[Milton-L] theodicy and critique

Dennis Danielson danielso at interchange.ubc.ca
Fri Jul 28 11:47:18 EDT 2006

This could be a very long discussion, but let me respond briefly, if  

Sure, a theodicy is about God, but at the theoretical level it's 
principally not _de re_ but _de dicto_. It's part of theology ("words 
about God"). If I offer a theodicy, "defending God" ("defend" 
implicitly admitting the existence of a critique), what I'm doing is 
offering an explanation (if only a partial and corrigible one) that 
answers the question "How can you claim God is wholly good and wholly 
powerful given the existence of evil in the world?"

If the theodicy is in any degree successful, it will convince the 
questioner (and I have been one of those) of the coherence of that 
claim. It will bolster the conviction that one needn't commit 
intellectual suicide in order to assert those propositions about God in 
face of that ever-increasing referent of the phrase "all our woe." To 
use astronomical language, a theodicy seeks (theologically) to offer a 
model that saves the appearances.

As in astronomy, however, we often fail to distinguish the model from 
the reality. We say "Copernicus made the earth a planet"--which is true 
of the model, but silly if predicated of reality (where earth was 
already one of the planets).

Belief in the goodness and power (indeed existence) of God is not 
something established by an argument, even a good argument. The good 
argument plays its role; but experience, faith, love, etc. (am I 
sounding a bit like Abdiel?) constitute _de re_ evidence for which the 
_de dicto_ argument, as important as it may be, cannot compensate. And 
yet the argument is important. The coherence of one's words and 
thoughts (or want of it) affects one's experience, faith, and love. Bad 
theology (_de dicto_) can undermine true worship (_de re_). (This is 
very clear when one reads DDC and other 17th-c writings that tackle 
certain claims that "make God appear a devil".)

That will have to do for today.


On 28-Jul-06, at 9:16 AM, jfleming at sfu.ca wrote:

> Thanks to Professors Danielson and Fallon. Leibniz aside, I don't hear 
> an
> answer to the paradox I tried to lay out at the end of my last post. A
> "theodicy" must be about God. But a being vulnerable to critique, 
> surely, is
> not God. This is the point of the ontological argument -- which can 
> perhaps
> be refuted, but not just dismissed. If we see M as critiquing God,
> therefore, we ought not to speak of him as drafting a theodicy. To 
> respond
> "well, M is surely drafting a theodicy, because he indicates the 
> possibility
> of critique of God" -- this is to beg the question I am trying to ask.
> Meanwhile, if M is critiquing a non-God -- a "character" called God, 
> for
> example -- what's the point of that?
> Now, re: "justify." The word means "make just." This does not 
> necessarily
> entail "explain." Consider the relevant context of the Protestant 
> conversion
> narrative. Justification is not an occurence in which God _explains_ 
> one's
> basic justness (to oneself or others). Quite the contrary: it is an
> occurence in which God _effects_ one's basic justness. By 
> justification, one
> is made just. To suppose the possibility of explaining or rationally
> understanding this event -- for example, on the basis of some 
> deserving --
> is to offend the divine _arbitraire_ that figures so largely even in
> Arminian soteriology.
> In short, I do not think that the possibility of critique of God (which
> would, in any case, not be theodicy) follows from the phrase "justify 
> the
> ways of God to man." Frankly, if it does, we are in for a lot of 
> special
> pleading, because M (on my reading) tends to _worsen_ theological and
> exegetic problems wherever he finds them, not seek to resolve or 
> ameliorate
> them. _This_ technique, however, is consistent with theodicy. The 
> challenge
> to poet and reader is precisely to understand, and/or to accept, the 
> justice
> of what does not seem just. The challenge is to justify: to make just. 
> But
> we can explain God's justice even less than we can explain our own. JDF
> On Thu, 27 Jul 2006 13:19:35 -0700 milton-l at lists.richmond.edu wrote:
>> I predicate "theodicy" of PL because of the etymological
>> symmetry between that one word and the phrase "justify the ways of
>> God." Furthermore, I do see Milton's	theodicy as envisaging the
>> possibility of a "critique of God" given the presence in the world of
>> the evil that his creatures must face and try to understand. The
>> strongest evidence for this view, I think, is the Son's own response 
>> to
>> the scenario--though it turns out to be contrary to both fact and
>> divine intention--in which God permits the universal triumph of 
>> malice:
>> "So should thy goodness and thy greatness both / Be questioned and
>> blasphemed without defence."
>> Milton wrote that.
>> Dennis Danielson

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