Friday, May 26, 2017

The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity and Cambridge Changes

Recently the topic of Divine Simplicity(henceforth to be referred to as DDS)/Aseity has come up frequently in many Thomistic forums and within the larger Christian Apologetic Community. Since Divine Simplicity is quite a heady topic, I felt it was necessary to provide some sort explanation together for those who are not familiar with literature. 

The Theistic Personalists have en masse launched a full frontal attack upon the traditional doctrine of DDS. Paula even had a brief encounter with Ryan Mullins (author of The End of the Timeless God), though Paula wasn't really addressing him primarily.

The DDS is the de facto Orthodox Doctrine for Catholic and Orthodox scholars as it has been proclaimed by the vast amount of Church theologians since the very foundation of the Church. While it may not be official doctrine of the Protestant Churches, it should give them pause that the vast majority of Christian Theologians throughout history held this doctrine.

In fact, the vast majority of criticism toward the doctrine comes from Protestant philosophers and Theologians, though some Protestant Scholars have stepped in to defend the traditional doctrine. 

A Brief Introduction to the DDS

In order to properly understand this, we must understand what DDS entails. Simply speaking, the DDS entails that in God there exists no metaphysical diversity. I should note that my particular understanding is linked with Scholasticism in particular and thus a Neo-Platonist might explain this a bit differently. Furthermore, I should say that these are not assumptions but argued for in various different places within Catholic Philosophy. So that even though Scotists will not argue for DDS the way I do, they still accept it.

In the first place, we must start with God being Pure Actuality which is the conclusion of the argument from the First Way. If God is pure Act then God is not possibly any other way. That is, God cannot possibly change for in order for something to change it has to go from potentiality and actuality. Thus since God contains no potentiality, God cannot change.

The next portion is understanding that God's essence is in his existence. The way to understand this is by observing that things have essences which are non-identical to the fact they exist. For example, it is not the same for there to be an essence for that essence to exist. Consider a cat, there is such a thing as a cat but it is not necessary that a cat exists merely contingent. Thus his act of being is not necessary from the definition of cat.

The fact that God's essence is in his existence implies many things, but it means (first and foremost) that God is utterly simple for if God had parts then he would be composite which means that he would need to rely on something to put together the Essence and Existence composite. Further he is the first efficient cause(Second Way) thus there could be nothing to unite his essence and his existence. Thus God's essence must be in his existence which means he must be simple. See De Ente et Essentia by Aquinas and Gaven Kerr's excellent book "Aquina's Way to God". 

Furthermore, God must be timeless for given the definition of Time (at least according to Aristotle) which is intrinsically a measure of change. That is, since God cannot possibly change, he is 'outside' of temporal change and thus time itself. Be careful when saying this because modern Analytic philosophers often rely upon assumptions based on John McTaggart's work which a scholastic philosopher would not agree. In fact, until I read The Reality of Time and the Existence of God by David Braine (Requiescat in pace), I never realized I made such assumptions about what time is. Remember for Scholastic Philosophers Time is not an object nor an illusion but the measure of the manifestation of change. 

The Core Issue of Naming

For the present time, I am not going to talk about the false worries of modal collapse nor talk about the ideas of active potencies which are clearly appealed to and understood by St.Thomas nor even will I appeal to the difference between necessitas consequentiae versus necessitas consequentiis. No, the topic which I want to provide an introduction to today has been discussed many times within the modern critiques of DDS particularly with respect to Mullin's book. 

(5) God cannot undergo any extrinsic or intrinsic change....
(7) God cannot have any intrinsic accidental properties
I have put off discussing (7) until now so that a particular deficiency can be seen in this proposition as well. (7) would appear to allow God to undergo extrinsic change, but as noted in (5), classical theologians have already denied this possibility in the doctrine of divine timelessness and immutability... This is completely contrary to the doctrine of God as spelled out by classical theologians. Augustine, Boethius, Lombard, and Aquinas all deny extrinsic accidental properties of God. Standard examples are things like Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. James Arminius adds Judge of all men to the list as well.
" The End of the Timeless God, Page 57

Obviously if this is correct then we have a huge problem with DDS since The Bible would imply DDS is false which cannot be true. Either DDS is true or the Bible is true, given these assumptions. Thus what Mullins is posing is a coherency issue not a logical problem with DDS itself. His criticism revolves around that Christianity and DDS do not cohere.

In fact, if you go through his book you will find that the vast majority of his problems with DDS are coherency issues rather than logical problems with the doctrine itself. However, the coherency issue is very pertinent to practicing Catholics themselves since we believe that Church's teachings on both the Bible and Theology. Thus we must examine the claim and find the falsehoods.

The idea that these changes are genuine seem to be true, prima facie, since if I become your Savior it seems that something has changed. Namely that I was once not your savior and now I am your savior. It also seems to be flatly the case that The Word became our Savior. 

Furthermore it does seem like that there are is a requirement that God doesn't undergo any change according to DDS. Simply looking at the brief introduction I have provided has shown that DDS contradicts any type of genuine change. So where is the problem with this argument?

The Resolution

So this is a very common line of argument with regards to the DDS and criticism of it and Divine timelessness as well. In fact(besides the emotionally driven arguments), it is the most common objection to divine simplicity I hear. 

One of the major problems with this line of argument is that it is completely incorrect to say that Aquinas would not of known of this type of critique and would have said we cannot call God these things for Aquinas actually addresses this type of objection in the Summa Theologiae in the thirteenth question of the Prima Pars.

"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. Thus there is nothing to prevent these names which import relation to the creature from being predicated of God temporally, not by reason of any change in Him, but by reason of the change of the creature; as a column is on the right of an animal, without change in itself, but by change in the animal.

Relations signified by these names which are applied to God temporally, are in God only in idea; but the opposite relations in creatures are real. Nor is it incongruous that God should be denominated from relations really existing in the thing, yet so that the opposite relations in God should also be understood by us at the same time; in the sense that God is spoken of relatively to the creature, inasmuch as the creature is related to Him: thus the Philosopher says (Metaph. v) that the object is said to be knowable relatively because knowledge relates to it."

What is nice here is that Aquinas pretty much anticipates the objection perfectly and addresses it perfectly as well. He even refers Saint Augustine as saying the names apply temporally, thus also going contra Mullins' idea that no Classical theologian would allow names like Lord to apply to God which clearly shows that Augustine thinks they do.

Now it may not be clear exactly what Aquinas is arguing if one is not familiar with Philosophy and Cambridge Changes. While we review this it may be helpful to review the DDS as noted above. Cambridge Changes are simply changes which are relational, for example, you are taller than me rather than I am five foot two inches. Consider that you may get shorter and I might not change however inexplicably you become shorter than me. Now I would have the 'property' of being taller than you. However notice how I didn't change whatsoever. Rather you changed which modified the relationship between us.

This clearly easily sidesteps the problem since God doesn't change even if we do with respect to him. Thus calling God it is justified to call God things like Creator, Redeemer, and Lord even though these temporally gained. Mullins is arguing that God has to undergo change to become these things but clearly we have demonstrated that God does not need to change. 

Sometimes my interlocutors against the DDS try and defeat the doctrine on their terms, rather than on the Scholastic(or Neo-Platonic) terms. However the way to defeat Divine Simplicity is to show the inferences made to it's validity are incorrect not by questioning coherency issues. Most of the reason why they will not attack DDS logically is because most (if not all)of the inferences leading to it are agreeable to them. 

The only other way is to show that Metaphysical diversity needs to be included within God and that way is going to be ultimately fruitless given the vast avenues we have to reply and the lack of understanding that many have of Scholasticism. It is almost as bad as when Atheist philosopher simply point to the outdated nature of Aristotelian Physics as somehow proof Aquina's Five Ways don't work. It is a huge misunderstanding and confusion in terms. 

The Conclusion

Now Mullins raises a lot of objections in his book and clearly has a journeyman's understanding of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy. However, you can tell in a lot of places that he bases his understandings of Aristotelianism/Thomism on philosophers like John Philoponus which is not a Thomist and who has some issues with Aristotle. When Paula tried to point this out, apparently she clearly rustled some jimmies and clearly there was some misunderstandings about this side remark made within the context of a post which wasn't primarily directed at him. Hopefully this post provides a more complete critique of one of the more common attacks.

Ultimately this is not the only critique that the anti-DDS scholars make and I could spend a series of posts just addressing this argument(or perhaps a book) but it does reveal a commonality of the anti-DDS crowd. Often they will make a critique that is based on the coherency of the DDS with some aspect of Christian Theology/Biblical teaching. And then claim that the Scholastics never addressed it.

However, often if you dig a little deeper you will find that they did address it and perhaps old Aquinas wasn't so dumb after all. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Guest on Tru-Id Podcast

Recently, Sterling was a guest on the Tru-ID Podcast with Adam Coleman. It was really great, I had a lot of fun.

Tru-Id Podcast Interview

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Anti-Feminist Provocateurs and Catholicism

Quite recently, Lacie Green has come out and said that she would like to transition her channel from a feminist and sex-positive type of atmosphere to a debate channel with anti-feminists and feminists alike, even using the quintessential symbol of anti-Feminism, the Red Pill. In some ways, many of the anti-Feminists have raised up their hands as a major victory for their cause. Divide et Impera, after all.

Ultimately, unlike the roaring joy of a thousand satisfied anti-feminists, I am not sure that anything will become of this change since she seems to still believe in the feminist values while being seemingly disturbed by a paper on transracialism being rejected by a philosophy journal. This critical event will probably not end the conflict.

The real conflict will probably continue to be raged and the continued crucifixion of feminism with it. In fact, it seems to me that besides a few isolated victories, the feminists will probably 'win' with more of their values proceeding in the dialectic since anti-feminism is not committed to anything. The more passionate narrative can easily win even when wrong.

The critical question that the Catholic community must answer is whether we can support these types of channels. Or should we rather support those who are being attacked: the feminists? Quite obviously, the answer is neither are worthy of our support nor assistance.

Feminist Channels and Pseudo-Feminists

I probably should start with the Feminist channels and explain why we cannot support them although perhaps it is rather obvious to the majority of individuals from the Catholic perspective. Obviously the whole discussion about the meaning of Feminism has left some ambiguous definitions on the table. Not necessarily because the definition of "the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes" is controversial but because what it entails from that definition.

Now I should stop and make a clarification here, if Erika Bachiochi or any other fairly traditional Feminist(which is not an oxymoron) starts a Youtube channel then feel free to watch them. Heck, if any feminist starts a Youtube channel that is in align with Catholic Social Teaching and respects traditional family values, feel free to watch them. These are not the type of channels I would be against.

What I am talking about are essentially a combination of pseudo-Beauvoirian or Butlerian feminist channels which primarily are founded upon the principles of these philosophers. In fact, if anyone has read either philosopher, you will find that these feminists often say very similar things without any of the argumentation that Butler goes through.

Essentially these channels presuppose so much(modern interpretations of power dynamics, feminist theory, queer theory, etc) that there is no reasonable way that a journeyman in feminism understands virtually any of the theory behind it and thus arguing against them will appear as if arguing against facts. It is undoubtedly important for us to dispute the theory insofar as they are incorrect, but rarely will you find a feminist who is willing to argue the theory outside of feminist philosophers/professors.

Another issue is that due to their alignment with Transgender and other queer people, often feminism will entail implicit approval of sinful actions. Further, the implicit anti-essentialism of feminism can lead to metaphysical issues which threaten to undermine rational metaphysical discourse which obviously cannot be abandoned.

And finally, we cannot support these channels due to the narrative issues. Ultimately, ideas win out in culture because they have a better story and better storytellers. It is our job to promote our story rather than theirs, since ours is true.

Anti-Feminism and Cultural Libertarianism

It is important to make distinctions before just asserting your opinion however it seems that with near impunity the vast majority of these anti-Feminist channels are simply converted anti-Theistic channels. Now there are exceptions, in fact, if you want a good channel that has anti-feminist content but is mostly traditionalist check out The Distributist (obviously taking inspiration from GK Chesterton).

I am just going to name a few and if you are curious, you can simply look through their videos and find their anti-Theistic videos. Bearing, Armoured Skeptic, TheAmazingAtheist (obviously), Mr.Repzion, Sargon of Akkad, Undoomed, Thunderfoot, etc. I could bring up tons more.

Supporting these channels via their anti-feminist videos indirectly supports their attacks on Theism in general. Some might say that "At least they are not attacking us anymore", but this is wholly irrelevant to the fact that more ad revenue and attention they get, the more ad revenue and attention they will get to virtually all their videos which includes anti-theistic videos.

This is somewhat the rather obvious problem, any ad revenue supports people who have attacked theism which seems counter to our aims in general. However there are more grave problems with supporting these types of channels. Conceivably, there might be a reason to support a channel who has attacked theism if it was fair and reasonable. The vast majority of these channels are anything but.

Consider their general method of attack, they watch a video and attack pieces of it. Very rarely do they take their opponent seriously and never do they use the principle of charity. Ultimately being comedic is more important to them than being factually correct and taking their opponent seriously as an intellectual. Further, they always attack the bottom of the barrel. Any time they try and go higher they fail to scratch the surface of the argument(look at the hilariously sad attempt of TheAmazingAtheist to understand the 5 ways, or look at the debate between Sargon of Akkad and Kristi Winters). Straw manning the person is not uncommon either.

All these tactics are left behind from attacking the theists in the past, and this has produced a generation of people who do not take religion seriously due to the presumption that all theists are the theists that these atheistic provocateurs attacked. In combination with an intense fundamentalism, of course. However, we suffer the wrath of both effects.

Why ought we support these tactics against anyone? Comedy is a double edged sword because it allows for the distortion of the truth and while we must comedy to go on for the sake of free speech, need we support purposeful distortions of the truth for the sake of a few laughs and perhaps some inevitable conversions to anti-feminist ideals(of which we may share some)?


Ultimately, both of these movements are just symptoms of all modernist heresies. While some want to destroy the distinction between male and female, others want to make such a sharp distinction that it seems to reduce one to subhuman levels. We needn't accept one over the other. Nor should we support one side because they are less wrong. In truth, they are equally wrong just for different reasons.

In order for anyone to win this battle, one must be able to stay virtuous while being steadfast to the principles of the Church. We must be prepared to fight a cultural war. Anything less than this ultimately cedes grounds to these movements which are destructive to human progress and seem to be appalling to the principle of our Holy Mother Church.

The Cultural Libertarians(to borrow a term from The Distributist) are indeed wrong in more crucial way than the Feminists. The Cultural Libertarians think everything is permissible given some set of circumstances(doesn't hurt someone, gosh I need to do a blog post on why this is insane), the Feminists at least recognize that some things are just impermissible.

I hope that more of the more traditionally minded will be able to seriously grasp the problem with supporting these anti-feminists since in some ways our shares commitment to certain values is contingent upon feminists being there. Just as the temporary alliance between atheism and feminism was contingent upon religion being the scapegoat.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Varieties of Causation and the Humean Problem

**Note** My view of Causation is very much influenced by the reading of Edward Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics and David Braine's The Human Person. Further reading can be found in these works. Also, this is not meant to be a Philosophical Paper and thus the rigor with which I approached it was lower. Feser has blogged about a similar subject here:

David Hume is the most loved and yet hated philosopher. Some have called him a sophist, and yet others are compelled to call him one of the greatest philosophers of all time. While Hume is often considered to be critiquing the possibility of metaphysics, it seems more accurately to evaluate him on his more immediate opponents, the rationalists.


On the face of it, Hume's objection contra causality seems almost like Zeno's objection against motion. Hume, like Zeno, takes a commonsensical intuition that we have and questions it, which is no different than most philosophers. However, what makes Hume's and Zeno's objection connected more intimately is not the commonsensical nature of causation but the implications of the position.

That is, Humean skepticism about causality fundamentally rejects experience as such. Hume asserts that we can never say that we experience causation; merely our sense experience assumes that things will behave the way they always have because of our observation of them. That is, our experience is so permeated with causal relation that, like motion, it becomes hard to construe our experiences in terms of anything else. In fact, if causality was determined to be some kind of false idol by which our experience is ruled then it becomes hard to see why anything except analytic truths ought to be trusted.

If the regularity of our sense data is not to be trusted then for what reason ought we trust any non-necessary truth? The Cartesian question becomes more pertinent when the foundation of epistemic justification cannot be based on regularity. A posteriori synthetic truths do not seem to have any particular appeal if one moment is not causally related at all to the rest.

However, I would say this poses a problem most intimately with analytic philosophy more than any other group. Analytic philosophy has come a long way since the 1950's and 1960's of logical positivism but there still exists a trend which scientific knowledge is ultimately seen as fundamentally more true than philosophical knowledge. I would like to do a post on that at some point.

Science is more at threat than any other discipline because there is no reason to conclude any empirical test can support anything other than what happens in one instance. Probability cannot even to be thought of as reliable in this context because if each test cannot be connected by temporal priority then it is hard to see how any test could measure anything(for the introduction of a variable is not temporally dependent on this view). Furthermore, inductive analysis is needed to conclude from any particular example to some general principle but induction cannot be appealed to if these two events cannot be explicitly connected without begging the question. The proverbial stone which falls in China might as well have caused my headache as much as any scientific explanation. 

This is not to say that modern philosophers(which is not surprising given how specialized the field can be) completely ignore the problem, in fact most focus on trying to establish the validity of induction by discrediting terminology and trying to rework induction in science to fit into some kind of epistemologically pleasing set up. However, very rarely do they directly confront the problem of attacking the idea that one moment isn't connected to another logically and that causes and effects are loose and separate.

So quite obviously I consider this a huge problem for Modern Philosophy. This doesn't mean that I consider it to be a correct characterization of causation, in fact I find it to be quite sophistic when considered very closely. When I say sophistic, I mean that it seems prima facie to be correct but is really quite incorrect. However, I should that accepting Humean assumptions, it is very coherent. Coherence, however, is not the sole marker of truth, correspondence must be considered. I would also note that many do (implicitly) accept event causation within their philosophy.

That is, it is based on a certain historical position critiquing that movement but if we consider the broader range of views regarding causation, it seems to fall flat. So while I find it to be parasitic on Analytic Philosophy per se, I do not find it to be particularly compelling given alternate views of causation.

An Exploration of Causation 

In accordance with the principle of charity, I want to be clear on what I am critiquing. I am critiquing:

"All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them. They seem conjoined, but never connected. And as we can have no idea of any thing which never appeared to our outward sense or inward sentiment, the necessary conclusion seems to be that we have no idea of connexion or power at all, and that these words are absolutely, without any meaning, when employed either in philosophical reasonings or common life." Hume, Of the Idea of necessary Connexion, Part II, Paragraph I

The first idea that I would like to discuss is that causation can not be characterized properly as some kind of thing(most people do not think this of course but the point of this is to realize that Causation is not easily justified). Hume correctly characterizes causation as not a type of thing that we observe. That is, we never observe a thing called causation. 

Hume than talks about how what we really experience is events. However, Hume says that is not sufficient. This is related to a fallacy known as Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc(After this, therefore because of this), in that if events are simply sequential, then there is no reason to conclude they are intrinsically related. Thus Hume concludes, causality is a habit of the mind rather than real. This would be known as event causation, as opposed to agent causation. 

One thing that Kant Scholars like to point out is that Hume is really fighting the Rationalist notion that the mind mirrors the world. Causation is simply another casualty of the demolition of Rationalist Metaphysics. Unfortunately, even he had to deny he believed his critique(thus emphasizing it's primarily rhetorical effect).

"But allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that that anything might arise without a cause: I only maintain'd, that our Certainty of the Falsehood of that Proposition proceeded neither from Intuition nor Demonstration; but from another Source."

Some people try to use this to disprove the problem, but this is of course as silly as walking to answer Zeno.

Given this event causation, it seems that no two events can ever be plausibly be connected. Thus Science cannot conduct any experiments since prerequisite conditions have no effect on outcomes.  Furthermore, most of our daily interactions seem strange, almost unintelligible.

Many would go onto address Hume(most of them unsuccessfully), most notably Immanuel Kant who derived causation from the power of Consciousness to impose certain characteristics upon the world. Thus starting the Copernican Revolution of Philosophy.

This may make causation seem hopeless to save while keeping the world ontologically/epistemologically separate from the mind. One of the strengths of the Humean critique is that it appeals to the difficulty with justifying causation. Most people simply carry with them certain assumptions and these assumptions make the argument hard to answer.

To answer this critique, we must realize that what we do experience is potentialities being activated. This requires a bit of explanation of causal powers and potentialities. For something to have the potential to do something else, it must be able to do that given some circumstances. This is contrast with actuality which is where something is in a certain way. For example, a block of marble has the potential to be a statue, when it becomes a statue, it is now actually a statue. This is what we call the reduction of potency to act. 

When I observe fire burning something, I derive that fire has some type of causal power when acting upon something else. Similarly, when we observe any type of causal relation, our minds perform an intellection of the participants and derive any formal conclusions.

Hume could critique that we merely observe these events and thus have no grounds for avoiding the objection. As Hume was responding to the Rationalists, who are chiefly influenced by Cartesian Bifurcationism(see Wolfgang Smith's The Quantum Enigma for a great analysis/refutation of Descartes), he seems to make quite a few assumptions about causation inherent to that worldview.

Suffice to say(without going into a lengthy critique of Descartes), Scholastic philosophers do not accept the fallibility of the senses to be sufficient grounds for doubting the intellect's ability to grasp concepts and forms. Further while sense experience is a part of the beginning of the representation, the chief part of intellection is the formal analysis rather than observation via sense experience.

Further, because these powers are metaphysically necessary being derived from potentialities and actualities, the Humean Critique is simply wrongheaded toward Scholastics(and to be fair, he was not chiefly critiquing them). The fundamental problem with the event causation view doesn't simply lie in the metaphysics but also lies in commonsense analysis.

Hume does have a sort-of response to the idea that causation is metaphysically necessary. He essentially appeals to the fact that we can conceive of effects without causes. I can imagine a watermelon appealing on my desk, therefore it must be possible.

There are many problems with this. One could object to the notion that we cannot imagine impossible things. While it is true that I cannot imagine Logically impossible things(like violation of the law of identity), that doesn't mean that cannot imagine metaphysically impossible things. We can know this from Kripke's analysis of Water as H2O(a posteriori analytic). While I can imagine not being H2O, that doesn't mean that Water could not be H2O. Given the metaphysical necessity of Water(by definition) being H2O, we can conclude that we can imagine metaphysically impossible things.

Furthermore, conceivability is not the same as imaginability. While I can imagine that a watermelon could appear for no reason, I cannot conceive that it could happen because if it did happen, I would never believe it. I would never conclude that a Watermelon simply appeared. Instead, I would investigate and try to figure out why or how it happened. G.E.M. Anscombe pointed this out. 

Of course Hume could deny that causation is in fact metaphysical, but this simply begs the question against the Aristotelian. Further, given all the benefits(that is, it has a great degree of explanatory power) and seems to more easily fit into how we experience the world, it seems that event causation would need more justification than agent causation. Nonetheless, ample justification is given for agent causation via Aristotle's writings. 

When someone says that something caused a certain other thing, they are implicitly appealing to agent causation. In fact, it seems rare for someone to say(if we are talking about simple causation) an event caused anything. Furthermore, it seems like we invoke events when explaining a complex cause(instead of, the fire caused high temperatures which caused the skin to heat which caused the burn which caused the blister, we say, being burned caused the blister). While this may be a useful conversation tool to avoid long strings of agent causation, it does not entail that events actually cause things.


Simply put, events don't really cause things, things that have powers do and thus we have a complete view of causation. The Aristotelian/Scholastic explanation of causation best explains and avoids the Humean critique of causation. The Aristotelian simply denies that the Humean assertion that anything could potentially do anything since for the Aristotelian, things are grounded in their own nature thus makes it metaphysically impossible for things to fail to act according to its nature. 

Furthermore, at least with respect to many reformed versions of Empiricism, it contains a considerably lesser degree of ad hocness since it predates the Critique. This all is without considering the other benefits of abandoning event causation with regards to Philosophy of Science. 

There is a reason that such a critique of causation doesn't exist in Scholastic texts. It simply doesn't have any merit on a Scholastic/Aristotelian worldview. Hopefully this was an informative introduction to the Scholastic answer to the Humean challenge. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017