Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Could God Restore a Virgin? Non-Logical Limits on Divine Power

The Medievals spoke of a modality they called necessitas per accidens, accidental necessity. For example, Socrates' drinking of the hemlock was a logically contingent event: he might not have drunk the stuff. There was no logical or metaphysical necessity that the event occur. But it happened (never mind how we know this). Given that it happened, it now has necessitas per accidens in the sense that nothing can change the fact that it happened. Not even God can change the fact that it happened. Thus there are arguably limits on divine power beyond narrowly logical limits. As Aquinas says somewhere, not even God can restore a virgin to his or her intact state even though the lapsus -- if you want to call it that --was a logically contingent event. The reason is that the lapsus has necessitas per accidens.

If this is right, then there are two sorts of limits on divine power, logical and non-logical. God is limited by logic in that he cannot bring about a contradictory state of affairs. God is also limited non-logically (or extra-logically) by events that he cannot interfere with, including past events and events brought about by free agents.

So it is arguably false to say that an all-powerful God can do anything; he can do anything that it is possible for an agent to do. Similarly, it is false to say that an all-knowing God knows everything, for not everything is knowable. Thus, God cannot know false propositions. For example, God cannot know that he does not exist. For any subject S, if S knows that p, then p is true. A proposition's being true is a necessary condition of its knowability, whence it follows that false propositions are unknowable by any subject, including God.

Of course, God can know, with respect to a false proposition p, that p is false. But in knowing this, God is knowing a distinct proposition p*, namely, the true proposition that p is false.