In his paper, ‘There might be nothing’ Analysis 56: 231-38, Thomas Baldwin gives the following argument, which he terms ‘the counter-ontological argument’:
(1) It is a mark of concrete objects that they do not satisfy the Identity of Indiscernibles. So the identity of a concrete object is not determined by the intrinsic properties which determine what kind of thing it is.
(2) In the case of any being whose existence is necessary, the fact that its existence is necessary is determined by the kind of thing it is, and thus by its intrinsic properties.
(3) For any being whose existence is necessary, the intrinsic properties which determine its existence also determine its identity.
From these premises, it follows that there are no concrete, necessary existents. Now if one supposes also, that is, in addition to (1) – (3), that:
(4) If God exists, he is the sort of thing that can be causally efficacious.
(5) Anything that is the sort of thing that can be causally efficacious is concrete.
(6) If God exists, he is a necessary existent.
It follows that God does not exist. What to do?
Now many will be tempted to deny (1). But I quite like that characterisation of concreteness, and I would like to see how else one might resist Baldwin’s argument. I think (2), (4), and (6) are also true. So the one to deny, I think, is (3).
Denying (3) amounts to asserting that there could have been divine twins, that is, beings having all of the repeatable intrinsic properties that God has, which, let’s say, are the perfections. So, I’m claiming that there could have been two co-existing perfect beings.
Resistance to my claim will, I think, come on four fronts. Some will say that uniqueness is itself a perfection, so there couldn’t be divine twins. I’m just not moved by that assertion. Is a being that has the opposites of all of the usual perfections, like the omni-s, but is also unique perfect in any way? I’m just not moved to say that such an individual is. But intuitions, will of course, vary. And so so those who have intuitions other than mine will have to resist Baldwin’s argument in another way if they want to maintain God’s existence.
Another way of resisting my claim is conceding that uniqueness is not itself a perfection, but omnipotence is, and having that property entails being unique. Joshua Hoffman and Gary S. Rosenkrantz make this argument in their recent book The Divine Attributes. Suppose for reductio that there are two omnipotent agents, Dick and Jane.
“If this were possible, then it could happen that at some time, t, Dick, while retaining his omnipotence, attempts to move a feather, and at t, Jane, while retaining her omnipotence, attempts to keep that feather motionless. Intuitively, in this case, neither Dick nor Jane would affect the feather as to its motion or rest. Thus, in this case, at t, Dick would be powerless to move the feather, and at t, Jane would be powerless to keep the feather motionless! But it is absurd to suppose that an omnipotent agent could lack the power to move a feather or the power to keep it motionless. Therefore, neither Dick nor Jane is omnipotent. As a consequence, it is impossible that there be two co-existent omnipotent agents” (168).
The right response to make to this traditional argument, which appears in essentials also in work by Lacantius, John Duns Scotus, and William Wainwrignt, is to deny that moving the feather is a coherent task for Dick (given Janes’ will to keep it motionless) and that keeping the feather motionless is a coherent task for Jane (given Dick’s will to move the feather), and since inability to do incoherent tasks is no bar to omnipotence, such a thought experiment does not show that there couldn’t be two omnipotent agents. What this thought experiment shows is that the coherence of a task is dependent on contextual factors.
This resolution is rather similar to the resolution of the liar paradox on which the liar sentence does not express a proposition. But, as Kripke has shown, liar paradoxes arise not just in the case of a special sentence, but also in seemingly ordinary situations, when contextual factors render certain sentences paradoxical.
Consider the following case suggested by Kripke (‘Outline of a Theory of Truth’, pp. 691-92). Say that Jones makes the following claim:
(A) Most (i.e., a majority) of Nixonï¿½s assertions about Watergate are false.
This assertion, in and of itself, has no paradoxical features that might be thought to prevent it from being true or false. Say that (A) is the only sentence that Jones utters about Watergate, or that all, except perhaps (A), of his assertions about Watergate are true. Now assume that Nixonï¿½s assertions about Watergate are evenly balanced between true assertions and false assertions, and that Nixon then utters the following sentence:
(2) Everything that Jones says about Watergate is true.
Just as there is nothing intrinsically paradoxical about (A), there is nothing intrinsically paradoxical about (B), but together, they create a paradox. One might say that (A) and (B) are extrinsically paradoxical in Kripkeï¿½s thought experiment. With this example we see that, in Kripkeï¿½s words: ï¿½many, probably most, of our ordinary assertions about truth and falsity are liable, if the empirical facts are extremely unfavorable, to exhibit paradoxical featuresï¿½ (p. 691). Similarly, many ï¿½ probably most ï¿½ of the tasks we take to be coherent in ordinary cases are liable, if the case is extremely unfavourable, to exhibit paradoxical features. These paradoxical features render the sentences and the tasks that exhibit them incoherent. While, on the resolution of the liar paradox I have in mind, the liar sentence is incoherent in any context whatsoever, (1) and (2) are not coherent in the context given by Kripke, even though they are coherent in other, ordinary contexts. One might say that the liar sentence is intrinsically incoherent, while (1) and (2) are extrinsically incoherent in the context given by Kripke, and most, if not all, sentences are either intrinsically incoherent, or liable to be extrinsically incoherent depending on the contexts in which they are uttered. Thus, whether or not a sentence is coherent is dependent on contextual factors. Similarly, while the task of making two and two add up to five is not a coherent task in any context whatsoever, that is, it is intrinsically incoherent, the task of moving a feather and the task of keeping a feather motionless are incoherent in the one offered by Hoffman and Rosenkrantz, that is, they are extrinsically incoherent in this context, even though they are coherent tasks in ordinary contexts. Thus, whether or not a task is coherent is dependent on contextual factors, and an omnipotent being need not be able to perform an incoherent task, regardless of whether it is intrinsically incoherent or extrinsically incoherent. I conclude that there is no case from omnioptence against the possibility of there being divine twins.
A third objection to my claim that there might have been divine twins is that it’s impossible to individuate them. I suppose the only thing to do here is to appeal to haecceities, which is in effect a denial of a substantial need for individuation.
A final objection is that it’s just a matter of revealed faith that there couldn’t be divine twins. There’s not much I can do with that objection — only to ask, so what premise of Baldwin’s argument are you going to deny? I think (3) is the best.