Against the Divine Simplicity: Craig contra Aquinas

William Lane Craig writes:

*…the doctrine of divine simplicity is one that has no biblical support at all and, in my opinion, has no good philosophical arguments in its favor. Moreover, it faces very formidable objections. So … I do reject the traditional doctrine that God is absolutely simple.

It makes four identity claims:

i. God is not distinct from His nature.
ii. God’s properties are not distinct from one another.
iii. God’s nature is not distinct from His existence.
iv. God has no properties distinct from His nature.

Claim (i) is not unique to God. Angels, too, are identical with their natures. So this claim is not problematic when understood in the medieval metaphysical framework.

Claim (ii) remains problematic, however. Existence is part of God’s nature. But existence is not the same property as, say, omnipotence, for plenty of things have existence but not omnipotence. It remains very obscure, therefore, how God’s nature or essence can be simple and all His properties identical.

Claim (iii) is misrepresented by Wolterstorff, I believe. His is what Thomistic scholars call an “essentialist” reading of Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine: Existence is a property that is included in the divine essence. But many Thomists insist that the correct reading of Thomas is an “existentialist” one: existence is not a property at all, but is the act of being which instantiates an essence. Everything other than God is composed of an essence to which an act of being is conjoined to make it exist as a concrete particular thing. But in a sense, God has no essence on this view, rather He just is the pure act of being unconstrained by any essence. He is, as Thomas says, the pure act of being subsisting. The problem is, this doctrine is just unintelligible.

Finally, claim (iv) runs into the severe problem that God does seem to have accidental properties in addition to His essential ones. For example, in the actual world, He knows, loves, and wills certain things which He would not know, will, or love had He decided to create a different universe or no universe at all. On the doctrine of divine simplicity God is absolutely similar in all possible worlds; but then it becomes inexplicable why those worlds vary if in every one God knows, loves, and wills the same things.

This is not to say that the doctrine of divine simplicity is wholly bereft of value. On the contrary, I have elsewhere defended the view that God’s cognition is simple. But I do think that the full-blown doctrine in all its glory is philosophically and theologically unacceptable.

I invite the Thomistically inclined among us to answer Dr. Craig’s objections. :slight_smile:

I can only point out more problems, not refuting the existing ones.

  1. God’s simplicity means that God’s knowledge is inseparable from his existence.
  2. God’s knowledge is at least partially contingent upon our actions - meaning that God knows what we do and God also knows what we would do in different circumstances (Molinist middle knowledge). But to know what we actually do is not the same as knowing what we would do in a different state of affairs.
  3. Therefore God’s knowledge -> existence -> essence … is - at least partially - contingent.

Which is a clear logical contradiction, since God is supposed be not-contingent on anything. God’s alleged simplicity is just another illogical and irrational “assumption” about God’s “inscrutable” nature. (And we all know what “assume” does to you! :))

Well, there is Feser`s response here.

God bless,

Sounds like dividing the parts or aspects or characteristics of God and saying they are distinct from one another, rather than what Scripture says: “God is one”.

Craig also addresses a proof of divine simplicity in another way here. The argument here is not the full Thomistic doctrine of divine simplicity, however. The gist of Craig’s response is that he does not find it meaningful to speak of “metaphysically proper parts,” so to him, it does not mean anything to call God “simple.”

His example is that we don’t consider a baseball to consist of two parts (each a hemisphere) or 4 parts (each a half of a hemisphere), or so on. However, I think part of Feser’s reply applies to this argument, as well; I would say a baseball, as a physical object, does have parts, not as divisions of its physical nature but in that it’s a composite of matter and form, whereas God, being Pure Act, does not have parts.

Feser’s reply to Craig’s third objection (ie. Craig’s objection to claim iv. in the OP) seems to apply to this. God does know all counterfactuals, so he has knowledge both of what is and of what could be. You say that these are different sorts of knowledge, so God’s knowledge is contingent, so by divine simplicity, God’s essence is contingent.

Here, building on a distinction famously made by Peter Geach, we need to differentiate between real properties and mere “Cambridge properties.” For example, for Socrates to grow hair is a real change in him, the acquisition by him of a real property. But for Socrates to become shorter than Plato, not because Socrates’ height has changed but only because Plato has grown taller, is not a real change in Socrates but what Geach called a mere “Cambridge change,” and therefore involves the acquisition of a mere “Cambridge property.” The doctrine of divine simplicity does not entail that God has no accidental properties of any sort; He can have accidental Cambridge properties.

Now it was Aquinas’s position that “since therefore God is outside the whole order of creation, and all creatures are ordered to Him, and not conversely, it is manifest that creatures are really related to God Himself; whereas in God there is no real relation to creatures, but a relation only in idea, inasmuch as creatures are referred to Him” (ST I.13.7). As Barry Miller points out in his book A Most Unlikely God, this amounts to the claim that while the relation of creatures to God is a real one, the relation of God to creatures is a mere Cambridge one, so that (for example) God’s creating the universe is one of His merely Cambridge properties.

How can this be so? As Brian Davies points out in his chapter on divine simplicity in An Introduction to Philosophy of Religion (3rd edition), what is essential to acting is the bringing about of an effect in another thing, not undergoing change oneself as one does so. What is essential to teaching, for example, is that one cause someone else to learn, and not that one lecture, write books, or the like. Of course, in created things, bringing about an effect is typically associated with undergoing change oneself (e.g. for us to cause another to learn typically requires lecturing, writing, or the like as a means). But that is accidental to agency per se, something true of us only because of our status as finite, created things. We should not expect the same thing to be true of a purely actual uncaused cause of the world. Hence there is no reason to suppose that God’s creation of the world entails a change in God Himself.

God can, through his creation, have “accidental properties” (ie. knowing that He created this world rather than that world, though it was possible for Him to create either world, and He knows everything about all possible worlds) without those properties being part of His essence.

It should also be noted that God’s simplicity is not an “assumption.” It has been proven deductively. You could argue and attempt to demonstrate that those proofs are wrong, but the fact that people have attempted to prove it entails the fact that they did not blindly accept it.

Well. Way to end the discussion before it starts. :p;)

Hahaha :smiley:

I was actually going to comment on Feser’s response, but had to head out to church with the family. Sorry for killing the conversation. :slight_smile:

God bless,

Well, I am not going to repeat Thomas’ argument but you will find it in the Summa Theologica, Part 1, Ques 3, arts 1-8.

Craig has value but I’ll take Thomas over Craig every time.

Further, it is Defined Catholic Dogma that God is absolutely Simple. Check your Catechism.


Don’t get me wrong, I know and accept it as dogma. I just wasn’t sure how to properly refute Craig’s claims and plus thought this would make for an interesting discussion. :slight_smile:

It seemed to me when I learned of what I now know is called “Divine Simplicity” that we can know God simply “is”.

It’s not so much because of what God has so much as it is what we do not.

God, being who He is, is Existence itself. That is the sum and whole of Him.

Whereas, a human being, exists. But in another sense, man lacks some of the things God does. For example, man is nowhere nearly as vast as God in terms of space (God being infinite), his soul and brain are limited in knowledge (whereas God is omnipotent), and most importantly man began to exist at some point (whereas God has always existed).

Angels and demons are much more like God, in that they are not limited in bodily and knowledge senses; they are incredibly more intelligent than us, and have no bodies. But they had a beginning - that is, God, who was never created, created angels and demons. So they lack eternity. They did not exist at one point.

And then sin, of course, is the lack of something within a person’s soul: lacking a sensitivity to others produces selfishness and arrogance and all manner of evils. Lacking a knowledge of God surely produces objective sin. A lack of wisdom produces many evils that could be avoided. A lack of hope results in despair. And so on.

That is exactly what I said. I could claim that I know all the counterfactuals of a “die-toss” (the numbers from 1 to 6, landing on an edge, landing on a corner, not landing at all, because someone snatches the die in mid air… etc…), but I do not know what the **actual **outcome would be. As a matter of fact the “knowledge” of the counterfactuals simply shows a vivid imagination, and it does not qualify as “knowledge”. We only care here that God (allegedly) knows the actual outcomes, which are contingent upon out actions, and therefore God’s knowledge of the actual outcomes is contingent, and as such God’s “essence” (whatever it might be) is also contingent.

Oh, please! A deduction is based upon some axioms, and since those axioms are not accepted by non-christians, therefore they are only assumptions, and anything coming from them (as logical corollaries) are also assumptions.

I would hope so. I was stating your argument before disputing it.

God’s counterfactual knowledge entails knowing all possibilities, including all of their consequences. But right, that doesn’t really have anything to do with the topic at hand. The question is as to whether God’s knowledge of creation is contingent. But you’d have to respond to Feser’s point about Cambridge properties rather than reassert your point.

My bad, I must have forgotten that assumption is defined as “a conclusion which rests on controversial premises.”

Sorry, it does not help at all. It rests on the premise of “analogical” considerations. In other words, it uses the type of reasoning:

A is to B as C is to D.

However, that kind of reasoning requires three known values and one unknown variable. When we say that a dog is “loyal”, it is true that we mean “loyalty” as “according to the dog’s nature”. Human nature, and human loyalty, along with the dog’s nature are known… and we deduct the dog’s loyalty from the known factors.

This kind of reasoning is not applicable to God. When we say that something is “simple” in the actual reality, we know what we talk about. Or when we say that “person X” loves “person Y”, we know what kind of behavior “person X” is expected to perform, so that the word “loves” is meaningful.

When God enters the picture, we have two known values and two unknown ones, so the “analogical approach” is simply nonsense. There are a few “good sounding” attributes applied to God, but when we scratch the surface, it turns out that those attributes are meaningless. It is meaningless to say that “God is simple”, if the concept of “simple” is not something we can comprehend. It is equally meaningless to say that “God loves” us, if that “love” has nothing to do with how a father loves his child.

As Craig says: “This doctrine is just unintelligible”. And no analogical approach can “fix” it.

Hi Innoruk;

That is not the kind of proportionate analogy St Thomas (or Feser) has in mind when speaking of the doctrine of analogy. There were various uses of analogical theory at work in Scholastic philosophy; the one you describe was out there, but not the one under discussion.

I think the best treatment out there on analogy is the one by the late Ralph McInerney:

You may find it useful/interesting.

I would appreciate a short summary of a different type of analogical concept, if you happen to have the time and inclination. To my current understanding that is the only kind of analogy and it is a mathematical concept. Apologists keep saying that God’s “property X” is not to be taken literally, rather analogically - meaning that God’s “property X” is fundamentally different from a human’s “property X”. Which means that the proposition of “God has the property X” is meaningless, until that “property X” is defined directly and not analogically. :slight_smile:

Yes, I think you are absolutely correct…the mathematical proportionality renders the comparison between God’s X and creaturely X meaningless. This is why St Thomas rejected that kind of proportionality. McInerney blames this introduction (as I read him) on Cajetan, and the manualist Thomists in the 15th and 16th centuries. And you are right, many people seem to propose this as a representation of Thomist analogy, and I think wrongly for the reasons you explain well.

There are at least two other kinds of analogy favoured by Thomist interpreters: the analogy of attribution and the analogy of imitation. There is some debate (for example between McInerney and Rudi te Velde) as to which of these is best attributed to St Thomas, because Thomas says very little about analogy explicitly, and the theory is drawn from a wider reading of his works.

According to the analogy of attribution, which St Thomas seems to subscribe to in ST 1a, q13, a5, things are related as cause is to effect. For example, ‘healthy’ is said analogically of a healthy person and the healthy diet or medicine which causes health. Health in a person is not the same as, but not unrelated to, health as cause and health as effect.

Some scholars argue that St Thomas originally subscribed to the analogy of imitation in the De Veritate, which is similar to the mathematical analogy you summarise in your last post and show how it is wanting. However, some Thomists argue that this kind of analogy was used only in reference to the Divine Names by way of metaphor (I think McInerney held to that interpretation to, but don’t hold me to that). Certainly, by the time he is writing the SCG and ST Thomas dwells less on imitation and metaphor and more on cause and effect.

The bottom line is that most Thomists today seem to be in agreement that Thomas relies on the analogy of attribution, which is a cause/effect analogy. By way of another example there is an analogical proportion between a broken window and the stone which broke it. One wouldn’t, for instance, attribute a massive bolder to a small hole in the glass even if you couldn’t see what broke the glass: there is a real relation in other words between the cause and the effect attributed to that cause.

I hope this helps…let me know if you want to explore this further.

Thank you. :slight_smile: It is good to have at least a partial agreement.

Unfortunately it does not help at all. Maybe it is due to the fact that I am firmly grounded in actual reality, and have no use for esoteric usage of words. It is my firm belief that there are no abstract concepts that cannot be explained in a few, well-chosen everyday terms. Not even in mathematics, which is as abstract as it gets. Nevertheless, I appreciate your effort to explain the “different kinds of analogical approaches” to me. Nonetheless I would prefer to see a direct definition of God’s alleged attributes.

We cannot define God’s attributes univocally, because is totally other. We can only directly define things univocally which fall within direct experience. Hence, the need for analogical language. Have you ever read the Divine Names by Pseudo-Dionysius (5th century)? You might enjoy him: Thomas quotes him frequently. Dionysius says that we ascend to God, first through positive language about God (the kind of univocal predication you or I would like to see); then, as we approach God, we find that our language is inadequate to describe the ineffability of God, and we become silent. It is then that we see God is not good, but greater than good; God is not love, but greater than love, and so on. God, in other words, is not a being like other beings which can be defined according to the experiences of mortal creatures, and we only come to know God through communion with him. Our love is a reflection of God’s super-love, and hence we cannot move from a definition of our own experience to a conclusion about God’s love: our understanding of God is a gift, not something imposed. God is experienced, not defined.

As hicetunc notes, your understanding of analogy in Thomism could use some refinement. Furthermore, the issue of analogy here is basically a red herring. The argument is not that God must be simple because He is like simple things in common experience, of which He is ultimately the cause. It rather follows from another conclusion that God is Pure Act.

But you seem to have very little perspective of what Thomism actually teaches, and you refuse to study it because its terminology is too “esoteric.” This becomes problematic for you because, in post #2, you attempted to show that the doctrine of divine simplicity is incoherent by way of indirect proof, in which you must begin by assuming that the doctrine is correct and demonstrate that it necessarily leads to a contradiction. If you refuse to understand Thomism, such a move can be nothing more than presumptuous. This is like Dawkins claiming that the First Way fails because “what caused God?”

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit