God and Eternal Truths

I’m on the front end of Brian Leftow’s mammoth book God and Necessity. Weighing in at 1.6 pounds (yes, I weighed it on my scale), rife with the machinery of quantified modal logic, sweeping in its scope, Leftow has delivered to us his long anticipated account of theistic modal metaphysics. The book is not for the faint at heart, nor those thin on cash (it costs $110 and is only available in hardcover—thankfully, I got it for free, since I “get” to read it for fun and write a review of it for a journal). So what is the book about? And why does it matter?Leftow’s project begins by noticing that there are necessary truths. For example, it is necessarily the case that 2+2=4. It is not possibly the case that 2+2= 4 is false. Further, such truths are eternal, they have everlasting duration. Before there were humans it still was the case that 2+2=4. If God annihilated the entire universe, it would still be the case that 2+2=4.

So far, so good.

But if there are necessary truths, then there is some ontology behind them: truths represent reality as being a certain way, hence there is something, some reality that makes them so. What is that reality? If there is some non-divine reality behind the eternal, necessary truths (say Platonic abstract objects) then God is not ultimate in duration—there are infinites of infinites of other objects that are co-eternal with God.[1] Further, if these eternal, non-divine necessary entities exist independently of God (as say, Platonic entities are typically assumed to exist), then God is not the ultimate source of all distinct reality.

So, for the traditional theist, it is natural to try and locate necessary truths (and their ontology) in God, or part of God, or in God’s creative activity. Historically, Leibniz moved all the eternal, necessary truths into the divine mind; Descartes leaves them outside God but denies that they are independent of God’s creative activity. Leftow’s solution to the conflict between necessary truths and God’s ultimacy (as far as I can tell, I’m only 100 pages in), will be to follow Leibniz (and move half-way toward Descartes): somehow or other, God provides all necessary truths’ ontology.

Why does all this matter? Well, right reason shows us that there are many necessary truths: identities, logical truths, mathematical truths, essential truths and truths of modal logic. Western theism holds that God is the ultimate reality. The conjunction of the deliverances of reason and the deliverances of faith apparently conflict. But, (say I) there can be no actual conflict between necessary truths and God’s ultimacy if God exists. Hence, there is reason to look for a solution to the tension. This is Leftow’s project, and I must say, I am enjoying the book thus far. As for my own view on the matter, well, you can look at my published work on the topic found here, and you can look forward to a forthcoming book on the topic that I am editing (where I also defend, along with Richard Davis, my own view) called Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract Objects. Look for the book sometime in 2014!





[1] For the record, I don’t think that being co-eternal with God is much of a problem. If there are co-eternal abstract objects, they could still be construed as created, hence dependent upon God. In that case, God is still the ultimate source of all things distinct from himself, and this seems to be the gist of what it means to say God is ultimate.

2 Responses to God and Eternal Truths

  1. Pingback: Philosophy’s Contribution to Religion | Paul Gould

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