Saturday, 16 April 2016

Edward Feser: Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism

Edward Feser: Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism

"It is also simply false to imply, as Craig does, that Thomists and other critics of theistic personalism regard God as “impersonal.” 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. As I have said many times, the problem with the thesis that “God is a person” is not the word “person,” but rather the word “a.” And as Davies (and I) have argued many times, there are two key problems with it, a philosophical problem, and a distinctively Christian theological problem.

The philosophical problem is that this language implies that God is a particular instance of the general kind “person,” and anything that is an instance of any kind is composite rather than simple, and thus requires a cause. Thus, nothing that is an instance of a kind could be God, who is of course essentially uncaused. (Obviously these claims need spelling out and defense, but of course I and other Thomists have spelled them out and defended them in detail many times.) The distinctively Christian theological problem is that God is Trinitarian -- three divine Persons in one substance -- and thus cannot be characterized as “a person” on pain of heresy. (As Davies has pointed out, it seems that the first time the English language formula “God is a person” appears in the history of Christian theology is in the 1644 heresy trial, in Gloucester, England, of someone named John Biddle -- where the formula was condemned as implying Unitarianism.)

So, the reason Davies labels the rejection of classical theism “theistic personalism” is not that he thinks God is impersonal. The reason is rather that he takes theistic personalists to start with the idea that God is a particular instance of the general kind “person” and to go from there. And this, he thinks, is what leads them to draw conclusions incompatible with classical theism, such as that God is (like the persons we’re familiar with in everyday experience) changeable, temporal, made up of parts, etc. To reject theistic personalism, then, is not a matter of regarding God as impersonal, but rather a matter of rejecting the idea that God is a particular instance of the kind “person,” or of any other kind for that matter. (For example, though classical theists certainly regard God as the uncaused cause of the world, they do not think that this is correctly to be understood as the claim that God is a particular instance of the general kind “cause.”)"

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