Why Denial of Divine Simplicity Implies Atheism

For much of my theological life, I have not understood the notion of divine simplicity nor thought it important to understand. What has divine simplicity to do with the lively God of the Bible‽ Even after I began to read up on the topic about a decade ago, it continued to seem irrelevant—and not only irrelevant but perhaps even dangerous: dangerous because it threatens to replace the biblical understanding of God with a philosophical construction. My suspicions were confirmed by David Bradshaw’s challenging book Aristotle East and West. Bradshaw argues that without a clear distinction between the divine essence and divine energies, the simplicity doctrine reduces God to static existence, enslaves him to necessity, and renders impossible synergistic relations between the Creator and human beings. Bradshaw did not convince me that St Gregory Palamas’s construal of the divine essence and energies is the most adequate and satisfying understanding of biblical deity; but he did persuade me (unintentionally, I’m sure) that metaphysical speculation on the divine nature should be restricted to the backrooms of the university. “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” asked Tertullian.

But then several years later I came across this sentence in The Experience of God: “It seems obvious to me that a denial of divine simplicity is tantamount to atheism.” If anyone else had written this line, I probably would not have paid it much mind, but David Bentley Hart always warrants my attention. Here’s the passage:

There is an ancient metaphysical doctrine that the source of all things—God, that is—must be essentially simple; that is, God cannot possess distinct parts, or even distinct properties, and in himself does not allow even of a distinction between essence and existence. I shall discuss this idea below, very soon. Here I shall only record my conviction that the idea is not open to dispute if one believes that God stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things; it seems obvious to me that a denial of divine simplicity is tantamount to atheism, and the vast preponderance of metaphysical tradition concurs with that judgment. (p. 128)

Why is it obvious to Hart, when it is not obvious to so many modern theologians and philosophers, that a proper understanding of divinity entails divine simplicity? Earlier in his book Hart invites us to consider with wonder the very fact of existence. “How odd it is, and how unfathomable,” he muses, “that anything at all exists; how disconcerting that the world and one’s consciousness of it are simply there, joined in a single ineffable event. … Every encounter with the world has always been an encounter with an enigma that no merely physical explanation can resolve” (pp. 88-89). The universe poses the question “why?” and in so posing this question, it reveals to us its absolute contingency. The universe need not have been. “Nothing within the cosmos contains the ground of its existence” (p. 92):

All things that do not possess the cause of their existence in themselves must be brought into existence by something outside themselves. Or, more tersely, the contingent is always contingent on something else. This is not a difficult or rationally problematic proposition. The complications lie in its application. Before all else, however, one must define what real contingency is. It is, first, simply the condition of being conditional: that is, the condition of depending upon anything external or prior or circumambient in order to exist and to persist in being. It is also mutability, the capacity to change over time, to move constantly from potential to actual states, and to abandon one actual state in favor of another. It is also the condition of being extended in both space and time, and thus of being incapable of perfect “self-possession” in some absolute here and now. It is the capacity and the tendency both to come into and pass out of being. It is the condition of being composite, made up of and dependent upon logically prior parts, and therefore capable of division and dissolution. It is also, in consequence, the state of possessing limits and boundaries, external and internal, and so of achieving identity through excluding—and thus inevitably, depending upon—other realities; it is, in short, finitude. (pp. 99-100)

Note Hart’s identification of composition as revelatory of contingency. Composite beings cry out for explanation. If an entity is made up of parts, whether material or metaphysical, then the parts are more fundamental than the whole. Of composite beings we may always ask, How did these parts come together to form this particular entity?

The universe poses to us the fundamental question of contingency. We name the answer, if there is an answer, “God.” God is the unconditioned source of all that exists, the one of whom we cannot ask “why?” A child queries, “Who made God?” We can only smile, for if we can ask that question of God, we aren’t thinking of God. As Hart notes: “God stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things.”

If the Deity is the unconditioned source of creaturely existence, then we must logically conclude that in the plenitude of his infinite Being he enjoys a profound, inconceivable, transcendent unity. He cannot be divided into spatial parts, temporal parts, or metaphysical parts. God is not a being:

The precise sense in which God is not a being, or indeed the sense in which he could even be said not to “exist,” is as some discrete object, essentially distinct from all others, “standing forth” (which is what “exist” means, etymologically speaking) from being as such. A being of that kind—one to which the indefinite article properly attaches—possesses a certain determinate number of attributes, a certain quantity of potentialities, a certain degree of actuality, and so on, and is at once both intrinsically composite and extrinsically enumerable: that is, every particular being is made up of a collection of parts and is also a discrete item within the sum total of existing things. All of this is precisely what classical metaphysical theism says God is not. He is instead the infinite to which nothing can add and from nothing can subtract, and he himself is not some object in addition to other objects. He is the source and fullness of all being, the actuality in which all finite things live, move, and have their being, or in which all things hold together; and so he is also the reality that is present in all things as the very act of their existence. God, in short, is not a being but is at once “beyond being” (in the sense that he transcends the totality of existing things) and also absolute “Being itself” (in the sense that he is the source and ground of all things. As Sufi tradition says, “God is al-Haqq, Reality as such, underlying everything. All finite things are limited expressions, graciously imparted, of that actuality that he possesses in infinite abundance. (pp. 108-109)

Hart’s contentious claim that denial of divine simplicity is denial of God himself thus becomes clear: if God were composite in any way, he would not be God. To sum up: “To be the first cause of the whole universal chain of per se causality, God must be wholly unconditioned in every sense. He cannot be composed of and so dependent upon severable constituents, physical or metaphysical, as then he would himself be conditional” (p. 134).

(Go to “Divine Simplicity as Negative Theology”)

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65 Responses to Why Denial of Divine Simplicity Implies Atheism

  1. UnderTruth says:

    But does the Essence-Energies distinction bring in composition? I would argue that it does not, in the relevant sense.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I have no idea and no opinion on that question. But it’s a most interesting question.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      But please elaborate on why you believe the Palamite distinction does not introduce composition into the Godhead. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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      • UnderTruth says:

        Composition, in the relevant sense, is one which necessitates the composite thing be contingent for its existence on something else. An example of this would be a robot. Since it is composed of many parts, it cannot have built itself–because it would need to exist before all the parts were together, which is absurd. This applies to all created beings. But the natural energy of a nature is not distinct from the nature itself in such a way as to introduce external causation, whereas the physical parts of the robot above did.

        Further, we can consider non-physical, created beings; angels. Angels do not have physical parts, but they can be conceived of apart from actual existence; their essence is not existence itself. But for God, we consider the essence to indeed be existence itself. This is why it is both analogous to our own, yet also not the same as any created being.

        In the case of both the robot and the angel, it is not the essence-energy distinction which introduces the kind of composition that requires external causation, but rather it is a physical one or a formal one or the essence-existence distinction. Energies are “contingent” upon the essence, but they are not created, and if the essence is eternal, then so must the energies be also.

        Liked by 1 person

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Precisely. Which argues against the Losskian/Bradshaw conception of EED. See my brief note below in response to Tom.

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          • UnderTruth says:

            But essence and energies are still quite distinct, as the energies are participable and are the effects of the essence, which is the imparticipable cause.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          UnderTruth, could you explain what you mean by a formal distinction and distinguish it from real and notional distinctions. Thanks.

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          • UnderTruth says:

            A formal distinction is an actual distinction between two inseparable things. The animality and rationality in human nature would be examples of things which are distinguishable in the thing, but not separable in reality.

            Liked by 1 person

        • thomas says:

          Contingency on something else is a consequence of composition; it follows upon composition, but it is not composition as such. Composition as such is the joining of act and potency, whether this means existence and essence, form and matter, whole and part, or subject and accident.

          I’m not committed to the view that the energies/essence distinction entails composition. But your description looks an awful lot like the distinction between subject and a proper faculty, much like the distinction between my human essence and my faculty of reason.

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    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      UnderTruth,

      Non-reified, EED does not introduce composition. However, and Hart makes this very clear, contemporary popularized expressions of EED do indeed introduce composition inasmuch as the pillar doctrine of Divine Simplicity is undermined, marginalized, misunderstood.

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  2. James Batten says:

    As someone who’s trying to decide between joining the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, the question of divine simplicity and how it relates to the essence-energies distinction has given me a lot of headaches and no clear answers. I read Hart’s book too, and it’s what got me thinking about this issue in the first place. Is it possible to be consistently Orthodox and deny a “real distinction” between God’s essence and his energies? What further reading should I do on this?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      James, what have you read so far?

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    • UnderTruth says:

      The distinction between the essence and energies is a formal one: distinguishable in reality, but not separable in reality. It’s like the powers of reason and sensation in a human. We can distinguish them because they’re really different, yet we could not take a metaphysical knife and separate them reality, since they are powers of the same essence.

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    • Ryan says:

      The distinction, as far as I can tell, is not a fixed one within God but relates to how God interacts with his creation, or how his creation experiences him. It’s an ever-receding boundary, which explains how we can grow endlessly in knowledge and unity with God without ever completely comprehending him. I’m hardly a metaphysician though and my understanding may be flawed.

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    • Peregrinus says:

      James,

      To directly address your question, the “real distinction” issue vis a vis Palamas and his writings is mostly a question of modern interpretation and reception of Palamism. You can be consistently Orthodox and engage in this debate if it so pleases you. The decisive text in our tradition to consult is the Tomos of Mt. Athos, penned by Palamas himself on behalf of the brotherhoods of the Holy Mountain. It nowhere explicitly addresses divine simplicity and the question of a real distinction, but hinges on an assertion of the real experience of the divine without compromise the integrity of the creature. That is it.

      Worthwhile reading on Palamas will include Meyendorff and Veniamin, though the latter tends toward the neohesychastic school which does not by any means represent the whole of Orthodoxy despite the fact it purports to do so.

      In the end you can run yourself into polemical and apologetic circles trying to sort this kind of stuff out. I can say from experience, it’s not worth losing sleep over as there’s very little neutral, non-polemical literature out there to help you. Whichever church you decide to affiliate with, do so for positive, I’d almost say *vocational* reasons, and not for apologetic ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Peregrinus says:

        Kappes, from a Latin Catholic perspective (sympathetic to Orthodoxy, I’d say), has also written some outstanding articles on Palamas and the Byzantine reception of Thomism.

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      • James Batten says:

        Can I ask what you mean by vocational reasons?

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        • Peregrinus says:

          I mean something not very profound. All I mean is don’t become Catholic or Orthodox unless you actually want to be one over the other. What matters is that in that process you discern the tendencies of your will – *why* do you want to become such and such? Critical self-evaluation counts more in conversion than critical history or theology. That’s metanoia, which will ideally become deepened through your conversion. Though even this will take time. But if everyone simply focused on repenting of their own sins to begin with, we might not have to deal with the existential vacuum of ecclesial belonging or lack thereof which produces the convert’s dilemma: “will the real Church of Christ please stand up?” That describes my experience, anyway.

          I’m not saying it won’t matter which you choose, or that there is no right option. But you do have to choose, in the end. But I say – better to get caught being wrong for the right reasons than right for the wrong reasons.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I second your comment. Life is too complex and hard and challenging and mysterious to base one’s important existential decisions on figuring out who’s right and wrong on every theological issue. It’s an impossible task.

            Liked by 1 person

          • battnja says:

            Thank you. I’ll keep that advice in mind during the coming months. Are there good English translations of Palamas?

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            The place to begin with St Gregory Palamas is his collection of homilies.

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  3. Tom says:

    If the doctrine of simplicity is understood simply (pun intended) as denying that God is ‘composed’ of ‘parts’ more fundamental than the triune relations in their fullness and beatitude, then I’d be interested in knowing who disagrees. But if it’s understood as precluding all conceivable movement relative to creation (say, in the qualified sense of temporal experience that Jenson, Bulgakov or Balthasar suggest), that’s more difficult. I don’t doubt it’s “obvious” to Hart. I just don’t see the kind of nuanced approaches Jenson, Bulgakov or Balthasar each makes as obviously implying atheism.

    What would help me is a thorough, detailed account of divine simplicity. “Not composed of parts” seems like a no-brainer to me. So it looks like the debate is over what this implies.

    Tom

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    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Alas, I will have to be necessarily brief due to time constrains.

      DS derives from divine perfection (DP). From this we learn that DS denotes not merely divine incomposition but in addition that the divine nature requires nothing to complete it and allows for no sequence (i.e. prior, during, after), and thus there’s no process of becoming for the divine nature (divine immutability, DI) – as Gregory of Nyssa puts it, “God is always identical with Himself” and perhaps even more profoundly that God is “…all His attributes always” (Contra Eunomius I,37)

      Any ” movement relative” to relation will have to be understood with the above in mind, if we are to be within Nicene orthodoxy.

      The above also argues against a conception of the essence/energy distinction as a real distinction, pace Bradshaw.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brennen says:

        I can’t help wondering and perhaps noticing that time sneaks into this discussion. We probably tend to imagine God existing before creation, then creating, as if this represents some change in “the life of God.” Yet if God is eternal, that is timeless, then God does not “exist before creation” was formed, and further all 13 billion years or so before and after this day are a single present to God – more similar to our own experience of the present than our remembrance of the past. God’s relationship to the world doesn’t change, but is always the same. Any energy then is at least indistinguishable from essence, even if we perceive it as such, in much the way we sometimes speak of God foreknowing us (i.e. Paul).

        I also would argue that the dynamism of the trinity, it’s being, knowing and loving, it’s desire, variety and beauty are a wholly different vision of the unity of “the One” such as you might find in the Greek or even Muslim philosophers. The Ground of Being is not some far removed, static, One, but a generative, loving relationship that transforms our very understanding of the nature of creation – difference without alienation; unity without sameness.

        I hope, but somehow doubt, that this is helpful.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Regarding your trio, Jenson, Bulgakov, and Balthasar, I think the case we would need to take each one at at time to see if they effectively deny divine simplicity. That Jenson or Bulgakov might seems plausible. That Balthasar does seems possible but unlikely. But I may be completely wrong.

      I have one or two more articles on divine simplicity in the pipeline. Stay tuned.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Gotta agree with Tom here. No one denies that God is necessarily non-contingent or that he transcends the created order. And no one holds that there are non-God boundaries outside him that limit him. The issue really has to do with how a simple God (as conceived as “being itself”) can ALSO be personal.

      I think the purely actual God as laid out by Aristotle could not in fact BE personal. (God for Aristotle did not – indeed could not – love the world or even know it.) Christian faith must always remember that it’s savior taught that God was FATHER – not “absolute Being.”

      I touch on this idea in a short post of mine that is a letter from CS Lewis, if any are interested.

      https://notesonthefoothills.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/the-open-theism-of-cs-lewis-part-2/

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    • thomas says:

      Any assertion of God’s movement would directly entail that God is a) dependent, b) finite, c) material, and d) not eternal.

      If God “moves” relative to creation–say, by becoming wroth at sinners–then God depends for what he has become on sinners. For God to be what he has become, he requires (in this example) sinners to sin; sinners are a condition, a cause, for the way God currently is.

      Moreover, if God “moves” relative to creation, it must be the case that prior to the movement God was not as he is at the end of the movement. Which means he is finite: for prior to the movement, he did not exist the the way he came to exist after the movement. There is some particular way God is exclusive of over ways of being; which is, by definition, finitude.

      Moreover, if God moves relative to creation, he is material. If God moves, then the term of the movement (i.e., the way God is at the end of the movement) is something that, prior to the movement, God can be but is not yet. Thus, in God, there is a composition of actuality (the way God actually is) and potentiality (the way God could be actually, but is not yet). The term matter simply refers to the potentiality in a thing to be other than it is. (Matter is not corporeality, though it is necessary for there to be corporeality).

      Finally, God, if he moves is not eternal; though he may perhaps be sempiternal. To be eternal does not mean to have have been around forever, but to be outside time. Anything that changes, that becomes something it is not, is temporal–else there could not be a time before the movement and a time after. God may be sempiternal, much like the world is on Aristotle’s conception of it.

      All this is very straightforward, and there’s a long history in the West of carefully analysing these sorts of arguments and their implications. Perhaps it is not a problem for some that God is finite, mutable, temporal, and dependent, if that is the cost that must be paid for God to be a person more or less like us. But if the classical arguments for an infinite, immutable, eternal, and independent source of all finite being are sound–and they are, if one carefully considers them–than perhaps it is the case that the God of Jenson and Bulgakov exists, but he would simply be a particular being of the sort angels were traditionally thought to be, not God as Creator, the Beginning and End in whom we live and move, and have our being.

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      • Tom says:

        O divina simplicitas, nec sine te nec tecum vivere possum.

        Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        What is ‘to be Creatorly’? If the creation is not necessary, how is God ‘being Creatorly’ not different than God ‘not being Creatorly’? If more than one form of ‘non-necessary creation’ is possible, how is ‘being Creatorly of one’ not different than ‘being Creatorly (or not being Creatorly) of another’? If no creation is necessary, then are ‘being Creatorly’ and ‘not being Creatorly’ absolutely indifferently good?

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          David,

          Creation, and the creative act of creation, is accidental to the divine nature. Which is to say that the bringing into existence of creation has no bearing whatsoever on the perfect (and perfectly good) divine nature.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Tell me more! What can “has no bearing whatsoever on” mean, or, again, not mean, when that perfect (and perfectly good) divine nature has ‘in fact’ been quite unnecessarily, gratuitously, ‘Creatorly’ (Tri-Personally) involved in “the creative act of creation”?

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            David,

            It is precisely the unnecessary, gratuitous aspect of creation which makes it accidental to the divine nature. It is utterly and infinitely unnecessary to the existence of God as God, to His goodness, His perfection, knowledge and so forth. Which is another way of saying that there is not a “before, during and after” of the creative act for God, not a “once upon a time in time” that God created all that was seen and unseen. This is one of the implications of Creatio Ex Nihilo, it was all created out of nothing and out of no time, and indeed it did not need to be. Thus the Church Fathers are keen to stress there’s no sequence to the divine nature, the “I am” who always is, was and will be the “I am” who simply is, apart from anything else, in relation to none or no-thing.

            Now a point of clarification, if I understand part of your inquiry aright, I am not saying that the creative act itself is unnecessary to creation. The Creator is very necessary to creation, the Creator in other words, is not accidental to the existence of creation – creation’s mode of existence therefore is derivative and acquired, in contrast to the aseity, self-existence, of the divine.

            Hope that clarifies!

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        • thomas says:

          God’s being the creator of our world does not make God different than he would otherwise be (unless we buy into God’s being finite, temporal, and mutable). It does, of course, make a real difference to us.

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  4. Joe says:

    I love philosophy but this whole necessary and contingent thing is something I tend not to believe. And although my faith is not as strong as I wish, I don’t think I am an atheist. 🙂

    Aquinas argued along the same lines and I also struggle with his views here.

    I put numbers in your quote from Hart:

    “Before all else, however, one must define what real contingency is. It is, first, simply the condition of being conditional: that is, the condition of depending upon anything external or prior or circumambient in order to exist and to persist in being. 1) It is also mutability, the capacity to change over time, to move constantly from potential to actual states, and to abandon one actual state in favor of another. 2) It is also the condition of being extended in both space and time, and thus of being incapable of perfect “self-possession” in some absolute here and now. It is the capacity and the tendency both to come into and pass out of being. 3) It is the condition of being composite, made up of and dependent upon logically prior parts, and therefore capable of division and dissolution. 4) It is also, in consequence, the state of possessing limits and boundaries, external and internal, and so of achieving identity through excluding—and thus inevitably, depending upon—other realities; it is, in short, finitude.”

    I have to say I do not agree with any of the numbered statements. I do not think being conditional implies all of those things. I would think contingent things can exist outside of space and time and can exist eternally. I do not think they must tend to pass in and out of being. (sure they may have had to come into being by the contingency that brought them there but I am not sure they need to then pass out of being) I am also not sure why god could not create something without parts. Nor do I know why God could not create something that is infinite.

    But I admit I am not sure I am following these concepts very well. Let me ask a simpler question.

    How can God be trinitarian, and yet have no parts?

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    • Tom says:

      Joe, if you think ‘contingent’ and ‘necessary’ can both describe things that exist either temporally or eternally, that are either finite or infinite, that can be either simple or composed of parts, and that can be either created and uncreated, pray tell—what DO you see as being the difference between ‘necessary’ and ‘contingent’ being?

      Tom

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      • Joe says:

        Hi Tom

        To me, Contingent means it depends on something else.

        Necessary means, it must be. There is no way it couldn’t be.

        I don’t really see them as mutually exclusive at all. I think some contingent things might be necessary if the things that they are contingent on are also necessary. At least in theory.

        I also don’t think something is necessary just because it is not contingent on anything else. I can accept that Gods existence is not contingent on anything else. But I am not sure that means he “necessarily” had to exist.

        At least it doesn’t seem logically necessary. Isn’t it possible that nothing would have existed? Of course we know that is not, in fact, the case, but why deny that things could have been different where nothing would have existed?

        Why deny the possibility that God could make something that has no parts? If God made it, it would be contingent on God. Why couldn’t God make something infinite? I am not sure why we would believe this.

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        • Tom says:

          Thanks Joe.

          We’re wadding out into deeper waters. I think I just swallowed some salt water!

          So you don’t take ‘necessity’ and ‘contingency’ to be jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive modalities. That is, you don’t take them to be ‘contradictories’. You’re saying ‘necessary’ is compatible with ‘contingency’ (which you take to mean ‘depending upon something else’).

          I’ve never run into this construal of the two. As far as I know, these are understood to be mutually exclusive modalities.

          So let me ask it this way. For the sake of argument, let’s designate ‘contingency’ to simply mean ‘depends upon something else’ as you say. That said, let me then ask: What word or concept WOULD you use to describe the logical contradictory of ‘necessity’? What modality is contradictory to ‘necessity’ (if not ‘contingency’)? Could you define this contradictory state for me without just saying ‘not necessary’? I’m more interested in definitions than terms, and I’m trying to get at how you define the opposite or the logical contradictory of ‘necessity’? As far as I know, ‘contingency’ has universally held that honor, but hey, now that Trump is the GOP nominee, anything’s possible!

          Tom

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          • Joe says:

            Oh yes now that Trump is the the nominee all things are possible.

            Let me say first that you are following what I understand the traditional usage of these terms. So I don’t mean to suggest you are misunderstanding the arguments or anything like that.

            I am the one who does not understand and never really followed this.

            To me the opposite of necessary would mean “not required” or “not inevitable” or “it could have been something else”

            Contingent means it depends on, or is triggered by something else. So the domino falls because the domino next to it tips it. The falling is contingent on the dominoe next to it tipping it. But it is possible that the dominoe next to it was necessarily pushed and so it necessarily fell. Therefor it would be correct to say the domino falling was both contingent and necessary.

            So the first “being” – whatever it may have been – is not “contingent” because it did not depend on anything else. But I am not sure that it was “necessary.” In that, why would we say it couldn’t have been something else? I know of no logical principal that dictates this. And it doesn’t seem self evident to me.

            Anyway I do want to again say that your understanding seems much more in line with those philosophers who discuss this topic. Its just that I always found the language somewhat imprecise and therefore had trouble following along.

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    • Tom says:

      Joe: How can God be trinitarian, and yet have no parts?

      Tom: I’m not anything close to accomplished in theological matters, but I think the answer to your question is the triune relations are not “parts” that God is “constructed out of” or “composed of.” In other words, the Father, Son and Spirit aren’t discrete persons or entities that give you “God” when you “add” them together. There are no parts of realities other than the interpenetrating personal love of the persons in communion “out of which” the Triune God is composed.

      As I see it at least.
      Tom

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      • Tom says:

        …no parts *or* realities…

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      • Joe says:

        Thanks for the explanation.

        They are refered to as three persons of the trinity.

        Jesus says “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Mathew 24:36.

        It is hard to say one thing with no parts can know and not know at that same time.

        I mean I am not saying that they are distinct or separate parts. But there must be some differentiation within God.

        Also Consider John 14:16

        “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will bec in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21”

        It is true we can see that the spirit of truth is the same as Jesus in this passage. But Jesus also refers to this spirit (what we consider the Holy Spirit) as “another.”

        So again I find it hard to say there is no differentiation within the Triune God. Otherwise Jesus could not have said the father would send “another.”

        I simply do not understand how God having these 3 different persons is problematic. Why is it that one simple undifferentiated God can be necessary or non-contingent but a triune one can’t be?

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      • apophaticallyspeaking says:

        Tom/Joe,

        DS pertains to the divine nature, not to the persons. The simple divine nature is in common to the three Person, there is therefore no conflict with DS and tri-hypostatic subsistence of the Holy Trinity. The Persons do not denote division, neither parts: hence we speak of one God, not three Gods.

        “the Father, Son and Spirit aren’t discrete persons or entities that give you “God” when you “add” them together. ” This is problematic, or at least needs explaining. The fathers make it quite clear that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are considered distinct Persons, not mere relations.

        “There are no parts of realities other than the interpenetrating personal love of the persons in communion “out of which” the Triune God is composed.” It would be better to use “subsists” rather than “composed”.

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        • Tom says:

          Thanks Apospeaking. I was trying to come at it from the perspective of Joe’s questions. I don’t posit mere “relations” but, as you mention, “persons.” And the use of “composed” there at the end was my sad attempt to assure Joe that the life of the three doesn’t amount to composition (relative to his question). But the clarity is good.

          Tom

          Liked by 1 person

  5. typingmysoul says:

    I’m interested in what kind of ‘implication’ is in play here. It is one thing to argue that a particular view of divinity is the most consistent or coherent. It is quite another to say that a particular view is logically necessary, and that to deny it is to deny divinity altogether. I find Hart’s rhetoric troubling here, as it has problematic connotations at the level of ordinary belief (and I do not believe there is any other kind, however extraordinary one’s ability to articulate it). If believing in God requires that one must hold certain beliefs about God, then I would rather be called an atheist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hart is challenging us, no doubt about it. That’s why he wrote his book. Clearly he is not simply saying that the classical understanding of God is the most coherent understanding. He is saying something stronger—namely, that we are not properly thinking “God” if we do not understand him as absolute, unconditioned, infinite Reality.

      Now does the ordinary Christian layman understand all of this? Probably not. And that’s okay. But someone in the Church (hopefully our bishops and pastors) does need to understand this, because otherwise we will never come to know the difference between God and an idol.

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      • typingmysoul says:

        If your reading of Hart is correct (and I am sure it is) it suggests that my difficulty with his claim is that I am not convinced we can think “God” at all. Or, to put it more precisely, I do not think that the difference between God and idols can be so easily discerned, as if that difference can be thought about and spoken of in purely conceptual terms.

        I might have an “accurate” concept of God, but I can have no guarantee that when I think this concept I am ‘properly thinking “God”‘. It is, rather, the manner of my thinking – my habits of thought with respect to God, the way in which my beliefs about God are held – that make the difference between idolatry and faith, irrespective of the particular concept of God I happen to hold. If I were to turn to anyone for advice about God and idols, I would much prefer the child who asks ‘Who made God?’ to the classical theologian or the bishop.

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        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Based on your own terms, we have no reason to assume that your agnostic concept of God may be accurate.

          One must refrain from all cataphatic statements if absolute apophaticism is claimed. 🙂

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          • typingmysoul says:

            I’m not aware that I have made any claims about God, so it is difficult for me to see where you think I have offered an ‘agnostic concept of God’. I do not hold to an ‘absolute apophaticism’; my statements have not been inconsistent with the view that some cataphatic statements about God are more sensible than others. I have only said a few things about conceptuality itself; in particular, I do not think that conceptuality is the appropriate locus for discerning whether what one believes in is ‘God’ or not. It is this that Hart appears to problematically assume with his strong claim about divine simplicity. I happen to be sympathetic to Hart’s concept of divine simplicity, but I do not think that concepts of divinity are able to refer to the divine in a simple fashion. While God may be ‘simple’, we are not.

            Liked by 1 person

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Typingmysoul,

            I don’t think Hart can ever be accused of referring to thing divine “in a simple fashion”, nor have I read anyone made that claim here or elsewhere.

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          • typingmysoul says:

            Since I haven’t claimed that, I can only assume that you have not read my comments carefully.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Another way to think about the matter: Hart is inviting us to properly distinguish between Creator and creature. What is the difference between a god and God? See Hart’s article “God, Gods, and Fairies.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • apophaticallyspeaking says:

        Without a doubt Father.

        To be blunt, Hart’s position is straightforward Cappadocian theology, in particular St Gregory of Nyssa’s. The tepid reception is more than a little disconcerting, especially among us Eastern Orthodox….

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      • typingmysoul says:

        I’m not sure Hart’s rhetoric can really be interpreted as such an invitation when divine simplicity and atheism are placed in complete binary opposition. It seems to me that there are a number of ways to make clear, helpful, practical distinctions between Creator and creatures, God and idols, without requiring a consideration of simplicity. For example, the distinction between conditionality and unconditionality seems sufficient for this purpose.

        Consider another claim that one could make: ‘Denial of Trinitarianism is tantamount to atheism.’ Do you think that such a claim could play an equivalent role if one is merely distinguishing between Creator and creatures? If not, it is unclear to me how simplicity could somehow be more definitive of divinity than triunity, from the perspective of a Christian theologian. Simplicity (of the kind Hart advocates) is certainly more hotly contested within the Christian tradition.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          So would it be fair to say that your principal objection to Hart’s analysis is his rhetoric?

          Regarding the statement “Denial of Trinitarianism is tantamount to atheism”–no, I do not consider this as equivalent to “Denial of divine simplicity is tantamount to atheism.” Christians may be completely wrong about Jesus being raised from the dead, in which case God is not Holy Trinity; but there still might bea transcendent (and thus simple, non-composite) Creator as confessed by Judaism and Islam.

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  6. Fariba says:

    What about Scotus’ perspective? He affirms the divine simplicity model but seems to also affirm participation (because of the univocity of being). I am not a philosopher so I may be missing the nuanced in his argument.

    Btw, this discussion is particulalry interesting to me as I know Dr. Bradshaw. I had him for a political philosophy class a few years ago. I am still at the same university (Kentucky)

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  7. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    If anyone wants to explore this topic further, and if you have a spare hour, you might want to watch this lecture by Dr James Dolezal. He is speaking to a Reformed audience—hence the emphasis on the Reformed confessions—but the substance of the talk is first-rate. He helpfully explains why the doctrine of divine simplicity is necessary to the proper distinguishment of God from all he has made, what he calls the absoluteness of God. This is, of course, a Western approach. The Eastern tradition also affirms divine simplicity, but in a somewhat different way.

    Dolezal has also written a book: God Without Parts. I read it shortly after it was published and intend to re-read soon, in preparation for my next blog on the subject

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  8. Tom says:

    Joe: I find it hard to say there is no differentiation within the Triune God.

    Tom: So do all the Orthodox. Differentiation, yes. There are distinctions to be made, a differentiation of ‘persons’. But differentiation needn’t imply being ‘composed of parts’. That’s the point. So while Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct with respect to ‘person’, they aren’t three different “parts” from which God is assembled as if the three each had a distinct life of its own prior to coming together to constitute God. Whatever else ‘simplicity’ might imply, it’s at least explicitly about denying that kind of composition or assemblage from ‘parts’ prior to and so more fundamental to the triune identity.

    Joe: To me the opposite of ‘necessary’ would mean “not required” or “not inevitable” or “it could have been something else.”

    Tom: Right. That’s the basic idea. And “contingent” has been the word universally used to describe this “could be other than it is.” Nobody owns words of course. You can define “contingent” otherwise if you want. I’m just saying it’s a lot easier and more helpful to go with the established usage unless you have reasons to believe there is no contradictory to ‘necessity’ (which you don’t think). Otherwise you’re constantly having to qualify your own idiosyncratic usage of terms just so folks understand you (like now). What you’re using the word “contingency” to describe (namely, “depends upon”) could just be called “dependent.” Just a suggestion.

    Joe: So the first “being” – whatever it may have been – is not “contingent” because it did not depend on anything else. But I am not sure that it was “necessary.” In that, why would we say it couldn’t have been something else?

    Tom: Do we agree that “God” alone qualifies as this first being (to just go with ‘being’, apophatically, for the moment)? But you want to say God is not necessary? That is, God might not have existed or might cease to exist, or might essentially change? That seems very odd. If God isn’t necessary in some sense, then there is no necessary being per se, and that’s a problem.

    I’m just bringing these questions up because they’re part of the wider conversation about divine ‘simplicity’. For created things to have their being in God as Creator, i.e., to be dependent upon God in the way the cosmos is dependent upon something other than itself, whatever God is he can’t also be dependent upon something other than himself for his existence. He’d be ‘self-existent’. But at the very least now we’re talking about that which ‘cannot not exist’, not because it is constrained to exist by some ‘necessity’ outside itself. But because it just IS life itself. So we’re talking about self-existent, ‘necessary’ Being.

    From saying just this much it’s not at all difficult to see that that such Being cannot itself be assembled or composed of ‘parts’ more fundamental than its own life and identity. Where disagreements come in (for me at least) is in what is then thought to be implied by such necessary, uncomposed, life—i.e., can it not be the subject of changing states which are unrelated to its ‘essential’ life and identity? I think so. But classically/traditionally speaking, all conceivable change is ruled out because all God is is what God is essentially and necessarily; otherwise God is composed of “parts” (essential parts and non-essential parts).

    Tom

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  9. Jonathan says:

    On the off chance it may be helpful, rather than just muddying the waters, allow me to put contingency in slightly different terms.

    I was always taught — because I was educated in the 19th century, apparently — that Latin /contingere/ means what happens, what befalls. Thus a contingent truth is whatever is true simply by virtue of what is actually the case, what has ended up happening in reality. Whether reality (or maybe that should be actuality) could be other than it is, i.e. what if any reality we should assign to the counterfactual, is a related but separate question. So I don’t think approaching contingency as “could have been different” is the best way to do it. Maybe things could have been different maybe they couldn’t, the world is contingent either way. A necessary truth, on the other hand, may not be part of reality or existence at all (or not yet), but is logically necessary. Geometry was used to demonstrate this distinction to me. There can be no perfect triangles in nature, but the angles of a triangle truly, necessarily add up to 180º. This is true in all possible worlds, and in none — i.e. if there were no worlds, no universe or multiverse; if all that is were undone, a triangle would still be a triangle. That kind of thing. There are objections, of course, but so the thinking goes. Seems that a contingent truth must in some sense be caused (i.e. be dependent); a necessary truth, not necessarily. So to speak.

    OK, so much for my $0.02 of metaphysics.

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  10. Patrick Halferty says:

    Hi, Father Aidan…….I want to do some reading on the historic creeds – Apostles, Nicene, Chalcedon – would you kindly point me in the right direction for my reading?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      J. N. D. Kelly’s Early Christian Creeds is still (so I’m told) the place to begin on the creeds. If you’re looking for more of a history of early Christian doctrine, then pick up Trinity and Incarnation by Basil Studer.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Within the classical theological tradition, I think it is accurate to say that when theologians/philosophers speak of the contingency of the cosmos, they are speaking of the ontological dependency of the cosmos upon the free action of God. The world need not have been, yet is.

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  11. Patrick Halferty says:

    Thank you!

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  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    The Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, has criticized David Hart’s arguments on creaturely contingency: http://tinyurl.com/hfmnkao. I confess that I am finding it difficult to get a grip on what he calls modal contingency, but to the extent that I do understand it, it just seems irrelevant to Hart’s presentation of ontological contingency. If I firmly believe (or to put it even stronger, I know) that God is the ontological source of all existence, then I cannot genuinely imagine another world where God does not exist. I can pretend that I believe in such a possibility, but I really can’t. If I can, then that simply reveals the state of my disbelief. Hence Bill’s criticisms, at least in this regard, seem trivial.

    What do you all think?

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