Hugh McCann, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell & the Ens Necessarium

​Hugh McCann writes:

As Hume pointed out, there is no process by which past events confer existence on future ones, nor do we observe any form of “natural” necessitation. Moreover, scientific laws — classical ones, at least — do not even purport to describe such a process. In fact, they are not even diachronic: they describe simultaneous interactions in which dynamic properties such as energy and momentum, which the laws treat as conserved rather than created, are transferred from one entity to another. Assuming the world continues to exist, future events will then emerge naturally and predictably from those that went before. But they will not be produced by them. In that respect, the idea of natural causation is on the same footing as agent causation: neither is a process in its own right, and neither guarantees the existence of an thing. It turns out, then, that free exercises of the will differ from the rest of the world only in being nomically discontinuous with it. The problem of their provenance of a piece with that of the provenance of things in general.

Even if the empirical world were deterministic through and through — which the evidence indicates it is not — nomic causation cannot explain why we have this world rather than some other, or no world at all.

Derek Parfit writes:

Why does the Universe exist? There are two questions here. First, why is there a Universe at all? It might have been true that nothing ever existed: no living beings, no stars, no atoms, not even space or time. When we think about this possibility, it can seem astonishing that anything exists. Second, why does this Universe exist? Things might have been, in countless ways, different. So why is the Universe as it is?

Why anything? Why this?

In the 1948 Copleston-Russell Radio Debate, the question of whether or not the universe’s existence was brute seemed to turn on a possible fallacy of composition, in other words, whether or not the whole begged further questions, transcendently, or could be understood merely in terms of its parts, phenomenally.

All of this seems to beg Heidegger’s question: Why not rather nothing?

And this all seems to invoke Wittgenstein’s musing: The mystical is not how the world is, but that it is.

And it brings us back to McCann and Parfit’s recognition that, even if we accepted the existence of the universe as brute (or refused to predicate existence of being), questions would not cease begging.

Heidegger would, instead, ask: “Why not rather something else?”

Wittgenstein would instead muse: “The mystical is not that the world is, but why this world is.”

In either case, whether the question begging remains “Why anything?” and/or “Why this?”


McCann’s observation would still obtain in that “free exercises of the will differ from the rest of the world only in being nomically discontinuous with it” …

And McCann’s insistence would still apply regarding both natural causations and non-nomic exercises of the human will insofar as the “problem of their provenance [would remain] of a piece with that of the provenance of things in general”

For the provenance of things in general would merely transmute from a question of Why anything? to one of Why this?
And the question would become Why this nomicity?

And our Peircean argument would yet infer the Ens Necessarium, if not in terms of being, then, in terms of doing.

The Light of Faith: Fideism sets the epistemic bar too low, Positivism – too high

Our common sense weighs various burdens of proof and evidentiary standards, which it uses to both morally and practically justify our actions to ensure that they are commensurate with the quantity and quality of available evidence.

A burden of proof tells us who must produce the evidence. Evidentiary standards define the level of evidence that must be produced. A given level of evidence, in terms of its quantity and quality, thus will establish various degrees of epistemic warrant. The higher those degrees of warrant, the wider the range of action that can be normatively justified, morally and practically.

In our everyday endeavors, we often reason with uncertainty (nonmonotonic reasoning). This is also true in the life of faith. 

What level of epistemic warrant normatively justifies, more generally, everyday reasonings from uncertainty, more specifically, the life of faith

Regarding the life of faith, fideists are accused of setting the bar rather low, while rationalists and empiricists imagine it to be much higher than most deem necessary. How do we resolve this disparity?

We need only turn to the natural sciences, which not only traffic in falsifiability, experimentally, but which, unavoidably, must also engage in highly speculative, theoretical interpretations on the various thresholds of nature’s causal joints. 

On nature’s causal joint thresholds, whether in quantum physics, theoretical cosmology or speculative neuroscience, for example, scientists must often reason backwards, analogically, from effects and properties as would seem to be proper to no known causes or entities

Such reasoning employs the weakest form of inference, abduction or retro-duction, in conjunction with the strongest, deduction. 

The dyadic cycling of abductive-deductive inference remains a necessary aspect of all human inquiry, but, without inductive testing and falsification, it remains, for some purposes, insufficient, sometimes unavoidably so. 

Such an insufficiency, alone, may or may not render our hypothetico-deductive frameworks inactionable, for sometimes, our reasoning with uncertainty is axiologically forced on us by vital existential (especially ultimate) concerns.

In such cases, we must appraise such alternate interpretations of the facts of existence and aspire to base our existential leaps on options that remain truly live in light of various criteria for epistemic virtue, epistemic warrant and normative justification. 

This all applies to the analogical-abductive and hypothetico-deductive reasoning (sans inductive) of our quotidian existence, of the natural sciences, of metaphysics and of theology.

We thus sometimes resolve questions of epistemic disparity by properly recognizing epistemic parity!

As Karl Popper so aptly observed:

“We may see from this that Wittgenstein’s criterion of meaningfulness coincides with the inductivists’ criterion of demarcation, provided we replace their words ‘scientific’ or ‘legitimate’ by ‘meaningful’. And it is precisely over the problem of induction that this attempt to solve the problem of demarcation comes to grief: positivists, in their anxiety to annihilate metaphysics, annihilate natural science along with it. For scientific laws, too, cannot be logically reduced to elementary statements of experience. If consistently applied, Wittgenstein’s criterion of meaningfulness rejects as meaningless those natural laws the search for which, as Einstein says, is ‘the supreme task of the physicist’: they can never be accepted as genuine or legitimate statements.”

In the life of faith, then, which, most people of large intelligence and profound goodwill agree, can be sufficiently warranted, epistemically, and eminently justified, normatively …

it’s not enough vis a vis its normative actionability for a given option to be both vital, existentially, and forced, axiologically (a value will be decisively frustrated or realized) …

an option must be truly live, exceeding fideism’s low bar of epistemic warrant, while not banging one’s head on the high bar of the rationalistic and/or empiricistic positivists, who, in their anxiety to extinguish the light of faith, would destroy — not only the beacons of the natural sciences, but — the brilliant luminosity of good, old-fashioned common sense!


Misconstruals of Classical Theism’s Analogia are often located on the anthropological side

​Many misinterpretations of classical theism, and its analogia, are not so much grounded in misunderstandings regarding the revealed divine nature, which as primarily love seems straightforward enough, but in impoverished conceptions of nature, in general, human nature, in particular.

If we don’t begin with a good anthropology of humanity and good phenomenology of nature …our analogical predications between our existential orientations (such as via an aesthetical primacy) and the transcendental imperatives — both suggested in nature, metaphysically, and specially revealed in the divine attributes, theologically (such as via an aesthetic teleology) — will be impoverished.

A theonoetic of divine omniscience gets misinterpreted due to misunderstandings of the nature of the future (open?), metaphysically, the nature of the human will (in/determined?), anthropologically, and the nature of freedom (libertarian & absolute?), itself, phenomenologically.

A theopathic account of divine omnipathy gets misinterpreted due to misunderstandings of the nature of passibility, substantially and accidentally rather than relationally, such as vis a vis the esse naturale or esse intentionale, whether divine or human, such as between natural formal distinctions and divine trans-formal distinctions.

And so on and so forth, re the theoethics, theo-perichoretics and theopoietics of omnibenevolence, omnipresence and omnipotence.

Below is just An Inventory of Questions.

It’s not an essay, just a punch-list of categories to help identify distinctions that can make a difference anthropologically, phenomenologically and theologically.

are metaphysics moonshine?

trying to thread the needle between an epistemic humility or hubris, epistemic virtue or vice, between apophatic and kataphatic, affective and speculative, or encratism, quietism, fideism, pietism, rationalism, evidentialism, as well as univocal, equivocal and analogical predications

but, before these are epistemological issues, theologically, we encounter them metaphysically, not just vis a vis divine causal joints but vis a vis emergent layers of complexity and their respective teloi or creation’s causal joints, hence, e.g. trans-formal distinction

so, metaphysical agnosticism and theological skepticism go hand in hand
re epistemic warrant, normative justifications, evidentiary standards and burdens of proof, all which must attend to the given subject matter at hand in an apposite way

are evidential, plausibilist arguments im/possible and/or un/necessary vis a vis various interpretations, whether quantum or theo-logical?

if im/possible and/or un/necessary in metaphysics, how so, then, theologically?

the weaker our arguments (via suitable epistemic humility and warrant) the less necessary any evidential, plausibilist argumentation, e.g. peirce’s humble argument or reformed epistemology’s proper basicality and the stronger our metaphysical agnosticism and/or theological skepticism, the less possible any evidential, plausibilist argumentation

the stronger our argumentation (via an unsuitable epistemic hubris and imagined epistemic warrant) and the stronger our metaphysical rationalism, the more necessary our evidential argumentation?

any perceived need for a plausibilist evidential argumentation is proportional to and commensurate with the perceived degree of epistemic warrant (scholastic notations?) for any given argument (abductively and deductively, possibly inductively)

epistemic parity metaphysically extends theologically and both thus require equiprobabilist principles and evidentiary standards applied to normative justifications

cumulative case of abductive-deductive musings like Peirce’s neglected argument contrasted with the virtually impossible evidential theodicies, which are, in many ways, like irreducible complexity arguments

the reasonableness of faith’s leap, an existential disjunction, avoids fideism via epistemic parity (equiprobability principle and normative justification), avoids rationalism via epistemic humility (e.g. metaphysical agnosticism and theological skepticism), avoids quietism via analogical predication and epistemic warrant, avoids encratism via analogical predication and liturgical cultivation

philosophical theology

reality of God, established via equiprobable epistemic warrant and defensible normative justifications

existential disjunctions at equiplausibility junctions w/axiologically forced, existentially vital and equiprobably live options

logical, abductive-deductive argument akin to argument, not argumentation, for reality, not being, of god

evidential theodicy, plausibilistic argumentation as im/possible and/or un/necessary?

type of creatio, whether ex nihilo, profundis, tohu bohu?

mereological relationships vis a vis fallacy of composition, mereological reality as mute, brute or fruit?

Divine Attributes

attributes of God, variously established


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

analogy of anthropo-noetic vs theo-noetic?

misunderstandings, phenomenologically re nature of future and anthropologically re nature of human will?

open vs foreknown, but bad phenomenology re nature of future, 3ns, even 4ns?

compatabilist or incompatabilist? but bad anthropology re libertarian free will which involves epistemic distancing of personal agency via formative dynamics, freedom as authenticity?


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

analogy of anthropo-pathic vs theo-pathic?

misunderstandings of the nature of passibility, substantially and accidentally rather than relationally?


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

misunderstandings re nature of evil, hence of goodness, privatio boni

e.g.  moral vs ontic privation, suffering vs pain, intrinsic vs ontic, proportionalist vs consequentialist vs deontological?unavoidable double effect, essential instrumental vs unavoidable 

instrumental vis a vis human moral calculus, anthropologically?

and God’s relationship to evil, moral and natural?

analogy of anthropo-ethical vs theo-ethical realities?


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

and per

panen- via classical or process, which must be phenomenologically triadic/pentadic and theologically penta/trini/tarian?

misunderstandings re communal and social-relational realities?

analogy of anthropo-perichoretical vs theo-perichoretical realities?

misunderstandings regarding essential, modal, conceptual and formal distinctions as well as univocal, equivocal and analogical predications


via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

analogy of anthropo-poietical vs theo-poietical realities?

misunderstandings re nature of evil, e.g. moral vs ontic privation, suffering vs pain, intrinsic vs ontic, proportionalist vs consequentialist vs deontological, unavoidable double effect, essential instrumental vs unavoidable instrumental vis a vis human moral calculus, anthropologically?

and God’s relationship to evil, moral and natural?

omnipotence compatible or incompatible with evil? 

if incompatible, no genuine evil
evil genuine or illusory?

consequentialist or nonconsequentialist? 

essential vs unavoidable?

irredeemable vs instrumental?

and in/defensibility of presuppositions re nature of divine constraints (essential, metaphysical and/or kenotic) vis a vis sovereignty?

and in/defensibility of logical arguments vis a vis the integrity of our god-conceptions (christopher mchugh) vis a vis compossibilities?

  • omnipathic defense
  • free will defense
  • tehomic defense
  • greater good defense
  • soul making defense

and in/defensibility of evidentialist argumentation?

arguments, logically, not argumentation, plausibly, evidentially?


epistemic distance and theosis are necessary and sufficient, so, suffering and evil are not necessary or essential, just unavoidable

epistemic dx as formative & exculpable vs moral & sinful?

ontic privations (absence of pleasure and/or presence of pain w/o suffering

suffering & moral evil not in divine economy, none necessary or essential, not raw materials, some unavoidable waste products? recyclable vs irredeemable?

consequentialist  or essential & nonconsequentialist or unavoidable? 
some instrumental and/or recyclable vs irredeemable? 

some essential or unavoidable, pain and ontic privation of epistemic dx?

epistemic distance via ontic privation w/o essential or necessary suffering or moral evil (nonconsequentialist) using epistemic dx and theosis as necessary means, but some suffering or evil instrumentally transformative, recyclable, some irredeemable, perishable

plus apokatastasis and constellation of eternalized human goodness: all wholesome trivialities, every beginning of a smile, an eternal constellation of luminaries of various intensities and diverse multiplicities

key concepts:

  • essential constraints
  • metaphysical constraints
  • kenotic constraints
  • cumulative case 
  • forced, vital, live options
  • pragmatic – but not vulgar
  • equiplausibility
  • epistemic warrant
  • existential disjunction
  • normative justification
  • too weakly probabilistic
  • mere competing plausibilities
  • too bayesian, no consensus re priors
  • logical defense vs evidential plausibilities or theodicies
  • naturalist moral realism
  • minimalist aesthetic teleology
  • aesthetic Teleology
  • pentametric holonic
  • metaphysical agnosticism
  • theological skepticism
  • pneumatological imagination
  • panSEMIOentheism
  • anti-theodicial
  • pluralistic theologoumena
  • polydoxic 
  • diverse sophiological trajectories
  • essential soteriological trajectory
  • human authenticity
  • lonergan’s conversions

God neither needs nor wills sin. Epistemic Distance requires ontic privations, not deontic depredations.

​Logically, it seems possible to me that soul-making and the greatest good are divinely willed ends. The necessary and sufficient means of those ends would include epistemic distance and theosis. If so, then, actual moral evil or sin would not be necessary in the divine economy.

While an adequately determined personal, intentional agency, itself, would be a necessary condition (ontologically) for any moral evil, alone, it would remain insufficient requiring, perhaps, what might, analogically, be called a co-creative ex nihilo, whereby an indirectly intended (unavoidable) divine ontic privation gets perverted into a directly intended ontic privation via a creaturely fiat of deontic depredation.

In no way, then, would God be implicated in moral evil. Moral evil would never be necessary and never divinely “intended” (teleologically).

Any epistemic distance would be traversed synergistically

I suppose we could analogically borrow medical terms for a typology of synergeia and then explore how the divine will might be disposed toward each variety. For example, any synergistic progress might variously mark advances or retreats to the extent a moral agent would be 

  • able and willing to cooperate via synergistic dynamics
  • not fully able to cooperate due to varying degrees of a-synergistic dynamics, which would quite naturally attend to different formative stages, early vs later
  • unable to cooperate due to the dys-synergistic dynamics of deformative influences
  • unwilling to cooperate due to the anti-synergistic dynamics of sinful refusals to cooperate

While formative a-synergies and deformative dys-synergies might very well necessarily (respectively, essentially and unavoidably) inhere in any divinely willed epistemic distancing, they would only involve – not moral evils, but – ontic privations (perhaps a presence of pain and/or absence of pleasure, neither causing suffering).  Such privations, as means, are justifiable by proportionate reasoning, only because they are required for the directly intended highest good, which is their end. Taken alone, then, such unavoidable ontic privations, when employed instrumentally as means, would not in or of themselves invite a moral calculus. Only when otherwise directly intended as ends would ontic privations ever entail moral culpability.

What about the anti-synergistic dynamics of sinful refusals?

The divine will neither directly wills them as an end nor indirectly wills them as a necessary means in the divine economy of a theotic epistemic distancing. 

Neither a necessary raw material, such as the ontic privations attendant to epistemic distancing, 

nor an indispensable process, such as the stages of theosis, 

nor an end-product, such as the highest good of our aesthetic, beatific realizations …

our anti-synergistic sinful refusals to cooperate with grace are unequivocally an unnecessary waste-product!

As unintended and unnecessary waste-products, God only ever tolerates the effects of sin, however likely or unlikely its occurrence, providentially knowing that He can most sovereignly recycle them. 

As for sinful agents, themselves, they too can be recycled in a supremely efficacious manner …

both apokatastatically …

as well as via Her divine economy — eschatologically, soteriologically, sacramentally, ecclesiologically and sophiologically — where neither sin nor evil, in and of themselves, have any currency.

Soul-making & the Greatest Good as divinely willed ends in an Anti-theodicy – 

From Fr Al’s blog:

Fr Al explained: McCann even goes so far as to suggest that God purposefully created a world in which free human beings must sin, as only those who have alienated themselves from the divine presence can appreciate the good of communion and thus make an informed decision to live with God. <<<<<
and also shared McCann’s words: In short, it is only from a stance of sinfulness that we are able to settle our destinies in an informed, responsible, and morally authentic way.  <<<<<

While, arguably, evil and suffering can be employed instrumentally, McCann apparently considers them essential raw materials rather than unavoidable, but recyclable, waste products. Of course, some nonconsequentialists would consider evil irredeemable, not recyclable.

Even if one stipulates to the consistency and plausibility of consequentialist theodicies, I suppose one could broadly or narrowly conceive epistemic distancing. One might consider both natural and moral evil essential. More narrowly, one might consider natural evil as not only necessary but sufficient? In other words, mere human finitude and formative dynamics would suffice. Humans could learn enough from the consequences of exculpable mistakes without needing to suffer the consequences of sin?

I am not interested in the above nuances toward the end of evaluating their competing plausibilities, not being sympathetic to such projects, in general, but I do wonder about their varying degrees of heterodoxy. I’m also interested in how they relate to the various logical defenses.


Regarding determinism and free will, both McCann and McCabe seem to be theological but not natural compatabilists/determinists. Both seem to invoke a non-causal view of theological determinism (grounded in the analogical predication of causal concepts between Creator and creatures, hence no threat to human freedom). 

McCann employs a non-causal (teleological) conception of human intentionality. 

McCabe suggests that God brings about creaturely causes, allowing them to cause one another, intermediately. Human freedom is, however, not mediated but directly caused by God. 

McCann, McCabe and Tanner suggest that free human choices are created by God, very intimately so. God’s omniscience and omnipresence seem to be transcendent in the sense that He’s radically, almost inconceivably, intimate with us as persons.

Both McCann and McCabe reject a free will defense.

McCann goes on to further suggest a consequentialist, soul-making theodicy, wherein evil is essential in the divine economy. In other places, McCann has drawn a distinction between direct and indirect divine intentions, so, it’s unclear why he wouldn’t embrace a “double effect” theodicy, wherein evil would be unavoidable. McCann hews close to Aquinas and Augustine regarding the creaturely will, so, perhaps a consequentialist stance isn’t wholly problematic if he, similarly, views evil per the Augustinian privatio boni (nothing of ontological substance). Still, I don’t understand why a “privatio as epistemic distance” would “necessarily” require – not just natural, but – moral evil. I suppose that’s what happens when we start arguing plausibilities with an insufficient amount of skepticism or sufficient epistemic humility.

McCabe, for his part, was much more modest, remaining more mindful of analogical predications and, as a result, staying in a theodicy-free zone. He does suggest that, insofar as they are “good,” God directly creates our free acts. Wrong acts are our perversions, creaturely negations, which God, incomprehensibly, permits. 

McCann certainly did not subscribe to the theological determinism of Jonathan Edwards. Arguably, his also must be distinguished from the soft determinism of many compatabilists, especially those who speak too univocally regarding divine causes (or even of natural teloi, for that matter).

For McCann, divine and creaturely (over)determinations were only analogous, and very weakly so, because, while divine determinations confer existence, natural determinations merely alter various existents. 

That’s my succint observation. I continue with my over-answer:

McCann’s God wouldn’t determinatively “alter” free human intentionality in a manner mediated via event-causal natural processes. Instead, God’s creative activity would “produce” the very content of any free decision or intention. Such a creative activity would be no mere nomicity among nomicities but the primal ground of all nomicity, itself.

For other compatabilists, a creaturely act, subveniently, could remain non-nomic and undetermined, while superveniently, hetero-nomic (externally caused) and overdetermined. For example, this could entail a free will, whereby a person’s own intentions, alone, would be sufficient to provide the cause and explanation for their any given act. At the same time, via some causal redundancy (whether God, The Matrix or various neural states), there could be other causes that would also sufficiently explain the very same act. So, we would have two or more independent causes, each which could bring about the same effect in the absence of the other. This would seem to be consistent with some forms of soft determinism or compatabilism, whether secular or theological? 

Of course, Jonathan Edwards’ determinism would not invoke overdetermination as God’s will would be the exclusive cause of any act.

Hugh McCann’s account allowed for some creaturely acts to be indirectly and intermediately (subveniently) caused by God but not overdetermined (secondary causality & permissive will?), while others could be directly and immediately (superveniently) caused by God, in some sense overdetermined. Presumably, the latter would include “free” human acts. However, McCann’s overdetermination would not in any way be physical, mereological or quantitative, in other words, an act among acts, but, instead, would be existential, conferring their very reality. In other words, he employs no notion of independent competing causes as they’d apply to free human acts, only a broader conception of causation, which refers to both its teleological and existential aspects, both which remain as ineluctably unobtrusive as they are utterly efficacious. I say “refers” and not “describes” mindful that none of us are proffering an explanatory account of causal joints, whether divine or in certain parts of nature, herself.

Interestingly, it would thus seem that, for McCann, a secular indeterminism would not, necessarily, entail a theological indeterminism, as they are only related analogously. In my view, though, affirming a secular indeterminism, as I do, does makes it easier for me to consistently conceive a theological indeterminism (precisely via analogy), even though further argument would be required to establish same.

I would like to add that, while not an explanation of synergeia, McCann, McCabe and others’ approach to double agency, are spiritually evocative for me. They seem consistent with the notion that —

when I am authentically free, traversing various epistemic distances via Marian-like fiats, I am loving with the very Love of God …

there was only ever one Ascension, while there will be many, many Assumptions …

whatever is good, beautiful, true, unitive, authentically free comes from the Author and Finisher.

RE: Hugh McCann’s account allowed for some creaturely acts to be indirectly and intermediately (subveniently) caused by God but not overdetermined (secondary causality & permissive will?), while others could be directly and immediately (superveniently) caused by God, in some sense overdetermined. <<<<

I might could abide with something like this by including one’s free acts and intentions (and some circumstances) in the direct divine will but one’s motives (and other circumstances) in the indirect divine will.


Noncontradiction (PNC) and excluded middle (PEM) must be judiciously invoked.

There’s more than mere propositional logic involved when we reason, under uncertainty, backwards from observed effects & properties to putative causes & entities. We must also employ modal logic, which provides conceptual placeholders for temporality (past, present, future tenses), formal distinctions, epistemic in/determinables, metaphysical in/determinedness (possibilities & probabilities) and for both over- and under-determinacy. 

For modal possibilities and overdeterminacy, PNC folds while PEM holds; for probabilities and underdeterminacy, PNC holds while PEM folds. 

When we encounter an explanatory or epistemic overdetermination of causes, we may investigate further for a putative and genuine ontological overdetermination. It’s not always uncontroversial but many find it extremely plausible. I believe we observe it ubiquitously in our creaturely realm. Analogically, it could reasonably extend to divine causation.

In the same way that human telos, a non-nomic intentionality, transcends and effects downward causations on other creatures, so might we reasonably imagine being similarly transcended and efficaciously affected by a Divine Telos (with no traces of physical nomicities).


Per the Damascene: “It is definitely wrong ever to ascribe immoral and unjust actions to God. Indeed, nothing remains but the fact that man himself as acting and doing is the principle of his own works and is free.” And also: “He permits our evil actions, because he wants us to freely love and obey him. He permits others to suffer these evils, in order to exhibit his power to redeem.” <<<<<

In each defense or theodicy there are presuppositions regarding whether or not an evil is 1) genuine or illusory; 2) in/compatible with omnipotence; 3) essential (consequentialist, directly intended) or unavoidable (nonconsequentialist, indirectly intended); 4) instrumentally apt or irredeemable; 5) non/moral?

It appears that St John employs a nonconsequentialist theodicy, wherein genuine but unavoidable evils, both moral and natural, are compatible with an omnipotent Creator with the power to redeem?

Based on his overall thrust, it seems that he might have better said that “God permits others to suffer these evils but exhibits his power to redeem.” Saying “in order to exhibit” sounds too consequentialist, contradictory of his general stance. In other words, for St John, while evil would not be essential to the divine economy, instrumentally, it can be redeemed therein? 

To paraphrase Dr Bouteneff’s words, our contrary acts are ‘willed’ nonetheless, in the full knowledge that they MAY become the very means of return and growth God-ward, which is not to say that they MUST become the means, as God, for example, could have otherwise ordained, antecedently, epistemic distancing (ontic privations) with theosis as the sufficient soteriological means toward His eschatological ends that all be saved and attain to His Kingdom. This is to suggest that the redemption of our sinful acts and selves remains sufficient but certainly wouldn’t be necessary if we humbly availed ourselves of sophiological, theotic processes.

Fr Al puts forth a question for St John: “Once the free actions of rational beings are exempted from God’s providential working, does not the notion of providence lose its theological traction?”

Here we might use Hugh McCann as a foil, dedicated as he is to a very robust divine sovereignty? 

What if, with McCann, we take free human intentions and acts to be directly and immediately created by the antecedent divine will, but any human “motives” (variously free per formative, deformative and transformative dynamics) as willed permissively by God’s secondary, consequent will?

Human intentions and actions would be provided, providentially, but nonmorally or pre-morally, while our motives would be caused, solely, by ourselves, who would determine their moral character, which would be known to God via His consequent will and defined by God per His antecedent will.

Any good (moral), loving (including supererogatory) motives would entail synergistic participations in divine activities and energies. 

Any exculpable a-synergies (failures to participate due to our early stages of formation) and dys-synergies (failures to participate due to deformative influences) would result from our theotically necessary epistemic distancing, while culpable anti-synergies would be due to our sinful refusals to participate. (I’ve borrowed the asynergetic-dyssynergetic distinctions as analogies from medical terminology, not that I’m not occasionally guilty of idiosyncratic neologisms).

As a follow, since certain questions would beg, I only mean to explore a possible logical consistency to McCann’s robust sovereignty and not to argue, necessarily, for its evidential plausibility (as I’m anti-theodicy). In the vein of plausibility, though, following the injunctive not to judge, might we not reasonably hope that most human behavior is either laudably synergistic or exculpably asynergistic or dyssynergistic rather than antisynergistic? Might this hope, when coupled with at least a slightly more robust notion of divine sovereignty, a tad more narrower – yet meaningfully essential – conception of human freedom, not further bolster, also, our hope in a universalist eschatology? I refer to a practical not speculative universalism.

As to the distinction between moral and pre-moral or ontic evil, I only affirm virtually (not absolutely) intrinsic evils as I view the concept of intrinsic evil as a cluster concept, which imports evaluative and normative aspects into descriptive accounts.


God’s goodness, in this account, refers to a lack of improvability but not to a moral agent with obligations to create goodness, in the first place, much less a certain degree thereof. Once one stipulates to that metaphysical presupposition, which some bolster exegetically thru Scripture, it renders any so-called “problem of evil” the result of a god-talk category error. Furthermore, if evil refers to a kind of lack, it has no Source. 

Essentially, God is being defended — not on the grounds of being somehow ex/culpable after having been caught in this or that act, but, instead — via a claim of mistaken identity.

Davies frames divine and creaturely causality in much the same way as others who’ve rejected the free will defense and who claim that any charge of theological determinism is a category error grounded in the univocal predication of divine and creaturely causes. Unlike McCann, who proffers a theodicy, Davies proceeds more like McCabe, who retreats into theological skepticism.

What has puzzled me about McCann’s theodicy is this: Why did he bother?

Since he stipulates to divine impeccability, by denying a divine moral agency and by affirming an analogical predication between creaturely and divine causations, avoiding the same category errors as Davies, McCabe et al, what exactly is he doing in explicating a divine economy of soul making?

In McCann’s defense, he seems to take seriously the questions so many have raised, not wanting to burn all epistemic bridges with them regarding the problem of evil, even if, at bottom, to be logically consistent and internally coherent, he’d have to consider it a pseudo-problem metaphysically. 

What McCann does, then, essentially amounts to only a logical defense …

which aspires only to show how a divine economy of soul making would be consistent with his Thomistic God-conception. 

In the end, however, when pressed evidentially on the plausibility of gratuitous evil …

he’s deeply sympathetic to theological skepticism and … 

existentially and theologically prescribes Job’s response and that the sinner abandon any pretense to question the divine will. 

In other words, his theodicy is thin, perhaps moreso a logical defense, while his theological skepticism is thick-enough?

Alas, I feel I might often be guilty of eisegesis in trying to interpret another’s approach in a manner more consonant with my own. There’s no getting around the notion, in my view, that McCann was telling an untellable story by arguing that “some” evils, even sin, are essential in the divine economy. Happily, he desisted from explicating “all” evil. I’ve even wondered if he at least restricted “necessary sin” to the venial variety and just how heterodox his stance might be or not, especially since so many celebrate felix culpas over against the Scotist view that the Incarnation was in the divine deck of cards from the cosmic get-go.

Some theodicy attempts I find especially off-putting, approaching blasphemy in their arrogance regarding God’s ways and means, cruelly risking a callousness towards – and a trivialization of – the enormity of human pain and immensity of human suffering.



Soul-making & the Greatest Good as divinely willed ends in an Anti-theodicy

As I have grappled with the problem of evil, I have been rationally satisfied by different logical accounts of the divine economy, all which seem, more or less, consistent with special revelation, some seeming not to be necessarily mutually exclusive from others, none seeming to necessarily be the case.

I view soul-making and the greatest good as divinely willed “ends” for which neither evil nor suffering are divinely willed “means,” which, instead, include, for example, epistemic distance and theosis. 

Epistemic distance necessarily introduces finitude and contingency, which, while they can constitute failures to cooperate with grace, merely result from “inabilities.” While moral evil can also constitute such failures, those result, instead, from “refusals” to thus cooperate, in a word, sin

An anti-theodicy can logically affirm both divinely willed soul-making and the greatest good as “ends,” while denying evil and suffering as necessary “means” in the divine economy? God would never intend evil or suffering but whenever confronted with same could work — not with, but — providentially against and around them and seemingly, perhaps, could even opportunistically exploit every new set of circumstances to bring about the greatest good (Romans 8).

Now, in this scenario,  anthropological questions would beg for me about why we wouldn’t necessarily suffer from mistakes, only from sin (but, oh what a better world it would be!) Still, I’d rather remain theologically skeptical, on one hand, about how epistemic distance and theosis, alone, might have (even if somewhat implausibly so) operated in a possible world without evil and sin than, on the other hand, skeptical regarding God’s lack of moral intelligibility vis a vis what might exculpate Her from employing sin and suffering as necessary means (often seemingly repugnantly so).

Did Hugh McCann offer a soul-making, greater good evidential theodicy, arguing — not only “that,” logically, but — “how,” plausibly, sin and evil were “necessary” divine means?

Or did he otherwise recognize that, logically, the realities of sin and evil, even if probable, were definitely not necessary, and could successfully be worked around without overwhelming the divine economy with its eschatological, soteriological, sacramental, ecclesiological or sophiological ends? 

As for the uninstantiated “possibilities” for moral evil, as logically entailed by freedom, they would have no ontological status. Arguably, too, sinful choices would result in axiological privations, evil, itself, having no ontological status?

Also, God, in McCann’s acount, appeared to be ontologically authoring, pre-morally, only an indispensable ontic evil (via epistemic distance as finitude not sin), which a proportionate reason would underwrite with the currency of a greater good, but otherwise remained teleologically uninvolved with any intentional agency, who, alone, would have directly intended such an evil, hence, alone, committing a morally culpable act.

Perhaps this is all more consistent with Scotus, who believed that the Incarnation was in the divine will from the cosmic get-go and not occasioned by some felix culpa.

God neither needs nor wills sin. Epistemic Distance requires ontic privations, not deontic depredations. 

The “Trans-Formal Distinction” between the Divine Essence & Energies

Let’s first consider some ​Analogies of Phenomenological Distinctions:

essential or real:

  • creature: nonstrict, contingent esse naturale
  • Creator: strict, self-subsisting esse naturale

modal temporality:

  • creature: asymmetric
  • Creator: atemporal

modal adequacy:

  • creature: finite
  • Creator: infinite

modal ontology:

  • creature: possibilities, actualities & probabilities (in/determinacies)
  • Creator: ens necessarium

modal epistemology:

  • creature: reality variously in/determinable, epistemically distanced
  • Creator: reality absolutely determinable, omniscient

formal or real metaphysical:

  • creature: mutability presents from each genus/species/haecceity, which remains variously constrained by end-stated (mortal), end-purposed (adequately determined) & end-intended (intentional agency) teloi due to the boltzman, shannon & darwin entropies of an aesthetic teleology, which is variously realized (adequate freedom)
  • Creator: with an immutabile aesthetic intensity (absolute freedom) indwells creation via a passible esse intentionale, which, per the sovereign divine will (consistent with – logically conceivable but evidentially indeterminable – essential, metaphysical and/or kenotic constraints) amplifies aesthetic diversity via divine energies, which manifest in the glorious multiplicity of creaturely participations

    Speculative Take-aways:

    Creaturely formal distinctions, noninherent but inseparable for each entity, refer to the nature of each entity’s journey toward its maximum aesthetic realization. Each journey might, more or less, be distinguished by its degree of substantial contingency (mutability), temporality, modal adequacy (finitude), in/determinedness (teleonomicity), epistemic distancing and volitional freedom (aesthetic teleological realization).

    The formal distinctions made between divine attributes refer to no substantial or modal realities of the divine esse naturale (there simply are none), which remains immutable, atemporal, infinite, sovereign, omniscient and absolutely free in the unsurpassable aesthetic interrelationality of the divine essence and hypostases of the Ens Necessarium, Simplicity, itself. They refer, rather, to the otherwise noninherent but inseparable relational passibilities of the divine esse intentionale and to the ineluctably unobtrusive yet utterly efficacious responses that are freely gifted by the divine energies to creatures. These divine activities are then manifested in the effects that ensue from creaturely participations in this sacramental economy, in which evil and suffering enjoy no currency whatsoever, the donative nature of which remains profoundly incarnational (cf. Scotus) and profusely pneumatological (sans filioque).

    Our distinctions, whether essential, formal or modal (Scotists), whether physically real, metaphysically real, virtual or logical (Thomists), cannot be univocally applied to both Creator and creatures due to the transcendent nature of divine realities. In the same way that it would be a category error to presuppose epistemological and/or ontological reduction between the different layers of complexity of cosmic realities, which require the analogical — not univocal — predication of the various emergent teloi, similarly, transcendent divine causalities simply (pun intended) will not reduce to epistemic or ontic categories of their subvenient cosmos. Our causal analogies, divine vs cosmic, remain vague, hopefully successful, references but in no way can be presupposed as successful descriptions. 

    Our vague phenomenology remains an exploratory heuristic, out of which a plurality of legitimate theologoumena might flourish, not a robustly explanatory metaphysic, logically coercing or axiologically compelling one valid opinion over another. Once we properly disambiguate the various distinctions analogically predicated of Creator and creatures, then, whatever it is that suitably distinguishes between the divine essence and energies, it cannot properly be called Scotus’ formal distinction or even the real or virtual distinction of Aquinas, for those refer to contingent realities with modal properties. 

    Arguably, the distinction between the divine essence and energies is the one most analogous to Scotus’ formal distinction. I like to refer to it, then, as the trans-formal distinction, both to emphasize its analogical character and to evoke the trans-formative Telos that inheres in the energies, coaxing our participation in a perichoretic-like dance with the divine. Likewise, the divine esse intentionale would, analogously, be supremely passible, transcending our conceptions of creaturely passibility.

    Of course, questions are left begging regarding how the Divine Telos causally interacts with our subvenient cosmic teloi. Our abductive inference to the best explanation can only suggest that, while otherwise ineluctably unobtrusive, a supervening (aesthetic) Telos can be, analogously, just as utterly efficacious as that cosmic telos, which is located in human personal intentionality, which, for its part, however tacitly, causally interacts with other layers of complexity. In such interactions between these somewhat dis/continuous ontological layers, while human telic intentionality clearly transcends them, we similarly lack (as with putative divine causal joints) explanatory adequacy for the apparent causal closures, among and between them. While we certainly methodologically presuppose such closures, for all practical purposes, still, we cannot metaphysically describe them to our speculative satisfaction (except, perhaps, for Dan Dennett and Richard Dawkins, who seem rather easy targets for a facile neuromythology).

    Practical Upshots:

    We best emphasize, then, de fide, kerygma and mystagogy, synergeia and theoria, sophiology and theosis, in an orthocommunal, orthopathic and orthopraxic authentication of true glory, ortho-doxically. We best deemphasize any so-called logical coercions of philosophical theology and should positively (pun intended, again) eschew evidential theodicies, otherwise epistemically warranting our leaps of faith abductively (as in Peirce’s Neglected Argument for the Reality of God), while, at the same time, normatively and performatively justifying such existential orientations by their formative and transformative progressions toward the transcendental imperatives 

    • of truth, as preserved in our creeds;
    • of beauty, as celebrated in our devotional and liturgical cult-ivations;
    • of goodness, as preserved in our canons and codes;
    • of unity, as enjoyed in our communities and fellowships; and
    • of freedom, as realized in our trustful abandonment to providence, faithful surrender to the divine will and in our ongoing attunement to the siren song of that divine suitor/seductress, neither threatened by Her virtual irresistability nor fearful of His delightful ravishing, precisely because, while we’re merely adequately determined, monergistically, we enjoy a most robust intentionality, synergistically.

      This musing was evoked by:

      Reflecting the Mystery: Analogy Beyond Negation and Affirmation By Robert F. Fortuin

      Analogical Predication is indispensable cosmo-logically & anthropo-logically, especially theo-logically

      Reflecting the Mystery: Analogy Beyond Negation and Affirmation
      via Fr Aidan Kimel
      By Robert F. Fortuin

      My reflections evoked by the above:

      ​I’ve been musing over the wisdom of this presentation all week, trying to formulate a succinct response that doesn’t sacrifice either clarity or brevity. I have been relishing this blog trying to learn its idiom that I may make more apposite responses as my lifelong interest has been biology and not speculative theology (only formative and contemplative spirituality, practically considered).

      Here’s the source of my delight in this presentation. Due to my own analogogical imagination, I extrapolated Robert’s insights to cosmology, in general, anthropology, in particular. I could take his essay, in other words, and perform a simple syntactical “find and replace” that substituted the words “anthropology” or “cosmology” in place of theology and his conclusions would equally hold in those speculative disciplines.

      More concretely, up and down the great chain of being, in their cosmo-talk and anthropo-talk, certain scientists and philosophers, especially of that cabal whom the late Don Gelpi, SJ would refer to as Enlightenment fundamentalists, have rather univocally employed concepts like entropy, cause, agency, even telos, so to speak, leveling the ontological playing field, giving only a wink to complexity and — not just a nod, but — a full bow to naturalism. That wink, of course, comes in the form of epistemic openness (nonreductively) and the bow reverences ontological closure (reductively). They end up “proving too much” precisely because, in nature, beyond our vague conceptions of entropy, cause, agent and telos, we must recognize that there are entropies, causes, agencies and teloi, each rather rigorously defined, all requiring dutiful disambiguation prior to their employment in facile syllogisms, many which can get sylly to the point of absurdity.

      These reductionistas have properly gathered one take-away, which is that god must not be placed in our metaphysical gaps. At the same time, they have issued epistemic promissory notes denominated in a naturalistic fiat currency, which cashes out no value, metaphysically, only methodologically.

      I am hard pressed to give examples, such as from philosophies of mind and cosmogonies to better illustrate my intuitions without running into those walls of clarity and brevity and my idiomatic barriers. Most succinctly, though, as God will arrive when the half-gods depart, theologically, so too the Cosmos and the Anthropos will arrive when the half-natures and half-humans depart from our cosmological and anthropological conceptions, the therapy for which includes suitable analogical predications.

      Stephen Hawking expressed some liberation from his realization that there were Godel-like implications for any Theory of Everything, that one could choose between the consistency of one’s axioms or the completeness of one’s system. I listened to Hawking’s speech when it was first made public, marveling only at the fact that he was only of late realizing what the Jesuit Stanley Jaki had taught us decades prior, that when wagering between being either inconsistent or incomplete vis a vis any TOE, the good money’s always been on incompleteness. If that’s true regarding the cosmos, then how much more true that must be for the mysterium tremendum et fascinans

      Theological skepticism has never been some ad hoc strategem simply to avoid (properly, I say) theodicies, but has only ever been inherent in any worthwhile theological grammar. In the end, this has enormous import for our practical theology, formative spirituality, life of liturgy, prayer life, theopoietics and theotics, whereby our theological antinomies much less so will ever resolve, philosophically, but much more so will dissolve, existentially, via divine encounters, communions, participations, partakings and … well .. about those Energies?


      I don’t have trouble with logical, deductive accounts (which basically cycle abductive and deductive inferences), whether a logical defense to the problem of evil or an alternate quantum interpretation. Those approaches help establish the reasonableness of — not only our questions, but — the external congruence, logical consistency, internal coherence, hypothetical consonance, interdisciplinary consilience and a host of other epistemic virtues regarding any given account.

      Now, in the normal methodological scheme, such an abductive-deductive inferential cycling can fall into epistemic vice if, at some point, it is not also interrupted by inductive testing, if you will, falsification and empirical investigation.

      So, beyond our establishment of logical possibilities, we pursue evidential plausibilities.

      However, we must be mindful of our subject matter, even in that metaphysics pertaining to the origins of the cosmos, life, sentience and human agency, precisely because of transcendence, minimalistically conceived. These problems remain intractable because we haven’t been able to reconcile emergent nomicities from one level of complexity to the next.

      So, as we encourage a plurality of logical interpretations at various of nature’s causal joints, we resist any rush to closure, especially aspiring to
      avail ourselves of falsifiability and empirical probing. We don’t ever presuppose that we are, in principle, necessarily ontologically occulted, only imagine, instead, that, for now and in this case, we might remain epistemologically thwarted, methodologically.

      Now, to the extent this describes our situation regarding, for example, the origins of life and human symbolic language, ontologically and nomically nearby, so to speak, then, how much more so will this epistemic distance obtain as our thermodynamic equations break down as we approach t=0 near the Big Bang?

      That’s why evidential approaches, such as the attempt to establish irreducible complexity by ID proponents, remain seriously misguided. For one thing, some anthropic principle approaches confuse the math between chance and coincidence. More importantly, though, we simply do not know enough about the cosmos’ initial, boundary and limit conditions to say with any confidence what should or should not be expected. (I generously grant each person their unique bayesian priors but all might properly concede that those are rarely universally held). To boot, irreducible complexity is unfalsifiable.

      So, if a healthy degree of metaphysical agnosticism remains defensible, how much more so theological skepticism?

      The problem is, as Pascal and William James realized, the matter of God remains existentially vital and axiologically forced. So, we evaluate what might be live options. Now, by evaluate, I certainly include logical interpretations of primal reality and logical defenses of the problem of evil. But our final evaluations simply cannot turn on informative necessities, logically, but, instead on the performative significance of our leaps, existentially. So, there’s an evidential aspect that, with no little epistemic virtue, warrants our leaps of faith, and evaluates them in terms of how much value we can cash out of them in terms of what Don Gelpi, SJ (building on Lonergan) would describe as intellectual, affective, moral, social and religious conversions or, in short, human authenticity. 

      Faith, in such an approach, is much less so warranted epistemically vis a vis inductive testing of abductive-deductive “best explanations,” and more so normatively justified. The leap takes place at an existential disjunction as a “living as if” in the face of competing and intractable equiplausibilities, where we wager or choose the most life-giving and relationship-enhancing response (is that a rope or a snake coiled up on the floor of my cave? i shall leave it alone until i can light the fire and see! meanwhile, i’d best jump over it).

      So, while I find evidential theodicies terribly off-putting, some worse than others, more fundamentally, they seem epistemically misconceived. We simply don’t know enough about — not only the cosmos’ initial conditions, but — G*d’s essential nature to say what should or should not be expected vis a vis creatio, metaphysically.

      So, the problem of evil, logically, invites a plurality of defenses, none which must necessarily hold, evidentially remains way epistemically distanced but, existentially, suggests certain normative responses and requires creative pastoral solutions.

      from a separate post re: divine & human activity

      A lot of philosophical analysis to me seems over-invested in the employment of the excluded middle, which ends up in all or nothing & either/or thinking. When Charles Sanders Peirce formulated his modal ontology of firstness (roughly possibilities), secondness (actualities) and thirdness (roughly probabilities), in that category of thirdness vis a vis reality’s regularities, Peirce precisely prescinded from necessity to probability, where, while noncontradiction still holds, excluded middle folds. Whether regarding epistemic in/determinables or ontological in/determinacies, then, different realities are recognized as more vs less determined in varying degrees, on a case by case basis. For example, we might say a given entity is “adequately” determined without at all implicating “absolute” determinism.

      Thus it may be, I’ve always thought, that, when deliberating over monergisms and synergisms, we certainly needn’t treat those dynamics in an absolutist frame. When attributing monergism or synergism to entities, we must ask both 1) regarding what particular attribute (as well as predicated univocally or analogically) and 2) to what extent?

      McCann’s coreligionists would never countenance an absolute monergism and neither does he. Neither would it object to an adequate monergism while, at the same time, regarding other attributes, emphasizing an indispensable synergistic dynamic, between an Agent, Who’s absolutely sovereign (free), and an agent, who’s free-enough to aesthetically attain the beatitude of divine participations.

      For my part, I’m not threatened by the image of my being divinely ravished, especially by such a courtly Suitor/Seductress, Who so coyly woos but never slav-ishly (double entendre intended) coerces my erotic attentions. I’m just desperately trying to better attune my tone-deaf self to Her overtures (insert your favorite composer du jour).


      As far as any tendency to make divine unknowability the truth value of one’s position, at least regarding the problem of evil, what’s not defensible, in my view, are any ad hoc retreats into theological skepticism. Generally, though, that’s not what I encounter. Disagreements regarding whether or not theodicies are un/necessary or even im/possible are, instead, rooted in one’s religious epistemology, systematically. I get frustrated trying to figure out what implicit, alternate epistemological approaches might be the locus of some impasses. I’m not sure I’ve spoken to your frustration but you did remind me of my own. In my approach, for example, I suppose I could say that a positive theodicy remains unnecessary, largely because it’s virtually impossible.

      Not sure I was thinking exactly the same thing re: such a “meticulous providential control,” but the logical consequences that I was intuiting regarding such a sovereignity seemed to lie in the same direction that I’ve called the Baskin Robbins account of the divine will, which comes in 31 classic flavors, mostly designed to feed theodicial appetites. I can imagine God being exculpable vis a vis sin in a double agency framework, but I can’t tell if McCann has succeeded in meeting such criteria (via some combination of sub- and super- venience). Where the price of such a sovereignity gets uneconomic, for me, comes at the expense of including evil and suffering in one’s divine economy, such as in an Irenaean theodicy. I cannot conceive of a “G”od, Who has anything whatsoever to do with author-ing evil or needing suffering, including annihilationism. The Brothers Karamazov makes more sense to me than metaphysics when it comes to those divine attributes. I’m more frightened by the thought that some atrocities might ever be made morally intelligible than I am of remaining forever befuddled or intractably theologically skeptical.

      contd re: McCann

      As I have grappled with the problem of evil, I have been rationally satisfied by different logical accounts of the divine economy, all which seem, more or less, consistent with special revelation, some seeming not to be necessarily mutually exclusive from others, none seeming to necessarily be the case.

      I view soul-making and the greatest good as divinely willed “ends” for which neither evil nor suffering are divinely willed “means,” which, instead, include, for example, epistemic distance and theosis. 

      Epistemic distance necessarily introduces finitude and contingency, which, while they can constitute failures to cooperate with grace, merely result from “inabilities.” While moral evil can also constitute such failures, those result, instead, from “refusals” to thus cooperate, in a word, sin. 

      An anti-theodicy can logically affirm both divinely willed soul-making and the greatest good as “ends,” while denying evil and suffering as necessary “means” in the divine economy? God would never intend evil or suffering but whenever confronted with same could work — not with, but — providentially against and around them and seemingly, perhaps, could even opportunistically exploit every new set of circumstances to bring about the greatest good (Romans 8).

      Now, in this scenario,  anthropological questions would beg for me about why we wouldn’t necessarily suffer from mistakes, only from sin (but, oh what a better world it would be!) Still, I’d rather remain theologically skeptical, on one hand, about how epistemic distance and theosis, alone, might have (even if somewhat implausibly so) operated in a possible world without evil and sin than, on the other hand, skeptical regarding God’s lack of moral intelligibility vis a vis what might exculpate Her from employing sin and suffering as  necessary means (often seemingly repugnantly so).

      Is McCann offering a soul-making, greater good evidential theodicy, arguing — not only “that,” logically, but — “how,” plausibly, sin and evil were “necessary” divine means?

      Or is he otherwise recognizing that, logically, the realities of sin and evil, even if probable, definitely not necessary, could successfully be worked around without overwhelming the divine economy with its eschatological, soteriological, sacramental, ecclesiological or sophiological ends? 

      As for the uninstantiated “possibilities” for moral evil, as logically entailed by freedom, they would have no ontological status. Arguably, too, sinful choices would result in axiological privations, evil having no ontological status? Also, God, in McCann’s acount, appears to be ontologically authoring, pre-morally, only an indispensable ontic evil (via epistemic distance as finitude not sin), which a proportionate reason would underwrite with the currency of a greater good, but otherwise remains teleologically uninvolved with any intentional agency, who might directly intend such an evil in a morally culpable act.

      Perhaps this is more consistent with Scotus, who believed that the Incarnation was in the divine will from the cosmic get-go and not occasioned by some felix culpa.

      Why Double Agency Works for me – an emergentist defense

      Reflections evoked by Fr. A. Kimel’s:

      The World is a Novel in the Mind of God 

      Fr. Al wrote “God’s activity as creator,” notes McCann, “operates in such a way that my integrity as an agent is exactly what it would have been if the subject of creation had never come up, and we had concluded that, as many libertarians believe, my decisions and actions have no determining cause of any kind, primary or secondary” (Creation, p. 105). 

      The only difference between his construal of human freedom and the typical libertarian construal, McCann tells us, is that his account presents our decisions and actions as grounded in God as primary cause, “whereas on the standard libertarian view their existence is grounded in nothing whatever” (p. 109). <<<<<

      The approach to free will with which I most resonate precisely comes from philosophers and scientists who’ve grappled with a person’s “integrity as agent” apart from the “subject of creation.

      Some frame the issue less in terms of in/determinism, a reality that presents in degrees and better conceived in probabilistic terms like propensities, and more so in terms of reductionism and downward causations (e.g. whole-part constraints as well as formal and final).
      For these theorists, among whom are believers, unbelievers and nonbelievers, the question of free will does not so much turn on the putative reality of neurobiological determinism (although some do speculate regarding quantum indeterminacies) but much more so on the question of neurobiological reductionism (both epistemic and ontological), which, long story short, remains phenomenologically indefensible.

      Of course, I’m talking about those who, primarily informed by modern semiotic science, embrace an emergentist stance. I resonate with that perspective in its most generic sense, which affirms emergent teloi in nature but which doesn’t necessarily invoke further distinctions, such as between weak and strong emergence or supervenience. For example, even a nonreductive physicalism, in my view, proves too much.

      These emergentists would all affirm — not only the teleomatic and teleonomic teloi of, respectively, inanimate (end-stated-ness) and sentient things (end-purposed-ness), but also — the robustly teleodynamic (end-intended-ness) consciousness of sapient persons, who enjoy genuine autopoietic agency or an authentic will or personal intentionality.

      This emergentist stance remains a phenomenological, exploratory heuristic. This is to say that it does not ambition an explanatory metaphysic. It merely takes an inventory of nature’s emergent novelties, among which are different teloi, and affirms the most robustly downward causation observed as human, personal, intentional agency.

      I say intentional agency as distinct from human freedom, which can sometimes more, sometimes less, characterize any given person’s agency. I draw that distinction partly out of sympathy for DB Hart’s conception of freedom and, also, from the perspectives of both human developmental psychology and formative spirituality, whereby true freedom must be grown in a radically social-relational milieu.

      Fr. Al wrote: McCann thus seeks to move philosophical reflection beyond the ever-ellusive causal joint that ostensibly binds divine and human agency. Perhaps we should not even employ the notion of causality—hence his suggestion that we think of the relation between God and creatures as analogous to the relation between intention and content. <<<<<

      The emergentist stance, as an exploratory heuristic, does not explain the novelties that present as the cosmos emerges from the quantum, as life emerges from stardust, as sentience emerges from early life forms, as sapience finally emerges from sentient consciousness. Nature’s causal joints remain ever-elusive.

      Not only are nature’s causal joints for the emergentist ever-elusive, the emergent teloi, themselves, —- from the teleopotent quantum fields (veldo [field]-poietic) to the teleomatic thermodynamics and morphodynamics of physics and chemistry (cosmo-poietic) to the teleonomic life forms (bio-poietic and sentio-poietic) to the teleo-logical (sapio-poietic) person — remain only weakly analogical, as varieties of formal and final causations.

      This is all to suggest that we are asking too much of any given metaphysic, presently, by requesting an explanation of nature’s causal joints. No root metaphor has yet reconciled gravity and quantum mechanics and the latter still admits several interpretations (epistemic and/or ontological). How much more so would we be telling untellable stories to pretend to describe the causal joints between divine and human agency?

      This is to further suggest that our vague understandings of formal and final causations in nature’s emergent teloi require a great deal of analogical — not univocal — predication. There are manifestly qualitative — not just quantitative — differences between the teleonomic sentience, which humans share with other animals, and the teleo-logic sapience, which is unique to Homo symbolicus. It’s no easy task to imaginatively answer the question: What is it like to be a bat? How much more would we be saying way more than we could ever possibly know by facilely imagining: What is it like to be omniscient? How much more careful we must be in our analogical predications between emergent teloi and the primal Telos of a self-subsisting esse?

      All that said, then, absent any neurobiological reductionism, which many scientists and philosophers clearly would deny, if some don’t even see the threat (to human intentional agency and freedom) from a materialist monist determinism, atheologically, then I certainly don’t see one from a divine determinism, theologically.

      Grounding our emergent teloi, in general, a robustly telic human agency, in particular, in God as primary cause, seems a very defensible move, and double agency a very reasonable conception.

      God’s sovereign control over nature’s teloi or regularities would sustain or suspend them per the divine will but never to the extent that the emergent and robust telos of the human will (the apex of nature’s teloi) would be suspended. Theologians might argue whether such a divine constraint would be essential (intrinsic), metaphysical (in/coherent logically) or kenotic, but, given the grounding of any human agency/divine constraint in the Source via creatio continua, who would not characterize it, per any of these scenarios, as sovereignly authored?


      Univocity Unischmocity

      ​Scotus is no more scotistic about being in any metaphysical or ontological sense than Hume was humean regarding the reality of causes. Both were dealing with epistemology

      Scotus was talking semantically, logically, epistemo-logically about the concept. His univocity of being did have ontological implications, that the analogy of being logically presupposes relationality, presupposes successful references, presupposes causal relations, between, for example, God and creatures, even while denying successful descriptions of God, Who remains wholly incomprehensible but eminently intelligible. Thus the analogy of being doesn’t dissolve into total equivocation or utter unintelligibility. Attribution and proportionality never did.

      Scotus was talking about human language. A univocal concept has enough, i.e. sufficient, unity in itself such that to both affirm and deny it of the same thing would be a contradiction. In my view, sufficient unity implies that it’s good enough to do analogical work vis a vis predications but does not imply that it has enough unity to establish ontological identities. This whole notion of sufficient sameness of meaning, itself, implies analogy at work! (although, without specifying the degree of dis/similarities in play from one concept to the next). Self-subsisting existence, for example, differs qualitatively — not just quantitatively — from any contingent existence, as would other attributes infinitely rather than finitely instantiated, which can differ not only formally but vis a vis modal adequacy and/or temporality. Univocity, properly considered, is not an ontotheological proposal. It remains wholly consistent with creaturely participation in divine attributes.


      For his part, Scotus returns to the notion that Aristotelian science is a system of propositions organized into sound deductive syllogisms.  A syllogism–e.g., ‘all A’s are B’s; all B’s are C’s; therefore all A’s are C’s’–can be valid only if the middle term ‘B’ is taken univocally in both premisses.  Otherwise, there is a fallacy of four terms.  Scotus concludes that metaphysics can furnish sound cosmological arguments from finite beings to infinite being, only if there is some concept of being that applies univocally to God and creatures. 

      As Richard Cross points out, this is for Scotus a semantic thesis. As Stephen D. Dumont emphasizes, Scotus’ concept of univocity is very thin, requiring only as much sameness of meaning as it would take to avoid the fallacy of four terms.

      Faith and Philosophy 25 (2):190-196 (2008)


      Upholding a univocity theory of religious language does not entail idolatry, because nothing about univocity entails misidentifying God altogether—which is what idolatry amounts to. Upholders and opponents of univocity can agree on the object to which they are ascribing various attributes, even if they do not agree on the attributes themselves. Neither does the defender of univocity have to maintain that there is anything real really shared by God and creatures. Furthermore, even if much of language is analogous, syllogistic argument—and hence theology’s scientific status, as accepted by the scholastics—requires univocity.


      From Image to Likeness: how teleologic entities (agents) realize teleologic capacities (freedom)

      ​Our finitude, in general, in terms of epistemic openness or distance, in particular, gifts us autopoietic agency. Ontologically, we become choosers, intentional agents, teleological entities, persons via imago Dei. (see wonkish note below)

      Theopoietic synergies and theotic transformations, progressively, gift us freedom, taking us from image to likeness, realizing teleological capacities.

      Epistemic distance makes a person a teleological entity, an agent. Axiological realizations gift a person teleological capacities, free agency — a reality that only ever makes sense in the context of community, and only ever in a community of desires, which behaves cooperatively with reality’s intrinsic aesthetic teleology.

      Formatively, then, right belonging will ordinarily precede right desiring from which right behaving will quite naturally ensue, all leading to a post-experiential reflection from which we articulate right believing. This route, in reverse, is not impossible, in principle, just improbable, in practice (how many have you converted via combox?).

      Our participatory imaginations (akin to what we call hometown knowledge) enjoy a certain formative primacy, then, over our conceptual map-making, as theology ensues in the wake of synergia, theopoiesis, theoria, theosis or unitive strivings and realizations.

      The compatabilist vs libertarian framing of human intentionality suffers from an impoverished anthropology, which

      • conflates mere teleologic agencies with capacities (i.e. freedom), ignoring formative aspects (including de-formative, in-formative, per-formative & trans-formative), 
      • wrongfully privileges the conceptual over the participatory, which gifts most human value-realizations, and
      • ignores the intrinsic aesthetic telos, which operates in our every act of willing.

      Wonkish Note: 

      Semiotically, we thus possess a teleonomic consciousness, which reacts, algorithmically, to nonarbitrary signs — icons and indexes, as well as a robustly teleologic consciousness, which responds, nonalgorithmically, also to arbitrary signs, i.e. symbols, making us, inherently, radically social beings. This is to suggest, also, that a great deal of human behavior remains teleonomic, both from instinct and uncritical learning, and that human freedom gets progressively realized in degrees.

      Speaking of a Community of Desire: