Thursday, October 12, 2006

Incompatible Properties Arguments against Theism (Part 2)

The next several arguments that Drange presents (see here) turn on the idea of divine immutability, that God is incapable of change in any sense, and attempt to draw out a contradiction with other divine attributes. Here's the first:
The Immutability-vs.-Creation Argument
  1. If God exists, then he is immutable.
  2. If God exists, then he is the creator of the universe.
  3. An immutable being cannot at one time have an intention and then at a later time not have that intention.
  4. For any being to create anything, prior to the creation he must have had the intention to create it, but at a later time, after the creation, no longer have the intention to create it.
  5. Thus, it is impossible for an immutable being to have created anything (from 3 and 4).
  6. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 5).
Is this argument any good? Well, in my previous post I expressed some qualms about premise 2, which would be rejected by any theist who holds that creation is a free act of God's. Again, I won't dwell on that point. While a legitimate critique, it's not a decisive knock-down of the above argument because theists would concede that God has in fact created the universe, and that's enough for Drange's argument to get off the ground.

Now, for my part, I'm quite unmoved by this argument because I think premise 1 is false. I don't think that God is immutable in the strong sense of being incapable of any sort of change. A great many theistic philosophers of religion today would reject absolute divine immutability, so this argument would be wholly ineffective against their position. At most, it's a refutation of the idea of an absolutely immutable God, an idea that many theists don't accept anyway.

But neither do I think that theists who do embrace the idea of absolute divine immutability should be greatly disturbed by this argument as it stands. From their perspective, premise 4 is completely unacceptable. In the first place, the premise speaks of God's having an intention "prior" to creation. This implies that God stands in a temporal relation with creation and thus that God is, in some sense, in time. But this is question-begging because advocates of divine immutability typically also hold that God is essentially timeless and thus does not stand in any temporal relations with creation whatsover. In the second place, advocates of divine immutability would insist that God's creative intentions do not and cannot change. Rather, God changelessly and timeless wills that there be a creation of a certain sort. In other words, we aren't to think of God as first deliberating over his options and then, after some time has passed, deciding to create universe #47838.

Drange defends premise 4 as follows:
Creation is a temporal concept. This is built into the very definition of "create" as "to cause to come into being." X cannot cause Y to come into being unless X existed temporally prior to Y.
But this too is question-begging. Drange assumes that creation is a kind of causation and that causation requires that a cause be temporally prior to its effect. But the latter assumption in particular is one that an advocate of divine immutability would reject. For him, God's creative causality cannot be assimilated to the standard model of event-event causation, which presupposes that causes are prior to their effects. Rather, the cause (God) timelessly wills that a temporal creation be. In other words, time is a result of God's creative activity, not a precondition of it.

In conclusion, then, Drange's second argument is ineffective. It carries no force against theists who reject divine immutability, and it is question-begging against theists who affirm divine immutability. Of course, the notion of divine immutability is a difficulty notion, and one that raises a number of perplexities. It may in the end prove incoherent, but
it's going to take much more argument than Drange provides to show that.


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