Thursday, June 23, 2022

Ontology and science

On the classical Aristotelian metaphysics inherited by the medieval scholastics, every primary substance ... has a secondary substance-kind ... that pertains to it and without which it could not exist. ... (Thomas H. McCall, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology, 104)

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that seeks to deal with the nature of reality. Part of that is the nature of all reality, thus they deal with questions involving whether reality is actually real in a material sense or not. That level of metaphysics goes beyond scientific examination because it deals with the ultimate reality of things beyond that of science. However, there is another level of metaphysics which in the modern world has mostly gone obsolete, that of Aristotelian substances and accidents, where that level of metaphysics seek to discover the nature of things as they are present in real life. In the modern world, science in the fields of physics, chemistry, and biology have supplanted this level of metaphysics, and have provided answers to these questions that are far more practical and much better approximations to the truth. Nevertheless, a new level of interest in Aristotelianism has arisen recently. Perhaps such is due to the failure of modern philosophy to provide a unitary vision of the truth. Perhaps it is due to an interest in virtue ethics of which Aristotle has much to contribute. Or perhaps it is due to influence from certain fields of theology where Aristotelianism has laid dormant and are now uncritically accepted due to a unbiblical view of what theological retreival should mean for a Reformed Christian. Needless to say, this resurrection of Aristotelian metaphysics is deeply troubling. Part of that of course is that the notion of Aristotelian substance and accidents are just plain wrong; science has shown that to be the case. The same people who are resurrecting Aristotle, either Aristotle himself or Aristotle as mediated through Aquinas, are the same people who are benefitting from the applications of modern science, science that would not be possible if scientists stuck with Aristotelian metaphysics!

Reality can be described and explained in many ways. There is therefore nothing wrong with using Aristotelian categories if one understands them to be mere descriptions. However, the claim that these are true of reality is an ontic claim, and that is a problem because such claims are demonstrably false. For example, a dog as substance would possess the "substance-kind" dogness or caninity. But there is no such ontological thing as "dogness." A dog is an emergent substance formed by the expression of instructions found in the canine DNA of dog cells. "Dogness" is at best information encoded by DNA. That information in turn does not produce an ontological substance called "dog" but rather a bunch of phenotypes that we collectively called "dog." Platonism with its view of forms is more amenable to modern science here, since dog phenotypes can be called its "form." Even then, there is no "dog substance" that is combined with a "dog form," since the substance of DNA, proteins, and carbohydrates are common to all animals.

The substance of living things are the molecules that form the thing, or the particular permutation of molecules in various cellular structures. The substance of all living things are therefore the same, since all living things have DNA, proteins, carbohydrates and so on. There is no "dog substance," no "human substance" and so on. Dog cells and human cells, the fundamental living unit of dogs and humans respectively, are emergent substances that form as the "form" from the instructions on the DNA imprints unto the cells to form these different dog and human cells. Dogs are made of dog cells, tertiary substances that can only emerge from the imprint of dog DNA information unto them. There is no primary substance called "dog"‐ never has been and never will be.

With the resurrection of Aristotle, we can expect to see bad philosophy, bad science and bad theology. In philosophy, one can obviously find alternatives to Aristotelianism. That cannot be said to be true of much of classical Christian theology, which needs a good round of de-Aristotelianism to bring it out of captivity to this false philosophy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

A really bad argument about God and Simplicity

Because God is simple, nothing can give definiability to Him from the outside. So the Persons cannot be defined purely by their ad extra works in the economy of redemption. All we can know about Him He has to reveal or else it would be left in the infinite darkness of mystery. So all of our understanding about God must be qualified, since creation cannot give definability to God. If we conceive of God only in ad extra categories, then we are making God dependent and defined by the creation He made. [Peter Sammons, "When Distinction becomes Separation: The Doctrine of Inseparable Operations in the Contemporary Evangelical Church," TMSJ 33/1 (Spring 2022): 91]

There is the doctrine of inseparable operations (ISO), the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS), and then there are the many arguments theologians put forward for such doctrines. Obviously, not all arguments are created equal. But there are good arguments, and there are not so good arguments. And then there are the really horrible ones. For some reason however, really bad arguments have been recently flowing off the pens of the new Thomists, and here we have one really bad one.

In this argument in his article, Peter Sammons argued that God is simple means that nothing outside God can be considered definitional of Him. Sammons is not saying that we cannot predicate things of God ad extra, but rather that we cannot say that something ad extra is considered "definitional" of God. For if that were to be the case, then God would be dependent on creation. Of course, what does "definitional" means in this case is a major question. But let us backtrack a bit and ask ourselves whether DDS actually says anything of that sort, not whether Thomas Aquinas has said anything of that sort. We must remember that Sammons is asserting that DDS implies certain things to be true, not whether he believes other things in addition to DDS.

DDS states that God is without parts, without metaphysical parts. God is not a composite being and therefore He is his attributes. Therefore, one implication of DDS is that one cannot "add parts" to God, for that would make Him composite. DDS however states nothing about reception and perception from the outside and what that implies about descriptions of God. Even apart from a Platonic hierarchy of being, it is a triusm that the many cannot comprehend the one, and from a theistic perspective, one only approaches God analogically not univocally. Therefore, DDS canot imply aything about reception by the creature, who perceives and defines God through His works. Therefore, DDS as a via negativa position cannot exclude via eminantiae positions perceived through the works of God. Are such "definitional"? For example, can we claim that God is merciful in His being even though such being merciful is an ad extra predication, for God cannot be merciful on Himself? It woud seem so. Thus, DDS in itself therefore cannot exclude "definiability" from the outside, unlike what Sammons has argued.

In order for his argument to make sense, Sammons has to add in additional premises besides DDS. One possible premise for his argument to work is to state that true predication is not necessarily "definiability," such that a merciful God is not defined by "mercy" even though He IS merciful, but this will give rise to the strange spector of a God who has via eminantiae attributes that do not however define Him. Another possible premise along the same lines is to state that predication is considered "definiability" only if extended into eternity, but that also circumvents all discussions about the nature of time and eternity altogether. Or one could hold to some form of eternalism and therefore anything revaled ad extra that is "defintional" is true ad intra because God is present with creation in all times. Sammons of course did not provide any such additional premise, which is why his argument from simplicity is simply bad.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Paper: The Impassibility of God and God's Covenant Love

Many years ago, I had sought the ministry while I was in the United States. I had joined the OPC and had applied for licensure in my presbtery. There are a couple of exams one has to pass, then one has to submit one exegetical paper and one theological paper. After all these have been completed and approved by the committee, one has to go before the presbytery, preach a sermon, then come before the presbytery for an oral examination. After the presbyters are satisfied with the answers to their questions, they would vote on whether to sustain the licensure. If the vote passes, the candidate is now licensed to preach the Gospel.

In 2014 to 2015, I had gone through the procedure. As one of the two papers have to be original, I wrote an original theological paper and completed it in 2014. In the providence of God, I chose to write on what was at that time considered non-controversial and relatively straight-forward - the impassibility of God. The papar was unanimously approved and my licensure sustained with no dissenting vote. Did I change my view since then, or did something else change? Well, I decided to read through the paper again in 2022, and I agreed with all of it, save that now I embrace the concept of "energies" whereas before I was agnostic of its utility (which is not the same as rejecting it).

Until now, this paper has only been seen by the presbyters of the Presbytery of Southern California of the OPC. It is now available for all to read now on my website here, and on Academia.edu here. Entitled The Impassibility of God and God's Covenant Love, this paper marks the starting point of my current stance on the doctrine of God as it pertains to issues of contemporary interests. An excerpt:

The doctrine of the impassibility of God (i.e. that God has “no passions”) has fallen on hard times. While it was the majority position of the early, medieval and Reformation era church, it has since in the modern era come under attack. This assault upon impassibility increased greatly with J├╝rgen Moltmann’s book The Crucified God, which utilized insights from Japanese theologian Kazoh Kitamori to put forward a “post-Auschwitz” idea of a God who suffers with us.

[continue]

Friday, June 10, 2022

An early piece on divine impassibility

I have decided to release my paper on impassiblity that I had written back in 2014 soon, one which had not previously seen the light of day. But before I do that, here is a much earlier article written before 2010 where I had affirmed the same. As you will see, there has been no real change in my position on the topic from then until now. However, there is a maturity of thought and development of theological concepts until this time.

My new website and the second response to Derrick Brite

I have just recently moved to a new web address at http://puritanreformed.net, with about 60%- 70% of the content making the move from my previous website. Anyway, one of the new content is the consolidation of my second response to Derrick Brite on the issue of EFS, which can now be seen in one document here.