Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Divine Simplicity

Johnny-Dee (re-)introduces an objection against the doctrine of divine simplicity. He says, quoting Craig and Moreland:

The doctrine [divine simplicity] is open, moreover, to powerful objections. For example, to say that God does not have distinct properties seems patently false: omnipotence is not the same property as goodness, for a being may have one and not the other.

But it's difficult to see how this is in any way relevant. The doctrine of divine simplicity is not the doctrine that power just is goodness; it's the doctrine that in God 'power' and 'goodness' just refer to God Himself. In other words, Craig and Moreland fail to distinguish properly between the sense and reference of the terms. 'Power' and 'goodness' have different senses; but in the case of God they refer to one and the same thing, divine being, in different ways.

Further, this term 'property' is a bit of sophistry; for it isn't clear what it means in this context. We may predicate omnipotence of a being without predicating goodness; it does not follow that every predicate has one distinct entity to which it is attached, which will be found in everything of which it is predicated. That would be a rather silly view. But that, really, is what the above argument requires; that, because we can predicate goodness of some beings and not omnipotence, that there is a distinct entity 'goodness' that in all cases is distinct from 'omnipotence'. But this is a faulty inference. This would also be my criticism of the second, Plantinga-based objection. If we say

(13) If a property is identical with God, God is a property,

we can either mean by 'property' that to which (for example) 'being omnipotent' refers; or we can mean the way in which it refers (the sense). The former turns (13) into

(13a) If that to which we refer when we predicate something of God is identical with God, God is that to which we refer when we predicate something of God.

But (13a) doesn't tell us anything about a property in the sense in which (14) does:

(14) No property is alive, etc.

The second way of understanding it turns (13) into

(13b) If the way a predicate refers to God is identical with God, God is the way a predicate refers to God.

Which goes well with (14), but isn't what anyone actually says. No one says, for instance, that an abstract property is identical with God, or, if they do, they deviate from the doctrine of simplicity.

It should be kept in mind, incidentally, that Aquinas, and all non-analytic philosophers who discuss simplicity, keep clear of this mistake because they don't talk in terms of properties. The closest they come to it is to talk in terms of predication or naming. What we name in God is God, understood in a certain way. When we say 'God is omnipotent' we are really saying, 'God is such as to be understood in such-and-such way'. But our understanding God in such-and-such way does not imply that there is a distinct entity in God, constituting God, which just is what is understood. To say that is to assume far, far too much about the human way of understanding: it is to treat each and every way in which something is understood as if it were a distinct thing. It is as if I said, "John is human; John is a person; John is a student; therefore John is composed of a human-property, a person-property, and a student-property, all three of which are distinct." But someone could reply, "When I say that John is human, I just mean that John admits of being understood in such a way that he can be recognized as human; I don't imply anything about his constituents or composition."

The mistake of the analytically-minded, like Craig and Moreland, is thinking that by introducing the term 'property' they are making the doctrine of simplicity more precise; they are actually just confusing things by introducing a word that is much more ambiguous than the actual terms of the doctrine.

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