Monday, July 16, 2012

Classical theism roundup

Classical theism is the conception of God that has prevailed historically within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Western philosophical theism generally.  Its religious roots are biblical, and its philosophical roots are to be found in the Neoplatonic and Aristotelian traditions.  Among philosophers it is represented by the likes of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Avicenna.  I have emphasized many times that you cannot properly understand the arguments for God’s existence put forward by classical theists, or their conception of the relationship between God and the world and between religion and morality, without an understanding of how radically classical theism differs from the “theistic personalism” or “neo-theism” that prevails among some prominent contemporary philosophers of religion.  (Brian Davies classifies Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, and Charles Hartshorne as theistic personalists.  “Open theism” would be another species of the genus, and I have argued that Paley-style “design arguments” have at least a tendency in the theistic personalist direction.)   

Because this topic comes up so often, I thought it would be useful to put together a roundup of posts I’ve written which deal with the subject.  (I also defend some of the main themes of classical theism in my books The Last Superstition and Aquinas, and in my American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.”   And for discussion of what I take to be the most significant sort of argument in defense of classical theism, see my roundup of posts on the cosmological argument.)

For a general account of classical theism, its philosophical content, its relation to biblical descriptions of God, and how it differs from theistic personalism, see:

For discussion of the doctrine of divine simplicity, which is at the core of classical theism, see:

For discussion of the implications of classical theism for questions about morality and the problem of evil (including an exchange with Stephen Law), see:

For discussion of various other specific issues that arise in discussions of classical theism, such as questions about the nature of divine causality, the relation of abstract objects to God, the divine attributes, and so forth, see:

The divine intellect

Is [the] God [of classical theism] dead?

Also relevant to such topics is the treatment of the metaphysical issues underling classical theism I presented in a lecture at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in December 2011, which you can watch on YouTube:

For discussion of the differences between classical theism on the one hand, and the conception of God often operative in Paley-style “design arguments” and “Intelligent Design” theory on the other, see:

For discussion of the ways in which various atheist arguments implicitly presuppose a non-classical conception of God and are irrelevant to classical theism, see:

For discussion of some of the philosophical precursors of classical theism in Greek philosophy, see:

Finally, for discussion and defense of the distinctively Christian, Trinitarian interpretation of classical theism, see:


  1. Thanks for the roundup Dr. Feser. I am going to have to read the posts on divine simplicity again as that is a subject that I still can't wrap my head around. It just seems so counter-intuitive to me that God would be ultimately simple. My brain tells me that, if anything, God should be infinitely complex!

    I know we've had this discussion before, but sometimes my mind is very stubborn in letting go of pre-conceived ideas. The give and take in the comboxes actually helps me though - as I can see the various sides of an issue argued.

    Thanks for keeping this blog alive and interesting!!

  2. Hi Dr. Feser,

    I was hoping you could respond to a point that William Lane Craig made in one of his posts, where he was explaining why he believes that God is not immutable in every sense. Basically, he says that while God is by definition perfect and thus cannot change in and of Himself, the creation of the universe resulted in an external change.

    Meaning, God changed insofar as stuff around him changed, similar to how we would say that a person changes when a car passes by him: even though the person himself doesn't move, the person still changes in relation to what is outside.

    John Burford

  3. Would the response be that even external change presumes a timed environment, and since God is timeless/outside of time, the notion of external change applied to God is nonsensical?

  4. Happiness is the now-and-forever Mystery that IS the Real Heart and the Only Real God of every one.

    Happiness Is the Conscious Light of the World.

    The ultimate nature of the world and how it is arising is inherently and tacitly obvious, if you remain in a state of pleasurable oneness with whatever and all that presently arises.

    To remain in a state of pleasurable oneness with whatever and all that presently arises, you must, necessarily and always presently, Realize inherently Love-Blissful Unity with whatever and all that presently arises.

  5. Dr. Feser,

    I'm still having some problems with the notion of Divine Simplicity, and this post by a fellow blogger regarding Dr. Craig's criticism thereof has a valid point, I think:

    Can you comment on it?

  6. >But what about terms that ONLY apply to God like omnipotence and omniscience?

    God is Purely Actual and thus contains no potency. Omnipotence means that which is Purely Actual can impart any real actuality to any real potency. Omniscience means God has all actual knowledge & He has acquired no knowledge. None of this is possible without him being Purely Actual.

    Craig might be treating Pure Actuality is if it where a property of God instead of what God is by nature.

  7. A critique of Craig on the Divine Simplicity.

  8. I feel like a broken record...

    when it is said that God is pure actuality and devoid of potency, what that means is that He is devoid of any passive potency (the capacity to be affected by anything) whatsoever. But He is supreme in what is sometimes called active potency or power -- the capacity to affect other things. ("Potency" is also a word for power, after all -- as in "omnipotent.") See Summa Theologiae I.25.1:

    Dr. Edward Feser