Ross’s Theory of Omnipotence Entails Double Predestination
January 27, 2012 — 0:56

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 9

Let E (for ‘election’) be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be saved that he or she will be saved. That is, E is the longest conjunction of the form ‘John will be saved, and Mary will be saved, and Lois will be saved…’ which is true. Let R (for ‘reprobation’) be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be damned that he or she will be damned.
The doctrine of predestination is the doctrine that God, from eternity, has issued an efficacious decree of election – that is, God, from eternity, effectively chose that E should be true. The doctrine of double predestination states that in addition to the decree of election, God also issued a decree of reprobation – that is, in addition to effectively choosing that E should be true, God effectively chose that R should be true.
Double predestination is much more contentious among Christians than predestination (although predestination is not entirely uncontroversial – for instance, open theists will have to deny it). Many Christians would rather have single predestination, holding that all people are, on their own, bound for hell, and God intervenes to save those he wishes to save, and just leaves the rest alone.
In his Philosophical Theology (1969), James F. Ross proposes the following analysis of omnipotence:

S is omnipotent if and only if for every logically contingent state of affairs, p, whether p or ~p is the case is logically equivalent to the effective choice, by S, that p or that ~p (respectively). (p. 211)

This analysis appears to have the consequence that, if God is omnipotent, then double predestination is true. Both E and R are true contingent propositions, so if God is omnipotent then God effectively chooses that the corresponding states of affairs should be the case.

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Survey on Alternative Concepts of God
January 18, 2012 — 9:55

Author: Yujin Nagasawa  Category: Concept of God  Tags: ,   Comments: 6

*Please note this is a 2-page survey. Many people seem to have completed only the first page. We will post the results here.
Andrei Buckareff (Marist College) and I have recently been awarded funding by the John Templeton Foundation for our project “Exploring Alternative Concepts of God”. The aim of the project is to shed light on, explore, and critically evaluate alternatives to the classical concept of God or the divine (including, but not limited to, the pantheistic and panentheistic concepts) which are often overlooked in contemporary philosophical debates on the nature and the existence of God. The project involves both proponents and critics of the alternative concepts.
As part of the project we are conducting a survey on people’s views on the concept of God.
We would be very grateful if readers of this blog could complete it. It consists of only 10 simple questions so it shouldn’t take more than three minutes to complete it. Thank you!

Theistic Moral Epistemologies
December 13, 2011 — 21:53

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Concept of God Divine Command Existence of God  Tags: ,   Comments: 12

Dustin Locke asks the following questions:

I was wondering if anyone could help me with another scholarship question. I’m looking for texts that concern theistic accounts of moral epistemology. Of course there are all the texts on divine command theory. But these discuss divine command theory primarily as an account of what moral facts are, rather than accounts of how we know about them–in other words, they’re accounts of the metaphysics of morality, not the epistemology. The obvious theistic contenders for the latter would be things like scripture, personal revelation, God-given innate moral beliefs, etc. Does anyone know of a good text that explores the possibilities here and perhaps argues for one over the others (or at least argues that one is no good)?

Any help?

God’s Knowledge and the Evidence Thesis
December 4, 2011 — 11:54

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Concept of God  Tags: , ,   Comments: 46

In a forthcoming paper, I defend the view that knowledge does not require believing on the basis of evidence. In other words, I argue against what I call the “Evidence Thesis”, which states:

(Evidence Thesis) S knows that p at t only if S believes that p on the basis of evidence at t.

How does the evidence thesis relate to evidentialism, formulated and defended by Earl Conee and Richard Feldman? Well, their view is about epistemic justification, and it states that the doxastic attitude one is justified in having is the one that fits the evidence. Evidentialism is a popular view, and we can see that it is distinct from the evidence thesis. However, VERY MANY evidentialists endorse the evidence thesis. So do VERY MANY internalists. On the other hand, almost no externalist will endorse the evidence thesis. So long as one’s true belief was produced in the right way (e.g., by a reliable process, with safety, with sensitivity, by properly functioning faculties, by an exercise of the right sort of ability, etc.), the belief counts as knowledge. Despite the fact that some people seem to presume the truth of the evidence thesis, we can see that a great many theories of knowledge (the externalist ones) entail that it is false. And I argue that it is false in my paper. So, my argument both provides support for the many externalist theories of knowledge and also gives many evidentialists and internalists a reason to revise their views.
In this post, I want to try out a counterexample against the evidence thesis.

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Omnipotence and Failure
June 13, 2011 — 16:22

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 12

The famous Stone Paradox asks, ‘can an omnipotent being make a stone so heavy he can’t lift it?’ A simpler question, and one which I think makes the issues clearer, is, ‘can an omnipotent being fail?’
If a being can fail, then there is something that being doesn’t have the power to do, namely, whatever it is it can fail to do. If a being can’t fail, then there is something it doesn’t have the power to do, namely, to fail.
Now, we sometimes have chancy powers/abilities, as, for instance, in J. L. Austin’s famous example, the power to sink a putt from a certain distance. The possibility of failure is compatible with this sort of power. However, surely when we ascribe omnipotence to God, we don’t mean to say that he has chancy powers of this sort; we mean that he has infallible powers. In fact, I would claim, in ascribing omnipotence to God, part of what we mean is precisely that he can’t fail to do anything he tries to do. (This isn’t all we mean; to avoid some counterexamples, we need some conditions about what he can try to do. In an as-yet-unpublished paper, Alexander Pruss and I argue that this additional condition is perfect freedom of will.)
Call the following property ‘act-omnipotence’:

S is act-omnipotent =df. S can perform a token of any logically possible action-type

We can turn the above reasoning into an argument that act-omnipotence is inconsistent with omnipotence:

  1. If a being can fail, that being is not omnipotent.
  2. If a being cannot fail, that being is not act-omnipotent.
  3. Every being either can fail or cannot fail.
  4. Therefore,

  5. No being is both omnipotent and act-omnipotent.

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The New Collection
December 8, 2010 — 18:23

Author: Jon Kvanvig  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Foreknowledge Divine Providence Free Will Hell Molinism Open Theism Problem of Evil Theological Fatalism  Comments: 6

Seems that describing it as “shameless self-promotion” absolves one, though I doubt it. But that’s the line so I hereby use it, whatever purgatory consequences… My new collection, in draft form, LaTeX’ed to beautiful purposes by Oxford’s document class, is here.
Any thoughts welcome, of course–would love to minimize the errors!

Sovereignty
November 10, 2010 — 8:41

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence Molinism  Tags: ,   Comments: 9

Suppose that I know that if I cause A, then either B or C will eventuate. Suppose that each of B and C furthers my plan, and neither of them furthers it better than the other. Then it does not seem that sovereignty would require me to know or decide prior to my decision to cause A which of B and C would eventuate. Sovereignty perhaps requires that nothing happens that is contrary to God’s plan, but it does not require that God’s plan should determine every detail.

Here is try at a notion of sovereignty built on this idea:

  1. x sovereignly executes plan P iff x successfully executes P and if we let Q be what x strongly and knowingly actualizes in executing P, and we let K be all that x knows explanatorily prior to x‘s decision to strongly actualize Q, and we let W be the set of all worlds at which both Q and K hold, then no world in W better fits the goals of P than any other.

In other words, x is sovereign in the execution of a plan provided that, given what x does and knows, he can’t be disappointed in respect of the quality of the plan’s execution.

One way to ensure sovereignty in the execution of a plan is to strongly and knowingly actualize every little detail. This is a Calvinist or maybe Thomistic way. Another way is to know exactly how the details would turn out. That’s a Molinist way. Another way is the “chessmaster way” (not my terminology or original idea; I think the view has been developed by W. Matthews Grant and Sarah Coakley): to choose a plan in such a way that no matter how things turn out, the goal wouldn’t be any the less well achieved by the lights of the plan. One can do this in two ways: setting one’s goal appropriately (so that whatever turns out, fits–that’s not how chessmasters do it) or choosing the plan very carefully or some combination of the first two disjuncts.

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Omniscience and Simplicity
November 9, 2010 — 19:19

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Books of Interest Christian Theology Concept of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 5

The end of the semester is fast approaching, which means an even more hectic academic schedule, followed by a vacation. This post will be a brief remark on Sobel‘s treatment of omniscience, which completes his interlude on divine attributes. Following this, I will leave off until after the holidays, at which point I will deal with the remainder of the book, which treats arguments against the existence of God, and also ‘Pascalian’ practical arguments for belief in God.
The main puzzle Sobel finds with omniscience is one pushed by Patrick Grim. The thrust of the argument is this: (1) a Cantorian diagonalization argument shows that there can be no set of all truths. But, (2) for any being, there is a set containing all and only the propositions known by that being. Therefore, (3) no being knows all truths. (This is my simplified reconstruction; Sobel spells out some of the set-theoretic details related to (1).)
As Sobel rightly points out, there is no reason for the theist to accept (2) and, as a result, the argument fails. (Sobel also considers a similar argument from Grim to the effect that the sentence ‘there is a being who knows every proposition’ fails to express a proposition, because there are no propositions about all propositions. Sobel is, I think, correct in saying that Grim’s premises involve details of a theory of propositions, rather than just an intuitive definition of propositions and ‘aboutness’, and any theory of propositions that has this consequence is clearly unacceptable.) All I want to note here is that Sobel doesn’t point out what I take to be one of the more interesting reasons theists might reject the premise. Consider the following argument in support of (2):

(a) For every distinct proposition p known by a being S, S is in a distinct mental state which (partly) constitutes S’s knowledge that p.
(b) No being can be in a proper class of distinct mental states.
Therefore, (c) No being can know a proper class of propositions, i.e. (2) is true.

(a) is plausible insofar as knowledge either is itself a mental state (as Williamson says), or else is partly constituted by belief, which is a mental state. (b) seems plausible probably because we typically think of mental states as concrete entities, and we balk at the idea of a proper class of concrete entities. (Having countably or continually many concrete entities is mind-boggling enough.)
I think Sobel probably has an argument like this in the back of his mind, and this is why he offers the suggestion (pp. 384-388) that if we aren’t too wedded to pure actuality and atemporality as divine attributes, we might hold that only some set of propositions is before God’s mind at any given time, but these propositions are such that God can easily (instantaneously) deduce any of the other propositions from them whenever he likes. Sobel calls this ‘virtual’ knowledge.
But, as Sobel realizes, the theist is at liberty to reject (b), and so to continue rejecting (2). What Sobel doesn’t seem to realize, is that certain theists, those who accept the strong (Western) form of divine simplicity, are under independent pressure to reject (a). According to this view, God is identical to each of his attributes. Therefore, if God knows that p, and God knows that q, then God’s knowledge that p = God’s knowledge that q = God, and similarly for God’s belief in each of these propositions. If this idea makes any sense (and I suppose we shouldn’t just take for granted that it does), then God can know a proper class of propositions without being in a proper class of mental states.
[Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net]

On Omnipotence
October 26, 2010 — 13:10

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 27

In my last post, I discussed Sobel’s proposal that, since the Stone Paradox shows essential omnipotence to be incoherent, the traditional God, since he would have his properties essentially, would have essential ONSLIP, or only necessarily self-limited power, but that this would not amount to omnipotence. Here I want to propose an alternative account of omnipotence, an attribute worthy of that name and which would be had essentially. First, however, we must distinguish power from freedom. To be omnipotent is to be all powerful. God is also supposed to be free in his exercise of power, and this creates a number of problems, some of which were discussed on my personal blog at the beginning of this series. I take it that the relevant type of power, the kind that agents have, is simply the ability to do what one wants, or to bring about one’s ends, whereas freedom is something more complicated. This immediately suggests the following definition of omnipotence:

S is omnipotent =df. necessarily, for any proposition p, if S wills that p, then p.

To prevent any ambiguities, here it is in symbols:

S is omnipotent =df. □∀p[(p is a proposition & S wills that p) -> p]

So an omnipotent being’s will would always be fulfilled as a matter of logical necessity. Now that’s power! Furthermore, omnipotence, being a modal property, entails essential omnipotence.
Here are some interesting features/consequences of this definition:

  1. The definition follows Alexander Pruss‘s suggestion on the earlier post that omnipotence be construed as having to do with the range of states of affairs God can bring about.
  2. If the value of S substituted into the sentence (e.g. ‘God’) is a rigid designator, and the necessity is interpreted as being of the ‘broadly logical’ type, then omnipotence, being a modal property, entails essential omnipotence.
  3. The conditional in the definition is intended to be a material conditional. As a result, if there are any necessarily false propositions (and there are), then the definition entails, by the Distribution Axiom of modal logic, that, necessarily, those propositions are not willed by an omnipotent being. That is, □~(2+2=5) and God’s omnipotence (as defined) jointly entail □~(God wills that 2+2=5).
  4. The definition entails that an omnipotent being’s higher-order volitions (if any) are satisfied, which is thought by some (e.g. Frankfurt) to be important for freedom. That is, if God wills to will what is good, then (necessarily) he wills what is good.

But you might be worried about something (at least if you are not a Humean about causation and/or abilities): what if S wills only things that come about because S’s will is conformed to reality, rather than reality being conformed to S’s will? It is not clear that this is coherent: some philosophers think that the difference between belief and propositional desire/volition is the ‘direction of fit’ – that is, we try to conform our beliefs to the world, but we try to conform the world to our desires. If a being’s (so-called) ‘desires’ were actually conformed to the world, rather than vice versa, they might turn out not to be desires at all, but rather beliefs. But in case this response doesn’t work, we can easily modify the formula:

S is omnipotent =df. necessarily, for any proposition p, if S wills that p, then p because S wills it

Now, cashing out the ‘because’ might be tough, but if we are non-Humean enough to care about the problem, then presumably we are non-Humean enough to think that some sense can be given to ‘because’ here.
I cannot see that omnipotence, defined this way, generates any paradoxes by itself. Certainly it is unaffected by Sobel’s objections. It may, however, have complicated interactions with other divine attributes, especially freedom (there are things that God can’t will). The current definition looks like it plays nice with compatibilism, but it is not so clear that it plays nice with libertarianism.
[cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.]

Only Necessarily Self-Limited Power
October 17, 2010 — 18:34

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Books of Interest Christian Theology Concept of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 39

After considering arguments for the existence of God, Sobel has a brief interlude on the divine attributes, before going on to arguments against the existence of God. Chapter 9 concerns omnipotence and the famous Stone Paradox. Sobel defines omnipotence (roughly) as the ability to do anything that can be done. (He improves this basic definition in a few ways, but these need not concern us.) The Stone Paradox, Sobel rightly recognizes, is no real problem for omnipotence as such, for if a being can do anything that can be done, then that being can take away some of the powers it has, just as I can take away some of the powers that I have. As a result, there is no problem with an omnipotent being creating a stone it can’t lift; it is simply that it must lay aside its omnipotence in the process. However, as this analysis shows, essential omnipotence is something else altogether, and this points to a more general problem: the God of the religious tradition has essential properties (in fact, it is most common, historically, for theologians to hold that he has all of his properties essentially). But then there are things I can do that God can’t, such as making myself less knowledgeable. (Of course, God could make me less knowledgeable; what he couldn’t do is make himself less knowledgeable.) Sobel comes up with a proposal for a coherent understanding of the feature the theologians want to attribute to God, but denies that this feature is properly described as ‘omnipotence’. In this post I will discuss Sobel’s proposal. In the next post, I will make a proposal of my own, and argue that it is sensible to call the feature I identify ‘omnipotence.’
Sobel says that although nothing could be essentially omnipotent, a being could possess a feature Sobel calls ‘only necessarily self-limited power’ (ONSLIP). This is the property of being such that:

[one is] capable of each task t that it is logically possible that some being should do, which is such that (i) for each attribute, if any, that x has essentially, x’s performing t is consistent with its having this attribute … and (ii) if x has necessary everlasting existence, then performing t is consistent with its continuing to exist. (p. 365)

In other words, God’s power is limited only by God’s own nature. This is, I think, the sort of thing the theologians have in mind. However, as Sobel points out, a being might have this feature and not be anything like omnipotent. To use his example, a being might be “essentially incapable of creating something from nothing” (ibid.), and so be an ONSLIP without having that power. So Sobel is right that the property of being an ONSLIP ought not to be called ‘omnipotence’ (or ‘almightiness’). I wonder, however, if perhaps we might get an omnipotence “worth the name” by specifying the sorts of attributes the being can have essentially. For instance, an ONSLIP who essentially possesses all positive properties (if we can get a decent understanding of ‘positive’ in this context) is not going to seem limited to us in the way an ONSLIP who is essentially incapable of creating something from nothing does.
[cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net]