God’s nature
July 15, 2009 — 16:10

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Free Will Problem of Evil  Comments: 22

The doctrine that God is identical with his nature has traditionally been defended by Christians, and would be useful for responding to the following argument (defended by Quentin Smith, Wes Morriston, etc.):

(*) The best answers to the problem of evil all involve significant libertarian freedom; but significant libertarian freedom is not something God has (because he cannot do wrong); a freedom that God does not have is not the most valuable kind of freedom; therefore, significant libertarian freedom is not the most valuable kind of freedom.

The challenge this argument presents is to come up with a reason to think either (a) that significant libertarian freedom is valuable in us, but would not be valuable in the case of God because of some relevant difference between us and God, or (b) that God has a kind of freedom which is more valuable than significant libertarian freedom, but it is a freedom that we cannot have. Both kinds of responses (actually, they may not be very different) require the identification of a disanalogy between us and God. One proposed disanalogy is that God is identical with his nature, while we are not. Therefore, actions that are necessitated by God’s nature are rooted precisely in God. But we are not identical with our natures, and hence any actions that were necessitated by our nature would be rooted in something outside of us, contrary to source incompatibilism.

One of the next moves in the dialectic (Wes Morriston does this) is to question the coherence of the doctrine of divine simplicity that the identity of God with God’s nature is based on, giving standard objections such as asking how God’s attributes could be identical (e.g., how could God’s omnipotence be identical with God’s mercy?) However, although I have tried to answer such objections, I think this is not how the present dialectic should go. For the doctrine that God is identical with God’s nature is not the doctrine of divine simplicity–it is only one of the entailments of the doctrine of divine simplicity. Thus, it is prima facie possible to defend the identity of God with God’s nature without defending the doctrine of divine simplicity. Perhaps in the end one can derive divine simplicity from the identity of God with God’s nature. But those are going to metaphysically controversial arguments.

So, how might one defend the identity of God and his nature? Well, let’s ask what the alleged difficulty in that identity is. I see three metaphysical difficulties, actually: (1) Could anything be identical to its nature? (2) Even if so, could anything concrete be identical to its nature? (3) Even if so, could anything causally efficacious be identical to its nature?

The first difficulty has a neat answer, assuming each thing has a nature. To rule out regress or circularity, we must hold that there are things that are their own nature, and hence that such things are possible. Both the Platonists and the Aristotelians believed in such things: Plato held that the Form of Goodness is its own Form and Aristotle held that while there might be a difference between Socrates and his essence, there is no further difference between that essence and the essence’s essence. I do not know of any generally accepted, or even very strong, argument against this part of their view.

To press the second difficulty requires an account of the notoriously difficult distinction between the concrete and the abstract. Of course, if one identifies the concrete with the physical, then one has such an account, and a negative answer to (2) appears plausible. But if one identifies the concrete with the physical, then a negative answer to (2) is irrelevant to the question at hand, because then God is not concrete (apart from the Incarnation). One might identify concreteness with particularity, and insist that natures are universal. But then one needs an account of particularity and universality. I take “particular” to be one of a pair of coordinate terms, any given particular being understood as particular in relation to a universal that is predicated of it. But on that story about particularity, there is no reason why something couldn’t both be particular and universal: greenness is universal relative to foliage and particular relative to being-a-color-property. There is nothing even obviously absurd about the idea of something being a particular and a universal in relation to itself. Thus, propertyhood is a particular in relation to itself–as it has the universal propertyhood–and a universal in relation to itself–as it is had by propertyhood. I think the only plausible way to expand on particularity that makes (2) problematic is by saying that the concrete is what stands in causal relations. And that leads to (3).

Could a being identical with its nature be a cause? Here is one argument to the contrary: No non-material being can be a cause, and no nature is a material being. But if the first premise of this argument is established, then theism has been ruled out–there is no need to go for the problem of evil then. Anyway, I see no good reason, apart from some clearly false Humean accounts of causation, to suppose that causation is limited to material beings. Or maybe one could say that natures are abstract, and abstract things can’t be causes. But why not? One could stipulate this, making acausality be a part of abstractness. But then the negative answer to (3) is trivial, and the substantive problem shifts to the question whether natures are abstract.

Moreover, again both Plato and Aristotle posited causally efficacious things that were their own natures–the Form of the Good is responsible in some way for the shape of things, and the nature of Socrates has biologically formed the adult Socrates from childhood. There has been ample time for the production of a solid argument that this part of their views is incoherent or otherwise impossible. Maybe there is one that I don’t know of. But unless one can be produced, the presumption is that a negative answer to (3) has not been proved.

There is, however, a different dialectic move that can be made. It is to argue that apart from divine simplicity, positing the identity of God and God’s nature is ad hoc and brought in just to answer objection (*). But I don’t think so. For there is a good argument for the identity of God and God’s nature from four premises: (i) everything distinct from God depends on God (a central theistic belief), (ii) dependency (in sense that is found both in (i) and (iii)) cannot be circular, (iii) everything that is distinct from its nature depends on that nature, and (iv) everything has a nature.

Comments:
  • Tom

    Alex-
    Wouldn’t it follow that if a necessary being’s ‘nature’ was identical to (or just was) its ‘identity’ (Isn’t that what we’re doing, identifying the ‘what’ and the ‘who’ of God?), then while that being could be the efficacious cause of, say, the world, it couldn’t be so ‘contingently’? How would a necessary God who was identical to his nature make a libertarian choice to create? The world (the effect of the divine ‘will’ or ‘nature’) would be as necessary as God.
    The Greek Fathers saw this implication and so separated the divine ‘will’ and ‘nature’, attributing the ‘will’ to ‘person’, so that creation becomes a free and contingent expression of God not necessitated by God’s nature. It just seems that if God is identical to his nature, then you collapse ‘person’ (identity, the ‘who’ question) into ‘nature’ and hence destroy the libertarian nature of the choice to create and hence the contingency of the world.
    Just thinking out loud.
    Tom

    July 16, 2009 — 2:11
  • overseas

    one question worth asking is whether Plato’s Forms or Aristotelian natures exercise anything like *efficient* causation. If they don’t, they don’t help your case. Another question: is the sort of dependency in your (i) the same as the sort in (iii)? If not, the argument fails by equivocation. YOu ignore a very plausible account of the particular/universal distinction: particulars are uninstantiable, universals instantiable.

    July 16, 2009 — 4:40
  • Alan Rhoda

    For reasons given by Tom, I doubt that divine simplicity provides a helpful way out of the Smith/Morriston argument.
    A better route, I suggest, and one with less metaphysical baggage, is to deny the assumption that
    “a freedom that God does not have is not the most valuable kind of freedom”
    on the grounds that what’s “valuable” simpliciter is not well-defined this context. The value of freedom, one might argue, is not intrinsic, but instrumental. If that’s right, then we need a relative notion of value: “valuable for”. That substitution made, I see no clear reason to think that the sort of freedom most valuable for God must also be the sort of freedom most valuable for creatures. It is plausible that for God “significant” libertarian freedom (the unconditional ability to choose between good and evil) is positively undesirable, whereas for creatures it is not so implausible (if we accept some type of soul-making theodicy) that they should at least start out with that kind of freedom.

    July 16, 2009 — 11:01
  • Tom:
    I don’t think it follows from the fact that God’s nature is necessary that God’s nature can create only one world.
    I also worry about your attribution to the Greek fathers the view that the will goes along with the person. That would suggest a view on which there are three wills in the Trinity and one in Christ. But the latter view is the heresy of monothelitism. And the fathers would surely unanimously say that God is one in will.
    overseas:
    Well, the Aristotelian natures move stuff around. That seems close enough to efficient causation (anyway, God only exercises something analogous to efficient causation) for me. 🙂
    I actually think that if one is careful about the relata of dependence, you can’t have circular dependence even if the two kinds of dependence are different. That is controversial, so it would be better if I could come up with a neutral sort of dependence that (i) and (iii) are both special cases of. Maybe you have an idea?
    Here is a possible counterexample to the claim that universals are instantiable: square-circularity.
    Putting that aside (maybe we take a sparse theory and don’t allow complex properties), it is hard to see why instantiability would make it impossible to be an efficient cause, a person, etc. Why should lacking the power of instantiability make it easier to be a person, say?
    In fact, one might even make a fun little perfect-being argument: Being able to be instantiated is a perfection; God has all perfections; therefore, God is able to be instantiated. 🙂

    July 16, 2009 — 13:05
  • Let me try another fun move. Suppose Platonism is true. Consider the hypothesis:
    (OH) Obama = humanity.
    (Here “humanity” means “being human” rather than a collective term.)
    OH is false. Why? Well, here are all the arguments that seem to have some plausibility:
    1. If Obama=humanity, then no other human being is identical with humanity. (This uses Platonism. Aristotelianism makes this argument harder.) For if, say, Bush=humanity, and Obama=humanity, then Bush=Obama, which is false. But it is no more probable that Obama is identical with humanity than that any of the other 6.5 billion people on earth be identical with humanity. So the probability that Obama is identical with humanity is at most 1/6500000000, and that’s very small. And OH is just as arbitrary as (BH): Bush = humanity.
    2. Obama is contingent but universals are necessary. (One may have Kripkean reasons to deny the necessity of humanity. But even if one does that, one can salvage the argument by saying that it is necessary that (if humans exist, humanity exists), but it is not necessary that (if humans exist, Obama exists).)
    3. Obama is not immaterial but universals are immaterial.
    4. Obama is mutable but universals are immutable.
    5. A hundred years ago, it was not the case that Obama existed, but humanity did.
    Of these arguments, I am suspicious of (4). I worry that the claim that universals are immutable confuses two kinds of intrinsic properties universals have. One kind of property are “internal entailments”–humanity entails animality and normative rationality, triangularity entails polygonality, etc. The second kind of property are, well, everything else. I don’t have a name for it. Humanity has lots of properties of the second kind: it is immaterial (unlike living people), immutable (unlike people), etc. Now, I think we have very good reason to say that universals can’t change in respect of their internal entailments, and also to say that there are some properties of the second kind, like immateriality, in respect of which they can’t change. But I do not know of an argument that universals have no mutable intrinsic properties of the second sort. (But the question is moot because God doesn’t have any mutable properties at all.)
    In any case, whatever one thinks of (4), (1)-(3) and (5) provide a conclusive case against OH. And I can’t think of any significantly different reasons to bring to bear against OH.
    But now consider:
    (GD) God = divinity.
    We had good arguments against OH in (1)-(5), with the possible exception of (4). But none of these arguments–not even (4)–tell against GD.
    1: Let Y be a proper name of God. Then, I believe that it is a necessary truth that Y and only Y is divine. There are no other Gods, and cannot be any other Gods. So, there is nothing arbitrary about the hypothesis that Y is divinity, rather than someone else.
    2-5: God is necessary, immaterial, immutable and eternal. Just as divinity is.
    There is one final argument against GD that I was sent by email. A colleague suggested that universals are multiply instantiable, but divinity is not. However, I think this is not an argument against GD. It’s an argument against the claim that divinity is a universal, a claim apparently independent of GD. (And I don’t see why a universal needs to be multiply instantiable. Take the apparent universal: being a self-doubler, where a self-doubler is a number which is equal to its double–an x such that x=2x. The only thing that can instantiate being a self-doubler is the number zero.) (There was also an argument I was sent that I haven’t sufficiently digested (but on first reading it didn’t convince me).)

    July 16, 2009 — 13:25
  • Heath White

    My (weak) understanding of the tradition is that the claim that God is identical to his nature is just the claim that God exists necessarily. Which, I think, no one is disputing. You can think of it this way: in any being, existence entails essence: you are what you essentially are. In a necessary being, essence entails existence. That’s at least co-extension across all possible worlds, which may be as close as you need to get to identity to make it fly.
    My issue with the Morriston-style arguments, however, is different. It seems to me that there is a significant difference between acts one is unable to do, versus acts one is (even necessarily) unwilling to do. That is, it is quite different being limited by weakness versus being “limited” by virtue. The argument that God does not have libertarian freedom depends on conflating these different kinds of “limitations” which I think is a mistake.

    July 16, 2009 — 15:04
  • overseas

    >Well, the Aristotelian natures move stuff >around.
    Not really. Stones fall because they’re heavy, and so because they have stone-nature, but in such cases their movers are the things which remove impediments to falling and the things which gave them their stone-nature: so Aquinas. Aristotelian natures’ “causation” is formal causation, and whatever that is, it isn’t much like efficient.
    >Here is a possible counterexample to the >claim that universals are instantiable: >square-circularity.
    universals are distinguished from haecceities as multiply instantiable vs. instantiable but not multiply so. Why then should one consider this a universal at all, even on an abundant theory of properties?
    >it is hard to see why instantiability >would make it impossible to be an >efficient cause, a person, etc. Why >should lacking the power of >instantiability make it easier to be a >person, say?
    One can see a that without seeing a why: does it sound plausible to say that, say, Obamity (a haecceity) fathered Sasha, or that fatherhood did? If fatherhood fathers Sasha, then since fatherhood is the same entity in all its instances, not only Obama’s fatherhood but Biden’s, Cheney’s etc. act (since they are just identical with OBama’s), and so Biden has as much causal relevance to Sasha as Obama does. But any universal that is only singly instantiated could have been multiply so. Thus wherever there is an effect one might assign to an instantiated universal, there is always an instantiater which is a more plausible candidate, and no case for overdetermination by both.

    July 17, 2009 — 3:08
  • Tom

    Alex,
    My point wasn’t that it follows from the necessity of God’s nature that God can create only one world. (One might posit potentiality in God and so account for contingent acts of will.) My question was that if all that God is is identical to the necessity of his essence or nature, then doesn’t the necessity of God’s ‘existence’ get transferred to everything God ‘wills’? If God’s existence is identical to his nature, then God’s existence obtains in any and all acts of will. How does one then posit contingent acts of will for a God whose existence necessarily obtains?
    Forgive my less than careful comment on the Greek Fathers. I’m just reading through Zizioulas on Athanasius, and Zizzy discusses Athanasius’ distinction between ‘nature’ and ‘will’ in God (‘Being as Communion’, 83). That’s the distinction I was referring to. Aristotle Papanikolau (‘Being with God’, 73) as well comments, “In attempting to assert the divinity of the Son, Athanasius would assert that the Son’s generation is a matter of ‘nature’, while the creation of the world is a matter of the ‘will’.” Interesting, if ‘will’ just IS an aspect of ‘nature’. Zizzy again: “…the distinction was needed in order to make it plain that the being of the Son…was not the same kind as the being of the world. The Son’s being belongs to the substance of God, while that of the world belongs to the will of God.” For the life of me I can’t find in Zizzy where he works through the implications of his insistence that divine ‘freedom’ be linked to ‘person’ (an existence he’s well-known for). No question there. But being a good Orthodox will not he have to make ‘will’ an aspect of God’s ‘ousia’ or ‘essence’? Zizzy doesn’t expound, and I’m not an expert on the Orthodox. Sorry.
    This may or may not have anything to do with what is meant by saying ‘God is identical with his nature’. I don’t want to go off subject. But I do want to ask, by ‘nature’ do you mean ‘ousia’ (‘essence’) or something else? Again, we don’t want to identify the ‘persons’ (who are three) with the ‘ousia’ (which is one). So how does one make this distinction if one also says God’s ‘existence just is his nature’? Wouldn’t that reduce the existence of the ‘persons’ to the divine ‘nature’?
    Thanks,
    Tom

    July 17, 2009 — 3:35
  • overseas:
    Well, on Aquinas’ view at least, immanent natures–or at least substantial forms–also do exercise efficient causality, since matterless entities, like angels, do.
    But in the end I do not think there is significant intuitive difference between causing a child (at animation) to develop into an adult, and causing a lump of clay to become a statue. The former is formal causation by human nature, while the latter is efficient causation by the artist. There are differences in how the two happen, and these differences are important, but there is a clear sense in which both of these are instances of the same kind of relation. Now I think nothing of deep theological importance hangs on the question whether divine causation is precisely efficient causation, or is, say, a fifth kind of causation. (Or a fifth and sixth, since God also engages in something more like final causation.) At the same time, my intuitions are polluted in that in persona propria, I don’t want to make a significant distinction between formal and efficient causation, except in respect of how exactly it operates.
    It may be that we don’t want to use the word universal for things that are only singly instantiable versus non-instantiable. But then the word doesn’t mark an important ontological boundary. Take an abundant view of properties, and consider the following properties:
    A: being a finite non-commutative division ring
    B: being an infinite non-commutative division ring
    C: being a self-multiplier (a = a x a)
    D: being a self-adder (a = a + a)
    E: being a self-logger (a = log a)
    To my intuitions, the ontological status of these should be on par. But B and C are multiply instantiable, with B having infinitely many possible instances, while C has only two instances (+1 and -1). A and E cannot have instances. And D has a unique instance (zero). We can, if we like, call B and C universals, D a haecceity, and A and E unsatisfiables. Let’s just call them all “complex properties”. 🙂
    However, I can see how one might want to distinguish ontologically “natures” and “haecceities” from “properties”. But that distinction wouldn’t be in terms of the number of instances, but in terms of the ontological job done.
    As for the intuition that it is absurd to suppose that Obamity did something, I have a suspicion that such an intuition is due to a latent anti-realism about properties. I think the ordinary person will balk at circularity or Obamity causing something, and when we press the person, she will say that circularity or Obamity is “an abstraction”, not something real in the way tables and dolphins are. I think if we press her further, she is very likely to start saying anti-realistic things about it being only something in the mind, a “mere abstraction”. Realism is a revisionary theory in this respect, and I think sometimes realists miss that fact, though Plato obviously did not. (Plato made his theory more revisionary than it needed to be by saying the Forms are more real than the changing things around us; but the claim that the Forms are just as real would have been revolutionary, too.)
    Part of what I think is at issue here is how realism about properties works. I am inclined to something like this picture (note that I am not a committed realist): We have some expressions like “brownness” and “being Obama” in ordinary language that can be taken to refer to real things. However, ordinary intuitions come with little guidance as to what these things are like, except for a certain intuition which the realist must work to rid herself of (Plato thinks this is because we are biased towards sensibles; I think this is mistaken; we have no similar difficulty taking the soul as real, for instance), that they are not fully real. So while we have these referring expressions, we really know very little about what the things they refer to are like. Then we theorize: we see what explanatory uses these things can be put to. These explanatory uses require us to attribute certain capabilities to the things, most notably being the sort of thing that can be instantiated (square-circularity has that, since it is the same sort of thing as square-polygonality). But we continue to know very little about what these things are like.
    At this point, we can make two moves. One move is to stay with this state of things. If so, then we have no right to deny such claims as: “at least one property thinks, loves and acts.” For all we know about properties is that they are instantiable, that they stand in certain logical relations, and so on. But there seems to me to be little reason to say that one couldn’t fulfill those roles and yet think, love and act. Granted, one’s intuitions may confuse the claim that properties were posited only to fulfill such-and-such roles with the claim that properties only fulfill such-and-such roles. But that is mistaken, in the same way that it is mistaken upon positing an electron as a particle of such-and-such mass and such-and-such electric charge to assume that it has no other basic physical properties. What other characteristics electrons or properties might have is a matter for further inquiry, and one should be prepared to be flexible. On grounds of cognitive economy one might hold that there are no further characteristics (e.g., that electrons are not conscious), but grounds of cognitive economy are not strong enough to allow one to say that something like God=divinity is absurd.
    I guess what this comes down to is that to make the theories go, we typically make positive attributions of characteristics (e.g., instantiability or charge), but we don’t need to make negative ones (e.g., non-consciousness) unless those are entailed.
    The second move we might make is to identify the properties with some other bunch of entities we might believe in, like divine conceptions (Leftow), sets (Lewis), linguistic expressions, etc. Once we do that, it might well be the case that the idea that a property should love, know and act will become absurd. But even there we might need to be careful. For it may be that the entities with which we identify properties are themselves entities which we know through certain explanatory roles, and these explanatory roles may be compatible with other explanatory roles that they may have. Thus, to my knowledge, nothing in set theory requires that sets not be conscious or causally efficacious. On grounds of cognitive economy, we might suppose that they are not. But if we had good explanatory reason to suppose some set was conscious or causally efficacious, we would not have to revise anything of significance.

    July 17, 2009 — 8:21
  • Heath:
    The claim that God=divinity may enter into the explanation of the necessity of divine existence, but it is a distinct claim, and one the Tradition makes.
    Tom:
    First, a minor point. I wasn’t defending the claim that God’s existence = God’s nature. That claim is true, but is distinct from the claim that God = God’s nature.
    I still don’t see the argument from God’s existence = God’s nature, or God = God’s nature, or God is a necessary being, or from all of these taken together, to the claim that God can create only one world. I can see an argument from a claim I have not defended here, namely the claim that God has no contingent intrinsic properties. I have in the past defended that claim, too, but I am not doing so here. All of these claims are special cases of divine simplicity. But a part of what I am trying to do is to say that the claim that God=divinity is a claim that is intelligible apart from the rest of divine simplicity.
    I suppose God’s nature is “ousia”, but there is an ambiguity in “ousia” (I suppose between first and second substance) such that in some sense my claim God=divinity could be translated as God’s ousia = God’s ousia (using the two senses).
    As for will and nature, sometimes “will” is used for the faculty and sometimes for what is willed. The faculty of will is entirely non-contingent. But what is willed is, to some extent, contingent. I suspect (and hope) that St Athanasius is talking of what is willed.

    July 17, 2009 — 8:30
  • Just a point of information. The Eastern Fathers (not all of them were ethnically Greek) do not divide up will and nature in the way suggested. What they do is think of will as natural and hypostatic. Will as natural is a power of choosing directed necessarily to the good, but the use of that power is personal. Sin then is always in the using and never in the nature.
    They also distinguish between certain uses of the will between those fixed in virtue and those that have not yet been so fixed. The latter is called the gnomic will which is a specific kind of hypostatic employmet of the will. The gnomic will then permits evil since in order to fulfill conditions on sourcehood for the resulting character, it can go either way until it is fixed one way or another.
    God and the incarnate Christ has no gnomic will since God has no begining to the use of his power and the sae goes for the divine person of Christ in the use of his human will. In the Trinity there is one faculty of will and the persons all employ this power choice. The natural power and the personal employment are fixed together ruling out any possibiliy of sin.
    Given the Eastern rejection of an Augustinian gloss on divine simplicity, there are an infinite number of good things to choose between so that God and the incarnate Christ can fulfill the AP codition on FW.
    Its true that Athanasius distinguishes between the Son generated by nature and the world by choice against the Origenistic framework of the Arians, which saw all acts of generation as either acts of creation or emanations of essence. But it is also true that he says that necessity and contingency are applicable to the divine essence which is huperousia. The generation of the Son is by the natural volitional activity of of the Father, but it isn’t contingent and it isn’t necessary, but eternal.
    And yes, I’ve already published on this. 🙂

    July 17, 2009 — 11:52
  • Tom

    Perry,
    Good points. A better explanation than I managed. I don’t disagree.
    Perry: The Eastern Fathers do not divide up will and nature in the way suggested. What they do is think of will as natural and hypostatic. Will as natural is a power of choosing directed necessarily to the good, but the use of that power is personal…
    and
    Perry: In the Trinity there is one faculty of will and the persons all employ this power [of] choice.
    Tom: Right. My point (poorly made) was that the one divine will is employed hypostaticaly (personally) by each divine person ‘in ways unique to each person’ (since the exercise of will is hypostatically determined). Not sure you’d agree with that last bit, but it does seem to be Zizzy’s point (and Papanikolau’s). I was wondering what these distinctions might mean for Alex’s point about divine simplicity (or the notion that “God is identical with his nature”).
    No lie, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to track you down for a few weeks. Can you email me?
    Tom
    tbeltATmail2goDOTnet

    July 19, 2009 — 6:55
  • Denzel Jonez

    When I hear about monism it sounds crazy and weird to me in the same way that the doctrine of divine simplicity sounds crazy and weird to me.
    But nowadays, monism is starting to be taken seriously by prominent authors like Sider and others.
    Perhaps there are some interesting analogies between monism and divine simplicity. Perhaps some moves that the monist makes can be made by the person who is attracted to the doctrine of divine simplicity.

    July 19, 2009 — 10:43
  • VS bandaneer

    Notion that God has or hasn’t a “freedom”; God having or not having implies limitation—so no omnipotence,
    omnipresence and so on. The only solution is to make God everything—being is the essence of God and all forms
    of being are therefore God–God is immanent and also
    transcendent–or non-immanent. But no, this won’t do
    —implies he is one thing and not another thing–more limitation. God must be all things—no limitation.
    Having said that, God appears to humans in different forms–the limitation is man’s, not God’s. Once god is realized then God is seen everywhere in everything–all
    forms. But until then God is expereinced as the space of being–the unmanifest, or God is love, or longing or
    a companion or a presence in the heart and so on.

    July 19, 2009 — 15:55
  • Alex,
    Your wrote, “But if the first premise of this argument [i.e. that no non-material being can be a cause] is established, then theism has been ruled out–there is no need to go for the problem of evil then.”
    If you’re willing to say that God can manifest himself “concretely,” as you say about the Incarnation, then why wouldn’t you also think that God can manifest himself materially? JC was not only concrete but material as well! And if God can manifest materially, then I don’t see how the argument’s first premise rules out theism.
    I have three arguments against identifying God with God’s nature (i.e. with divinity).
    First argument:
    A1. God is benevolent.
    A2. Divinity is not benevolent.
    C. So God is not divinity.
    Second argument:
    B1. God is wise.
    B2. Divinity is not wise.
    C. So God is not divinity.
    Third argument:
    C1. God is a person.
    C2. Divinity is not a person.
    C. So God is not divinity.
    In each case, the conjunction of the premises is more plausible than ~C (i.e. the denial of the conclusion).
    It certainly seems true that God is wise and benevolent in virtue of his nature. But it seems equally obvious, to me at least, that God’s nature is not itself wise and benevolent.
    We do say things like ‘She has a caring nature’. But that just means that she’s naturally caring. It doesn’t mean that her nature itself is caring. I don’t even understand what that means!

    July 24, 2009 — 9:46
  • Mathis

    Tom,
    Wouldn’t it follow that if a necessary being’s ‘nature’ was identical to (or just was) its ‘identity’ (Isn’t that what we’re doing, identifying the ‘what’ and the ‘who’ of God?), then while that being could be the efficacious cause of, say, the world, it couldn’t be so ‘contingently’? How would a necessary God who was identical to his nature make a libertarian choice to create? The world (the effect of the divine ‘will’ or ‘nature’) would be as necessary as God.
    Does this need divine simplicity to work?
    Creating the world was a great-making act or not. If it was a great making act, then an essentially perfect being would do that necessarily. If it was not a great-making ac, then why did God create?

    July 24, 2009 — 17:50
  • John:
    There are arguments for God = divinity (an argument from Christian Tradition, an argument from the fact that nothing should be prior to God, and maybe an argument from the need to answer the question about evil and free will that I began my post with).
    What is the reason for believing A2, B2 and C2?
    There are substantive theories as to the nature of properties that entail A2, B2 and C2. For instance, nominalism. But apart from such theories, for which I think the arguments are distinctly weaker than the arguments for God = divinity, I think we should not have much confidence in intuitions such as that no property is a person. Properties are entities that fulfill certain explanatory roles. It should not surprise us too much if they end up fulfilling other explanatory roles that we did not initially think they fulfilled.
    There are, I think, two ways of looking at properties.
    1. We might see them as purely theoretical entities, like electrons never directly observed (leaving aside questions of cloud chambers), and posited to explain certain phenomena. But if so, then we have no reason, apart from theoretical simplicity arguments that clearly do not trump all the arguments for God = divinity, to suppose that properties might not have features beyond those needed to explain those phenomena.
    2. We might supplement or replace (1) with a claim that we directly cognize properties. Perhaps when I see a circle, I directly cognize circularity–it is there, in front of the mind. One might then claim that one can just see that properties aren’t persons. However, I would diagnose this claim as a confusion between the absence of perception and the perception of absence.

    July 26, 2009 — 0:23
  • Tom

    Mathias: Creating the world was a great-making act or not. If it was a great making act, then an essentially perfect being would do that necessarily. If it was not a great-making act, then why did God create?
    Tom: I’ll want to be careful here because I’m not a professional philosopher, and this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Alex’s original post.
    BUT it seems to me that “making” in “great-making” can be taken to like “great-revealing” OR it may be taken in the sense of meaning a act by which God actually “achieves” a greatness of being, and thus by which he constitutes his being. It seems to me that if the “choice” to act greatly is contingent and unnecessary, it can’t also be that it constitutes the essential being of a necessary God.
    I we take “great-making” in the first sense of “greatness-revealing” then creation reveals rather than constitutes the sort of great being God is. Of course, I suppose one could ask whether acting in such a revealing way is “great-making” or not, so let me offer something that might (but probably won’t) satisfy a professional philosopher…
    …perhaps there is no overall, ultimate difference to God between the goodness of not creating and the goodness of creating. If equally good options are what one is choosing between, then neither is especially great-making. If God is unsurpassably aesthetically satisfied, fully ‘satiated’ in terms of loving experience and happiness, then creating doesn’t at to that. God isn’t motivated to create by a desire to “achieve” or “constitute his being” by addressing some lack or privation. But a perfectly fulfilled being can “express” the fullness he essentially is, and do so freely, but it would have to be that creation is ‘relatively meaningless’ to God (‘relatively’ is the key term), ‘meaningless’ in the sense of being the unnecessary and extravagant expression of an already constituted life. I don’t know how to secure the ‘freedom’ of a ‘necessary’ God’s ‘contingently’ creating the world otherwise.
    So perhaps we could challenge the notion that God possesses every great-making property ‘essentially’ but do so by positing some great-making properties whose greatness requires their contingency. So God possess every great-making property whose greatness is constituted by their being held essentially and necessarily. But there would also be a greatness, a beauty, to free and extravagant expression which is lost if supposed to subsist or be otherwise entailed in some necessity of being. Essentially I’m suggesting that we suppose there to be a unique beauty to contingency. If such greatness can only be held contingently, then it must subsist in a potential to act, and that can only mean to acting in ways that express or reveal God’s essential being.
    That’s my amateur try!
    Tom

    July 26, 2009 — 1:53
  • Alex,
    Right, it might be reasonable all-things-considered to deny the 2s.
    Still, there might be less onerous ways to respond to the Smith/Morrison argument you began with. You might, for instance, explain God’s relation to his nature differently, and still get the result that God’s relation to his nature is relevantly different from our relation to our natures.
    Suppose, for instance, that we say, “God’s nature is part of God, whereas our nature is not part of us. That’s why actions rooted in God’s nature don’t compromise libertarian freedom, whereas actions rooted in our nature do.”
    Of the following two claims, B strikes me as extremely suspect, but A does not.
    A. Divinity is part of God.
    B. Divinity is a person.
    Indeed, A even has a certain intuitive appeal to it. (But maybe it’ll wreak havoc with the doctrine of divine simplicity?)

    July 26, 2009 — 7:52
  • I wonder if the the intuitive appeal of A doesn’t come from a certain intuitive appeal had by one of the following two claims, each of which entails A:
    (A1) For all x and F, if x has F, then F is a part of x.
    (A2) For all x and F, if F is x’s essence, then F is a part of x.
    But now if the case of God is not in this respect disanalogous to finite cases, then it’s not going to help explain why in the case of God significant libertarian free will is not needed, but it is needed in the finite case.

    July 26, 2009 — 21:01
  • I think A’s appeal probably does come from either or both of A1 and A2. We’d need to add something further, then, to distinguish God’s relation to his nature from our relation to ours. Here’s one: our nature preceded us, but God’s didn’t precede him (and so was never *not* a part of him). Now source-incompatibilist intuitions kick in for us, but not for God. I think.

    July 27, 2009 — 12:58
  • Hello Mr. Pruss,
    Thank you for your post. I was referred to it from SEA, in which we are having a similar discussion right now. I would like to offer some thoughts for your review.
    From the article,
    “The best answers to the problem of evil all involve significant libertarian freedom; but significant libertarian freedom is not something God has (*because he cannot do wrong*); a freedom that God does not have is not the most valuable kind of freedom; therefore, significant libertarian freedom is not the most valuable kind of freedom.”
    The first problem that I see is that it assumes that the *only* way in which God “cannot” do evil is in the literal sense, while not considering that it could be in the “preferential” sense.
    The second thing that strikes me is the apparent, superstitious fear of God having libertarian, moral freedom. Why should this frighten us? It’s almost like, “we can’t entrust God with this kind of power and freedom!” It almost seems to suppose that the only reason why mankind isn’t perpetually enslaved to an evil deity is simply because God has no libertarian, moral freedom to do so, and hence we are saved! I object that “freedom” isn’t the source of evil, but rather “volition” is the source of evil, and that God’s volition isn’t something that we ought to be afraid of.
    Question: If God is a necessitated Being, can you tell me what the necessitation is?
    Sincerely,
    Richard Coords

    September 5, 2009 — 0:43