Wednesday, June 24, 2015

William E. Mann's "God, Modality, and Morality"

William E. Mann was a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Vermont from 1974 to 2010.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, God, Modality, and Morality, and reported the following:
Here is a passage that begins at the bottom of page 98:
Traditional theology has a remarkable strategy for characterizing God’s sustaining function. The strategy involves two maneuvers. The first is to distinguish generation and corruption from creation and annihilation. Reserve the [p. 99] term “creation” for the bringing of things into existence out of nothing. Then the term for the action opposite to creation is not “destruction” or “corruption” but “annihilation,” the returning of a thing to nonbeing. It is easy enough to destroy a bicycle—by hydraulic press, oxyacetylene torch, or teenage children. These are familiar types of corruption. To annihilate a bicycle, in contrast, would entail the elimination, not just the transformation, of a certain amount of the universe’s mass/energy. Just as no natural agent can build the bicycle out of nothing, so no natural agent can annihilate it.

The second maneuver is to insist that despite the apparent inviolability of the universe’s mass/energy, it has no inherent potentiality to continue to exist from one moment to the next. This claim has sometimes been put forward as a consequence of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo: anything having its origin in nonbeing will, left to its own devices, collapse back immediately into nonbeing. Alternatively, the claim has sometimes been defended by arguing that although the laws of nature along with the initial conditions of things at an instant may entail (in a suitably deterministic universe) what will occur at a future instant, since every instant of time is logically independent from every other instant, the laws and initial conditions are insufficient to guarantee that the future instant will exist. It is compatible with this claim that created things have the power to bring about changes both in themselves and among other created things. What created things cannot do, however, is continue to exist without God’s ever-present conserving activity.
What unifies the essays in this book is that they address the question, "What differences would God's existence make to the world and its inhabitants?" I'd say that the passage is representative of the quality of the whole.
Learn more about God, Modality, and Morality at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue