Summary of “God Over All”: Chapter Four, “Absolute Creation”

In the previous post in this series we looked at the challenge of Platonism, the view that abstract objects exist.  We also looked at what it affirms, and the argument in favor of it. In other previous posts we looked at the traditional Christian understanding of God’s self existence, or aseity.

Now that we have established these two ideas (Platonism and aseity), the question must now be asked as to how they can be reconciled, if at all. The first attempt to be looked at is what has been called “Absolute Creation.”

Absolute Creation

This view was first proffered by Thomas Morris and Christopher Menzel in an article entitle “Absolute Creation” published in 1986 in American Philosophical Quarterly. As Craig notes, the most obvious first attempt at reconciling Platonism with the traditional view of God is to modify Platonism by saying that abstract objects exist, but are not uncreated. Rather, they are instead created by God. Some proponents of this view may reject the idea of a transcendent realm of abstract objects, and instead follow a view more closely aligned to Aristotle and say that abstract objects exists only within concrete objects which have those properties. Nevertheless, “absolute creation takes abstract objects,  wherever or whenever they exist, to be created by God.”

Problems With Absolute Creation

Craig has identified two major problems with absolute creation. The first is more of a difficulty for the view, and the second is potentially fatal.

1. Scope and Freedom of God’s Creating

“The first problem is that absolute creationism’s modified Platonism is theologically objectionable because it misconstrues either the scope or the nature of creation.” What Craig appeals to to illustrate this problem is that certain abstract objects seem to possess certain properties, namely eternality and necessity. “If ‘1 + 1 = 2’ is true at some moment of time, then it was obviously true at any earlier moment of time.” Further more, Craig follows this line of reasoning with the consequences of numbers. Going back to the beginning of time, if time began to exist, there is no reason to think that numbers would have to come into existence along with time. And even in the absence of any creative work by God (i.e. the universe was never created), the number of concrete objects would still be one (God Himself), so the number 1 would exist. “But if the number 1 exists, all the rest of the natural numbers generated by the successor relation also exist.” From this it can be seen that the creation of these objects either must be timeless, or from eternity past. What the absolute creationist affirms then, is that abstract objects exist in a state of ontological dependence on God.

a. Trade-off between the scope and freedom of creation.

The difficulty that Craig raises against absolute creation here, is that the amount of reality that is actually created, is infinitesimally small. The conclusion reached in the preceding paragraph is that certain abstract objects, like numbers, seem to have existed eternally, having never really begun, but rather flow logically from God’s being. They stand in an ontological dependence on God. The universe, as vast as it is, is dwarfed in comparison to the literal infinity of abstract objects. Most of reality, then, is merely sustained by God and never really brought into being.

At this point the absolute creationist may be tempted to alter the definition of “creation,” so that it is not just objects that are “brought into being,” but also includes the ontological dependence of eternally existing abstract objects. The difficulty here is that this would seem to subvert God’s freedom. The traditional view of  creation is that it is a free act taken by God. There is nothing in God’s nature that requires, compels, or forces God to create. But, “if the existence of abstract objects is a function of God’s nature, not of His will, then it is not up to God wether (or which) abstract objects exists.”

b. Radical Voluntarism.

Some philosophers have attempted to address the problem of God’s freedom in respect to the creation of abstract objects. Roy Clouser has suggested that instead of grounding abstract objects in God’s nature, they are grounded in His free will. Clouser has gone so far as to say that even the laws of logic, including the law of contradiction, fall under God’s sovereign control. He even says that God’s own properties fall under God’s control. “God chooses what He is and is what He chooses. Only God’s unconditional being is divine per se.

Craig makes two judgement statements regarding Clouser’s radical voluntarism. First, that it seems to be theologically perverse, in that it raises God’s divine sovereignty to a more privileged position over God’s essential attributes like goodness, wisdom, and Trinitarianism. Second, Craig says this radical voluntarism is self-refuting. I must admit that I completely fail to see how Craig arrived at this judgement. There must be something that I’m missing, but until some one much smarter than I can point it out to me, I’ll have to just say that I think Craig might be guilty of a non-sequiter.  But what Craig asserts is that Clouser’s statement that “only God’s unconditional being is divine” leads to the conclusion that God literally does not exist, and has never existed.

2. Boot Strapping Objection

a. Vicious circularity of Absolute creation.

This is the second more serious objection raised by Craig. The claim here is that absolute creation is viciously circular. Craig summarizes this point succinctly: “The problem can be most clearly seen with respect to the creation of properties. According to absolute creationism, God has created all properties. But in order to create properties, God would already have to possess certain properties. For example, in order to create the property being powerful, God would already have to be powerful. An impotent God obviously could not create anything. Thus, God would have to already possess a property in order to create it, which is viciously circular.”

Morris and Menzel are aware of this problem, and the answer they put forth is that it is unproblematic that God create His own properties. The point they make is that “while God stands in a relation of logical dependency to His essential properties, they stand to Him in a relation of causal, ontological dependence.

Craig responds, however, that the circularity addressed by Morris and Menzel is not the same circularity that Craig raised earlier. “The vicious circle alleged by bootstrapping objectors is not that God creates Himself, but that properties, for example, must already exist prior to God’s creation of them, which is incoherent.”

“Since absolute creationists accept the ontological assay offered by Platonism, they are immediately confronted with a severe bootstrapping problem, since logically prior to His creation of properties, God is either a featureless particular or non-existent, in which case He is impotent to create properties. In order to create any properties, God must already have properties, which is incoherent.”

b. Divine simplicity.

Craig now explores another avenue the absolute creationist might take to avoid the bootstrapping problem. They may appeal to the doctrine of divine simplicity. Morris and Menzel did not affirm this doctrine. The doctrine of divine simplicity states that God is not in anyway composed of multiple parts. “He transcends the distinction between a thing and its properties.”

The reason Morris and Menzel rejected this doctrine (and Craig seems to think the objection is justified) is that “since, according to Platonism, properties are abstract objects, if God is identical to His properties, then God is an abstract object, which is absurd.”

c. Created and uncreated properties.

Other absolute creationists, seeing the immense difficulty in avoiding the bootstrapping objection, have conceded that God does not create the properties He possesses, but still creates all other properties. The problem Craig takes with this view is that “it is just the theologically unacceptable position that in addition to God there exist other uncreated entities.”

The problem becomes much more extreme when examining the work of Brian Leftow. Some absolute creationists have argued that certain essential properties are what explain why God is God (these properties taken together are considered deity). The problem here is that God becomes dependent on His properties in order to be God. Furthermore, absolute creationism becomes necessarily false under this view. “If deity includes, as it must, the property of aseity, then absolute creationism of this variety becomes incoherent. For in order to exemplify deity, God must exemplify aseity, and so exist a se. But if His aseity derives from His exemplifying aseity, then He does not exist a se. For He depends upon aseity for His aseity, which is incoherent. Thus, absolute creationism becomes necessarily false.”

d. Metaphysically heavy absolute creationism.

The last avenue Craig looks at, is for the absolute creationist to deny the Platonistic assay of things, and reject the heavy weight existence of abstract objects. But this is a move to the lightweight form of Platonism, and does not involve any serious ontological commitment to abstract objects. In the lightweight view, abstract objects “simply enable reference for reifying expressions like ‘the number 7’ or ‘the property wisdom’.” Craig believes this may be a defensible position for the classical theist to take.

Referencing the work of Peter Van Inwagen, Craig has a short discussion on constituent vs. relational ontologies. Constituent ontologies, which ascribe to particular things an ontological structure. Van Inwagen rejects this view of ontologies, by denying that properties are ontological constituents of things.

Concluding Remarks

Craig believes that by denying a constituent ontology, the absolute creationist can avoid the bootstrapping objection. This then leaves absolute creation as a tenable option for classical theists. However, given the theological difficulties that arise from absolute creationism, the theist should perhaps look elsewhere for an answer to the problem posed by Platonism.

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