Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More Chandler on Plantinga's God

HC: (to carry on the discussion)

By a 'person' I mean an entity that has beliefs, makes decisions,
remembers past events, has various feelings (misery, joy, etc.), and,
typically, has some notion of moral rightness and wrongness, sees the
point of jokes, can recognize beauty, etc. etc.

Anselm's God does not fit this description at all. Just for starters,
Anselm's God is non-temporal non-spacial, cannot feel misery (or joy,
I guess), etc. etc. In fact, 'He' is not even an individual 'entity'
(i.e. 'substance'), nor is 'He' a property, or relation.

Augustinian's God and Aquinas's God are, I think, like Anselm's God
in this regard. And, if I remember correctly, this is true of C. S.
Lewis too. According to my recollection, Lewis claims that God is as
far 'above' (ordinary) personhood as a rock, or a number, is
'beneath' it. Lewis' God is not a 'person' in any ordinary sense of
the term.

On the other hand, I have the impression that Plantinga's God IS
temporal -- (no?) has beliefs, makes decisions, hopes that things
will turn out well, is sometimes unhappy, etc. etc. In short, really
IS a 'person' in the ordinary sense of the term.

Have I got this right?

VR: I think the relevant work on this is Does God Have a Nature, which I don't have easy access to. Plantinga is not what would be called an "open theist," who thinks that God lacks comprehensive foreknowledge (Hasker's God, Time and Knowledge is the philosophical locus classicus for this) but I don't think his God is outside of time. Lewis, on the other hand, goes for the outside of time concept of God. I was surprised when I reread him a few month ago that this isn't primarily to solve the foreknowledge problem but also is used to explain how God can answer everyone's prayers at once. That struck me as puzzling: I would have thought a simple definition of "omnipotent" would have been sufficient.

His exposition of atemporalism is one of the things addressed on the Mere Christianity taped discussions that I linked to: the ones a few posts back that came from Mere Christianity and were found in the BBC vaults (see "link to Lewis's voice").

1 comment:

Jason said...

Leaving aside the inclusion of 'non-temporal' and 'non-spatial' as qualities to be set in contradistinction to 'personal' (begging the question there by introducing naturalistic qualifiers): I'm a bit dubious as to whether Augustine and/or Aquinas would agree that God is not an individual 'entity' or (especially) 'substance'; mainly because vast amounts of trinitarian dispute involve the affirmation (or denial) of God being three Persons in one _substance_. And both Aug and Aq were strongly in favor of what may be called classical trinitarianism.

Be that as it may--I'm certainly more familiar with Lewis' theology than with any of theirs. (Though I admit much of the rest of it does _sound_ like Aug, Aq and Ans, particularly Ans. Ultimately, like Aristotle. {g}) And I can confirm unequivocally that Lewis _DID_, by God (um... didn't mean that as an oath {g}), mean an entity that has beliefs, makes decisions, remembers past events (as we would say, though in a far more real way than we can--this is connected with the atemporality Victor mentions later), has various feelings, can recognize beauty, has some notion of moral rightness and wrongness (to say the least!), etc. etc.

(I strongly suspect, although I can't put my memory right on target about this, that Lewis affirmed that God can see the point of jokes, too. Even if he didn't though, virtually _everything_ in his theology would point that way. Always keeping in mind that God's notion of humor will naturally, so to speak, be somewhat different than ours, due to omniscience etc. He would be pleased at the wit of His child, as any loving Father would be, and not think it adverse for His joy to be expressed as physical laughter. But we couldn't surprise Him with a punch line and get a laugh _that_ way. His appreciation of humor would be far more _active_ than ours, including in _response_ to us, but would not be strictly _re_-active. That's an important distinction for several of the other behaviors and traits in the list above as well.)

For what it's worth, Lewis also affirmed (as Victor states) the non-temporality and non-spatiality of God. But while I don't recall him offhand using quite this terminology on this topic, he did also affirm God to be a discreet substance. (Keeping in mind there are various flavors of that word in philosophical disputation. In Lewis' case, this would be an entity with an--actually _THE_ only--independent existence, which has certain characteristics and not others.)

It is true that Lewis claims that God transcends 'ordinary' personhood; although I don't think he would have put it quite the same way HC does (i.e. as far above as a rock or number is 'beneath' ordinary personhood.) The important thing though, is that Lewis very strenuously emphasized in such discussions (his MaPS chapter on pantheism being a good case in point) that we should not consider God's transcendence of ordinary personhood to mean something _less_ than what we would call person-ness. (Which is related to that whole trinitarian thing again, as I mentioned last time. {g})

If that doesn't sound much like Anselm (or Aug or Aq, to the extent they were Aristotelianists... now I'm wondering if that's a real word... {self-critical g!}), it may be relevant that Lewis identified himself very strongly with the (anti-Calvinist though not exactly Arminian) theology of George MacDonald; and specifically repudiated the theology of Ockham and his subsequent supporters (whom I take to be Anselm's purer heirs in Western culture.)

Regarding Lewis' atemporality doctrine (borrowed from Boethius, among other places): it's true that in every place I can find it (which may not be exhaustive, but which are certainly the main expositions of it), he links it to the answering of prayer. I think this is slightly accidental: MacDonald can be found rather skirting the question in his own meditations on the topic, and I think Lewis took it upon himself to address a problem his Teacher had had to work around--a problem which also had relevance for him from back in his atheist days (not to say afterward in disputation with sceptics).

A close check of the most in-depth exposition Lewis gives on the topic (Appendix B to MaPS, 2nd edition), shows his discussion to be deeply rooted in the question of human free will (this is evident elsewhere, too--note the topical connection to late 19th/early 20th century Calvinism disputes, btw!) and essentially in predestination issues (though not using that term per se. I suspect he intentionally avoided it, as he tried very hard not to take overt sides, in his public works, on inter-Christian disputes.)

When he is discussing the question of "special providence", put very roughly what he means is: did God set up Nature to unfold in particular ways, back at the beginning, and can this be called a 'miracle' or should it be distinct somehow?

His answer (to what is a recognizeable disputation between Calvinists and some opponents) is that the whole dispute is proceeding from a category error in the first place: the normal answers to the question depend on misunderstanding God as though He was _dependent upon_ the same natural processions we are.

Relating this to the more modern popular dispute between 'traditional' and 'open' theism: both sides are working from a tacit proposition that God starts off at a moment within natural time, and then goes along with it in dependence to it. Thus, one side is led (in affirming God's omnipotence and omniscience) to a determinism that doctrinally threatens the free will of derivative creatures; while the other side is led (in affirming the free will of derivative creatures) toward a doctrinal rejection of the omnipotence and/or omniscience of God.

Lewis avoids the dilemma by going up and over the horns; presenting God as _not_ being dependent upon Nature, and so working at right angles to natural history--not his own metaphor, I think, but perhaps a bit more useful than the literary one he uses instead. (He and I would both agree that the physical imagery shouldn't be pressed here, though, either way. The situation is sui generis, and so can only be analogized in bits and pieces.)

Put more shortly, Lewis' Appendix B (and related expositions), even though phrased as answers to difficulties concerning prayer, is philosophically geared to refute and correct both John Piper _and_ Gregory Boyd (I know more about GB's open theism than about William Hasker's). This is why he doesn't simply appeal to God's power and leave it at that: he knows the dispute is about what God's omnicompetence _means_ (or even whether He has it) in relation to our lives and natural history.

{inhale!} {g} Concerning Plantinga's theology, though, I'm pretty much in the dark; so, back to the sidelines to listen and make notes.

Jason Pratt