Friday, April 15, 2016

Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism


A number of readers have called my attention to a recent podcast during which William Lane Craig is asked for his opinion about theistic personalism, the doctrine of divine simplicity, and what writers like David Bentley Hart and me have said about these topics.  (You can find the podcast at Craig’s website, and also at YouTube.)  What follows are some comments on the podcast.  Let me preface these remarks by saying that I hate to disagree with Craig, for whom I have the greatest respect.  It should also be kept in mind, in fairness to Craig, that his remarks were made in an informal conversational context, and thus cannot reasonably be expected to have the precision that a more formal, written treatment would exhibit.

Having said that…

I was surprised at how many basic mistakes Craig made in his characterization of the views of his opponents, and at how little argumentation (as opposed to mere assertion) was offered in response to those views.  Let’s walk through the various issues Craig addresses and dissect his comments.  (A side note on the most minor mistake:  The man interviewing Craig mispronounces my name.  The correct pronunciation is “fay-zer,” like the word “phaser” in Star Trek.) 

What is theistic personalism?

Craig and his interviewer give the impression that “theistic personalism” is a label that Thomists apply to non-Thomist theists in general; that David Bentley Hart -- who, like me, is critical of theistic personalism -- is, accordingly, a Thomist; that what “theistic personalism” amounts to is just the traditional Christian understanding of God; and that rejecting theistic personalism entails regarding God as impersonal.  None of these things is true. 

For one thing, Hart is most definitely not a Thomist.  Indeed, as readers of my various exchanges with Hart over the years know well, Hart is very critical of Thomists.  That alone suffices to show that, contrary to the impression Craig gives, the dispute between theistic personalists and their critics is simply not the same dispute as that between Thomists and non-Thomists.

For another thing, “theistic personalism” is a label which (as far as I can tell) was introduced by Brian Davies in his book An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, and he contrasts theistic personalists, not merely with Thomists specifically, but with classical theists in general.  Now, as Davies explicitly says, the classical theist tradition includes thinkers as diverse as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, Leibniz, the Protestant Reformers, Jonathan Edwards, and many others.  And the aspect of classical theism that Davies emphasizes throughout the book is its commitment to the doctrine of divine simplicity, together with such implications of that doctrine as the theses that God is immutable, that he is timeless, that he is not a particular instance of some general kind of thing, and so forth.

What makes someone a “theistic personalist” as opposed to a classical theist, then (as I read Davies), is essentially that he either explicitly denies the doctrine of divine simplicity, or that he at least implicitly denies it by virtue of denying God’s immutability, or claiming that God is an instance of a kind, etc.  Classical theist critics of theistic personalism thus include not only Thomists, but also Augustinians, Scotists, and Suarezians, not to mention traditional Eastern Orthodox and Protestant theologians, as well as traditional Jewish theologians, Muslim theologians, and purely philosophical theists.

Davies also explicitly says that what he is calling “theistic personalism” is the same thing as what Norman Geisler calls “neo-theism.”  Now, what Geisler attacks as “neo-theist” are views which characterize God as composite rather than simple, changeable rather than immutable, temporal rather than atemporal, and so forth -- views such as “open theism,” process theology, Plantinga’s attack on divine simplicity, etc.  What he’s attacking, then, are not “non-Thomists” as such.  Geisler also emphasizes that the classical theism he defends is the traditional Christian conception of God, and the conception that Christian theologians have traditionally seen as implicit in the Bible.  Geisler thus condemns “neo-theism” not only on philosophical grounds, but also precisely as a departure from Christian tradition and a departure from scripture.  (Davies does the same.)

Now, as Craig notes in the podcast, he was a student of Geisler’s.  He really ought to know, then, that it is extremely misleading to represent the dispute between theistic personalists and their critics as if it were merely a dispute between Thomists and non-Thomists, or between traditional Christian theists on the one hand and philosophical corrupters of scriptural teaching on the other.

It is also simply false to imply, as Craig does, that Thomists and other critics of theistic personalism regard God as “impersonal.”  When classical theists like Davies say that God is not “a person,” they do NOT mean that God is impersonal, an “it” rather than a “he.”  On the contrary, most classical theists, including all Thomists, would say that among the divine attributes are intellect, will, omniscience, freedom, and love.  Naturally then, they regard God as personal rather than impersonal, since nothing impersonal could intelligibly be said to possess these attributes.  As I have said many times, the problem with the thesis that “God is a person” is not the word “person,” but rather the word “a.”  And as Davies (and I) have argued many times, there are two key problems with it, a philosophical problem, and a distinctively Christian theological problem. 

The philosophical problem is that this language implies that God is a particular instance of the general kind “person,” and anything that is an instance of any kind is composite rather than simple, and thus requires a cause.  Thus, nothing that is an instance of a kind could be God, who is of course essentially uncaused.  (Obviously these claims need spelling out and defense, but of course I and other Thomists have spelled them out and defended them in detail many times.)  The distinctively Christian theological problem is that God is Trinitarian -- three divine Persons in one substance -- and thus cannot be characterized as “a person” on pain of heresy.  (As Davies has pointed out, it seems that the first time the English language formula “God is a person” appears in the history of Christian theology is in the 1644 heresy trial, in Gloucester, England, of someone named John Biddle -- where the formula was condemned as implying Unitarianism.) 

So, the reason Davies labels the rejection of classical theism “theistic personalism” is not that he thinks God is impersonal.  The reason is rather that he takes theistic personalists to start with the idea that God is a particular instance of the general kind “person” and to go from there.  And this, he thinks, is what leads them to draw conclusions incompatible with classical theism, such as that God is (like the persons we’re familiar with in everyday experience) changeable, temporal, made up of parts, etc.  To reject theistic personalism, then, is not a matter of regarding God as impersonal, but rather a matter of rejecting the idea that God is a particular instance of the kind “person,” or of any other kind for that matter.  (For example, though classical theists certainly regard God as the uncaused cause of the world, they do not think that this is correctly to be understood as the claim that God is a particular instance of the general kind “cause.”) 

Now, I have found over the years that even though I have repeated these points many, many times, some critics of classical theism still constantly mischaracterize the dispute between classical theism and theistic personalism as a dispute over whether God is personal or impersonal.  It is regrettable that Craig, who is a serious scholar and an intellectually honest one, would perpetuate this misunderstanding.  I don’t believe for a moment that Craig is intentionally mischaracterizing the classical theist position.  I hope these remarks will clear the air on that issue once and for all, at least for Prof. Craig and his readers.

Divine simplicity

In characterizing the doctrine of divine simplicity, Craig gives the impression that the doctrine involves, among other things, the claims that we can only make negative predications of God, that we can make only analogical predictions of God rather than univocal ones, that analogical predications are non-literal, and that we not only have to be agnostic about God’s nature but that God has no essence.  None of this is correct.

First, while some adherents of the doctrine of divine simplicity (such as Maimonides) are committed to a purely negative theology, most are not.  Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, et al. certainly agree that we can make positive as well as negative affirmations about the divine nature.

Second, while Thomists hold that all language about God has to be understood in an analogical rather than univocal way, not all classical theists or adherents of the doctrine of divine simplicity would say that.  For example, Scotists both affirm divine simplicity and hold that theological language is univocal.  Of course, we Thomists regard this Scotist position as unstable, but the point is that it is (contrary to the impression given by Craig) simply not the case that the debate over divine simplicity is as such a debate over whether theological language ought to be understood in an analogical rather than univocal way.

Third, when Thomists say that theological language ought to be understood analogically, they do NOT mean that it ought to be understood non-literally.  To suppose otherwise is to confuse analogical language with metaphorical language.  And not all analogical language is metaphorical.  For example, according to the Thomist view about analogical language, when I say that the enchilada I had for dinner last night was good, that William Lane Craig writes good books, and that William Lane Craig is a good man, I am not using the word “good” in the same, univocal sense.  Rather, I am saying that there is something in the food which is analogous to the goodness of the books, something in the books which is analogous to the goodness of a man, and so forth, even if it is not exactly the same thing in each case.  But I am not speaking non-literally or metaphorically in any of these cases either.   Similarly, when Thomists say that there is in God something that is analogous to what we call “goodness” in us, something analogous to what we call “power” in us, etc., they are not saying that God is good, powerful, etc. in only a non-literal or metaphorical sense.  (The idea that Thomists regard talk about God as “just a metaphor” is another unfortunately very common and very annoying misunderstanding.)

Fourth, neither the doctrine of divine simplicity nor the Thomist understanding of it entails that God has no essence.  On the contrary, Thomists hold that God’s essence just is pure actuality or subsistent being itself.  The claim is rather that, unlike everything else that exists, God does not have an essence distinct from his existence.  (The reason is that, if he did have an essence distinct from his existence, then he would be composed of metaphysical parts and thus require a cause, i.e. something independent of him which accounts for how those metaphysical parts are combined so as to compose the whole.) 

Fifth, if the Thomist were saying that God has no essence, then it would follow that we would have to be “agnostic” about God, would have to regard him as entirely “incomprehensible,” etc. (as Craig says the Thomist view implies).  For you can hardly understand something that has no essence or nature to be understood.  But again, that is not what the Thomist says.  To be sure, Thomists do say that God is “incomprehensible” in the sense that our minds -- accustomed as they are to understanding things by analyzing them or breaking them down into their constituent parts -- have great difficulty grasping the nature of that which is utterly simple or non-composite.  But the incomprehensibility here derives, not from any unintelligibility in God (as it would if God had no essence), but rather from the limitations on our finite intellects

Then there is Craig’s claim that there is just “no reason to accept” the idea that God is subsistent being itself rather than a being.  This simply ignores, without answering, the traditional Thomist arguments to the effect that if God is other than subsistent being itself, then it would follow that there is a distinction between God’s essence and his existence, in which case he would be composite and thus require a cause of his own -- in which case he would not be God.  (Neo-Platonists, Aristotelians, and other classical theists would give other, related arguments for similar conclusions.)  The doctrine of divine simplicity, its defenders claim, far from being some odd and unmotivated fifth wheel that philosophers have for no good reason tacked on to the Christian idea of God, in fact follows necessarily from an analysis of the claim that God is the uncaused cause or ultimate explanation of everything other than himself.  It is, they maintain, a logical concomitant of theism, and its denial is thus tantamount to atheism.  Craig no doubt disagrees with this, but he does not even engage the key arguments, much less refute them.

Miscellaneous issues

Craig also makes a number of further claims which are very strange.  For example, he says that whereas the Bible describes God as holy, loving, a creator who knows us and causes us, etc., “all these things are denied by Thomism.”  This is simply a bizarre claim.  I know of no Thomist who would deny any of these things.  Indeed, every Thomist I know of would staunchly affirm each of these attributes.  Perhaps what Craig means is that whatever the intentions of Thomists themselves, Thomism implies a denial of these attributes.  But if that is what is meant, then it is a mere undefended, question-begging assertion. 

Craig also gives the impression that Thomists accuse non-Thomists in general of denying the doctrine of divine conservation.  Furthermore, though Craig himself does not deny that Thomists believe in miracles, some listeners might get that impression from what he and his interviewer say about the issue of divine “intervention.”  These are also serious misunderstandings.  For one thing, neither I nor any other Thomist or classical theist that I know of has ever denied that many non-Thomists, and indeed even many theistic personalists, affirm the doctrine of divine conservation.  For another, no Thomist that I know of denies that God causes miracles to occur.  As I have said many times (e.g. here), the question about whether God “intervenes” is rather a question about whether a miracle ought to be understood on the model of the action of a machinist who tinkers with the operation of a machine that is otherwise running along on its own.  (The problem here is in part that the question to which Craig was responding was badly formulated, with the questioner sloppily running together issues that need to be carefully disentangled.)

Finally, Craig suggests -- in commenting on a reader’s questions about Herbert McCabe’s formulation of the Thomist conception of God -- that an empty spirituality, along with a rejection of miracles, of divine providence, and of traditional Christian morality, is inevitable if one accepts McCabe’s position.  He also suggests that there are “non-intellectual” and “emotional” factors lurking behind the reader’s question.  It is hard to know what to say in response to the first claim other than to point out that it is mostly just an undefended and sweeping assertion (and, where an argument is implied, also presupposes a caricature of McCabe’s position).  It is hard to know what to say in response to the second claim other than to point out that it seems an ad hominem piece of long-distance psychoanalysis. 

But again, since this is an informal and conversational context, I think we ought to cut Craig some slack.  It is also only fair to note that Craig directs his listeners to his book (co-written with J. P. Moreland) Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, wherein his criticisms of divine simplicity are developed in a more systematic way.  In the same spirit, I direct my own readers to my forthcoming book Five Proofs of the Existence of God, which (among other things) includes a detailed and systematic defense of divine simplicity against Plantinga, Craig, et al.  (More on that in due time.  In the meantime, I also direct your attention to an earlier post on Craig and divine simplicity, and other posts on the dispute between classical theism and theistic personalism.)

242 comments:

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Taylor Weaver said...

The mystery of the pronunciation is finally answered!

To be honest, I always assumed it to be 'phaser', until I watched a YouTube video where someone introducing you said it incorrectly. Because he wasn't corrected, I assumed he was correct.

Skeptical said...

So Dr Feser, when can we expect more news as to your forthcoming book on Natural Theology? I eagerly await to add another book of yours to my bookshelf for careful reading and contemplation.

DNW said...

I think that I am going to watch that interview a couple more times while paying strict attention to what Craig is actually saying in the context in which he is actually saying it.

1. I can't figure out the provenance or authority for this video; perhaps it is manufactured from a podcast.

2. Both the questioner and the letter are cloying - from my perspective.

3. Craig's debates, the modest number that I have seen, center on "reasonable faith" and the logic of anti-theism, versus the case for a rational predicate for belief. So, if he has a seriously partisan theological axe to grind regarding the Divine nature, I would of course have missed it, not being particularly attracted to or interested in that aspect of the broader issue.

The emotionalism of some of the YouTube commenters however strikes me as very peculiar.

The old Baltimore Catechism used by Catholics lists a number of things necessary to be believed in order for salvation ... sorting the God Jehovah from the god of the Divine Names, was not one of them.

DNW said...



In explicating Feser writes,


" To reject theistic personalism, then, is not a matter of regarding God as impersonal, but rather a matter of rejecting the idea that God is a particular instance of the kind “person,” or of any other kind for that matter. (For example, though classical theists certainly regard God as the uncaused cause of the world, they do not think that this is correctly to be understood as the claim that God is a particular instance of the general kind “cause.”) "


Yes, that is perhaps, along with several other more technical remarks that follow later, a very good characterization of the kind of misunderstanding that might arise from a casual and off the cuff treatment of the question.

Because that is precisely what I, quite wrongly it seems, imagined was in large measure, at issue.


Taylor Weaver said...

@DNW Yeah, this is from a (sometimes weekly) podcast that he does. Sometimes they tackle specific cultural or theological topics, but often take questions.

afkimel said...

Thanks for this response to Dr Craig's podcast. I admit that I found it quite exasperating. I can forgive him for not being familiar with Herbert McCabe's work, and unfortunately, the questioner to whom he was responding appears to have mistaken McCabe's understanding of God as akin to that of Paul Tillich. Apparently, only Tillichians can say that God is Being, not a being. But that Craig hasn't read David B. Hart's *The Experience of God*, if only because of the amount of press it has received, is quite unfortunate. As a result, Craig mistakenly lumps Hart in with the Thomists. I can only imagine the vehement protests: "I'm a Platonist, dammit!" :)

What this tells me, Ed, is that Craig has not kept up with the literature outside of his analytic philosophy sphere. More seriously, he apparently has forgotten what he once read of Aquinas and thus ends up misrepresenting him on several points, as you well point out. As a result, when he talks about the "orthodox" understanding of God, what he really means us the perfect person view that dominates the analytic theology crew.

I have begun to wonder whether the central dogmas and practices of the catholic faith (creatio ex nihilo, Holy Trinity, Incarnation, sacraments, Real Presence, etc.) can be sustained by the analytic theology of Craig, Swinburne, Plantinga. Any thoughts, Ed?

Anonymous said...

Eleonore Stump recently lectured on "The Personal God of Classical Theism" and it may be of interest to readers of this blog https://soundcloud.com/thomisticinstitute/dr-eleonore-stump-the-personal-god-of-classical-theism-4416

awatkins909 said...

Hey Ed,

Totally on point about Craig; the defenses of classical theism have been getting extremely sophisticated in recent years and are benefiting from the recent waves in analytic metaphysics too. It's a shame thay Craig's criticisms on the other hand do not seem to be getting any more sophisticated, but are basically the same as what he's been saying for a long time (I too say that with the utmost respect for Craig).

Anyway, hope you're well. Would be nice to have you come to Carolina some time if you're ever available. And I'm super excited to hear about your new book! Can't wait for it.

--Alfredo

moduspownens said...

"...And this, he [Davies] thinks, is what leads them [theistic personalists] to draw conclusions incompatible with classical theism, such as that God is (like the persons we’re familiar with in everyday experience) changeable, temporal, made up of parts, etc."

I'm in agreement about the doctrine of divine simplicity, but for the life of me, I confess I can't think of a specific instance of one of these listed examples. That could be because I'm a lay person and unfamiliar with the intricacies of classical theist-theistic personalist debate. But to my knowledge, I've never known Craig to claim, for instance, that God is temporal; in fact, he argues God is outside of time, which I think can be reasonably interpreted to mean non-temporal.

So what are we specifically talking about? Historical heresies? What are exactly these theologically provocative "conclusions" from the likes of Craig, Plantinga, Swinburne, et al, that posit God in regard specifically to being "changeable" and "temporal"? Or, as Feser via Davies mentions, all this follows and or collapses from treating God as a person, a general kind, (If God is composite and thereby composed of metaphysical parts, then being parts, he's subject to change and time?)?

Do you guys mind helping me out? I don't remember reading a specific example in one of Professor Feser's many posts on the subject, but that could be because I don't remember. So if any of you would be kind enough to direct me to a particular post that details what I'm asking for or knows an example of a theistic personalist claiming God is changeable, I would appreciate it.

DrYogami said...

I know this is off topic, but I'm having a difficult time with the account of intellect that Thomism gives. I just don't understand how, if the intellect is fully immaterial (as Thomism claims) it can possibly be affected by something physical like brain damage, brain development or a drug. I get how sensory powers could be affected given the Thomist view that these powers are 'material' but not powers of reason. Can anyone explain this to me?

Tony said...

but for the life of me, I confess I can't think of a specific instance of one of these listed examples. That could be because I'm a lay person and unfamiliar with the intricacies of classical theist-theistic personalist debate. But to my knowledge, I've never known Craig to claim, for instance, that God is temporal; in fact, he argues God is outside of time,

moduspownens, how about this article by WLC:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-time-and-eternity

Imagine God existing once more, alone, without the world, without the creation. Now in such a state, God is either timeless or temporal. If He's temporal, then the issue is decided. God is in time. So let's suppose that He's timeless. And now let's suppose that God decides to create the world, and He brings the universe into being. Now when He does so, God either remains timeless or else He becomes temporal in virtue of his new relationship to a changing world. If God becomes temporal, then clearly He is in time. So could God remain timeless while creating the universe? Well, I don't think so. Why? Because in creating the universe God undergoes at least an extrinsic change—a relational change. At the moment of creation He comes into a new relation in which he did not stand before because there was no "before." It's the first moment of time. And at the first moment of time, He comes into this new relation of sustaining the universe or at least of co-existing with the universe, a relation in which He did not stand before. And thus, in virtue of this extrinsic, relational change, God would be brought into time at the moment of creation.

Thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas attempted to elude the force of this argument by denying that God sustains any real relations with the created order. Aquinas granted that if God does come into new relations at the moment of creation, like being Lord, then He would be temporal. So Aquinas was driven to deny that God sustains any real relations to the world. Aquinas said that we as creatures are related really to God as His effects, but God is not really related to us as our cause or Creator. But I think that such a doctrine is clearly an expedient of desperation. God is causally related to the universe, and it seems impossible or incoherent to say that there could be real effects without a real cause.

Robert said...

@Tony,

Wow. WLC seems to miss the entire point of being outside of time. The claim that God isn't affected by time means that God only 'experiences' time t(only). His state (or relations) doesn't change from t1 to t2, but our perception of his state might. When he does act X and we notice it at t2, he actually did it at t(only) because he'soutside of time.

Chris said...

Is Divine simplicity incompatible with theistic personalism in a similar way that it could be a problem for EO's essence- energy distinction?

Greg said...

Craig writes:

Aquinas said that we as creatures are related really to God as His effects, but God is not really related to us as our cause or Creator. But I think that such a doctrine is clearly an expedient of desperation.

Craig is really very similar to someone like Anthony Kenny, who squeezes Aquinas's formulations into Fregean terms and then claims they are incoherent. His comments on Aquinas are almost always of this nature: slightly inaccurate and tendentious characterization followed by swift dismissal.

Skeptical said...

Is Divine simplicity incompatible with theistic personalism in a similar way that it could be a problem for EO's essence- energy distinction?

Well the Orthodox do adhere to a form of Divine Simplicity. As the Theology of the Orthodox is a development on the Greek Neoplatonism within the Church Fathers. I'm not actually convinced that Thomism and the E/E distinction are incompatible but are using a radically different understanding. As Thomas argues that the divine names, the operations of God, are not synonymous in the Summa even though they are really "one". I suspect there is much common ground to be found, however dialogue is tarred by many modern Orthodox apologists have an anti-Thomism thing going as they view Thomism=Catholicism.

Brandon said...

Chris,

Chris,

To add to Skeptical's point, I think Palamas's criticisms of Barlaam require divine simplicity as part of his understanding of the distinction -- he is quite vehement that (1) the distinction cannot be understood in such a way as to introduce composition into God; and (2) something like the distinction is necessary in order to make sense of how creatures can participate in God without introducing composition into God.


Greg,

That's a particularly good example, since 'real relation' is a technical term and not to be confused with our usual way of using 'really' in a way detached from its Latin origins. Things may be really (i.e., truly) related without being so by a 'real relation'. That's a very considerable slip from the technical to colloquial, one that the analytically trained in particular should have some practice avoiding.

Tony said...

WLC, a little further on:

Now notice that I, in virtue of knowing tensed facts, must have a temporal location. If I know today is July 20, then I am located at July 20. Moreover, in knowing tensed facts, I would be constantly changing. I would know that today is July 20. The next day I would then know that today is July 21 and the next day that today is July 22. So any being that knows tensed facts is undergoing change and is therefore temporal. As an omniscient being, God cannot be ignorant of tensed facts. He must know not only the tenseless facts about the
universe, but He must also know tensed facts about the world. Otherwise, God would be literally ignorant of what is going on now in the universe. He wouldn't have any idea of what is now happening in the universe because that is a tensed fact. He would be like a movie director who has a knowledge of a movie film lying in the canister; he knows what picture is on every frame of the film lying in the can, but he has no idea of which frame is now being projected on the screen in the theater downtown. Similarly, God would be ignorant of what is now happening in the universe. That is surely incompatible with a robust doctrine of divine omniscience. Therefore I am persuaded that if God is omniscient, He must know tensed facts and, therefore, must be in time.


Craig misses the metaphysical distinction of knowing a thing, and knowing a thing according to the mode of the thing versus according to the mode of the knower. Angels know man and lower beings not according to the mode of the lower beings, but according to the mode of the angelic intellect. God, however, transcends even this and doesn't just know but utterly surrounds and impenetrates all lower being (both "tensed" and "tenseless") with apprehension so as to know them all in an utterly more complete manner, according to the mode of the transcendent, timeless God.

Prima Pars Q 57, A2:

I answer that, Some have denied to the angels all knowledge of singulars. In the first place this derogates from the Catholic faith, which asserts that these lower things are administered by angels, according to Hebrews 1:14: "They are all ministering spirits." Now, if they had no knowledge of singulars, they could exercise no provision over what is going on in this world; ...
The manner in which an angel knows singular things can be considered from this, that, as things proceed from God in order that they may subsist in their own natures, so likewise they proceed in order that they may exist in the angelic mind. Now it is clear that there comes forth from God not only whatever belongs to their universal nature, but likewise all that goes to make up their principles of individuation; since He is the cause of the entire substance of the thing, as to both its matter and its form. And for as much as He causes, does He know; for His knowledge is the cause of a thing, as was shown above (Question 14, Article 8). Therefore as by His essence, by which He causes all things, God is the likeness of all things, and knows all things, not only as to their universal natures, but also as to their singularity; so through the species imparted to them do the angels know things, not only as to their universal nature, but likewise in their individual conditions, in so far as they are the manifold representations of that one simple essence.

Tony said...

I should also have quoted Q 14, A1:

Reply to Objection 3. Knowledge is according to the mode of the one who knows; for the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower. Now since the mode of the divine essence is higher than that of creatures, divine knowledge does not exist in God after the mode of created knowledge, so as to be universal or particular, or habitual, or potential, or existing according to any such mode.

And in A 15:

In answer to what is objected on the contrary, we must say that perfect knowledge of operable things is obtainable only if they are known in so far as they are operable. Therefore, since the knowledge of God is in every way perfect, He must know what is operable by Him, formally as such, and not only in so far as they are speculative. Nevertheless this does not impair the nobility of His speculative knowledge, forasmuch as He sees all things other than Himself in Himself, and He knows Himself speculatively; and so in the speculative knowledge of Himself, he possesses both speculative and practical knowledge of all other things.

Tony said...

It strikes me that by giving God any sort of temporality, Craig is playing with divinity in all sorts of dangerous ways. If, for example, it is true that God knows "tensed" things temporally, then he does NOT know them wherein he causes them, for He causes them through his essence, which is timeless and unchangeable. But if he does not know them by his essence (which is himself), then his knowing them is reduced to some other cause than himself. Which is nothing more than to say there is something in God that is caused not by God. That he is changeable. As the good Prof. Feser says, this reduces God to the sort of thing whose being (and knowledge), like all other beings, is accountable by a principle more deeply rooted than himself.

Burt said...

Hi Dr Feser,

Quite a coincidence, I visited this site today intending to search your archives to find whether you have addressed Dr Craig's take on things, only to find he is indeed the subject of your latest topic.

The reason for doing so I'd been vaguely wondering what lies behind Craig's preference for the Islamic term 'Kalam' for the metaphysical proofs of the existence of God rather than formerly attributing them to Aristotle/Scholasticism.
To be honest I was wondering if this is mainly (or merely) derived from a Protestant bias because of his Evangelical background.

Having read your post and after following your link to the YouTube video where he is mistakenly misrepresenting you (I'd not have had a clue about that unless you made it clear, I'm pretty much hopelessly out of my depth in these matters)
backs up my intuition that his rejection of Thomism is derives from an aversion to things Catholic shall we say.

While I'm here I want to tell you how much I enjoyed 'The Last Superstition' and I'm now on 'Aquinas a Beginner's guide'trying to get my lazy and admittedly limited brain around it all.

Greg said...

@ Burt

The reason for doing so I'd been vaguely wondering what lies behind Craig's preference for the Islamic term 'Kalam' for the metaphysical proofs of the existence of God rather than formerly attributing them to Aristotle/Scholasticism.
To be honest I was wondering if this is mainly (or merely) derived from a Protestant bias because of his Evangelical background.


Kalam arguments are just distinct from any of Aquinas's Five Ways, and the term is appropriate because they did originate within Islamic philosophy. Aquinas rejected the kalam cosmological argument (which is not to say that all Thomists reject it). It does not in any direct sense have to do with his Evangelical background.

Philip Alawonde said...

Tony,

Your criticism of Craig's argument for God's being in time misses the meat of the issue, for his characterization of God's knowledge is, again, anthropomorphic, so that he starts out assuming God knows in exactly the same way he does, which is a very serious goof, to put it only gently.

So, his argument merely begs the question by attempting to show that God's in time by assuming that God is in time.

Anonymous said...

The confusion continues.

He is a scholar I admire in certain areas (Usually, on other topics he would be a solid logician).

Aquinas gets in the way of hyper literalist readings of the sacred texts of Christianity, no? [Scott Hahn could teach Craig a thing or two in that regard]

Would everyone agree that Craig rejects Thomism (whether he realizes it or not) for emotional reasons and because of his prior theological commitments, not because he has reasoned it through and constructed valid counter arguments?

Yes or No?

Burt said...

Thank you Greg, that's very helpful.

JJS said...

I am inclined to agree with anonymous (two comments up). Craig is a good Christian doing much for the kingdom, not to mention a solid philosopher from whom I have learned a great deal over a span of twenty years. But as a Catholic who regularly visits his site (not as frequently as I do Ed's, though), I detect from time to time a subtle bias against Catholicism, and can't help but feel that his Evangelicalism commits him to take positions in the philosophy of religion that reduces God to a person whose attributes are simply ours except taken to the greatest possible degree (example, God is a mind, like ours, except much, much more powerful. When I listened to the podcast yesterday, the part that struck me the most were not the egregious mischaracterizations of Thomism (and Hart, whom Craig bizarrely seems to think is a Thomist), but rather the suggestion that somehow Thomists have departed from the God of the Bible. It is no use pointing out the errors if we do not point out the elephant in the room: an almost fundamentalist reading of scripture that guides Craig's philosophy of religion. Ed alluded to this, though, in his post above.

Tom DePietro said...

I'd like to make two comments here.

(1) There is a further problem with Craig's representation of McCabe. McCabe does not believe that God merely conserves the world in existence yet does not providentially guide it. Anyone familiar with McCabe knows this. When he says that God is not the explanation of a particular fact, he is contrasting the classical theistic view that God is primary cause with the views of certain religous people who hold God is like a scientific hypothesis explaining this or that hypothesis, e.g. the big bang or the complexity of life. McCabe, as a Thomist, believes God is the cause of everything, including our free choices. Therefore, McCabe has the strongest view of providence possible as a result of his views on creation.

(2) When Craig denies that God loves, etc. His creation I think he is referring to the Thomistic idea that God is not really related to his effects. While Craig, given the format of the interview, probably said this poorly, I think his criticism is fair. How can a God, without having any intrinsic characteristics related to creation, really care about us?

Brandon said...

How can a God, without having any intrinsic characteristics related to creation, really care about us?

This question presumes that we know what is meant by an "intrinsic characteristic related to creation". In this context it is the sort of thing only God could be taken to have (certainly we could not possibly have an 'intrinsic characteristic related to creation' in the sense that would have to be suitable to the Creator), so the question really comes down to why, precisely, we think God has to have such a thing.

The big difference between those who tend theistic personalist and those who tend classical theist is that the latter accept some version of the triplex via: we can't go around claiming to know that God is or has something unless we get to such a claim by some specific causal reason, whether that be by specific inference to First Cause or by specific revelation by God Himself, and what we know in such cases is strictly limited by the limits of that specific causal reason, and God is always greater than we know, no matter how much we know. Beyond those limits we are making claims out of ignorance. The question, whenever anyone says that God must be X or must have Y, is 'For what reason must this be true of God, and how far does that reason actually get us?'

David said...

I should think that Craig's rejection of Thomism gas nothing to do with his evangelicalism. After all, he studied under Norman Geisler, who is both a Thomist and an evangelical.

Btw, the Kalam argument is appealing to him and others mostly due to its approachability. While the five ways, I would agree, are more powerful, they require more background info in their metaphysics.

As a side note, Southern Evangelical Seminary is highly Thomistic.

Greg said...

I suspect Craig's attitude toward Thomism has something to do with his evangelicalism. But I suspect it also has a lot to do with his philosophical style, and, in any case, I think it is better to just show that his arguments are inadequate as objections to Thomism. Everyone has somewhat imperfect motives.

Kyle said...

It is also simply false to imply, as Craig does, that Thomists and other critics of theistic personalism regard God as “impersonal.” When classical theists like Davies say that God is not “a person,” they do NOT mean that God is impersonal, an “it” rather than a “he.” ... As I have said many times, the problem with the thesis that “God is a person” is not the word “person,” but rather the word “a.”

OK, but here's what I find puzzling.
I have no formal training in philosophy, and I understand the impersonal/not-a-person distinction (or at least I think I do). So what would explain WLC, a *highly* trained philosopher, and philosopher of religion into the bargain, implying what Feser is saying he does? Possible answers to that include:

1. WLC has never heard the distinction explained
2. He has heard of it but doesn't understand it
3. He has heard of it, understands it, and has reasons for disagreeing with it
4. He has heard of it, understands it, agrees with it, and Feser is simply mis-understanding WLC

1 and 2 must both be false, surely. Again, I've heard of it and understand it. So WLC must have.
I'm doubtful of 3 because surely *Feser* would know of WLC's reasons and would have described and then refuted them. Now Ed does acknowledge that WLC was having merely an informal conversation, so I guess there's scope for WLC knowing what's what but simply not mentioning his reasons during that podcast. But that's not the impression Ed gives in his critique. He's allowing for imprecision on WLC's part, but that wouldn't explain an error as crass as the one described.
That leaves 4, but I don't buy that either. Ed not understanding WLC seems as unlikely as WLC not understanding Ed/Aquinas/etc.

So what gives? C'mon, we're all fundamentally driven by curiosity here; so surely I'm not the only one who asks these kinds of "meta" questions?

QUESTION: When discussing God, what is the distinction between Him being both not "a person" and not "impersonal"?
META-QUESTION: How do we explain a trained philosopher of religion like WLC appearing not only to not know the answer to that QUESTION, but also to not even be aware of the existence of the distinction which the question addresses?

Kyle said...

While I'm here, but on a different topic, I notice there has been a recent cessation (probably just a pause) in hostilities in an ongoing edit-war over WLC's Wikipedia entry. A key part of the argument seems to be the order in which certain terms appear in the article's lead. At the moment it says that WLC is:

... theologian, Christian apologist and analytic philosopher.

I wasn't aware that anyone, WLC included, considered him to be a theologian. Is he? Do any *actual* theologians consider him as such? And although I guess he could be called a Christian apologist, it no more applies to him than "atheist polemicist" applies to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, or Dan Dennett, and their WP articles don't lead off with that for them.

Ah, good old Wikipedia. Trust. Don't. Kick. Any further.

Thursday said...

Hart is definitely not a Neo-Thomist in the tradition of Garrigou-Lagrange. However, Hart is always talking about the four causes, including formal and final causes, so he's at least something of an Aristotelian. He's also a strong admirer of Aquinas, if not certain interpretations of Aquinas. Whether that makes him a Thomist or not, I will leave for others to decide, but I wouldn't say he's simply a Platonist full stop.

Thursday said...

Kyle, philosophy is insanely hard. For two reasons:

1. The inherent difficulty of the subject matter.
2. The fact that there is nothing to immediately correct you when you're wrong.

The record of brilliant philosophers screwing up and saying silly things is long and humbling.

I also assume that Craig was trained mostly in modern philosophy, while today the classical tradition is often neglected or misunderstood. He may indeed not fully understand everything in premodern philosophy.

Daniel said...

A few quick remarks:

1. First of all kudos to Ed for stressing that certain concepts such as Analogical Predication and the Real Distinction are specifically Thomist claims and not representative of the wider Classical Theist tradition as a whole. I think to many people capitalize on the Classical Theism verses Theistic Personalism debate by blurring the former with Thomism

2. As far as I recall WLC holds that God is atemporal pre-creation but enters into time the moment it (time) 'begins'. On his website there are a couple of articles detailing an interesting exchange he had with Brian Leftow, a prominent defender of the Classical Theist atemporal stance. As an aside Leftow makes the point that a commitment to Divine Simplicity also commits one to Divine Timelessness, another reason WLC for which WLC might dislike the former.

3. Ultimately I think WLC’s objections really stem from the fact that he dislikes the Thomist explaination of the Trinity.

4.

The big difference between those who tend theistic personalist and those who tend classical theist is that the latter accept some version of the triplex via: we can't go around claiming to know that God is or has something unless we get to such a claim by some specific causal reason, whether that be by specific inference to First Cause or by specific revelation by God Himself, and what we know in such cases is strictly limited by the limits of that specific causal reason, and God is always greater than we know, no matter how much we know. Beyond those limits we are making claims out of ignorance. The question, whenever anyone says that God must be X or must have Y, is 'For what reason must this be true of God, and how far does that reason actually get us?'

This might be a good representation of the Thomist approach but it’s not a categorisation of Classical Theism as whole. To quote Leftow again, the ‘ontological’ approach to Natural Theology is as much a part of the Classical tradition as the ‘casual’ – arguments like the OA in all its forms (even ‘pure property’ versions like those of Godel and Maydole take their cue from Scotus), modal arguments to an uncaused case, Augustinian arguments from eternal truths and others all appeared on the scene long before Theistic Personalism reared its ugly head.

Kyle said...

@Thursday,

1. The inherent difficulty of the subject matter.
2. The fact that there is nothing to immediately correct you when you're wrong.

Those are both true of mathematics but I don't think we'd find the same situation there as we are here. It is almost inconceivable that in terms of avoiding an error like the one in question, an amateur would be successful where a professional was not.

And that's particularly valid in a case like this where the particular question is not part of the insanely hard nature of the subject. The impersonal/not-a-person distinction is barely even a philosophical problem, but rather simply one of the equivocal nature of some English words when used informally. Here, I'll give an analog that even a high schooler could understand:

"If you want to cheer up your sick friend then no, don't just have the flowers delivered by post! That's too impersonal. When someone is ill they'd much prefer an actual visit, from a real person!

Imagine someone was to sit WLC down and explain this distinction to him. Do you really think his response would be, "Huh. I never even thought of that! Good to know." I mean, it *might* be I suppose, but I'd still be puzzled. Maybe I should write to him and ask! :-)

Brandon said...

This might be a good representation of the Thomist approach but it’s not a categorisation of Classical Theism as whole.

What you are calling the 'ontological' approach is not a distinct approach because none of its representatives think we know divine things by magic -- there is always a specifiable causal link by which we know this or that about God, and our pretensions to knowledge must be sharply limited by the limits of it. You seem to be making very narrow assumptions about what counts as causal; the notion that Anselm's ontological argument is noncausal is immediately absurd if one reads Proslogion 1, which is explicit that our knowledge of God's existence depends on revelation, and it would be even more absurd to characterize Scotus's coloring of it as noncausal. (It is however arguable that certain modern imitations violate the remotion component of triplex via.)

Likewise, it doesn't make any sense whatsoever to confine it to Thomism for the obvious reason that all the most common formulations (including even the Thomistic) derive from Neoplatonism.

afkimel said...

Craig's podcast encouraged me to put together a short list of books and essays that I have found helpful in thinking about personalist theism and classical theism. I ain't no philosopher, so you'll have to excuse the omission of titles that many of you would consider mandatory. :) But I hope it might be of interest nonetheless.

"Revisiting God and Odin": http://tinyurl.com/zjwuyn2

Steven Dillon said...

Feser rightly criticizes non-classical theists for thinking that God is 'a' person, but then goes on to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity. How does affirming the Trinity differ from saying that God is not just 'a' person, but 'three'? I.e. Doesn't the Trinity entail that God is three instances of something--whether of 'person', 'substantial relation', or whatever?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

I'd like to offer a few brief comments on your post.

1. Your definition of theistic personalism strikes me as rather convoluted and messy: "What makes someone a 'theistic personalist' as opposed to a classical theist, then (as I read Davies), is essentially that he either explicitly denies the doctrine of divine simplicity, or that he at least implicitly denies it by virtue of denying God’s immutability, or claiming that God is an instance of a kind, etc." However, Davies himself says that for classical theists, the key point is that "God is not an individual. He belongs to no kind or sort." For theistic personalists, on the other hand, God belongs to at least one category that human beings belong to: He is a person. (You've pointed out in previous posts that according to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, God is actually three persons, but it seems to me that a theistic personalist could take that on board and re-define God as a personal agent.)

2. You and Davies deny that God is a being. However, I've just been listening to Professor Eleonore Stump's talk, "The Personal God of Classical Theism" at https://soundcloud.com/thomisticinstitute/dr-eleonore-stump-the-personal-god-of-classical-theism-4416 and it seems to refute your contention. Dr. Stump argues [from 43:58 onwards] that for Aquinas, God is both Being Itself and a being, a concrete particular. If she's right, then the contrast you've drawn between Craig's theistic personalism and classical theism is too stark.

3. One matter that Dr. Stump unfortunately did not address in her talk is whether God has real relations with His creatures. If God (timelessly) decides to create world A rather than world B, and both worlds contain intelligent agents, then it appears that God, in creating world A, (timelessly) enters into some real and personal relationships with the agents in world A, which He would not have entered into had He (timelessly) decided to create world B instead. This seems to imply in God a distinction between His essence [which is utterly simple in itself] and His contingent relations to creatures. The Fourth Lateran Council doesn't rule out this position: it only declares that God's essence is simple.

4. You impute to Craig the bizarre view that God has no essence. But on your own admission, Craig never actually says this: you maintain, however, that he gives that impression. Here's what he actually says in an essay on the cosmological argument at http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/cosmological_argument.html : "We cannot say that this being's [i.e. the Ground of Being's] essence includes existence as one of its properties, for existence is not a property, but an act, the instantiating of an essence. Therefore, we must conclude that this being's essence just is existence. In a sense, this being has no essence; rather it is the pure act of being, unconstrained by any essence." [Brackets mine - VJT.] I find nothing objectionable here. In fact, listening to Craig's talk, I thought he was striving to be as fair to the Thomist position as possible. On the whole, I thought it was pretty accurate, and any errors made were minor.

laubadetriste said...

@afkimel: "Craig's podcast encouraged me to put together a short list of books and essays that I have found helpful in thinking about personalist theism and classical theism. I ain't no philosopher, so you'll have to excuse the omission of titles that many of you would consider mandatory. :) But I hope it might be of interest nonetheless. / 'Revisiting God and Odin': http://tinyurl.com/zjwuyn2"

Thanks!

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

I'm mystified as to why my earlier comment was deleted. Anyway, here's an abridged version of what I originally said, since I couldn't be bothered typing it all out again.

1. According to Brian Davies (whom you cited), the fundamental distinction between classical theism and theistic personalism boils down to whether God belongs in any category or not. Theistic personalists would say that He belongs in the category of personal agents.

2. Professor Eleonore Stump's excellent talk on "The Personal God of Classical Theism" at https://soundcloud.com/thomisticinstitute/dr-eleonore-stump-the-personal-god-of-classical-theism-4416 seems to bride the gap between the two camps. Dr. Stump demonstrates [starting at 43:58] that for Aquinas, God is both Being Itself and a being - i.e. a concrete particular (yes, she actually uses that term). Check it out.

3. One vital question Dr. Stump does not address is whether there are real relations between God and His creatures. Suppose God has a choice between creating world A with one set of intellectual agents, and world B with another set of agents. In timelessly deciding to create world A rather than world B, and to personally respond to the agents in world A when they pray to Him, it seems to me that God is entering into real relations with those agents which He would not have entered into, had He timelessly decided to create world B instead. Anyway, Lateran IV (1215) only says that God's essence is simple; it says nothing about whether God has real (and contingent) relations with creatures, in addition to His essence.

4. You write that Craig gives the impression (though you never quote him on this point) that God has no essence. That's not fair to Craig. Here's what he actually says about Aquinas' doctrine of God, the Ground of Being, in an article on the Cosmological Argument at http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/cosmological_argument.html : "We cannot say that this being's essence includes existence as one of its properties, for existence is not a property, but an act, the instantiating of an essence. Therefore, we must conclude that this being's essence just is existence. In a sense, this being has no essence; rather it is the pure act of being, unconstrained by any essence." I think that's a pretty fair characterization of Aquinas' view.

Tom DePietro said...

@Vincent

I agree that the Church did not define the doctrine of no real relations. That said, it seems to follow from divine simplicity.

If a real relation existed within God between God and creation, it would be contingent
But DDS entails that that which is within God is identical to God. Therefore, it would follow that God would be contingent because He would be identical to some real relation with creation. This is false, therefore, no real relation between God and creation exists within God.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent, your comment was not deleted. As happens occasionally, Blogger stuck it in the spam filter. When this happens to a comment, I often don't see it for a long time -- days, sometimes -- because given how busy I am I check the spam filter and moderation box only somewhat sporadically. I also often have no idea why some comments end up there, though in this case I imagine it's because you had a link within the body of the comment.

Anyway, I've now liberated the comment and let your new one stand as well.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent, re: the substance of your comments, briefly:

1. I don't know what the distinction is you think exists between what I said and what Davies says. Yes, Davies says that theistic personalism is essentially the view that God is in a kind or category. That's what I said too. What's the problem?

2. Yes, God's a concrete particular rather than an abstract object. So what? I didn't say otherwise. What I said is that he's not a particular instance of a kind.

3. I've got zero time to get into the metaphysics of real relations here and now, but I don't know what that has to do with the original post anyway (except what someone else has already pointed out above, viz. that the Thomist view of real relations is Craig's beef with Thomism when he says that Thomists deny that God loves us, etc. -- I think that's probably true, but the way Craig actually formulated his point was extremely misleading. But then, I did acknowledge in the original post that Craig may have meant to be identifying what he thinks is implicit in Thomism.)

4. Where on earth did I say that Craig thinks God has no essence? I said that he claims that Thomists think that God has no essence.

Honestly, Vincent, here as so often in the past, you seem not to read my stuff very carefully, but instead to approach it from the get-go looking for things to disagree with. Then I have to waste time correcting these misunderstandings. Then by the time you get to saying something not based on errors, I've got other things to do and have lost patience anyway. Not a good way to proceed.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Theists who endorse Divine Simplicity are sort of on the right track. What could be simpler than non-existence? (wink)

Edward Feser said...

One more thing, Vincent: I don't know why you're quoting all this other stuff from Craig when what I'm replying to, specifically, is what Craig said in the podcast -- where he says exactly the things I attribute to him. Did you even bother to listen to it before commenting here and accusing me of misinterpreting Craig?

laubadetriste said...

@Gerard O'Neil: "Theists who endorse Divine Simplicity are sort of on the right track. What could be simpler than non-existence? (wink)"

I think that, even on purely secular terms, ↑that is not a genuinely coherent thought, because there is just no alternative to being.

Clem Harrold said...

Mr Feser, I am a practicing, conservative Catholic. I have a number of questions about transubstantiation which I've been struggling with. Do you have the time to reply to questions emailed to you? I completely understand if not, but I thought I'd ask. Thank you for this and for all the work you do!

Daniel Joachim said...

@Clem

Feser has previously said that he has little time for such personal correspondence. Which is fair, as he's probably getting loads of similar inquiries.

I think you'd be better off by posting your questions in an active forum, inhabited by several informed Thomists, like one of these:
http://classicaltheism.boardhost.com/index.php
http://www.facebook.com/groups/TeamAquinas/

Good luck! :)

Daniel Joachim said...

Theists who endorse Divine Simplicity are sort of on the right track. What could be simpler than non-existence? (wink)

That would be tempting. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that I myself exist, and that this point of data requires a sufficient reason. :)

laubadetriste said...

@Daniel Joachim:

It bugs me that, to judge by your profile picture, you might really be Stephen Amell from *The Arrow*. And now that I know that you fight for "Team Aquinas" on Facebook, I am taking odds on Aquino da Rhino and the Merciless Mediaevals.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

For the record, you have previously said that God is not "a being" among other beings but Being Itself. (See http://edwardfeser.blogspot.jp/2013/12/dude-wheres-my-being.html .) Eleonore Stump, in her talk, says that God is both "a being" and Being Itself. Yes, I know you added the qualifying phrase "among other beings," but Dr. Stump says in her talk that some Thomists mistakenly interpret him as holding that God is not a being, and this is the first time I've ever seen you acknowledge in writing that God is a concrete particular, or that God is a being. Thanks for that. And for that matter, I don't know of any theistic personalist who thinks that God is just a being among other beings, so I think you're attacking a straw man here. (All theistic personalists, for instance, would agree that God maintains other beings in existence, so for them too, He's obviously not just one being among many.)

You ask: "Where on earth did I say that Craig thinks God has no essence?" In your post, you wrote: "In characterizing the doctrine of divine simplicity, Craig gives the impression that the doctrine involves, among other things, the claims that we can only make negative predications of God, that we can make only analogical predictions of God rather than univocal ones, that analogical predications are non-literal, and that we not only have to be agnostic about God’s nature but that God has no essence. None of this is correct." What Craig actually wrote in his essay on the cosmological argument was that God's "essence just is existence. In a sense, this being has no essence; rather it is the pure act of being, unconstrained by any essence." If you think he said something stronger than that in his recent podcast, then I'd like to see a quote, please.

laubadetriste said...

@Vincent Torley:

"...this is the first time I've ever seen you acknowledge in writing that... God is a being."

He didn't.

"In your post, you wrote: 'In characterizing the doctrine of divine simplicity, Craig gives the impression that the doctrine involves...that God has no essence. None of this is correct.'"

The purported doctrine was one that Craig was *criticizing,* not *accepting.*

"What Craig actually wrote in his essay on the cosmological argument..."

This post is explicitly not about what Craig wrote, but about what he said.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

I don't know why you persist in attributing to me things I never said. First, I didn't say God is "a being." I said that although God is not an instance of a kind, he is a concrete particular, and what I mean by that is that he is not an abstract object (and thus in that sense is concrete) and he is not a universal (and thus in that sense is a particular or individual thing).

Second, I have no idea why you think the passage from my post that you quote supports your false claim that I attributed to Craig the view that God has no essence. What I attributed to Craig was the view that Thomists think that God has no essence. "The doctrine" referred to in the first set of words you have in bold is the doctrine of divine simplicity as Thomists understand it, not some doctrine that Craig himself holds.

And again, I don't know why you keep talking about that essay of Craig's, since that is not what I was referring to. What I was referring to, again, is what he said in the podcast. I asked you if you bothered to listen to that podcast before commenting here, and you have not answered that question. You also ask me to quote the relevant lines from the podcast. Both of those points lead me to conclude that you did not in fact bother to listen to it.

In that case, I don't know why you are wasting your time accusing me of getting Craig wrong without even doing your own basic homework. I do know that I'm not going to waste any more of my time responding to you. In particular (since, among other things, I'm about to step out the door), I'm not going to spend the next twenty minutes listening to Craig's podcast yet again, transcribing the relevant passages, etc. to spare you the trouble of doing so. He says it there, and I wouldn't have attributed it to him if he hadn't said it there. Listen for yourself.

Vincent Torley said...

Ed,

OK. So you believe that God is a concrete particular, but not a being. This is a most unusual position: I would have thought it obvious that a concrete particular is a being of some sort, even if it is a being like no other. Be that as it may, your poosition is clearly at variance with that of Thomist philosopher Dr. Eleonore Stump, who maintains in her talk (see https://soundcloud.com/thomisticinstitute/dr-eleonore-stump-the-personal-god-of-classical-theism-4416 ) that according to Aquinas, God is both "a being" and Being Itself. The point is an important one, as it relates to the essential difference between classical theism and theistic personalism. Davies maintains that for the classical theist, "God is not an individual. He belongs to no kind or sort." (See http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~ekremer/resources/Davies,%20Chapter%20One.pdf , page 9.) You say God is a concrete particular, but not a being. Dr. Stump (who is a Thomist) says God is Being Itself, but also a being and a concrete particular. Theistic personalists say God is a being, but no Thomist has yet provided any evidence for the claim that these philosophers regard God as just one being among other beings. So I ask: is there really a clear-cut difference between the two camps? I think not.

Re Craig: my last post was written hastily, as I was just heading out the door myself. However, I understand perfectly well that what you attributed to Craig was the (mistaken) view that Thomists think that God has no essence. I quoted Craig's own description of the Thomist view in his essay on the cosmological argument: God's "essence just is existence. In a sense, this being has no essence; rather it is the pure act of being, unconstrained by any essence" (italics mine). I think it's unfair to conclude from this that Craig thinks that Thomists think that God has no essence.

And yes, I did listen to Craig's podcast. I can't recall him saying anything there which supports the claim you made about him. If you or anybody else can correct me on this point, I will gladly acknowledge my mistake.

afkimel said...

My copy of Stump's new little book The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers arrived a few days ago, and of course I immediately started to skim it. She does go out of the way to distance herself from those interpreters of St Thomas who insist that God is Being, not a being, citing, among others, David Burrell and Brian Davies. She thinks this is important because "if God is not a being at all, not any kind of concrete particular, it is hard to see how a human person could have a personal relationship to God and engate in conversation with him, as Jonah does in the story" (p. 31).

I see her point. She wants to make clear that the God of Aquinas is the God of the Bible--one to whom we may pray, one who responds to human beings, one who acts in the world. But surely neither Burrell nor Davies (nor McCabe) thinks of him as an impersonal Absolute, so I'm not clear who she is arguing against. Tillich? Macquarrie? I suppose that insisting that God is "a" being is one way to secure the personal relationship with God, but I wonder. After all, as soon as I say that God is "a" being, I immediately have to go on and qualify myself by saying that God is not one of many.

I welcome your input.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Fr. Kimel,

Thanks very much for your comment. When you write that "as soon as I say that God is 'a' being, I immediately have to go on and qualify myself by saying that God is not one of many," I fully agree with you. Fr. Herbert McCabe hit the nail on the head when he wrote: "God is not an inhabitant of the universe; he is the reason why there is a universe at all."

St. Thomas Aquinas, for his part, strenuously insisted that God does not belong in any genus. Nevertheless, even Aquinas, in his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, Chapter 43, paragraph 8, states that “God is a necessary being through Himself.” In his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, Chapter 52, paragraph 9, he adds that “God is a cause.” In his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, Chapter 6, paragraph 4, he declares that “God is a being in act, as was shown in Book I,” and in Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, Chapter 16, paragraph 6, he writes that “God is a being in act, not through anything inherent in Him, but through His whole substance, as was proved above.” In Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, Chapter 24, paragraph 2, Aquinas even contends that “God is a voluntary agent.”

I'm curious as to whether Dr. Stump addresses the question of whether God has real relations to creatures in her book. If you could let me know, I'd be very grateful.

The Naz said...

Hi Dr. Feser,

Can we create a youtube channel for you? There needs to be more press behind your ideas.

Seth Kane

Anonymous said...

God is not a Being but BEING. He is not a composite of essence and existence. His essence is existence, absolute being.

Hope that helps Vincent.

Clem Harrold said...

Thanks a bunch, @Daniel! I'll try out those forums. :)

Philip Alawonde said...

Hello Vincent Torley, afkimeil,

I think the argument over whether God is *a* being (only when qualified that he's a radically different kind of being from everything else) or is Being Itself is merely linguistic -- i.e., it is merely indicative of how our language is insufficient to capture coherent thoughts about God -- and not substantial, for both sides recognize the fact that God is the Ground of Being, and that's good. What however, Stump is trying to do is to identify this Being with the God of Abraham, hence, risking a language that could be confusing when not properly clarified.

It's just like Tillich's insistence that God does not exist. He's obviously not declaring atheism to be true. What Tillich is trying to do is to state the radical uniqueness of God -- but at a serious risk, for using such language could be confusing to many unless properly clarified with the statement that while God does not merely exist (i.e., merely receptive of existence like other beings) he is Pure Actual Existence Itself.

So, it would seem that the better option -- contra Stump's and Tillich's respectively risky language-styles -- is to go straight to state, as Ed always does, that God is Existence Itself (cont. Tlllich) or that God is Being Itself (cont. Stump). That is, it appears much better, at least when talking with the uninitiated, to use less confusing language. But for those who've advanced and who understand the nuances of our God-langauge, especially when trying to defend the statement that The Judeo-Christain God is the same one as Actual Existence Itself, it might be allowable to call God a being or to say that he does not merely exist -- but with the strongest of qualifications. This is why Ed also notes that God is a concrete particular, while noting that he's not merely a being.

In the end, we all simply should be mindful of our language, whether talking to neophytes or to the Thomistically adept.

Daniel Joachim said...

@laubadetriste

Hehe, I'm pretty sure I'm not one of them. But I've always had a weak spot for The Categorical Imperator and the Destructive Deontologists. I'm also known as the previous host of the half-famous gameshow of Wise or not Wise.

Brandon said...

Nevertheless, even Aquinas, in his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, Chapter 43, paragraph 8, states that “God is a necessary being through Himself.”...

Latin has no indefinite article; it is literally impossible to call God 'a being' in Latin. All of these are cases of the English translator trying to make the Latin sound more natural in English. 1.43.8, for instance, literally says, ipse est necesse per seipsum, He is necessary through Himself; 2.6.4, Deus est ens actu, God is actual being; 2.24.2, Deus est agens per voluntatem, God is active by will.

Vincent Torley said...

OK everyone,

Here's the transcript of what William Lane Craig says in the podcast [2:38]:

"The Thomist believes that God's essence is existence; that God's essence is to be: the act of being. Now, if you find that difficult to understand, or unintelligible, in one sense, Thomists grant we can't understand what that is, because our intellects grasp the essences of things - those essential properties that make a thing what it is. But in God's case, the Thomist says: 'In one sense, God doesn't have an essence. Rather, God's essence just is the Pure Act of Being, which is not something that can be grasped by the intellect." (Bolding is mine - VJT.)

Later, at [4:16], when discussing the Thomist view of God, Craig says: "...He [God] doesn't have an essence that we can grasp; it's just the Pure Act of Being."

I think fair-minded readers will agree that Craig does not ascribe to Thomists the bizarre view that God has no essence. Craig's language in the passages quoted above is reasonably accurate.

Philip Alawonde:

Thanks for your substantive and well-argued response. I appreciate your concern about avoiding misleading language when talking about God, but I would argue that there is a very good reason why we need to (at least sometimes) talk about God as "a being" (albeit one like no other), and that is that substituting "Being" or "Being Itself" or "Pure Being" into many of our assertions about God reduces them to nonsense. Consider the following:

Being is three Persons.
Being created the universe.
Being sent His Son to redeem the world.
Being loves you.
Being wants you to go to Mass on Sundays and holy days.

None of these utterances make any sense. But if we substitute "the Supreme Being" or "the Being Who maintains the universe in existence" into the foregoing sentences, they make perfect sense.

Let me close by noting that when Fr. Frederick Copleston debated Bertrand Russell on the BBC in 1948, he started by defining God as a being.

Copleston: As we are going to discuss the existence of God, it might perhaps be as well to come to some provisional agreement as to what we understand by the term "God." I presume that we mean a supreme personal Being -- distinct from the world and Creator of the world. Would you agree -- provisionally at least -- to accept this statement as the meaning of the term "God"?

Russell: Yes, I accept this definition.

Copleston: Well, my position is the affirmative position that such a Being actually exists, and that His existence can be proved philosophically...

I trust that non-one would call Fr. Copleston a theistic personalist.

I shall bow out of the discussion here, as I've said enough.

Vincent Torley said...

Brandon:

It looks like you posted your comment as I was posting mine. I take your point about Latin not having an indefinite article. Fair enough. However, I note that Volume I of Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles was translated by Anton Charles Pegis (1905-1978), a colleague of Etienne Gilson in their work of the revival of Thomism. James F. Anderson, who translated Volume II, was a Thomist professor of philosophy. I think it's fair to conclude from these translations that Thomists may legitimately speak of God as "a being," even if Aquinas did not. Bye.

Chris said...

This topic is so interesting because it's a double edged blade. Thinking of God as "a" person both attracts people and repels people from classical theism. To the skeptic, this perspective simply confirms their belief that religion is stupid. On the other hand, for many non-skeptics, having a relationship with Being Itself simply doesn't make sense.

Professor Feser dealt with this perfectly in a previous post. God is NOT "a" person. But, He is NOT impersonal. He is personal plus, more than "a" person. A person to us, but unimaginably greater as He Is in Himself.

Philip Alawonde said...

Vincent Torley,

Well, just to point out that I did not say, or did not intend to say, that we should substitute the word 'Being' for all our language about God. For one thing, it would not be any vaguer than the term 'God' itself, and thus rendering the move gratuitous. But such terms as Subsistent Being Itself or Pure Act or Supreme Being only make more sense because they are definitive, in a sense, and are not merely as vague as terms like 'Being' or 'God'.

Moreover, calling God 'Being' would only be strange, not nonsense, as you suppose. After all, we do use the term 'God', and do not claim to be saying nonsense. So, it does not just follow that using 'Being' would reduce specifically Christian claims to nonsense. It would only make things vague and quite unusual. But that's even here nor there since I was not suggesting this swap of words...

Again, my simple point is that this debate merely highlights the limitation of human speech in capturing properly our already limited understanding of God, hence we should be careful enough -- depending on the Thomistic understanding of the audience -- in handling our words. (I'm afraid to say such quibbles about mere words is what repulses many otherwise sympathisers from Thomism, which is not supposed to be since Aquinas himself sought a robust ontological understanding, not merely a conceptual or linguistic one).

Steven Dillon said...

This might be of some help, although I suspect it's opening a metaphysical can of worms too lengthy to address in comboxes:

“[God] is therefore of His essence a form…” – (S.T. I.3.2) But, form is of itself neither universal nor particular. Thus, “God Himself in reality is neither universal nor particular.” (S.T. I.13.9)

Erich said...

@afkimel - Might you provide us with the bibliographical information on Stump's new book? Where did you order it? I'm having no luck searching the web, and I'd very much like to find it. Many thanks.

Brandon said...

I think it's fair to conclude from these translations that Thomists may legitimately speak of God as "a being," even if Aquinas did not.

Assuming it is not misunderstood or used to suggest something that Aquinas did not himself suggest, and assuming that it is recognized that it is an artifact of translation, and assuming it is recognized that the translation may be disputable or may not always be suitable as a benchmark, sure. We can also translate Aquinas into American Sign Language, which has no word that straightforwardly conveys 'being' or 'existence', and translate all the instances of esse by the sign for 'show up / appear', as long as we keep in mind that it is the original, and not the ordinary associations of the term used to translate, that guides the meaning.

Brandon said...

Steven,

I was actually thinking of something similar, from a different direction. In the Commentary on the Metaphysics (7.5 no. 25 [sect. 1380]), St. Thomas says,

Si autem est aliqua res, in qua non sit aliquod accidens, ibi necesse est, quod nihil differat abstractum a concreto. Quod maxime patet in Deo.

"And if there is some thing, in which there is no accident, it is necessary that in it the abstract does not differ in any way from the concrete. Which is most obvious with God."

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Hart certainly isn't a "strict observance" Thomist. It is interesting, though, that his thought has turned much more in the direction of Aquinas and many of his interpreters (such as Balthasar's Heideggerian Thomism, transcendental Thomism (e.g., Rahner and Marachel), and Lonergan). There's a shift, at least in the language he uses and the forms of arguments he deploys, from "Beauty of the Infinite" (where Gregory of Nyssa seems to be the predominate traditional figure) to "The Experience of God".

Steven Dillon said...

Brandon, ah yeah that's a good one. It's due to considerations like these that I think the truth lies somewhere between the Scholastic view of God and the Neo-Platonic view: God is neither one nor many, he is ontologically indifferent.

James said...

@Brandon:

"Latin has no indefinite article; it is literally impossible to call God 'a being' in Latin."

Not a Latin or Thomism expert, but could you not use the ordinal "one" -- unum esse -- if you really needed to specify a being? Aquinas seems to use it this way: "Videtur quod in Christo non sit tantum unum esse, sed duo." (Lit: It seems that in Christ is not only one being, but two.)

laubadetriste said...

@Erich: "@afkimel - Might you provide us with the bibliographical information on Stump's new book? Where did you order it? I'm having no luck searching the web, and I'd very much like to find it. Many thanks."

Seems to be this one.

Brandon said...

Not a Latin or Thomism expert, but could you not use the ordinal "one" -- unum esse -- if you really needed to specify a being? Not a Latin or Thomism expert, but could you not use the ordinal "one" -- unum esse -- if you really needed to specify a being?

Not a Latin expert myself, but certainly if you were translating 'a being' from English into Latin that is one way to do it, depending on what you meant. It's complicated, though, by the fact that 'one' applied to God is always recognized by Aquinas as transcendental -- which means that it would not pick out God as 'a' unit of any kind, but simply as being one in some way or another. More common for doing the kinds of things English does with the indefinite article would be something like 'quidam', which is usually translated as "a certain thing, a particular thing". That would suggest that God was one out of many, though. So, for instance, when commenting on Aristotle's politics, Aquinas notes that a man who was perfectly self-sufficient would need no city because he would be quasi quidam deus, as it were a god, and in Summa Contra Gentiles, he says that in the Beatific Vision will be sicut quidam Deus, just like a god. The 'quidam' practically guarantees that we are not talking about God, but a god out of possibly many. (Which is actually very relevant, of course. When people say that God is not a being but Being, that is in fact exactly parallel to saying that God is not a god but God.)

Sobieski said...

@Brandon and Steven

Those quotes are interesting. I think hashing this all out is just a matter of making the proper distinctions. The subject matter of metaphysics is being in general or being qua being. God is the ultimate principle of being in that science, but not being in general because created being is accidental, whether we consider the being of the nine categories of accident or substantial being. God’s being isn’t accidental, contingent or limited in any way (i.e., it transcends the categories). It is uniquely subsistent being from which all other being is derived, any substance having its being as an accident of sorts, contingent upon God’s creation and conservation. So I can see where one wouldn’t want to say God’s being is abstract or universal in the sense of avoiding pantheism, but it isn’t exactly particular either. Particular being can be thought of as something existing in one of the ten categories, but God’s being can’t be something limited to one of the categories of accident for obvious reasons or even to the category of substance because anything in a category is limited to a genus or kind (finite, composite, etc.) and ultimately couldn’t be considered as a ground for all being. Any being in the category of substance would have its accidental act of being limited or constrained to a certain kind by the correlative essence with which it is composed. God’s being is wholly unique, however, being one and the same with His essence (i.e., not constrained to any kind or in any way whatsoever). This does not make his essence to be nothing, empty or of the greatest paucity, however, as some argue, but the exact opposite inasmuch as we know God to be the analogon for all created being.

Thursday said...

Those are both true of mathematics but I don't think we'd find the same situation there as we are here.

I shouldn't have used the word "immediately" but in both mathematics and empirical science, people get feedback, and this very often leads to issues being permanently resolved in a way that is just not achieved in philosophy.

Al said...

Not a Latin or Thomism expert, but could you not use the ordinal "one" -- unum esse -- if you really needed to specify a being?

Not really, "unum" is just the cardinal number ("primus" is the ordinal). You use it to count, or to contrast (as in the Aquinas passage you quoted). If used as a predicative, it doesn't mean "one" it means "only one, just one".

Example:

Credo Deum esse = I believe God exists.
Credo unum Deum esse = I believe only one God exists.

Hope this helps.

Kyle said...

Boys, boys, boys! (specifically, Ed, and Vincent) Calm down! Calm down!

Look, Vincent, you first. As an occasional fellow warrior over at John "Parsons was nasty to me!" Loftus's blog, I consider you a doughty fellow, and brother in arms. But first, you're no newcomer here, so you ought to know what you're dealing with when it comes to Ed "what do you mean I put a comma in the wrong place!?" Feser. Don't Poke The Bear! Second, you did make a slip. Here's how it looks to the disinterested bystander (a.k.a me):

Here’s what Ed actually said:
“Craig asserts that X asserts P”
Here’s you criticizing Ed for saying:
“Craig asserts P”

Ed protests and asks where on earth he said:
"Craig asserts P"
And he restates his original:
"Craig asserts that X asserts P"

You come back and move the goalposts with:
"Ed, see when you said 'Craig asserts that X asserts P', well you were wrong."

Ed, refusing to be distracted by the high-speed goalposts, tries again, :
"What is it about me saying 'Craig asserts that X asserts P' leads you to claim that I said “Craig asserts P"?'

You keep the goalposts hurtling on their way with:
"I understand that you said 'Craig asserts that X asserts P', but I’m saying you’re wrong"

And then you say:
"And yes, I did listen to Craig's podcast. I can't recall him saying anything there which supports the claim you made about him. If you or anybody else can correct me on this point, I will gladly acknowledge my mistake.”

Yeah, but this point has nothing to do with the podcast. It’s about this blog post and the ensuing comments. And in that context, you *did* make a mistake. Ed said "Craig asserts that X asserts P”; but you claimed that he said "Craig asserts P”.

Ok, now to Ed, who fumed, to Vincent:

"I don't know why you persist...
"...I have no idea why you think...
"...I don't know why you keep ...
"...you did not in fact bother...
"...I don't know why you are wasting ...


Duuuude. Chill! I can smell the cortisol from here.
Life's too short, and Vincent's a pal, so have a beer, eat a cheesecake, or kiss your wife and hug your kids.
Remember, it's all straw anyway. ;-)

There. All better! Back to work.

Dwight Spits said...

Kyle,

That's annoying.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

You are being, shall we say, less than entirely honest; you are wasting my time; and (accordingly) you are ticking me off. Let’s review what you actually said, what Craig actually said, and what I actually said.

In your comment of April 17 at 9:22 AM you wrote:

“You impute to Craig the bizarre view that God has no essence.”

Then in your comment of 11:24 AM on the same day you wrote:

“You write that Craig gives the impression (though you never quote him on this point) that God has no essence. That's not fair to Craig.”

I responded to this in my comment of 12:38 PM, noting there that I never said that Craig thinks God has no essence, but instead had said only that Craig claims that Thomists think that God has no essence. In reply, in your 4:06 PM comment, you neither retracted your charge nor claimed that I had misunderstood your charge. Instead you quoted something from my original post that you (wrongly) supposed backed up your charge.

In my follow-up comment of 4:37 PM, I explained why it did not justify the charge and how you had misread what I wrote.

Only after that, in your 6:13 PM comment, did you suddenly backpedal, saying: “I understand perfectly well that what you attributed to Craig was the (mistaken) view that Thomists think that God has no essence.”

Well, if that really was what you had originally meant, you had three chances to say so -- including after my first clarifying response -- and yet what you actually said in each case was something else.

Re: Craig’s actual words, what he says in the podcast is the following. At 3:07 of the YouTube version he says:

“But in God’s case, the Thomist says, in one sense God doesn’t have an essence.”

And at 4:07:

“We really have no univocal knowledge or concepts of God on Thomism because he doesn’t have an essence that we can grasp.”

Now, it was on the basis of such remarks that I said in my original post that “in characterizing the doctrine of divine simplicity, Craig gives the impression that the doctrine involves, among other things, the [claim]… that God has no essence.” But I also explicitly said in my original post that “in fairness to Craig… his remarks were made in an informal conversational context, and thus cannot reasonably be expected to have the precision that a more formal, written treatment would exhibit” and that “since this is an informal and conversational context, I think we ought to cut Craig some slack.”

Now, given what Craig actually said, together with all the qualifications I made to my characterization of his views, it is just silly for you to pretend that I had misrepresented Craig or been unfair to him.

Re: the stuff about God being “a being,” you write:

So you believe that God is a concrete particular, but not a being. This is a most unusual position: I would have thought it obvious that a concrete particular is a being of some sort, even if it is a being like no other.

Well, sure, if by “a being” you mean “something that exists” (or the like) then of course I would say that God is a being. It’s obvious to any reasonable person that I do not deny that God is a being in that sense. It’s also obvious -- because I’ve said it explicitly about 1,234 times now over the years -- that when I have said that God is not “a being” what I mean by that is that he does not merely participate in being, the way all other things do, but rather just is subsistent being itself.

Here, as with the “You said Craig thinks God has no essence!” stuff, and as with so much of your behavior over the years, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that you are trying to manufacture quibbles where there are none. I envy you the time you have for this crap, but I’d appreciate it if you’d cut it out, because I shouldn’t be wasting my own very limited time having to respond to it.

Edward Feser said...

Kyle,

Sure, that’s all well and good, and most of the time I ignore trolls. But here’s the thing about Vincent. Vincent has a tendency to write 100,000 word articles about me over at Uncommon Descent which are predicated on some stupid straw man he attributes to me and then runs with. Before you know it the UD crowd “knows” that “Feser thinks such-and-such…” So, while even then I prefer to ignore his many errors when I can, sometimes I judge that I’d better head them off at the pass.

And here’s another thing about Vincent. He never just mans up and says “Whoops, my bad” after the first time you point out to him where he’s gone wrong. Instead he digs in his heels as long as he can and only finally cries “Uncle” after you’ve wasted two days citing chapter and verse from the texts he’s misinterpreted, scrolling through his comments to show how he’s tied himself in knots, etc., and made absolutely undeniable something he should have just ‘fessed up to from the get go.

Here’s a third thing about Vincent. Yes, I have been very hard on him over the years when he’s “asked for it,” but I have also sometimes been pretty nice to him. At one point a few months ago he announced he was going to stop posting comments here, and I told him not to leave, that he was welcome to stick around, and that his comments are often very good, insightful, and learned. (All of which is true.) So, when for all that he still does the kind of stuff he’s been doing over the last couple of days, it’s especially annoying

And here’s the thing about me. As should be blindingly obvious to anyone one familiar with my writing output, teaching schedule, family life, etc., I am extremely busy. Extremely. Yesterday was particularly hectic.

So, when I look in the combox and see that Vincent is up to his old tricks and that I have to waste time better devoted to other things to cleaning up one of his messes, do I get a little testy? Damn right I do.

laubadetriste said...

@Dwight Spits: "Kyle, / That's annoying."

Seconded.

Mary said...

I'd like to ask the following probing questions regarding divine simplicity to which I've never found any straigforward answers by thomists.

Given the doctrine of divine simplicity:

1)How is possible for God to be triune? If God is tri-personal, then He is composed of metaphysical parts, namely 3 personal parts or center of consciousness (Father, Son and the Holy Spirit).

2) If God is absolutely simple, then how is it possible for the second person of the Trinity (namely, Christ) to have a physical body after the resurrection (which implies having at least two metaphysical parts, namely a resurrected physical body and a inmaterial soul?

I find these challenges to the doctrine of divine simplicity to be fatal, at least if one is a Christian (obviously, I could be wrong about that).

Please, give me a straigforward answers to these questions (and please, don't simply say that most classical Christian theists have held such a doctrine, because it doesn't answer directly my questions...)

Finally, here is a paper by a philosopher who examines current defenses of divine simplicity and find them wanting... he argues that the doctrine of divine simplicity cannot be true and that being "absolutely simple" is not a possible perfection.

http://philpapers.org/archive/MULSIA-2.pdf

Kyle said...

@Ed:
"As should be blindingly obvious to anyone one familiar with my writing output, teaching schedule, family life, etc., I am extremely busy.

It is obvious, and your output is impressive. And your willingness to tolerate the foibles of people like Vincent and me is appreciated. *You* are appreciated. I wonder if you realize that. In fact I wonder if you realize just quite the extent to which your writing may actually contribute to honest and fer true soul-saving. I mean, getting people to being able to pass some exams, or swat off some NA nonsense is all very useful. Absolutely it is. But it should be a source of some consolation to you that for every temporary point increase in your systolic BP, not only are people learning stuff, someone could actually be moved an inch forward in the overall Right Direction? I personally owe you some thanks on that front, for at least showing how intellect itself can actually do some of the pointing in that Right Direction. Only some of it of course. It's going to take a bit more than only bomb-proof metaphysics to get me fully reverted, but thanks to you I'm at least now thinking "Holy crap! Could all that old Catholic pish actually be true!?" I'm probably imagining things, but since starting reading your stuff I could swear I've spotted, several times out of the corner of my eye, tracking me "with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace", a big-assed Catholic-looking Hound of some sort. (How exactly does a Hound look "Catholic"? you ask. It was wearing a surplice. Obviously.)


@Dwight:
"That's annoying."
Ah c'mon Dwight. Really? I thought it was endearing and mood-lightening.
Look at it again. You'll laugh. You will. You will, you will, you will. Ah, go on, go on, go on... (OK, *that* was probably annoying.)


@Vincent:
Apparently the word is "Uncle". Couldya? Please? Help a poor overworked philosopher get his blood pressure back down a bit.

Kyle said...

@laubadetriste expectorates:
"@Dwight Spits: 'Kyle, / That's annoying.' / Seconded."
Laub my man; look to the right of where you're reading this. Bit more. More. Mo... Yep there.
That's a s-c-r-o-l-l b-a-r. Use it in combination with this advice "You don't have to read every comment." (Me neither, but I just felt so sorry to see you there, clenching away and grinding your teeth, and I couldn't resist giving you a helping hand. You're welcome.)

Tony said...

Mary, I am not sure what you are asking for is possible, here in a combox. There are about 40 or 50 distinctions and metaphysical theses that need to be laid out to get where you want. And many of them are controversial, so simply stating them isn't enough.

St. Thomas lays out the bare bones of the necessary logic in the Summa Theologica, from Questions 2 out to about 43. There is a lot of ground covered there. And many find (me too) that it helps tremendously to have a guide in working through that material.

In a nutshell, (and being totally unfair to the argument), the 3 persons in God is not an objection against divine simplicity, for the three persons are in God by way of processsion, and in God this procession is not outward to a distinct reality, but (as in intellectual operation) an inward operation remaining within the agent. This inward operation does not proceed away from the agent, and the higher the being, the more it remains close to the agent. In the operation of knowing, God knows himself so perfectly that the formulation of his concept of himself is a perfect act, and while in other intellects the conception is in some degree different from the thing known, in God this act is not: no act of his comprehending himself could be adequate to true knowing if the conception were distinct from himself, for being distinct it would be necessarily lesser. Thus in Him the operation of knowing is a wholly perfect act in which the knower and the known are not distinct as to substance, but they differ as to relation. Thus arises the relation of Father to Son. There is no distinction as to substance or essence, only of relation.

That's what I recall of the position. Others, probably, can say it better (like St. Thomas, for sure). This is really only to whet your appetite, not meant as a complete and definitive answer.

laubadetriste said...

@Kyle: "Laub my man; look to the right of where you're reading this. Bit more. More. Mo... Yep there. / That's a s-c-r-o-l-l b-a-r. Use it in combination with this advice 'You don't have to read every comment.' (Me neither, but I just felt so sorry to see you there, clenching away and grinding your teeth, and I couldn't resist giving you a helping hand. You're welcome.)"

:) I grant you a pass for showing me British comedy I haven't seen. Bless you, and go with God and/or whiskey.

(I still vote for not calming down. But then I would, wouldn't I?)

Mary said...

Hi Tony, thanks for your reply. (In my experience, Thomists tend to evade these questions instead of confronting them head-on... so I thank you for your willingness to address them).

In a nutshell, (and being totally unfair to the argument), the 3 persons in God is not an objection against divine simplicity, for the three persons are in God by way of processsion, and in God this procession is not outward to a distinct reality, but (as in intellectual operation) an inward operation remaining within the agent

But this seems to be irrelevant. Even if it were the case that "this procession is not outward to a distint reality but... an inward operation remaining within the agen", this is still true that in the agent iself there are 3 METAPHYSICAL parts (persons or center or consciousness).

If the agent is composed of parts (even as an "inward operation") then it is not simple...

This inward operation does not proceed away from the agent, and the higher the being, the more it remains close to the agent. In the operation of knowing, God knows himself so perfectly that the formulation of his concept of himself is a perfect act, and while in other intellects the conception is in some degree different from the thing known, in God this act is not: no act of his comprehending himself could be adequate to true knowing if the conception were distinct from himself, for being distinct it would be necessarily lesser. Thus in Him the operation of knowing is a wholly perfect act in which the knower and the known are not distinct as to substance, but they differ as to relation. Thus arises the relation of Father to Son.

But how could the Father to be "related" to a Son if there is not distintion at all between Father and the Son?

A is related to B only if A and B are distinct... and it is irrelavant if we are talking about substances, properties or whatever. If A is a substance and B a property, it is still the case that A and B are distinct.

From the Christian perspective, it is IMPOSSIBLE to Christ to be identical to the Father or the the Holy Spirit (as evidenced by the fact that Christ has currently a physical risen body, but the Holy Spirity doesn't...)

I think the essential nature of God as triune is a devastating objection (I'd say a sufficient refutation) of the doctrine of divine simplicity.

But I'm open to be corrected.

This is really only to whet your appetite, not meant as a complete and definitive answer

Thank you very much.







Timocrates said...

@ Mary,

How is my (i) father a (ii) son and a (iii) husband and a (iv) brother without being 4 metaphysically distinct parts at the same time? Not to mention a CEO and many other things? He is, I assure you, just one man. But he is all these things. The law sees him differently in each and every light and treats him differently. But he is all these things at once.

Now a man cannot really be three distinct persons. But God is not "a" thing, even.

To be solitary is an imperfection for any personal being. But God is perfect and personal. How, then, could God be solitary? Is God jealous of us since we enjoy a perfection - relations - that He has and does not?

Brandon said...

If God is tri-personal, then He is composed of metaphysical parts, namely 3 personal parts or center of consciousness (Father, Son and the Holy Spirit).

This is an interesting argument, but what do you mean by 'metaphysical parts' here? In what sense does Christian doctrine require that divine persons be parts at all? It seems inconsistent with every major formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity to say that the Father is only partly God, the Son is only partly God, and the Holy Spirit is only partly God, but this seems to be a further implication of your argument.

In addition, the Thomistic view of simplicity is based on the idea that a composition requires something to be related to something else as actual to potential, but it's not clear how that could possibly enter into the picture here. If the persons themselves are only potential God, only becoming actual God in union, that would do it -- but this seems utterly inconsistent with a very long list of Christian doctrines.

laubadetriste said...

@Timocrates: "How is my (i) father a (ii) son and a (iii) husband and a (iv) brother without being 4 metaphysically distinct parts at the same time? Not to mention a CEO and many other things? He is, I assure you, just one man. But he is all these things. The law sees him differently in each and every light and treats him differently. But he is all these things at once."

Wait, what?

Kyle said...

@laubadetriste said:
"I grant you a pass for showing me British comedy I haven't seen."

Begorrah man, not so loud! It's *Irish*. We'll have the O'Floinn down on our heads with his shillelagh before you can say "Get that horse out my living room ye gobshite" (Yeah, I know he's not actually Irish, but for some reason it just seems like he should be.)

Anonymous said...

Mary, perhaps you could answer a question for me that theistic personalists often evade, in my experience. If God is composite, how is he the ultimate explanation of reality?

Anonymous said...


"I think the essential nature of God as triune is a devastating objection (I'd say a sufficient refutation) of the doctrine of divine simplicity."

Unless you can show that a composite God can be the ultimate explanation of reality, surely it is the other way around, if anything - it is a devastating objection to Trinitarianism.

Steven Dillon said...

What could it mean to say that God is three if not that God is three of something? And what could it mean to say that God is three of something if not that there is something of which God is three? There is no ultimacy on Trinitarianism.

Daniel said...

I think the essential nature of God as triune is a devastating objection (I'd say a sufficient refutation) of the doctrine of divine simplicity.

Unfortunately for fans of the latter we have plenty of good arguments for a simple God and none for a triune one.

Philip Alawonde said...

Mary,

Your suggestion that DT is a devastating refutation of DDS is thoroughly wrong insofar as it presumes that the two doctrines are on the same epistemic pedestal.

But they are not, for first, DDS is something every classical theist is wittingly or otherwise committed to since the doctrine is the locus of the classical theistic conception of God, namely as absolutely basic -- nothing else will do as God on this conception, so that classical theism and DDS stand or fall together. On the other hand, DT is one that only some classical theists hold, namely those Christians of a traditional theological bent. Moreover, these theists hold DT as an article of faith instead of by pure natural reason. Hence most such Christians emphasise the mysterious character of the doctrine and Thomas himself held that it could not be demonstrated.

Therefore, your contention that DT refutes DDS begs the question against the non-Christian classical theist and commits a category error from a traditional Christian perspective.

Mary said...

Thanks for all of you for your vigorous interaction with my questions!

I'll do my best to comment on them.

I preliminary commentary: I think most defenders of divine simplicity doesn't realize the radicality of the doctrine and its implications, specially its theological implications for Christian theism.

I just ask you to reflect more on this from a biblical (not merely philosophical) perspective... just a suggestion.

Tomocrates said:

How is my (i) father a (ii) son and a (iii) husband and a (iv) brother without being 4 metaphysically distinct parts at the same time? Not to mention a CEO and many other things? He is, I assure you, just one man. But he is all these things. The law sees him differently in each and every light and treats him differently. But he is all these things at once

This is an amazingly bad analogy. Your father is one regarding you; but his a son regarding his own father; and a husband regarding his wife and a brother regarding his own brothers and sisters. Note that in all of these cases, the same person is own ONE person with different ROLES depending on the relation being considered.

But this is NOT what the trinity predicates of God. The trinity says that God is 3 persons, not one person in different relationships.

Brandon, more astutely, said:

This is an interesting argument, but what do you mean by 'metaphysical parts' here? In what sense does Christian doctrine require that divine persons be parts at all?

Because the Christian doctrine requires 3 PERSONS (not just one person) in God.

Can you explain to us how could 3 PERSONS to be just ONE absolutely simple entity?

Can you explain how the risen Christ could have a body (which implies having at least two metaphysical parts, namely a body and a soul) and the Holy Spirit doens't, and God is still absolutely simple?

Having a body and the soul implies having distinct (and different) parts, as shown by the fact that you could have souls without bodies (e.g. angels).

It seems inconsistent with every major formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity to say that the Father is only partly God, the Son is only partly God, and the Holy Spirit is only partly God, but this seems to be a further implication of your argument.

My argument doesn't imply that. The Father is fully God but a distinct person than the Holy Spirit. The Son is fully God but a distinct person than the Father and the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is fully God but a distint person than the Father and the Son.

In contrast, the view that God is absolutely simple cannot explain why the risen Christ has a physical body (which, in passing, changes, e.g. move, touch things, etc.) while the Holy Spirity and the Father don't.

Prima facie, there are a bunch of distinct parts (physical bodies, different centers of conciousness, etc.) which is requiered by the Christian God.

n addition, the Thomistic view of simplicity is based on the idea that a composition requires something to be related to something else as actual to potential, but it's not clear how that could possibly enter into the picture here

That's correct, and my objection (if sound) suggests that something is wrong with such metaphysical picture. If Biblical Christianity is correct and the risen Christ has a body which is different than his soul, then it is hard to argue that God is absolutely simple in the way requiered by divine simplicity and it cast doubts on the Thomistic metaphysics.

Mary said...

Dialectically, a clever anonymous ask:

Mary, perhaps you could answer a question for me that theistic personalists often evade, in my experience. If God is composite, how is he the ultimate explanation of reality?

But how exactly that answer my questions? You don't answer a questions simply positing another question. This is a form of evasion, which I anticipate in my previous comment.

Your question assume that Thomistic doctrine that in order to be an ultimate explanation, it has to be absolutely simple. So, your question implicitly begs the question.

Instead of defensively evading my questions with another question, please address them directly.

Anonymous poses another, more interesting comment (which, in passing, shows the self-defeating nature of the doctrineod divine simplicity):

Unless you can show that a composite God can be the ultimate explanation of reality, surely it is the other way around, if anything - it is a devastating objection to Trinitarianism.

A devastating objection to Trinitarianism? This is an amazing concesionary statament (even as a "conditional" statement) that no real Christian could countenance.

If my objection is a devastating objections to Trinitarianism, then it is a devastating objection to Christian theism.

Is rejecting Christianity the price that Thomists who agree with anonymous are willing to pay in order to defend the doctrine of divine simplicity? Is divine simplicity theologically more important than Trinitarianism?

I cannot believe that in order to rationalize the doctrine of divine simplicity, some you are open to deny the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Mary said...

More insightful, Steven Dillon clearly perceives the problem:

What could it mean to say that God is three if not that God is three of something? And what could it mean to say that God is three of something if not that there is something of which God is three? There is no ultimacy on Trinitarianism.

Ergo, if Trinitarianism is true, the doctrine of divine simplicity is false.

This is my point!

Daniel also seems to perceive the tension:

Unfortunately for fans of the latter we have plenty of good arguments for a simple God and none for a triune one.

And the implication is? That God is not triune?

Rejecting that God is tri-personal is a theologically high price to pay for a Christian, simply because the Thomistic metaphysics requires it.

Most contemporary Christian philosophers have realize this problem and (correctly, in my opinion) have rejected this theologically flawed doctrine.

Some years ago, in a lecture of William Lane Craig, he was asked about this doctrine. He mentioned some of the standard objections to divine simplicity but added something like this "Thomas struggled a lot to explain the Trinity given divine simplicity".

Such "in passing" comment by Craig motivated me (in that time I was a Catholic student of philosophy, taught by mostly Thomist teachers) to investigate the answers of Thomists to this problem and, to be honest, I found mostly verbal obfuscation, evasion, question begging assertions and red herrings. I became dissapointed with Thomism.

In any case, I am a great fan of Edward Feser and an avid reader of his books, articles and blog.

Please excuse me if my English is not good, it is not my native language.

Thanks!

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

I had intended to retire from this discussion, as I felt it was getting a bit heated, but people have been clamoring for me to make some acknowledgement of error, so I'm back.

Let me say up-front that I do owe Ed an apology, but I still think he owes Craig one.

First things first. I was being extremely careless when I wrote to Ed: "You impute to Craig the bizarre view that God has no essence." That statement that was clearly wrong. What I should have written was: "You accuse Craig of imputing to Thomists the bizarre view that God has no essence." I didn't actually think that Ed thought that Craig thought that God has no essence. I just expressed myself very, very badly, that's all. In fact, in a later post, I wrote: "Here's what he [Craig] actually says about Aquinas' doctrine of God, the Ground of Being, in an article on the Cosmological Argument..," which was more to the point. Unfortunately, that was followed by yet another post (which I dashed off just as I was about to go out), where I again failed to clarify that what I was concerned about was not Craig's view but Craig's understanding of Aquinas. Finally, in a more recent post, I wrote to Ed: "I understand perfectly well that what you attributed to Craig was the (mistaken) view that Thomists think that God has no essence." I hoped that would clear up matters, but by then the damage was already done. So I'd like to apologize for inaccurately characterizing what Ed wrote. Mea culpa.

That said, the larger issue is: was Ed correct when he wrote, "In characterizing the doctrine of divine simplicity, Craig gives the impression that the doctrine involves, among other things, ... that God has no essence"? And my answer is: "No, he was not." Ed attempts to justify this accusation by quoting what Craig says in his Youtube video, at 3:07, where he says: “But in God’s case, the Thomist says, in one sense God doesn’t have an essence,” and at 4:07, where he says: “We really have no univocal knowledge or concepts of God on Thomism because he doesn’t have an essence that we can grasp.” Neither quote helps his case.

In the quote at 4:07, Craig says that on the Thomist view, God "doesn't have an essence that we can grasp." That's perfectly correct. Aquinas himself says as much. That's very different from saying that God has no essence at all.

In the quote at 3:07, Craig does indeed say, "But in God’s case, the Thomist says, in one sense, God doesn’t have an essence." Note the emphases, everyone. Apparently Ed didn't. And in the very next sentence, Craig goes on: "Rather, God's essence just is the Pure Act of Being, which is not something that can be grasped by the intellect." That's a perfectly accurate statement of the Thomist view.

Methinks I am not the only person around here with reading problems.

As I said, I still think Ed should apologize for misrepresenting Craig on this point, although I will note in all fairness that in the final paragraph of his post, he endeavors to be more charitable when he writes: "But again, since this is an informal and conversational context, I think we ought to cut Craig some slack."

That's enough for one post. I hope I have finally cleared a few things up.





Erich said...

@laubadatriste - thanks for the info!

David M said...

Mary, I think you are misled if you think that for Aquinas God's "absolute simplicity" precludes all multiplicity. Obviously it doesn't. The "absolute simplicity" in question is the simplicity that is required in order for us to understand God as the unique first (and final and efficient) cause of the universe. The doctrine follows from metaphysical demonstration, and thus the meaning of the term must be interpreted in that context, coordinately with the grounds of the demonstration. The meaning of divine simplicity must be understood as a mode of (truly) understanding God which is necessarily in harmony and complementary to every other true way of understanding God (as perfect, good, immutable, eternal, one, etc.), even though each of these (true) ways remain necessarily rationally distinct (for us). And the same thing applies when we introduce predications based on revelation. These predications too must (a) be interpreted in context and (b) understood as modes of (truly) understanding God that are in harmony with every other way of (truly) understanding God.

Mary said...

Alawonde commented:

Your suggestion that DT is a devastating refutation of DDS is thoroughly wrong insofar as it presumes that the two doctrines are on the same epistemic pedestal.

Not at all. My suggestion only presumes that the two doctrines are logically incompatible. That's all.

My interest here is not epistemic, but logical. If you accept that God is triune, then you cannot accept divine simplicity and viceversa.

Hence most such Christians emphasise the mysterious character of the doctrine and Thomas himself held that it could not be demonstrated

Right, but this is irrelevant. I'm not asking for "demostrations" of the trinity.

I'm asking to examine the problem posed by the Trinity to divine simplicity.

If God is absolutely simple in the Thomistic way, how could He be triune in the Trinitarian sense?

Questions about epistemology, socio-historical surveys of what most Christians have believed, etc. are red herrings.

Moreover, these theists hold DT as an article of faith instead of by pure natural reason.

More red herrings. The question is not how Christians hold Trinitarianism (if by faith, or reason or whatever). The question is: If God is triune, is God absolutely simple in the Thomistic sense?

Therefore, your contention that DT refutes DDS begs the question against the non-Christian classical theist and commits a category error from a traditional Christian perspective

Not at all. I'm not arguing against non-Christian theists assuming Christian doctrines (this would be begging the question against these theists)

Rather, I'm positing my questions as an "in-house" debate among Christians. Since Thomists in this blog are Christians, my appealing to Christian doctrines as potential objections to Thomism is dialectically valid.

Steven Dillon said...

Mary: But, the order of logical operations requires that revealed theology takes natural theology for granted, since natural theology comes first in the ordo cognoscendi. Since Divine Simplicity rules a Trinitarian nature out, it provides the material for a powerful argument against Christianity. Indeed, it rules out every major religion in one fell swoop for similar reasons. This needn't mean that YHWH or Allah do not exist. Rather it implies that they are deities, not God. This is strongly suggestive of the Neo-Platonic view which explained religions as being in relation to deities directly, and God through them. The widespread confusion of deities with God is only to be expected given how difficult it is even for the most qualified to get natural theology right, let alone the founders of religions who tend not to even approximate being "most qualified."

Mary said...

Davi M wrote:

Mary, I think you are misled if you think that for Aquinas God's "absolute simplicity" precludes all multiplicity. Obviously it doesn't. The "absolute simplicity" in question is the simplicity that is required in order for us to understand God as the unique first (and final and efficient) cause of the universe

Yes, absolute simplicity precludes all multiplicity in God. It explicitly denies that God is composed of metaphysical parts. God is not multiple if divine simplicity is true.

You're conflating divine simplicity with Thomistic conceptions on causation. They're metaphysically related but are NOT the same doctrines.

God being absolutely simple implies the negation of God having parts or being composed or allowing multiplicity in God.

But the Trinity implies a multiplicity of PERSONS in God. In addition, one of such persons (the risen Christ) has a physical body in addition to a soul and this implies multiplicity of metaphysical parts.

The problem must be faced and reflected on with utmost objectivity, not evaded or rationalized.

Mary said...

Steven Dillon wrote:

Mary: But, the order of logical operations requires that revealed theology takes natural theology for granted, since natural theology comes first in the ordo cognoscendi. Since Divine Simplicity rules a Trinitarian nature out, it provides the material for a powerful argument against Christianity.

That's my point. If Trinitarianism is essential to Christianity and divine simplicity rules out trinitarianism, then divine simplicity refutes Christianity!

But then why Thomists are Christians? If Dillon is right, being a Thomist and being a Christian are incompatible.

And I agree!

This is part of the reason why most contemporary Christian philosophers have rejected divine simplicity.

David M said...

And in the very next sentence, Craig goes on: "Rather, God's essence just is the Pure Act of Being, which is not something that can be grasped by the intellect." That's a perfectly accurate statement of the Thomist view.
Except it's not. If it were not graspable by the Thomist's intellect, it could in no way be asserted by the Thomist to be true. (So I think we should stop cutting Craig all this slack and demand he apologize for messing things up so badly. ;) )

Steven Dillon said...

Mary: Ah, my mistake, I thought you were suggesting that Christianity ought to be salvaged by scrapping Divine Simplicity. It is unclear to me why Thomists -- and other Scholastic thinkers -- have been persuaded that God could be three without being three of something; but, I think their arguments are among the most creative in philosophy.

David M said...

"Yes, absolute simplicity precludes all multiplicity in God."

Mary: No, it clearly doesn't. You've simply ignored what I explained to you and begged the question.

"If Trinitarianism is essential to Christianity and divine simplicity rules out trinitarianism, then divine simplicity refutes Christianity!"

Except that divine simplicity is (obviously!) just as essential to Christianity as Trinitarianism. So in fact your inability to see the compatibility between these two doctrines implies your inability to be a coherently believing Christian.

David M said...

"Except that divine simplicity is (obviously!) just as essential to Christianity as Trinitarianism" - that's actually misleading. In fact divine simplicity is essential (directly) to Trinitarianism itself (n.b.: Trinitarianism is not the belief that there are three Gods - "tri-theism").

Mary said...

David M wrote:

You've simply ignored what I explained to you and begged the question.

Ignored? I argued that you conflated divine simplicity with Thomistic conceptions on causation. You have not refuted this.

You mischaracterize divine simplicity as meaning that God is the first, formal, efficient and ultimate cause. But all of this, while entailed by divine simplicity, is NOT what divine simplicity MEANS.

You conflate the meaning of a doctrine with its logical implications.

Except that divine simplicity is (obviously!) just as essential to Christianity as Trinitarianism. So in fact your inability to see the compatibility between these two doctrines implies your inability to be a coherently believing Christian.

Obviously? I guess such "obvious" thing are missed by contemporary Christian philosophers and most believing Christians in the world who, if David is right, suffer too of an inability to be coherently believing Christians.

In any case David, let's avoid to turn this into a sterile polemic and let's come back to specifics.

Since i'm not sure I've understood your own position well, I ask you these couple of questions:

1) Do you think there are MULTIPLICITY OF PARTS in the Christian God's being? Yes or not?

2) Do you think the risen Christ has currently a physical body? If yes, then do you think the risen Jesus has at least two composed parts, namely a risen body and a soul?

Thanks

Philip Alawonde said...

Mary,

You failed to note my point, therefore I'll be more direct.

First, this may be irrelevant, but you're assuming every classical theist on this blog is a Christian Thomist, but that's neither here or there for now.

Your point is that if we assume the truth of DT, then DDS cannot be true. We can say two things about this claim. The first is that you have not demonstrated it; you merely made an assertion, which does not necessarily make it true.

Secondly, and more importantly, you cannot possibly demonstrate it, for DT is mysterian in nature. That is, it is not something that can be properly understood by us humans (according to all its traditional commentators). If it's impossible to understand, you cannot then coherently claim that it contradicts DDS. (This was the kernel of my previous comment, which you obviously misinterpreted.)

David M said...

Mary: Ignored? I argued that you conflated divine simplicity with Thomistic conceptions on causation. You have not refuted this.

Yes, ignored. You gave no argument and your assertions continue to flatly ignore what I explained.

To your questions:
(1) It depends what you mean by that.
(2) Yes. Yes. (But the risen Christ is not therefore "part human, part God." He is fully human and fully God. He fully partakes of the subsistent unity proper to God (the simple divine nature), and he fully partakes of the created unity proper to human beings (who have a created, composite nature).)

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

I'd like to set the record straight on a couple of comments Ed made about me, above.

Ed accuses me of having a tendency to write 100,000 word articles about him over at Uncommon Descent which are predicated on some stupid "straw man" I attributes to him.

For the record, I have written several posts in which I say some very nice things about Ed, praising him as a philosopher and urging readers to buy his books. (See also my e-book, "Embryo and Einstein: Why they're equal" at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/prolife.html , which I linked to in a post on Uncommon Descent at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/embryo-and-einstein-why-theyre-equal/ .)

Re the length of my posts: yes, some of them are long, and if you're wondering how I managed to write them, the short answer is: by getting by on an average of four hours' sleep a night, for several years. I might mention that I work seven days a week, and I usually get home around 9:30 or 10 p.m., so if Ed thinks he's busy, so am I.

At any event, my longer posts usually have an executive summary at the beginning and/or an appendix for some of the more technical stuff. So if Ed wanted to cut to the chase, he could easily do that. Here are three old posts of mine that I really wish he would respond to, as they go right to the heart of his arguments about the nature of God:

(1) "Fixing Feser’s Fifth: Why his up-to-date version of Aquinas’ Fifth Way fails as a proof, and how to make it work" at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/feser6.html (which has an executive summary at the beginning);

(2) "On not putting all your theological eggs into one basket" at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/on-not-putting-all-your-theological-eggs-into-one-basket/ (my objections to Feser's defense of the Five Ways are summarized in Part C); and

(3) "Do Christians worship many gods?" at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/do-christians-worship-many-gods/ (which addresses 16 specific claims relating to classical theism, followed by an in-depth discussion in the Appendix).

Readers of these posts will notice that I write courteously about Ed, despite our disagreements, and that I have bent over backwards to quote Ed's views accurately. Also, most of my criticisms are constructive.

On the topic of Intelligent Design, I have extended the olive branch to Thomists more than once. See here for instance: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/building-a-bridge-between-scholastic-philosophy-and-intelligent-design/ . It's a pity no-one took up my offer.

Ed also claims that I am reluctant to acknowledge my mistakes. I have my faults, so I won't attempt to defend myself, except to say that readers of this blog know that I have acknowledged mistakes on my part, on a few occasions in the past. However, I really wish that Ed would "man up" (to use his words) and acknowledge his own mistakes.

Take, for instance, what he says about the philosopher William Paley, which is a total mis-characterization of Paley's views, as I showed here:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/was-paley-a-classical-theist-and-does-his-design-argument-lead-us-to-a-false-god/
http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/was-paley-a-mechanist/

Or take his approving citation of Professor Christopher F. J. Martin, in his post, "Thomism versus the design argument" ( http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/03/thomism-versus-design-argument.html , March 15, 2011): "The Being whose existence is revealed to us by the argument from design is not God but the Great Architect of the Deists and Freemasons, an impostor disguised as God, a stern, kindly, and immensely clever old English gentleman, equipped with apron, trowel, square and compasses." That's really going over the top. I don't like to see the Intelligent Design movement being accused of worshiping a false God.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

I wrote an apology to Ed about an hour ago, but it seems to have disappeared into Ed's spam filter and moderation box. It took quite a while to write, and I really don't feel like writing it out again. I hope that Ed will be kind enough to retrieve it.

Brandon said...

Mary,

You didn't explain what you mean by 'metaphysical parts', nor why you think divine persons have to be parts in the first place.

The Father is fully God but a distinct person than the Holy Spirit. The Son is fully God but a distinct person than the Father and the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is fully God but a distint person than the Father and the Son.

Your claim is that the divine persons are parts of God; which implies that each is partly God, not fully God. If you say that the Father is part of God, and the Son is part of God, and the Spirit is part of God, and they are not the same part, they are different parts of God. On the other hand, if the Father is wholly God, and the Son is wholly God, and the Spirit is wholly God, how do parts enter into the discussion at all? That would make each the whole, not a part.

David M said...

I'm just repeating myself in other words, but this is a really basic point:
If you think that the doctrine of divine simplicity is separable from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, then you've badly misunderstood the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. (And if most professing Christians badly misunderstand the most basic Christian doctrine, then so much the worse for most professing Christians.)

Mary said...

David, I let the readers to decide if I ignored your point or not, or if my claim that you mischaracterize divine simplicity was correct or not.

Phillip,

First, this may be irrelevant, but you're assuming every classical theist on this blog is a Christian Thomist, but that's neither here or there for now.

Wrong. I only assumed that in this blog there are Christian Thomists (after all, Edward Feser is a Thomist who write mostly things related to religion from a Thomistic perspective and as this post by Feser illustrates it).

I never assumed that "EVERY" classical theist in this blog is a Christian Thomist. This assumption would be uttely ridiculous, since hardly any blog on the internet is read only for people of a single religion.

Your point is that if we assume the truth of DT, then DDS cannot be true. We can say two things about this claim. The first is that you have not demonstrated it; you merely made an assertion, which does not necessarily make it true.

I demostrate with the example of the risen Christ having a physical body. Since a body is a physical substance, and a soul is another substance, it follows that the risen Christ has TWO metaphysical parts and hence it is incompatible with absolute simplicity.

Do you, Phillip, agree with David M that divine simplicity doesn't preclude divine multiplicity?

Secondly, and more importantly, you cannot possibly demonstrate it, for DT is mysterian in nature.

But then your first charge is rhetorical. You first charge criticize me for not doing what, in your thnking, is not possible to do, namely to demostrate, with arguments, the said contradiction!

Now I agree that the only way a Thomist can accept both incompatible doctrines is affirming that one of them is a mysterious and that the human reason cannot grasp it. (This is aclever way to avoid the contradiction)

But then the question becomes if the Trinity is mystery or not.

So, I ask you Phillip to give me an argument for the conclusion that the trinity is a mystery and therefore it cannot be coherently claimed to be contradictory with divine simplicity.

Mary said...

Brandon,

I take "metaphysical parts" to be a conceptual primitive. A sufficient condition of being a "metaphysical part" is having a physical body.

A physical body is an entity. Since the risen Christ has a physical body, but the Father doesn'tm, it follows that God has at least two parts in his composition.

Do you Brandon, seriously, think that the physical body of Christ is not a part which was added to God after Jesus' resurrection and that didn't exist before Jesus' incarnation? Adding a physical body to the second person of the trinity seems to imply a change (adding a physical component to) an absolutely simple being.

If you say that the Father is part of God, and the Son is part of God, and the Spirit is part of God, and they are not the same part, they are different parts of God.

If you deny that the Holy Spirit is part of God (because it makes it partially God) can you explain why the Holy Spiriy doesn't have a body but the Risen Jesus does?

Do you think the Holy Spirit is identical to the Risen Jesus? If not, then which is the difference between them?

By the way, I misuse the expression "fully God", I should have used "truly God". The holy Spirit is trutly god, but not fully in the absence of the Father and the Son (just think about atonement in the absence of the Son).





Mary said...

So, the correct formulation of the Trinity that I intented is that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each TRUTLY God. But not "fully" God, otherwise one of them could exist without the other.

Mr. Green said...

Mary: I think most defenders of divine simplicity doesn't realize the radicality of the doctrine and its implications, specially its theological implications for Christian theism.

Funny, the defenders think that their opponents don't realise the implications of denying it! But after all, the Bible is quite clear that God is one, so merely recommending a biblical perspective will not solve the issue (though it is always good to keep a biblical view in mind, of course).

Can you explain to us how could 3 PERSONS to be just ONE absolutely simple entity?

Yes: because God is wholly other compared to creatures, and the distinction of Persons is a distinction of relationship, not of parts. Of course this is very difficult to understand, because God is not like anything else — no man, no angel, no thing that we know has a nature like this, or ever could, so it is not something our finite minds can grasp. But we cannot really grasp God's oneness, either — we think we can, because we think it is the same kind of oneness that one stone has, or one angel, or one number, or my one self... yet God transcends me and stones, and even angels and numbers.

Can you explain how the risen Christ could have a body (which implies having at least two metaphysical parts, namely a body and a soul) and the Holy Spirit doens't, and God is still absolutely simple?

Because Christ's body is not God. God does not, qua God, have any body. The Son does not have a "divine body"; He has a human body, indeed a complete human nature, and that human nature has parts, as all humans must. But those are human parts, not God-parts.

The Father is fully God but a distinct person than the Holy Spirit. [etc.]

And that is why we cannot call the Persons "parts". If, somehow, we could separate God the Father from the Son and the Holy Spirit, we would not have one-third of God. We would have God full and complete, because each Person of the Trinity is fully God. That is just why we cannot say the Persons are parts. There is a distinction of some sort (or rather, not like any "kind" or "sort"!), but it is not a physical or metaphysical part.

You don't answer a questions simply positing another question. This is a form of evasion

It's perfectly reasonable: if you cannot answer his question because there is no other possibility, then, having eliminated the impossible, what remains must be the truth (no matter how much trouble we have understanding it).

I cannot believe that in order to rationalize the doctrine of divine simplicity, some you are open to deny the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. [...] Most contemporary Christian philosophers have realize this problem

Sure; and I cannot believe that in order to rationalise [an unorthodox interpretation of] the Trinity, you are open to denying God's unity and transcendence…. And some (not "most"!) Christian philosophers may think it's a problem, but why did it take them so long? Divine simplicity has been orthodox Church doctrine for a long time — and the Church is the authority for Divine Simplicity and for the doctrine of the Trinity. If you think that the Church could be wrong about this, then why don't you think they could be wrong about the Trinity too (or instead)? Maybe the Divine Persons really are just "modes" (as in Timocrates's example) instead of distinct Relations? If the Church is not authoritative on such points, then Divine Simplicity is still in a better position than the Trinity, because it has more solid and more approachable arguments that are amenable to human reason.

Please excuse me if my English is not good, it is not my native language.

I hadn't even suspected that English was not your native tongue.

Mary said...

In order to formulate more correctly the points of disagreement in this debate, I'll pose the following questions to Brandon (with my answers following them):

1)If the risen Christ added a physical body to his composition and Christ is part of God, it doesn't follow that a change (namely, adding a body) and a part (namely, a corporeal substance) was added to an absolutely simple being?

My answer: YES.

But is seems to imply change and addition for God which is incompatible with divine simplicity.

2)If the Father is part of God, and the Son is part of God, and the Spirit is part of God, and they are not the same part, they are different parts of God.

Answer: Yes, but each is trutly God, but not fully God. Why? because if the holy spirit is fully God and it doesn't have a body, then since it is "full", it becomes inexplicable the addition of a body to Christ and the existence of the Father.

Fully implies than no addition or perfection can be made or added, otherwise it is not full.

3) Is the risen Christ's body not a part of God?

Answer: yes it is, after the resurrection, for the reasons mentioned above.

God was different before the resurrection than after it.

Brandon, please give me an asnwer to these questions and the reasons of your view.

Mary said...

Because Christ's body is not God. God does not, qua God, have any body. The Son does not have a "divine body"; He has a human body, indeed a complete human nature, and that human nature has parts, as all humans must. But those are human parts, not God-parts.

I didn't say that Christ's body is God. I say that Christ's body is part of the risen Christ and THEREFORE of God.

The human parts that you mention, if part of Christ, then part of God.

Ergo, divine simplicity is...

:)

Gottfried said...

Mary,

Just to be clear, are you aware that much of what you are saying is at odds not just with Thomism, but with almost the entirety of Christian tradition?

Tony said...

Anonymous asks Mary:

Mary, perhaps you could answer a question for me that theistic personalists often evade, in my experience. If God is composite, how is he the ultimate explanation of reality?

Mary replies

But how exactly that answer my questions? You don't answer a questions simply positing another question. This is a form of evasion, which I anticipate in my previous comment.

Your question assume that Thomistic doctrine that in order to be an ultimate explanation, it has to be absolutely simple. So, your question implicitly begs the question.


This is not an acceptable response, Mary. You asked a reasonable question. But you are not a prosecutor with a defendant sitting in the witness chair. This is an OPEN discussion. Just as we can be asked questions, you can be asked questions. It is true that his question didn't answer yours. That's not what it was for, it was for asking YOU a question. A fair, honest, completely reasonable question. So, we'll re-ask it: Assuming that God is the ultimate explanation of reality, does this permit a composite God?

Now, getting to my own complaint: You asked how is it possible for a simple God to be triune, since being triune means having 3 "metaphysical parts".

I answered your question in a certain way, and you just blew my answer off. Your response didn't actually tackle my response, you just denied it:

But this seems to be irrelevant. Even if it were the case that "this procession is not outward to a distint reality but... an inward operation remaining within the agen", this is still true that in the agent iself there are 3 METAPHYSICAL parts (persons or center or consciousness).

My answer dealt the thesis that the Trinity means 3 metaphysical parts: it DOESN'T mean that, not in the sense YOU imply. If you understood what is implied in saying that the in the intellectual act of knowing himself, the knower and the known are the same in substance (in God, of course), you would't come back with "3 metaphysical parts". The relations of knower to known JUST IS the multiplicity needed for the Trinity, but it is not the multiplicity of "parts." Nor of "consciousnesses". Being one God, God has one intellect, one will (which is, again not multiplicity of parts), so there is not one intellect for the Father and another for the Son, they both have God's intellect, one and entire. This treatment of "parts" in God is absolutely necessary to preserve the ONENESS of God, and it is better explained by Thomas's simplicity: the intellect being of the same substance as the act of knowing in God.

You have to ADDRESS the position, not merely ignore it. And please stop assuming, in this discussion, that the Trinity implies multiplicity of metaphysical parts: you have asserted this over and over, but you have not explained it (what do you mean by "parts" and "metaphysical") nor have you established it. So far it is a bald assertion which is part of the disputed question.

So let me ask my own question: in your view, does God having 3 consciousnesses imply that each one knows and loves by separate acts of knowing and loving?

Philip Alawonde said...

Mary,

I'll ignore your first reply since it's largely irrelevant except as a lesson in (mis)interpretation, but, hey, let's get on to the meat!

You demonstrate the contradiction thus: If DT is true, then Jesus is God. Since whatever is God must be simple (DDS), then Jesus must be simple. But Jesus is composed.

This is quite valid, but there are problems with some premises here which you blithely assume: First, you assume that when DT affirms that Jesus is God, it is to be understood as identifying Jesus and God. That is, you need to demonstrate that Jesus is identical to God. Also, you assume that Jesus *is* composed. But how do you know this, since DT, which we're assuming for argument sake, does not entail it? Thus, you need to demonstrate also that Jesus did not change upon ascension.

Concerning your question: No, DDS does preclude multiplicity in God; what it doesn't preclude is that intelligent creatures can necessarily only know God compositely.

Finally, it's not I who claims that DT is a mystery.

Tony said...

I didn't say that Christ's body is God. I say that Christ's body is part of the risen Christ and THEREFORE of God.

Mary, you seem to raise this as if it were a newly recognized problem for Thomistic treatment of God, but it is not. It is, rather, a problem for ALL Christian treatment of the Incarnation. Every Christological theory has to wrestle with this, not just Thomism. Every theory has to figure out how to say "Christ has a body" without saying "God is a bodily kind of being". And Thomas did deal with it, to the extent that the mystery allows us (and yes, it remains a mystery, so it is unreasonable to expect an absolutely comprehensive answer): the Son "assumed" human nature, but that does not imply that human nature became "part" of God, such language is simply too imprecise to be acceptable.

As was said above (Article 1), assumption implies two things, viz. the act of assuming and the term of assumption. Now the act of assumption proceeds from the Divine power, which is common to the three Persons, but the term of the assumption is a Person. Hence what has to do with action in the assumption is common to the three Persons; but what pertains to the nature of term belongs to one Person in such a manner as not to belong to another; for the three Persons caused the human nature to be united to the one Person of the Son.

Christ's body is part of the composite that consists of the human body-soul composite of Christ. But the Son does not assume human nature in such wise that the human nature becomes part of divinity. There is composition in Christ, but NOT in God simply speaking. St. Thomas, on whether the _person_ of Christ is composite:

The Person or hypostasis of Christ may be viewed in two ways. First as it is in itself, and thus it is altogether simple, even as the Nature of the Word. Secondly, in the aspect of person or hypostasis to which it belongs to subsist in a nature; and thus the Person of Christ subsists in two natures. Hence though there is one subsisting being in Him, yet there are different aspects of subsistence, and hence He is said to be a composite person, insomuch as one being subsists in two.

And, by the way, the Thomist doctrine of simplicity has almost nothing to do with this explanation. This all comes out of the 3rd & 4th century solutions of Christ's divine and human nature. There is no call to lay issues with this at the foot of the doctrine of simplicity of GOD, the problem arises whether God is simple or not.

Steven Dillon said...

A1. God lacks all metaphysical parts.
A2. Supposit and nature are metaphysical parts.

1. To be one or more is to be the suppositum or supposita of a nature. [Premise]
2. God is three. [Assume for reductio]
3. Therefore, God is the supposita of a nature. [From (1), (2)]
4. Therefore, God has metaphysical parts. [From (3), (A2)]
5. Therefore, God does and does not lack all metaphysical parts. [Reductio, (4), (A1)]

David M said...

"David, I let the readers to decide if I ignored your point or not, or if my claim that you mischaracterize divine simplicity was correct or not."

Mary, why not just re-read what I wrote:
"I think you are misled if you think that for Aquinas God's "absolute simplicity" precludes all multiplicity. Obviously it doesn't. The "absolute simplicity" in question is the simplicity that is required in order for us to understand God as the unique first (and final and efficient) cause of the universe. The doctrine follows from metaphysical demonstration, and thus the meaning of the term must be interpreted in that context, coordinately with the grounds of the demonstration. The meaning of divine simplicity must be understood as a mode of (truly) understanding God which is necessarily in harmony and complementary to every other true way of understanding God (as perfect, good, immutable, eternal, one, etc.), even though each of these (true) ways remain necessarily rationally distinct (for us). And the same thing applies when we introduce predications based on revelation. These predications too must (a) be interpreted in context and (b) understood as modes of (truly) understanding God that are in harmony with every other way of (truly) understanding God."

Now if you're genuinely and sincerely interested in understanding, you should stop worrying about what other readers might think, and try for yourself to see that you have ignored my explanation here. You have simply insisted that "divine simplicity" means something in some absolute logical sense, independently of the context in which the truth of "divine simplicity" has been demonstrated. But that is just silly. You have offered no reason for thinking that, have you?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

Mary kindly emailed me with a copy of R. T. Mullins' article at http://philpapers.org/archive/MULSIA-2.pdf . I'd like to offer my two own take on the article, since so many readers have raised questions about it. I have to say that Mullins writes engagingly and lucidly, even if his arguments are questionable on some points.

First, I'd like to address Mary's questions: do the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation disprove the doctrine of Divine simplicity? My answer is no.

Mary writes: "But the Trinity implies a multiplicity of PERSONS in God. In addition, one of such persons (the risen Christ) has a physical body in addition to a soul and this implies multiplicity of metaphysical parts."

Let's deal with Jesus Christ first. Jesus Christ is one Divine Person (God the Son) in two natures (divine and human). His human nature is composite, but it is not part of His divine nature, which is simple. Nor is His human nature part of His divine personality. Rather, it is assumed by His divine personality. His human will is free, but wholly subordinate to His divine will.

The Trinity clearly implies three persons in the one God, but it does not imply three parts. That would only be the case if each person were less than the whole, or if one or more persons were separable from the others, or if one person were somehow actualized by the others. None of these statements is true.

God necessarily knows and loves Himself perfectly, and His self-knowledge and His self-love (a.k.a. God the Son and God the Holy Spirit) are necessarily personal. The three persons are therefore inseparable: each person is a necessary and sufficient condition for the reality of the other persons. Since each person implies the reality of the two others (which is what the doctrine of circumincession, or perichoresis, refers to), it would be wrong to speak of each person being less than the whole. Nor can we speak of the Son as actualizing the Father, by being generated by Him, since (a) the Son is co-eternal with the father and (b) it is not possible for the Father not to generate the Son.

Now to Mullins' three arguments:

(1) "My individual essence exists in this universe, so it cannot be instantiated in another universe in the actual world. He could create another universe with an essence similar to mine, but it will not be my individual essence. If there is a possible universe, different from this one, that contains my individual essence, God cannot actualize it since He has already actualized this one. As such, God has unactualized potential. There is a universe He might have created."

(2) "Could God have refrained from creating the universe? If God is free then it seems that the answer is obviously 'yes.' He could have existed alone. Yet, God did create the universe. If there is a possible world in which God exists alone, God is not simple. He eternally has unactualized potential for He cannot undo His act of creation. He could cease to sustain the universe in existence, but that would not undo His act of creating."

(3) "To say that only the Son could have become incarnate is to say that there is an essential property, not a personal or notional property which the Son has that the other divine persons do not have. As such, the Son would not be of the same essence of the Father and Spirit... If it is a real possibility that the Father or Spirit could have become incarnate, then this is an unactualized potential in God. As such, God is not simple."

Here's my response... (to be continued).

Vincent Torley said...

Continued...

(3) is not a very strong argument. I hold that only the Son could have become incarnate, precisely because He has the personal property of being the Word or self-expression of God. Since God incarnate is simply the self-expression of God manifest in the flesh, only the Word of God can become incarnate.

(1) and (2) are much better arguments, and I've made a similar argument myself. I would rephrase them as follows. Just as an author is in some way actualized (in a way that he might not otherwise have been) by the mere fact of writing a book, so too, God, the Author of Nature, is (timelessly) actualized in a way that He might not otherwise have been, by the mere fact of deciding (timelessly) to create this world, with me in it: He is the Creator of Heaven and earth (by virtue of His free choice to create). Thus it seems God cannot be Pure Act.

Personally, I don't find this conclusion at all distressing. The Fourth Lateran Council only decreed that God's essence is simple; it didn't rule out the possibility of God having accidental properties which (timelessly) actualize Him. Moreover, God's free decision to create in no way adds anything to His essence, since it is already infinite in knowledge, love and power. In God's case, actualization does not make Him any greater or more actual than He would otherwise have been. (Infinity plus one is still infinity.)

I should mention that the Thomist philosopher Dr. Eleonore Stump, in her talk at https://soundcloud.com/thomisticinstitute/dr-eleonore-stump-the-personal-god-of-classical-theism-4416 , suggests that no matter what world God chooses to create, God acts with all His energy with His whole self (and not part) in creating and conserving a world. (Or words to that effect.) So on Dr. Stump's reading, God is fully actualized, no matter which world He makes. And if He had chosen to create no world at all, He would still (presumably) be fully actualized by His act of knowing and loving Himself, on Dr. Stump's view.

I have problems with this argument. A contingent act (creation) cannot be identical with a necessary one (God's act of knowing and loving Himself). If God chooses to create a world, then clearly there is something additional that He does, that He wouldn't have done if He'd chosen not to make one. That's why I think classical theists should bite the bullet and maintain that only God's essence is altogether simple. My two cents.

David M said...

(A2) is false in the case of God.
Thus (4) is a non sequitur.

laubadetriste said...

On the contention (here disputed, but set that aside for the moment) that Thomists cannot say how incoherent doctrines X and Y cohere, could it not be the case that they have very good arguments for X, and also very good arguments for Y, and it is more likely that doctrines X and Y cohere in some unknown way, than that the arguments either for X or for Y fail?

Mary said...

First, you assume that when DT affirms that Jesus is God, it is to be understood as identifying Jesus and God. That is, you need to demonstrate that Jesus is identical to God.

On the contrary! My whole point is that Jesus and the Father are both part of God (that is, both are distinct persons of the same God).

If I demostrate that Jesus is identifical to God, then I'd be destroying Trinitarianism.

Jesus is identical to the second person of tritnity which in turn is one of the persons that conforms the Godhead.

Also, you assume that Jesus *is* composed. But how do you know this, since DT, which we're assuming for argument sake, does not entail it?

Because he has a physical body, which he lacked before the incarnation.

Before the incarnation, he was purely immaterial. After the incarnation, his immaterial part added a physical body, exactly as will occur to us after the resurrection.

This implies CHANGE and ADDITION, which are impossible if God is absolutely simple.

Concerning your question: No, DDS does preclude multiplicity in God; what it doesn't preclude is that intelligent creatures can necessarily only know God compositely

I agree with you about it. But my question has nothing to do with how creatures know something, it has to do with the metaphysics of God.

By the way, your claim that DDS precludes multiplicity in God contradicts David M's claim that divine simplicity doesn't preclude multiciplicity in God.

David M charged me that I misunderstood divine simplicity and ignored his own arguments, but I suspect that even some thomists here have not a clear idea of what divine simplicity means... as the above contradiction suggest.

Now I understand why Craig's contention is that such a doctrine is unintelligible... and I'd add, it is melleable enough to allow a Jesus with a physical body to belong to (or be part of) a triune God which is absolutely simple and changeless.

Steven Dillon said...

David: "(A2) is false in the case of God."

A2 is a metaphysical thesis and therefore precedes the doctrine of the Trinity in the ordo cognoscendi. One cannot reject A2 on the basis of the Trinity without begging the question. If A2 is to be shown false, it must be shown to be on the basis of metaphysics.

You concede that there is supposita and nature in God, which requires that God is a compound of supposita and nature. As I said, there is no ultimacy in God on Trinitarianism: it surrenders ultimacy to the nature of which God is the supposita.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Mary,

One more thing. God does not have three centers of consciousness, but one. This was a point I addressed in my Uncommon Descent post at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/do-christians-worship-many-gods/ :

"...[I]n its article on the Trinity, the Catholic Encyclopedia declares that in God, 'the same mind will have a three-fold consciousness, knowing itself in three ways in accordance with its three modes of existence,' and in a similar vein, the late Catholic theologian Karl Rahner S.J. (1904-1984) explains in his book The Trinity (Burns and Oates, 1970, reprinted 2001, p. 107) that in God, 'there are not three consciousnesses; rather the one consciousness subsists in a threefold way,' adding that 'There is only one real consciousness in God, which is shared by Father, Son and Spirit, by each in his own proper way.'"

That has always been my understanding, although Fr. Ryan Erlenbusch, in a recent online article titled, "Are there three personalities in God, an 'I' of the Father and an 'I' of the Son and an 'I' of the Holy Spirit?", seemed to suggest differently. (Even he stopped short of imputing three centers of consciousness to God, however.) Three centers of consciousness really would be tantamount to three gods, in my book.

Vincent Torley said...

Thanks very much, Ed, for releasing the apology I wrote to you, from the spam filter and moderation box. Cheers.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Mary,

Concerning Jesus, you write: "Before the incarnation, he was purely immaterial. After the incarnation, his immaterial part added a physical body, exactly as will occur to us after the resurrection."

Jesus' Divine nature is timeless. As God, Jesus stands outside time and sees all events - past, present and future - in one all-encompassing sweep. Since God's decision to create a world is timeless and His knowledge of man's Fall is timeless, His decision to redeem the world by becoming incarnate is also timeless. Thus from a God's eye view, it is incorrect to say that the person of Jesus Christ (God the Son) was immaterial before the incarnation and added a physical body after the incarnation. It is however correct to say that by freely and timelessly choosing to become incarnate, God (the Son) actualized Himself in a way in which He wouldn't have been actualized, had He not made that choice.

David M said...

"A2 is a metaphysical thesis and therefore precedes the doctrine of the Trinity in the ordo cognoscendi. One cannot reject A2 on the basis of the Trinity without begging the question. If A2 is to be shown false, it must be shown to be on the basis of metaphysics."

Right. That's what metaphysical proofs of divine simplicity are for!

"You concede that there is supposita and nature in God, which requires that God is a compound of supposita and nature."

Wrong. Proofs of divine simplicity show that supposite and nature (or existence and essence) are necessarily identical in God.

David M said...

"David M charged me that I misunderstood divine simplicity and ignored his own arguments, but I suspect that even some thomists here have not a clear idea of what divine simplicity means... as the above contradiction suggest."

(1) "even some Thomists" - sure. But who care about the labels, really? Some 'non-Thomists' are very confused, too, I suspect! - but so what? Same goes for Augustinians, and non-Augustinians, and everyone else under the sun!

(2) Noting that some people look suspiciously like they don't have a clear idea about x, y, or z surely does very little to clarify anyone's ideas about x, y, or z.

Mary said...

Hi Vincent,

Thank you very much for your comments.

One more thing. God does not have three centers of consciousness, but one

I allow this possibility. In my view he has 3 centers of consciousness, not one... but I could be wrong about it.

In any case, you will agree with me that the second person of the trinity has a physical body, but the other 2 persons don't. Hence it implies that God has a part which is physical, namely the part beloging to the second person.

So, my argument about 3 centers of consciousness can be restated in terms of posession of a corporeal body. God is immaterial except in his second person.

Jesus' Divine nature is timeless. As God, Jesus stands outside time and sees all events - past, present and future - in one all-encompassing sweep. Since God's decision to create a world is timeless and His knowledge of man's Fall is timeless, His decision to redeem the world by becoming incarnate is also timeless.

As you know Vincent, this raises a whole bunch of interesting question regarding God's relation to time.

My view is Craig's: God is timeless without the universe, and temporal since the universe.

Assuming for the argument's sake that Craig's model is right, the second person of the trinity adquired a physical body in the 1st century, a body which Jesus, previous to his incarnation, didn't have.

Currently, in 2016, the risen Jesus has a physical body and He will have it in the future too.

This implies both CHANGE and ADDITION to the second person of trinity and therefore to God.

And prima facie it seems to be in tension with God as being absolutely simple and inmutable.

Jus for the record: I personally don't believe that divine simplicity is unintelligible. I think it is intelligible but false. However, the way that some Thomists seem to use it to meet objections tend to make it hard to grasp, because virtually anything (Christ having a physical body, his ascension, God answering prayers, God creating a temporal universe, God leading the exodus, etc.) is interpreted by them as being compatible with such a doctrine of God absolutely simple, immutable and having no properties at all.

I think a conflict of deep intuitions is, at the bottom, the root of the controversy.

What I see as straighforward example of composition and mutability (Christ adquiring a physical body in addition to his soul), the thomist sees it as an evident, obvious, unproblematic confirmation of divine simplicity and immutability.


David M said...

"What I see as straighforward example of composition and mutability (Christ adquiring a physical body in addition to his soul), the thomist sees it as an evident, obvious, unproblematic confirmation of divine simplicity and immutability."

Mary, you would do well to start referring your claims about Thomism to actual arguments of St Thomas so that we can at least see what it is you're misinterpreting. (Otherwise the suspicion will arise that you've never actually read Aquinas and your comments are based on just making stuff up and calling it "deep intuition," and the discussion just becomes silly.)

Brandon said...

I take "metaphysical parts" to be a conceptual primitive.

This won't fly; your entire argument depends on there being a way to distinguish different metaphysical parts, which means that there must be some way of telling what is a metaphysical part and why, which means that your argument depends on being able to say what a metaphysical part is. And you still haven't explained why you think divine persons need to be considered as metaphysical parts at all.

Moreover, if, as you claim, the Father is part of God, and the Son is part of God, and the Spirit is part of God, and none of these is God without the other parts, then it is also false to say that the Father is truly God; your argument requires that the Father is not God at all, just one of the parts out of which God is built. You are committed to saying that none of the three is God, only all three together.

1)If the risen Christ added a physical body to his composition and Christ is part of God, it doesn't follow that a change (namely, adding a body) and a part (namely, a corporeal substance) was added to an absolutely simple being?

This question doesn't make any sense as you've stated it; by your own assessment, a simple being (I don't know what you mean by 'absolutely simple' unless you just mean 'simple') doesn't have a composition, and you've explicitly said that a simple being doesn't have parts, so if God is simple, nothing is part of God, and there is no composition to which a part can be added. The question makes no sense, because it mixes together the supposition that God has a composition with the supposition that God is simple.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Mary,

Thanks for your comments. Quick reply before I get some shut-eye: the fact that the second person of the Trinity has a physical body, while the other two persons don't, does not imply that "God has a part which is physical, namely the part belonging to the second person." The assumption you're making here is that Jesus's two natures are both parts of His personality. I reject that assumption. I would say that since Jesus' human nature is wholly subject to His Divine nature, only the latter can be identified with His person - which is why the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople decreed that Jesus is a Divine person, and not a divine-human person. Jesus's human nature is assumed by the person of God the Son, but I don't think it's part of that person.

Even if one were to argue that Jesus' human nature is part of His person, it wouldn't follow that "God has a part which is physical." What would follow is that one Divine person had a non-divine part which is physical. Hope that helps.

Tony said...

A2. Supposit and nature are metaphysical parts.

Steven, supposit and nature are said analogically of God, not univocally with how they are said of creatures.

As a result, said of creatures, supposit and nature are metaphysical parts (all creatures are composite), supposit and nature are really distinct metaphysical parts. Said of God: supposit is said of God, and nature is said of God, but it is not valid to say "supposit and nature distinct parts of God". Rather, what is understood in our minds by "supposit" is in God, (in a sense), and what is understood in our minds by "nature" is in God (in a sense), but they are not in God distinctly.

Take an analogy: humans have the sense of sight, which is a body/soul power of apprehending what is visible. God does not have a body, but he has the perfection of what we understand under "sight", in a sense, but he has that perfection in a higher mode of being than we have it. He still has the power of apprehending what is visible, but he does not have it as we have it. Similarly, he has the perfections that are implied when we understand "supposit" and "nature", but he does not have them the way creatures have those perfections.

Tony said...

So, my argument about 3 centers of consciousness can be restated in terms of posession of a corporeal body. God is immaterial except in his second person.

So, God has 3 centers of consciousness, and because his second person is incarnate, a human body is part of God.

I have 2 questions:

(1) Repeating from above: does God have 3 wills, or one will? 3 intellects, or one intellect?

(2) If the Son becoming Incarnate in the year 4 BC (or whatever the currently popular date is) was a "change in God", what was responsible for reducing God's potential for this change to actuality?

Mary said...

Vincent,

The assumption you're making here is that Jesus's two natures are both parts of His personality.

No, I don't. Remember that I'm attacking divine simplicity, not the structure of Jesus's personality.

The fact that the second person of the Trinity has a physical body, while the other two persons don't, implies that one aspect of God (not of Jesus's personality) is corporeal (whether essentially or accidentally, is irrelevant for my argument)

And this conclusion is relevant to assess divine simplicity, because according to it no corporeal aspect or property could belong for an absolutely simple God.

I would say that since Jesus' human nature is wholly subject to His Divine nature, only the latter can be identified with His person - which is why the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople decreed that Jesus is a Divine person, and not a divine-human person.

I have no objection to it.

Jesus's human nature is assumed by the person of God the Son, but I don't think it's part of that person

And such assumed human nature implies, in your view, a CHANGE and ADDITION to God the Son? If yes, then how is it possible for God to be simple and immutable?

Far from being simple, it is a lot of complex in the sense of:

1)Having changes

2)Having additions (i.e. "human nature is assumed by the person of God the Son")

These implicatins cannot be true if divine simplicity is correct,

Even if one were to argue that Jesus' human nature is part of His person, it wouldn't follow that "God has a part which is physical." What would follow is that one Divine person had a non-divine part which is physical. Hope that helps.

One Divine person had a non-divine part which is physical is unacceptable given the doctrine of divine simplicity. Moreover, a "non-divine part" of a Divine person is still a part and hence suggest some kind of composition and multiplicity.

But how could a Divine person, given the doctrine of divine simplicity, have a non-divine part which is physical?

Mary said...

Tony,

(1) Repeating from above: does God have 3 wills, or one will? 3 intellects, or one intellect?

I have no idea. the 3 centers of consciousness is something to which I'm open to, since being a person implies having self-consciousness (consciousness seems to be a necessary condition of personality). Hence, if God is tri-personal, each person of the Godhead have self-consciousness.

But I'm not sure that this argument is sound. Perhaps, as Vincent says, there is just one consciousness in God, although it poses the question of which one of the 3 persons is the locus of such a consciousness.

(2) If the Son becoming Incarnate in the year 4 BC (or whatever the currently popular date is) was a "change in God", what was responsible for reducing God's potential for this change to actuality?

This is the problem. For me it is obvious that God the Son adquiring a physical body in the 1st century Palestine is a "change in God".

Also, God creating a temporal universe is a relational change in God, because it implies God entering into time.

I guess that what produced the change was God's own will. He decided, on behalf of salvation, to adquire an human nature in addition of the divine one in his second person.

And he decided, freely, to create a temporal universe.

So, the change in question is product of his own will.

Obviously, some thomist could find this unacceptable, since "whatever is changed is changed by another", which implies a potential in God to be actualized by something different than God, which cannot exist.

So, I fully realize that rejecting divine simplicity implies rejecting important aspects of A-T metaphysics.

Brandon said...

Mary said to Vincent:

And such assumed human nature implies, in your view, a CHANGE and ADDITION to God the Son?

It would perhaps be so for the human nature, to the extent that we can say that it is now related to God in a different way than human nature usually is. Why would one assume that it would be a change and addition to the Son? Your answer to these questions so far just seems to be 'Well, it's obvious'. But the whole reason for this discussion is that it isn't.

To have a change and addition (and parts in general), you would have to identify something as potential that becomes actual (change) or that is united to something actual (composition). (When Thomists say that God is simple, they mean only that he lacks composition in precisely this sense, so any other sense one might give to the word is not relevant.) But what, precisely, has to be potential in God when we are talking about the Incarnation?

Mary said...

Why would one assume that it would be a change and addition to the Son?

Because the Son didn't have a body before the incarnation. It was a change experienced by God the Son.

Or in Vincent's own words: "Jesus's human nature is assumed by the person of God the Son"

If A adquires B, then B is an addition to A.

If A is the second person of the trinity, and after the incarnation it adquires B (a physical body), then A is changing in the sense of assuming a new property B: the property of having a physical body.

To have a change and addition (and parts in general), you would have to identify something as potential that becomes actual (change) or that is united to something actual (composition)

I don't think so, You don't have to assume the Thomistic metaphysics of actuality and potentiality in order to discover o identify that a change has occured (as evidenced by the fact that change was known LONG BEFORE Aristotle came with this doctrine in order to explain it).

Change can be and has been identified independently of these metaphysical doctrines of potentiality and actuality.

Brandon said...

Because the Son didn't have a body before the incarnation. It was a change experienced by God the Son.

You are assuming, of course, that the Son is not eternal so that he goes through time -- otherwise there is no before. But this assumption, not accepted by Thomists, means that your argument doesn't actually do anything against Thomists.

If A adquires B, then B is an addition to A

This is certainly not generally true. If I acquire a legal right to use a walkway, nothing whatsoever has been added to me; all that has changed is other thing.

Likewise, why would one assume in the Incarnation that A assumes the property of having a physical body rather than the body assuming the property of belonging to the Son?

You don't have to assume the Thomistic metaphysics of actuality and potentiality in order to discover o identify that a change has occured

But if in arguing against Thomists you use the word 'change' in a different sense than the Thomists use the word, you are equivocating. The same is true with 'composition'.

Robert said...

@Mary,

"Also, God creating a temporal universe is a relational change in God, because it implies God entering into time."

Why does God have to enter into time when the universe was created? The claim is that God is outside of time, before the universe, during, and after. There are no different instants for God. Asserting that God's relation to the created changed after creation simply ignores the outside of time thesis altogether. It doesn't provide any reason to think that it is false. As Philip pointed out above, this assertion merely begs the question against the outside of time thesis: all of God's 'experience' is outside of time so there was no 'when' for God when he created the universe.

Philip Alawonde said...

Mary,

1. Oh, that's your whole point? Why didn't you say so before? Now, you said that Jesus and the Father are both parts of God. As many have pointed out, this is not the orthodox understanding of DT. In any case, even if we grant it like that per hypothesi, it would still only amount to a humongous question-begging on your part.

2. You did not understand my objection. I wasn't talking of the pre-incarnate or even the pre-ascension Jesus, but the present state of Jesus, at this very moment. My contention was that your argument might begin to work only after you have successfully demonstrated that Jesus *is* composite.

3. Again, I'll ignore your opinion that my statement of DDS contradicts David M's since it's a red herring.

In summary, you have so far only presented a merely valid argument for your claim. I hereby call on you to faint not, but try harder -- perhaps you might so stumble upon the Golden Key.

Steven Dillon said...

David M.: If I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that supposit and nature are not metaphysical parts because, in God, supposit and nature are identical. But, by that logic, essence and existence would not be metaphysical parts because, in God, essence and existence are identical. However, our essence is not our existence, so they are metaphysical parts, despite being identical in God. And likewise for supposit and nature.

Mary said...

You are assuming, of course, that the Son is not eternal so that he goes through time -- otherwise there is no before. But this assumption, not accepted by Thomists, means that your argument doesn't actually do anything against Thomists.

False. God could be timeless before the universe and temporal after the universe's beginning and in both cases it is eternal. (Eternity can be understood as omnitemporality or timelessness)

My point is that God the Son was not incarnated before Jesus' birth. God the Son was eternal, but its incarnation was temporal and is a new property: the property of having a body.

This is certainly not generally true. If I acquire a legal right to use a walkway, nothing whatsoever has been added to me; all that has changed is other thing.

This is because legal rights are plausibly fictions, not ontologically existing properties. Hence nothing happens to you because nothing actually happens in the real world, just a fiction or social convention embodied as a law.

In any case a legal realist could argue that you're experiencing a new relational property, namely, the property of having a new legal right which you lack before. To you something happened, namely, the adquisition of a new legal right which you didn't have before.

Likewise, why would one assume in the Incarnation that A assumes the property of having a physical body rather than the body assuming the property of belonging to the Son

Can you explain how could a body assume the property of belonging to the Son?

I can understand that God the Son, on his omnipotence, decided to have a physical body. But a body to enter, by itself and without any miraculous intervention of God, to enter into a relation with the Son?

On your own metaphysics, which is the actual entity which caused the potential in the body to become a body in relation to God?

But if in arguing against Thomists you use the word 'change' in a different sense than the Thomists use the word, you are equivocating. The same is true with 'composition'

Thomists don't use change in a different sense, although they EXPLAIN it in terms of actuality and potentiality.

The metaphysics of potentiality and actuality is a doctrine which intend to explain how changes occur, not to define or redefine change.

Aristotle developed this doctrine AFTER realizing that chance happened. He didn't need the doctrine in order to identity or discover change.

Steven Dillon said...

Tony: I agree that supposit and nature are truly said of God only analogically, not univocally. But, as the argument implies, they would be truly said of God univocally if the doctrine of the Trinity were true. The problem here is that when it is said that there are "three" persons in God, it is not meant that the number of persons in God is something like "three"; but, that there literally are "three" persons in God. For this reason, (2) is an instance of (1) and entails (3)-(5).

Anonymous said...

This whole dialectic amounts to a pretty decent prima facie case for just being a classical theist without all the trinity and incarnation stuff.

More seriously, Mary vs. the Thomists seems to raise a pretty fundamental question about the relationship between faith and reason. Mary's arguments seem to require that faith be in the driver's seat; we somehow are supposed to take the doctrine of the trinity as unchallengeable and assess rational arguments on the basis of their apparent consistency with it. As several others have noted, though, we might just as well go the other way around; reason is in the driver's seat, and we should assess the doctrine of the trinity on the basis of its apparent consistency with it. I don't know what Aquinas would say, since he clearly thinks that the two aren't inconsistent. To my tiny mind, it seems clear that if the doctrine of the trinity (or the incarnation) isn't consistent with reason, then so much the worse for the doctrine. But then, I don't believe the doctrine (though I also don't think it's inconsistent with divine simplicity!). So I'm presumably not in the best position to adjudicate the dispute.

There's the question, though, for various folks here: suppose Mary were successful in showing that the doctrine of the trinity isn't consistent with divine simplicity. Would you give up simplicity, then, or trinitarianism?

Brandon said...

God could be timeless before the universe and temporal after the universe's beginning and in both cases it is eternal. (Eternity can be understood as omnitemporality or timelessness)

No, that's why we call the first 'omnitemporality' or 'everlastingness' rather than 'eternity', the latter of which has had a standard meaning in these discussions for centuries now, and nobody needs permission from you to keep using it in that way.

My point is that God the Son was not incarnated before Jesus' birth. God the Son was eternal, but its incarnation was temporal and is a new property: the property of having a body.

Again, this is assuming that God the Son is temporal rather than eternal (timeless, to use the word you arbitrarily prefer); otherwise there is no 'before'. Since Thomists deny this, your argument is useless against Thomists, as I explicitly noted before.

This is because legal rights are plausibly fictions, not ontologically existing properties. Hence nothing happens to you because nothing actually happens in the real world, just a fiction or social convention embodied as a law.

Your argument was explicitly that if you acquire something, it is added to you; this is false of legal rights, regardless of whether legal rights are fictions we acquire or real properties we acquire. Thus it must be something about "ontologically existing properties" that makes it as you claim. And you have not established that at all, since the only argument you've given made the false claim that if you acquire something, it must be an addition to you.

Can you explain how could a body assume the property of belonging to the Son?

I'm not the one talking about properties; you are, and I was asking why they have to work the way you claim, a question you keep evading. But one would presume, surely, that God omnipotent makes it so that it belongs to the Son. The only two possibilities then would be either (1) God is not omnipotent; (2) it is a contradiction for a body to have the property of belonging to the Son. So which of the two are you claiming?

Thomists don't use change in a different sense, although they EXPLAIN it in terms of actuality and potentiality.

This is actually provably false; there is a whole list of things that are occasionally called 'changes' that are not changes in the sense in which Thomists usually use the term (i.e., as synonymous with Latin motus) -- Cambridge changes, mutations, etc. Aristotle has no doctrine of creation at all because any such thing is literally inconsistent with what he means by kinesis, so creation is not a change in Aristotle's sense at all, even though you use the word to include it. Similarly with composition. And, more importantly, the Thomistic doctrine of divine simplicity is explicitly characterized in terms of actuality and potentiality and nothing else; when they deny composition of God it is only in the sense they mean when talking about composition in the proper sense, and the same thing with immutability and change. If you are changing the meaning in talking about the Thomistic doctrine of simplicity, you are equivocating.

Brandon said...

There's the question, though, for various folks here: suppose Mary were successful in showing that the doctrine of the trinity isn't consistent with divine simplicity. Would you give up simplicity, then, or trinitarianism?

Some version of the doctrine of simplicity is required by the doctrine of the Trinity -- it is the 'One' of the Three and One; thus you are really asking what people would do if the doctrine of the Trinity were rigorously proven inconsistent. (The claim that the doctrine of Trinity involves holding that God is simple is explicitly stated, for instance, by the Fourth Lateran Council; and while the East tends to talk less of simplicity than immutability, any arguments for rejecting one necessarily imply arguments for rejecting the other, so it would amount to the same problem.)

Anonymous said...

Mary, I'm the anonymous who asked you the two questions above. My questions were not a direct response to your questions. But I don't see why you should get to ask pointed and somewhat loaded questions and object to having questions asked of yourself. Why should we have to dance to your tune?

Anyway, you didn't really respond properly. I am not a Thomist. You don't need to be a Thomist. But you don't have to be a Thomist to see that someone asserting a composite being is the ultimate explanation of things needs to explain how this can be. A composite being is made of parts, of course, and these parts are held together by something, through something, and in something. This would seem to mean that there is something more ultimate, beyond the parts. What is your explanation for a composite God being the ultimate explanation of things? Is it simply faith or the Bible or arbitrary assertions you are relying on?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I recognize that traditional statements of the doctrine of the trinity appeal to divine simplicity. But that doesn't show that they're compatible, much less that it's inconceivable that they're incompatible. So that doesn't answer my question. Suppose that Mary showed that the traditional statements of the doctrine that are committed to divine simplicity are incoherent; would you reject divine simplicity or the doctrine of the trinity? Your answer amounts to saying that the doctrine of the trinity as such is committed to divine simplicity; but from a biblical point of view (which is, I hasten to add, decidedly not mine) that's dubious. In any case, if we accept your answer then it amounts to saying that of course you'd reject the doctrine of the trinity, since consistency with divine simplicity is, on your view, a non-negotiable feature of the doctrine. Is that a fair interpretation of your view?

Mary said...

No, that's why we call the first 'omnitemporality' or 'everlastingness' rather than 'eternity', the latter of which has had a standard meaning in these discussions for centuries now, and nobody needs permission from you to keep using it in that way

The standard meaning of eternity is "not having beginning nor end" or everlasting life. The philosophical analysis of such a concept could be both in terms of omnitemporaility or timelessness. This is pretty standard in philosophy of religion texbooks.

An many have argued for eternity in terms of everlasting life.

Boethius, for example, argued:

Eternity, then, is the complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life; this will be clear from a comparison with creatures that exist in time. …for it is one thing to progress like the world in Plato's theory through everlasting life, and another thing to have embraced the whole of everlasting life in one simultaneous present. (Boethius Consolation, V.VI)

Who is talking about "needing permission from me"? Such language suggest that I've touched a nerve.

Your argument was explicitly that if you acquire something, it is added to you; this is false of legal rights, regardless of whether legal rights are fictions we acquire or real properties we acquire

But if legal rights are fictions that "we adquire" or "real properties" that we adquire, in both cases there something added to you, namely, A LEGAL RIGHT THAT YOU DIND'T HAVE BEFORE.

Your legal position is different than before, and you have a new relational property (a new relation to legal matters).

My point about fictions was that, ontologically, fictions are nothing, hence in a literal sense you adquire nothing. Only in a figurative, fictional sense you adquire something: a new right.

If realism is true, then you adquire something real, namely a real property.

If you adquire a fiction, then a fiction is added to you. But since it is a fiction, it is ontologically nothing.

Cath Olic said...

Test.

Mary said...

The classifcal understanding of time was, certainly, God as existing outside of time.

Boethious's language of simultaneity seems imply time, despite he contrasts God with creatures which exists in time.

But the view that God is omnitemporal is also a view about God's eternity.

Craig's model, for example, mixes both of them.

Contemporary discussions about eternity shows that both models are part of the debate.

Boe

Anonymous said...

"This is pretty standard in philosophy of religion texbooks."

Even if this is true, why should we be beholden to analytical philosophy of religion instead of the Christian tradition of centuries? Indeed, you early talk about most contemporary Christian philosophers rejecting divine simplicity, by whom you appear to mean a handful of analytical philosophers, such as Swinburne and Plantinga. Ironically for someone claiming to defend Christianity against philosophy, you seem to be at war with most Christian thinkers, from the Fathers to Scholastics to most great Protestant thinkers. And you appeal a few contemporary analytical philosophers of religion to support you.

Oh, and it is also clear by now you have a deeply heretical understanding of the Trinity.

Mary said...

But I don't see why you should get to ask pointed and somewhat loaded questions and object to having questions asked of yourself. Why should we have to dance to your tune?

My point is that you don't answer a question with another question.

If a ask your name, you're entitled to say "How are you to ask me that?". But this doesn't answer my question about your name (even if you are justified in not gibving me yours)

Imagine that I reply to your own question by saying "Why you don't use your name, anonymous?". Have I answered your question? Clearly NOT, even if you're justified in your anonimous condition.

But you don't have to be a Thomist to see that someone asserting a composite being is the ultimate explanation of things needs to explain how this can be. A composite being is made of parts, of course, and these parts are held together by something, through something, and in something.

Perhaps, but how exactly that answer my questions?

Brandon said...

But that doesn't show that they're compatible, much less that it's inconceivable that they're incompatible.

Again, all this actually means is that 'it doesn't show that the doctrine of Trinity is consistent, much less that it's inconceivable that it's inconsistent.'

Mary said...

Reading some of the lastest comments make me think that this discussion cannot be advance fruitfully beyond this point.

I pulled no punches against arguments, but I didn't attacked persons or motives... but in reply, expressions like "dancing in your tune", "we don't need your permission" and so forth (which has to be with ME or my moptives, not my arguments), suggests that the conversation is getting progressively too personal and emotional (perhaps I touched a never here or there) and I don't like that.

If I offended anybody here, I apologize.

I read that blog since its beginning but I never have participated in it. I enjoy it a lot.

In any case, I'm grateful to all of you for your vigorous interaction, comments and intelligent discussion of these matters.

God bless you!
Mary

Brandon said...

The standard meaning of eternity is "not having beginning nor end" or everlasting life. The philosophical analysis of such a concept could be both in terms of omnitemporaility or timelessness. This is pretty standard in philosophy of religion texbooks.

I am aware of "philosophy of religion textbooks". They are also quite clear, in general, that the most common meaning has been what you are calling timeless. What's more we are talking questions of Trinitarian and Christological controversy, in which the primary questions are not about sempiternity or everlastingness but about what you are calling timeless. We have also been talking about Thomistic accounts, in which eternity usually only means what you are talking about when you are talking about timelessness. Therefore your attempt to play stupid about an argument by calling my claim false when by your own account it is true of a standard meaning of the term is nonsense. Let's actually quote what you said, so you can't wiggle out of it by pretending you said something different:

False. God could be timeless before the universe and temporal after the universe's beginning and in both cases it is eternal. (Eternity can be understood as omnitemporality or timelessness)

In other words, instead of actually addressing the point, you explicitly made it about my usage of the word 'eternity', which is, again by your own account a perfectly reasonable meaning of the word. It is also, as I noted, the standard meaning when it comes up in these contexts; so claiming my claim was 'false' because I used the word in a standard sense you prefer not to use was merely verbal tapdancing.

Who is talking about "needing permission from me"? Such language suggest that I've touched a nerve.

Of course it does. I have no patience for people who try to evade points by deliberate and unreasonable equivocation. That it was deliberate is clear by the fact that you yourself have made plenty clear that you were aware of the actual meaning of the term as I used it.

But if legal rights are fictions that "we adquire" or "real properties" that we adquire, in both cases there something added to you, namely, A LEGAL RIGHT THAT YOU DIND'T HAVE BEFORE.

What was added to me? All that's required for me to acquire a legal right is for the rest of the world to change; I don't have to gain or lose anything at all.

If realism is true, then you adquire something real, namely a real property.

If you adquire a fiction, then a fiction is added to you. But since it is a fiction, it is ontologically nothing.


Neither of these are necessarily true. If realism is true, it could be that when I acquire a legal right, it is something other than myself -- like the legal system -- that acquires a real property. (A legal right might, for instance, be a real attribute of the laws, their responsibility to protect me in some way.) If a legal right is a legal fiction, it is a matter of how other people view me, in which case the most natural way to talk about this, if we must talk in terms of properties, is also in terms of things other than myself gaining a new property. (The only difference is that on the realist account the legal right is in some sense the real property, and on the ficitonalist account the legal right is a difference following on a real property different from it.)

Brandon said...

perhaps I touched a never here or there

You do realize that talking about 'touching a nerve' is precisely a claim about people's motives, I hope.

If I offended anybody here, I apologize.

Offense is irrelevant; you shouldn't apologize for it unless you think you did something wrong.

You also shouldn't treat any of this as involving anything personal; merely using strong expressions is not necessarily being personal. For some people it might be, but the fact that the very worst you can list is expressions like "dancing to your tune" and "we don't need your permission" is a sign that most people were not being personal -- the first was just pointing out that you are not the only one who gets a say in how these discussions proceed, and the latter was a claim that you made an unfair and unreasonable move in trying to impose a meaning on a word that you yourself knew was not intended by the person you were talking with. These are very gentle ways of crying foul. On occasions when people around here get personal, the slapdown is, shall we say, much more vehement than this.

Anonymous said...

"My point is that you don't answer a question with another question."

And my point is I wasn't answering your questions, not directly. Others have been doing that, and very well. Why should you be the only one to ask questions? I have never got a proper answer from theistic personalists about how their God can be the ultimate explanation of things and not more like a superpowerful version of us.

I notice you, again, did not even attempt to give a proper answer to my question.

Besides, the question asked by others on what grounds should we prefer to abandon the doctrine of the Trinity to that of divine simplicity, which is connected to my original questions, is a response in part to your queries. You should give us a straight, clear, and informative answer about why you would keep one and discard the other. Simply stating one is Christian, leaving aside your seemingly heretical understanding of the doctrine and the general acceptance of divine simplicity by almost all the Fathers, Scholastics, and even great Reformers (at least implicitly), is not a proper answer. If your appeal is to faith or the Bible alone, as is generally then you should make this clear.

Also, you began by stating your queries in quite a condescending and aggressive manner. Internet discussions have the tendency to sour, and your original manner is hardly the way to guard against this.

Anonymous said...

Not, I should stress, that I think this discussion is that personal. But if you wish for only very good-natured discussion, then you need to make sure your own tone is conducive to this sort of discussion. Beginning with empty bravado about Thomists never answering your questions is going to rub some people up the wrong way.

Tony said...

Brandon says:

The claim that the doctrine of Trinity involves holding that God is simple is explicitly stated, for instance, by the Fourth Lateran Council;

Anonymous replies:

Suppose that Mary showed that the traditional statements of the doctrine that are committed to divine simplicity are incoherent; would you reject divine simplicity or the doctrine of the trinity? Your answer amounts to saying that the doctrine of the trinity as such is committed to divine simplicity; but from a biblical point of view (which is, I hasten to add, decidedly not mine) that's dubious.

Anon, that's a red herring. "Supposing" that "Mary [or anyone] showed that divine simplicity was incoherent with the Trinity", AND supposing that (as Brandon said) that the doctrine of the Trinity involves holding simplicity, are incompatible supposes. Since we have an Ecumenical Council for the latter, the former goes out the window: it is a nonsense supposition. You can "prove" anything with a nonsense supposition, but the proof is worthless.

Mary showed us very clearly that she doesn't accept the Thomistic, or the classical theistic stance on God, nor the 4th Lateran Council's position. She gave some standard partial-arguments, i.e. arguments that start with premises that have no place in the metaphysics as Thomas held it. What she didn't even attempt to do is to reasonably address the GROUNDS of the disagreement, i.e. the underpinnings, the metaphysics. She admitted that she has a problem dealing with Thomas's thesis "whatever is changed is changed by another," for example. That's OK - to dispute Thomist premises. She got nowhere near "showing" that under Thomistic premises, there is any incompatibility between divine simplicity and any other normative Christian belief about God. All she showed was that under her own premises they are incompatible.

Whelmed, I'm sure. It's all a tempest in a teapot: if she had admitted up front that she denies Thomas's premises, we wouldn't have bothered with all the in-between stuff.

Philip Alawonde said...

Since I've followed the proceedings from the get go, I conclude that Mary's main problems are:

1. Depending too much on the imagination, to the detriment of actual thought,

2. Imprecision with terms, thus making it easy for her to shift ground at will

3. A general misunderstanding of DT, its scope, and our serious limitations in sufficiently understanding it,

4. A failure to patiently interpret what others say correctly, thus often mischaracterizing others' points and thus dilating the discussion into a dissipative random walk,

and

4. Appealing to her intuition, thus merely assuming her assertions are necessarily true.

I do hope she goes to repair some of these things.

Anonymous said...

So basically, Brandon and Tony, if I understand you right, what you're saying is that if the doctrine as defined in the 4th Lateran Council weren't coherent, then it would not be true that god is triune? That strikes me as a failure of imagination (or, less charitably, as question-begging). In either case it doesn't answer my question, which is an honest one. So let's see if this works. Let's grant that "doctrine of the trinity" names the teaching laid out in the 4th Lateran Council and that no other alternative "conception" of the notion that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit counts as the doctrine of the trinity. Well and good. Now suppose that you (forget about Mary) came to think that the doctrine of the trinity is inconsistent. What would you do at that point? Would you retain divine simplicity and conclude that Christianity is false because there is no acceptable sense in which God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Or would you reject divine simplicity and seek to find some other way of understanding the claim that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? You do see that this is a legitimate question, yes? (If it isn't, I honestly don't see it, so please explain to me why not). After all, there are people (like Mary, perhaps) who reject divine simplicity because they think (mistakenly, as I've already agreed) that it is inconsistent with scriptural texts telling us that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This strikes me as showing that there is a difference between those who, like Mary, begin with some notion of Christian teaching and insist that philosophical theology must be consistent with it, and those who instead insist that any acceptable interpretation of Christian teaching must be consistent with what reason can establish independently of it. I don't mean to suggest that those two attitudes are exhaustive of the possibilities; I mean to ask how those of you who identify as Thomists or Thomist-sympathizers think about this issue. Telling me that the doctrine of the Trinity is committed to divine simplicity doesn't help me understand how you think about this issue (though obstinate refusal to answer the question might suggest that you don't think about the issue, I have lots of evidence to suggest that Brandon, at least, is not the sort who doesn't think about things).

Compare a non-theological issue. Suppose I think that attributions of moral responsibility presuppose the falsity of determinism (in some of its forms, anyway). It'd be a fair question to ask me whether, if I came to think that attributions of moral responsibility are inconsistent with indeterminism (in all of its forms), I would deny that anyone is ever morally responsible or would instead revise my conception of moral responsibility in a compatibilist direction. The answer isn't obvious; it depends on whether I think the case for the inconsistency of moral responsibility and determinism is stronger than the case for the reality of moral responsibility. If I were to respond to you by saying that moral responsibility presupposes the falsity of determinism by definition, you would justifiably infer that I'm either not answering your question or that I'm answering it implicitly and telling you that I'd reject the reality of moral responsibility.

The difference is that when we're talking about faith and reason rather than some particular issue within philosophy, it might matter a whole lot where one's priorities lie, and it might matter a whole lot for how one reasons about things quite generally.

Kyle said...

I dribbled:
"I wonder if you realize just quite the extent to which your writing may actually contribute to honest and fer true soul-saving. I mean, getting people to being able to pass some exams, or swat off some NA nonsense is all very useful. Absolutely it is. But it should be a source of some consolation to you that for every temporary point increase in your systolic BP, not only are people learning stuff, someone could actually be moved an inch forward in the overall Right Direction?"

I was just listening to another of DB Hart's books, "Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies" and in comparing both it and his "The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, BlissI" with Ed's work, and I had a minor epiphany that leads me to conclude that what I wrote above, to Ed, was utter pish and completely inappropriate. It also explains several things I've puzzled over when reading this blog, culminating in recent discussions about the second of the above DBH books. It explains Ed's style of handling opponents, and the tone of much of the combox discussions.

The mistake is -- and I cannot stress enough that this has nothing to do with Ed or his beliefs in general, things about which I know pretty much nothing -- but insofar as *this blog* is concerned, (plus perhaps a few public talks Ed has given that are on the same subject), these writings have nothing to do with *being* Catholic or Christian. For all I know -- based *only* on this blog -- Ed may be simply a non-Christian/Catholic philosopher giving intellectual assent to the abstract arguments and conclusions we see at work in scholastic metaphysics, but with there been nothing more theistic -- classical or personalist -- to it than that.

It shouldn't be a surprise to me of course, since an essential part of good philosophy is that its arguments should not usually depend on the motives or worldview of the person making them. But it is a surprise. Why? I guess it's the same error that many New Atheists make, when they ignore the arguments and focus instead on some assumed religious bent of the person making them. In my case I haven't been ignoring the arguments, but I have made the same assumption and that led me to think Ed would remotely care about whether his work had any "pastoral" value. (I'm *not* saying he doesn't care, but I cannot infer he does from anything he has said.)

Bottom line, I saw this as a "Catholic" blog, or a "Christian" blog, but it's simply not. It has little if anything to do with salvation, or the implications of Aquinas (say) on a person's life, or anything other than the austere logic and argumentation in this specific field (except perhaps for the occasional foray into an analysis of comedy!) It's a philosophy blog, pure and simple. My bad.

And there's absolutely *no* criticism intended there. This is no rhetorical Roper to More "I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; [philosophy's] your god.". It's just a mistake in my understanding, now corrected. My bad.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous April 19, 2016 at 6:16 PM: "I mean to ask how those of you who identify as Thomists or Thomist-sympathizers think about this issue."

Well, if I'm gonna be labeled using a term with ideological echoes, I'd much prefer "Thomist fellow-traveller" or "Thomist running dog," if only so the kids have something to look up in their back issues of *Partisan Review*... :)

"Let's grant that 'doctrine of the trinity' names the teaching laid out in the 4th Lateran Council and that no other alternative 'conception' of the notion that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit counts as the doctrine of the trinity. Well and good. Now suppose that you (forget about Mary) came to think that the doctrine of the trinity is inconsistent. What would you do at that point? Would you retain divine simplicity and conclude that Christianity is false because there is no acceptable sense in which God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Or would you reject divine simplicity and seek to find some other way of understanding the claim that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?"

To directly answer your question for the purpose of this survey, *at that point* I'd retain simplicity over trinitarianism, because the consequences of rejecting the first seem greater than the consequences of rejecting the second. But that alternative seems unfair, in that there is really something to fides quarens intellectum, and I don't really think anyone would reach that point without having made a wrong turn somewhere.

@Kyle: "It's a philosophy blog, pure and simple."

Well, "pure and simple" is a bit much. "Philosophy with a Catholic flavor," maybe. Of course, many folks here think that ultimately philosophy and Christianity lead to the same place. And in point of fact, I could name a few on this blog who have been led to one by the other.

Tony said...

Anonymous, I'll make you a deal: I'll answer your question, you stop using "Anonymous" and start using a name, any name. Deal? If not, do not read what follows.

Ok, I would accept what is in the Bible and what the Church teaches. The Bible teaches that there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I would continue to accept that. The Church teaches simplicity. I would continue to accept that.

We firmly believe and simply confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immeasurable, almighty, unchangeable, incomprehensible and ineffable, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons but one absolutely simple essence, substance or nature ... This holy Trinity, which is undivided according to its common essence but distinct according to the properties of its persons,

Your supposition is comparable to asking me to suppose that a pope were to flatly contradict a former dogmatic definition, and to do so IN a dogmatic definition. You can "suppose" all you want, but I don't have to accept the supposition is anything but internal nonsense, like "suppose 4 = 5".

If I were to come to a tentative conclusion that philosophically speaking, simplicity as the Church pronounced it didn't make sense, I would then say "but I must have made a mistake in that analysis somewhere, so I will go back and try again..." If I were to tentatively come to suspect that philosophically the trinity were incoherent, or were incompatible with simplicity as the Church has defined it, I would again say I must have made a mistake. And KEEP saying that, no matter how many times I philosophically arrived at that wrong conclusion, because I would continue to adhere to the faith I received from God, in the testimony of Jesus Christ, in the confidence that "he who hears you hears Me". For faith is more certain than philosophy, about which I am more like to err than the Church is likely to err on faith and morals.

Brandon said...

So basically, Brandon and Tony, if I understand you right, what you're saying is that if the doctrine as defined in the 4th Lateran Council weren't coherent, then it would not be true that god is triune? That strikes me as a failure of imagination (or, less charitably, as question-begging). In either case it doesn't answer my question, which is an honest one.

(I) It does in fact answer the question, because if it could be rigorously proven that the doctrine of the Trinity contradicted itself, it would be necessarily false. There's nothing question-begging about noting that if all forms of the doctrine of simplicity are untenable, the doctrine of the Trinity is untenable, as well.

(II) Imagination is also not really relevant here. The doctrine of the Trinity is not some arbitrary set of claims but the actual credal affirmation authoritatively arising among the Nicene Churches, which both East and West repeatedly affirm simplicity and doctrines that are logically very closely related (like immutability) in professing the Trinity. It's not like Lateran IV just made up a new idea in authoritatively insisting on the point; it gave an authoritative formulation of what in fact the Trinitarian faith is.

Moreover, if we actually suppose, as it was in the original comment, that something like Mary's opposition of simplicity to Trinitarianism were the case, what would we have? The possible alternatives end up being quite narrow. Since it's specifically assumed in the supposition that simplicity and Trinitarian doctrine are opposed, the violation of simplicity would have to do specifically with the Persons. So what options are on the table if there are three persons associated with God's being God and this very fact requires composition in God? Either the composite is God or the persons are each God in the composition (If we tried to use 'God' to apply both to the Committee and its Members, we would be using the term equivocally.) Thus the possibilities are:

(1) God is composed of person-parts. (As Mary argued earlier.) This is not Trinitarianism, because the Persons would not be God, but just parts of God; God would actually be the Committee.

(2) The Divine Persons are each distinct Gods. This is not Trinitarianism; it is polytheism.

So (1), Committee Unitarianism, violates the affirmation that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God; (2), Tritheism, violates the affirmation that they are not Gods but God. Both affirmations seem required for anything that is Trinitarian (at least if we take the term in a sense that is not highly equivocal). How are these two affirmations usually taken to be conjoinable in historical Trinitarianism? By the doctrine of divine simplicity.

Brandon said...

(III) Or we could indeed put the whole thing another way: First-Monotheism, the notion that there is one God and all else depends on Him, is a prerequisite of any genuine Trinitarianism. Without simplicity of some kind, there is no First-Monotheism -- if God is composite in such a way as to be broken up into little Gods, that's not Monotheism; if God is composite in such a way that there are non-God parts more fundamental than God, God is not actually the First.

Brandon said...

I suppose, thinking about this a bit more, that your question could be motivated by an assumption that faith and reason are more sharply distinguished than I would assume. Faith and reason overlap; faith is related to reason not like one domain to another but like additional light added to our usual light. It is (in my view) rigorously provable that God is simple; it is a doctrine of faith that God is simple. Faith extends beyond reason, but, again, it's not like an additional territory but like a better light for certain purposes. It's one thing to say that there are things that can only be seen by faith (i.e., that reason cannot prove to be true) but it's a different thing, and a false thing, to suggest that this doesn't mean that the things seen by faith rationally cohere -- reason can establish, at least in a broad way, that the faith 'hangs together' in reasonable or even rationally necessary ways (given such an article of faith, this other article of faith has to go with it) even when it can't establish that every part necessarily requires every part or that the whole thing that 'hangs together' must be true. God does not save by reasoning alone, but we who are saved are reasoning creatures.

And it's just the coherence and truth of the faith that matters. If the faith is provably false, it is false, and on that supposition, what more is there to say about it. If the faith is provably incoherent, it is necessarily false, and on that supposition there isn't anything more to say. But nothing about this is a matter of forcing the faith to fit anything; it's just literally what follows from the suppositions. We could take any two sets of truths and simply suppose what would happen if they were inconsistent with each other; but this actually tells us very little about how the truths relate to each other, given that they are true. And likewise, if the faith is coherent, or if it is more than that true, there is no question of forcing faith to fit what reason can establish independently -- there is no 'independently' that could be relevant, and there is no need to force a fit -- if the faith is true, if faith is good light, what reason can actually prove already fits it.

Mihai said...

@Kyle
You don't know how much such "austere" considerations may help someone getting closer to God Almighty and become a better Christian. If for you they seem arid and futile it doesn't mean that they are so for everybody, God draws to Him different people through different means.

I am not sure if those who criticize here the idea of Divine simplicity have really understood what e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas means by it or what he has to say about the distinction between the Divine nature and the Divine hypostases. Maybe someone would be willing to draw in few words a clear picture of St. Thomas Aquinas' views, so as to be more specific re: what he/she disapproves.

Mihai said...

@Kyle
You don't know how much such "austere" considerations may help someone getting closer to God Almighty and become a better Christian. If for you they seem arid and futile it doesn't mean that they are so for everybody, God draws to Him different people through different means.

I am not sure if those who criticize here the idea of Divine simplicity have really understood what e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas means by it or what he has to say about the distinction between the Divine nature and the Divine hypostases. Maybe someone would be willing to draw in few words a clear picture of St. Thomas Aquinas' views, so as to be more specific re: what he/she disapproves.

Anonymous said...

Everybody already has an intuitive sense of Truth & Reality because it is the native state or true condition of everyone and everything.
Yet the true nature of Truth & Reality remains only an intuition, rather than a full Realization in almost everyone's case. The fullest Realization of Truth is of course absolutely uncommon, and most people are completely unaware of even the possibility of it. In fact such a Realization is fundamentally taboo within all of the Semitic religious traditions, including of course Christianity. It is the ultimate taboo even.
There are even many taboos about getting too "mystical. For instance many "orthodox" Islamist's consider Sufism to be a "heresy".

Both "official" institutional exoteric religion and secular scientific "realism" are magic-paranoid, and altogether anti-ecstatic traditions.
Both have, for many centuries been actively instructing or propagandistically coercing humankind to disbelieve and to dissociate from all modes of association with magical, and metaphysical, and Spiritual ecstasy producing ideas and activities.

This process of negative indoctrination has actually been a magic-paranoid political, social, economic, and cultural effort to enforce a gross "realist" or thoroughly materialistic, and altogether, anti-ecstatic, anti-magical, anti-metaphysical, and anti-Spiritual model of human life upon all individuals and collectives.

To see how thoroughly effective this benighted cultural program has become just log on to the benighted National Review website - it immediately hits you in the face.

Kyle said...

@Mihai:
"You don't know how much such "austere" considerations may help someone getting closer to God Almighty and become a better Christian. If for you they seem arid and futile it doesn't mean that they are so for everybody, God draws to Him different people through different means.

Well, for my part I don't regard them as futile at all, and find them very useful as I "continue to work out [my] salvation with fear and trembling" Phil 2:21 (or, from several centuries earlier Buddhism, "Strive with earnestness" DN 16 (PTS DN ii 72)).

Now you're right, I don't know how they seem to anyone else in terms of their soteriological significance. But more to the point, nor do I know the extent to which Ed knows or cares about that either. It was simply invalid of me to infer, from his writings on this blog alone, that he is remotely concerned with such things.

Kyle said...

@anon:
"Yet the true nature of Truth & Reality remains only an intuition, rather than a full Realization in almost everyone's case. The fullest Realization of Truth is of course absolutely uncommon, and most people are completely unaware of even the possibility of it."

I'm deeply interested in the lives and "mystical" experiences of the "major" saints, such as St. John of the Cross, and Teresa of Ávila. But Aquinas is doubly fascinating because in him we have a combination of a possibly mystical experience (in his "so much straw" event, even though we know next to nothing about it in detail), with a superb intellect. I became interested in Aquinas before even hearing about the straw thing, but that it's there is a nice bonus.

For me, the mystical vs intellectual dichotomy is false. Each on their own has dangers. Ignore the intellectual and you can end up dancing naked around Stonehenge praying to The Great Spirit. There are lots of "mystical" options out there after all, most of them bollocks. But ignore the mystical, "direct experience" and there's a danger you'll remain a mere logician with a bible. You can apply the utmost precision and rigor to, and become a world master in, the banging of a gong. But you're still only banging a gong.

Somewhere there's a balanced use of both faculties, although I *suspect* the balance point may vary quite a lot from person to person. One piece of advice I've learned and now often give is, if you find you have a tendency towards the intellect and the analytical, don't worry. In fact, lean into it, use it, develop it, and certainly don't be afraid of it.

Mihai said...

@Mary
You seem to confuse Thomism with the general teachings of the Fathers, because that a nature is not something "composed" of its hypostases while it is wholly present in each of them, that in the hypostasis of Christ the Divine and the human natures are united without confusion, or that the Incarnation does not imply any change in God are doctrines which are not specific to St. Thomas Aquinas, e.g. the Eastern Orthodox Church shares them too.

Mihai said...

@Kyle
Now you're right, I don't know how they seem to anyone else in terms of their soteriological significance. But more to the point, nor do I know the extent to which Ed knows or cares about that either. It was simply invalid of me to infer, from his writings on this blog alone, that he is remotely concerned with such things.

My impression is that his efforts have been mainly directed towards clearing up various misunderstandings, especially considering that we are living in a world full of wannabe philosophers and theologians, who assertively spread their opinions on matters with which they are in fact not acquainted even at the elementary level.

Erich said...

Hey all,

A general if somewhat parenthetical question – have there been any purely philosophical attempts to demonstrate the Trinity? Everything in this presumes the simple God of the philosophers "encounters" the triune God of Revelation, but have there been any philosophical arguments?

In my case I find the notion of the Trinity extremely beautiful and intuitive – despite its being mysterious. I could believe in the Incarnation because I already believed, somehow, that God is triune.

Mihai said...

@Kyle
Authentic "mystical experiences" depend on God's will, not on ours, what we have to do is to take-up our cross and follow Christ. Our duty is to participate in the life-giving sacramental life of the Holy Church of Christ, use our God-given talents to serve Christ and His Church, and strive day by day to grow in Christian virtues. To be God-rapt in ekstasis is not in our power.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous April 20, 2016 at 2:38 AM: "The fullest Realization of Truth is of course absolutely uncommon, and most people are completely unaware of even the possibility of it. In fact such a Realization is fundamentally taboo within all of the Semitic religious traditions, including of course Christianity. It is the ultimate taboo even."

Uh-huh. The ultimate taboo, even. Why, those magic-paranoid secular scientific realists and thoroughly materialistic and anti-spiritual Semitic (not Abrahamic!) religious types practically smile at cannibalism by comparison.

And now you've got Kyle seemingly thinking you're making a genuine point about mysticism. Where's the rolled-up newspaper when I need it...

(For those not keeping track, the law of needless capitalization is now six for six as a diagnostic criterion.)

Glenn said...

Kyle,

1. Prior OP (and to Dr. Feser):

But on my path Back In (I'm not at all there yet), I'm finding that DBH's approach is not only speaking deeply (although for the life of me I can't articulate why), but it is amplifying and making more potent *your* approach.

2. Current OP:

Somewhere there's a balanced use of both faculties, although I *suspect* the balance point may vary quite a lot from person to person. One piece of advice I've learned and now often give is, if you find you have a tendency towards the intellect and the analytical, don't worry. In fact, lean into it, use it, develop it, and certainly don't be afraid of it.

3. Strictly speaking, it is not necessary to go from, say, San Diego to Los Angeles by way of Baltimore.

Nonetheless, "[S]ince the intellect is in act in the senses, sleeping reason is aroused through wonder, so that it proceeds to the verisimilar. Then the intelligence is stimulated so that it might be raised up more attentively and unrestrictedly from a sleeping potency to knowledge of the truth." **

So, if in some case(s) it does take passing through Baltimore to get to Los Angeles from San Diego, then so be it.

- - - - -

** The quotation is of a passage from Nicholas of Cusa's De coniecturis as given in Markus Führer's Echoes of Aquinas in Cusanus's Vision of Man (p. 62).

The same passage is translated by Jasper Hopkins in the following way:

"[B]ecause of the fact that in the senses the intellect is present actually, somnolent reason is awakened through wondering, so that it hastens toward that which is a likeness of the true object. Next, intelligence is stimulated, so that it is raised up more alertly and more abstractly from a slumbering power to a knowledge of the true object." -- Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations: Volume Two (para 159).

David M said...

I've had a good few laughs reading to this point, sometimes at, sometimes with. Thanks to all contributors.

@Kyle: You seem to think you've had an epiphany about Ed and his blog and professional work. I think it was a pseudo-epiphany. I think it should be obvious to all that Ed cares about "soteriological significance."

Consider what Stephen Brock writes: As for the dignity of this handmaid [philosophy, handmaid of theology], it should almost suffice to recall what was for Thomas the most famous use of that epithet (Luke 1:38). But besides that, the fact that philosophy is being used for the sake of some end outside of it does not, for Thomas, exclude its having an intrinsic value of its own or its being desirable for its own sake. Indeed, as he sees it, theology can make philosophy itself even more lovable. “For when a man has a will disposed to believe, he loves the truth believed, and he reflects on it and embraces any reasons for it that he finds.” More generally, since the theologian is sure that all truth comes from God, he can judge that “the study of philosophy, in itself, is licit and praiseworthy, on account of the truth that the philosophers have acquired through God revealing it to them, as stated in Romans 1 [v. 19].” In this respect philosophy even constitutes a kind of germ or foretaste of man’s last end, which consists in the contemplation of the highest truth.

@Anonymous interested in faith and reason: I believe a Dostoevski character once said that if it came down to choosing between Christ and truth, he would choose Christ. Simone Weil, by contrast, who considered herself to be a congenital Catholic as to her habits of thought, wrote:

...il me paraissait certain, et je le crois encore aujour-d'hui, qu'on ne peut jamais trop résister à Dieu si on le fait par pur souci de la vérité. [...one cannot resist God too much if one does it for pure care for the truth.] Le Christ aime qu'on lui préfère la vérité, car avant d'être le Christ il est la vérité. Si on se détourne de lui pour aller vers la vérité, on ne fera pas un long chemin sans tomber dans ses bras. [Christ loves that we prefer the truth to him, for before being the Christ he is the truth. If one turns from him to go towards the truth, one won't go far without falling into his arms.]

David M said...

@Erich: Raymond Llull famously "held that there is no distinction between philosophy and theology, between reason and faith, so that even the highest mysteries [including the Trinity] may be proved by means of logical demonstration and the us of the Ars Magna." http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12670c.htm

laubadetriste said...

@Glenn: "Strictly speaking, it is not necessary to go from, say, San Diego to Los Angeles by way of Baltimore."

What a delightfully droll metaphor. :)

Tony said...

Where's the rolled-up newspaper when I need it...

@ laubadetriste: I think I left it by the door. Feel free to get it and apply to the appropriate surface behind. With my approbation.

But isn't the "Law of Needless Capitalization" supposed to be in cap....never mind.

Authentic "mystical experiences" depend on God's will, not on ours, what we have to do is to take-up our cross and follow Christ. Our duty is to participate in the life-giving sacramental life of the Holy Church of Christ, use our God-given talents to serve Christ and His Church, and strive day by day to grow in Christian virtues. To be God-rapt in ekstasis is not in our power.

Mihai,

St. John of the Cross explains, and Garrigou-Lagrange develops the point, that while mystical experiences are God's to give or not give, it is part of the ordinary development in the spiritual life if one lives an upright life and makes a habit of meditative / contemplative prayer. That is to say, by and large He does give it, at His pleasure:
" 'Turn to me, and I will turn to you,' says the Lord."

DavidM, I am a little puzzled how Robert Llull said anything "famously" if he isn't, you know...famous? 'Cause I never heard of him or his famous saying. Well, be that as it may, I think both Dostoevski and Simon Weil's articulations are more artful than clarifying, but perhaps they speak to some more than to me. For me, it is sufficient to note that it any apparent discrepancy between Christ and truth will be apparent rather than real, and simply implies more work to be done. Preferring one OVER the other is to rest when your duty says there is more work ahead for you.

Erich said...

@David M - Thank you. Is any such proof actually to be found in Llull's writings? Or anyone else's?

I suppose a somewhat more recent figure, Michel Henry, might be argued to have done something like this in a highly phenomenological framework toward the end of his career, but it's not a "proof" in anything like classical Scholastic sense.

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