Friday, April 29, 2016

The Incongruity of Divine Simplicity


I previously discussed some problems with the Thomistic metaphysical concept of the act and potency.  As expected, it resulted in lots of harsh commentary from the good folks at Feser's echo chamber.  One thing that didn't happen is any kind of cogent rebuttal to the issues I raised.  I am not arrogant enough to think that I am an expert on scholastic metaphysics, or to think that these issues haven't been raised before.  But I can say with confidence that they haven't been answered in a way that is intellectually satisfying to a scientifically-minded skeptic.  I raise these questions because in my opinion, they cast serious doubt on the whole enterprise, and all the explanations that have been offered are simply rationalizations.  The Thomist must live with some cognitive dissonance when he tries to explain how his metaphysics exists in harmony with modern science.

My next area of criticism is the concept of divine simplicity.  This is the notion that God is simple - that he is composed of no parts and has no complexity.  He is identical to his properties: simplicity, perfection, goodness, infinity, ubiquity, immutability, eternity, and unity.  God's is said to be unknowable except by analogy.  His intellect is utterly unlike the intellect of man.  And so we have some problems that demand an explanation.

Of course, we have all heard that the doctrine of the trinity is incompatible with divine simplicity.  How can God manifest himself in these different ways and still be simple?  The standard answer to this question is that the three persons of the trinity are not "parts" of God.  They are a unity in three persons, distinguished by their relationships with each other.  Well, that settles it, then.  We just play a little game of word salad, and pretend that we have made a cogent response to the question.  But don't relationships define the manner in which two or more things are connected?  If you claim that the parts of the trinity are all one and the same, then how can they have a relationship with each other?  It sounds a bit like the creepy kid who has trouble with girls, but has a very nice relationship with himself.  At any rate, despite the supposed answers to this question, I remain unconvinced that the concepts of trinity and simplicity are mutually coherent.

And there is the issue of God's intellect.  Aquinas recognized that God can't think in the manner that humans do, because that entails a process, which entails change.  The human intellect is complex.  God's is simple.  That in itself is enough to give one pause.  When we say that a person is simple in intellect, we usually mean that he doesn't understand, or that he doesn't think with the depth of complexity that most people do.  So can we say the same thing about God?  Here's where the word salad must once again come into play.  God's intellect is said to be incomprehensible to us humans.  And so we are expected to accept that, and understand that God's intellect, which is simple, is yet superior to the most complex human intellect.

Well, maybe, but there are still some questions.  Isn't God rather like a human?  Don't we say that he is a person?  He is loving, and he has will.  Those are things that we can comprehend, because they are human-like.  Love is an emotion, and like all emotions, it is caused by chemical changes in the body.  But that can't apply to God, because it would be incoherent with our conception of God's nature.  Our will is a manifestation of our needs and desires.  But God can't have any needs or desires, because he is perfectly complete.  So how can he have will? 

Doesn't the bible tell us that man is made in the image of God?  We generally take that to mean that our intellect is God-like.  We have an intellect that distinguishes us from all other animals, and it is a reflection of God's intellect.  We say that God is the author of our logic and morality.  But the Thomistic notion of divine simplicity is a denial of that.  God's intellect can be nothing like ours.  God can't employ a logical process.  He can't think in a human-like manner.  If I were a Thomist, I should be quite confused by these incompatible notions of the nature of God.  As it is, I'm able to look at it dispassionately and realize that it is just incoherent.


50 comments:

  1. Goodness gracious me! I've been mentioned in dispatchesHERE, HERE and HERE.

    You seem to have piñata-ed a hornet's nest, Skep. And that is good to see. Feser's rather forlorn attempt to emulate a beloved resurrection of Thomist scholasticism in contemporary philosophy simply underscores the somewhat quaint and idiosyncratic character of catholic thought. Of course, mainstream philosophy has moved on to much bigger and more challenging issues of today rather than doggedly persist with exploring ways to squeeze the old arthritic hand of medieval thought into the glove of modern philosophical discourse. It's a valiant effort on Feser's part but an inevitably fruitless one, nonetheless:

    "Thomistic scholasticism in the English speaking world went into decline in the 1970s when the Thomistic revival that had been spearheaded by Jacques Maritain, Étienne Gilson, and others, diminished in influence. Partly, this was because this branch of Thomism had become a quest to understand the historical Aquinas after the Second Vatican Council. Still, those who had learned Scholastic philosophy continued to have unresolved questions about how the insights of the medieval synthesis could be applied to contemporary problems. This conversation departed from the academic environment and entered internet discussion groups such as Aquinas,[24] Christian Philosophy,[25] and Thomism,[26] and websites such as Open Philosophy,[27] where it continues today." HERE

    Feser's blogsite is symptomatic of the feisty but ineluctably declining influence of Thomist scholasticism in mainstream philosophy.



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    1. I think it's telling that I never advertised my previous post in any way, but it was from Feser's place that I received objections. Nobody else cares about this stuff. And why should they? Most people's lives are not built upon this medieval superstition.

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    2. mainstream philosophy sux. they are still trying to pretend to be science and still try8ing to produce the illusion of technique to get over the embarrassment of not being science, They have thinking real hard about nothing down to a science,

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    3. IMS, there are modern philosophers who use David Lewis to defend DDS and beat your arguments. Have you read this article?
      Stanford Encyc. Phil DDS

      also can you give me the link to the page where you argued this on Feser's site?

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    4. I read the SEP article - it was written by Bill Vallicella. It does not address the issues I raised here. It actually confirms the idea that God is intellectually unlike us humans and therefore cannot be the grounding of human intellect.

      God is not only radically non-anthropomorphic, but radically non-creaturomorphic, not only in respect of the properties he possesses, but in his manner of possessing them.

      I did not discuss this topic on Feser's blog.

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  2. I care about it I just don't have time.

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  3. Feser's blogsite is symptomatic of the feisty but ineluctably declining influence of Thomist scholasticism in mainstream philosophy

    that's what they said before Jacques Maritain--it's a thousand y7ear old tradition. There will be another one. besides, Tillich did a great job of brining those issues into a modern protestant framework. He is making a come back.

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  4. IM:"Of course, we have all heard that the doctrine of the trinity is incompatible with divine simplicity. How can God manifest himself in these different ways and still be simple? The standard answer to this question is that the three persons of the trinity are not "parts" of God. They are a unity in three persons, distinguished by their relationships with each other. Well, that settles it, then. We just play a little game of word salad, and pretend that we have made a cogent response to the question.

    Hey come on man that is a stupid answer, you are Not a stupid person. You are one of the few atheists who I respect intellectually because you usually try to know what you are talking about before you shoot off your mouth, I never did learn that myself. Talking about word salad is the refuge of people with tiny vocabularies. you are too good to make such an argument.

    surely you can see the distinction between actual parts of a whole and functional relationships. My father was also an uncle and a brother, that did not make him three people. The fact is the scholastics were talking about parts when they said God is simple. Surely a bright guy like you can see the critical distinction. That is bodily a conceptual difference not a word game.



    But don't relationships define the manner in which two or more things are connected?

    not physically

    If you claim that the parts of the trinity are all one and the same, then how can they have a relationship with each other?

    first of all because they are identities. I have a relationship withy myself. A person's role as parent might conflict with that person's role as employee. But if we are expected to believe that God the father and God the some are more than just roles played y the same person but two distinct (three) distinct consciousness's centers of consciousness, it's not related to brain complexity, You are going to have to assert that whatever kind of consciousness God has is complex. you can't know that.


    It sounds a bit like the creepy kid who has trouble with girls, but has a very nice relationship with himself.

    Trying to measure God by your experiences, smooth move ex-lax


    At any rate, despite the supposed answers to this question, I remain unconvinced that the concepts of trinity and simplicity are mutually coherent

    what about now?

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    1. Oh Dear! From Joe Hinman: "surely you can see the distinction between actual parts of a whole and functional relationships. My father was also an uncle and a brother, that did not make him three people."

      Come back and talk to us when you can demonstrate your father is also his son.

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    2. Joe, what seems obvious to someone who wants to believe that it makes sense (the functional relationships of the trinity) is not at all obvious to someone who looks at it objectively. Furthermore, Jesus himself made it clear that he is not the same as the father, and doesn't know what the father knows. (Matthew 24:36) Obviously, when that passage was written, he had no concept of divine simplicity.

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    3. Come back and talk to us when you can demonstrate your father is also his son. \

      Make your little comments when you are serious minded enough to understand the point o deal.

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    4. Joe, what seems obvious to someone who wants to believe that it makes sense (the functional relationships of the trinity) is not at all obvious to someone who looks at it objectively.

      why wouldn't it be? what is your basis for disputing that understanding of the
      trinity?



      Furthermore, Jesus himself made it clear that he is not the same as the father, and doesn't know what the father knows. (Matthew 24:36) Obviously, when that passage was written, he had no concept of divine simplicity

      I made a conditional that allows for differences in center of consciousness. That still doesn't make God complex.


      There's another objection I've argued before to the charge of God's complexity and that simple and complex are relative terms that have no meaning when dealing with ground of being, now that may let down the Thomist end of things but it also beats Dawkins.

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  5. btw I have an open challenge to as]theists to debate]e my cosmological argument on Atheistwatch.

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    1. Answered, and it was much too easy.

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    2. of course when you go back to see my answers you will realize your error ;-)

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    3. are you really assuming that your standardized slogans actually beat asn argument that's ben\em around for a thousand years?l i8 have destroyed your Bull shit., go look., your arguments were crap.

      you think it was easy because you've brain washed into not thinking about the answers you give, I beat them all for all three of you,

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    4. The only source you cited that has any correspondence to reality is Dennett,

      you mean like all those peer reviewed academic journals? do you even understand what makes a source scholarly>I don't you do,. I think you just quote the other atheist say and don't even think about it. do you know Chalmers is an atheist, did you think he was a Christian?

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    5. Those are philosophy - not science. And regardless of what you think, scientific fact ALWAYS trumps philosophical speculation.

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  7. Many Thomists will not say God is a person, at least not in any sense similar to how we are persons.

    I wouldn't take the approach that something like love is a chemical reaction. Even if love is a chemical reaction in humans, we shouldn't make a universal generalization about it. We would come close to begging the question against God if we make assumptions like that.

    Divine simplicity does seem incoherent, at least as far as our ordinary discourse works in philosophy. God's essence being identical to God's existence, or God being omnipotent rather than exemplifying omnipotence does seem odd from how philosophers normally speak of God. That is obviously why Plantinga found divine simplicity incoherent.

    Maverick Philosopher has a lot of blog posts on divine simplicity, and he wrote the Plato Stanford page on the subject. He has interacted with Feser in some of his posts as far as I know: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/divine-simplicity/

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    1. The personal aspects of God that I mentioned are all taken from what Feser has said (recently).

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    2. I know Feser would say God is not "Impersonal", but I don't know if he would say God is a "Person". I would need to browse his blog to check.

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    3. Feser says that God is personal, but not "a person":

      When classical theists like Davies say that God is not “a person,” they do NOT mean that God is impersonal, an “it” rather than a “he.” On the contrary, most classical theists, including all Thomists, would say that among the divine attributes are intellect, will, omniscience, freedom, and love. Naturally then, they regard God as personal rather than impersonal, since nothing impersonal could intelligibly be said to possess these attributes.

      I think the distinction is artificial. It is based his objection to the notion of God as an instantiation of the generic type "person", which would supposedly violate divine simplicity. here.

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  8. Argument against a powerful god-like mind being "simple".
    The only minds we know of are the result of the brain functions of living beings (it's conceivable that electronic minds could be created).
    We have no evidence of disembodied minds.
    There is a positive correlation between higher mental abilities and brain complexity. "Simple" minds (brains) do not demonstrate higher mental abilities. The human brain is, by far, the best thinking machine on Earth. It's also the most complex structure in the known universe.

    Any suggestion that a simple, disembodied mind will exhibit higher mental abilities is contrary to what we know about minds. i.e.

    1) There is no evidence of the existence of disembodied minds.

    2) The minds we do know about require great complexity if they are to possess higher mental abilities.

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  9. Robert, God is not another thing incretion he's not the produce of a natural process he' not the result of casual agents, he's the basis of all reality, he is transcendent and transcendental. God is completely outside of any category we might use to understand reality Thus it is foolish to compare God to nature and say we have no examples, of course we don't! how could we? nothing else could be like God. He's the thing itself. everything else is was produced by him He is being itself.

    Yet you illusion to AI proves that there can be other alternatives to our understanding. Mind is not reducible to brain, we have minds we know we do and they are not just brain function but are emergent, emergent properties contradict that literalistic materialism.

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    1. Joe said "Robert, God is not another thing incretion he's not the produce of a natural process he' not the result of casual agents, he's the basis of all reality, he is transcendent and transcendental. God is completely outside of any category we might use to understand reality Thus it is foolish to compare God to nature and say we have no examples, of course we don't! how could we? nothing else could be like God. He's the thing itself. everything else is was produced by him He is being itself."
      There is no evidence for the existence of gods or disembodied minds. I'm dealing in facts and you are attempting to hypothesise a being into existence.

      "Mind is not reducible to brain, we have minds we know we do and they are not just brain function but are emergent, emergent properties contradict that literalistic materialism."
      I'd be quite open to a non material mind. It would be incorporated into science and be another fascinating field of inquiry. I think though the weight of evidence is continually pushing away from a "non materialist" explanation for mind.
      If I was a deist/theist I'd stick to the "fine tuning" argument. That's the one area where increasing scientific knowledge has led to greater and greater puzzlement. It does look like we live in a very, very unlikely universe.

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    2. Robert: "I'd be quite open to a non material mind. It would be incorporated into science and be another fascinating field of inquiry."

      Unbeknown to Joe, it already is a new and fascinating field of science inquiry; the neurosciences. and it's establishing baseline data that is truly remarkable given the infancy of the field.

      "The mind is not reducible to brain."
      No Joe. That's an apologetic furphy. The mind is what the brain does. When the brain's dead, the mind is dead.

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    3. RC:"There is no evidence for the existence of gods or disembodied minds. I'm dealing in facts and you are attempting to hypothesise a being into existence"

      obviously there is. I have 52 arguments for God. there's a lot of evidence stop begging the question. the evidence on irreducibility means there's a possibility of mind behind the universe, Its not the case that mind is reduced to brain,

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    4. PapalintonMay 1, 2016 at 2:13 PM


      Robert: "I'd be quite open to a non material mind. It would be incorporated into science and be another fascinating field of inquiry."

      Unbeknown to Joe, it already is a new and fascinating field of science inquiry; the neurosciences. and it's establishing baseline data that is truly remarkable given the infancy of the field.

      that is the bait and switch that Chalmers taslks about, they just study brain function not consciousness then they define consciousness as brain function so it's circular reasoning. Until they answer the hard problem they have said nothing,

      "The mind is not reducible to brain."
      No Joe. That's an apologetic furphy. The mind is what the brain does. When the brain's dead, the mind is dead.

      producing emergent properties is what complexity does that doesn't mean the emergent property is not emergent. Read my essays and notice the sources of research. "mind is not reduceable to brain"

      part 1


      part 2

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    5. Joe,

      Just because you write an article on something doesn't make it true. You say we should notice the sources. I see what's there, and I see especially what's not.

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    6. Making insinuations that my research is no good then not getting specific about what sources are bad and what's wrong with them is cowardly and stupid. They are all top notice sources, as for your statement "what's not there" well, spit it out what is not there? do you even know? do you even have an idea?

      I did have some respect for you because seemed bright and willing to study, now you are getting nasty because you can't handle the fact that are Christians who know what they talking about and who are not intimidated by anything you can throw t them.

      Be honest and do what you know is right intellectually and don't make accusations if you can't back them up.

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    7. well, spit it out what is not there?

      Science.

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    8. You can quote philosophers of mind all day long, but without science, you have nothing.

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    9. Joe said: "that is the bait and switch that Chalmers taslks about, they just study brain function not consciousness then they define consciousness as brain function so it's circular reasoning. Until they answer the hard problem they have said nothing". This is the way of science Joe. Keep chipping away. Observe. Gather data. Hypothesise. Toss away failed ideas.
      It's very early days. Science has explained the impossible a number of times. How did all these species come about. How does the sun keep on shining. Science hasn't explained consciousness but it's made a "spooky" explanation very unlikely.
      It's far, far too early to say science will never explain it.
      Science takes the Churchill approach:“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm”
      "“Never, never, never give up.”

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    10. your argument is unscientific, you are just saying place your faith in science and believe my ideology. the data proves you wrong, you to ignore the data because your ideology tells to,.

      double standard, not really thinking scientifically, the hard problem is an epistemic problem that supersedes science anyway.

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    11. Science.







      im-skepticalMay 3, 2016 at 7:24 AM

      :You can quote philosophers of mind all day long, but without science, you have nothing."

      your argument I even more unscientific, you just pretending. My argument is backed by data yours is not.I have the science on my said.

      this bs about mind can't be more than brain is not a scientific idea it's ideological.

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    12. im-skepticalMay 3, 2016 at 7:23 AM

      well, spit it out what is not there?

      Science.


      you are just obfuscating. you made accusations and can't make good on themn,

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    13. The so-called "hard problem of consciousness" is strictly a philosophical problem - not a scientific one. Go ahead and survey the scientific literature and see how much they talk about it. It's a contrived issue, on a par with Anselm's ontological argument, which is sheer bullshit. The only source you cited that has any correspondence to reality is Dennett, and you were arguing against him, because any realistic theory of mind doesn't fit your preconceived notions about what mind should be in an imaginary world where supernatural forces prevail. Sorry to tell you, but there is no scientific data that supports superstition.

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    14. Joe said: "your argument is unscientific, you are just saying place your faith in science and believe my ideology. the data proves you wrong, you to ignore the data because your ideology tells to,."
      We all place our faith in science. Science is what allows us to step into a 450 ton, jet propelled vehicle and travel half way around the wold. It's what allowed someone dear to me to have a brain tumour treated with millimeter precision x-rays. Before scientific medicine the prognosis for this type of tumour was paralysis and death.
      The scientific explanation has always triumphed. The score is : Science - millions, superstition -zero.
      I'll go with the method that's worked countless times. The one trusted, in almost all circumstances, by people like you.

      "the hard problem is an epistemic problem that supersedes science anyway."
      No. Absurd defeatism. Supernaturalism ALWAYS fails. One day we will know what it's like to be a bat.

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    15. im-skepticalMay 4, 2016 at 8:23 AM

      The so-called "hard problem of consciousness" is strictly a philosophical problem - not a scientific one. Go ahead and survey the scientific literature and see how much they talk about it.
      The problem is that when you make statements about mind id reducible to brain or mind is brain you are not making a scientific statement. the reductionists are doing a bait and switch ,they are not doing science. Naturalism is not science., it's philosophy7.



      It's a contrived issue, on a par with Anselm's ontological argument, which is sheer bullshit. The only source you cited that has any correspondence to reality is Dennett, and you were arguing against him, because any realistic theory of mind doesn't fit your preconceived notions about what mind should be in an imaginary world where supernatural forces prevail. Sorry to tell you, but there is no scientific data that supports superstition.

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    16. by the way IMS I'm doing divine simplicity on Monday. so I hope come and make comments.

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    17. Robert:The scientific explanation has always triumphed. The score is : Science - millions, superstition -zero.

      God is not superstition and naturalism is not science. Science functions for Dawkamentaliksm as a replacement for religion. Not as a religion itself but something to put in place of it. you make it the center of your epistemology you make it the orbiter of reality you make it the only form of knowledge. Every other thought process must be reduced and destroyed to bring it into line with your pseudo scientific ideology of atheist propaganda.

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    18. The problem is that when you make statements about mind id reducible to brain or mind is brain you are not making a scientific statement. the reductionists are doing a bait and switch ,they are not doing science.

      So argue with the people who say that. (HINT: it's a straw man.)

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  10. I think there is a screw or three loose with this commenter.

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    1. o brilliant so adult! you really think you beat arguments b y calling them names?

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  11. im-skepticalMay 5, 2016 at 9:39 AM

    Those are philosophy - not science. And regardless of what you think, scientific fact ALWAYS trumps philosophical speculation

    then why do you ignore scientific evidence? you only accept it when it supports your ideology, when it works gainwst your views you ignore it.

    science is not atheism, science says virtual particles come from other particles not from nothing,

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    1. You don't understand the article you cited. It didn't say that. Particles have to have some basis, too. If all particles come from other particles, that's an infinite regress. Nobody believes that - not even theists.

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