Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"God: Eternity, Free Will, and the World" Refuted — Part 3

A few months ago over at the Catholic apologist's site Strange Notions, where I sometimes debate theists (but am now banned from), a post was written by Catholic philosopher Dr. Dennis Bonnette that was almost entirely addressed at some criticisms I've made on the site in the past year.

This is part 3 of that criticism. For parts 1 and 2, click here and here.

God Possesses Free Will

In making his argument for god's free will, immediately Dr. Bonnet says something incoherent:

Still, since the positive perfection of intellect is found among creatures, God must possess intellect – for God could not create finite intellects unless he possesses that perfection himself. Just as the intellect knows being as the true, the intellectual appetite desires being as the good. The intellectual appetite is called “will.” Thus God must have will as well as intellect. In fact, the divine simplicity requires that his will is identical with his intellect.

First, non-intellect can "create" intellect. This is in fact what science demonstrates. Higher order intelligence emerges from lower order non-intelligence. Every single piece of data we have from science demonstrates this, from the fact that thoughts are encoded in the brain and can be read by external parties before subjects become consciously aware of them, to the fact that all the laws of physics that deal with the everyday realm (which includes all of human behavior) are known and there is no room for external forces not in the Standard Model and gravity to have any influence over us, and to the fact that memories can be seen forming in the brain. It is a false creationist trope to argue that only intellect begets intellect. Secondly, what exactly is being claimed when Dr. Bonnette says, "the intellect knows being as the true"? Is this some truism? This is hardly a justification of god's will and intellect. Blind, unintelligent forces can result in intelligence. So no argument Bonnette makes here works. He continues, including a quote from Aquinas:

It may seem odd, but it is possible to have a will that is moved necessarily toward certain objects. For example, God wills his own goodness necessarily. As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it:
“The divine will has a necessary relation to the divine goodness, since that is its proper object. Therefore, God wills the being of his own goodness necessarily, just as we will our own happiness necessarily….”1
Thus, the notion of will itself, as the intellectual appetite for the good, is not inconsistent with an absence of free choice.

How can god will his own goodness necessarily, if god defines goodness? God could will anything and it would be called "good" by definition on the scholastic view. There'd have to be an objective standard independently of god for us to be in any position to know what goodness god would necessarily will. Think about it: if we were confronted with 5 different theists who each believed in a different god that had a radically different will and we were generically told "God wills his own goodness necessarily," how would we know which of the 5 gods, if any, actually willed goodness? We also don't will our happiness necessarily, we have the strong tendency to do so. Aquinas is also, if you didn't notice, just defining god's will as good. All Thomism fundamentally is, is defining things into existence.

And yet, despite being utterly immutable and eternal, God does possess free will with respect to some things. While he necessarily wills those goods that are equivalent to his own being, such as his own existence and his own goodness, he nonetheless does not necessarily will lesser goods than his own goodness, such as his will to create this world or that world or not to create at all. Again, St. Thomas explains:
“God wills things other than himself only insofar as they are ordered to his own goodness as their end. … Hence, since the goodness of God is perfect and can exist without other things, inasmuch as no perfection can accrue to him from them, it follows that for him to will things other than himself is not absolutely necessary.”2
St. Thomas maintains a suppositional necessity here, saying, “… supposing that God wills a thing, then, he is unable to not will it, since his will cannot change.”3

Suppositional necessity is the farce that exposes the Thomist's justification for god's necessity. You see, in trying to prove god necessarily exists, the Thomist will act as if the specific god he believes in is logically necessary—as if logic demands the Thomist's god must exist. He will hope this is enough to convince you of his conclusion. But when you point out the fact that because his god is equal to his will (ie, god's will is his essence), and that god's will to create our specific universe isn't logically necessary, the Thomist is really saying that a god with an unnecessary nature or essence is a necessary being, which is a contradiction. So to clarify that, he explains that what he really means by "necessary" is that god is suppositionally necessary, meaning, god wills unnecessary things and because what god wills could not have been any other way, it is "necessary" after the fact. The Thomist concludes that god's will exists "freely" because he believes (a) no outside forces of any kind can affect god, and (b) it isn't logically necessary.

But of course, nothing can be further from the truth. If something can be "necessary" because it's eternal and therefore could not have been otherwise even though it's not logically necessary, then the same thing could be true of an eternal universe: it isn't logically necessary, but because it exists and is eternal, it cannot be any other way. I will demonstrate this further in part 4.

The immediate evidence of the existence of such freedom by God to will lesser goods than himself is the evident fact that the finite world in which we live actually exists, as opposed to an unlimited number of possible other worlds he could have created. Is he necessitated to create this world? No, because this world is a lesser good than his own goodness which already includes every possible perfection of goodness. Hence, God creates this finite world in which we live by a perfectly free act of his will.

This is working backwards, starting from false premises like the principle of sufficient reason, and then narrowing down possibilities and merely attributing free will. Claiming god created this specific unnecessary universe out of free will also doesn't avoid the inherent objection: that god's will must have an explanation according to the principle of sufficient reason, especially since god's will is his essence, which is existence. The explanation for god's unnecessary "free" will to create our universe requires an explanation, according to the Thomist's own principle of sufficient reason. To say that it doesn't is to say that an ontological claim doesn't need explanation.

The Thomist could claim there's an explanation, but that we just can't know. It's an epistemic brute fact, he can claim. Some theists will say I'm confusing epistemic brute facts from ontological brute facts. But I'm doing no such thing. The problem is not merely that we can't find the exact reason why god would want to create this particular universe as an unnecessary lesser good, it's that since it isn't necessary, no necessary explanation is possible as an option. And that means any explanation that could possibly exist will be one that is not self contained: it will have to refer to something else to explain it. That is exactly what gets you into the dilemma I argued over a year ago on Strange Notions. I challenge anyone to show where this logical flow chart is incorrect. Any response involving suppositional necessity is a non-starter.

And that wraps up part 3. Some of this is indeed a bit redundant, but it's necessary for me to stress the point.

When closely examined, you can see that for all the sophistication on Strange Notions, the arguments there implode under scrutiny. Dr Bonnette simply has no case for god's necessity that an atheist can't also use (a point I will justify even further in part 4) because what he really means by "necessary" is suppositional necessity, nor does he have a case for god's supposed free will. To claim a will is free that could not have been different negates one of the most common requirements of libertarian free will: the ability to have done otherwise. I will follow up with the refutation for part 4 shortly.

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