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#282 Proof of Divine Simplicity?

September 10, 2012

Dear Dr. Craig,

Concerning your take on God's existence and analogy in Question 276, the Thomistic philosopher and blogger Alfredo Watkins has responded to you here: http://analyticscholastic.blogspot.com/2012/07/william-lane-craig-on-god-and-analogy.html .

I am particularly curious as to your thoughts on his argument for divine simplicity, which entails that talk about God must employ analogy. He gives the following argument:

(1) Whatever is non-identical to God is created by God. [conceded by Craig]
(2) If God has metaphysical proper parts ('parts' hereafter), then at least one of these parts is not created by God. [prem]
(3) Either God has parts or he doesn't. [LEM]
(4) Suppose he does have parts. [assp]
(5) All of God's parts are created by God. [by 1]
(6) One of God's parts is not created by God [by 2,4]
This is a contradiction. Hence, we must reject our assumption. Hence:
(7) God has no parts.

So by 'metaphysical proper parts' here I mean things like ontological constituents, such as a property-instance (or trope or accident or whatever). (1) is just Craig's own thoughts on the matter, and (2) is true because clearly God doesn't create his essential properties; he depends on those for his existence, since if they didn't exist then neither would he. The rest follows by the meanings of the terms and the rules of logic.

Craig says that he considers God to be a substance, presumably in the same manner we are: "Not a physical substance, of course, but a spiritual substance like a mind."

However, the case is even more clear if Craig thinks God's mind and will are distinct; for if he does, granting Craig's doctrine of aseity, then from (1) it follows God's will must be created by God. But it is absurd to suppose God creates his own will; after all, he must have a will to do that! So, either Craig's doctrine of aseity is false (which I agree with Craig it isn't) or God is not distinct from his will (which I think is right, but is really only intelligible given divine simplicity).

Craig thinks getting rid of Platonism will solve the problems concerning God's aseity; but it doesn't, since even if there are no abstract properties in us there are clearly ontological constituents (my brownness, my height, my shape, etc.). Even taking 'parts' in this sense, I think the above argument shows that if he wants to hold on to the strong doctrine of aseity set out in the quote above he needs to get rid of the idea that God has any parts at all. And if God has no parts in the metaphysical sense then it can be shown speech about God is analogical; for in our case, to say I am good is to say the quality of goodness inheres in me as an accident (or is exemplified as a property, or inheres as a trope or whatever). But since God has no parts in any of these senses, to say God is good cannot be to say this about him. And the same with any of the divine attributes. Thus our terms must be said analogically of God."

It's also worth mentioning that Alex Pruss has offered a simpler version of this argument, which I have adapted as follows:

1. Everything other than God himself is created by God. (Premise)
2. If God has metaphysically proper parts, then at least one metaphysically proper part of God is not created by God. (Premise)
3. No metaphysically proper part of God is identical with God. (By definition of "metaphysically proper part".)
4. If God has metaphysically proper parts, then there is something that is neither identical with God nor created by God. (By 2 and 3)
5. God has no metaphysically proper parts. (By 1 and 4)

Do you think that Watkins' or Pruss's arguments are good ones? If so, do they prove divine simplicity as conceived by Aquinas? I myself have been very wary of the Thomistic conception of divine simplicity given that it entails that God is timeless, immutable, and impassible, so any insight you might have on these arguments would be greatly appreciated.



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Dr. craig’s response


So you decided to throw me a big softball, did you, Pranav? Seriously, this is one of those tough questions in philosophy where any answer is going to have counter-intuitive consequences and we have to learn to live with the least uncomfortable.

Let me say straightaway that while I have seen Pruss’ argument before, I’m not familiar with Watkins’ work and so am going simply on the basis of what you say here.

The first thing to be said is that the argument here does nothing to allay the manifold problems with the strong doctrine of divine simplicity which is enunciated by Thomas Aquinas. It offers rather a positive argument on behalf of simplicity.

From my point of view the answer to this argument draws upon the same distinction that I explained in Question of the Week 279 between perspectives either inside or outside a linguistic framework in which one has decided to engage in a certain type of talk. My concern there was property talk. Within the framework of property-talk, of course things have properties. But from a vantage point outside that framework, I don’t think there really are objects known as properties.

Similarly here: given a linguistic framework in which we engage in talk of parts, it is unremarkable to affirm that my body, for example, has various parts. But outside that framework, when we ask the metaphysical question, are there really such things as proper parts (parts not identical to the whole), I’m inclined to say, no. They’re just in our heads, not things that exist in reality. Think of a ball existing alone in empty space. In addition to the ball, is there also another thing in existence, namely, the lower third of the ball? I don’t think so. Once one starts down this route, one proliferates objects ad infinitum: there is also one-sixth of the ball, and one-twelfth of the ball, and one-twenty-fourth of the ball, etc. Isn’t it more plausible to think that there is just one thing here, namely, the ball? Its parts aren’t metaphysically things at all. How much more so such recondite “parts” as its color, shape, size, etc.!

Indeed, there’s a powerful argument, due to Peter van Inwagen, that a proper part of a thing is not itself a thing in its own right. The manager of our church bookstore, Dottie Poythress, recently underwent surgery to have an infected kidney removed. So consider that proper part of Dottie prior to the surgery which was everything but her infected kidney. Call that part Dottie*. Now Dottie was not identical to Dottie*. (Dottie had two kidneys and Dottie* did not.) Fortunately, Dottie survived the surgery. So Dottie after the surgery is identical to Dottie before the surgery. But by the same token Dottie* also survived the surgery and remained, in fact, unchanged as a result of the ordeal. So Dottie* after the surgery is identical to Dottie* before the surgery. The problem is that after the surgery Dottie has now become identical to Dottie*. Dottie* is no longer a proper part of Dottie; it is Dottie! But this violates the transitivity of identity, the principle that if A=B and B=C, then A=C. The best solution to this problem is to deny that there really is any object called Dottie*. It’s just a figment of our imagination. There really are no such things as the proper parts of a thing.

So I’m inclined to agree with the conclusions (7) and (5) of the respective arguments. But these conclusions don’t support a robust doctrine of divine simplicity (viz., God is pure actuality and His omniscience is His omnipotence is His goodness, etc.). For I am simple in exactly the same sense. None of the things we call my parts when we are speaking inside the linguistic framework are really things either. If I existed all alone in space, there would not be another object in addition to me, like my left side. Neither are my will and my mind things which exist in addition to me. More counter-intuitively, neither would there be other objects like my hand or my heart. These terms do not pick out things which are ontologically distinct and real. But that doesn’t imply that I am pure actuality or that my hand is my heart, etc.

So I’m inclined to think that God doesn’t have proper parts, not because He is simple in the Thomistic sense, but because there are no such things as proper parts. Talk of proper parts, like talk of properties, is just a useful and perhaps indispensable façon de parler.

- William Lane Craig