Virtual Colloquium: Craig E. Bacon, “Proportionality, Maximization, and the Highest Good”
February 17, 2017 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Religion and Life  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 0

Welcome again to the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! This week’s paper is “Proportionality, Maximization, and the Highest Good” by Craig E. Bacon. Bacon is a PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina. His dissertation is entitled The Life of Virtue: Moral Progress and Kant’s Idea of the Highest Good, and is scheduled to be defended in May. While the dissertation itself answers a variety of problems in the scholarship on the highest good and works out a coherent account of the role played by the religious postulates, Bacon also maintains research interests in the relationship between happiness and morality in the Early Modern period, and in contemporary Kantian approaches to the intersection of ethics, philosophy of religion, and civil life.

Proportionality, Maximization, and the Highest Good

Craig E. Bacon

In this paper, I argue that the contemporary scholarship on Kant’s highest good has mistakenly framed the discussion in a way that confuses the true content of this idea and obscures the role of the religious postulates of God and immortality. I suggest an alternate framework that begins with Kant’s own thought experiment from the Critique of Practical Reason and the First Preface to Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (and, more subtly, in the Critique of Pure Reason). In this thought experiment, the context for thinking about the highest good centers on a morally committed agent who takes on the viewpoint of an omnipotent world creator. This context establishes the content of the idea of the highest good, and the religious postulates arise in connection to this idea.

Beginning with Andrews Reath’s influential 1988 paper, much of the scholarship on Kant’s idea of the highest good has focused on the assertion that Kant has both a “secular” and a “theological” conception of the highest good, where the theological conception considers the postulates of God and immortality to be essential to the realization of the highest good, but the secular conception either sidesteps the postulates or at least finds Kant’s commitment to them waning. This distinction largely (but not without exception) maps onto another division in the literature between a “maximization” thesis and a “proportionality” thesis. The maximization thesis claims that the highest good consists in the concurrent maximization of happiness and virtue–whatever that maximum might be–whereas the proportionality thesis understands the highest good as a state of affairs in which happiness appropriately matches virtue, i.e., whatever one’s level of virtue, one’s enjoyment of happiness occurs proportionately. Both theses ‘hedge’ on the highest good as ideal, since less-than-complete happiness and/or less-than-complete virtue comprise the ideal. The common assumption is that the religious postulates (and most importantly for this paper, the postulation of God as an author of nature) arise from the proportionality thesis but not from the maximization thesis. The further common assumption is that God’s role is to actively ‘set’ the proportion between happiness and virtue, i.e., that divine agency supersedes human efforts to bring about the highest good.

I argue that (1) these common assumptions are mistaken and (2) that secular/theological and maximization/proportionality dichotomies exist because scholars have taken these mistaken assumptions about the religious postulates and ‘read them back’ into the content of the idea of the highest good. That is, the scholarship has assumed an interpretation of the religious postulates’ role as more or less obvious, and has interpreted the highest good accordingly. To correct this mistake, I argue that we should turn things around: the content of the idea of the highest good must be set first, then we can understand how the religious postulates support the realization of the highest good.

In the Second Critique and in the Religion, Kant introduces his discussions of the highest good with a question: what kind of world can I will? The thought experiment assumes an agent who is already committed to the moral law; as such, this agent would choose a world in which everyone is committed to the moral law and does what they should. But this fidelity to the moral law (‘virtue,’ for the purposes of this paper) is what constitutes worthiness to be happy, since happiness itself is only conditionally good while moral goodness fulfills this condition. Therefore, Kant’s idea of the highest good consists in truly universal happiness proportioned to truly universal virtue. Lesser degrees of happiness or virtue are inconsistent with this ideal.

My argument in this paper is a slice of a dissertation chapter that argues for an understanding of ‘proportionality’ as ‘conditionality’ rather than as a calculable, mathematical apparatus. This chapter also situates Kant’s use of proportionality against the background principle of ‘ought implies can,’ and sets up later chapters on the role of the postulates of God and immortality in relation to the highest good. Most interestingly for my future research, I think my argument here has important implications for Kant’s claim that morality expands into religion through the highest good. Any lesser ideal than what I argue for here does not generate the same (subjective) need for God that results in religion as a way of conceiving of/representing “all our duties” as divine commands.

The complete paper is available here. Comments welcome below.

Virtual Colloquium: H.D.P. Burling, “Anselm, not Alston: The Reference of ‘God’ Revisited.”
January 20, 2017 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God  Tags: , , , , , , ,   Comments: 4

Welcome to the first Virtual Colloquium of the spring term! Today’s paper is “Anselm, not Alston: The Reference of ‘God’ Revisited” by H.D.P. Burling. Hugh Burling is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge (UK) and a Visiting Graduate Fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. He work has been published in Religious Studies. His research concerns religious disagreement, method in theology, and the concept of God.

Anselm, not Alston: The Reference of ‘God’ Revisited.

H.D.P. Burling

We instinctively characterise religious disagreement as disagreement either about what there is, or about what the same thing – God – is like. A common dialectical move made in modern theology, both academic and popular, sits between these two possibilities. Often, we read a theist of one stripe claiming that theists of another stripe don’t worship the same God. They are ‘idolaters’, or, more diplomatically, they just so badly misconceive God that they don’t ‘mean’ the same ‘thing’ by His names. It is not easy to explain what is mistaken about this move when it seems mistaken. My first publication concerned a particular version of it, in which natural theology is attacked as having to do with some other being than the God Christianity concerns. ‘Debunking’ local instances of the manoeuvre is worthwhile, but I wasn’t satisfied, and wanted a more general strategy which might show what is wrong with adopting partisan definitions of ‘God’ in order to avoid deeper engagement with others’ claims about God.

The strategy I adopt in the following article is to regard that manoeuvre as just one of the many features of theistic religious language which is curious – one of the explananda for a semantics for theism. So, we start by asking what we ‘mean’ by ‘God’, and answer that question by attempting to infer the rules of the ‘theology game’ by watching people play it. The conclusion I come to is that ‘God’ implicitly denotes, in Russell’s sense, whichever being is worthy of our worship. This secures co-reference between theists of extremely different stripes, whilst explaining the high-stakes nature of theological disagreement, and why parties to it o not just ‘walk away’ when apparent parity is reached, or one party attempts to squirrel his definition of “God” in favour of his claims about God. If both parties implicitly understand something Anselmian by ‘God’, then when the Christian insists that by ‘God’ he just means the Holy Trinity, the Muslim’s response to this makes sense. Rather than walking away (‘If they’re what you mean by ‘God’, I don’t care what you claim about them’), she will challenge him.

The article itself shows how my crypto-Anselmian understanding of God copes better with other desiderata for a semantics for theism than rival theories in the nascent literature. The view I defend makes it very easy for humans to successfully pick out God with ‘God’ because the basic ethics of worship are something we pick up fast, and, plausibly, most of us are introduced to God-talk in an appropriate context to get stuck in with worshipping the One we intentionally pick out with that Name. Kripkean views according to which ‘God’ is a proper name whose reference is passed down via a causal chain, however, threaten ease of access for speakers because the chain is so messy and fragile. Non-Anselmian descriptivist views struggle because their content is often harder for speakers to have in mind.

I hope the article is persuasive in defending a view about the semantics of ‘God’ which, I think, is the best candidate for being ‘the’ traditional view. (I think that Anselmian descriptivisms, and descriptivisms which appeal to lists of metaphysical divine names, only come apart in practice when our axiologies do not reflect those of the theologians responsible for the lists of divine names.) But I also hope it’s persuasive to theologians who lean towards identifying God in a confessional manner. Otherwise, I think identifying God the way I do can help explain a lot about the commonalities between different behaviours and literatures we call ‘religious’.

Within the scope of the article, I do not have space to go through alternative iterations of the ‘Specified Singleton’ view, other than my preferred option. So I’d be particularly curious to hear about alternatives which strike readers as preferable.

The complete paper is available here

Pantheism and Panentheism Project: Summer Stipend Program (£1000 x 10 awards; non-residential)
January 13, 2017 — 6:09

Author: Yujin Nagasawa  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 2

Please see the project website for details.

The Pantheism and Panentheism Project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, welcomes applications for summer stipends from scholars and writers who wish to spend the summer writing a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal, a reputable magazine (if they wish to write for a popular audience), or an edited collection to be published by a leading academic publisher. We offer £1000 each to 10 applicants in the summer of 2017 and 9 awards of £1000 in the summer of 2018. Co-authors are welcome to apply together but they will be awarded only one joint stipend of £1000. This is a non-residential grant that allows grant recipients to work on their project anywhere they wish.


Application Process:

Applicants are required to submit the following items electronically:

  • A curriculum vitae
  • An project abstract of no more than 200 words
  • A project proposal of 750-1500 words

Please email all of the above as a single PDF document by 15 April 2017 to

The Pantheism and Panentheism Project focuses on the following three main problems. Applicants are required to address at least one of these problems directly or indirectly from a philosophical, historical, theological or scientific perspective. It is not required that applicants defend pantheism or panentheism. Applications from critics of these views are also welcome.

  • The problem of personality: Pantheism and panentheism say that the cosmos is identical with, is constituted by, or is part of God. This appears to suggest that, contrary to the classical theistic view, God is not a person or a personal being. Critics claim that this is problematic because a concept of God that is non-personal does not seem to be adequate for theological discourse. Can pantheists and panentheists respond to this problem by developing a plausible account of personhood that makes the pantheistic or panentheistic God qualify as a person or a personal being?
  • The problem of unity: Classical theists maintain the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, according to which God created the cosmos out of nothing. This doctrine entails that God is ontologically distinct from the cosmos. Classical theists face the following intractable question: How could God, who is understood by classical theists as an incorporeal, timeless, changeless being, create the cosmos, which consists of matter, time and space, out of nothing? Pantheists and panentheists avoid such a question by maintaining that the cosmos is not ontologically distinct from God. Yet it is not very clear how the cosmos, which includes an extremely large number of entities, can be considered a single, unified entity that can be described as divine. Can pantheists and panentheists coherently maintain that the cosmos is a unified whole?
  • The problem of evil: Classical theists face the problem of evil because they maintain that the cosmos, which includes apparently pointless pain and suffering, was created by an all-powerful and all-good God. One of the main virtues of pantheism and panentheism is that they do not face this problem. Since they do not postulate the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God the problem of evil for classical theists cannot be directed at them. However, pantheism and panentheism do face a variation on the same problem: How could the cosmos be identical with or be part of God if it contains apparently gratuitous pain and suffering?


Selection Criteria:

The selection criteria are (i) the quality of the abstract, (ii) relevance to the project topics and (iii) the applicant’s publication track record.


Virtual Colloquium: Luis Oliveira, “Skeptical Theism and the Paradox of Evil”
December 2, 2016 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 7

Today’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “Skeptical Theism and the Paradox of Evil” by Luis Oliveira. Dr. Oliveira recently received his PhD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is now a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. His papers have appeared in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, and Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.

Skeptical Theism and the Paradox of Evil

Luis Oliveira

Let me begin by thanking Kenny Pearce for hosting this Virtual Colloquium and for inviting me to contribute a paper to it. I have enjoyed reading and discussing each of the papers presented so far. I hope my paper will continue the trend of substantive and constructive exchanges in the comments section. Here is a preview, from my introductory section:

According to the evidential problem of evil, our seeing no justifying-reason for many instances of suffering is sufficient evidence for the belief that the traditional (maximally great) God does not exist. According to skeptical theism, however, it is not at all likely that we would see a justifying-reason for instances of suffering, were such a God and such reasons to really exist. Given plausible assumptions about the nature of evidence and undercutting defeat, it has seemed to many that the force of the evidential problem of evil therefore depends on skeptical theism being false. If we cannot expect to see God’s justifying-reasons, were Him and them to truly be there, then our not seeing them can hardly count as evidence against His existence.

In this paper, I argue that there is a way of understanding the evidential problem of evil where it is compatible with skeptical theism. I show that skeptical theism blocks the evidential problem of evil only given certain natural assumptions about how the evidence from evil accrues, I show that these assumptions are not essential to the problem, and I show which alternative assumptions can take its place. I do not, however, go as far as endorsing the evidential problem of evil on the basis of these alternative assumptions. Nonetheless, if I am right about all this, the result is that the stalemate between the many who defend skeptical theism and the many who criticize it can be altogether sidestepped.

Here is how I proceed. I begin, in section 1, by clarifying two essential features of William Rowe’s justly famous original formulation of the evidential problem of evil. Next, in section 2, I articulate what I call its inductive justification, which I argue is widely presupposed by Rowe commentators, according to which Rowe’s argument depends on the accumulation of little bits of evidential support from particular instances of apparently pointless suffering. Then, in section 3, I argue that skeptical theism, properly formulated, resists Rowe’s argument by denying that these particular instances provide even a modicum of support against God. With this dialectic clarified in the background, in section 4, I suggest an alternative justification for Rowe’s original argument. On what I call its collective justification, Rowe’s argument turns on the evidential support provided by the collection of instances of apparently pointless suffering in a way that is compatible with each particular instance failing to provide any support at all. Drawing on the evidential dimension of the preface paradox, I call this result the paradox of evil. I conclude, in section 5, by arguing that skeptical theism, based as it is on a claim about our cognitive limitations, is compatible with the collective justification of Rowe’s argument. Whether Rowe’s argument is sound remains open for debate, though a debate that does not center around skeptical theism anymore.

The full paper is here. Comments welcome below!

Virtual Colloquium: Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne, and Yoaav Isaacs, “Evil and Evidence”
November 18, 2016 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , , , , ,   Comments: 26

It’s Friday again, and time for the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! A brief administrative note: there will be no colloquium next week (November 25) due to the American Thanksgiving holiday. We will return on December 2.

For today’s colloquium, Matthew Benton presents “Evil and Evidence,” a paper he co-authored with John Hawthorne (USC) and Yoaav Isaacs (UNC). Dr. Benton received his PhD from Rutgers in 2012 and subsequently held positions at Oxford and Notre Dame. Currently, he is assistant professor of philosophy at Seattle Pacific University. His papers on epistemology and other topics have appeared in such journals as Analysis, Philosophical Studies, Synthese, and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Additionally, he is co-editor (with John Hawthorne and Dani Rabinowitz) of Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Perspectives in Religious Epistemology, soon to be published by Oxford University Press.

Evil and Evidence

Introductory Comments by Matthew Benton

The problem of evil presents the most prominent argument against the existence of God. Recent probabilistic or evidential versions of the argument, due especially to William Rowe (esp. “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” 1979; cf. also 1984 and 1996), suggest that the existence of evil (or its distribution and magnitude) are evidence against the existence of God. As such, these arguments claim that at least in the abstract, evil makes less likely the existence of God; and perhaps even given all of the other available evidence, it is strong enough evidence to make belief in God problematic.

Skeptical theists contend that these are not good arguments, and many go so far to deny that evil is evidence against the existence of God. To cite just a few prominent examples: Peter van Inwagen (“The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence,” 1996, 169-71) says that “While the patterns of suffering we find in the actual world constitute a difficulty for theism…, they do not—owing to the availability of the defense I have outlined—attain the status of evidence”. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Michael Bergmann (“Evil Does Not Make Atheism More Reasonable than Theism,” 2004, 14) argue for the conclusion that “grounds for belief in God aside, evil does not make belief in atheism more reasonable for us than belief in theism”; and Richard Otte argues that “theists should not believe [that] evil, or our ignorance of a good reason for God to permit evil, is evidence against religious belief or the existence of God, at all” (“Comparative Confirmation and the Problem of Evil,” 2012, 127), and that “at best, the theist should refrain from judgement about whether evil is evidence against the existence of God” (2012, 131).

Skeptical theists have various reasons for arguing as they do, involving such notions as ‘CORNEA’ (the ‘Condition Of ReasoNable Epistemic Access’; Wykstra “The Humean Obstacle to Epistemic Arguments from Suffering,” 1984), epistemic appearances, ‘gratuitous’ evils, ‘levering’ evidence, the representativeness of goods, and radical skepticism about the probabilities of evil on the hypothesis of theism, or of no good we know of justifying the kinds of evil in the world. In this essay, we consider each of these notions and aim to dispel some confusions about them, and along the way attempt to clarify the roles of such notions within a probabilistic epistemology. In addition, we examine the role that distinct accounts of evidence play in the discussion, and we develop new responses to the problem of evil from both the phenomenal conception of evidence and the knowledge-first view of evidence.

The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below.

Philosophers and their religious practices: Part 25, A personal connection with God
November 2, 2016 — 17:59

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

This is the twenty-fifth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work.

This interview is with John Torrey, PhD student at the University of Memphis.

Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?

My current work focuses on rectificatory justice and argues that the negative social and moral perceptions of Black Americans work to prevent Blacks from gaining rectificatory justice.  This is because of connections between American colorblind liberalism and gaining rectificatory justice within the liberal paradigm.  Liberalism is a political philosophy that espouses the mutual equality of persons, individual liberty, and that a set of moral rights flow from their mutual equality.  Rectificatory justice is the branch of justice concerned with setting unjust situations right, which may require a number of different actions.  Within the liberal tradition, injustice is violating someone’s rights.  When one’s rights are violated, the victim has the right to have their injustices rectified in some manner.  I plan to defend these positions: rights have a social dimension that is based in being recognized as one’s equal; that Blacks have not received rectificatory justice; and that racial reconciliation (which includes the dominant group changing their negative perceptions about Blacks) is a necessary step for Blacks to receive rectificatory justice.

A particular institution that has indoctrinated and educated millions about ethical behavior, respect, and following the moral law is the Christian Church. My father is a Baptist (his side of the family having faithfully attending Christ Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church for decades), and his side of the family introduced me to what Baptist church services were like. My mother’s side of the family, however, is Catholic. Something I find interesting is how quickly I identify with having an upbringing in the Catholic Church, and yet I have little memory of choosing to be Catholic rather than Baptist. My older brother and I would attend church often as children, going to Dad’s church some weeks and Mom’s church (St. Bridget’s) other weeks. I surmise it was a decision more or less made by Mom that her sons would grow up in the same kind of faith that she did. Since the difference is more in how people praise rather than who people praised, Dad acquiesced on this issue. That said, it was never unheard of for the whole family to go to both churches on holidays or important services.


I was never confirmed, but I was baptized as an infant by the priest at St. Bridget’s. When I learned that being baptized meant that I chose to take God in, it struck me as peculiar that it was a choice made for me. Not that I wasn’t happy that the choice was made – I have an unwavering belief in the existence of God, thanks in no small part to God’s existence being indoctrinated in me from birth. The conviction in the value of a church community that my parents held meant St. Bridget’s to be my first church home: where I did a confession for the first time; I sang in the choir; I learned hymns and songs to affirm the story of Christ and the glory of God; and I knew church to be where I would see many of my cousins, aunts, and uncles regularly. My family loves to get together, and church was another excuse to get together as I grew up. The building itself was supposed to be respected as a place of worship, a concept that taught me how important the worship was to any sort of faith practice that I would adopt.

In my early teens, St. Bridget’s closed. This destabilized my sense of church community and led me to seriously consider the purpose of attending church. By that time I understood certain theoretical differences between Baptists and Catholic, such as the existence of Purgatory, and had chosen Catholicism as my preferred brand of Christianity.   For one, I figured that Heaven takes way too perfect a person to get in but that I wouldn’t be evil enough to deserve Hell and thought Purgatory would be a nice middle ground for eternity (at least it’s not Hell). The other thing that swayed me was how short the services were in Catholic churches; we come in, say a few prayers, sing a couple of songs, hear a good message from the priest, have communion and we’re done. In my mind, as long as we were genuinely engaging in religious rites that heaped praise and respect upon God then it shouldn’t necessarily take all day to do so. And man, Baptist church services just go on forever.

Most of my account has focused so far on my relationship with the church and how that helped me forge my religious view of the world. Losing St. Bridget’s put things in perspective for me about what the important part of going to church is – building a relationship with God. Attending church wasn’t a requirement for building a relationship with God, prayer was. So I went into my parent’s bedroom around 15 or 16 and told them I didn’t want to go to church anymore because I didn’t know what I was supposed to get out of it. At least as a youngster, I knew that church meant family time in a sacred place. Without a church community, it felt like I was going to church to sing songs and hear a story and none of it made sense. God exists, that made sense. Jesus story? Sure, I can roll with that. But I wasn’t very clear on the point of church any longer, and that moment of truth with my parents emboldened me to my newfound beliefs. I was nervous that they would be upset or even punish me for not wanting to go to church, but church felt like a chore that was not providing me any benefit. I distinctly remember my parents asking me if I still believed in God, which was met with a crystal clear, “Of course!” God wasn’t the issue – church was the issue.

Since that moment, I really avoided taking on any labels regarding my belief structure. If asked, I respond that I’m a Christian, and that I was raised Catholic. It doesn’t concern me if I’m considered nondenominational, Catholic, or whatever someone thinks of me. The only thing that matters is maintaining a relationship with God, which I do through prayer and appreciation. Since May 1, 2009, I try my best to say daily, “Thank you God for today, thank you for yesterday, and thank you for a chance at tomorrow.”


The New Creation, Part 5, Will God Include Animals in Heaven?, by John Schneider
October 13, 2016 — 8:18

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Afterlife Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

My Labrador retriever, Blue (pictured), died recently. She was my constant  companion for almost fifteen years. So my assigned question hits home just now. Will God include animals in Heaven? In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis speculated that some animals become so deeply ingrained in our lives, so much a part of our identities, that we could not really be ourselves, or truly happy in the next life, without them. I am hopefully inclined to agree.

But if so, what should we think will become of the billions of other animals that will have existed on earth? blueWill they have served their created purpose as important instruments of evolution in this life? Or do they have a future after death in an afterlife? Put in canonical Jewish and Christian terms, will animals inhabit the messianic kingdom of God on a “new earth” together with human beings?

One reason to think they will do so simply is that God created them in the first place. Should we think that the value of non-human beings is merely instrumental, and that they will have exhausted their evolutionary purpose prior to death? In Genesis 1, the author depicts God declaring non-human beings “good” in their own right, as having very high intrinsic value as parts of the “very good” cosmic whole. Should we think, then, that this ontological status would ever end, and not obtain in the messianic cosmic whole promised to come?

Furthermore, billions of animals fail to flourish as individuals prior to death. The evolutionary carnage is unimaginable. Should we think that God accepts this mass failure as the inevitable cost of creating valuable life by naturalistic means? Somehow, this way of thinking does not seem either aesthetically or morally right. It seems reasonable to expect an omnicompetent and morally perfect God to bring the being of all creatures and things to fruition according to their created natures.

More straightforwardly, it also seems that many species of animals are sentient, so that they can suffer in a morally important sense. Presumably, the profusion of undeserved suffering of animals in the world is a morally bad thing, a wrong that a morally perfect God would wish to make right. In Keith Ward’s words: “If there is any sentient creature which suffers pain, that being—whatever it is and however it is manifested—must find the pain transfigured by a greater joy.”[1] And it seems clear that such evil-rectifying (and God-justifying) joy could only happen post mortem, in Heaven.

Beyond these philosophical considerations, Jewish and Christian canonical texts explicitly encourage belief that animals will inhabit Heaven, as envisioned.

Besides Genesis 1, which underscores God’s assessment of animals as “good,” and as essential to a cosmic whole that is “very good,” other texts suggest the inclusion of animals in the messianic age to come. In Genesis 6-7, God commands Noah to include all “kinds” of animals on the ark. Notably, after the flood, in Genesis 8-9, God makes a covenant with Noah that promises divine protection and preservation to all human and non-human beings. God makes this promise and repeats it two more times:

I now establish my covenant with … every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth” (Genesis 9: 9-10).

The speaker declares the covenant to be irrevocable—“everlasting” (Genesis 9: 16).

In the speeches of God from the windstorm in Job, God speaks at length about God’s intimate care even for animals living in wild realms that God seems to have abandoned—they, too, fall within the scope of the messianic vision. In Isaiah, that vision has the wolf at peace with the lamb, lions eating straw like the ox, and serpents venomous no more (Isaiah 65: 25).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes that the whole creation “groans” in bondage to pain and futility, in the throes of decay and longing to be set free (Romans 8: 18-23). The emphasis on pain in nature suggests an allusion to the experience of animals, and that Paul’s expressed hope of the coming cosmic redemption includes them.

There is one last distinctly Christian reason for hoping that animals will inhabit Heaven. I suggest that the Christian doctrine of the Atonement provides unexpected grounds for that belief.

In Christian history, theologians have treated Atonement as a matter of reconciliation between God and human beings, who have allegedly wronged God. But animals have not done anything wrong, much less wrong to God. If anything, God has wronged animals by inscribing undeserved suffering into their existence. Can it be that the Atonement also had the aim of resolving that moral problem? Perhaps.

Christian writers have traditionally referred to Christ crucified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1: 29). In Hebrews, the writer likened Jesus to the Scapegoat slain painfully on Yom Kippur (Hebrews 5-7). In all these typological metaphors, Christ is identified with blameless sacrificial animals. Is it far-fetched to think that this imagery conveys reconciliation between God and the animals?

Some modern writers (notably, Holmes Rolston II and Christopher Southgate) have referred to the evolutionary narrative of species as cruciform, as a “slaughter of innocents,” as a via dolorosa and a Darwinian kenōsis analogous to the “self-emptying” of Jesus on the cross (Philippians 2: 5-11). Meanwhile, the writer of Hebrews stressed that Christ’s death has brought an end to the need for animal sacrifice (Hebrews 10). Perhaps, then, the Atonement is not only a manifesto of liberation from sin and death for human beings, but also a symbolic declaration of an impending freedom from suffering in store for non-human beings in the messianic kingdom of Heaven that is promised to come.

What joys await animals—including Blue—in Heaven, we can only guess. But I suggest that canonical Jewish and Christian traditions together make it reasonable to believe that gloriously good things do await them, nonetheless.
John Schneider

Theology emeritus, Calvin College

Philosophy, Grand Valley State University

[1] Keith Ward. The Concept of God (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974), 223. Cited by Southgate, 78.

The new creation part 4, Untamed Wilderness in the Eschaton, by Beth Seacord
October 7, 2016 — 17:21

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Afterlife Christian Theology Concept of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 1

george_stubbs_005Part of the beauty of natural systems is their wildness. We intuitively value things that are un-spoiled, pure, natural, wild and free. A field of sunflowers would seem less beautiful if we found out that the sunflowers were plastic replicas. The beauty of Old Faithful would be much diminished if the National Parks Service had to install pumps to keep the geyser operating regularly. And fishermen would find their “appreciation for catching cutthroat trout in an isolated and rugged mountain valley reduced by reports that the Department of Fish and Game stocked the stream the previous week.”[1] There is great value, then, in letting natural systems remain free of the external influence of persons. Tampering in the natural order strongly detracts from the aesthetic value that wildness brings to the the Earth.

If we look at the world in its entire history, it seems as if God values wildness very much even though wildness comes at an enormous cost to individual creatures. The graceful tiger leaping for its prey with unsheathed claws is an awe inspiring sight but it led William Blake to wonder, “what immortal hand or eye dare frame [the tiger’s] fearful symmetry?” Although the untamed wild is stunning–beauty often flourishes on the same tangled vine where the grotesques and horrors bloom.[2] We now know that the existence of wild animals, parasites, viruses and bacteria were not the result of the Fall, but are part of God’s original design plan. It is perhaps because of the great good of wildness that God chose to let the first creation evolve under natural laws without much, if any, divine intervention. An all-powerful being could have intervened in our evolutionary history to keep parasites and predators from evolving, to redirect hurricanes and still tsunamis and to rescue lambs from lions, but He does not. Presumably one reason God chooses not to intervene in the natural world is because such interventions would detract from the wildness of natural systems and would thereby destroy their inherent beauty and value. Such interventions would come at the cost of the wildness.

If God valued wildness the first time around, perhaps He will include a space for the untamed in the New Creation. Wild nature is beautiful but, at least in our world, it comes with its costs. It be disappointing if the New Earth is one large cultivated garden; I would hope that there are spaces that are untouched by persons where animals run free. But I also hope that much of the natural evil that causes so much suffering in our world will not be present in the new creation. There are hints in the Bible that the New Creation will not be ‘red in tooth and claw.’ (I’m sure that the rabbits living in the Eschaton would prefer not to be torn apart by hounds.) Perhaps we can have it both ways in the New Creation—maybe we can have the natural beauty of the untamed wild without the predation, disease, decay and death. But perhaps we can’t have it both ways. If it were possible to have wildness without suffering in the first creation, wouldn’t God have done it that way? Perhaps untamed wilderness is a good that can only be had in the first creation and in the eschaton untamed wildness will be replaced by another kind of good.


[1] Ned Hettinger and Bill Throop, “Refocusing Ecocentrism: De-emphasizing Stability and Defending Wildness,” 140.

[2] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 148.

The new creation part 2: Animals and the imago dei, by Trent Dougherty
September 22, 2016 — 10:54

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

In this brief post—based somewhat on a section of my book The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small—I defend the thesis that animals are created in the image of God. I will argue that the notion of bearing the imago dei is “graded.” That is, bearing the image is a property that comes in degrees, of, if it is not the same thing, there are many ways of bearing the image of God, which can be placed along a spectrum from triviality to very substantive.

I write from a Christian perspective, but won’t focus on the biblical data. However, it is very much worth noticing one feature of the Genesis narrative. One frequently hears—including in sermons—that the imago dei doctrine is taught in Genesis 2:7. Man “becomes a living being” when the “breath of life” is “breathed into his nostrils.” God had just said “Let us make man in our image” and nothing follows that is a better candidate for the imaging happening than the instilling of the breath of life. As with the Greek pneuma, the use of the Hebrew neshamah evokes a connection between breath and soul. And it is often thought that the soul, whatever else it is, is the locus of the image of God. But Genesis 1:30 had just abbreviated a long list of animals with the covering phrase “everything that has the breath of life” (1:30). And, like its cousin neshamah, nefesh—used here—is sometimes rendered “soul.” And, again, there is nowhere else in the creation narrative that is a plausible ground for the imago dei. Nowhere in Scripture is a premium put on abstract thought and there’s certainly nothing about it in the creation narrative. (It is perhaps there by implication in the act of speech in the naming of the animals by Adam, but that’s a bit obscure.) And speaking of abstract thought…

Once when presenting a paper at a regional meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Society in Western New York, I made reference to Sosa’s distinction between animal knowledge and reflective knowledge. A guy pointed out to me than “animal knowledge” might not be an apt phrase, since, in certain respects, apt belief (in Sosa’s sense) is more like God’s knowledge than human knowledge. The relevant respect was that animal knowledge is “direct” in a way that included being non-discursive but also included being “hooked up” to the world in a way that “skips” ratiocination involved in much human knowledge, especially Sosa’s reflective knowledge. This is inchoate, but it points the direction to a way in which animal cognition might be much more in the image of God’s cognition than distinctively human cognition. An extension of this is the fact that humans are plagued by doubt in ways most animals don’t seem to be.


The new creation part 1: Would there still be evolution? By Cara Wall-Scheffler
September 15, 2016 — 11:23

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Afterlife Concept of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 1

This is the first of a series of blogposts exploring theological and philosophical reflections on the new creation. The format is the following: each week, we’ll have one blogpost (of about 800 words) where an author pitches a new, thought-provoking idea. The other participants as well as the wider internet community can then join in and write comments, to which the author can respond. We hope many readers will participate!  The next weeks on Thursdays we will have essays by Trent Dougherty, Kevin Timpe, Beth Seacord and John Schneider.

This week, we have Cara Wall-Scheffler, Associate Professor of Biology at Seattle Pacific University. She considers whether there would still be evolution in the new creation.

As a biological anthropologist, I am interested in human adaptations and variation that chart the evolution of Homo sapiens. In particular, I see to explain how human characteristics (e.g. long limbs, pelvis shape, sexual dimorphism) emerged within different geographical areas and ecosystems.

trilobiteAs a Wesleyan, I am further interested in a theology of sanctification; that is, how, through attentive interactions with the Holy Spirit, faithful humans might form a more ‘in tune’ relationship with the Creator, with other creatures, and especially with one another. Because Scripture claims and the Church confesses that a sovereign God loves and cares for every creature that God as made (e.g. Job 38-42), and because this world is filled with organisms that continue to evolve, I see no reason why this dynamic interaction between the Creator and the created will not continue to exist in New Creation.

Because I understand Scripture’s narrative of First Creation’s relationship with God as ‘very good’ but clearly not ‘perfect’ in a static sense (so Genesis 2:18-20), I hypothesize that New Creation will be a place—an ‘ecosystem’—in which creatures will continue to evolve beyond which a world that already has evoked God’s joy and good pleasure. Furthermore, Scripture claims that New Creation will occupy the same “geographical area” as the First Creation. Whilst an apocalypse of full salvation decisively marks the transition between the two, New Creation continues from the First Creation.

In this regard, I propose the following research question: what will characterize the evolution of Homo sapiens in New Creation?