Quantcast Anthony Flood "Rebuttal to Benjamin Wiker"


Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

A Challenge Declined

A Rebuttal to Benjamin D. Wiker


Anthony Flood


I thank Benjamin D. Wiker for his reply to my letter,1 in which I critically review his article2 on the problem of evil, especially excessive, nondisciplinary evil (ENE), evil (a) that no good consequent to it could justify, and (b) so intense that to entertain it in terms of its possible consequent good is itself morally objectionable.   We still have a distance to go to achieve resolution.  Wiker agrees about the distance, but not about the need for resolution.  


I.  The Argument Restated,

and the Stakes


Wiker appreciates philosophical give-and-take, but does not engage in it as if it matters.  That is, his reply assumes the form of philosophical argumenta-tion while denying the power thereof.  It does raise questions that space limitations made inevitable, which I am happy to answer.  It does not, however, respond to my claim that the problem of ENE (or the POENE) is fatal to classical theism (CT). 

The purpose of a proof is not to coerce consent to its conclusion, but to clarify the price of dissent from it.  Assuming the proof’s form is valid, the price is re-jection of one or more of its premises.3  My putative proof consists of two linked syllogisms, with the conclusion of the first serving as the major premise of the second: 


1.     Any morally responsible being would prevent ENE were doing so within his or her power.  

2.     God is a morally responsible being.

3.     Therefore, God would prevent ENE were doing so within God’s power.  

4.     ENE exists (or occurs).

5.     Therefore, God cannot prevent ENE.


The price of preventing the conclusion is the rejection of either premise 1, which I believe expresses an incorrigible moral intuition; premise 2, which I believe is an analytic truth; or premise 4, which I believe expresses an incontrovertible fact.  So which is Wiker prepared to demonstrate? The corrigibility of the intuition?  God’s moral irresponsibi-lity? Or the controvertibility of the alleged fact? 

Wiker concedes that he has only a Christological, not a philosophical, answer to POENE, but not that a philosophical answer is imperative.  Perhaps he thinks it is a problem only for those who have a philosophical bee in their bonnet, not one that a Christian must face and resolve.  I took Wiker’s essay to be an effort in Christian apologetics, when he may only have intended to provide some spiritual uplift.  Does Wiker deny that the POENE is the main reason that unbelievers give for not becoming, or not remaining, theists?

Wiker errs, in my opinion, by deciding that the philosophical problem of the metaphysical underpin-ning of doctrine need not be solved.  I do not see how he can integrally so decide without (1) inuring himself to the nauseating details of particular instances of ENE or (2) ignoring the anti-evangelical effects of burking the challenge they pose. 

Perhaps Wiker believes the POENE is but one of several excuses that sinners concoct, which God’s grace can override.  The enervating force of the POENE, when pressed, may tempt one to adopt such an attitude.  The choir to which Wiker preaches in Crisis may not do the pressing, but unbelievers will, and apologetics is meant for them.  Wiker’s Christolo-gical answer will not do, for it presupposes pos-session of the ticket of intellectual admission into the arena of dogmatic theology.  (The order of a seminarian’s course of study bears me out here.) 

Or perhaps Wiker believes that having a problem is better than solving it.  Replying to a reader who praised his Crisis article, he wrote:


We could remove or ameliorate the problem of natural evil by embracing Manicheism or moral evil by assuming that God does not have complete power over demons or human beings. But we shall be far better off if we hold fast to the truth that evil really is a problem, and, odd as it sounds, we need to keep it that way. [My emphasis.—AF] If we could see God’s entire design, we could judge how it all fits in.4


Indeed, it sounds so odd that the force of “need” is lost on me.  How we shall (not even “might”) be far better off, Wiker does not say.  Were we in a position to judge how it all fits in we may, for all Wiker has shown to the contrary, see that not everything does (that is, what we deem to be ENE is indeed both excessive and nondisciplinary).  Or instead we might see (as I argue that we can see now) that opportu-nities for great good are necessarily conjoined with risks of great evil.  I claim that if we cannot judge that one with the power to prevent ENE is morally obligated to do so (as there could be no morally sufficient reason to permit it), then we cannot judge any prospect as morally better or worse than another.

Wiker’s reference to “God’s entire design” occasions our noting an incoherency deep within CT.  The very intelligibility of the concept of design pre-supposes that there are elements not under the de-signer’s control.  The notion of absolute design, design unrelated to any given context, is linguis-tically disguised nonsense, a corollary of “exnihil-ation” (creation out of nothing).  It is no more intelli-gible than the notion of absolute chance.  Freedom, whether human or divine, always involves a response to the givenness of the responses of others.  “Cre-ated givenness” is incoherent.

For God to have “complete power over” creatures means that they have no countervailing power against God, Who unilaterally exhihilates them and can unilaterally annihilate them at will.  The price that CT pays for exnihilation, however, is the loss of any objective basis (that is, apart from faith-based affir-mation) for ontologically distinguishing the creature from God. 

Given two actual entities A and B, only B’s countervailing power can measure A’s power (and vice versa) and, with it, ontological difference or otherness.  B is other than A only if B has some power that A cannot override at will.  But CT permits the creature none.  Were the power of A over B total or, as Wiker puts it, “complete,” then B’s counter-vailing power against A would be nil.  There would therefore be no basis for affirming B’s real otherness, which its dependence upon A would logically demand. 

As John Deck succinctly put it: “If the dependent is not other than that on which it depends, depen-dence itself disappears.”5  That is, dependence pre-supposes genuine otherness.  CT’s concept of the creature’s otherness to God does not bear scrutiny.  Neither, then, does Wiker’s suggestion that it is the better part of piety to embrace this concept, especially since it anchors the POENE.

Although the existence of any evil, even discipli-nary evil (e.g., a stubbed toe due to carelessness) is problematic for CT, ENE is the species of evil most likely to inspire an apologist’s retreat into agnos-ticism or fideism.  Good apologetics depends on an adequate theistic philosophy, which is no more cogent than its weakest link.  CT’s is the POENE.  Catholic apologists must periodically return to funda-mental issues, even if that means taking a break from debates with their Protestant counterparts about adelphoi and petros and other hermeneutic minutiae.  And God is the fundamental issue.

Let us now turn to the specifics of Wiker’s criticism.


II.  Supreme in Power


Wiker deems the notion of “my” deity incoherent:


I do not understand how it is that Flood’s deity can be supreme in power but have his power limited to ‘the ability to influence, and be influenced by, all other agents.’ (I am not even clear, I confess, as to what Flood means by “influence.”)  If Flood’s deity is supreme in power, then he certainly could push gross matter around, and therefore could [prevent any instance of ENE] . . . . Since Flood’s deity cannot do that. . . then clearly He cannot be “supreme . . . in power.”6


Non sequitur.  Being supreme requires only having at least one inferior and no superior.  Supremacy implies comparison among things that have some property in common.  “All power” is unintelligible: if nothing has any power of its own, then “God’s power” has no application.  An entity may intelligibly be said to have power on the condition that it doesn’t have all. 

Every individual, I maintain, has a mental as well as a physical side, the mental side being the one open to possibilities as objects of choice.  The serial career of individuals is an alternation between appe-tition and enjoyment.  God, on my understanding, influences all individuals on their mental side, not just human beings.  God feels their enjoyments and, by His provision of aim, influences their future appe-titions.   Wiker labeled God’s relatedness to all crea-tures a limitation.  I deem this universal relativity an eminence, worthy of worship.  

I can use my body to prevent a small boulder that has begun to slide off a cliff from intersecting the path of a passenger vehicle on the road below.  That is, given the boulder’s relatively independent power, I can harness my physical power toward the end of deflecting its path from the one it is otherwise likely to take.  CT’s God can move the boulder only because it is totally dependent on, and therefore is not really other than, God, which is why CT’s God is responsible when it crushes that vehicle.

There is, however, another way to move a phy-sical object, theoretically at least, and that is to influence the mental side of its fundamental com-ponents.  To see this, let us detour around the boulder for a moment to consider interpersonal relations. 

Advertisers attempt to persuade us to buy their products and services.  In doing so they appeal to our mental side.  They do not physically overpower us, but their successful efforts will have physical con-sequences.   If a movie trailer entices me to see the movie, a sequence of physical actions will ensue: I will open my wallet to remove, and then surrender, cash.  An armed robber persuades me to do this by offering, not a movie, but the chance to continue living. 

In both cases, minds communicate to each other through physical media, and (physical) behavior re-veals (mental) intentions.  The persuader, however, cannot absolutely control and thereby determine the response of the one he would persuade.  If he could, it would not be a response.   I could decide to go to museum instead of the movie; I could try to overpower the robber. 

As for our fateful boulder, God can move a collection of individuals such as a boulder’s fundamental components if all of the following conditions obtain:


1.     A change in at least some of these components would alter the collection’s movement so that it would take a path different from the one it would take without this redirective effort;

2.     This required change is a concrete possibility open to each of those component individuals at the moment of God’s redirective effort;

3.     God lures each of them to opt for that concrete possibility; and

4.     All of the required number (referred to in 1 above) respond positively to God’s lure (i.e., the lure is successful in enough instances).


God could lure the boulder’s fundamental compo-nents (those successfully lured along with the others to which the former are organically related) such that, if the lure is effective, the boulder as a whole transverses space differently. But God cannot guarantee His lure’s efficacy.7 

Efficient causes underdetermine, however slight-ly, whatever happens.8  That is, the past conditions, but does not exhaustively determine, the present, which is when creatures decide among possibilities.  To be an individual creature (not merely one of God’s thoughts) is to have some power so to decide.  God’s ability to move a collection is therefore not entirely under His control.  If it were, then that collection would not be a creature at all, for it would not be other than God and therefore could not be dependent upon Him (pace Deck). 

The thought that God could move a creature to make a decision that is nevertheless free is inco-herent.  Unfortunately, Saint Thomas wrote that God infallibly moves a will as He wills, yet leaves the freedom of the moved will intact.9  To criticize this notion is not to “limit” God’s power, but only rule out incoherence in the effort to conceive it.  The attempt to form a coherent notion of a free decision that has exhaustively determining efficient causes must fail. 

By influence I mean first of all a causal process, and secondarily the effect of that process.  I intensify the normal causal meaning to signify constitutive feeling.  Feeling is constitutive when what is felt contributes to the becoming of the feeler.  The process has aspects of both efficient causality and final causality.  That is, it is a physical feeling of immediately past entities that follows the conceptual feeling of possibilities.  Together, these two phases account for the becoming of any fundamental entity.  In both cases there is a “flowing in” into a locus wherein an entity is coming to be.10   God, flowing into all and into Whom all flows, is the Universal Individual, without Whom there would not be a world.

God exercises power by infusing creativity (the power to create oneself out of one’s efficient causes by deciding how one will respond to one’s influences) as well as by luring or attracting each of them to a particular aim.  God operates moment-by-moment in the becoming of all things.  His role in creaturely self-creation is everlasting, not once-and-for-all. 

If the creature’s response to God’s present initial aim for that creature conditions His next provision of aim, then His influencing and being influenced are not merely “nudging” and being nudged.  It is the universal relativity that defines God.  Influence is also the flowing of past, completed entities, their confluence, into the self-creative process of succeeding present entities which, when completed, will in turn “conflow” into their successors. 

A paradigm case of influence is compassion.  Compassion is not something we infer about another.  It is literally the feeling of another’s feeling.  It is not an anomaly in an otherwise vacuous (feelingless) universe, but rather at the heart of the way the Universal Individual holds together (synes-tike) all the created orders (ktiseos) as a world.11  It is not just we who groan (stenazomen) in antici-pation of the coming glory, but also all creation groans (systenazei) as does the Spirit of God Himself (stenagmois)12


III.  Supreme in Goodness


God is supremely sensitive to the joys and suffer-ings of all creatures, always luring each of them to the best end concretely available at each choice-point.  “To be is to be contributory to, and to enjoy the contributions of, others.”13  Wiker would banish God from this matrix of relativity,14 yet finds my notion of God’s goodness even “more worrisome” than that of God’s power: 


Flood asserts that “every pain and pleasure, every satisfaction and frus-tration that every other agent experi-ences, affects God. This experience influences His next choice of aim for each of them.” Forgive me if I am being uncharitable, but it seems as if Flood’s deity is an infinitely magnified Jeremy Bentham, calculating good and evil solely in terms of pleasure and pain. If such is the case, then it plainly contra-dicts the claim that Flood’s deity is both supreme in goodness and in know-ledge.15


If there is any lack of charity, it is the mild one of Wiker’s not having attended to my words with his characteristic care.  I wrote that pains and pleasures, satisfactions and frustrations (which are not necessarily pains and pleasures), affect God.  My point was that God takes the experiences of all other agents into account and selects aims based on His perfect grasp of what will redound to that creature’s well-being.  God is supreme in goodness just because He envisages, selects, and infuses the best aim for a creature in its concrete situation.  I did not list God’s criteria for selection.

Wiker goes on to observe that my


definition of evil appears to rest not on the inherent good or evil of actions but on the desires of the actors. Thus, evil is defined as “any loss of value, or the failure to achieve value, or the suffering that attends such loss or failure.” But people desire all kinds of things, because every manner of thing, from the holy to the profane, gives them pleasure. If we speak merely of values, then each has a value system based upon the fulfillment of his or her own desires. But if the deity truly is supreme in goodness [and] knowledge, then surely he would not be indiscriminately affirming whatever happens to please each and every human being, for as Aristotle rightly understood over two millennia ago, the vicious man takes pleasure in vicious actions.16


Of course, the deity would not be so indiscri-minate, but that is compatible with each person’s having “a value system based upon the fulfillment of his or her own desires.”  To acknowledge that satisfaction is an aspect of the good is not to favor hedonism or moral relativism, as Wiker insinuates.  Neither good nor evil inheres in actions apart from good or evil experiences that such types of actions tend to produce. 

The goodness of a virtuous man is a function of the goodness he is willing to create, his actions being evidence of that willingness.  A vicious man takes pleasure in committing vicious actions, but what qualifies him as vicious is his willingness to undertake them even though, or even because, they tend to thwart good-life seeking or happiness-achievement.  We impute the evil of that thwarting to this un-willingness. 

Desires, as such, are not above criticism, but the good that is beyond criticism would be unintelligible were it severed from any notion of the fulfillment of desire.  Isaiah and Paul, I believe, intimated as much,17 as does Wiker in the closing words of his reply.18  Surely the Beatific Vision is desirable and not accidentally so? 

Generically, the good involves both the fulfillment of an impulse in an entity’s nature and the attendant satisfaction.  Neither element alone suffices.  Pros-pective satisfaction is not the sole criterion for end-selection.19  Generically, evil is the frustration of the good.  It is an inevitable by-product of creaturely freedom, without which there would not be a world.20  In human affairs, it may range from a stubbed toe to genocide.21  Since past events do not exhaustively determine present decisions, the latter are undetermined until agents make them.  It is im-possible for any agent or combination of agents to ensure that there will be no collision (anywhere, at any level) and therefore no evil.


IV.  Fideism?  Or Fight?


Wiker’s response may be summarized as follows: “I cannot defend CT philosophically at the point of ENE, but please contemplate the Cross of Christ to see if it doesn’t reduce your rationalistic problem to powder.”  This, I submit, is fideism, that is, the invo-cation of faith when reason’s dial reads “empty.”  Wiker ignored my claim that the “concept of the In-carnate Son of God logically nests within a more gen-eral concept of God.  The former therefore cannot remedy any defects that may hobble the latter. . . . [F]aith is not a forensic cogency compensator.” 

Orthodox Christology does seem to presuppose exnihilation, which generates the spiritually indiges-tible POENE.  No doubt, the removal of a doctrine’s problematic component will affect our understanding of that doctrine.  How much development orthodoxy can tolerate is a question for orthodox theologians to entertain.  To evade it, however, is to settle for an apologetics that is more offense (skandalon)22 than defense (apologia).23


Addendum: Crisis Magazine declined to publish this, as their policy does not provide for follow-ups to exchanges that begin as correspondence.  They did say they would forward it to Dr. Wiker today.  I would be honored if he would submit a response for publi-cation here if he cannot find a better venue.--Anthony Flood, June 8, 2004 

[1] Anthony Flood, “More Problems with Evil,” Crisis: Politics, Culture & the Church, March 2004.   My letter and Wiker's reply are available here.

[2] Benjamin D. Wiker, “The Problem of Evil,” Crisis, December 2003.

[3] But as a wise Jesuit friend of mine is fond of noting, one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.  The arrow of implication is ambiguous: (P implies Q) implies (~Q implies ~P).  In other words, if you don’t like the other fellow’s conclusion well, then, you just “know” that his premises are false or his inferences invalid.

[5] John N. Deck, “St. Thomas Aquinas and the Language of Total Dependence,” in Aquinas: A Collection of Critical Essays, Anthony Kenny, ed., Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1976, 253.

[6] “Benjamin D. Wiker responds,” Crisis, March 2004.

[7] This situation obtains no less in the case of divine inspiration of epistles and protection of papal encyclicals than in that of the effort to deflect a boulder’s path.  A man’s mind is more open to God’s call than is the mental side of a boulder’s fundamental components, but with that greater sensitivity comes the greater risk of rejection of God’s lure and, consequently, the possibility of sin.

[8] This is a logical (or metaphysical) point, not an empirical discovery.  A world wherein all causation is efficient is devoid of final causes that lure an agent toward one of several rival possible ends.  An exhaustively determined end renders the notion of “rival possible ends” chimerical.  Lacking real contrast with possibility, both necessary (i.e. without alternative possibility) and impossible (i.e., necessarily not the case) lose their meaning.  The modalities collapse and, with it, coherent discourse.  Only the idea of self-creation out of efficient causes preserves modal integrity.  Also, if every fundamental entity has some measure of self-determination, then the aggregate resultant of all self-determining acts will be a chance product, indeterminable in advance because objectively indeterminate, not because we are ignorant of all efficient causes.

[9] Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 112, A. 3: “And thus even the good movement of free choice, whereby anyone is prepared for receiving the gift of grace, is an act of free choice moved by God.  And it is thus that man is said to prepare himself . . . ; yet it is principally from God, Who moves the free choice.”  See also Summa Contra Gentiles, III, ch. 89, ¶5: “. . . God not only gives powers to things but, beyond that, no thing can act by its own power unless it acts through His power . . . .  So, man cannot use the power of will that has been given him except in so far as he acts through the power of God.  Now, the being through whose power the agent acts is the cause not only of the power, but also of the act.  This is apparent in the case of an artist through whose power an instrument works, even though it does not get its own form from this artist, but is merely applied to action by this man.  Therefore, God is for us the cause not only of our will, but also of our act of willing.”

[10] This is not mere adjacency or abutment. Water poured into a cup remains adjacent to or abuts the cup.  It does not become the cup, or the cup the water. 

[11] Colossians 1:16-18

[12] Romans 8:22-26

[13] Charles Hartshorne, “Man in Nature,” in Experience, Existence, and Good: Essays in Honor of Paul Weiss, ed. Irwin Lieb, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1961, p. 93.  [Commas added for clarity.–AF]

[14] “There was one important omission in Plato’s formula for soul or mind.  Mind is as remarkable for its capacity to be moved by others as for its ‘self-motion.’  Memory and perception are ways of being influenced, not of influencing.  It is objects as such that influence subjects, not vice versa. . . . If we think of the cosmic soul (Plato’s formula for deity) as moving but unmoved, we think of it as object not as subject.  To know is to receive influence.  To be known is to exert influence.  Every writer should be aware of this. He wants to be known so that he may move others.  All the knowing in him you please will not move others unless they become the knowers of this knowing.  It is odd that so much of the history of thought seems a denial of these patent truisms.”  Charles Hartshorne, Aquinas to Whitehead: Seven Centuries of Metaphysics of Religion, Milwaukee: WI, Marquette University Press, 1976. Aquinas Lecture for 1976.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Isaiah 64:4 and 1 Corinthians 2:9.

[18] God will indeed erase every tear shed by and for those who innocently suffer and will replace this fallen world with one beyond our wildest hopes.” Ibid.

[19] Some goods require certain evils.  A standard of living, for example, may require working at unpleasant tasks.  That is, the relatively moderate evil experience of performing them is instrumentally good relative to the salary that we exchange for our standard-of-living’s basket of goods.  Rising earlier than one prefers in order to arrive at one’s disagreeable job on time, although evil for being disagreeable, is also instrumentally good.  The standard of living itself is not only a combination of goods regularly enjoyed for themselves, but also a means to the enjoyment of values marked by greater intensity, harmony, and contrast than does the biological, e.g., various human loves and arts.  The conceptual resolution of good into satisfaction plus fulfillment allows us to envision (a) purely instrumental goods, (b) purely intrinsic goods, and (c) goods that are both intrinsically and instrumentally good.  For each of us has more than one desire, and deciding which of them to satisfy, and in what order, poses a moral challenge.  As those we choose to satisfy may not be achievable simultaneously, we must order them.  Thus the challenge of achieving a good life: confronted with a multitude of desires and recognizing that to satisfy any (let alone all of those we want to satisfy regularly and harmoniously), we must subordinate some to others, we sometimes even forego some others in favor of a few.

[20] See note 7 above.

[21] We should not identify evil primarily with malice or its consequences.  While malice is certainly a high-grade evil, it still shares, with all other species of evil, its roots in the clash of good-seeking agents.  We ought, in my opinion, extrapolate the traditional free-will account of evil beyond the context of human conflict to the broadest possible metaphysical context.  In no way, however, do I regard CT as having exonerated its God by means of this free-will defense.  Wiker believes in an exnihilating God Who not only “had the power to intervene” in Christ’s Passion, but willed it.  Wiker refers to this evil as “nondisciplinary.”  If there ever was a disciplinary evil, it was the Passion, at least for a Catholic.

[22] Galatians 5:11.

[23] 1 Peter 3:15.

See my letter to Crisis and Dr. Wiker's rebuttal.