Category: Christianity

Three Simple Arguments for Divine Simplicity

Three Simple Arguments for Divine Simplicity

Here are just three arguments for Divine Simplicity, presented fairly simply, and not to be overly confusing. Most of these arguments are not arguments for theism per se, but arguments to the effect that a theist, particular a Christian, should prefer the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, the thesis God is not composed of parts, physical or metaphysical. Here is the first one we will look at today:

  1. When we praise God, we praise God as God, and only God can be worshiped
  2. If God was composed of parts, when we thank God for manifesting a particular grace upon us (say mercy), we would be praising the property being manifested, which is really distinct from God’s nature
  3. Under this assumption we would not be praising God as God, but the particular property, say mercy
  4. Also under this assumption, we would be praising a particular property not really God, which is not to be done, as only God is to be praised in the sense of worship
  5. Therefore, God is not composed of parts

Now this argument is taken from Pruss’s blog but seems plausible for any adherent to perfect being theology. For only one being can have the property of perfect holiness, and can require you to give up your autonomy to them. Secondly, under Christian theology, it is manifest that only the One True God is the only being to be worshiped. As Revelation 19:10 states

“I fell down before his feet to worship him. He said to me, “Look! Don’t do it! I am a fellow bondservant with you and with your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God, for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy.” –Revelation 19:10

This verse is very telling. For under most denominations within Christianity, Angels are individuals of great praise, in the sense that they follow God. In most denominations, Angel’s are super natural beings of great power, with Catholicism even placing them in a magnificent position within the heavenly hierarchy. For an Angel to deny this praise from Saint John seems tantamount to the claim that only God is worthy of worship, and since all of our prayers should be for the ultimate end of realizing, glorifying, and worshiping God to His fullest, this seems to amount to God’s unique holiness.

Also it is arguable from Scripture that when we praise God we praise God as God, not a particular act that is manifested on us. In the book of Job, Job does not deny God after his family has been taken from Him, knowing that God is God above all. For if Job were to act on a particular attribute manifested, he might not think God is praise worthy. However, Job recognizes that God is God above all. For while Job’s wife states that Job should “curse God and die, Job responds as follows:

You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”-Job 2:10

In all this Job did not sin with his lips. For while the view is defensible that God does not really create evil, Job might have acted on this and thought that God had an essential attribute of evil (being philosophically unsuited for this work) that allowed this to happen. However, Job proceeds to praise God not for a attribute manifested, but because God is God. God is God above the particular act’s that He partakes in and brings about. Now this verse does not seem to be the most plausible candidate here, but one could make a plausibility argument for Divine Simplicity off this.

Second Argument:

  1. God is infinite
  2. It is an analytical truth that the whole is greater than a part, for upon conceiving of what it means to be a part in relation to a whole, one cannot help notice this
  3. If God were composed of parts either his parts would be finite or infinite in quality
  4. If they were finite in quality, how can a whole composed of finite parts amount to an infinite whole?
  5. If the parts were infinite in quality, then the part would not be less than the whole, which is a contradiction in terms
  6. Therefore, God is not composed of parts.

 

Now this argument could be challenged by one arguing the defender equivocating on infinity here. For Scotus (who made this argument) was speaking of an actual infinite in its full sense, while the personalist need only accept the negative definition of it (that it is unlimited). This seems like a plausible escape route, although I do think that any parts that are not essentially a particular thing will by definition not be limited. For the property of a transcendental perfection (say goodness or beauty) mixed with some other property will amount to something akin to a strange admixture, possibly requiring something outside of God to make this particular property intelligible, as the diverse parts present will make God not essentially perfect perhaps entailing something essentially perfect outside of God to make this perfection full, which at that point will make the perfection not a full one in the proper sense, as Joyce argues in his principles of Natural Theology, which we will discuss and cite again later.

The Christian theist will want to accept some definition of divine infinity. For God’s infinite presence and knowledge are things predicated to God all over the Holy Scriptures. In 1 Kings 8:27 Solomon cries “But will God in very deed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens can’t contain you; how much less this house that I have built!“. This shows God’s radical transcendence, that none can contain His excellence, not even a temple of a King actively praised for His wisdom (at least at this point). His perfections are of such a sort that they. For we are bound spatially, bound by what we are but God is not. In Psalm 147:5 the Psalmist states “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power. His understanding is infinite.”. Here we can see that God’s wisdom is of such a Supreme sort that it is not the least bit weak like the corrupted faculties possessed by us, but full and complete. For these attributes alone make obvious the infinite perfections permeating our Lord, ones that should be praised at all costs, and not limited like the creation He is distinct from.

Argument 3:

  1. God is perfect
  2. Some parts are real
  3. If God is perfect He would have the property of Aseity and Ultimate Explanation, as Aseity is not the sort of thing that has any intrinsic principle of limit, or sign of imperfection, hence implying a radical independence
  4. One can only have Aseity if one is not composed of parts, for parts are prior to the whole and the whole is dependent on the parts
  5. Therefore God is not composed of parts

Now premise 2 is obviously up for debate, but we can alleviate this perhaps by a concern that GH Joyce raised in his Principles of Natural Theology. For anyone who thinks that annihilation is an objective power of God, and that God can bring out of existence spiritual creatures like Angels and Subsistent Souls should admit the real distinction of essence and existence. For destruction in relatively simple creatures like Angels is of a entirely different variety than the events of decay and procession in the physical world. While physical changes amount to a mere shift in substance, like say the dispursing of paper when it is shredded (whether this is a substantial change is not really relevant), the removal of being from an intellectual agent has to be of an entirely different sort. Anyone who admits this power is truly available to God, that it is a real conceivable state of affairs, and that anything possible is befitting of God’s Power, ought to consider at least these two parts (essence and existence) as viable considerations. The annihilationist who thinks all the more that God actually will remove the lost souls from reality at judgement day should especially think it plausible that some real parts exist. 

It is also very befitting to predicate of God the status as Ultimate Explanation for all things and the title of Ase, since A. it has no signs of being imperfect B. It passes all the criterion of Perfect Being theology. God is the Greatest Conceivable Being, and being a Necessary being, can not in principle be contingent on any things that are prior to Him. Since parts are prior to their instantiation to the whole in which they inhere it is very clear why God, being the First Principle, is a reality repugnant to composition. Therefore, God isn’t composed of parts.

Now I think it is more than obvious through the scriptures that God is presented as perfect, but here are a few obvious examples. When Jesus preaches the Sermon on the mount He ends it with the monumental lines “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”- Matthew 5:48. While our Lord was not saying this in the full metaphysical sense, it does mean that our God is beyond reproach, and not the sort of thing you could place any imperfection on without first looking at its cost. As the Psalmist states in Psalm 18:30 “As for God, his way is perfect. The word of Yahweh is tried. He is a shield to all those who take refuge in him”. Again, while presented in a poetical psalm about God’s justice, scripture presents God as being of an entirely different order, separate from all the imperfections of our world. God’s ways are not limited, nor ill formed, but the fullness of all goodness. From just these two passages, one should assume that God’s perfection is manifest from the scriptures, for one cannot come to an opposite conclusion looking at His revealed word and testimony. He alone is perfect, and we experience this elegance every day, being in the Son. 

So those are three arguments of are unarguable varied in gradation. Some of these might have been weaker than others, but is seems at least plausible to think that one ought to accept Divine Simplicity as at least not being contradictory to the God’s who manifested Himself to men varying from the prophet Zechariah to Saint Paul. To follow up, it  actually seems like a good explanation for certain features of God presented in His word as well. So we should all praise God in His wonderful simplicity, His supreme excellence for allowing us to come to perform such a meditation. For God is so much greater than us, but allows us to work on such big issues, and enjoy the fullness of His being, the same being present to Moses on Mount Sinai, and in our hearts constantly, through His Spirit. Amen

 

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Bennett on the Authorship of the Gospel of Matthew

Bennett on the Authorship of the Gospel of Matthew

{Note for simplicity’s sake, I will mention the account as Matthew’s Gospel, without argument. This does not beg the question though, as this is convertible into a statement about the writer, without any assumption of who wrote it. I am not assuming outright that Matthew wrote it}

In this post, we will be looking at the case made by the 19th. Century Lawyer Edmund H. Bennett for the traditional authorship of Saint Matthew’s Gospel in his work “The Four Gospels from a Lawyer’s Standpoint”. Bennett, using his “judicial apologetic”, tries to make a case for the authorship and reliability of all  four of the Gospels solely by looking through the internal evidence found in various scriptural passages, an obviously ambitious project for one who is not a trained theologian or textual critic. The reason we will focus on the Gospel of Saint Matthew is the strength of the peculiarities cited, with none of the other ones appearing to have equal measure in this regard. For instance, while the case Bennett makes for Saint John’s Gospel is good, there is still a reasonable doubt to its authenticity at the end of it in this authors opinion. However, I am not sure this is the case with Matthew’s account, and strangely, the validity of it is actually strengthened by the external evidence that these documents were transferred anonymously (which we will go into later).  Following Blunt and Paley, making a case self admittedly not his own, Bennett reasons from peculiarities, these “Undesigned Coincidences” that you would expect if Matthew were the author, to traditional authorship of his gospel.

To begin, Bennett opens up the chapter speaking of the sort of evidence required to show genuineness and reliability. He provides anecdotal evidence of a particular event in a Massachusetts town that occurred during the American Revolution. That in this case, simply reasoning about the kind of letter it was and the fact there was not any obvious defeater, allowed him to include it as an event in the town’s history, in spite of him not knowing the authorship, nor the state of any of the people attending the event. He then ventures to argue that the Gospels have such clues, that they have features you would not expect a forger to make, and the external evidence can only strengthen this case. He also argues that contradictions cannot call into doubt the big picture of an event, under the consideration that it appears to be at least trying to record real history. To use this pun further, he cites four particular portraits of George Washington, with each having a particular feature absent from the other, despite being drawn during the same period of the Founding Father’s life. Yet as Bennett states “the same George Washington undoubtedly sat for them all”. Now obviously a skeptic could pin the point that these writers had room to express some freedom with their particular narrative, but as scholars like Craig Evans note, that is exactly how Greco-Roman Histories were recorded, and most of these narratives are considered reliable. The basic facts, even if you do not accept inerrancy, will be there. Bennett want’s to press this point further however, and says that an honest man, an honest eyewitness, will record a generally reliable story. Now the question is whether these were honest men. We will focus on his case for Matthew’s authorship and reliability here.

Bennett starts by noting specific stories that only Matthew’s Gospel records, the Temple Tax in Capernaum being the first one mentioned. Why is this notable, and something that only Matthew would in all probability have a keen eye remembering? It could very plausibly be due to his occupation as a tax collector. Now obviously one could say that this is simply a coincidence, but she has to remember that this is a cumulative case. Matthew, obviously being dedicated to this occupation, would write with a bit of a tainted lens, one which would incline him to write this particular feature. Bennett’s next point is admittedly less plausible, which is to note Saint Matthew’s Gospel is the only one to describe the event of the Jewish authorities sealing the tomb. Now Bennett reasons from this that this is what we expect if Matthew was the author, since Jews, under heavy taxation, would obviously try at all costs to secure their particular worldly goods. While this is probably a fact you would expect Matthew to focus on (since he would have to go through this stuff to get the money), it does not seem like this needs to be explained by traditional authorship. This does not seem like enough in and of itself to constitute moral certainty, because it is not even related to money. Bennett moves his focus from this point on to certain features, and writing choices Matthew makes.

Firstly, Bennett notes that Matthew records himself last in the traditional dual grouping of the Disciples, something you would expect an honest man to do, and something which the other writers, noting Matthew’s special significance, do not do. Luke, for example, in both of his recording’s of the duo’s, states the group Matthew was in as “Matthew and Thomas”. Now the writer of Matthew, with utter humility, does the opposite of this and mentions Matthew last, plausibly out of humbleness, and something you would expect a writer recording himself in a third person manner would do. Hence, in contrast to the other Gospels, it is recorded “Thomas and Matthew”. This fact is actually strengthened as an explanation for traditional authorship by the supposed anonymous transfer of these documents, because a forger would have no incentive to add this feature. Bennett, not seeking to stop there, forcibly makes the case that traditional authorship offers so much more explanatory power than other accounts, particularly from the writer’s humbleness and simplicity. Proceeding, Bennett argues from the fact that Matthew’s account included the occupation of Matthew in this aforementioned listing, alone among the Gospel’s to note this exclusively in a way not strictly narrative in nature. He thinks this solid evidence for as Bennett says “simplicity and truth”, in the Gospel attributed to Matthew. Matthew, being a tax collector, would obviously have a high degree of “odious”ness surrounding himself. Being a tax collector was never a job for a person who is universally loved by the people, and it most certainly could not have been during the Roman occupation of Judea.  None of the other Gospel’s mention his occupation outside of the initial narrative and the feast (which we will speak of soon), probably due to respect for his position, and this is quite fitting. The author however in Matt. 10:3 states “Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;”, which is unarguably something a person writing a list which he is included in would do, and appears to work quite better with the traditional view. The simple account is that Matthew was recording the truth, and in such a way that would be expected of him if he did write it. The author of the Gospel singles out only two particular peculiarities in his full listing of the Disciples, noting the often derided status of Simon being a Zealot, and Judas, who betrayed Christ. The writer, naming himself among these figures, would both display the reliability of the account, along with its authenticity. For it is quite odd that while he notes Matthew’s closeness with Thomas (who he easily could have pinned for doubting Jesus, to make this symmetrical) , the author groups both Simon and Judas together, something odd if, say Simon wrote this account (since obviously Judas could not have written it).

The last argument for Matthew’s reliability and authenticity Bennett makes is by noting how Matthew’s account of the Feast among Tax collectors is unusually bare compared to Saint Mark’s and Saint Luke’s accounts. He notes how Luke records that the feast occurs in  Matthew’s house rather emphatically in Luke 5:29,  stating not just that the house was Matthews but that the feast was made by Matthew as well, a stupendous one at that.  “Levi (Matthew) made a great feast for him in his house. There was a great crowd of tax collectors and others who were reclining with them” exemplifies the fantastic description of Luke’s account. Matthew, being a key disciple, one who had contact with Paul, was quite well known and hence would receive some glorification. However, Matthew’s own account on the subject is quite less strong  in Matt 9:15: “As he sat in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples“. Notice none of the virtuous actions are attributed to Matthew, like the making of the feast, plus the ownership of the housing is predicated of no one. Matthew’s account of this verse is important in two ways: 1. The humbleness here seems to be something that a writer would do, particularly one who was changed morally, and who followed the commands of his Lord. You would expect a barer description of this would be absent if this was copied straight out of Mark without any additions 2. This statement seems rather off the cuff, something one would say if the acquaintance they have with the subject is second nature. Rather than stating that it is Matthew’s  house, and not wanting to shift into a first person account, the author simply omits the possessiveness here. This seems most reasonable under the consideration that this is good history, one that is self consistent and matches up with predictions you would make if this was written by Saint Matthew.

Now one might contest that even having Matthew as an explanation is contrived, and I seem to be begging the question at times by saying that this is what we should expect if Matthew wrote it. The beginning note was important here, because I am simply arguing under the assumption Matthew wrote it, and moving from there. This is a cumulative case. I think an argument such as this, combined with the limited amount of argument about its authenticity in the early church (with contesting not foreign, take Hebrews for example), seems rather plausible, to the point I feel it can lead to moral certitude. Of course some of the examples are stronger than others, but given the assumption that it is at least plausible, if perhaps probable Saint Matthew was the author, plus the fact that we do have these internal evidences which comport best under this assumption, we are warranted in holding to traditional authorship. This is simply a proper abductive inference.

Overall, while the veracity of the examples of the internal evidence concerning the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel varied, it seems more plausible than not in light of them to conclude that it is a genuine and authentic account. Why would one not, when presented evidence comporting with an explanation so well, in the absense of an equally sound competing explanation, follow the evidence where it leads? It seems in this case, we have just that, and hence, traditional authorship can be vindicated just by looking at the Scriptures

All Citations from the Bible

Bennett’s work is in the Public Domain