Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sketches on Divine Simplicity: I

Is God simplex omnino? Pace Scotus' formal distinction, what would Aquinas have to say in favor of divine simplicity? The doctrine has come under a good deal of fire in modern theology. Not just theological liberals, but even conservative evangelicals have taken to revising the doctrine of simplicity, and with that revision, the very doctrine of God. I am convinced these efforts at revision lack cogency, and that a better case can be made for retaining Aquinas' understanding of God's simplicity.

First, I shall examine of an exchange--about twenty years old-- in Faith and Philosophy (Nov. 85, Oct. 85, and Apr. 86) between Stump and Kretzmann (hence, "SK"), Ross, and Hasker on Aquinas' doctrine of simplicity. The aim of my work is merely to see what the most pressing difficulties around Aquinas' doctrine are taken to be.

Stump and Kretzmann '85
On absolute simplicity, it is true (1)that God cannot have spatial or temporal parts distinguishable as here or there, now rather than then, (2) God cannot have any "intrinsic accidental properties", and (3), there cannot be a real distinction between real essential properties in God (354).

SK adimt that the doctrine of absolute simplicty (hence AS) "is not much used in contemporary philosophy of religion, primarily because it seems outrageously counter-intuitive, or even incoherent" (354). They are not persuaded; indeed, they take many long-standing perceived difficulties with the doctrine to be readily dispatched: e.g. AS implies being omniscient is identical with being omnipotent, which seems absurd prima facie until one conceives of these attributes as different senses with the same reference. Invoking the sense/reference distinction, SK say (355-6), dissolves such apparent contradictions. But there is still a difficulty to be faced, "the hardest one to resolve": "the apparent incompatibility of God's simplcity and God's free choice" (357).

It seems there is "a radical diversity within divine agency itself, in that some truths about God...are not under his control, while others...are consequences of his free choice" (357). That is, (again, from 357):

SK's Problem
a) Some of God's properties he [freely] chooses to have, like being creator of the world.

b) God cannot freely choose all God's properties; he cannot freely choose whether to have being omnipotent.

c) It follows there is a distinction between two groups of God's properties [group A whose members God freely chooses, and group B whose members God cannot freely choose].

d) This distinction is intrinsic to God.

That is, hold come what may to AS, and we shall have to jettison, on pains of inconsistency, such dogmas as God's free creation of the world--indeed, we shall have to drop the notion of God's freedom altogether, and with it, any notion of contingency in the world. How do SK get around this? In developing a solution, they claim fidelity to Aquinas. Though they adapt Aquinas' solution to modern jargon, especially the jargon of possible worlds semantics, they see themselves as leaving the content or substance of Aquinas' solution intact.

SK's Solution
Aquinas claims, according to SK, "God's nature is altogether necessary, either absolutely or conditionally" and yet this necessity "is entirely comaptible with the claim that there is contingency in the created world" (367). The distinction between absolute and conditional necessity is merely a "logical distinction" in God's will, and so it is only a logical distinction in God--it being understood that logical distinctions fall short of being real distinctions that would contradict AS. Thus, God chooses to create. The choice is free because "God does not choose to create" does not entail a contradiction; it is logically consistent. The logical consistency of an alternative is apparently sufficient for freedom in God's case.

On the other hand, the choice is necessary because God is eternal, implying that God cannot change--once he chooses to create he cannot--due merely to his eternality--change and choose not to create. This necessaity is merely conditional; there is a necessity here given what God has chosen or following on his choice. Having so chosen from eternity, God fixes the choice, and it cannot be otherwise. But considered in itself, apart from whatever God chose to do, the other choice was equally available to God; no inconsistency on its part put it beyond God's power.

Be careful here; we moderns, esp. we modern metaphysicians, are apt to see SK's use of "necessary" above as contrast dependent on "possible" when in fact that is definitely not how SK use "necessary" here, as they are tryiong here to say what Aquinas says, to give Aquinas' solution in his terms. In connection with Aquinas, the relevant contrast dependent term is "contingent." SK are not as clear as they should be on their use of terminology, alas. The pair "Necessary-Contingent" (hence "N-C") that Aquinas employs is decidedly world-bound. It does not refer to other possible worlds, but is restricted to the actual world. The pair "Necessary-Possible" (hence "N-P") is explained by use of possible worlds semantics; the N-P pair is used by SK to explain what Aquinas says with the N-C pair. Got that? In other words, SK use modern terminology to make sens eof Aquinas' solution.

Thus, SK lend precision to Aquinas by bringing in possible worlds semantics. What we have said for Aqunas implies, in that semantics,

e) There is a world, Wa, such that God creates a world at Wa.
f) There is a world, W1, such that God does not create a world at W1.

Let "Wa" be the actual world, and "W1" be a merely possible world. Assuming

(g) "P" is possible just in case there is a world, W, such that P,

we may say despite the fact that God does create a world (from (e)), it is nevertheless possible that he not do so (from (f) and (g)).

We must view God with care. From the standpoint of any possible world (rather roughly Aquinas' standpoint, using the N-C pair), actual like Wa or merely possible like W1, God's nature is necessary and fixed determinately. At Wa, God's choice to create is necessary; yet Aquinas says that necessity is conditional and not absolute. We may make sense of Aquinas' sense of conditional necessity by changing standpoints. From a standpoint that takes into account other possible worlds, like W1 as well as Wa, we may see that God's choice, necessary relative to Wa, is nevertheless contingent and free in itself, as his being able to do otherwise is implied by the possibility of his not creating, which follows given W1.

SK admit "God is not the same in all possible worlds" (369); this entails God is possibly otherwise, yes, but not that any aspect of God is contingent. Contingency, part of the N-C pair, is world-bound, and has to do with what God does within a world, given that he has chosen from eternity to take some course of action. Possibility, part of the N-P pair, has to do with what God is doing in various possible worlds. Thomas' use of "necessary" is a use within the N-C pair--above all, Aquinas wants to deny any necessary-contingent distinction in God. He would, SK think, be willing to accept that God has unrealized possibilities, because that fact--if fact it be--would not imply contingency with God.

For SK contingency is wrapped up in unrealized potentiality. That is, to say God is contingent in some way would mean that he has some unrealized power. But relative to any given world, such as the actual one, God has no unrealized potentiality or power. What he does is chosen from eternity and cannot be changed; God has no power within a world to do otherwise than what he does. And this is how it should be--to have such unrealized power would imply a distinction in God's nature between potency and act of the sort that Aquinas goes to lengths to deny.

But for SK possibility is not wrapped up in unrealized potentiality. God may leave certain possibilities unrealized without that implying he has an unrealized power. That is, God could have done otherwise taken from an N-P standpoint is true, and does not imply composition in God, as it does not imply he has a power or potentiality to do otherwise. Taken from within an N-C standpoint, it would be false to say he could do otherwise inasmuch as God has no power to do otherwise. Aquinas' reference to "conditional necessity" is an attempt, within his N-C framework, to reach outside, to refer to a logical distiction. That logical distinction is what SK clarify from their N-P framework, a move perhaps insinuated but not articulated by Aquinas.

What seems like a real distinction in God is merely logical; no essence-existence or potency-act distinction is implied by saying God chose freely to create the world. That family of properties God chooses is only logically distinct from that family God cannot choose.

Well, at least SK are enormously clever. Their caveat "we are weakening the claims basic to the doctrine of simplicity" does not refer to abandoning Aquinas' notion of AS, but rather to an attempt to render it intelligible by folding it into an account that makes use of a modern notion of necessity explicated in possible worlds semantics. For in doing so, they introduce the notion of God's unrealized possibilities--a harmless introduction, they would say, as it does not imply God has unrealized potentialities.

Neither Ross '85 nor Hasker '86 are taken in by SK's maneuvers. Ross objects especially to their use of possible worlds semantics; if taken robustly, it implies a metaphysics departing from Thomas, while if taken modestly, it amounts to a manner of talking without objectionable ontological commitment.

That God could have chosen not to create the world follows on God's determinate choice to create the world; Ross would have no other "truthmaker". The fact that alternatives to the actual are logically consistent is explicable without recourse to possible worlds semantics, i.e. without "leaving" the actual world to refer to other merely possible worlds.

From the fact a box is red, it follows the box is colored. But not otherwise--the fact it is colored does not imply the box is red; between the facts there is an asymmetry, such that the more generic, the determinable, fact is parasitic on the determinate fact. Indeed, it is really nothing other than the box's being red; there is not in additon to the feature of its redness a really distinct feature about it, its being colored. Just so, from the fact God chose to create, it follows he could have chosen not to create as well as to create. But the same asymmetry persists here--the more generic truth is here too parasitic on the determinate truth. It is not a feature of its own really distinct in any way from what is actual. The absence of a real distinction between determinate and determinable implies the absence of any act-potency distinction. Indeed, the actual--in this case God's actual choice to create, on its own and without there being in any sense of "be" other merely possible worlds, suffices to imply the determinable (God's being able to do otherwise) without introducing any real distinction in God.

Ross' determinate-determinable model at least tells us something about God's actual power, for the model refers only to his actual power, not to his merely possible power. Ross would say SK dodge the issue by bringing in possible worlds semantics. What would mere possibilities have to do with God's actual power? So we can talk about God in other merely possible worlds; why take that talk to track truth about the actual God? Why take it to model anything more than our idle chatter?

Hasker concentrates instead on the choice to create. "What is it that determines that the universe and God are in one initial world state rather than another?" In effect, is not there at least one more instance of real power on God's part to consider, given SK's way of rendering Aquinas? Namely, we shall have to consider the choice God makes among possible worlds: which to actualize, given the generic choice to create? In that choice, God seems to exercise power in a way not merely world bound, i.e. something more robust than semantic possibility is called for; God's creation is a real exercise of divine power.

But then, is this exercise of power free or not? SK will want to say it is indeed free--but they will have to say as well that this basic cretive exercise is conditionally necessary. Ah--here SK seem to have missed the point to be explained: "To say that God's actions are I-necessary [roughly, world-bound] is to say that they are necessitated by the initial state of the universe [the given possible world in question]--but how can this have any bearing on the modal status of the choice of the initail state itself?" (Hasker '86, 197). Hasker goes on to try to dispatch a possible SK reply, that eternality would suffice for the required necessity. But such a move will not do, being an instance of special pleading inasmuch as up to Hasker's objection, SK would have explained necessity from the N-C model in terms of necessity from the N-P model, Hasker's objection would reappear once we parsed the SK "reply" in possible worlds semantics, though at a different level of analysis.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Kennedy on Heresy: II

In "Kennedy on Heresy: I", I have argued that the worst a reasonable critic from the right could accuse TEC of on the matter of ordaining an actively gay bishop is material heresy, which is really just a nasty name for theological error.

But all Christian groups have erred from the beginning in matters of faith; recall early Paul's misconceptions about the Second Coming and Milennium, an article of faith referred to in the Creeds.

If mere material heresy is sufficient for schism, Christian unity is doomed a priori. For there is no way Christian groups can have knowledge with finality and certainty over all matters touching the faith on which they must take a stand; there is no way to eliminate human fallibility. The church is always in a position of having to be open to correction; no part of the church can know with certainty that it is free of material heresy.

If a critic from the right like Kennedy is to have any case for splitting from TEC, he should establish that TEC is in a state of formal heresy--not merely mistaken on a point of moral theology, but perversely adhering to a point that it already knows to be contrary to the faith.

Note how high that bar is. It is not enough even for the critic to be convinced of his or her own argument, thinking that an airtight case has been made once and for all. The critic should know that the opponent--in this case TEC--also recognizes the cogency of the critic's case, and nevertheless adheres to error.

I believe critics from the right have not made an airtight theological case for their opposition to GC2003--at best we have grounds for an ongoing debate; but more importantly, they have made no plausible case for TEC recognizing that it is in error and persisting in adhering to a belief known to be contrary to the faith.

In short, Kennedy et al have made no case for schism.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Kennedy on Heresy: I

Recently a rather lengthy debate transpired between Father Woodward of Episcopal Majority, who wrote a piece defending TEC from insinuations launched by the Episcopalian right, and Father Kennedy of Stand Firm, who produced a long series of articles in response to Woodward's defense (see parts I, II, III, and IV). The exchange was genuinely informative, I think, showing the way to common ground suitable, one hopes, for still more productive future debate.

I. The Core of Kennedy's Argument
I am used to hearing claims from the right that TEC has fallen into heresy or apostasy or whatever, but Kennedy lent that claim concrete content, illuminating at least one interpretation (I wonder how far he can really be taken as a spokesman for the Anglican right?):

The case against the Episcopal Church is not that there are influential false teachers in the church and therefore the Church is heretical. Nor is it that “hundreds or thousands” of parishioners hold beliefs consistent with the heretical teachings espoused by the false teachers above and therefore the Church is heretical.No. The Church is in error becuase the election, consent, and consecration of V. Gene Robinson officially moved the Episcopal Church beyond the limits of orthodoxy. [my emphasis] (Pt. III)

Wrangling over the doctrines of Spong and Borg--or other assorted pluralists real and imagined, for that matter--and the extent of their influence aming the laity is truly beside the point. The problem is GC2003 and the consecration of Robinson. Kennedy claims that the Anglican right thinks Robinson's consecration implies the Episcopal Church is heretical--a claim which before would have been false of the Episcopal Church. Note well--the consecration of a non-celibate homosexual man is what pushed TEC over the line for Kennedy, and if he is a reliable spokesman, much of the rest of the Anglican right as well; other stuffabout how to read the Bible, toying with same sex blessings, et al is relatively peripheral, though still troubling.

I'd like to see the argument for Kennedy's point. I think he would have a hard time, for he writes quite reasonably that

The only fair way to measure or consider the faith of a given denomination is to examine the official teachings of that body. If having done that, you find a real deficiency; say a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, then there is good cause to examine a wide range of evidence, including the prevalence and influence of false assumptions, teachings, and ideas within the denomination in hopes of determining the source or foundations of the error. (PtIII)

Here are two rather distinct questions: (1)Is it part of the official teachings of TEC that non-celibate homosexual men may be consecrated? (2)Would that be a "real deficiency"? Kennedy thinks the answer to (1) is a clear "yes":

But first it is important to understand that the official adoption of heresy by the Episcopal Church is a matter of historical record. It took place in the summer of 2003 and was completed by November of that same year. (PtII)

Likewise for (2):
His consent represents a blatant rejection of the plain reading of Scripture, 2000 years of Christian tradition, the contemporary teaching of every branch of Christendom (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant…with the exception of the UCC and the Metropolitan Church) the clear teaching of the Anglican Communion as articulated at Lambeth98 in resolution 1.10, and, lastly, godly reason by the official consenting body of the Church. His consecration in November 2003, over and against the unanimous warning of the primates in October, represented a public confirmation of that rejection by the presiding bishop and all those assembled. (PtII)

Whatever you think of Kenndy's take on (1) and (2), at least his points are clearly made, and his case is laudable on that score. Of course, I disagree that the answer to either (1) or (2) is "yes"; quite clearly, the Episcopal Church has neither introduced an official teaching that noncelibate gays may be consecrated, nor--even if it had contrary to fact--would that be a real deficiency amounting to heresy. Where to begin?

II. Heresy?
Following Roman Catholicism and especially Aquinas, it seems right to say heresy is a special kind of sinful unbelief, to be distinguished from cases of unbelief that fall short of sin, as when unbelief proceeds

by way of pure negation, as we find it in those who have heard nothing about the faith, it bears the character, not of sin, but of punishment, because such like ignorance of Divine things is a result of the sin of our first parent. If such like unbelievers are damned, it is on account of other sins, which cannot be taken away without faith, but not on account of their sin of unbelief. (ST IIpt IIpt Q10 a1)

Heresy requires a willful turning away from the truth of the faith, rather than mere variance born of sheer ignorance. The line may be a bit gray in cases. We may presume most churchgoing Episcopalians are not in sheer ignorance of what at least was taken to be the teaching of the faith, that (a) all homosexual activity is sinful. But (a) is not the issue in Kennedy's argument--the issue is over (b): the church may not ordain a noncelibate homesexual male. Is (b) a matter of faith most of our churchgoers would have been exposed to?

Well, suppose it was for the sake of argument. That is, take (b) to be a genuine part of the faith and say most of our members have been exposed to it. Then their surely at least apparent acceptance of the negation of (b) at GC2003 and GC2006 reliably indicates a willful departure from the faith, right?

Not so fast--we must yet distinguish material and formal heresy (from an older version of the Catholic Encylopedia online). Perhaps that acceptance in GC2003 and 2006 came out of an imperfect apprehension of the truth of the faith, a type of intellectual confusion. It is prima facie very, very likely they thought they were doing the right thing, and indeed what God called upon them to do in the power of the Holy Spirit. Presuming they were nevertheless in error, what we'd have is only material heresy. We may yet hope the error, if error it be, comes out in the wash and becomes merely transient, a passing fad. After all, the proof that TEC can make 180 degree turns would be GC2003 itself; it is reasonable to work and hope for another such turn in the future, if there be need.

The more serious formal heresy requires "obstinate adhesion" to the error. That may be a tall order in the case of (b)--after all, just how many Episcopalians are clear on the whole of what the faith requires for consecrating a bishop? And even now, there is no compelling case in Anglican circles for the truth of (b), certainly none making a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Whatever happened to the Episcopal Church at GC2003 and 2006, it falls short of formal heresy, and for that matter, "heresy in the first degree": Pertinacious adhesion to a doctrine contradictory to a point of faith clearly defined by the Church. For the doctrine around (b) is not clearly defined in the church, and our adhesion does not rise to the point of being pertinacious. Still, given (b) it may yet be the Episcopal Church is given over to sententia haeresi proxima--an opinion close to heresy, or propositio theologice erronea, a proposition theologically in error. The range of opinons around which the Episcopal Church would be capable of formal heresy is rather small I suspect, as clear definition would exist in very few cases; heresy rising above the merely material would be rare.

At its best, that is, with the truth of (b), Kennedy would have a rather limited case for accusing the Episcopal Church of heresy.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Half a million? Is that enough yet?

It looks like the best current scientific data we have shows that the US invasion--our US invasion--has killed round about 655,000 Iraqis, or more accurately put:

Based on the numbers they observed and the statistical limitations of their methods, the authors estimate that the true number of excess deaths would fall between 426,369 and 793,663 nineteen times out of twenty.

Well, 425,000 or 325,000, 525,000 or 800,000--haggle over probabilities as you will, somewhere in all this is mass-murder.

Here's Canon Harmon from Titusonenine; remember, the Lancet study shows deaths above the pre-war baseline, which would include the number Saddam was responsible for pre-invasio:

One of the sad facts revealed about American life in the midst of this conflict is that most American religious leaders cannot handle this war. They obscure the real issues at stake, they create basic category confusion, they parrot the denominational leadership’s anti-war stance without providing a meaningful or coherent alternative, or they dodge the question altogether.

This was from 2003 as far as I can gather; I have not seen him report the Lancet study to his readers yet; I am sure he will soon. For it offers an opportunity for critical reflection: for instance, the time is ripe to ask should they--those on the Anglican right--now, finally, unite with the left in opposition to continuation of the war, or at least its beginning? I can't find mention of it over at CANN either. Who knows? Perhaps we shall hear from them on the study shortly.

It seems to me complicity in the invasion is a measure of the degree to which one has deviated from the moral response called for by the Gospel. The slaughter of Iraqis is an evil which Christians should have no part in supporting, and which they should have exercised themselves already in preventing. To actually support such slaughter, even to tolerate it as an "unintended double effect," seems to me an a priori mark of viciousness. The evil which appears to be a good to such a person is no mean error--we are not talking a type of action for which there could be a permissible mean, and that fact should have been evident from the beginning of the war in Christian circles.

It would be fascinating to correlate names of Network bishops--and Windsor bishops--with opinions about the Iraq war and especially the slaughter associated with it. They, no doubt, do not wish the national leadership to speak for them on moral questions--will these bishops speak up and let us know where they stand?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Evangelicals Punked? Well Duh!

Here's a snippet from Chris Matthew's show; remember Tucker Carlson is a conservative:

CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power. Everybody in...

MATTHEWS: How do you know that? How do you know that?

CARLSON: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. They live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values.

MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hypocrisy on the Anglican Right?

Strictly Bible-based evangelicals who believe in the Incarnation and Trinity, making creeds a test for orthodoxy: that's already odd. Worse: when these Bible-based evangelicals complain that the Anglican left means to willfully contravene Scripture in advocating GC2003's acts, et al.
It seems to me that they cannot avoid going around against Scripturethemselves.

When do you celebrate the Sabbath, as we are clearly commanded to do in the moral law of the OT? Saturday or Sunday? I do not think there is ANY scholarly debate about the period of time the Decalogue picks out--here, if anywhere, the Bible comes close to a plain sense.

You show me where the Bible itself says in black and white the Sabbath commandment is no longer binding on Christians, who may instead simply celebrate Sundays instead of Sundays and Sabbaths or merely Sabbaths. Hmm--can't find it?

Wait--you mean to say when it comes to that commandment, and ONLY that commandment disobedience is a live option? Where in Scripture, in black and white, do we find the qualification and especially the "only."

Hang on--what's that? Somehow the clear call to obedience and Bible-based belief around the Scripture's plain sense can be trumped by nonbiblical inventions? Hmm, interesting.