Tuesday, July 31, 2012

William Lane Craig on God and Analogy

William Lane Craig, as with most contemporary analytic philosophers of religion, objects to the classical Thomistic idea that God cannot be said to be a being in the sense that we can. I aim to argue that at least some of his claims here are unreasonable.

Craig objects: "One of the aspects of Thomas Aquinas’ thought that I find most disturbing is his claim that we can speak of God only in analogical terms. Without univocity of meaning, we are left with agnosticism about the nature of God, able to say only what God is not, not what He is."

This does not follow in the slightest; in fact, I wonder if Craig actually understands what analogy is, since it is one of the main points of Aquinas's theory of analogy to avoid this problem. Aquinas sought to show, in contrast to Maimonides, that though we can't predicate attributes of God in the same sense as us we can still speak meaningfully and make positive predications about him. Craig fails utterly to show how from the semantic analogy of the term 'being' we are left only with negative theology.

Next, Craig says: "When in discussions with atheists I affirm, 'God exists' and they reply, 'God does not exist,' we may need to be sure that we mean the same thing by 'God,' but there is no equivocation on the meaning of 'exists.'"

I guess what Craig is trying to say here is something like this: If the word 'exists' is analogical, then when I affirm God exists and when atheists affirm God does not exist, we are both equivocating past each other. But this is a genuine ontological dispute and so there is no equivocation; hence, 'exists' is not analogical. The problem is that the main premise is simply not true; if analogy is true, then we affirm that God exists in one sense, and the atheist simply denies that God exists in any sense, including the one I am predicating of God.

In the next paragraph, Craig says this: "The problem you pose brings us to the heart of my current work on divine aseity. What makes God more than just one being among many is precisely His aseity: God alone is self-existent; everything else exists contingently. Only God exists of Himself (a se); everything else exists through another (ab alio). That makes God the source of being for everything apart from Himself."

Now, I really like this, and I agree with this completely. The only problem is that Craig himself doesn't; for if what Craig says is literally true then divine simplicity is true, from which it is a small step to the doctrine that talk about God is analogous. Here's why:

(1) Whatever is non-identical to God is created by God. [conceded by Craig]
(2) If God has metaphysical proper parts ('parts' hereafter), then at least one of these parts is not created by God. [prem]
(3) Either God has parts or he doesn't. [LEM]
(4) Suppose he does have parts. [assp]
(5) All of God's parts are created by God. [by 1]
(6) One of God's parts is not created by God [by 2,4]
This is a contradiction. Hence, we must reject our assumption. Hence:
(7) God has no parts.

So by 'metaphysical proper parts' here I mean things like ontological constituents, such as a property-instance (or trope or accident or whatever). (1) is just Craig's own thoughts on the matter, and (2) is true because clearly God doesn't create his essential properties; he depends on those for his existence, since if they didn't exist then neither would he. The rest follows by the meanings of the terms and the rules of logic.

Craig says that he considers God to be a substance, presumably in the same manner we are: "Not a physical substance, of course, but a spiritual substance like a mind."

However, the case is even more clear if Craig thinks God's mind and will are distinct; for if he does, granting Craig's doctrine of aseity, then from (1) it follows God's will must be created by God. But it is absurd to suppose God creates his own will; after all, he must have a will to do that! So, either Craig's doctrine of aseity is false (which I agree with Craig it isn't) or God is not distinct from his will (which I think is right, but is really only intelligible given divine simplicity).

Craig thinks getting rid of Platonism will solve the problems concerning God's aseity; but it doesn't, since even if there are no abstract properties in us there are clearly ontological constituents (my brownness, my height, my shape, etc.). Even taking 'parts' in this sense, I think the above argument shows that if he wants to hold on to the strong doctrine of aseity set out in the quote above he needs to get rid of the idea that God has any parts at all. And if God has no parts in the metaphysical sense then it can be shown speech about God is analogical; for in our case, to say I am good is to say the quality of goodness inheres in me as an accident (or is exemplified as a property, or inheres as a trope or whatever). But since God has no parts in any of these senses, to say God is good cannot be to say this about him. And the same with any of the divine attributes. Thus our terms must be said analogically of God.

[Edit: Craig's reply here. My reply here.]


21st Century Scholastic said...

Very good reply. I facepalmed when i read that Q&A some days ago.

It's frustrating how modern scholars see thomism as passè, while failing to have a proper understanding of its claims.

Anonymous said...

It makes me wonder how Craig would distinguish Thomas' views from those of Maimonides. Surely there is a relevant distinction between a strictly apophatic theology, and Aquinas' doctrine of analogy!

As for your argument, I'm not so sure Craig would mean to concede(1)and perhaps did so because he was being imprecise, as we often are when the context doesn't demand the kind of precision needed within the context of another argument. I don't think it would be too ad hoc to suggest that he would reject (1) in favor of

(1*)Whatever is non-identical to God, or a proper part of God, is created by God.

Or do you think this would undermine Craig's notion of aseity? If it does, Craig would have a nasty time getting out from under this deduction! But I don't think Craig would say that God creates God's will. Maybe Craig should appeal to Scotus' formal distinctions when thinking of simplicity. Then again, I'm not so clear on what Scotus means, and whether it would alleviate Craig's worries.

awatkins909 said...

21st Century Scholastic: Thank you!

vexingquestions (is that you Daniel?):

I think you're right, WLC is speaking imprecisely. That's why I say I don't think he really holds to what he says he does.

I would think that to say that God's parts can exist independently of God does in fact undermine aseity; for then he depends on his parts for his existence. And moreover I think it's kind of ad hoc, especially considering that he rejects platonism in order that he can hold on aseity. But if God can have tropes, property-instances, Aristotelian accidents or whatever, and they exist independently of God, then it's just as bad for aseity as having properties.

E.R. Bourne said...

Excellent post.

For all of Craig's objections, I have yet to see him articulate why, exactly, St. Thomas says that God is simple.

St. Thomas concludes to the divine simplicity after proving the existence of God. Why? God's existence is proved by establishing that there is a Being Who is pure act, meaning that it lacks any passive potency. In other words, God is not a composed being. Simplicity is just the negation of composition.

This is essential, and overlooked by many analytic philosophers, because to be composed, in any way, is to be caused. A composed thing comes together subsequent to its composition. All composite being is made of parts, metaphysical or otherwise, which must be put together by something extrinsic to the thing itself.

Therefore, the affirmation of the divine simplicity is another way of saying that God is uncaused. To deny the divine simplicity, then, is to say that God is actually a caused being.

I doubt Dr. Craig wants to affirm such a thing, but when philosophers fail to understand why something is asserted in the first place, they will go on making objections without realizing the import of that about which they speak.

E.R. Bourne said...

Furthermore, Dr. Craig says that he is an anti-Platonist, yet it is precisely Aquinas' Aristotelian epistemology that necessitates the analogical name.

The proper object of the human intellect is the abstracted quiddity of the sensible. Our names for things, then, first apply to the sensibles we encounter. God, His existence and essence, cannot be known in such a way. Our way of naming, though, still does not change. Therefore, we must name the attributes of God with the same names we use to describe the things of our material experience, but we know that these names cannot apply to God in the same way since, as even Dr. Craig would probably concede, we do not come to know God in the same way we come to know material reality.

In fact, Dr. Craig has it exactly backwards. He says that without the univocal concept, we are "left with an agnosticism about the nature of God." But he does not make a distinction between the order of knowing and the order of being. Goodness, for instance, is first known through our sensible experience. Once we come to a proper understanding of analogical naming, though, we see that goodness is actually said mostly of God. We know the finite goodness of creatures first, yes, but when we understand the transcendental nature of goodness, we are not left with agnosticism about God's nature because we know that He is most what we mean by goodness, being, unity, etc. You would be more justified being agnostic towards the objects of our everyday experience.

awatkins909 said...

Thanks E.R. Bourne, excellent points. I agree especially with this: "Once we come to a proper understanding of analogical naming, though, we see that goodness is actually said mostly of God."

If anything, terms are said analogically of *us*. Given that being is a first-order predicate, God can be said to be a being, simpliciter. We, on the other hand, are all beings of a sort; we have being in the sense of being-a-substance. It's not uncommon to hear medievals say that we are almost non-beings in comparison to God. Same thing with other concepts of which God is the most absolute exemplar.

Geremia said...

A ball's «parts aren’t metaphysically things at all [Does he mean a potentially divisible ball isn't real?]. How much more so such recondite “parts” as its color, shape, size, etc.!» So, if they aren't things in any way (either potentially or actually), how can a ball, which is composed of those parts, be anything, then‽ It seems he confuses the form of the ball with the ball itself.

Dr. Craig recognizes humans do not have being—and thus oneness—to the fullest extent Pure Act does when he says it is false "that … I am pure actuality or that my hand is my heart, etc." Yet he says: "If I existed all alone in space [i.e., if I were a self-subsisting being; viz., if I were "pure actuality," God], there would not be another object in addition to me, like my left side." So, his argument assumes people are God in order to prove that parts don't exist‽

He seems to realize that Oneness is convertible with Being, so, in denying multiplicity, he denies there are different grades of being; hence, Dr. Craig appears to be a Scotist/Parmenidean/monist/pantheist in affirming that being is a univocal notion.

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., describes all this well in his Reality ch. 5:

"Being, for St. Thomas, is a notion, not univocal but analogous, since otherwise it could not be divided and diversified. A univocal idea (e. g.: genus) is diversified by differences extrinsic to genus (animality, e. g.: by specific animal differences). Now, nothing is extrinsic to being (ens). Here Parmenides enters. Being, he says, cannot be something other than being, and the only other thing than being is nothing, is non-being, and non-being is not. St. Thomas replies: 'Parmenides and his followers were deceived in this: They used the word being (ens) as if it were univocal, one in idea and nature, as if it were a genus. This is an impossible position. Being (ens) is not a genus, since it is found in things generically diversified.' [In Metaph.: Bk. 1, chap. 5, lect. 9. See the fourth of the twenty-four Thomistic theses].

"Duns Scotus returns in a manner to the position of Parmenides, that being is a univocal notion. Suarez, seeking a middle way between Aquinas and Scotus, maintains that the objective concept of being (ens) is simply one (simpliciter unus): and that consequently everything that is in any manner (e. g.: matter and essence) is being in act (ens in actu). This viewpoint granted, we can no longer conceive pure potency. It would be extra ens, hence, simply nothing. The Aristotelian notion of real potency (medium between actuality and nothing) disappears, and the argument of Parmenides is insoluble.

"We understand now why, shortly after the Council of Trent, a Thomist, Reginaldus, O. P.: formulated as follows the three principles of St. Thomas:

"Ens (being) is a notion transcendent and analogous, not univocal.
God is pure act, God alone is His own existence.
Things absolute have species from themselves; things relative from something else."

John Burger said...

Look, here is the crux of the issue. This is all minutia. Its flexing our neurons to "one-up" our brothers.

I love Thomas Aquinas..but he was clearly wrong on so much of what he said as was Augustine and Pope after Pope after Pope. The idea that any of us has a direct infallible line to God has been proven to be a lie over and over again so the best we can do is be humble.
And humble is precisely what Craig is. He never proclaims he is correct without question. He always says "it seems to me" or some other comment to show he understands much of these difficult questions are of God's counsel alone.
Aquinas and Augustine and many Popes would have done well to follow that humble approach.

It has always been a little pathetic how people sit around all day and tell God what he is unequivocally. Craig doesn't do this and because he's become popular bringing logic and reason to atheistic forces that are deceiving the public he is not only attacked by them--but by Christians.

Geremia said...

I love Thomas Aquinas..but he was clearly wrong on so much of what he said as was Augustine and Pope after Pope after Pope.

Where exactly is he wrong?

The idea that any of us has a direct infallible line to God has been proven to be a lie over and over again so the best we can do is be humble.

Faith is "a direct infallible line to God." Those with Faith know for sure certain things cannot be—e.g., God ≠ the world or a creature; God is infinite; etc.—even if they aren't 100% convinced by their natural reasoning. For those with the gift of Faith, the following applies:

«Have you examined all these objections [against Revelation]? Objections of fact, of chronology, of history, of natural history, of morals etc. Have you discussed all the arguments of the adversaries, have you recognized their falsity, unfoundedness?... this is not enough to have faith in Scripture. It is possible, it is unfortunately possible that in the generations to come... there will be some men who will study new arguments against the truths of the Scriptures; they will rummage through history, ... they will pretend to have discovered truth of fact for which the things affirmed in the Scriptures have to appear false. Now you must swear that these arguments that are not yet found, will be false, that these books that are not yet written, will be full of error: do you swear it? If you deny it, you admit to not having faith.»

—Alessandro Manzoni's Morale cattolica, vol. II, pp. 544-545 [my translation]

Thus, because of both the cogency of St. Thomas arguments and their suitability as instruments for understanding Revelation, Popes with the supernatural gift of Faith have never ceased to assert, as did Pope St. Pius X, that "The chief doctrines of St. Thomas' philosophy cannot be regarded as mere opinions—which anyone might discuss pro and con, but rather as a foundation on which all science of both natural and divine things rests."

It has always been a little pathetic how people sit around all day and tell God what he is unequivocally. Craig doesn't do this

Above I argued that Dr. Craig indeed "tell[s] what he [God] is unequivocally"; he has a limited conception of God because he "attribute[s] to certain creatures that which belongs only to God" (Summa contra Gentiles II cap. 3) when he asserts that being is a univocal notion or that things, including material things, are not per se potentially divisible.

awatkins909 said...

@John, I agree with quite a bit of what Alan says. Also, didn't the prophets have a direct infallible line to God? Do you think parts of the Scriptures are mistaken? Though popes or Augustine have been incorrect, I would question whether the popes have ever been wrong when making an infallible statement ex cathedra. I don't grant this.

I have a lot of respect for Craig. In fact, I agree with a large amount of what he says. He is definitely on the right track by seeing the threat to God's divine Aseity which is posed by Platonism. But I still think he is incorrect on many things. Simply because I disagree with him doesn't mean I am attacking him though. If I seem to make some rhetorical moves here, then I think it's only fair, since people like him and Plantinga are willing to dismiss Aquinas's views as incoherent or, in Craig's case, "disturbing."

RLewis92 said...


I have two blog posts criticizing what I feel are errors made by St. Thomas Aquinas. The purpose of these posts is to gain answers to these apparent errors to help me better understand Aquinas. Would you mind examining these and telling me where I went wrong?



RLewis92 said...


I have two blog posts criticizing what I feel are errors made by St. Thomas Aquinas. The purpose of these posts is to gain answers to these apparent errors to help me better understand Aquinas. Would you mind examining these and telling me where I went wrong?



awatkins909 said...

Hey RLewis, I'm uncertain of the soundness of Aquinas's first way myself, so I won't defend his argument there. As regards your post about the apparent problems, first, I should note I'm not a Thomist in the sense that I believe literally every sentence uttered or written by Aquinas is true. I disagree with Aquinas on many things. With that said, I'm not sure all of your criticisms work.

For instance, you say "Aquinas also believed that God, out of His free will, created the world. This implies that there existed one “moment” where God was not creator and then another where He was creator." This doesn't follow. God timelessly willed the universe and all of creation to be as it is; his action was free because he could have timelessly willed otherwise.

"Aquinas also believed that time and change are real things but that God also experiences these things. If time and change are real then God must experience these things as they are, but if God experiences time, then He experiences change."

There is a lot to debate here. It's contestable whether God literally experiences change, and even if he does that he does so in the same way we do is even more dubious. Moreover, a Thomist might deny your last statement, that if God experiences time, then he experiences change, if by 'experiencing change' you mean literally undergoes change; on the other hand if you only mean that he has an experience of every change, it doesn't automatically follow that God himself changes in his experiencing everything from eternity.

I don't agree with your criticisms of Aquinas on angels, but I don't believe that angels are pure forms for other reasons (i.e. I disagree with Aquinas) so I won't go into your arguments there.

Regarding creation of substances you have to defend your premise that creation ex nihilo requires a passive potency. A passive potency is a capacity of a substance to undergo change. Why must there be anything like this for creation ex nihilo? Creation ex nihilo is not a process in time first of all, so it's not clear why we need a passive potency as happens in temporal changes.

I don't agree with Aquinas's view of prime matter as the principle of individuation so, although I don't think your criticisms work, I won't defend Aquinas's particular picture of the disembodied soul.

Josh Harris said...

Thanks for this post--great stuff on this blog. I'm the "Joshua" from that Q&A. I must say that what I thought was weirdest about his answer was his implied idea that somehow the problem of univocal predication of God and creatures is unique to "modern theology." I mean, perhaps the word onto-theology is, but the impetus behind such a term (in Heidegger, at least) is clearly driven by an ancient tradition.

awatkins909 said...

Thank you for visiting Joshua!