Saturday, August 11, 2018

Modal collapse

I'm going to comment on a post by Joshua Sommer:

. . . if God is identical with his essence, then God cannot know or do anything different from what he knows and does. He can have no contingent knowledge or action, for everything about him is essential to him. But in that case all modal distinctions collapse and everything becomes necessary. Since God knows that p is logically equivalent to p is true, the necessity of the former entails the necessity of the latter. J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 525.

By using freewill theism as his foil, Sommer creates the misimpression that his alternative represents Reformed theism. 

Moreland and Craig believe it is a problem that God cannot know or do anything differently, but if God is infinitely and immutably good then so is His knowledge, wisdom, and works. And thus, the libertarian freedom assumed by Moreland and Craig must be false. God is infinite perfection and for Him to know or do anything other than what He knows or what He does would entail imperfection.

There's a lot to unpack. Let's define our terms: 

1. Libertarian freedom has two components:

a) The agent is the ultimate source of his actions.

b) The agent can choose between alternate possibilities.

2. Surely God has freedom in the sense of (1-a). What about (1-b)? 

In freewill theism, human agents have freedom to do otherwise in three senses:

a) The ability to choose between good and evil.

b) Although they can choose between two or more options, they didn't choose what the options are. They can choose from the available options, but they may have no control over what options are open to them.

c) They can only opt for one alternative at a time. 

In Calvinism, God lacks freedom in the sense of (2-a), (2-b), or (2-c). (2-c) is really a restriction on freedom.

3. That, however, doesn't mean God lacks a range of options. 

i) One issue is how we understand possible worlds. From a Reformed standpoint, I view possible worlds as God's ability to imagine alternate world histories–or alternate timelines (if you prefer). On that view, God is the ontological source of possible worlds. In that respect, God does have the ability to choose between alternate possibilities. 

Put another way, in Reformed metaphysics, possible worlds are inside God rather than outside God. God isn't choosing on the basis of something external to himself or independent of himself. Rather, possible worlds are constituted by God's imagination and omnipotence. 

Does Sommer think God lacks the imagination to even conceive of alternate timelines? So long as those alternatives are internally consistent, does Sommer think God lacks the power to bring them about? 

ii) In addition, God, unlike creatures, is able to instantiate multiple alternate timelines. He is able to create a multiverse. Whether he has can't be proven one way or the other. But he's not confined to one course of action. 

4. To say God might know differently than what he actually knows is ambiguous and infelicitous. It depends on the frame of reference. If there's a plurality of possible worlds with different timelines, then God's knowledge is different insofar as God knows what will happen in each possible world, but what happens in each possible world varies from one possible world to the next. Yet that doesn't mean God's knowledge changes, for God knows the totality of the ensemble. 

To take a comparison, if I know the 50 movie plots, my knowledge of each movie differs because each movie has a different plot. But that doesn't mean my knowledge changes. My knowledge of each movie is different from one movie to the next, but my knowledge encompasses every movie. I know what happens in all 50 movies. 

There is a real distinction between cause and effect. In this case, God is the first cause and the effect is creation. On this basis, there is nothing wrong with saying creation is necessary in the sense that if God is who He is, then creation will nomologically be a certain way. We could refer to this type of necessity as nomological necessity (e.g. if God is S, then X will be like P).

God, in eternity, has decreed this world to be such as it is, immutably. In other words, the divine decree is identified with the divine essence and cannot be otherwise because God is infinitely and immutably good. This creation is the creation produced as a result of God’s character.

That's deeply confused:

1. To begin with, Sommer fails to draw an elementary distinction between absolute necessity and conditional necessity. If God wills a particular outcome, then the outcome is consequentially necessary by virtue of God's resolve. But that doesn't imply that the outcome is antecedently necessary. Given a predestined outcome, events cannot now unfold contrary to God's eternal plan. But this doesn't entail that God was unable to predestine a different outcome. To say the outcome can't be otherwise given the decree doesn't mean God can't decree otherwise. Sommer's inference is fallacious. 

2. Creation is consistent with God's character. God can't will something contrary to his character. However, it doesn't follow that God's goodness necessitates a particular outcome. Does God's goodness necessitate that I have the exact number of freckles I actually have? How does it negate God's goodness if he willed a world in which I had one less freckle or one more freckle? Why does God's goodness require him to create a world in which I can't have one less freckle? What makes God's goodness so inextricably entwined with mundane contingencies? If God willed an alternate timeline in which I have four freckles rather than five, that makes God imperfect? Really? 

Where's the argument for Sommer's inference? He stipulates a necessary connection, but the connecting argument is missing. Why is God's perfection necessarily invested in how many freckles I have, such that God's hands are tied? 

3. God's goodness only necessitates a particular outcome if there's only one good outcome. But what reason is there to think that only one good outcome is ever possible? 

The reader should notice that Charnock has a different idea of what constitutes God’s freedom than that of those who object to DDS on the basis of modal collapse. For Charnock, divine freedom does not have reference to the potential to do something regardless of nature (libertarian freedom). Moreland and Craig assume God’s freedom is libertarian freedom; but because God is necessary and immutable, He cannot be libertarian free.

How does it follow that because God is necessary, creation is necessary? Doesn't that fatally compromise the distinction between God and creatures? Creatures aren't divine. Creatures are supposed to be contingent in contrast to God's necessary existence. That's an essential feature of our creatureliness. We might be otherwise. We might not exist. 

Classical divine freedom, on the other hand, consists in the fact that God’s will does not depend on anything to be what it is. The divine will is the divine will because God is who He is. So, for Charnock, God’s freedom is not impugned because God depends on nothing to be who He is, and that is the absolute perfection of freedom.

Modal collapse is concerned about divine freedom or liberty. The objection is framed in terms of divine freedom within the context of the fact that God created the world. If God is divinely simple, then God’s knowledge and will are identified with His essence and therefore not truly distinct in Him. This means that God could not have done otherwise because who He is essentially necessitates a particular kind of creation...Yet, because God is who He is, He determined to create in a certain way. His decree is immutable and therefore necessary, being one with His essence.

Sommer's position isn't merely that creation was determined but that God was determined. Ironically, his position is the mirror image of Craig. Craig thinks that God must play the hand he was dealt. Likewise, Sommer thinks God must play the hand he was dealt. There's only one finite deck of cards. It can only be shuffled once. 

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