Theism and Material Causality

Draft. Fair use laws apply.  Comments welcome!
1. Introduction
Call classical theism the view that there is a personal god who is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect, and call the classical view of creation the view that consists in the following three theses: (i) God is wholly distinct from the natural world; (ii) God is the originating or sustaining cause of the natural world; and (iii) God created the natural world ex nihilo. Finally, call classical theismcvc any version of classical theism that includes the classical view of creation.[1] In this paper, I argue that the classical view of creation conflicts with our evidence that objects with an originating or sustaining cause require a material cause, and that since classical theismcvc includes the traditional doctrine of creation, classical theismcvc is called into serious doubt.
2. The Argument
The argument I’ll defend can be expressed as follows:
1. All concrete objects that have an originating or sustaining cause have a material cause of their existence.
2. If classical theismcvc is true, then the universe is a concrete object that has an originating or sustaining cause without a material cause of its existence.
3. Therefore, classical theismcvc is false.

The argument is valid[2]. What can be said on behalf of the premises? Premise 1 expresses a causal principle, which I’ll call the principle of material causality, or PMC for short.  PMC asserts that concrete objects have a material cause whenever they have an originating or sustaining cause.  Before I defend the premise, some preliminary remarks about terminology are in order. First, concrete object denotes at least the sorts of entities classically individuated by the category of Substance, and distinguishes them from those of other categories (e.g., property, relation, event, trope, etc.). Examples include atoms, stars, rocks, planets, trees, animals, and people. They are thus distinguished from concrete entities in other categories (shapes, surfaces, events, and the like) and abstract objects (propositions, numbers, sets, and the like). 

The next two key terms are originating cause and sustaining cause. The former denotes an efficient cause of the temporal beginning of a thing’s existence[3], and the latter denotes an efficient cause of a thing’s continued existence. Thus, matches and lighter fluid are at least partial originating causes of a flame, and the oxygen that surrounds it is at least a partial sustaining cause of a flame.

Finally, material cause aims to capture (roughly) Aristotle’s notion of the term, and to individuate it from the other three distinguished by Aristotle, viz., formal, efficient, and final causes. By ‘material cause’, then, I mean ‘the things or stuff from which another thing is made’.  Thus, the material cause of a penny is the parcel of copper from which it was made, and the material causes of a water molecule are the hydrogen and oxygen atoms from which it was made.

Two points about PMC merit special emphasis. First, PMC is restricted to concrete objects as we’ve defined them. It is therefore neutral about whether entities in other categories require a material cause. Second, PMC restricts the requirement of a material cause further to just those concrete objects that have an originating or sustaining cause. It therefore allows for the possibility of concrete objects that lack a material cause, viz., those that lack an originating and sustaining cause. The premise thus allows that the universe may lack a material cause if it’s beginningless and also lacks a sustaining cause. It also allows that a universe with a beginning may lack a material cause, if it also lacks an originating and sustaining cause. An example of the latter sort of case might be a temporally finite, four-dimensional “block” universe. To sum up: PMC is neutral as to whether all concrete objects begin to exist, and to whether all concrete objects that begin to exist have a material cause. The causal premise only rules out concrete objects that have an originating or sustaining cause, but lack a material cause. 

Is PMC plausible?  It certainly seems so. Here we can prime our intuitions with a few thought experiments.[4] Thus, suppose we were told that a certain log cabin had the following special characteristic: it popped into existence out of nothing without any cause whatsoever. Most, I imagine – including most of those who have read their Hume -- would find such a claim strongly counterintuitive, if not absurd. But suppose instead we were told the cabin was special for another reason: a lumberjack created it without any materials whatsoever. I imagine most would likewise find such a claim absurd or strongly counterintuitive. A similar intuition obtains when we consider any other concrete object arising from an originating cause without a material cause. Perhaps such intuitions aren’t enough to demonstrate the impossibility of an originating cause without a material cause, but we ordinarily take such seemings to be at least defeasible, prima facie evidence for what can or cannot be the case. 

We have similar grounds for thinking that concrete objects that depend upon a sustaining cause have a material cause. Thus, the continued existence of a flame depends upon a sustaining cause for its continued existence. But here we find that the flame’s sustenance also crucially involves a material cause, viz., reacting gases and solids. Furthermore, our intuitions in support of the causal principle are triggered when we attempt to imagine the flame’s continued existence without the presence of reacting gases, solids or some other material cause. The intuition doesn’t diminish when we imagine the flame to be past-eternal. 

In addition, it doesn’t require a full-blown Aristotelian metaphysic to find the materials for a powerful argument for PMC in the apparent relationship between what actually exists and what merely has the potential to exist. Thus, the possibility of the origination or sustenance of an object requires the prior potential for its existence. But it seems that this potential must “reside” in some actually existing thing or stuff. Thus, the potential existence of a penny “resides” in a parcel of copper. By contrast, nothingness lacks the capacity or potential for becoming anything, since nothingness has no capacities or properties whatsoever. Prima facie, then, concrete objects can’t come into being from nothing, but only from other concrete things or stuff.

Finally, PMC enjoys abundant empirical support. For our uniform experience is such that whenever we find a concrete object with an originating or sustaining cause, we also find it to have a material cause.  Furthermore, there seem to be no clear counterexamples to PMC in our experience. What explains this? PMC is a simple hypothesis, which, if true, would best explain this data. Experience thus provides significant abductive support for PMC.

That leaves premise 2. Why should we accept it? Premise 2 follows from our partial stipulative definition of ‘classical theismcvc’.  It’s therefore an analytic truth. This causes no trouble for the argument’s significance, for the partial definition captures several theses that are prima facie essential to classical theism.  Such theses are among those that individuate theism from neighboring views about God, such as pantheism, panentheism, demiurgic theism, Berkeleyan idealism, and Spinozistic monism. They’re also among the theses about God that have been accepted by most prominent philosophers within the theistic tradition, including Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, (and, more recently) William Alston, Alvin Plantinga, and Richard Swinburne. Indeed, it’s safe to say that most contemporary analytic philosophers of religion would consider them essential theses of any account of classical theism worthy of the name. I therefore think it’s safe to say that the stipulative truth of the premise won’t undermine its relevance for evaluating classical theism’s epistemic merits.

We’ve seen that the argument from material causality is valid, that premise 1 (i.e., PMC) enjoys strong prima facie justification, and that premise 2 is an analytic truth. It therefore looks as though the argument poses a formidable problem for classical theism.

How might the classical theist respond?  Premise 2 is non-negotiable, as we’ve seen that it’s an analytic truth. That leaves open only two types of response for the classical theist: a non-concessive response, which involves providing a defeater for premise 1, and a concessive response, which grants the soundness of the argument, but rejects classical theismcvc. In the rest of the paper, I’ll briefly consider both sorts of response.

3. Non-Concessive Responses
As mentioned above, a non-concessive response involves providing principled grounds for resisting premise 1. This requires principled grounds for thinking the principle of material causality is false or without adequate justification. I can think of three main ways in which one might attempt to do so, which I shall consider below.

First, one might appeal to God’s omnipotence as a way of defeating premise 1. The basic line of reasoning is as follows: If the god of classical theism exists, then God is omnipotent. But if so, then since omnipotence entails the ability to do anything that’s metaphysically possible, it follows that the god of classical theism has the ability to create concrete objects ex nihilo, without a material cause. However, this reply is inadequate. For the very point at issue is whether ex nihilo creation of concrete objects is metaphysically possible, and we’ve seen that there are at least prima facie grounds for thinking that it isn’t metaphysically possible. Bare appeal to God’s omnipotence in this context is therefore question-begging.

Another possible criticism of premise 1 is one heard from some in the field of quantum cosmology, viz., that there are plausible models of the origin of the universe according to which the universe arose from nothing. However, such claims don’t bear out as counterexamples upon further scrutiny. For upon closer inspection, what one finds instead are much weaker claims, e.g., that the universe arose from a random fluctuation in a quantum vacuum[5], or that it arose from a universe of zero radius, which subsequently tunneled through an energy barrier and inflated into the universe as we know it.[6] But a randomly fluctuating, energy-rich quantum vacuum is not nothing in any relevant sense. Nor is a zero-radius universe that tunnels through an energy barrier and then inflates the same thing as a universe that arises from nothing. As such, they’re not counterexamples to PMC as expressed in premise 1.

Finally, the theist might resist premise 1 by appeal to agent causal views of the self. Thus, they might argue that there are good reasons to think that (i) humans possess libertarian free will, that (ii) this is best explained on the assumption that the physical realm isn’t causally closed, that (iii) the agent can thus cause things via energy from “outside” the natural causal order[7], and that (iv) this is sufficient justification for the existence of genuine creation ex nihilo, in which case premise 1 is false. This reply won’t work, however. For even if (i)-(iii) could be adequately supported – contrary to the opinion of the majority of analytic philosophers[8] – the falsity of the causal closure of the physical wouldn’t require positing the creation of concrete objects ex nihilo. Rather, at most, it would require the transfer of pre-existing energy from the agent (who acts from “outside” of the natural causal order) to the physical realm.[9] 

4. Concessive Responses
If one finds the non-concessive responses implausible, one might finally turn to a concessive response; that is, one might accept a view of God that denies the classical view of creation. There are three basic versions of such a response, each one corresponding to a rejection of one of the three clauses of the classical view of creation as we have defined it. I will briefly consider each sort of response below.

The first type of concessive response is to reject thesis (i) of the classical view of creation as we’ve defined it, thereby denying that God is wholly distinct from the natural world. According to this sort of response, one allows that the world is either (a) identical to God, (b) made from the stuff of God’s being, (c) a mere feature or mode of God’s being, or (d) an idea in the mind of God. Unfortunately, options (a)-(c) come at the high cost of abandoning classical theism altogether, as embracing one of these options amounts to embracing something in the neighborhood of pantheism, panentheism, or Spinozistic monism, respectively. And while (d) is arguably a version of theism, it requires embracing something on the order of Berkeleyan idealism. It would take us too far afield to evaluate the case for such a view, but it’s enough for our purposes to note that few have found the case for Berkeleyan idealism persuasive, in which case it seems unlikely that many are likely to accept a concessive response of this sort.

The second type of concessive response is to reject thesis (ii) of the classical view of creation.  According to this sort of response, God may or may not be omnipotent[10], omniscient, and morally perfect. However, he doesn’t play the role of creator of the universe in any sense. Call this sort of view hands-off theism.

It seems antecedently unlikely that there will be many takers for hands-off theism. This is for at least two reasons.  First, hands-off theism looks epistemically unmotivated. For many standard lines of evidence for theism depend upon inferences from the natural world to God. Examples include design arguments from the fine-tuning of the universe to a cosmic designer, as well as cosmological arguments for a first cause, ground of being, and sufficient reason for the existence of contingent concrete reality. But the god of hands-off theism plays none of these roles with respect to the universe. As such, accepting hands-off theism commits one to rejecting many of the core arguments of natural theology.  It’s also arguable that it causes trouble for religious experience. For example, in his widely-influential account of the evidential force of religious experience, William Alston[11] grants that awareness of certain phenomena (e.g., religious diversity) can undercut a good deal of the epistemic force of religious experience, and thus that the justification of theistic belief requires further buttressing with the help of other evidence, such as cosmological and design arguments. But again, the hands-off theist is committed to rejecting many such buttressing-arguments as evidence for her belief.  Now perhaps an adequate case for hands-off theism can be made that doesn’t depend on these lines of evidence.  But for our purposes, it’s enough to note that the hands-off theist has their work cut out for them.

Second, the god of hands-off theism seems to be of much less religious significance than the God of classical theismcvc. For on such a view, God is not responsible for the existence and order of the natural world. He is therefore not the cosmic architect, first cause, or ground of being upon which all else depends, let alone Anselm’s greatest conceivable being. Rather, he exists as just one among the many uncreated concrete objects within the universe, having less creative and providential control than even Plato’s demiurge. On such a view, then, the grandeur, preeminence, and otherness of God are severely diminished. There is also a corresponding loss of the awe that comes from a sense of ultimate dependence upon a Creator. But perhaps most troubling for many theistic philosophers of religion today is the fact that such a God seems not to be the God of traditional Christian theism. For prima facie, the Christian God is described within several canonical scriptural texts as the creator and sustainer of all things.[12]

The final type of concessive response is to reject thesis (iii) of the classical view of creation. According to this sort of response, God plays the role of creator and designer. However, he did not create the world out of nothing, but rather from pre-existing materials. For obvious reasons, let’s call this sort of view demiurgic theism.  Now it seems that demiurgic theism is an improvement over hands-off theism in terms of epistemic motivation, since on such a view god plays at least a diminished role qua creator and designer of the universe, fashioning the universe out of primordial matter/stuff. Therefore, while standard cosmological arguments cannot be marshaled in support of demiurgic theism[13], perhaps an argument from design can be made on behalf of such a view, as well as (perhaps) religious experience and other sorts of evidence that don’t appeal to an inference from the sheer existence of the universe to God.

However, whatever the epistemic merits of demiurgic theism, many of the drawbacks of hands-off theism apply here as well with respect to religious significance. For as with the latter view, the god of demiurgic theism is not the preeminent first cause and ground of being for the fundamental stuff of the natural world; nor does he provide the sufficient reason for its existence. He is therefore not responsible for the existence of the natural world in the ultimate sense that is ascribed to the god of classical theismcvc. Rather, he exists alongside of it as another uncreated concrete object. Therefore, such a view entails a much weaker view of divine preeminence and uniqueness than what has been historically attributed to the God of classical theism. Finally, as with hands-off theism, such a God seems at odds with the God of traditional Christian theism.  For at least these reasons, then, it’s doubtful that many classical theists will be happy with this route to resisting the argument.

5. Conclusion
A powerful argument against classical theism can be constructed from two simple elements: (i) classical theism’s thesis of creation ex nihilo, and (ii) the well-supported principle of material causality. The prospects for the only non-concessive reply to the argument – rejecting the principle of material causality – look bleak. Furthermore, the concessive replies all leave the classical theist with a picture of God and creation that they’re likely to find costly and unattractive, such as pantheism, panentheism, Spinozistic monism, demiurgic theism, hands-off theism, and Berkeleyan idealism.  Little attention has been paid to the argument to date, but our brief exploration of it suggests that it’s worthy of serious investigation.

[1] Berkeleyan idealism arguably fails to satisfy clause (i) of the classical view of creation as defined here. As such, while it may count as a version of classical theism, it fails to count as a version of classical theismcvc.
[2] Let: ‘T’= ‘classical theismcvc is true’; ‘Ox’ =’x has an originating cause of its existence’; ‘Sx’=’x has a sustaining cause of its existence’; ‘Mx’=‘x has a material cause of its existence’; ‘Cx’=’x is a concrete object (or collection of such)’; and ‘u’=our universe. Then we have:

1. (x)[Cx & (Ox v Sx)] -> Mx                               Premise
2. T -> [Cu & ((Ou v Su) &  ~Mu)]                       Premise
3.         T                                                          Assumption for indirect proof
4.         [Cu & (Ou v Su)] & ~Mu                                     2,3 MP
5.         [Cu & (Ou v Su)] -> Mu                          1 Universal Quantifier Elimination
6.         ~Mu                                                     4 &E
7.         ~[Cu & (Ou v Su)]                                  5,6 MT
8.         Cu & (Ou v Su)                                      4 &E
9.         [Cu & (Ou v Su)] & ~[Cu & (Ou v Su)]       7,8 &I
10. ~T                                                             3-9 ~I

[3] Consider any arbitrary carving up of the stretch of time of a given object’s existence into equal intervals of finite, non-zero duration, and ordered according to the ‘earlier than’ relation. As I’m using the expression, an object has a temporal beginning of its existence just in case any such carving up includes an earliest temporal interval.
[4] The following illustration is inspired by the one found on p. 29 Wes Morriston’s paper, "Creation Ex Nihilo and the Big Bang”, Philo 5:1 (2002), pp. 23-33.
[5] See, for example, Krauss, Lawrence. A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing (Atria, 2013).
[6] See, for example, Vilenkin, Alexander. Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (Hill and Wang, 2007).
[7] An argument in this vicinity is broached in (e.g.) Moreland, J.P. “Naturalism and Libertarian Agency”, Philosophy & Theology 10:2 (1997), 353-383.
[8] According to a recent poll (, only 13.7% of philosophers answered with “accepting or leaning toward libertarianism”. At least 71.3% of philosophers polled stated that they think we don’t have libertarian free will, with 59.1% answering with “accepting or leaning toward compatibilism”, and 12.2% answering with “accepting or leaning toward no free will” (14.9% answered with “accepting or leaning toward ‘other’”).
[9] On this point, see (e.g.) Moreland, Ibid; Larmer, Robert. “Mind-Body Interaction and the Conservation of Energy”, International Philosophical Quarterly 26 (1986), pp. 277-285.
[10] Perhaps one will object that a god of this sort cannot be omnipotent if he cannot create or sustain the natural world. However, there is a long and established tradition of theists who claim that there are lots of things that an omnipotent god cannot do (e.g., make a round square, change the past, act contrary to his nature, know future free acts, etc.).  One standard justification for such restrictions is to say that such things are metaphysically impossible, and that omnipotence doesn’t include the power to do what is metaphysically impossible. But the same sort of justification seems available here. For the hands-off theist can say that creating or sustaining the universe with out a material cause is metaphysically impossible, and thus his inability to create or sustain a universe ex nihilo doesn’t count against his omnipotence.
[11] See, especially, Alston’s magisterial Perceiving God (Cornell University Press, 1993).
[12] Examples include (i) John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”; (ii) Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen”; (iii) Colossians 1:16-18: “ For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”; and (iv) 1 Corinthians 8:6: yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (All passages are from the NIV version of the New Testament)
[13] I suppose a cosmological argument for an unmoved mover is still a possibility, although few have found arguments of this sort convincing since at least the dawn of Newtonian physics. Perhaps, though, the argument can be revitalized.  We’ll see.


Angra Mainyu said...

Hi, EA

Personally, I find the log cabin that pops into existence with no cause whatsoever to be extremely improbable in the actual world (i.e., I reckon the actual world is not like that), or any world causally reachable from the actual world, but on the other hand, I don't share the intuition that it's metaphysically impossible for that to happen. My intuitions on PMC are also similar.

However, I don't think intuitions like those would be of help for a classical theist, given that:

i. Your argument only seems to need that PMC holds in any world reachable from the actual world.

ii. An intuition about the possibility of cabins coming into existence without a cause would on its own be a problem if not for classical theism in a strict sense, at least for some of the beliefs usually associated with it, like a belief in the metaphysical necessity of God and of a reality in which God is a cause of everything else.

iii. My intuitions also lead me to the conclusion that a world without concrete objects is possible. While I suppose someone might share my intuitions about the possibility of uncaused things popping into existence, or with a cause but not a material cause, etc., but not about an empty world, my impression is that they're connected - in all such cases, I seem to be checking for contradictions once considering the meaning of the words and potential rigid designators (or any cases in which what is actual determines what is possible, if there are others), and find no difficulty.
An empty world may or may not be in conflict with classical theism (if the necessity of God is not included in the definition, it might or might not be implied from omnipotence), but it's also incompatible with some beliefs usually associated with it.

Other than that, I suppose a classical theist might suggest that the possibility of souls coming into existence with an efficient cause but no material cause probably contradicts PMC, aside from issues involving libertarian free will, since it's perhaps difficult to see what could be a material cause of a soul (though I'm not sure about that part). But on the other hand, you could use PMC to reject the possibility of souls coming into existence with an efficient cause but no material cause, rejecting the suggestion that it's a counterexample.

exapologist said...

Hi Angra,

Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you caught the point that I only need the weaker claim about the truth of PMC in "nearby" possible worlds (in something like the Lewis-Stalnaker sense) for the argument to go through, because I certainly didn't make that clear in my paper (I merely left it assumed in discussion of the abductive argument for PMC). I'd like to acknowledge you in the paper on that point, and for helpful comments on the draft. Perhaps you could email me about that?

Cases of conflicting intuitions in philosophy are notoriously difficult to resolve, but I do think long and hard reflection on the log cabin case can go a long way to strengthening the intuition. Thus, suppose we reflect further on the case and expand upon certain features of it. So, for example, the lumberjack didn't use logs or other wood products to create the log cabin. Nor, indeed, did he use anything external to him at all (i.e., not the atoms or other matter-energy in the surrounding atmosphere or anywhere else). Nor did he create it from some sort of energy or stuff within him. For that would either be part of him, or else some material distinct from him, which in turn must bottom out in either uncreated primordial stuff or part of his own being. Do your doubts diminish in light of these details?

If not, then perhaps we can sidestep disagreement and note that the principle of ex nihilo nihil fit is a central principle in the history of philosophy, with adherents stretching all the way back to Epicurus, Lucretius, and Aristotle, and continuing on all the way to the present. A prominent contemporary example is Frank Jackson's use of something like ex nihilo nihil fit as the basis of his entry-by-entailment criterion for serious metaphysics. My aim here isn't to appeal to tradition as an argument, but rather to appeal to widespread intuition as data for philosophical theorizing.

I agree, though, that intuitions of concrete objects arising without causes doesn't help the theist. For it seems to give rise to a dilemma: Either the type of conceivability or imaginability or rational intuition of a universe arising without a material cause is good evidence of its metaphysical possibility or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then of course it’s not a good objection to PMC. But if it is, then so is the conceivability or imaginability or rational intuition of a world at which a universe exists with neither an efficient nor a material cause. But if so, then we're prima facie justified in thinking there is a metaphysically possible world at which there is a universe that God did not creat. But since classical theism entails that God is the efficient cause of the universe in all worlds in which both he exists and a universe exists, we have another argument against the falsity of classical theism. Therefore, either way, the objection fails to deflect the conclusion that classical theism(cvc) is false.

In any case, apart from the argument from rational intuition, what did you think about the argument from the relationship between what is actual and what is possible? Perhaps it's worth noting that Paul Kabay finds this sort of argument compelling, and attempts to avoid it by arguing for a sort of ontological nihilism. See his "A Noneist Account of the Doctrine of Creatio ex Nihilo", Sophia 52 (2013), 281-293.


exapologist said...

Re: the soul case: I guess the same sorts of considerations I discuss in my paper lead me to the same verdict here: if there are created souls, then they must come from prior stuff. It's interesting that this intuition seems to have driven much theological speculation about souls both inside and outside theistic traditions. So, for example, many Christians have argued for traducianism, according to which the soul is produced from prior materials within the father (or father and mother). Aristotle of course held a view not to different from this as well. And of course there are long traditions that hold that souls are uncreated and eternal.

Angra Mainyu said...

Thank you for your reply as well, and for the acknowledgment offer (I sent you an email about that).

Regarding the lumberjack, as long as one does not assume the lumberjack is human, or otherwise limited in some specific manner, my intuitions do not seem to change - not even if one removes the lumberjack altogether. However, as you point out, the intuitions that support PMC are widespread, so that surely counts in favor of it - plus, there are the other problems that intuitions like mine would bring for a classical theist.

Re: the soul case, good points about traducianism and Aristotle, and the traditions of eternal souls. In the case of traducianism and Aristotle, one may consider the souls of the parents, then the grandparents, etc., and keep going until there were no humans on Earth, no vertebrates, no multicellular life, etc., so at some point souls would have to be made from something else or from nothing, but the traditions of Aristotle and traducianism would undermine any attempts to present the case of souls as a plausible counterexample, even if souls aren't eternal and uncreated (assuming there are any souls in the first place, of course. I don't think there are any).

Re: the argument from the relationship between what is actual and what is possible, I'm still thinking about it. I'll let you know if I come up with something.

Angra Mainyu said...

Re: the relationship between what is actual and what is possible.

I agree that the argument does not require a full-blown Aristotelian metaphysics. It only requires that in order for there to be a change in the state of a world W from a state S1 at which A does not exist to a state S2 at which A exists, there must be some B at S1 (B might be an object or more than one), which has the potential to change and become A. That seems plausible to me in the actual world and nearby worlds, but I'm not sure about all worlds.
With regard to the specific case of nothingness in the sense of an empty world (i.e., no concrete objects, not even space or time), I think the situation is somewhat different, not because of potentiality, but because it does not seem coherent to say that there is a state of emptiness S1 in W, followed by a state S2 in which at least one concrete object exists. The problem is the "followed", which seems to require either temporal or causal succession, because S1 has no concrete objects, - thus, ruling out causal succession -, and there is no time at S1 - ruling out temporal succession as well.

On the other hand, it's at least not apparently incoherent to say that there are some concrete objects in W' at time t1, and then another concrete object B also exists later at t2, and B is not the result of a transformation of any of the objects that exist at t1.

That said, I do think that looking at the matter from the perspective of the relation between what exists and what has the potential to exist may strengthen your case by perhaps appealing to intuitions that the rational reflection argument does not trigger.

Re: omnipotence.
I've been thinking about omnipotence in light of PMC, and it seems to me (tentatively) that you may have an argument against omnipotence as well (though you don't need that for your case against classical theism, it might be interesting too), at least leaving aside Berkeleyan views or similar, because while as you point out, lacking the power to do what's metaphysically impossible is often not regarded as a problem for omnipotence, it seems to me that's due to some assumptions about what is possible.

For instance, if no entity has the power to do something impossible, and it turns out it is impossible to communicate any sort of information faster than the speed of light, then I think it follows that no omnipotent entity exists, since an entity who does not have the power to, say, respond to the prayer of an astronaut on Pluto and allow her to talk to her spouse on Earth with no more than a 5 minutes delay (for example), or bring her back to Earth in less than 1 hour, or, say, talk tomorrow to aliens in another galaxy and tell them about anything humans did on Earth, today or at any time in the past 20000 years, etc., does not meet minimum conditions to be called "omnipotent".

But if PMC is true, and Berkeleyan idealism (or something like that) isn't possible, then even if there is a necessary being, such entity would have no power to create a single particle in a world in which there aren't any particles (or a single physical object if there aren't any), or a cat, a dog, etc. But that would seem to (plausibly, in my view) rule out necessary omnipotence, and also omnipotence if possible omnipotence entails necessary omnipotence.

If possible omnipotence doesn't entail necessary omnipotence, it's a bit more difficult, particularly if there are infinitely many particles or the potential for that, but still, I think constraints from the limited potential of what is actual may provide the basis for an argument against actual omnipotence as well.

exapologist said...

My sentiments are pretty close to that. As I like to say: God can be the ultimate originator of neither abstract nor concrete objects. What place, then, for a creator?

About omnipotence: I mention this issue briefly in a footnote of the paper. I leave open the possibility of omnipotence even if God can't be the ultimate cause of concrete objects. As I put it in the footnote:

"Perhaps one will object that a god of this sort cannot be omnipotent if he cannot create or sustain the natural world. However, there is a long and established tradition of theists who claim that there are lots of things that an omnipotent god cannot do (e.g., make a round square, change the past, act contrary to his nature, know future free acts, etc.). One standard justification for such restrictions is to say that such things are metaphysically impossible, and that omnipotence doesn’t include the power to do what is metaphysically impossible. But the same sort of justification seems available here. For the hands-off theist can say that creating or sustaining the universe with out a material cause is metaphysically impossible, and thus his inability to create or sustain a universe ex nihilo doesn’t count against his omnipotence."

Angra Mainyu said...

About omnipotence:

I think I was unclear; I was trying to say that the justification you mention in the footnote (i.e., that omnipotence doesn’t include the power to do what is metaphysically impossible, so not being able to do what's metaphysically impossible does not preclude omnipotence) has some implicit assumptions about what is possible/impossible (i.e., I think that not being able to do some things would preclude omnipotence even if they're impossible), and in particular, it seems to me PMC might work against that defense too.

Of course, that's not required for your argument against classical theismcvc, so it's a side note.

exapologist said...

Hi Angra,

No, you were clear. I'm just tired. I should know by now not to comment during finals week. :)


Atheist in the Closet said...

I think we can apply this line of argument to some of Aquinas' argument, such as the argument from change (motion) . The idea would be that all essentially ordered series (hierarchical series) that exist plausibly have a material sustaining cause. But the argument from change and classical theism assert that God is upholding each essentially ordered series ex nihilo; however, creation or sustaining something out of nothing is not possible (or, it's not clear that this is metaphysically possible). If a Thomist somehow wants to say that there is a material sustaining cause, then there's no need to include or conclude with God.