Thursday, May 29, 2014

God, love and creation

Consider this argument (inspired by a comment Dan Johnson made on this post):

  1. God does everything out of love.
  2. God creates Francis.
  3. If God creates Francis out of love, he creates Francis out of self-love, out of love for Francis, or out of love for someone or something other than God or Francis.
  4. God does not create Francis out of self-love.
  5. God does not create Francis out of love for Francis.
  6. God does not create Francis out of love for anyone or anything other than himself or Francis.
  7. So, God does not create Francis out of love.
  8. Contradiction!
Premise (4) is justified by the idea that our existence doesn't benefit the infinite, self-sufficient, transcendent and triune God. Premise (6), and to some degree (4) as well, is justified by Kantian thoughts about how Francis is an end in himself.

Premise (5), on the other hand, comes from the thought that if God creates Francis out of love for Francis, then God's love for Francis is explanatorily prior to his decision to create Francis. But insofar as God is loving Francis, God must have "already" (in the explanatory order) decided to create him, and so he can't be basing his decision to create on his love for Francis.

I am not confident about (4). God's extended, non-intrinsic, well-being (the kind of well-being that is constituted by the flourishing of our friends or the success of our projects) may be promoted by creating Francis, and because God is God, Kantian worries about Francis existing for God's sake are inappropriate.

But one might also question (1). When I bestow goods on my kids, that they are my kids, that they are in the image of God and that the goods are good yield one or two sufficient reasons to bestow the good. That I love my kids, while true, is a fact about me. That fact may give me additional reason to bestow goods on them, but that additional reason doesn't seem to me to be something that should be in the forefront of my mind. Love is more focused on the beloved than on one's own status as a love. Moreover, when I bestow the goods on my kids because they are my kids, because they are in the image of God, and because the goods are good, I act lovingly. My act of will is partly constitutive of my love for them.

Likewise, then, we can say that when God creates Francis, he does not have to do that because he loves Francis. Instead, God's creation of Francis is partly constitutive of that love. Thus, we have reason to revise (1) to:

  1. Everything that God does, God does either out of love or it is partly constitutive of love.

We can now ask the interesting question: Can we procreate not out of love for the child, but in a way partly constitutive of love for that child? Notice a difference between us and God. While God's creation is essentially efficacious, our procreation is very chancy—indeed, most cases where people intend to procreate, they do not actually succeed (then). Moreover, our procreation is not tied to one person: it might be Francis who will result, but it might be someone else. So there will be worlds where Francis's parents do the same as they did in our world, but someone other than Francis comes about or even no one comes about. In those other worlds, they don't love Francis, since there is no Francis to love, and it doesn't even seem right to say that their act is partly consitutive of love for Francis (not just because it is not clear whether one can partly constitute something that doesn't obtain).

I suppose it could be the case, however, that it is a contingent matter that this particular procreative act is partly constitutive of love for Francis—in some worlds it's not partly constitutive of love for any child (maybe it's partly constitutive of love of spouse and love of God), and in others it's partly constitutive of love for another child. So, yes, perhaps the same thing can be said in our case as in God's case, with the difference that the divine creative act is essentially constitutive of love.

In an earlier post, I argued for a paradox in regard to human reproduction. Maybe the above considerations help? Maybe a couple can intentionally procreate in order to perform an act constitutive of love for a child? But I don't think that helps with the argument in that post, since performing an act constitutive of love for a child is either seen as good for the child, in which case premise 2 of that argument covers the case, or it does not (probably, it's seen as good for the couple), in which case premise 1 of that argument covers the case.

By the same token, saying that God's creative act is partly constitutive of God's love for the creature doesn't answer the question of why God creates the creature. I still think the answer that he does so for the good of the creature, which I give in the aforementioned post, can be defended. As the Catechism says, we are created to know and love God. And that's good for us.


Dan Johnson said...

Hi Alex,

I'm not sure I'm disagreeing with you, but I think I might be, so here goes:

Saying that God does everything out of love (presumably, for a person) strikes me as somewhat reductive of God's motives. Why can't he act simply out of appreciation for objective goodness, where goodness is more than goodness-for-someone? For example, couldn't God just create a remarkably complex star system without intending that any person ever be affected by it, simply because it is good? I suppose you could say that it is good for God (because he appreciates the star system, and it is good for him to do so), but we run into worries about God's self-sufficiency then, I tentatively think.

Certainly, everything that God does is compatible with the demands of love, and love features prominently, perhaps most prominently, among his motivations -- but his love (his appreciation of the value of people and desire for their good and union with them) is surely not his only appropriate motive. Other motives include his recognition of the value of things and states of affairs other than people.

Applying this to having children and to God creating us: couldn't God create us because beings like us are precious and valuable? And couldn't I decide to have kids because children are precious and valuable? God and I don't need to do this out of love for a particular person or child (because before God decides to create or before the child is conceived, it doesn't really make sense to love them -- your rationale for premise 5 that you mentioned), but we do it out of appreciation for the objective goodness of the outcome.

Dan Johnson said...

I just got things a bit clearer in my own head:

I agree with your rejection of the Kantian argument for (4). The divine self-sufficiency argument for (4), though, is pretty persuasive to me.

So I want to reject (1), and even your modified version of (1), for the reasons I mentioned in my last post.

Hope that clarifies things. It did for me.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I guess the big difference is that I want to try to see what can be done with a single axiological concept, "good for", while you want two, "good for" and "good". Maybe the lesson is going to be that one can't do without "good".

But bear in mind that one might have a very broad sense of "good for". I think the existence of a photon is good for it.

Randy Everist said...

I'm actually wondering if we can reject (5), or perhaps maybe it doesn't mean what we think it means. I haven't really thought this through, but perhaps it is the case that God creates individuals because he has a love for humanity in general, and a dispositional love toward any particular instantiated individual. This might mean that the explanation of God's love can be pushed back to his choosing of some possible world, and the instantiations are dispositionally loved (e.g., "If it were to be the case that Francis is created in world W, then God loves Francis"). I don't know if this is right, but it seems to put me on a path toward my intuitions.

道明 said...

Hi Prof. Pruss,

Could you further explain why "insofar as God is loving Francis, God must have "already" (in the explanatory order) decided to create him, and so he can't be basing his decision to create on his love for Francis"?

Can't it be case that God's love for Francis is only that by conceiving the idea of Francis, God has a strong desire(i)to have Francis created, (ii)to have a good relationship with the actual Francis and (iii)the flourishing of Francis?

God's love for Francis in this sense seems to explain His decision quite well and this love for Francis is explanatorily prior to His decision.

Alexander R Pruss said...

God can have a strong desire for (i)-(iii) and yet not create Francis. In that case, the desire isn't love for Francis, since a rational agent cannot love someone he knows for sure not to ever exist.

Anonymous said...

Would an actualist like Plantinga have grounds to deny your rejection of (5) then or do you think one could simply substitute "instantiate" for "exist" and the argument would still go through?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Did I reject (5)?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I meant could Plantinga reject (5) or do you think similar considerations would apply?