Chapter 7: Simplicity and the Difficulty of Divine Freedom

Many thinkers believe that DDS is not compatible with divine freedom. If God is pure act, then it would seem that everything he does must be done determinately rather than freely. How does pure act leave room for freedom? Norman Kretzmann believes that if God creates as an act of his goodness, then this reduces his freedom, since on DDS God is identical with his goodness and therefore must create out of it. Kretzmann locates God’s freedom not in the decision to create, but in the decision about what to create. While Kretzmann upholds DDS and limits God’s freedom, most philosophers take the opposite approach and reject DDS in order to maintain God’s absolute freedom. Many of the difficulties we have when we are discussing God’s freedom stem from our univocal ascription of terms like “free will” and “possibility” to God and his creatures. If we project our understanding of human freedom onto God, we will end up falling into error.

The biggest challenge advocates of DDS have in the area of freedom is to explain what is meant when we say that God “could have” done x. If God is atemporally eternal and pure act, how could he ever have done otherwise? Eleanore Stump has argued that God may have differences in different possible worlds, but be unchanging inside of each of those worlds. She is trying to maintain simplicity and freedom, but this proposal is not sustainable. It leads to the entailment that God is essentially or accidentally different in different possible worlds. Yet if God is identical with his pure act, and if his pure act changes in different worlds, then God is not identical with God in certain possible worlds.

As creatures, we make choices when we stand before an array of options, deliberate on these options, and choose. Our choices are marked by contingency and uncertainty. God, however, does not deliberate and he does not choose in a temporal matrix. His modality of choice and freedom is unlike ours. God’s act of willing is eternal and free in that it is fully in accord with what he most desires. Since God already has his chief end (himself and his goodness), he does not need to create in order to attain his end. We can allow that God could have created something different as an abstract possibility, but DDS precludes God actually creating something different. As finite creatures we do not comprehend the modality of God’s freedom and will, but he never moves from “could will” to “does will”: God doesn’t have an actual openness to counterfactuals. The actual world is the only possible world that could really be actualized because God eternally wills its existence. We can acknowledge that there is good reason to believe that God is both simple and free, even though we do not comprehend the modality of how that can be the case. If we work from a framework of ontological univocity, we will always end up in contradictions, so we must remember how limited our understanding is, and that our reasoning must be analogical.