Friday, December 08, 2017

"Beginner-level mistakes"

Responding to Craig's "Does God Have both Necessary and Contingent Properties?", Mark Jones, on Facebook, exclaimed: "Wow, does he even do theology? Like those are beginner-level mistakes."

Here's what Craig said:

Basically, what your question asks is whether God can have some of His properties necessarily and some of them contingently.  It seems to me that He can and does.  Those who deny this would typically appeal to the doctrine of divine simplicity, which in its strongest form asserts the identity of God with His properties. But so strong a version of the doctrine has no biblical basis, is unintelligible, and has no compelling arguments in its favor. Given that God is not in this radical sense a simple being, he can have a plurality of properties, some of which He has necessarily and some contingently.

For example, God is essentially existent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, good, and so on, and so has such properties in every possible world. But God has only contingently the properties of being the Creator of the universe, knowing what time it now is, being incarnate in Jesus Christ, being my Redeemer, and so on, since He has these properties only in possible worlds in which He wills to create a universe, which is the free and contingent choice of His will. Jews as well as Christians will recognize that God may have both sorts of properties. 

According to Jones, Craig committed "beginner-level mistakes". Jones didn't bother to explain or correct Craig's alleged mistakes. He treats that as self-evident. Let's compare Craig's objection to this statement:

But it is very difficult to understand how a simple being could be free in the unconditional 'could have done otherwise' sense. If God is simple, then he is pure act in which case he is devoid of unrealized powers, potentialities or possibilities.  To act freely, however is to act in such a way that one (unconditionally) could have done otherwise, which implies unrealized possibilities. 

Vallicella is raising the same basic objection as Craig. Does Jones think Vallicella is making beginner-level mistakes? Vallicella authored the entry on divine simplicity for the prestigious Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 

And here's yet another example:

But if His essence is identical with what he does, then He would become a different being as He did different things…It seems that there are all sorts of contingent truths about God. If he created freely, then He might not have done so, and that God is a creator is a contingent truth….But if God's power and His knowledge are identical to the eternal act of being which is his nature, how could He do and know other than He does and know without being other than God?

"There are possible worlds in which God wills not to create…" But it is very difficult to see how God in the actual world could be the same being as God in some other possible world, if (1) God in the actual world is identical to His eternal and immutable act in this world, (2) God in a different possible world is identical to His act in that world, and (3) God's act in the actual world is not identical to His act in the other possible world."

A second possibility is to deny contingency in God…Given God's nature He could not do other than He does. There is no contingency in God, so there are no other possible worlds, whatever we may be able to imagine." Kathrin Rogers, Perfect Being Theology (Edinburgh U, 2000), 32,34.

Once again, that's the same basic argument as Craig. Does Jones think Rogers is making beginner-level mistakes? 

Ironically, her proposal to relieve the tension preserves simplicity by ditching impassibility:

Any systematic philosophy of God which incorporates free choice on the part of creatures would have to hold that God is somehow affected by and responsive to something outside Himself (37-38). 

So she resolves the dilemma by sacrificing one fixture of classical theism (impassibility) to salvage another fixture of classical theism (simplicity). Given a choice between simplicity and impassibility, she opts for simplicity. Given those alternatives, I'd opt for impassibility. 


  1. weird,

    I'm pretty sure Jones reviewed Oliphint's "God with Us" book favorably. The book asserts that God has "covenantal properties". As far as I understand, covenantal properties are contingent properties.

  2. Not to mention, Oliphint is extremely critical of Thomas in both "Reasons for Faith" and "God With Us".