A Simple, Confessional Argument Once Again

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“Friends are as companions on a journey, who ought to aid each other to persevere in the road to a happier life.” ― Pythagoras

My friend Matthew Luis Delgado has recently criticized my simple, confessional argument against classical theism. This post is my response to his criticism(s). Once again, I want to stress that I am extremely grateful to Matthew for his time, energy, friendship and engagement. I deeply value and appreciate Matthew’s insights and, more importantly, Matthew himself. Finally, I wish to remind everyone of the tone of my original post (a confessional one, not one that proclaims to have decisively demonstrated something).

So, recall the argument:

  1. If classical theism is true, then for any x, if x is not God, x is created by God.
  2. If classical theism is true, then God is free to create or not create.
  3. If (i) God is free to create or not create, and (ii) for any x, if x is not God, x is created by God, then for any x, if x is not God, x is contingent (i.e. can be absent from reality).
  4. So, if classical theism is true, then for any x, if x is not God, x is contingent. [1-3]
  5. There is some x such that x is not God and x is not contingent.
  6. So, classical theism is false. [4, 5]

Now, Matthew’s first difficulty for the argument concerns the definition of ‘contingent’ at play:

“But this, I would argue, is an erroneous definition of “contingency”. To be dependent on something else besides itself as a reason/cause for its being real doesn’t imply that it is contingent. A necessary being can still be dependent on something else for its reality. Furthermore, I would say that x, if x is not God, is still dependent on God even if x cannot be absent from reality/necessary. In other words, there can be created necessities, and hence an object’s contingency/ability to be absent from reality doesn’t follow from (ii) of premise 3.”

What to make of this?

First, I don’t think my definition is erroneous. We can even treat my definition as stipulative. Let’s introduce some clarity by way of the following definitions:

(1) x is contingent* iff x can fail to exist (i.e. possibly x is not in reality). [Correspondingly, x is necessary* iff x cannot fail to exist.]

(2) x is contingent iff x is dependent on another for its existence. [Correspondingly, x is necessary iff x is not dependent on another for its existence.]

With this in mind, the argument can be understood as:

  1. If classical theism is true, then for any x, if x is not God, x is created by God.
  2. If classical theism is true, then God is free to create or not create.
  3. If (i) God is free to create or not create, and (ii) for any x, if x is not God, x is created by God, then for any x, if x is not God, x is contingent*.
  4. So, if classical theism is true, then for any x, if x is not God, x is contingent*. [1-3]
  5. There is some x such that x is not God and x is not contingent*.
  6. So, classical theism is false. [4, 5]

Second, this argument doesn’t presuppose that it is impossible simpliciter that there be necessary* dependent things. Rather, the argument states that if CT is true, then there cannot be necessary* dependent (non-God) things. This brings me to the final point in response to Matthew.

Matthew writes: “Third, I would say that x, if x is not God, is still dependent on God even if x cannot be absent from reality/necessary.”

With due love and admiration for my friend Matthew, this is not correct. CT–at least as traditionally understood and as articulated by many contemporary thinkers like Grant, Bergmann, Brower, and the gang–is explicit that God is the only necessary* thing. Anything that is not God is such that it is freely created by God, meaning it was entirely within God’s power to cause or not cause such things to exist. Hence, it was entirely within God’s power not to bring into existence anything apart from God. And since there being anything apart from God presupposes God’s bringing it into being, it simply follows that, possibly, there are no non-God things. And from this it clearly follows that there are no non-God necessary* things.

For suppose there could be non-God necessary* things. Then, since any non-God thing requires God to create it, it would follow that God creates in every possible world. But that’s incompatible with divine freedom as understood in the CT tradition. The CT tradition is explicit that God could have not created anything. As eminent CT philosopher Dr. Tim Pawl puts it, CT strictly entails the possibility that “there is a world in which God, and only God, exists” (Pawl, 2012). And this entails that there cannot be any non-God necessary* things.

I conclude, then, that my confessional argument retains its personal force and clarity to my mind.

Let’s turn to Matthew’s second line of critique.

I want to begin by saying that Aquinas’s notion of necessity (henceforth, ‘necessity(a)’) is very different from what I’ve been calling necessity*. As Tim Pawl underscores,

“When Aquinas calls something ‘necessary,’ he means that it is not subject to generation or corruption. A necessary[(a)] being exists, but it does not come into existence by composition, and it cannot cease existing by way of decomposition. Similarly, a possible being, in this context, exists, but it does or could have come into existence by way of composition, and it can cease to exist by way of decomposition” (2011, p. 14).

For Aquinas, then, clearly there could be necessary(a) things that are caused by God, since God can cause things that are everlasting in the sense of not coming into or going out of being. But this is a far cry from God creating necessary* things. Indeed, Aquinas rejects that God could create necessary* things, since for Aquinas (and for every CTist) God could have not created, and hence could have existed without any non-God thing whatsoever.

And from this we can see why Matthew’s claim later in the blog post is (by my lights) misguided:

“Schmid’s claim, for instance that “[t]he number 2, if it exists, wouldn’t simply exist on Mondays (say) but not on Tuesdays; it wouldn’t just happen to exist. It would necessarily exist”, doesn’t necessarily prove his point. He still has to argue for the idea that number 2 (and others that are similar to it) have to exist, and hence necessary, without any dependence upon other condition(s).”

Au contraire — as I hope to have shown in my previous paragraphs, I do not need to show that it exists without any dependence on something ad extra. This is because CT strictly entails that there cannot be any non-God necessary* beings regardless of their dependent status. All the argument needs is at least one x such that x is a non-God necessary* thing, because this is explicitly denied by CT. Matthew’s criticism here, then, is misguided.

Finally, Matthew takes issue with my ‘assumed form of realism’. He writes:

“The realism he seems to assume in the argument seems to be a kind of realism that says numbers and the like can be properly called objects that absolutely necessarily exist.”

On the contrary, my argument only requires that numbers and the like have some positive ontological status or other. Grant (2019), Rogers (1996), and co. are emphatic that, under CT, anything with positive ontological status that is not God requires God to create it.

Matthew continues:

“It seems to me that it’s a kind of realism that is similar with, if not entirely identical to, Platonic realism.”

This is, by my lights, another misunderstanding. Consider what I write in the comments of my the post. One reader named Johannes commented the following criticism:

“Referring more generally to formal systems, which comprise axioms, elements such as numbers and operators, God knows from eternity all self-consistent formal systems, but that does not give those formal systems any kind of real existence. The rules and elements of complex numbers or of Euclidean geometry do not really exist in a world of pure forms, but only in intellects. Asumming [sic] that formal systems really exist (where? floating in a world of pure forms?) amounts to asumming [sic] hard Platonism, which is incompatible with classical theism. No wonder you “proved” classical theism false.”

In response, I wrote:

“[Quoting Johnannes:] ‘God knows from eternity all self-consistent formal systems, but that does not give those formal systems any kind of real existence.’

God can only know something if it exists to be known. If something doesn’t exist — if it is precisely nothing, utter non-being — then it cannot be anything, let alone be the object of God’s knowledge or awareness. All I mean by ‘exist’ is that they have some reality/being/existence or another. The ‘manner’, ‘way’, or ‘mode’ of their existence is irrelevant to my argument. Hence, even if they only exist in intellects, my argument only requires that they exist.

[Quoting Johannes:] ‘The rules and elements of complex numbers or of Euclidean geometry do not really exist in a world of pure forms, but only in intellects.’

My argument doesn’t require or presuppose that they exist in a world of pure forms. My argument is perfectly compatible with them existing in intellects. You have simply misunderstood my argument.

For according to classical theism, anything with positive ontological status that is not identical with God is created, freely, by God. This is explicit within the CT tradition and is documented extensively in chapter one of Grant (2019). Hence, so long as the abstracta (i) have some positive ontological status, and (ii) are not identical with God, it follows that they are created by God, contingent, and extrinsic to God (i.e. not located in his intellect).

So, I am not assuming Platonism or anything of this sort. Let theistic conceptualism be true. Then, so long as God is not identical to the existing abstracta (even if the manner of their existence is an intellective one), it follows that there is something within/intrinsic to God that is not God. And that is flatly denied by divine simplicity. (Since whatever is not God is created by God, it follows that something that is not God couldn’t be within or intrinsic to God, since then a part of creation would be within God. Moreover, it would entail there is potency in God, since anything God creates is contingent and hence has potency for non-being.)

Hence, the argument (by my lights) survives your misunderstandings unscathed.”

As can be gleaned from my response above, Matthew’s later points about abstractions from concrete objects versus objects themselves are likewise misunderstandings of the argument. Thus, when Matthew writes “Anyhow, the point is that, even if Schmid is right (and I think he is) in assuming realism about numbers and other abstract stuffs, his assumption about what exactly are these stuffs is wrong“, it is actually Matthew whose assumption about my argument is wrong.[Fn]

[Fn] Matthew also quotes Kerr who says that abstract objects are “intelligible features of substances”. That’s all fine and good, but it won’t work when it comes to the God of CT, since God is utterly identical with any and all of his features. There is no feature of God’s that is not identical with God himself. Hence, again this doesn’t address my argument concerning non-God necessary* things.

Matthew summarizes his criticisms as follows:

“To summarize: from the perspective of the Classical Theist (or, at least, specifically the Thomist), then, premises 3 and 4 are false, since (ii) of the third premise has an erroneous definition of “contingency”, which means that not all created things are contingent. Another error is Schmid’s assumption about the nature of abstracta. We cannot talk about abstracta in exactly the same way we talk about the objects around us, which is exactly what he does in premise 5. Strictly speaking, there is no x such that x refers to necessary abstracta apart from God, as Schmid seems to be saying, because an abstracta isn’t a substance at all, but only a mere feature of a substance(s). There’s no issue, then, in saying that God doesn’t cause necessary abstracta, at least roughly speaking, because abstracta isn’t a thing that God imparts esse upon. God only imparts esse to the things we abstract from.”

As I hope to have shown in this post, it is false that I have used an erroneous definition of contingency, and it is false that I made an erroneous assumption about the nature of abstracta. I conclude, then, that my simple, confessional argument retains (indeed, perhaps increases) its force and clarity. To my mind, that is. 😉

Thank you, Matthew, for your kind and gracious critiques. I would certainly give you a fist bump. (After which we should both wash our hands so as to prevent the spread of Covid!)

Author: Joe Schmid

Email: MajestyOfReason@gmail.com

9 Comments

  1. Would this be another way to formulate your argument Joe:
    1. CT asserts that God is the only X that could exist in all possible worlds
    2. There are X’s that are not God which exist in all possible worlds (necessary abstracta)
    3. Therefore, classical theism is false.

    • Absolutely! You do a good job simplifying and precisifying the argument. 🙂 <3

      • I would question the first premise, which is that CT claims that only God can exist in all possible worlds. I do think this is the case for Thomistic CT.

        But, if we consider Islamic CT, I am uncertain if this is the case. For example, I think most people would consider thinkers like Avicenna, Averroes and Mulla Sadra as part of the CT tradition. All of them believed in the eternity of the world, which makes me assume that they believed that God had to create the world in all possible worlds (although I am unsure of this). Additionally, I recently read this article which states that “according to the philosophical school of Mullā Ṣadrā, the Noetic Realm is the first “external” creation of Allah and from it everything else is created”. It seems like according to Islamic philosophy, God had to have created the noetic realm/the First Emanation, in all possible worlds.

        https://www.iqraonline.net/an-in-depth-study-of-the-noetic-realm/

        In any case, I do not feel like it would be too troubling for a Thomist to make an exception for abstracta, and say that all ‘real’ beings besides God cannot exist in all possible worlds, however abstractions which only exist in intellects can exist in all possible worlds.

        • If the CTist goes this route, then they’ve simply denied a core tenet of CT, namely that anything with positive ontological status that is not God is such that it is freely created by God. I highly suggest reading chapter 1 of Grant (2019) wherein he shows that this is explicit in the CT tradition and among its core commitments.

  2. I glanced through chapter one, but couldn’t find the part where Grant mentions something like “God is the only X (where X is anything that has positive ontological status, which includes abstracta) in all possible worlds” as a core tenet of CT. Would you be able to quote the passage you are referring to? Maybe it is in a footnote I might have missed?

    Even if Grant did mention that, I have already named key recognized medieval CTist thinkers who would contradict what Grant says.

  3. I don’t think the thomist or CT will support divine conceptualism; I think they will support some form of mentalism like Aquinas and Augustine did. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/god-necessary-being/

    • Thanks!

      I think that’s their best way out. Speaking personally, though, it’s well-nigh impossible for me to think that the number two in itself is or could be identical to the number five, or the universal ‘redness’, or the principle of non-contradiction, or the essence of ‘felinity’. The typical arguments for realism, it seems equally support realism w.r.t. numerically distinct abstract objects (by ‘abstract’, I of course don’t mean to automatically assume a Platonic account thereof).

      Thanks again for your comment <3

      • Could you expand how you can have multiple abstracta in your view? From what I understand, as a follower of Spinoza, don’t you assert there is one necessary simple substance namely God/nature. If that is the case how can you have multiple different abstracta? You seem to have thought a lot about abstracta; would you mind expanding you thoughts about here or in a video in the future? Or more simply, what account of abstracta do you follow if you do not follow Platonic realism?
        Thanks again for your reply!

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