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. In the UB even death, as such, is not evil but a necessary transition. The manner of death however, for example murder, may indeed be evil.
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 book spends many pages describing the survival experience, but as the theodicy issue pertains only to this life on Earth, there is no need to elaborate on the subject here.
Alas, the UB 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. That is to say, error, evil, and sin, all occur in a physical universe where accidents happen. The 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 meaning “accidents of time”, what moderns call “natural disaster” and becomes, in theological (or moral) terms, “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 using ‘accident’ in the modern conventional sense, 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 some parallel to this idea in the UB. The future unification consists not a literal melding of minds, but a freely elected agreement, by all [human] minds individually, 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”. Random accidents still happen on worlds achieving this level of moral agreement. 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, paralleling what Max Tegmark in “Our Mathematical Universe” called the “Type I multiverse”. This place, Havona, consists of a billion worlds on which live morally perfect immortal beings. “This is the one and only settled, perfect, and established aggregation of worlds. This is a wholly created and perfect universe; it is not an evolutionary development.” [UB 14:0:2]. 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, another term the UB does not use though it fits well with what human theologians have meant by it; a manifestation of God evolving through process, change, in the timespace realms. The existential God manifests himself in different ways, and one of those ways it calls “The Supreme”, God manifested through a process of evolutionary-perfecting in timespace. 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”. We see this in many areas of human life and achievement. 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 as conceived 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, purposeful, end from a purposeless mechanism.
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 accidentally 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 the values (see “What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness”). But moral errors and evil are related. Moral errors are potential evil. They guarantee its [future] possibility but not that it will actually happen. If by free will and limited perspective individual can happen to choose wrongly in some moral dimension, such a choice might also become deliberate.
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 achievements (for example the viewpoint of my local community if that can be made sense of at all) will not succeed in erasing the limits of my individuality.
Error and accidents have in common their inevitability. They will occur in all the relative (temporal, finite) parts of the universe no matter the intent of the human beings who may be subject to or the cause of them. It is for this reason that neither is evil. Evolution (and within it the accidents of time) gives us ourselves. We make mistakes (moral or otherwise) because our individual perspectives are limited, narrow. 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, a more truth-filled, wider perspective.
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” (evolution over time) very much rests on the reality and proper use of free will in creatures who are potentially sensitive to values. Proper use refers to the incorporation of sensed-values in choice-action. 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, the result of 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 always an awareness (immediately present to mind) of the act’s relation to God – more particularly to the values. 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 with regard to any single individual act. 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 antithetical to goodness means little more than mere awareness of the act’s being wrong.
Instead of explicit awareness of an act’s relation to the values, The UB differentiates sin from evil by the former’s insincerity. Sin seems, in the UB, always to be associated with insincerity. Returning again to our carjacker we can suppose that not only does he know his act is wrong, but moreover the act is committed because it is wrong. The carjacker is not only deliberate about doing harm, committing error, he is deliberate about doing it because it is evil.
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 regard, 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 is (must 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 becomes “spiritually dead”, losing the capacity to discriminate the values, the ability to tell right from wrong, and the 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. Spiritual death is always an outcome of individual choice, never an act of God’s
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.
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.