Fr. Aidan Kimel wants me to comment on his recent series of posts about divine simplicity, freedom, and the contingency of creation. In the third of his entries, he provides the following quotation:
As Matthew Levering puts it: “God could be God without creatures, and so his willing of creatures cannot have the absolute necessity that his willing of himself has” (Engaging the Doctrine of Creation, p. 103). That is the fact of the case, as it were. Granted the making of the world by a simple, immutable, and eternal Deity, we have no choice but to accept the apparent aporia:
Indeed, there is no ‘moment’ in God’s eternity in which he does not will all that he wills; there is no God ‘prior’ to God’s will to create. In this sense, God can be said to will necessarily everything that he wills. The potency or possibility stems not from God’s will, but from the contingent nature of the finite things willed; they do not and cannot determine the divine will. (Levering, p. 103)
The problem is to understand how the following propositions can all be true:
1) There is no absolute necessity that God create: "God could be God without creatures."
2) God created (better: ongoingly creates and sustains) the universe we inhabit.
3) God, being simple or metaphysically incomposite, is devoid of potency-act composition and unexercised powers: God is pure act.
4) The universe we inhabit, and indeed any universe God creates, is modally contingent: it does not exist of metaphysical necessity.
The problem, in brief, is to understand how a universe that is the product of a divine act of willing that is necessary (given God's simplicity) can yet be contingent. Levering's answer does not help at all. In fact, he seems to be confusing two senses of contingency when he says that "the contingent nature of the finite things willed" does not determine the divine will. That's right, it doesn't and for the simple reason that the finite things willed depend entirely on the divine will and are in this sense contingent upon the divine will; but this is not the relevant sense of 'contingency.' Let me explain.
In the modal sense, a contingent item is one that is possible to be and possible not to be, as Aquinas says somewhere. In 'possible worlds' jargon, x is modally contingent =df x exists in some but not all metaphysically (broadly logically) possible worlds.
In the dependency sense, x is dependently contingent =df there is some y such that (i) x is not identical to y; (ii) necessarily, if x exists, then y exists; (iii) y is in some sense the ground or source of x's existence.
It is important to see that an item can be (a) modally contingent without being dependently contingent, and (b) dependently contingent without being modally contingent.
Ad (a). If the universe is a brute fact, as Russell (in effect) stated in his famous BBC debate with Copleston, then the universe exists, exists modally contingently, but has no cause or explanation of its existence. If the universe is a brute fact, then of course it does not depend on God for its existence. Its existence is a factum brutum without cause or explanation. It is contingent, but not contingent upon anything. It is modally but not dependently contingent.
Ad (b). Not all necessary beings are "created equal." That is because one of them, God, is not created at all. The others are creatures, at least for Aquinas. (A creature is anything that is created by God.) The number 7 serves as an example, as does the proposition that 7 is prime. That proposition is a necessary being. (If it weren't it could not be necessarily true.) But it has its necessity "from another," namely, from God, whereas God has his necessity "from himself." The doctor angelicus himself makes this distinction.
These so-called 'abstract objects' -- not the best terminology but the going terminology -- are creatures, and, insofar forth, dependent on God, and therefore contingent upon God, and therefore (by my above definition), dependently contingent. They are dependently contingent but modally necessary.
Now let's apply the distinction to our problem. The problem, again, is this: How can the product of a necessary creating be contingent? One might think to solve the problem as follows. God necessarily creates, but what he creates is nonetheless contingent because what he creates is wholly dependent on God for its existence at every moment. But this is no solution because it involves an equivocation on 'contingent.'
The problem is: How can the product of a modally necessary creating be modally contingent?
Think of it this way. (I assume that the reader is en rapport with 'possible worlds' talk.) If God is simple, and he creates U in one world, then he creates U in all worlds. But then U exists in every world, in which case U is necessary. But U is contingent, hence not necessary. Therefore, either God does not exist or God is not simple, or U is not a divine creation.
Fr. Kimel wanted me to comment on his posts. One comment is that they are top-heavy with quotations. Quote less, argue and analyze more.
Now I would like the good padre to tell me whether he agrees with me. I think he just might inasmuch as he speaks of an aporia. We have good reasons to believe that God is simple, and we have good reasons to believe that the created universe is modally contingent. Suppose both propositions are true. Then they must be logically consistent. But we cannot understand how they could both be true. So what do we do?
One way out is to jettison the divine simplicity. (But then we end having to say that God is a being among beings and neither I nor Kimel will countenance that, and for good reasons.) A second way is by denying that the created universe is contingent, either by maintaining that it is necessary or by denying that there is any real modality, that all (non-deontic) modality is epistemic. The second way leads to a load of difficulties.
A third way is by arguing that there is no inconsistency. But I have argued that there is both above and in other recent posts dealing with the dreaded 'modal collapse.' And it seems to me that my argumentation is cogent.
Well suppose it is. And suppose that the relevant propositions are all true. There is yet another way out. We can go mysterian. The problem is a genuine aporia. It is insoluble by us. God is simple; he freely created our universe; it is modally contingent. How is this possible? The answer is beyond our ken. It is a mystery.
Now if Fr. Kimel is maintaining something like this, then we agree.
Corrigendum (9/25). A reader points out, correctly, that in the above graphic the gentleman on the left is not Fr. Copleston, but A. J. Ayer.