Thursday, September 12, 2019

Creation and artifacts

Analytic metaphysics is widely thought a dry discipline. I want to show how it could be used to connect with some deeply devotional theological claims.

Here is a valid argument:

  1. If artifacts exist, we created them.

  2. Only God creates.

  3. So, artifacts don’t exist.

This argument suggests that there can be a deeply devotional connection to the arguments of those metaphysicians, like Merricks and van Inwagen, who deny the existence of artifacts.

Here is another devotional line of thought towards this. Some radical theologians say that God doesn’t exist. They do this to emphasize the radical difference between God and creatures. But they do so wrong. The right way to emphasize this difference is to say that we don’t exist. (Recall how God is said to have told St. Catherine of Siena: “I am he who is and you are she who is not.”) Only God exists.

So, the things that God creates don’t exist—at least not in the same sense in which God exists. By analogy, it should be no surprise if the things we make don’t exist—at least not in the same sense that we exist.

Objection 1: We can create organisms in the lab, and organisms surely exist.

Response: Maybe we should say that their life comes from God.

Objection 2: The distinction between God’s creating and our making is sufficiently accounted for by noting that God creates ex nihilo and we make things out of preexistent stuff.

Response: God doesn’t always create ex nihilo. He made Adam out of the dust of the earth. And anyway the more differences we see between God and us, the more God’s transcendence is glorified.


Brian Cutter said...

Re: your response to objection 1, do you think this supports the claim that composition is contingent (i.e., the claim, roughly, that it's contingent matter whether things in a given arrangement compose a further thing)?

The basic thought would be something like this. It's within our power, in principle, to put simples into any configuration we may choose. If a certain configuration of simples (say, a catwise configuration) metaphysically necessitated the existence of a living thing, then it would seem to follow that we can create a living thing just by arranging simples into that configuration. It seems that the most natural way to avoid this conclusion would be to say that we only put the simples into the relevant configuration, but they are fused into a composite whole by a free (hence contingent) creative act of God.

Alexander R Pruss said...


That sounds plausible, but I am not too clear on what "arrangement" is.

Another way to sustain the response to objection 1 is to say that we can only directly manipulate material things, and a non-trivial plurality of material things never composes anything. (Trivial = only one member in plurality.) For on a view of composition that seems close to the truth, things compose a whole iff one of them is an immaterial form and the others are all informed by it and anything informed by that form overlaps one of the material things.

Note that on this Aristotelian view, if "arrangement" includes the informing relation, then we do get supervenience of composition on arrangement.

Maybe we could talk of material composition where the xs materially compose y iff the xs are material and together with a form compose y, and restrict "arrangement" to physical relationships. Then maybe the view does support the claim that material composition is contingent.