Potency as such

The reality of change means there is something that is neither actual term of a change but is capable of being the terminus ad quem. Potency in this sense does not exist at the terminus ad quem, since it is the subject of change and it is impossible to change to what one is. One can’t freeze ice, blacken coal or blanch snow.

But what about the terminus a quo? Notice there’s no potency so far as we consider something in it, since that which is in a place, as in place, cannot move. In this sense potency as potency is only actual outside of any terminus, being in place, or being in a state analogous to place. Potency as potency exists only in motion, or, as Aristotle put it, the definition of motion is the act (that is, the real existence) of potency as such.

So talking about the “potency to continue in existence” or the “possibility of being what someone is” or “The actual world being one potential state of affairs” is to shift to a different meaning of potency or possibility than potency as the subject of change or motion. For the same reason, we shift to a different sense of potency if we talk about a sleeping person’s ability to see, or even to speak of an “ability to see” at all, since the action of sight is not a motion or change.


Preamble to the First Way (2)

5.) Objection. Saying that potentially frozen water becomes frozen is no different than saying that boiling water becomes frozen. If boiling water as boiling doesn’t freeze, for the same reason potentially frozen water as potentially frozen doesn’t freeze, and so the proper subject of change has still not been located and change is still impossible.

6.) Response: The objection misses the disanalogy between any two actual contraries and the contrariety of act and potency. No two actual contraries are such that one can ever be the other, so change requires a non-actual but real contrary whose precise character is to be capable of being either term of the change. “Potential being” abbreviates the unique sort of contrary that has to exist if motion is to be real, whose reality follows from our unwillingness to scuttle the reality of motion.

While logical possibility is self-evident and in no need of being proven, the extra-mental reality of potency as a subject of change is not. Before proving the existence of God in the First Way, one has to prove the reality of that which is on the bottom rung of the ontological scale.

Preamble note to the First Way

1.) Something changes when it becomes something else.

2.) But the something and the it give rise to a puzzle. Take boiling water becoming ice. Is the water what changes to something else? No. As water, one has just what he had before. So is the boiling what freezes? That’s even more nonsense. Boiling things can’t freeze.

3.) This generalizes: an actual subject of change is what perseveres throughout the change and so is not different, and the property it has cannot be the contrary it changes into. So the reality of change involves the reality of something non-actual.

4.) So we get what is in motion is potential, not merely in the sense that it’s a necessary truth, but in the stricter sense that the potential suffices to explain the subject of change.

Denying Darwin

Denying ”darwinian explanations of life” can mean two things.

1.) If you are denying the explanatory power of natural selection in biology and various sciences subordinated to it, the denial is idiotic. Few theories have the explanatory power of natural selection, and any theory that replaces it will not be an outright denial but either (a) an explanation of how various phenomena appear darwinian within some very common constraints but are non-darwinian under abnormal conditions or (b) a theory that includes selection as a large element in a richer interpretive set of explanations.*

2.) If you are denying the explanatory power of natural selection in abiogenesis, the denial is axiomatic. To an outsider like myself abiogenesis looks like a backwater of research with a whole slough of theories defended by mavericks from all sorts of different disciplines, none of whom commands even a plurality of scientific consensus.

Since we have no theory at all, much less a darwinian one, the ‘official position’ on abiogenesis can be explained in several ways.

a.) Life arose by chance. ”Chance” in this context means an event that, while being relevant to the theory, was outside of any of its predictions. This includes times when we have events with no real theory at all, and the most familiar way in which this happens is the “theory” that things form by molecules banging around and forming things. Sure, if molecules just bang around and form X then, by definition, you’ll have an X, but you wouldn’t have an explanation of it. If you see a puddle of water forming underneath your furnace, you explain its presence by, say, condensation or sabotage but not by ‘molecules banging around’. All “banging around” theory amounts to is the claim that something somehow happened, which we know simply by looking. But a theory has to add something to a blank, bovine stare at the events of the world.

Notice that “by chance” and “improbable” are not only different but contrary. Improbable events have a calculable probability and therefore exist in a theory whereas events that occur by chance, even if they are improbable, are not calculated in advance. A royal flush is improbable in a normal game of poker, but this improbability can be strictly calculated. A chance event would be one that, strictly speaking, has no odds of occurring since the theory cannot (or at least did not) account for it in advance. This is where we are with abiogenesis.

b.) Life is a mystery. A mystery in this sense is an wonderful or important cause that is known to be unknown. If calling an event by chance indicates that it is outside of a theory and is neither probable or improbable, calling it a mystery indicates that we are interested in it or that finding it is important to us, though we might view probing into it hubristic or irreverent.

c.) God caused life. God is the ultimate mystery in the above sense, and so to the extent that nature is mysterious it will inevitably suggest an analogue in divinity. This only gives rise to a God in the gaps fallacy if we assume the mysteries of nature are invariant or entirely given in advance while they are in fact continually shifting. Things that were very mysterious at some times and some places are not to us, and vice-versa. Some mysteries vanish and new ones arise.

There are connections not just between God and mystery but also God and chance. There is a long history of seeing God as uniquely at work in the unforseeable. We spontaneously feel something divine in a stroke of good luck, and some divine abandonment or chastisement in a stroke of bad luck.

That said, we also know how to set chance and divinity against one another. Divinity is the guarantee that intelligibility goes all the way down, even if not for us; but chance can be taken as a denial of this sort of intelligibility. The debate seems to be whether what is unknowable to us, but real, must be knowable to another.

*As I understand “Intelligent Design”, this is the option they go for.

One in substance (2)

Again, which should a trinitarian reject?

God is triune
The Father is not triune
The Father is not God.

“God” is a name for a nature that easily slips into being the name of an individual, just like “mom” (any woman who has had a child) easily becomes “Mom” (a quasi-proper name you use for the woman who gave birth to you).

When we say “God is triune”, however, we are not using the term as either the nature nor the individual. Something is “triune” in this sense when it is one substance or nature in three individuals, or (to use the same capitalization mechanics for “mom”) when it is one god (sort of thing) in three Gods (names for individuals). Trinity is not a nature nor individual, and so when we say God is triune we have to specify that this is God in a third sense other than “god” (the sort of thing) or “God” (the individual). We might call “Trinity” a logical nature, i.e. a label for a doctrine about the subsistence of a single absolute divine esse giving rise to four relations and three persons.

So the aporetic argument is, in fact, right: the Father is not God in the sense that “God” is used in the major premise. Trinitarians don’t think that the Father is God in the sense of being neither an individual nor nature, or that Father is God in the sense of being a label for a doctrine about God.

Divine simplicity (5): necessity of the present vs. necessity as opposed to freedom

Divine action follows divine being and is understood by the elements of creaturely action with analogues to the divine.

Since contraries can’t be simultaneous, it’s necessary to be X when you are X-ing, i.e. when you are seated, it’s impossible that you be standing. Nothing changes if we stipulate you are choosing to sit,* and this makes for the first way in which freedom involves necessity1.

Divine action is measured by eternity, which we can define philosophically as the wholly simultaneous and complete possession of unbounded life or Scripturally as God’s I AM in opposition to the historical and contingent nature of creatures. Because of this, divine action always has the same necessity that any present action has in the present moment, a necessity which, again, characterizes both freely chosen and wholly determined actions. This requires distinguishing

necessity1: the necessity common to all beings in their now and
necessity2 necessity as opposed to freedom.

All divine action including the action of creating has necessity from divine eternity, but within this action we have to distinguish the necessity2 of God willing his own goodness from the absence of necessity2 in his willing anything other than his own glory and happiness.

Any free action, even a divine one, has necessity2 in some way, and so when we divide necessity2 from freedom we are distinguishing two elements or dimensions in a free action and not two sorts of action. The simplicity of a freely chosen human action isn’t compromised by our necessarily2 willing ultimate happiness, and so God’s is not either. This is the second way in which freedom involves necessity2

Again, God’s necessity1 in the Scriptural tradition is clear from his being I AM in opposition to the historical and contingent being of creatures. Necessity1 is essential to divine fidelity and custody of his people, and makes what is future or past for us as simply many ways of abiding in divine eternity (cf. Ps. 139 : 1) This necessity1 is divided from necessity2 both in divinity and in all actions of creatures, and so even all non necessary2 acts of creatures are necessary1 within the eternal I AM of divinity. Many of the worries about predestination or divine freedom are conflations of the two modes of necessity.

*So when we say “I’m sitting but it’s possible for me not to be” the possibility requires a later time. This is true in both the indicative and subjunctive, so “I chose this, but I might not have” or “I am doing this but I could have done otherwise” presupposes a distinction in times. The subjunctive construction treats action X relative to the time before it and so treats X as if it were some future contingent. In this sense, future contingent is a pleonasm: since a necessary relation to a time taken as future is a necessary element of contingency. This is why an argument for a necessary being is for a necessary1 being, and conflating the two sorts of necessity would mean that God could not be a necessary being since he exercised a free choice to create.

One in substance

So do Trinitarians reject the first or second premise?

1.) God is triune

2.) The Father is not triune

So, The Father is not God.

Or is this like asking whether moneychangers who note that $1.11 = a Euro have to reject:

3.) The Euro is printed by the EU

4.) $1.11 is not printed by the EU

So $1.11 is not a Euro

If “is” indicates an equality of worth between subject and predicate, both (2) and (4) are false.

Like Dollars and Euros under certain conditions, Father and Son are of equal worth but distinguished by relations of origin. We can even use the word substance to refer to one thing for which Euros and Dollars are identical.



Objection to apokatastasis

David Bentley Hart’s defense of apokatastasis will be released in about five weeks. Apokatastasis has been a very hot topic in Eastern christianity for some time, but has either been ignored or gotten a watered-down defense in the West, the most well-known of which is Von Balthasar’s ‘hope for an empty Hell’ which Hart rejects as a half-measure. Hart has already exposed many of the weaknesses in the case against him. His new translation of the New Testament, for example, makes the traditional proof texts for a perpetual Hell far less probative and the ‘Universalist texts’ far more convincing, and he argues at length for the literalness of both. I’ve been saying for some time that I expect Hart’s new book to popularize apokatastasis in the West, and I don’t see anyone willing and able to slow him down.

I’m not Universalist but I don’t believe one can hold that God could save some after death but choses not to. So my view of the argumentative terrain is pretty extreme: one has to hold that apokatastasis is either necessary or impossible. I just think it is impossible.

Apokatastasis requires that repentance is possible after death, i.e. some who die having made a decision against grace acquire it later. Since contrary states can’t be simultaneous, apokatastasis requires temporal existence after death. While separated souls and angels are temporal in important ways, they do not have the sort of temporality required for sanctifying or deifying grace since

(A) The substance of persons separated from matter is not temporal or historical.

(B) Sanctifying grace is transformative within the substance of the person.

In defense of (A): Temporal or historical substance develops over time- from child to teen to adult, say – and neither angels nor the separated soul develop in this way. The same substantial reality that grows is also what corrupts and becomes other, but belief in a separated soul is already a belief in its incorruptibility.

This does not rule out angels or separated souls having effects in time, since the intercession of the saints requires that this be possible; nor does it rule out all sorts of development and change but only a change in the substance. The doctrine of purgatory clearly requires the possibility of some sort of moral development after death.

In defense of (B): Sanctifying of deifying grace transforms not only the will of the person, making them virtuous when they were not virtuous before but transforms their substance, making the person not only human but literally born again into being a partaker of the divine nature, i.e. possessed of something which, while not destroying human nature, is also not limited to it.

So on my account it is possible to for an immaterial being to choose grace provided he has not had a contrary decision before; and it is obviously possible for a material being to choose grace even if he has make a contrary decision before, but apokatastasis requires the impossible condition of an immaterial being choosing grace after a previous contrary decision. This at least rules out the possibility of a universal restoration of fallen angels and of separated souls prior to the general resurrection, there is at least a presumption in favor of repentance not occurring even after the general resurrection, since even if the substance of those raised is physical it does not seem to be allow for the sort of development in which repentance consists.






Divine simplicity (4) Simplicity’s negative predicates

So if Scholasticism’s account of simplicity is a type (3) predication of positive predicates not said relative to creatures, how can we bring this together with the fact that the first sense of simplicity is the negation of composition?

Composition is from parts, and while simplicity denies many senses of “part” it doesn’t deny every possible sense of the term.  For example, properties are “parts” and predicates are properties, but God has many predicates. The composition we deny of God is any manner that makes a being imperfect, meaning that complete perfection would require absence of composition.

Both the Aristotelian and Platonic strands of ancient thought argued that spacial and temporal parts made for an imperfect being. For Aristotle, time was peculiar to motion and motion was imperfect act, and anything with spacial parts was somehow mobile; and in the Platonic tradition all reality given to sensation participated in a separate good. Plotinus would sharpen up this insight by noticing that temporal being was peculiarly that which could not possess all its perfections.

Because of this, we get a class of type (3) predication that requires an absence of parts. Divine spirituality (immateriality) or immutability deny spacial and temporal parts and are both type (3) predicates since it’s in virtue of divine spirituality that all other spirits or material things exist and in virtue of the divine transcendence of time that all other things either transcend time or are within it.


Divine Simplicity (3) Simplicity and free will

The Scholastic-Patristic idea of simplicity is the type (3) predication of positive predicates not said relative to creatures. Because predicates count as “properties” and type (3) predicates express identity, it is possible to understand divine simplicity as Analytic Philosophers do. viz that God is identical to his properties. But because predicates that involve relation to creatures are set aside, it is impossible to set up a conflict between divine simplicity and the free choice to create, to redeem, etc.

But chances are that the Analytic philosophers that insist on a contradiction between simplicity and free choice will not be content in what appears to be my mere defining it out of existence. For all that, I want to show that their arguments are not formally against divine simplicity but logically require a prior denial of the existence of God.

Bill Vallicella, commenting on a response to an argument by Robert Mullins, puts the conflict like this:

There is a tension between divine simplicity and divine freedom.

1) If God is simple, then he is pure act (actus purus) and thus devoid of unexercised powers and unrealized potentials. He is, from all eternity, all that he can be.  Given that God is simple, there can be no real distinction in him between potency and act. This is necessarily true  because God exists of metaphysical necessity and is essentially pure act.

2) As it is, God freely created our universe from nothing; but he might have created a  different universe, or no universe at all. Had he created no universe, then his power to create would have gone unexercised.  In that case he would not be pure act: he would harbor an unactualized potential.

My response requires a paragraph of set-up. Consider the following premise:

G = What changes another need not change itself.

You might become convinced of G because your mind wandered off to considering knowledge, which involves objects actualizing a cognitive power without themselves changing or coming to be. Or maybe you wandered off to considering things loved, which can cause love in others without having to become something else. Or maybe you thought about relations, which allow for Socrates to be shorter than Plato not because Socrates changed by shrinking but because Plato changed by growing. Or maybe you were considering what Aristotle takes to be the paradigm case of efficient causality – giving advice – the whole idea of which is that the one who gets it should change while the one who gives it doesn’t need to.

Now consider the second sentence in Vallicella’s (2)

Had [God] created no universe, then his power to create would have gone unexercised.

Presumably, Vallicella thought this was just axiomatic or obvious, though this is logically equivalent to taking G as self-evidently false, and that’s just a mistake. More to the point, the proof by which one establishes the existence of purus actus (not its simplicity, but its existence) requires that there be something that causes change in another without changing itself. This is precisely what “purus actus” means. “Pure” is the opposite of “mixed” and a mixed act is an actualizer that is itself actualized or a changer that is itself changed.

Put another way, the supposed dilemma between simplicity and freedom is not on objection to divine simplicity, but an assertion that God’s existence is self-evidently false, at least as this existence is understood by the defenders of divine simplicity. I don’t mean this in the obvious sense that if you affirm “God is not simple” you also affirm “no simple God exists”, but rather in the sense that the objection against divine simplicity is downstream from an unexamined assumption that a purus actus or unmoved mover or uncreated creator is impossible.  That unexamined assumption is devastating to theism, and though we might be willing to throw Scholasticism under the bus, patristic thought would go with it, along with any idea of a biblical theology or Christology of the one through whom all things which were made, were made. I suppose a Mormon god or the Olympians might remain, which is exactly where the logic of denying divine simplicity tends.







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