Simply Impossible: A Case against Divine Simplicity

in Journal of Reformed Theology
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Within contemporary philosophical theology the doctrine of divine simplicity has regained attention.1 The pertinent literature has increased by several new defenses of the doctrine.2 One of the more surprising, and troubling, aspects of the contemporary defenses amongst Christian philosophers and theologians is a seeming lack of understanding about how radical the doctrine of divine simplicity truly is. As such, I wish to do a few things in this paper. First, systematically articulate the doctrine of divine simplicity. Second, argue that divine simplicity is not a possible perfection. Third, offer some concluding remarks and highlight remaining issues that will need to be sorted out for the debate over simplicity to meaningfully continue.

Simply Impossible: A Case against Divine Simplicity

in Journal of Reformed Theology




Jeffrey Brower‘Making Sense of Divine Simplicity,’ in Faith and Philosophy 25 (2008). Stephen Holmes ‘Something Much too Plain to Say: Towards a Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity’ NZSTH 43 (2001). Christopher Franks ‘The Simplicity of the Living God: Aquinas Barth and Some Philosophers’ Modern Theology 21 (2005). James E. Dolezal God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers 2011).


Nicholas WolterstorffInquiring About God: Selected Essays (New York: Cambridge University Press2010) 153.


DolezalGod Without Parts31.


  Kevin Timpe‘Truth Making and Divine Eternity’Religious Studies 43 (2007) 299. Eleonore Stump Aquinas (New York: Routledge 2003) 96-7. Jeffrey E. Brower ‘Simplicity and Aseity’ in eds. Thomas P. Flint and Michael C. Rea The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology (New York: Oxford University Press 2009) 105. Brian Davies ‘Simplicity’ in eds. Charles Taliaferro and Chad Meister The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press 2010) 37-40.


Richard CrossDuns Scotus on God (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing2005) 108-9. John F. Wipple ‘Metaphysics’ in ed. Norman Kreztmann and Eleonore Stump The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1993). Scott MacDonlad ‘The Divine Nature’ in ed. Eleonore Stump and Norman Kreztmann The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001).


See Robert PasnauMetaphysical Themes: 1274-1689 (London: Oxford University Press2011) chapter 18. Also Richard Cross Duns Scotus on God 122.


See‘Absolute Simplicity,’ 369, and their ‘Simplicity Made Plainer,’ Faith and Philosophy 4 (1987). For a critique of their move see Katherin Rogers ‘The Traditional Doctrine of Divine Simplicity’ Religious Studies 32 (1996).


StockA Stock of Divine Knowledge being a lively description of the divine nature (London: T.H. for Philip Nevil1641) 88.


RogersPerfect Being Theology27. The types of objections she has in mind come from Alvin Plantinga and Thomas Morris. Alvin Planinga Does God Have a Nature? (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press 1980).Thomas Morris Anselmian Explorations: Essays in Philosophical Theology (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press 1987).


John FeinbergNo One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway Books2001) 327-29.


Nicholas WolterstorffInquiring About God108.


Rogers‘The Traditional Doctrine of Divine Simplicity’165.


Katherin RogersPerfect Being Theology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press2000) 2. Cf. Augustine On Christian Doctrine I.7.


RichardsThe Untamed God33.


Brower‘Simplicity and Aseity,’ Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology107.


DolezalGod Without Parts30. Throughout his book he seems to have this assumption that one must hold either divine simplicity or fall into Platonism.


Klaas J. Kraay‘Theism and Modal Collapse,’ American Philosophical Quaterly 48 (2011).


DolezalGod Without Parts205-6. Rogers The Anselmian Approach to God and Creation (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press 1997) 54 and 68-9 Perfect Being Theology 33-6. However in personal correspondence Rogers has stated that she recognizes the problem and would like to figure out a way to avoid a modal collapse.


John Webster‘Trinity and Creation,’ International Journal of Systematic Theology 12 (2010) 12.


RogersPerfect Being Theology37.


Michael J. DoddsThe Unchanging God of Love: Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Theology on Divine Immutability 2nd Edition (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press2008) 175-80. Oddly Dodds claims that such counterfactual thinking has no place in theology after he articulates and endorses the medieval modal distinction between absolute and conditional necessity. If Dodds can use modality in theology then so can I.


Richard CrossThe Metaphysics of the Incarnation: Thomas Aquinas to Duns Scotus (Oxford: Oxford University Press2002) 179.


Thomas McCall and Keith Yandell‘On Trinitarian Subordinationism’ in Philosophia Christi 11:2 (2009).


G.R. EvansPhilosophy and Theology in the Middle Ages (London: Routledge1993) 60.


John Duns ScotusDe Primo Principio143-5. Also Richard Stock A Stock of Divine Knowledge 86.


For more on this see Thomas Senor‘The Compositional Account of the Incarnation’ Faith and Philosophy 24 (2007). Also Anna Marmodoro and Jonathan Hill (eds) The Metaphysics of the Incarnation (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011).


Rogers‘The Traditional Doctrine of Divine Simplicity’172.


Gregory of NazianzusThe Theological Orations3.6.


Brian Leftow‘Is God an Abstract Object?’ Nous 24 (1990): 581-598and ‘Divine Simplicity’ Faith and Philosophy 23 (2006): 365-380.


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