Sunday, November 1, 2009

William Lane Craig on divine simplicity

The doctrine of divine simplicity holds that God is in no way composed of parts. Not only is God incorporeal and immaterial, and thus not composed of form and matter, He is also not composed of essence and existence. Rather, His essence is His existence. There is also no distinction within God between any of the divine attributes: God’s eternity is His power, which is His goodness, which is His intellect, which is His will, and so on. Indeed, God Himself just is His power, His goodness, etc., just as He just is His existence, and just is His essence. Talking or conceiving of God, God’s essence, God’s existence, God’s power, God’s goodness, and so forth are really all just different ways of talking or conceiving of one and the very same thing. Though we distinguish between them in thought, there is no distinction at all between them in reality.

This doctrine is absolutely central to the classical theistic tradition, and has been defended by thinkers as diverse as St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, and Averroes, to name just a few. It is affirmed in such councils of the Roman Catholic Church as the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and Vatican I (1869-70) – which means that it is de fide, an absolutely binding, infallible, irreformable teaching of the Church, denial of which amounts to heresy. Divine simplicity is generally understood to follow from the Aristotelian-Thomistic doctrine of God as pure actuality. For something composed of parts presupposes the combination of those parts and thus a reduction of potentiality to actuality; and a purely actual being has no potentiality to actualize.

Nevertheless, contemporary philosophers and theologians are often critical of the doctrine of divine simplicity, and a reader has asked me to comment on this critique of the doctrine by William Lane Craig. (Craig is a Protestant, and thus is not troubled by the centrality divine simplicity has in Catholic doctrine.)

Before commenting, let me say that I have the greatest respect and admiration for Craig, who is, needless to say, one of the great Christian apologists of the age, a brilliant philosopher, and a fine scholar. His work on the history of the cosmological argument played a role in my own conversion, since it helped lead me to see how very badly most critics of the argument misunderstand it. (Craig and I have met only once, over a decade ago when he was visiting the UC Santa Barbara campus and kindly presented a guest lecture on the kalam cosmological argument to the Introduction to Philosophy class I was then teaching. I was still an atheist in those days, though the intellectual barriers to theism were just starting to crumble thanks in no small part to him.)

In the short piece linked to above, Craig offers three criticisms of the doctrine of divine simplicity. First, in response to the notion that the divine attributes are not distinct from one another, Craig says:

Existence is part of God's nature. But existence is not the same property as, say, omnipotence, for plenty of things have existence but not omnipotence. It remains very obscure, therefore, how God's nature or essence can be simple and all His properties identical.

Second, in response to the claim that God’s nature is not distinct from His existence, Craig says:

In a sense, God has no essence on this view, rather He just is the pure act of being unconstrained by any essence. He is, as Thomas says, the pure act of being subsisting. The problem is, this doctrine is just unintelligible.

Third, Craig says that the doctrine of divine simplicity entails that “God has no properties distinct from His nature,” and objects that:

[This claim] runs into the severe problem that God does seem to have accidental properties in addition to His essential ones. For example, in the actual world, He knows, loves, and wills certain things which He would not know, will, or love had He decided to create a different universe or no universe at all. On the doctrine of divine simplicity God is absolutely similar in all possible worlds; but then it becomes inexplicable why those worlds vary if in every one God knows, loves, and wills the same things.

Let me take the first two objections first, and begin by making two observations. First, note that both objections more or less amount to little more than the assertion that we can’t make sense of the doctrine of divine simplicity – that it is “very obscure” or “unintelligible.” Little or no actual argument is given for this claim, at least not in Craig’s brief piece. (The bit about how existence and omnipotence are different seems, without additional argumentation, merely to beg the question.) But the fact that a great many major philosophers and theologians have regarded divine simplicity as intelligible should at least give us pause; surely we need more than the mere assertion of unintelligibility, or an expression of one’s personal difficulty in making sense of the doctrine, if we are to be justified in rejecting it.

A second, and by no means unrelated preliminary point is that Craig makes no reference here to the famous Thomistic doctrine of analogy, which from a Thomistic point of view is crucial to properly understanding divine simplicity. To illustrate the idea of analogy, consider the word “see.” When I say that I see a tree outside my window and that I see the details of an insect’s eye through a microscope, I am using “see” in a univocal way, in the same sense in both cases. When I say that Rome is the Holy See, I am now using “see” in an equivocal way, that is, in an entirely different and unrelated sense. But when I say that I can see the truth of the Pythagorean Theorem, I am now using the term in neither a univocal nor an equivocal sense, but rather in an analogical way. That is to say, what one does when he “sees” the truth of the theorem is not the same as what he does when he sees a tree, but it is not completely different either. There is an analogy between the sort of thing we do with our eyes and the sort of thing we do with our intellects that makes it appropriate to describe both as kinds of “seeing.”

Now the Thomistic doctrine of analogy tells us that when we correctly predicate some attribute of God, we are using the relevant terms, not in a univocal way, but in an analogous way. That is to say, when we say for example that God has power, we don’t mean that He has power in exactly the sense we do, though we also don’t mean that His power is completely unlike what we call power in us. Rather, when we call God powerful we are saying that there is in God something analogous to power in us. Or take a more clearly metaphysically loaded term like “being,” as used in a sentence like “God has being.” Accidents and substances can both be said to have being, but accidents lack the independent existence that substances have; material things and angels can both be said to have being, but material things are composites of matter and form while angels are forms without matter; created things and God both have being, but in created things essence and existence are distinct and in God they are not; and so forth. The being of an accident is analogous to that of a substance, that of a material thing is analogous to that of an angel, and that of a created thing is analogous to that of God; that is to say, it is neither completely identical nor absolutely incomparable.

When we bring the concept of analogy to bear on the doctrine of divine simplicity, we can see what is wrong with Craig’s bare assertion that the doctrine is unintelligible. For this assertion has whatever plausibility it has, I would suggest, only if we think of God as having an essence, as existing, and as having power, knowledge, etc. in the same or univocal sense in which we and other creatures have these things. For what we call power in us is clearly different from what we call knowledge in us; our essences are different from our “acts of existing” (to use the Thomistic jargon); and so forth. So to say that knowledge (in that sense) is identical to power (in that sense), etc. does seem unintelligible. But that is simply the wrong way to understand the doctrine of divine simplicity. Properly understood, the doctrine does not say that power, knowledge, goodness, essence, existence, etc., as they exist in us, are identical. Rather, it says that there is in God something that is analogous to power, something analogous to knowledge, something analogous to goodness, etc., and that these “somethings” all turn out to be one and the same thing. “Power,” “knowledge,” “goodness,” etc. are merely different, analogously used descriptions we use in order to refer to what is in God one and the same reality, just as (to borrow Frege’s famous example) the expressions “the morning star” and “the evening star” differ in sense while referring to one and the same thing (the planet Venus).

Precisely because God is simple, though, there is in Aquinas’s view a sense in which we cannot strictly know His essence. For we know things in the strict sense by being able to define them in terms of genus and specific difference, and since God is absolutely simple, there is in Him no distinction between genus and difference, and thus no way to define Him (again, in this technical sense of “define”). God is not merely a unique member of some general class of things; the fact that there is one God is not some metaphysical accident, but an absolute metaphysical and conceptual necessity. But precisely for that reason, precisely because He is so radically unlike anything in the created order, we simply cannot expect to comprehend Him with anything close to the sort of clarity with which we can understand the denizens of that order.

Now this is the God to which the arguments of classical natural theology – by which I mean arguments falling into the broad metaphysical tradition inclusive of Platonism, Aristotelianism, Augustinianism and Thomism – inevitably lead. For such arguments all tend to the conclusion that the ultimate explanation of the world can only possibly lie in what is pure actuality, or being itself, or the One, or that in which essence and existence are identical; and all such concepts entail the doctrine of divine simplicity. What all this leaves us with vis-à-vis Craig’s first two criticisms is this: The arguments of natural theology entail the doctrine of divine simplicity; and thus, since (many of us would claim) we can know that those arguments are sound, we can know also that the doctrine of divine simplicity is true. Furthermore, the doctrine of analogy undermines any prima facie case for claiming that the doctrine of divine simplicity is unintelligible; and any residual sense of mystery is adequately accounted for by the fact that, given His nature, God is not the sort of thing we should expect to understand with the sort of clarity with which we understand the natural order.

What, then, of Craig’s third criticism, to the effect that the doctrine of divine simplicity entails that God has no accidental properties but only essential ones, which (Craig says) conflicts with the evident fact that God could have created a different universe and thus known, loved, and willed different things than in fact He has?

Here, building on a distinction famously made by Peter Geach, we need to differentiate between real properties and mere “Cambridge properties.” For example, for Socrates to grow hair is a real change in him, the acquisition by him of a real property. But for Socrates to become shorter than Plato, not because Socrates’ height has changed but only because Plato has grown taller, is not a real change in Socrates but what Geach called a mere “Cambridge change,” and therefore involves the acquisition of a mere “Cambridge property.” The doctrine of divine simplicity does not entail that God has no accidental properties of any sort; He can have accidental Cambridge properties.

Now it was Aquinas’s position that “since therefore God is outside the whole order of creation, and all creatures are ordered to Him, and not conversely, it is manifest that creatures are really related to God Himself; whereas in God there is no real relation to creatures, but a relation only in idea, inasmuch as creatures are referred to Him” (ST I.13.7). As Barry Miller points out in his book A Most Unlikely God, this amounts to the claim that while the relation of creatures to God is a real one, the relation of God to creatures is a mere Cambridge one, so that (for example) God’s creating the universe is one of His merely Cambridge properties.

How can this be so? As Brian Davies points out in his chapter on divine simplicity in An Introduction to Philosophy of Religion (3rd edition), what is essential to acting is the bringing about of an effect in another thing, not undergoing change oneself as one does so. What is essential to teaching, for example, is that one cause someone else to learn, and not that one lecture, write books, or the like. Of course, in created things, bringing about an effect is typically associated with undergoing change oneself (e.g. for us to cause another to learn typically requires lecturing, writing, or the like as a means). But that is accidental to agency per se, something true of us only because of our status as finite, created things. We should not expect the same thing to be true of a purely actual uncaused cause of the world. Hence there is no reason to suppose that God’s creation of the world entails a change in God Himself.

Nor does anything about God’s other relations to the world entail that they involve anything other than Cambridge properties. For example, as Davies points out, God’s love for the world is not like our love, which typically springs from some need. God, as purely actual, needs nothing; it is not that He has some lack which He seeks to remedy by creating us or getting us to love Him, which would entail a non-Cambridge change in Him. Rather, God loves us in the sense of willing what is good for us, which He does changelessly. Similarly, God’s knowledge of things is not a matter of coming to know them. Rather, He knows all things by virtue of knowing Himself as timelessly creating them.

Obviously, much more could be said. But this much suffices to show that here, as in so many other contexts, seemingly damaging objections to traditional theological doctrines lose much or all of their force when the doctrines are understood in light of the classical metaphysical picture within which they were originally formulated. (For those who are interested, the writings by Miller and Davies cited above are good places to look for more detailed treatments of the topic of divine simplicity. I also say a little more more about it in Aquinas, and Eleonore Stump has a very useful chapter on the subject in her book Aquinas.)

43 comments:

Mileto said...

Thanks for the post Edward. This is another example of the importance of metaphysics. In order to understand the doctrine of simplicity it must be understood in a proper Creator-creature relation and the proper metaphysic that goes along with it (i.e. anaology). It seems to me Craig critiques simplicity from his analytic background and therefore misunderstands the doctrine.

Anonymous said...

This is kind of weird.
Hasn't Craig used the simplicity of God to refute Dawkins "who designed the Designer" argument?
I could have swore he did.
Because Dawkins states that God must be as complex as that which is created (the universe) therefore why use something as complex to account for the universe?
Then Craig uses the simplicity of God to argue against this.

Warren said...

>> For what we call power in us is clearly different from what we call power in us

I think you've got a typo here, Ed - not sure what you meant to write, though.

Great article, BTW. For an encore (some day) maybe you could comment on Craig's critique of classical theism's doctrine that God utterly transcends the temporal order. (Craig believes, I think, that once God has created a temporal order, he is in some sense bound to it or by it.)

Like you, I respect Craig very much. I have found both his historical arguments for the Resurrection and his elaboration of the kalam argument to be very helpful indeed. But I certainly disagree with him about God's relation to the temporal order He has created. Craig's position on this issue totally conflicts with my understanding of Christian theology (such as it is).

Crude said...

From the Dawkins' Delusion article WLC wrote:

"Second, Dawkins thinks that in the case of a divine designer of the universe, the designer is just as complex as the thing to be explained, so that no explanatory advance is made. This objection raises all sorts of questions about the role played by simplicity in assessing competing explanations—for example, how simplicity is to be weighted in comparison with other criteria like explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, and so forth. If a less simple hypothesis exceeds its rivals in explanatory scope and power, for example, then it may well be the preferred explanation, despite the sacrifice in simplicity.

But leave those questions aside. Dawkins' fundamental mistake lies in his assumption that a divine designer is an entity comparable in complexity to the universe. As an unembodied mind, God is a remarkably simple entity. As a non-physical entity, a mind is not composed of parts, and its salient properties, like self-consciousness, rationality, and volition, are essential to it. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable physical quantities and constants (mentioned in the fifth step of Dawkins' argument),3 a divine mind is startlingly simple. Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas (it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus), but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind's ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity.4 Therefore, postulating a divine mind behind the universe most definitely does represent an advance in simplicity, for whatever that's worth.

Other steps in Dawkins' argument are also problematic; but I think enough has been said to show that his argument does nothing to undermine a design inference based on the universe's complexity, not to speak of its serving as a justification of atheism."

In other words, it seems that Craig is asserting that God is not at all as complex as that which it's being used to explain (the universe), but I suppose he can also argue that God is not quite as simple as classical theism would claim (hence his rejecting the doctrine of divine simplicity).

That said, I find myself in agreement with Ed here. Well, in agreement with the idea Ed is defending. The point about analogy is a powerful one.

Edward Feser said...

Typo fixed, Warren, thanks. Bedtime -- I'll get back to the other comments tomorrow, folks...

Matthew said...

Let me take the first two objections first, and begin by making two observations. First, note that both objections more or less amount to little more than the assertion that we can’t make sense of the doctrine of divine simplicity – that it is “very obscure” or “unintelligible.” Little or no actual argument is given for this claim, at least not in Craig’s brief piece.

Keep in mind that this is a Q&A, not an academic paper.

I share some of Craig's worries on divine simplicity but I don't think they a lot of force. I think I will have to rethink this issue.

Hasn't Craig used the simplicity of God to refute Dawkins "who designed the Designer" argument?

Dawkins argues "God is complex" and Craig argues that God lacks complexity in the sense that God doesn't have many parts interacting with each other.

thomism said...

I wonder if a response to Craig might be simpler (rimshot) Why not just say that there are two clams:

1.) God is absolutely simple (not composed)

2.) The absolute simplicity of God requires that the act of his existence is the same as his essence.

Craig is arguing against 2, which is not necessarily an argument against 1; and in fact some versions of 2 might even presuppose the truth of 1.

The difficulty is that Craig doesn't address the problem of whether there is a real composition of essence and existence proper to creatures. If he did do this- and if he decided with St. Thomas that there was such a composition- then he could hardly call it "unintelligible" to deny this composition to God. Indeed, depending on how he answered the (separate) question #1, he may even find such a denial necessary.

But as pointed out, this was from a Q+A, and who doesn't make some bonehead claims in a Q+A. I wish I has ALL my Q+A's back.

James Chastek

thomism said...

How's that for some atrocious typos?

Richard said...

A nice post indeed and almost perfectly consonant with the Aristotelico-Thomistic point of view, at least as I understand it. This is particularly the case with the statement, “Properly understood, the doctrine [of divine simplicity] does not say that power, knowledge, goodness, essence, existence, etc., as they exist in us, are identical.” I do worry, however, about the next statement, that “[the doctrine of divine simplicity] says that there is in God something that is analogous to power, something analogous to knowledge, something analogous to goodness, etc., and that these ‘somethings’ all turn out to be one and the same thing.” Thus the “almost perfectly consonant.”

The latter statement contains a conjunction, the second conjunct of which, “that these ‘somethings’ all turn out to be one and the same thing,” I can accept as given. The first conjunct is itself a lightly abbreviated conjunction of several conjuncts. Let’s look at the first of these, that “there is in God something that is analogous to power.” It could be thought to leave open an understanding that that which in God is analogous to power is something other than power. For Aristotelico-Thomism, it is not; the power in God is, and literally, power in the fullest understanding of the term.

Would you accept, then, a fuller statement, that “there is in God something that is analogous to the power found in created things,” as a friendly amendment?

Lee Faber said...

And yet Scotus affirms 1. divine simplicity 2. univocal concepts of divine attributes, and therefore has to hold 3. a formal distinction between said attributes because of considerations like those of Lane's first objection.

Jay Watts said...

In reference to Dr. Craig's use of the simplicity argument against Dawkins, the last line of the referenced Q & A piece is:

"This is not to say that the doctrine of divine simplicity is wholly bereft of value. On the contrary, I have elsewhere defended the view that God's cognition is simple. But I do think that the full-blown doctrine in all its glory is philosophically and theologically unacceptable."

Edward Feser said...

Hello all,

As some of the comments have indicated, Craig is not claiming that God is in NO sense "simple." Nevertheless, to be "simple" in the sense of being less structurally complex than the material universe (what Craig seems to have in mind in his reply to Dawkins) or in the sense of being part of a "simpler" explanatory hypothesis, i.e. one better in accord with Ockham's razor (as in Richard Swinburne's arguments for God's existence) has nothing at all to do with divine simplicity in the traditional, classical theistic sense in question in the post. In THAT sense of divine simplicty, God's simplicity is not a matter of degree, and it has nothing to do with Ockham's razor. It is all-or-nothing, absolute.

Hence it would not suffice for simplicity in the sense in question think of God as (say) a grand Cartesian immaterial substance. For being composed of material parts is not the only way to be complex. Here are some other ways: being a compound of essence and existence; being definable in terms of genus and species (even if one is the unique member of some class); being anything less than absolutely necessary (for in that case one will have potency that needs to be actualized and thus be a compound of act and potency); etc.

Indeed, for classical theism, anything that is less than absolutely simple could not be God. For if it had parts, those parts would be ontologically prior to it, in which case it would have an explanation in terms of the composition of its parts and it would therefore not be the first principle of all things (which God is supposed to be).

So, classical theism willl not compromise on this at all: Merely being a really really smart and powerful immaterial mind doesn't cut it. As D.Z. Phillips used to put it, the thing to say to that sort of "God" would be "Take me to your leader"!

Edward Feser said...

James,

Re: claim 1 vs. claim 2, fair enough, but as what I've said in the previous comment indicates, I think 1 in the classical theistic sense really entails identifying essence and existence in God, which Craig does not want to do.

Richard,

Yes, that's what I meant, and I should have put it that way.

Lee,

Yes, I am of course giving a specifically Thomistic reply to Craig, and a Scotist would not want to appeal to Aquinas's doctrine of analogy in defending simplicity. It seems to me, though, that the light it sheds on divine simplicity is a strong consideration in favor of the doctrine of analogy! Still, all due "props" to the esteemed Subtle Doctor.

the iterant philosopher said...

"Indeed, for classical theism, anything that is less than absolutely simple could not be God. For if it had parts, those parts would be ontologically prior to it, in which case it would have an explanation in terms of the composition of its parts and it would therefore not be the first principle of all things (which God is supposed to be)."


…in things not composed of matter and form, in which individualization is not due to individual matter--that is to say, to "this" matter--the very forms being individualized of themselves--it is necessary the forms themselves should be subsisting "supposita." Therefore "suppositum" and nature in them are identified. Since God then is not composed of matter and form, He must be His own Godhead, His own Life, and whatever else is thus predicated of Him. (ST Ia Q3 A3 resp).

God’s “existence” (i.e., esse, or act of being) is identical with his essence or nature; God’s nature is pure to-be: unqualified esse. Unlike angels or any creature, he doesn’t receive being from anything else: He is Being Itself, so that whatever else there is gets its existence, as well as its kind of existence, from him. Such is God’s aseity, which rules out any sort of composition inasmuch as composition entails a composer other than the composed and at least one constituent that is not the composed (ST IA Q3 A7). Therefore, God is not “composed” of his essence and his existence. He doesn’t “have” existence as though there were something to him that isn’t his existence but which could receive it and thus enter into composition with it.

God’s “to-be,” in the unqualified and thus incomprehensible sense of his actus purus, is the same God as God’s nature, in the sense of ‘nature’ expounded above: a subsisting “absolute form” (ST IA Q3 A3). That God cannot be composed of his nature and his esse, so understood, is simply a logical consequence of his aseity.

Anonymous said...

How can a trinitarian make any sense of this undivided simplicity?

Anonymous said...

^^I'm in the same boat as the above poster. What sense are we to make of the Trinity (and thus, by obvious inference, the Incarnation)? I'm sure Aquinas must have something to say about it....guess I'll have to read him soon...

Edward Feser said...

Do a search for "Trinity Sunday" here at my blog and you'll find a post on the subject that links to a helpful chapter on Aquinas's teaching on the Trinity from Brian Davies' book The Thought of Thomas Aquinas.

Ilíon said...

On top of the question I had asked in the other thread [Are the elements of one's "history" (whether one is the timeless God, or a time-bound man) really properties of one's being?], it seems to me that this particular criticism relies upon the (unspoken) assumption that there really is such a thing as The Future; that is, that "the future" is actual, rather than potential.

But, of course, "the future" is potential, rather than actual.

So, even were the answer to the question I'd asked "Yes," such that to know *this* as opposed to knowing *that* is to undergo change in one's being or self, this particular objection to divine simplicity will still not work -- for God knows *all* the potential futures.

Anonymous said...

"But, of course, "the future" is potential, rather than actual.

So, even were the answer to the question I'd asked "Yes," such that to know *this* as opposed to knowing *that* is to undergo change in one's being or self, this particular objection to divine simplicity will still not work -- for God knows *all* the potential futures."


Ildiot,

God dwells in the Eternal Present. What you are saying here (or, rather, attempting to say) does not make sense. at all.

Ilíon said...

Then again, Anonymouse, perhaps your problem is that *you* are not bright enought to grasp the clear point I made.

Anonymous said...

Ildiot:

Then again, your brilliance would've been far more obvious as well as convincing if only it capitalized on the solipsism of the moment.

Ilíon said...

*yawn*

Ilíon said...

Would it be incorrect to understand the '~potent' in the theological term 'omnipotent' as referring to potentiality?

Craig said...

I have a couple comments to your defense of divine simplicity:

(1) It seems to me that in order for any sort of analogy to work there has to be some univocal element to be found in the analogy, if not, analogies don’t work. Consider your consideration of the different uses of “see,” particularly the perceptual vs. intellectual “see.” Yes, there are indeed differences here, that is, they are not completely univocal, but even in being analogical they certainly have an element of being univocal. If they don’t, I have no idea how to even understand the analogy. You even admit this in the article. So if this is the case, I am not sure how your advocacy of the doctrine of analogy would deflect Craig’s criticism that simplicity is unintelligible. Given that predicates of God would be identical, if what I have said about analogies is true, in a univocal sense, though yes, not completely univocal to our own predicates. They may not be identical in the univocal sense but they are in the analogical, and this seems to be just as unintelligible as the former. I am not sure what it means to claim that properties are analogically identical, which I think puts us back to square one.

(2) Your distinction between real properties and “Cambridge” properties is well taken. But even for a thing to have a Cambridge property the thing in question must stand in some relation to another thing. Your example is case in point. For Socrates to have the property of being shorter than Plato, he must stand in the shorter than relation to Plato. So, even if we want to say God only has Cambridge properties, we must be willing to claim that God stands in some relations. If not, this distinction is not helpful to your case, since to even understand Cambridge properties we must invoke relata and relations.

(3) Also, I think there are good reasons to believe that God bears some relations to the world and its inhabitants. Yes, these might be nothing more than Cambridge properties, but as I said above, these seem to entail that the thing in question stands in certain relations. I think the incarnation is a perfect example of God standing in a relation to the world.

(4) Last, I am not sure that your unmoved mover argument you use in TLS calls for a purely actual being. God may not need to be actualized by anything, but must he be a purely actual being in the sense you claim. In order to end the series can we not postulate a being that is actual enough to bring about motion in the series. For to even create the Universe there would have to be some actualization of a potential in God, namely, the potential to create a Universe.

Craig

Discipulus Humilis said...

Mr. Craig-

Regarding your fourth point, what reason do you have for suggesting that creating the universe requires the reduction of potency to act in the First Cause? What, in your mind, would be performing the reduction?

Without answering at least those two questions, it seems that your attempt to use counterexample in point (4) merely begs the question.

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain how not to confuse existence and essence?

Craig said...

Dear Discipulus Humilis,

I am not begging any questions. I am just claiming that, in my mind, the argument as presented in TLS has not shown that there must be a purely actual being. It is one thing to assume a position without argumentation, it is another to say merely that an argument has not delivered what it set out to deliver. Also, my question is more for clarification sake.

I have no idea what you are talking about in terms of reduction. Could you please clarify. I was just claiming that it seems that there need not be a purely actual being as discussed in TLS to stop the regress. Why must this be so?

Best,

Craig

john said...

I agree with Craig: "the doctrine of divine simplicity is one that has no biblical support at all and, in my opinion, has no good philosophical arguments in its favor. Moreover, it faces very formidable objections."
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7189

I am glad Craig is not swayed by
"the centrality divine simplicity has in Catholic doctrine."

Divine simplicity = a classic example of sophistry

It is derived from the pagan Plotinos and his Neoplatonism via St Augustine and Aquinas.

It is also at the heart of the schism of the Papacy from the Orthodox Catholic Church and is related to the Latin innovation of the filioque.

http://www.anthonyflood.com/farrellphotios.htm

I believe that all this sophistry is what led you to lose all the Protestants, and to this day to continue to lose members to the pentecostals/charismatics, etc.

As a result of all this obfuscation, Protestants have thrown up their hands and cried, what does all this philosophy have to do with the "simple gospel"?

Furthermore, your tradition in support of the doctrine of divine simplicity is not even Catholic tradition - it is not found in the East - it is a later innovation of Scholasticism/Thomism (though it had its seeds in Augustine's speculations whereby he attempted to reconcile Christianity with pagan philosophy).

It is refuted by the 6th Ecumenical Council and your own Pope St. Agatho's letter to that council.

Although at times they spoke of God's simplicity, the Eastern Fathers never thought in Thomistic terms. Rather, they believed the Essence/Energies distinction in God was clear:

"The operations are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His operations, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence."

- St Basil the Great

"we confess two natures and two natural wills, and two natural operations [energies] in our one Lord Jesus Christ"

- Pope St Agatho, letter to the 6th Ecumenical Council

"God Who is invisible by nature is made visible by His energies"

- St John of Damascus

The refusal to recognize the distinction between essence and energies was anathematized as a heresy by the Orthodox Church in the 14th Century.

The heretic who was anathematized later went over to the Latin Church and got himself made a bishop.

CrimsonCatholic said...

john:
Like most anti-Western Orthodox, your ignorance of the Western authors is palpable. Your interpretation of divine simplicity presumes a Platonic account of predication. As noted in the following article, the account adopted in the West was clearly Aristotelian, and it is exactly how Prof. Feser describes it:
http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~brower/Papers/Making%20Sense%20of%20Divine%20Simplicity.pdf

Condemning someone without a fair hearing is not ordinarily understood to be binding. Blachernae and the Palamite councils may have purported to condemn the Western view, but what they condemned was not in fact the Western view but a misinterpretation thereof.

Anonymous said...

This stiff is priceless. Faser is one of those people who amazes in his ability to deceive himself. Perhaps he's like to discuss sometime the part of the Old Testament where this perfect God of deluded philosophers punishes the Israelite King (Saul) for refusing to obey a command to exterminate another tribe.

Anonymous said...

"This stiff is priceless. Faser is one of those people who amazes in his ability to deceive himself. Perhaps he's like to discuss sometime the part of the Old Testament where this perfect God of deluded philosophers punishes the Israelite King (Saul) for refusing to obey a command to exterminate another tribe."

W.illiam
T.imothy
F.rank


Just found an idiot even greater than Ildiot. Wow. Simply. Wow.

Anonymous said...

I was responding to the absurd notion put forth in the post that God is good. Presumably perfectly good as a perfect-being. Carly, since we are obviously talking about Judeo-Christian God given the context of the post, what exactly makes me an idiot when I bring up an obvious contrary example?

Acolyte4236 said...

Dear Dr. Feser,

The claim that the doctrine is absolutely essential to the classical theistic tradition I think is overstated at best and probably false. As mentioned by others here, the Eastern Orthodox tradition doesn’t adhere to the Augustinian-Thomistic concept. John of Damascus as well as Maximus the Confessor advocate a metaphysical distinction between the divine essence and energies or activities, with the former being huper ousia or beyond existence. Hence God is not ad intra, pure actuality. “Classical Theism” is wider than the Catholic and Protestant traditions.

Second, since analogical predication is a consequence of simplicity, it is hard to see how it can be employed to defend it in a non-question begging way. The same is true of divine timelessness in terms of simultaneity.

As to an actual argument for the idea of a necessary creation, I have articulated something like what Craig seems to have in mind here.

http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2005/01/17/perrys-logical-argument/

All arguments in terms of theistic proofs may tend to the conclusion that the ultimate explanation of the world can only possibly lie in what is purely actual, but I fail to see how that implies that God is all and only actus purus.

Geach’s Cambridge facts don’t seem to help here. First, it isn’t clear that all forms of efficient causality entail an extrinsic relation to their effects. If it does in this case, then Catholic claims to adhere to the patristic view of theosis will be undermined since it will preclude God being the formal cause of creatures. Moreover, if God’s actuality is necessary and his act of creation is the same as God’s actuality of existence, then whatever kind of property that is, it won’t be capable of the kind of extrinsic relation that Cambridge facts entail. On top of that, metaphysically speak, however we may have to think about the matter, it is difficult to see how the modality of God’s existence isn’t transitive to his act of creation, since they are the same act. With respect to the Incarnation, God is not extrinsically related to human potentcies, which seems to imply that God is not either simple or purely actual. Cambridge properties are therefore not adequate to defend against all objections to the Augustinian view of simplicity.

As for the Thomistic arguments that if there were genuine pluralities in God then God would no longer be the first cause since these potencies would need either a further explanation or another cause to actualize them, this seems to wrongly assume that the divine persons are the divine essence. But if this is not so, then the persons can actualize their essential powers without entailing some further principle of unity or cause to actualize them. This implies that the persons, or more specifically the Father is the principle unity or the monarchia. The argument also turns on the assumption that God is being, but if God is not being, but beyond being, then the argument will not go through, since only things that be can be said to be composed, actual, etc.

From the other direction, Protestants like Craig who reject the doctrine (or even those who don’t) face a special problem with relation to Sola Scriptura. I’d argue it is impossible to garner this doctrine from scriptural exegesis even with the most dramatic gymnastics. Yet the doctrine is contained in practically all of the major Protestant confessions and defended in all of the major Protestant theologians well into the last century.

Furthermore, if Craig rejects it, this will also entail the rejection of the Filioque, since without the assumption that the economic processions are identical with those of the theologia by virtue of God’s simplicity, the inference from the economic to the theologia simply won’t follow.

Acolyte4236 said...

Jonathan,

Like most anti-Eastern Catholics ( ;) ) you picked up on what was not relevant. Even if the East didn’t pick the correct conceptual target, the East still does not adhere to the Augustinian concept. Further, if the East got the target wrong, Western writers certainly failed to communicate it adequately. As for Platonic predication, well, distinguishing act from form isn’t particularly Aristotelian, but Platonic.

John got some of his facts wrong, but the overall thrust correct-the East does not adhere to the doctrine so that glossing “classical theism” as monolithi on this point is not accurate.

CrimsonCatholic said...

Even if the East didn’t pick the correct conceptual target, the East still does not adhere to the Augustinian concept. Further, if the East got the target wrong, Western writers certainly failed to communicate it adequately.

John didn't say "The East has a different view." John didn't say "the West didn't communicate its own view accurately." What John said was "It is derived from the pagan Plotinos and his Neoplatonism via St Augustine and Aquinas" and "It is refuted by the 6th Ecumenical Council and your own Pope St. Agatho's letter to that council." Both statements are false. Arguing that Protestants like Prof. Craig might be driven away because they share the false interpretation does not strike me as a particularly compelling argument for abandoning it. Nor does the observation that the view originated in a Western theological background rather than an Eastern theological background or the ahistorical assertion that those backgrounds had to be identical.

I don't trash the Eastern view. I just think it doesn't speak to every possible case or every metaphysical view, and dogmatizing it is effectively cutting off the ability of Eastern theology ever to speak meaningfully to the West at all. If John is so worried about us cutting off Protestants, then maybe he should concern himself as much with cutting off the entire West with even worse arguments.

CrimsonCatholic said...

P.S. As should have been clear from the article I linked earlier, the question of predication in this context is not regarding *whether* there is a difference between form and act but how that difference is formulated. For that reason, I think that Dr. Feser's point stands. There may be variances on how one explains that properties are not read into God a la Eunomius, but the fact that one cannot do it is common to all of classical theism.

Anonymous said...

The Church Fathers (and even non-Christian thinkers before them) recognized simplicity as essential for guaranteeing God's identity as the transcendent creator. Denying simplicity is the philosophical and doctrinal equivalent of sawing classical (mono)theism off at the knees.

It is too bad so many contemporary Christian philosophers are ok with whistling past the graveyard of incoherence in their philosophical theology.

Thank you

Brian Ortiz said...

Prof. Feser, can you please answer the above objections posted by others?

Ismael said...

@ Craig

"(4) Last, I am not sure that your unmoved mover argument you use in TLS calls for a purely actual being. God may not need to be actualized by anything, but must he be a purely actual being in the sense you claim. In order to end the series can we not postulate a being that is actual enough to bring about motion in the series. For to even create the Universe there would have to be some actualization of a potential in God, namely, the potential to create a Universe. "


You confuse here what potentiality is... it is NOT intended as 'he can do X if he wants to'.

The relation between actual an potential is CHANGE.

Potentiality means that some being could change into something else or acquire some property IF something actual acts on it'.

For example: ice has the potentiality to be liquid water, but heat/energy must actualize such potentiality, i.e. changing the ice by melting it.

God is PURE ACTUALITY, i.e. God does not change.

He is the 'ultimate actualizer' you can say, he can bring change in things but does not need change since God is already 'all He can be', to put it in bery basic terms.

Ismael said...

(2) Your distinction between real properties and “Cambridge” properties is well taken. But even for a thing to have a Cambridge property the thing in question must stand in some relation to another thing. Your example is case in point. For Socrates to have the property of being shorter than Plato, he must stand in the shorter than relation to Plato. So, even if we want to say God only has Cambridge properties, we must be willing to claim that God stands in some relations. If not, this distinction is not helpful to your case, since to even understand Cambridge properties we must invoke relata and relations.

Not sure what this mean.

Suppose I write a best seller and then go live in a cabin in the mountain with no TV, radio, internet etc.

Let's assume the best seller is a HUGE success... sells more than the Bible (the most sold book in the world) so to speak.

Ok I live my simple life in the mountain and have no contact or relation to anyone.

Yet my name would become extremely popular, people wpould cite me, make fan pages about me, love me, etc...

In me, however, there would be no real change during the time, but i would aquire a 'Cambridge propertý' of being hugely famous. The change occurs in OTHERS not in us. The change in others might regard us, and be actualized by us (through out book), but we would not change.

So I think you can see it that way.

God changes us and we might acquire properties related to God (eg knowlegde about God) but God does not change.

Ismael said...

(3) Also, I think there are good reasons to believe that God bears some relations to the world and its inhabitants. Yes, these might be nothing more than Cambridge properties, but as I said above, these seem to entail that the thing in question stands in certain relations. I think the incarnation is a perfect example of God standing in a relation to the world.

In the incarnation Jesus is God, yes... but he is also fully human.

The human nature of Jesus was actualized by the purely actual God.

Hence while God remains purely actual the human nature is a contingent one.

So the relation between the Divine Jesus and the Human Jesus, altough they are ONE person, but with two nature, is also a Cambridge one.

That is why Jesus must be fully human and not only divine...


Also I am not sure what you exactly mean by relation... I suppose you intende some kind of 'exchange' ...

Ismael said...

It seems to me that in order for any sort of analogy to work there has to be some univocal element to be found in the analogy, if not, analogies don’t work. Consider your consideration of the different uses of “see,” particularly the perceptual vs. intellectual “see.” Yes, there are indeed differences here, that is, they are not completely univocal, but even in being analogical they certainly have an element of being univocal. If they don’t, I have no idea how to even understand the analogy. You even admit this in the article.

I think you are a bit mistaken here and I do not think Dr. Feser claims what you say he claim.

In an analogy two things bear some similarities but are different, so they are not univocal nor equivocal.

Like 'see'. To see with eyes is not the same as to 'see' a concept in your mind.

there is some similarity, ie receiving some sort of understanding (eg about color and shape for eye-seeing and about some abstract concept for mind-seeing), but the are two different things all together.

Seeing with the mind is not literally seeing (i.e. receiving photons on your retina and all the processes afterwards) but is a mind-only process that even a blind person can undertake.

Anonymous said...

Dr Craig, who denies Divine Simplicity, and holds a "B" theory of time, holds to the belief that when God created the universe he himself "entered" time and became a temporal being. This is the logical conclusion if one denies simplicity.

He also must conclude that God is a "complex" being. If God is complex he must be composed (of matter). If temporal he must be in space (since you cannot have time without space)and if he's temporal composed of matter and in space he must be "running down" as the 2nd law of thermodynamics asserts.

But Dr. Craig uses the argument from entropy in his very defense of his Kalam Cosmological argument which says that everything that had a beginning had a cause. The Universe had a definite beginning, therefore the Universe had a cause.

Dr Norman Geisler gives the best arguments on Divine Simplicity and thoroughly dissects arguments against this most essential of Christian Doctrines in his book on Thomas Aquinas.