Friday, March 17, 2006

Shootout at O.K. Coral

Robinson has responded to my esse is percipi piece.

In this reply I’ll limit myself to points of personal interest.

I could continue to play badminton with Perry over the best way to classify Berkeley or the finer-points of Augustine and his position in the history of ideas.

But none of this goes to the axial structure of my own belief-system.

“I don’t recall any scriptural demonstration of the notion of the divine ideas. Perhaps you could post a link.”

I did so here:

“Scripturally speaking, the very fact that many of the same words and concepts are applied to God and man in Scripture implies an analogy between God and man. And since God is the Creator, he would be the exemplar of any such relation.

There are also verses which tell us that the natural world exemplifies certain divine attributes (e.g. Ps 19:1; Prov 3:19; Rom 1:20; Eph 3:9-10).”

“And your own view does at least appear to track Augustine’s because, as you have written else where you speak of God as being “mind.” Whether you diverge from Augustine on later points is irrelevant since your view would still count as a species of Neoplatonic philosophical theology.”

God is mind because God is spirit, and in Scripture, spirits are discarnate personal agents. So all their properties are mental properties.

“I didn’t refer to “this or that” Reformed theologian. I referred to representative theologians of an entire tradition. The tradition as a whole subscribes to absolute divine simplicity and it usually cashes it out following either Aquinas or Scotus. Perhaps I made the mistake of thinking that since you identified yourself as “Reformed” that citing representative theologians as testifying to the position of the Reformed tradition would carry weight with your or that you subscribed to the position in question. I will make sure when we discuss the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, or any of the Solas for example, so as not to presume on the basis of what the Reformed tradition teaches that you subscribe to it until such time as you proffer a individual doctrinal statement. (An individual doctrinal statement-imagine that for a Baptist!)”

Very cute, but you have apparently forgotten that we’ve been over this ground before, either with your or Daniel. When this first came up I ran through a number of representative Reformed sources to show that Reformed theology has not generally committed to ADS.

Unless I missed something, you never responded to my evidence.

“I never claimed that ADS was a view that distinguished Reformed theology from other traditions, except from the Orthodox. ADS doesn’t differentiate the Reformed tradition from Rome for example since they hold to the same doctrine, which explains why Rome and the Reformed both hold to the heterodox doctrine of the Filioque for example. I did claim that ADS is something that the Reformed generally subscribe to, both confessionally and via its representative theologians and writings. Since that was my point, your noting that ADS doesn’t distinguish the Reformed is a red herring and therefore irrelevant.”

It’s hardly a red herring when you use a Reformed commitment to ADS to falsify Reformed theology on the grounds that if ADS is false, and Reformed theology is committed to ADS, then Reformed theology is false. That was your leading line of argument in the past.

Now, as I’ve documented, I deny that Calvinism has a general commitment to ADS.

But even if it did, unless ADS is a Reformed distinctive, disproving ADS does nothing to disprove Reformed theology.

So the distinction is entirely germane.

“Even if it were true that your Calvinism takes its point of departure from exegesis, this is beside the point since it would at best only show that you dissent from Protestant Orthodoxy on that point. It would still be true that Protestant Orthodoxy subscribes to ADS and that you were heterodox in relation to it.”

That, again, is only pertinent if subscription to ADS selects for the Reformed tradition, such that denial of ADS selects out Reformed theology.

“Moreover, exegesis requires pre-exegetical philosophical presuppositions that are not paradigm neutral. Such presuppositions since they are antecedent to the praxis of exegesis and features of your worldview are not derived from exegesis. Therefore your Calvinism doesn’t and couldn’t take its point of departure from exegesis but from your philosophical presuppositions.”

This is a massive overstatement. We all come to the reading of Scripture with certain preconceptions. These are person-variable

However, these preconceptions are not necessarily etched in stone. Indeed, students of Scripture often revise their prior views as a result of reading the Bible. They are able to perceive a conflict between their preconceptions and what the Bible actually says. They come to the Bible with a certain preconception, and come away from the Bible with a different view as a result of reading the Bible for itself.

You’ve worked yourself in a dilemma Perry. On the one hand, you want to say that exegesis is so paradigm-dependent that we could never revise our presuppositions in light of Bible study.

On the other hand, you want to say that Protestant theology is perennially provisional.

You can’t play both sides of the fence, Perry.

Scripture does have the power to correct our preconceptions. It simply depends on whether the reader is predisposed to change his views in light of Scripture. Some are, some aren’t.

It isn’t just a matter of reading the Bible, from an outsider’s perspective. Later Bible writers comment on events recorded by earlier writers. So, in reading the Bible, we can see how Bible writers read their Bible as well.

And that affords us an opportunity to refine or revise our own operating assumptions.

You wrote on 7/13/2005,
“Notice how, according to this framework, the individuating principle which differentiates one person of the Godhead from another consists in existential propositions concerning the economic Trinity. And that conduces straight to modalism. On such a view, the Trinitarian relations are contingent rather than necessary.”

“I wonder exactly how you derive the concept of the Trinitarian persons as “relations” from exegesis? Where exactly does the Bible gloss, either implicitly or explicitly the divine persons as relations? Nowhere that I know of. I don’t know how you would come to that view without ADS. If the divine essence isn’t simple, then hypostases can subsist with in it and amount to a real plurality in the essence, rather than relations of the essence to itself, as Augustine is forced to do because of his commitment to ADS. In any case, it is obvious that your Calvinism doesn’t take its point of departure nor all of its content from exegesis but from inherited platonic views.”

The persons of the Trinity are internally related because they are coeternal and mutually inclusive. All the persons must coexist for any of the persons to exist. So they do “generate” (in the logical rather than ontological sense of the term) a necessary set of relations.

But it by no means follows from this that the persons of the Trinity are reducible to relations.

Indeed, in the very passage you quote, I am attacking a modalistic model of the Trinity. Modalism does, indeed, reduce the Trinity to merely relational properties. That’s is what I’m opposing.

You seize on one word without regard to the surrounding context.

“Moreover, you have posted in the past an article from Paul Helm endorsing ADS.

I suppose I made the mistake of thinking that you wouldn’t post something on your blog that defended a deformed or heterodox view of God. I took your posting of Helm’s re-hash of Aquinas (See ST, 1.3, 1.9) as an implicit endorsement of the doctrine. I should stop being so charitable I suppose.”

Now you’re being devious. I posted Helm’s article as a defense of divine impassibility, not divine simplicity.

“If the divine ideas are unexemplified then they are potentia in God and since identical with the divine essence, God is potentia. So when you ask, “relative to what?” the answer is, relative to God. If there are divine ideas that are unexemplified in the world, but actual in God, what is it to be unexemplified that is not being actual? To be exemplified is to be actual in some world. If they are actual in God then they are exemplified in God, thereby making creation, among other things, necessary.”

i) No, they are not “exemplified” in God. Rather, they inhere in God, as divine properties. They are possessed by God, like his other attributes.

ii) Are they “identical” with the divine essence? That depends on what you mean. Are you alluding to ADS again? Remember that I’m not committed to that doctrine.

One idea is not identical with other in terms of propositional content.

To say they are identical with the divine essence is not to say that they are identical with each other, for we are dealing with a set/subset relation.

“If all or any of his ideas are actual, then they are instantiated since to be actual is to be instantiated. If not, you need to explain what you mean by “actual” and how you are differentiating it from “exemplification.”

No, to be actual is not to be instantiated. That only holds for finite modes of subsistence or finite existents.

God is not a property-instance. God is not the instantiation of some abstract property.

“In any case, your position here is essentially that of Aquinas, which is what I have been saying since the get-go.”

Do I? Since you continue to mistake my position, the comparison is flawed.

“The difference between the worldly mode of subsistence and their mode of subsistence in God cannot be a real difference since they are identical to the divine essence.”

On the assumption of ADS, you mean? You really are unteachable, Perry. Once you get an idea lodged in your brain, it’s there to stay, right or wrong.

“Traditionally, the divine ideas don’t subsist in the world in any case but perhaps here you prefer to dissent from traditional Latin philosophical theology and favor pantheism instead.”

Where did I say that divine ideas “subsist” in the world?

“If God is not his own exemplar, then do you deny that God knows other things in knowing his divine ideas which are nothing other than himself? Does God know creatures by knowing himself or does he know by knowing the creature?”

i) God is the exemplary cause of the creature. Naturally God is not the exemplary cause of himself, for God is uncaused.

ii) Yes, God knows the creature by knowing himself.

"If you are not committed to ADS, how do you gloss divine unity?"

i) To begin with, it is not incumbent upon me to gloss divine unity. It is only incumbent upon me to affirm whatever Scripture affirms, and avoid reductive formulations which negate the teaching of Scripture.

ii) But if I were reaching for a model of divine unity, it would be in the concept of symmetry, especially enantiomorphic symmetries.

1 comment:

  1. Its more than a little amusing that a modern day philosophical apologist for Orthodoxy would attempt to hang so much of his anti-protestant polemic on such a tendentious and recondite doctrine as Divine Simplicity; and that without ever actually getting around to telling us what he thinks this doctrine is; or why modern Protestants should feel the need to be saddled with it.

    Just stating the doctrine is evidently no easy task, given the opaque and generally metaphorical way it has been broached by its historical advocates. Its most natural and well known formulation; set against the backdrop of a commonsense or platonic account of property instantiation, is *universally rejected* by both protestant and catholic thinkers alike, and has been, since at least the 1980 publication of Does God Have A Nature?

    Contemporary advocates of the doctrine are quite willing to set aside the intuitive understanding of DS as worthless and incoherant. In its most recent rehabilitations (ie, William Mann, Brian Leftow, Christopher Hughes), the commonsense metaphysical backdrop for the doctrine has been replaced by a relatively clunky and controversial aristotelean, or trope-theoretic account of property instantiation. And while these latest formulations are not obviously subject to the withering criticisms Plantinga used to surgically disembowel the intuitive doctrine in the book mentioned above, its not at all clear that the aristotelean face of DS is even *relevant* to a modern protestant thinker's views on metaphysics and doctrine, let alone that this particular formulation is *entailed* by them.

    Perry does have one point though. But like some of the other points he makes, its of the most frivolous sort; that indeed *some* protestant theologians did acknowledge the force of compositionalist objections to our shared sovereignty-aseity intuitions about God, and seemed to feel that the best way to defuse such worries is with some sort of footnote-affirmation of DS. But bare appeal to old, old, protestant theologians will do no argumentative work here. Asking what Calvin or Charles Hodge thought about the ontology of properties, their individuation, the nature of property-instantiation, identity theory, substance ontology, compositionality, and the cluster of other arcane concepts within the nexus of DS; --matters that have only relatively recently been placed under the microscope-- is about as appropriate and decisive as asking what ole Ptolemy thought about the special and general theories of relativity.

    The reality of the matter is that the non-revelational metaphysical opinions of medieval and pre-20th century christian thinkers in general, just doesn't have the claim on modern and representative protestant theological thinking that Perry seems to think it does.