An Avicennian aporia


1.) Before it was created, the universe was possible.

2.) The possibility of the universe was either intrinsic to the Creator or not.

3a.) If intrinsic, then the uncreated (i.e. some intrinsic divine feature) is created.

3b.) If not intrinsic, then a created thing (i.e. something other than the Creator) is not created.

Both are impossible, and therefore before the universe was created it was impossible, which is a contradiction.


A thing is possible before it exists only so far as we assume a previous time, since where there is no later time for X to exist X is not possible, just as it is impossible to win a race after it is over. And so (1) would only be an appropriate description of the universe if the universe arose from some previous time, which no account of creation assumes and which is contrary to the idea of creation.

Nevertheless, this more begins a discussion than ends it. If time and possibility are logically implicated in this way, then how do we avoid saying that God did something impossible in creating time?

One response would be that  the only universe that could be created – in fact, the only sort of universe that would be possible – is one with no first time. Take that, Kalam.

(I never liked that proof anyway.)



  1. June 7, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    But aren’t possibility and impossibility predicates of what is not? Square circles are impossible, after all. Or not.

    A second thought: isn’t your counterfactual, if true, equivalent to the claim that the universe is not possible? (cf. “when pigs fly”.)

  2. David said,

    June 7, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    To my untrained eyes, it looks like an equivocation in 2 to 3a.

    The problem stated in 3a is that the uncreated is the created. But from 2, what is uncreated is the possibility of a universe. The possibility is not created by God in the act of creating the universe, the universe is created: the possible becomes actual.

    So I’m not sure what is wrong with stating the possibility is intrinsic to God. It seems like just another way of saying Pure Actuality has the Active Potency (the power) to create a universe.

    • David said,

      June 7, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Also, not that I want to commit myself to time and possibility being logically intertwined, but can we avoid saying God does the impossible in creating time, by noting that true causes are simultaneous with the immediate effect?

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