« The Wages of Appeasement | Main | Toleration Extremism: Notes on John Stuart Mill »

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Thanks for the post.

Could you please expand on how God's Biblically recorded changes can be taken as "figurative"? I think that we are in agreement, but I am curious as to your meaning nonetheless.

Incidentally, how does Mr. Nemes account for natural theologians who also subscribe to revealed religion (which is probably most of them)? Are they fooling themselves?

You're welcome.

You asked me a tough question. Let me think about it.

The question to Nemes is a good one. I'll let him answer it!

Hi Bill,

Thanks for the post!

You are right: if we understand the "God of the philosophers" to mean God as approached by the philosophers, and "God of the religious" to mean God as approached by the religious, then it is hard to see why there should be a conflict between the two beings: they are just the same God approached different ways.

But the apparent problem that most who bring up this kind of objection, I think, are getting at is that the concept of God particular to the (or most) philosophers is incompatible with the picture of God one might get giving a reasonable reading through the scriptures of various religions alone. The apparent difficulty is not relating to approaches but to concepts.

Now, I take it as a datum that the God of the philosophers is simple and thereby immutable, even if some philosophers who apparently were theists did not hold to such a view of God; you'd might as well argue that God need not be something distinct from the world because Spinoza "believed in God" and he didn't think God was distinct from everything else, because he thought there was only one substance and that was God! God has to be something metaphysically ultimate, not a being among beings, as you've said before; anybody who calls something mutable or less than metaphysically ultimate "God" is simply mistaken, and you should agree because you've expressed such sentiments in the past. :-)

I think the problem can be made more clear because there are more compelling cases of the apparent mutability of God in, for example, Christian scripture than just what you've pointed out; and these cannot be understood figuratively without some serious changes in theology.

Take, as examples, various issues in Christian soteriology. The typical Christian teaching is that the second person of the trinity incarnated for the sake of providing a means of salvation for man; how can this not imply a perception or consciousness of the sin of man on the part of God, and a response to it? The only way I can see that it might not is if God is likewise the cause of the sin and the atonement, but that is not a path that very many would like to take; and if we don't take that path, how do we make figurative the teaching about the purpose of the incarnation/atonement without seriously and radically departing from Christian orthodoxy? (For, after all, it would seem to me that there is no better judge of what God-R is like except for the established orthodoxy of religious traditions extant now for thousands of years.) The seemingly established orthodox opinion regarding the atonement is that it is some sort of propitiatory sacrifice on behalf of sinners to appease the requirement of God's justice that sin be punished, yet make room by his love that men be capable of experiencing communion with him from which their sin kept them distant; but this is hard to make sense of in a way that doesn't imply God responding to perceived sinfulness in humanity (assuming we do not want to make God the cause of the sin as well).

Take as an example, also, the belief in the final judgment: some to heaven and eternal bliss, others to hell, on the basis of some decisions made during their lifetimes at least -- how can God not be reacting to the lives of the respective individuals, unless he is the cause of their lives and their ultimate destinies as well? And who would dare to interpret figuratively the doctrine of the final judgment? Most Christians, it would seem to me, would take that as a departure from orthodoxy.

(I could not give examples from the other two religions, but Christianity will do fine since it is one of the more popular religions anyway.)

The God of the Christian religion, at least, seems to affected in various ways by the goings-on in the created order. Either we interpret these apparent changes and reactions in God figuratively (which it is not at all obvious how we can do this in a way not dangerous to orthodoxy--and in a way that is plausible given the thinking of the scriptural writers themselves), or else we make God the cause of the apparent cause as well as his apparent response. But neither route will seem very appealing to many, if not most, in the Christian tradition at least.

Leo,

I don't say any natural theologian who subscribes to any revealed religion is fooling himself; after all, I am such a person. :-) But I do say that there is a serious apparent difficulty here, that of the apparent incompatibility of the metaphysically ultimate and hence immutable God of the philosophers (for evidence of such a being, see Summa Theologiae I.2.3, etc.) and the evidently mutable God of revealed religions who intervenes in human history in various ways and at various times, appears to respond to prayers and work miracles, and in some religions promises to judge men according to actions performed in their lifetimes. The God of the philosophers is characteristically immutable, whereas the God of the religions seems eminently mutable. It would appear to me that such a theologian would, in order to be consistent, have to understand his religion in a way that is less than obvious upon reading merely the religious texts themselves, and would believe things that are probably not what the original authors themselves had meant in penning them. And I should note, I ask the question because I myself am interested in a solution to the problem; I am not resolute on it being an irreconcilable difference, but am seeking understanding.

Steven,

Excellent response. I am happy to see you hammering back at me with the very tools I have supplied you with.

>> I take it as a datum that the God of the philosophers is simple and thereby immutable, even if some philosophers who apparently were theists did not hold to such a view of God;<<

Although there are powerful arguments for divine simplicity, you can't just take it as a datum, a given. Have you read Plantinga's *Does God Have a Nature?* Bringing in Spinoza doesn't help your case because he is not a classical Western monotheist. The tension between 'God of the philosophers' amd 'God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob' occurs in a quite definite context, and Spinoza is outside of that content.

Your understanding of Christina doctrine is excellent, and the problems you raise are extremely difficult if not insoluble. God is portrayed in the scriptures as interfering with the created order in various ways. In Exodus, for example, we read about how God takes the side of the Israelites against the Egyptians, causes the Red Sea to part, etc.

Now on some philosophical conceptions of God -- deism, e.g. -- that can't happen: the physical universe is a closed system and God cannot interfere with its workings. So the deist has to simply throw out those passages or reinterpret them.

Leo,

>>Could you please expand on how God's Biblically recorded changes can be taken as "figurative"?<<

I don't have a good answer, but I'll take a stab at it. If God literally becomes aware of the latest outrage perpetrated against the Chosen People by the Pharaoh, then his mental state changes, which is inconsistent with his immutability. Perhaps we can say that the B-theory of time is true and God is timelessly aware of all events, past, present, and future and creates a world in which it appears to us that God changes when in reality he does not. But I don't have the time to expand on this.

Holy mackerel! Post of the year!

First a comment: Aquinas, we should remember, offered his answer to the question in the Summa theologiae, Prima pars, Question 9, article 1. He gives several arguments there, all interesting and requiring far more development than I am capable of delivering here or even at all. I will, however, bring up, leaving out a nicety or two, an argument closely related to his first argument: whatever is changed by something is, in that respect, dependent upon and so posterior to that something; God (at least the god of classical theism) is not posterior to anything in any respect; therefore, God is not changed by anything.

Then a question: do you have any thoughts on the thesis, advanced by a number of Christians, including, e.g., Franklin Graham, that the God of Islam is not identical with the God of Christianity?

Bill: Thanks for the reply. I was not taking divine simplicity as a datum, but rather that divine simplicity is central to classical theism and hence to the concept of God-P. See, for instance, what Ed Feser says here:

>> As I have indicated in earlier posts, the doctrine of divine
>> simplicity is absolutely central to classical theism. Why is
>> divine simplicity regarded by classical theists as so important?
>> One reason is that in their view, nothing less than what is
>> absolutely simple could possibly be divine, because nothing less
>> than what is absolutely simple could have the metaphysical
>> ultimacy that God is supposed to have. For anything which is in
>> any way composed of parts would be metaphysically less fundamental
>> than those parts themselves, and would depend on some external
>> principle to account for the parts being combined in the way they
>> are... In short, to deny divine simplicity is, for the classical
>> theist, implicitly to deny the existence of God.
>> (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09/classical-theism.html)

If this is so, then the problem of God-P vs God-R can be stated succinctly as follows: God-P is simple and immutable; God-R, however, appears mutable, and some instances of ostensible mutability happen to occur in central doctrines of some religions, the denial of which, to many of the adherents of those religions, would seem to be a denial of the religion as a whole.

You said, "Although there are powerful arguments for divine simplicity, you can't just take it as a datum, a given. Have you read Plantinga's *Does God Have a Nature?* Bringing in Spinoza doesn't help your case because he is not a classical Western monotheist. The tension between 'God of the philosophers' and 'God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob' occurs in a quite definite context, and Spinoza is outside of that content."

I've read Plantinga's Does God Have a Nature? I think his arguments are bad, for reasons you'll be familiar with. (Interestingly, Plantinga-style objections are brought forth against divine simplicity quite often, in my experience; that is a testament to the expansive sphere of influence that the contemporary metaphysical perspective, out of which those objections stem, has.)

If Spinoza does not count as a theist in the classical sense, and the God-P vs God-R conflict is about classical theism, then we ought to include divine simplicity in our concept of God-P, as Ed Feser says above.

Steven,

First of all, do you agree with me that there is no God of the philosophers as you understand the phrase? For there is no conception of God shared by all philosophers, not even within orthodox Christianity. Aquinas and Plantinga are both orthodox Christians, yet they differ on divine simplicity. But on my understanding of the phrase there is a God of the philosophers since all philosophers qua philosophers inquire about God if they inquire about him at all using reason (which does not rule out an appeal to the deliverances of the senses).

Feser is repeating a standard argument for the divine simplicity. It is a powerful argument. But the doctrine itself is arguably incoherent as Plantinga and many others would argue. Plantinga, Swinburne, and a host of others are not going to grant you or the Catholic Feser that DS is an essential ingredient of classical theism. And why should 'classical theism' mean what Feser says it means?

I agree that if there is no ontolo. simple being then there is no God. But surely that is not self-evident, nor self-evidently an entailment of classical theism. Plantinga would demur and he is a pretty smart guy.

Furthermore, you do not need to bring simplicity into it since simplicity and immutability are not equivalent attributes. If x is simple, then x is immutable. But if x is immutable, it does not follow that x is simple. Do you see that? The problem you formulate is better formulated without mention of simplicity. It is then more gripping.

For the nonconstituent ontologist, DS makes not sense which then pushes us to the deeper general-ontological question about NC vs. C ontologies.

As for your last sentence, what entitles you to use 'classical theism' as you use it? Strictly speaking 'classical' refers to Greek and Roman antiquity. Were Plato and Aristotle classical theists?

Richard,

Thanks for the Aquinas reference. The Reply to Obj. 3 is particularly pertinent: "These things [draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you] are said of God in Scripture metaphorically."

As for your question, yes, I have thought about that, and I think I have a post on the old blog which I will try to dig up.

Mr. Nemes:

"Take as an example, also, the belief in the final judgment: some to heaven and eternal bliss, others to hell, on the basis of some decisions made during their lifetimes at least -- how can God not be reacting to the lives of the respective individuals, unless he is the cause of their lives and their ultimate destinies as well? And who would dare to interpret figuratively the doctrine of the final judgment?"

But surely the change that cannot be interpreted figuratively is the change in creatures, not their Creator. I see no difficulty with God ordaining from eternity who will deserve to be saved and who will deserve to be lost (and likewise who will in fact be saved and who will in fact be lost) at Judgment Day. I think we can take other instances of Divine "responses" to creaturely action similarly: God ordains from eternity that a creature will X and that on account of its Xing will receive some grace, punishment, etc. What say you?

Dr. Vallicella:

I'm generally averse to B-Theory, so I'm suspicious of that sort of response (which is not, of course, to prove it wrong, merely unpalatable). It seems to me that a more promising line of argument can build upon the distinction between real and logical relations: God is really related only to Himself but takes on merely logical or Cambridge relations to creatures. Since they are merely Cambridge relations, change in them need not imply real change in both of the relata. Therefore, God's changes as described in the Bible can be taken as mere Cambridge change affecting merely Cambridge relations, which does not imply Divine mutability. This theory, however, requires a great deal of fleshing out.

Bill:

You raise good points. I think it is clear that classical theism involves immutability and simplicity; after all, belief in a mutable God who changes and reacts to goings-on in the world was definitely not popular prior to the last century or two. And when you think that the problem of God-P vs God-R was expressed in Pascal's Pensees, a time when it seems to me the majority opinion on God included belief in divine simplicity (a doctrine obviously held by the Scholastics and those with which Pascal would be familiar), it becomes more compelling that the God of the philosophers, as I'm using the phrase, is simple.

Both Plantinga and Swinburne think God is in time; how many theists in the medieval or ancient period believed that? Swinburne and others think God does not know the future; how many theists in the medieval or ancient period believed that? It seems only to define the term according to the majority beliefs of the philosophers of that period, and it seems to me the simplicity of God, and hence immutability, was central to their thinking. If not simplicity, then at least immutability--that is sufficient for the problem.

__________________________________________________________

Leo:

I admitted that that is a possibility in my first post, when I said:

>> The only way I can see that it might not is if God is likewise the
>> cause of the sin and the atonement, but that is not a path that very
>> many would like to take. (see here)

That seems to be the route that Aquinas takes and other Thomists, as well as Calvinists--though they would disagree about finer details in soteriology.

It's interesting you say you see no difficulty with your suggestion. :-) Bill, Peter, and others who frequent this blog would probably find it outrageous. At least a couple of obvious objections are that it seems to involve God's causing moral evils, and that it detracts from man's autonomy and freedom. You will probably argue for a conception of freedom and voluntary behavior compatible with such divine determinism, as Aquinas outlines in Summa Theologiae Ia IIae, q. 6, etc. I am familiar with Aquinas' account, and I am not without some objections, but discussion of this would take us too far off-topic. It was not without reason that I said that such a response is "not a path that very many would like to take," because it goes very contrary to many religious adherents' intuitions.

Steven,

I get the impression you are conflating immutability and simplicity. The second entails the first, but the first does not entail the second.

Dr. Vallicella:

I think a case can be made that immutability entails simplicity. For in every order of composition (formal/material, existential/essential, etc.) there is a composition of potency and act. But where potency and act enter into composition, potency is reduced to act. But change just is the reduction of potency to act. Therefore, only in that without composition can there be no change.

Mr. Nemes:

Your suspicion is justified: I do indeed endorse a theologically compatibilist account of human freedom. I agree, however, that here would not be the best place to articulate or defend such a position. ;-)

P.S. I am sorry for going over a point you had already addressed: I had not understood what you meant by God being "the cause of the sin and the atonement."

The problem Steven highlights, if I understand it correctly, begins early, very early. It begins with the first words of the OT: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." And so it goes.

If an act is a change in the actor and if creation is one or more acts, then God's creation of the universe is a change in God. Hence, God cannot be immutable, if by 'immutable' we mean something that performs no acts, normally understood, including creating, intervening, and so forth.

I am assuming that very few theists, if any, are willing to give up on the doctrine of the creation. For if one gives up on the creation doctrine, then theism becomes a very thin doctrine indeed. So creation cannot be given up even by the Philosopher's conception of God. But if creation is sacrosanct, then God has performed at least one series of acts which entails that it cannot be immutable. Something must give; or so it appears.

Mr. Lupu:

"If an act is a change in the actor and if creation is one or more acts, then God's creation of the universe is a change in God."

I agree, but why should we accept the first conjunct of the antecedent? Why must an act be a change?

Leo,

I do not see what an action would be unless it constitutes some change in the actor. How can anything result from an action unless the actor did something? Exceptions may be omissions, although creating the world can hardly be viewed as an omission.

Peter,

Leo's point could be fleshed out as follows. God's creating of the universe (more precisely: the totality of contingent beings) is not an action God performs in time. God is eternal as opposed to omnitemporal. He does not exist in time. Not being in time, he cannot change. No change without time. Suppose the universe always existed. It could still have creaturely status. (We've discussed this before.) Accordingly, createdness is just existential dependence.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" could be taken to mean that the universe does not exist on its own, but is at every instant of its existence dependent for its existence on God, who exists on his own. Accordingly, 'in principio' does not have a temporal but a logical-ontological meaning.

In what sense does God act? He acts inasmuch as he is the agent-cause of the universe's existence. His acting is contingent because there are possible worlds in which he exists but no universe exists.

Leo argues,


>>I think a case can be made that immutability entails simplicity. For in every order of composition (formal/material, existential/essential, etc.) there is a composition of potency and act. But where potency and act enter into composition, potency is reduced to act. But change just is the reduction of potency to act. Therefore, only in that without composition can there be no change.<<

An interesting argument, but consider this. The set of primes < 8 has the property of having four members. Thus {1, 3, 5, 7} has four members. Clearly, the property is distinct from the object that has it. Now the set is immutable: it cannot change. And the same goes for the property it has. If you want, you can speak of a composition of object and property. Clearly, the state of affairs of the set's having four members is immutable but not simple. So immutability is not simplicity.

As for your argument, I deny its first premise.

Bill,

1) "God is eternal as opposed to omnitemporal. He does not exist in time."

I assume that 'omnitemporal' means existing at every time and 'eternal' means existing outside of time. If God is eternal (in this sense) and if God has causal powers, then that means that there can be causality outside of time.

2) "He (God) does not exist in time. Not being in time, he cannot change. No change without time."

If God's creation is an act and God causes the universe to come into being, then there must be causality outside of time and, hence, there is also change outside of time. For surely something changed when the universe came into being: e.g., the universe did not exist prior to the creation; it exists after.

3) "Suppose the universe always existed. It could still have creaturely status. (We've discussed this before.) Accordingly, createdness is just existential dependence."

If we were to assume that the universe always exited (I assume you mean in time), then we are forced to also accept that there is no creation, in the sense of bringing something into being, even if there is existential dependence. Thus, the theist who holds this view must give up the creation element, although he can hold onto existential dependence.

However, this I take to be a very significant concession in two respects. An important argument for the existence of God is that it explains how the universe as a whole came into being in the first place (Why there is something rather than nothing!). And, second, one must then give up the intelligent design argument as well. Thus, we ourselves came into being as part of the workings of the omnitemporal universe rather than as a result of a divine plan.

I think that the above concessions grant the atheist all the ground he needs to dismiss the existence of God altogether. For given the assumption that the universe always existed and given these two concessions, I do not see what compels us to accept existential dependence. Why not simply assume that the universe always existed, it functions according to laws that also always existed and, thus, there is very little need to postulate the existence of God.

An important argument for the existence of God is that it explains how the universe as a whole came into being in the first place (Why there is something rather than nothing!).

But the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" seems to be valid whether one assumes the universe had a beginning or whether it did not. Certainly Aquinas asked that, even while granting the eternity of the universe of the sake of the argument, unless I've misunderstood Aquinas.

And, second, one must then give up the intelligent design argument as well. Thus, we ourselves came into being as part of the workings of the omnitemporal universe rather than as a result of a divine plan.

This seems incorrect as well. An omnitemporal universe that is sustained and at each moment created by God could still conceivably trigger intelligent design inferences. It seems to me, if one can imagine 'a universe existing from eternity', one can also imagine a design appearing in that universe that would point to a designer. Eternity itself would not get one "off the hook".

And once one starts specifying just what sort of properties this "eternal universe" has, well... see below.

Why not simply assume that the universe always existed, it functions according to laws that also always existed and, thus, there is very little need to postulate the existence of God.

"Why not simply assume..." seems like it's always available, regardless of the evidence. I get worried when people talk about "very little need to postulate the existence of God" in discussions like this, because - while certainly there's often argument and careful consideration - in the realm of philosophy, it seems that one is only limited by their imagination. In a sense, assumption always can and will provide an answer or an out for any particular postulate. If a determined solipsist bet you 500 dollars that you couldn't provide him with a reason to admit that there exist other minds, would you - even knowing for certain that solipsism is untrue - take the bet? I wouldn't.

For my own part, an eternally existing universe that was orderly, understandable, and containing of beings and creations that acted according to natures, would still scream "God", even "Design".

Mr. Lupu:

"I do not see what an action would be unless it constitutes some change in the actor. How can anything result from an action unless the actor did something?"

Here is another, though perhaps not exclusive, answer from that given by Dr. Vallicella. But to do something, an agent need not, in principle, have been not-doing it previously. That is the case in creaturely actions, because in creatures act and actions only exist as the fulfillment of a prior potency. In any order where act is pure, however, act can exist without being reduced from potency and thus changing. But God exhibits such an order. Therefore, etc.

"If we were to assume that the universe always exited (I assume you mean in time), then we are forced to also accept that there is no creation, in the sense of bringing something into being, even if there is existential dependence. Thus, the theist who holds this view must give up the creation element, although he can hold onto existential dependence."

You seem to be drawing a very sharp line between creation and mere existential dependence. Many theists, however (Descartes and St. Thomas come to mind), deny that the two are so distinct, and regard an eternal universe as being eternally brought into being by God.

"An important argument for the existence of God is that it explains how the universe as a whole came into being in the first place (Why there is something rather than nothing!)."

Many of the chief proponents (Avicenna, Maimonides, Aquinas, Scotus, etc.) of cosmological arguments like the one you refer to, though (ones seeking an origin or cause of the universe), thought the success or failure of their arguments totally independent of the universe having had a temporal beginning; indeed, Avicenna was an *advocate* of the eternity of the universe, and that did not stop him from giving a cosmological argument!

Similarly, I fail to see why a universe eternally created by God cannot be eternally governed and planned by Him.

Dr. Vallicella:

"Now the set [{2, 3, 5, 7}] is immutable: it cannot change."

An interesting argument, but suppose that we accept an immanent view of universals and the position that numbers are universals. Therefore, since a set exists only on the condition that its members exist, and since it is possible that at one time t1 there were not seven of something and at a later time t2 there were seven of something, the set in question would have been brought (temporally) into existence or acquired a new member, which would be a change.

"As for your argument, I deny its first premise."

But in any composite, the parts must at least be in se distinct and thus in se merely potential as regards entering into composition.

Joseph,

"But the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" seems to be valid whether one assumes the universe had a beginning or whether it did not."

The question "Why there is something rather than nothing" assumes that whatever there is was not always exist. O/w if one grants that the universe has no beginning and never came into existence, then it is unclear what it is that the question inquires. So perhaps you can provide the meaning of the question under such an assumption.

"An omnitemporal universe that is sustained and at each moment created by God could still conceivably trigger intelligent design inferences."

If "sustained" and "created" involve actions, then there is change and the matter is settled in favor of Steven's problem. If they do not, then it is unclear what they mean in this context. Bill's notion of "existential dependence" perhaps makes sense apart from any actions, but then my objection holds. i.e., while God may sustain the universe in the sense of existential dependence, but it did not create it according to a plan. (e.g., I depend on air to exist, but the air did not create me, design me, nor does it sustains me through any planned action on its part). I do not see how intelligent design is compatible with an omnitemporal universe which depends for its existence on God w/o God ever acting upon it.

Your last two paragraphs are not clear. The assumptions I am referring to follow from holding that the universe is omnitemporal and God never created it, in the sense of an action. Thus, these assumptions are made by a theist who wishes to hold such a position, not me.

Leo,

"But to do something, an agent need not, in principle, have been not-doing it previously."

This makes no sense to me. I think that this fits more the notion of a state of affairs or perhaps that of having a property. e.g., it makes no sense to say that existence, for instance, is something that an omnitemporal universe is *doing* perpetually. To exist is not to do something; it is to have a certain state of being. Still, even if a going on occurs perpetually, it still brings about change, albeit a perpetual change.

"You seem to be drawing a very sharp line between creation and mere existential dependence."

I do and I believe for a good reason. My existence depends upon oxygen; but oxygen did not create me. Fudging the lines so as to suit one's predilections, even if great philosophers and Theologians do it, does not mean that they are rationally entitled to do so. Another example:

"...regard an eternal universe as being eternally brought into being by God."

Is the phrase "brought into being" an activity? It seems so. If it is, then there is action. If it is not, there is no creation (which is an action).

"Avicenna was an *advocate* of the eternity of the universe, and that did not stop him from giving a cosmological argument!"

If something exists eternally, then there is no need to give an argument that proves that it was created. To create something implies that it came into being (o/w I have no clue what it means).

"Similarly, I fail to see why a universe eternally created by God cannot be eternally governed and planned by Him."

To 'govern' is to do something occasionally or at least to get others to do something occasionally. And to get others to do something is to do something. O/w we might as well say that the number two is governing the universe, even though it is incapable of acting, inducing change, and so forth.


Peter,

The question "Why there is something rather than nothing" assumes that whatever there is was not always exist. O/w if one grants that the universe has no beginning and never came into existence, then it is unclear what it is that the question inquires. So perhaps you can provide the meaning of the question under such an assumption.

For one, "What sustains the universe in its continued existence?" Further, I don't think "Why is there something rather than nothing" requires assuming that the universe began to exist ("That at some time there was nothing"), but only questions the universe given its (apparent or argued for) contingent existence. Something can be eternal yet contingent.

I do not see how intelligent design is compatible with an omnitemporal universe which depends for its existence on God w/o God ever acting upon it.

I should admit that I'm not so quick to believe that a God who acts is not God, though I say that as someone inclined towards a belief in an immutable and unchanging God regardless.

That said, an eternally existing universe that an unchanging God sustains would still have to be a particular type of universe: Having certain laws, certain matter, perhaps certain regularities or even eventualities. I'm sure Ed Feser (for example) would argue that the sort of design evident in such a universe would not be the design of the ID movement, but it would still be design, and of a sort someone could make inferences about.

Perhaps that's one way to think about it: We should expect certain universes with certain (even eternal) features to obtain if they are a universe eternally sustained by God. There would be no need for God to act on such a universe, because all the requisite action for a plan would be built into the universe itself.

On the flipside, the spread of atheistic universes seems vastly larger, without any expectation of regularity, etc. Thus, a design argument can still go through.

Thus, these assumptions are made by a theist who wishes to hold such a position, not me.

Well, no. You made an assumption: Why not simply assume that the universe always existed, it functions according to laws that also always existed and, thus, there is very little need to postulate the existence of God. These are the assumptions I was replying to.

Joseph,

"For one, "What sustains the universe in its continued existence?""

If sustains requires an action, then the matter is settled, since action entails change in the actor. If it does not (e.g., oxygen sustains me), then sustain does not involve action, but then it does not involve creation either.

"I don't think "Why is there something rather than nothing" requires assuming that the universe began to exist ("That at some time there was nothing"), but only questions the universe given its (apparent or argued for) contingent existence. Something can be eternal yet contingent."

Let the universe be eternal and contingent. What question does "Why is there something rather than nothing?" express?

You seem to suggest that the question should be interpreted as follows: Why is the universe contingent?
(You say: "but only questions the universe given its (apparent or argued for) contingent existence")

But this later question has an easy answer: The universe is contingent because it could have not existed. Yet the original question does not admit such an easy answer. Hence, the two questions cannot be the same.

"We should expect certain universes with certain (even eternal) features to obtain if they are a universe eternally sustained by God. There would be no need for God to act on such a universe, because all the requisite action for a plan would be built into the universe itself."

I do not deny that such a universe is possible. What I deny is that so conceived, God also creates the universe. Either the universe is omnitemporal, all its laws built in, or it is not. If the former holds, there is no creation (whatever 'sustain' means, it cannot mean 'to create'). If the later holds, there may be creation, but then God acts and that entails a change in God.

"On the flipside, the spread of atheistic universes seems vastly larger, without any expectation of regularity, etc. Thus, a design argument can still go through."

Perhaps! But if there is a design by a designer who implements the design (even if merely by a mental act), then there is an action, which changes the actor.

"Well, no. You made an assumption: Why not simply assume that the universe always existed, it functions according to laws that also always existed and, thus, there is very little need to postulate the existence of God. These are the assumptions I was replying to."

The assumption "Why not simply assume that the universe always existed?", lock, stock, and barrel, was an assumption proposed by Bill, you, and Leo. I merely restated it. Similarly, the assumption that God did not create the universe, in the literal sense of 'create', was not proposed by me.

I only drew the relevant conclusion; namely, that if a theist accepts these assumptions, then that is ceding ground to the atheist to argue that the existence of God is not required in order to explain how the universe came into being, since by these assumptions, it never did come into being.

Peter,

If sustains requires an action, then the matter is settled, since action entails change in the actor. If it does not (e.g., oxygen sustains me), then sustain does not involve action, but then it does not involve creation either.

If creation involves action, sure. But if it doesn't, then...

I'm thinking here of a situation where that which is sustained (the universe) is determined in part by what sustains it (God) with no action required on God's part. The universe could have a relation to an immutable God's nature even without change. But in that case it seems reasonable to speak of creation even without an act on God's part.

But this later question has an easy answer: The universe is contingent because it could have not existed. Yet the original question does not admit such an easy answer. Hence, the two questions cannot be the same.

I'll defer to Leo on this one, as he's already said what I intended to say, but did so better and with appropriate references.

If the later holds, there may be creation, but then God acts and that entails a change in God.

At what time did God act? Both He and the universe would be eternal on this idea. His nature determines the universe, as I said above, but without any act on His part. Such a universe could be in relevant ways specified, even operate "according to a plan", and therefore reasonably qualify as a creation - without God acting in the appropriate sense.

The assumption "Why not simply assume that the universe always existed?", lock, stock, and barrel, was an assumption proposed by Bill, you, and Leo. I merely restated it.

I think "Why not assume the universe just is and requires no God?" is a fair restatement of part of what you said, and is an assumption above and beyond what anyone was saying here. Really, the point of making the concession for an eternal universe seemed to be to show how God could not only still exist, but still be entailed by an eternally existing universe. Sure, you can answer that with "Well, why not just go ahead and assume the universe exists, without God or explanation?" But if the universe began to exist, why not just go ahead and assume it just happened without God or explanation? Why not assume that for anything at all?

Like I said, one can imagine or assume quite a lot.

A correction:

"At what time did God act? Both He and the universe would be eternal on this idea."

Given the language used in this thread, it's clear only God would be eternal, and the universe would be omnitemporal. Still, the question is the same: When did God act?

Gentlemen,

Let me try to explain my position. Steven's original problem is very real under the following assumptions:

(1) God-P is a true description of God;
(2) God-P entails that God is immutable
(3) Everything the Bible says is true;
(4) God-R contains a description of God that is obtained from a literal interpretation of the Bible.

I have merely given one instance of (3), namely, the creation.

Now, one may resolve the problem posed by assumptions (1)-(4) by simply denying (3). And I think that this course is the most promising. But, then, we no longer can adopt a position where every statement in the Bible is true, literally understood. Specifically, much of what the Bible says about God must be meant metaphorically and so forth. Bill gave an example about God walking through the garden.

The fundamental questions that arise according to this approach are: what are the principles which govern Biblical interpretation? how do we know they are reliable? and so forth.

I suspect that answers to these question will have to be guided by a conception about what one thinks is the most important and fundamental message of the Bible. Such a conception will have to include a conception of what are the properties of God, and so forth. Moreover, some of the elements of this conception may themselves be subject to revision if they hinder a coherent interpretation of the Bible that is consistent with what we take to be its fundamental message. Thus, Biblical interpretation involves a healthy dose of "rational reconstruction". O/w I do not think there is any hope to resolve the problem Steven posed.

(I don't think that what I have said above is news!)

Correction:

(3) should say: "Everything the Bible says is literally true."

Joseph,

(i) 'x creates y' means that x brought about y's existence and prior to doing so y did not exist.
(ii) 'x sustains y' means that x's presence is causally efficacious and necessary in order to maintain y's existence.

Given these meanings, it does not follow that x sustains y merely because x to created y. Similarly, it does not follow that if x sustains y, then x created (or perpetually creates) y. Hence, the two concepts are different.

Now, one may of course decide to give different meanings to these words. But, then, such a meaning will not be their literal meaning. But one cannot give a different meaning and simultaneously insist that one is using them in their literal sense.

If you wish to insist that even when the universe is omnitemporal, God creates it, then you have decided to change the meaning of the word 'create'. For something created did not exist prior to the act of creation. If the universe is omnitemporal, then it always existed and was never created. What you cannot do is maintain that the universe is omnitemporal and that it was created in the literal sense of 'create'. For something that is omnitemporal has no beginning. And if it has no beginning, then it did not come into being; and if did not come into being, then it was not brought into being; and if it was not brought into being, then it did not fail to exist prior to being brought into being. And if so, then it was not created, literally understood.

Joseph,

"Given the language used in this thread, it's clear only God would be eternal, and the universe would be omnitemporal. Still, the question is the same: When did God act?"

If God is outside space-time and the universe is omnitemporal (*always* existed, whatever that means), then God did not need to create the universe (as repeatedly noted above). Therefore, God did not need to act. Therefore, your question about "When did God act?" is immaterial.

Peter,

Now, one may of course decide to give different meanings to these words. But, then, such a meaning will not be their literal meaning. But one cannot give a different meaning and simultaneously insist that one is using them in their literal sense.

I'm pointing out a way in which, as near as I can tell, God is able to design without acting. I will grant happily that the way God is 'designing' or 'creating' is disanalogous to the way I or any physical being designs or creates. Further, God is not, say... choosing from among various possible designs, picking one, and then implementing it. At the same time, the universe, and its particulars, is determined by God in a very strong sense, perhaps the strongest sense, of the word.

In this case, the universe was not brought into being at any time in the past - granted. At the same time, the universe is determined by God's nature. That also seems to follow. But that suggests that God A) Is both responsible, in a very literal and important way, for the design/makeup of the universe, yet B) Did not 'act' to bring this about.

To repeat: I grant that this is not design or creation the way you or I would do it. It is, perhaps, a type of design or creation only a single imaginable being could possibly "manage", for lack of a better term. But it still seems worth considering.

Joseph,

1) "I'm pointing out a way in which, as near as I can tell, God is able to design without acting."

Design may involve merely a mental act, something like conceiving, without implementing the design. Still if one designs something, then one performs at least a mental act. I have not yet seen how is it possible to design w/o at least conceiving and the later is a mental act. Mental acts alone also involve change in the actor; if I conceive something, then I change my mental states, for that which I have conceived was not part of my mental states previously.

2) "I will grant happily that the way God is 'designing' or 'creating' is disanalogous to the way I or any physical being designs or creates."

Granting that much is enough for me to maintain that you do not use the words 'design' and 'create' in their usual sense, the sense in which they entail some type of action. Therefore, you should either use terms that better convey what you really mean, and thus drop these, or explicitly state which elements of the meaning of these words you retain and which you discard.

The later course seems to me to be less desirable. The problem is that you wish to do two incompatible things. On the one hand, you wish to retain the connotation of 'created the world' as a colossal achievement worthy only of a special being such as God. On the other hand, you also wish to discard the notion that this achievement was obtained through some actions. However, it is not possible to achieve something, let alone a colossal thing such as creating the world, w/o performing some acts.

3) "...,the universe, and its particulars, is determined by God in a very strong sense, perhaps the strongest sense, of the word."

I do not understand what you mean by 'determined' in this context. One can speak of a fact or a state of affairs being determined by previous state of affairs together with laws. Or one can speak of the truth of a conclusion being in some sense determined by the premises together with certain inference rules. Or one can speak of an event being causally determined by previous events. Which one of these you use in the present context?

4) "I grant that this is not design or creation the way you or I would do it. It is, perhaps, a type of design or creation only a single imaginable being could possibly "manage", for lack of a better term. But it still seems worth considering."

In other words, we cannot say in what sense God created the universe w/o performing any actions. If so, then you are rapidly approaching the position called Negative-Theology: i.e., the view that God cannot be described in any positive manner; we can only say what God is not. If this is what you mean, then all positive depictions of God in the Bible are incoherent and must be discarded or reinterpreted negatively. I wonder what kind of a a Bible we would get after such a thorough revamping.

Peter,

Design may involve merely a mental act, something like conceiving, without implementing the design. Still if one designs something, then one performs at least a mental act.

And I'm not so sure that design requires even a mental act. To me this sounds like "In order to be standing on a scale, one must engage in some act - putting a foot on the scale, for example." You could point out that whenever we tell someone to stand on a scale, it involves an act like moving a foot. But what if someone has been standing on the scale for all eternity? Do we say, well, he never placed his foot on the scale, therefore saying he's standing on the scale is some abuse of language?

Maybe someone could make that argument. I'd probably have similar responses to them.

Granting that much is enough for me to maintain that you do not use the words 'design' and 'create' in their usual sense, the sense in which they entail some type of action.

Considering I've been explicitly questioning whether design or creation requires some type of action, and offering up the way I describe as at least one way in which one can create without acting, I think this should come as no surprise.

I've granted that if what I'm saying is accurate, then the sense in which God creates is utterly unlike the way you or I, or much anything else, creates. To put it another way: Perhaps the problem isn't with God, but with the limitations we place on the words and concepts.

Which one of these you use in the present context?

What would you call it if a universe, existing eternally and at all times reliant on God to exist, was in its fundamental features linked to said God's nature? That "why is the universe this way?" or even "why does the universe exist?" is answered by reference to God's nature. Not action, but nature.

In other words, we cannot say in what sense God created the universe w/o performing any actions.

I think I'm at least approaching that question, if not actively engaging it - arguing how God's nature could determine (answer my question above if you still have trouble with what 'determine' means, I'm trying my best to make sense of your objection) quite a lot of things, while at the same time God does not act. I'm an amateur at best, and it probably shows. But I still fail to see any problem with what I've suggested. "But that's not what we normally mean by create" isn't much of a problem to me, considering just Who is creating.

Joseph,

In order for the sentence "God created the universe" to be either true or false, it must express a proposition. In order for it to express a proposition all the elements of the sentence must have a clear meaning; o/w it is not clear which proposition the sentence expresses. Hence, the term 'create' must have a clear sense. What is it?

Either the term 'create' in this sentence is used in the usual sense in which the one who is said to create performs an act which results in a certain outcome or it is not so used. If it is the former, then the creator performed an act. If it is the later, then you need to specify how it is used in this sentence. If you deny the former and do not do the later, then there is no way to identify the proposition expressed and, hence, the sentence fails to be either true or false. But you seem to insist that the sentence is true. Hence, you must tell us the precise meaning of the term.

The problem you face is that the sentence entails that the existence of the universe is an effect of something. If it is an effect, then it must have a cause. If the cause is God, then God caused the universe to exist. But every cause is an event of some sort, even if it is an event that is itself brought about by an intention. The later is of course what we call action.

If someone were standing in an elevator forever and we deny that doing so is an act, then doing so produces no outcome. If it produces no outcome, then there is no creation. Since creation has an outcome, it must involve some action, even if it is merely a mental action.

Consider this. Since God could have created a variety of different universes, creating this one was a choice God made. But making a choice is a mental act; what else could it be? Therefore, God performed a mental act in making the choice to create this universe and, thereby, this choice changed that which is in God's mind.

Peter,

Consider this. Since God could have created a variety of different universes, creating this one was a choice God made. But making a choice is a mental act; what else could it be? Therefore, God performed a mental act in making the choice to create this universe and, thereby, this choice changed that which is in God's mind.

But we're talking about a situation here in which the universe existed eternally, yet said universe is in some ways determined by God's nature, and certainly held in existence at all times by God's nature.

I suppose I could ask you: "If that ain't creation, exactly what is it?" You keep telling me that creation is defined in such and such a way, and given that defining there must be an act, and therefore God can't create without acting. But here I am with an example of the universe existing forever, said universe having aspects of its existence linked to God's nature, and so on.

Are you saying that God can both A) Uphold the universe at all temporal points without acting, and B) have His nature determine features of the universe also without acting, but C) that while God can accomplish this, you wouldn't call it creating? If so, all I can do is shrug and ask, again: So what'll you call it?

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008

Categories

Categories

August 2018

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  
Blog powered by Typepad