Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Why are we here?

“... what motivates God to choose not the world consisting solely of himself, the absolutely perfect being, but, instead, a world consisting of the absolutely perfect being accompanied by a universe swarming with countless other beings, none of which — not even any that is perfect of its kind — is or could be absolutely perfect?”* [222]
I’m trying to do some work on Genesis 1-3, and find myself constantly drawn to what I now discover is a position known as ‘necessitarianism’, which apparently Thomas Aquinas denied, but which the author of the question above says actually his logic ought to have affirmed.
Thus I find myself agreeing with the following (in fact it was quite a relief to find someone else taking this line):
Goodness does require something other than itself as a manifestation of itself. God therefore necessarily (though with the freedom associated with with counterfactual choice) wills the being of something other than himself. [...] God’s will is necessitated as regards whether to create, but fully free as regards what to create. [225]
And what that has to do with women bishops, I’ll explain later.
By the way, I discovered this brilliant quote about the author on Wikipedia. It is referenced, so I trust it is true!
When his friends and colleagues wept because they knew he was dying, he consoled them by saying, "You are not a philosopher or a Christian if you are not ready to welcome death." When a colleague commented that he was treating his illness very philosophically, he replied "of course - I have a PhD in that subject."
John Richardson
3 November 2010
* Norman Kretzmann, The Metaphysics of Theism: Aquinas’s Natural Theology in SUMMA CONTRA GENTILES (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997)
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  1. What a thought provoking post...excellent! Two superb quotes and I find myself in agreement with both.

    Necessitarianism, am going to have to find out more....

  2. Fascinating. But I can't help but wonder whether that view of goodness fails to take the Trinity into account. God is love because Father, Son and Holy Spirit have lived eternally in self-giving love, joy and glory. Such could not be said of merely monotheistic religions such as Islam. I would argue that it was out of the overflow of that love that God created the world; not out of necessity, but out of choice. God was not a frustrated lover before the creation of the world, but a delighted lover, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  3. John P, Aquinas has a lot to say about love within the Trinity. However, he also talks about 'goodness' as a quality which is (if I remember correctly) 'diffusive'. Thus God's creativity is an expression of this diffusive goodness, which is inherent to God's nature.

    There is a confusion, however, of the meaning of the word 'necessity'. It is often taken to mean 'in order to fulfil a need', but both Aquinas and Kretzmann emphatically reject that.

    However, there is another 'necessity' which arises out of one's nature. The example that springs to my mind is when someone says, "I had to laugh."

    This doesn't mean, "I needed to laugh in order to make up for something I lacked." Rather, it means, "Having a sense of humour, the circumstances struck me as funny."

    Similarly, the necessitarian view, as I understand it, is that God created because creation flows from his nature.

  4. Similarly, the necessitarian view, as I understand it, is that God created because creation flows from his nature.

    That is exactly how I viewed it. Love is compelled to create in order to share love. If that makes sense.

  5. Dear John,

    I must admit that I am well out of my depth here in metaphysics and Aquinas. However, I remain uneasy. I appears that I have muddied the waters by introducing love into the question. Stuart's latest post about love demonstrates exactly what I was arguing against in my first post - that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are able to share and give love among themselves in a perfectly sufficient manner without needing other objects of affection.

    But to return to your points about diffusive goodness: I had a quick skim of an article which was raising questions about Kretzmann's interpretation of Aquinas. The conclusion is as follows:

    As for the philosophical issue, space will not permit me here to explore all of Aquinas's argumentation to show that God is perfectly free to create or not to create. But, Kretzmann's complaint notwithstanding about the 'uselessness' of creatures which he sees implied in it, what is perhaps Aquinas's most fundamental and most metaphysical argument for God's freedom to create strikes me as quite effective. Simply put, there can be no addition to infinite and perfect goodness as realized in God. Therefore, while God may decide to create other beings in order to manifest His goodness in different but always finite ways, no increase in divine perfection can result therefrom. God perfectly achieves His end, the manifestation of His goodness, with or without creatures. Hence His decision to manifest His goodness by creating is perfectly free.
    (John F. Wippel, "Norman Kretzmann on Aquinas's Attribution of Will and of Freedom to Create to God", Religious Studies
    Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 2003), pp. 287-298

    What are your thoughts? My conclusion from this would be that God's decision to create does not flow necessarily from his nature. Creation is, as it were, accidental, rather than essential, to God.

    Thanks for the interesting interaction

  6. Hi John

    I need to refer you to my most recent post on this, here, where I go into this a bit further.

    The crucial thing I want to clarify is that no-one here is saying God is "needing other objects of affection". But we may, perhaps, properly desire want we don't technically need.

    Wippel had caught my eye, and at an early opportunity (the next time I'm at Oak Hill) I'd like to read his article in full.

    Where it gets interesting is when you suggest, "God's decision to create does not flow necessarily from his nature."

    If not from his nature, then from what? It cannot be from an outside influence. Therefore I think Kretzmann and I (and possibly Aquinas) are saying it does flow from his nature - see my newest post on this.

    I think I would be right in saying that the question becomes 'from whence in his nature'. The answer Kretzmann gives, (deliberately) via natural theology, is from his goodness. The answer I would give is from his love (more later).

    But there is, I think, an alternative, which is that it flows purely from his (disinterested) will. That, I would argue, is wrong (and would make us like Muslims), but it is, I grant, conceivable.

  7. Scripture seems to give only one ultimate reason for existence, God's own glory (Eph 1).

    Beyond that, should we really speculate. Who has known the mind of God or been his counsellor...

  8. John T, could that be an outcome of creation, rather than a reason for?

  9. Dear John,

    Thanks for your thoughtful replies. It is certainly clarifying my thinking. I will comment on your other post when I have digested it a bit more, in particular the points relating to God's unchanging nature and the self-evident truth that there is a creation. We know so little of time and eternity that it is hard to speculate. I wonder if your view becomes almost pantheism, if creation is a necessary expression of God's nature. Would this encroach on God's aseity?

    As an aside, I do think that Stuart's language of compulsion was not far from indicating that God needed to create in order for his love to be love. My argument was saying that God was not compelled to create, since Father, Son and Spirit live in eternal self-giving love.

    I would also like to come back on one thing from your comment above. I think you misread me. I did not deny that creation flows from God's nature. I just said that it does not flow _necessarily_ from his nature. God could still have been the same God if he had chosen not to create. But here your arguments about God's unchanging nature begin to bite. So I think I will lay it to rest until I have understood the issues more clearly.

    Thanks again

  10. John R

    Isa 43:6-7 (ESV)
    ​​​​​​​​I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, ​​​​​​​​everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

    Both reason for and outcome will be true will they not? What God wills, will happen. In the above text, I think it points to glory as the reason for creation. Seems implied in following text too.

    Rom 11:36 (ESV)
    For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

    I'm with John P on this one. I take it that the cross is supremely the place where God's glory is revealed in Christ. In Christ's death, God's being(or attributes)is displayed not only fully but also fittingly, that is, in the way that best expresses the the quintessential heart of God. In the words of Jesus,

    John 13:31-32 (ESV)
    ... Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

    God's righteous response to Christ (as Son of Man) so glorifying Him is that He glorifies Christ and does so immediately (in resurrection and exaltation).

    But I'm getting distracted...

    I want to get caught up in the metaphysics and say that the only constraint upon God is that he acts in ways that are consistent with who he is and that part of that consistency is the freedom to create or not create, his sovereignty... but I'll resist and take Paul's advice (as sanctimoniously as possible)

    1Cor 4:6 (ESV)
    .. you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written...

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