Category Archives: Immutability

Immutability – fallacious arguments 2


-by Karlo Broussard

Recently, we looked at an objection that argues God can’t be immutable and at the same time be the universal cause of temporal effects because that would entail God having to change in his acts—acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.

We showed that this objection fails because it wrongly assumes God acts in time and that there’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change.

But some atheists counter along the lines of an objection that St. Thomas Aquinas deals with in Summa Contra Gentiles 3.35: How can there be new effects brought about in time with no new acts in God’s will? Wouldn’t God have to act anew in order to bring about new effects? But if he acted anew for every new effect, then God would undergo change.

It seems that if we affirm God’s immutability we must deny that he’s the creator of temporal effects. If we affirm that God is the creator of temporal effects, which his role as the universal cause of all things entails, it seems we must deny his immutability.

What should we make of this counter?

Notice the assumption: new acts are necessary to bring about new effects. But it’s not necessarily true that something must perform new acts in order to bring about new effects. Perhaps an analogy will be helpful.

Consider a state leader who signs a bill of law and determines that it shall take effect and become binding one month after its signing. A new decree wouldn’t be necessary for the binding power of the law to come into existence when its appointed time arrives. The law would take effect at its allotted time due to the decree made a month before.

The lawmaker could even stipulate that the law be only temporarily binding, specifying not only when the law takes effect (a month subsequent to the signing), but also the time when the law ceases to have binding power (perhaps a year after the law goes into effect). So, by one act, the lawmaker would determine not only the new effect of the beginning of the law but also the new effect of the law no longer having binding power. And when each of those new effects would come to be—when the binding power of the law actually begins and ends—it would be due to the lawmaker’s one act.

Similarly, by a single act of intellect and will God specifies every aspect of a thing’s being, including the moment of time at which a thing will come into existence, the moments at which it will begin to act and cease to act, and the moment at which it will go out of existence—that is, if it’s the type of thing that can naturally go out of existence, unlike a human soul or angels.

As we saw in the article linked above, this is a necessary conclusion based on the fact that God is the first and universal cause. For if he only caused the existence of something and its activity, and not the time at which that thing comes into existence or acts, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal mode of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality.

Since that can’t be, we know God must not only cause the existence and action of a thing but the particular moment in the flow of time at which a thing exists and acts. And he does so by the one eternal act of intellect and will.

So just as a lawmaker can stipulate in one decree when a law begins and ends, and the binding power of that law begins and ends based on that one decree, so too God in one eternal decree determines the moments in time when an effect will come into existence and go out of existence, and when that effect comes into or goes out of existence it will be due to the one act of God’s intellect and will.

But an atheist might counter: It’s one thing to say that multiple effects can be determined by a single act when the “effect” is an abstraction and the determining action is an act of the mind, like when a law is determined to have and not have binding power. It’s another thing to claim, on God’s behalf, that a single act of the will can produce multiple effects in reality at different moments in time.

This counter fails on multiple fronts. First, it doesn’t take into account that God’s knowledge is identical to his will. His intellectual decree that some things come into existence and go out of existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time is identical to the single act of will by which he produces those effects.

Second, it wrongly assumes that when the effects become real they are necessarily temporally separated from when they are conceived in the mind, like when a house is actually built as opposed to the conception of its allotted time to be built in the mind of the contractor.

But with God this is not so. He doesn’t have to wait for the allotted time to arrive in order to produce the effect. All moments of time and the events that make up those moments are present to God simultaneously (see Summa Theologiae I:14:7, 13). As such, God is able to produce the multiple effects at their allotted times by a single act of his eternal will. The cause-effect relationship between those effects at each moment in time and God’s causal activity is like the cause-effect relationship between the knife cutting the orange: it’s simultaneous.

Third, this counter loses sight of God’s omnipotence. A rational creature might not be able to produce new effects at different moments of time without new causal action. But that doesn’t mean no rational being could do so. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “If [a rational being’s] act of will were of itself sufficient to produce the effect, the effect would follow anew from his previous decision, without any new action on his part” (SCG 3.35).

God’s will is sufficient to bring all effects into existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time because his will is infinite in power (omnipotent), able to do anything that doesn’t entail a logical contradiction. Since there’s no logical contradiction in the idea of a single act willing a multiplicity of effects to be and not be at different moments in time, we can say that given God’s omnipotence he’s able to cause temporal effects without new action on his part.

Since no new act of causation on God’s part is needed to bring about a new effect in the flow of time, or to will an effect to cease to exist at a moment in the flow of time, the objection that God must change in causing things to exist at one point in time and not at some other time has no force.

Yet again theism passes the coherence test, at least on this front. There’s one other reason atheists give to show the incompatibility of God’s immutability and his role as the universal cause, but we’ll have to save that one for another time.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Immutability – fallacious arguments


-by Karlo Broussard

“Atheists often claim that it’s contradictory for believers to assert that God is at the same time both the universal cause of all being and immutable. In other words, God can’t be changeless and at the same time changing, in the sense that he causes things to come into and go out of existence.

Consider, for example, that my act of typing this article right now is a reality ultimately because God causes it to be. His causal activity is not in opposition to my free action, but the presupposition for it. For whatever has being is ultimately caused to be by the source of being, God. Since my act of typing has being (it actually exists), it follows that God ultimately causes my action to be (even if he doesn’t cause every typo or imperfect metaphor that I choose).

By the time you read this article, however, my act of typing it will no longer exist. I’ll be engaged in other acts, such as throwing the football with my sons.

So, what God is causing to exist now (me typing this article in real time), he will no longer cause to exist when I shut down the computer. And what God was not causing to exist (me throwing the football with my sons), God will cause to exist.

But this seems to entail that God changes in his acts, acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.

If God brings about new effects in time, so it’s argued, he would have to engage in new acts of the will. And if that were true, he would change.

So it seems that if we affirm God as the ultimate cause of all temporal effects, we would have to say God changes. If we say God can’t change, then we couldn’t affirm that he’s the ultimate cause of all temporal effects. Neither of the two options is available for one who believes in the classical understanding of God.

Is a theist trapped?

Notice how the objection assumes that God’s causal action is located in time just like the effect is located in time, as if we can point to some moment in time before which he doesn’t act and after which he does. But there are good reasons to think this assumption is false.

God is eternal, and therefore doesn’t exist or act in the flow of time. He’s entirely outside the succession of moments in time, having all moments of time (our before and after) present to him simultaneously. Consequently, God doesn’t have a “before” and an “after.” And if that’s the case, then it’s not correct to assume that he begins to act after a certain time, before which he didn’t act.

Moreover, as the first and universal cause, God not only ultimately causes my act of typing but also the time at which he wills this act to be (5:00 pm October 14 in Brisbane, Australia). For if he were only the first cause of the action, and not the time at which the action occurred, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal aspect of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality. Since that can’t be, we know he must not only cause the action, he must also cause the particular moment in the flow of time at which the act takes place.

And because God can’t be conditioned by that which he causes to be (the particular moments in the flow of time at which all activity takes place), his causal activity can’t possibly be subject to time. In other words, God’s causal activity has no “before” and “after” because God’s causal activity itself determines the “before” and “after” of all activity. We have to be careful not to confuse, “God causes some things to be at some moments of time,” with “God, at some moment in time, causes some things to be.”

Since God’s causal action is not in time, it’s not necessary that he change in his act of causing new temporal effects (i.e., go from not causing to causing). Therefore, the assertion that God is the universal cause of temporal effects doesn’t contradict the claim that God is immutable.

Now, an atheist might respond, “Perhaps God doesn’t undergo change in his causal activity because he acts in time. But he must undergo change inasmuch as he acts as a cause, for change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause. So God, therefore, can’t be immutable and the universal cause of all things at the same time.”

The problem with this counter is that it assumes change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause.

Sure, the causes that we experience undergo change when they bring about an effect (e.g., me going from not engaging in the act of typing this article to engaging in the act of typing this article). But just because a cause of our experience changes when it causes an effect, it doesn’t necessarily follow that anything whatsoever that acts as a cause must undergo change.

All that’s necessary for a cause to be a cause of an effect is for the effect in question to be brought about by that cause. In other words, without the activity of the cause the effect would not be. There’s nothing in this understanding of a cause that necessitates the cause undergo change when it acts as a cause.

And that’s all a theist is saying when he says God causes temporal effects. Something comes into existence at a specific moment of time due to God’s causal action, and it goes out of existence ultimately because of God’s causal action.

So, the idea that some things are brought about at different moments of time, and that God is the ultimate cause that brings those things about at their distinct moments of time, in no way shows God must undergo change when he acts as a cause. There’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change and God’s causal action is not characterized by time.

At least on this front, theism passes the coherence test.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Immutability


-by Dave Armstrong

“Orthodox, historic Catholic theology holds that God is…immutable. Descriptions such as “jealousy” applied to God are usually held by orthodox theologians to be anthropomorphic (intended to make God more comprehensible to limited human beings, rather than being literally true). Here are some typical statements in this regard, by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas:

“God’s anger implies no perturbation of the divine mind. It is simply the divine judgment passing sentence on sin. And when God “thinks and then has second thoughts” this merely means that changeable realities come into relation with his immutable reason. For God cannot “repent” as human beings repent, of what he has done, since in regard to everything His judgment is fixed as His foreknowledge is clear … But it is only by the use of such human expressions that Scripture can make its many kinds of readers whom it wants to help to feel, as it were, at home. Only thus can Scripture frighten the proud and arouse the slothful, provoke inquiries and provide food for the convinced. This is possible only when Scripture gets right down to the level of the lowliest readers.” -(St. Augustine, City of God, 15:25)

“It is written, I AM the Lord, and change not. (Mal. 3,6) I answer that, From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable. First, there is some being, whom we call God, and that this first being must be pure act, without any admixture of potency, for the reason that, absolutely, potency is posterior to act (Q.III, A. 3). Now everything which is in any way changed is in some way in potency. Hence it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable.-(Summa Theologica, First Part, Q.9, art.1)

“God is said in turn to repent; not in the sense that his eternal disposition has changed, but some effect of his is changed. Hence Gregory says: “God does not change his plan, though at times he may change his judgment”, not, I say, the judgment which expresses his eternal disposition, but the judgment which expresses the order of inferior causes, in accord which Ezechias was to have died, or certain people were to have been punished for their sins. Now such a change of judgment is called God’s repentance, using a metaphorical way of speaking, in the sense that God is disposed like one who repents, for whom it is proper to change what he had been doing. In the same way, he is also said, metaphorically, to become angry, in the same sense that, by punishing, He produces the same effect of an angry person.”-(Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. 3, Pt. 2, q.96:15)

Let’s examine now Catholic dogma regarding these matters. First, I consult Dr. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (edited in English by James Canon Bastible; translated by Patrick Lynch, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974, from the fourth edition of May 1960; first published in German in 1952):

God is absolutely immutable. (De fide.)

The 4th Lateran Council and the Vatican Council teach that God is immutable (incommutabilis) D 428, 1782. Holy Scripture excludes all change from God and positively ascribes to Him absolute immutability . . .

The Fathers exclude all change from God . . .

St. Thomas bases the absolute immutability of God on His pure actuality, on His absolute simplicity and on His infinite perfection . . .

(pp. 35-36)”

Now I shall cite Henry Denzinger: The Sources of Catholic Dogma (I have the 13th edition of 1954; translated by Roy J. Deferrari; Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications). All bolding is my own.

LATERAN COUNCIL IV 1215

Ecumenical XII (against the Albigensians, Joachim, Waldensians etc.

The Trinity, Sacraments, Canonical Mission, etc.*

Chap. 1. The Catholic Faith

(Definition directed against the Albigensians and other heretics]

428 Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God is one alone, eternal, immense, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and ineffable, Father and Son and Holy Spirit: indeed three Persons but one essence, substance, or nature entirely simple. The Father from no one, the Son from the Father only, and the Holy Spirit equally from both; without beginning, always, and without end; the Father generating, the Son being born, and the Holy Spirit proceeding; consubstantial and coequal and omnipotent and coeternal; one beginning of all, creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual, and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body. For the devil and other demons were created by God good in nature, but they themselves through themselves have become wicked. But man sinned at the suggestion of the devil. This Holy Trinity according to common essence undivided, and according to personal properties distinct, granted the doctrine of salvation to the human race, first through Moses and the holy prophets and his other servants according to the most methodical disposition of the time.

THE VATICAN COUNCIL 1869-1870

Ecumenical XX (on Faith and the Church)

SESSION III (April 24, 1870)

Dogmatic Constitution concerning the Catholic Faith *

[ . . . ]

Chap. 1. God, Creator of All Things

1782 [The one, living, and true God and His distinction from all things.] * The holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church believes and confesses that there is one, true, living God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will, and in every perfection; who, although He is one, singular, altogether simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, must be proclaimed distinct in reality and essence from the world; most blessed in Himself and of Himself, and ineffably most high above all things which are or can be conceived outside Himself [can. 1-4].

That’s only the beginning; there is much more:

ST. MARTIN I 649-653 (655)

THE LATERAN COUNCIL 649

(Against the Monothelites)

The Trinity, the Incarnation, etc.*

254 Can. 1. If anyone does not confess properly and truly in accord with the holy Fathers that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit [are a] Trinity in unity, and a unity in Trinity, that is, one God in three subsistences, consubstantial and of equal glory, one and the same Godhead, nature, substance, virtue, power, kingdom, authority, will, operation of the three, uncreated, without beginning, incomprehensible, immutable, creator and protector of all things, let him be condemned [see n. 78-82, 213].

COUNCIL OF LYONS II 1274

Ecumenical XIV (concerning the union of the Greeks)

Declaration Concerning the Procession of the Holy Spirit *

[The Most Exalted Trinity and the Catholic Faith]

[ . . . ]

Profession of Faith of Michael Palaeologus *

[ . . . ]

463 He will come to judge the living and the dead, and will return to each one according to his works whether they were good or evil. We believe also that the Holy Spirit is complete and perfect and true God, proceeding from the Father and the Son, coequal and consubstantial, co-omnipotent, and coeternal through all things with the Father and the Son. We believe that this holy Trinity is not three Gods but one God, omnipotent, eternal, invisible, and unchangeable.

A Decree in Behalf of the Jacobites *

[From the Bull “Cantata Domino,” February 4, Florentine style,

1441, modern, 1442]

703 The sacrosanct Roman Church, founded by the voice of our Lord and Savior, firmly believes, professes, and preaches one true God omnipotent, unchangeable, and eternal, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; one in essence, three in persons; . . .

* * * * *
(ST. SERGIUS I 687-701)

COUNCIL OF TOLEDO XV 685

Protestation concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation *

[From “Liber responsionis” or the “Apologia” of Julian,

Archbishop of Toledo]

294 . . . We have found that in that book of response to our faith, which we had sent to the Roman Church through Peter the regent, it had seemed to the Pope already mentioned (St Benedict II) that we had carelessly written that first chapter where we said according to divine essence: “Will begot will, as also wisdom, wisdom,” because that man in a hurried reading thought that we had used these very names according to a relative sense, or according to a comparison of the human mind; and so in his reply he commanded us to give warning saying: “In the natural order we recognize that the word takes its origin from the mind, just as reason and will, and they cannot be changed, so that it may be said that, as the word and the will proceed from the mind, so also the mind from the word or the will, and from this comparison it seemed to the Roman Pontiff that the will cannot be said to be from the will.” We, however, not according to this comparison of the human mind, nor according to a relative sense, but according to essence have said: Will from will, as also wisdom from wisdom. For this being is to God as willing: this willing as understanding. But this we cannot say concerning man. For it is one thing for man not to will that which is, and another thing to will even without understanding. In God, however, it is not so, because so perfect is His nature, that this being is to Him as willing, as understanding. . . .

The Catholic Encyclopedia reiterates the above (“The Nature and Attributes of God”):

Immutability

In God “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17); “They [i.e. “the works of thy hands”] shall perish, but thou shalt continue: and they shall all grow old as a garment. And as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the selfsame and thy years shall not fail” (Hebrews 1:10-12, Psalm 101:26-28. Cf. Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). These are some of the Scriptural texts which clearly teach Divine immutability or unchangeableness, and this attribute is likewise emphasized in church teaching, as by the Council of Nicaea against the Arians, who attributed mutability to the Logos (Denzinger, 54-old No. 18), and by the Vatican Council in its famous definition.

That the Divine nature is essentially immutable, or incapable of any internal change, is an obvious corollary from Divine infinity. Changeableness implies the capacity for increase or diminution of perfection, that is, it implies finiteness and imperfection. But God is infinitely perfect and is necessarily what He is. . . .

Divine Knowledge

That God is omniscient or possesses the most perfect knowledge of all things, follows from His infinite perfection. In the first place He knows and comprehends Himself fully and adequately, and in the next place He knows all created objects and comprehends their finite and contingent mode of being. Hence He knows them individually or singularly in their finite multiplicity, knows everything possible as well as actual; knows what is bad as well as what is good. Everything, in a word, which to our finite minds signifies perfection and completeness of knowledge may be predicated of Divine omniscience, and it is further to be observed that it is on Himself alone that God depends for His knowledge. To make Him in any way dependent on creatures for knowledge of created objects would destroy His infinite perfection and supremacy. Hence it is in His eternal, unchangeable, comprehensive knowledge of Himself or of His own infinite being that God knows creatures and their acts, whether there is question of what is actual or merely possible. Indeed, Divine knowledge itself is really identical with Divine essence, as are all the attributes and acts of God; but according to our finite modes of thought we feel the need of conceiving them distinctly and of representing the Divine essence as the medium or mirror in which the Divine intellect sees all truth.

The article on “Eternity” highlights the same notions of immutability and transcendence of time:

. . . That is how and why we represent the Divine existence as a life. It is a life, moreover, not only without beginning or end but also without succession — tota simul, that is without past or future; a never-changing instant or “now”. It is not so difficult to form some faint notion of a duration which never began and shall never end. We hope that our own life shall be endless; and materialists have accustomed us to the notion of a series stretching backward without limit in time, to the notion of a material universe that never came into being but was always there. The Divine existence is that and much more; excluding all succession, past and future time-indeed all time, which is succession-and to be conceived as an ever-enduring and unchanging “now”. . . .

If, now, we apply to the time-line what we have been attempting in that of space, the infinite, unchangeable point which was immensity becomes eternity; not a real succession of separate acts or changes (which is known as “time”); nor even the continuous duration of a being which is changeless in its substance, however it may vary in its actions (which is what St. Thomas understands by an aevum ); but an endless line of existence and action which not only is not actually interrupted, but is incapable of interruption or of the least change or movement whatsoever. And as, if one instant should pass away and another succeed, the present becoming past and the future present, there is necessarily a change or movement of instants; so, if we are not to be irreverent in our concept of God, but to represent Him as best we can, we must try to conceive Him as excluding all, even the least, change or succession; and his duration, consequently, as being without even a possible past or future, but a never beginning and a never-ending, absolutely unchangeable “now.” This is how eternity is presented in Catholic philosophy and theology. The notion is of special interest in helping us to realize, however, faintly, the relations of God to created things, especially with regard to His foreknowledge. In Him there is no before or after, and therefore no foreknowledge, objectively; the distinction which we are wont to draw between His knowledge of intelligence or science or prescience and His knowledge of vision is merely our way of representing things, natural enough to us, but not by any means objective or real in Him. There is no real objective difference between His intelligence and His vision, not between either of these and the Divine substance in which there is no possibility of difference or change.

. . . it is not true to say that God either saw or foresaw anything, or that He will see it, but only that He sees it. . . . It is only in relation to the finite and mutable that there can be a before and after. And when we say, that, as faith teaches, the world was created in time and was not from eternity, our meaning should not be that the existence of the Creator stretched back infinitely before He brought the world into being; but rather that while His existence remains an unchangeable present, without possibility of before or after, of change or succession, as regards itself, the succession outside the Divine existence, to each instant of which it corresponds as the centre does to any point in the circumference, had a beginning, and might have extended indefinitely further backward, without, however, escaping the omnipresence of the eternal “now” . . .

Sources

The basis of all later treatment of the question of eternity is that of ST. THOMAS, I, Q. x. For a fuller exposition see SUAREZ, De Deo, I, iv; IDEM, Metaphysica, disp. l, ss. 4 sq.; LESSIUS, De perfectionibus divinis, IV.

….The salvation or damnation of every soul is known to God and decreed from eternity. Therefore, there is no change. It always was what it is. For God it simply “is” because He is at all times “now.” An omniscient being cannot change His “mind….”

…Protestant theologian John Frame has written a very informative article that is, I believe (unless I missed something) harmonious with Catholic teaching: “Open Theism and Divine Foreknowledge”. This can clear up many questions about “contingency” and conditional prophecies. See also the Catholic Encyclopedia article, “Prophecy”, though it doesn’t specifically address the issue of how God presents prophecies in relation to His foreknowledge and omniscience, and immutability.

For an extremely interesting (but not exclusively Christian or Catholic Christian) philosophical treatment of these sorts of issues, see “Prophecy” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy); also, “Immutability” in the same work. And “Divine Simplicity” and “Eternity”. Also, along similar lines: “God and Time” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Also, St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa: First Part, Q. 10: The Eternity of God.

Paul Helm: J. I. Packer Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, has written a book defending the divine timelessness view: Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time (Oxford University Press, 1988). IVP (evangelical publisher) has put out a book: God & Time: Four Views. Protestant (?) writer George Pytlik defends God’s timelessness: “Can God Change His Mind?” (part one / part two). John Frame gives a very brief reply too.

Did the Incarnation affect God’s immutability, though? No:

“It is to be remembered that, when the Word took Flesh, there was no change in the Word; all the change was in the Flesh. At the moment of conception, in the womb of the Blessed Mother, through the forcefulness of God’s activity, not only was the human soul of Christ created but the Word assumed the man that was conceived. When God created the world, the world was changed, that is, it passed from the state of nonentity to the state of existence; and there was no change in the Logos or Creative Word of God the Father. Nor was there change in that Logos when it began to terminate the human nature. A new relation ensued, to be sure; but this new relation implied in the Logos no new reality, no real change; all new reality, all real change, was in the human nature. Anyone who wishes to go into this very intricate question of the manner of the Hypostatic Union of the two natures in the one Divine Personality, may with great profit read St. Thomas (III:4:2); Scotus (in III, Dist. i); (De Incarnatione, Disp. II, sec. 3); Gregory, of Valentia (in III, D. i, q. 4). Any modern text book on theology will give various opinions in regard to the way of the union of the Person assuming with the nature assumed.’ -(Catholic Encyclopedia: “The Incarnation”; cf. St. Thomas Aquinas’ related comments in the Summa)”

Love & mind blown,
Matthew