Friday, December 13, 2013

Gordon Clark on Divine Simplicity

What is divine simplicity? It is the idea that God is not composed. He is without parts. What this means has been the subject of various interpretations. A few think it just means God is immaterial. Others think it means "God" is totally other, incapable of being classified. These definitions appear to make divine simplicity an apophatic doctrine. 

When I start studying a topic, I usually read through Clark's works, since I know I can expect some good thoughts if he mentions it. In this case, Clark consistently defined divine simplicity as the idea that all of God's attributes are identical. For instance:
The mystic view is that the doctrines are really false, colloquial accommodations to human limitations. But Anselm believed that God has revealed the truth and that this truth itself, not some ethereal negation of it, could be demonstrated. This must not be taken to imply that certain attributes cannot be denied of God. John Scotus had called God Sun, Star, Breath, and Water, only to empty them of all significance. Anselm keeps the significance and denies that these are attributes of God. But other attributes which are better than these belong to God. He is living, just, wise, powerful, and eternal. At the same time, Anselm is careful to point out that God is not wise or just by participation in a superior Idea. God himself is justice. That is what he is. As this line of reasoning applies to all attributes, so by them we know not merely what sort of being God is, but what God is. And is this not to know his essence, which the negative theologians said was unknowable? However, this concession, if it be a concession, must be made to negativism. Since God is one, without any composition, it follows that Justice is Life, Power is Eternity, and all attributes are the same. Obviously if Justice is God’s essence, and if God’s essence is Power, Just and Power are identical. Each attribute exhausts every other, “because whatever God is essentially in any way, this is all of what he is.” (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 204-205 – original date of publication: 1957) 
Augustus Toplady wrote, among other things, Observations on the Divine Attributes. The simplicity of God and the identity of all the divine attributes, used above to settle the relation between justice and sovereignty, Toplady expresses in the following words. “Although the great and ever blessed God is a Being absolutely simple ... he is, nevertheless, in condescension to our weak and contracted faculties, represented in Scripture as possessed of divers properties, or attributes, which though seemingly different from his essence, are in reality essential to him, and constitutive of his very nature” (p. 675, col. 1). Toplady, then, specifies “his eternal wisdom, the absolute freedom and liberty of his will, the perpetuity and unchangeableness, both of himself and his decrees, his omnipotence, justice, and mercy.” (The Atonement, 1996, pg. 134 – original date of publication: 1987)
It is very clear that by the end of his life, Clark held to this view. He refers to it obliquely in his last book:
It is the honorable view that all the attributes are identical in God, and sometimes visibly so in history for when God demolished the walls of Jericho, the single action was both an instance of grace and an instance of wrath. In greater generality, knowledge is power, omnipresence is omniscience, mercy and truth are met together, and righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (The Incarnation, 1988, pg. 64)
But it is not so clear that he held it in his earlier years. The earliest reference to the sort of divine simplicity that some Christians hold to - for Clark never equated divine simplicity with Neoplatonic simplicity - is critical of it:
The notion of analogy begins quite simply and innocently in Aristotle. He notes that when we call a book a medical book, and when we call an instrument a medical instrument, and when we call a man a medical man, the predicate medical does not bear exactly the same sense in the three instances. The term is not equivocal, as is the case when we call Argos the dog of Ulysses and when we call Sirius the dog in the sky; but on the other hand, the term is not strictly univocal. It is analogical. 
This simple distinction was elaborated by the Scholastic and the Neoscholastics into a complicated theory, in which, it would seem, the original situation no longer serves as a solid basis. The motivation and intricacies of the theory are seen most clearly in the arguments for the existence of God and our knowledge of him. God, according to the Thomists, is an absolutely simple being: but a simple, eternal, and immaterial being cannot constitute an object proportionate to our human understanding. Simplicity and eternity are not factors in our world of experience, and therefore we have no positive concept of them. To say that God is eternal means nothing more than that God is not temporal. What eternity positively means remains unknown to the human mind. What man has in this instance may be called negative knowledge. 
Similarly, when we call God wise and when we call a man wise, the term does not bear the same sense. God’s wisdom is not distinct from his essence or his being; but the wisdom of man is. In general, there is no affirmation whatever that can be made of God and of man in the same sense. The reason for this impossibility is not only that the predicates do not bear the same meaning in both cases, but that, far more radically, the copula is bears two different senses. In God essence and existence are identical: What God is and that God is are the same. In every case other than God this is not so. Accordingly, when we say God exists and when we say man or dog exists, the term exist does not mean the same thing. Therefore, no term, not even the copula, can be used univocally of God and man. 
Now, if the only alternative to univocal predication were equivocal predication, knowledge of God derived by abstraction from experience would be patently impossible. When words are used equivocally there is no definite relationship between the meanings, and knowledge of God would be in a state similar to a knowledge of Sirius that would be based on an experience of Ulysses’ dog. To avoid this fatal difficulty, the Thomists are forced to find some intermediate between univocal and equivocal predication, and they appeal to analogy. Between Argos and Sirius there is no resemblance, but in the case of God, man resembles God, they say, though God does not resemble man. This resemblance permits us to attach some meaning to the statement God is, so that we are neither in complete ignorance, nor limited to negative knowledge, but have an analogical if not a univocal knowledge. Thus empiricism in its Thomistic form attempts to escape the limits of experience. 
There seems to be a very serious objection to this theory of analogy. Aristotle’s original analogies cause no difficulty. The term medical, whether applied to a man, a book, or an instrument, is presumably derived from experience. In all three cases there is a relationship to the science of medicine. And for this reason there is a univocal basis for the analogy. The term medical might univocally be defined as “having to do with the science of medicine”; and in this univocal sense the man, the book, and the instrument are all medical. Similarly, all the analogies of common speech have a univocal basis. The paddle of a canoe is analogous to the paddles of a paddle-wheel steam boat; it may even be said to be analogous to a screw propeller. It is so because there is an area of common or univocal meaning. The paddle and the screw propeller are both devices for using power to make boats move through the water. The Neoscholastics list and classify different types of analogy; some are more complicated than the preceding. For example, it might be said that the mind is to the soul as the eye is to the body. Here there is analogy, possibly between the mind and the eye, or possibly between two relationships. But no matter how complicated, or what type of analogy, an examination must discover some univocal element. The two terms must be like each other in some respect. If there were no likeness or similarity of any sort, there could be no analogy. And the point of likeness can be designated by a simple univocal term or phrase. The Thomists admit the likeness or resemblance in analogy; they deny the univocal basis. They transfer analogy from the status of a literary embellishment or pedagogical aid to that of a serious epistemological method. But this removes every real distinction between analogy and equivocation. (A Christian View of Men and Things, 2005, pgs. 216-218 – original date of publication: 1952)
Briefly, the argument is that if a simple God's essence is identical to His attributes, His attributes would be identical. In that case, none of those attributes could be univocally predicated of us, as we are not God. Further, we would not be able to know God, analogically or otherwise, as He knows Himself. Why? 
Since God transcends the Good and the One, there is in him no distinction of genus and species or form and matter. God is not a supreme genus (in spite of Philo’s words that God is the most generic of all beings) of which other things are species, nor is he a species of some higher genus. This means that God cannot be classified. But if so, then God is unknowable, for all knowledge is expressed by classifying the subject term under the wider predicate term. We can know what a lion of camel is by classifying it with other mammals or other vertebrate animals. Without such classification we would not know what a lion is. Or, in different words, what a lion is, is the definition of lion; and according to Aristotle a definition is framed by identifying the genus and adding the specific difference. Now, unless a non-Aristotelian theory of definition be worked out, which Philo did not do, the conclusion will be that God cannot be defined and we cannot know what God is. Rather, one must speak of God as the Israelites spoke of the manna: They did not know what it was, and so they call it, what is it. More generally, all human knowledge is a matter of discerning likeness. To call a lion a mammal is to assert its likeness to many other species. Whenever we learn anything about a hitherto unknown object, it is by being told what it is like. But for Philo, God is unlike everything else. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pg. 168 – original date of publication: 1957) 
Ignoring the question of whether there is a broadest class (e.g. "being"), Clark held that God cannot be known unless He can be classified. But there is no "wider predicate term" of which a simple "God" is a species, for in the case of a simple God, even "Being and Goodness are identical" (The Trinity, 2010, pg. 50). The point is that the identity of attributes with God prevents His participation in any super-class. That is, any predication of attributes must be tautologous. But the only instance in which that is the case for man is the proposition "man is man." God is obviously not man, and man is not God. So God is completely and totally unlike man... who is supposedly God's image. Thus, God or the divine attributes are words that signify we know not what, and it turns out we can't know God. This kind of divine simplicity, like Hegelian internal relations (link), is an extreme form of divine transcendence which leads to a denial that what we know can be univocal with what God knows. 

But perhaps I am reading too much of this argument back into Clark. After all, Clark continues to repeat the above argument against Aquinas even after he explicitly affirms divine simplicity, so maybe Clark's own view of divine simplicity is significantly different:
Dr. Tozer writes, “The theological rationalists say your faith should stand not in the wisdom of man but in the Word of God. Paul didn’t say that at all. He said your faith should stand in the power of God. That’s quite a different thing.” 
Is it? I do not think it can be quite a different thing. The antithesis between word and power is strained, for Dr. Tozer seems to have forgotten Luke 1:37, “No word from God is without power.” Remember also that the words are Spirit and life (John 6:68). And though Dr. Tozer uses the epistle, he makes no mention of 1 Corinthians 1:24, where Christ, the Logos, is called the power of God as well as the wisdom of God. Power, wisdom, and word are identical, for in the simplicity of the divine essence all attributes merge. (What is Saving Faith? 2004, pg. 138 – original date of publication: 1972) 
Later works in which he still uses this argument against Aquinas' theory of analogy or cosmological argument for the existence of God include:
Aristotle had noted that an adjective or predicate, attached to two different subjects, does not always have precisely the same meaning. For example, the adjective medical does not mean exactly the same thing when one says “this man is a medical man,” as it means when one says “this book is a medical book.” There is, however, a relationship between them, in that in one way or another they both refer to the science of medicine. This relationship is called analogy. The two meanings of the term are analogical. 
Thomas developed the theory of analogy far beyond the simple observations of Aristotle, and it took on major proportions when the subject was God. Thomas held that the simplicity of the divine being required God’s existence to be identical with his essence. This is not the case with a book or pencil. That a book is and what a book is are two different matters. But with God existence and essence are identical. 
For this reason, an adjective predicated of God and the same adjective predicated of man are not univocal in meaning. One may say, God is good, and one may say, This man is good; but the predicate has two different meanings. There is no term, not a single one, that can be predicated univocally of God and of anything else. 
What is true of these adjectives is also true of the verb is, or existence. In fact, it is the nature of God’s existence that makes the adjective analogical. God’s essence and God’s existence are identical; hence existence for God means something different from existence for man. In the case of Aristotle’s medical man and medical book, though the two instances are not strictly univocal, yet the medical science to which the both relate is the same science. Here there is a univocal point of reference. But for Thomas there is no such point, for no term whatever has the same meaning for God that it has for man. If some area were common to both meanings (as the science of medicine in Aristotle), then this common area could be given a name and univocally predicated of God and man. But nothing is univocally predicated. Therefore existence means one thing for God but a completely different thing for man. Thomas still calls this analogy, but it is an analogy without any univocal basis. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pgs. 52-53 – original date of publication: 1973) 
Because Aquinas holds that God’s existence is identical with his essence, which is not true of any other object of knowledge, he must assert that no predicate can be attributed to God in the same sense that it is said of created beings. When both man and God are said to be good, or rational, or conscious, or anything, the words good and conscious do not mean the same thing in the two cases. If God is a mover and man is am over, the word mover does not mean the same thing. Not only so, but since God’s existence and essence are identical, the verb to be does not have the same meaning in the two cases. If we say God is good, neither the good nor the is means what it means in the created world. Hence when we say God exists, this existence does not mean existence in the same sense we use it for pebbles or marbles. Now, in a valid argument the only terms that can occur in the conclusion are those that occur in the premises. If some additional element is added in the conclusion, the syllogism is a fallacy. But the cosmological argument begins with the existence of a pebble or some sensory object that moves. It ends, however, with an existence that is different. Therefore the argument is fallacious. The different meaning of the word in the conclusion cannot be derived from the original meaning in the premises. (The Cosmological Argument, 1979, pgs. 2-3) 
Aristotle’s theory is clear and simple: The two things that make the analogy have a univocal element in common. The adjective medical applies to a book, an instrument, a person, and a school. They are all medical, but in different ways. Nonetheless there is a univocal element because these different ways all relate to the one science of medicine. Hence an argument in which the term “science of medicine” is used can be valid because the term can have precisely the same meaning in the conclusion that it has in the premises. Naturally if a term in the conclusion has a meaning different from what it has in a premise, the syllogism is a fallacy. Or, in other words, the conclusion of a valid syllogism can have no term that is not found in the premises with the same univocal meaning. 
But Thomas, though not Aristotle, violates this rule of validity. For theological reasons Thomas denies that God exists in the same sense in which everything else exists. God’s essence and his existence are identical. A stone’s or a man’s are not. But if this be so, the conclusion contains an element, an essential element, that is not found in the premises. Therefore Thomas’ argument is a fallacy. 
To be sure, Thomas tries to avoid this criticism. He assigns three possible relationships between two terms. They may be univocal; they may be equivocal (in this case the law of logic is violated); but they may also be analogical. He acknowledges that when we say God is wise and man is wise, the term wise is not univocal. In the case of a man, wisdom is not a part of his essence. In God, it is. Thus no name or quality can be applied to God and man in the same sense. This is true even of the term existence. The word is in the phrase “God is” does not have the same meaning as the phrase “Thomas is.” The verb to be or exist is different in the two cases. But because a strict application of this principle would make any knowledge of God impossible, Thomas says that the two meanings are analogical – neither univocal nor equivocal. But this assertion is entirely incomprehensible. Aristotle was right when he said that there must be a univocal element in all cases of similarity. Yet because there is no univocal element for Thomas, the existence of God in the conclusion is not the existence of the moving object in the premises. His argument is therefore fallacious. (Lord God of Truth, 1994, pg. 9-10 – original date of publication: 1986)
After extensive research, the only discernible difference I could find in these later commentaries is a subtle shift in phrasing that doesn't seem to make much difference. In previous expositions of Aquinas' view of divine simplicity, Clark would suggest or even explicitly say that "Simplicity entails the identity of essence and existence" (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 219-221 – original date of publication: 1957). In the above, however, we read: "Thomas held that the simplicity of the divine being required God’s existence to be identical with his essence"; "Because Aquinas holds that God’s existence is identical with his essence..."; "...Thomas denies that God exists in the same sense in which everything else exists." Clark shifted from saying the doctrine of divine simplicity itself entails that God's existence is identical to His essence to saying that Aquinas thought it did.

Did Clark really think that this could resolve the stated problem, viz. that the identification of the attributes prevents any kind of ontological univocism - and, therefore, epistemological univocism - between man and God? Did Clark deny that God's existence is identical with God's essence? I don't know. To my knowledge, Clark never addresses, let alone refutes, his earlier arguments against the Thomistic view of divine simplicity, neither does he distinguish it from his own. The fact that he calls it the "honorable view" in The Incarnation rather suggests he would have identified himself with Aquinas et al. But even if Clark would have denied that God's existence is identical with God's essence, I don't see how he could have maintained divine simplicity, for "God is existent" and "God exists" seem synonymous to me. But "existent" would be just another attribute which is identical to God['s essence].

[And before anyone points out that Clark thought "existence" was a meaningless word, that won't fly even if it were somehow relevant, which I don't grant. Clark talks about "the existence of God," "God exists," etc. some two dozen times in his books and even gives a sort of definition in Thales to Dewey: "For demonstration is knowledge, and there can be no known of the non-existent. The premises, therefore, must be statements of what exists or what is so, i.e., they must be true" (2000, pg. 101). This crux of debate cannot seriously be thought to rest on this.]

But there is a better reason for thinking Clark originally denied divine simplicity. And that is because he originally denied necessitarianism:
The precise issue of dualism or pluralism must be supposed to have been settled by the rational necessity of some kind of unity. It is interesting to note, however, that few of the Greeks consistently maintained a monism. Plato had three independent principles. Aristotle failed to end up with a unified world, because each individual substance was a composite of matter and form, and these two were irreducible; for even if matter did not actually exist separately, pure form does. Possibly the Stoics were more successful. But the Neoplatonists, who are ordinarily regarded as the most insistent on unity, hide a dualism as basic as that of the Manichaeans. For aside from the difficulty of understanding how the One could produce multiplicity, there is the existence of that unreal Darkness in which the light of the One shines forth and is finally extinguished. If reason demands unity, then, it seems only the noble Parmenides was rational. But now the problem of the world must be considered from another angle. 
The Christian view of things also seems to resemble a dualism: At least the world and God may be called two “substances”; neither one is the substance of the other. But actually Christianity is more successfully monistic that Neoplatonism was. God alone is the eternal substance, the independent principle; apart from the creation of the world nothing exists besides him. This underlines the essential and controversial elements of the Hebrew-Christian doctrine. First, as Creator, God is viewed, not as an undifferentiated One that produces a world by necessity, but as a living mind who with foreknowledge creates voluntarily. Plotinus explicitly denied will to his One; but will is one of the most prominent aspects of the Biblical Deity. Second, precisely because God is Creator, the world is called into being by divine fiat alone: There is no pre-existing matter to be formed or organized; there is not even a Darkness or Void out of which or into which the universe is created. And third, this implies that the world had a first moment and that its past history is finite. 
It was this last point that Augustine thought needed special defense against the previous philosophies, for whatever their differences were, they all agreed that the world has always existed. If Plato’s Demiurge formed the world-soul and organized chaotic space, it is nonetheless an eternal activity; Aristotle explicitly maintained that motion never began and will never end; the Stoics indeed gave the present world a finite history, but they made it one of an infinite series of worlds, a view strangely adopted by Origen also; and of course the emanation of the world from the Neoplatonic One is a necessary and eternal process. The view that the world began has its only source in Biblical revelation. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 186-187 – original date of publication: 1957) 
Considerable criticism has been directed against the notion of an arbitrary Deity. He is castigated as an oriental, irrational despot. Though the term oriental might be a symptom of racial prejudice, the accusation of irrationality is evil in any language. It is universally recognized that a man who act arbitrarily or irrationally is ignorant, stupid, or irresponsible. In the case of man, however, there are entities and conditions which he does not control. Knowledge of these is required for rational action for the very reason that an action is rational because the conditions have been taken into account. But in the case of the Christian God there are no independent conditions; there are no superior Ideas to which he must conform. In fact, the characteristics of infinity, omnipotence, and liberty which Duns stressed, should have led him to deny the distinction between intellect and will in God and to come closer to the position that God is will. Intellect and rationality are clearly subordinate to things known, and there can be no things to know unless God wills to create them. Only one apparent exception can be mentioned. It might be said that God first knows himself, and this is what Duns actually maintained; and knowing himself first he ipso facto knows the range of infinite possibility; then secondarily, he wills to create several but not all of these possibilities. At the same time, however, God wills himself, wills to exist, eternally wills to beget the Son and send forth the Holy Ghost; with the result that self-knowledge and self-will become indistinguishable. Like Plotinus who denied that the One acted voluntarily, all critics of arbitrary Deity reject the concept of a living, personal God; and on the basis of an impersonal, blind, mechanical, involuntary world force, they understandably take issue with Christianity. 
Not only do they reject the notion of a living God, but all the more they reject the notion of a loving God. Duns stresses the love of God; and love, a volition, is clearly arbitrary. Even in human affairs it is often a mystery why one person loves another; we often say that there is no reason at all; or perhaps we say that Peter loves Heloise because of her pleasant qualities, failing to recognize that other persons have the same or even better pleasant qualities without attracting Peter’s love. This is more profoundly true in the case of God’s love for some men above others. All men are sinners and rebels before God; none has any merit before him or any claim to his grace; he has no respect for their persons; yet he elects, chooses, or loves some and not others. Of all things, love is the most arbitrary. The term arbitrary which these critics apply to God is, of course, loaded. A Christian in more honorific language would speak of the sovereignty of God. In working out his plan, God shows wisdom and reason, in the sense that the means are perfectly proportioned to the ends. But the end, as end, cannot be a means to anything further; and as Aristotle said that one can deliberate about means but never about ends, so the Christians would say that God’s end is a matter of sovereign choice or will. Otherwise, there would be no universal teleology and, to skip several steps in the argument, the absence of moral principles for man would make the choice between life and suicide irrational. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 229-230 – original date of publication: 1957)
While in the former context Clark is only distinguishing his view from Neoplatonic simplicity, he prefaced his comments in the latter section, a summary of Duns Scotus' thought, with a recognition that this impacts whether or not he could agree with Aquinas' theory of divine simplicity:
The general principle is that natural motion, even though the term motion is not properly applicable to God, precedes voluntary motion. Therefore, God’s first act is to know himself, naturally or necessarily, and this knowing is the eternal begetting of the Son. Thus an intellectual act precedes all volition; from which it follows that God is not to be defined simply as omnipotent will. Whether God’s simplicity is violated by attributing to him both intellect and will is another question; at least Duns agrees with Thomas in making nature and intellect supreme in God. (Thales to Dewey, 2000, pg. 228 – original date of publication: 1957)
Now, I still think it is far from clear that necessitarianism and divine simplicity mutually imply one another. I do think the latter implies the former (p -> q). And what Clark points out seems to suggest the same, for he is arguing that a denial of necessitarianism (~q) implies (->) a denial of divine simplicity (~p). But Clark had already said he thought creation isn't necessary, so given this and his criticisms of Aquinas' view, there appears to be good evidence that "early Clark" denied divine simplicity. If not for the second and third paragraphs in the following, I should say it was obvious:
On the assumption that God created man in his own image, it cannot further be asserted that God is totally other and unlike. Though God’s thoughts are far above our thoughts, though God is infinite and man finite, and even in spite of the intellectual blindness due to sin, a revealed religion must assert that man can know God. The extent of this knowledge, however, is a matter of dispute. Every so often an individual or a group has espoused some form of irrational mysticism, has replaced knowledge with a trance, has reduced religion to an emotion, and has limited speech to confusing illustrations and analogies. More learned than this in appearance perhaps, but not greatly superior is negative theology, which asserts that we can know that God is but not what God is – i.e., we can know the existence of God but not his essence. Knowledge of God’s existence is to know that God is; knowledge of God’s essence is to know what God is. But if we do not know what God is, we do not know what we are asserting the existence of. God becomes merely an unknown object. And why anyone should worship an unknown object, or how anyone could adjust his conduct to such, is hard to explain. Apparently allowing for greater positive knowledge is the position that the attributes of God can be known, but not God himself. That God is righteous and merciful is no doubt true; other attributes may similarly be asserted; but the God or essence that has these attributes, i.e., the substance to which these attributes attach, is said to remain in impenetrable darkness. 
The discussion of these and other solutions has been attended with considerable confusion, arising both from the difficulties of the problem itself and perhaps even more from ambiguities in terminology. If the existence or Being of God is considered apart from and prior to the essence and the attributes of God, these latter, after a chemical analogy, take on the aspect of added elements, and this seems to compromise the alleged simplicity of the divine Being. But even if simplicity should not require the identification of existence and essence, such an identification is necessary to avoid reducing the existing God to an unknown object, for the what must exist and the that must be known. The distinction between substance and attributes is also difficult. Substance is a synonym for essence, is it not? But what are attributes? And what is their relation to essence? Are not attributes predicates which are distinct from the subject or substance to which they attach? Yet, if the attributes are not the essence, are they unessential? Would the essence of God remain unchanged in itself, if one of the attributes were taken from it? Would God be what God is, if omnipotence or omniscience could not be predicated of him? In fact, what is essence or what is essential other than the attributes? 
In addition to the distinction or the denial of a distinction between essence and attribute, the status of the attributes themselves has also been a matter of dispute. It has been asked, Do the several attributes have different definitions when applied to God, as they have when applied to men? Wisdom and power, righteousness and love do not mean the same thing in human affairs, but is there a real difference between them in the case of God? Or, are the attributes merely human ways of apprehending the manifestations of God’s activity? If the attributes are merely subjective, and perhaps arbitrary human representations, and the distinctions do not exist in God, then it would seem that knowledge of them would not constitute knowledge of God. Words ought to have definite meanings; and when righteousness, power, and love are made synonyms, they convey no definite thought. Such seems to be the result of removing objective or real distinctions from God’s being. Yet perhaps this skeptical conclusion does not strictly follow. God’s essence, to be equated with one attribute, could be omnipotence. Being omnipotent, God promulgates and enforces laws of morality. It is a function of omnipotence, but men may call it righteousness. Being omnipotent, God plans and executes the course of history so as to produce a chosen culmination. This too is omnipotence, but men may call it wisdom. Thus, though righteousness and wisdom are not distinct in God, they have points of reference in experience, are therefore distinguishable, and hence can be known. It cannot be objected that in this case God is not “really” righteous. Also, the one attribute of omnipotence is not an empty, indeterminate concept, and God is not reduced, as mystics sometimes reduce him, to a divine Nothing or celestial Void. 

Some of the difficulty in this problem is real and some is only verbal. Contemplation of the majesty and sublimity of God, of whom our knowledge is admittedly inadequate, often leads religious minds to a mystical and skeptical view of transcendence. But, as has been said, this is inconsistent with a revealed religion. Related to sublimity, though more a philosophic than a distinctly religious motif, is the simplicity of God’s essence. For Christians, however, the doctrine of the Trinity precludes a simplicity that would reduce God to an Eleatic or Neoplatonic One. And for Philo, who of course knew nothing of the Trinity, as well as for Christians, the Ideas in God’s mind rule out an utter unity. When God is conceived of as a mind, he may be the one and only God beside whom there is no other; but his mind need not be an immense blank or homogenous confusion. On the other hand, much of the difficulty is verbal because of an incomplete theory of logic. Some theologians seem to have no precise definition of the terms essence and attribute, and therefore the relation between them is nebulous. Aristotle made the substance or reality his first category and attempted to define property, attribute, and accident. He was not altogether successful, as a preceding chapter briefly indicated, but the Christian theologians, it must be said, did no better. When, as in the later Middle Ages, they consciously followed Aristotle, as in the Patristic and Protestant periods, it is hard to guess what they meant by these terms. Even the listing of the attributes falls into confusion. Are knowing and willing attributes? Are the Ideas in God’s mind attributes? How could on be able to answer these questions without knowing the meaning of the term attribute, without a developed theory of logic? And this is what has frequently been missing.(Thales to Dewey, 2000, pgs. 169-171 – original date of publication: 1957)
A few things. First, notice that when Clark raises points that seem to be objectionable to divine simplicity, he uses words like "compromise" and "violate." It seems to me that one would only talk that way if he really thought what is being compromised or violated is true - or at least possibly true. Similarly, notice that when Clark objects that distinct attributes should have distinct meanings that he goes on to provide a potential line of defense for the advocate of divine simplicity. And third, he even seems to provide a positive argument for it: "even if simplicity should not require the identification of existence and essence, such an identification is necessary to avoid reducing the existing God to an unknown object, for the what must exist and the that must be known."

Still, I would lean more toward the interpretation that the above is not meant to be construed as an active defense of divine simplicity but rather like an inner dialogue in which Clark is playing out his thought process. For example, just because "the what must exist and the that must be known" doesn't imply the that is identical to the what - or if it does, it certainly doesn't imply that their can't be any distinction within the that/what in question. 

Instead, the whole point of the section seems to be summed up in the last paragraph, which states the need for clarity and thoroughness on the matter. He repeats that Christians shouldn't consider God to be transcendent to the point of epistemic vacuity a la the Neoplatonic One. And he does say that God's mind is not "an immense blank or homogenous confusion." Now, since Clark eventually tried to square divine simplicity with a multiplicity of propositional thoughts and denied that the result was similar to Plotinus' One, it cannot be assumed these statement imply Clark at this point denied divine simplicity (i.e. perhaps Clark was inconsistent all along). 

But this section occurs earlier in the book than his references to simplicity in Aquinas and Duns Scotus, so it also would make sense that Clark would preface his actual thoughts on the matter with some general discussion (cf. "alleged simplicity"). So more so on the basis that Clark recognized the tension between simplicity and a "free" creation and sided with the latter - since I really can't get a reading on whether Clark thought the argument against Aquinas's views applied to himself, though I think (sadly) that he probably just copied and pasted earlier material into later works, works which don't really touch on the subject of divine simplicity, without thinking through the implications of how it affected his modified position - I lean more toward the idea Clark denied divine simplicity.

Given all this, when and why did Clark change his mind? What defines "early Clark" as opposed to "late Clark"? From what I can tell, the change occurred some time between 1959 and 1961. In 1959, when Clark wrote Special Divine Revelation as Rational, he was still saying that simplicity entails the identity of God's existence and essence:
For Thomas Aquinas there are two ways of knowing God: First, the way of negative theology, which we shall not discuss; and second, the method of analogy. Since God is pure being, without parts, whose essence is identical with his existence, the terms applied to him cannot be used in precisely the sense in which they apply to created things. If it is said that a man is wise and that God is wise, it must be remembered that the wisdom of man is an acquired wisdom, while God has never learned. The human mind is subject to the truth; truth is its superior. But God’s mind is the cause of the truth by thinking it, or, perhaps, God is the truth. Hence the term mind does not mean precisely the same thing in the case of God and man. Not only these terms, but the notion of existence also, is not the same. Since God’s existence is his essence – an identity unduplicated in any other instance – even the word existence does not apply univocally to God and the world of creation. 
At the same time, Thomas does not wish to admit that the terms are equivocal. When it is said that playboys lead fast lives, while ascetics fast, the word has no meaning in common. Though the letters and pronunciation are the same, the intellectual contents in the two instances are utterly diverse. Between such equivocation and strict univocity, Thomas asserts that words may have an analogical use; and that in the case of God and man, the predicates are applied analogically. 
If, now, the analogical meanings of wise or of existence had a common area of meaning, that common area could be designated by a univocal term. This term then could be applied univocally to God and man. But Thomas insists that no term can be so applied. This in effect removes all trace of identical meaning in the two instances. But if this be so, how can an argument – the cosmological argument – be formally valid when its premises use terms in one sense and the conclusion uses those terms in a completely different sense? The premises of the cosmological argument speak of the existence of movers within the range of human experience; the conclusion concerns the existence of a first mover. But if these terms are not taken univocally, the argument is a fallacy. (God’s Hammer, 1995, pgs. 70-71 – original date of publication: 1959)

Of course, given that Thales to Dewey was written in 1957, that can always be taken as a cutoff date. Anyway, by 1961, it seems Clark changed his mind:
The quotations just made from the three authors might be taken to indicate that they favor the Thomistic primacy of the intellect rather than the Augustinian primacy of the will. They seem to say that the intellect invariably and automatically dominates the will. Calvin indeed said that it is the office of the will to choose what the understanding shall have pronounced to be good and that the will always respects its authority (Institutes, I, xv, 7). Now, there have been plausible Aristotelian arguments to the effect that the will automatically chooses what appears as good to the intellect. Freedom of the will from the intellect is thus repudiated. And possibly Calvin had this theory in mind when he wrote this section. But if we stress the unity of the person more than Calvin did and insist that intellectual assent is an act of volition as Augustine so broadly hinted, the radical distinction between will and intellect, necessary if one is to command and the other to obey, falls away. This bears also on the simplicity of the divine nature and will be referred to again in the last chapter. 
The primacy of the intellect, then, cannot be a power automatically exercised over the volition regarded as a separate faculty. This would violate the unity of the person. (Christian Philosophy, 2004, pg. 178 – original date of publication: 1961)
Readers should note why Clark changed his mind. It wasn't because he became a necessitarian. Even after he wrote this he maintained that creation wasn't necessary, at least for a while:
Christian theologians have commonly pointed out that creation as a voluntary act is incompatible with Hegelian philosophy. Hegel can very sincerely say that the world depends on God or the Absolute, and to this extent he sounds like a Christian’ but Hegel continues as no Christian can and adds that the Absolute conversely depends on the world. This mutual dependence is essentially pantheism. No single thing by itself, the Sun, the Moon, or John Doe, is God’ but the whole, not in its plurality but in its unity, is God. God and the universe are one reality. Barth’s rejection of this mutual dependence, of this reciprocity between whole and part, is clear cut: “God would be non the less God if he had not created a world and man. The world’s existence and our existence is no wise essentially necessary to God, even as the object of his love” (I, 1, 158) (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, 1997, pgs. 38 – original date of publication: 1963)
Of course, he changed his mind there too, but the cause and effect should not be switched. His views on divine simplicity is the cause. His change in views on necessitarianism was the - or an - effect. Likewise, Clark's ultimate theory that a person is what he thinks was an effect, not a cause. I do not think Clark mentions a particular theory until 1968 in his reply to Nash, and even then he only goes so far as to say persons are propositions, not that they are what they think. It doesn't appear he fully accepted the implications of a God who is pure act - and therefore is what He thinks - until after 1975:
Above the Soul is the Divine Mind, or World of Ideas. Were there no such mind, an explanation of human intelligence would be impossible. On occasion men withdraw themselves from the insistent sense impressions and impetuous desires of everyday life and give themselves over to the calm subject of geometry or some deeper philosophical reflection. Men may even go beyond reflection and enjoy beauty of union with the divine. Here men are in the realm of Ideas, far above the level of perception.  
Stressing the viewpoint of Plato’s Sophist, Plotinus makes it clear that the Ideas are not just a collection of hypostatized concepts, but are in truth a living mind. At this point, a modern student who has heard of Berkeleyan idealism, or a Christian who makes God’s decree dependent on God’s activity of thinking must take care not to misunderstand Plotinus. “Not by its thinking movement does movement arise. Hence it is an error to call the Idea intellections in the sense that upon an intellectual act in this principle one such Idea or another is made to exist” (V, ix, 7). Mind and its objects are not different, the latter inferior to the former. Mind is what it thinks.  
Philosophy, however, since its purpose is to discover unity, cannot stop with the Mind or World of Ideas because here duality still remains. There is a multiplicity of Ideas. In knowledge there are subjects and predicates. Unity requires a further ascent above and beyond duality, therefore beyond knowledge, to the ineffable One. Rational argument shows the need of postulating this One; but to be unified with it, man must leave reason behind and experience the One is a mystic vision.  
Four times during Porphyry’s study under him, Plotinus enjoyed this communion. This is a state in which ordinary consciousness is suspended. The soul no longer knows whether it has a body, and cannot tell whether it is a man, a living being, or anything real at all. Knowledge is somewhat like seeing sense objects on a cloudy day. In the vision a man sees the Source of the light that made knowledge possible, and he sees it directly in all its brilliance. This experience is not abnormal; it is the exercise of a faculty that all have but few use; he who has seen, says Plotinus, knows what I mean. (Ancient Philosophy, 1997, pgs. 286-287 – original date of publication: 1975)
No, the real root of Clark's change - in emphasis, if not in point of fact - is in his identification of God's intellect and will. This theme becomes more prominent in his later works:
Berkhof is partly correct when he says that God’s “knowledge is not like ours, obtained from without.... It is innate and immediate and does not result from observation...” (66). Certainly God’s knowledge is not obtained from without, as the result of observation. But some of our knowledge also is innate and therefore immediate. The difference is that all of God’s knowledge is innate and immediate. Indeed, God’s knowledge is God; and we are our limited knowledge. Then too when Berkhof includes the additional phrases, “intuitive rather than discursive...or from a process of reasoning,” he leads us into confusion. If God’s knowledge is not demonstrative, he must be ignorant of the Pythagorean theorem. He did not have to labor, as Pythagoras did, to discover the proof, but still it is a demonstrative proof and God knows the demonstration. Nor can we agree with Berkhof when in the same paragraph he maintains that some parts of God’s knowledge are and some are not “purely an act of the divine intellect without any concurrent action of the divine will.” This radical separation of the will from the intellect is destructive of the simplicity of the divine nature. And, further, it would seem to require alternating periods of time when the will was active and the intellect was not with other periods when the reverse was the case. This is inconsistent with God’s eternity. (The Trinity, 2010, pgs. 98-99 – original date of publication: 1985) 
A. A. Hodges repeated emphasis on justice, and his manner of doing so, almost immediately produces the impression that he is subordinating God to some superior law of justice, thus impugning God’s sovereignty. This pinpoints the problem of absolute necessity. 
Such an impression is supported by Hodge’s later procedure. His early remarks on the governmental theory (58ff.) assert several times the intrinsic rightness of the moral law, and intrinsic rightness superior to the divine will: “He wills the precept because [italics his] it is intrinsically right.” Hence there seems to be something superior to the will of God. But before quoting Calvin to the contrary, one may ask whether Hodge only means that God’s will is subordinate to God’s intellect, and that therefore there is no moral principle superior to God. Such a reply, however, entails a distinction between God’s intellect and God’s will, so that one “part” of God is subordinate to another part. This, combined with the separation of the divine attributes, raises difficulties with the simplicity of God’s being. (The Atonement, 1996, pg. 100 – original date of publication: 1987) 
What is nature? Do we not speak of the nature of this or that? Then must we not speak of the nature of God, the nature of God’s will, the nature of God’s intelligence? Nature is not a constituent of anything. It is simply the thing’s characteristics. God’s nature, like a dog’s nature, is such and such because such are the characteristics of the god or of God. The nature is simply the way the dog or God acts. There is no nature that controls God’s will. As Isaac Watts once wrote, “Dogs delight to bark and bite, for ‘tis their nature to.” (The Atonement, 1996, pg. 128 – original date of publication: 1987) 
As previously asserted by the present writer, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross satisfied the justice of the Father. But now it should be clear that justice is one facet of sovereignty. There is no moral principle superior to God. I can say that there is no moral principle superior to the will of God. God’s will and God’s intellect are identical. Justice is what God thinks. To suppose that anything could have been otherwise is to suppose that God could have been otherwise than he is. (The Atonement, 1996, pg. 133 – original date of publication: 1987)
Now, clearly there is no instance in which God thinks something to which He has not assented, and assent involves the will. Likewise, I do not believe it makes sense to say that God wills unthinkingly. But I do not see that it follows God's will is identical to God's intellect, let alone His essence. There is surely a need to revisit the topic of necessitarianism, for early Clark makes some interesting points and later Clark some bad ones, both of which need to be addressed, at least if the view is to be defended. But that I will leave for another time, as I will questions that advocates of divine simplicity have for those who reject it (at least in the above sense that God's essence just is His attribute[s]).


Nick said...

Totally random and off topic, but I want to get your input on Romans 2:14-15 and whether this refers to Unbelieving Gentiles or Believing Gentiles.

Here are my thoughts (taken from Augustine actually) on the matter:

(1) The language of having "the law written upon the heart" is found in various places in the Bible, but in each instance it refers to someone being inducted into the New Covenant: e.g. Jer 31:33; Heb 8:10; 2 Cor 3:3; Cf Eze 36:26. If we're using the principle of "Scripture interprets Scripture," the default assumption for this 'unclear' Romans 2:14-15 passage should be to think these are Believing Gentile Christians. (The ESV even has a cross reference from 2:15 to Jer 31:33.)

(2) The context itself is dealing with Jewish pride against the Gentiles, considering them second class, to which Paul speaks of "uncircumcised" keeping the law as a condemning testimony against Jewish hypocrisy (2:26-27). And Paul concludes all this by saying the real circumcision is that done on the heart by the Holy Spirit (2:29). This last verse is undoubtedly speaking of Christians, and the language of the Holy Spirit transforming the heart has a clear echo of the New Covenant prophecies of Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:27, etc.

(3) I would consider it dubious and highly doubtful that Paul would be speaking of universal sinfulness in Rom 1-3 and yet in 2:14-15 suddenly insinuate that Unbelieving Gentiles can do good works, keep the law, etc. It would make more sense to assume only Believers keep the law in a way pleasing to God.

(4) The Gentiles doing what the law requires "by nature" would have a Pelagian tone to it, so it makes more sense to think this refers to renewed/restored nature via the New Creation, New Heart, etc.

Do you agree with this assessment? Do you think it makes more sense to conclude the Gentiles of Romans 2:14-15 are actually Believing Gentile Christians?

Ryan said...

Hi Nick,

I think Schreiner makes a good case for the other side:

I would read the whole thing, but here are the points at which Schreiner addresses your thoughts:

The third paragraph on pg. 16 and its footnotes respond to your first and fourth objections, and it was the first thought which came to my mind as a potential reply.

Schreiner also mentions that Paul mentions both believing and unbelieving Gentiles in Romans 1-2 (pg. 9ff.), the point being that since the context mentions two groups, 2:14-15 could prima facie refer to either, which has bearing on your second argument. What 2:14-15 itself says, then, should dictate which group is in view - and of course this must fit with the flow of his argument - and the last paragraph on pg 16 (through 17) argues that it makes more sense to view 2:14-15 as referring to unbelieving Gentiles.

With respect to your third argument, the closest response Schreiner makes is found on pgs. 14 through the beginning of 16, with the most relevant conclusion being that "Paul does teach that one must do good works to be justified, but he does not bring up Gentiles in vv. 14-15 to defend that thesis." In addition to what he says there, I would argue that observance of the law and an at times excused conscience is not a sufficient condition for arguing that the person in question has done good works.

Drake Shelton said...


Long time. Anyway, do you recall where Clark dealt with Common Sense Philosophy and Thomas Reid?

Ryan said...

I checked my notes and the indexes of my books and don't see anything. I loaned out "Modern Philosophy," though, so he could have mentioned him in his The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, Language and Theology, Behaviorism and Christianity, William James, or John Dewey. Or I could have missed something else.

He is certainly aware of Reid et. al., as he wrote in What is Saving Faith (pg. 54):

"[Hodge is] very convinced of the Scottish common sense philosophy which I regard as horrible.”