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Thursday, February 20, 2020


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Hi Bill,

Thank you for interacting with my chapter! It is always nice when people take what you say seriously enough to interact with it. Would that it happened more often! :-)

Also, if anyone else would like to read my paper, it can be found here: https://www.academia.edu/41975414/Divine_simplicity_does_not_entail_modal_collapse

To address your post: I suggest that the proponent of divine simplicity reject the difference principle. You seem to me to be arguing by analogy that the difference principle must apply to God's causing the world as much as to the beam of the flashlight producing a beam spot on the wall.

My initial impression is that your argument by analogy is dissatisfactory for a few reasons.

(1) On the surface of it, your response seems to beg the question. You write that the contingency of the beam spot depends on the contingency of the flashlight's being on. I don't disagree with this, of course, but you seem to be asserting straightforwardly that the beam spot could not be otherwise (it could not cease to exist, for example) as the effect of the flashlight unless there were also a difference in the flashlight (e.g., it is turned off). You then say that God's causality of the world cannot be otherwise than this. You seem to be arguing on the basis of a particular creaturely case in favor of the difference principle. But my proposal was precisely that the difference principle, which is obviously valid with respect to creaturely causation, -- although quantum indeterminacy perhaps complicates matters, -- must be rejected with respect to God's creation of the world. I am asserting ~P and your response seems merely to assert that P. Why should I be obliged to accept that the difference principle applies to God as well?

Also, I would also insist on the terminological distinction I make in my chapter about differences of interpreting the phrase "God's act of creation." In the causal sense, this refers to God as that in virtue of which His effect is produced. In the effectual sense, this refers to the God's effect, viz. the creation, insofar as it is created by God. I would not agree that "the creative causing of U is occurring in every possible world." I would sooner say: that in virtue of which U actually exists, is present in every possible world, although U is not so present. Because U is actual, we call that principle "God's act of creating U." But in a different possible world, where its effect was something else, we would not call it "God's act of creating U" but rather something else.

(2) I think that the rejection of the difference principle with respect to divine causality can be rationally motivated and is not only a "last-ditch effort" to save divine simplicity from modal collapse. In the chapter, I point out various differences between the way creaturely causation takes place and the way divine causation evidently takes place. Creatures cause things by undergoing various accidental modifications of their being. The flashlight causes the beam spot in virtue of the electrical processes that go on within it once it is turned on. Likewise, Pat Metheny causes music to come into existence when he grabs a guitar and holds it in a certain position and begins to move his hands around in the right ways. In other words, creaturely causes function by taking on various accidents that "point them" towards the production of their contingent effect. But per divine simplicity God is not a substance with accidents and thus cannot cause things in this way. He can only cause things in an entirely direct and unmediated fashion, out of nothing -- hence divine "causality" is probably better named "creation" or some other such term, in order to distinguish it from the creaturely category of "causation." If He is to create contingently, then He must be "capable" of producing a creature without being essentially "pointed at" or "directed at" the production of that specific creature. This is another way of saying that the difference principle cannot apply to God if He is to create things contingently. It is not a desperate rejection of some otherwise unassailable rational principle; rather, I think I am proposing something like a transcendental argument for the possibility of contingent creation in principle.

(3) I also sense a certain apriorism in your argument from analogy. You seem to me to take the difference principle as some kind of a priori principle of causality in general. But I would insist that we do not simply come into the world with a notion of causality. Our notion of causality is gained over time in the experience of causation in the world. With respect to creaturely causation, we are able to abstract from particular cases the ideal principle that a difference in effect presupposes a difference in cause. But suppose we then move beyond creaturely being and try to accede to the thought of the Creator of creaturely being. On the basis of various onto-cosmological arguments, such as the one you propose in your book, we arrive at the conclusion that finite being does not contain the explanation of its existence within itself; therefore it is necessary to infer the existence of an infinite, transcendent cause of existence which is not subject to the conditions of finite being (such as metaphysical composition). At this point in our reasoning, we are confronted with two realities: the contingent existence of finite being and the absolutely simple, transcendent cause of finite being. There does not appear to me to be any justification for importing the difference principle into this new and specific situation: nothing demands it, and if we recognize the "historical" origins of our awareness of the difference principle, we can see that it would be inappropriate to appeal to it here. We learned about the difference principle through our encounter with finite beings. But now, at this point in our reasoning, we are not dealing merely with finite beings, but with the cause/creator of finite being. It seems to me excessively aprioristic to hold onto the difference principle as universally applicable, when we can instead say that now, when we come to the conclusion of an absolutely simple cause of finite being, we are in a new situation that has to be understood on its own terms, rather than conforming it to our previous experience which was not absolutely universal but particular.

I look forward to your response!

I would avoid the problem by rejecting this one of Mullen's conclusions:

"If there is a possible world in which God exists alone, God is not simple. He eternally has unactualized potential for He cannot undo His act of creation."

God cannot "unchoose" a choice that He has made any more than He can create a rock bigger than He can lift; and the fact that He cannot do either in no way compromises His Freedom or His Omnipotence.

In other words, once God makes a choice, there is no further unactualized potential with regard to that choice.

In the actual world, He chose to create this world from all eternity. In some other possible world He chose to exist alone from all eternity. And in some other world He eternally chose an entirely different creation.

I think at least part of the difficulty arises from our relative inability to understand what it is like to make a choice "from all eternity" - i.e. in such a way that there was no time when that choice had not been made; we can't help but think of choices as being the result of deliberation. But, as Aquinas warns, all reasoning about God is done analogically, and omne simile claudicat.

One either escapes the issue by swallowing the henadic pill, as it were, or gets crushed by the strictures of ontology. It is inescapable.

To Richard Norris:

What do you find unsatisfying about my reasoning in my paper, as well as in my comment? I think the point that I make about the "historical" origins of the difference principle is a good one and worth taking seriously. Because it arises through the discovery of creaturely causation, there is no basis for supposing that it must also apply in the case of divine creation.


Here is one question for you. If a child asks why a rock is hot, I might simply say" "It is in the sun." Is the sun the cause of the rock's being hot, or the sun's shining on the rock that is the cause of the rock's being hot? I'd say the latter: it is not a substance (the sun) that causes an event, but an event that causes an event. The cause here involves a substance, but it is not a substance but an event.

So I say that the existing of U is the effect, not of God, but of God's causing U. Since the effect is contingent, the cause must also be. A contingent effect cannot have a necessary cause. Of course, God is a necessary being, but strictly speaking it is not God who is the cause of U's existing, but God's causing U to exist.

Another question for you. Do you grant that to say that God is pure act does not imply that God engages in any actions? Some of the writers seem to conflate the distinct senses of 'act.' God is pure act whether he acts or not.


With respect to your first point: I think the sun causes the rock to be hot. Naturally it causes this in conjunction with very many other factors: the position of the earth, the atmospheric conditions, the exposure of the rock to the sun's rays, and perhaps we can include the present state of the whole cosmos in the equation. Moreover, the sun's heating the rock is not an event separate from the rock's being warmed. The heating is a process that takes place over time and the effect is simultaneous with the cause. I would even say that the causation is an event which includes both substances standing in a certain relation to one another and to everything else such that the one is affected by the other in some way. But it is an event that includes both substances simultaneously. One substance causes an effect in the other, and this causality is itself an event, rather than being a relation between events. Once the entire state of affairs is taken into consideration, one could say that the sun qua substance, in this exact state, heats the rock.

But once again I have to insist that you are begging the question. God does not and cannot cause things in virtue of his being in some certain state. That is to impose a condition of creaturely causation on the creator, where it doesn't belong. Divine simplicity doesn't allow God to be in various (intrinsic) states. Because of this, divine causality has to be understood differently. If God is to cause something contingently, He has to be able to produce an effect — or perhaps it is better to say, He has to be the explanation for the reality of a thing — entirely apart from being "pointed towards" its production in the way that the sun, in all of its current states and granting the current state of the earth, the rock, and everything else, is "pointed at" heating the rock. In other words, in the special case of God, as required by the doctrine of divine simplicity, we must reject the difference principle.

With respect to your second question: God's act in the philosophical sense refers to Him and it is only one. God's act in this sense is not an action or an exercise of agency. But we speak of God's actions in theology, more specifically referring to events in history which He brought about in His Providence, and these are many. But God's actions in this sense are simply states of affairs He brought about, such as His freeing the Hebrews from slavery or converting Paul, and not something internal to Him.

Hi Bill,

you say that my key statement --

God's creative act need not be contingent. It only needs to contingently bring about its effect.
-- does not make sense. I take you simply mean it is false -- but I cannot discern any real argumentative support from your part for this. Your analogies, talk of "causal process", Mullins' talk of a "potential" in God etc. rely on a picture of causality which a priori excludes the simplicity of the cause, so they cannot be used to independently prove that a free cause in general cannot be simple. Do you have any non-circular argument for the thesis that no necessary act can bring about its effect contingently? Unless you have, your derivation of modal collapse from God's simplicity cannot proceed, and no aporia results (just reluctance to accept the only coherent way out).

Meanwhile, I offer to you a bunch traditional arguments and considerations purporting to show that my thesis holds.

First and foremost: Every act which is necessarily connected to its object is dependent on its object (it cannot exist without it) and the species of the act is determined by the object. But such dependence is an imperfection. Therefore, no absolutely perfect act can depend on its object, or be specified by it, therefore, every absolutely perfect act must be only contingently related to its object.

Now we know that God is absolutely perfect. We know that causative power is required for absolute perfection; therefore, we know that God has causal power. But we also know that his causal power must be absolutely perfect one, that is, not one realized through acts necessarily connected with, and specified by, their objects.

Another way how to look at it is to say that God simply does not need any causal acts to mediate his causal power. He is causally efficient through his very essence, directly, and contingently, imparting being to the created essences immediately. It is only with respect to this causal power which is an aspect of his essence that we call the selfsame essence an "act" (in the sense of activity).

It can also be understood from the point of view of freedom. God's freedom, unlike ours, must be a perfect one. Our freedom is limited in many ways, but one of the limits consists in the fact that in order to be capable of willing opposite objects, we need distinct, opposite acts (because our acts are specified by their respective object and therefore necessarily connected with them). Therefore, our freedom is safguarded by there being a contingent connexion between our will and the individual acts of willing: our will brings about an act of willing contingently, and so it contingently wills whatever object it wills, which is however necessarily annexed to the respective act. Divine freedom, on the other hand, cannot be thus limited. God is not in need of a plurality of possible acts to be capable of willing possible opposite objects. His only, single, absolutely perfect and necessary act of willing, entitatively identical to His essence, enables him to relate to whatever object is in His power to will. So through one and the same act of will, God is capable of willing any (good) object whatsoever. Whereas in case of our will, the "gap" (i.e., contingency) is situated between our will and its act, in God it falls between the act=will=essence and its object (as there is no other available place).

Indeed: one wonders: if one is a libertarian, and so assumes that a (created) will can relate contingently to the free acts it elicits, why is it such a problem to admit that it is possible that God's very essence (playing also the role of His will) relates contingently to whatever it causes?

Unlike our will, God's will need not, even and cannot, cause his own additional acts in the manner of accidental forms. For God already is in act all through, he therefore cannot perfect himself further in any way. "God's accidental form", then, is an impossible being (and so outside the scope of what God can bring about). But God still can cause all possible beings into being -- so much we know since we know He must have an unlimited power. Therefore, it only remains that he can cause them immediately, just like we can immediately freely cause only our own acts of will, while all other effects we produce by means of these.

If contingent causality is possible in our will towards our own immediate effects (the acts of our will), why should'nt it be possible in God with respect to His immediate effects (all created things)?



P.S. There are more problems with Mullins (he seems to be making several distinct arguments at once), but this would be a traditional reply to what seems to be his main point: viz. "God could avoid creating, therefore in God there is potential not to create: but whoever has a potential is not simple."

Reply: there is an active potential in God - conceded, there is a passive potential - denied. Whoever has an active potential is not simple - denied; whoever has a passive potential - conceded; and the conclusion does not follow.

Explanation: An active potential as such is not a potential to undergo a change but merely to bring about a change; but only a potential to undergo a change implies composition (viz. of potency and act). A created will is an active potency, but not a pure one: it also has a passive aspect, as it is receptive of its own acts and perfected by them. God's will, of course, is a purely active potency and therefore God himself is not intrinsically changed by willing this or that -- he only brings about a change outside Himself. Therefore, any unfulfilled (active) potentiality of God is really an imperfection (lack of actuality) among the creatures, not in God.

God simply must not be anthropomorphized (Isaiah 55:8...); you can only transfer concepts abstracted from creatures (such as "act", "power", "cause", "will" etc.) to God if you purge them of all imperfections.

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