Thursday, November 6, 2008

Divine Simplicity - an Introduction


One of the most difficult doctrines to understand and one that has continued to challenge theists and philosophers is ironically the doctrine of divine simplicity. Proposed by early christian thinkers like st. Thomas aquinas,st. Anselm and st. Augustine,the doctrine says that god is simple,with no components and he is identical with his attributes.

The doctrine has received criticism from both christian philosophers and atheists as an incoherent doctrine. The idea that god is the same thing as omnipotence,omniscience and omni benevolence has not gone down well with modern day christian philosophers. The strongest critic being well known christian philosopher Alvin plantinga.plantinga said the doctrine reduces god to a property.

Since God is identical with each of his properties and so by extension also each of his properties are identical with each other.

I must warn you guys that this topic is very complex and it involves a lot of philosophical terms. I am still trying to understand it fully and some of the solutions offered.

The doctrine can be represented by taking an example of one of God's properties,goodness:

1.God is good
2.God has a certain property called “goodness”
3.This goodness belongs to God
4.Therefore we can call it God's goodness.
5.God's goodness is identical to God.

The doctrine arose from the need of avoiding to think of God as dependent on his properties and also the need to think of God as not having components.(physical or essence components) if god had these properties contingently and separate from his nature,then it would imply that the combination of properties such as omnipotence,omniscience-benevolence made up God.

This would mean that God depended on these properties so as to be “god”.and to the early thinkers this would imply God is not a maximal being since he would depend on these properties for his essence or existence. And so another maximal being could be thought of,who did not depend on these properties but rather was identical to these(goodness,omnipotence-omniscience) properties themselves.

To get a clear picture think of a human being. A human being is made up of parts,the brain,heart and other vital organs. Without these organs a human would not function. So we can say a human is dependent on his parts. So if God was made up of omniscience,omni benevolence and omnipotence,he would then be dependent on these properties so as to exist,or so that he can have his nature.

But if God was identical to his properties,then he would not be dependent on anything.and thus maintain status of a maximal being. But this is where the problem starts.

G= God







If God is identical with all his properties,then all his properties are identical to each other God is a property a single property but properties don't create,they are not personal,in fact properties don't stand in any causal relationships. They are abstract. Just like the color yellow,or numbers. For example if God is goodness,then how can “goodness” create anything?if its just a property?if God is “just” or “merciful”,how can merciful do things like create,speak or do anything at all? this is clearly not the God of Christianity.

God is the personal creator and sustainer of every contingent being. No abstract object is a person or a causal agent. No abstract object can be omniscient, or indeed know anything at all! this is not the only coherence problem faced by divine simplicity. In the next thread i will post some of the other coherence problems. And finally the counterarguments to this criticisms. To be continued....