Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Divine simplicity

<< Our arguments against Calvin are the same that we would make against Thomas. That is absolute divine simplicity. That is why I think your view is semi-Origenistic. I see that you are not familiar with the Origenist dialectic.

I have written a paper on the issue of Monenergism and showed how the Origenist dialectic and it's presupposition of the Good as absolutely simple was the motivating factor to root the will in hypostasis or that the divine will had to determine the human will for Christ to go to the Cross, not to mention the type of movement that the Saints enjoy in the Eschaton.

I take libertarian free-will to be a necessary condition to hold to a correct view of God. Why? Because God can create or not create, both of those two options are not the same, and God did not have to create anything at all. That is alternate possibilities. The type of necessity that we are talking about with regards to ADS (absolute divine simplicity) is the same kind that is had by God's existence. Is that existence contingent? No, it is not. So if the act of will to create is identical to God's existence, and God's existence is not contingent, then neither is creation (goodbye creation ex nihilo). Thus, you cannot have a distinction between the acts of generation and acts of creation on a logical level. >>

By way of reply:

1. I didn’t say I was unfamiliar with the Origenist dialectic. It is just not my job to argue both sides of the case. But you and Perry may well have a more specialized knowledge of Byzantine theology than I. And, in any event, it is your own interpretation which figures in your argument,, such as it is. So I don’t mind reading your paper.

2. Appeal to the doctrine of divine simplicity (hereafter DDS) is a very different argument from Perry’s. You are, of course, entitled to make your own case your own way. But it leaves most of my replies to Perry untouched.

3. There is also the recurring problem of theological method. You are reiterating the same mistake as Perry, which is to suppose that you can dispatch Calvinism through a philosophical short-cut.

I remind you again that Calvinism does not posit philosophical reasoning as its truth-condition. Many tenets of Calvinism, such as unconditional election, reprobation, absolute providence, irresistible grace, perseverance, penal substitution, special redemption, sola fide, covenant theology, and the like, claim their basis in exegetical theology and the logical interrelation of doctrines thus derived.

Whether or not we adopt DDS, and, if so, which version we adopt, this is not a silver bullet against doctrines derived from divine revelation. Urging DDS upon Calvinism is not an adequate disproof of a belief-system grounded in lines of evidence independent of DDS.

If you wish to rebut Calvinism on its own grounds, you must either
i) rebut our exegesis, or
ii) rebut our rule of faith (sola Scriptura)

Otherwise, your efforts are just a straw man argument.

4. You also need to differentiate between Reformed distinctives and Reformed incidentals. DDS is not distinctive to Calvinism. It doesn’t issue from the inner logic of Calvinism, per se. It is, at most, a traditional carryover from Scholasticism.

5. In addition, Calvinism has, at most, a minimal commitment to DDS. For example, the Westminster Confession says that God is without “body, parts, or passions” (WCF 2:1), but that doesn’t offer any detailed model of DDS.

In Calvin, too, there is trace-evidence of the Scholastic doctrine, but again, without the minute elaboration.

6. DDS takes its inspiration from two different sources.

i) There is the Neoplatonic primacy of the one over the many. I don’t see that Calvinism has any logical or historical commitment to this presupposition. Given, indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity, it is incumbent upon us to affirm the equal ultimacy of the one and the many.

There is also a sense in which this version of DDS is actually at odds with the deeper meaning of simplicity, which is not to factor everything down to a lowest common denominator, but rather, to deny that any one thing about God is less fundamental than something else. So DDS can be understood as an anti-reductive program rather than a reductive program.

By contrast, this Neoplatonic priority is far more axial to your own theological center of gravity—a la Byzantine theology.

ii) There is also the attempt to arrive at a negative definition of God as a being who subsists outside the space-time continuum--once we strip away the attributes proper to a concrete object.

On this view, DDS is not so much an attempt to arrive at a positive definition of God, but to say what he is not. It is more of a method than a definition.

And this doesn’t mean that God has no positive properties. The method is abstractive or negative, but not the object.

This is also, as well you know, a feature of Byzantine theological method, on loan from Neoplatonism. But as a merely methodological device, it doesn’t posit any properties, such as the priority of the one.

A Scholastic like Aquinas will express DDS in Aristotelian categories (e.g. form/matter, substance/accident; potentiality/actuality; genus/differentia). A Calvinist is not bound that these categories, except as different ways of expressing a mode of subsistence outside of time and space.

And the residual can be fleshed out by the ascriptions of the Bible. Indeed, it is due to God’s self-revelation of what he is that we can say what he is not. Having wiped the slate clean, it can be filled in by Scripture.

Two steps are required to complete this process:
a) An adequate theory of analogical predication and
b) A harmonistic principle to distinguish anthropomorphic ascriptions from literal ascriptions. But this can be done, and has been done.

To turn DDS into an objection to Calvinism, you would have to demonstrate that Calvinism has a logical commitment to version (a) of DDS. That is a very tall order.


  1. Steve,

    We don't need an education on what ADS consists of by Scholastic Theologians or by Reformed Confessions, as we are both quite familiar with the contemporary and medieval literature on the topic. Perry's a doctoral student in medieval metaphysics at SLU and I'm a graduate in theology at UD. Why else would Calvin concede that God having a permissive will was an "evasion" and "frivolous," if he didn't have a commitment to ADS? The reason why the West is predestinarian and the East is not predestinarian is because they have different conceptions about God. I beg to differ about the exegetical committments. Those committments are built off of the philosophical theology despite claims to the contrary. So how about an engagement of the argument? They are here:




    And no, from what I have read of your elaborations of libertarian freedom, you do have a committment to ADS or hold to common presuppositions of it because you gloss it principally between objects of differing moral worth.


  2. Daniel,

    Subtract the inane vanity and wet worldly pride and maintenance of both from your words and what is left? Please don't reply with an accusation that I'm anti-intellectual. Christian faith is a serious matter. You are screwing around. Calvinism is apostolic Biblical doctrine; it's not worldly, man-centered philosophy for second year (actual or not) university students to noodle 'philosophically' about). It doesn't occupy that ground. It stands on the ground of the Word of God. I see you refuse to grant this and thus you refuse to do battle on real ground. You perhaps have good reason to fear this.

  3. Daniel might respond: "Oh, but this is a legitimate issue in philosophical theologicial academic disciplines of serious thought, and you are out of your league."

    OK, just don't presume to make absolute statements of how Austustine and also Calvin and every Christian since the Reformation 'got it all wrong' because 'Perry wrote a paper'. You wouldn't be the first wet boy to think he can overthrow the Reformation with a paper or whatever. One of your - I think - partners in crime, Kevin Johnson, once threatened God that he, Kevin Johnson, would overthrow the Protestant Reformation by starting a 'new website' if God didn't grant his demands... His new website has recently gone defunct...

    The rock foundation of God's Biblical doctrine still exists.