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God and Moral LawOn the Theistic Explanation of Morality$

Mark C. Murphy

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199693665

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199693665.001.0001

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Theistic explanation of the laws of nature

Theistic explanation of the laws of nature

Chapter:
(p.133) 5 Theistic explanation of the laws of nature
Source:
God and Moral Law
Author(s):

Mark C. Murphy

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199693665.003.0006

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter identifies a strategy to pursue a more adequate theistic explanation of moral law. The problem of how God is related to the moral law is structurally identical to the problem, explored in amazing detail among the medieval and early modern philosophers, of how God is related to the laws of nature. The chapter shows that natural law theory and theological voluntarism correspond closely, in their strengths and weaknesses, to two theories of God's relationship to the laws of nature: mere conservationism and occasionalism, respectively. But there is not extant a theory of God's relationship to the moral law that corresponds to an influential third theory of God's relationship to the laws of nature: concurrentism. Thus it is worth asking whether there is a moral analog to concurrentism that is more successful than natural law theory and theological voluntarism in providing a theistic explanation of moral law.

Keywords:   God, moral law, laws of nature, mere conservationism, occasionalism, concurrentism

5.1 Bad news and good news

In Chapters 1 and 2, I set a problem concerning the relationship between theism and morality: given theism, we should expect a theistic explanation of moral law; but what precise form ought that explanation to take? In Chapters 3 and 4, I delivered some bad news: both of the currently dominant views in theistic ethics fail to offer an acceptable theistic explanation of moral law. But there is good news. The good news is that the problem has been thought through before—or, at least, a problem that is structurally similar to this one has been thought through before, with the consequence that we can look to this debate for guidance in figuring out where we can go from here. (When I say that it has been thought through, I do not mean that resolution has been achieved; but we do have a much clearer picture of what the options are, and how they might be developed, than we have in the case of moral law.)

This similar problem is that of the relationship between God and the laws of nature—that is, those laws that express explanatory regularities and perhaps even governing relationships in the natural order. Recall that in Chapter 1 our account of moral law was developed on analogy with an account of the laws of nature. We have already, though, a history of working through the question of how we ought to understand the relationship between God and the laws of nature. And this is of course entirely unsurprising. If God is taken to be sovereign over everything else, then the question of how we ought to characterize God's role in the ordinary operations of nature is inescapable.

My argument is this. It is clear that two of the historically most important theories of God's relationship to the natural order, mere (p.134) conservationism and occasionalism, correspond very precisely with natural law theory and theological voluntarism, respectively (5.2–5.4). This is so not only in terms of the structure of the views in question but also in terms of the arguments given in their support and the difficulties to which they are subject. So we can see the difficulties that we have discovered with extant theistic moral theories present in extant theistic philosophies of nature. But—and here, finally, is some good news—there is a third, well-developed view of God's relationship to the natural order that does not suffer from the difficulties that plague the other two views (5.5). This suggests a strategy: to formulate a theistic explanation of moral law along the lines of this third theory of the laws of nature. The working out of this strategy is the task of Chapter 6.

5.2 Mere conservationist and occasionalist accounts of the laws of nature

There is an account of the relationship between God and the ordinary course of nature that has been labeled “mere conservationism.” Suppose that we distinguish between what we might call particular transactions in the natural order and the general laws of nature that express the governance relationship between the properties involved in those transactions. Mere conservationism is typically characterized in terms of its account of God's role in the particular causal transactions that take place in the natural order, though we can extend the view intuitively to an account of God's role in explaining the holding of the laws of nature. So let us first give an account of mere conservationism regarding the ordinary transactions in the natural order.

The mere conservationist affirms both a positive and a negative thesis (see, for example, van Inwagen 1995b). The positive thesis is that God conserves in existence all substances and their causal powers. The proper contrast here is with, say, deist views, on which God's creative act brings the universe into existence out of nothingness but the universe nevertheless requires no sustaining action by God to be held in existence from moment to moment. On the mere conservationist view, God is immediately involved in the sustaining of all substances. The negative thesis is that God does not ordinarily have any immediate role in the transactions between created substances (cf. van Inwagen 1995b, p. 44). When we (p.135) want to explain why, given the existence of the fire and existence of the cotton, the fire burns the cotton, the explanation will not mention God at all; it will mention only the active and passive potentials of the fire and the cotton. It is of the nature of fire to have a range of causal powers, which involve the bringing about of certain effects in certain determinate conditions. It is of the nature of cotton to have a range of passive potentials, which involve a susceptibility to being changed in certain ways by substances acting in certain determinate conditions. Thus what happens between the fire and the cotton is, so to speak, entirely between the fire and the cotton. Theistic explanation of such transactions in the natural order will be ordinarily mediated explanations, that is, we can explain this fire's burning this cotton by appealing to God's sustaining in existence those substances and their causal powers, and it is in turn those substances and their causal powers that immediately and completely explain the transaction (the burning) that transpires between them.

What, then, do we want to say is the privileged account of the laws of nature for someone who affirms the mere conservationist picture? While this is not, I think, a requirement of the position, mere conservationists are typically necessitarians concerning the range of causal powers exhibited by given properties, that is, that to each property there is some range of active and passive potentials that belong essentially (see, for an example of this sort of necessitarianism, Harré and Madden 1975). It is not a contingent feature of water that it has the power to dissolve salt (as it is not a contingent feature of salt that it has the passive potential to be dissolved by water), and it is not a contingent feature of fire that it has the power to burn cotton (as it is not a contingent feature of cotton that it has the passive potential to be burned by fire). Rather, these causal powers belong to being fire, being salt, being water, being cotton.

With such a view in hand we can see how a defender of this sort of mere conservationist view would provide an account of the laws of nature. The laws of nature are to be understood along Armstrong/Dretske/Tooley lines, as relationships of physical necessitation between universals. As in any attempt to defend a theory of the laws of nature along Armstrong/Dretske/Tooley lines,1 one must offer an account of how the selection of some properties by others occurs (1.4). On this mere conservationist view, (p.136) it will be in terms of the intrinsic causal powers belonging to the kinds in question that selection takes place: the universals involved in a law of nature will either be those kinds or will be properties that either trigger or are the outcome of the exercise of those causal powers.

With respect to particular transactions, the mere conservationist holds that God's role is only that of conserving in existence the substances that interact, and so the mere conservationist takes the role of God with respect to the obtaining of this law of nature to be very limited. Since there is no possibility that these properties could exist while failing to have the associated causal powers, God's role would have to be restricted either to that of seeing to it that there are beings to whom the relevant laws of nature can apply or to that of seeing to it that the relevant properties exist. So, on one hand, one might hold that the role of God in explaining the holding of the law of nature fire burns cotton is that for this law to be operative, or effective, there must be beings that can instantiate the relevant properties, so God's role as necessarily explaining the existence of every concrete being gives God some role in explaining the character of that law of nature as operative. On the other hand, the explanation might appeal to God's bringing about the existence of properties rather than beings that might exemplify those properties. One might have a theory of properties on which a property does not exist unless instanced, so God's role is to bring about the property's existence by seeing to it that that property is instanced. Or one might have a theory of properties on which properties are more directly brought about, say through divine intellection.

To summarize, then: With respect to particular transactions in the natural order, the mere conservationist holds that God's role in explaining those transactions is fully mediated; God's role is to hold the substances that exhibit the causally-relevant properties in existence so that they can exercise their own proper powers. With respect to the laws of nature, the mere conservationist holds that God's role in explaining those laws is that of explaining either the obtaining of their application conditions or the existing of the properties implicated in those laws.

It is clear—and I will discuss this in more detail below—that mere conservationism involves an account of God's relationship to the natural (p.137) order in which God's role is fully mediated with respect to necessitation relationships, both the particular necessitation relationships present in transactions in the natural order and the general necessitation relationships expressed in laws of nature. When a flame burns cotton, it is between the flame and the cotton; the making necessary the burning of the cotton resultant upon this being fire needs no further theistic story, given the existence of this fire and this cotton. And that being fire necessitates burning cotton requires no further theistic story, given the existence of the properties being fire and being burnt and being cotton.

The view of God's relationship to the natural order with which mere conservationism contrasts most sharply is a view on which God's relationship to events in the natural order is entirely unmediated, and is indeed complete. This is occasionalism. According to this view, every event in the natural order2 has God as its immediate and total active cause: immediate, because there are no natural agents as intermediaries between God's will and the occurrence of the event; and total active, because there are no natural agents that make any active causal contribution to the event's occurrence. While some entities in the natural order might appear to exercise causal agency (the fire appears to actively cause cotton to burn), this is mere appearance. There are no efficient causes in nature; apparent efficient causes are but “occasional” causes, labeled as such because their presence is merely the occasion for God's causing a state of affairs to obtain (as the presence of the fire near cotton is an occasion for God's willing the cotton to burn). Regularities in nature that are commonly attributed to intercreature efficient causation are really nothing but manifestations of God's “abiding intention to act in certain fixed ways” (Freddoso 1988, p. 103).3

Freddoso has argued that the way in which natural substances and events can be the cause of other events in the natural order can be no more than causation as counterfactual dependence (Freddoso 1988, p. 85). But this is not quite right. The reason is that with counterfactual (p.138) dependence states of affairs that are necessarily co-instantiated will be the causes of the same states of affairs in the counterfactual dependence sense. But to be an occasion for some divine willing is not closed under necessary co‐extension—the occasion for fire's burning cotton is fire's being near the cotton, not fire's being near the cotton and Fermat's last theorem's being true. That is because the occasion for the cotton's burning is fixed by the divine mental state, what God wills to occur, and what God wills is burning in the presence of fire's being near the cotton, not fire's being near the cotton and Fermat's Last Theorem's being true.4

This point I think paves the way to respond to the objection to occasionalism that it cannot account for laws of nature, because in genuine laws of nature (for example, fire burns cotton) there is a necessitation relationship among the properties (for example, being cotton, being placed in a flame, being burned). For it is clear that there is more than just a regularity relationship, and indeed even more than counterfactual dependence. The cotton is burned because it is placed in the flame, as the divine decision that cotton burn when it is near to flame is what supports the truth of if x were made of cotton and placed near flame, then x would burn. The natural event—the cotton being placed in the flame—is what we can call the occasion for the efficacy of the divine intention. The natural event itself does not actively cause anything—it does not cause the cotton's burning, nor does it cause God to burn the cotton. But because the cotton's being placed in the flame has the role in the general divine intention that it has, the cotton's being placed in the flame makes necessary the cotton's being burned in that it (and nothing that is merely necessarily co-extensive with it) is the occasion for it. Thus being cotton and being placed in flame are, jointly, an occasional cause—not an active cause in any sense, but a cause at least insofar as it is non-accidental and genuinely explanatory.

To summarize, then: With respect to particular transactions in the natural order, the occasionalist holds that God's role in explaining those transactions is, as a matter of active causation, immediate and complete; (p.139) God's general intention that certain events obtain in the presence of other events is the complete active cause of the occurrence of particular events in the natural order. With respect to the laws of nature, the occasionalist holds that those familiar statements of laws of nature which mention only natural properties can nevertheless be correct; what is important is that natural properties make necessary other properties only in the sense of occasioning them, and that this occasioning relationship is explaining by a divine general willing.

5.3 Mere conservationism and natural law theory

Standard natural law theory is, mutatis mutandis, mere conservationism.

The mere conservationist holds that various properties intrinsically have causal powers, which powers can be exercised independently of further theistic involvement. Thus the transactions in the natural order are characteristically entirely between creatures, some properties of which physically necessitate other properties of which. The standard natural law theorist holds that various properties intrinsically have normative powers, which powers can be exercised independently of further theistic involvement. Thus the transactions in the normative order are characteristically entirely between creatures, some properties of which normatively necessitate other properties of which. The way that God can enter into the explanation of laws of nature on the mere conservationist view are as limited as the way that God can enter into the explanation of moral law on the standard natural law view: God can be invoked to explain the presence of beings the properties of which can be governed by the laws, whether laws of nature or moral laws, or God can be invoked to explain the existence of the relevant properties involved in those laws.

Now it is also plain that mere conservationism and standard natural law theory share not only their strengths but also their weaknesses. The strengths of mere conservationism are clearest in terms of explanandum-centered (0.1) considerations. It seems obvious that the features of objects in the natural and moral orders actively make a difference with respect to what is necessitated—this seems a matter of common sense—and it is this capacity to make a difference that accounts for the fact that we can gain scientific/moral knowledge by investigation of those properties. But when (p.140) we turn to explanans-centered considerations, it is clear that mere conservationism shares the liabilities with which standard natural law theory is burdened. If God's status as ultimate, omnipresent explainer gives us reason to think that all transactions involve God, and involve God immediately (2.4), then we should have our doubts about both of these views, for both views require that characteristically such transactions occur without immediate theistic involvement.

5.4 Occasionalism and theological voluntarism

Theological voluntarism is, mutatis mutandis, occasionalism.

What theological voluntarisms have in common is that they hold that some act that is itself or is partially constituted by a divine willing is the sole active normative source of moral necessity—the divine will alone (actively) morally necessitates performance. (It may well be true that God's willings are in some way themselves explained by something else—it may be, for example, that God wills that I not kill my neighbors because part of my neighbors' good consists in their remaining alive. But this something-else does not have, of itself, moral power—it does not itself actively contribute to moral necessitation, to binding me to action. As I noted above (4.3), this is not a disanalogy between occasionalism and theological voluntarism. For it could be that there are features of natural properties (e.g. being fire and being cotton) that somehow explain why God link them together in laws of nature—aesthetic features, perhaps. But that would not in the least suggest that these properties themselves have or confer causal powers.) Similarly, the occasionalists hold that some act that is itself or is partially constituted by a divine willing is the sole active cause of physical necessity—the divine will alone (actively) physically necessitates any event. So, on theological voluntarism, the existence of a moral law such as promisors are to keep their promises is to be understood in the following way. It is true in an important sense that being the object of a promise that one has made necessitates one's performing, just as on the occasionalist view the salt's being placed in water necessitates the salt's dissolving. But in both cases the real active cause is God, not the creature, whether we have in mind the features of the promise or the features of the water. Theological voluntarists hold that the features of the promise are as morally inert as the occasionalists hold that the features of the water are causally inert.

(p.141) Theological voluntarism is occasionalistic in its structure. It is also occasionalistic in its rationale. Occasionalists have offered both explanans- and explanandum-centered considerations in favor of the view. It is plain what explanans-centered grounds can be offered for occasionalism and theological voluntarism: whatever else one wishes to say against these views, it cannot be denied that they satisfy the desideratum that an adequate philosophy of nature or moral theory must respect God's sovereignty over the nondivine. As I noted above (4.2), Quinn defends theological voluntarism in part by appeal to considerations of divine sovereignty. And occasionalists have often defended their view in precisely those terms: only a view in which God is the complete active explanation of the transactions in the natural order adequately honors God's sovereignty over creation.

It is unsurprising that theological voluntarists and occasionalists would both appeal to explanans-centered considerations regarding divine sovereignty in support of their views. They also have appealed to similar explanandum-based considerations to defend their positions. Occasionalists preceded Hume in pointing out that it seems possible to imagine very different effects following from cotton's being placed in fire or salt's being placed in water; and so we must think that what events follow these are a contingent matter, the sort of thing that is fixed by the divine will rather than inherent in these creaturely natures. These occasionalists pointed out that such a view also provides an interpretation of what is happening in contra naturam miracles: we can explain without strain the failure of the fire to burn Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:1–97); because the fire has of itself no tendency to burn, its failure to burn the three due to God's decision is not especially problematic. So what one would expect, given what I have said so far, is that some theological voluntarists would make similar appeals to the contingency of the moral law, and to the possibility of moral miracles, in defending that view. As we have seen (4.3), Hare, following his reading of Duns Scotus, argues for the contingency of the moral law; and again following Scotus, he employs his voluntarist conception to offer an account of what we might call “moral miracles”—cases in which, by divine will, the moral order becomes quite other than what it seems to naturally tend to be (Hare 2001, pp. 68–9). (The premier example of this is God's command making it morally licit, even required, that Abraham intend to sacrifice Isaac.) Quinn has also taken this feature on board in his theological voluntarism, holding that it is one of the main supports for theological voluntarism from the perspective of traditional (p.142) monotheism that it allows a satisfying explanation for these disruptions in the moral order (Quinn 1992).

I have already criticized the appeal to contingency in defense of theological voluntarism (4.3), and it should be noted that there are serious doubts about the contingency of the laws of nature on which some occasionalists have relied (see, e.g. Bird 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2007). (I will say something about miracles, natural and moral, in Chapter 6; see 6.6.) But what seems to be most troubling, I say, about the occasionalist and theological voluntarist views is that in neither case do natural features of the world function as active causes in the natural or moral orders. On the occasionalist view, the natures of created things are idle; they have no natural power to bring about any effects. Creatures do not do anything, though they are the occasion of God's doing something. On the theological voluntarist view, the natures of created things are morally idle; they have no moral power to necessitate action.

So far, then, it seems that I have simply continued to deliver bad news. In Chapters 3 and 4, we saw two important theistic moral theories, both of which seem inadequate from a theistic perspective. And in this chapter I have argued that corresponding to these two theories are two theistic theories of nature, each of which corresponds to one of our failed moral theories both in its merits and in its ultimate unacceptability. But, finally, the good news: the discussion of the relationship between God and the laws of nature is much further advanced than the discussion of the relationship between God and the moral law. For we have in the discussion of the relationship between God and the laws of nature a well-worked-out third view that claims to be able to capture the immediate presence of divine action in every causal transaction that occurs in nature but without precluding a genuine, ineliminable role for creaturely natures in those transactions.

5.5 A third way: concurrentism and the laws of nature

The occasionalist says that God's role in necessitating events in the natural order is immediate and complete. The mere conservationist says that God's role is incomplete because mediated, with the result that the transactions between creatures are entirely between those creatures; what happens (p.143) between the fire and the cotton is between the fire and cotton, and divine action is not implicated in that transaction. One who is dissatisfied with both of these yet who is also concerned to preserve the immediacy of theistic explanation in the natural order will notice right away that one can consistently reject both views while preserving the immediacy of theistic explanation: the key is to affirm that theistic explanation both of particular transactions and of general laws can be immediate but incomplete. On this alternative view, the occurring of particular transactions and the holding of general laws results immediately from both divine and creaturely contributions. So there is hope to meet the objection to mere conservationism that it makes God explanatorily superfluous and the objection to occasionalism that it makes creaturely natures explanatorily superfluous.

The view is called concurrentism, and it is disputed among concurrentists how, in formulating the position, best to characterize the respective contributions of God and creatures. But we do need to have a tolerably clear notion of the general concurrentist strategy and some sense of how this general strategy might be specified promisingly in order to see how it might be transformed in a way that can serve our search for an adequate theistic explanation of moral law.

Begin with particular transactions in the natural order. To put the concurrentist view broadly, with regard to each natural effect, God's contribution to the bringing about of that effect is general while the creature's contribution is specific. As Aquinas puts it, creaturely causes are “like particularizers and determinants of the primary agent's [that is, God's] action” (Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 66, [6]). But it is crucial that it is not merely that God's contribution is general and the creature's specific; it is also that the divine cause's contribution to the produced effect is no less immediate than the creaturely cause's. As Leibniz writes, God's contribution is immediate in that “God concurs no less nor more indirectly in producing this effect than in producing its cause” (“Vindication,” §11).

This is what concurrentists want to say about the relationship between divine and creaturely causes in the production of effects in the natural order. But it is difficult to assess the promise of concurrentism so long as we remain at that level of abstraction. So we might consider a couple of models of how this general concurrentist picture might itself be specified, not for the sake of ultimately evaluating natural concurrentism—this is not our goal—but for the sake of having a clearer idea of how natural (p.144) concurrentism might be transformed into a theory of God's relationship to the moral order.

On one view, which we might call the “instrumentalist” reading of natural concurrentism, we should think of effects in the natural order as proceeding entirely from God and entirely from creatures, though in different “orders” of causation. As Aquinas writes,

The same effect is ascribed to a natural cause and to God…:…the whole effect proceeds from each, yet in different ways: just as the whole of the one same effect is ascribed to the instrument, and again the whole is ascribed to the principal agent. (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 70)

This specification of the concurrentist view takes it that we can reasonably ascribe the effect of a principal and the principal's instrument entirely to each, so long as we distinguish the orders of explanation. So if I use a bat to hit a ball over a fence, the ball's going over the fence is wholly explained by me and wholly explained by the bat; but since the order of causation in which I am acting as agent is distinct from that in which the bat is acting, there is neither causal exclusion nor causal overdetermination.

Now, I take it that the instrumentalist reading will be insufficiently specified unless we can say what is involved in there being two distinct orders of causation, with respect to which it is true both that the causal relationship between God and the effect and the creaturely cause and the effect are immediate and that the sort of causation at stake in both cases is efficient causation. One cannot say, for example, that God's relationship to the effect is immediate in that God immediately intends the effect—the way that I intend to hit the ball over the fence—while the creaturely cause's relationship to the effect is immediate in that it is the proximate means by which God's intention is effected—the way that the motion of the bat is itself all that is needed to explain the change in velocity of the baseball so that it goes over the fence. For thus characterized the view might be indistinguishable from a minor emendation on mere conservationism, differing only by its making explicit that the conservation of creatures and their causal powers is an instance of God's exercise of rational providence over creation. But it seems to me that meeting both of these conditions, that the relationship of God's causing to the effect is immediate and that it is a kind of efficient causing—cannot be satisfied wholly by reference to an appeal to the instrumental character of the relationship between God and creaturely cause. One will have to say something about (p.145) the character of the creaturely causing itself, about its internal character, in order to make clear how divine causing could be related to effects in the natural order in the way that concurrentism requires.

An alternative model, which we might call the “complementarity” model, offers such an account. On this view, God and creature are complementary causes: in each instance of efficient causation in the natural order, God contributes general, undifferentiated power, while the creaturely agent contributes the specific way that this power will affect other objects; together, these constitute the causing of the unified effect. Consider, for example, an overhead projector, on whose surface is placed a clear plastic sheet on which a variety of colored shapes have been drawn. When the overhead projector is turned on, there will appear on the wall a number of images: a red triangle, a blue square, a green octagon, etc. We might refer to both the overhead and the ink shapes in even the most immediate explanation of the presence of the images on the wall: the overhead projector's contribution is to produce the light that beamed the images, and the ink shapes determined (along with the nature of the wall) the particular images that would appear on the wall. This case seems to be a close analogy to the complementarity view of how God and creatures cooperate in causation within the natural order. Just as the overhead is a generic cause in virtue of its producing an undifferentiated beam of light, God is the general cause of all events in the natural order; and just as the particular ink shapes on the transparency determine the particular effects that would result, the natures of individual creatures determine what particular effects will be produced by them.5 Or consider the toaster analogy (McDonough 2007, p. 43). Of itself, the toaster is unable to cause anything. But powered by an electrical current—a current that is of itself indifferent with respect to the causing of heating and cooling—the toaster brings about a specific effect, toasting, when situated properly with respect to a suitable object.

On this concurrentist view, the transactions that take place in the ordinary course of nature are characteristically instances of joint action, carried out by both God and creatures, which terminate in a single effect. It is important for the concurrentist view that we cannot divide this joint action into two independent actions, one by God, one by the creature, (p.146) which somehow together combine to produce a particular effect. If this were the way to characterize the position, then the concurrentist would have failed to provide a theory on which no creaturely action can take place without immediate theistic involvement, for there would still be a creaturely action that is independent of divine action, even if always accompanied by it. What's more, such a view would be incoherent, for it would portray God as causing something general, but every effect is particular. Rather, the concurrentist view holds that the jointness of the action between God and creatures is not divisible into really distinct actions; God and creatures cooperate in bringing about a given effect, though some features of that effect are more properly attributable to God and some are more properly attributable to creatures.

We can think of this phenomenon using the commonplace idea of contrastive explanation. If the fire burns cotton, this effect (the burning of the cotton) is jointly attributable to God and the fire. If we ask why something happened rather than nothing at all, this can be primarily traced to God, for it is God's active causation that is responsible for there being an exercise of causal agency. If we ask why this in particular happened—why what happened was a burning rather than a chilling or freezing—this can be primarily traced to the fire, as it is the specific character of the creaturely causes that determines the specific effects brought about.

This gives us some idea of how the concurrentist can specify the roles of God and creature in transactions in the natural order. So how, then, does concurrentism give an account of the laws of nature, and God's role with respect to them? I think that there are multiple options here for formulating a concurrentist account of the laws of nature, but here is the view that I think most clearly brings out the divine and creaturely contributions. We begin by noting that the specific effects that creatures can cause are fixed by the nature of those creatures. It is just false to say that the creatures make no real difference to the effects that are brought about, just as it would be just false to say that the color and shape of the ink figures on the transparency sheet make no real difference to what is projected on the screen, or that the configuration of the toaster makes no difference as to whether toast or frozen bread pops out at the end of the power cycle. Insofar as creatures of these kinds are acting in the natural order, they will bring about these ranges of effects; it is not a contingent fact that fire, if acting, burns.

(p.147) What raises questions in formulating the concurrentist view is the role in which to cast the divine general contribution. I suggest that the best way to cast the divine general contribution is as part of the standard conditions in which creatures are acting in nature. For we allowed that the way in which properties necessitate other properties in laws of nature is defeasibly (1.4); in standard conditions, fire burns cotton, water dissolves salt, and so forth. The framework in which nature characteristically operates—call these “ordinary worlds”—is with divine concurrence, and given such concurrence, being placed in fire and being cotton necessitates being burned. But because God's contribution to this sort of causation is free, though, God might choose to withhold God's contribution in extraordinary worlds, and in those worlds flame might fail to burn the cotton—much less Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.

The concurrentist claims to capture the explanans-centered and explanandum-centered features of occasionalism and mere conservationism, respectively. With the occasionalists, the concurrentist rightly claims to satisfy the theistic desideratum that there be no particular transaction in nature and no holding of a general law that does not have God as part of the immediate explanation. With the mere conservationists, the concurrentist rightly claims that his or her view gives creatures an active, rather merely an occasional, role in determining the course of nature.

Now, we should no doubt be interested in pursuing further how exactly the concurrentist should understand the divine contribution, and so forth. But my interest in pursuing this investigation of various theories of God's relationship to the laws of nature is not for its own sake but for the sake of our moral inquiry. There is a third view of God's relationship to the laws of nature that holds out some hope in avoiding the difficulties of occasionalism and mere conservationism, appropriating their strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. But there is no third view of God's relationship to moral law extant. Thus we should want to know: Is it possible to provide an analog to concurrentism for the moral order, a view on which moral law is fixed by God and creaturely nature in a way that avoids the difficulties of both theological voluntarism and standard natural law theory?

The answer is Yes. The working out of moral concurrentism is the task of Chapter 6.

Notes:

(1) Recall that I distinguish between what I take to be the central anti‐Humean thrust of the Armstrong/Dretske/Tooley view—that the relevant relation in laws of nature is between properties—and their particular readings of that relationship (that it is a causal relationship, that it is contingent, etc.).

(2) Except, perhaps, the free actions of created rational beings—occasionalists have strong reason to want to exempt rational beings from the occasionalist thesis, for otherwise God is the agent of sinful action—though I confess that I can't see a principled occasionalist rationale for making this sort of exception.

(3) Here and elsewhere in the text I am heavily indebted to Freddoso's work on rival views of God's activity in nature (Freddoso 1986, 1988, 1991, 1994) and also to the careful dissertation work by Louis Mancha (2003).

(4) As John Foster emphasizes in The Divine Lawmaker, it is important that, if God's causal contribution is to support the view that it is a law that fire burns cotton, it must be that God intends this as a regularity: it must not simply be true that, for each instance of cotton's being placed in fire, God wills that the cotton burn; it must be that God wills that, if the cotton is placed in the fire, then the cotton burns. Otherwise the bearing of the divine willing on the case will not validate the status of fire burns cotton as a law of nature as opposed to a mere regularity (Foster 2004, p. 157).

(5) Free agents differ from other natural agents in that their natures do not specify a determinate set of effects.