Does God Create His Own Nature?

Unknown-1Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, that question doesn’t get any more basic than this: Which came first, God or God’s nature? In his excellent book Creation and the Sovereignty of God, Hugh McCann argues against a commonly held intuition that no being is, or can be, responsible for the nature it has. Instead, McCann suggests there are good reasons to think that in God’s case we find an exception to our intuition: God creates His own nature! What are McCann’s reasons for thinking such a view attractive? He offers two:

First, the idea that God creates His own nature offers a unified theory of creation, a theoretically elegant theory, and that counts in its favor. “If such a view can be upheld then these properties [that is, those properties that make up the divine nature], along with any further abstracta we might construct out of them, would be found to have the same status that . . . pertains to all [distinct reality: God is the creator of all], making for a simpler and more persuasive theory.”[1] The idea is that it is better to hold that God is the creator of all abstracta, including those abstracta that compose His nature—attributes such as being omnipotentbeing omniscientbeing wholly good, being the creator of all, etc.—instead of just those abstracta that are not about God.  Such a picture is simpler, it possesses a kind of theoretical uniformity that is attractive.

Second, the idea that God creates His own nature is attractive because it upholds the absolute sovereignty and aseity (self-existence) of God. “The sovereignty-aseity intuition excludes any suggestion that properties pertaining to God’s nature . . . have being in some sort of independent Platonic realm, or that their existence in such a realm might be ontologically prior to God’s own existence, so that he would be dependent on them or their availability in order to be what he is. . . . Also excluded is the possibility that from God’s point of view his nature . .  counts all the same as a given: that is, as an ontological reality that God simply finds manifested in himself, and over which he exerts no control.”[2] The idea is that if God is not creatively responsible for His own nature, then He is not absolutely sovereign.

Are these good enough reasons to think that God creates His own nature? I’m not so sure.

What about the claim that such a view is theoretically simpler than the view that God creates all reality except His own nature? This theoretical virtue needs to be weighed against other considerations, including accuracy, scope, and fruitfulness. It could be that on balance, the advantages of theoretical simplicity are outweighed by other factors. For example, McCann claims that God’s nature is a matter of God’s will, but that suggestion seems to suffer from a devastating worry—incoherence—for how could God bring about His nature unless he already possessed the essential property of being able to bring about His own Nature? But then, it seems God does have a (thin) nature prior to His creation of a compleat nature. And if part of God’s nature is ontologically prior to God’s creating the “rest” of His nature, then we no longer have a theoretically simple view.

Secondly, and more importantly, the aseity-sovereignty doctrine does not require (contra McCann) that God create His own nature. All the aseity-sovereignty doctrine requires is that all distinct reality is created by God.  That is, all reality that is “outside God’s borders” is created by God. As Brian Leftow recently put it in his magnificent book on theistic modal metaphysics, “God is (directly or indirectly) the Source of All that is ‘outside’ Him.”[3]

Back to the our ultimate chicken and egg question. I say: Neither God nor God’s nature are existentially prior to the other (I do think that God is explanatorily prior to His nature in one sense–God is the final cause (not efficient cause!) of His nature and all His essential properties, but that discussion is for another day). Rather, God and God’s nature exist a se (uncreated and necessarily) and all reality distinct from God (including the abstracta that exist in Plato’s heaven) are created by God. Thus, we maintain the sovereignty of God without violating the commonsense intuition that no one, even God, is responsible for the nature it has. This view, which I call Modified Theistic Activism, is defended by Richard Brian Davis and myself in a forthcoming book Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract Objects (Bloomsbury Publishing Group, forthcoming in 2014).[4]

For my reviews of McCann’s and Leftow’s books, see here and here.
















[1] Hugh McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 214.

[2] McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God, 214-15.

[3] Brian Leftow, God and Necessity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 20.

[4] Edited by yours truly.


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