Book Plunge: All That is in God

What do I think about James Dolezal’s book published by Reformation Heritage? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

James Dolezal could be the leading voice in Protestantism on the simplicity of  God and how important it is. What is striking about all of this is that you have someone here saying how important this is and the majority of Protestants I fear have no idea what simplicity is. If you go to most of them and say God is simple, they will be thinking you are talking about God being an easy concept to understand, such as saying 2 + 2 = 4 or something of that sort.

That is not at all what is meant. Dolezal says it is the underlying and inviolable conviction that God does not derive any aspect of His being from outside Himself and is not in any way caused to be. Ultimately, all that is in God, is God. He has no parts. He is not composed. No one puts God together.

Sometimes, some people think that this means that God has no physical body. That is important, to be sure, but that is not the main emphasis of simplicity. It goes beyond that. It means you cannot alter God in anyway and that God does not change and that He is not a composite being at all even in His attributes. God does not have love, for example. God IS love.

Dolezal’s main interaction in the book is with a side of theistic mutualism whereby it is said that God needs to have what is called a real relationship with us or else it isn’t real. God has to be able to experience our love in a sort of real-time scenario and be able to experience rejection from us. Our love has to affect God in some way.

The problem is that classical theism, as especially emphasized in Aquinas, held that God was loving already and the source of joy and that we should pray to Him and seek His blessings. Mutualism has not given us anything new. It has instead taken something away.

Too often, the idea starts out with “Well, I’m a person and this is how I function and God is like that.” God is not like us. He is not like us in anyway. This is putting the cart before the horse. It’s like saying the Mona Lisa is like the copy of the Mona Lisa. No. The copy is like the original. The original is the standard. It is not that God is like us. It is that we are to be like Him.

Consider that Scripture says He’s the Father from whom all fatherhood comes. If someone is a father, it is not that they are a father and God is like that. It’s that God is a Father and they are something like that.

When Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologica on the doctrine of God, he first established that God exists. After that, he went on to describe God and the first doctrine he started with was simplicity. Why? Because if you don’t do that, then all the attributes that are described are seen as parts of God and God is a composite being.

But isn’t God a composite being? What about the Trinity?! It’s odd that today, we say, how can the doctrine of simplicity work with the Trinity? For the early church, it was the opposite. How does the doctrine of the Trinity work with simplicity? When Nicea took place, no one disagreed with simplicity or questioned it. What was questioned was the person of Jesus.

Without simplicity, one statement you can see is that each person is part of God, which is denying the great creeds that indicate that each person is fully God. There is no division of the substance. If there is no simplicity, how is it that God is one also? Why not tritheism?

There is plenty in this book to chew on and I will be pondering it more. If anyone wants to learn about simplicity, I really urge them to read this book. If there was anything I would like more on, it would have been the way this works with the incarnation. It’s not that the Son took on a body, but it does look like an entering into time at one specific point.

However, while God is simple, theology rarely is. We cannot comprehend fully any aspect of the doctrine of God. We can only apprehend. I can say reading this book did leave me in more awe of who God is, something I am sure Dolezal would be pleased with.

Another note along those lines though is that this book is very much Calvinistic. I would have liked to have seen it stated that this is not a Calvinist doctrine, but a Christian one. I do not consider myself Calvinist at all and I hold definitely to simplicity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Can God Care Without Emotions?

If God doesn’t have emotions, can He care about you and me? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I was browsing Facebook and I saw someone make a post asking how God can care about us if He has no emotions? This idea has been known as impassibility where God has no emotions. It has been the teaching of Christians, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, up until around the 1800’s.

If you want to respond and say “But look at this text where it says God was moved with compassion or was angry or XYZ!”, then I will tell you “Look at this text where it talks about the hand of God or the eyes of the Lord or any other number of bodily references? Most of us know that those bodily references are not to a real physical body, but they are describing God in ways we can understand. I do the same with the passages about emotions.

How about Jesus? Jesus had emotions in the text! Surely you’re not suggesting that those are just figures of speech are you?

Not at all! Jesus definitely has emotions and had them in his earthly journey and I contend He still has them today. However, if you want to say that means God has emotions, then you have the same problem again. Jesus still has a body and if you want to go this route, then you need to say that God has a body as well. If you want to say because of Jesus, God has emotions, but not a body, then you’re just picking and choosing.

Yet the question still remains. If we accept this, how can we say God cares about us or God loves us? It sounds like a difficult question until we do consider that we regularly do the same thing without emotions.

If you are married and think that the degree to which you love your spouse is dependent on your emotions, then you are going to be in for a hard time. There could be times you have a great degree of negative emotions towards them, such as in an argument, and when you do, you can still say that you love them. When you make a promise to love until death do you part, you do not make a promise to have an emotion. No one can make themselves have an emotion or else we would all make ourselves happy all the time. We can make ourselves act, even when a part of us doesn’t want to. Many of us do that when we get out of bed in the morning.

Too often, we start this also with ourselves. “When I have love, I can have emotion. Why not God?” It’s a mistake to look at us and say “God is like that.” God is not really like anything at all. As Scripture says “To whom can you compare me?” No one. It is really that we are like God. God is said to be the Father from whom all fatherhood comes. It’s not that a man can say “I am a father and I can see God is like that.” It’s really “God is a Father, and I am somewhat like Him.”

God loves us and God cares for us and that is not because He has an emotion, but because that is who He is. God is not loving, but rather God is love. God does not act and then develop an emotion, as if He was a changeable being in time. God consistently acts out of His nature.

We can say all day long “I don’t understand how that works,” but why should that matter? We can go to our churches and say that we believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Is anyone going to stand up and say that you understand entirely how that works? If we think we understand God, then we have a really small God, hardly one worthy of worship.

Also, if one wants to question impassibility and simplicity and other doctrines, that is fine, but we have to ask why. If there is a consistent line that goes from the early church to modern times accepted by all three branches, what did we discover that they did not know? Before we take down a fence, we should see why it was put up in the first place.

God can have love towards us and have compassion towards us without emotion. Is that hard for me to understand? Of course, but what of God is easy to understand?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Simplicity and The Trinity

Can God be simple and triune? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When talking about simplicity, I have said that God has no parts. This means that you cannot put A and B and C together and get God. There isn’t anything you can take away from God. We could say that what God is, He is that one something.

As Christians, we certainly don’t want to deny the Trinity. I think the evidence for that is overwhelming. However, while many of us, especially in the Protestant tradition, are good at making the Scriptural case for the Trinity, we sadly don’t often seem to go beyond that to the theology of the Trinity and how that would work with doctrines like simplicity. (Never mind your average churchgoer has never even heard of it.)

Something that we also have to avoid is tri-theism. When we talk about the three persons in God sharing one nature, we don’t mean it like having three different humans together and all those humans share human nature. That is true, but they also don’t exist in a relationship such that they’re bound up with one another. Even if you took a family of three persons, the family can still be separated.

In the Trinity, all the persons subsist within one another. They only differ by their relationship. The Father is the one who begets, the Son the one who is begotten, and the Spirit the one who proceeds. (I know Catholic and Orthodox both disagree on whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son, but all agree He proceeds)

Because of this, we can say one of the aspects of God’s very nature is Trinity. However, the three persons of the Trinity are not three parts put together. If somehow the Son was gone, would we say we only have 66.6% of God left and He has to make up for the lack somehow? Such would imply that each person has their own exist apart from the other and when we get to that, we have tri-theism going on.

The difficulty for us here is that we can’t think of anything else in existence like this, but this should not be a shock. If God is real, why should we expect Him to be like us in this way? Too often, the view of God in modern dialogue is often God who is a superhero.

What do I mean by a superhero God? God is not a being who is not radically different from us, but He is like us except a lot more powerful, smarter, bigger, etc. Take a human and power him up enough and eventually you get to God, which is ironically what the Mormons have. God is also an agent who plays by our rules. God is a being who has to live by the same moral principles we do, as if God were subject to morality.

On that point, let’s be clear that what God does is good, but we cannot say it is moral as if God has an obligation to do something for us. God by virtue of being God and the ground of all being can do things that we cannot. Hence, one of the first questions I ask an atheist in this kind of dialogue is “Who does God owe life to?” The only obligations God has to us are those He has promised to us.”

God is not a superhero. God is someone different from us radically. We have lost often in the church this kind of deep theology. Many of us are ready to get the Trinity off of the bookshelves when it comes time to debate Jehovah’s Witnesses, but then we don’t really think about the doctrine outside of that.

So why do I hold to simplicity and the Trinity? Because the other options lower God and I just prefer to say God has existence (Or rather is existence as that is His nature) in a way greater than I realize and that way is triune. The other options are heretical in some way such as tri-theism, unitarianism, or modalism.

I plan to from here on look at other attributes of God and why they matter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Sense and Goodness Without God Part 4

Does metaphysical naturalism account for the existing of the universe? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re continuing our review of Sense and Goodness Without God (SGWG) by Richard Carrier and we’re on the chapter about the nature and origin of the universe. I wish to give a caveat right at the start of this chapter.

I have made it a point to not talk about science as science. Why? Simple reason. I am not a scientist. I do not like Richard Dawkins and others speaking on theology, philosophy, history, Biblical interpretation, etc. without showing they’ve done any serious study on the matter. I, in like suit, will not comment on science as science.

Does that mean I don’t have opinions? Of course I do, but my opinions are not authoritative in any way on that issue. For instance, I do hold that the Earth goes around the sun, but I could not begin to tell you a reason why other than that seems to be the accepted position. Now I do enjoy commenting on the history of science, but for the science itself, no. I leave that to scientists.

Therefore, when it comes to the scientific theories discussed in this chapter, insofar as they are scientific, I will not be saying anything. Now when these questions do get to something I have studied, I will comment. At the outset, I can say that if Carrier wants a multiverse or an eternal universe or some combination thereof, I would be willing to grant any of those. They don’t damage my theism or the case for the resurrection.

Also, I can say that I am somewhat skeptical of the ID movement. I have a problem with scientific arguments for theism in general in that they tend to be more inductive than anything else and frankly, most of us don’t know the language. It also has us often implicitly buying into the idea that science is the highest field of knowledge. It is a great one. It is an important one. It is not the only one.

And as for evolution, which will be discussed later, I have no opinion either. I will even grant macroevolution just for the sake of argument because I could not make any argument pro or con in regards to that. I do not doubt it’s an important question, but one cannot have the time to study all important questions. I have chosen my field and I will stick with it.

Anyway, on page 71, Carrier makes a statement about what would be the case of the most plausible theory.

“So after meeting the criteria of plausibility, the most plausible explanation will be the one that has the greatest explanatory scope and power. A hypothesis with ‘explanatory scope’ explains many facts, not just one or two, and thus would explain a great about why this universe exists rather than some other, why the universe has the properties it does rather than others.”

I find no problem with this. In fact, I agree. We do want to find the best explanation. We are also seeking to study this universe. We can postulate other universes, but as far as I know, we have no hard evidence of other universes, just a theory. The only universe we can treat as a certainty is this one.

Carrier on the next page starts calling into question the God hypothesis. I wish to state at the start that I have a problem with just saying “God did it.” I have no problems with seeking out means considered “natural” for lack of a better term. None of these would dispense with God. Still, I find some of Carrier’s criticisms lacking.

For instance, Carrier says on this page that

“Worse, the idea that there was a god around before there was a universe–in other words the idea that something existed when there was no place for it to exist, that something acted when there was no time in which it could act–done not make much sense.”

To say something is difficult to comprehend is different from saying it does not make much sense. The problem I see here is that it assumes God is a material entity. I’m sure Carrier knows that in Christian theology, God is not material, but why bring up the idea that God is to exist in a place, as if any place could contain God? Why think He exists in any time, as if any time could contain God? The Christian doctrine is that God is omnipresent and eternal. He exists in place but is not bound by it, but rather sustains it. The same with time. God eternally exists and is not bound by a timeline any more than He is bound by the physical universe.

For the sake of argument, this could be false. It could be this is what Christian theology teaches, and it does, and still be wrong, but let us make sure that we are representing Christian theology accurately. I do not see any reason why anyone who has studied Christian theology or philosophy would be troubled at all by the sort of argument Carrier makes.

Next we have the question of why didn’t God just create Heaven at the start? This assumes a more modern view of Heaven that it’s that nice place in the sky that you go to when you die. Heaven is in fact the place where the presence of God is made manifest to the delight of His servants. I contend that Heaven actually comes to Earth. (Strangely enough, so does the Bible. See the Lord’s Prayer and Revelation 21) I also contend the same with Hell and that Hell is where God’s presence is made manifest to the agony of His enemies.

So why not make Heaven right at the start? Because Heaven is a choice. The love of God is chosen and if one is created in the manifest loving presence of God, there is no choice, and God values choice enough that He lets us have it.

Next comes the problem of the infinite regress, or rather the so-called problem. As Carrier says on page 73 “If everything must have an explanation, then you do not really get anywhere by explaining the universe by proposing a god.”

In some ways, this is the “Who made God?” objection. The problem with the infinite regress is that people confuse infinite regresses. There are two kinds. They are the regress per se and the regress per accidens.

The latter is a temporal chain. Let us suppose that a tragedy happens and my parents and my wife’s parents both die suddenly. Right now, Allie and I are childless. Does that mean that we will be unable to have children now since our parents are gone? No. Not at all. Our being able to continue the chain of humanity through us does not depend in any way on the existence of our parents. This is the kind of regress that Aquinas and Aristotle are both open to. (In fact, in the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologica, Question 46, article 2, Aquinas says that by reason alone, you cannot know the universe had a beginning. Christians only know it by revelation. He would disagree then with the Kalam as used today.)

So what is going on in the first way? In the first way of Aquinas, we have a regress per se. This is a regress of instrumental causes. The classic example is of a hand moving a stick. The stick moves the rock. The rock moves the leaf. Remove any part of the chain before the leaf, and the leaf does not move. There is an ontological dependence. This kind of regress is the one that is impossible, because instrumental causes are only secondary causes. They are the means through which an efficient cause acts. There must be some force that acts that is itself not acted upon and that force, everyone knows to be God. (In Thomistic language) For God, the basis for His existence lies in Himself, for He is being by nature with no add-ons. Everything else has the reason for its existing outside of itself. It has a nature that is given existence. God has no nature given existence but His nature is found in what it means to be. (I highly recommend Edward Feser’s “Aquinas” at this point.) In fact, Carrier says on page 81 that an ultimate being has only two properties we can be sure of. It’s nature is to exist and it has a reasonable chance of producing the universe exactly as we see it.

Carrier says there can be no ultimate explanation because there must be something that either just “is” or there is a brute fact. I do not see this argued but rather assumed. Yet my answer is there is something that just is and it is because it is in its very nature to be and that is God. Yet Carrier has a statement that is so brief coming up that many will overlook it, but really think about it. On page 73 he says

“Why should such an infinite series of explanations exist for something as relatively simple as a single universe?”

Does anyone really want to say that they think our universe is simple?

Our universe is in fact one of the most complex things we know of and yet we’re told why should a series of explanations exist for it? The universe has thus become a brute fact and well we grant it and then go on. I would need to show the universe has the principle of its own existing in itself. (Note I said existing and not just existence. What keeps the universe going right now?) This is an argument that will not be scientific. It is metaphysical seeing as it deals with the nature of existence. Carrier asks why not just stop with what we know, the natural world?

And here I thought theism was supposed to be the view that stopped us from asking questions….

On page 74, we get to questions about the Big Bang asking what God needs a Big Bang for. It’s a complicated method to use.

Indeed it is. So what? To say that God did not create by the method I would use does not mean He did not create, and last I checked, Carrier has no qualifications on how to make a universe. Perhaps if he thinks the way was done improperly, he should create his own real universe and show us how it would be done. He can create all the laws and such that hold it in place and present it for comparison.

This will not be done and frankly cannot be done.

God is not limited in his resources nor is He limited by His time nor is He obligated to create everything optimal, especially since in my view He did not create the universe to be the way it is right now eternally. To argue against this methodology one needs more than “I would not do it this way and here’s why.” One needs to show there is no God who did do it this way.

On page 78 Carrier says that “We barely struggle along on this tiny little planet, in brutal competition for scarce resources, on a microscopic island that will be melted by the sun in a relatively short time.”

Oh, and by the way, have a nice day.

It’s amazing that the Big Bang is a slow and long process, but the time it takes for the sun to swallow us up will be a relatively short time. I also wonder what world Carrier is living in. I suspect Carrier lives where he does near grocery stores where he can get food and has refrigeration where he can store it and does not have to go out and hunt the beast. I suspect he’s also never had to go out and struggle in battle just to get a meal. No doubt, this does go on in some places, but we’ve managed to do a good job here on this Earth. Reading Carrier, you’d get the impression we’re caught in the Hunger Games.

On page 82, we are told that the multiverse is a far better explanation. Carrier says something must exist without explanation and if God can do it, so can the multiverse.

Why yes. This makes sense. This would be consistent. If one thing thought of can exist without explanation, why not just tack that ability onto something different? Maybe I could even argue eventually that I exist without any explanation.

Or could it be that God is different from the multiverse in some respects?

To show this, let’s start with looking at what Carrier says on the same page. He says that the multiverse is a much simpler entity than a god.

Unfortunately, He does not show this and I would contend exactly the opposite. I contend that God is the most simple being that there is.

“But God is so hard to understand! He’s omni-everything and invisible!”

Yes, and He’s simple. Simple does not mean in relation to our understanding but rather in relation to His make-up. Simpliciity has long been held in the doctrine of God. Indeed, in the Summa, right after God’s existence, Simplicity is the next topic discussed. An excellent look at it from the church fathers can be found here.

With a multi-verse, one can imagine someone taking it apart somehow and putting it back together again. It is made of several material aspects, and these material aspects within themselves are all composed and come together. The multiverse contains planets, galaxies, solar systems, etc. Add in also that this matter contains no basis for its own existing in itself. It carries no essences in it.

Now let’s look at God. What does He have?


You cannot take something away from Him. You cannot add to Him. He is not composed of being plus essence. He is not being plus material. He is not being plus essence plus material. He is just what it means to be. Carrier says on page 83 that none of God’s attributes are supported by any science, but he is wrong. A science classically understood is a body of knowledge, and there is a body of knowledge that supports this. That is metaphysics. Does it do so through the scientific method? No. But that is because it is not that kind of science. It does so by reasoning from the evidence that we have.

Carrier does say again in the chapter that God is complex, but until He demonstrates that, I see no reason to take it seriously.

On page 85 Carrier says

“When we cast aside our prejudices, it remains perfectly sensible, and indeed most plausible, that the multiverse just is, and always has been. Everything else follows inevitably from that. There can be no objection to this, for the exact same objections would eliminate god as an explanation too. Think about it. Just as one might ask, for example, ‘why does the multiverse exist?’ one can also ask ‘why does God exist?’ Ultimately, proposing a god gets you no further than proposing a multiverse.”

It takes some great confidence to say there can be no objection to this, but alas for Carrier, there can be. God is altogether simple and is what it means to be. The multiverse is not. This is not some random idea in Christian thinking. This is an idea that has been held for well over 1,000 years and nearly 2,000 years. I would think that for all the time Carrier talks about reading and studying, he would have come across that and given a response.

On page 87, Carrier asks how a complex order could arise and tells us Isaac Newton found the answer. Gravity. Throw planets and stars together and add in gravity and you get something like what we have right now.

Well I have to be straw manning there.

No. Not at all. As Carrier says

“For all you had to do was throw planets and stars together, complete with their gravity, and ‘Presto!’ a solar system pretty much like ours would result.”

Apparently, “God did it!” has been replaced by “Gravity did it!”

Amusingly, Newton would not see this as an argument against God. In fact, He would see it as an argument for God. For the medievals and later scientists, the more they learned about how the universe worked and filled in the so-called gaps, the more they were amazed and in awe of the creator.

On page 88, Carrier says “At the very least, there is nothing incredible about proposing that all order has such an explanation. After all, theologians have been wrong every time so far, so why keep betting on them?”

Unfortunately, I saw no theologians cited. Beware the sound of one hand clapping. Furthermore, there are a great number of theologians who are advancing many of these scientific theories. It was a Catholic who came up with the Big Bang Theory and told the Pope to not use it as an argument for God’s existence.

On page 93 Carrier says complex things only arise from simpler ones. We’ve never seen anything to the contrary. I can take this as further support of my position. My beginning ontological point is ultimately simple. It is God. Carrier has given me no argument against simplicity. Carrier prefers to say that it is a fundamental chaos that is the simplest thing we can speak of.

So chaos is simple?

I don’t see an argument for that. I do see an argument for God being simple. It has been presented by theologians from early times.

Once again, I have not said anything about the science behind the theories. I fully support the scientists doing the work here and let each theory be tested. I also add this important distinction. Scientific work should be critiqued scientifically. No one’s worldview should have an authority. The science works the same for an atheist or a Christian, just as in biblical interpretation, the rules of interpretation work the same for an atheist or a Christian and in history, the historical method works the same for both. I encourage that atheists should have their sciences critiqued by Christian scientists and Christian scientists have theirs critiqued by atheist scientists. Of course, atheist scientists can also review the work of atheists and Christians that of Christians, but this methodology would help us keep our biases in check as we all have them.

I object to Christians wanting to use the Bible (Which I do not think is meant to be read in a scientific manner, including Genesis 1) to critique science. If something is true, it is true and if science shows something is true, well we’d best accept it. If we believe the resurrection is true and the existence of God is true, we have no need to fear anything science shows as anything science shows cannot contradict that.

I know today’s entry has been long. I do not suspect the next one will be as lengthy as it involves free-will and the debates around that I have tended to not even want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

In Christ,
Nick Peters