Thursday, June 19, 2014

The identity of the act of creation

God is three persons and God has created the universe. How many acts of creation are there here? There seem to be three options:

  1. Each person of the Trinity performs his own distinct act of creation.
  2. The persons of the Trinity jointly perform an act of creation, and no one person of the Trinity performs an act of creation.
  3. Each person of the Trinity performs the one numerically same act of creation.
Option 3 is a special case of the doctrine of the identity of divine activities ad extra. I will argue for option 3 by arguing against options 1 and 2.

Since a divine act of creation is efficacious, option 1 implies three individually efficacious creative acts overdetermining the creation of the universe. Then if we attempt to secure reference to God as the one who has performed the act of creation, we fail since there is more than one act of creation, just as we fail if we attempt to secure reference to a place as the north pole of the moon of Mars, since Mars has two moons. But arguably identifying God as the creator either of the universe as a whole or of some aspect of it is central among the ways in which our ancestors gained reference to God. I suppose one could try to rescue our ancestors' reference to God by saying that they ended up ambiguously referring to the three persons. But if so, then it seems that we should say, if we use the word "God" as they did, that there really are three Gods, just as if our ancestors stipulated "Tyrolia" to be the north pole of the moon of Mars, then we should say there are two Tyrolias.

Option 1, thus, leads to some form of atheism or of tritheism.

Option 2 has the unacceptable consequence that the Creed is wrong when it says "I believe in God the Father almighty, the creator of heaven and earth."

That leaves option 3.


Heath White said...

Your conclusion suggests that acts should be attributed to substances rather than persons, when these come apart.

I don't know what further consequences that would have.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Or maybe that substances rather than persons are relata of causation, and the conclusion applies to causal acts?

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss, the implication that Heath White mentions doesn't seem to fit well with the standard definition of a "person" as "a substance that has beliefs, desires, and powers to act in accord with those beliefs to achieve those desires". I mean, that's Swinburne's definition, but it's pretty similar to other definitions I've read. Divorcing person's from substances seems like a definitional impossibility.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Personally, I think the creed got it right in calling the Father the "almighty creator of heaven and earth", but I think it got it wrong in thinking that Jesus and the holy spirit are persons in a Godhead. Jesus specifically called the Father "the ONLY true God" at John 17:3, and refered to Him as "my God" both while he was on Earth (John 20:17) and after ascending back to heaven (Rev. 3:12). The apostles also spoke similarly (1 Cor. 11:3; 1 Peter 1:3).

Moreover, I don't think the holy spirit is a person. Sure, it's personified in several places, but so are wisdom, sin, death, and lots of other non-persons. You can talk about a non-person as if it were a person to make a point; but what you don't do is refer to a person in non-personal terms. And there are numerous examples of where the holy spirit is "poured out among people" or where a person is "full of faith and holy spirit" (even Jesus is spoken of as being full of holy spirit at Luke 4:1). Moreoever, when Jesus said that no one knew the day or the hour, not even the Son, but only the Father, we might excuse Jesus' lack of knowledge by saying he was in human form... but why didn't the holy spirit know? Was it also in human form at that time? And why do the Gospel writers use "God's spirit" and "God's finger" interchangeably to refer to God's power in action (compare Matt 12:28 to Luke 11:20)?

Anyway, there are lots of other reasons I have for thinking God is just one person, and is the Father of Jesus (who is God's unique created son... or "only-begotten" son), but I'll stop babbling on. I just think it solves your causation problem rather handily, so I thought I'd share.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Aquinas distinguishes substances from individual substances. That might help here. Persons are individual substances.

I think one of the deep messages of Christianity is that what is of the deepest significance is always an interpersonal relationships. When one thinks of the centrality of the Holy Spirit to the Christian life, this suggests strongly that the Holy Spirit is a person.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I'm not familiar with this distinction in Aquinas. In what way are substances different from individual substances?

Interesting point about centrality. But love and faith are also central to a Christian's life, aren't they? Indeed, love, not holy spirit, is the indentifying mark of true Christians according to John 13:34, 35. So, when I see holy spirit mentioned in the same manner as a quality like faith (e.g. Acts 6:5 says that Stephen was "full of faith and holy spirit") it seems to me that both of those things are important for Christians to have, and that it doesn't require faith or holy spirit to be people.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Another thought! If the relata of causation were substances rather than persons, doesn't that have serious ethical implications? The reason we hold people accountable for their actions is because they are free to do otherwise, by virtue of being people. However, if the causation is on the part of the substance, independently of the person, then might we not have a problem in assigning praise or blame?