I have been listening to the papers that were presented at the recent conference of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. At the conference there was a presentation on that perennial favorite, finisitist Mormon theodicies, in this case a nicely nuanced comparison of Mormon thinking with the process theology of David Griffin. I was disappointed, however, that the authors didn’t more squarely face the two strongest objections to Mormon finitist theodicies. Indeed, I have yet to see what I think of as adequate responses to either of these issues.
In a nut shell, Mormon finitist theologies reconcile the existence of God with the existence of geunine evil in the world by positing that there are metaphysical constraints on God’s power that keep him from intervening in the universe so as to prevent evil. This move is available in Mormon theology because by affirming the eternity of matter and intelligences, we have already implicitly conceded that there are limits on God’s power beyond mere logical non-contradiction. All of this is well and good, and at some level I am persuaded by the finitist move in theodicy. But…
…But there are two big objections that must be squarely met. First, even if there are limits on God’s power, it does not follow that God is powerless in the face of evil. Indeed, the scriptures can be shown to reveal numerous cases in which God intervenes in human history to prevent particular evil. Hence, as an empirical matter — as it were — Mormon theodicies must not only explain how God is subject to metaphysical limits but also how he is able to intervene in history and, most importantly, why he often does not. Put in the starkest terms, why could God send an angel to save Daniel in the Lion’s den or part the Red Sea for the children of Israel, but couldn’t (or didn’t?) send angels to save people from Auschwitz. The second objection, is that a god whose power was sufficiently constrained to account for the widespread existence of evil is too constrained to warrant worship or faith unto salvation.
Without an answer to the first objection, it seems to me that we have show the consistency of the existence of a Mormon god and the existence of a world with genuine evil. What we have failed to do is show that the existence of a Mormon god is consistent with a world that is evil in the particular way in which our world is evil. Without an answer to the second question, it seems to me that we run the risk of sacrificing a satisfying spiritual life on the altar of logical chopping consistency. Mormon philosophers are fond of quoting Whitehead’s dictum that “The God of the philosophers is not available for religious purposes.” I worry whether one might be able to say, “The God of the Mormon finitist theodicies is not available for religious purposes either.”