Thursday, May 7, 2015

History, Epistemology, and Divine Simplicity

A year and a half ago, I wrote a post outlining Clark's take on divine simplicity. I concluded that despite very obvious incompatibilities with other beliefs he held, Clark came to accept the doctrine, at some point in his life, that God is identical to each of His attributes revealed in Scripture. 

A quick point before moving on: is there a reason numerous theologians find it so surprising that Clark would render John 1:1 as meaning "the Logic was God"? Doesn't this follow from divine simplicity? It's not as if divine simplicity is a fringe doctrine, plenty of Reformed theologians have held it. But in that case, how is it any stranger to say "Logic is God" than "God is logical"? On above definition of divine simplicity, the subject and predicate are identical, neither being subordinate to the other. God is love, so love is God. God is eternal, so eternal is God. If God and His individual attributes really are identical, these other seemingly odd subject-predicate reversals are just as true. So is the objection that God isn't logical? Is it really solely a matter of exegetical warrant, when Clark basically wrote a whole book about it? This is just something I've been wondering.

Moving on, in the process of reviewing a few critiques of Clark given by his contemporaries - Robert Reymond's The Justification of Knowledge, Gordon R. Lewis' Testing Christianity's Truth Claims, and Ronald Nash's contribution in Clark and His Critics - I expanded my reading a bit and was somewhat surprised to read that each of these men, all of whom Clark respected, rejected the theory of divine simplicity as stated above. Consider the following statements:
…the temptation to distinguish between God’s “metaphysical essence” and his “nonmetaphysical nature,” and to make the former more primary than the latter, should be resisted. 
On the other hand, it is equally necessary, when we declare that God’s being is identical to his attributes, to resist the error of some medieval nominalists, who held that God’s attributes are nothing more than words (Lat. nomina), so that the distinctions which they suggest are not really present in the one divine essence. For surely God’s eternality is no more identical with his knowledge, his knowledge no more identical with his power, his power no more identical with his omnipresence, and his omnipresence no more identical with his holiness than is our knowledge identical with our power or our goodness identical with our finite extension in space. God’s attributes are real, distinguishable characteristics of his divine being. (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1998, pgs. 162-163) 
The divine unity revealed in Scripture is not like a mystical Neo-Platonic “One” beyond all categories of human thought. The biblical oneness does not rule out distinguishable attributes and persons. 
Church tradition sometimes made matters more difficult than necessary by claiming that, as simple, God can really include no distinctions at all – not between essence and existence, act and potential, person and essence, or anything else… 
Those who deny any propositional information about God either inconsistently claim to hold that God is ontologically one or, more consistently, find themselves tending toward the new polytheism (discussed below). (Gordon R. Lewis, Integrative Theology, 2010, link
The doctrine of simplicity is the belief that God is identical with His nature or His properties. Another aspect of the theory teaches that God’s essence is indivisible in the sense that God’s properties are not parts of God’s nature… 
Once we state that God’s essence has no parts, however, a problem arises. Human beings could never have knowledge of an absolutely simple essence… 
If human beings necessarily conceive God differently than He really is, is there conception of God not therefore false? 
…equating God with each of His properties entails that each of God’s properties is identical with His other properties. If A is identical with B and if B is identical with C, then A is identical with C. Clearly, then, if God is identical with His property of knowledge and also identical with His property of goodness, it then follows that the property of knowledge is identical with the property of perfect goodness. If each of God’s properties is identical with all of God’s other properties, the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that God has only one property. But this is mystifying, to say the least. While obviously there are many things about God that human beings may be incapable of comprehending, one of the things we do seem to know very clearly is that power and love and knowledge and mercy are not identical properties (Ronald Nash, The Concept of God, 1983, pgs. 85. 86. 94)
Apropos this last paragraph by Nash, I would like to highlight and expand on something I wrote in my previous post:
...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.
Note the impact of the impossibility of univocal predication on the subject of God and ourselves as knowers. We aren't, for example, eternal. But if, as divine simplicity entails, God's eternality is identical to God's knowing, knowledge, or being a knower of [any given] truth, then we couldn't univocally know what God knows without ourselves being eternal [et al.], i.e. God. I don't even really need to mention other epistemic difficulties divine simplicity faces, let alone more general theological problems. So I won't bother. 

But I do want to note that in reading through Van Til's A Survey of Christian Epistemology (link), I've found that for him, like for Aquinas, analogical knowledge is rooted - at least in part, as I still think an acceptance of Hegelian internal relations played a significant role in Van Til's acceptance of analogical knowledge - in divine simplicity:
If the theistic position is true, the that or existence of any finite “fact” depends upon the what or connotation. God has given that fact. If theism is true, connotation and denotation are identical in the case of the personality of God. The what of God is the that of God. It is this that furnishes the foundation for and is the ground of the necessity of analogical reasoning... 
And it is exactly because of our deep conviction that God is one and truth is therefore one, that we hold that there is only one type of argument for all men.
So God's existence is His essence and vice versa, and God is so simple that any truth He knows must be simple. Note too Van Til's replies to Buswell at the end of the book, in which he conflates 1) God having the possibility or potential to know and will in ways other than He has with 2) the idea God is incomplete in regards to His being. This implies Van Til subscribed to the idea God's will and knowledge are identical to God's being. These are all classic features of divine simplicity. 

Is it any wonder why such a metaphysic led Van Til to voice the complaint against Clark which he did? Divine simplicity naturally leads to the rejection of univocal knowledge between God and man. Again, Clark's metaphysical views need to be reexamined.


Patrick McWilliams said...

Do you believe Van Til accurately grasped Aquinas with regard to analogy (knowledge & predication)?

Ryan said...

More or less. If you read chapter 5, where he addresses Aquinas and the Scholastics, his disagreement with them on this topic lies in the fact RC epistemology is not founded on divine revelation. Analogical reasoning is not itself the problem, nor its being based in the being of God:

//The Scholastics made the same mistake as the Greeks. Both took for granted that words must be used either simply univocally or simply equivocally. Both took for granted that every predicate used must apply to God in the same way that it applies to man or there can be no meaning in any predication at all. It is possible to produce quotations
from Aquinas and the other Scholastics which seem to assert the contrary of this. Aquinas speaks of the necessity of analogical reasoning. But the point is that he is not consistent in this. He constantly reverted to the Greek position that it is reasonable and possible for man to engage in the attempt to solve these antinomies. Moreover, what Aquinas means by analogical reasoning is based upon the Aristotelian notion of analogy of being. This notion implies that the abstract rationality of Parmenides and the abstract diversity of Heraclitus are involved in one another. The Thomistic notion of analogical knowledge is therefore the direct opposite of the idea of analogical knowledge inherent in Augustine’s latest thinking. Augustine’s notion of analogy presupposes the biblical teachings of the Trinity, of creation, and of redemption, while the Thomistic notion of analogy is built on Aristotelian philosophy and, therefore, excludes these biblical presuppositions...

We have now before us the most fundamental difficulty inherent in all Roman Catholic apologetics. Rome’s epistemology is itself so largely pagan that it can never expect to offer a real antithesis to modernism. The human mind is thought of as being able to study facts without necessarily thinking of these facts as derived from God...

The point in dispute is not whether there is some knowledge that must be acquired by revelation, but whether there is any knowledge that can be acquired without redemptive revelation. We hold it to be definitely anti-Christian to say that any man can have any true knowledge of anything except through the wisdom of Christ.//

He is right about a problem with RC epistemology. I also happen to think he's right about philosophic knowledge being impossible apart from redemption. But he's wrong about divine simplicity. It does explain why he thinks facts (particulars) and laws (universals) are created, though: