Book Review: God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness by James Dolezal.

God without Parts review by James Anderson

I remember the incredulity with which, as a young Christian, I first greeted the claim that God is a “simple” being. God is simple?! What in the world could be more complicated than God? How could the Lord whose ways are far beyond our ways be considered simple? The incredulity was dispelled once I learned that “simple” is a technical philosophical term meaning “not composed of parts.” The doctrine of divine simplicity is thus the teaching that God, unlike his creation, is not composed of parts. God isn’t “made up” of entities that are more fundamental or ultimate than he is. Rather, God is an absolutely unified, indivisible, spiritual being. In short, there’s nothing in God that isn’t identical to God.

Thus explained, the idea of God’s simplicity seems more reasonable and appealing. Yet many Christian philosophers today treat the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS) with almost the same degree of incredulity as I once did. They do so not because they don’t understand what it means, but because they’re confident that they dounderstand what it means. For example, they will argue that if DDS is true then God’s attributes—his goodness, power, knowledge, and so on—cannot be external to him or internal parts of him. In other words, God’s attributes must be identical to God: God just is his own goodness, power, knowledge, etc. But it isn’t immediately clear how to make sense of such a claim. Moreover, if God’s attributes are taken to be properties and if God is identical to his attributes, it follows that all God’s attributes must be one and the same property—and that property must be God. So according to DDS, God is a property. But how could a property be a person? How could a property create the world or speak to Abraham or become incarnate and make atonement for our sins?

Such deductions explain why DDS, which was practically a nonnegotiable of medieval theology, has fallen on hard times. Into this contemporary theological context steps James E. Dolezal with a penetrating book-length defense of the doctrine of divine simplicity.

The central thesis of God without Parts can be stated fairly succinctly. If God is truly an absolute being (i.e., if God is utterly self-existent, independent of and unqualified by any other reality), then DDS must be true. Furthermore, DDS can be defended against many of the common objections leveled against it, most of which fail to understand its claims and theological motivations. Even if some serious perplexities remain, that’s an acceptable philosophical price for maintaining God’s absolute existence. To put the point somewhat paradoxically: if DDS is false, God is less than God. …

read Anderson’s  full post HERE

Book Review: Christian-theistic Evidences by Corneilus Van Til

Christian-theistic Evidences review by Mike Robinson

ImageThere’s an old saying about knowing what is true: Seeing is believing; I will not believe it unless I see it with my own eyes! There are many variations on that theme from empiricism. On a college campus, I heard a more pretentious demand: “If God exists, He should show Himself to me and do a spectacular miracle. Then I will believe!”
But in Christian Theistic Evidences, the titan of presuppositional apologetics Cornelius Van Til refutes empiricism and offers a view that not only affirms evidences, but supplies the proper epistemic framework to account for and interpret evidence and facts.

Van Til opens: “Evidence is a subdivision of apologetics … and is the vindication of Christian theism (CT). … CT must be defended against non-theistic science. It is this that we must seek to do in the course of Christian evidences” (p. i). He goes on to contend that “we believe the facts of the universe are unaccounted for except upon the basis of CT. In other words, facts and interpretation of facts cannot be separated. It is impossible to discuss any particular fact except in relation to some principle of interpretation.

The real question about facts is, therefore, what kind of universal can give the best account to the facts. Or rather, the real question is which universal can state or give meaning to any fact” (p. i). “We hold that there is only one true such universal, namely, the God of Christianity. Consequently, we hold that without the presupposition of the God of Christianity we cannot even interpret one fact correctly” (p. ii). Facts are important but brute facts are unintelligible.

One must have the ontic foundation of the Triune God to furnish the immutable universals to give meaning to any fact. Van Til argues that the “chief battle between Christianity and science is not about a large number of individual facts, but about the principles that control science in its work” (p. iii). Can a materialistic view of science posit the pre-essentials for the epistemic tools to do science (immaterial changeless universals)? It’s not possible. Only CT can furnish these a priori necessities such as moral law and the laws of logic which are required to implement the scientific method.

Later Van Til unleashes Hume’s skepticism to refute Butler and other empirical minded apologists. Van Til doesn’t reject facts and evidence, he only exposes the weakness of apologists who press brute facts without the web of Christian presuppositions and principles required to discover, analyze, and apply evidence.

Hume, on the ground of empiricism, proves one cannot know the future from the past (p. 21). Hume argues against the validity of Induction, yet this epistemic club can be turned against Hume. How does Hume, within his empirical worldview (WV), know that the language and its meaning he uses are going to be the same in the future as with the past? How does he know that the logic he directs against Induction (and other notions he disputes) in the future will be like the past? How does he know, under his WV, he will be the same person in the future as the past? He doesn’t. And the future can be as little as ten minutes or even one minute. Hume not only refutes all non-CT WV’s, he stultifies himself. Hume’s skepticism can be used like a hammer against atheism, empiricism, materialism, and naturalism, but it can also be employed against Hume. Hume just takes the future of math, logic, sense impressions, personhood, etc. for granted as he borrows CT’s epistemic tools. Only CT can stand up against such epistemic hammer blows.

Not only that, CT alone furnishes the epistemic environment to make the discussion intelligible. “Every fact and every law in the created universe continues to exist by virtue of the providence of God” (p. 55). “The Bible is the absolute authority by which we seek to interpret life” (p. 53). All facts require the rational pre-essentials that only the principles and framework of CT can furnish. Find and examine any fact anywhere and this process requires that which only God can supply: immaterial unchanging universals. A fact is what it is: a=a (the logical law of identity); furthermore this true fact ought to be held as true: this requires the moral law forbidding lying. These nonmaterial immutable universals are required to process and interpret any fact and only CT can furnish the ontic foundation for them.

see my Presup. apologetic books:

God Does Exist!: Defending the Faith using Presuppositional Apologetics, Evidence, and the Impossibility of the Contrary

or my new eBook Reality and the Folly of Atheism HERE

James Anderson: Paradox and Christian Theology a book Review

Paradox and Christian Theology Review by Mike Robinson

Logician Frege was felled by it (Mathematics erected upon pure logic). Russell’s Magnus Opus was made obsolete almost before it was printed (set theory). Modern Quantum Mechanics was struck by it (light simultaneously as wave and particle). Theologians have tried to rationally circumvent it (two natures one person). By what? Paradox! And in Paradox In Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status, James Anderson elegantly discusses essential doctrines of Christianity that are paradoxical, but retain epistemic warrant (resembling Plantinga’s application of the term warrant).

“I confess that I can make neither head nor tail of it. Don’t you think that you have kept up your mystery long enough, Mr. Holmes?” “Certainly, colonel, you shall know everything” (Arthur Conan Doyle).

Anderson cogently establishes that the doctrine of the Trinity, Incarnation, and the crucifixion of God’s Son are not essentially contradictory, but apparently appear epistemically incongruent. Among the many exceptional chapters are:

• The problem of paradox (in Christian theology)
• The paradox of the Trinity (Nicea, Modalism, Post-Nicene Fathers, and more)
• The paradox in the Incarnation (Chalcedon, Post-Chalcedonian)
• Responding to Paradox
• Warranted Christian Doctrines
• A Model for the rational affirmation of paradoxical theology
• The model defended & other outstanding apologetic, epistemological, and theological material.

Anderson observes: “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand'” (Luke 8:10).

Anderson seems to draw upon Cornelius Van Til’s notion of Paradox (p. 4), nonetheless Van Til is noted only one lone occasion in the Index (3 X in the Bibliography) as John Frame (1 x in the Bibliography) and Greg Bahnsen are entirely absent in the Index. However there is an abundant use of Alston, Plantinga, and Aquinas (this is not a criticism, just pertinent information to assist the reader). Anderson makes the important point that many of those who advocate the possibility of paradox in Christian theology do not address “in any depth the prior question of what constitutes rationality: what is required for belief to be judged ‘rational’ and whether adherence to paradoxical doctrines can ever meet the relevant epistemic requirements” (p. 5). This historical deficiency is of utmost importance if one aspires to present an epistemic ground to affirm or reject the notion of paradox in theology. Professor Anderson takes great care to define his employment of the term paradox as “synonymous with apparent contradiction. A ‘paradox’ thus amounts to a set of claims which taken in conjunction appear to be logically inconsistent. Note that according to this definition, paradoxicality does not entail logical inconsistency” (p. 6). He adds “we are not positing an exception to the laws of logic, but merely acknowledging an element of imprecision in our systematic comprehension of data” (p. 276).

The author strives to answer two key questions relating paradox to theology:

1. “Are any essential Christian doctrines genuinely paradoxical?”
2. “Can a person rationally believe a paradoxical doctrine?” (p. 6).

Anderson answers in the affirmative on both questions with the caveat that this does not necessitate logical inconsistency. The good professor adds: “Only divine revelation has the epistemic authority to ‘trump’ our natural intuitions about what is metaphysically possible and what is not” (p. 266). This work has an exceedingly technical aspect suffused within, yet the author writes in a style that makes this work accessible to the budding apologist and many who lack training in epistemology or theology. It covers weighty concepts that most philosophers deliver solely to academicians, but herein Anderson’s exposition is precise and well delineated forasmuch as he defines numerous complex terms as the pages are unfurled (great for upper high school and college).

This is an excellent work on a crucial topic that most theologians avoid or sweep under their epistemic shag carpet (John Frame and Van Til endowed the church with fine work on the reality of Paradox in theology).

“By which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4).

Paradox in Christian Theology is commanding, wide-ranging, accurate, and encumbered with powerful apologetic and theological argumentation; an indispensable addition to the library of all apologists, ministers, philosophers, informed students, and epistemologists.

Clarkian W. Gary Crampton wrote an unfavorable review of Anderson’s book, however his charges do not take into account that which Anderson has clearly written. There are a couple of problems with Crampton’s objection of Anderson’s use of the concept of Paradox. Anderson responds to Crampton’s spurious assault: “Since my book defines a paradox as “an apparent contradiction” it certainly follows that there is a subjective element to paradox. Appearances, in the nature of the case, are always appearances to someone (i.e., a conscious subject). Does it follow that the issue of whether there are theological paradoxes is “totally subjective”? Not at all. One might as well argue that the issue of whether the sky appears blue is “totally subjective”. Subjectivity does not entail subjectivism. Furthermore, I don’t claim that the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation have not been “reconciled before the bar of someone’s human reason.” What I do claim is that no Christian theologian or philosopher to date (Gordon Clark included) has offered precise and intelligible formulations of those doctrines that are both biblically orthodox and free from any apparent logical difficulties. I don’t rule out that some bright mind will one day come up with such formulations—and I’d be among the first to celebrate that accomplishment—but our track record thus far suggests that we ought to temper our expectations” (A Response to W. Gary Crampton’s Review, p. 11).

Anderson adjoins: “I believe it’s clear from Dr. Crampton’s review that his presuppositions are not well supported by the Bible. (If they were, it wouldn’t be so difficult for him to find biblical support for them without having to press-gang verses into doing philosophical work that goes far beyond their contextual meaning.) The fact is that the Bible doesn’t directly address the question of whether or not biblical doctrines could present to us as paradoxical. It seems the only way to answer that question is to consider the biblical doctrines themselves, to see whether they really are susceptible to formulations that avoid paradox without distorting what the Bible actually says (e.g., about God’s triunity or Christ’s divinity and humanity)” [Response p. 16].

In contrast to Crampton’s unfounded critical review, the always bright and erudite scholar Paul Helm wrote in his review of Anderson’s book(Helm’s Deep: Paradox and Mystery): “Anderson has written is a book of great importance to those concerned both with the relation of Christian theology to reason, and with the question of the reasonableness of Christian belief. In the first half of the book he raises questions about doctrinal coherence, and in the second half he raises how deep our understanding of the mysteries of the faith can hope to be, and whether it is reasonable to believe what we cannot understand. Anderson has admirable contributions to each of these areas. His treatments of the questions are thorough and clear, with a good theological grasp and a philosophical mind” (Helm’s Deep, Paradox and Mystery, p. 1).

“Anderson is chiefly concerned with what are usually called the mysteries of our faith, with what he calls paradoxes. He understands paradoxes to be sets of statements that are apparently contradictory. (The way that the author ties ‘mystery’ to the test of logic, and does not treat it as a hold-all for any theological difficulty, is excellent)” [Paradox and Mystery, p. 2).

“There is much to learn and to ponder from Anderson’s book” (P & M, p. 3).

also see my Innovative book that utilizes  new Apologetic Research: Truth, Knowledge and the Reason for God HERE