Forthcoming Article Responding to Schmid on “Providential Collapse”

The International Journal for Philosophy of Religion just accepted my article “Simply Providential: A Thomistic Response to Schmid’s Providential Collapse Argument against Classical Theism.” In the article I advance an alternative to the standard “extrinsic predication” defense of classical theism from modal collapse. That defense works against modal collapse but leaves the doctrine of divine simplicity open to the charge of “providential collapse,” as Schmid has argued. On the extrinsic predication view the creation that obtains determines what it is that God can truly be said to will, rather than the other way around as ought to be the case. I argue that the extrinsic predication thesis is true of God’s “transeunt” actions such as creating this universe, but it is not true of God’s “immanent” actions such as willing or intending this universe to exist. The predication “God wills this creature to exist” is true in virtue of God’s relation to the creature, rather than in virtue of the creature itself. God, with no differences in Himself, can relate himself differently to possible creatures, thereby freely determining which will exist and which will not. Although Aquinas calls such relations of God to creatures “relations of reason,” the relations of willing and knowing these creatures is not, according to Aquinas, a relation invented by our reason reflecting on God and creatures. Rather, they are relations established by God’s reason. Such relations would exist even if no rational creatures existed.

Here is the abstract:

Classical theism is often said to suffer from the problem of modal collapse: if God is necessary and simple then all of his effects (creatures) are also necessary. Classical theists often turn to extrinsic predication in response: God’s simple and necessary act is compatible with any number of possible effects or no effects, and is only said to be an act of creating in virtue of the existence of the universe itself. Leftow and Schmid criticize this solution for leading to “providential collapse”: God would not have control over which creation obtains if all his intrinsic features are compatible with any possible universe. Thomistic classical theism avoids both modal collapse and providential collapse by utilizing the metaphysics of relations. With no differences within his simple essence/act, God can relate himself differently to his possible effects, willing some and not willing others. These relations determine whether or not the effects will exist. Thomistic classical theism’s version of divine simplicity is not incompatible with God having a multiplicity of relations, for the three divine persons are distinct relations within God. Divine simplicity is only incompatible with a multiplicity of absolute items within God. Furthermore, not all differences of relation are grounded in the different absolute characteristics of their relata. Rather, sometimes differences of relation themselves ground differences in the absolute characteristics of their relata. God’s divine act is thus said to be an act of willing this creation rather than that in virtue of his chosen relation to possible creatures, rather than in virtue of the creatures themselves.