LECTURE #19/20: The Nature of Providence, II

I. Van Inwagen's "The Place of Chance in a World Sustained by God"

A. vI's model of divine action: God creates and sustains in existence a multitude of elementary particles (or fields or whatever), supplying each at each moment with its causal powers and liabilities (how it will act on and react to other particles).

B. This can easily be extended to providing emergent causal powers to organisms: souls, free will, etc.

C. Miracles and natural law. Natural laws consist in the general constancy of causal powers of particles over time. Each particle belongs to one of a limited number of natural kinds, and the causal powers of particles belonging to the same kind are very similar and stable. A miracle involves investing material things with extraordinary powers, powers that are not typical of their natural kinds.

D. Divine action can be represented by a set of decrees: "let it be that such-and-such a particle exist (with such-and-such causal powers)".

II. Plans and Chance

A. An event is due to chance when it is not part of anyone's plan.

B. God's (eternal) plan = the sum total of what God has unconditionally decreed. We might define God's present plan as the sum total of God's eternal plan, plus those conditional (or reactive) decrees of God's whose conditions have so far actually come to pass.

C. Three possible sources of chance: (1) the free will of rational creatures, (2) natural indeterminism (quantum events, atomic decay), (3) the initial state of the created universe (parameters of the Big Bang).

D. vI is a libertarian (believes in free will) and an incompatibilist (believes free will and determinism are incompatible). When God determines what someone shall do, the resulting action is not free (on the part of the creature). E.g., hardening Pharaoh's heart.

III. Illustrations of vI's Metaphysics

A. VI considers it possible that the existence of human beings, and even of the Milky Way galaxy, are not part of God's eternal plan.

B. Distinguish between: the existence of creatures in the image of God, and the existence of homo sapiens on earth.

IV. How can Chance come about in a World Governed by Divine Decrees?

A. vI's answer: God can issue disjunctive (open-ended) decrees: "Let X or Y be," without specifying whether it is to be X or Y. "Let Adam choose freely whether to eat of the fruit or not." Result: Adam chooses, but the content of his choice was not determined by God.

B. Consequently, the very existence of evil may be the result of chance, not decreed by God.

C. Death by misadventure: Alice's death may be due to chance, not decreed by God. There may be an explanation for why God created a world in which death by misadventure happens, but no explanation (in terms of God's purposes) of why Alice had to die as she did.

D. Can Fate be unfair? If everyone receives the same chances, it would seem to be fair, even if actual harms and benefits are very unevenly distributed without reference to desert.

V. Critiques of van Inwagen's Model

A. Can God play dice with the world? Unless we are strict necessitarians (everything happens for a sufficient reason), we must admit an element of chance in the arrangement of things. The only question is: should we locate the chance within God (divine arbitrariness, caprice) or between God and the world (van Inwagen's open-ended decrees)?

B. Conflict with Divine Simplicity. If Aquinas is correct in thinking that God (as a necessary first cause) must be absolutely simple, then God's will and His knowledge are identical. Consequently, for any contingent fact P, if God knows that P, then God must actively will that P. Since God is omniscient, He must know either P or not-P, and so must will one or the other. Open-ended decrees of the kind described by vI are rendered impossible.

VI. Farrer's Theory of Divine Analogy

A. Farrer argues that when we assert that "God wills/intends that P", we are attributing will and intention to God in a way analogous to our attributions to human beings. The causal joint between creator and creature is incomprehensible to us. "We cannot conceive the causal joint between omnipotent activity and free creaturehood." (p. 110) [NB: Farrer does distinguish between analogy and metaphor: p. 124.]

B. Variety of God's willings

  1. God's law, as promulgated in the Scriptures, conscience (not explicitly mentioned by Farrer in this chapter).
  2. The sense we have (as believers) of a holy will, prescribing some immediate and particular action to us as our duty and act of devotion.
  3. "The immediate and particular will of the Creator is that each created energy should act according to its kind." (p. 108)
  4. The ultimate purposes that God has for the creation. We shouldn't be suprised by the circuitous route that the universe takes in realizing #4: "God sets his heart, not on the streamlining of a plan, but on the realization of a world." (p. 110)
C. The Double Meaning theory: "on the theistic hypothesis, everything that is done in this world by intelligent creatures is done with two meanings.. two doings, although physically only one event." (p. 159) God is the agent of the purposefulness we observe in nature (as in the design argument).

  1. Against the pantheist, Farrer denies that the world has any unity. The focus of unity of God's thought is Himself, not "the world". (p. 163)
  2. Although God is eternal in the sense of not limited to time, God fully participates in time and in becoming. God is "time-transcendent", but "this is no bar to His entering into the temporeity of His creatures' existence." (p. 165) Farrer agrees with the standard interpretation of relativity: there is no cosmic time-line, linking events together in a relation of cosmic simultaneity.
  3. Against the materialist, Farrer argues that disembodied activity is unavoidable: the activity of fundamental particles is not embodied in anything (p. 167).
  4. Farrer's position seems to be a version of what I called Thomism-2: the thesis that my freely doing X and God's willing that I freely do X, are in fact identical.