose what is refracted to human consciousness by the value goodness. It is the deliberateness coupled with the contravention of the character of value (in this case mostly goodness) that makes up the evil in the mind of the actor. It is the actor who is evil. We extend the term (rightly so I believe) to the act because (again) it is a deliberate act.

The means by which God has [apparently] chosen to create the “best possible universe” very much rests on the reality of free will in creatures (on Earth called humans) who are potentially sensitive to values. The higher animals also have free will, but since they are not sensitive to values, their free will does not extend into the moral domain. A lion cannot “do evil” as that term is used in the UB. The presence of moral free will coupled with purposeless physical mechanism is, according to the UB, the key to the whole progressive evolutionary enterprise. I address this at length in “Why Free Will”. One often hears criticism of the form: in such a universe as ours, God should have known evil would happen and therefore God himself is evil (knowingly contravening his own values) by creating a universe in which evil would necessarily occur.

The UB denies the necessity of evil, but not the need for its potential. Error (moral or amoral) is unavoidable because evolved perspective is limited, but moral error (potential evil) alone is sufficient progressively to align human choice with the values. Even when such attempts themselves are badly (wrongly) conceived or executed, their outcomes bring home lessons on doing it better next time. The inevitability of error is enough to carry the lesson that free-will attempts at alignment with the values typically leads to better results all around. To get his (and our) “best possible universe” God had to create a universe in which error was a necessary ingredient.

In contrast to error, actual evil is not a necessity in a universe evolving in time however likely it may be. Potential evil is enough to provide the contrast needed for moral choosing: “Potential evil is inherent in the necessary incompleteness of the revelation of God as a time-space-limited expression of infinity and eternity. The fact of the partial in the presence of the complete constitutes relativity of reality, [and] creates necessity for intellectual choosing…” [UB 130:4.14] Actual Evil is always the choice of a personalized mind to do error deliberately.

Even on this planet, rife with evil, we observe that no person is compelled by the world to do evil. The seeming inevitability of evil on Earth is a product of what the UB claims is a convoluted and a-typical (compared with most worlds) history, not to mention confused and immature ideas about God. Evil’s apparent inevitability is a seeming resulting from a limited perspective. Evil on Earth is virtually inevitable. It is in no way metaphysically necessary.

THE FOURTH CATEGORY: Sin. I hope by this point in the essay my reader begins to see a pattern here. Accidents are not the doing of minded beings — primitive and superstitious belief that “God causes” this or that disaster not withstanding. Error entails mind, but not intent to do wrong. Evil entails both mind, and intent to cause harm but not awareness (at least not immediate, present to mind awareness) of the act’s relation to God. Sin is exactly that.

“Sin must be redefined as deliberate disloyalty to Deity” [UB 89:10.2]. Some readers have interpreted this to mean that to sin entails knowing what God’s will is in some particular instance. Under this reading, no human could ever sin because no human ever knows specifically what God’s will is about any single individual act, though we can make well-reasoned guesses in simple situations. But human beings can know what God’s will is generally speaking. Sensitivity to the values, truth, beauty, goodness, give us that. One can then commit evil knowing not merely that the act will likely cause harm, but also that it stands in opposition to one or more of the values and therefore in opposition (however generally) to God’s will. Even that does not quite get us to sin. Our carjacker is not likely to be philosophizing about values and such even if his history includes some awareness of them. Awareness that what he is doing is “in opposition to goodness” is only slightly more universal than merely being aware the act “is wrong” from a cultural viewpoint.

In discussing the subject of sin, the book seems always to associate it with some insincerity. Returning again to our carjacker we can suppose that not only does he know his act is wrong and that it contravenes goodness but that, at least in part, the act is chosen because it goes against the value. The carjacker is not only deliberate about doing harm, he is deliberate about doing it because it is evil and in opposition to God’s goodness.

That additional layer of [im]moral intent renders the act insincere. No external rationale (for example “I thought the police would kill me”) excuses the decision because at least some part of the actor’s motive is the contravention of goodness. Any excuse resting on such explanations would be automatically a lie because some part of the real motive is freely, deliberately, to contravene God’s will. That makes the act deliberate disloyalty to Deity and therefore sin.

THE FIFTH CATEGORY: Iniquity. I said at the beginning of the essay that everyone has a soul and almost everyone experiences personality survival after physical death. Evil and sin both corrode the soul, the later more rapidly than the former. In this, evil and sin are analogous to filling healthy lungs with smoke. Smoking always corrodes lung function but it doesn’t destroy it at once. Lungs can still sustain life up to a certain level of degradation.

Reaching that level can take years. Smokers can quit and at least partially heal their lungs if the damage has not progressed too far. Evildoers and sinners can repent. Evildoers and sinners yet have living souls and quitting sin and evil can, eventually, reestablish their healthy condition. Of course the repentance must be sincere. An insincere repentance is, by UB lights, no repentance at all. “In gaining access to the Kingdom of Heaven, it is the motive that counts.” [UB 140:3.19]. God would have to be a perfect, the perfect judge of motive, and this notwithstanding that human motives are often mixed. He would know that too.

Yet there comes a point with smoke where the lungs become too degraded to sustain life. Likewise repeated choices of evil, and especially sin result eventually (assuming the creature does not physically die before this stage. A 30-year smoker who is yet 10 years from fatal lung degradation can get hit by a bus) in a condition in which the yet-living person loses the capacity to discriminate the values, loses the ability to tell right from wrong and the free-willed capacity to choose what is right. The person has become self-identified with evil and sin to the point where he can choose nothing else. He has become iniquitous and his soul is dead. On physical death, the personality of this person dissolves back into the infinite and nothing survives except, as it were, in God’s memory. UB theology has no Hell. Either you survive and retain a shot at immortality by God’s lights, or you vanish.

“Death of the soul” is a cosmic suicide. Such a state can come about only as a result of repeated free-willed choices by the agent whose soul it is. If an otherwise normal (i.e., not iniquitous) person suffers loss of ability to tell right from wrong as a result of an accident or disease that soul, we are told, is developmentally frozen and survives when that person’s body eventually dies. Cosmic death can be only a product of cosmic suicide. As the soul grows through choosing the true, beautiful, and good (and as I discuss in “What is the Soul” this has nothing to do with intellectual belief), it dies only through the consistent and repeated choice of evil and sin. A soul cannot die by accident. It must be willfully withered to death.

A WORD ABOUT MITIGATION

We live in a relative (nothing to do with Einstein) universe. There is in the mix both good, bad, evil, and even sin. For now, this is just the social fact of the matter. Accidents and errors we learn to avoid. We build structures that don’t collapse in earthquakes, we learn to cure disease, we train so as not to make harmful mistakes. This learning and mitigating should not be controversial. Mitigating real evil is another matter. No human may pronounce judgment on the status of another’s soul, but preventing the pain of further evil on the part of the evildoers is a morally [and can be physically] messy process. Sometimes it is necessary to kill, even to go to war, to prevent yet further evil as this unfolds in time. The problems here are well known. Often evil goes, if not undetected, un-fought until its consequences are spread deeply through the social world. At that point, uprooting them, mitigating the effects, can be costly in dollars and often lives.

At the same time, much that happens on this world still and many others in other stages of development is a product of ignorance-of-relationship. We still go to war not for personal survival but for political reasons. All sub-global constructs (nations) are useful for administrative reasons, but otherwise artificial. We are one world in the sense that we are all, equally, children of God. Yet none of this does away with the need, in particular on this world, to live with these issues and do out best to mitigate their myriad negative consequences. Mitigation of actual evil, sometimes by horrific means themselves evil under normal circumstances, is sometimes among our moral imperatives.

The “best possible universe” entails a “settled world” and by that the UB means an economically, politically, and socially, unified planet. No political or social entity would think of “going to war” against another. We are obviously a long way from this. Nevertheless, given our starting point, we who are here now are supposed to do our best to move the needle, or perhaps set the stage for its movement, or something. Our individual participation in the evolution of the best possible universe might amount to little more than being a good brother, neighbor, citizen, and so on. Being good means also “getting better” as one grows and learns: “Can you not advance in your concept of God’s dealing with man to that level where you recognize that the watchword of the universe is progress?” [UB 4:1.2]. Experience brings us into contact with both error and evil at collective and individual levels. Learning from that, personally is also a part of that present world experience. All of this evolving process is going on from the individual to the grand collective at the same time. We all play some role in it for good or ill.

According to the UB, for reasons rooted 200,000 years in our past, we are, especially given our technological development, among the most (if not the most) benighted planets in the galaxy! Thanks to ubiquitous evil the people of this world literally have an even greater gap than do the vast majority of humans on other worlds in the universe. When we learn to mitigate evil, we are learning much more than others whose lives are not so steeped in it. Believe it or not (remember no one dies) this is supposed to be a good thing!

Imagine you are born into the poorest part of the poorest city (perhaps refugee camp) on Earth. if you grow up knowing nothing of the world outside that place, you might be forgiven for thinking the rest of the world is just like your little part of it. Essentially, that is our situation on this world. This too bears on the book’s theodicy because it is saying, in effect, not only are we on a way to a “best possible universe”, but most other inhabited worlds, if not perfect, are much better off than us now. As it turns out, as concerns a “good God creating a universe with evil”, even the rest of this “relative universe” is doing better (not perfect) in this regard than we are on Earth in the 21st century.

Conclusion

So where now does all of these leave us in the broad issue of theodicy? Events of Earth history (the tip of a very big iceberg, and related to the UB’s extensive discussion of “Process Theology”) does set up the present, particular, problem with evil and ignorance on our world. The UB, while it insists on an infinite existential God has in it a significant Arian thread (see this link for more on Arianism), and this thread bears its own relation to the theodicy question. “If man recognized that his Creators — his immediate supervisors — while being divine were also finite, and that the God of time and space was an evolving and non-absolute Deity, then would the inconsistencies of temporal inequalities cease to be profound religious paradoxes.” [UB 116:0.1].  But as concerns theodicy as this is understood in contemporary philosophy of religion, the over-all tension between the concept of an infinite good God and a relative, partial, incomplete universe of time in which error is inevitable and evil always potential remains the foundation of the UB’s answer to the question.

The matter comes down to this: There is evil in a universe created by a “wholly good God” because that God is not the only actor in the universe. God has (seemingly) decided the “best possible universe” emerges out of his creation (purposeless physical mechanism) in combination with evolved (thanks to mechanistic regularity), perspective-limited persons having free-will, the capacity to sense God’s character (the values), and therefore the ability to choose freely to try to instantiate (bring into the world) that which is sensed. To come out to what really is the “best possible” universe, the free-will (in particular) must be sacrosanct (the real “prime directive”) in the sense that God will never contravene it.

I speak here of course of moral choice. You will learn something if you eat food to which you are allergic; don’t eat that again. But as concerns the “best possible universe” this is about choices that have value-implications and so moral in the broad sense. This life is not some Harry Frankfurt thought experiment where God lets you choose freely if you choose his will, but otherwise intervenes if you are about to do otherwise. Nor does God ever force you to err or do evil let alone sin. If you can freely choose to do [what you sincerely take to be] God’s will (you might be mistaken or botch the try. It is the sincerity of the attempt that counts. Right or wrong, good or bad [outcome] you will learn something) you can also do the inverse. You can choose to do error deliberately (evil) and even choose to do evil knowing full well that your choice contravenes God’s intention (sin).

God cannot, or rather will not, intervene not because He is incapable of intervening, but rather because He cannot get the outcome he wants (an outcome that necessarily must emerge in time) unless all the moral choices of all the agents in the universe are always free of His interference; the choice of the agent and only the agent. That then is The Urantia Book’s answer to the theodicy question. Human beings, especially on this benighted world, are charged to grow up and stop blaming God for evil perpetrated by man.

Why Free Will?

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Let’s begin with physics. I love physics! The mechanisms underlying the physical universe in which we live are fascinating to me. What most strikes me about these mechanisms is that they are purposeless. Underneath the deterministic behavior of macro-physics (expressed today in classical Newtonian Mechanics, electro-magnetic field theory, and both special and general relativity) there is the quantum realm in which a true randomness replaces determinism. This is important. Randomness becomes determinism as quantum phenomena emerge into the classical. Neither exhibits any evidence of purpose in its mechanism.

Authors note: Since writing this essay I have come to learn and understand that quantum phenomena are not random, but indeterminate. The difference is technical and has to do with there being a definite and determined statistical distribution of quantum outcomes. The outcome is NOT determined, but the distribution of outcomes is. That’s indeterminate! The argument in the rest of this essay does not, however, depend on this difference.

If there is any evidence for the existence of God it does not come from physics. Oh we can observe the universe, note its fantastic propensity for delicate structure from strings of galaxies to the operations of the living cell, recognize beauty in it all, and suppose that all of this was brought to be in a purposeful way by a God having some purposeful end in view. As it turns out, this association might be true and not interfere with the progressive discovery, by physics, of purposeless mechanism. We attribute to God the power to paint his purposes on the canvas of purposeless mechanism. But when we get down to the physics of it, we discover not that God couldn’t do this, but that God’s hypothetical purposes are not needed to explain the effect. Gravity, heat, and the values of the physical constants together can get the job done. Of course that these things got this particular job done (including life and what has followed from it), and not some other less amazing result, was simply an accident as far as physics is concerned. But that’s ok. Physics’ job is to uncover the mechanisms, not to pronounce upon their justification in a wider context.

The evidence for God’s existence, if it comes from anywhere, has to come from consciousness, the fact of a libertarian free will (at least in persons), and the detection of values – truth, beauty, and goodness. All of this is discussed in far more detail in two of my books (published in Amazon Kindle format), “Why This Universe: God, Cosmology, Consciousness, and Free Will” (2014) and “God, Causal Closure, and Free Will” (2016). I’m not going to reprise those arguments here. Let’s assume that what I take to be “evidence of God’s existence” really is the evidence we need, at least provisionally, to accept God’s reality. The question I want to address is what the combination of a purposeless physical and libertarian free will accomplishes and how it helps to answer the question, why this universe? Why are free will and purposeless mechanism juxtaposed?

The Nature of Free Will

Free will comes down to our capacity to initiate novel chains of causation in the physical. Chains whose beginning cannot be attributed to an infinite regress of physical causes. The higher animals also have something of this power, but human-initiated causal chains, are novel in a much stronger way than chains initiated by animals. If a lioness hunts and kills a zebra for food, feeding parts of the carcass to her cubs, there are causal chains precipitated from those events, chains that would be absent if the lioness misses the zebra(or chooses to leave it be), while other causal chains would ensue – perhaps her cubs would starve.

Animals can manipulate purposeless physical mechanism to initiate different futures by manipulating pre-existing agents and processes. In doing this, they introduce purpose into universe process. For animals, such purpose is limited to manipulating what already exists. The zebra already exists when the lioness sees it. She can leave it alone or hunt it. If she hunts it, she can succeed or fail. The result is a still-living zebra, a dead zebra, or a tired (but still living) zebra. None of these things would be new in the world.

Humans can also manipulate existing objects and processes in this way, but we can do something animals cannot. We can create genuinely unique objects and processes. These begin with ordinary pre-existing things, but we are capable of assembling such things into new things that did not exist before. Human initiated causal chains not only rearrange what existed prior, but from that re-arrangement build up new things whose effect on the world is entirely novel, emergent, an effect that never existed prior to the object (or process’s) creation.

Human purpose imposes an entirely new level of order on deterministic physics, an order that did not exist prior to its imposition. In Aristotelian terms, mind, including animal mind, adds “final and formal cause” to the universe.  But in the animal case, both are restricted to the biological demands of the organism. Human mind, our capacity to create new realities, novel orders on top of deterministic mechanism, is novel in itself. We create much that is but tangential or has nothing whatsoever to do with our immediate biological requirements. Human volitional choosing incorporates both abstract time and [sometimes] the values into its purposes. Something no animal can do.

Let’s imagine an analogy. God is a master artist, and we are his beginner student. The master can work in any medium, any paint, on any surface, sculpt in stone, clay, or bronze, compose and play magnificent music in any style, write masterpieces of literature, write, produce, and act in dramatic work. One might notice right away, that art is in fact one of the channels through which humans use free will to create what is new, but here the art analogy stands for novel creation in general. As beginning students of our master, we are given only one medium on which to create, a canvas which happens, in our case, to be a purposeless physics. Further we are given only one physical instrument with which to create, that being our bodies. It’s pretty obvious how the analogy goes. We impose purposeful order, the purposes being chosen by ourselves (freely) on the canvas we are given, the physical universe, with the only instrument we have, our bodies – and other instruments that we create using them.

But what purpose are we to impose? What are we to create on the canvas that surrounds us? We began by creating simple tools, stone axes, and clothing. A million years later and we have reached atomic bombs, aircraft, computers, vast scientific instruments, medicines, and more. Much of what we have created has, over all, benefited human life on Earth, or at least some portion of it. Much of course has brought also misery on a scale not imagined by our stone-ax-wielding ancestors. Here is where the values come back into this picture. In the theistic view, values, truth, beauty, and goodness, are not invented in human minds, but detected by them. They are the compass, a suggestion from the master (keeping to the art analogy) as it were, for what sorts of novelty we are supposed to create. But for free will to be genuinely free, the master can suggest but not dictate the creation.

Why not? Surely many masters dictate to beginning students. Here I have to leave my teacher-student analogy. In our real case, in the real world, the decision as concerns what to create lies only and exclusively in our will. Why should that be? Given that this can, and has, resulted in much misery throughout human history. Couldn’t God have arranged everything so that we were free in just about anything except as concerns the kinds of choices; choices that initiate causal chains having direct and deleterious impact on other human beings? I have to suppose he could have so arranged things, but the restriction must have an impact on the intended outcome (and God would know exactly what the difference would be) such that it wouldn’t work out to be what God intends.

How can we begin to say what God intends? In fact though, supposing God to be both infinite and [infinitely] good, allows us to say something at least of what must be true of what God wants. It must be the most repleat possible manifestation, in the physical, of God’s values, pointers to his intentions, which for now we know only as our dim detection of truth, beauty, and goodness. This idea is expressed by the phrase “best possible universe”. Whatever else he might want, God must want the “best possible universe” that can be made. Clearly this is not the case now, at least not on Earth. This place is literally hell, tormented existence, for billions of people alive to day, and countless more who have come and gone since human history began. If we can imagine better, so can God.

Of course we do not know the status of life on other worlds, but a generally inhabited universe is easily supported by theism. More importantly, even as concerns this world, time must be factored into the eventual emergence of “best possible universe”. Since “God’s will” must be the highest truth, beauty, and goodness, a “best possible universe” emerges in time when every creature freely chooses to do that will to the best of its ability at any given stage of that creature’s life. Doing God’s will means doing that which increases the value content of the world’s particulars.

Human beings (value-discriminating personalized minds on this and other worlds), must make this choice of their own free will. They must choose purposes and create novel reality based on what they perceive to be alignment with the values! God cannot create a logical contradiction. He cannot make a square circle. Nor does God do anything purposelessly. If the best possible universe could be brought about without free will and its attendant potential problems (evil), God would have done that.

What God must want (at least. among other things) is that world resulting from that choice when the choice is utterly free and made by everyone. Apparently, those people will live in the best possible universe and it will be better, even than a universe that evolves through the same amount of time but in which humans were not free as concerns value entangled choices.

So there we’ve got the whole thing sort of summed up. To make the “best possible universe” human beings, all of them and for all future time, must (and will eventually) choose to align themselves with the values, with truth, beauty, and goodness, and all of that happens to come out to God’s will (metaphysically) and love in human experience. God could, by himself, have created a fantastic universe. But what seems to be the case is that an even better universe can (and will) come from a partnership between God and creatures who detect values and freely choose to incorporate what they detect in the causal chains they initiate. This cannot happen unless human beings are actually free to make those kinds of decisions. That means they are free not to make them, and that, in turn, leads away from the best possible universe, at least temporarily. I will return to this last point below.

The Relation between Free Will and Values

I want to say something more here about values, in particular how and why they figure in this process of human instantiation (literally making-an-instance-of) of God’s will. Three things are traditionally taken to be values as such; truth, beauty, and goodness (see “What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness”). Separately, they are the root concepts of three major branches in philosophy, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics respectively. Within these separate domains there are outcomes or instantiations within the world of values, and these outcomes are taken to be “of value” because they do in some sense embody one or more of the core values. A true proposition is “of value” because it instantiates truth, fairness is “of value” because it embodies goodness. Beautiful things are “of value” because they are beautiful, etc. Truth is value in the intellectual domain, beauty is value represented in physical, while goodness is the value of personal choice, the value of interpersonal relationships.

Taken together, all the values raise the same metaphysical question: from whence do they come? In rejecting any theological metaphysics, most philosophers assert one or another version of human invention of values. Phenomenally, they are entirely subjective although it might turn out, as we share much of our phenomenology, that they come out roughly the same in most persons. Their subjectivity is under normal circumstances constrained to a range. Your notion beauty might be different than mine, but it is rare that I would find beautiful what you find repulsively ugly. Truth we normally take to be somewhat more objective, less tolerant of subjective interpretation, while our sense of goodness falls somewhere in between beauty and truth. This view seems to explain how it is that while most persons seem to have some shared sense of values, many do not. Not only are there persons who perceive values in almost exclusive terms, there are those who do not appear to respond to them at all.

Importantly however, as much as philosophers have tried to ground “objectivity of value” on our shared biological experience, such grounding offers no reason why any one individual should pay attention to values. If on the whole the universe is purposeless, its only purpose being our purposes, who is to say that your purpose, to love others, is any more right than my purpose, to make all people my slaves? You might argue that more people will come our happier given your purpose. I might even concede your point but note that if values are invented by us, in the end, the happiness of the many is not any more intrinsically valuable than the satisfaction I derive from being slave-master of all. As concerns the purposeless universe, from my viewpoint, neither outcome is intrinsically to be preferred. If values are metaphysically subjective, the happiness of others can be justifiably irrelevant to me.

As already noted, in the theistic view values are not invented they are detected. They are extrinsic to us, a signal as it were from God, detected by human (and not animal) minds. Now as it might happen, minds are not equally sensitive to this signal, sometimes altogether, and sometimes separately. This explains some of the variation we have as concerns them, but more importantly, however well we perceive them, we are free to ignore them and this explains the rest. Of course our detection capability is imperfect as is our capacity to effect what we detect on the universal canvas. Importantly, value’s metaphysical objectivity provides the reason why any given individual should pay attention. Your purpose to love is in alignment with God’s will, while my purpose, to make slaves of all, is antithetical to it! “Knowing the end from the beginning”, God’s will must eventually come to pass. Your free will choices are dedicated to assisting in the bringing about of that end, precisely the use God (apparently) foresees will result in the best possible universe! My will, by contrast cannot possibly contribute to that inevitable outcome. It must be, that while I might appear to gain something for a time, that which is gained has no intrinsic value. It incorporates nothing of truth, beauty, or goodness. This has consequences not only for others made miserable, but for me. I will deal with some of these issues in a future essay.

There is another important property of our relation with values. Our value-entangled free will choices are the only choices about which we are absolutely free. As such, they are the crucial link in the chain of process that (apparently) brings God’s will into the world; evolving purposeless mechanism into the best possible universe. All our other non-value related choices, while yet free, are hemmed in, constrained by what we can do physically with our tools. Only as concerns value-laden choices are we free in an unconstrained sense. It is with respect to this freedom that we become agents of the connection between God’s will and the physical universe. True our capacity to instantiate value in the physical is limited by all the constraints that limit our other choices. We can act only with our bodies and the tools created with them. But the choice to attempt that instantiation (or to refuse to do so), however imperfectly, is radically open.

The best possible universe not only requires freedom, it requires radical freedom. Given that we are otherwise constrained to the physical, it is only with respect to value-entanglement that we are radically free. It isn’t merely through choice that we incorporate God’s will into the world, it is specifically through choosing to instantiate the values! The values are the link that connects God’s will and purposeless mechanism with human freedom. It is by following their compass that human choices remake the world over into God’s image of what must be the best possible world.

None of the foregoing is meant to suggest that the process of human partnering with God in the making of the best possible universe is straight forward. Although we are radically free with regard to attempting some mapping (instantiation) of value as we perceive it into the physical world, the process of carrying out that decision depends on our skills utilizing the same tools, starting with our bodies, that we employ in carrying out any other action-demanding decision we make. As concerns the individual’s relationship to God it is said that only the motive of the agent is important. An omniscient God knows us each most intimately, and would be an unfailing discerner of motive. The consequences to the individual of such choosing can be the subject of another essay, but I note that as with many kinds of physical action, practice contributes to skill.

As concerns the world however, that is as concerns the effect of some individual act on the world, much depends on both the skill of the actor in effecting the action, and also on the state of the world (including other actors) in which the action is set. Although this last is outside the control of the actor the two arenas do interact. A part of what constitutes skill with respect to a particular act at a particular time takes the state of the world into account up to some limit of which the actor is capable. I’ve already noted that we do not detect value perfectly. As some people have better eyesight than others, some are better value detectors. Detection capacity contributes to an individual’s skill as concerns value instantiation, but it is the state of the world that underlies the apparent relativity of values as they manifest in the world.

Any attempt at value instantiation that impacts more than one or a few near-by persons comes to interact with a wider milieu of states and personal actions that affect its outcome. On a crowded world, vastly different economic, social, political, and geographic circumstances, along with their specific outworking as concerns any particular individual, guarantees that no attempt to do good, aver truth, or enhance beauty will have straight forward and universally beneficial effects. This can be true even as concerns two individuals! If I give some money to two hungry people on the street one might buy alcohol while the other buys needed food. True I might have been more skillful in my choice of action, perhaps bringing food instead of giving money, but even in this case I have no way of knowing (unless I subsequently follow these individuals) how my meager attempt at bringing some goodness into the world plays out.

On larger scales the problem becomes more severe. Ethiopia wants to dam the headwaters of the Blue Nile, electrifying parts of the country for the first time, bringing economic opportunity to millions. But if the dam is built, the flow of the Nile will be much reduced and those nearer the mouth, in Egypt, will loose economic opportunity and their food supply as the river level falls. These kinds of problems are playing out all over our world, and anything the world community agrees to do as concerns these things invariably helps some and harms others. This would remain true even if the community’s motives were purely moral. As it happens, many more motives are typically involved.

The values are not a formula for success in building the best possible universe. They are a compass pointing in a direction but otherwise incapable of yielding specific measures having desired outcomes. Those measures, their implementation and adjustment as one comes to know their outcomes, is our collective task. The compass is important however, and for reasons noted above recognizing its objectivity is also important. But all of that only gets us to justifying the demand for action and that the action be motivated by a desire to benefit those affected. The rest, the creativity, will (personal, economic, and political), and specific action to take are all entirely up to us. Not only is it our mission (at least as concerns God’s intent) to bring values into the world we must learn progressively how to do it! Part of that learning experience involves comparing outcomes of acts back to the compass! But this would make no sense, it would not be guaranteed, or even likely to work, if the compass were not objective.

Theodicy: Free Will and Evil

I have covered this subject in great detail in my first and third book. Here I can only summarize it all. Philosophers divide this problem into two parts, natural and human-caused evil. Natural evil is an oxymoron. The universe God needed includes physical events (for example stars exploding, earthquakes, and naturally-evolved diseases, that harm (or can harm) human beings. Death by gamma ray burst, earthquake, or disease are all bad for us, but they are no more technically evil than are the natural events that give rise to them. No one would assert that an exploding star is morally culpable.

Philosophers also accuse God of being evil for just this reason. Why would he create a universe in which such processes harmed human beings, or for that matter any sentient beings? Consider that the meteorite that ended the dinosaurs was very bad for them, but without those animals disappearing from the face of the earth we likely would not have evolved. The universe God needed, where an animal capable of perceiving value and freely choosing to instantiate it, who evolved through purposeless physical mechanism, could not function if the same mechanism that gave rise to that animal could not, sometimes, also destroy it. The “accidents of time” are not as such evil. An earthquake that kills people is no more evil than an earthquake that doesn’t, either because people have learned to mitigate its effects (earthquake-proof buildings) or because no people happened to live where it occurs. Either way, it is just an earthquake. Remember also that there are other aspects to this theology, personal-survival of death (see “What is the Soul”), but lets move on.

Besides natural evil, human beings also cause harm to other sentient beings, humans included. Philosophers call all of this evil, but they fail of a crucial distinction here. Humans cause harm in two ways. One is by making mistakes. We make decisions and perform actions, both moral and amoral,  that cause harm to others because we do not have a full understanding of the future consequences of our actions. It is not our intent that these actions subsequently cause harm, but they do. Mistakes are not evil, they are just errors.

But there is another category. Human beings can deliberately and freely choose to do that which they know is a mistake, to do deliberately something that is antithetical to the values. These actions are true evil. It is through error, deliberately and knowingly chosen, that evil enters the world. It is for this reason that free will is so intimately related to both the building-in-partnership-with-God the best possible universe, and to the degradation of any progress made in that direction, by the willful choice to contravene it. That choice is evil.

My view has been criticized on the grounds that “death is death” whether from earthquake, some error, or evil. This of course is true, but not to the point. Theology coheres together as a piece or not at all. Death from any source is temporary (see above link on the soul). What is important about the difference is that with evil human will is being freely (willfully) deployed in opposition to the direction of value compass. Because free will is so deployed there are consequences in addition to whatever might have stemmed from the action had it been purely a mistake.

Besides those impinging, psychologically and spiritually, on the person who commits evil, the consequences of evil are sociological. They impinge on human life in ways that error alone does not. They are, for example recursively reinforcing (one evil act leads to others by the same agent and others) where error is recursively-correcting. Agents, including the agent committing the error, tend to work toward mitigating the negative effects of a mistake once they are known. Errors serve to teach. Evil can also serve to teach, but typically those who commit it resist such teaching and it is left to others, using their free will, to mitigate its effects.

To make the [future] “best possible universe” God juxtaposed free will and purposeless mechanism in a physical universe capable of evolving value-discriminating mind. He could not do this without allowing that sometimes the physical mechanisms destroy the very minds (and bodies) that evolve from them. In the same way, he had to allow that free will might, if it was really free, be deployed in direct opposition to the universe plan.

The plan must eventually come to pass and be completed. That means the consequences of evil can only be temporary albeit from our viewpoint can extend in time over multiple human generations; all a blink-in-the-eye from God’s viewpoint. As concerns our agency, God must permit much more than he himself wills if free will is to be genuinely free.