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Monday, June 09, 2014

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At this point, I have four points in reply to Bill’s reply to me, each corresponding to four claims made by Bill in his reply to me (or at least this is how I have read him).

They are:

Bill’s Claim 1: Ken's argument is straightforward, clear, and [merely] superficially compelling.

Bill’s Claim 2: The doctrine of divine simplicity DDS is coherent if understood as I (Bill) present it.

Bill’s Claim 3: DDS is preferable to its denial because its denial amounts to idolatry.

Bill’s Claim 4: DDS is preferable to its denial because DDS, but not its denial, preserves such features of God as his absoluteness, aseity, sovereignty, and transcendence.

Point #1: In my initial note to Bill, I argued that whether one adopts a relational or constituent ontology, still DDS appears incoherent. In his Claim 1, Bill claims that my argument is straightforward, clear, and [merely] superficially compelling (I added the ‘merely’ for emphasis). But, he did not show that my argument is only superficially compelling. In fact, he conceded that it is right.

Here is my evidence:
First, he outright says so. He writes, “I agree with Ken that it would be incoherent to say of any creaturely concrete particular that it is identical to a universal it has as a constituent.” But in my original argument, I was assuming (as Bill correctly notes) that our metaphysical concepts apply univocally to both God and creatures. Thus, I was assuming (because I originally thought Bill agreed, or at least there was no reason to think he didn’t) that God has properties in the same way we do. Furthermore, if one looks carefully at my original argument, I never claimed that it is impossible to show that DDS is incoherent. Rather, I merely argued that (assuming we are using our metaphysical concepts univocally when applied to both creatures and God), treating God as identical to a property appears incoherent. Bill concedes this point. But if so, then my original argument is not superficially compelling, it is outright deeply compelling – for a very narrow conclusion (which is that using our metaphysical concepts univocally when applied to both creatures and God, treating God as identical to a property appears incoherent, whether one adopts a relational ontology or a constituent ontology.

As a second bit of evidence that Bill agrees with my original argument, and that his Claim 1 is false, consider the fact that he changed his defense of DDS from his SEP entry to his blog note. In his SEP entry he wrote, “We have already seen how, if we embrace a constituent approach to ontology, the divine nature can be coherently conceived as identical to God.” And, nowhere in his entry, from what I read, did he suggest that our metaphysical concepts are used equivocally when applied to both creatures and God. However, in his blog note his defense is not that by adopting constituent ontology DDS can be shown to be coherent, but rather DDS can be shown to be coherent by treating our metaphysical concepts as being used equivocally when applied to both creatures and God. Thus, he changed his defense.

In sum, Bill did not show that my argument is merely superficially compelling. In fact, he did the opposite. He conceded that it is deeply compelling, which is perhaps why he changed his defense of DDS.

However, in my point 2 below, I will argue that he did not succeed in defending DDS as being coherent, even if one treats our metaphysical concepts as being used equivocally when applied to both creatures and God. Let’s turn to that point now.

Point #2: In this point, I will not claim, and thus will not argue, that Bill’s Claim 2 is false. However, I do claim, and will argue, that Bill has not shown his Claim 2 to be true. My conclusion on this point is that it is inconclusive whether Bill’s Claim 2 is true.

Bill says that God has being, but not as we creatures have being; God has properties, but not as we creatures have properties; etc. Indeed, given what he has said, we can no doubt generalize Bill’s view to be this: For any predicate P, if we could utter truly, “God has P” and also “Creature C has P”, then the way in which God has P is different from the way in which C has P.

Bill admits that if the phrase “has P” were used univocally when applied to God and to creatures, then DDS would be incoherent. But, he says that given the equivocal use of the phrase, DDS is perfectly coherent. But, he hardly shows how. He merely asserts that it is coherent given the equivocation.

For example, Bill says that we can say truly both “God has being” and “Ken has being”. I would have thought that this simply means that God exists, and Ken exists, respectively. Thus, I would have thought that “has being” is used univocally in these cases. But, Bill claims there is an equivocation here. Ok. So, I know that the phrase means exists when applied to me. What exactly does it mean when applied to God? I have no answer. Bill thinks he does, as he writes, “Can we wrap our heads around such a notion? I seem to be doing so right now.” So, apparently he has a clear, coherent understanding of this other objective use of ‘being’ that applies to and only to God. Please share with us the details. If the reply is that it is too mysterious for us, then (a) how can you claim to wrap your head around it? and (b) how can you claim it is coherent?

For another example: Bill says we can say truly both “God is a particular” and “Ken is a particular”. But, here again, we have equivocation (this time on “is a particular”). Those of us who have thought about and studied metaphysics have some idea of what it is for a creature to be a particular. Perhaps, it means that it is a single, unified, unrepeatable instance of a natural kind. Or, perhaps something more, or different. But, there are clear, precise, detailed, options. I would have thought that the same is true of God as a particular. But, Bill gives us precious little (nothing actually) about what it means for God to be a particular. How then can we judge the account to be coherent? Once again, if the reply is that it is too mysterious for us, then (a) how can you claim to wrap your head around it? and (b) how can you claim it is coherent?

For another example: Bill says that we can say truly both “God has property P” and “Ken has property P” (to fix on an example, let P be knowing that 2 + 2 = 4; or if you don’t like this as an example of a property, plug in a property that I have and that God has in some other, unknown sense). However, once again, “has property P” is used equivocally in these two cases, according to Bill. In the case of “Ken has property P”, it means (perhaps) there is a universal P, and Ken is related to P by the relation of constituent to whole, and entails that Ken could not have been identical to P; or (perhaps) there is an abstract universal P, and Ken is related to P by the relation of exemplification, and entails that Ken could not have been identical to P; etc. But, in the case of “God has property P”, Bill tells us precious and, more importantly, insufficiently little about its meaning. He says, “It is more like a particular, an unrepeatable;” and it is “something like a necessarily self-exemplifying Platonic Form.” And, he tells us that God stands to it in the relation of identity. Ok, but we are not told enough about the nature of these supposed divine properties to be able to judge whether the account is coherent.

I read the vague assertions, but don’t yet see the coherence. There is too little detail, and no argument that I can see, to comment. One would like to see the details and arguments showing the coherence. Asserting is one thing, showing in detail and with argument is another.

That was the one hand; now the other. Bill appears inconsistent. With some phrases and predicates, he clearly thinks that whenever they are used to apply to God and then to creatures, there is an equivocation occurring. It occurs with such predicates as being, is a particular, and has a property. But, with other predicates and phrases, he thinks there is a univocal sense which can be applied to both creatures and to God. A good example is identity. He seems to be using is identical to univocally in these phrases, “God is identical to his properties” and “Ken is not identical to his properties”. But, why do some of our concepts apply to both God and creatures univocally, but others do not? We need a non-arbitrary, non-ad hoc answer.

Perhaps Bill will reply that we are even equivocating when it comes to is identical to, because God is so transcendent. But if he is that transcendent such that none of our concepts apply to him, then DDS is false, as are all statements about God.

On the other hand, if is identical to can be univocally applied to both God and creatures, then why not being, is a particular, and has a property? After all, the latter are no less general metaphysical concepts than the former? It seems that one picks and chooses here just to try to save DDS. But, it is far from clear that it has been saved.

Point #3: Let’s set aside my point that it is far from clear that Bill showed DDS to be coherent. Suppose we grant (just for this point) that there really is a DDS view that is coherent. Bill appears to offer two arguments for it. In this third point I will address his first argument (assuming I am correct that this is his argument). In my fourth point I will address his second apparent argument. I suppose that one way of representing what I take to be Bill’s first argument is this:

P1. Any account of God which does not (for the most part) accurately portray God is an idolatrous account. (It is so because if one were to proceed to worship the imagined being in one’s theory, one is not worshiping the one true God, but a false God, which is idolatry).
P2. Any account of God according to which our metaphysical concepts apply univocally to both God and man is an idolatrous account.
P3. Ken’s account of God and accounts of God like his are accounts of God according to which our metaphysical concepts apply univocally to both God and man.
P4. Therefore, Ken’s account of God and accounts of God like his are idolatrous accounts.
P5. DDS, as Bill presents it, according to which our metaphysical concepts apply only equivocally to both God and man, is not idolatrous.
C. Therefore, Bill’s account of God is preferable to Ken’s account of God.

There are two problems with this argument. First, it is not clear that P1 is true. It is clear that if one worships a creature, then one is committing idolatry. However, suppose one does her best to find out just who God is. She carefully reads her Bible, using good hermeneutics, and thinks carefully about the matter. She then formulates a clear, coherent concept of God. But, suppose it is false in many aspects. She hardly counts as an idolater. She is doing the best she can with what she has been given, and truly trying to avoid worshiping a creature.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s allow it.

But, there is a much larger problem with this argument – it is clearly question begging. P2 is true (assuming P1 to be true) only if our metaphysical concepts do not apply univocally to both God and man. But, this has not been argued for but assumed. Likewise, P5 is true (assuming P1 to be true) only if our metaphysical concepts apply only equivocally to both God and man. But, this has not been argued for but assumed. In each case, the question is whether our metaphysical concepts apply univocally to both God and man. This argument assumes, and does not establish, that they do not. Therefore, it fails.

Point #4: As mentioned, in this point I will address what I take Bill’s second argument to be. I suppose that one way of representing it is this:
P1. Any plausible account of God must preserve his absoluteness, aseity, sovereignty, and transcendence.
P2. Ken’s account of God and accounts of God like his do not preserve these features of God.
P3. DDS, as Bill presents it, does preserve these features of God.
C. Therefore, DDS, as Bill presents it, but not Ken’s account, is plausible.

The problem with this argument is that it is not so clear that P2 and P3 are true. There are different conceptions of these features of God, none clearly right or orthodox. And, the various conceptions represent the feature in question in weaker and stronger ways. For example, in some very strong conceptions of divine sovereignty, God is literally in control of all truths, in such a way that there is no creaturely freedom, and even logical truths are subject to God’s will. But, other conceptions of divine sovereignty are weaker, according to which God’s sovereignty is compatible with creaturely freedom, for example. Before Bill can declare P2 true, if indeed he does, he must first argue for one conception as true over the others (argument is needed here given that many of these conceptions are far from obviously right or Biblical, and many are quite controversial), and show (and not merely assert) that my account does not preserve the divine feature in question. So, I of course think that P2 is false. But, it is Bill’s job to defend it as true, if indeed he thinks it is true.

P3 is not clearly true, or at least I say so, given that we have still not been given a clear, detailed, coherent picture of DDS, in which such details show that these features of God are preserved.

In conclusion, Bill claims that my original argument (see previous post) is only superficially compelling, and ultimately fails, because it rests on the assumption that our various metaphysical concepts do not apply univocally to both God and man. He asserts, but never argues for, that “It is reasonable to maintain that that is not the case.” An argument would be nice. He then asserts, but does not argue for, the claim that he has shown DDS to be perfectly coherent. He writes, “It is reasonable to maintain that God not only transcends every creature; he transcends the very ontological framework appropriate to creatures.” Again, an argument would be nice. He has not yet shown this, and thus has not shown DDS to be coherent. I will not be so bold as to claim that DDS, no matter how formulated, is incoherent. But, I will say this. If our various metaphysical concepts do apply univocally to both God and man, then DDS very much appears to be incoherent (though I will not write off as impossible someone showing otherwise). And, as of yet, Bill has not shown that if our various metaphysical concepts do not apply univocally to both God and man, then DDS is coherent.

Ken writes,

>>In conclusion, Bill claims that my original argument (see previous post) is only superficially compelling, and ultimately fails, because it rests on the assumption that our various metaphysical concepts do not apply univocally to both God and man.<<

I am not following this unless the 'not' is out of place.

I would also point out the adequacy of an entry in an encyclopedia of philosophy does not hinge on whether it convinces all competent practioners that the doctrine expounded in the entry is correct.

>>Point #1: In my initial note to Bill, I argued that whether one adopts a relational or constituent ontology, still DDS appears incoherent. In his Claim 1, Bill claims that my argument is straightforward, clear, and [merely] superficially compelling (I added the ‘merely’ for emphasis). But, he did not show that my argument is only superficially compelling. In fact, he conceded that it is right.<<

I don't understand. I didn't concede it was right; I rejected it as uncompelling because it assumes that there is one ontological framework the principles of which are univocally applicable to both God and creatures. It assumes, for example, that property-possession is univocal across the creator-creature divide. For example, God has properties and Socrates has properties. Can we just assume that the ontological explanation of what it is to have properties is the same for both God and Socrates, where Socrates stands in for any creature? I say that it is reasonable to reject that assumption.

As for existence, can we just assume that the explanation of what it is for God to exist and for Socrates to exist is the same? No, there are reasons sketched above for rejecting that assumption.

The issue between us seems to be that while Ken accepts what Dolezal (God without Parts, p. 29) calls "ontological univocism," I reject it.


A point of clarification. I suggested that Bill conceded to my argument. Bill finds this puzzling. He wrote, "I don't understand. I didn't concede it was right; I rejected it as uncompelling because it assumes that there is one ontological framework the principles of which are univocally applicable to both God and creatures."

Let me clarify what I mean. As I point out, in my original email to Bill I argued for the claim that whether one adopts an R-ontology or a C-ontology, still DDS appears incoherent. Again, I was assuming, as Bill correctly notes, that our ontological concepts apply univocally to both God and man. So, you could take my main claim as a conditional, as follows: IF our ontological concepts apply univocally to both God and man, then DDS appears incoherent whether one adopts an R-ontology or a C-ontology. I then went on to show why.

When I say that Bill conceded, I mean that he appears to agree with my conditional. But, this was my original point.

So, when Bill present what he take my argument to be, he has really missed what I was ultimately claiming.

Again, look at my evidence for why I think Bill conceded to my conditional claim. See above.

Hopefully this clarifies things.

Ken

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