The Table Video

Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor: Could There Be a Complete Explanation for Everything? - Q&A

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University
September 12, 2012

Visiting Scholar Tim O’Connor answers questions about his lecture, “How to Formulate Questions About Life.”

Those who wanna stay and ask questions, just raise your hand. I’ll recognize you. If at some point there’re too many hands going up I’ll ask Greg to kinda keep track of who raised their hand first but, barring that I’ll just handle it. If you have questions from before. All right way back in the corner. And could you say at least your first name?

Mike: Mike.


What’s the difference between a philosophical and a merely empirical multiverse picture?

Ah right. So some physicists– his question was “what’s the difference between a philosophical and a merely empirical multiverse picture”. So some physicists really do take seriously this idea of a multiverse. That our universe might have been– Here’s one way they fit– There are different models for how they might think about this. Here’s one way. They might say, before the big bang, right, the big bang itself is a product of some primordial condition that’s deeper, right. Some high energy field that’s a vacuum. It doesn’t contain any matter, but it’s highly unstable. And so it kind of subtle imbalances, perturbances cause it to kick off. Generate. Universes spawn, so ours was just one of these bubbles off of this primordial thing. Physicists who kinda are attracted to that idea very misleadingly, say you can get something from nothing. But what they mean by nothing is just no matter, no particular matter. There’s a Lawrence Krauss, is a physicist who’s writing a book in science, philosophy’s all bunk. We’ve answered this fundamental physical question. We do it through good, hard science. And he’s just confused because what they’re talking about is not nothing, it’s a something, it’s something, it’s an energy field. It’s got potential. So that would be a… view. And there’re certain kinds of reasons why they’re attracted to that view. Some cosmologists, I’ll just let you know, absolutely hate this. They say this is trying to turn physics into philosophy. [wretches] I actually went to a conference in cosmologists right, debating about this and there were people standing up, literally shaking their fingers, a whole body trembling, getting angry, right. Because the more empirically minded folks said, we can’t observe any of this stuff, right, science has got to be rooted in observation. And if this picture is right, no matter what our universe is like, is equally consistent with this hypothesis so it’s not sensitive to the particular details of the way our universe — okay. Just wanted to let you know that. But still, it’s an idea, theorists like to play around with these models and they can get very sophisticated, mathematical models for how that could be so. But, that says nothing about whether reality had to be constituted by this multiverse. Science doesn’t give, doesn’t say things like, that things have to be. Science says conditional things about, given that things were this way up ’til now, it might have to go, you know, unfold in a certain way. But, that reality is this way altogether, that’s not part of the empirical theory. The empirical theory is just descriptive. Here’s how things are, it’s a hypothesis. There is this universe generating field, right, and there’s ever so many bubble universes bubbling off this and we just happen to inhabit one of them. That’s the empirical theory. A philosopher might come along and say, But I really want this theory to be totally complete, right, and, so, I’m gonna posit that it was, there’s something about the nature of the totality or maybe the primordial thing that generates all these bubble universes, there’s something about it such that it absolutely has to be. We don’t have a good handle on why that’s so. We can’t, sort of, see it’s necessity, but we’re gonna posit that it’s true of it. So it’s a gloss on the empirical theory, it’s adding this property of necessary existence.

So David Lewis, famously, is a philosopher who died, sadly, about 10 years ago. Brilliant, but crazy, absolutely crazy philosopher, but absolutely brilliant. Terrifyingly brilliant guy. But he wanted to posit that there is non-dinumerable infinity of universes, but not for any empirical reasons.

Mike: Right, right, that’s what I’m trying to —

But, also not to explain, not to answer my question either, though.

Mike: Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to —

He’s trying to analyze what we mean by, so he says there’s all these universes. What do we mean when say, Reality could have been otherwise? Lewis’s answer, We mean that there is, there IS another world that’s like that. And that’s a very strange way of thinking about possibility, right. Usually, you say, Here’s the way reality is, I don’t think I’m a roofer, but I think I could have been. But that’s not the way it is. I’m not a roofer. Lewis says, Right, you’re not a roofer, in this world, but there’s someone a lot like you in another world, in a world that’s really a lot like this world, who counts as you, and is a roofer. He follows the roofer’s path. And that’s what makes it true that you could have been a roofer. And you might say, Well, even if there are these other universes with guys a lot like me, kinda weird thought, but that they’re roofers, that doesn’t say anything about why is there me in this world existing as a philosopher? Lewis will say, You just don’t understand I’m giving you a reductive account of what possibility and necessity these features of possibility and necessity consist in. Talking about possibility is just to talk about existing universes. It’s a different project, but you’re right, he’s got this, so it’s a totally differently motivated project and yeah. It’s really fun. You should read his book on the plurality of worlds. It’s a great piece of philosophy even though it’s, just about absolutely everything that’s said in there is false. Yeah. [laughter]

It was a really interesting talk, I really liked it. You probably go more into this in your book, [muffled]. ‘Cause if you have, say, this big bubbly diverse thing, and God, there’s a necessary being by [muffled]. It seems to me kind of like a deistic explanation.


Why our world is just one among many, it would sort of work like, kind of clockwork —

Ah, okay.

— special about us. I guess I just wanted to know if I’m misunderstanding you.

Okay, right, so, right so, a theistic view of reality, ’cause Christians were theists not deists, part of what that means is that God, He didn’t just sort of spark the beginning of the universe and then stand back and watch the show with no involvement, right? That would be classical deism. Popular in the 17th, 18th century among some thinkers, partly motivated by the problem of evil and thinking, talk of the miraculous is superstitious and so forth, but they’re impressed by the seeming order and beauty and arrangement of the world, thinking there had to be an intelligent being behind it all, so they think there’s a divine being that just generates this world and is maybe aware of it, maybe not, but He can’t interact with it. Whereas theism says, God creates the world and sustains it moment by moment. Reality, contingent reality, we don’t just sort of exist on our own steam. If God were to stop actively willing the universe into being, it would just cease to be. In the way that if a dreamer wakes up from a dream, the dream vanishes, it’s utterly dependent, through it’s whole existence on the continuous causal activity of God. So that’s one thing a theist says as opposed to a deist. And further Christian theists think that God doesn’t just create a world that unfolds in accordance with natural causal processes, but God has also revealed himself, sometimes in miraculous ways in the world and of course in the incarnation, God becomes part, you know, shockingly, of the created reality itself, so all of that is consistent, I think, with this kind of philosophical way of thinking about God on which God, He exists of absolute necessity. In fact, I think there are good, so if you go to Richard Swinburne’s talk tomorrow, what he’s gonna say is absolutely false, I just wanna let you know. [laughter] It really is. He’s just wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Even though, he too, he’s one of the greatest Christian philosophers of the 20th century, but he’s wrong in what he thinks. He says, No, God doesn’t exist with necessity. But, look, if God doesn’t exist of absolute necessity, then he’ll still say, of course, that God doesn’t depend on anything. He just, you know. But he’ll say, It might have been that there was no God. There’s no contradiction, there’s no necessity that God exists. But if that’s so, then it would seem like God could think to Himself, I’m glad that I exist. If it’s true that I might not have been, then God has that thought, He knows that fact. So He could feel fortunate that He exists in the way that you and I feel, and that’s just an unworthy thought, right, to think that God could have that thought. That’s part of why thinking, for God to be God, He would have to be utterly, you know, His very being couldn’t even be subject to the vagaries of chance possibilities, right. There has to be no possibility that God not have existed. So I think there’s theological reason just from the very idea of God. That’s not an argument that God exists, so an atheist could agree that, Right, if there is a God, God must exist with absolute necessity and then deny that. But, so, this is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Anselm, they can fit together. Yeah.

So, let me start out asking you, would there be a theory of everything, go to your talk, the basic question, this is the question [muffled], because it meets these criteria.


And then so, we start looking at some possibly [muffled] schema and start filling in, especially as theists, as Christians, well, use them [muffled].


Okay. So we end up with this being that’s unnecessary and that’s why it’s a really good fundamental principle or the answer, gives better answer maybe [muffled].

Okay, go ahead.

So here’s my question. We have this kind of explanation, that it’s circular or doesn’t go on, it’s brute if at all [muffled].


But it’s existence. But this being has attributes.


Am I missing something when I ask, why, so we have this reason why it is, it’s necessary.

But why, good, good, right, excellent. I wanna say one thing, partly, to directly answer that question, which is that don’t think of this metaphysical style explanation schema, whether theistic or otherwise, as a rival to any ongoing physical theorizing. It’s intended to be complementary, right. It’s a, here’s an explanation that picks up where science leaves off. It’s going to something that’s more fundamental. But it’s not a rival. As Thomas Aquinas, great Christian philosopher says, Think of God as the cause of causes, right, it’s not a rival kind of cause. It’s not saying physics is bunk. Go with God not physics. No, it’s saying, it’s saying physics goes so far, right, but it can’t, we can see that there’s kind of an explanatory need that is not getting met in principle by physics not just by where it’s been. Okay, but then you ask a good question. You say, Well, so if God is a necessary being, and God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good and maybe there are infinitely many other attributes we haven’t even contemplated, right, that we don’t know about God, why – whoa, sorry about that. Why is it that that’s true of the necessary reality? Why is it like that as opposed to some other way? And the short answer is going to have to be, Well, it’s necessarily that way. That is there can’t be any brute facts about God’s nature because then we would say, What’s the explanation? If God could have been all-powerful but isn’t, or vice versa, well, then, what accounts for the fact, the way things, the necessary being actually is. Now, we might not be able to show that that’s so. That is, we might not be able to see why perfect goodness and perfect power inevitably go together. Although, I think interestingly, you can give some partial arguments and actually, Richard Swinburne has done some of this in an interesting kind of way. Here’s one way to show at least certain divine attributes seem to inevitably go together. So, if God is all-powerful, claim, God would have to be all-knowing, why? Why couldn’t just a pure power be an unknowing thing? Well, because to be all-powerful would be to be capable of generating any of a range of possibilities. But to be capable of generating any of a range of possibilities, you have to be in a position to grasp those possibilities. You think about a blind, powerful thing, it just does it’s thing. You know, the sun, it’s just kicking off its energy, it just does it’s sort of thing. It’s a very powerful system in our universe, right, but, it’s not a possibility for the sun say, to make a cup of coffee. It’s just not that kinda thing, it just does it’s thing in a really powerful way. So to be all-powerful would be able to do this or this or this or this or this and wield that power, seems like you’d have to be aware of these possibilities, and to be able to select from among them. So it seems to be really all-powerful requires knowledge. Now that’s just one link, right? And then the thought would be, It’s gotta be that somehow all the attributes of God are mutually entailing. That if you fully grasp them, can really understand them for what they are, you would see that they inevitably go together, they form a complete, unified whole. Now, in fact, the medieval philosophers who thought about this a lot, for just this kind of reason, they said that God is metaphysically simple. That is, that God doesn’t really have a multiplicity of attributes. God is just God. And talk of God’s power and knowledge, these are just different ways of referring to the reality which is God that doesn’t really have differentiation. We have to talk as if God has all these different properties because that’s the way we make sense out of things. We analyze and see relationships. That’s a result of our limited way of knowing, but God would have to be a metaphysically simple being. Why? Well, because if He had any kind of structure, then we could ask this kind of question, Well, why does this part go with this part and it looks like we’ve introduced some contingency, but God is the ultimate buck-stopper, the buck stops with God, right? There can’t be any contingency in His nature so He’s gotta be simple. Now, I think that leads to problems, and, of course, they were aware, and they heroically tried to overcome these problems. It’s amazing for a Christian philosopher like Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas and all the rest in this era, they all embraced this doctrine of simplicity. You say, Well, wait a minute, we’re Christians, we believe God is triune, that looks like some structure and then they wanted to say, Well, actually that’s consistent with what we’re saying and I, myself, have doubts about whether they succeeded in showing the consistency, it sure doesn’t look consistent on the face of it. But, absolute unity is just the limit case of the idea of attributes that are mutually entailing without collapsing into being the self-same attribute. That’s how I would preserve. So a commitment of the explanation schema is, There’s gotta be something about the nature of this thing such that there’s no loose ends within its own nature. It is the way it is, not just that it exists, but it is the way that it is of necessity. We might not be able to, here’s one more way we may not be able to fill out the schema, we might be able to do a little bit, show certain links between certain divine attributes, but others might be completely opaque to us. That’s okay, that just means we’re not in a position to really fully spell out the explanation, but if we could come to have reason to think this is the best, just given the limited, partial nature of the hypothesis that we’re able to come up with, it does a better job of explaining contingency than any alternatives we can conceive, we can still have reason for thinking this is the right way to go. That’s my idea, anyway. By the way, the book that I wrote, there was a nice little book symposium in a journal that’s edited right here called Philosophia Christi, and I give a little precis of the book. Something like eight pages or something, then you can get just beautifully uncomplicated overview of the book and maybe not even have to read the book. You can read some criticisms by some other philosophers, my replies, and the whole thing’s done in 40 pages, and call it a day. So that’s a recommendation if you wanna see the basic structure of things. Questions? You first.

This is off-topic, but it parallels, I was introduced to you by your agent causation article in Oxford, and I wanna know if your view of agent causation, advanced event causation, ties into the very basic question with contingency, meaning if it was event causal, could it be just deterministic chain of [muffled] the secrets going back to God? I try to grapple with this because I’m a theist, you know, I believe in God, and then there’s Christian theists that believe in event causation and then there’s Christian theists that believe in agent causation. Does one way or another change the assumption on your basic question?

I don’t think it changes any assumptions on the question. I’m trying to be mindful of, I’m thinking of a certain chunk of people, I know what you’re asking, but I’m worried that about half the audience has no clue what you’re talking about, just because, depending on their background. But, yeah, theories of causation, whether we should think of causal links as one state of things giving rise to another state and so forth, that would be, kind of, chains of events. It’s certainly a tempting, natural way to think about how the world, the physical world, operates. Things being this way usher in to things being that way, that is the state or event of the particles being charged, in this context causes the repulsion of the other similarly charged particles which causes blah blah blah, and it’s kind of a flow of events way of thinking about how the world dynamically unfolds. And then the idea of agent causation is the idea that a thing as a substance causes, not the current temporary state of the thing, but the thing itself causes perhaps in a purposive way for thinking of agent causation.

I see what’s happening, I’m amplifying.

…maybe where it has to go some way, but maybe an agent causation [muffled] ’cause God’s a substance and He’s not bound by these events. I didn’t know if I was off track assuming that He could’ve been thinking that way.

Yeah. No, I don’t think, I think what was motivating Leibniz was just the idea, well, two things. He thought the principle of sufficient reason was one of the absolute bedrock principles of making reality intelligible. It’s just, it goes that deep for Leibniz, it’s just obvious. It’s like the law of non-contradiction, contradictory states of affairs, right? This is this great principle, right? And the law of non-contradiction is a great principle. And he thought given these two principles we can do, you know. He was a brilliant mathematician, as well as being really knowledgeable about physics, he was a very accomplished engineer, he was a diplomat, he had like 12 careers, the guy was absolutely genius. He might have been the greatest philosopher of all time and he didn’t do philosophy professionally, it was just stuff he did on the side, kinda for fun. He was just absolutely brilliant. But, yeah, like a lot of mathematicians, he’s looking for a few principles that he can then generate, set up a few basic axioms, you want them to be as transparent and obvious as possible and then be able generate theorem after theorem out of that. That’s his beautiful kind of approach. He wanted to do that in philosophy and the principle of sufficient reason was one of his principles and it’s gotta apply to God, too. It’s gotta be that when God operates, when God acts, there’s always a reason why He does this rather than that. Otherwise it would just be arbitrary. [gasps] And Leibniz was horrified by the idea that God would just arbitrarily choose this over that, there has to be some deep explanation. It’s not a kind of necessity like the necessity governing the way the sun unfolds, it’s not a choiceless necessity, right? He called it a moral necessity. God inevitably chooses this because He sees that this is the best of all possible worlds and He desires to create the best of all possible worlds. So it’s not like there’s this inner compulsion just pushing God that way, it’s just, God’s perfectly rational, perfectly wise, He’s oriented to the best, so, boom, here’s the best. I survey all the possibilities, I see that this is on top of the heap, all the possibilities are ordered, this is the best one, well, obviously, I’ll go for that. I think Leibniz is right, if there is a best possible created reality, it’s hard to resist the idea, it’s really hard to conceive God not choosing it. He says, Oh I’ll go a googolplex level high of goodness, really good, you know. I’ve got a googolplex, that’s 1 followed by a hundred zeroes I think. This world’s got one googolplex SGU, standard goodness units, whatever those are. Great, really good world. Really, really good world, I’ll grab that. But, wait a minute, that world’s got 500 googolplex SGUs. And then finally here’s the one that’s the greatest number of SGUs of all. Why would I go for this one rather…? It’s kind of hard to think of God just, now, this is kinda getting back to your worry, a little bit, about the deism, and there’s a nice article by, excuse me, Christian philosopher Robert Adams, addressing this kind of question. And he said, Well, you know, central to the Christian way of thinking about God is that God’s not the utility maximizer of some philosophers, right? God is a personal being and He might just have an affection for, God can love even things that are less than perfect like you or me. So He can have an affection towards creating somewhat, you know, kind of, sometimes miserable creatures like ourselves and that’s grace. And to be able to extend grace to give gracious, to give reality to beings like that that are far from the best that He might have created is a manifestation of an aspect of the character of God. So these are, there’s a lot to be said about this issue. But I kind of want to go with Leibniz, as far as Leibniz is saying, God’s not just gonna arbitrarily go for some, because, it’s, you know, I might have a weird affection for a mangy dog that’s far from being the best kind of dog because human beings are quirky that way. We have our idiosyncrasies and so forth. I find it kinda weird to think of God being like that, having this idiosyncratic kind of, Eh, I dunno, there’s something about these human beings that are kinda cool, and yeah, there are these much, much better beings but, forget about those, I’ll just go with these mangy human beings. And there’s no best possible world. My way of thinking about this is in the book, by the way, is saying, well, if there’s no limit to the number of different ways God might have created reality, and there’s no upper limit, no best, then, now it looks like God’s in a kinda weird bind. No matter how high He reaches, He doesn’t get any closer to the top, right, because there is no top, it’s infinite, right? And, so, there is a way out of the problem. The problem is if you think of God as creating only one universe, one totality. But if God were to create all universes above some minimum threshold of goodness, the whole infinite hierarchy of possibilities, then He’s never had to settle. He allows the mangy things like us to exist, but He doesn’t forsake the even better still things. Or maybe He does every tenth one, or every twentieth one, or every googolplex one, it’s still gonna be the same number of universes. So now, perhaps we do, now we’ve got a theistic reading, just kind of reflection, philosophical reflection on theism, that might lead us to think that there is, after all, a multiverse. I’m actually inclined to think that this is so. In fact, I’m thinking about, trying to write a paper with a student of mine saying, Well, what do we think about the incarnation if this is so? Because, wow, if we’ve got an infinity of universes presumably, some of them, have rational, moral beings like ourselves. And if some of them do, if you know anything about infinity, you know quickly that means there’s an infinite number of them that are like this. And, yeah, while maybe some of these worlds aren’t fallen worlds, presumably, if there’s one, there’s infinitely many. Now, oops, do we have to have God the Son being incarnate in multiple universes? Is that even coherent? Could God assume more than one created nature? I’m thinking about this, anyways, I’m not gonna, it’s kinda fun to think about. Philosophy is fun once you get going. [laughter] One question leads to another and. All right, any other, oh, yeah.

Wait, I wanna ask this correctly. So you think, this is really cool, by the way.


So, thinking about your questions [muffled] so I’m thinking about impossibility, I’m thinking about what’s not possible.


Defining what’s possible. So then I, in trying to flesh that out, it seems I have two routes available. One, is to say that it’s a virtue of, so in essence being a virtue of God’s powers. What’s possible [muffled]. And the other route would be, like, some sort of principles that would define what’s possible [muffled]. So the powers route seems to suggest, in that case.

Are you an engineer or a mathematician?

I’m actually EK [muffled] [laughter]

You’re kinda thinking like an engineer. Good.

It seems if you go the powers route, that makes God contingent in some way. It seems like you could have made Him more powerful or less powerful, at least when I try to think about that, so bear with me. The other route, made of these principles, binding God’s powers. I’m not sure if that violates or if that’s like the wrong kind of [muffled].


So my question is, like, how do you think about that?

If I was following you carefully enough, ’cause I get flustered sometimes, too, something you said early on, part of my mind started wandering. I hope I didn’t wander off too far, so I missed something crucial. Is the worry something like this? If there are these principles that inevitably structure the way God chooses or something like that, then that sounds like there’s something outside of God that God’s constrained by, is that the worry or part of the worry?

‘Cause you talked about [floor creaks], like one that’s kind of like Brute.

Brute, capital B, yeah.

Yeah, and you had this other kind that’s okay, which is brute, but we don’t need it, it’s the type of brute that doesn’t need reason.

Right, or there’s a reason why, there is a brute fact of that sort. That’s kind of, indirectly it’s not brute, or something like that, because there’s an explanation of why there is a brute fact like that, just not an explanation of THAT brute fact, per se, yeah.

So, these outside principles, which would, is there a problem there with, would that be like a bad kind of brute, or was that even, is brute even the right word?

So, the thought is, once you go down this garden path, thinking about contingency and contemplating necessity, and once you find yourself opting for the idea that there’s a transcendent cause, which is necessary, right, then, it’s gonna turn out to be, depending on what the nature of that thing is, that’s going to determine what kinds of explanation are possibly available. And you may say, That looks kind of brute or chancy, you know, because we’ve got a necessary being like this, that operates non-deterministically, we only, we get these kinds of explanations but not these kinds, not the contrastive kinds. Why A rather than B? Had it been a mechanistic, deterministic kind of necessary being, then we would have in addition to “Why A” type explanations, we’d have “Why A rather than B” type explanations, as well. And you might think there’s something brute going on here. But that’s only because, you know, I mean, it’s natural to worry about that. But I think if you think about it, you’re thinking wrongly about necessity, you need to just really think about, Look, if there really is a necessary being of this sort and not one of the pure necessary being generating necessarily the product that it does, call it a mechanistic, deterministic, mechanistic kind of necessary being. If there’s not a necessary being like that, then there couldn’t have been one. Right? That’s the great thing about necessity. If it’s not actual, it’s not even so much as possible. Right? It’s possible, epistemically, that is we can, because we don’t see through to the, just transparently see the inner necessity of God’s nature and that God is the way He is. It can look like it’s possible, for all we know, with certainty, for all we can see in to it, that there could have been a necessary being like that. But it turns out, no, actually there couldn’t have been. If we really understood the way reality is that becomes a fantasy, right? Reality couldn’t have even been like that. There’s a really nice place in C.S. Lewis, where he’s talking about God and morality, and he imagines, it must be in The Problem of Pain, because he’s talking, it’s an early chapter, called Goodness, I think. And Lewis says, Look, the skeptic says Why in the world would a perfectly good God allow the world with the kind of absolutely horrific suffering that sometimes occurs in our world? Because, after all, a perfectly good God would want us to be as happy as possible. If we live in a world created by and sustained by a perfectly good God, we’d all be, it’d just be an endless party and you never would get tired and worn out and it would just be fantastic all the time. And Lewis says, That’s conceiving of the goodness for human beings in a certain way that actually depends on atheism. Yes, if there is no God, then, presumably, the intrinsic goodness, the best, the highest good given human nature is to feel fulfilled, to have projects that you find challenging, fulfilling, having great relationships, you know, that you draw comfort from. You know, ordinary, creaturely comforts of various kinds. That would be the highest good, the best time of life. The good life as people often say. But, if theism is true, then we are essentially dependent on God and we’re made for relationship with God and that is foundational to the good for human beings. And if theism is true, God necessarily exists that way and we are necessarily, if we exist inevitably that would be our good. All of created reality is oriented toward the perfect good, which, if theism is true, is God. So this alternative way of thinking about human goodness, which seems perfectly conceivable, we all, even Christians, right, we can feel the pull of it and sometimes we inhabit the mindset where that’s all we’re pursuing, turns out to be, he says, an atheistic fantasy. It depends on the assumption of atheism. But if theism is true, atheism is not even so much as possibly true. So if theism is true, it’s not even possible for there to be creatures whose good consists solely in creaturely pleasure. All right, so that was a bit of an aside. He does a beautiful job of talking about that. So, if you’re asking the problem of evil, you have to conditionally adopt the theist mindset, and say, Okay, I’m going to conditionally suppose God exists and is the fount of all reality and has created human beings to be ultimately in union with Him, and then I’m gonna ask myself whether I can make sense out of that kind of God, with that aim in mind for human beings, could choose to permit sometimes really intense, horrific suffering in some of his creatures. I can’t make the wrong assumptions about what kind of ends a God would have, that really depend on atheism. So likewise, here, while it seems conceivable, because here we are theorizing, we’re unsure if we’re just doing philosophy, we’re unsure which of these possibilities schemas are right, it can look like that would be, different things would get explained if that were so. But if that’s not the way necessary being is, then that’s not even so much as possible. That’s the crucial thing. And necessary beings are not brute beings. When you posit necessity, you’re saying this is absolutely the way things have to be. So there couldn’t have been reality like that. It just seems that there could have been, but, in fact, [spits] no. It’s like trying to imagine a world where you say, Okay, suppose two plus two equals 10. You should balk, wait a minute, it just can’t be that two plus two equals 10, you’re not telling a coherent story. Well, there we feel like we can see it, or at least we think we intuit elementary arithmetical truths. Well, we don’t intuit in that way God’s nature. Aquinas said that if we could really see the divine essence, transparently, nakedly as it were, we would see that God absolutely must be. So that all kinds of notions of realities where there is no God, they would just seem like worlds with square circles, just incoherent stories. We don’t see it that way and so it can look that way to us. Just one last spin on this, sorry, I’m kind of blathering on, but, you know, if you ever hear the ontological argument, the ontological argument says, If God is so much as possible, then He must be, and if He must be, then He actually is. It’s kind of a neat, philosophical trick. Anselm says, even the fool, echoing the psalmist, says in his heart that there is no God. Well, okay, if the fool says that, he must at least understand the idea of God. He must have the notion of God. Well, if the fool reflects on the notion of God, then he sees that God is a maximally perfect being. That’s what we mean by God, in some sense. In Anselm’s phrase, That than which none greater can be conceived. Right? But a being that exists is better than, well, one version of Anselm’s not so good, [mumbles] a being that exists as well as having all these other features, is better than a being that has all these great making features but doesn’t exist. All right? So, if you’re really imagining God, you’re imagining an existing being. Ah, so God exists. That’s not the best way. A better way of putting Anselm’s argument, which he actually follows up in when a monk who believes in God objects to this reasoning, he says, Well, God would be a necessary being, and if you allow that it’s even possible that God exists, then I can show you that God actually exists. Why, because God is a necessary being. So if you go off to this possible world over here, call it Delta and we suppose, there’s God. Well, what are you supposing over there? Necessary being. What does that mean? Being that exists in all possible worlds. Whoops, slingshot. So that means God inhabits all of possibility space, including our world, which is one of the possibilities. So if God is possible, He’s necessary. Likewise, if God is not, if God is not necessary, if He doesn’t actually exist, then He couldn’t possibly exist. Because He’s a necessary, if it’s right to think of God as a necessary being. He either exists in all possibilities or none of them. You can’t say He exists in some possible realities and not others. Likewise, with this hypothesis of the necessary being as some kind of deterministic, mechanistic cause. Either that thing exists in all possible realities or none of them. So if it doesn’t exist in the actual world, it’s not even a possibility. Hopefully a lot of you were able to follow all that. Yeah.

I don’t know if there was someone, I didn’t see any other hands as yet. That seems like something that’s necessary, [muffled], whatever that is, it’s out there somewhere.


Where does that go?

Good, good, good, good, good.

And you probably said [muffled].

No, well, yeah I did try to talk about this a little bit, ’cause this gets back to this question of if there these principles that kind of govern the way God operates, you kinda worry then there’s some kind of independent, God kinda consults the principles for how we should behave or something like that, and that seems wrong, right, it seems to compromise what theologians call God’s Aseity, His absolute independence of all else. Leibniz, I’ve said some things criticizing Leibniz, great philosopher that he was, but Leibniz in Augustin, seems to toy with a similar idea. Says, Right we don’t wanna say that, but we do wanna say there are sort of necessary truths. We don’t want to say it just happens to be that two plus two equals four. So we’ve gotta somehow bring those necessities within the divine nature. Now this is a rather obscure idea, but the idea at root is supposed to be that all these kind of necessities that we can transparently see, principles of non-contradiction and logic, mathematical, simple mathematical necessities, somehow, they don’t reflect some independent Platonic realm of necessary truths, Plato’s forms and mathematical reality, that somehow something independent of God, that God just has to put up with, right? God says, Okay, what kind of world do I want? Well, it’s already all populated with all these Platonic necessarily existing forms, okay, I can’t do anything about that, but I can at least decide what kind of contingent beings, but they’ve gotta be consistent with these necessities. That seems like that shouldn’t be right, right? The idea is to bring the necessity within the divine nature somehow. How, is an interesting question, and it’s rather difficult, but one idea, that Leibniz has, is to say the necessary truths are divine ideas. They are thoughts that God necessarily thinks by virtue of His very nature. And so, while to us, we have this, you say, What is it when we see a mathematical truth, after all? It’s just, we have this deep conviction that it’s true and has to be otherwise, that’s all. We don’t have some kind of mystical ability to reach out into a Platonic heaven or into the mind of God or something directly, and kinda examine the contents, right. We just [snaps], we’re taught to manipulate beads, and after a while, it just comes to seem obvious to us, and not just obvious that it is so, but that it has to be so. But what the nature of those facts are that we see that seem so evident to us, that’s up for grabs. And, on this picture, we simplify our picture of reality, here’s a virtue. If this idea can be made to work, it has a great explanatory virtue. We get rid of non-dinumerably, infinitely many, independent entities called numbers, including the transfinite cardinals if you know anything about infinity, there’s more or less infinity, at least if Cantor’s right. Aye-yi-yi. And then all these other abstract entities, properties and stuff, if we could somehow reside all those within this one super abundant plenum nature, the nature of God, wow, we’ve done this huge simplification of our picture of reality. So there’s theoretical reasons to like it, too. ‘Cause, other things being equal, it’s always nicer to have fewer independent posits than otherwise. But this is just a kind of suggestion and it’s really hard to know how to take that suggestion. How do we really think about it, but at any rate, it’s an attractive idea for theists, lots of theists have been attracted to the idea that somehow necessities are not outside of God, they somehow reflect God’s very own nature or His activity in the case of Leibniz, His thinking activity. Yeah.

Yeah, [muffled] that God could actualize, there’s not just one greatest possible, but a bunch of equally best possible worlds and God just, He has certain desires and He just picks one. Does that mess with the explanation at all?

No, in fact, it’s consistent with it. So, if you think, you might think there can be an intrinsic limit to certain kinds universes can only get so good. There’s somehow, I kinda briefly said, Well, can’t you always add more good things or something? But, you might say, no, sometimes goodness is measured by balance and there might be an equilibrium that constitutes perfect goodness. This is how Liebnitz thought about it, I won’t go into the details. So, you know, I’m not saying it’s an obviously dismissible idea, that there could be the best universe of a given kind. But then you might say, but worlds that have completely different kinds of stuff might be really good and you could get better and better versions of that but you can’t have this kind of good stuff and that kind of stuff together in the same world without at least mucking up the unity of the stuff. It’s totally different natures, your physics would be a mess, Liebnitz wanted a really simple physics, because, again, he wants everything beautiful, elegant, and so forth. So, you can maybe have a best of Type A and a best of Type B and a best of Type C, et cetera. Then, ah, this is starting to look better, because if there are a huge number of these basic world types, maybe an infinite number, now we could say God could just slice off the top on all of those, and now, it’s not, yeah, then He might go for that package. So the best creation, you might think, is to take the whole package of all the best on each scale of type of goodness. That’s a possible way to go. But, if you go that way, the one worry is, it does turn out that it’s inevitable, then, that you and I exist. We don’t exist in all the possible worlds, all the possible universes, discrete universes, but it’s inevitable because we’re part of the best of one type of thing, right? You might worry about that, where has contingency gone? But there is one out. Because while it might be inevitable, excuse me, that a world of our type exists, it could be a world that involves indeterminism in the way it unfolds. Like, human free choices. So you might say, Not all, so it’s inevitable that a universe of our broad type exists, but the details are not inevitable. Because we make choices, and maybe even at a fundamental physical level there’s indeterminacy there too. So that could be an out. So we preserve some measure of contingency consistent with saying, that this world type as a whole, it was inevitable that there was going to be that. Because God saw it as the best instance of its kind. Maybe that’s a compromise.

So you wanna have it to where there’s at least one world type where nothing exists, no human persons other than God, that would be one world, so that would be part of the equally best to where you can at, like in Swinburne’s consideration, you just keep on going up and up and up. But you don’t need human persons anymore because it’s just God existing and so that doesn’t add any, may not make it a better world, but it’s more [muffled] God exists.

Okay, good. That’s a deep question, right. Because if God is infinitely good, just utterly, absolutely good in a metaphysical sense, the best kind of reality there could be, then why bother creating anything? If the sum total of reality doesn’t get any better, infinity swallows up finite things getting added to it, it’s just still infinite goodness, it’s not, you haven’t added good. I know it sounds strange, right, ’cause usually if you have a finite number of good things and you add a few more, you’ve got more good things. If you’ve got an infinite amount of something, and, what’s infinity, simple and countable infinity, plus 25? It’s countable infinity. Add a googolplex. It’s the exact same, right. And then, so you begin to say, Huh, wait a minute, what motivates God to create at all? It’s not to make the total of reality better, because it can’t get any better. Okay. The answer I like to this question is that it’s part of God’s nature to sort of graciously confer reality on things, you know, finite creaturely goods. That is, if you think about it, goodness is, there’s a principle that medieval philosophers struggled with because they worried about the theological implications of it but, many of them talked about it. It was this principle of the diffusiveness of goodness. Goodness by its very nature, just gives rise to other good things. We talk about human beings as being more or less good or generous, right? Now, you take somebody who’s a really generous human being, you stick them on a desert island all alone, they’re not going to be able to manifest their generosity. But if you take that same individual plop them down in the middle of an urban city with a lot of need, if they don’t do anything, we then question the claim that they really are good. Because look, they’ve got opportunity to manifest that supposed goodness and they’re doing nothing. So, likewise God, He has the opportunity to just graciously confer reality, it’s not because He needs it, God is self-sufficient, but it’s a kind of act of pure generosity to give rise to other things. So it’s not that the sum total of reality gets better, created reality, that’s why I think, when we talk about measuring goodness, we’re kind of abstracting away from God, because God swallows up, everything become infinitely good. But we’re talking about the goodness of the created reality, right? Kind of like when an artist, a sculptor creates a work of art. The sculptor’s not taking into account his own value or her own value and saying, Okay, what I want is a reality of my value plus something else. No, I’m just focused on the object, saying how good of a thing can I make that? And so similarly, God, even though reality is not in aggregate going to be any better, still, how good of a created thing can I do and I do that out of pure generosity. Because it’s good for us to be alive, we’re all thankful for that. So that’s, we weren’t pre-existing, so it wasn’t like God said, Ah, there was him and I’ll be good to him, so that’s a difference from the case of human generosity. But He knows that in so creating sentient beings there will come to be beings that experience great goodness and that’s a great good to them. That’s, I think, the motive. It’s an outward directed motive, not any benefit to God.

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