Process Theology in the Urantia Book

“Process Theology” is a term The Urantia Book (UB from here on out, good e-book editions about $4 here) does not use. Yet is does speak much about the subject. Indeed one could argue that more than half the book is about process theology whether directly or (mostly) indirectly.

In the philosophy of the 20th Century, there emerged “process philosophy” (though as with everything else this had its roots in Ancient Greece, in this case Heraclitus). The fundamental idea in Process Philosophy is that, as goes the basic ontology of the universe, it isn’t “the stuff” that comes first and then undergoes transformation and change. Rather transformation and change itself, movement in time, is the fundamental, and “the stuff” is what it is because it is the outcome of change and time. But what can change if there’s no stuff? This a vexing question for process, and the appearance of quantum mechanics in the early decades of the 20th century is what gave to process its present cache. No one can say of what “the stuff” of the quantum world is, or even that it is. But we can identify process taking place and we believe that all of “the stuff” in the macroscopic universe comes through it!

Process Theologians took this idea from Process Philosophers and applied it to God. We live, obviously in a changing and imperfect universe. Perhaps God is not the existential, changeless, infinite person, outside of time, but instead comes to exist inside time when the universe finally reaches its perfect state, a direction (extracted from Christian theology) they take it to be going. There may be process theologians associated with non-Christian religions (Buddhism especially comes to mind) I do not know their work. Christian-derived process theology at least is very parochial, a mistake the UB takes pains to correct.

What is the nature of this projected perfection? According to Teilhard de Chardin the collective mental life of all the people of the Earth, something he called “the Noosphere”, the “mental” arena consisting of all the people of the planet, reaches (some day) an “Omega Point” when the minds of all humans became unified. In a sense God emerges as collectively us. This would serve to detach our collective mentality from the biosphere (how exactly Teilhard doesn’t say) and this unified collective mind would become the God of Time.

Unification in Teilhard’s sense involves all facets of the mental. God cannot be unified if parts of him hold contrary opinions about something. The UB affirms a part of this. We do, collectively, become integral to the functioning in time of God made manifest in time, but that manifestation of God is his own person, and our individuality, our personal subjective viewpoints, remain. It is not, for the UB, a unification of minds that achieves this, but a unification of wills about a single point. Every individual on the world (in fact on every world everywhere, more on this below) comes to freely will “to do the Father’s will”.

What is the Father’s will? However it is described, it comes out to love for others, one’s brothers and sisters, the spiritual family of a world. What is love? “Love is the desire to do good to others” [UB 56:10.21], and this is the sum and substance of the unity we are supposed to achieve. Love however, this “desire to do good” is also a product of value (truth, beauty, goodness) discrimination, something of which only humans, and not animals, are capable. It is this power that constitutes a discriminating moral capacity. Even animals can love and do good, but they cannot think about these things in the abstract. They can act “out of love”, but not abstractly “because it is good”. There is much more to be said about this subject, but apart from the requirement that we achieve universal love, the details are not pertinent to the process theology story. For more detail on the relation between the values and human free will see “Why Free Will?” As concerns the values themselves, see “What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness?”

The unification criteria come out to the free choice of each individual to do “the Father’s will” however one looks at it. The people unified around this choice remain individuals rooted in their biology. They don’t think alike, They still have contrary opinions, they still make mistakes. The one thing they unify on is the individual desire to do the will of God. Not until a world reaches this stage of social evolution is it considered a finished product, what the UB calls a “settled world”.

Process theology then is a tidy solution to the problem of God’s interaction with the universe. We are the instruments of that action. But Teilhard’s idea is beset with tricky problems. Does the Omega Point arise purely out of the collective will of living persons, or does it also include those who have died (and in some sense and place survive) over the history of our world? If the former, the whole of the scheme doesn’t seem very fair. If the latter, what has constructed the survival mechanism prior to God’s manifestation? Who or what created the universe and put such potentials as an “evolving God” (not to mention mind) into it? Teilhard had to equivocate about these questions. Like other process theologians, he was mostly, but not entirely, committed to the idea that the “process God” was The God. This either-or bias, derived from process philosophy, has colored all of process theology.

What does the UB say about this? The Process God, who the UB calls “The Supreme” is the manifestation of The God in timespace. The God is existential and eternal. It is this God, The “Father Infinite”, along with two co-eternal coordinates, The Son and The Spirit whom we will meet again below, who has set up all the mechanisms underlying the spiritual, mindal, and physical ontology of the universe. That God, The Father, is not, presently, manifest personally in timespace. The Supreme is to become that manifestation. The Supreme becomes “fully manifest”, recognizable to all timespace persons, possessing within the limitations of time the powers God the Father would manifest if personally present in time, when all the persons in the timespace universe freely will to do the existential God’s will, to love one another.

THE PEOPLES OF THE UNIVERSE

To flesh this out a bit, a short digression into a broad brush description of the “who” mentioned above. Who are “all the persons in the timespace universe”? There are two broad categories. The first, descendant persons, are those created directly by the Gods (the Father, Son, or Spirit, singularly or in any combination). Really there are two broad levels of descending personalities (more on this below) but for now, we can consider both classes together. They have their divine origin in common. There are trillions upon trillions of such persons serving in the physical universes. These beings are not material. We cannot, in our present estate, see or otherwise detect them. But they do live and work (whatever constitutes their work) on physical worlds. “Physical worlds” in the UB include more than the evolutionary sorts of planets with which we are familiar. They include also what the UB calls “architectural spheres”, purpose-built worlds.

Among the duties, by no means exclusively, of this vast descendant host, is the shepherding, the teaching, of the second great group, the ascendant beings from the status of biological creatures to “perfected ascenders”. The evolution of biological creatures whose minds are sensitive to the values (again see “What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness”) are always persons, and they can, potentially, know God and do their best to freely do what they take (however imperfectly) to be his will. All of these evolved mortals have souls. This term, as used in the UB, has little resemblance with the term as used, to mean almost anything, by the philosophers of this planet theist or atheist (see “What is The Soul?”). Mortals on evolutionary worlds are born physical, biological, beings. During their relatively short lives they nurture a soul, something unknown to any direct experience of the creature, but which serves as what amounts to the life-boat with which we escape biological existence and become “ascendant mortals”. I will not get into more of the details here, see the aforementioned “Soul” article.

This group, ascendant mortals consists of everyone who has died (mostly, there are a few timing details but they are not important over-all) on all the inhabited worlds of space (a growing number as the universe evolves). The universe is, a gigantic school dedicated to perfecting these ascenders who begin on day one of their survival, no different in spiritual status than on the day they died. What follows is a multi-billion year education until individuals reach levels of spiritual attainment and perfection enabling them to stand before God the Father in direct person to person communion. The details are not so important to our concern in this paper. What is important is to recognize that there are trillions of worlds from which such ascenders have come now for a few billions of years, for we are not by far the oldest inhabited world in the universe. That means this ascendant group, from rank beginners to the most advanced students, exist in numbers measured in trillions of trillions.

Where do all these people live? On the “purpose-built worlds” mentioned above. There is a lot of discussion of this in the UB. The details are not particularly pertinent to process theology as such.

We have then, broadly three groups of beings of personal status in the universe. Descenders, ascenders who have ascended, and future-ascenders, beings who have not finished out their biological life on evolutionary worlds. To bring the finite physical world to completion, all of these beings, literally every single individual, must have dedicated himself or herself to the doing of the Father’s will and actually love one another. Now it so happens that all of the descendant personalities, with but the fewest of exceptions I address a little later, are already on board with the program. So are, as it turns out, the vast majority of the ascendant beings, the few exceptions restricted to some of those at the very beginning stages of their post-mortal education. Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine percent of all these beings are already “with the program”. All have freely dedicated their lives to the doing of God’s will. Who remain? We do, those yet living in their original biological form on the evolutionary worlds of space.

It is the material people living on the evolutionary worlds who are, mostly, holding up the program. I am being a bit facetious here, because the evolution of such grossly imperfect beings for the purpose of perfecting them is one of (not the only) the main purposes of the whole creation. As concerns the individuals born on such worlds, that perfecting process takes place in the long educational career following material death. But in order for the “God of Time” to become manifest the peoples of the material worlds must also, universally, get with the program. This means that in some generation, the living people of a given world must all choose, must freely will, to do God’s will and love one another. As good as this may seem, it isn’t enough. A world that achieves this status for a few years, even a few generations, can still revert. To become a “settled world” by universe standards, a culture of universal will-to-love must obtain, unbroken, for ten thousand planetary years!

Now to put the final point to the scope of this effort, consider two things. First, when humans first appear on evolutionary worlds, they live brutal lives for many thousands of years. Humanity on Earth may be about one million years old. We are by no means the oldest world in the universe, but nor are we the youngest. There are planets in all stages of their geophysical or biological evolution. But for the entire universe to be settled, for the God of Time to fully manifest, all these worlds must be finished. There will, in other words, come a time when no new unsettled planets exist and no new (yet to be inhabited) worlds emerge. This completion amounts to the fixation of moral intention. While many sorts of change in time continue (babies continue to be born on the worlds of space, stars and planets continue to change), change ceases as concerns the moral intention of every personality in the universe. In this one way, temporal change ceases throughout the timespace universe. This stasis is one of the pillars of the Supreme’s power.

A second thing to note is that this planet, our Earth, is an exception to the norm in that its culture remains only semi-civilized a million years after the evolution of the first persons. This unusual and very rare situation is the result of historical events going back two-hundred-thousand years in our history. These events have no direct bearing on the “process theology” story over-all (the requirement that all planets settle, including Earth, still stands), but because they so dramatically effect delay in this planet’s social evolution I will address them briefly later in the essay.

GOD THE SEVENFOLD

“The people of the universe” are the tips of the fingers of the Supreme, the God of time. It is through us (descendant and ascendant persons), that the Supreme interacts with the physical world. But behind the fingertips there are hands, arms, and a head. There is much more to process theology in the UB than the union of the noosphere, which is, however, its end point. All of these people are not just milling about. Those ascending are being guided, and those doing the guiding have been trained. They have functional roles related to the ascendant economy, the gigantic university and much else that goes on in parallel with it. Those roles include an extensive hierarchy of authority and jobs extending from, under normal circumstances, evolutionary worlds up to the Father. If this sounds, to Christian Theologians, vaguely like Arianism, it is. But like the mutually compatible reality of an existential and and evolving “God of Time”, in the UB, Triuneism (the Trinity) and parts of what the Arians asserted, are both true.

At top of this hierarchy is what might be analogous to the corporate board and the collection of senior management. The UB calls it “God the Sevenfold”. It is not a person, but it does consist of persons. The first three of these persons, the first three levels of God the Sevenfold, are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. All three are eternal, all three are infinite (the Father unqualifiedly, the Son and Spirit qualifiedly, see “Prolegomena to a Future Theology”). I should note that while these first three persons happen to be the three persons of the Trinity, they are not The Trinity in their role as part of God the Sevenfold, but rather three individuals. The UB’s view of the Trinity is more nuanced than Christianity’s. I include a note about it at the end of this essay as The Trinity as such is not directly a part of the process theology story.

The fourth level of God the Sevenfold is The Supreme himself. How is this possible? It is possible because the person of the Supreme is eternal, created by God the Father “from the beginning”. But he is not infinite and he is incomplete in his domain, the finite universe of time. Nevertheless, he is already known as a person to the Father, Son, and Spirit, though he will not be knowable to the rest of us until the finite universe has achieved its endpoint.

From this midpoint, the seven-fold hierarchy continues into timespace. Level five are the Master Spirits. There are seven of them, one for each super-universe. They are responsible for the presence, in time, of Cosmic Mind (see “From What Comes Mind?”). I will not have more to say about them here. I have not spoken of super-universes, nor local-universes. The relation here between the UB’s description of what constitutes the “universes of time” is quite problematic and the subject of a future paper. I shall leave this subject alone, except to say that super-universes are very big places each divided into one hundred thousand local-universes I address below.

The “Ancients of Days” are level six. There are three in each super-universe, so twenty-one total. They are the top of the administrative arm of the Super-universes. Think of them as a trio of very large division managers in a large corporation consisting of many divisions. If this all begins to seem like a giant bureaucracy, that is exactly what the UB describes and the Arian Heresy envisioned! But pause to consider this is an idealized bureaucracy! Remember that virtually all of the descendant persons (exceptions addressed below) and also the ascendant persons-in-training are all, already, with God’s program and there is no limitation here on training, nor lack of motivation in any role. Each, from the highest to the lowest, functions in their role with virtual (certainly from our viewpoint) perfection.

The seventh and last layer of God the Sevenfold is the most important as concerns the God of Time and certainly for ourselves as we presently are. The UB calls these beings Creator Sons. There are seven-hundred-thousand of them, one for each local universe, and their existence represents the boldest insight of the Arian Heresy.

The Arians believed there was a hierarchy of being that added up to a God of time. Though they didn’t put it this way, they were proto-process theologians, and the UB affirms this insight with modifications. Among other things the Arians accepted an eternal existential Father, but not an eternal Son or Spirit. The Arians reasoned that if the Father “begot the Son and the Spirit”, these two persons could not be eternal because the begetting relation entails time. The UB denies this. What “entails time” is our thinking process. We are creatures fully soaked in time and cannot conceive of any “precedent relation” in a creation process that isn’t intrinsically temporal.

Although it is true to say that The Father begot the Son and together they begot the Spirit “…there never was a time when the I AM was not the Father of the Son and with him of the Spirit” [UB 0:3.16]. All three are fully eternal. Such eternal precedent relations, while not possible in the temporal realm, are possible (along with much more, see note on the Trinity following) at the Deity level. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all unqualifiedly eternal. They are also infinite, the Father unqualifiedly, the Son and Spirit each in one dimension. The Son is the “first and infinite person”, personality being the sine qua non of spirit reality. The Spirit, the first conjoined thought of The Father and The Son, is infinite in mind. [Personality] “..is one thing which can be added to spirit, thus illustrating the primacy of the Father in relation to the Son. (Mind does not have to be added to spirit)” [UB 112:0.14]. Notice the beginning of a pattern here. The Father creates the Son and with the Son the Spirit. The whole of UB theology rests on shared power and responsibility from top to bottom.

Yet there was something correct about this Arian insight. An infinite eternal being cannot personally appear in the physical universe. There cannot be a past-eternal-infinity, even “for a time”, in the temporal-finite. “It is not possible for [the Eternal Son], an absolute being, to suspend consciousness of personality…” [UB 7:5.6]. One might add, as Jesus had to do by being born. Jesus, the God-man who lived on Earth is not past-eternal. He is a being created in time. Jesus is the Creator Son of our local universe. In case this diminution to the status of what amounts to a demi-God seems disappointing, the UB’s explication of the role of this class of Sons portrays them as far more powerful than most Biblical interpretations of Jesus’ life picture him. A local universe, when finished, consists of some ten million inhabited evolutionary worlds, and “To our universe and all its inhabited worlds the Sovereign Son is, to all practical intents and purposes, God” [UB 33:1.4].

LOCAL UNIVERSES, CREATOR SONS, AND HOLY SPIRITS

The super-universes are administered at various levels, the Ancients of Days, being but the top of the administrative chain. But the entirety of a super universe is composed of local universes in a way analogous to how the entire nation of the United States is composed of states. God The Father (in the UB telling, through the Spirit) sets the basic conditions and physical laws (an over-simplification, but will do here). Once these conditions result in sufficient development (proto-galaxies, galactic clusters, and so on, the beginnings of large scale organization of the temporal realms), the Creator Sons are dispatched to deal with the details. “…the local universes are the real laboratories in which are worked out the mind experiments, … divinity unfoldings, and personality progressions which when cosmically totaled, constitute the actual foundation upon which the Supreme is achireving deity evolution in and by experience” [UB 116:4.7]. This includes not only the physical details of their respective realms, but also the creation of a second set, a local universe set, of descendant personalities, and ultimately also the evolution (yes evolution) of bio-physical beings on evolutionary worlds leading to the appearance of brains (and therefore minds) able to recognize Spirit through the values (see “What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness?”) and thereby worthy of personality status bestowed directly by The Father (see “Why Personality?”).

There is also a reflection at the local universe level of the relationship between the three infinite deities and God The Supreme. The Creator Sons are children of both the Infinite Father and the Eternal Son. The Infinite Spirit also is involved. Each Creator Son is paired with a companion created by the Spirit, a local universe child of the Spirit who is, like the Son, a person the book calls “The Holy Spirit”. There are a few interesting parallels here. The Creator son is an individual person. He is not infinite and he is a time-constrained being. While he isn’t physical (except in special circumstances I come to below), he cannot be in two places at once. By contrast the Holy Spirit is everywhere in her local universe at the same time. The geographic extent of her presence is the local universe, and outside her boundary is another, other, local universe, the domain of another Holy Spirit.

Further, while the Holy Spirit is a person, until certain milestones in the evolution of a local universe are reached, only the Creator Son recognizes her as a person, parallel to the way in which the original three Deity persons alone know the person of the Supreme prior to the completion of the timespace realms. As it turns out, in our local universe, the one the UB calls “Nebadon”, those milestones have been reached. Since all of this process bears directly on the eventual completion of the Supreme I must briefly review it.

As the three Infinite Deities both singly and in any combination create various super-universe descending orders, the Creator Sons and their consorts (singly and together) create local universe orders of being. I return to these in a moment. Through the earlier stages of local universe evolution a Creator Son rules that universe only as a proxy for the Infinite Father. The Son must earn full sovereignty of his own universe, and he does this by bestowing himself on, literally becoming one of, the various orders of being he and the Holy Spirit have created (like the TV show “Undercover Boss”). There are always seven such bestowals, each one illustrating some aspect of the relationship between the three Infinite Deities (distinctions we cannot recognize in our present estate). The bestowals begin illustrating the Father-Son-Spirit combination, then successively, the Son-Spirit, Father-Spirit, Father-Son, Spirit, Son, and lastly, on the lowest order of all, ascendant humans on an evolutionary world, the Father himself! That bestowal, the seventh of the Creator Son of our local universe was on Earth, the bestowal of Jesus. The bestowal rules require the Son to live “the full life of the creature”. If, as it does on an evolutionary world, that entails both birth and death, the Son must go through those too.

“Joshua ben Joseph [Jesus], the Jewish baby, was conceived and was born into the world just as all other babies before and since except that this particular baby was the incarnation of Michael of Nebadon, a divine son … and the creator of all this local universe of things and beings” [UB 119:7.5]. How does the Creator Son manage to be born a fully human baby and yet be the person of the Creator Son of the local universe? The book tells us that this is a mystery none know other than the Father, Infinite Son, and those that go through it, the Creator Sons themselves. But why, of nearly ten million inhabited worlds of the local universe, did our Creator Son choose Earth for the scene of his final bestowal? To explain that, I must sketch the administrative levels of the local universe.

There are three broad levels of local universe administration, the universe itself (think state government), the constellations (think county governments, one hundred give or take in every local universe), and the systems (think city government, one hundred give or take in each constellation). Each system administers roughly (eventually at completion) one thousand inhabited evolutionary worlds like Urantia (our world, Earth, hence the eponymous name of the book). The systems are the first level of contact between a world’s population and the “celestial administration”. It is to the system headquarters (a collection of “architectural worlds”) our souls are taken and awakened at some point (usually many years) after mortal death. The systems are also responsible for what is supposed to be routine, long term, contact with the early peoples of these worlds.

Sometime after the evolution of humans on a given world, the system headquarters sends a delegation to the planet, a revelatory mission. The delegation consists of a descendant being called a “planetary prince” and one hundred early-ascenders from other worlds in the system who volunteer for a long-term assignment to a newly populated (humans having evolved) planet. The planetary prince is not visible to the inhabitants of the planet, but the one-hundred ex-mortals are materialized (50 men, 50 women) as beings of that world, using the human genetics of the planet. Mortals of the world can interact with them, talk with them, learn from them. This mission began on Earth some 500,000 years ago, about 500,000 years after the first humans evolved on Earth (the UB definition of human has to do with the capacity of individual mind to sense the values, and not morphology as we must define it from our perspective). Caligastia was the name of our planetary prince. His boss, the system sovereign’s name was Lucifer, and our system (still) is named Satania after Satan, Lucifer’s ambassador to all the planetary prince missions on the system’s worlds.

The UB says that, in our local universe, there is an unusual degree of freedom accorded the administration of the systems. There is much rich detail in the UB about events that occurred some two-hundred-thousand years ago in the system of Satania, one of only three such events to ever occur in the local universe of 10,000 systems (three of these is a lot by UB standards). There is detail in the description of the administrative relation between the local universe and the systems. Of the inhabited planets in Satania (some number between six-hundred and a thousand), thirty seven of the Planetary Princes sided with Lucifer in what amounted to a revolt against the authority of the Creator Son. thirty seven out of at least 600, and this was the “worst” such rebellion (of three) in the local universe!

There is also considerable detail about how this rebellion, now two-hundred-thousand-years past affected the historical and social trajectory of the peoples of the Earth. I am not going to reprise those details here, but suffice it to say that this event, and a later, more recent (thirty-eight-thousand years) second failure related to the first, made Earth an exceptionally rare “double failure”. Both of these missions took place in what is now the middle east, the first somewhere now under the north end of the Persian Gulf, the second ended up (I blur many details) a few miles north between what are now, and were then, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Importantly to our story, the double failure, especially the later one, had further and more profound impact on our history, making Earth one of, if not the, spiritually darkest worlds in the local universe. It is for this reason, that the Creator Son of this local universe, chose this world as the site of his final bestowal at the end of which he had completed the bestowal requirements and “all power on Earth and in heaven has been given to him”.

Jesus chose this world, the darkest of his universe, to exhibit the nature of The Father himself. That was the main mission. Everything else that happened, while important in its way, was (and remains) incidental to that mission. Did that mission fail? It seems that for subsequent generations on Earth it did, for there is still a great deal of confusion and “fake news” concerning the nature of the Father. But Christianity, nevertheless, managed to retain some part of Jesus teachings and life. The nature of the Father can be threaded out from the life of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament, but it is a difficult task (see “Prolegomena to a Future Theology”). Meanwhile, humans on Earth were not the only audience. According to the UB, the entire (local universe) descendant hierarchy of beings, and all (local universe) ascendant post-mortal beings, were enthralled by the 33 year spectacle of Jesus’ Earth life. They all got the point, and it was for them, mainly and not us, that the universe-wide public bestowal was intended!

The UB’s historical story gets more detailed as it approaches the time of Jesus’ bestowal. For example among the rules of such bestowals (apparently) is that a Creator Son must appear among a people who believe in one God (even if not exactly “the Father” he came to illuminate). By two thousand years prior to the bestowal, the monotheistic idea on Earth (taught by both system-sponsored missions prior to their failure) had disappeared. How did a particular people become “the Jews” who satisfied (if less than ideally) that bestowal requirement? This is a fascinating story but not directly relevant to process theology. What is relevant is what happened when it ended. We return to the “God of Time”, the Supreme.

THE ALMIGHTY SUPREME

Why have I digressed in this, even over simplified, explication of Earth history? It answers the question “why Earth”, both explaining why this planet is so atypically evil, and why, for that very reason, Jesus chose this world. But regardless of his choice, the completion of his bestowal on Earth changed his status, allowing him to assume the rule of his local universe “in his own name”. This, in turn, fits into place, a piece of the puzzle that is the power of the God of Time to whom I now return.

The God of Time, the Supreme, is the fourth level of God the Sevenfold, its center. The being of the Supreme, his person, is existential, supplied by the first three levels, the Father, Son, and Spirit. The last three levels, the Master Spirits, Ancients of Days, and the Creator Sons represent the skeleton, and in the case of the Creator Sons also much of the muscle, the power potential, of the Supreme’s capacity to act.

If we (humans and ascendant humans along with all the descendant hosts) are the fingers of the Supreme, the Creator Sons are the hands which make the fingers possible. Completing his bestowal requirements does not complete in the sense of “fully settle” the local universe. Ultimately, that is the task of all its inhabitants, including us. But the Creator Son’s bestowals, all of them but in particular the last illuminating “The Father Himself”, sets a pattern in the local universe, foreshadowing the outcome. When once the person of the Supreme comes together with a timespace universe of beings all dedicated to the doing of the Father’s will, the person now known only to the three Deities becomes the “Almighty Supreme”, the personal manifestation of God the Father in and to the finite.

To the point of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus lived his life in virtually perfect connection with and understanding of the nature of God’s will — its love-directedness. But this was a purely human life. Prior to his baptism, Jesus’ awareness of his Father was no different from that which any human being could, in potential, achieve. In any given circumstances Jesus had to figure out what God’s will might be, how God himself might express love, and how best to apply it to the given situation. This almost always amounts to finding some compromise between an ideal of action, and what might actually be done (by some particular individual) faced with a real decision.

It is this standard (and not what followed after that baptism when Jesus’ being the Creator Son was fully revealed to him), this ever-present connection to figuring out how best to do God’s will on Earth (and in the rest of the universe career) we must all achieve. As Jesus grew from childhood to adulthood he became the consummate master of this process. In one short life he grew from “best ever for a kid”, to “best there ever was expressed on Earth” and for that matter in the entire local universe! None of the rest of us, indeed not even immortal descendant beings, are expected to achieve this mastery in a few decades, and for us not even in a one-hundred year human lifetime. We are, however, expected to make progress. For ordinary humans progress means being better at “doing good” (both in discernment of opportunity and the act) this year compared to last. Such progress, at least in the present life, does not entail any particular intellectual religious beliefs, or for that matter any belief in God at all (see “What is the Soul?”).

The Supreme’s power to act depends on the dedication (freely doing the Father’s will) of his actor-agents, literally every personal being in the inhabited universe, to being “agents of the Supreme”. It also depends, as with anything else we or any person might do, on the skill of the actor. The actor’s skill, in turn, develops with practice (literally trying, “doing one’s best” to discern God’s will in a given situation and act constructively to express it). Skill also improves when appropriately motivated students are taught by a master, literally shown what such an ideal of discernment and action might look like.

By living a life dedicated to the doing of God’s will on this darkest of worlds, Jesus delivered a demonstration like no other (perhaps very few others) ever delivered in all the inhabited universes of space. Literally trillions of beings were apprised of what it means for a life to be dedicated to God’s will even under the most trying of circumstances. Although Jesus’ final bestowal did not complete his universe (in the sense of settling it) it did enhance both the dedication and skills of all beings (see note on “advanced worlds” below) inhabiting it. When a single human (or other) being makes that dedication for herself the Supreme grows by one more fingertip. When Jesus finished his bestowal, the Supreme’s power grew by trillions of fingertips.

The God of time as envisioned by human theologians emerges out of the the homogeneous union of earthly minds. This idea does parallel the UB in that nothing short of universal (on Earth) achievement as concerns the desire to do God’s will will do to finish the job. Human process theology is not clear about the existence of an existential infinite metaphysically underlying this process. Only the humans of the Earth (with few exceptions) are accorded a role in this process, and there is also vagueness about the role of those who have passed on (even from the Earth).

By contrast, in the UB, The Supreme fits into a structure of support that makes him and his eventual unification His origin grounded by the Father, Son, and Spirit, while supported, his proxy power, by the Master Spirits, the Ancients of Days, the Creator Sons, and all the persons of the inhabited universes who are already on board with the program. Within this structure, the Supreme eventually becomes the manifestation of the perfect existential Father as far as this is possible from within time. But while much of his supporting power is already operational, the Supreme cannot personally act in his own name as that manifestation as long as there are persons remaining in the time domain who are not yet with the program. A perfect representation of God in time cannot exist until the universe itself has reached a certain fixed state. Not perfection in all phases and certainly not absence of further change except for one change. No one in the finite universe ever again rejects the program!

What happens to free will? In effect nothing. There are still choices to be made, decisions and “courses of action” to take, learning goes on, and eventually a new class of ascenders (see below) to help shepherd on their way to perfection. There is still error (ascending mortals are not yet perfect in all phases as they become at the apex of their personal careers). If error is possible, then potential evil remains real (see “Theodicy in the Urantia Book”). But while the potential remains, there is no actual evil. Persons can still, theoretically, commit error deliberately (actual evil) but it would never occur to anyone to do so.

How then can this work? Imagine Earth is literally the last planet in the inhabited universe on which every living decision-capable person (not demented or too young) has not decided to try, always, to do the will of God. Imagine there is only one such person on the whole world. At some point, that person changes his mind, and freely decides, after all, that he does want to do God’s will. Does the Supreme suddenly pop into the universe and become manifest to all where before he was manifest to none but the Father, Son, and Spirit? Suppose further that a day, or a year, from this time, a child is born who, upon growing to his age of choosing, freely decides that he does not wish to do God’s will. Does the Supreme’s action-presence (capacity to act and be known) in the universe vanish? Can the Supreme flicker in and out like this, depending on the whim of the last few holdouts in the universe?

The answer is surely no. Given the administrative structure from God the Seven Fold, and especially the Creator Sons, suggests the Supreme’s integration, his person and his capacity to act and interact with the beings from which his power emerges likely in the perfection of entire local universes. When an entire local universe is “settled” in this sense, I suspect the Supreme’s power, if not complete and integrated throughout all of the inhabited creation is effectively present throughout such a settled local universe, or would be had such an event taken place. The UB notes that no local universe in all the wide inhabited creation has yet completely settled, though the older ones are much farther along the path than the younger ones.

CONCLUSION

The UB moves us from a process God appearing out of a mystical unification of earthly minds to one who represents the completion of a multi-billion year project backed and founded by an existential God who projected the God of Time from before time was. The future power of this “manifestation of the Father” in timespace is supported by a hierarchy ranging from just “plain old spiritual folks” to the personalities of God the Sevenfold. The emergence of the Supreme the bringing together of his person, known to The Father from the beginning, and his capacity to act, a function of personality throughout the universe unified on the desire to do The Father’s will, is the completion, the fruition intended from the beginning, of the timespace domain. They are the same event.

So what happens at that point in time? For one thing persons, all persons in timespace recognize the person of the supreme. He becomes contactable. The UB says that many changes occur in the timespace realm, but says little about what they are. It does tell us that “…since all creature experiencing registers in, and is a part of, the Supreme, when all creatures attain the final level of finite existence, and after total universe development makes possible their attainment of God the Supreme as an actual divinity presence, then inherent in the fact of such contact, is contact with total experience” [UB 117:5.14]. Being a manifestation of the perfect Father in the then-perfected timespace universe, the Supreme would have to be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent within the finite. The UB does not tell us if these qualities are constituted solely by our power to act in accord with the Father’s will (persons are everywhere, everything that can be known in the finite at that future time is known by someone), or if the person of the Supreme comes to exercise power of himself. I suspect, the answer is both.

Being creatures of time, the UB says that we cannot really comprehend anything beyond the level of the Supreme, meaning anything that is prior to or follows from timespace and his completion. At least not now in our present estate, and for that matter through our entire ascension career until, at graduation, we achieve the full measure of eternal spirituality. We can discover and comprehend the physics of the time universe because it is of timespace. We can know something of God The Father because he is represented in timespace, especially by the Creator Sons, but also by the values discriminated in human mind. In our present estate, we have no epistemological access to what lies beyond the Supreme, but such things can at least be named. As we live today in time, there is a domain the book calls the absonite which is “…characterized by things and beings without beginnings or endings and by the transcendence of time and space” [UB 0:1.12]. In that domain, as yet uninhabited, persons are not evolved as they are in time but “eventuated”. What does this mean? We cannot know, but are told that it is in this absonite, a domain tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of times larger than the finite, that the next phase of God’s manifestation to reality begins (has already begun) to take shape. What God the Supreme is to the finite, God the Ultimate is to the absonite. God is infinite. Process never ceases.


[Note on the Trinity]  Like its process theology, the UB Trinity is an expanded version of the Christian version. In Christianity, the “three persons” are the Trinity and the Trinity is the three persons, end of story. In the UB, they come apart. As analogy, think of a small corporation with a three-member board: president, treasurer, secretary. These are three individuals who can act and interact in seven different ways that are, nevertheless, not the board of directors.

1. The president alone
2. The treasurer alone
3. The secretary alone
4. The presidenbt and the treasurer
5. The president and the secretary
6. The secretary and the treasurer
7. The president, secretary, and treasurer together.

One is tempted to say that the last, the seventh, is the board-of-directors, our trinity, but this is not so. All three, for example, might be attending a barbq and interact without being the board. Now from time to time, these three persons do come together in a metaphorically fused form as the board-of-directors. When this group, as the board, issues a policy statement, they are, metaphorically, speaking with “one voice”. The analogy stops here. At the human level, each of the seven individual combinations and the metaphorically “fused board” are all sequential. Only one of the seven possible individual interactions can take place at one time, and the same is true of the board speaking “as the corporation”.

The existential deities are infinite and eternal. To them, seen from our viewpoint, every possible relationship is both simultaneous and forever. Not only do the three persons relate in seven ways and act as the fused Trinity simultaneously, the three, as individuals or in any combination, can also interact with the Trinity! It is because of this that the Father, Son, and Spirit, but not the Trinity as such, can be the first three levels of God the Sevenfold. It is also another reason why Jesus of Nazareth cannot be the Eternal Son, second person of Deity. There cannot be a time at which the Son is not always in association with the Father, Spirit, and Trinity.

[Note on advanced worlds] As noted in the text, Earth suffered twin failures in the first two system-sponsored-missions to this planet. This is very rare. ninty-nine-point-nine-nine percent of evolutionary worlds suffer no such failures. Once a people has advanced far enough in their civilization (the criteria of this is political, social, and spiritual, not technological) there are literally places one can go on the world to meet and speak with the system representatives to the planet. Such beings, if they are not already materialized, can be made visible and audible to humans. Not only is individual communication possible, but events of the system, constellation, and local universe, analogous to news broadcasts, are available to the inhabitants. So it happens, that on some worlds, even the material mortals were enabled to follow the life of Jesus as he lived it out on this world.

 

 

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.