OHPT: Simplicity and Aseity (Chapter 5)

And just like that, with Chapter 5 we are into Section II! This section is concerned with the divine attributes of God. The chapters in Section I were focused on the bases of theology proper, which probably goes a long way to explaining my frustrations with the arguments. Theology is just based on more assumptions that what philosophy requires (and theology is not always honest or clear about those assumptions starting out, nor when they creep in). I have a feeling I will like these articles a lot more, in terms of their philosophical merits, now that we are passed defenses for theology within a philosophical framework.

And indeed, this section started off with a fantastic piece of actual philosophy (not just theology dressing itself in bad philosophy), so I was quite happy and my brain wonderfully stimulated. Many thanks, Dr. Jeffrey Brower.

SIDE NOTE: In looking him up for my mini bio intro, I found out Brower teaches philosophy at Purdue University! I was at Purdue for a hot minute, enrolled in the Philosophy and Literature joint PhD program. Unfortunately I never took a class from him (did I mention I was only there for a hot minute?), but of course anything that is like us is more liked by us, so now that I know he and I tread the same hallowed halls of the Purdue philosophy department, I like his article even more and know for certain that he is 100% right.

REVIEW DONE.

I kid. Onto the meat and potatoes.

In “Simplicity and Aseity,” Brower presents his argument for the divine simplicity thesis. The divine simplicity thesis states that God has no properties or attributes; she is a perfectly simple being. For divine simplicity, the statement “God is good” is not equal to “God has the property of goodness” but rather means God is identical with good.

Brower says divine simplicity has fallen out of favor in theological circles recently, and notes what a shift this is from the theological stances of Augustine, Aquinas, and Anslem. (Much alliterative.) Indeed, if we take authority to be indicative of truth, then this shift is truly something radical.

Radical or no, this shift has happened in large part due to the way philosophy has evolved and its impact on the way theologians think. Aka, due to the advancement and influence of philosophy, theologians think better. #sorrynotsorry And in thinking better, they change their opinions to fit what best appears at the time and with the information at hand to be true. In this case, they change their views in order to be logically consistent. Brower wants to resurrect (RIM SHOT!) the theory of divine simplicity and argues for a new definition that he says is coherent and worthy of consideration.

Brower’s argument about how to “fix” the divine simplicity theory is kind of fabulous. Brower says that in the history of philosophy, generally the statement “Bob is x” or “Bob is y” has been translated as “x and y are properties of the subject Bob.” Brower says this can certainly work in most cases of the form “A is x,” but that it need not. He argues that instead we can apply the concept of truthmakers to these statements.

I actually wrote a big smiley face on the page when I saw him bring up truthmakers. Quality metaphysics, right there.

Proof.

A truthmaker is what “makes” a statement true. I won’t go too into the weeds here (whether this involves entailment, necessitation, or projection), but reframing the divine simplicity theory in terms of a ‘truthmaker account’ (TA) looks like this:

If an intrinsic predication of the form ‘a is F‘ is true, then a’s F-ness exists, where this entity is to be understood as the truthmaker for ‘a is F‘.

Brower 112

Brower says that it is perfectly coherent to say that “for every true intrinsic divine predication, there is a truthmaker and God is identical with that truthmaker” (112). In other words, God herself is what makes statements like “God is good” true.

My new Palmyra toiletries bag nicely illustrates Brower’s point. “Wahine” is not a property, but a subject, a group, and a belief that women should be more involved in shaping the future than they have been up to this point. The truthmaker of the statement is the future itself. Perhaps even wahine.

Brower answers several objections adroitly and well. I won’t go into them here, for the sake of time. But the most interesting objection relates to God’s divine knowledge and freedom. If God is omniscient, then her knowledge cannot, and indeed never could change. But that means that God could only have created this particular world for the things that are true are contingent on this world being the world she created. There could have been no other world, for in that case “truth” would have different content. So either God had no choice or volition in creating this world and retains her divine simplicity, or God created this world freely, her perfect knowledge is thus contingent on this world being the one created, and she is no longer simple.

Unfortunately for divine simplicity, Brower concludes that the coherency of the theory comes at the cost of accepting compatibilism. Free will must be somehow compatible with determinism — we have to somehow be free even while being able to trace all our actions to determined causes. Only in this way can Brower protect the non-contingent divine knowledge of God.

It’s so interesting that the issue of divine simplicity comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. Is it simply a matter of what we are willing to give up or accept to maintain the theory? Is that the best way to arrive at truth? Certainly I think it is one of the best ways to approach truth-finding about a divine being such as God, who is beyond our reach. In many ways, we are only kind of “guessing” when we make statements about a supernatural being. In that sense, then, claims need to be weighed and evaluated against other claims, arguments against other arguments, to see what arguments make logical and coherent sense as a set.

This is one of the most honest theological arguments I’ve encountered.

I came to a rather wishy-washy stance about what I think is true about divine simplicity. The theory as Brower has outlined it is coherent, and it holds up with its clear acknowledgement of what other claims must also be accepted. However, I just find myself not having a stake in the “is this true?” game. (Brower never claims the doctrine is true, by the way, only that he wants to demonstrate that it is coherent and acceptable as a possibly true theory about God.) I’m having a hard time deciding whether or not it matters whether God is simple or God has divine properties. Why can’t God’s being and self be contingent on her divine properties? I think I need to read more of the triple A’s to understand what is at stake with both stances.

Two thought wanderings from my thinking about this chapter…

First wandering thought: If God is identical to her goodness, wisdom, and love (among others), then does that mean that goodness is identical with wisdom, and that both goodness and wisdom are identical with love? The transitive property seems required for the divine simplicity thesis. If that is the case, then the kind of love, wisdom, and goodness we claim identical to God is different from the love, wisdom, and goodness we predicate of people, because we consider those all to be distinct, even if related. How different is, say, divine love with human love? It doesn’t seem like in this case it’s a matter of degree, because at some point love would stop being a property and start being… well, being God. Is the difference wide enough to challenge the notion that these things, which are properties we can predicate of humans, are a reflection of God herself? Are what we call “good” properties all reflections of God, but we relate to them as properties due to our broken, limited, kind of telescoped way of being? Is there enough sameness between divine goodness and human goodness for that to hold? I’m honestly not sure. It’s something I’ll keep thinking on.

Second wandering thought: Thinking of God and properties and not-properties brought me back a little to Kripke’s argument in Naming and Necessity. The descriptivist theory of names locks us in to a certain set of criteria, or attributes, in being able to connect a figure to a particular name. For a name to refer to anything concretely, the thing must have a set of attributes that is contained within or referred to by the name. That’s how we would know who or what is signified or pointed to by the particular name — by the collection of descriptions that “explain” the object or person. But of course, in this world wherein the descriptivist theory is an explanatory theory of names, things are constantly changing. What was true of me two weeks ago (“Jana is the being who, among her other qualities, has never had a Sakura Senbei from Minamoto Kitchoan”) is no longer true about me today (“Jana is the being who, among her other qualities, has eaten a Sakura Senbei from Minamoto Kitchoan and will never eat another cookie ever again”). The name “Jana” has changed — it refers to a being with a different set of attributes or properties than it did two weeks ago. We can always pin a temporal requirement to the descriptivist theory to make it work, but any name tied to a collection of properties would require constant, moment-by-moment updating to be fully philosophically satisfying.

While I don’t think the descriptivist theory of names thus holds up, I think it could with respect to the Christian God. If God never changes, then what is true about her is always true. For what its worth, I also think the Causal Theory of Reference could hold up, as well. I think? Oh goodness, now I’m not sure. I guess I have many “problems to mull over” after reading this chapter. *heart eye emoji*

Favorite quote:

If I have achieved my aim, it will be clear that the standard objections to the [divine simplicity] doctrine can all be answered: the doctrine is neither incoherent nor incompatible with contingent divine volition and knowledge. Of course, this by itself does not give us reason to accept the doctrine as true. But it does, I hope, go considerable distance toward showing its acceptability.

Brower 123

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