Monday, December 04, 2017

Instant community

In this post I'd like to make two different but interrelated points, one substantive and one sociological. I'm struck by how Thomism has taken hold in some contemporary Reformed circles. Yes, you already had that in Reformed scholasticism, but I'm talking about the current fad. 

I see many Calvinists in social media passionately defending Thomistic  simplicity. That's due in part to the nature of social media. When you adopt a position for which there's a preexisting constituency, that gives you instant community. You don't just adopt that position. Rather, you join a community of like-minded people. Overnight, your membership gives you social status within that community. All of a sudden, you have a range of contacts with whom you share that belief or cause in common. A virtual community where you receive personal affirmation and reinforcement. Because humans are social creatures, that's psychologically appealing.

And this is true for anything. There are Facebook groups and discussion forums for just about any topic that catches your fancy. Or take how Ed Feser's blog becomes a social watering hole. Like an internet tavern where folks hang out to shoot the bull. 

I'm not saying that's good or bad. Depends on the issue. But we should examine our motives. Do we champion a cause du jour because that's a worthy cause, or because it gives us a sense of belonging? 

As I observe some Calvinists jumping on this bandwagon, I wonder what motivates them. All of a sudden, adherence to Thomistic simplicity is becoming a litmus test of orthodoxy in these theological circles. Have they thought about the implications of this position? Or is it that some folks are just swept up in theological fads, facilitated by the crowd psychology of social media? 

For instance, as I understand it, Thomistic simplicity denies any internal metaphysical distinctions in the Godhead. Here's one question I have about that. Scripture attributes many world events to divine agency. The Bible is replete with examples, but for convenience, consider the ten plagues of Egypt. According to Exodus, Yahweh brought about the ten plagues. God willed each plague. Each plague is the result of divine intention. 

But if Thomistic simplicity is true, then isn't God's will to bring about the plague of darkness identical to God's will to bring about the death of the firstborn? If, however, there's no internal, metaphysical distinction between God willing the ninth plague and God willing the tenth plague, then how did the same undifferentiated will select for two different outcomes? 

If God willing the ninth plague is indistinguishable from God willing the tenth plague, then the effect is the same. That makes the ninth plague identical to the tenth plague. These can't be two separate events, but one and the same event. But that's incoherent. 


  1. Could I get some clarification here? Steve, you mentioned Thomistic simplicity as no distinction in the Godhead. But when you mentioned the plagues, I didn't understand how God's will for one or two outcomes is linked to the subject of inter-trinitarian distinctions or lack thereof. Just a little confused!

    1. I wasn't discussing the Trinitarian objection to Thomistic simplicity. Although that's a stock objection, and worth dissecting in its own right, the issue I raised is separate from that. A different kind of problem generated by Thomistic simplicity.

    2. How can an undifferentiated cause have differential effects? If, per Thomistic simplicity, there's no internal differentiation within God's will, then how can two (or more) different events both be the result of an undifferentiated will? Doesn't that collapse each and every event into the same event, which is nonsense?

  2. Hmmm, whom to believe, whom to believe:

    Are "some Calvinists" jumping *onto* a bandwagon.....or are they jumping *off* one....and back into historical orthodoxy?

    Pity us poor laymen.

    1. i) This is not an argument from authority. At least it shouldn't be. It's a question of assessing the respective arguments, pro and con. If a layman feel that he's in over his head, he can just withhold judgment.

      I'd add that something may initially seem to be too difficult to grasp, due to unfamiliarity, but if one keeps reading and thinking about it, it may become clearer.

      ii) In addition, this isn't necessarily a binary choice between Dolezal is 100% or Frame is 100% right. This debate involves a number of distinct issues, viz. simplicity, impassibility, God's relation to time and space, God-talk, &c. It's possible to agree with Dolezal on one or more issues and agree with Frame on one or more issues.

    2. Agreed. I hope this is time well spent for the Church. I hope something constructive can come from it.

      I do like his last two sentences: "The Reformed Baptists are debating the doctrine of God; the OPC is debating Republicationism; and the PCA is debating the legitimacy of men dancing in tights during a worship service. Well done to all."

      Who knows, the PCA debate may turn out to be the more important!