Mormon Metaphysics & Theology

Reading Ostler 105 - 133
November 20, 2004

I had accidentally omitted Chapter 4 and wanted to briefly deal with it, as there are some important points in it. Ostler here deals with the question of omnipotence or maximal power. Most thinkers have limited God's power somewhat, if only to what is logically consistent. A large portion of Ostler's discussion though asks what limits on God's power follow from a Libertarian view of free will. Since I don't really buy into the reality of Libertarian conceptions of free will, I won't go into all the various nooks and crannies of his argument. I do think, however, that the issue Ostler (and obviously others) raise about the consistency of omnipotence and essential goodness are quite interesting. Further one of the places Ostler deals with this issue lead me to a few questions of the Libertarian Mormon positions on theology.

On page 110 Ostler says the following:

...God is also a perfectly rational being. A perfectly rational being will always freely decide to do what is good and right. It is initially plausible to suggest that choosing what is morally wrong is irrational. . . It is within God's sheer power to bring about an evil state of affairs, but a perfectly rational being would judge such a state of affairs to be less desirable, on balance than the alternative states which are on balance at least better.

I think it important to point out that many conceptions of free will require that there be reasons-responsive capabilities. That is, the person can deliberate between choices and make a choice based upon reason. The significance of this relative to perfect reason is interesting. It suggests, for instance, that we could always know what God, as an actor, would do. I wonder though (and this is purely me musing) if this line of reasoning doesn't undermine the Libertarian position. After all it seems like perfect reason (of which perfect goodness seems to fall out as a corollary as Ostler presents it) entails a kind of "nature" to God which makes him determined. Now the Libertarian might say, well he's not really determined. But if God is perfectly rational then in every possible world he'll make the same rational judgment and thus the same choice. (Assuming that there isn't some measure of fundamental undecidability in which there are two or more equally rational choices) In such a situation where a person acts the same in every possible world, it seems hard to see how the Libertarian position is different from the Compatibilist.

Consider, for example, the following claim about a nature. We are all rational, but our reasons are often subconscious. Further we all act from limited knowledge. Thus, for instance, a seeming irrational choice (say someone having unprotected sex with a stranger, thus risking AIDS) may be rational given their values and wiring of the brain. It is irrational from an external standpoint but completely rational internally. Indeed every person always acts rationally in terms of their values and the data they have available to them at any time. Now, it seems to me that in this situation, following Ostler's logic with respect to God, the person is free. Yet, contrary to the Libertarian position, they are perfectly predictable.

As I said the obvious objection is the claim that there is a fundamental undecidability. (i.e. two equally valued situations one must choose logically from) In addition the claim that people are really acting rationally and that it is just data and values/instincts that are the problem obviously need not be accepted. Yet while the argument obviously won't persuade any Libertarian, it does suggest that something isn't quite right with Ostler's view of free will. (At least to me it does) Of course pushing this reasons-responsiveness too far puts one into the semi-Compatibilist position of Fischer. And later in the book Ostler explicitly disagrees with Fischer. So it is likely that Ostler merely rejects rationality as sufficient. Although that does seem to pose problems here with respect to God. (i.e. can God be perfectly rational and be free?)

Of course this isn't Ostler's only approach to the issue of divine goodness. The other is to return to his earlier distinction between God as a name under which different individuals can act and any individual so acting. He quotes Alma 42:13, "Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God." Ostler takes this to imply, "Alma appears to use God as a title and suggests that if the person who has the title 'God' did something wrong, then that person would cease to hold that title though the person may continue to exist." (109) This just seems wrong. First off, I don't see any evidence that Alma considers God proper a title and not an individual. But more importantly, it seems to me quite clear that Alma doesn't consider it possible that God could cease to be God. He is making an reductio ad absurdum. i.e. it is absurd to think God could not be God, therefore justice can't be destroyed. Ostler seems to be taking Alma exactly opposite to the logic of his argument.

Now there are reasons for some to think one can cease to be God. For instance someone's Christology might suggest that the incarnation isn't just God being both God and man but that God must cease to be God and become man. But that's an argument that must be made, and must be made carefully. (Further I think most people think Jesus was still fully God, even while mortal and limited) Ostler discusses some Christology in the final chapters though, so we'll address these issues there.

The biggest problem with Ostler's position is on page 110 where he brings up the third option. Mainly that God isn't essentially good and merely has been good but might not be in the future. I think it hard to consider such a being worthy of the kind of faith we require. Further I think it gets at the problem many have with strong Libertarian senses of free will. It seems we do have a character that is rather consistent and predictable. Why? At what point ought we not consider this a nature. I think that here Ostler is trying to have it both ways. Deny a nature but allow a de facto nature. Further, if God could conceivably turn into a rather evil being, I find that theologically troubling.

The next few sections are relatively uncontroversial and just deal with God being unable to change the past along with related issues. These have been contested by some, but I doubt any Mormon would take issue with Ostler. It is important to note the implication with regards to omniscience. If someone knows the future in the past, there are true facts of the future in the past and God (or anyone else) can't affect that outcome in the future. Libertarians obviously see a problem with free will in this.

The next issue deals with laws. Laws in Mormonism are actually a fairly problematic area of theology. There is a tension between a conception of natural laws independent of God, since God exists within the universe, and God as law-giver. The distinction is comparable to the distinction between physical law and laws in a court of law for us in everyday life. The question is to what degree are what we term physical laws really more laws as given by a law-maker. Obviously there is an old tradition, going back at least to Ockham if not earlier, which sees God as determining laws. Others see laws as a corollary from God being perfectly rational. (i.e. laws develop from logic) Others, such as Orson Pratt, see laws as declarations by God which individual entities freely choose to obey or disobey. As they obey consistently we have natural law. (Recall that Pratt tends to see all matter as intelligent)

Ostler's approach is to distinguish intelligence is two ways, the first as a soul of an intelligent being the second as any entity which behaves in a manner understandable by an intelligent being. Basically in a habitual fashion. This is similar to Pratt's position, except that he has some entities being intelligent in themselves while others are intelligent because an intelligent being can understand them. (I should add that Pratt may move in that direction himself at times) He ends up distinguishing entities that are their own first cause or are caused by something else. This lines up, I should add, with certain conceptions of origination of action within the Libertarian position.

I'll not critique Ostler's position too much. I'd just suggest that it ends up as a kind of prime matter vs. soul kind of dualism. One might ask, however, why God as creator can create natural law while other beings can't. Like the Pratts before him, Ostler asserts that all material is somewhat intelligent as it can obey God. (128, quoting Lectures on Faith 1:22) Thus Ostler moves to the rather common panpsychic view within Mormonism. i.e. that all existence is intelligence and God organizes fundamentally through persuasive power. Ostler differs from this view somewhat by ascribing a higher power to God's spirit or light. This light is a necessary cause for free will to be possible. While Ostler doesn't put it in these terms, one might say that the light is what makes communication between entities possible. (This was always a problem in Pratt's theology, for instance)

One could (and perhaps should) go on about the role of this light or spirit, as it seems a neglected but very important ontological consideration in many LDS theologies. Ostler, rather than focusing on it as communication discusses it as power. i.e. God provides power to all entities so they can act. I'm not sure the analogy of energy makes much sense though. At least I have a hard time understanding what Ostler is getting at. Personally I think considering it in terms of communication makes more sense.

The big question in many of these panpsychic theologies is to what degree God can be coercive. This is important since if God's power is communication (as I suggest) then can God ever coerce? If God's power is ultimately due to obedience and obedience is freely given, then everyone could choose to disobey and remove God's power. That seems theologically problematic. (To say the least) However D&C 121:41-42 is typically taken to suggest that coercive power ultimately can't be used. This seems problematic, taking it ontologically, since I think the priesthood power discussed is in terms of regular people dealing with regular people. While one can't exercise priesthood power coercively in the sense of ordering people around, it is because as soon as one does this one ceases to be using the priesthood. (v. 39) i.e. coercive power is assumed to be possible. Further, one must note that God does act coercively when he say rains fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. Surely he is acting with the priesthood in such settings.

Ostler's way out of this problem is to distinguish between making a choice and having the power to bring it about. If our acts are dependent on God's spirit to allow us to act, as Ostler suggests, then obviously God can simply withdraw power so as to coerce. In a regular world situation, I may choose to try and fly off a cliff, however because of the law of gravity God established, I don't have the power to actualize this choice, and I fall.

This way of thinking about power is rather interesting and fruitful. I think, however there are many ontological issues that need addressing. Specifically what is the relationship between God the person(s) and this mysterious spririt? I should note that the notion of a separate spirit fluid separate but part of any divine person is an old one. It is hinted at in Lectures on Faith. Pratt adopts an odd mixing of his atomic theory with it, although he does so in a highly problematic fashion by making this spirit fluid constituted out of intelligent atoms. He thus loses the advantage to the spirit ontology of having spirit making communication between intelligences possible.


Discussions on individual chapters from Blake Ostler's Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of Godliness can be found on our Reading Club page.


Posted By: Blake | November 21, 2004 05:44 PM

Clark: The notion that God is perfectly rational is inconsistent with libertarian free will follows only if you believe that there is a single, best possible world. As far as I know, very few have been willing to think that way about goodness. The best possible world is like the largest possible integer -- there ain't one. There are innumerable worlds that are good and they are all open to God's creative power. It's pretty hard to argue that one possible world must follow from God's perfectly good nature (not even divine determinists go that far).

The notion that "God could cease to be God" is held to be impossible by Alma -- but what is the sense of impossibility? Is it logical impossiblity as you seem to suggest? Hardly, Alma doesn't address that issue or use any arguments regarding logical necessity (and the concepts were likely completely foreign to him). Rather, he seems to have pragmatic necessity in mind -- we could not exist on this earth if there were no God because God created us. So Alma is arguing that if God ceased to be good (which he at least considers as a possibility) then we would not be here and exist. But there is a world, so there has to be a God. So Alma is *not* saying that it is logically impossible that God could not exist (as you interpret him); he's saying there is no creation without God. My argument only depends on the notion that it is possible that there is no God or that if he did not do what God did then he would be God. That seems to be very much what Alma argues. So you assertion that: "This just seems wrong. First off, I don't see any evidence that Alma considers God proper a title and not an individual. But more importantly, it seems to me quite clear that Alma doesn't consider it possible that God could cease to be God. He is making an reductio ad absurdum. i.e. it is absurd to think God could not be God, therefore justice can't be destroyed. Ostler seems to be taking Alma exactly opposite to the logic of his argument," seems to me to be not only too strong but a failure to consider what Alma is arguing: i.e., if God ceased to be good, he wouldn't be God.

As for your rejection of Libertarianism, I caution that an LDS view must not only make sense of action theory but also a God who allows freedom and is not responsible for human evils. We'll see if what you come up with can meet the additional demands of a fully coherent religious world-view in addition to the issues addressed by Fischer et al. with respect to semi-compatibilism. I suspect that most philosophers of religion are libertarians because of these additional demands of a coherent religious world-view and not merely because of the issues raised in action theory. It will be interesting to see what you actually come up with.

Posted By: Clark | November 21, 2004 11:34 PM

Regarding the first point, I agree, although I don't think it is an issue of best possible world at all, merely best possible choice at the time of that single choice. I don't think it follows that the best possible choice for God entails the best possible world. So I think the whole best possible world aside is a red herring. But as I mentioned, this assumes that there is no essential undecidability.

As you say, that may be problematic. However it still leaves us with the odd position of only being free when there is that element of logical undecidability.

What concerns me is less whether this is the actual state of things than what it suggests about free will.

Regarding God ceasing to be God. I don't think Alma gives any indication of why he thinks it impossible. What you term a pragmatic necessity seems somewhat beside the point for the key element of Alma's argument. Alma isn't making an argument for there being a God. He simply considers it inconceivable that there isn't a God.

I agree that this isn't a logical impossibility, simply because Alma isn't doing philosophy. Rather he's just tying his argument to something inconceivable. I see no evidence for why Alma thinks God's existence is inconceivable. However given his role as prophet and prior experiences, I'd suggest that is an empirical decision and not a logical one.

As you say, your arguments depends upon the possibility there is no God. But that seems something Alma would deny. To assert that Alma would feel otherwise requires a rather strong argument. I just don't see how your appeal to pragmatism (really a kind of anthropic principle) accomplishes that.

Regarding Alma considering it possible that God might not be good, I just don't see the evidence for that either. But as I said, I'm not sure Alma is giving a philosophical argument of logical necessity ala an old medieval proof for God's existence. Rather I think he's just trying to make an argument of what must be the case given the existence of God and some basic accepted properties for God.

Posted By: Blake | November 22, 2004 08:59 AM

Clark: It seems that God decides among and creates entire world scenarios and not merely single choices. But that is just a quibble -- the issue remains the same with "the best possible single choice." There just ain't one.

Posted By: Clark | November 22, 2004 11:44 AM

I think saying that God decides among world scenarios is difficult to assert unless one accepts a Compatibilist view of free will (or perhaps middle knowledge). After all God could only choose up to the point future history depends upon someone else's free choice.

That's why I bring up the distinction between choice and best possible world. I think the implication that for any choice that choice is only free if there is a fundamental undecidability is problematic. Even if one buys that there isn't a best possible world (and I agree there) I think that for most choices there often is a most rational choice. Yet, God isn't free when this state of affairs occurs.

Posted By: Blake | November 22, 2004 03:32 PM

The notion that God is not free if there is a "most rational choice" isn't true unless the fact that God is rational deprives him of a real power to act irrationally.

Posted By: Clark | November 22, 2004 03:47 PM

I'm at work and will have to check your book, but that position seems somewhat at odds with how I recall you arguing in that chapter. If you back off from the approach of God being perfectly rational entailing certain behaviors, then I have far less problem with that section. But perhaps it was bad reading on my part.

Posted By: Glove | February 20, 2006 10:32 PM

First, let me bring up a minor quibble that I have with Ostler's definition of omnipotence he presents in this chapter. As Ostler has it,

A is omnipotent at t if A is able unilaterally to bring any logically possible state of affairs SA after t which (i) does not entail that "A does not bring about SA at t," and (ii) is compossible with all events which preceded t in time in the actual world (Exploring Mormon Thought 116).

One (although there are plenty more) problem that I have with this definition is with the term "any." Functioning with this definition, it seems that a being A would be omnipotent at time t even if A could only unilaterally bring about one logically possible state of affairs SA at t. That is, as long as the statement "A brings about SA at t" is logically consistent with A's nature and is compossible with all events which preceded t, then, even Plantinga's "Perpetual Ear Scratcher" would be omnipotent. In order to rectify this problem, I suggest replacing the term "any" with "every." After doing so, Ostler's definition becomes,

A is omnipotent at t if A is able unilaterally to bring every logically possible state of affairs SA after t which (i) does not entail that "A does not bring about SA at t," and (ii) is compossible with all events which preceded t in time in the actual world.

But this is not the main reason for this post. Rather, I would like to take issue with Ostler's argument that omnipotence does not require the ability to create ex nihilo. His argument runs as follows:

It is a common assumption in traditional theology that omnipotence requires that God create out of nothing. Other wise, God's power is limited by pre-existing realities which he cannot control. . . . Given [my] definition of omnipotence . . . God is omnipotent even if he cannot bring about actualities such as intelligences because an omnipotent being need not be able to bring about state of affairs which are not compossible with the actual past world. Because ontologically necessary realities have existed from all eternity, their existence is always past at any time God acts. To bring about the states of affairs where a basic physical object of intelligence exists is thus to bring it about that an object which has always existed has not always existed. Not even God can create a world that was not created by God but which exists of ontological necessity. Thus, God need not be able to create ex nihilo to be omnipotent.

First, there seems to be something structually wrong with this argument. It seems to committ a fallacy of Illicit Major. That is, the major term is distributed in the conclusion and not in the premise. Thus, its conclusion is stronger than its premises warrant. If we put it in syllogistic form the argument comes out something like:

(1) No instantiation of any contradictory state of affairs is a requirement for omnipotence.

(2) Some acts of creation ex nihilo, namely, bringing ontologically necessary existents into being from nothing, result in the instantiation of a contradictory state of affairs, namely, bring it about that something that has always existed has not always existed.

(3) Therefore, no acts of creation ex nihilo are a requirement for omnipotence.

(4) If no acts of creation ex nihilo are a requirement for omnipotence, then, God need not be able to create ex nihilo to be omnipotent.

(5) Therefore, God need not be able to create ex nihilo to be omnipotent.

Notice that the major term of (3) is distributed, but undistributed in premise (2). In premise (2) Ostler claims that only some acts of creation ex nihilo result in contradictions. However, the conclusion (3) refers to all acts of creation ex nihilo. The only thing that follows from Ostler’s argument, assuming that it is sound, is

(3*) Therefore, some acts of creation ex nihilo are not a requirement for omnipotence.

But if that is all that follows then the whole argument breaks down. For it certainly does not follow that just in case some acts of creation ex nihilo are not required for omnipotence that God need not be able to create ex nihilo to be omnipotent. It only follows that if there is some act of creation ex nihilo A such that A is logically contradictory, then, God need not be able to do A to be omnipotent. It still may be the case that there is some other act of creation ex nihilo B such that B is not logically contradictory. And if that is the case, then, it still seem intuitive that God must be able to do B to be omnipotent.

This brings me to the second fallacy that Ostler commits, namely, the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi or the fallacy of irrelevant conclusion. The intuition is that in order for some being X to be considered omnipotent, then, X must be able to create ex nihilo. It is not that X must be able to create everything that exists ex nihilo; for learly that is impossible. In order to do that, since X exists, X would have to create itself ex nihilo and, thus, X would both have to exist and not exist at the exact same time, which is obviously absurd.

Rather, the assumption or intuitive argument is that in order for some being X to be considered omnipotent, then, X must be able to create something ex nihilo. And, of course, in philosophy the term “something” merely means “at least one thing.” Thus, the argument is that in order for some being X to be considered omnipotent, then, X must be able to create at least one thing ex nihilo. And, clearly, Ostler’s conclusion that some things cannot be created ex nihilo does not even address this argument.

Ostler must either object to the intuition that creation ex nihilo is a requirement for omnipotence and, thus, Godhood or he must argue that creation ex nihilo is completely contradictory. Here, he has done neither.

(please forgive typos, if there are any. This was done "post" haste.)

Posted By: Blake | February 21, 2006 07:55 AM

Edit: Fixed name

First, You are correct that the defintion of omnipotence given on p. 116 does not deal with the McEar problem. However, you failed to look at the footnotes where I addressed that issue. Look at footnote 17 on pp. 134-35 where I suggest that to deal with McEar and to accomodate the maximal power intuition, omnipotence must be defined as follows:

A is omnipotent at t if A is able unilaterally to bring any logically possible state of affairs SA after t which (i) does not entail that "A does not bring about SA at t," and (ii) is compossible with all events which preceded t in time in the actual world AND; (iii) A'S ESSENTIAL PROPERTIES ARE CONSISTENT WITH A'S ACTUALIZING THE MAXIMAL RANGE OF POSSIBILITIES CONSISTENT WITH (i) AND (ii) POSSIBLE FOR ANY BEING.

Your argument is also fallacious because it assumes that God can change the past if there are no things that have not existed from all eternity in some form. There is a question that is logically prior to God's act of creation: "what, if anything, exists of metaphysical necessity from all eternity and uncreated?" God need be able to create such things. The LDS answer is that virtually everything so exists. It is just possible that all persons and all most basic states of mass/energy have always existed (as the conservation of mass energy would suggest). If there were things that have not always existed, then it is within God's power to create them ex nihilo if they don't contradict God's essential properties. Since you agree that God need not be able to bring about or change the past, it follows that at any given time there is a past relative to the time that God creates and God need not be able to alter that past to be omnipotent.

So it is true that God need not be able to create anything ex nihilo to be omnipotent if everything that now exists is organized from realities that pre-existed God's creative act. Must God also be able to create ex nihilo because not all things already exist that can exist? Well, that is the question to be answered. LDS and process ontology suggests that anything that can exist has some power of its own and thus it is metaphysically impossible that it be wholly created ex nihilo by God. Because this definition of omnipotence places God within a temporal history where there are states of affairs outside God for every time at which God acts, it requires an inquiry into to the nature of reality and what already exists at that time of creating.

Posted By: Clark | February 21, 2006 10:38 AM

This does bring up the interesting question of whether this would work if there was a big bang, since that would appear to make energy/mass conservation difficult. i.e. if you don't have endless space in the traditional more Cartesian sense.

But more interesting to me is that this seems to get into the whole question of whether there can be co-eternal matter if God actually is omnipotent.

(I should add that this doesn't bother me since the strict logical omnipotence issue seems false to me)

Posted By: Blake | February 21, 2006 11:01 AM

Clark: I suspect that you are right that there is a question whether there can be an eternal matter if there is a big bang -- but it need not be an eternal "matter" that is defined by the initial constant that are posited for our pocket universe. I don't see how we can even think about it since the very laws of nature that obtain don't hold past the Planck time. Thus, "matter" as we know it may not be eternal, but there is still something always prior because it is uncreated within the superverse or multiverse (and that's assuming that the big bang theory will withstand scrutiny that it is presently receiving from a number of very competent and qualified sources).

Further, since the question of omnipotence must inquire what is given prior to any act of God's creating, the attempt to argue that there must be something created ex nihilo if God is omnipotent or that God is not omnipotent if there is something eternal and uncreated simply begs the question against a certain view of ontological and metaphysical possibilities.

Still, I think that the question asked by Glove relative to my definition of omnipotence is exactly the question that a classical theist ought to ask of my definition of omnipotence -- or as I prefer, "maximal power". So I really liked his post and the extra pushing that he does on this issue.

However, I could respond further by suggesting that I give an argument in the next volume of my work showing that God cannot create ex nihilo any creatures who are free in either the libertarian or compatibilist sense. Because I extend agent causation to the realm of nature as well, so the argument shows that God cannot create ex nihilo any realities that have a nature that requires them to have their own creative reality apart from any other reality including God. I take it that intelligences fit that bill within LDS thought and actual occasions fit that bill in process thought.

Posted By: Clark | February 21, 2006 11:21 AM

I think the interesting question from the traditional theist though is whether a God who is single and creates ex nihlo isn't greater than a God who is embedded among other eternal beings. It's an interesting question which gets to the question of necessity and so forth that is wrapped up in the conceptions of God in traditional theology. (Largely borrowing from neoPlatonic arguments for the One, albeit heavily modified)

I think that they have a good case, although I think debates about necessity entailing existence are inherently problematic. Even Anselm qualified his argument noting that the premises won't be accepted by everyone.

Posted By: Blake | February 21, 2006 11:34 AM

Clark: If God creates something free to act in a self-determining way and is thereafter limited in the kinds of states of affairs he can bring about in virtue of the fact that God cannot change the past and cannot bring about the the free acts of the free agent, then it seems that the value judgment entails that a God in a world with a history and free agent is somehow deficient compared to a God who is all alone and has the mere potential to create ex nihilo. But it seems to me that almost all theists will grant that a God who manifests other love is greater than a solitary being all alone with such potential exercise of power. It is what Hartshorne called the omnipotence fallacy. It amounts to the worship of sheer power it seems to me.

Posted By: Clark | February 21, 2006 04:08 PM

But I think that's the wrong way to look at the question. What is greater, to create something free to act in a self-determining way from nothing or organize pre-existing things to act freely? That seems the question.

Posted By: Clark | February 21, 2006 04:51 PM

Just to add, the reason I think one could argue it is greater is that God can love the other as other plus create the other as other. The argument, at least as I've seen it, tends to be whether and to what extent God can create an other as truly other. But that then takes us directly to the logic of ex nihlo.

Posted By: Blake | February 21, 2006 05:39 PM

Clark: I argue that God cannot create another as other in a way that allows for self-determining freedom. Indeed, the creature will only be a pass-through for expressing the creator's desires for itself. I have two distinct arguments for that conclusion --I'll wait until you've had a chance to scrutinize the arguments before I take a victory lap.

But I can state the nub of the first argument very simply. Consider that: (i) If a person is created from nothing, then s/he is never the ultimate source or first cause of his/her choices. If we assume that: (ii) all persons are created from nothing. Then it follows from (i) and (ii) that: (iii) no person is the ultimate cause or source of anything. This argument doesn’t require any particular notion of God acting in relation to humans or bringing about their acts through cooperative grace. All it requires is the notion of creatio ex nihilo. Such a notion is incompatible with both leeway and source libertarian views.

In any event, for each moment that a creature exists, God must re-create it as what it is because, if he didn't, it would wink out of existence. But god must create in each moment not merely the essential properties of a person at a time, but all of their actions at that time as well. It follows that God directly brings about all of our actions if he creates ex nihilo creatures that don't have existence as part of their nature and thus must be sustained in existence from moment to moment. But that is inconsistent not only with libertarian free will, but also with compatibilist free will because it constitutes of form of manipulation and even coercion -- and evey version of compatibilist freedom requires that our actions must be caused in us a way that is not coercive or manipulative to count as a free act. Ergo, God cannot create free creatures ex nihilo.

I also argue that love worth the name requires libertarian freedom and thus there is no possibility of a God who has the value (if that is what it is) of creating ex nihilo and also who creates others capable of returning his love.

Posted By: Craig Atkinson | February 21, 2006 05:56 PM


Is it at all logically possibly that God could create only the initial creation out of nothing, and then by endowing human beings with free will, and instituting physical laws, that the creation would take care of itself so to speak? The sort of explanation that deists give. As long as God was not creating each moment of existence but only the initial creation, it seems plausible that he could create free agents. Or am I missing something?

Posted By: Blake | February 21, 2006 06:12 PM

Craig, I take the deist view to be impossible because it overlooks the fact that created beings cannot have existence as part of their nature -- they must have contingent existence and perdure only if sustained in existence. I go into the metaphysical assumptions of creatio ex nihilo at some length in the second volume. Suffice it to say, how could God give a property of continuing self-existence to what by definition is not self-existent?

Further, even if such a view were possible, per impossibile, it falls to the first view that precludes any sort of libertarian free will that is required for deep moral responsibility -- and no theist can give that up it seems to me.

Posted By: Craig Atkinson | February 21, 2006 08:40 PM


Doesn't Calvinism preclude any sort of libertarian free will?

Posted By: Clark | February 21, 2006 09:28 PM

Calvinism does preclude it Craig.

Blake, I'm sympathetic to the claim about contingent existence here. I'm not sure why logically the couldn't be the first cause of their choices in the sense required by Libertarian free will. I think you're probably conflating two issues: the metaphysically ultimate source and the ultimate source relevant to Libertarianism. That seems an odd choice to make - especially for someone who embraces metaphysical emergence.

Posted By: Craig Atkinson | February 21, 2006 09:48 PM

I am currently writing a logic paper in which I have to take a position that I disagree with and write the strongest argument for that position and then demonstrate why it is wrong. I choose to argue against the concept of creatio ex nihilo. Tonight as I tried to write out the scriptural argument for creatio ex nihilo I realized how badly theology has skewed language in order to pass this off as the most straightforward reading of the Biblical creation. Even the title we have given it; creation OUT OF nothing reveals just what we mean by creation. Creation OUT OF implies out of something. It seems strange to me to talk about creating something out of nothing, as if nothing could be used to create anything. Do any of you guys know of any work that has been done on the etymology of the word "creation" in reference to the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo?

Posted By: Blake | February 21, 2006 10:16 PM

Craig: You might want to take a look at my papers on creatio ex nihilo here:

And also here:

Clark: You message was muddled: "I'm not sure why the [what?] logically the couldn't be the first cause of their choices in the sense required by Libertarian free will."

I'll do my best to explain it very succintly (acknowledging that a much longer disucssion is provided in my second volume). First, if god creates ex nihilo then he does so by either bringing about an agent S at some first time t1 and thereafter sustain S in existence, or god eternally sustains S in existence in all moments. Once we get clear on what it means to "sustain S in existence," it can be seen that it requires creating both S's essential properties and also S's accidental properties in each moment that S exists -- but acts of free will are included in S's accidental properties.

Think of it this way, if God creates S at some first time t1, then God does not act on S as patient at t0 to bring it about that S exists at t1 because S doesn't exist to be acted upon at t0. So God must create everything that is true of S at this first moment t1 without any causal input from S. So S is not responsible for anything that S is or is doing at this first moment t1. However, it is also true that if God sustains S in the next moment t2, then at t2 God brings about S's existence because S does not have existence as an essential property or a causal property as patient, and thus God cannot act on S at t2 as patient to bring about S's existence at t2. Rather, God must simply create S at t2 by creatng S in all respects. Each moment of creation requires God to create everything that is true about S, including S's acts, just like creating at t0. But if God brings about S's acts, then S is not free in either a libertarian or compatibilist sense.

So the short answer to your question as to why God cannot just create S with the property of being able to originate S's own acts once S exists at some first moment is that God must orginate S's own acts given the ontology of patients and agents in which the notion of creatio ex nihilo is necessarily embedded.

Posted By: Glove | February 21, 2006 11:31 PM


When thinking about creatio ex nihil (creation from nothing), do not think of "nothing" as some "thing" out of which other things are made. That is, do not thing of "nothing" as a pre-existing substance or material; for clearly that is an absurd idea. Instead, creation ex nihilo should be understood more as creation after nothing. That is, think of creation ex nihilo as saying that at some time t there was nothing that existed (other than God, of course) and then at t1 God brought other things into existence.

I suggest you read Frederick Copleston's _A History of Philosophy Volume II: Medieval Philosophy from Augusting to Duns Scotus_. He has a whole chapter devoted to Aquinas and creation. This is how he explains it:

This phrase (i.e., creatio ex nihilo) must not be taken to imply that nothing, nihil, is a material out of which God mad the world: when it is said that God created the wolrd out of nothing, it is meant either that first there was nothing and then there was something or the phrase ex nihil must be understood as equivalent ot non ex aliquo, not out of something. The object that out of nothing come nothing (i.e., ex nihilo nihil fit) is, therefore, irrelevant, since nothing is looked on neither as efficient cause nor as material cause; in creation god is the effecient Cause and there is no material cause whatsoever.

Try also reading Aquinas' Summa Theologica Ia. 45. 1 and De Potentia 3.1. Brian Davies also has a short, although lucid, discussion of creatio ex nihilo in his book _The Thought of Thomas Aquinas_ (33ff).

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 12:06 AM

Craig: Here is how I have described creatio ex nihilo in the context of arguments from the big bang as proof that is is physically proven:

The notion of nothing as the negation of all forms of existence arose within the context of Greek thought. A basic concept of creation "from nothing" was expressed by Parmenides who argued that "what is" could not have come into existence at some time because to do so it must either come from "what is not" or from "what is." "What is" could not have derived from "what is not" because such an idea treats "what is not" as if it were somehow something that existed:

"What is without beginning, indestructible, entire, single, unshakable, endless; neither has it been no shall it be, since now it is; all alike, single, solid. For what birth could you seek for it? Whence and how could it have grown? I will not let you say or think that it was from what is not; for it cannot be said or thought that anything is not."

Parmenides thus considered a basic notion of creation out of nothing and rejected it on the principle that something cannot be conceived to derive from nothing. He further criticized the very concept of "what is not" as linguistic confusion. "What is not" should not be posited as the subject of a predicate such that a being could create "from" it. This position was adopted virtually unanimously by the Greeks. There was a sense, however, in which many Greeks (as well as Philo Judaues and some early Christian writers) thought that the world was created literally from "nothing."

Plotinus taught that the world was created from hyle, usually translated simply as "matter." The notion of "matter" involved, however, was not the modern notion of matter as something solid, extended and enduring. Nor did it include the modern notion that matter may include various states of energy. Rather, the Platonic hyle could not be thought to truly exist without form being imparted by the ideas. It was a state no-"thing"-ness which could be individuated into things. The underlying hyle was thought to be a substratum or ground on which positive attributes of matter had to be grafted. This notion of a "potential" matter without form was widely held to pre-exist the creation of the world. Moreover, this hyle was thought to be the source of evil. Plotinus explained:

"There remains, only, if Evil exists at all, that it be situate in the realm of non-being, that it be in some mode, as it were, the non-being or to a certain degree communicate in non-being. By non-being, of course, we are not to understand something which simply does not exist, but something of a utterly different order from authentic being."

The notion of "nothing" at issue in the Christian idea of creation out of nothing does not involve the notion of creation "from relative non-being" accept by Middle Platonists, Philo Judaeus and Plotinus. It is important to note that God can be said without linguistic confusion to "create from" or derive what exists from the relative non-being or formless potential matter, for it is a physical state of affairs upon which God could act and from which He could elicit order out of chaos. This particular idea of creation from relative non-being was explicitly rejected by the earliest Christian writers who adopted the technical phrase for creation from absolute nothing (in Greek ex ouk on) in conscious opposition to the phrase for relative non-being (to me on).

It is equally important to note that the early Christians who first adopted the idea of creation from nothing, Theophilus and Tatian, did not intend the idea of creation "from what is not" criticized by Parmenides. Though they used the phrases "from" or "out of", they did not intend that "nothing" described a prior state of affairs from which God derived all that exists. Christian writers, like the Greeks, uniformly rejected the notion that something could derive from nothing on the principle that "nothing comes from nothing" (ex nihilo nihil fit.) As St. Anselm carefully explained in Chapters 7 and 8 of his Monologium, it is sometimes thought to say that God created "from nothing" that either to make nothing something or to say that nothing is the "material" from which existence is derived. To say that God creates ex nihilo, however, does not mean that God derived existence "from" some material (ex nihilo tanquam materia) or pre-existing physical states of affairs; rather, it means either that at first there was not any physical state of affairs and then God created and then there was something, or that God created the world non ex aliquo "not out of something." The idea of "nothing" entailed in the idea of creation out of nothing is thus the absolute negation of any physical state of affairs chronologically or logically prior to God's creating. In other words, it entails the negation of any non-logical conditions on God's creating.

Thus, the idea of creation ex nihilo is not consistent with the view of creation from "nothing" as it was understood in Middle Platonic and neo-Platonic sources. However, the ancient view of "nothing" as a ground of existence that could receive form is remarkably similar in many respects to the idea of "nothing" that exists in the modern quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics demonstrates that the notion of "absolute nothing" assumed by the creedal doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is physically impossible. There simply is no such thing as empty space, or even of absolute nothing outside of space-time. Even in the absence of space and space-time, there is a vacuum buzzing with the activity of "virtual particles" inherent in the very nature of the equations which describe the behavior of quantum realities.

Posted By: Glove | February 22, 2006 12:31 AM


Thanks for pointing out the footnote. This does clear up the minor quibble. But, there is a problem even with this amended version.

Now, by "for any being" I suppose you really mean "for any actually existing being" and not "for any logically possible being." For one might claim that there is a possible being P such that P can create something ex nihilo. And if that is the case, then, A would be omnipotent if and only if A could create something ex nihilo, since A must be able to do what "any" being can do.

But, if this is the case, another problem arises. When you say "any actually existing being," do you mean "person" or "human being" or any "thing" at all that exists? If you mean "any thing at all", then, if A cannot by itself lay a tadpole egg, then, A is not omnipotent or maximally powerful, according to your definition. In other words, it seems that your omnipotent being, A, must have essential properties consistent with the statement "A lays a tadpole egg", since laying a tadpole egg is possible for some being(s), namely, frogs.

And, of course, you will be aware of the pitfalls of the response that A should only be expected to do what A’s nature allows it do— in that case, everything becomes omnipotent.

Also, you say:

“So it is true that God need not be able to create anything ex nihilo to be omnipotent if everything that now exists is organized from realities that pre-existed God's creative act.”

Not at all! Even if everything that now exists is organized from ontologically necessary existents that pre-existed God’s creative act, it does not follow that God need not be able create anything at all ex nihilo. Your premises are still too weak to warrant such a strong conclusion. For even if everything that exists at t is organized from ontologically necessary existents that pre-existed God’s creative act, it is still possible that at t1 God create some “thing” that had not previously existed—which you acknowledge when you state:

“Must God also be able to create ex nihilo because not all things already exist that can exist?”

Now, to this you answer that

“LDS and process ontology suggests that anything that can exist has some power of its own and thus it is metaphysically impossible that it be wholly created ex nihilo by God.”

But, I am not exactly sure what you mean by this. Are the possible entities that you speak of when you say “anything that ca exist” abstract objects? And if so, are you saying that these abstract objects have causal powers; powers that cause themselves to instantiate themselves? It does not seem to me that this can be what you mean; for abstract objects are immaterial substances and Mormons ontology, as you are well aware, has no place of such things (D&C 131:7). That is, Mormons cannot be Metaphysical Realists, but rather must be Nominalists of some sort. But, I am not sure how to square your above statement with Nominalism. Perhaps you could elaborate more here.

Furthermore, it seems that your above statement entails that since dragons do not exist, it therefore follows that dragons cannot exist. In other words, it seems that your statement that “anything that can exist has some power of its own [to exist]” requires that the concept of a dragon is some how logically contradictory and, thus, cannot exist; for the only things that “cannot” exist are contradictions.

Posted By: Craig Atkinson | February 22, 2006 02:33 AM


Yes, I understand the concept of creatio ex nihilo. My only point was that etymologically it is ironic that the phrase creatio ex nihilo contains the word creation with it's natural connective "out of", which always implies out of something, except in the case of this special doctrine, ex nihilo creation. I think you supplied a better phrase for understanding the concept..."creation after nothing." I think this captures the concept much more accurately. But is the concept biblical? No way.

Posted By: Craig Atkinson | February 22, 2006 02:38 AM


Thanks for the info. I actually did read the first part of your article on creatio ex nihilo, I never did make it to the next two parts though. I'm actually going down to Biola (Bible Institute of Los Angeles) this April with six other philosophy students and we're teaming up with the philosophy department there and are going to carry on a dialogue. The two topics we have chosen to discuss are divine embodiment and creation. In advnace we share with each other our literature on the concept, and I have suggested that they read your piece on creatio ex nihilo as preparation for the dialogue. They haven't suggested anything yet, but I suppose they will suggest Copan and Craig's piece in the NMC.

Posted By: Glove | February 22, 2006 07:48 AM


What make you think that the Latin preposition "ex" always implies out of something? If you read Anselm's Monologion chapter 8, he gives several examples where "ex" does not imply out of something. For example, if I were to ask you in Latin "From what was the ontologically necessary existents made?", the correct answer in Latin would be "ex nihilo", this is, from nothing. In other words, the ontologically necessary existents were not made, they have always existed. So, in this case, the object of the preposition is not something. You should also check Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary to understand the wide uses of ex. It does not always mean "out of." It is often used as I translated it, "after." It may be admitted that the translation of "out of" or "from" with respect to the doctrine of creation is an unfortunate translation that has become the accepted norm.

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 07:50 AM

Craig: Just a fairly important technical point -- a good many in the history of Christian thought (like Aquinas on this issues) hold that it is possible for God to create ex nihilo without there having ever been a first most to his creation so there is no "after" in the creation. Aquinas held that the biblical data compelled the view that there was a first time.

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 08:07 AM

Glove: More good questions! (Keep them coming)!

You are right that I mean any "actual" being. For purposes of this discussion, by "actual" a mean a being that is real in our actual world and not a mere possibility or individual essence. Only actualities have the casual powers to bring about anything -- mere potentialities or logical possibilies do not.

Second, to be actual is to have some power to actualize states of affairs, bring about events or change something that is in some respect to realize its potential (drawing on Platonic theory, Arsttotelian theory and Whiteheading theory of causation here).

Further, you are correct that the definition of "maximal power" that I give (not omnipotence) is neutal between various ontologies. What it requires is an inquiry into the nature of reality that is prior to any act by God (just as Plantinga's vision of individual essences limits God's power by mere contingent potentialites).

If there are mere potential things that God can actualize ex nihilo, then God has the power to do so on this definition. If, however, to potentially exist is to be creative in Whitehead's sense or to exhibit actual powers of intelligence as in LDS thought, then the merely potential cannot merely exist because existence entails the basic causal power to actualize as outlined above. That is, potential existence entails actuality on such views. And I believe that you are correct that I haven't given this argument in my first volume except that I lay the groundwork for it by developing a theory of natural law based on agent causal powers of actualities.

However, I am a conceptualist so I don't reify abstract realities to be independent of the way we just happen to concpetualize reality. Universals are just ways we conceptualize reality -- and if there are universal a prior categories as Kant held, then we contribute them to reality in the act of concepuality and giving meaning to our experience. So I wouldn't limit God the way you by abstract realities if God didn't create them.

However, I believe you are wrong about LDS thought not having a place for conceptual univerisals and entities that have mental properties that are not reducible to mere material properties so long as they supervene on material states in some sense of "matter" that must be defined very, very loosely.

Well, my wonderful daughter needs a ride to school, so more later.

Posted By: Craig Atkinson | February 22, 2006 08:09 AM


I know no latin, so thanks for the explanation of the latin phrase. Do you believe that creatio ex nihilo is a biblical doctrine, or do you agree with Blake that it has it's origin in the second and third centuries?

Posted By: Glove | February 22, 2006 08:54 AM


Re the comment about creation ex nihilo being biblical, I guess that depends on how you read the Christian scriptures. Do I think one can conclusively prove creation ex nihilo from the Christian scripture alone. No. I am not convinced by any linguistic arguments such as that the Hebrew term for creation, "bara", in its Qal and Niphal forms is only used of God. It is used many other times of man in other forms and I am not sure you can make an argument for some implied meaning based on the form of a word.

The best "proof" text for creation ex nihilo is 2Maccabees 7:28. However, I have also read some amazing hermeneutical acrobats to avoid creation ex nihilo even here. But, creation ex nihilo certainly seems the most intuitive interpretation. At least that is how my ten year old step-son, who has no theological commitments, first read it. Yet, if completely honest, one must conclude that creation ex nihilo cannot be proved conclusively by scripture alone.

However, if one presupposes that God remained with the Christian church throughout history, then creation ex nihilo seems to follow from scripture. For the Nicene Creed reads that God created the heavens and the earth, and everything visible and invisible (in Greek, poiete ouranou kai ges, horaton te panton kai aoraton) and scripture it is said (at least from most Catholics and Orthodox theologians) should be read through the lens of the Creed. In other words, as the Orthodox priest I trained with explained, "if your theological conclusions gleaned from scripture conflict with the creed, then, you have done something wrong in your exegesis and you must start all over again. The Creed is like the bumpers on a bowling lane, it is there to guarantee that you do not throw a theological gutter ball."

Now, of course, this means nothing to one who presupposes that the Christian church went apostate. These persons need not follow the Creed at all. They must rely on scripture, old and new, or their new prophets.

Thus, it really seems a question of starting points. And that is very hard to prove through logic, if not impossible for beings with our abilities.

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 08:58 AM

Craig: Which article on creation ex nihilo? I have six. In addition, the FARMS Review has a review of Copan and Craig's book that treats the issue as to whether the notion of creatio ex nihilo suddenly appeared in the middle of the second century and I argue that it is not biblical.

Posted By: Craig Atkinson | February 22, 2006 09:13 AM


I read your first article that is posted on the FAIR website. The one called The Doctrine of Creatio Ex Nihilo was Created Out of Nothing. I read the first part about the scripural arguments for creatio ex nihilo and your criticism of them.

Posted By: Craig Atkinson | February 22, 2006 09:17 AM


I think you explained your justification for your belief in creatio ex nihilo very well. I've talked with a few Christians about this concept and none of them explained it as well as you have. The other Christians I spoke with pretended that the word creation of "All Things" implies that God created everything out of nothing. So my next question for you is, Do you believe that the Creeds are inspired similar in the way that scripture is inspired?

Posted By: Clark | February 22, 2006 02:03 PM

Wow, a ton of posts since last night. Blake, Glove mentioned several of the points I was going to bring up, so I'll not repeat them. I suspect part of the discussion will await the ever delayed publication of your next book.

My apologies for the confused antecedents. I was between a meeting and a delayed Valentine's date with my wife up at the Tree Room in Sundance. So as has happened far too often the last few months here, haste won out over thoughtful contemplation.

Just to add one thing to the discussion that was missed. Glove wrote:

When thinking about creatio ex nihil (creation from nothing), do not think of "nothing" as some "thing" out of which other things are made. That is, do not thing of "nothing" as a pre-existing substance or material; for clearly that is an absurd idea.

I'm not entirely sure it is fair to call this absurd. (Certainly no more absurd than the alternative - both go against our common sense and common experience) I should also add that among neoPlatonists the idea that there is a nothing which is best described as not-a-thing is common. Likewise one can find this notion in Heidegger and various Heideggarians. Historically among the more neoPlatonic oriented Christians there was often a tension between a certain analysis of the One which led to a radical monism and effacing of the ontological difference between Creator and Creature. That obviously ran into problems with the orthodox hierarchy. This particularly seemed to plague mystics who seemed to typically embrace a more neoPlatonic view. Within the Jewish tradition one can also find both creation ex nihilo in the traditional sense without a source and then the more neoPlatonic notion of from not-a-thing. Indeed the debate over this was quite pronounced in the 12th through 13th centuries.

Posted By: Clark | February 22, 2006 02:11 PM

Glove, you wrote, ". . . for abstract objects are immaterial substances and Mormons ontology, as you are well aware, has no place of such things (D&C 131:7). That is, Mormons cannot be Metaphysical Realists, but rather must be Nominalists of some sort. "

I think you are following Orson Pratt too much. I think the reading that takes D&C 131 to entail that only matter exists is wrong. To say that spirits are matter is not to say that all things are spirits. So to argue that Mormons are nominalists seems wrong. Indeed I think there is a strong anti-nominalist tradition in Mormonism, despite Orson Pratt (and perhaps Bruce R. McConkie - although I don't think his thought was developed enough to portray him as a nominalist although I think Blake's reading of McConkie tends to take him as a nominalist) The most obvious and influential example is B. H. Roberts who took spirits as material but intelligences as Cartesian minds.

Posted By: Clark | February 22, 2006 02:14 PM

Blake, just to return to my earlier comments. A few of these points Glove touched upon. For the sake of clarity, let's use create to imply creation ex nihlo and organize to imply a more Mormon view of creation.

First, it isn't clear to me why God can't create a being that doesn't need him to sustain its existence. I recognize that a common belief, but I don't see the logical reason for it.

Your argument, as your corollary points out, requires God create not only the start of the creature but also every act. Now that I agree goes against Libertarianism but it just isn't clear to me that the premise is necessarily true. It seems to me that you are bringing in metaphysical assumptions the discussion doesn't necessarily require.

Perhaps your book covers this, but I simply don't think I buy this. I think God logically could create a being who is open and in some ways independent from God. Now some, like the Calvinists, might have additional reasons to argue against this. But that's an other matter.

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 02:59 PM

Clark: The metaphysics of creatio ex nihilo is tied up with concepts such as "esse" or the nature of uncreated and self-existing entities (of which God is the only one) and the nature of a patient entity that has existence only because God brings it to participate in God's esse. Remember that a created patient cannot have an esse that includes the power to create its own existence as a contined reality because its entire ability to exist is grounded solely in God. But I suspect that the fuller metaphysic is required to fully answer your question and so I'll wait until you have a chance to read ch. 8 of the second volume. The key, however, is that creation ex nihilo requires a radical occasionalism.

It is not only the beginning of a temporal creature but also the sustaining in each moment that is at issue. To be sustained means to be kept in existence in each moment by God. You might want to look at: Divine Conservation and the Persistence of the World,” co-authored with Jonathan Kvanvig, in T. V. Morris, ed., Divine and Human Action: Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988, pp. 13-49; and “The Occasionalist Proselytizer: A Modified Catechism,” co-authored with Jonathan Kvanvig, in J. E. Tomberlin, ed., Philosophical Perspectives 5, Philosophy of Religion. Atascadero, California: Ridgeview Publishing Co., 1991, pp. 587-615.

McCann's article on divine providence also addresses these issues somewhat found here:

Posted By: Clark | February 22, 2006 03:14 PM

Yes, but to go that line and to say we can't divorce the statements from their context and analyze them logically rather than historically seems somewhat problematic. I understand it from one perspective, but from an other I don't understand why we can't just ask whether a being that can create ex nihlo is greater than one who can't.

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 03:31 PM

Clark: what kind of value judgment of "greatness" is involved in creating ex nihilo? What is it God does to bring something about out of nothing and can we begin to make sense out of it? Isn't the value judgment whether organizing is better than creating out of nothing impossible because it isn't grounded in any real value?

Also, I found the text of The Occasionalist Proselyter online that explain why creatio ex nihilo entails occasionalism. It is found here:

There is also an excellent overview of Aquinas's view of creation that explains why God brings about everything that exists wholecloth ex nihilo in each moment here:

Clark, if you claim that there is some way for God to create beings that are prone to wink out of existence of not sustained in existence each moment in a way that leaves room for them to exercise diachronic power as required for secondary causation, I invite you to do so. The problem is that it requires a metaphysic of a being that has not need to be created or sustained in existence and the metaphysical and ontological status of creatures who are such that their existence is dependent on another from moment to moment because they are contingent and don't existence as part of their nature, essence or what defines the way that can exist.

Posted By: Clark | February 22, 2006 06:02 PM

That's a fair question, regarding greatness. Something I questioned myself the first time I read Anselm. Indeed I'd say it was a key flaw in Anselm except I'm not convinced Anselm was making an argument for God's existence. Rather working from a position of faith to understand God.

Let's just say if being A can do X while being B can't do X, then being A is greater. For simplicity sake, let's say the greatest is the one who can do the most things and ignore the value of those acts.

BTW - to put in hyperlinks just put in anchor tags. I should extend the program to tag untagged urls. I've just been so busy since summer I've not got around to finishing up the blog software.

Regarding your last paragraph. When you say, "if you claim there is some way for God to create beings that are prone to wink out of existence..." then I think you are highlighting the problem. The issue is the logical contradiction and not an analysis of the issue. For instance I can't conceive of how God could make something from nothing either. And arguably that's a more fundamental issue. But that's not really a logical objection.

I don't see what is logically wrong with God creating self-sustaining creatures.

Blake: The problem is that it requires a metaphysic of a being that has not need to be created or sustained in existence and the metaphysical and ontological status of creatures who are such that their existence is dependent on another from moment to moment because they are contingent and don't existence as part of their nature, essence or what defines the way that can exist.

That's not entirely right. It requires a metaphysical position where things need be created, but need not be sustained. Further this doesn't entail that their existence is contingent on others.

I still don't see the logical issue. I can understand why you don't like the metaphysics. I'm familiar with Aquinas on this issue. But it's not helpful since Aquinas (as I understand him) is just arguing that creation means to produce the complete existence. What I'm suggesting is that one could easily reject this sense of creation, adopt a kind of ex nihlo and avoid some of the complaints.

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 06:31 PM

Clark: Like I said, best wait for the book. But perhaps one last stab will let you see why creation ex nihilo requires such complete creation. Look at it this way. God is Being. We are not. We don't have Being as a part of what it is to be the kind fo thing that we are. God must impart that Being to us so that we can exist (the medieval concurrentists and occurrentists called it "esse"). What God imparts to us is not done by acting on us but by producing our very existence. So why cannot God create a creature with a property of perdurance or endurance. Because what he does is impart Being and if he did not do so then the creature has no property of Being to keep it in existence. That is the nature of contingent existence entailed by creation ex nihilo. God cannot impart enduring properties or the property of perdurance because that which is created lacks Being and thus by its nature it ceases if not sustained by what does have Being. They are not self-sustained because to be self-sustaining requires a power to create one's own existence from moment to moment, and creatures that lack such Being by definition simply don't have that power as patient.

A part of the problem here is that given the LDS ontology intelligences must have as their very nature self-existence. It is their nature to exist. However, in classical thought it is the nature of everything but God to fail or cease exist.

If you believe that God can impart such properties of perdurance to contingent beings, I'd sure like to see what your intelligible explanation looks like.

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 06:34 PM

Clark: I forgot to answer your challenge regarding the one that can do the most things being the greatest. Well, then a God who lives in a world where there are free creatures is less great than a God who can control everything and still has the task of creation before him. Likewise, the being that has not yet created and is therefore not limited by the past is the greatest. That seems radically counterintuitive to me.

Posted By: Clark | February 22, 2006 08:13 PM

Blake, I understand what you are saying, but I guess my best response is that you don't seem willing to divorce it from a particular historical placement of the conception of Being. That is your response presupposes a particular way of viewing Being. While that's certainly how Christian theologians during the Scholastic period viewed Being, it doesn't follow that this is the only way to think through the doctrine.

Thus you can see only two possibilities, the LDS one and the Scholastic one. But surely you can't think those exhaust the possible ways of thinking.

Regarding the issue of "greatest", I guess what I'm saying in the end is that we have to unpack our assumptions.

Let's put it this way. Consider three possibilities:

1. A God who creates beings and sustains their being

2. A God who exists among pre-existing free beings but doesn't create them

3. A God who exists among free beings but does create them.

Clearly the third is greatest, presumably even by our intuitions. Your claim is (3) is logically inconsistent. But that's what needs unpacked.

But I'll await further comments until your book comes out. I'm intrigued to see how you engage the arguments of the Christian theists who argue for Libertarian free will. It seems like you are embracing a kind of Calvinism as the only possibility.

Posted By: Glove | February 22, 2006 09:51 PM


I may not be following, but is your argument to Craig about God not being able to create creatures ex nihilo such that those creatures have the property of endurance (I will perdurance out for now) per se basically as follows:

(1) If God creates some object X ex nihilo, then, by its very nature X does not have the power in itself to sustain its existence.

(2) If some object X by its very nature does not have the power in itself to sustain its existence, then, God cannot create X so that X by its very nature does have the power in itself to sustain its existence; for then X by its very nature would both lack and have the property of having the power to sustain its existence

(3) Therefore, if God creates some object X ex nihilo, then, God cannot create X such that X by its very nature has the power in itself to sustain its existence.

(4) If God cannot create X such that X by its very nature has the power in itself to sustain its existence, then, X could never have the power to sustain its own existence.

(5) Therefore, if God creates X ex nihilo, then, X could never have the power to sustain its own existence.

This, I think is a very solid argument up until (4) and (5). But (4) just seems false to me; for (4) fails to make the distinction between having some property per se and having some property per accidens. I see no reason why God could not create X ex nihilo such that X has the property of being able to sustains itself per accidens. That is to say, it may be true that God could not create X such that X both lacks and has the property of having the power of sustaining its own existence per se; for as we saw above that results in a contradiction. However, I see no reason why God could not create X ex nihilo such that X both lacks the property of having the power to sustain its own existence per se, but has the property of having the power to sustain its own existence per accidens. This is certainly not contradictory and, thus, logically possible.

Consider this analogy. It seems to me that it is part of my essence or nature that I do not have the power to flap my wings That is, I lack the property of being able to flap my wings per se; for my essence lacks the property of having wings. But that does not entail that I could never flap my wings; for if God were to place wings on back tomorrow then I could flap them. That is, if God were to make it that I have wings per accidens then I could flap them. In that case, I would have wings but they would not be part of my nature. They would be accidental. Thus, it seems to me that even if something does not have the power to sustain its existence per se, God could make it so that it had the power to do so per accidens. Just a thought.

Craig, I hope you do not mind that I took up Blake’s challenge to you. It’s just that this argument came to me and I had to get it down on paper, so to speak.

Also, Blake, I found your argument against creation ex nihilo from Libertarian Free-will quite intriguing. But, of course, as you would expect, I believe I have found some flaws in it. But I will have to present them later. I must spend some time with my family. I will also have more to say about your definition of omnipotence. Goodnight.

Posted By: Clark | February 22, 2006 10:23 PM

Glove, I'm curious as to why you see (4) as problematic. If God can't give that power then can't it only have that power if God can create a being such that this being has power to sustain the existence of other beings? Yet if you adopt that, why not simply reject (1)?

PS - I'm working on the server so it may be a little bit before people can post.

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 10:43 PM

Glove: The argument is actually as follows:

(1) Necessarily a created being does not have actuality as part of its essence;

(2) Only a being that has actuality essentially can impart actuality to other beings besides itself;

(3) Therefore, beings that are created cannot impart being to themselves or to others.

How do I show (2)? Well, presumably only God has power to create ex nihilo -- and God must have this power, if at all, only because actuality is essential to God. It follows from the fact that a created being must be brought into existence by another that has actuality essentially that the property of actuality must be both accidental and extrinsic to the creature. Thus, there can be no power to create being in one's self per accidens because that assumes that what has a power to create is contingent on another for its possession of this power to self-create or sustain itself in existence. However, since this power is necessarily derivative, it cannot be an accidental power to create that is intrinsic to the creature. Yet the power to self-sustain would have to be intrinsic, for if it is extrinsic then it cannot be a self-derived power. However, the power to sustain one's self must be an intrinsic power and not a derivative power, for if it is derived and thus extrinsic it is not a self-sustaining power but depends on another to be what it is. Thus, by reductio ad abusrdum, the power to self-sustain must be both essential and intrinsic. However, created beings must have their power to exist derivatively and thus extrinsically and per accidens.

Posted By: Blake | February 22, 2006 10:55 PM

Clark: I am arguing (in brief) that the only two games in town are Calvinism or Mormonism. Either God creates ex nihilo or he doesn't. If he does we have Calvinism. I argue not Calvinism because that is not consistent with existence of beings who can freely choose to return God's love. Since love is essential to Jesus's message, ergo, Mormonism.

Clark, I just don't share your intution that a God who can pull off 3. is somehow greater than 2.; in fact, my intuitions are that a God who can persuade and inspire others rather than create them is superior. Yet persuasion presumes the existence of others; not their creation ex nihilo.

Further, I don't believe that God cannot create other beings ex nihilo; rather, what God cannot do is create other beings ex nihilo who are free to be self-determining. I think of what is created ex nihilo as analoguous to our own thoughts. They are not really independent of us and are only and solely what we create them to be.

Posted By: Clark | February 22, 2006 11:07 PM

Thanks for that clarification Blake. I think that makes your project more understandable. I expect then you engage with the non-Calvinist arguments in your second volume. I'll await its future publication before commenting further.

Plus we're now into an area of theological debate I've simply not read much on. I am skeptical though that one has to adopt the Scholastic sense of Being to raise the question. I think one interesting rise in theology are people like Marion bringing Heidegger to the question of Being in theology. While I disagree with his consideration of Anselm's "ontological argument" it does offer an interesting way of rethinking the question of theology.

As for our intuitions, they've contradicted each other before. One good reason not to trust intuitions. Although I know your intuitions contradict mine on that question too...

1: Posted By: Glove | February 23, 2006 10:49 AM


Your argument that

(1) Necessarily a created being does not have actuality as part of its essence;

(2) Only a being that has actuality essentially can impart actuality to other beings besides itself;

(3) Therefore, beings that are created cannot impart being to themselves or to others

commits the four term fallacy. The only conclusion that follows from (1) and (2) is

(3*) Therefore, beings that are created cannot impart actuality to others beings besides itself.

Your conclusion throws in the term "to themselves," which was not in any of your premises.

Furthermore, (3*) is irrelevant. The question at hand is whether a being that does not have actuality per se can be made so that it sustains itself, not others. Perhaps, in order to fix this problem you could say

(3**) Only a being that has actuality essentially can sustain its own existence.

But, I see no reason to believe that (3**) is true. Like I said before, it does not seem to me that a being that has actuality per accidens cannot sustain its own existence.

2: Posted By: Glove | February 23, 2006 11:19 AM

If I understand Aquinas correctly, his belief concerning the nature of angels is very similarly to my idea of some object having actuality per accidens. It seems to me that Aquinas believes that angels have actuality per accidens, but not per se--only God has actuality per se. That is, only God existence is identical to his nature. For angels, however, their existence and essence are distinct. Thus, angels do not exist because of what they are essentially as God does. As Brain Davies puts it in his book _The Thought of Thomas Aquinas_, as conceived by Aquinas, angels do not have an "in-built tendency to perish." However, even though they have no "in-built tendency to perish", God could annihilate them. He does go on to say that angels are "held in being by God", but it may be that angels are merely said to be held in being by God because he could at anytime take the property of actuality per accidens away from the angels. Thus, God does not hold angels in being by something that he does, but rather by something that he refrains from doing. At least this seems to me what Aquinas is saying about the nature of angels. I am not Aquinas scholar and I could be wrong, but it makes sense.

3: Posted By: Glove | February 23, 2006 12:37 PM

Craig, you wrote, "I think the reading that takes D&C 131 to entail that only matter exists is wrong. To say that spirits are matter is not to say that all things are spirits."

I do not hold that Mormonism is a materialist religion because J. Smith states that spirits are matter. Rather, it seems that Mormonism has no place for immaterial substances because J. Smith states that "There is no such thing as immaterial material." Now, because J. Smith was not a philosopher, I presume that in this statement by "material" he means "substance"; for no one that I know of (at least, no one of any philosophical significance) has said that their is immaterial material. That is just a plain contradiction. Thus, since there can be no immaterial substances, it seems that in Mormonism everything must be reducible to material states. I can understand why a Mormon might not like this idea, considering all the problems that it leads to concerning the mind and free-will, but I do not see any way around it. Perhaps, this is because I don't spend much time trying to find a way around it. And certainly if you are not looking for it, chances are you won't find it. But, maybe one of you have and can explain it to me. I would love to hear it.

And Blake, you wrote, "I believe you are wrong about LDS thought not having a place for conceptual universals and entities that have mental properties that are not reducible to mere material properties so long as they supervene on material states in some sense of "matter" that must be defined very, very loosely."

Perhaps this is so. But normally it is not substances that are said to supervene, rather properties supervene when various substance are brought into certain relationships. Of course, William Hasker has recently argued that a substance, namely, the soul, supervenes on the body in his book _The Emergent Self_. But I find his argument and idea very strange, to say the least.

Furthermore, if the Mormon goes the route of supervenience, then, they have an uphill battle concerning free-will, which seems to be your main concern. For if mental states supervene upon physical states then there is an asymmetrical relation ship between the two. That is, material states cause mental states, not the other way around. I think Jaegwon Kim in his book _Mind in a Physical World_ has argued this very persuasively.

4: Posted By: Clark | February 23, 2006 01:08 PM

That was me Glove, not Craig. I'd simply reply that to take "material" as "substance" seems problematic. As I said there is a major strain of Mormon theology that is basically Cartesian dualism. I think it wrong, mind you. But it is there.

BTW, I don't think this necessarily leads to problems with free will. One can always simply adopt panpsychism or related positions. Indeed that was the approach of Orson Pratt in the 19th century.

5: Posted By: Glove | February 23, 2006 01:50 PM

Clark states,

"Regarding the issue of "greatest", I guess what I'm saying in the end is that we have to unpack our assumptions.

Let's put it this way. Consider three possibilities:

1. A God who creates beings and sustains their being

2. A God who exists among pre-existing free beings but doesn't create them

3. A God who exists among free beings but does create them.

Clearly the third is greatest"

Even I must say I am do not share your intuition, Clark. First, I am not even sure what (3) says. There seems to be some sort of equivocation going on in the term "create" among these three popositions. In (1) create seems to be ex nihilo. And in (2) and (3) create seems to mean organize. So, to me (1) seems to be the greatest. But, then again, I am not sure I know how to measure greatness. Defining greatness is like tacking Jell-O to the wall, everytime you thing you've got it nailed down, it slips right through. Greatness becomes even more complex when you take into consideration the great making properties in Eastern thought (e.g., Buddhism). For more on Buddhist concepts of greatness, see Paul J. Griffiths' "great" article "Buddha and God A Contrastive Study in Ideas about Maximal Greatness."

Clark and Craig, sorry about the earlier mix up. Also, Clark, could you point me toward some resources that talk about Mormonism and Cartesian dualism. Thanks.

Re panpsychism, perhaps. I will have to think about that one.

6: Posted By: Clark | February 23, 2006 03:19 PM

Glove, I discussed Roberts and his Cartesian views a few times on this blog. The best source is probably Robert's The Way, The Truth and The Life. It used to be available in both a Signature and a BYU edition but it looks like Amazon only has the BYU edition even though Signature still lists theirs as in print. I think his A Seventies Course in Theology goes through it as well. I touched on Roberts view way back in the early days of this blog. There are a few excerpts from the book there.

Regarding the three possibilities, I don't think there is an equivocation. As I said such a scheme may well be impossible given the other presumptions within Scholastic thinking. But basically the idea is to create beings that need sustaining and to create beings that don't. In other words a mixture of the two views Blake puts out as opposing each other. So (1) is ex nihilo, (2) is organization, and (3) is both ex nihilo and organization.

I do agree with the problem of greatness though. Indeed it only works if there is a realism towards value which I suspect many might find problematic. I think I mentioned that in connection to Blake's original issue. So independent of this philosophical musing, I'm not sure the issue of greatness, especially in light Anselm, is ultimately that helpful in deciding what God must be.

7: Posted By: Blake | February 23, 2006 04:43 PM

Glove: It appears to me that you just ignored the argument that I gave to support the fact that necessarily any created being has only extrinsic power to be sustained and not intrinsic power to sustain itself. So let me lay out the argument (again) with what was implicit in these premises spelled out further:

(1z) No created being has actuality essentially. (by definition of creatio ex nihilo)

(2z) Only a being that has actuality essentially has power to impart actuality to another or to sustain itself of its own intrinsic powers (from 1 and from definition because only God has power to create ex nihilo).

(3z) For any created being CB, CB derives its power to be sustained in actuality extrinsically from the power exercised by a being that has actuality essentially. (from 1z and 2z)

(4z) A being that is self-sustaining does not derive the power to sustain itself from another extrinsically (by definition of self-sustaining being)

(5z) Necessarily created beings have actuality only extrinsically and accidentally. (From 3z and 4z)

(6z) Therefore, no being that does not have actuality intrinsically and essentially can be self-sustaining. (from 4z and 5z)

It follows that not even God can create a being and impart to it a power to be self-sustaining because that power will always be derived from and dependent on God extrinsically.

Further, your conclusion re: materiality is hasty and fails to consider possibilities. If the properties of the mind supervene on material states but those properties themselves give rise to emergent properties to unify the data of our experience and then this unified entity has the power of downward causation to act on and modify the material states on which the properies intially supervene, then the mind can have powers of agent causation even if supervenient initially on material states. Timothy O'Connor has laid out this view at some length.

8: Posted By: Blake | February 23, 2006 04:43 PM

[Edit: duplication fixed BTW Blake, thanks for laying out the argument mor fully.]

9: Posted By: Glove | February 24, 2006 02:30 PM


The term "ignore" entails intent, much better, perhaps, is "did not remember." Unfortunately, my clay is not as soft as others. Nevertheless, your argument rests on a misunderstanding of how some conceive of creation ex nihilo.

Please forgive me if some of what follows is somewhat rough, this is very difficult to explain. With that said, here is where I think you are getting confused. Certainly, the idea of a being-that-depends-on-nothing-for-its-EXISTENCE-other-than-itself-yet-depends-on-God-for-its-EXISTENCE is completely absurd and logically impossible. Thus, not even God can create such a being. However, this is not the type of being that I am talking about.

Rather, the type of being that I am postulating is a being-that-depends-on-nothing-for-its-EXISTENCE-other-than-itself-yet-depends-on-God-for-its-NATURE. The being that is being hypothesized here HAS existence as part of its nature. Thus, it does not depend on another being for its existence. However, because it HAS existence as part of its nature, it esse and essentia are distinct. Thus, it is not actus purus (pure act). God, on the other hand, does not HAVE existence as part of his nature. Rather, God IS existence. God is “existence itself,” ipsum esse subsistens. God is actus purus.

So, while this being that am postulating has an incorruptible nature, a nature such that it sustains its own existence, it only has this nature contingently. It is only actuality per accidens. On the other hand, God is a nature such that he sustains his own existence and is that nature of logical necessity. God is actuality per se. Existence cannot be separated from God. But, it can be from the being that I am hypothesizing. So, although the being I am talking of has necessary existence, God could annihilate it by willing it so that existence is no longer apart of its NATURE. God must continually will that it have this nature. Hence, God is the Creator of this beings NATURE, not of its EXISTENCE.

Perhaps in your terms, this being does not derive its power to sustain itself from another extrinsically. Rather, it derives its power to sustain itself intrinsically, yet only accidentally; for its nature is derived extrinsically. God is not only the Creator of things that exist, he is also the Creator of nature and some of those things have existence as their nature.

With this in mind, we may take a look at your argument. Your first premise states

(1z) No created being has actuality essentially (by definition of creation ex nihilo).

But (for some, e.g., my interpretation of Aquinas) this is not the definition of being created ex nihilo. Creation ex nihilo is not just adding existence to some beings nature. Rather, creation ex nihilo is also creating a things nature. Some things’ natures are such that they need existence imparted to them extrinsically, while other things’ natures are not, their nature is such that existence is part of their nature, they sustain themselves. Thus, your first premise is false and so too then is your conclusion.

Did any of that make sense?

10: Posted By: Glove | February 24, 2006 02:36 PM

Did I mention that medieval theology makes my head hurt!!!

11: Posted By: Blake | February 24, 2006 03:58 PM

Glove. No, it doesn't make any sense.

First, I should not have said that you ignored what I said -- just overlooked it. So I don't attribute to you some bad intention -- heck, I'm just glad that you're willing to take up the discussion!

Second, the notion you are talking about, a created nature that has the nature of self-existence conferred upon it by being created to be self-sustaining is incoherent -- for the reasons already shown. There is no such thing as a nature that is created that is essentially self-sustaining since it depends for its exisence already on another.

Look at what you say -- creation ex nihilo is not merely the adding of existence to a nature, but the creation of a nature and everything else about what a person is that is. That is just what I claim is entailed in the logic of creatio ex nihilo. However, there could not be any being who is created that does not have to have existence, or being, or actuality imparted to it from another on the simple principal that nothing comes from nothing.

It seems to me that by bringing in the notion of a nature you have muddied the waters with concepts that simply confuse the issue altogether. Notice that none of my premises speak of a nature, but simply of actuality and imparting actuality (which is certainly what creation ex nihilo requires).

As for premise (1z), it merely asserts that the only being that has existence as part of what it is to be what it is, is God. It follows immediately from the notion of creation ex nihilo that the sole and only possible uncreated and self-existing being is God. Since it is given with the doctrine of creation ex nihilo that we depend on God for our existence, we cannot have the explanation of our existence in the mere fact that we are what we are -- for it is possible that we are not actual. Neither can our natures have the explanation of their existence in themselves because these natures too are created. Anything that is possibly not actual cannot have the explanation of its own existence within itself, which is what is required for self-sustaining power. Only God has Being or existence or actuality as part of his essence according to the tradition.

Talk of God annihilating a being that has necessary existence is simply not coherent. Look at it this way. You hypothesize that God creates a nature and then confers on that nature a power of self-sustaing existence. However, to confer self-sustaining existence on a nature is a contradiction in terms because then it follows that it is not self-existing because it necessarily depends upon another for its existence. The power to exist is derived from an extrinsic source and thus not a self-sustaining power but necessarily an "sustained by another" only kind of power. A created nature cannot have a property of self-sustaining power that the nature itself does not have because it doesn't have that property to confer it upon itself.

11: Posted By: Glove | February 24, 2006 04:06 PM


Re: supervenience. Have you read William Hasker's book _The Emergent Self_? What you present is basically his position. And, although I am unfamiliar with O'Connor's work(s), Hasker appeals to his writings several times. Particularly interesting is the following statement,

"Timothy O'Connor speculates in this regard that 'what is needed, perhaps, is an asymmetrical dependency-of-existence relation--most likely, this body (at the right stage of development) generating that mind. If this kind of baseline dependency relation is intelligible, the fact that these two entities should also interact in more specific ways over time does not seem to be a further mystery" (192; original quote from O'Connor in "Comments on Jaegwon Kim, 'Causality and Dualism'" a paper delivered at the University of Notre Dame, March 7, 1998).

However, in a footnote Hasker goes on to give the following that quote that O'Connor admits that "the idea of a natural emergence of a whole substance is perhaps a lot to accept." This seems to be quite an understatement. If property supervenience is controversial, how much more controversial would substance supervenience be; seems to me, a ton. There are just so many questions; question that are ultimately related to token and type identity questions.

What boggles my mind the most is the question of how something that is presumably simple (i.e., having no parts) like the mind can emerge from something that is complex (i.e., having parts). This seems, to me, to be a metaphysical impossibility. Further, since the mind supervenes on the body and the identity of the body is constantly changing, does this entail that the identity of the mind is constantly changing. That is, one motivating factor for accepting Cartesian dualism is that it allow for identity to be retained since the soul does not change with respect to it essential properties. However, with this idea of substance supervenience, the “soul” emerges from a substance that is constantly in a state of change with respect to it essential properties (the body just is its parts), and, thus, it seems that whatever supervenes on it would also be in a state of change. Thus, strict identity would be impossible on such a view. And this I take it would be bad news unworthy of Christianity; for Jesus has promised that “you will be in Paradise with me today,” not that “one of your ‘Parfitean’ ancestors will be in Paradise with one of my ‘Parfitean’ ancestors.” (Is “Parfitean” a word? If not, how do you reference Derek Parfit’s ideas?)

So it may not be that my comments were hasty and failed to consider the possibilities. Rather, it is that I don't fully understand the suggested possibility. I don't understand completely what Hasker, and apparently O'Connor, are even talking about. Of course, as Keith Yandell used to say to me, "I can say the words, but I do not know what they mean" (which I later discovered he took from Boso, Anselm's interlocutor in _Cur Deus Homo_, but Anselm probably got them from someone else). In our discussion over Hasker's proposal, even he was at a loss for words. But, this is a new idea. Time will tell whether it can withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, I have not had the time to devote much research or thinking to it at all. But, of course, if we pursue this much further, we will be way off topic. So, I suggest we save this for a different day.

12: Posted By: Blake | February 24, 2006 04:50 PM

Glove: Your discussion re: supervience of substances is the problem here since I come at the issue from a process perspective and therefore do not assume that substances either supervene, emerge or even exist. Rather, the properties that arise from the unity of physical processes are themselves processes though not reducible to to the underlying physical events on which they supervene. So The entire discussion of substances is irrelevant from my perspective.

To get a handle on what Hasker et al. are talking about, it is better to simply speak of the fact that in our conscious experience the data of experience have a unity and meaning that the mere data apart from our experience don't have. So what we do as agents is organize and unify the data of experience into meaningful patterns or categories and then utlize this data to regulate our behavior. So there are basic physical events (data if you will). The data or events interact with a neural system or physical network of information processing that has an ability or power to organize and unify the data into a coherent or unified experience. The fact that data gives rise to our experience means that there is upward causation. The fact that there is a unity in our experience that is not in the data means that something new has emerged in the act of experiencing the data. I take it that a sufficentily advanced neural system has the ability to process information in a way that gives rise to new levels of consciousness and unified awareness. This unified entity that arises from neural complexity interacting with the data of experience then have a power to interact with the data and to downwardly cause effects on the physical processes and events on which they supervene.

So if I get hit on the head and the neural network is interrupted, so is my consciousness; On the other hand, if I take a placebo, that belief consists in a pattern of information processing that causes my neural network to respond in downward causation to respond differently than if I didnt have the belief. So upward causation gives rise to the properties of mind. The mind constitutes a newly emergent level of processing of data that has the power of downward causation to cause events that are not detemined by the underlying neural data. Voila, libertarian free will!

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