Wednesday, March 14, 2012

John Hick's Soul-Making Theodicy

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students)

Explain John Hick's Soul-Making theodicy (in Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, pp. 316 ff.).

1. Hick gives us a "theodicy." Which means: a defense of God. In this case, specifically a defense of one's already-existing belief in God and the reality of a world that contains all kinds of evil.

2. Hick says it is possible that God has created us in his image, but not in his likeness. Two results of this are: 1) there is epistemic distance between us and God; and 2) persons are morally deficient. We are born as "immature creatures living in a challenging and therefore person-making world."

3. God has made our world a soul-making world. God places persons in a world, our world, which is conducive to soul-making. If we are created as free creatures, that is as persons possessing free will, then we must not be brought into the immediate divine presence of God, but at a "distance" from God. Were the former true God would be coercive; viz., we would not be able to resist God or choose against God or choose to deny God's existence altogether. A world where there is not a full revelation of God but divine hiddenness is needed if God is to give us free will to choose or not choose God. Our world is "religiously ambiguous, capable of being seen as a pure natural phenomenon and of being seen as God's creation and experienced as mediating God's presence." Hick writes: "within such a situation there is the possibility of the human being coming freely to know and love one's Maker." (319)

4. God places free creatures in a world that contains "moral friction." We do not inhabit a "morally frictionless" environment, involving no stresses or temptations. Persons are created as morally deficient.

5. Virtues that are developed through free will choices are intrinsically more valuable than virtues created ready-made. Mackie and Hume think God would have done much better to create a world that is morally frictionless. Hick thinks that was not possible, given God's purposes. Because "virtues which have been formed within the agent as a hard-won deposit of her own right decisions in situations of challenge and temptation are intrinsically more valuable than virtues created within her ready-made and without any effort on her own part." For example, there's a great difference between someone who plays a video game of firemen going into burning buildings to rescue children and a fireman who actually is faced with such a decision, and choose to rescue the child. Or, there's a great difference between the latter's display of courage in the face of danger, and someone who was just born with courage fully developed.

As a way of explaining this, Hick rejects the Humean pet analogy. Hick writes: "The development of human personality - moral, spiritual, and intellectual - is a product of challenge and response. It does not occur in a static situation demanding exertion and no choices." He gives an example of a test involving two kittens from the same litter. Both are placed in a challenging environment that contains danger. One is allowed to explore the environment; the other is placed in a kind of "gondola" which moved whenever and wherever the free kitten moved." "Thus the first kitten learned in the normal way to conduct itself safely within its environment, [while] the second did not. with no interaction with a challenging environment there was no development in its behavioral patterns." (322)

6. Hume wonders why God could not have placed humans in a pain-free environment. Hume thinks the very existence of pain is evidence against the existence of God. Hick responds: "But such an assumption overlooks the fact that a world in which there can be no pain or suffering would also be one in which there can be no moral choices and hence no possibility of moral growth and development. For in a situation in which no one can ever suffer injury or be liable to pain or suffering there would be no distinction between right and wrong action." (323)

In summary, Hick concludes: "Thus the hypothesis of a divine purpose in which finite persons are created at an epistemic distance from God, in order that they gradually become children of God through their own moral and spiritual choices, requires that their environment, instead of being a pain-free and stress-free paradise, be broadly the kind of world of which we find ourselves to be a part." (323)