Recently, Intellectual Conservatism uploaded a video on the Aloneness Argument against classical theism. As usual, I deeply value the criticisms they leveled and, more importantly, each of Christopher, Gil, and Suan themselves.
This post is PART 1 out of 2. I have only listened to the first 1:33:00 of their video. In part 2, I will address the last 30 minutes of the video. It will become apparent why I stopped at 1:33:00 as we proceed through this post. (It’s epistemically possible that they address some of my rebuttals in the last 30 minutes; if they do, then I’ll simply address that in Part 2.)
Without further ado, let’s dig in!
0 Outline of post
Here’s an outline of the whole post:
1 Gil on the argument from composition and first way
2 Is it an exactly parallel problem?
3 Christopher’s small nitpick
4 Christopher’s Dilemma
—–4.1 The Stone Response
—–4.2 The Two-Part Response
———-4.2.2 The Argument
———-4.2.3 Back to the Aloneness Argument
—–4.4 The Third-Religious-Studies-Reply Response
———-4.4.1 Christopher’s Allegation
—–4.5 The No-Non-Existent-Truthmakers Response [Fleshed out in Part 2]
—–4.6 The Non-Negative Existentials Response [Reserved for Part 2]
—–4.7 The Revenge of Essentialism Response [Reserved for Part 2]
—–4.8 Response to the Final 30 Minutes [Reserved for Part 2]
6 Big Announcement
1 Gil on the argument from composition and first way
I briefly wish to touch on an argument Gil presents near the beginning of the video. Roughly, Gil argues that composite things require an explanation, and the ultimate explanation of such things must be in terms of an absolutely simple being.
I don’t think this argument works. Here’s a chapter of a book I’ll be submitting to an editor at an academic press in mid-February responding to a Feserian manifestation of this line of argument (viz. the Neo-Platonic proof). The objections I raise therein apply mutatis mutandis to Gil’s presentation. In the chapter, I explain why the argument not only fails in its own right but is also plausibly in tension with Christianity. (By my lights, that is. See for yourself by checking out the chapter! 🙂 )
I have also addressed this argument from composition in two videos of mine, starting at this time stamp in my second latest video as well as in this video. I also discuss the tension between the argument from composition and Trinitarianism in Section 7 (“Multiplicity (allegedly) requires a cause”) in this post.
“[Denying classical theism] collapses to a lower-case-g-god… [if?] he’s more like a creature just like us, just to an infinite degree.” – Gil (slightly paraphrased)
This is incorrect. No sensible non-classical theist will want to say God is “just like us”, or that God merely differs from us in terms of his degree. Take the neo-classical theistic God. Under neo-classical theism, God is the ultimate ground of being: whatever is outside of God depends on God’s creating and sustaining power at any moment at which it exists. Any finite, limited thing–like Zeus, or humans, or phones, or angels, or demons, or whatever–would blink out of existence the moment God withdrew his sustaining power. How is the ultimate ground of being–the ground of all other things–tantamount to a lower-case-g-god? How is this a merely degreed difference? (It isn’t.)
This is similar to something that Christopher said in a previous appearance on Intellectual Conservatism. There, he said “the God of theistic personalism is different from Zeus only in degree.” What Gil says is quite similar to this.
But it’s simply mistaken. Zeus, of course, is contingent, whereas the neo-classical theistic God uniquely exists of absolute metaphysical necessity. Moroever, the neo-classical theistic God is the ground of the being of all other things. Both of these are radically different from Zeus, who is situated alongside a pantheon and requires a whole host of external factors to be in place for him to exist. And it’s clearly true that neither of these ascriptions to the neo-classical theistic God are mere differences in ‘degree’. They’re fundamental, categorical differences. (Moreover, non-classical theistic thinkers like Josh Rasmussen have explicitly held that God’s perfection and supremacy is not merely different in us in degree; rather, his perfection is so radical and transcendent so as to be different in kind. It’s a qualitative difference.)
2 Is it an exactly parallel problem?
Chistopher points out that both non-classical theists and classical theists have to say that something contingent comes from or is explained by something necessary. Thus, both classical and non-classical theists have to say that the same condition can give rise to different results across worlds. He then claims it is an exactly parallel problem between non-classical theism and classical theism.
By my lights, this is mistaken. I address this Tu Quoque objection at length in another chapter of the aforementioned book manuscript. Long story short, the cases are not parallel, since the non-classical theist can say that God’s varying choices across worlds–in other words, his varying exertions of agent-causal power–are explained by reasons, desires, reason-strengths, and desire-strengths that factor differentially into the explanans of God’s different choices. The non-classical theist can thus appeal to a multiplicity of reasons in God which factor into the explanation of God’s varying choices across worlds, while this strategy is clearly not open to the classical theist [for it introduces multiplicity into the Godhead]. This adds an element of inexplicability to the classical theist story that isn’t present on non-classical theisms. I explain why this is so–and why, by my lights, the cases are not parallel–in this document here, which contains selected portions from the aforementioned chapter.
3 Christopher’s small nitpick
Christopher says that we should have had premise (10) saying that if DDS is necessarily true, then God it is not possible that God has an accident.
I think it is false that we should have this. For starters, our entire article is cast in terms of classical theism, and references to “God” are always references to the classical theistic God in the paper. Thus, because our articulation/definition of DDS references God, and because we are clear that we are only considering the classical theistic God in our paper, it strictly follows that DDS–as we articulated it–is true iff it’s necessarily true. Thus, it is false that we should have added a necessity operator within the scope of the antecedent of premise (10).
Here’s another reason why this is mistaken. In our articulation of DDS in the paper, we explicitly included that according to DDS, God’s essence and existence are numerically identical. But anything in which essence and existence are numerically identical is a necessary being. And, moreover, we also explicitly deny that God has accidents in our articulation of DDS. Thus, it was already pre-packaged into our articulation of DDS that DDS is true iff it is necessarily true, and thus it is false to say that we should have added a necessity operator in the antecedent of premise (10).
Here’s a third reason why this is mistaken: we already explicitly addressed Christopher’s nitpick in the paper. Look at footnote 22: “Could God be absolutely simple in the actual world but composite in other worlds? This is incoherent. For then God would not be essentially simple. But then he would be accidentally simple. But that’s contradictory: God would be accidentally simple, but (per His simplicity) wouldn’t have any accidents whatsoever. So, God would both have and not have accidents, which is absurd.”
I recognize that Christopher only claimed that his nitpick was *minor/small*. But as I hope to have shown, it is mistaken to think it’s even a point (however small/minor) against the paper in the first place. And, moreover, we shall likewise consider my response as *minor/small*! 🙂
I also want to express gratitude to Christopher for his lovely comments about the originality and novelty of the argument–this is very much appreciated, truly!
4 Christopher’s Dilemma
Christopher presents a dilemma: God’s knowledge is to be understood either entitatively or predicatively [Christopher uses ‘propositionally’, but I shall use ‘predicatively]. If read entitatively (as a thing), then the ‘thing’–the ‘feature or positive ontological item in reality–then God’s knowledge is just God himself, the necessary, intrinsic, simple reality. So, it is false that God only contingently has knowledge if knowledge is read entitatively. And hence premise (5) is false.
But if read predicatively, then we are merely referring to the truth of various predications or attributions of God, and in particular (in this context) predications of knowledge to God. These predications are made true by certain things, and these things can be (and often are) ‘outside’ of or ‘extrinsic’ to or ‘disjoint’ from or ‘not within’ God. (E.g. under any model of God, the claim that ‘God knows water exists’ is partly made true by water’s existing, since truth is a necessary condition on knowledge, and truth is typically extrinsic to the knowing subject.)
Now think about the alone world, and consider the kinds of contingently true predications of knowledge to God in such a world: for any x, such that x is not God, God knows that x doesn’t exist. “Importantly,” says Christopher, “such knowledge attributions are not made true by something wholly intrinsic to God, even though God is the only thing that exists. They’re also made true by the absence of x” (paraphrased).
In that case, though, premise (2) is false, since such predications are, indeed, extrinsic in the alone world, since they’re made true (partly) by the absence of the things God knows not to exist. “You don’t need there to be anything but God in the world in order for knowledge attributions of that kind to be true of God and to depend on something other than God”, argues Christopher.
Below I will give a number of replies to Christopher’s Dilemma; these are experimental in nature. I do not claim they decisively show Christopher’s Dilemma to fail; rather, they are meant to serve as tools to push the discussion forward. To my mind, though, they have plausibility. I will also consider along the way what Christopher says in response to the objections we level in the paper to Objection 1 [again, from the paper].
One note I will say, though, is that–as those who’ve read their van Inwagen know–philosophical arguments are rarely if ever demonstrative. It is well-nigh impossible for them to be so, since there is almost always wiggle room and bullets to bite that avoid the argument. This, then, is how I see the dialectic of the Aloneness Argument. From my vantage point, the classical theist can avoid the Aloneness Argument; it will just take biting some pretty large bullets, at least by my lights. In other words, I view the responses as ‘raising the intellectual price tag’, as it were, on classical theism.
With these notes out of the way, here are my (experimental) responses.
4.1 The Stone Response
So, my first response is: could God create a stone so heavy that he couldn’t lift it?
I kid. (Though, for a video that shows that omnipotence is incoherent, see here.)
My actual first response asks you to consider the following:
Suppose a stone exists alone (per impossibile). Call this stone-alone world ‘Ws’. Here’s my claim: in Ws, this stone is omniscient and, in particular, knows P, where P is the proposition ‘you don’t exist’. You’re a bit startled at this suggestion. “What? How could that be?” you ask. “Don’t worry,” I respond. “Although entitatively there’s only the rock here (and not some inner mental state of the rock that corresponds to the rock’s knowledge that P, a state that would’ve been different had the stone known ~P instead), we can make perfect sense of this predicatively. In particular, this predication is made true by (a) the stone and (b) the contingent truth–in Ws–that you don’t exist.”
My truthmaker, then, for the stone’s knowing P is:
(a) the stone
(b) your absence
I don’t think you would buy this story. I’ve merely ‘labeled’ the stone as omniscient and having knowledge; the stone doesn’t really have knowledge. And I take this as obvious.
But I struggle to see how this is relevantly different than Christopher’s proposal. Christopher’s proposal is that the truthmaker–that in virtue of which a statement or proposition or predication is true, i.e. the ground of its truth, i.e. what makes it true–for predications of contingent knowledge of x to God in the alone world is just:
(b) the absence of x
In virtue of what are the cases different? Just as there is no distinctive positive ontological item in extramental reality that corresponds to the stone’s contingent knowledge, so too has Christopher explicitly denied that there is any distinctive positive ontological item corresponding to God’s contingent knowledge–he has said that the only positive ontological item here is the absolutely necessary, simple, pure act of being. In both cases, it seems we just label the stone and God as knowing the relevant contingent truth. When we actually talk about reality itself–what there actually is, apart from our linguistic predications and labels–there doesn’t seem to be any relevant difference here.
Now, Christopher might respond as this juncture that unlike the stone, God is at least the kind of thing capable of knowledge–God is an intellect. And so the truth of the predication of contingent knowledge is much less mysterious and much more plausible in the case of God than it is for the stone.
But this won’t do as a symmetry breaker. Suppose I just fell asleep and will remain asleep for a couple days. I obviously still know things when asleep and also retain the capability to know things while asleep. Now suppose, per impossibile, that absolutely everything–except me and anything within me–is immediately annihilated while I remain asleep. Now we have made the world a Joe-alone world-segment, Wj, and in parrticular we can restrict our focus to the times in Wj when I’m asleep. Call this time period, in Wj, “t(Wj)”.
Here’s my present claim: during t(Wj), I know that my house doesn’t exist. I then go on to explain how although nothing differs entitatively between my-being-asleep in the actual world and t(Wj), nevertheless there is a difference predicatively when it comes to my knowledge of the absence of my house.
Again, I think you’re rightly skeptical at my claim. Of course I don’t know that my house doesn’t exist during t(Wj). I’ve remained blissfully non-cognizant of the radical changes that have happened outside of me, since I’ve been asleep. Although I’m the kind of thing capable of knowledge in t(Wj), and although I have an intellect in t(Wj), I still don’t know that my house doesn’t exist. It is not enough, then, for the truth of contingent-knowledge-of-the-absence-of-x predications of S in an S-alone world to point to (a) S, (b) the absence of x, and (c) S is the kind of thing with knowledge//S is/has an intellect.
More fundamentally, the reason I don’t have the relevant bit of knowledge in w(Wj) is plausibly because absolutely no feature concerning me or things within me has changed. The only thing that’s changed is what we’ve labeled, what we’ve predicated. Nothing about the relevant positive ontological items–about my justifications, my beliefs, my relations to facts or propositions or truths, my acts of awareness, my reasons, or anything of this sort–has changed. And yet this is precisely Christopher’s proposal regarding God’s contingent knowledge in the alone world.
Now, one might of course say that the relevant difference between the stone and God is not merely that God is capable of knowledge or is an intellect, but that he is omniscient and actually knows contingent absences in the alone world.
But now this is rather straightforwardly question-begging, and for the same reason we raise in our reply to WM Grant in the paper. For the very question at issue is whether God can be omniscient (in particular, know contingent truths) if, indeed, absolutely no feature concerning God or things within God has changed when it comes to cross-world changes in God’s knowledge. (For reference, here’s what we say in the paper:)
Overall, then, the Stone Response is really just meant to highlight and uncover the deep implausibility–by my lights, at least–of the claim that Christopher’s predicative story is sufficient to deliver God’s actually having contingent knowledge.
Here’s another way to put the point:
Consider Schgod. Schgod is qualitatively identical to the classical theistic God, except Schgod only knows necessary truths [which includes possibilities]. Schgod is thoroughly uninfected by contingency, so much so that he is only aware of (and only knows) necessary things. He doesn’t know contingent things and, indeed, is incapable of knowing them. [Indeed, this is how some interpreters view Aristotle’s purely actual unmoved mover, which is simply self-thinking thought.] Other than that, though, Schgod is pure, undifferentiated actuality; Schgod is numerically identical to everything in Schgod across all worlds, and Schgod is absolutely simple. When we speak about Schgod, entitatively there is only the one, absolutely necessary, simple, ungrounded Schgod.
Now, what makes Schgod different from the classical theistic God? What, in other words, *explains* their difference? Classical theism seems to debar any answer and, in particular, it seems that Christopher’s Dilemma does likewise.
Consider the CT-God-alone-world and the Schgod-alone-world. By Christopher’s [and classical theism’s] own lights, in extramental, non-linguistic, non-predicative reality, these two worlds are utterly identical. There is no difference between them. As Christopher emphasizes, entitatively in the alone world there’s only the absolutely simple, necessary act. And the same is true of Schgod. It would seem, then, that the difference between Schgod and the CT God is inexplicable–there is nothing in reality in virtue of which they are differentiated from one another. The only difference is a predicative difference, that is, a difference in our predications of knowledge to the two beings. But there seems to be nothing to ground, explain, or account for such differences.
[It won’t do to say that what explains it is that the CT God is omniscient while Schgod isn’t, since (1) that is to describe, linguistically or predicatively, the difference between them, not to pinpoint that in virtue of which they’re different. And (2) the very question at issue is whether the CT God counts as omniscient in light of the Schgod example, and hence it seems question-begging to appeal to omniscience at this juncture. See, again, the point we make in response to Grant.]
4.2 The Two-Part Response
I will now level a second response to Christopher’s Dilemma. (The response is actually a two-part response and is thereby (in some sense) actually two responses for the price of one. More below.)
Before doing that, though, I will address Christopher’s response to our first reply to Objection One in the paper.
“They don’t use the word ‘all’, but it seems to be implied here—that all the counter-examples to their analysis of extrinsicality involve absences or lacks or failures of the subject. That’s false, and Joe should have known that that’s false, because I used the counter-example of knowledge itself,” says, Christopher. Christopher then goes on to say that “the first reply fails utterly, and Joe should have known that it’s false, because I used the counter-example of knowledge itself.”
Christopher’s response here–to borrow his totally non-polemical, loving phrase–utterly fails. And Christopher should have known that it fails. Why? Because in the footnote that is glaringly obvious on the screen at the time Christopher said this, I addressed this exact point. And so Christopher should have known that I already addressed this exact point. (I’m also (minimally) surprised neither Suan nor Gil pointed this out, or even cared to tone down the “utterly fails” language.)
Indeed, later on the video, Suan says [direct quote]:
“I’m starting to feel like I’m going through deja vu because now I’m thinking about your conversation with Joe on Capturing Christianity, and I remember you mentioned this very point. So, it’s kind of fascinating, looking back on everything you said, like… oh… [laughs] where is that response incorporated into the paper?”
As the above image illustrates, such claims are uncharitable. (Note that I’m not imputing bad intentions to them; rather, I’m focusing on the uncharitable claims themselves.)
Let’s further unpack what the footnote says and connect it to the first reply to Objection One in the paper. The first reply to Objection One is essentially:
- If God’s contingent knowledge in the alone world is extrinsic, then it’s is either a negative extrinsic feature or a positive extrinsic feature.
- If it’s a positive extrinsic feature, then it consists in an actual relation to something else.
- If it’s a negative extrinsic, then it consists in the failure, absence, or lack of a relation to something else.
- God’s contingent knowledge in the alone world does not consist in an actual relation to something else. [Why? Because there is nothing to be related to in the alone world. (Also, as a second justification, God doesn’t have relational properties/features/ontological items under classical theism.)]
- God’s contingent knowledge in the alone world does not consist in some failure, absence, or lack. [Intuitively obvious; cf. the paper]
- So, God’s contingent knowledge in the alone world is not extrinsic.
And this is where we get a proposed objection in terms of knowledge. Thus, the footnote:
“One might object: Consider Smith, a human existing alone (per impossibile). Suppose Smith knows that ‘I am alone’. Because Smith can be deprived of this knowledge by changing things wholly outside of Smith (suppose that a virtual particle popped into existence), isn’t Smith’s knowledge that‘I am alone’ extrinsic in such a world?”
We then give two responses:
“We reply: first, even if (some of) Smith’s knowledge in this world is (partly) extrinsic, the extrinsicality consists in a relation Smith bears to some non-Smith thing, viz. the truth or fact that Smith exists alone. Thus, this is not a counter-example to our claim in the paragraph (of the main text) under consideration. (Moreover: unlike Smith, God stands in no relation to some non-God thing in the aloneworld, since thereis nonon-God thing in the alone world.)”
Here, we argue that knowledge doesn’t actually avoid the abovementioned argument (1)-(6). We argue that the extrinsic element of knowledge is a positive extrinsic feature because it consists in a relation to something else, namely a truth or fact. And this is standard for accounts of knowledge: the truth of one’s beliefs–or else the connection between said truth and the knower and/or his or her beliefs–are standardly cast in relational terms [e.g. there is some relevant connection, some relation–whether causal or explanatory or what have you–between the fact that p, or the truth that p, and your believing that p. Moroever, the belief itself is relational on some accounts (according to which beliefs are relations to truths (propositions) or facts or states of affairs or whatever)]. And in that case, knowledge doesn’t undermine the argument, since knowledge would fall squarely under premise (2).
Here’s the second response we give:
“Second, the Smith case is relevantly disanalogous to God. For when we deprive Smith of knowledge in this case, we envisage a scenario in which Smith merely goes from knowing P to not knowing P. But this is crucially different from going from knowing P to knowing not-P. The latter involves a kind of truth-tracking status which seems unintelligible apart from either a change in the relation between the knowing subject and the fact that P or else some change in the knowing subject’s intrinsic mental state (like differential awareness, differential justification, etc.).”
This second response is saying that even if the case of Smith’s extrinsically changing w.r.t. his knowledge successfully undermined our argument from (1)-(6), this is relevantly disanalogous to the case of God’s knowledge so as to debar the counter-example from saving the classical theist from the Aloneness Argument. This is because Smith only goes from knowing P to not knowing P. But God, by contrast, doesn’t merely go from knowing P to not knowing P; instead–per his omniscience–he goes from knowing P to knowing not-P. And as we argue in the footnote, this change in knowledge–because knowledge is truth-tracking–seems unintelligible apart from either a gain or loss of some relational feature or some intrinsic feature. And neither of these are compatible with classical theism, as God neither gains nor loses any relational property, and nor does he gain or lose any intrinsic property.
It’s useful to draw a parallel here between the Aloneness Argument and the changing-knowledge-of-changing-creation argument against classical theism. This parallel, as I shall explain, helps to illustrate and bolster the second response that we give to the Smith objection.
But first, some definitions.
Roughly–and most generally–change at least involves successive “difference or nonidentity in the features of things” (Mortensen 2020). It involves something in reality going from one thing to another. There are many different kinds of change. For instance, there’s intrinsic and extrinsic change. Intrinsic change corresponds to the gain or loss of intrinsic features (where ‘feature’ is any positive ontological item). Extrinsic change involves the gain or loss of extrinsic features. More precisely: S changes extrinsically just in case S gains or loses some relation to something outside S. To extrinsically change, as I define the term, is thus to transition or go from standing in relation R to not standing in relation R to something ad extra (or vice versa).
 For a helpful recent discussion of the definition of change, see Saudek (2020, pp. 90-95).
 Extrinsic changes are sometimes called ‘Cambridge changes’. Brian Leftow, in contrasting ‘real change’ with ‘Cambridge change’, says that “[e]xtrinsic changes aren’t ‘real’ in the sense above”, that is, in the sense of changes that “take place wholly within” something—ones that are “not ‘logically parasitic’ on change in other things” (2014). In accord with Leftow, Marshall and Weatherson contrast real and Cambridge change, stating that “an object undergoes real change in an event iff there is some intrinsic property it satisfied before the event but not afterwards” (2018). Thus, Cambridge change, under this understanding, would be any change that is not intrinsic change. Other philosophers, however, use ‘Cambridge change’ to refer to changes in the truth value of linguistic predications or descriptions borne by something S without any actual gain or loss of any properties—whether intrinsic or extrinsic—on the part of S (cf. Mortensen 2020). For instance, assuming numbers exist, presumably ‘being such that the 21st century is the present century’ went from being falsely predicated of the number two to being truly predicated of it once the 20th century gave way to the 21st century. But surely the number two didn’t actually—in extramental, nonlinguistic reality—gain or lose anything here (not even an extrinsic property). For the number two is (or would be) timeless, and surely it therefore couldn’t gain or lose some property. As I use terms here, I don’t count mere changes in the truth value of linguistic predications or descriptions concerning S—when accompanied by no actual, extramental gain or loss of anything concerning S—as genuine changes in/to/concerning S. Thus, as I use it, ‘extrinsic change’ is synonymous with ‘Cambridge change’. So, when I say ‘S changes’, I explicitly debar these mere linguistic changes; I am talking about extramental reality and gains and losses of features of S. In motto form: my focus is ontological, not linguistic. For clarity of exposition, I avoid talk of ‘Cambridge change’ altogether.
Now, classical theism is explicit that God can neither intrinsically change nor extrinsically change in the senses I’ve defined these terms. [See here for further details.]
With these definitions and preliminaries out of the way, let’s now turn to the analogue of changing knowledge of a changing creation. The argument is that classical theism is plausibly in tension with any non-eternalist view of time.
4.2.2 The Argument
I want to draw a parallel to the debate concerning God’s changing knowledge of non-eternalist creation. Eternalism, of course, is the view that all moments of time are equally, eternally, and tenselessly real. All times (and contents of times) exist. There is no objective or genuine dynamism or becoming in reality.
Thus, on any non-eternalist view of time, there is going to be some genuine, objective dynamism or becoming. For this reason, some propositions objectively change from being true to being false, or from being false to being true. (E.g. as humans come to exist, the proposition that humans exist goes from false to true.)
Because God is omniscient, non-eternalist views of time entail that God’s knowledge must change. This is because the truths and facts *themselves* change, and since knowledge must track the truth/facts, it follows that God’s knowledge changes as well. But this clearly cannot be an intrinsic change in God under classical theism. But nor can it be a change in God’s relation to the truths/facts known, since God cannot go *from* standing in a relation *to* not standing in said relation. This would create succession in the life of God, which is incompatible with timelessness. It’s also incompatible with immutability, which explicitly denies that God can change in his relations to other things. [For more on these points, cf. this]
But in that case, it seems unintelligible to call this an instance of *God’s knowledge* changing. Nothing in God changes here, but also none of God’s relations to things changes. The *only* changes here are utterly and wholly and entirely outside of God. To say this is an instance of changing *knowledge*, I think, warrants an incredulous stare.
It seems, then, that the classical theist, in the above case, must either reject non-eternalist views of time, or they must adopt a kind of radical extrinsic model of divine knowledge on which the only changes in question are wholly outside God—not only is there no intrinsic change in God, but there’s also no change in God’s relation or connection to the changing facts outside God. The only thing that changes when God’s knowledge that humans come to exist is humans’ coming to exist. But surely this is not an instance of God’s knowledge changing; it’s just an instance of the facts ‘out there’ changing. It’s baffling how God’s changing knowledge could consist wholly in the facts entirely ‘out there’ changing—not even accompanied by changes in God’s connection to those facts.
[For a discussion of objections, and for a more in-depth exposition of this argument, see here.]
4.2.3 Back to the Aloneness Argument
My purpose for this little excursus is to draw a parallel to the case of the Alone World. For the second reply to the Smith objection [contained in the footnote we’ve been discussing] is just pointing out that the classical theist seems committed to this radically extrinsic model of divine knowledge applied not merely to change over time but also to change across worlds (or, more accurately, variance across worlds). Just as it seems baffling for it to count as a change in God’s knowledge if there is literally no change in God or in his relation/connection to the facts known, so too, I would contend, is it baffling for it to count as a cross-world change in God’s knowledge if there is literally no cross-world change/difference in God or even in God’s relation/connection to the facts known. [Or, more accurately, it’s baffling to me, at least. Justification is person-based; I invite you to consult your own mind. Let your Reason guide you.]
Keep in mind that this is merely the second response contained within the Two-Part Response I’ve been developing here. The first and second responses that comprise my Two-Part Response are independent of one another; and, moroever, the Two-Part Response is independent of all my other responses to Christopher.
Thus far, then, I’ve given three responses to Christopher’s Dilemma (the Stone Response and the two responses contained within the Two-Part Response). I turn next to a fourth response to Christopher’s Dilemma.
This is an interlude! I include this because (i) I want my fourth response to Christopher’s Dilemma to nicely correspond to 4.4 instead of 4.3, and (ii) you deserve a break from the philosophizing. 🙂
4.4 The Third-Religious-Studies-Reply Response
Here’s a fourth response to Christopher’s Dilemma. It’s the Third Reply we give in the Religious Studies paper. Definitely check it our first before coming here.
“It’s facially silly to say God has justification. It presupposes a model of God on which God looks out into the world and collected evidence for his beliefs until he has enough evidence to justify them and [then] they become knowledge.” (Christopher)
But it is ‘facially silly’ [to borrow his totally non-polemical, loving phrase] to think that claiming God has justification for God’s belief(s) presupposes that God ‘looks out’ onto the world, collects evidence until he has enough justification, etc. The mere claim that God has justification is *completely silent* about the *way* God is justified. Indeed, one can easily *deny* the justificatory means Christopher suggests while still affirming that God is justified. For instance, God can know his own intentions, his own exertion of agent-causal power, etc. in order to justify his beliefs. He can, in other words, base his contingently held beliefs not on ‘collecting evidence’ from ‘looking out’ onto the world but instead on knowing his contingent intentions and providential will. So, it’s simply false claim, as Christopher did, that “to say God has justification… presupposes” such a view of God’s justification.
Moreover, it’s not silly at all to claim God has justification for affirming/believing/taking to be true what he does. When we talk about justification, we principally mean the grounds, the reason, for one’s taking to be true what one does. And God is not without such grounds or reasons; God doesn’t just happen upon his beliefs. Instead, qua perfectly rational, God never acts without reason, and since to believe or affirm to take to be true is an act of a particular sort, God has reason for believing what he does–he has justification. And this doesn’t entail anything about God’s gazing out into the world and collecting evidence and justification thereby.
We then argue in the paper that we have reason to think that God’s differential justification(s) (bases, reasons) across possible worlds involve differences in God, not differences in things wholly other than and entirely outside of God. To be sure, none of our arguments demonstrably prove that this is so; but we proffered reasons nonetheless.
Christopher then says that the view of God’s justification he mentioned [where God looks out into the world etc.] “completely reverses the direction of fit. God knows what he does about the world by making it be that way.”[Fn]
[Fn] Note that in saying the last sentence here, Christopher was conditionally granting the claim that God has justification.
But this response doesn’t seem to work for the classical theist. For we have to ask what it is we’re referring to when we mention “God’s making things be that way”. We can take this phrase [to use the terminology of Nemes (2020)] either causally or effectually. If taken causally, then it refers to the absolutely necessary, simple, and ungrounded being of God–his necessary intrinsic act. But under this sense, it is untrue that God knows what he does about the world by making it be that way. For taken causally, this simply asserts that God knows what he does about the world by acting as he necessarily does in all possible worlds. But this is categorically insufficient for knowing about the contingent truths/facts/denizens of the world, since God’s act (understood causally) is necessary and hence gives no indication or inkling of what is contingently true/obtaining.[Fn]
[Fn] This is similar to the first point we bring up in response to Objection Five in the paper.
But if we understand ‘God’s making things be that way’ effectually, then it refers to the contingent effects themselves [insofar, of course, as they are brought about by God]–it refers to the way things are. In that case, though, the claim amounts to saying that God knows what he does about the world by the world’s actually being the way it is. But this is precisely what Christopher has repudiated: the direction of fit, in this case, is the reversal Christopher sought to avoid. For now we have God’s knowing the way things are by (i.e. through, because of) things’ actually being that way. This is the world-to-God explanation that we sought to avoid in the first place, it seems.
Thus, it seems to me that either way–whether taken causally or effectually–Christopher’s claim won’t work for the classical theist.
Christopher also gives the example of Michelangelo:
“Michelangelo knew what the sculpture was gonna look like by planning it that way”
But this, to me, actually helps illustrate our point about one’s justification differing across worlds. Consider: had Michelangelo planned to make a hamburger instead, or to make a statue of a puppy, his plan would have been different. The basis for his knowledge–his reason, his justification–would have differed. And this would equally be the case [we argue in the Third-Religious-Studies-Reply] with God. It seems wholly mysterious how God could truly be said to ‘plan’ out all the precise, exact details of the to-be-actualized cosmos when absolutely nothing about God would have been different had the cosmos been an infinite multiverse or a God-alone world. Nothing about God’s providential plan, under classical theism, could differ across such scenarios. The plan must be numerically identical with God himself, invariant across all worlds. (The plan, after all, is precisely what is supposed to factor into an explanation of the contingent order, and hence it cannot be part of that very creation. It must, then, be identical to God.) And it’s deeply implausible, by my lights at least, to say (i) that this could preserve God’s radical providence over which precise creation obtains, and (ii) that this could be the grounds [justification] for God’s varying knowledge across worlds.[Fn]
[Fn] But remember, again, that Christopher is only conditionally granting that God has justification and then proceeding on this basis. Importantly, though, I responded to his denial that God has justification, and thus it is imperative to evaluate what he says in response to the Third-Religious-Studies-Reply conditional upon granting such a claim.
Christopher also claims that the view on which God has justification “presupposes God has occurrent mental states that come and go”.[Fn]
But this is untrue. The view only says that God has ground(s), reason(s), or justification(s) for what he affirms/takes to be true/believes/[whatever language we wanna use]. But this need not come by way of occurrent mental states that come and go. It can, for instance, be based on the infallible plan God has formed from eternity (say), a plan that would have been different had God not so planned to create in the way he has. Thus, the view does not automatically presuppose what Christopher says it does, and so Christopher’s claim is false.
[Fn] In my notes, I only have the quotation “presupposes God has occurrent mental states that come and go” written under my own taxonomic title “Christopher’s criticism of Third Reply in Religious Studies paper”. If my memory serves me, I think the actual quote from the video was “It presupposes…”. Thus, I don’t have a 100% certain memory of what ‘it’ refers to. But–based on my memory–I’m reasonably confident that it refer to the view–espoused in our paper–that God has justification. I’m just making this as a cautionary point in case, as is improbable but possible, my memory is failing me.
Christopher then points out that our argument is supposed to be an internal critique, and thus cannot simply impose on classical theism the claim that God has justification etc.
But this is wrongheaded for two reasons. First, classical theists are explicit that none of God’s acts are arbitrary; they are reason-based. And since God’s belief/affirmation/whatever-language-we-use is an act of God’s, it follows that it is reason-based; it has ground(s); and thus it is justified.
Second, it should be clear from how we respond to objections in the paper that we aren’t solely giving an internal critique. Instead, we often make explicit appeals to auxiliary claims that are independently plausible in their own right even though not internally contained (as explicit affirmations) within classical theism. (Consider, e.g., our appeal to never-existent things’ plausibly being unable to stand in relations and have properties [precisely because they do not (and have never and will never) exist so as to stand in such relations or bear such properties].) Thus, it is perfectly legitimate for us to appeal to independently plausible theses in our appraisal of objections.
Christopher then says, in response to our point concerning justification, that you can change what one knows merely by changing the facts. But this is to miss our point in the paper. For in the Third-Religious-Studies Reply, we were explicit that we were not merely considering changing someone’s knowledge from knowing p to not knowing p. That would, indeed, require no change in justification. But this isn’t what we were considering. We were considering changing (or, more accurately, cross-world varying) from knowing p to knowing not p. And this would, indeed, plausibly require a change in justification, precisely because merely changing the facts ‘out there’ seems categorically insufficient for changing one’s knowledge of said facts—surely one must either change in one’s intrinsic justification for said facts or at least gain or lose some relational feature (in relation to the facts changed).
Thus, I aver that we have a fifth, independent reason to reject Christopher’s Dilemma.
4.4.1 Christopher’s Allegation
Christopher alleges that we make a basic scholarship error and cite the wrong part of the Summa Theologiae in footnote 18.
This points to a small typo in our bibliography, not in the footnote itself. (We have reached out to Religious Studies editors to fix this minor typo.) The bibliography states Summa Theologiae. But we intended to cite Summa Contra Gentiles (SCG). And if you look at the relevant bits of the SCG we intended to cite, Aquinas does, indeed, affirm the identity of God and God’s knowledge [directly or indirectly–continue reading for Ryan’s reason for its inclusion in the paper]. (E.g. Aquinas writes: “To will belongs to God inasmuch as He has understanding. As then by one act He understands Himself and other beings, inasmuch as His essence is the pattern of them all”. Here, he says that God’s knowledge or understanding is one act [and everyone knows that Aquinas explicitly says in, like, all of his works that God is God’s one act]. Ryan told me that this is the reason Ryan included the citation of this.)
We thank Christopher for pointing us to a two-word typo. I think he made a mountain out of a molehill, though, in talking about a “basic scholarship error” and how we had a lack of caution and care towards Aquinas and how we don’t have a “sufficiently deep engagement” with Aquinas. For this is massively overblown: we simply made a two-word typo in the bibliography. And if Christopher were more privy to the rest of our paper, he likely should have been able to infer that we meant to cite the SCG. Consider that in all our [other] references to the ST, We always had the structure “Summa Theologiae I, q#, a#). Consider:
This is quite clearly absent in our footnote 18, which should probably have alerted Christopher to the possibility that we were citing other passages:
What also should have alerted Christopher is that the structure of the SCG is precisely the kind we cited in the footnote above: rather than having a ‘part-question-article’ structure (as in the case of ST I, q#, a#), the SCG is, indeed, structured into Books and Chapters (i.e. Book I, Chapter 5 would be cited as I.5).
I think what Christopher could have done is simply messaged us privately asking for further clarification on this footnote [which is what normally happens in Academia when one suspects that a citation is somehow mistaken], taking care not to make accusations of poor scholarship and insufficient engagement with Aquinas and instead being open to the possibility of something like a two-word typo in what would otherwise be a correct citation. And to be even more charitable, he could have looked at our other references to ST, noticed that they starkly contrasted with the reference in footnote 18, and noticed that the one in footnote 18 perfectly matches the citation structure of SCG. And to be even more charitable, he could have then checked to see if, in the relevant bits of SCG, Aquinas commits to the identity of God and God’s act of knowledge or understanding (which he does, or at least, he commits to God’s knowledge being one, single act which comprehends all–and once again, Ryan cited this with the known point [a point any scholar reading the paper will know, that is] that God’s one act is God.)
Despite making a mountain out of a molehill and making allegations of poor scholarship [note, though, that he was thankfully clear that he wasn’t calling us poor scholars], we nevertheless thank Christopher for pointing us to a two-word typo. (And, recall, we’ve reached out to RS editors to fix it.)
4.4 The No-Non-Existent-Truthmakers Response
Christopher attributes to Merricks the claim that absences can serve as truthmakers. Here’s an almost direct quote from Tomaszewski (‘almost’ because I clip out some filler words, etc):
“The fact that propositions can be made true by absences, that’s not some brilliant idea I came up with… if you want a recent treatment of it, Trenton Merricks, Truth and Ontology, ch 3 is where to find it. He goes through a number of counter-examples to this idea—an idea that the Aloneness Argument depends on—that truths can’t be made true by what doesn’t exist. Merricks completely destroys that. And that’s where there’s a lacuna not just in the knowledge of Thomism here but in the knowledge of contemporary analytic philosophy. … So, I just wanna emphasize that because I don’t want people to walk away from what I’m saying about this thinking that all I have to say about it is that Joe and Ryan didn’t know Thomism. I’m not. I am accusing them of not knowing Terenton Merricks [Suan laughs]. “
This is profoundly ironic.
First, the non-ironic response: it is false to say that our argument depends on denying the position that absences can serve as truthmakers, since I will have given (in my two-part series) at least seven independent responses to Christopher’s Dilemma, only one of which [the one in this section, which will be developed more in part 2] denies the possibility that absences serve as truthmakers.
Second, it is flatly uncharitable to allege that the paper evinces or we evince a “lacuna” in our knowledge of contemporary analytic philosophy. Merely from the fact that we don’t bring up Merricks’ position, that says nothing about how familiar we are with it, our knowledge of it, and so on. And nothing in our paper, as I’ve been arguing throughout this blog post, hangs essentially on a denial of this position. And even if it did, that doesn’t mean that our not addressing the position means that we have a gap in the knowledge of Merricks. For instance, our paper’s argument presupposes that we can have epistemic access to general metaphysical principles known a priori. Many empiricist philosophers deny this. But that doesn’t mean that our article evinces a lacuna in its understanding of empiricism. It just means that we didn’t address the empiricist position, either because we provisionally set it aside, or because it’s outside the scope of our paper, or because we think there are good responses to the empiricist position already developed by others, or what have you. And the same applies to the case of absences serving as truthmakers: from our not including it in the paper, the only conclusion this warrants is that we either provisionally set it aside, or that we thought it was outside the scope of our paper, or that we think there are good responses to the position already developed [which is, indeed, true in this case; I’ll expound more on this in part 2], or what have you.
And now for the irony: Christopher has misrepresented Merricks and, consequently, has evinced that the person here who doesn’t know Merricks is Christopher himself.
First, Merricks EXPLICITLY argues in ch. 3 of Truth and Ontology that the best candidate for a truthmaker of negative existentials [i.e. propositions reporting the non-existence of things] is NOT an absence but instead a totality state:
“The totality state seems to be a minimal truthmaker for each and every negative existential truth. … Moreover, once we have the totality state as a minimal truthmaker, the others seem needless. As in the preceding section, the claim that the totality state is the sole truthmaker for negative existential truths emerges as the best position for a truthmaker theorist.”Merricks, p. 56
He then reiterates, on p. 64, his explicit affirmation that the best candidate truthmaker for a negative existential is a single totality state of affairs. And then he goes on to EXPLICITLY DENY that negative existentials have truthmakers. He explicitly rejects, then, a view on which absences are the truthmakers for negative propositions, since he EXPLICITLY denies that such propositions have truthmakers TO BEGIN WITH:
Here, Merricks is explicit that such propositions are TRUTHMAKERLESS. They don’t have truthmakers. A fortiori, they don’t have absences as their truthmakers.
To make matters worse, I did a command F search on the entire book, and “absence” came up ONCE–yes, once. And it’s not even in the main text. It’s just in the references.
In fact, if Merricks’ position were true–that is, if absences don’t serve as truthmakers, precisely because negative propositions are truthmakerLESS–then Christopher’s dilemma fails, since Christopher relies on absences’ being truthmakers.
Finally, those ‘counter-examples’ Christopher speaks of? Those were not counter-examples to the claim that absences can’t be truthmakers. Rather, they were counter-examples to positions on which negative existentials and the like actually have truthmakers to begin with.
So, to recap: Christopher not only (i) made a false claim that our article depends on rejecting the position that absences can serve as truthmakers, and not only (ii) made an uncharitable (and false) allegation that there is a “lacuna’ [i.e. lack or gap or absence] in our knowledge of contemporary analytic philosophy, but he also (iii) misrepresented Merricks, (iv) thereby evinced that it is he, rather, who has a “lacuna” in his “knowledge of contemporary analytic philosophy”, (v) cited an author’s position which, if true, would quite literally undermine the very dilemma [Christopher’s Dilemma] that Christopher used to object to the aloneness argument, and finally (vi) falsely characterized the purported counter-examples in Merricks’ book.
Wow. Six strikes. All in about 1 minute and 45 seconds [starting at around 1:27:00].
Anyway, I had to stop watching the video at around 1:33:00 because of the video’s lack of charity.
I’ll do a part 2 wherein I flesh out Sections 4.5, 4.6, and 4.7 and thereby develop my fifth, sixth, and seventh responses to Christopher’s Dilemma. I will provide some arguments against absence’s being truthmakers in that post. I was going to flesh them out in this post alone, but I had to publicize my response as early as possible for what-should-be-obvious reasons.
In part two, I’ll pick up with the following sections:
4.5 The No-Non-Existent-Truthmakers Response
This will be the fifth response to Christopher’s Dilemma^
4.6 The Non-Negative-Existentials Response
This will be the sixth response to Christopher’s Dilemma^
4.7 The Revenge of Essentialism Response
This will be the seventh response to Christopher’s Dilemma^
4.8 Response to the last 30 minutes
And now for some exciting news!
6 Big Announcement
Well, I’ve tried keeping it quiet for a while now, but it’s time for a big announcement. (I’ve already given it away in this post, so I may as well make everything explicit.) My announcement (woohoo!) is that I’ve finished writing a second book! [You can find my first book here ❤ ]
The book is a research monograph. It is entitled Change, Existential Inertia, and Classical Theistic Proofs. It’s currently about 103,000 words. I’ll be contacting editors at academic presses in mid-February to share the completed manuscript. Here’s a table of contents:
- Aquinas’s First Way
- Stage One of the Aristotelian Proof
- Existential Inertia: Thesis and Metaphysics
- Existential Inertia: Motivation and Defense
- Stage Two of the Aristotelian Proof: Divine Timelessness
- Stage Two of the Aristotelian Proof: Divine Attributes
- The Neo-Platonic Proof
- The Augustinian and Thomistic Proofs
- The Rationalist Proof, Classical Theism, and Explicability
Patrons already have access to Chapters 1 and 10!
Here’s a snippet from the introduction wherein I survey the chapter-by-chapter contents:
In Chapter 1, I articulate some essential background on change, classical theism, and neo-classical theism. I distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic change, after which I articulate both classical and neo-classical theism. Of particular importance is the articulation of the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity (DDS) and the classical theistic understanding of parthood. This doctrine will come up time and again in other chapters of the book.
Arguments from change for the existence of an unchangeable source or cause of change have been quite influential in the history of classical theistic thought. Chapter 2 therefore appraises one of the most influential presentations of such an argument: Aquinas’s First Way. More specifically, I evaluate a contemporary formulation thereof and uncover a variety of new problems for the argument.
Aquinas’s First Way sets a historical precedent for the argument evaluated in Chapter 3, the Aristotelian proof. This argument reasons from the existence of changeable things to a unique, unchangeable being that creates and sustains them. Like all of Feser’s five proofs, the Aristotelian proof is comprised of two stages. The first stage begins with the reality of change and concludes to an unchangeable source of change. The second stage aims to show that such a being satisfies an appropriate array of divine attributes. Chapter 3 is only concerned with the first stage of the proof. Therein I argue that the proof does not succeed on a wide variety of fronts.
Existential inertia—the view, roughly, that temporal concrete objects (or some subset thereof) persist in the absence of both external sustenance and sufficiently destructive factors—has received a flurry of scholarly attention within the last couple of years. Articulations and developments of the thesis, however, are surprisingly varied and differ in terms of their modal register, domain of quantification, and much more. Chapter 4 therefore provides much needed clarity and precision in this young and blossoming debate by providing a series of taxonomic questions that any inertial thesis (and anyone engaged in the debate) should answer. Therein I also articulate a variety of metaphysical accounts of existential inertia. Finally, I connect existential inertia to debates concerning classical theistic proofs (in general) and Feser’s proofs (in particular).
But existential inertia has not gone uncriticized. Thus, in Chapter 5, I tackle the principal criticisms of existential inertia in the literature. Therein I also discuss a variety of motivations that plausibly favor existential inertia, ranging from explanatory power to theoretical simplicity to diachronic identity and beyond.
Recall that each of Feser’s proofs is broken into two stages. The second stage concludes that the being at which the first stage arrives possesses an impressive array of divine attributes (omniscience, perfection, uniqueness, omnipotence, etc.). I argue in Chapters 6 and 7 that Feser’s stage two inferences to the various divine attributes fail. Along the way, I also present (in Chapter 6) a renewed defense of the argument from changing knowledge of a changing creation against classical theism.
I turn my attention in Chapter 8 to Feser’s Neo-Platonic proof, which reasons from the existence of composite beings to an absolutely simple being that explains why such composite things exist. I argue, first, that the proof’s central premise—that anything composite requires a cause—is both unjustified and dialectically ill-situated. I then argue that the proof fails to deliver the mindedness of the absolutely simple being and instead militates against its mindedness. Finally, I uncover two tensions between Trinitarianism and the Neo-Platonic proof and one tension between the Neo-Platonic proof (and, more generally, classical theism) and the Christian doctrine of the incarnation.
Arguments from abstracta or eternal truths trace their intellectual heritage back to Augustine (and perhaps further). One such argument—Feser’s aptly-named Augustinian proof—is the concern of Chapter 9. Therein I argue that the argument not only doesn’t work but is also incompatible with classical theism. Also the concern of Chapter 9 is Feser’s Thomistic proof, which argues that anything in which essence and existence are distinct ultimately depends on that in which essence and existence are identical. I argue that this proof, too, does not succeed.
The final substantive chapter, Chapter 10, tackles Feser’s Rationalist proof. My two principal criticisms of the argument derive from existential inertia and the argument’s inability to establish the God of classical theism. I also bring to light, moreover, three novel arguments against classical theism. The first argument is based on classical theism’s leaving differences in creation across possible worlds inexplicable. The second argument is a new extension of the modal collapse argument against classical theism and is based on divine providence. The third argument is based on the nature of reason-based action and arbitrary creation.
The book therefore represents an invigorated inquiry into (i) classical theistic proofs (both new and old), (ii) the ultimate explanation of why things persist in existence, and (iii) new arguments against classical theism. None of the arguments or criticisms raised in the book are weapons meant to attack; instead, they are tools designed to serve debates concerning God’s existence, nature, and relation to the world.