Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Existence, eternalism, continuous creation and concurrence

The doctrine of continuous creation is something like this:

  1. For all x and t, if x is a creature and x exists at t, then x is created or preserved by God at t.
On the other hand, the doctrine of concurrence is something like this:
  1. God causally concurs in every instance of creaturely causation,
where the exact details of concurrence need to be spelled out, but it is some sort of causal cooperation in or causal responsibility for the instance of creaturely causation. Given the auxiliary hypothesis that:
  1. For all x and t, if x is a creature and x exists at t, then either x is created or preserved by God at t or x is created or preserved by a creature at t,
we have a somewhat handwaving argument from (2) to (1), namely an argument that given (2), when the second disjunct in (3) holds, so does the first. For suppose that x is created or preserved by a creature at t. Then by (2), God concurs in this. But if God concurs in creation or preservation, then God creates or preserves (albeit non-solitarily).

In the literature, (2) is seen as a stronger and more controversial claim than (1), and the above argument vindicates this.

Interestingly, given eternalism, there is an argument—albeit rather handwavy—from (1) to (2).

Start with this observation: Given eternalism, existing in 2014 is rather like existing in Waco. It isn't a case of existence simpliciter, but is simply the possession of a locational property. (Given endurantism, to exist in 2014 is like being wholly present in Waco; given some four-dimensionalist theorys, it's like being partly present in Waco; but on all the theories there is a close analogy.)

Now, according to (1), when x exists at t, God is causally responsible for this. But it is strange and ad hoc given eternalism to think God is causally responsible for temporally locational properties, but not for spatially locational ones, nor for other non-privative properties. So it is very plausible that:

  1. If God is causally responsible for every case of a creature's possession of temporal location, then God is causally responsible for every case of a creature's possession of a non-privative accidental property.
  1. Every instance of creaturely causation is the causation of the possession of non-privative accidental properties or the causation of existence.
And it seems that it is "metaphysically harder" to cause existence than to cause the possession of an accidental property, so:
  1. If God concurs in every case of the creaturely causation of the possession of non-privative accidental properties, then God concurs in every case of the creaturely causation of existence.
From (4), (5) and (6), we conclude that if (1) is true, then given eternalism we have God concurring in every instance of creaturely causation, and so we have (2).

This argument is handwavy, but it does show that it is ad hoc to hold on to (1) but deny (2).


Chris Giles said...

It's great to have a demonstration of "why mere conservation is not enough"!
How, out of interest, would you spell out the exact details of concurrence? Specifically, how do you reconcile "strong" concurrence with free will?

Alexander R Pruss said...

The post is inspired by a workshop on continual creation that I went to in Paris. Anyway, someone--I think Paul Clavier--there suggested the following fascinating model of concurrence. Creatures can cause what something something is (including what an accident is like), but they cannot cause being. So in concurrence, the creature is the cause of the kind of the thing the effect is, while God is the cause of the being of the effect.

This would, I think, work great for the free will case.

Chris Giles said...

Once God has brought the effect into being, isn't his work then just conservation - God's work being to preserve the new essence whose powers then cause other effects (though he causes the coming into being of each new effect)?
No - I suppose as the activity of a thing is continuous (its causing effects / actualising potencies / having potencies actualised) so the "conservation" is continuous, but there is also, simultaneously, continuous creating / bringing into being of each new effect / change.
This would be a "continuous conservation plus concurrence" view?

Yes, I was there for most of the Paris workshop, lurking! I really enjoyed the first day's talks; the historical stuff on day 2 was harder, though I liked especially the talk on Leibniz. I came away thinking that pushing any one of the three positions too far tends to make it collapse into one of the others.

Sorry to veer from your post, but do you have any tips for reading up on the foreknowledge / freedom problem Cyrille Michon was raising at the end?

Mark Rogers said...

Hey Dr. Pruss!
I strongly disagree with  (2) so something must be wrong with (1).

You say:
(1) For all x and t, if x is a creature and x exists at t, then x is created or preserved by God at t.

I say:
If x is a creature and x exists at t, then x is not necessarily preserved by God at t. It may be the case that x is permitted to exist at t as the time for x's destruction has not yet come. 

Alexander R Pruss said...


I don't think Cyrille was raising issues about *foreknowledge* and free will, but about *divine decrees* and free will. It is much easier to defend the compatibility of God's foreknowing I will do something with my doing it being free than the compatibility of God's decreeing I will do it with my doing it.

Cyrille's argument was basically the consequence argument re-purposed to be against divine decrees of free actions:

1. Principle beta 2: If p entails q, and Np, then Nq.
2. N(God has decreed I will do A)
3. That God has decreed I will do A entails that I will do A.
4. So: N(I will do A).

Here, Np is van Inwagen's operator: Np iff (p and nobody (i.e., no human) ever has a choice about whether p).

The most controversial part of the argument is the beta 2 "transfer" principle.

If one uses counterfactuals to define what it means to have a choice about whether p, then beta 2 can actually be proved from very plausible axioms about counterfactuals. Here's Widerker's writeup of my proof of it, and a discussion.

Anyway, the discussion of Widerker's blog post is a good starting point for looking at the consequence argument.

I think one difference between the divine decree case and the more common version of the consequence argument against determinism, is that N(God has decreed that I will do A) seems to me much less controversial than N(laws and initial conditions), which is the premise needed in the consequence argument against determinism.

Alexander R Pruss said...

You might also look at this.

Chris Giles said...

Thanks so much Alex.

Pedro Lopes said...

If I'm not mistaken, Malebranche proposes an account of continuous creation that turns God into some sort of film projector, that continuously creates anew and ex nihilo the universe, like in a movie in which static frames projected one after another provide an illusion of change. If such an account was true, there would be no change in the universe and the only existent efficient causality would be God's creation ex nihilo.

Can this view be refuted philosophically?

Alexander R Pruss said...

This is a view one refutes much like other views. Wave your hand. What's more likely? That it was an illusion that you waved your hand or that at least one of M's premises is false?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I mean: like other sceptical views.

Pedro Lopes said...

So, the problem of the (non)existence of change would concern epistemological realism more than anything else?

Pedro Lopes said...

Like the problem of idealism, scepticism of the existence of an external world, etc.?

Dieu sans barbe said...

If we adopt a timeless view of God’s operations, there is no need to weaken concurrentism in order to save secondary causality. Natural powers are not inconsistent with God’s absolute sovereignty. Rather, they presuppose it. The Maker of the world does not preclude created things to make differences by their powers and liabilities… On the contrary, He makes them make their proper causal contributions. But of course, there are two different meanings of making: a supernatural which is existence and power conferral, and a natural one, which consists in exerting the powers and liabilities thereby received.