Divine Simplicity: An Experimental Response

Divine Simplicity: An Experimental Response December 17, 2018

This is a response to the notion of divine simplicity. It’s not a refutation. It’s an experiment designed to tease out the logic of the claim.

Simplicity means that God is without parts. He has no physical parts, and He’s not a composite of any metaphysical “parts” either. He’s not a combination of form and matter, nor of essence and existence.

In part, simplicity underlines the Creator-creature distinction. It points to the difference between divine existence and creaturely existence. This isn’t the only implication of simplicity, but it’s one of them.

Denying that God is composite is a way of undergirding His aseity. Composite beings are dependent on their component parts. God isn’t dependent on anything; nothing accounts for God other than God Himself. No sub-division of God accounts for God.

But why can’t we say this: God is composite, but composite in a way that doesn’t conflict with His aseity or unity. We can’t conceive of such a composite being, but then we can’t conceive of a wholly simple being either.

I’m not claiming God is composite. The question I’m raising is about the “location” of the Creator-creature distinction. Do we have to draw it between the simple being of God as opposed to the composite being of creatures? Or might we draw it between two different sorts of composite beings, one divine and one human? What difference would it make?

For those who want to defend simplicity, one line of response to these questions would be: It’s simply the case that composite beings are dependent on their component parts. That’s an inescapable feature of a composite being. If God were composite, He’d be the same.

Notice what’s happening there. The claim is now that “composite” means the same thing for God as for creatures. It seems that simplicity is needed if we’re going to describe God in terms of a metaphysics that’s drawn from created being. But if divine metaphysics are unlike created metaphysics, why can’t “composite” be used, differently, of each. Why can’t we say God is “composite,” understood analogically?

If this line of argument has any weight, it suggests that simplicity entails some notion of univocity. And this would be an interesting result, since defenders of simplicity often toss the charge of univocity at their opponents.

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