If God is unchanging, then how is God free to create the world?


#1

In other words, how is creation not a necessity?

God knows all in the “Eternal Now,” so his perfect plan to create the world is inherent to the “Eternal Now.” God does not think as we do: He does not deliberate, take in various data, and then make a decision. He does not move from Point A, no plan to create, to Point B, a decision to create.

So it would seem that God’s plan to create the world is as immutable as He is, as part of His very nature. So how can we speak of creation as a free choice? How is it not necessary?


#2

What a great question!! So many similar questions are tough to grapple with (e.g., predestination and free will). I bet you St Thomas’s summas have something to say to this! Others here have surely read wider than I have on this particular point you’ve raised, so I’m winging it, really.

  1. Immutability is more suggestive of cannot change (unchangeable), which is distinct from unchanging (where he could possibly change but just chooses not to).

  2. You have to be precise in the sense in which you’re using the word “necessity.” If not, you’ll end up equivocating on the term and it’ll lead to confusion.

  3. God’s will and his nature are distinct (as they are in you). A nature is what something is (essence). A will is a faculty of an intellect.

  4. St Thomas speaks of a “real distinction” between existence ( that something is) and essence ( what something is). The non-existence of any part of the universe (or of the universe itself en totem) is possible. It follows then that the existence of the universe cannot be necessary.

Hmm, I think I’ll stop here and go read some ST and SCG. Intrigued by what others have to say on this!


#3

@IWantGod and @Wesrock, what say you?


#4

God’s will and his nature are distinct (as they are in you). A nature is what something is (essence). A will is a faculty of an intellect.

May need to get into this more. I thought divine simplicity entailed that all of God’s aspects are entirely one. We use different names to describe what is really the same reality.


#5

In the ST, question 19, article 3, his reply to an objection seems to be on point. See what you think:

Reply to Objection 6. As the divine essence is necessary of itself, so is the divine will and the divine knowledge; but the divine knowledge has a necessary relation to the thing known; not the divine will to the thing willed. The reason for this is that knowledge is of things as they exist in the knower; but the will is directed to things as they exist in themselves. Since then all other things have necessary existence inasmuch as they exist in God; but no absolute necessity so as to be necessary in themselves, in so far as they exist in themselves; it follows that God knows necessarily whatever He wills, but does not will necessarily whatever He wills.


#6

For everything that is intrinsically contingent, if it exists, then it is extrinsically necessary, but if it doesn’t exist, then it is extrinsically impossible. Further, everything that has come into being, did not go from being non-existent to existent. Rather, they went from existing in potentiality, to existing in actuality. In this way, God caused change in His creation, without there being contradiction.

See this, on the question of whether God created the world out of free will:


#7

Would this be faithful to a traditional Catholic conception?


#8

I may have to read this over 28 more times.

:joy: Aquinas, were you even human?

Pray for me, Saint TA, that I may understand.


#9

A quick answer, but it boils down to God not being conditioned to make this world as opposed to any other world or no world at all. Ultimately, God is knowledge, and the act proceeds from him voluntarily (at least insofar as it’s uncaused or determined by principles outside himself). So there is a principle by which we can say that God’s will follows from his Intellect in a way free from any external causes in a way more absolute than can be said of even of our own choices, and there is nothing external that determined God to create this way instead of any other way. If it was simply necessary for God’s nature to create this reality as opposed to any other, then God himself must be conditioned or caused, because he would not then have been able to pre-exist himself to determine himself to that end, and so he would not then be the Unconditioned Reality. So therefore whatever is the Unconditioned Reality must have been free to act one way as opposed to another way.

Or in short, my understanding of the teleological argument or an argument from PSR basically is that if God’s action in creating this exact reality is necessary and not free, he can’t be the terminus for the regress of causes. And it’s free at least (but probably not only) in the sense that it’s intrinsic to his own knowledge and movement of the will and free of determination by external factors


#10

I’m not a Catholic, so perhaps that question shouldn’t be directed at me.


#11

Well, I meant like, is the explanation conserving the notion of God’s freedom.


#12

Ultimately, God is knowledge, and the act proceeds from him voluntarily (at least insofar as it’s uncaused or determined by principles outside himself).

But doesn’t divine simplicity mean that there is no difference between God’s knowledge and his act? God is pure actuality, which just is His act of knowing, which just is the thought-content of that act of knowing.

and there is nothing external that determined God to create this way instead of any other way.

I follow you on this point.

If it was simply necessary for God’s nature to create this reality as opposed to any other, then God himself must be conditioned or caused, because he would not then have been able to pre-exist himself to determine himself to that end, and so he would not then be the Unconditioned Reality.

I’m not sure if I’m following this. God is unchanging and eternal, so the decision to create this world was also an unchanging and eternal decision: there was no process of discernment, no change in thinking. But with God, there could be no other alternative, then: He eternally thought of this world, and He eternally decided to create this world.

But that just makes the word “decided” unintelligible, since, if Creation is due to God’s eternal (timeless) and unchanging “decision,” then there was no other state to “decide.” Even if there were an alternative decision, we’d still have to say God was eternally “locked on” to creating, and in creating just the way he did, no?

Where is my error? :sweat_smile: I probably look dumb, but I’m just restating my thinking so you can better address my dilemma. Thanks.


#13

A small excerpt from the link I posted:

now it is important to understand that divine agency falls in neither one of the above-mentioned categories because God is not a natural agent due to the fact that his act emanates from Him with His absolute knowledge [علم], consciousness [ادراك] and will [اراده], nor is He a propelled-agent because His acts are not inconsistent with the divine nature; He is not a coerced-agent because His acts emanate from His free-will and there is no one above Him to deprive Him from that free-will ; neither is He an intentional-agent because unlike humans God is not moved from potentiality [قوة] to actuality [فعلية] with respect to a particular act such that His act satisfies some desire or fulfills a lacking in His Essence [ذات], which is exactly what happens in case of human agency because every human act is directed towards satisfying some desire or want indicating thereby the previous imperfection [نقص] or lacking which has now been satisfied as a result of that act.


#14

So, please help me out, as I don’t understand the logical dilemma. :slight_smile:


#15

@spockrates

We say God is free – that creation was a free act of love on God’s part.

But if God is eternal and unchanging, then it seems to me that there is no other alternative than God creating – even creation as it now is. For God does not “think” as we do: He does not deliberate, moving from Decision A to Decision B.

God is unchanging, and creation is a fact. So it seems that creation is a consequence of God’s eternal, unchanging nature, and not a “free” act as if God could have chosen not to create.


#16

Hmmm. Not sure I’ve got it yet. When you say, “if God is … unchanging,” are you speaking of God not changing his character or not changing his mind or not changing his essence or not changing something altogether different than these?


#17

Your not dumb. This is a difficult question for any reasonable person.

God is perfectly free in the sense that nothing other than himself is causing him to do anything. God is not subject to choices like we are. God simply does what is love, and his love is identical to his will. However, God can only express his nature if he has a will, so it cannot be said that creation naturally emanates from his nature or out of necessity naturally comes in to existence because of his nature; it is still correct to say that God wills creation according to his perfect intellect which is his knowledge which is his nature. At the same time it is true that God would never do anything different than what he has done; Not because he isn’t free, but rather one can perfectly predict that God would always share existence with other beings, because that’s what a loving being would do by definition. God does not have human-free-will if by that you mean God is forced to choose between two different temporal possibilities. God is the cause of temporal possibilities, he is not subject to them. Neither can it be said that God is forced to be perfect as that would imply division in his nature. God simply is perfection and he does what is perfect. This would seem to imply that God is forced to make only one choice, but i disagree since that idea completely misses the point.

It’s true that God doesn’t have human freewill (God cannot choose not to love as that would be the same as choosing not to exist, and that is impossible insomuch as God cannot cease to be perfect or cease to think perfectly or cease to act according to that perfection), and it is also true that God is free to create or not create (in the sense that there is no being apart from God forcing him to do anything); it’s just that a perfectly loving being would always create. There was always going to be a creation despite the fact that God is perfectly free.

If a human being had a perfect mind and was not subject to temptation, then he would only ever do that which is rationally perfect. On the surface it would seem he has no will. But in reality he does have a will, it’s just that because he thinks perfectly-rational he never does that which is in error because that would be irrational.


#18

All of the above. God cannot change.


#19

Source or evidence for your premise, such as a specific scripture or a quote from an early church father?


#20

But how can we separate His will from His intellect/act of knowing/nature? Maybe that’s the key issue. If His will is One with his nature – and doesn’t it have to be due to divine simplicity? – then isn’t creation still, in a sense, a natural emanation from God?


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