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Saturday, January 28, 2012


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At the end of the section titled "Free Will Without Counterfactual Openness" Dolezal does cite James Anderson's _Paradox in Christian Theology_ as "a fine account of how divine incomprehensibility may function in a philosophical theology" (pg. 207 n. 49). So there does seem to be evidence that Dolezal is making a 'mysterian' move.

As to your reservations, why think that the mysterian is committed to the view "that it is impossible (at least in this life) that there be a solution?" I believe James Anderson believes otherwise (my friend currently is borrowing the book so I can't double check myself). I believe he says something to the effect that someone may come up with a perfectly fine solution to theological paradoxes but it *may* be the case that given divine incomprehensibility or the noetic effects of sin we cannot give a coherent account of certain doctrines this side of the Parousia, or ever.


You might like this argument by Cajetan. He can be read as responding to the following problem: if we say that the divine nature is both absolute and distinguished into persons by relations of origin, then is the divine nature absolute or relative? He says:

"In God, according to the thing that he is and in the real order, there is one thing neither purely absolute or purely relative, neither mixed nor composite or resulting from both, but eminently and formally having what is relative (and even of many relative things) and what is absolute, and so also in the formal order or the ratio of many forms. Of himself, and not just in a way that arises due to our speaking about this, there is one unified formal ratio in God, neither purely absolute nor purely relative, neither purely communicable nor purely incommunicable, but eminently and formally containing both what is of absolute perfection, and whatever is required for the trinitatian relations. And it is necessary that this be the case: for it is necessary that whatever is most simple in itself be maximally one, and that one adequate formal ratio correspond to it, otherwise there would not be one thing that was per se and commensurately universal intelligible by which everything is known.

We err when, setting down the division between the absolute and relative as a principle, we imagine that this distinction between the absolute and relative is somehow prior to God; and that we consequently believe that we must place him in on one side of the distinction or the other. He is both opposites, since God is prior to being and to any of its oppositions: he is above being, above one, etc. (Commentaria in Prima Pars Summae Theologiae, q. 39 a. 1)"

As I read it, the key sentence is the last one of the first paragraph, where he gives the reason for all that follows. If all we know reduces to one first principle of intelligibility, then even the opposites we know so reduce.

Perhaps the argument can be made stronger: if we don't reduce all contraries to one reality, we will have to posit two Absolutes, which is contradictory.

Thanks for the comment, Noah.

Here is how Anderson defines 'mystery' (Paradox in Christian Theology, p. 245):

>>A mystery is a metaphysical state of affairs the revelation of which appears implicitly contradictory to us on account of present limitations in our cognitive apparatus and thus resists systematic description in a perspcuoulsy consistent manner.<<

In fn 52 he says that "this definition deliberately avoids any claim about the permanency, or otherwise, of mystery." A little later he suggests that the Trinity and Incarnation doctrines "may be less mysterious post-mortem or post-glorification."

So I take the reference of "present limitations" in the main passage to be to the limitations we are all stuck with in this life, 'here below,' and not to limitations we are all stuck with in 2012 with the hope that by 2022 we will have overcome them. If these limitations were removable in this life by some of us, then the position would not be 'mysterian' in a manner to distinguish it from other positions in the vicinity. Presumably "limitations in our cognitive apparatus" are not limitations we can remove in this life.

But then I might just not understand the nuances of Anderson's position. What say you, James?

Presumably "limitations in our cognitive apparatus" are not limitations we can remove in this life.

This seems to tie in nicely with John Hick's notion of "eschatological verification," where eschaton, as Hick is using it, refers to the end of one's mortal personal existence, at which point that person either disappears or retains an experiencing identity that can realize the truth of what lies beyond the mortal plane. (Hick uses the term in the context of diverse religions' competing, and often contradictory, truth-claims.)

I don't see Anderson as ultimately committing himself to the belief that one cannot understand the trinity/incarnation due to 'present limitations.' He merely says that that may be a possibility and leaves open the question as to whether or not it's actually the case.

I was of the opinion that Anderson was making a similar move to Plantinga/Reformed Epistemology. Anderson is not arguing that the incarnation and trinity are in fact paradoxes/mysteries/unresolvable here and now (due to present limitations or something else), though he gives reasons to believe they might be. He is ultimately not concerned with whether the trinity and the incarnation are in fact paradoxical here and now, only that if they are, then here's a model in which one is warranted in believing in paradoxes. This is similar to Plantinga/RE's claim that if Christianity is true, then Christian belief may be properly basic. The main focus of Plantinga/RE is to argue for the consequent of the conditional, and to leave the antecedent somewhat up in the air (though Plantinga gives reasons to think the antecedent is true). I read Anderson as making a similar move. Ultimately the question as to whether or not the trinity and incarnation (etc.) are paradoxical here and now (due to present limitations), or even postmortem, seems to be something left up in the air/unanswered, something that maybe only time will tell. Anderson is only giving possible ways to understand the presence of paradoxes/mysteries in theology and how one can be warranted in believing those paradoxes/mysteries without concluding that that is actually the case. Though I do think Anderson himself leans toward thinking it is actually the case (at least what I remember from the conclusion of his book). But maybe I'm reading too much Plantinga/RE into him.


Thanks. Hick discusses eschatological verification on pp. 178-180 of An Interpretation of Religion. An excellent book, and required reading in the phil. of rel.

Say one comes along who recognizes that P (divine simplicity) and Q (divine freedom) - as currently formulated - contradict each other, and hence has extremely strong reason to think ~(P & Q). This person also has a good reason to believe that Q, but (subjectively) posses little reason to believe P. By the very same logic you employed in the post above, this second person ought to hold ~P in the face of good reasons for P by appealing to the actual/possible relationship outlined above. How P can be false (in the face of good reasons for thinking it true) could not be explained by this person, and yet ought to hold ~P none-the-less by your own reasoning.

This leads to contradictory positions from the same principle. Hence I conclude that your principle, as currently formulated, ought to be rejected.

Bill & Noah,

I think it depends on how exactly one defines 'mysterian'. (Remember that the label comes from Dale Tuggy, not from me.) If mysterianism includes the claim that the paradox cannot be resolved in the here and now (due to our present cognitive limitations) then I guess I'd call myself a tentative or provisional mysterian. I'm quite open to the possibility that some smart philosophical theologian will come up with a novel way of understanding the Trinity (or the Incarnation) that is both orthodox and non-paradoxical. I'm pessimistic about the prospects of that happening, based on our track record, but I have no good grounds for ruling it out in advance.

My concern is not to settle the question of whether these paradoxes could be resolved before the eschaton, but rather to argue that an appeal to theological mystery can be rationally warranted now, i.e., pending a satisfactory resolution. In other words, I argue that if theological claims p and q appear to S to be inconsistent, it can nevertheless be rational for S to believe both p and q (and that the inconsistency is merely apparent) in the absence of a resolution, provided that certain other epistemic conditions are met (which I spell out in chapters 6 and 7). S doesn't have to be committed one way or the other to the view that a resolution might be discovered in the future (either by S or by some other human person). S only needs to be committed to the view that a resolution exists in principle (i.e., that a sufficiently sophisticated cognizer could understand how p and q are not ultimately inconsistent). Either way, according to the model I've proposed, any resolution will basically involve a precisification of p and q.

I hope Dr. Dolezal will be able to chip in. I'm about halfway through his book and I'm very impressed with what I've read so far.


That does clarify your position. I too would like to hear from Dolezal to see if he would agree with your position, call it 'mysterian' or not.

Hey gents,

I'm swamped in class prep right now, so just a brief word: I defined "mysterianism" epistemologically - it says nothing about the ultimate intellectual capacities of humans, e.g. in the future or post-resurrection. It's just a sort of response to apparent inconsistencies in theology - the claim that it is reasonable for us to accept apparent contradictions. It is neutral about how long we'll be afflicted with this condition.

Thanks, Dale. It looks as if your definition fits Anderson's position.

Jame Dolezal comments by e-mail:

Here is a longish reply to your post (begging your indulgence for my rambling). I am grateful for your interaction with my book. It seems that we are agreed on many points. In answer to your main question—“Does he make a mysterian move?”—I confess that I am hesitant to accept the label “mysterian” without significant qualification. Not all appeals to mystery are equally well grounded, it seems. Broadly speaking, there appear to be two different varieties of mysterianism on offer (here I am following some remarks made by Ed Feser; see http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/02/trinity-and-mystery.html): (1) ontologically grounded mysterianism; and (2) mentally grounded mysterianism.

As a Christian who confesses God’s incomprehensibility based upon his pure actuality, I cannot see how I can avoid appealing to mystery in the sense of (1). Yet there seem to be good reasons for this appeal. Most notably, as pure act God is beyond all categorical being and thus beyond definition in any scientific sense. (Hence, my commitment to analogical predication about God) It is God as ipsum esse subsistens (or, in biblical terms, as “I AM”) that chiefly accounts for his incomprehensibility and the mystery that permeates any discussion of his existence, essence, or triunity. This is rather unlike that more popular form of mysterianism that locates the ground of mystery in the human mind’s evolutionary situation (as urged, for instance, by Colin McGinn).

Mysterianism that is explained in terms of God’s non-categorical being (i.e., as pure act) does not seem to necessarily entail theological skepticism or the undermining of reason as such. It explains reason’s inability to comprehend God in terms of God’s own nature; reason should not expect to comprehend God because of what God is. (Obviously, I don’t equate true theological knowledge with comprehension.) To the extent that reason is deployed in the science of theology it is for the purpose of offering a well-ordered account of divine mystery (which it achieves predominantly through a process of negation, as in chapter 2 of my book).

Anyhow, option (1) should allow us to maintain both the general soundness of reason and the mystery of God’s being. Option (2), on the other hand, seems to push us toward skepticism to the extent that it locates reason’s inability to understand in some internal cognitive deficiency rather than in God’s reality external to us (again, see Feser’s comments in the above link). This form of mysterianism threatens the general reliability of reason itself, even in the domain in which reason may be expected to attain some level of comprehension, i.e., the material world. Thus, I take materialist mysterianism to be a genuine threat to reason, since it appeals to mystery precisely where reason might have been expected to offer some explanation. Theological mysterianism that is rooted in God’s simplicity, on the other hand, actually denies that reason could have, under more favorable conditions, defined and comprehended God. Theological mystery is not predicated upon the assumption that our reasoning apparatus is impaired or underdeveloped.

Some might suppose that the Christian doctrine of noetic depravity amounts to the same thing as (2). I’m not sure that it does. While it’s true that noetic depravity contributes much to man’s present ignorance of God, this depravity is not the ground of theological mystery or divine incomprehensibility. Even if man’s mind were not impaired by sin, God would still be incomprehensible and mysterious to him on account of his ontological status as actus purus. Simply put, theological mystery and divine incomprehensibility are grounded in God’s own being and not the current state of the human mind’s development (or lack thereof). Maybe we could think of this as a realist account of divine mystery as opposed to a conceptualist account. In this connection, I prefer to distinguish between theological ignorance rooted in God’s being and theological ignorance rooted in man’s present cognitive circumstances. The latter may be overcome in some measure through regeneration, deeper reflection over time, and ultimately in the beatific vision; the former cannot be overcome, or even diminished, in this life or the next (since only an intellect that is itself purely actual can possess an isomorphically adequate comprehension of God’s existence, including the modalities of his necessity and freedom).

With respect to the difficulty of explaining how God is both free and simple (point 4 of your post), I would not locate the mystery primarily in the “conjunction” of the terms, but in the terms themselves. Yes, the conjunction is mysterious and I, like you, am not convinced by the numerous theistic attempts to overcome it. But, if I do indeed make a “mysterian move” it is not made at the end of a process in which I have grasped all the terms involved and simply cannot figure out how to link them together. Rather, I confess divine mystery at the outset, at the moment I conceive of God as pure act (as “I AM”). Admittedly, I did not make this as clear as I should have in chapter 7 of my book. The mystery of the conjunction follows from the mystery of God’s purely actual existence. Indeed, the mystery of divine freedom itself follows from the same. It is for this reason that I don’t expect (or even desire) “resolution” to the difficulty; such resolution could only be achieved by eradicating the ontological distinction between God and his creatures (which I would regard as impossible since God cannot produce a purely actual being distinct from himself). In this regard the “cognitive limitation” of humans is be located not in the circumstances of their present mental development or non-development, but in the fact of their ontological and intellectual compositeness.

James D,

Long comments get sent to the spam bin for some reason. Well, I just learned something new about this software.

James Chastek,

Your comment got sent there as well, but is now reproduced above.

Perhaps I will have time to respond tomorrow.

'James' is well represented in this thread.

Dr Dolezal,

Thank you for the comments. Though the Feser link is inoperative, I think I understand the distinction you are making. God is incomprehensible, not because of a noetic defect on our part, whether remediable or irremediable, but because of his pure actuality. The arguments to simplicity and pure actuality are fairly compelling. What is difficult to understand is how such a God can be libertarianly free. I suppose it could just incomprehensibly be the case that God is both simple and free, but then my first and third objections loom up, and it seems to me you haven't really answered them.

Does Anderson accept DDS? If not, why not?

Thanks for your remarks. Of course I can’t promise to satisfy all questions, but perhaps the following procedure will help to locate the mystery more precisely:

(1)The existence of creatures in which esse and essentia are really distinct can only be accounted for by an agent whose esse and essentia are really identical, by one who is pure act, ipsum esse subsistens, God. Moreover, there can only be one such agent.

(2)The real distinction in creatures is itself an indicator of their dependence upon another, and thus of their ontological contingency or non-absoluteness. Moreover, the simple agent who produces them cannot do so of absolute necessity. There are several reasons for this, but one stands out. If God produced the world by an absolute necessity then his very being as God would be correlative to the world’s existence. But such correlativity would obviate his pure actuality, i.e., he would be made actual in some sense by something other than himself and consequently would fail to satisfy the requirements for an agent that is pure act. In other words, he couldn’t be the absolutely sufficient explanation for the world’s existence if he were in any way correlative to the world.

(3)It seems to follow, then, that if an absolutely simple God is going to create (and only a simple God satisfies the requirements for creation ex nihilo) he must do so freely. As actus purus, anything God produces in distinction from himself must be produced freely. A couple thoughts worth noting in this connection are: (1) anything that is caused to be must exhibit a real distinction between esse and essetia and thus cannot be identical with God; (2) As pure act, God can neither produce himself nor something else that is pure act but distinct from himself (because then God and the second purely actual thing would have to differ in some real way, thus indicating a lack of actuality in one or both of them). Back to our point. The world requires a simple Creator and the pure actuality of the Creator requires that any creation be produced freely. Ergo, God must be free in creating the world.

(4)But what to make of this freedom? How shall we characterize it?

I am hesitant to move too quickly in the direction of “libertarian freedom” before considering other ways in which divine freedom might be expressed. Perhaps most importantly, if divine simplicity means that God’s is the primary object and final end of all his knowing and willing (as I argue in chapter 6 of my book), then he is first and foremost free in that older Aristotelian sense of the one who is “for himself.” As pure act, he must be most “for himself” and thus most free, absolutely free of dependence upon all things not identical with him. I think that this is one sense of divine freedom that is often lost sight of in the modern stress upon power for counterfactuals.

Still, you are right to raise the question of God’s power for counterfactuals. How shall I explain the modality of such freedom? I confess that I cannot. I have no idea how to adequately express the modality of a free choice made by an agent who is pure act. And yet his pure actuality requires that his will for the world’s existence be free. I would not hesitate to affirm that human libertarian freedom is an analogue of this divine liberty; but it fails to convey the precise modality of that freedom as it is in God. Human acts of knowledge are also analogues of the divine act of knowledge and they too do not disclose an adequate (or univocal) notion of the modality of God’s knowledge. As I cannot form a univocal notion of God’s pure actuality, neither can I form a univocal notion of all he does in that actuality (knowing, willing, relating among the divine persons, creating, etc.).

I’m not sure that this answer meets the challenges of your first and third objections, but it might explain somewhat why I seem to be avoiding the questions.

The Feser link fixed:



I accept DDS, for all the usual reasons, and despite all the familiar problems. Regarding the simplicity/freedom problem, I land roughly where Dr Dolezal does in his book. I think the concept of libertarian freedom has some problems in itself, and these problems are hardly going to lessen when the concept is applied to God, but whatever the nature of God's freedom I'm committed to the basic claim that God need not (and thus might not) have created the world.

As for the problems you raise in your post, I have a paper (a response to Dale Tuggy's "On Positive Mysterianism") which addresses these to some extent, although it needs some more work. I may decide to post it on my website, but if I don't I'll send it to you privately (if you're interested).

James A,

Of course, I am interested in your paper and your debate with Tuggy, so send it along when it is ready.

Interesting that you accept DDS; for some reason I thought you didn't. I confess to being somewhat uninformed about the diversity of Protestant views. I tended naively to lump you all together in an anti-DDS camp, DDS being a Catholic doctrine after all, not that RCs own it. Dolezal's book is helping in my ongoing education.

James D writes:

>> If God produced the world by an absolute necessity then his very being as God would be correlative to the world’s existence. But such correlativity would obviate his pure actuality, i.e., he would be made actual in some sense by something other than himself and consequently would fail to satisfy the requirements for an agent that is pure act.<<

In other words:
1. God is pure act.
2. If God has any need to create, then he is not pure act.
3. God has no need to create.

Your scheme(and mine too)definitely avoids the mistake of making God a being among beings; but now I am wondering whether it assigns sufficient reality to the world (the created realm).

Would you agree with these 'ontological equations': God + world = God. God - world = God. Upshot: the world is a sort of 'ontological zero.'

I am not being very clear, but perhaps you see what I am driving at.

I am continuing to read your book and am finding it very helpful and stimulating.


Regarding your equations ("God + world = God" & "God - world = God"), I would agree if what you mean is something akin to Aquinas's insistence that world does not make a "real" difference to God, that its existence or non-existence doesn't introduce some differentia into God's own actuality. Still, I do hesitate to to employ the "+", "-", and "=" symbols inasmuch as these might suggest a single continuous realm of existence. The ontological distinction between God and the world cannot be characterized as a proper "numeric duality" since numeric addition and substraction presuppose multiplicity within a single series (119n84 in my book). It seems that only if God and the world were thought to exist together in some such series would the world come out as as an "ontological zero." I would prefer to maintain two (non-numeric) distinct orders of being and accept the mystery implicit in such a view, than to move in an eliminativist direction respecting the world's ontic reality. Anyhow, these are my initial reactions. I will have to think a bit more about your question.

Hello everyone,

This argument, I think, is no good:

>> But to uphold the divine absoluteness, it is also necessary that
>> God be libertarianly free in his production of creatures. For
>> suppose there is something in the divine nature that necessitates
>> God's creation. Then God would depend on the world to be himself
>> and to be fully actual. He would need what is other than himself
>> to actualize himself. This entanglement with the relative would
>> compromise the divine absoluteness. God would need the world as
>> much as the world needs God. Each would require the other to be
>> what it is. (210)

On the one hand: It doesn't follow from the fact that God produces the world necessarily, that therefore God is in some sense dependent upon or perfected by the existence of the world. It is not as if, in creating the world, God is in some way actualized or perfected; rather, out of the fullness of God's own perfect actuality, out of his own perfection, the world springs into being as if an "overflow" of goodness.

Consider the following (imperfect) example (which I think I remember reading in Plotinus somewhere). A campfire necessarily (in a sense sufficient for the present example) produces heat on the rocks set around it; but it does not follow that the fire is in some sense "perfected" by the heat production in the rocks, or would be "less than fully actual" had it not produced that (because, say, there were no rocks around it). The fire is "fully" actual in itself, whether or not any rocks about it are heated by its presence; indeed, it is in virtue of the fire's "perfect" actuality that the heat is even produced!

So also with God. If God is absolutely simple, then even if he produces the world necessarily, it does not follow that he is in some sense perfected by the existence of the world or dependent upon it. It would necessarily be out of his perfect fullness of being that God brings the world into existence. To say he produces it necessarily is just to say that given that God is, the world must be also; the necessity of the creation does not necessarily (no pun intended) diminish or do away with God's pure actuality or perfection. God may produce anything necessarily and his absoluteness is not thereby threatened, since if anything whatsoever has been produced by him, he must (for reasons we are all familiar with) be absolutely simple and pure act.

On the other hand: The reason God must be free in creating the world, I suggest, is not so much that he can only thus be independent of the world for his perfection, but rather because the world exists contingently. This is obvious because things in the world regularly go into and come out of existence. The cause of the being of these things must therefore be capable of operating contingently. Furthermore, the cause of the being of this concrete particular must be appropriately "directed at" producing this concrete particular; in other words, the causation of creation must be goal-oriented, the goal being the production of one particular individual. The cause of the world, therefore, must be something which can act contingently and for an end, i.e., it must have free will.

Excellent point, Steven. Why didn't I think of that? As you realize, I am summarizing Dolezal in my #2 in the main post. But it also struck me as a insight on his part, one that hadn't occurred to me. But now that I think about it more carefully, I think you are right.

It could be that creation is an 'overflow' of divine plenitude. So your point is that the following are consistent:

a. God is pure act, wholly self-sufficient, in need of nothing outside him for his perfection/completion.
b. God creates necessarily: his goodness and plenitude and reality cannot help but 'overflow' and become manifest in a realm of creatures other than him.

Your point is not that divine creation is not free, but that one cannot correctly argue that it is free from the premises that Dolezal employs.

Have I represented you correctly?

Yes, Bill, you've got it right. :-)

Bill and James,

This might be a more radical response:

1.) DDS requires that we predicate properties of God so far as they are unqualified perfections
2.) Freedom is not an unqualified perfection.

My support for 2. is that freedom, so far as it is an indetermination to goodness, is a lack of the freely chosen good. But to lack good is not to be good. So there is some lack of good in the notion of freedom. Now there is an obvious goodness to freedom too (from self-mastery or self action, responsibility for action, etc.) but this only shows that it is a mixed perfection, like sensation or a created intellect.

Dolezal proves that it is impossible for God to act of necessity, since this would involve imperfection. But it does not follow from this that he is free except to far as freedom is itself a perfection. But freedom is not a perfection in an unqualified way, and so neither is God free in an unqualified way.

James Chastek: I like what you've argued, and I would endorse such an argument myself. Indeed, I've offered it on occasion.

James D,

I am eager to see how you would respond to Steven's argument supra.

James C and Steven,

Should we distinguish between qualified and unqualified perfections? Why did God create free beings knowing that they would commit grave evils? Plantinga argues (very roughly) that a world containing free agents is better than one without them. Doesn't his free will defense require that free will be a perfection?

Steven argues:

The reason God must be free in creating the world, I suggest, is not so much that he can only thus be independent of the world for his perfection, but rather because the world exists contingently. This is obvious because things in the world regularly go into and come out of existence.

I agree with the first point: God must be free in creating the world because the world exists contingently. But Steven's argument for contingency of the world seems to commit the fallacy of composition. Also, unless I'm mistaken, it presupposes the A-theory of time -- for better or for worse.


In the main, the Protestant scholastics followed the medievals on theology proper (the doctrine of God). Where they differed most markedly was on matters of soteriology and ecclesiology.

James (Anderson),

You said:

>> I agree with the first point: God must be free in creating the world
>> because the world exists contingently. But Steven's argument for
>> contingency of the world seems to commit the fallacy of
>> composition. Also, unless I'm mistaken, it presupposes the A-
>> theory of time -- for better or for worse.

Are you questioning the inference from "individual physical beings come into and go out of existence" to "the world therefore contingently exists"? If so, then my response is:

(1) There is no "world" beyond individual physical particulars, and so to say "the world" is F is just to describe the collection of physical particulars (itself, in my opinion, only a conceptual object, not a real object) as being F.

(2) Even if there is a "world" beyond the physical particulars that compose it (a thing which is quite doubtful, seems to me), it cannot but exist contingently since every one of its parts exists contingently! If the "world" is anything at all, it would be the collection of (smaller-scale) physical particulars that exist (e.g., individual horses, men, etc.); but if all of these can not exist, then the collection of them likewise can not exist, for there is nothing else to the collection except the collected parts. From another angle: in order for "the world" to exist necessarily, it cannot have as an essential part any physical particular existent, because all of these exist contingently; but what else is a "world" going to be composed of except physical particulars? There are no other candidates; hence, etc.

Re: A-theory, there is no more avoided topic of discussion in my case than philosophy of time; a few minutes into it and I feel like Socrates as he describes himself in the Phaedo 96, "I was so completely blinded by these studies that I lost the knowledge that I, and others also, thought I had before; I forgot what I had formerly believed I knew about many things."

But I think my argument can be divorced from any one particular understanding of time. If something existed necessarily, then nothing whatsoever could be a cause of its ceasing to exist, whether cutting off its existence simpliciter or else its continued existence in time (if the thing also exists in the past); neither could anything be a cause of its coming into existence at some point in time if it existed necessarily, for it would always exist. But no physical thing answers either of these descriptions, even if they exist at other points in time than the present, and even if there is no ontologically-privileged moment of time; all that is required is that certain causal relations hold, which are clear from experience. So none of them are necessary.

Reading my latest comments again, embarrassed, I find them really very unimpressive. I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote most of them; I don't think I addressed the charge of fallacy commission at all, in addition to being sidetracked on rather unimportant issues.

In the first place, the contingent existence of even one thing is sufficient to prove the freedom requirement in God's creation, because God is the cause of everything's existence.

Seeing this, it makes no sense to further complain about the inference from "all physical particulars" to "the collection of physical particulars" being formally invalid, in my mind; I don't need the inference to prove my point. So long as we grant (as all involved in the present discussion do) that God causes the existence of everything physical, and so long as one of them exists contingently -- something evidenced by their coming into and going out of existence -- we may therefore infer that God's creation must be free.

My comments about philosophy of time, however, are more germane, or so it seems to me; so I do not (yet) renounce them in shame!


Please forgive my delay in responding to your original post. You raise some significant and challenging issues and I appreciate your thoughtfulness. Before offering a few thoughts in response, I should note that in my book I do not characterize God’s free will as “libertarianly free.” Such language is too often associated with volitional counterfactual openness and so I purposely avoid it.

As I understand your proposal, it is similar to that of Norman Kretzmann: God is not free to refrain from creating a world (as it springs naturally and necessarily from his own actuality and goodness); rather, his freedom lies in choosing which, how many, for how long, etc. particular beings populate the world. Furthermore, you appear to be saying that the natural and necessary springing forth of the world from God’s being and goodness does not have any bearing upon our confession of his pure actuality. I disagree. As your account of the world’s existence seems to blend a non-gratuitous emanationism and a gratuitous creationism, it is difficult to know exactly how to respond. But I’ll offer an initial reaction.

The one basic misgiving that I have about your proposal is that it seems to compromise God’s pure actuality with respect either to his will, his knowledge, or possibly both. Consider the following:

1. If the world “springs into being” as the natural overflow of God’s actuality, perfection and goodness, then God must will its existence with the same non-gratuitous absoluteness with which he wills himself. Accordingly, the world would seem to constitute an end for God’s willing, and presuming that the world is in no measure identical with God, it would be an end for his will that is really distinct from himself. As the end of any act of will supplies the will's raison d'être the actuality of God’s will for the world would depend upon something other than himself. Thus, he could not be pure act.

If we say, on the other hand, that God does not will the world as an end separate from himself, that the world is not identical with God, and that it is naturally necessary in virtue of God’s actuality, then he must will it as a means to his end. But then God would only possess himself as the end of all his willing by passing through something not identical to him. He would need the world in order to possess himself as his own end. This also undermines his pure actuality inasmuch as it supposes a real distinction between God as willer and God as willed. As pure act, God’s will for himself cannot require means, that is to say, all non-gratuitous necessities that are distinct from God’s own existence are ruled out. If the world’s existence can’t be a separate end of God’s will, and if it can’t be a requisite means to God’s end of willing himself, then seemingly it can’t be willed by God, either naturally or gratuitously.

2. Thus, suppose we seek to overcome the first objection by saying that the world springs forth from God naturally, but that God does not actually will it to be. This creates a problem first for the actuality of God’s will inasmuch as there would be some actual goodness (the existing world) that God did not desire, and his will would presumably be open to further actuality (i.e., it would not be perfect since there would exist something desirable, the world’s esse, that God did not desire). Second, if we deny that God wills the world’s existence but that he knows its existence we would have to conclude that his knowledge of the world’s existence is something that he acquires from the world itself as it springs forth from him. Thus his knowledge of the world would be made actual by something other than his own nature. Moreover, if the world did not proceed from God’s will, whether considered as natural or gratuitous, but did proceed from his actuality and perfection, we would have to conclude that there is some real distinction in God between his nature and his volitional actuality (that his, his nature could produce something that his will did not desire, and thus his will would not be adequate to his nature).

Anyhow, these are my initial reactions to your proposal. For these reasons (among others) I stand by my conclusion that God’s pure actuality requires that his will for the world’s existence be gratuitous.

Hi James,

Thanks very much for your comment! I am glad I saw it now after having completed a good deal of my homework :-)

You said: As I understand your proposal, it is similar to that of Norman Kretzmann: God is not free to refrain from creating a world (as it springs naturally and necessarily from his own actuality and goodness); rather, his freedom lies in choosing which, how many, for how long, etc. particular beings populate the world. Furthermore, you appear to be saying that the natural and necessary springing forth of the world from God’s being and goodness does not have any bearing upon our confession of his pure actuality.

I think you may have misunderstood my suggestion, and if this is the case, it is no doubt due to a lack of clarity on my part.

I didn't intend to communicate the first claim (the one you say is similar to a claim of Norman Kretzmann's). My first goal in posting, rather, was to show that there is no argument from the pure actuality of God to the contingent existence of the world. Your initial argument was that God could not be actus purus and at the same time necessarily create the world (at least, as it was summarized by Bill); to this I provided the counterexample of the campfire and suggested the possibility of creation as emanation (as found, for instance, in the system of Plotinus). Admittedly, if emanationism were true, then the world would exist necessarily; but my point was that in such a case, it would not be a perfection or an actualization of the emanating principle that anything emanate from it.

My second goal in posting was to offer a different reason, a substitute argument, as to why the creation of the world must be free, namely because of real contingency in the created order as evidenced by the phenomena of generation and corruption.

Thus, when you say: As your account of the world’s existence seems to blend a non-gratuitous emanationism and a gratuitous creationism, it is difficult to know exactly how to respond -- I think you may have misunderstood what I was trying to get across. I didn't offer an account of the world's existence; I used the possibility of "non-gratuitous emanationism," as you put it, as a counterexample to your argument from actus purus to freedom, on the one hand, and other other, I tried to offer evidence in favor of "gratuitous creationism," as you say, from the reality of generation and corruption.

The point I consider more important is that emanationism is not incompatible with pure actuality, so in response to your points made on that issue, I say the following:

(1) All your arguments seem to be on the basis of God's willing or knowing the contents of the world. But the introduction of "will" and "knowledge" language goes beyond simple considerations from pure actuality. For a thing to be purely actual is not the same as for it to have will, knowledge, etc. (however its "having" these things is to be understood), the having of the one does not entail having the latter, and your argument (at least as summarized by Bill!) made reference only to God's being pure actuality. Your actual argument should have been, then, that God, as actus purus and described as having will and knowledge, cannot create necessarily. (I haven't got the opportunity yet to read your book, so if your actual argument is like this, then I apologize for speaking whereof I knew not!)

(2) What is more (and you would have no way, of course, of knowing this), using terminology like "will" to describe God as you do presupposes a bit more common ground between the two of us, as far as our beliefs about God are concerned, than is actually the case. For, not only am I hesitant to think we can speak about God in that way, I also think that having "will" and "knowledge" in any way that makes sense and does justice to the sense of the words seems plainly incompatible with being purely actual. Because your proofs that necessary creation is incompatible with pure actuality are on the basis of the supposition of will and knowledge in God, I in turn affirm the consistency of necessary creation and pure actuality by denying the supposition of will and knowledge in God. In effect, whereas you assert P & Q; ∴ ~R, I assert P & R; ∴ ~Q.

In the first place, to speak to of "will" and "knowledge" is necessarily to make reference to the actualization of potentialities and hence to require that the being who has them is less than fully actual; for the act of the will is the actualization a potency (Thomas argues somewhere argues that there is a two-fold motion from potency to act in an act of the will: the first from the potency to act or not act, and the second from the potency to act in this way or that), and so also knowledge is the actualization of a mind which previously was in potency to be in certain mental states.

Furthermore, "will" and "knowledge" refer to things which, in the ordinary case, are distinct from the subjects that have them and necessarily so, since they are powers or in some other way actualities which must exist in a subject and not of themselves. To speak of a will or knowledge that exists on its own, not in any agent, makes no sense, and yet if we say that the absolutely simple God has will, we mean more or less that he is will, i.e., a will that subsists on its own, and so also with "knowledge".

And appeal to the 'analogicity' of the terms when applied to God doesn't help at all, for to say God is/has something analogous to will, for example, does not therefore entitle us to make inferences about what is true in the case of God from what is true in the case of beings with will here on earth, as you do in one paragraph ("As the end of any act of will supplies the will's raison d'être the actuality of God’s will for the world would depend upon something other than himself"); and you must make appeal to what is true of willing, etc., as we know it in our world in order to prove the incompatibility of pure actuality and necessary creation.

Note that some of the comments you make in the above paragraphs implicitly seem to grant these points: e.g., "if we deny that God wills the world’s existence but that he knows its existence we would have to conclude that his knowledge of the world’s existence is something that he acquires from the world itself as it springs forth from him. Thus his knowledge of the world would be made actual by something other than his own nature". You spoke of knowledge as something "acquired" and "made actual", which is of course to describe knowledge as an actualization of a potentiality and as an actuality inhering in a subject, not identical to its subject.

As it happens, I can happily grant everything you've said: that if God wills/knows about his creation in this or that way, he couldn't be purely actual. That all goes to show, however, that speaking of God as having will/knowledge is contrary to his being actus purus, a conclusion I welcome. I only have interest in defending the claim that there is no contradiction between something's being actus purus and necessarily causing the existence of anything; since being actus purus is incompatible (or so I say) with having will/knowledge, your arguments do not prove that no purely actual being cannot create (or emanate) anything necessarily.

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