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God’s Sovereignty: A Tribute to Hugh McCann | Episode 1812 | Closer To Truth

God’s Sovereignty: A Tribute to Hugh McCann | Episode 1812 | Closer To Truth

When philosopher Hugh McCann
died in 2016,
I found myself affected.Why, I wondered?
I didn’t know him that well.
I’d spent two delightful days
with Hugh several years earlier
interviewing him twice
Closer to Truth.But why my emotional reaction?Part of the reason, no doubt,
was the many hours going through
transcripts and editing
Closer to TruthTV episodesand web videos
in which Hugh appeared.
We atCloser to Truth
grow close to our contributors.
They become
our personal friends.
But even such familiarity
didn’t seem sufficient
to explain the loss I felt.There had to be something more,
a deeper reason for my feelings.
I’m Robert Lawrence Kuhn,
Closer to Truthis my journey to find out.[♪♪♪]On hearing
of Hugh McCann’s death,
I decide to review
my conversations with him,
relive them,
experience them anew,
see what strikes me now,
see if I can find a clue
for my unexpected reaction
to Hugh’s death.
Hugh began his career
as a philosopher of action,
later pursuing philosophy
of religion,
especially God’s nature
and sovereignty,
which is when I came to know him
and on which I focused.
[♪♪♪] KUHN: Hugh, I would like
to believe in God. But rather than dealing with
all the proofs or disproofs of God’s existence,
I like to focus on, all right, if God exists,
what is this entity that is called God,
or does God have a nature? Does God have traits,
like a personality? I think if you want to ask
whether God has a nature, in part, what we’re inclined to
think is, does God have a nature that is, as it were,
given to him, that just comes with being God
and it isn’t really up to him. So, the real then question
becomes, is it the case that God’s nature
is imposed on him? And that has two parts. One has to do with the things
that God creates and whether He’s forced
to create the way He does, and the other has
to do with God’s own nature which we don’t think
He creates himself. That doesn’t sound right. So, on the first score,
if you want to say that it’s not forced upon God that He
be good as Creator or so forth, then you have to adopt a view
according to which creation is not a matter of deliberation
or prior planning or choosing among prior plans and then pulling a universe into
existence. That’s not creation. That’s manufacturing
or conjuring or something like that. In creation, the plan
comes with the product. And so, in that situation, there
is no prior constraint on God as to what He may do. But if you turn to God’s own
nature and say, okay, well, is it really up to God
whether He’s internally good? Is it up to God
whether He has a will? That’s a little bit harder. But there is a way to do it,
and the way is to treat God not as a being who acts,
but to treat Him as the action. The action itself. If you make it out that God is
in fact a kind of act of will, then you get this. That acts of will, taking
decision as the model which has to be intrinsically
intentional or always we must intend
to decide as we decide. So, if you look at God
as an act of will, then you might say
something like this. That even though God does not
bring Himself into existence, He’s not self-creating
in that sense, nevertheless, He means to be everything
He is, and that’s intrinsic
to His nature. Are you taking a behaviorist
approach to God, that you can only judge
what God does; you can’t judge what’s internal
in God’s mind? Well, I’m not – no, I don’t
really mean to take it that way. If we take God basically as –
as an instance of willing, then what we mean
is something like this. That even if God does not bring
Himself into existence, neither is He stuck
with Himself, because an act of will is a
spontaneous thing, first of all, and it’s something that we mean
to be engaged in. So, what you have is a God who
is spontaneously all that He is and means to be that, even though He’s not bringing
Himself into existence. So, the features, right,
that pertain to God, are all there right
from eternity. The God who is ultimately
simple, nevertheless is, as it were, manifested
in all the things that He isn’t. Right. And what He does is, as I say,
spontaneous and intentional. So, He means to be
everything He is. Nothing counts as
the way He’s inclined to act. They’re only His actions. Nothing counts as a belief
He might express or that He might come to recognize
if He were to think about it, because He knows
everything immediately. Nothing counts as an intention
that He may or may not put into action, because all of
His intentions are realized. And so what does that mean
about God’s nature, ultimately? What it means is that it’s a
nature that is in accordance with His will even though
it is not produced by Him. You set as priority
God’s sovereignty. Yes, and God’s sovereignty
is manifested though in the situation where
the actual comes first rather than the possibilities
and the necessities and all that sort of thing. There’s nothing
to compare it with. – It just is what it is.
– It is what it is. And your bedrock
is God’s absolute control. Right. The way it works is
God creates the whole thing. In one fell swoop, from an
eternal perspective, right, so that the whole thing then,
in God’s case, the whole history of the
universe appears as just – as a unit to him present,
so to speak. On hand. [♪♪♪] KUHN:
Hugh McCann received his Ph.D.
from the University
of Chicago in 1968
and joined the Department
of Philosophy
at Texas A&M University
where he remained a respected
and beloved member
of the faculty
until his retirement
not long before his death
in February 2016.Hugh’s vision of God’s absolute
sovereignty as Creator
is majestic, awe-inspiring, and
as he tells it, breathtaking.
A reviewer of Hugh’s last book,Creation and the Sovereignty
of God,wrote, “rarely do we find a work
in philosophical theology
that is novel
yet firmly entrenched
within the theistic tradition.”[♪♪♪] MCCANN: Well, if you think that
God is a non-temporal being, then you have to think
of creation a certain way. You have to think of Him as aware of the entire history
of the universe in one glance. So, He observes past, present,
and future at the same time. Now, if as creator He’s also
lending existence to that entire history, then one
would say that His providence automatically extends
to that history. Providence is basically –
what it means is God’s taking
care of business. It means basically He’s
taking care of the world. One supposes that He has good
objectives as creator, and that those objects extend
to all of the things that He creates and so that
everything that’s out there would be ordered toward
some ultimate good end, and His providence would be what
directs things toward that end. But God can’t create a chair and
not create it in any position. He can’t create something that
is, for example, a billiard ball that is neither moving
nor at rest. Rather, He has to settle
all of those things. This is though an artist
were painting a picture. Ahead of time,
you can think you want a tree somewhere in the picture,
but not settle where. But when you’re creating
the picture, that tree has to go
someplace, and it has to be someplace
particular. And the same goes for every
other characteristic that anything would have. That if God’s providence
is complete, then everything has to be
settled in that single act of creation which gives
the world its being. You make it seem that the world
and its being is like a machine. That you design it, wind it up,
and then it just happens, and nothing can happen
inside that machine other than it had been
preprogrammed and pre-engineered? Well, but there’s nothing
preprogrammed or engineered, and there is no ahead of time. You don’t wind it up
and let it go, because you’re creating
the whole thing. There may be a beginning
to the universe in time, but from God’s perspective,
you don’t wind it up at the beginning
and then let it go on its own. It’s never on its own as far
as the existence of things is concerned.
That’s settled only by God. But there’s nothing in there
that says that it’s settled in a way that doesn’t allow
natural causation to operate, settled in a way that doesn’t
allow natural processes to occur just as they would be otherwise, settled in a way that doesn’t
allow our deliberation and decision-making to proceed in just the way
that we would want it to. If we think of God as a creator
of the world in a true sense, in a sense that we would never
dignify with the name creation, a human process of just copying
from some instructions that you were given to make
something, that’s not creation. If you want to say God is the
creator of the world, what you want is for
the plan and the product to come at once. And remember, there’s no
time that it takes to create. So, what you’re seeing
when God creates us, He sees us
in our complete career, with all the decisions
that we make, all of it, as it were,
as a finished product, okay? And in seeing it, He is
at the same time willing it. So, it says what we get
in Genesis. God said, let there be light,
and there was light, and God saw that it was good, are just three descriptions
of precisely the same event. Seeing that it’s there,
seeing that it’s good, seeing that it is
are all the same for God. So, there’s no way
in which in creating us and being completely
providential toward us, there’s no way that God
is doing anything to us. He’s not operating on us. He’s not putting us there
and then picking out an action that we’re going to perform.
We’re already there. I’m having trouble
with this big distinction between God being the creator
as making a plan and God being the creator
as manufacturing the goods. But you’re saying that
there’s no time, obviously. Both happen simultaneously.
God doesn’t plan it. – Right.
– It just happens from God? That’s right. Only an inferior
god would need a plan. A perfect God is like a perfect
improvisational musician. Since there is no prior plan,
there’s nothing to be talked about as far as how
things could have been. There are no could haves or
might haves about something that doesn’t exist
even in the abstract yet, because you can’t talk about it. And one of the consequences
of the view, in fact, is that you don’t get something
like triangularity until you have triangles. So, there’s no abstract objects. No other possibilities. It’s not a possible world.
It’s the world. There are no other
possibilities to speak of, because it’s not there yet. On the same way, if you want
to talk about possible worlds and best possible worlds,
there is no prior set of possible worlds
from which God selects. Rather, He creates the world. And possibilities
can then be spoken of. But until then,
there’s nothing talk about. KUHN:For Hugh, the absolute
sovereignty of God
was always predominate
and unassailable.
Hugh McCann is survived by his
wife of 50 years, Janet McCann,
a poet and long-term professor
of English at Texas A&M,
and by his four children
and seven grandchildren.
Hugh’s early work
was in action theory
where he formulated
a teleological theory of action
that focuses on mental states,
intentions, motivations, desires
as reasons, but not
as causes, of actions.
[♪♪♪] MCCANN: One thing I worry about
is what it is to decide to do something for one reason
rather than another. Let’s say I have
more than one reason for deciding to take
a vacation in Italy. One might be to tour some sights
and looks at some churches and some museums and so forth. Our decision-making relates
to the reasons that we have for deciding the way we do. So, if you come up to a point
at which you have to make a decision, you’ve got sometimes
reasons for doing one thing, reasons for doing another thing.
You have to settle between them. And the question then
is how is it that the reasons are related to the decision? If you are a believer
in libertarian free will, you don’t think that
there are causes. You think they
are something else. And so, then you ask yourself,
well, what does it mean to decide for one reason
rather than another if it’s not something causal? What it means to decide for one
reason rather than another is simply that you form
an intention that reflects the one reason rather than
the other, all right? What’s the significance of that? That gives you a non-causal
account of what it means to decide for one reason
rather than the other. Because you simply take the
content of the desire, all right, the contemplated end,
and you simply take that and you re-form it
into an intention, right, so that your mind is doing
a certain kind of information processing.
It’s taking a thought that comes to you
in the shape of a desire and a way to achieve the desire, and you simply then re-cast that
as an intention. [♪♪♪] KUHN:As a professor,
Hugh was always approachable,
a constant resource
to his students.
Many became
his life-long friends.
Hugh’s teaching centered
on philosophy of mind,
especially the theory of action
and on philosophy of religion,
and in relation to both,
the problem of free will
and the metaphysics of events.[♪♪♪] KUHN: Hugh, you seem to want
to do the impossible, to make God fully sovereign
in His control and to make human beings
fully free in their free will. How do you harmonize such
a contradictory position? Well, harmonizing divine
sovereignty and human freedom is in part going to depend on
what you think human freedom is. It’s in part going to
depend on what you think divine sovereignty is
or how it is exercised by God. Now, in my view, human freedom
is not a matter of us causing our own actions,
and the reason is because if you cause your own actions,
it has to be either by some other action
that you perform, which leads to
an infinite regress, because each time you have
this separate action, you have to worry about
whether it’s free. Then the other possibility is
you could cause the action as part of the action itself, but then you have something
causing itself, and that doesn’t seem right. So, it doesn’t look like
you can have humans causing their action.
That leaves you two options. One is there is no cause, and then you have to face
classical objections against libertarianism,
that it means that there are some events
in the universe that are just purely random,
have no explanation, whatever,
and we’re stuck with them. And then the other alternative,
you try to invoke God as cause and see if you can
do so in such a way that human freedom is preserved. To me, what human freedom is, is that you’re not acted upon
by anybody or anything. So, nothing is done to you that results in your choosing
the way you choose. The other thing is that
the choice is spontaneous, and I suppose that just
goes with action as that kind of spontaneity. And the other thing
is that choices are always intrinsically
intentional. You can’t decide to do something
and not mean to decide, and in fact, not mean to decide
exactly what you’re deciding. So, it’s not as if it befalls
you or anything like that. So, that’s what I think
freedom consists of, and then I want to make divine
causation consistent with that. And the way to do that, I think,
is to realize that when God creates us
or creates the universe, two things are true. First of all, God is not
a temporal being, so, He creates
everything at once. And the other thing is that God
doesn’t choose among options. What happens is just us. And what God does first
is He creates us. So, He doesn’t select a thing. The only selecting that’s done
is done by you and me in framing questions
and giving answers, and there’s no reason why
that can’t be free. It’s not just God creating the
environment for us to work in; It’s God creating the specific
actions, everything we’re doing. That’s what you’re telling me. But it’s also the contemplation
of the possibilities, the recognition of them,
the agonizing over them. – Everything. All those.
– God’s causing everything. And I’m still free. – And we’re still free.
– I’m still mystified. Well, because you think either
there were prior possibilities, and I’m denying that, right? Because the possibilities
aren’t there until after the reality
is there. Prior to the reality
being there, there’s nothing to be
spoken of, right? Or, you think if there aren’t
any prior possibilities, then there must have
been a prior necessity, but there wasn’t
any prior necessity either. All there is is what there is. [♪♪♪] KUHN:Hugh enjoyed serving
the profession of philosophy,
particularly via the American
Philosophical Association.
He was a former editorof theJournal
of Philosophical Research. [♪♪♪] MCCANN:
Why we hold people responsible
in a free-will setting, okay? And this I’m very
up in the air about. We say that we blame people
or reward them or punish them or praise them in order
to influence their conduct. But if you’re going to be
a libertarian about free will, then you’re thinking of that
as a causal process exactly. And yet, we still think that by
visiting a hardship on people, which is what we do
when we punish them, or by visiting some good
upon them, which is what we do
when we reward them, we still think that we can
influence their conduct. That is a bit of
a mystery to me. Is what happens when a person,
as a result of encountering hardship
for something that they did, why is it that they change? What exactly is the effect
that that has on people? And of course, praise
has the opposite effect. I don’t understand
the ordering of that cause and the consequence
that it has or that input and the consequence it has,
because no matter whether you’re a
libertarian or a determinist, you still have to have
some account of what it is to hold a person responsible, what it is to hold oneself
responsible, and how it is that those
mechanisms work and lead us to do
the things that we do, to alter our behavior
in the ways we do. So, we’re thinking how is it
that we would think about it if it was from
a theistic perspective. Well, part of the question is,
what is it to be responsible and to take responsibility
for ourselves? One way to look at the Adam
and Eve story is to make it out that original sin was Adam
and Eve deciding, well, look, we’re going
to take responsibility for ourselves here. We’re the ones who are going
to settle our destiny and get ourselves knowledge
of good and evil and become like God
and so forth. There’s a sense in which taking
responsibility for yourself can be an act of pride. But there’s also a better sense,
and that’s a sense in which we acknowledge the things
that we do as being our own. As decisions that we have made,
actions that we have performed, and for which we are answerable
in a sense that if there is a price
to be paid or an apology to be made,
that it’s ours to do. And that the only way that we
can come to grips with ourselves and what we are
and what we made of ourselves is to move forward in such
a way that we acknowledge what it is that we’ve done
in the past, good and bad. Entirely reasonable. But why does that have
any greater purchase under a theistic world view than
under an atheistic world view? From a theistic perspective,
there is a providence of God that is behind what we are
and what we are to become so that it’s easier for us
to face up to what may be our own spiritual needs or
the shortcomings in our actions, because from
a theistic perspective, you have a God that you can –
that you can pray to, that you can depend upon to, as
it were, help you come to grips. [♪♪♪] KUHN:Hugh was both a creative
and a rigorous philosopher.
As his colleague
Robert Audi wrote,
in his theory of mind
and free action,
and in his work
in the theory of value
and the foundations of ethics,he provided a basis
for affirming human dignity.
[♪♪♪] MCCANN: Most of theism
thinks of evil in two ways. That first of all, they think
about what we call sin, right, which essentially boils down to
evil exercises of the will that, let us say, run counter
to divine commands. Right? Then on the other hand,
there’s suffering, which is rather a different
thing and would be there and might very well be there
even if no sin was ever committed. There are different ways of
dealing with the sin part. Some say that’s just our doing and you don’t lay it
at God’s door. That’s our fault. Well, I don’t think that. The so-called
free will defense. Yes. Everyone who thinks that,
let’s say, that God knows what world He’s creating
when He creates the world has to face the issue that
God knows what evil actions are going to be performed. If you don’t grant God
that knowledge, then in fact you’re diminishing God as far
as omniscience is concerned. You appear to be saying,
look, there are certain things that are going to happen
that God doesn’t yet know about. If He does know
what’s going to happen, then you have to ask yourself,
well, then, what justifies His creating the
world in which this evil occurs? Yes. On most treatments of evil,
evil is viewed as a kind of foreign interloper
in the world, right? Something that enters, as
it were, almost surreptitiously, and that is not wanted and with
which we have to somehow cope and God must somehow
cope as best He can. And I don’t think
that’s the game at all. I think what’s going on
in the world is that part of the enterprise of
creation is to overcome evil. That that’s part of the deal. When it comes to sin,
then you have to ask yourself, well, how is it
that sin is overcome? You can say, well,
but what God wants is God wants a relationship
and friendship with us. Well, friendship can’t
be forced on people. It has to be freely chosen. You certainly can have
suffering without sin. What is the effect that
suffering can have on us? Well, it can lead
to hopelessness. It can lead to despair. It can lead to us giving up. It can lead to us
becoming embittered. You know, cursing
whatever god there may be. Or, it can have
the opposite effect. It can make you determined that
you’re going to overcome it. So, it turns out
that the challenge that suffering presents
is actually overcome by our becoming more
virtuous, right, and more courageous
and more patient and… KUHN: Okay. The counter examples
to what you’re talking about are when the suffering occurs
to children who are just killed. Okay. So, here’s where
one has to bite down hard on a hard nut. Okay? There are two ways
you can handle it. One is you can say, well, look,
God has imminent domain here. The State wants to put
a road through; it doesn’t have to knock down
everybody’s house, just in order to be justified
in knocking yours down. Okay. – That’s the hard nut.
– Right. But the other way is the way
that I think is implicit in the Book of Job
where you say, look. I don’t know what this is for. I don’t know how
to cope with it. But it’s not my world. We don’t get an answer
to the problem of evil when we read the Book of Job. But he got his.
And his was, shut up. [♪♪♪] KUHN:At the time of his death,
Hugh was working on a paper.
No surprise.A philosopher of wide knowledge
and keen powers of analysis,
Hugh McCann was a source
of edification
and a fountain of ideas.He combined encouragement
with criticism,
often suffused with humor.He took his work seriously,
but never himself.
[♪♪♪] KUHN: What does it mean
to accept that God is free? Well, many have thought
that He was not. Many have thought that
since God is perfectly good and all-knowing
that He must choose the best possible world
to create. Now, in my view, there are two
things to be said about that. First, since there are
no prior plans, there’s no choice to be made
among possible worlds, because a possible world
is just a prior plan. Secondly though, there’s this: The classical view
of God’s goodness was that it was not dispositional. That is to say that God didn’t
tend toward doing good things or have a liking for doing good
things or anything like that. God was supposed to be perfectly
in act or purely in act. And what that would mean
would be this. That God’s goodness
depends entirely, and is entirely a matter
of what He does, not what He’s disposed to do. Did God have to
create this world? No. To me, it’s wrong to make
any modal statements about God. So, it is not the case that
He had to create the world. It’s not the case that
He could have created another. He simply created the world
or creates the world. So, God can be free
with totally no choices? With totally no modal
statements true about Him, okay? With no cans and coulds.
Right? He’s free in the sense that He
transcends even the possible. [♪♪♪] KUHN:
It is so obvious to me now
the reason why Hugh McCann’s
death affected me
was that he made me
think about God
as I never had thought before.Hugh’s radically God floored me.A God that is the action,
not the actor.
A God that doesn’t plan.No deliberations,
no dispositions,
no possibilities, a God of
maximum absolute sovereignty.
It’s not that I now believe
that Hugh’s kind of God
actually exists,
or, for that matter,
that any kind of god
actually exists,
but because I wonder whether
there is a Supreme Being,
and if so, what a Supreme Being
could be like,
that I so appreciate
Hugh’s intuitions.
[♪♪♪]I do not believe
that Hugh McCann
had special access
to ultimate reality
or that he had a special message
from the Divine.
But he made me think about
God as I’d never imagined.
A single sharp insight
of profundity and power.
I am and shall remain
in Hugh McCann’s debt
for having taken me
just a little
Closer to Truth. [♪♪♪] ANNOUNCER:
For complete interviews
and for further information,
please visit[♪♪♪]

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2 thoughts on “God’s Sovereignty: A Tribute to Hugh McCann | Episode 1812 | Closer To Truth

  1. this solved some of my problems. Thank you.
    Is there any answer to this problem:
    How god is omniscience and simple. Because science must be something complex.

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