A (pre) criticism of Apokatastasis

David Bentley Hart’s defense of apokatastasis will be released tomorrow. I’ve pre-ordered a copy and plan to read it several times, but so far have only read a pre-published chapter and excerpts from reviews.  Since I’ll lose my freedom to take things out of context tomorrow, I ought to get this criticism of one of the excepts out now.

My main difference with Hart is that I’m convinced of the Augustinian-Thomistic metaphysics of evil while Hart would, I’d suspect, side with Origen:

If all are not saved, if God creates souls he knows to be destined for eternal misery, is God evil? …What is not debatable is that, if God does so create, in himself he cannot be the Good as such, and creation cannot be a morally meaningful act: It is, seen from one vantage, an act of predilective love; but, seen from another–logically necessary–vantage, it is an act of prudential malevolence. And so it cannot be true. We are presented by what has become the majority tradition with three fundamental claims, any two of which might be true simultaneously, but never all three: that God freely created all things out of nothingness; that God is the Good itself; and that it is certain or at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God. And this, I have to say, is the final moral meaning I find in the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo…

That All Shall Be Saved, p. 90-91 (as quoted here)

Here’s the opposing view:

1.) God creates creation, i.e. the ordered totality of the angelic universe(s?) and physical cosmos throughout history. Henceforth the universe. 

2.) The universe is an ordered whole like a house or termite mound or Bavaria.

3.) Not everything acting and living within an ordered whole necessarily works for the good of the whole. The good of a house and the good of a termite mound can obviously conflict, e.g. over the same piece of wood or the same lebensraum.

4.) In such a scenario, the death of the termites is good for the house even if obviously bad for the termites. Conversely, if some building project wanted to bulldoze a termite mound to put up apartments, the bankruptcy of the building company would be bad for the company and good for the mound.

5.) While the goods and evils in (4) are specified relative to each other, the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo specifies that the universe as such is created,  with everything in it standing to it as part to whole. So creatio ex nihilo proves that what is good for the universe is good in itself even if it is bad for some part of the universe.

6.) This is Augustine’s point in his easily-misunderstood metaphor that the painting is good by having the black in the right place. The point is that the same thing can be evil for some nature but good itself if good for the whole. It’s one and the same bankruptcy that’s good for the termites and bad for the building company. If anything acting and living in the universe works against the good of the universe, then, sad to say, its destruction will be good in itself even if per se bad for what is destroyed.

7.) Thomas will insist that there are various ways in which the good of the whole required things that were evil for the parts, but I here only want to insist on the possibility of the same thing being evil for a part of the universe while being good for the whole, and as a consequence good in itself while evil in a certain respect. Thomas and Augustine even speculated on ways in which damnation was one of the things that is evil for the part while good for the whole, but I here make the narrower claim about what creation ex nihilo entails for what is good in itself.



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