Preemption and a counterfactual analysis of divine causation


This paper aims to outline a counterfactual theory of divine atemporal causation that avoids problems of preemption. As a result, the presentation of the analysis is structured such that my counterfactual analysis directly addresses preemption issues. If these problems can be avoided, the theist is well on her way to proposing a usable metaphysical concept of atemporal divine causation. In the first section, I outline Lewis’ original counterfactual analysis as well as how these cases of preemption cause problems for his analysis. In particular, two cases of preemption have proven problematic for counterfactual analyses: late preemption and trumping preemption. In the second section, I propose a counterfactual analysis of divine causation that is not subject to these problems of preemption. I present a counterfactual analysis of timeless divine causation, supplemented by a definition of what it means for God to allow an event to happen. In the third section, I argue this analysis is not prey to problems of preemption.

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  1. 1.

    This proposal may be a good place to start in rebutting Davis’ (2012, 68) argument that causal relations are necessarily temporal and Swinburne’s (1994, 81) argument (at least, Helm’s (2010, 240) interpretation of Swinburne) that “temporal notions are parasitic upon causal notions.”

  2. 2.

    Lewis (1986) attempts to deal with late preemption in his “Postscripts to ‘Causation,’” with an appeal to the notion of quasi-dependence. A definition of quasi-dependence runs as follows: “Let c and e be distinct events that both occur. e quasi-depends upon c iff e causally depends upon c in most intrinsic duplicates of the ce process” (Hitchcock 2015, 301). For reasons why quasi-dependence might not solve all problems of late preemption, see (Paul 1998).

  3. 3.

    Leftow (1991, 294) introduces clauses similar to (i) to his analysis of divine sustaining that also rule out cases of reverse dependence. Evan Fales (1997, 181–183) and Quinten Smith (1996, 174) argue that a counterfactual analysis of divine causation is impossible due to reverse dependence. I set aside their objections for now since it is not within the scope of the present thesis.

  4. 4.

    All that is required for (iii) is that God is omnipotent in the sense that God can do all things logically possible. For some definitions of God’s omnipotence that work well with the ideas here, see Wierenga (1983) and Leftow (2011, 190–191).

  5. 5.

    There is precedence for cause by omission in the philosophy of science—see Schaffer (2004)—and in the free will literature—see Sartorio (2016).

  6. 6.

    For helpful discussion and correspondence, I am indebted to Evan Fales, Bruce Marino, David Limbaugh, Robert Kelly, and Jonathan Vajda. I would also like to thank an anonymous reviewer for his/her helpful comments.


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Kulesa, R. Preemption and a counterfactual analysis of divine causation. Int J Philos Relig (2020).

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  • Counterfactuals
  • Causation
  • God
  • Time
  • Preemption
  • Atemporal causation