Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Nate Shannon's one-trick pony show

Nate Shannon recently published an article ("The epistemology of divine conceptualism") which I will comment on:

The principle concern I have has to do with the incomprehensibility of God.

What a surprise! Yet another rerun of Shannon's one-trick pony show.

One problem is that he doesn't bother to define what he means by the incomprehensibility of God, even though he uses that as a theological criterion. Indeed, trying to define it would entangle him a dilemma. If you can specify in what respect God is incomprehensible, then haven't you dispelled the mystery? But if you can't, then isn't your statement reducible to theological noncognitivism?

If propositions are essentially about something, as they must be in order to do the philosophical work we need them to do (bear truth, for one thing), they must be about something other than themselves or other abstracta; they must be about real, concrete particulars.

That's such an odd criticism coming from a self-styled Calvinist. Isn't this parallel to the decree? 

One way to preclude this encroachment has been to say that God eternally has in his mind an exhaustive (probably infinite) library of complete sets of logically consistent propositions, called possible worlds. This is thought to help because before God creates (or ‘actualizes’ one of them), all possible worlds are merely possible; no single world enjoys modal or ontological privilege (no possible world is actual or more real than any other).

Once again, how else would a Reformed philosophical theologian unpack the notion of predestination? God has a complete concept of the world he intends to create. That stands in contrast to other concepts he has of other worlds he refrains from making. How can you cash out predestination without appeal to possible worlds? Isn't a master plan for world history (or a world) a possible world? 

Thus, in my view, this is more or less a leading concern for divine conceptualism, at least for the traditional theist: do we have epistemic rights to put these laws of logic in the mind of God? As no doubt the reader will have noticed, I harbor an openness to the possibility that the laws of logic as we know them do not exist necessarily, in the strong sense in which this is usually taken, but only given a few things (whichever things get us from God’s being uncompelled to create all the way to the actual world). Put more precisely, I think there is rather too much confidence (exaggerated epistemic license, we might say) in the claim that the laws of logic as we know them do in fact exist necessarily, even for God, in the very mind of God.

He seems to be flirting with universal possibilism. 

According to our lonely but courageous traditional theist, exegesis of Scripture gives us a God who is one essence in three persons. The Son, the second person, is God of himself as to essence, but as Son (as to his person) he is derivative of the Father.

i) To begin with, I don't agree with that particular formulation. I prefer the position of Warfield, Helm, and Frame.

ii) More to the point, how is his claim not prying into the inner life of the godhead, but what Greg and James say is prying into the inner life of the godhead?

iii) How is that formulation consistent with his appeal to divine incomprehensibility? Shannon plays both sides of that fence, jumping back and forth. When it concerns something he wants to affirm or deny, then we can know what God is like. But when it's about theistic conceptual realism, that violates divine incomprehensibility! 

His procedure is so arbitrary. There's no consistent principle at work. 

iv) Finally, if you flirt with universal possibilism, you forfeit the right to parse the Trinity. Anything goes. 

Minimally, the creator/creature distinction is the idea that God is the original, incomprehensible but fully self-comprehended, self-sufficient I AM, and the creation is dependent upon him, derivative of him, and utterly comprehended by him.

He can't maintain the creator/creature distinction and simultaneously toy with universal possibilism. 

A ‘mind’ then is whatever a necessary truth requires; but this is no more than we knew from the outset about necessary truths. In this case, when we say ‘G/god’ we are re-naming an aspect of a necessarily true proposition, and, as they say, promoting it to incompetence.

Whether necessary truth requires a mind is disputed. So that's not just renaming necessary truth. 

Moreover, it involves a relation between a mind and necessary truth. 

To prove the existence of God from the necessity of such propositions is to produce a kind of ontological argument with an appendix. 

What's wrong with that? 

I might take divine incomprehensibility to be the fact that God as he is to himself (ad intra) defies explanation. 

That's reminiscent of the radical apophaticism of Maimonides and al-Ghazali. It sounds very pious, but it's barely distinguishable from atheism. If you can't know what God is like in himself, then you can't know that God even exists. 

We may point specifically to the essence of God subsisting in three persons, or to the equal ultimacy of three and one, or to the irreducibility of relative personal distinctions and essential unity in the Godhead, or perhaps to the self-existence (aseity) of each distinct triune person in the unity of God.23 Any of these will do for now.

Is that or is that not what God is like in himself? Is the Trinity what God is like in himself, or other than what God is like in himself? 

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