Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Fruitless Death of Modal Collapse Arguments

 Joseph Schmid has a fairly nice paper coming out on modal collapse arguments against divine simplicity (which I've talked about here and here), in which he identifies a number of problems with this kind of argument. (He makes the standard analytic mistake of assuming too quickly that simplicity is identity in a particular sense, but it doesn't cause any serious problems for most of his points against the modal collapse arguments.) He wants to argue that the failure of modal collapse arguments points to and motivates inquiry into additional problems with classical theism, and so is "fruitful". In reality neither of the additional problems is a serious problem, and this is quite obvious when they are looked at more closely.

(1) The problem of intentional directedness. Creation is an 'intentional act'; intentional acts are intrinsically directed toward goals; in creation the goal is different across possible worlds; by divine simplicity, all God's acts are identical with Himself and therefore cannot vary across possible worlds; therefore we seem to have a contradiction. This problem is, however, incorrect at every point. First, it makes the standard analytic mistake of assuming too much about what 'identity' could mean here. Second, it confuses objects and goals. Intentional acts intrinsically have objects; these objects may or may not be goals as well. If we narrow what we mean by 'intentional act' to acts in which the intrinsic object is also intrinsically a goal, creation is not an 'intentional act' because on almost any account that accepts divine simplicity, creaturely existence (if one assumes that is the object of creation) is not intrinsically a goal for any divine action. Third, the argument is based on a misunderstanding of how possible worlds semantics applies to the actual world qua actual. Even if we assume that intentional acts intrinsically have goals, possible worlds semantics applied in contexts of modal metaphysics is simply a model of the actual world as involving possibilities. Not particular possible worlds but the whole manifold of possible worlds is a model (an incomplete one, as it happens) of the actual world as involving God's actual act of creation. Thus you cannot adequately describe God's actual act of creation as a list of propositions precisely describing one and only one possibility. So we use multiple lists. But these lists are not describing different things, since each incompletely describes one and the same actual cause, which could very well be simple. The variation, in other words, is a result of the complexity of propositional description; it doesn't tell us about the nature of what is being described. If it is legitimate at all to model possibilities with respect to divine causality by possible worlds, there is no reason to regard variation 'across possible worlds', which is just the very fact of there being differently describable possibilities, as a problem for divine simplicity. And this, again, is even assuming that we can formulate the problem in such a way as to avoid the previous ones, which I don't think we can. Thus intentional directedness is not a problem.

(2) The problem of providence. As Schmid puts it:

For under classical theism, one can fix all the facts about God himself and yet any creation whatsoever (or no creation at all) among the infinite array of possible creations can spring into being with a dependence on God. This simply follows from the radical indeterministic causal link between God and God’s effect needed to avoid modal collapse arguments. Every fact solely about God is perfectly compatible with any creation whatsoever coming into being; there is no distinctive intentional act to bring about this particular creation.

On typical forms of classical theism, it is impossible to "fix all the facts about God himself"; there is no set of all facts about God. But in any case (and this is relevant for the previous problem as well), even on divine simplicity "intentional act to bring about this particular creation" is just, by definition, not identical to God, because it composes or conjoins two different things (God, this particular creation), one of which is not God. Divine simplicity, even granted the analytic mistake, is not the view that everything is identical to God, and therefore God's intentional causing of a particular contingent effect is not identical to God; it's a particular contingent effect that exists because of God, and therefore can't be identical to God. Now, Schmid does get something right here: there is nothing we can "cite on God's end", as he puts it a little later, "to explain why this particular creation came into being". Of course, there isn't; to cite things on God's end would violate the principle of remotion. We don't have God's end; we necessarily start with this particular creation. The classical theist view is that what can create this particular creation would have to be simple, immutable, eternal, etc., all things that follow from the particular causal inference itself. And that is as far as it gets. And it is simply not necessary to know why something is true to know that it is; that's the standard point about demonstration quia vs. demonstration propter quid. So there is no problem here, either.

But all in all, it's an interesting paper.