Wednesday, May 04, 2005

O sancta simplicitas!

<< 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. >>

Perhaps we need to lay down a few ground-rules for discussion. What you know you know is beside the point. What is necessary, in such a discussion, is for you to know what I know, and for me to know what you know. And that is also for the benefit of whoever is reading Triablogue.

It is perfectly appropriate for me to spell out my own understanding of DDS, and how I relate that to Reformed theology, as well as for you to spell out your own understanding of DDS, and how you relate that to DDS. For you to take offense does nothing to advance mutual understanding. What exactly would you like to accomplish?

<< 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? >>

Perhaps because he already told us why, and his stated reason had nothing to do with DDS? Could that be it?


But why shall we say “permission” unless it is because God so wills? Still, it is not in itself likely that man brought destruction upon himself through himself, by God’s mere permission and without any ordaining. As if God did not establish the condition in which he wills the chief of his creatures to be!

Institutes 3.23.8


Here I take Calvin to give two reasons, one embedded in the other. First, whatever God permits, he does so willingly. Hence, his permission is a willing permission.

And, secondly, this is due to the fact that God was in a position to prevent what he permitted to happen. So if it happened, it happened because he willed it to happen—seeing as he was able to keep it from happening had he willed otherwise.

Now, there is no reference here to DDS. It is, of course, possible, that there is a deeper reason connected with DDS. But, if so, you need to mount an argument, on some textual basis in Calvin, to show that his distaste for permissive language is logically contingent on his commitment to DDS. Just to throw out a question begs the question entirely.

At a minimum, when Calvin gives you his reason for why he believes something, that is the reasonable point of departure for further investigation, is it not?

<< The reason why the West is predestinarian and the East is not predestinarian is because they have different conceptions about God. >>

Isn’t this an overstatement? It is not merely their theology (proper), but their anthropology and hamartiology.

<< Those committments are built off of the philosophical theology despite claims to the contrary. >>

This is an assertion, not an argument. And even if it were true, it commits the genetic fallacy.

Suppose I believe in naturalistic evolution. Then I convert to the faith. I become a Bible-believing Christian. I then reject evolution on exegetical and theological grounds.

I now have an incentive, such as I didn’t have before, to reexamine the scientific evidence for evolution, so I bone up on the ID literature. As a consequence, I pick up a number of scientific objections to evolution as well.

Now those scientific arguments have an intellectual merit independent of the exegetical argument. Even if I were to change my mind about the exegesis, that would not affect the scientific arguments.

<< So how about an engagement of the argument? >>

First you accuse me of lecturing you on the definition of DDS and its relation to Calvinism, then you insinuate that I’ve failed to engage the argument. Isn’t that what the argument is about?

BTW, when were you planning to engage my counterarguments?

<< 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. >>

Since you’re trying to paraphrase what I said in your own categories, it’s hard for me to recognize my position in this terse restatement.

I reject LFW. I do not define freedom as the freedom of contrary choice. I distinguish between first and second-order goods as a necessary condition of a Christian theodicy, but not as a necessary condition of freedom, per se. I have also distinguished between at least two different versions of DDS.

Moving on to Perry’s arguments:

<< Hypothetical Syllogism (HS)

If A, then B
If B, then C
If A, then C

This is a valid inference rule. If the premises are true, it will always lead you to the truth. The same can be said for Modus Ponens. >>

This is valid, but valid only because it operates at the level of an abstract schema. Once you plug in concrete content, the relations may not be that neat and tidy.

There are different ways of modeling identity. A set is identical with its members. But its members are not identical with each other. So you have a set/subset relation. And this is for an abstract object, which is indivisible in time and space.

Again, to say that A and B are identical with respect to C is not to say that A and B are identical with each other, but only that they share a point of commonality with C. This is a case of polygamous predication

In geometry and crystallography, we also have enantiomorphic symmetries--where you can pair off two objects in one-to-one correspondence.

So I’m afraid that Perry’s opening move is a false move. It oversimplifies the options.

<< 1. If God is absolutely simple (P), then his act of will to create is identical with his essence (R).
2. If God’s act of will to create is identical with his essence (R), then his act of will to create is necessary. (Q)
3. If God is absolutely simple (P), then his act of will to create is necessary. (Q) (From 1,2 by Hypothetical Syllogism)
4. God is absolutely simple. (Premise S)
5. Therefore, God’s act of will to create is necessary (R). (From 3,4 by Modus Ponens) >>

#2 is fatally equivocal. It could either mean:
i) God’s will to create necessitates creation, or
ii) God necessarily wills to create.

According to (i), necessity applies to the object of his will—the effect. Given God’s will to create, his conative act is necessary. But the given is not a necessity.

According to (ii), it applies to the subject of his will—God himself. It is necessary that he will to create.

It is going to take more than syllogistic logic to sort this out. The logic must derive from the content, not the content from the logic. Are you assuming ADS, or proving ADS? Are you trying to prove ADS by means of this syllogism, by plugging ADS into the syllogism?

Logical and ontological relations are not the same thing. Which is generating which?

<< Support for (2) is given by the following argument.

(2)If God’s act of will to create is identical with his essence (R), then his act of will to create is necessary. (Q)

6. If God’s essence is had by him necessarily, then if anything is identical with his essence it is necessary.

7. God’s essence is had by him necessarily. (Premise)

8. Therefore, anything identical with his essence is necessary. (From 6, 7 MP) >>

#6 is ambiguous as well. One problem is that you’re confounding logical and ontological necessity. To say that x follows from y by logical necessity is not to say that x is ontologically necessary because y is ontologically necessary. This is a category confusion. Does the if-then construction apply to ontology or logicality?

<< Now, by my reading, Protestants hold to the same basic doctrine of absolute simplicity as Rome does. It is mentioned to various degrees by most if not all of the Reformed Confessions and expounded in all the major systematic theologians from the period of Reformed Scholasticism forward. >>

I would like to see the textual basis for this claim. For example, Turretin says “the orthodox teach that they [the divine attributes] are really the same with his essence, but are to be distinguished from it virtually and eminently,” Institutes 1:188.

Bavinck says “the fact, however, that we cannot distinguish between God’s being or essence and his attributes, inasmuch as every attribute is identical with the essence, does not imply that there is only a nominal and subjective distinction between the attributes, a distinction which has no real basis,” The Doctrine of God, 127.

Berkhof, after affirming and defining DDS in terms of God’s incomposite, indivisible nature, according to which his “essence and perfections are not distinct, and his attributes are not superadded to his essence,” goes on to say: “Dabney believed that there is no composition in the substance of God, but denies that in him substance and attributes are one and the same. He claims that God is no more simple in that respect than finite spirits,” Systematic Theology, 62.

Frame, in his recent monograph, rejects the Thomistic version of DDS. Cf. The Doctrine of God, 225-30.

Charles Hodge says:


In attempting to explain the relation in which the attributes of god stand to his essence and to each other, there are two extremes to be avoided. First, we must not represent God as a composite being, composed of different elements; and, secondly, we must not confound these attributes, making them all mean the same thing, which is equivalent to denying them altogether.

To say, as the schoolmen, and so many even of Protestant theologians, ancient and modern, were accustomed to say, that the divine attributes differ only n name, or in our conceptions, or in their effects, is to destroy all true knowledge of God.

But we are not to give up the conviction that God is really in himself what he reveals himself to be, to satisfy any metaphysical speculations as to the difference between essence and attribute in an infinite Being.

Systematic Theology 1:396,71,74.


The comments of Bavinck and Turretin are not, to be sure, self-explanatory. In the case of Bavinck, we must make some allowance for the influence of Kant and German idealism. That would be more epistemic than ontological

In the case of Turretin, allowance must be made for the influence of Aristotle, as well as his opposition to Socinianism.

However, Calvinism has never canonized a particular school of philosophy. A Calvinist can adapt various philosophical systems, in varying degrees, in the articulation and defense of Calvinism, viz., Augustinian (Gordon Clark, William Young), Aristotelian (Turretin), Cartesian (Geulincx), Scottish realism (Old Princeton theology, S. Presbyterian theology), idealism (Edwards), &c.

<< And since we take freedom to be of the essence of a person, a diminishing of their freedom threatens the status of the glorified as persons. >>

i) Of course, a Calvinist would define freedom along compatibilist lines. Even so, to make this the “essence” of a person is an overstatement. Does a newborn baby have freewill? Is it a person?

ii) In Scripture, the imago dei is not defined in terms of freedom, much less libertarian freedom. For that matter, the imago dei is not defined in terms of personhood—whatever that means. Consciousness?

<< For Augustine, even though he is a synergist of sorts, he still has to understand freedom in a soft deterministic way such that an agent is free even if they lack alternative possibilities. >>

How does this relate to DDS? Is it possible, then, for Augustine to be both a soft determinist and adherent of DDS?

<< For the compatibilist it is hard to see why God didn’t just create everyone good such that they would never sin. >>

I have already given my own answer.

<<“Frankfurt” like case. Imagine unbeknownst to me some malign agent seeks to control my actions by means of some scientific widget or some supernatural power. This widget or power permits the covert agent to monitor my mental states and acts and to manipulate them by means of manipulating my brain states. If the malign agent sees that I am going to choose X, he does nothing since that is the choice he wants me to make. If he sees that I am going to do Y then he intervenes in some way to neutralize that neurological state in my brain. And he sees this by virtue of viewing the decisions I have made. Prior to making a decision though all he sees is my deliberating between two options. >>

This does not comport my own understanding of Frankfurt-type cases. The whole point of such hypotheticals is that the malign agent never has to intervene. He never needs to active the fail-safe device, because, in the end, I don’t choose contrary to his wishes. Even though, unbeknownst to me, I can’t choose to the contrary, it makes no difference to the outcome since, as it just so happens, I do what I was going to do all along even if the fail-safe device had never been implanted.

<< But notice that when I am deliberating I am deciding between two options, specifically to continue to deliberate or to make a decision. My power to deliberate between options is itself an instance of having alternative possibilities. >>

This is a valid distinction. However,

i) The same thought-experiment could be easily adapted to take that into account. The fail-safe would potentially preempt certain untoward thoughts, but I was never going to have those thoughts anyway.

ii) In addition, there is quite a difference between making freedom of opportunity a condition of freedom, and making mere deliberation a condition of freedom. How would you relate these two models to Calvinism and DDS?

<< Through continued obedience they would have reached a state of moral impeccability and hence been “as gods.” >>

i) Are angels virtuous?
ii) Does your theory call for Purgatory to complete the journey?
iii) From a Reformed perspective, yours is a very androcentric theodicy.


  1. If you would like to see the grid that we are working from, try my latest post: Synergy in Christ.

    People in the contemporary literature realize that God's willing ex suppositione doesn't skirt around the problem. For details try Christopher Hughes, A Complex Theory of a Simple God, Cornell Univ.

    Most of your arguments have already been dealt with either in the comments section of the blog or in responses to Dr. Blosser--in which your objections are quite similar.


  2. Daniel,

    Dialogue is a two-way street. It is not my job to keep going back to your site, dig through something you said to someone else, and extract something supposedly relevant to what I said.

    At your request, I've taken the time to write three fairly detailed replies to your material. Instead of a rejoinder, you pass the buck. Be lazy on your own time, not mine.

  3. Steve,

    I'll get around to responding to you, just not at the moment and probably not for a couple of weeks. Due to my time constraints (it's that time of year), most of what I can give right now is largely informative.

    I singled you out asking for a response to some of our articles sense it seemed like you have some philosophical competency.

    I'm a little bit flustered of what to actually do with your response since you deny that even God has libertarian freedom since I haven't run into anyone currently that excepts such a view (except for maybe the late Norman Kretzmann in his article: "Why would God create anything at all?" in Scott McDonald's Being and Goodness). If you deny God has libertarian free-will with respect to creating, then the object of the will is singular and simple, which is His essence. This is bread and butter Origen in The First Principles and Plotinus. For both, the eternality of the world falls out of such a view. Why be a Christian at all at that point, as it seems like Neo-Platonism would be just dandy?


  4. Daniel,

    Thanks for the clarification. Please recall that I've distinguished between libertarian freedom and counterfactual freedom. With respect to God, I affirm the latter, but not the former. Hence, my denial does not entail that the object of God's will is singular and simple.