I have to say: I was stunned by the quality and character of the discourse -- this was television, mind you, albeit in March 1982. Mr. Buckley, apparently in line with his format, had invited also an "examiner" in the person of a former mentor: Ernest van den Haag, the John M. Olin Professor of Jurisprudence and Public Philosophy at Fordham University.
Mr. Adler had recently published his study, The Angels and Us, and this program was the counterpart (in 1982) of a celebrity interview to promote his recent book. What a difference 27 years can make!
Take, for instance, this exchange:
DR. ADLER: . . . [T]he dominant mood in Western thought has been more and more materialistic. It began with [Thomas] Hobbes, of course, in the 17th century, and the materialists . . . make two errors, not just one. The first error they make is to suppose they have a sound argument for denying the existence of incorporeal beings. Their first proposition is: Everything that exists is corporeal. . . .MR. BUCKLEY: That's a self-sustaining definition, isn't it?DR. ADLER: It's an assumption, totally unproved and unprovable.MR. BUCKLEY: Yes. You say it can't exist unless it's corporeal; therefore, by definition, it doesn't. . . .DR. ADLER: Nothing exists except corporeal things. And their second proposition is that angels are by definition incorporeal things. They're minds without bodies. Therefore, they say -- and this is the fallacy of their reasoning -- therefore angels cannot exist. Their conclusion, to be sound, should be: Angels do not exist. They could deny the reality of angels on the assumption of their major premise, but it doesn't follow at all that because nothing exists except corporeal things, that angels cannot exist. . . . There is nothing inconceivable or impossible about an incorporeal substance; otherwise, God would be inconceivable too.
Forget about angels for a moment -- can you conceive of such a philosophical discussion taking place on any program on any channel on television programming as we have it today? Or that, if it could take place, it would be followed by this?
MR. BUCKLEY: All right now, my next proposition . . .: Why a belief in angels?DR. ADLER: . . . First of all, the reason for the belief is scriptural evidence. Insofar as --MR. BUCKLEY: Scriptural evidence or revelation?DR. ADLER: Revelation. I mean the passages in scripture, the numerous passages, in the Old Testament, in the New Testament and in the Koran . . . in which angels manifest their appearance to human beings. . . .MR. BUCKLEY: That's as corporeal manifestations?DR. ADLER: Purely corporeal manifestations, and the most important thing the theologian tells us about those bodies with two pairs of wings or four pairs of wings in shining raiment and effulgent light [is that they] are purely disguises. The angel is a purely spiritual being, a mind without a body . . . As St. Thomas says, "That's an assumed body," . . . but that's because they must make a sensible appearance to the human beings that they are carrying God's message to . . . . The more interesting question I think, Bill, is: Why did God create angels? And the answer to that has a danger to it. It is that the universe would be less perfect without them.MR. BUCKLEY: On the assumption that you have to have anything that's conceivable?DR. ADLER: That all possibilities should be realized. But if you say that the universe in which all possibilities are realized is therefore the best of all possible worlds and God, being infinitely good in His intentions, must create the best of all possible worlds -- if you argue that way -- you end with a theologically obnoxious conclusion, namely that God was necessitated to create this world, denying free choice or freedom on God's part. So that St. Thomas . . . asks two more questions. Could God have created some other world than this, some other universe? The answer to that is flatly yes. Secondly, could God have created a better world than this? And the answer to that is flatly yes. So that what we have here is though another and better world than this could have been created, what perfection this world has comes from the fact that there isn't a tremendous gap in the hierarchy of beings, from inanimate, inorganic things to plants to animals to human beings, which are bodies with minds, to minds without bodies, in an ascending scale, to spirits up to God. . . .
Here Mortimer Adler is referring to Arthur O. Lovejoy's scheme in The Great Chain of Being, "a magnificent book", as he acknowledges later in the interview. But what I find fascinating is the sheer level of philosophic discourse, in which the concepts of St. Thomas Aquinas are thrown about as readily as are those of Gottfried Leibniz, without either participant experiencing any difficulties of reference whatsoever.
Of course, I cannot help but notice that the dispute between Leibniz and Aquinas to which Dr. Adler refers -- that as an all-benevolent being, God would have created the best of all possible worlds, and yet as an omnipotent being, He could not be forced to create such a world -- has been made irrelevant by advances in quantum physics, which were not as widely understood in 1982. Hugh Everett, then a graduate student in physics, proposed his "many-worlds hypothesis" in 1957 as his doctoral thesis at Princeton. It has since been taken up by many other physicists, including Prof. Frank Tipler, as I discussed in this earlier post.
The many-worlds hypothesis makes the Leibniz-Aquinas debate beside the point by stating that all possible worlds that could be created are indeed created. We may find ourselves at this given instant in a world that is not (by some agreed criteria) the best of all possible worlds, but the hypothesis entails that there is a world (universe) which does reflect our agreed criteria, and which is the best of all possible worlds, according to our understanding of what that would be. (And by the same criteria, there would be a worst of all possible worlds. However, since no set of criteria could be omni-universal, or applicable to all possible worlds in the same degree, it would not be possible to specify one single universe which was the best or the worst of all the possible universes which are created under the many-worlds hypothesis.)
Now, add the concept which Hugh Everett and other physicists could not allow themselves, but which Frank Tipler freely does: that there is a Creator of all these possible universes, and you have bypassed the dispute between St. Thomas Aquinas and Leibnitz. God does not create just the best of all possible worlds, but he creates all possible worlds -- without exception.
As the interview with Mortimer Adler went forward, he and William Buckley got into some fascinating discussions, to which I shall return in subsequent posts. For now, I just want to set the stage a bit: since, under Dr. Adler's view, angels are minds without bodies, and as pure minds obedient to God's will they cannot sin, how, then, did Lucifer first sin?
This is akin to, but not the same as, the question of how the perfectly created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden came to sin. Unlike angels, Adam and Eve had bodies as well as minds, and bodies are subject to feelings, desires and passions, while intellect -- the pure intellect of the mind -- is not, since it is not (at least in the case of angels) tied to a body.
This discussion, as you can imagine, is fraught with traps for the unwary, so we shall proceed carefully, with Mr. Buckley and Dr. Adler as our capable guides (joined later by Dr. Van den Haag). For now, then, I would like just to pose the question: If angels are pure minds without bodies, and as pure minds can do nothing but God's will (i.e., the concept of "free will" as we understand it for humans can have no reference to angels), how did Lucifer come to sin? And in precisely what did that sin consist?
(To be continued.)