What are some arguments that support the doctrine of divine simplicity?
The doctrine of divine simplicity pertains to the nature of God. The doctrine of divine simplicity develops from natural theology, the study of God through His effects in creation. Reasoning from what we can perceive to what we cannot directly perceive (e.g. the metaphysical), we come to the conclusion that the First Cause of all things must be Purely Actual. This means God causes all things without Himself being caused or changed.
The nature of God as Pure Act is incomprehensible to finite intellects. But we can learn certain things about Him by removing what we know cannot be true. In other words, we can gain knowledge about God by saying what He is not. As Pure Act, God is not composite, not subject to time, not subject to change, and so forth. The doctrine of divine simplicity does not mean that God is 'simple' in a derogatory way. It does not mean He is one-dimensional, or anything of the sort. Rather, the doctrine of divine simplicity upholds a high view of the Divine Essence.
Much has been written on this subject by classical thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas. Prominent contemporary evangelicals, such as Norman Geisler, defend divine simplicity. The Westminster Confession of Faith also upholds this doctrine (2.1). The upshot of discussing the doctrine of divine simplicity is that we can sharpen our understanding as we approach the Scriptures and better divide the word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Is Divine Simplicity Biblical?
As stated above, the doctrine of divine simplicity is drawn from a robust natural theology. This means it's based on sound logical concepts, which anyone can access, even without Scripture. A key question for Christians is whether this position agrees with Bible. While a detailed evaluation is beyond the scope of this article, a solid sketch can be made showing that the doctrine of divine simplicity is indeed biblical.
First, to deny that God is metaphysically simple, or "un-composed," is to maintain the opposite, which is that God is "composed." Those who deny the doctrine of divine simplicity implicitly hold that there could be something outside of God by which He is composed, and therefore God can in principle change in some way so as to acquire properties or attributes. Even if those properties are perfect, or "maximal," then this concept conflicts with God's self-existence and eternality. The Bible tells us God does not change (Malachi 3:6), He is eternal (Psalm 90:2; Romans 1:20; 1 Timothy 1:17), and He is self-existent (Exodus 3:14).
Further, denying the doctrine of divine simplicity actually suggests God is an "instance" of a kind. In other words, if God is "composed," then He is one possible composition of things, and not necessarily unique. This places God and man on the same metaphysical plane, even if they are far apart. In the doctrine of divine simplicity, God is not an instance of a kind. God is 'being' itself; man has 'being' given by God. Opponents of the doctrine of divine simplicity, albeit indirectly, define God somewhat as an example within a "kind"—one possible arrangement among many. And such a concept is only intelligibly applicable to material things, which God is not (John 4:24).
Any instance of a "kind" is necessarily composite; it is "composed." However, anything that is composite requires a cause of its composition. But Genesis 1:1 says that God brought the heavens and the earth into being. This is commonly called creation from nothing (ex nihilo). God creates and sustains all that exists outside of Him, which is anything else that exists or might exist. (Acts 17:28; Hebrews 1:3). The Bible implicitly and explicitly teaches that God is the uncaused-cause of all there is. There can be nothing outside or independent of God; this is precisely what the doctrine of divine simplicity affirms.
First John 4:16 tells us that God is love. This verse speaks to the inspired biblical author's conception of God as more than merely 'a' being having the property of maximal loving-ness. John is describing something beyond human comprehension. God's love utterly surpasses human understanding, we cannot know it completely. But we can know it to the degree appropriate to our nature in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, the God-man.
Common Objections to the doctrine of divine simplicity
A common objection to the doctrine of divine simplicity is that it makes God impersonal. How can the loving God that redeems us be conceived in such a seemingly abstract way? But the doctrine of divine simplicity actually preserves divine personality better than other views. The doctrine of divine simplicity S maintains that attributes found in effects must be in their cause. Thus, the personal traits found in man must be immanently in God (the cause of man) for man to have them.
Another objection to the doctrine of divine simplicity is that it is "unintelligible." This is a sweeping objection, but it attacks the notion of saying, as the doctrine of divine simplicity might hold, that "God is His attributes." The argument is that such a proposition does not make any sense because power, goodness, etc. are not the same thing. Yet, recall that we are talking about the nature of God, which is necessarily going to be a bit beyond limited human minds. The doctrine of divine simplicity is also a negative doctrine, removing attributes God cannot have, which is considerably easier for human minds to grasp than attempting to "add" abstract ideas.
Others object that God reveals Himself in ways that go against DDS, such as the pillar and cloud in Exodus 13:21–22. But none of God's revelation to man contradicts the doctrine of divine simplicity. God's willingness from eternity to reveal Himself in a certain way at a certain time does not represent any intrinsic change to His nature. Some also object to the doctrine of divine simplicity on grounds that it limits God. However, this objection rests on faulty assumptions about God's relation to time and how He acts from eternity. The objection of divine limitation also rests on an incorrect understanding of God's essence and existence. Proponents of the doctrine of divine simplicity hold that God does have an essence, but that His essence just is His existence.
Opponents of the doctrine of divine simplicity typically base their objections on both philosophical and theological grounds. But the doctrine of divine simplicity is able to conceive God's self-revelation without violating His majestic transcendence. Understanding the doctrine of divine simplicity can be challenging, but this does not mean it lacks coherency or biblical agreement. It should also be noted that the doctrine of divine simplicity is developed within a systematic natural theology that binds together several other essential doctrines, such as divine conservation and providence. While it is not an essential aspect of the gospel, or the Christian faith, the doctrine of divine simplicity deserves careful study and consideration.
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