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Posts Tagged ‘God

Henk Geertsema on Problems with the Classical Notion of Causation

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an excerpt from whose Which Causality, Whose Explanation? (Philosophia Reformata, Vol. 67 (2002)

The absolutization of causality in a specific modal sense did not start, though, with physics in modern times. Within theology the problem has been there for a much longer time. If in science physical causality is made absolute as an explanation of reality there is no room left for human freedom and responsibility. But a similar problem did arise in theology: how can human freedom and responsibility be united with the idea of the omnipotence of God? Dooyeweerd discusses the issue in relation to the cosmological proof of the existence of God. God is seen as the ultimate cause in a continuous series of causes.[1] But this view seems to leave no room for human freedom.

The argument goes as follows. Either the idea of God as the ultimate cause is the result of a specific metaphysical position as in the Aristotelian view of potentiality and actuality where God as pure actuality is seen as the unmoved mover. But this approach does not prove anything for those who do not share the metaphysical startingpoint.[2]  Or the argument relates to human experience but then the series of causes of which God is the ultimate has to be taken in a specific modal sense. It could be kinetic, biological or even psychological. In all cases, though, there will be no place left for causality in the normative aspects. As such a continuous series of causes leaves no room for a hiatus which could be filled up by another type of cause especially not one which is of a normative nature, because the latter “implies that the acting subject itself is a final point of reference in the normative aspects of the causal relation”.[3] Besides, if God is taken as the ultimate cause this means by definition that the cause is absolute.[4] So the argument leaves no room for human freedom and responsibility.

The error made is that God’s being the ultimate cause or origin of reality is taken in a modal sense. For the use of this idea – which Dooyeweerd as such accepts – within a theoretical argument it is necessary that it is understood in a temporal modal sense. But this is not possible and it must lead to insoluble problems. God as the ultimate Origin transcends human theoretical analysis. “For human thought it is absolutely impossible to form a defined concept of causality in the supertemporal fulness of meaning or in the sense of God’s creative act”.[5] Therefore, every attempt to explain in a theoretical conception the relationship between the way God acts and the way in which creational processes occur will lead to antinomies. Human action already is incapable of being fully understood in a modal functionalistic way because as a person the human being transcends the modal diversity.[6] For God as the Origin of created reality this is even more the case. In a way all modal causality refers to God as the Origin but not as the ultimate cause in a continuous series that is understood in a modal sense. The relationship between the sovereignty of God as the Creator and human responsibility and freedom therefore can not be explained or accounted for in a theoretical system limited as the latter is to the boundaries of temporal reality. Every attempt to transgress these boundaries will lead to insoluble problems. Either God’s sovereignty is taken in too limited a sense or human responsibility and freedom are given no room. There is a boundary here that theoretical analysis cannot transgress because of its inner nature. Where it does try to do so this is by itself of a religious nature: it is absolutizing a part of the creation by making theoretical reason itself into something absolute.

[1] Cf. NC II, 38ff.

[2] NC II, 39.

[3] L.c. 39.

[4] L.c. 41. To do fully justice to the mediaeval position Dooyeweerd should also have discussed the distinction and relationship between God as primary cause and secondary causes that are part of the creation.

[5] L.c. 41.

[6] Cf. Th. Nagel, The view from nowhere. Oxford, 1986: Oxford University Press, 110ff. about the mystery of freedom.

Written by Romel

April 12, 2020 at 6:32 am

Neville on the Creator-Created Distinction

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When I bought Robert Cummings Neville’s book God the Creator: On the Transcendence and the Presence of God (a 1992 re-issue of his landmark 1960s book) 10 years ago, I couldn’t make heads or tails of  it. The other day, I pulled it out of a shelf of my small library and re-read it again. On pp. 97-98, I came across the passage below, and recalled for me recent exchanges I’ve had with friends far and wide on the question of Divine Simplicity as propounded by proponents of the AAA (Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas) tradition:


Creation_of_Adam“1. The creator-created distinction is between two terms, one of which, A, is in itself independent of the other, B, whereas B in itself is dependent for its whole being on A. If B is an actuality with both essence and existence, “whole being” would express both of these. If B is a collection of things, B1,B2….B4, such that the things are really distinct from each other, the “whole being” of each item would be its essential and conditional features harmonized in its de facto unity.



2. The A term in the creator-created distinction must have conditional features; that is, features it has in virtue of B. But the term “conditional features” is not used here in the same sense it was used in describing real distinctions. Although it indicates in both case the thing has in virtue of another thing, B does not give A these features from without as one really distinct thing gives conditional features to another distinct thing, since B is dependent for its whole being on A. Rather, as A gives rise to B, it gives itself these features. Its giving rise to B is a self-constituting with these features. “Having conditional features in virtue of” is a form of dependence; but it is a second level kind of dependence. That is, A does not have conditional features in virtue of the fact that B gives rise to it; rather A, gives itself the conditional features in giving rise to B. So A’s conditional features depend upon the same act of A that B depends on.

a. This acknowledges our previous conclusion that being-in-itself gives itself features in creating the determination of being. Unless this were the case. The determination of being could in no way say anything about being-itself; there would be no such thing as transcendence because there would be nothing sufficiently close to being-itself for it to transcend. That being-itself has conditional features would seem to imply that it has essential features, as is the case with something really distinct from a determination of being. Yet all features, because they are determinate, must be conditional to being-itself, since they are all created. We saw in our argument for creation that the creator cannot in himself be determinate.

Although being-itself does not have essential features, there is still a contrast between essential and conditional, for it’s the character of conditional features, in their very determinateness and hence contingency, to bespeak their dependence upon what is essential. There would be no conditionals without the essential. To point this out is to refer to the essential by way of the conditional feature of being creator of the conditional features.

b. The conditional features constitute the nature of God in relation to the world. This, in fact, is the only sense in which God has a “nature”, where ‘nature” has the connotation of determinate features. Except as creator, in connection with the world he creates. God is not determinate even in terms of a divine life. Those thinkers who say, for instance, that the Persons of the Trinity make up the divine life as it is in itself rightly point to the presence of God in the conditional features but wrongly ignore the creation involved in begetting between the Persons. Those who sharply separate this divine life from the created world do not see that this establishes a real distinction between God and the world that would condition the former as much as the latter.”

3. Although A has conditional features in virtue of B, since B is dependent for its whole being on A, Ain itself must be independent of B. The contrast between A’s in-itselfness and its conditional features is not the same as that between the essential and the conditional features of a really distinct thing. Within the creator-created distinction, nothing positive can be said of A’s in-itselfness; to say that A in itself is independent of B is to say only the negative thing that A in itself has no determinations with respect to B. All the determinations A has with respect to B are the conditional features it has in virtue of B’s dependence on it. If B determined A in-itself, it would be necessary to A’s very being in itself. If this were so, then either (I) B would be of the essence of A and the distinctions between them only conceptual; or (2) B could not be wholly dependent on A, for thing can be wholly dependent on something else and still e necessary to that on which it depends, unless B already exists, whereupon it bears on A only conditionally. A’s self-constitution such that it gives rise to B entails that B’s wholly dependent status not touch A in itself; since A’s giving rise to B is a self-constitution, A’s identity in itself with its self-constituted conditional features is not a problem. To deny the independence of A in itself is to claim that the distinction between A and B is only conceptual, not real.  [emphasis supplied]

PS : what surprised me were the many congruences I found between the propositions Neville makes here and those that the reformational philosopher Roy Clouser makes in his works, especially in his Myth of Religious Neutrality( Notre Dame U Press, 2005 ed.)

Written by Romel

September 24, 2014 at 9:39 am

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