Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Impossible Possibilities

Patrick of Orthonormal Basis (a quondam theist who now kibitzes from the sidelines), suggests that the recent discussion of the problem of evil [PE] in the Catholic blogosphere has been defective insofar as it has not taken seriously the possibility that God could have created a world in which moral agents always choose only the good, and their choices are always freely made. The claim is that, if God is truly omnibenevolent, and such a world is a possible one, then clearly God ought to have created such a world, because such a world is obviously better than one in which some agents choose evil over good, even if those choices are also freely made.

I've heard this argument before (it has sometimes been attributed to J. L. Mackie, but Mackie himself never articulated the argument in its full form or analyzed any of the objections to it), along with many others that rely on so-called "possible worlds" models, and I'm still baffled as to why anybody would take it seriously. It tries to draw a distinction along the following lines. Let [W1] and [W2] stand for two possible worlds as follows:
[W1] The actual world as we know it.

[W2] A world that is identical to this world, only all human choices are freely for the good.
The obvious (and simplistic) claim is that [W2] is a manifestly better world than [W1], in which some human choices are for evil rather than for good. The less obvious (because merely implicit), but more important claim, is that [W2] is a possible world.

Clearly, this sort of proposal addresses only my category (c) of possible evils, so as a general response to the Catholic critique of PE it is worthless, but it certainly raises an interesting question: regardless of what the logical difference is between [W1] and [W2], what possible ontological difference could there be? In short, even if we grant that [W2] is logically possible, do we have any reason to grant that it is possible simpliciter, i.e., could such a logically possible world ever be an actual world?

Obviously, from an ontological point of view, [W1] is identical to [W2]. There is no reason at all why all human beings in [W1] could not always and freely choose only the good. So the only difference between [W1] and [W2] is that in [W1] some human beings have, as a matter of historical fact, sometimes chosen other than the good, while in [W2]...well, [W2] doesn't actually exist, does it? So in [W2] nobody has ever chosen anything, either good or evil. So one difference between [W1] and [W2], perhaps, is this: in [W1] it is clear that the agents really are free, whereas in [W2] we have no reason to believe that the agents are really free, other than the fact that it is so stipulated by the objection. The objection is, of course, a purely logical one, namely, that there could be a world in which some people freely choose only the good, but to take the libertarian notion of freedom seriously we need to move beyond the realm of purely logical possibility and ask what the connection to reality is supposed to be in imagining a world of free agents who do not, as a matter of fact, exhibit any evidence of being free. According to our mythology, even the angels, far more perfect beings than we, are manifestly free since many of them fell with Satan. I have yet to hear a convincing story about what talk of "possible worlds" could possibly amount to in the "real world", but it is a favorite of philosophers so we'll just have to make do. It is supposed to be a convenient way to talk about possibilities without committing oneself to anything, but as a method of discussing how things really are and why--that is, as an avenue towards explaining the actual--it is basically useless. There is, after all, a possible world in which gravity has the opposite effect to the one we're used to, but thinking about such a world tells us nothing at all about this world, or why gravity works the way it does rather than the opposite way. And yet some people, even some philosophers, continue to think that talk of "possible worlds" can be a useful explanatory hermeneutic for this world.

In one sense, the world that God created already is [W2] rather than [W1]. When God created the heavens and the earth, he saw that it was good. Adam and Eve (so the mythology goes) lived for a while without choosing evil before the time at which they did, as a matter of history, choose evil. So for some finite length of time from creation until the fall it would have been true of this world that human agents were free and chose only the good, and the distinction between [W1] and [W2] would have seemed meaningless. It is really a matter of historical accident that we happen to be living at a time when the question can be raised at all, and yet, of course, it could have been the case that the fall hadn't happened yet, in which case this version of PE would have seemed absurd. So let's posit two more worlds, [W3] and [W4]:
[W3] A world identical to this world except for the fact that, so far, no human agent has ever chosen evil.

[W4] A world identical to [W3] except for the fact that on 1 January 2525, some human somewhere will freely choose evil rather than good.
Empirically, there is no difference--right now!--between [W2] and either [W3] or [W4], so if it weren't for the first sin we would have no way of knowing which of these (and infinitely many more) possible worlds we actually inhabit. But of course, we don't inhabit any of those worlds, we happen to inhabit [W1], and it is this fact that supposedly gives the atheist his purchase against the theist in PE. But it is precisely the logical character of this whole scenario that does the atheist in in the end.

It is obviously logically possible for there to be a world composed entirely of free beings who always choose good rather than evil. However, it does not follow from the fact that this is a logically possible world that God could actually cause such a world to exist. In order to be susceptible to the objection at issue here, any possible world under discussion will also have the property "created by God", since the objector is trying to establish that there is some sort of contradiction involved in a possible world that has both the property of having been created by God as well as the property of containing evil, or containing human agents who have, as a matter of historical fact, chosen evil rather than good. Now, it is essential to see that in spite of his omnipotence, there are certain logical constraints on what God can and cannot create. For example, although there is no logical contradiction involved in the concept of a being that is ontologically dependent on no other being, clearly God cannot create such a being, since the very fact of being a created being is a sufficient condition for not being a being that is not ontologically dependent on any other being. Indeed, God is the only being that is not ontologically dependent on any other being, and God did not create himself, and no other being created him, else he would not be such a being.

So the fact that a certain state of affairs is logically possible does not entail that an omnipotent being could bring about such a state of affairs. So let's return to the state of affairs described by [W2]. Ex hypothesi, it is an essential property of [W2] that it is "created by God". As in our own mythology, we may imagine this world starting off with human agents who freely choose only good. What then? Does God wait around, hoping for the best? Does he keep his fingers crossed, hoping against hope that Eve does not eat that fruit? This would, of course, be logically consistent with what actually did happen: in [W1] things began well and then went south as free beings exercised their freedom to choose evil rather than good.

In order for God to create [W2]--a world in which all the agents are free but in which it is necessarily the case that no free agent will ever choose evil--God would have to insure that the free beings in [W2] never use their freedom to choose evil rather than good. Since God's will cannot be resisted (this is entailed by omnipotence), if God were to insure that these free beings never choose evil it would follow by logical necessity that these beings are not, in fact, free to choose evil and, hence, they are not really free and, hence, their choices for the good are not free. It is here that the incoherence of the objection becomes apparent: the atheist asks us to imagine a world in which the agents are free in a libertarian sense and yet unable to do evil. But it is part of the libertarian conception of freedom that agents may choose to do evil as well as good. Hence, it is logically contradictory to suppose that God could have created free beings who inevitably did only good and never evil. So although a world in which all choices are freely for the good is a logical possibility in the sense that it does not contain any internal logical contradictions, it is impossible for such a world to be brought into existence in the order of time in such a way that all beings would perdure in goodness until the end of time, for being actualized in the way necessary for the objection to go through would be logically incompatible with the libertarian thesis that is part of the description of the world as required by the objection.

But this is only half the story, the half answering to the property of omnipotence. The other half of the objection relies on God's omniscience. Just as God is believed to be able to do any act that is able to be done, so too we may define God's omniscience this way:
[K] For any and every object of knowledge k, God knows k.
We define omniscience this way in order to avoid sophistic questions about whether God can know the unknowable, just as we defined omnipotence in such as way as to avoid sophistic questions about whether God can do the impossible.

So now imagine a story along the following lines (I am adapting an example from the book of my colleague, James Petrik, that I mentioned in an earlier post). You are planning a party at your house, and you are going to invite your colleague Joe, and you know that Joe has a very wicked temper. In fact, it is extremely likely that Joe will insult your other guests and make them extremely uncomfortable, because he just can't keep his tongue to himself, and he says things that are insulting and hurtful to other people almost as a matter of course. But you also know this: when Mary is around, Joe is a completely different person. He admires Mary very much, and when she is around he behaves himself perfectly. So you invite Mary to the party as well, knowing that her presence will be like balm to Joe, and you see to it that she is seated next to Joe at dinner. Now as far as epistemic agency goes, you are very limited, and yet we can imagine a scenario like this working quite well: even with your limited knowledge you can bring off a fairly successful dinner party just by inviting the right people, and in doing so you can bring about a better state of affairs than otherwise would have obtained, and you have done so without interfering with either Joe's or Mary's moral freedom. If you, in your limited knowledge, can bring about a better state of affairs in this way, why cannot God, with unlimited knowledge, bring about a better state of affairs for all human agents, by arranging the denouement of our worldly affairs in such a way that we are influenced always to choose the good, just as Joe was subtly influenced to act better just because Mary was there?

This half of the objection turns on what God could have known, and when he could have known it. For you, planning a dinner party, it is possible that your success in bringing about a better state of affairs than would otherwise have obtained depends upon your knowing things that can only be known empirically, that is, you know Joe fairly well because some of his behaviors are habitual and you have observed them over time or heard reports from others about them. The fact that some of Joe's behaviors re habitual need not be construed as compromising his moral freedom: I think, in fact, that there are plenty of versions of virtue ethics out there that construe virtue as a matter of habit and that are also fully compatible with libertarianism. God, of course, is said to be omniscient in the sense defined above and so we must wonder: could he, at least in principle, know how people will behave prior to their actually behaving in a certain way, if we assume that the behaviors follow from the free choice of the will?

In one sense it is clearly possible to know contingent matter of fact before they obtain, provided one employs the proper method of hypothetical reasoning about a deterministic system. For example, every highly skilled pool player has reliable knowledge of the future that can be schematized in the following way:
If I strike the cue ball in such-and-such a way, then the striped balls will necessarily come to rest here, here, and here.
The reliability of the player's knowledge, of course, requires that the system be deterministic. If we introduce genuine randomness into the picture, then the reliability of the knowledge disappears. Suppose, for example, that we are playing with a cue ball that is of such a character as to be liable to explode at a random time. I strike the cue ball thinking to sink the 15 ball in the corner pocket; I am a highly skilled player, so necessarily the 15 ball will go into that pocket--provided the cue ball actually reaches the 15 ball. But prior to striking the 15 ball the cue ball explodes and the 15 ball remains in its place. There is one sense in which I could have been said to "know" that the 15 ball would wind up in the corner pocket--it would have come to rest there if the cue ball had struck it with the proper velocity, at the correct angle, with the correct English, etc. But the cue ball ceased to exist in a way that could not be foreknown since it was a random, i.e., uncaused, event, and so there is another sense in which I did not, in fact, "know" that the 15 ball would wind up in the corner pocket, since it is impossible to know what is not in fact the case.

Human agency, according to the libertarian, is completely free, and in order for this to have any meaning at all it must mean that human agency is uncaused. It is not enough to stipulate that human agency be random in some sense, because we can imagine random human behavior that is still caused by something external to the agent and, hence, not really free. For example, imagine a device that can be hooked up to a human brain, and this device determines our choices for us, but it does so by means of generating random numbers. If the random number is even, we take one course of action, if the number is odd we take a different course of action. This means that our behavior will be erratic, even indeterministic, but it does not mean that we are free, since our choices are still due to something external to us. So in order for moral freedom to mean anything at all it must mean that our free choices are (at least in principle) uncaused. If they are uncaused, then they cannot be objects of knowledge prior to their actual occurrence in time, hence not even an omniscient being could know them prior to their actual occurrence in time, hence an omniscient being could not "set things up" in such a way as to anticipate and subtly influence such free choices.

Returning to our dinner party for a moment, suppose you say to yourself, "I'm not all that sure Joe will even come to this party, but I'll invite Mary anyway, just in case he does come." In short, we can hedge our bets: we can admit that we don't really know for sure what's going to happen, but we can set things up in such a way that if things went in a direction that might go wrong, we've got the system set up in such a way as to minimize the net evil effect. So why can't God do this? Maybe he can't know what a genuinely uncaused free choice will be, but he can still set things up in a certain way "just in case". But as soon as it is admitted that God is doing what Einstein said he doesn't do--playing dice--the objection fails, since to admit this much is to admit that God cannot set things up in such a way that there will necessarily be no evil, any more than the skilled pool player can leave himself a fine succeeding shot as a matter of absolute logical necessity when there is an unknowable but greater than zero chance that the cue ball will explode during a shot. Hence, if any possible world should manifest evil in my category (c), it cannot be the case that God could have foreseen and prevented such evil if the agent who made the choice for evil was genuinely free in a libertarian sense.

This is the death knell for the logical version of the Problem of Evil, but it is worth noting that most atheists have already abandoned this sort of approach and rely instead on what can be called the Probabilistic Problem of Evil [PPE] which differs from [PE] insofar as it does not claim that the Christian conception of God is logically incompatible with the existence of evil, but rather PPE claims only that the existence of evil makes it less likely that God exists. Radical defenders of PPE hold that the evils of this world are such as to make the existence of God highly unlikely. It is worth noting that the defenders of PPE do not recognize evil of category (c) as being anywhere near as troubling as the Christian thinks it to be. Instead they are principally worried about the problem of physical suffering, which I have already indicated is simply an instance of the naturalist fallacy. It is tempting to write specifically against PPE, but since I just cannot motivate myself to take PPE very seriously given the abysmally naive picture of evil it employs, I will rest my case with this post.


Dan said...

It always cracks me up when I hear talk of the probability that God exists. To admit that the chances of God existing are greater than zero is to have admitted that atheism is just as faith-based as theism. Of course, the atheist will play this down and sometimes talk about, "more and less justified" kinds of faith, but none of it makes sense.

Another thing that comes to mind when speaking of the probability of God's existence is Pascal's wager. Even if you think there is only a tiny chance of God's existence, why wouldn't you live the life of believer? (Especially since most atheists like to go on and on about how they live such wonderful, humane lives without needing religion--what have they got to lose?) One reason that this kind of reasoning doesn't work is that "less likely to exist" is just a substitute for the old "definitely doesn't exist." It is intended to evoke the same meaning and treated as though it were just as conclusive. I'm glad that some of us know better.

Apollodorus said...

Sorry, Dan, but as someone who has a tremendously difficult time believing in God, I can tell you for sure that "less likely to exist" is not a substitute for "definitely doesn't exist." You claim that "to admit that the chances of God existing are greater than zero is to have admitted that atheism is just as faith-based as theism." That is just plain wrong. If the existence of God is possible but unlikely, then believing in God takes more faith than not believing. Atheism could only be 'just as faith based' if the possibilities were dead even. If you mean to say that full-blown atheism entails a commitment that transcends anybody's ability to give a rational demonstration of its truth, then you're right -- but the same can be said of almost any commitment that anybody could find worth making. If 'faith' is to mean nothing more than 'conviction of something that cannot be definitely proven,' then Christian faith is going to look like one not especially likely sort of conviction among many. If, on the other hand, faith is a response of loving trust to the experience of God's grace, then it will no longer seem to be simply a blind, self-serving leap we take over the ground that reason can't cover. To treat faith merely as evidence-transcending conviction is already to look at it from a perspective outside of faith. It seems essential to avoid that mistake, especially if we want to believe in the Christian God, who is a whole lot more than the creator and sustainer of everything there is.

Dan said...

Apollodorus, I like what you've got to say. I agree that faith is much more than, "conviction of something that cannot be definitely proven." But perhaps I can better illustrate why I believe that talk of God's existence in terms of probabilities is nonsense.

As you said, "If you mean to say that full-blown atheism entails a commitment that transcends anybody's ability to give a rational demonstration of its truth, then you're right -- but the same can be said of almost any commitment that anybody could find worth making."

One such commitment that many have found worth making is naturalism--used here to mean a system of thought that is reductive, deterministic, and, in many cases, driven by statistics and probabilities. To talk about God's existence in terms of probabilities is to put your "faith" of the probable prior to your faith in God. It makes about as much sense as going out and physically looking around town for God. To believe that you can come closer to God in either of these two ways is to already have written faith proper completely out of the picture. To believe in God because it is more probable, or to disbelieve because it is less probable shows faith only in our probabilities (along with whatever assumptions we've exercised in constructing them) and says nothing of God's existence (or lack thereof).

Obviously my faith doesn't begin and end here, and I agree with the rest of what you've said.

Apollodorus said...

As somebody with little or no faith, I'm struggling to figure out precisely how one ought to understand the relationship between faith and reason. As a purely descriptive matter, it seems ludicrous to suppose that religious belief of any kind comes from a neutral, objective, 'scientific' analysis of empirical reality (even if we believe that such an analysis is possible). Nobody, whether Christian or Buddhist or New Age Mix-it-Up Spiritualist, believes on the basis of some argument or set of arguments. Rather, they believe because, for more reasons than even they can explain, they put their trust in the message and try to follow it out in their lives. Anybody who believes in God simply because they concluded that sophisticated mathematical analyses of probability make God's existence more probable than improbable does not believe in the way that a religious believer believes.

The trouble for me is that the believer can't stop there. The reasons of the heart take people along every path. The sheer diversity of weird religious views that people adopt for those reasons should be enough to show that they alone aren't reliable. What the believer needs then is some sort of rational support for his beliefs that does not presuppose their truth. At the very least, it should be possible to defend those beliefs against charges of incoherence or impossibility. Yet it should also be possible to show that the beliefs make good sense in light of everything else we know about the world. Otherwise the Christian theist and the crazy lady who believes that crystal rocks possess psychic powers will be in the same epistemic boat.

In this context, talking about the probability or likelihood of God's existence is not entirely out of place. I would agree that the attempt to construct quantifiable 'probabilities' is not worth much. In a looser sense, though, it seems to me that the rationality of any form of theistic belief diminishes to the extent that arguments show the existence of God to be improbable or unlikely. Especially because the non-rational basis of theistic belief shares so many features with beliefs that, from a theistic perspective, must be mistaken, failure to show that the existence of God makes good sense given everything else we know about the world should lead theists to suspect that their faith has led them astray. To confront these questions is not to 'put your faith in the probable before your faith in God'; it is simply to recognize that your belief, if it is true, should withstand the test of good rational argument.

Patrick said...

First off, sorry for the faux pas of linking to and criticizing your post before I'd introduced myself; I'd only previously encountered your site through Darwin.
I'm afraid I don't have the wherewithal at this time to give such a post the reply it deserves. I just want to note a few things for now:

while in [W2]...well, [W2] doesn't actually exist, does it? So in [W2] nobody has ever chosen anything, either good or evil.

Pardon me if I'm misinterpreting you here, but criticizing [W2] simply on the basis of it being a hypothetical hardly helps one show its incoherence.

And as far as doubting the free will of denizens of [W2], do you believe that Mary had free will and remained sinless- and that she was created with precisely that destiny? How, then, is it impossible for each of us to have been so created?

I have yet to hear a convincing story about what talk of "possible worlds" could possibly amount to in the "real world", but it is a favorite of philosophers so we'll just have to make do.

In general philosophical contexts it may or may not be useful, but I think that its use in the Problem of Evil is entirely valid- for if we assume an omnipotent, omniscient God, then He chose to create this universe rather than any other possible one- so we can ask how that choice coheres with His goodness. It's quite the same as an analysis of a person's moral choice that happened in the past: we can quite licitly bring into the discussion any alternatives that person had at the time, without worrying because these actions were never really taken.

I have more issues than this; I hope to get to them in time.

Scott Carson said...


You're right, of course, that rejecting [W2] is somewhat idiosyncratic of me, but you'll notice that my argument doesn't actually rest on that.

All I was really doing is expressing a general distaste for so-called "possible worlds" explanations which, as far as I'm concerned, don't actually explain anything but contribute instead to the general climate of mental masturbation that seems to dominate certain discussions.

I feel the same way about "Twin Earth" thought experiments.

Call me crazy.

I look forward to your further thoughts on the PE issue!

Leslie Carbone said...

I don't believe that God's primary concern is benevolence. I believe that God's primary concern is His own glory. Evil happens because God believes that it ultimately furthers his glory. (Don't ask me how.) Viewed this way, the problem of evil is no problem at all.

Scott Carson said...


That's an interesting idea, and of course one could point to Our Lord's words when asked "whose fault" a particular malady is--he notes that it was not because of some particular sin but that God might be glorified--but in the end it won't really work as a solution to the problem of evil as traditionally stated, since there is no provision in the argument for God being "omniglorious" or something like that (i.e., being glorified is not one of his necessary attributes). The problem only arises because of the nature of the attributes traditionally assigned (omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and omniscience).

Another problem with this sort of approach, I think, it that it tends to have the effect of portraying God as a utilitarian: he will permit some suffering so that he might make some greater good come out of it, for whatever reason. It seems unlikely that the best solution to this alleged problem is that "God can bring great good even out of great evil" or something along those lines, especially if the greater good that is supposed to come about is the glorification of God. Theists have enough trouble without suggesting that God allows people to suffer so that he might get some glory out of it.

So in the end I agree with you that the Problem of Evil is not really a problem at all, but for different reasons than you suggest.

JP Benjamin said...

Dr. Carson,
I like your blog.
Question. Do you really mean to say that a free agent's actions are "uncaused"? I would say that a free agent's choices are caused by nothing other than the free agent.

If I ask, "why is this rock here?" our understanding of the universe demands that there be a deterministic answer, e.g. it fell from that mountaintop because it was disturbed by an earthquake, the earthquake happened because blah blah blah (continuing chain of causation back to the initial moment of creation.)
However, further questions of the form, "why is this rock here rather than there, of course don't necessarily have a real answer.

Then I notice that whenever we would like to invoke free will, it is always to answer this same sort of "why this" as opposed to the alternative(s).
I think that there must be a deterministic chain that accounts for each of our actions, and yet that the further question of "why this action as opposed to that other action", for which we never would expect a deterministic answer anyways, can indeed be answered by "free will".

So how does this "actually work"? Well, I don't know. But I will give a logically coherent model in order to demonstrate that the theory is sound.

To posit "free will" we must imagine that it is somehow "outside" of physical reality - in that it obeys its owner rather than any physical laws - but also that in some way or other it has an effect on physical reality.
My above position requires that this physical effect does not disturb the (apparently) deterministic unfolding of the universe. So, very simply, rather than imagining that a free will's intervention alters a given physical state of the universe and then allows the effects of this modification to flow merely forward in time, instead I imagine that free will's effect flows in both temporal directions.

If we picture the interlocking chains of cause and effect that thread through the history of creation as literal chains heaped before us on a table, then free will is like a hand reaching in and lifting at some point in the jumble, leaving the chain intact yet moved on both sides of the point of contact,
rather than a hacksaw that breaks a chain in order to keep it totally unmoved on one side of the break.

Again, this is just a model to demonstrate that there is no logical contradiction between apparent physical determinism and free will, necessary because there is a mightily deceptive apparent contradiction.

Scott Carson said...


Thanks for your comment, and for your kind words.

The position you are outlining--with acts of the will somehow "outside of physical reality"--is just a fancy way of saying that acts of the will are uncaused.

What puzzles me about your approach is its assumption that determinism is globally true inside of "physical reality", a view that is at odds with our best physical science. You say that "our understanding of the universe demands that there be a deterministic answer" to questions such as "why is this rock here", but that is only locally true, that is, the assumption that our understanding of the universe "demands" a deterministic answer to such questions only holds true in certain frames of reference. It is well known that in Quantum Mechanics there are certain kinds of cases where no such answers are available even in principle, not because of any "hidden variables" but because the systems are fundamentally indeterministic.

I don't see why, offhand, we may not assume that acts of the will are within "physical reality" but also fully indeterministic. Any other solution violates free will, and there is certainly no a priori reason why it would be more reasonable to assume global determinism than to assume a merely local determinism.

JP Benjamin said...

Okay, I'm not convinced about the "just a fancy way of saying 'uncaused.'" Like Patrick, I feel that the claim that anything in creation could be uncaused just sounds strange.

But you are right about the other thing. My use of the word deterministic was very, very sloppy, and not really what I meant at all.

The fact that there is a non-zero probability of a given particle being found at any given point in the universe does NOT mean that the particle's location is uncaused. It just means that the cause, as far as we can understand the cause, is not wholly determinative of the result. Furthermore, from what I can tell, it is far from clear that this is not due to "unknown variables".
The lack of determination has a very precise limit. Its been a while since I have studied this but its something like (size of range of possible velocities) x (size of range of possible locations) = (some value involving Planck's constant, but it is rather small)

I'm assuming your general position is that uncertainty at the level of quantum mechanics makes room for the possibility of a free agent who does not violate the laws of physics.

My problem is that I am not at all convinced that this wiggle room is anywhere close to what is needed for free actions-and this is why I usually just ignore quantum mechanics when thinking about this topic. It does not seem to me that the brain's decision procedure takes place at a level minute enough to allow for a routine exhibition of the sort of indeterminacy we find at the planck scale.

I could turn out to be wrong about that. But I am thinking about it just in case I am right!

I have other problems with this post. (I usually agree with you though! That's why I don't usually comment.) However, I'll keep it short because I think you will see my point without extensive argumentation.
To answer Patrick's suggestion I do not think we need any sort of unforeseeability of free actions (which I think is incorrect anyway. But no need to get into that.)
First, he is clearly not suggesting that God create free beings, and then destroy those who do not choose good. This would make it impossible for created free agents to choose evil and therefore they wouldn't actually be free.
But his suggestion is logically incoherent at a more radical level.
For God to foresee a free action presupposes - not merely temporally but logically - that the agent of that free action be created. Patrick, by claiming that God could not create any creature that would choose evil, is therefore claiming that God could create without creating. This is clearly incoherent and therefore does not allow application of the rule "for all x, God can x."

Scott Carson said...


Regarding "hidden variables" proofs--

The work of John Bell over 40 years ago now proved beyond any question that hidden variables proofs are absolutely impossible in Quantum Mechanics unless one gives up either locality or global determinism. Locality is experimentally confirmed; determinism is not (at least not in any non-question-begging way); our best physics not only assumes, but requires, that locality be globally true; there is no need whatsoever in physics for determinism to be globally true. So I can see no reason to assume that determinism is globally true and every reason to assume that it is, at best, only locally true.

Hence, there is no reason to assume that it is true in the case of acts of the will.

On the question of causation, I think you're using the word "cause" in an extremely sententious way. If acts of the will are caused, then they are either caused by something external to myself, or they are caused by something internal to myself. If they are caused by something external to myself, then there is no such thing as free will. If they are caused by something internal to myself, then whatever it is that causes them is either itself caused or uncaused. If it is caused, then it is either caused by something external to myself or it is caused by something internal to myself. If it is caused by something external to myself then there is no such thing as free will. If it is caused by something internal to myself, then whatever it is that causes it is itself either caused or uncaused, etc.

But there is no need to see causation the way you do, as far as I am concerned. Since there is no scientific reason to assume that every event has a cause in your sense, and no philosophical reason either, I see no reason why I must admit that every act of the will is caused, at least in your sense of the word "cause".

Anonymous said...

Excuse my bevity and spelling. I have read you post more than once attmpting to penetrate it .

I've been wondering.

1. If my will is an uncaused cause, am I God?

2. how can God make prophesies? At best they are good guesses as to what will happen. From the moment Adam said "no" the possibility of a universe existed where everyone said "no". God could not truely promise he would deliver us, only that he would try. Not only could His omnipotence not deliver us but His omniscience could not assure us anyone would be saved.


Scott Carson said...


In answer to your questions:

(1) No, since acts of the will are not substances, they are events. I suppose if you want to claim that events are substantial entities then you might get yourself into that sort of a fix, but that just strikes me as a reason not to adopt any system of metaphysics in which events are substantial entities.

(2) The way you have it phrased here, I'm not sure what this question means. If you're asking, how can God "know" the future (in the sense of "knowing" who will be saved and who will be lost), then the answer is actually rather straightforward: he doesn't actually "know" the future in the sense in which people typically use the word "know". A disambiguation is needed here of the various senses of the word "know". On the one hand, the "future", at least as we understand it, does not actually exist, and since knowledge is always of what "is", and the future, at least as we understand it, is not, there can be no "knowledge" of the future anyway, at least not in any straightforward sense.

So whatever the relation is between what "will" happen and what God can be said to, well, "be aware of", we can say that it is not a knowledge relation.

The difficulty, at least in terms of what we are able to understand, is further complicated by the asymmetry between the temporal and the atemporal. I put "will" and "is" and "future" in quotation marks above because, quite frankly, I don't think anybody can make any sense out of the intersection of the temporal and the atemporal that is the Incarnation. It is a mystery of our faith that God is both eternal and temporal, but to say that one accepts that as a matter of faith is not to say that one has the apparatus available for making such a claim rationally comprehensible.

At any rate, to say that God has certain knowledge of the future commits one to all sorts of nasty consequences, including a form of predestination of the heretical Calvinistic variety. If you're going to commit yourself to something, better to commit yourself to a perplexity that is at least consistent with orthodoxy than to a certainty that is heretical.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to commit yourself to something, better to commit yourself to a perplexity that is at least consistent with orthodoxy than to a certainty that is heretical.

Ok, foregoing other burning questions in my mind; I am aware of the orthodox truths of the Elect, Predestination and theories like Molinism and Thomistism (sorry, no spell check on my phone) . and I understand much of the intersection of free will and Predestination is shrouded in Mystery, yet the only way I can reconcile free will as you describe and the Elect and Predestination is to be carefully vauge about who is Elected and Predestined. Yet that seems to make the terms so vauge as to be pointless.

My dim understanding of the Molinist/Thomist arguements is that even these orthodox thinkers believe that each of us, before we were born were chosen ...or not. But before we were born we were at best potentialities, by no means inevitable neither could our decisions to be counted upon to be with God rather than against thus the Elect could be chosen only after death not before birth. (Before you were in your womb I knew you...) and the Predestined only the Pre-intended.

I feel sure that much of my difficulty in understanding lies in growing up in a mostly Protestant culture. i've had other times of suddenly discovering what I always thought I knew was a Protstant idea absorbed in my Catholic schooling.

While I wait I'l go back and re-read the Pontificator's post on Predestination.