God without givens

In his book God and Necessity, Brian Leftow stipulates as a principle of perfect-being theology that “God is (directly or indirectly) the Source of All that is ‘outside’ Him” (20). As Leftow formulates the principles:

GSA. for all x, if x is not God, a part, aspect or attribute of God or an event, God makes the creating-ex-nihilo sort of causal contribution to x’s existence as long as x exists.

Leftow goes on to claim that this principle is equivalent to the denial that there are any givens for God, or:

NG. (x) (if x is not God or a part etc., and is not an event x is not a ‘given’ for God) (21)

A “given” for God, as Leftow helpfully explains, would be “something God finds rather than helps account for, and must either accept or work around.” For Leftow, a God who is perfect and the “Source of All” must be a God without givens.

God as the First Secularist

Some day I hope to write a book on why God was the first atheist (and why, as a consequence, the problem with unbelieving atheism is that it is inadequately atheistic). Brian Leftow in God and Necessity (Oxford UP, 2012) touches on the kind of reasoning I have in mind in an argument that might be taken to suggest that God was also the first “secularist.”

That there is something non-divine is a secular truth. That possibly there is something non-divine is a secular modal truth. It appears that God’s nature is sufficient to make it true, or at least to guarantee the production of a truth-maker for it (as in Leibniz). If that is right, then as God necessarily has His nature, this modal truth is itself necessary, and its necessity stems from God’s nature. (275)

Any non-divine truth on Leftow’s definition is a “secular” truth. Ironically, Leftow’s central purpose in his book is to give these secular truths as radical a theological origin as he can: God “thinks up” or invents the secular truths about the nature or content of his creatures rather than discovering or having them given to him, whether inside or outside of the divine nature. The secular is secular because God invents it as such, setting it free, as it were, in its non-divine secularity. For Leftow, however, what is not a secular truth is the very possibility of secularism itself, for the possibility God has of creating something other than himself is itself a “divine” truth, i.e., a possibility that God doesn’t “think up” but has a necessary consequence of his nature.

If my earlier ruminations on Anselm are correct, however, such that before God created there was not God and nothing, but only God, and that the very difference between creaturely existence and creaturely non-existence is of divine and even inter-Trinitarian invention, then it raises the question not only as to whether God invents the possibilities that creatures are able to be, but whether the very possibility of creaturehood, that is, of there being something other than God, is something that God also “thinks up” in and with his act of creation. On this conjecture, God might turn out to be an even greater “secularist” than Leftow allows, for in addition to the non-divine truths of creaturely kinds and essences, God would also be the cause of the (now) non-divine and hence secular truth of there possibly being something other than God, regardless of what kind of thing that it is.

Sub-Creativity as a Perfect-Being Property

I have argued previously on this blog that divine making, like Tolkien’s account of human making, does not involve God merely “choosing” from an already given and delineated domain of possibilities so much as it involves him creatively inventing or “imagining” those possibilities in the first place. Though there are differences between his position and my own, Brian Leftow in his God and Necessity (Oxford UP, 2012) similarly argues from a combination of perfect-being theology and the “perfection” of human creativity to argue that God must be the creator and conservator of not just concrete but also abstract objects: 

There are also perfect-being reasons to hold (GAO) [the claim that God creates and conserves all abstract objects outside Him]. We ourselves may cause some abstract to exist: if I breed puppies, perhaps I cause there to be new sets of puppies, new doghood tropes, even a new Aristotelian universal for a new sub-kind of dog. If we do this, being able to cause some sorts of abstracta is part of what gives us value as agents: it is good to cause a child to be healthy, and if being healthy consists in bearing a health-trope, it is good precisely to be able to cause this trope to exist. It would be a defect in God if He could not manage what we ourselves can manage and there were no explanation of this from some other divine perfection (as, for example, we appeal to God’s character to explain the fact that though we manage to do wrong, He cannot). Perfect-being theology denies that God has defects, and it does not seem that some other perfection would explain an inability to cause new tropes to exist…. God’s perfection in this respect may consist partly in ability to do a great deal more of it than we can… If (GAO) is true, God has power over the existence of the abstract as well as the concrete, including anything necessary and abstract. (65)

In summary, if it is a sub-creative perfection that we are able to invent “new form” (as Tolkien puts it in “On Fairy-Stories”), and if God is the perfect-being, possessing all perfections in an eminent and infinite manner, then God must be a perfect (sub)Creator.