Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reply to William Lane Craig on Divine Simplicity

Dr. William Lane Craig has made a response to my previous post where I argued that his own view of divine sovereignty entails the truth of divine simplicity. Now, Craig is actually correct about one thing: My argument does not by itself entail that God is identical to all his parts. This only follows from the conclusion of my argument if you grant that God really has a will, intellect, etc. Craig does not grant this, since he doesn't think talk about things having parts is metaphysically substantive.

There are a lot of things to say about Craig's response here. Maybe the first is to simply note that he is denying that anything really, in the metaphysically deepest sense, has any parts. This is surely an unacceptable conclusion. Personally I would think it's better to simply deny God has any parts rather than to deny anything has parts. Absent this option, if I didn't believe in divine simplicity I would even modify my account of divine sovereignty just to save parthood. For otherwise I honestly don't know how Craig explains kidneys, brains, legs and their relations to the people who have them. This is just a datum of experience, that there are at least some parts.

Craig tries to use an argument by Peter van Inwagen to back up his thesis. However, the problem is that Van Inwagen's argument only demonstrates the falsity of the doctrine of arbitrary undetached parts, which is the idea that any region of a body can be taken to be a proper part. His argument can only go through if we are dealing with 'parts' like Dottie* which are constituted by enough matter in such a form that a person can survive by becoming identical to them. It's not obvious though that I could ever become identical to, say, my heart. So his argument would not go through with those sorts of proper parts.

Now, I'm inclined to reject the doctrine of arbitrary undetached parts anyway so I'm happy to accept the soundness of the argument. But it just doesn't demonstrate that there are no proper parts. And if it did entail that, then--like Peter Geach did with Tibbles the Cat--I would just take the argument to establish the relativity of identity rather than the complete lack of proper parthood. More importantly, it's not even obviously sound. We might just deny the premise that Dottie becomes identical to Dottie*, since Dottie seems to be an animal (or a soul) and Dottie* seems to be a 'lump'. In virtue of their falling under different sortals these two objects have different identity conditions associated with them, and thus by Leibniz's law they are non-identical. They are merely constituted by the same matter.

There's also something to be said about Craig's underlying Carnapian sympathies. There is intense debate about taking this sort of view about language and metaphysical methodology (cf. the Chalmers volume on metametaphysics), and suffice it to say for now that I'm not too sympathetic. I will criticize this neo-Carnapian line of thought later, but this post should be enough to see why Craig's response is inadequate.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand why theologians create these unbiblical controversies. Exodus 33 has God clearly telling Moses that he will let him see his backside but not his face. Hence parts. But the theologian must instantly jump on that and claims its just scripture condescending to our stupidity and its not really true. But why? If God saw fit to condescend to our stupidity, then is not the foolishness of God stronger than the wisdom of men (as Paul says somewhere)? If God chose to condescend to our stupidity, why attempt to be wiser than him by proclaiming that what God said is a lie? I don't get it. I don't agree however that this is condescension, nor that God being a spirit requires him to be formless, seeing the disciples said "Its a spirit" when they saw a clearly form-having Jesus walking on the water at night. Its all much ado about nothing. Anyway, despite the nothingness of the controversy, I've posted on it as well, because I think this wooly-headed thinking about simplicity tends to make God into a non-personal entity. You guys are replacing the God of scripture with the Platonic god of Greek philosophy, and the end result of that replacement in my estimation is Agnosticism and Atheism. The acceptance of Divine Simplicity long ago has fueled atheism for many centuries now.

awatkins909 said...

Jay Kay,

There are so many problematic assertions in your comment that I don't really know where to begin. But I'm not going to respond here since it isn't really relevant to my post. If you are interested in discussing whether simplicity is true, you may want to start by showing me where the argument I post here is wrong:

Seeing that you take most biblical passages extremely literally, you should note that the central premise of my argument could be derived from a strictly literal reading of Colossians 1:16. If you want to discuss this further please comment there.

Anonymous said...

Yes, everything about true faith is "problematic" or "troubling" to the academic theologian. I've noticed they're always troubled by people using Scriptural language. Their claim is that God is condescending to our stupidity in "pretending" to have hand and feet or whatever. Fine. If God thought it was necessary to do so, then in reversing his decision and deciding that forcing us to accept the idea that God is an amorphous blob as a test of orthodoxy, are you not arguing that you are wiser than God? If God didn't think himself wise enough to convince us simpletons of his 'simplicity' then what makes you think you will succeed? Perhaps the academic theologians are simply more arrogant than Satan himself.

awatkins909 said...

Jay Kay,

Colossians 1:16 says that all things were created by God and for God. So it is true that whatever is non-identical to God is created by God. But if God had parts he would have to create his parts, and in so doing create himself, which is manifestly absurd. So God doesn't have any parts.

Now, you have two options here. You can either deny the literal truth of the Scripture I am referring to or you can deny the logical rules of inference I am using. If you deny the rules of logic then you are utterly irrational and I have no reason to countenance what you say. So you have to deny the Scriptures. Hence, it is you who is not taking Scripture at face value, not me.

The point to take out of this is that a completely strict and literal reading of every passage leads to contradictions. So it doesn't contradict faith to complement it with reason, since we must if we are to make sense of the consistency of Scripture.

Anyway, that will be my last reply to you on this topic, since this is not the subject of my original post.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure there is much of a distinction between self-existence and self-creation. I mean here is the problem: nothing can exist without a creator, and yet something does, and everyone accepts that. The atheist says the universe exists without a creator. The theist (and deist) says God exists without a creator. Its a manifest impossibility, and yet its the way things are. If God can exist without a creator as a 'simple' being, he could just as well exist without a creator as a 'complex' being, because he's breaking the rules anyway by existing at all. But if he is 'simple', he is not a being, that's the problem with your thinking. Even a single-celled organism isn't 'simple' in the way you are arguing. Certainly, a 'simple' God such as the God of classical theism cannot be the same as the tri-personal God of Christianity. Not only is your 'simple' God not a person, but it clearly is not three persons. So you have a huge problem on your hands. And the cause of the problem is trying to be too smart. How does being simple explain existing without a creator? It doesn't. Whether 'simple' or 'complex' nothing should exist without a creator, so God is breaking the rules. He's breaking the rules so bad it actually does make sense to think of him as creating himself.

idunno said...

Hello there, my name if Frank and I've just recently started looking into Aquinas's metaphysics via Feser's book, "Aquinas". Anyway I'm a member of DR. Craig's forum over at Reasonable Faith and would like to invite you to join the discussion. There are a couple Thomists on the board but not an overly informed voice for Thomism.

I've a few questions concerning divine simplicity myself, one being the seemingly non personalness of God in relation to us, and would greatly appreciate any incite you can offer.

I go by the username idunno, look forward to hearing from you.

awatkins909 said...

Hi Frank, sorry for taking forever to publish your comment, I was away on vacation.

Welcome to Thomism. Feser's book is great and I would highly recommend it to anyone becoming interested in Thomism.

I will definitely check out the RF forums soon. Those are indeed pressing questions, in my opinion more pressing than the usual philosophical objections. I think they have answers but it will be good to work them out.

Also, I would invite you if you are on Facebook to join our Thomism group. It is a great group with a number of great thinkers. Hopefully it should not be too hard to find me.

Blessings and Merry Christmas.

Unknown said...

Hi Alfredo,

Craig also says that God was timeless before the universe was created but not afterwards. In other words, that God is currently within time and can change.

How does he respond to the argument from change? To review, if change is the actualization of a potentiality, and potentiality cannot actualize itself but can only be actualized by something already actual, then there must be a Pure Actuality (an unchanged changer--aka God) to stop the chain. And Pure Actuaity, by definition, cannot change.

I've read his "On Guard" (a great introduction to philosophy of religion even if his Protestantism makes his theology a bit wacky) and some of his other writings, but I haven't seen him address this.

awatkins909 said...

Hey John, I am guessing that he does not think that argument is sound, and thus does not prove that God is pure actuality, but I can't say for sure. Might be worth checking out his book on the cosmological argument, since I believe he treats Aquinas's arguments in there.