Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Modal Collapse and Providential Collapse

 Joseph Schmid has a paper, From Modal Collapse to Providential Collapse (PDF), in which he argues in somewhat more detail for what he argued in his previous paper, The Fruitful Death of Modal Collapse Arguments (PDF), namely, that classical theism can avoid modal collapse only at the expense of problems with divine intentionality and providence. As I noted, his argument there was not convincing. So it's interesting to ask if this new angle improves the argument any. I'm inclined to think not.

The first problem is intentionality. As Schmid puts it:

For God is an intentional, rational agent (even if only analogously so). Surely, then, God knows and intends what he is doing in advance. It is not as though God brings something about but doesn’t know or intend in advance what he is doing, i.e., what he is bringing about. The notion of ‘in advance’ here is a bit imprecise, but we can precisify it by speaking of the state causally prior to creation.

This is already not promising; there is no "state causally prior to creation" unless you just mean God. Thus the most this can mean is that God knows and intends what He is doing in such a way as God would know and intend. In any case, Schmid continues on the basis of this idea, which he calls PRIOR:

This is where the problem manifests. For God’s knowing and intending what he will create is a contingent matter. It is a contingent truth that God actualizes our world, and hence it is a contingent truth that God knows that he will actualize our world in advance of creating it. Similarly, it is only a contingent truth that God intends to actualize our world. Had another world come about, it would have been the case that God intended to actualize that world instead....But we saw earlier that contingent divine predications are extrinsic, i.e., they characterize God not as he is in himself but rather as he connects (or fails to connect) to things ad extra. To put it differently, contingent divine predications depend on something apart from God. 

But upon what could the contingent predication of ‘intending to actualize our world’ in PRIOR depend?

This is equally unpromising. The contingent predication of "intending to actualize our world" obviously depends on the world (and on us!), who are contingent and are not God. Schmid wants to argue that this would give us a vicious circle, but this is obvious nonsense. The predication depends on our world, and does so explicitly. There is no room for question about that; "our world" is explicitly part of the predicate. But the world depends on the intending that we specify in discourse by the fact that the world is its result. It's not viciously circular to describe the cause from the effect; in fact, it is standard practice. Schmid errs in thinking that the explanation of the predication is the same as the explanation of that to which the predication correctly applies. What explains predicating "intending to actualize our world" of God is that, starting with the actualization of the world, we recognize it requires an intentional cause. But this is not what explains the actualization of the world -- that's the intentional cause itself. 

To put it in other words, Schmid's intentional collapse argument makes the elementary error of confusing "It is because our world comes about that we can predicate of God the intention for it to come about" and  "It is because our world comes about that God intends it to come about." Merely because the cause is described in terms of what the effect requires from it does not mean that the effect explains the cause.

The second argument is that the rejection of modal collapse requires rejection of providence. As Schmid puts it here,

Intuitively, though, creation’s precise contents then seem beyond God’s control, since fixing all the facts about God leaves open all possible worlds—from worlds in which an infinite multiverse co-obtains with God to worlds in which God exists by himself. Each of them could become actual, and God can do nothing distinctive in any such world to ensure any particular creation obtains.

As I noted previously, classical theism directly entails that there is no such thing as "all the facts about God", and therefore there is no way to 'fix' them. However, Schmid is also incorrect about possible worlds. No possible worlds can strictly "become actual"; a possible world is a logical object associated with a set of propositions mapped to truth-values. To say that God's existence, for instance, "leaves open all possible worlds" is just to say that 'God exists' - True is a mapping associated with  all the logical objects we are considering. So on with anything else that "leaves open all possible worlds". But since the truth values we want are those that have to do with actuality, all possible worlds together describe the actual world -- they just describe different possibilities in the actual world. 

Suppose, for instance, that David is a free agent, capable of freely making this or that. That is to say that David is a free agent. David's existence and capabilities 'leave open all possible worlds' that cover actions and effects that David can cause, just be definition. What Schmid would have to say in this analogy is an old sophism, namely, that David cannot actually do anything without ceasing to be free, because if he did anything, he would not be free at the same time to do otherwise -- if one possible world 'becomes actual', then it closes off all the other possible worlds. This, however, is simply to misunderstand what possible worlds are doing here; they are simply a way of modeling precisely the fact that David can do this or that. In this case, possible worlds are being used to describe what God's possible effects are; and that is all. They tell us nothing about what is actual or not, nothing about the actual causation that gets the actual results modeled by the lists, beyond the fact that all of God's possible effects presuppose God. 

Given this, we can see that Schmid's argument really depends on assuming that nothing can cause anything except deterministically. If things can cause things in a nondeterministic way, so that a given cause is capable of doing different things, then it will always be the case that a given cause will be modeled using multiple possible worlds that are not ruled out as possible by anything to do with the given cause. The only difference here is that God is by hypothesis the ultimate cause on which everything else depends, and therefore requires a far more vast modeling. (And, indeed, as I've also pointed out, so vast that it is an open question whether possible worlds adequate to model the possibilities available to God -- or, to put the same point another way, the possibilities that depend on God are so extensive that it is an open question whether they can all be exhaustively modeled by lists of propositions.)

Schmid does after a fashion try to get around this, in a completely inadequate passage (the third response to Objection One), in which he says that nothing in his argument affects libertarianism because attributing free will to human beings doesn't require saying that they are compatible with any effect whatsoever; this, however, is obvious tap-dancing, because this is irrelevant. The only difference between God and any other free agent on this point is that many, many more possible worlds are required to model divine freedom; structurally, the possible-worlds modeling works exactly the same. Schmid's argument is, contrary to his claim, entirely inconsistent with libertarianism. (And, indeed, with a lot more, since it requires complete determinism.) This is unsurprising, since Schmid's basic argument is that any rejection of modal collapse requires indeterminism between the relevant cause and effects, and that the latter is sufficient for rejection of modal collapse as well, and therefore his only viable path for raising serious objections to any rejection of modal collapse is to attack the possibility of indeterminism between the relevant cause and effects. This will generalize unless we have specific reason to think it doesn't; but the possible worlds apparatus that Schmid is using applies to any kind of cause and effect without any substantive differences, because it just models them in terms of possibilities.

Schmid also makes a general error throughout. His whole argument is based on what he calls he Biconditional Solution:

Biconditional Solution: Classical theists avoid modal collapse if and only if they embrace an indeterministic link between God and his effects.

This is an obviously ambiguous statement, and in fact Schmid falsely assumes that if there is an 'indeterministic link' between God and his effects, then God cannot causally determine his effects. This confuses "God does not necessarily make X happen" and "God necessarily does not make X happen". That is to say, the only indeterminism required is that God is not necessitated with regard to effects (which in and of itself eliminates modal collapse); this is absolutely not the same as saying that God cannot necessitate, i.e., make conditionally necessary, any effects.

The paper does a lot to clean up the arguments, but also, I think, makes more obvious that the arguments are nonviable.