This from a reader:
Your latest blog posts on the problem of existence prompted me to question you about one philosophical problem which keeps "nagging" me:
- When we make plans for the future (e.g. when choosing out next move in chess), we analyze different possibilities. Until the moment we decide our move, each possibility is only that: a possibility, and not an actual move. By moving a piece, we irretrievably select one possibility. The irretrieveability is caused by the existence of a world, outside our minds, which is affected by our decision and prevents it from being "taken back".
- God (were He to play chess), would be able to analyze all possible moves to an infinite depth, since He is an infinite mind. What would make one of this possibilities actual? I assume that, like in the case of a finite mind, it would be His decision on what piece to move and when.
I understand that so far, this is not a philosophical problem, but merely an intuition that choosing an actuality amongst infinite possibilities implies acting on something outside oneself (the chessboard in this instance). My problem arises when thinking about the act of creation:
- In a way similar to a chess game, when God created the universe he would have been able to see in full detail all possible universes. He chose one of these, making it be. How does creation (i.e. actual
existence) differ from potential existence in this instance? In everyday life, like in a chess game, actual existence depends on acting one way or the other on something that exists apart from the
mind. How can we think about it in that moment when nothing exists apart from the infinite mind of the Creator? In other words, from the point of view of an infinite mind, what is the difference between a piece of fiction and a piece of non-fiction before the world is created?
I am not sure I have been able to piece my thoughts together in a coherent way. . . At least, everybody with whom I try to discuss this seems to think I am splitting hairs over a non-issue. . .
All the best to you,
Pedro J. Silva
Universidade Fernando Pessoa
Porto - Portugal
Well, Pedro, you are certainly not splitting hairs over a non-issue. The problem is genuine, and if anything, you are not splitting enough hairs. But first we need to state the problem more clearly. I suggest that the problem can be formulated as the problem of giving an account that allows all the following propositions to be true:
1. God creates ex nihilo: creation is not an acting upon something whose existence is independent of God's existence.
2. Creation is actualization: God creates by actualizing a merely possible world. Of course, 'once' (logically speaking) it is actual, it is not merely possible.
3. There is a plurality of broadly logically possible worlds.
4. God is libertarianly free: God could have done otherwise with respect to any world he actualizes. There is no necessity that God create any world at all, and any world he creates is such that he might not have created it. If 'A' is a name (Kripkean rigid designator) of our world, the world that is actual, then 'A is actual' is contingently true, and 'God creates A' is contingently true.
Suppose we give the following account. The divine intellect 'prior' (logically speaking) to creation has before it an infinite array of broadly logically possible worlds. These possible worlds have the status of complex divine thought-accusatives. They exist only as intentional objects of the divine intellect. It follows that they do not exist apart from God. On the contrary, their existence depends on God's existence. The actualization of one of these worlds depends on the divine will: God wills one of the possible worlds to be actual. As it happens, A is the chosen world. This is equivalent to causing our universe, with Socrates and Plato, me and you, etc. to exist extramentally, 'outside' the divine mind, but still in continuous dependence on the divine mind.
On this account, is creation a creation out of nothing? Yes, insofar as it not an acting upon something whose existence is independent of God's existence. God creates out of mere possibilities, which are divine thought-accusatives, not Platonica. So there is a sense in which creation is ex Deo.
Does this commit me to pantheism? See Creatio ex Deo and Pantheism and Creation: Ex Nihilo or Ex Deo? Am I a Panentheist?