Thursday, April 4, 2019

Explanation, grounding and divine simplicity

Here is a plausible principle:

  1. If p is partly grounded in q, then p does not explain q.

But the best account of divine simplicity commits one to:

  1. That God willed horses to exist is partly grounded in there existing horses.

(For, that God willed horses is a contingent fact. By divine simplicity any contingent fact about God must be partly grounded in realities outside of God. And the only plausible candidate for the reality outside of God here is the fact that there exist horses.)

Therefore:

  1. That God willed horses to exist does not explain why there are horses.

This seems very counterintuitive, sufficiently counterintuitive to provide an argument against divine simplicity, or against (1).

But I think one should just accept (3). For even apart from considerations of divine simplicity, it is plausible that God’s will is so strongly efficacious that his willing something just is his making it be so:

  1. God’s willing horses to exist just is God’s causing horses to exist.

But in general, even apart from the divine case, x causing y is partly grounded in both x and y, and hence is partly grounded in y. Thus:

  1. God’s causing horses to exist is partly grounded in horses existing.

It seems to follow (there are tough issues involving the hyperintensionality of grounding) that:

  1. God’s willing horses to exist is partly grounded in horses existing.

In fact, once we understand that God’s (consequently) willing and God’s causing are the same thing, then the paradox in (3) is just very much like:

  1. My causing a boomerang to exist does not explain why the boomerang exists.

But we have good reason to accept (7). For when I made a boomerang some years back, that I caused a boomerang to exist was partly grounding in a boomerang existing. (A boomerang might not have eventuated from what I was doing. Instead, I might have been left with a broken piece of wood.) But then by (1), I have to accept (7).

What is unfortunate for me is that for a long time, in print and in speech, I’ve been happy to accept claims like:

  1. My causing a boomerang to exist explains why the boomerang exists.

  2. God’s willing horses to exist explains why horses exist.

I still find it difficult to deny (8) and (9).

Maybe I should deny (1) instead. But I don’t want to. I am strongly committed to there not being any circles of explanation, even ones involving different kinds of explanation (say, causal and grounding).

Maybe I can save the intuitions behind (8) by saying:

  1. My actuating my causal power of boomerang production explains why the boomerang exists.

(Note that my actuating that causal power does not entail a boomerang exists. A causal power can be actuated unsuccessfully.)

And maybe I can save the intuitions behind (9) with:

  1. God’s desiring that horses exist explains why horses exist.

(God’s desiring something doesn’t entail that thing’s existing, since God desires every good, and some goods are incompatible with one another.)

25 comments:

Tom said...

Kenneth Pearce has two articles from a few years ago that seem to argue a similar conclusion but for independent reasons. I think they are especially interesting since conclusions like this have generally been defended in order to preserve divine simplicity, but I think they are independently plausible. It has been a while since I have read these articles but if I remember correctly, they are very relevant for anyone who is interested.

See:
Counterpossible Dependence and the Efficacy of the Divine
Will (Faith and Philosophy)

Foundational Grounding and the Argument from Contingency (Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion)

Heath White said...

I have not read the Pearce articles so maybe they address the following worry. But my first thought was, what does this view do to the cosmological argument? I understand the metaphysical step of that argument to be a principle about explanation. But if God's willing the universe does not explain its existence, then why are we licensed to infer the existence of God from the existence of a (we'll assume, contingent) universe?

Tom said...

Heath,

In the cosmological argument, God explains the universe. Pearce might address some of your worry, I don't remember, the title of the second paper leads me to believe he does.

Regardless, for the standard cosmological argument to work, the universe has to be in fact contingent. In that case, there has to be some step in the chain between God-->Universe in which the cause does not necessitate the effect. If it were not the case, then the cosmological argument would imply modal collapse.

If we explain the universe as follows: (i)God-->(ii)God's act of will-->(iii)The universe, while (ii) necessitates (iii), (i) does not necessitate (ii), regardless of what account we give for the explanation of libertarian acts of will.

If we explain the universe as (I) God-->(II) The universe, (I) still does not necessitate (II).

So regardless of how we explain the existence of the universe, in order to get to the existence of God, we need to affirm that there is some step in the chain of explanation where the cause does not necessitate the effect. Where in the chain exactly that takes place I do not think affects the substance of the cosmological argument.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

"God’s desiring something doesn’t entail that thing’s existing, since God desires every good, and some goods are incompatible with one another."

But per divine simplicity God is God's will is God's desire etc. So, not only does God's desiring something entails the thin'gs existence, God entails the thing's existence.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Walter:

My student Christopher Tomaszewski has a paper that conclusively refutes a very similar line of thought: https://academic.oup.com/analysis/advance-article/doi/10.1093/analys/any052/5062919

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

Necessarily God desires that the universe exists and necessarily God also desires something incompatible with the universe existing. The former desire explains why the universe exists. But a desire is not a willing.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

Thank you for the link to the paper.
While I don't agree it is conclusive, it is nevertheless a very interesting read.

Red said...

While I do think modal collapse objection is less than decisive, I mostly agree with this criticism of that sort of defense of simplicity.

https://freethinkingministries.com/the-collapse-of-the-anti-modal-collapse-objections/

Any thoughts?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Red:

"God's act of creation" is not a rigid designator given divine simplicity. In the world where God doesn't create, the phrase "God's act of creation" does not refer to anything, but nonetheless the entity -- namely, God -- that is identical with God's act of creation does exist.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

With all due respect, but what you say here, IMHO "overtly begs the question".
If the "is" in "God is his 'attiributes'" is understood as denoting identity, and you explicitly say "it is identical with", then God's act of creation is a rigid designator.

Consider this


1 For all 'attributes' of God it is necessary that they are identical with God
2 God's act of creation is an 'attribute' of God God
3 Therefore God's act of creation is necessarily indentical with God.

(1) is true according to the standard view on Divine Simplicity. So that leaves only (2) as a possible point of debate.
And that's why in my first reply I started from God's will. I don't think any proponent of DS will dispute that God's will is a divine 'attribute'. But God's desire is also a divine 'attribute'.
Now, I don't think you believe that God can will something but nevertheless create something else. Hence, God's will entails God's act of creation, so God's creation is also an 'attribute' of God.
So, if God exists there is no "world where God doesn't create".
IOW ◻︎God = Act of creation, instead of overtly begging the question is based on an analysis of standard views on DS.
I can only conclude that Tomaszewki does not conclusively refute my line of thought.

Tom said...

Walter,

Proponents of DDS agree that God's will is a divine attribute and God is identical with his will. But this does not entail that God is identical with his willing to create this universe in particular. Let us make a conceptual distinction between (1) God necessarily willing the good and (2) God willing a particular good to exist.

(1) Includes God's love of himself, and his antecedent desire for all goods, or desire for the good as such. Since some goods cannot coexist, it is impossible for God to actualize all goods he desires.

(2) Rather than use the term "will" for (2), it might make more sense to say that (2) refers to God's decision to create this particular world.

So the proponent of DDS says that (1) rigidly designates God but (2) does not. And there are different ways in which the proponents deny that (2) rigidly designates God. For example, one could say that (2) is identical to God in the actual world but this is a contingent fact grounded in the existence of this particular world. It is analogous to saying "Smith is identical to the person I am thinking about." The "person I am thinking about" does not rigidly designate Smith. It is a contingent fact grounded in my thoughts, not Smith.

Another option for the proponent of DDS is to deny that (2) refers to anything at all, even in the actual world. Perhaps it is simply misguided to think contingent divine decisions have ontological status. Maybe it is accurate to say that God causes the universe, and he does so intentionally, but this does not imply there is some thing as the "intention" by which God causes the universe.

A third option would be to argue that (2) is identical to creation itself. This may seem to suggest a kind of idealism, but I in fact think the idealism it implies is innocuous and is compatible with a robust conception of the physical world.

It may be the case that all three of these options are just different ways of describing the same thing, but each has its proponents in the literature.

So to respond to your argument, regardless of how we articulate it, God's will does not entail God's act of creation. (1) does not entail (2).

Walter Van den Acker said...

Tom



God's will is either simple and necessary or it isn't. If there is a distinction between God's will and God's will to create X, God's will isn't simple according to the classic view on divine simplicity and hence God is not simple. A necessarily simple being cannot have any internal contingent "attributes".

God's will (or "decision" if you prefer) cannot be grounded in something that is a consequence of that very same decision. When I think about Smith, then my thoughts about Smith may be grounded in a particular guy named Smith. But in God's case, when God "decides" to create Smith, there is no particluar guy named Smith. So God's "thoughts" about Smith are grounded in God and in nothing else (because nothing else exists).
So, God's decision is completely internal to God and hence, cannot be contingent.

The second option says that God's intention to create X doesn't actually exist. But that is just to say that creation of X is a direct result of God's eternal will, which is actually my point.

The third option has the same problems as the first and, on top of that, actually comfirms that DS entails a modal collapse.

In short, whatever distinction the DS proponent wishes to make is a distinction that is internal to God and denies DS.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Walter,
Divine simplicity only applies to intrinsic attributes of God. Willing that p is not intrinsic in the case of God.

Tom said...

Walter,

A distinction between God's will and God's will to create X is only problematic if we assume deny the three options I gave. Any of the three options will allow the distinction but is compatible with divine simplicity.

You say "God's will cannot be grounded in something that is a consequence of that decision." This begs the question against proponents of DDS. Your statement suggests the following: God-->Decision-->Creation. On that scheme, creation is caused by a divine decision. However, proponents of the DDS deny this and state that the causal path is simply God-->Creation. Option 2 denies that there is a such thing as the decision and option 3 states that creation is identical with the decision itself. In either case, creation is not a consequence of God's decision.

In option 1, God is identical with his decision to create the world. In that case, it is true that creation is a result of the decision. However, if one accepts divine simplicity, she must deny that God's decision rigidly designates God, even if in the actual world God and his decision refer to the same being. In this scenario, it is not true to say that the existence of God's decision is grounded in the actual world, since this would mean that God's existence is grounded in the actual world. However, we can say that the fact that God's decision is identical with God is grounded in the actual world rather than in God.

Moreover, you say in option 2 that the universe is a direct result of God's eternal will. Proponents of divine simplicity, who accept any of the options, would affirm this. The difference is that this only entails modal collapse if you assume that a necessary and eternal cause cannot produce a contingent effect. But this would be incompatible with divine freedom regardless of what view you had on divine simplicity.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Tom

"God's will cannot be grounded in something that is a consequence of that decision" does not beg the question. It is s simple fact that prior to creation, nothing existed apart from God, so there was nothing at all that could ground God's will.
Moreover, my statement doesn't suggest anything. Remember, you were the one who brought in the word "decision". I was merely going along with that choice of words for the sake of the argument.
Now of course if one accepts divine simplicity, she must deny that God's decision rigidly designates God but that would be question-begging.
The reason I say that option 2 that the universe is a direct result of God's eternal will is because you denied that the Will and the Will to create X (in this case the universe) are identical in God. But here you seem to contradict yourself.
I am not arguing here that a necessary and eternal cause cannot produce a contingent effect, I am arguing that a a necessary and eternal and simple cause cannot produce a contingent effect. For the record, i do think that libertarian free will is incoherent, but that has nothing to do with my argument here.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

I have explained in my reply to Tom why willing that p cannot be not intrinsic in the case of God.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Walter,

Your argument is based on the idea that God's decision to create Smith is explanatorily prior to Smith's existence. That's precisely what I deny.

Tom said...

Walter,

For the sake of clarity, lets try to stick to using "will" to refer to sense (1) and "decision" to refer to sense (2) comment at 5:33 PM. I understand that the way we are using these terms may be a little idiosyncratic, and I am not trying to make any metaphysical claims by using these terms like this, I just think it will help the discussion go easier.

You say "God's [decision] cannot be grounded in anything that is a consequence of that decision." I agree that God's decision cannot be grounded in anything that is a consequence of that decision. The proponent of DDS has three options as I said earlier. In options two or three (i.e. denying there is a such thing as the decision, or identifying the world with that decision), the proponent of the DDS simply does not think that the universe is a consequence of the divine decision at all. To say however there MUST be a divine decision which causes the universe, without an independent argument, would therefore beg the question.

In option one, the proponent of the DDS identifies God with the divine decision to create this particular world but argues that this phrase does not rigidly designate God. The fact that "divine decision" refers to God is a contingent matter that depends on the existence of the universe to be true. So while it is true that the divine decision (God) causes the universe, it is not true to say that the existence of the referent of "divine decision" (God) is grounded in, or explained in any way by the existence of the universe. This would indeed be absurd. What is grounded in the existence of the universe is the fact that "Divine decision" refers to God and not to nothing. But the fact that "divine decision" refers to God and not nothing is not the cause of or explanation of the universe. The proponent of the DDS therefore is not being circular.

I think that all three options are in fact metaphysically pretty similar and the distinction among the three is largely semantic. Since using the terminology behind option 1 is most confusing, I tend to stick to two or three. But that is my preference.

I want to comment on two other things you say. You say "it is a simple fact that prior to creation nothing existed apart from God, so there was nothing at all that could ground God's will." I agree. But God's will is God and therefore there is no problem. I also agree that there was nothing around to ground God's decision. However this is only problematic if we think that God's decision is the cause of the universe, which again, if you see my above comments, is to beg the question since this is precisely what is at issue.

The second thing you say is "I am not arguing that a necessary and eternal cause cannot produce a contingent effect..." But you also said in the earlier comment that "that is to say that the creation of X is a result of God's eternal will" as if this latter were a problem because it entailed modal collapse. If the latter statement is not problematic, then I do not see your issue with option 2. If it is problematic, I am not sure what the problem is.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Tom

Since I am not saying there must be a divine decision which causes the universe, I am not begging the question.

I must confess I really don't understand your third paragraph. How can a divine decision be a contingent matter? How doesn't "If X happens then God's decison was X and if Y happens, it was Y" beg the question against the necessity of God's "decision?

I don't understand your 4th paragraph either because in paragraph 1 you say that "it is true that the divine decision (God) causes the universe". So, it appears that it should be problematic to you. Again, I was not the one who initially used the word "decision".

My problem with (2) is that if the creation of X is a direct result of God's eternal then God's will entails the creation of X. And since God's will is necessary, X is also necessary. Not because God is a necessary and eternal being, but because, per DS, his will is also necessary and eternal. I am willing, for the sake of the argument, to concede that a necessary and eternal God can somehow produce a contingent effect if God can have different "wills". But that would be a violation of DS.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

Does God "decide" or "will" the creation of Mr Smith because Mr Smith asks Him to be created?
Or does Mr Smith exist in some platonic realm before God brings him into our reality?
I was taught that God is the creator of everything, but you seem to believe that Mr Smith already existed (of subsisted perhaps) somewhere before God created him.

I could accept that Mr Smith "existed" as an indea in God's mind, but God's mind is identical to God, this can't be what you mean? I must confess I have no idea what exactly you are claiming.

Tom said...

Walter,

We have distinguished between two senses of the divine "will." (1) Refers to what God necessarily wills, i.e. the love of the good. (2) Refers to his contingent decision to create this universe. In order to avoid confusion, I have used "will" for (1) and "decision" for (2).

The proponent of the DDS can tell any number of stories for what (2) refers to, she just cannot say that (2) rigidly designates (1). If (2) refers, but does not rigidly designate (1), there is no problem. If (2) refers to the universe, or nothing at all, there is no problem either for divine simplicity. You can of course object to any of these three options, but on a conceptual level, any of them will avoid the modal collapse problem. I do not see where your confusion lies with that

Now you say that "if the creation of X is a direct result of [God's will] then God's will entails the creation of X." But why is this the case? You seem to be working with the premise that if B is a direct result of A, then the existence of A entails B. But I would dispute that premise. If you are not working with that premise, what is it that justifies your claim that I have in quotes?


Walter Van den Acker said...

Tom

If DS is correct, there is only one divine will and it is necessary because it is identical to God, who is necessary. God cannot have any contingent attributes because in that case he wouldn't be simple.

And that's the problem with all stories by the DS proponent. They all, in one way or another, imply that God has both a necessary and a contingent will. And that means God is not simple.
So, yes, I object to each of the three cases and I have offered an argument for why they don't work. My argument may be wrong, but I am not begging the question.

Finally, I am not saying that if B is a direct result of A, the existence of A entails B.
That is only true if A is a sufficient condition for B. And I am arguing that God's will is a sufficient condition for everything that is the result of it. And if one of the results of God's will is the creation of X, God's will is a sufficient condition for the creation of X. Unless, of course, God can will something that he cannot get.

Now, Tom, this will be my last reply to you on this subject. Thank you for the interesting discussion. You can have the last word if you want.

Tom said...

Walter,

You say "if DS is correct, there is only one divine will." This needs to be qualified, if DS is correct, there is only one divine will INTRINSIC to God. That is, the proponent of the doctrine cannot say that (1) and (2) are distinct and intrinsic to God. If she denies either of these, she can preserve divine simplicity. That is not terribly controversial. What is controversial is whether or not denying either of these is plausible or even coherent.

In the first option, the proponent of DS denies that they (i.e. God's will and God's decision to create this world) are distinct and in the second two options, she affirms that they are distinct however denies that they are intrinsic to God, and therefore, preserves divine simplicity.

Lastly, you say that "God's will is a sufficient condition for everything that is a result of it." But we have defined God's will to mean that which God wills necessarily, for instance, his love of the good as such. No matter what view of divine simplicity we embrace, God's will in this sense is responsible for the world. God's love of the good motivates him to create. However, unless God's love of the good necessitates that he create this particular world, then it is not true to say that God's will is a sufficient condition for everything that is a result of it. My point is that anyone who embraces divine freedom, regardless of their view on divine simplicity, denies that God's will is a sufficient condition for creation.

Maybe the confusion is that I have been using "divine will" in a very specific sense, in order to avoid equivocation. Perhaps what you mean instead is that "God's decision is sufficient for everything that is a result of it." That is how your comment sounds to me.

But here is the problem: the proponent of DS, at least according to the second two options I presented, denies that there is a divine decision that causes the world at all. So even if the divine decision is logically sufficient for the existence of the world, it does not matter. In order for this to be a sound criticism of the DS, you would have to show that the existence of the world requires, in addition to God as its cause, a divine decision as an intermediary cause. In that case, you could argue that options two and three are problematic not in that they are incompatible with divine simplicity (which they are not) but that they are philosophically untenable.

(The first option does affirm that the world is a result of the divine decision and therefore the story told to get around this objection is a little more complicated, so I will leave that aside).

Thank you, I enjoyed the discussion

Alexander R Pruss said...

Walter:

I am a libertarian about free will. Here's roughly how a libertarian has to think free will works in us. Suppose I am choosing between A and B. There is a last undecided moment t1 immediately followed a first decided moment t2 (for simplicity take time to be discrete). The will's state at t1 indeterministically causes a determination of will at t2, which then deterministically causes the outputs (muscle movements, etc.) at a later time, say t5. Let's say that in world wA, I choose A, and in world wB, I choose B. Then there is no intrinsic difference in me at t1 between wA and wB. The intrinsic difference comes about at t2.

The "determination of will" at t2 in us is an intermediate causal step between the undecided will at t1 and the physical outputs at t5. But God doesn't need this intermediate causal step. His undecided will directly indeterministically causes the physical outputs, without causing a "determination of will".

In a simple case, prior (in the order of explanation, not of time) to God's decision, God is in an undecided state between options A and B, while having a desire for both options. This undecided state directly indeterministically causes either option A or option B to eventuate. What makes it be true that "God willed A" just is that what God in fact caused was option A. But God would not be intrinsically any different had he caused option B, just as if I had chosen option B, I wouldn't be any intrinsically different at t1 (but unlike God, I have the later moment t2 at which I would be intrinsically different).

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex


I'll grant you for the sake of the argument that libertarian free will is coherent. When you choose between A and B, your "will" at t1 does not deterministically cause t2 but there definitely is an intrinsic difference in you between wA and wB. In wA you are more impressed by the reasons for A, although those reasons at t1 do not determine you to choose A. That only happens at t2.
If you were correct, and there wasn't such an intrinsic difference, you would have no control at all, and I would advise you wife to leave you before it's too late, because, no matter how nice a man you are right now, a few seconds from now you might kill her.

God, of course, being essentially good, cannot suddenly will something bad. That's a relief. But there is another problem. In your scenario, God's will is eternally undecided.
He has a desire for both A and B, but he isn't more impressed by either. Whether t2 plays out in favour of A or B is not under God's control in any way. If A happens, it's not because God willingly caused A to happen, it is because due to pure chance, the undecided state collapsed into A.
So, I agree that, given LFW, your secnario is logically possible, but at the cost of God's control over even the initial states of his "creation".