Defusing the Euthyphro Dilemma

How a Concretist Position on Properties Salvages Divine Simplicity

By Adam Lloyd Johnson, Ph.D.

Why salvage divine simplicity? Consider the Euthyphro Dilemma, often presented as a rebuttal to the moral argument for God’s existence. In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates asked “Is that which is holy loved by the gods because it is holy, or is it holy because it is loved by the gods?”1 The dilemma can be restated in monotheistic terms as follows: Either 1. Morality is based on God’s commands; thus, He could have arbitrarily commanded any heinous act and it would be morally right, or 2. Morality is based on necessary truths that even God cannot change; thus morality is independent of God and out of His control.2

In order to avoid both horns of the dilemma, theists have proposed that morality is dependent upon God’s nature in such a way that He could not command something that violates His moral nature.3 Robert M. Adams’s version of the Divine Command Theory is an important contemporary example of grounding morality in God’s nature. He explained that “[t]he part played by God in my account of the nature of the good is similar to that of the Form of the Beautiful or the Good in Plato’s Symposium and Republic. God is the supreme Good, and the goodness of other things consists in a sort of resemblance to God.”4 His view is Platonic in the sense that “[t]he role that belongs to the Form of the Good in Plato’s thought is assigned to God, and the goodness of other things is understood in terms of their standing in some relation, usually conceived as a sort of resemblance, to God.”5 This is not a new idea; in the first chapter of Monologion, Anselm argued that there must be one thing through which all good things are good, and that it alone is supremely good.6 Aquinas wrote that “Nothing… will be called good except in so far as it has a certain likeness of the divine goodness.”7

If morality is dependent upon God’s nature in this way, then both horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma are avoided. First, His commands would not be arbitrary because they would have to be consistent with His moral nature. Second, morality would not be independent of God, but dependent upon Him, that is, upon His moral nature. However, this proposed solution agrees with the Euthyphro Dilemma that morality is based on necessary truths that God cannot change or control, that is, truths concerning His moral nature. Baggett and Walls noted that “a careful distinction between questions of dependence and control allows an answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma that can serve as an important component of any thoroughly theistic metaphysic with a strong commitment to moral realism… Moral truths can be objective, unalterable, and necessary, and yet still dependent on God.”8 They concluded that “if such dependence or even identity obtains or is even possible, then the Euthyphro Dilemma is effectively defused and the moral argument for God’s existence accordingly gains strength.”9

However, this proposal concerning God’s moral nature raises a whole host of knotty questions. If we claim that something is morally good if it images God in a morally pertinent sense, then in effect we are discussing God’s nature, that is, His properties—and in particular, His property of moral goodness. But what is God’s nature? Is it ontologically prior to God Himself? Would such a notion violate God’s aseity? Is God dependent upon His nature? If not, then what is God’s relationship to His nature? If God is not able to choose His nature, does this violate His sovereignty? Some have criticized this solution to the Euthyphro Dilemma because it raises these additional difficulties. Atheist Erik Wielenberg argued that Christians inconsistently critique his model of ethics for positing unexplained necessary connections while they themselves also posit unexplained necessary connections, that is, between God’s moral nature, His commands, and His other attributes.10 Thus it behooves us as Christians to provide a fuller explanation of how God’s moral nature provides the foundation of objective morality, to fill in the details of our model as much as possible.

How is divine simplicity pertinent to this conversation? Interestingly, while critiquing the idea that an appeal to God’s nature solves the Euthyphro dilemma, Wielenberg wrote that “any theist who rejects the doctrine of divine simplicity seems committed to the existence of necessary connections between some of God’s attributes. Unless such theists can adequately explain all such connections, they, too, cannot consistently wield P1.”11 P1 is Wielenberg’s summary of the critique often leveled at his model by theists—“P1: Any approach to metaethics that posits logically necessary connections without adequately explaining why such connections hold is unacceptable.”12 Later he surmised that “…on a sufficiently strong doctrine of divine simplicity… there isn’t a necessary link between the divine nature and God issuing [a command] that needs explaining so perhaps a theist of this sort can consistently wield P1. [I]f sense can be made of it [divine simplicity] and if it is plausible it does seem to allow the theist to avoid having to explain lots of necessary connections between distinct divine attributes and actions.”13

In a similar critique of the notion that God’s moral nature solves the Euthyphro Dilemma, Jeremy Koons argued that the proposed solution just pushes the dilemma back one level beyond God’s commands to His nature: Is God’s moral nature good because He has it or does He have it because it is good?14 The resulting dilemma is as follows: Either 1. If God’s moral nature is good because He has it, then no matter what type of nature He had, even a heinous one, it would be considered good, or 2. If God’s moral nature is based on necessary truths that even God cannot change (He just has the nature He has), then His moral nature is independent of God and out of His control. Interestingly, without developing the idea fully, Koons merely mentioned that “[a]n alternate solution to the Euthyphro problem… requires embracing some potentially contentious notions, such as that of divine simplicity…”15

Here then are two critics of the standard answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma, that morality is grounded in God’s moral nature, who suggest that divine simplicity might be a possible solution to their critique. However, Koons is correct in noting that this notion is contentious; in fact, many theologians today have rejected divine simplicity. Thus, in this paper, in order to defuse the Euthyphro Dilemma and strengthen the moral argument for God’s existence, I will argue that taking a concretist position on properties allows us to salvage the key concepts of divine simplicity which are pertinent to this Euthyphro conversation. I will begin by first explaining what it means to take the position that properties are concrete objects.

And Now for Something Completely Different: Properties as Abstract Objects

In Does God Have a Nature? Alvin Plantinga tackled the issue of God’s relationship to His properties and argued that God has a nature which is not identical with Him.16 In this book he connected God’s nature with abstract objects as follows:

…if the number 7 or the proposition all men are mortal exist necessarily, then God has essentially the property of affirming their existence. That property, therefore, will be part of his nature. Indeed, for any necessarily existing abstract object O, the property of affirming the existence of O is part of God’s nature… God hasn’t created the numbers; a thing is created only if its existence had a beginning, and no number ever began to exist… [they] are necessary beings and have been created neither by God nor by anyone else. And of course the same goes for other necessarily existing abstract objects.17

He continued by noting that “[f]rom this point of view, then, exploring the realm of abstract objects can be seen as exploring the nature of God.”18 He concluded his book as follows:

(70)     Necessarily 7 + 5 = 12
(71)     It is part of God’s nature to believe that 7 + 5 = 12.
…is there a sensible sense of ‘explain’ such that in that sense (71) is the explanation of (70)… Or could we say, perhaps, that what makes (70) true is the fact that (71) is true? …Could we say, perhaps, that (70) is grounded in (71)? If so, what are the relevant senses of ‘explains,’ ‘makes true’ and ‘grounded in?’ These are good questions, and good topics for further study. If we can answer them affirmatively, then perhaps we can point to an important dependence of abstract objects upon God, even though necessary truths about these objects are not within his control.19

To summarize then, Plantinga described abstract objects as beings that exist necessarily, are uncreated, had no beginning, and the truths of which are not within God’s control, though they might be dependent upon Him in some way. This is a common theistic view of abstract objects; one additional characteristic many assign to them is that they are non-causal, that is, they cannot enter into the causal chain of events. But should properties be thought of as abstract objects?

Plantinga himself recognized the problems with such a position. He wrote that “if he [God] has aseity, he depends upon nothing for his existence and character; and if he is sovereign, everything depends upon him. Abstract objects seem to compromise both…”20 While discussing God’s properties as abstract objects, he noted that God “seems to be somehow conditioned and limited by these properties, and dependent upon them.”21 According to Plantinga, these concerns make up the best argument for nominalism. He explained that:

…we have been speaking only of his [God’s] own properties; but of course there is the rest of the Platonic menagerie—the propositions, properties, numbers, sets, possible worlds and all the rest. If these things are distinct from God, if they exist necessarily and have their characters essentially, then there is a vast and enormous structure that seems to be independent of God… That this swarm of Platonic paraphernalia infringes on the sovereignty of God is the best argument I know for nominalism.22

What would such a nominalism look like? According to Plantinga, the nominalist claims we should get rid of the “Platonic horde of propositions, states of affairs, numbers, sets and the like—in a word, abstract objects… So perhaps the truth is there are only concrete objects—God, other persons, and physical objects such as stars, trees and protons. ‘Concretism’ would be a more accurate if less euphonious name for this position than the usual ‘nominalism’: the claim that everything is a concrete object.”23

It should be noted that Plantinga rejects concretism because he argues that it does not solve, in his opinion, the key problem with abstract objects—that they seem to violate God’s sovereignty. He argued that even concretism results in many truths that are not in God’s control.24 However, William Lane Craig, a prominent critic of abstract objects, argued that the key problem with abstract objects is not that they violate God’s sovereignty, but that they violate His aseity. The term aseity comes from a Latin word meaning ‘of itself’; as Richards explained, it means that God “exists from and of himself and does not depend on anything outside himself for his nature or existence. Everything else, in contrast, depends upon God for its existence.”25

Christians have traditionally believed that God is a self-existent being that does not exist through, or in dependence upon, anything else; He is the sole ultimate reality. Craig argued that if there are abstract objects which are, like God, uncreated and eternal, then God is not the sole ultimate reality. Craig maintains therefore that the idea of abstract objects is a serious challenge to orthodox theology because it makes God out to be just one of a vast number of eternal and uncreated beings. He wrote that “[i]nsofar as these abstract objects are taken to be uncreated, necessary, and eternal, contemporary Platonism also comes into conflict with the traditional doctrines of divine aseity and creation.”26

The issue of God and abstract objects is critically important when it comes to the moral argument for God’s existence. For example, atheist Erik Wielenberg claims that moral truths exist as brute facts, thus concluding that morality can be real and objective even if there is no God. His description of these brute facts makes them sound very similar to abstract objects:

…my version of non-theistic robust normative realism has an ontological commitment shared by many theists: it implies the obtaining of substantive, metaphysically necessary, brute facts… Such facts are the foundation of (the rest of) objective morality and rest on no foundation themselves. To ask of such facts, “where do they come from?” or “on what foundation do they rest?” is misguided in much the way that, according to many theists, it is misguided to ask of God, “where does He come from?” or “on what foundation does He rest?” The answer is the same in both cases: they come from nowhere, and nothing external to themselves grounds their existence; rather, they are fundamental features of the universe that ground other truths.27

If Christian theologians are not careful, their promotion of abstract objects may do more harm than good. For instance, they might unknowingly be promoting a position that grounds morality in properties which are abstract objects, while positing God just as a being that exemplifies the moral properties in question. The consequence of such a position, as seen in Wielenberg’s work, is that it eventually views God as an unnecessary hypothesis.

How to Be a Nominalist Without Being a Nominalist

One concern that might be raised against concretism is that it entails a rejection of universals. Unfortunately, the term “nominalist” has been used to describe someone who rejects abstract objects, and it has also been used to describe someone who rejects universals. While it is possible for someone to adopt both forms of nominalism, this is not necessarily the case. For instance, Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra explained, using the Aristotelian realist as an example, that a person can deny abstract objects and still affirm universals.28 To avoid this confusion, Craig prefers to call his position against abstract objects ‘anti-realist’ instead of nominalist.29

How could one affirm universals while believing that only concrete objects exist? The category of concrete objects is not limited to just physical objects, nor is it limited to just particulars. First, a concretist views non-physical objects such as angels, thoughts, and God as concrete objects. Second, while describing concretism (though he uses a different term for it), Paul Gould wrote that such a position “is not to be understood necessarily as the rejection of properties, relations, propositions, possible worlds, and so on, rather, what is required of those who believe in such entities is that they think of them as concrete objects.”30

For an example of a position that rejects abstract objects but affirms universals, Craig described a person who identifies universals as thoughts in someone’s mind yet considers those thoughts to be concrete objects.31 That is the position that I am advocating for in this paper, with the added proviso that the mind in question is God’s—thus I affirm a concretist interpretation of Divine Conceptualism. Robert Adams notes that divine conceptualism achieves two of our deeply held intuitions—that truth exists beyond our human minds and that truth seems to be something that can only exist in minds.32 It should be noted that Craig himself rejects divine conceptualism, though he sees it as the “most promising concretist view” and admits it is his “fallback position.”33 As an anti-realist, he rejects that abstract objects are real as well as the concretist interpretation of divine conceptualism (which he classifies as another form of realism).34

Should God’s thoughts be considered as abstract or concrete objects? Greg Welty, a proponent of divine conceptualism, laments that “the abstract/concrete distinction is in disarray, ontologically speaking.”35 However, he continued by noting that “…if divine ideas are ‘concrete objects,’ then my position is that abstract objects functionally speaking are concrete objects ontologically speaking.”36 In other words, God’s thoughts (as concrete objects) can play the functional role people often assign to abstract objects. Welty described this interpretation of divine conceptualism as follows:

It would be a version of nominalism [towards abstract objects that is] insofar as the divine concepts are (presumably) concrete entities, perhaps mental events (images, dispositions, or intentions). An advocate of this interpretation of TCR [Theistic Conceptual Realism] could hold the traditional nominalist view that the only things which exist are concrete substances. But insofar as the thoughts of one concrete substance in particular (God) satisfy the functional concept of universals, this is a nominalism that concedes, interestingly enough, that universals really exist. And so this interpretation of TCR would still be a realism about universals, insofar as the divine concepts exist independently of any human cognitive activity, and would exist even if there were no human thinkers at all. Indeed, they would exist even if there were no concrete substances in existence (besides God, of course).37  

As a reminder, the motivation for taking the position that God’s thoughts are concrete objects, rather than abstract objects is twofold: to protect God’s aseity, as discussed above, and to salvage divine simplicity, as discussed below.38   

What Divine Concepts Cannot Do

While I have shown how properties can be considered as concrete objects in the mind of God, this cannot be the case for all properties. The exceptions I have in mind are God’s essential properties. I affirm that all other properties, besides God’s essential properties, are ideas in the mind of God.39 But why could God’s essential properties not also be properties that merely exist in God’s mind? The problem with such a position is that it runs into the bootstrapping objection. The bootstrapping objection is most well known as a problem for Absolute Creationism.

Absolute Creationism is yet another position on God and abstract objects which maintains that God created all concrete objects and all abstract objects (including all properties).40 Many have rejected Absolute Creationism because it ends up being viciously circular. The circularity comes into play when one recognizes that some properties must exist prior to God’s creation of them, for instance, God’s property of being able to create properties. As Craig and J. P. Moreland explained, “God cannot coherently be said to create his own properties, since in order to create them, he must already possess them.”41 Gould noted that “[m]any (including myself) think this [bootstrapping] problem fatal for the absolute creationism of Morris and Menzel.”42

Though the bootstrapping objection is most well known as a problem for Absolute Creationism, it also presents a problem for the divine conceptualist who claims that all properties are ideas in God’s mind. Divine Conceptualism runs into the bootstrapping circularity as well because some properties must exist prior to God conceiving of them, for example, God’s property of being able to conceive of properties.43 Jay Richards explained the problem for Divine Conceptualism as follows:

…the bootstrapping problem rears its ugly head again… this would entail, for example, that God is all-powerful just because, from eternity, God has reflected on the fact that he is all-powerful. But clearly for this to be possible, God would have had to have the Property P01 of being able to think his omnipotence into existence. But perhaps, one might retort, God also thought that property into existence from eternity. Well, then he would have had to have another property P02, and off, once again, goes an infinite regress.44

The bootstrapping objection does not have to be the death knell for concretism however. A concretist can view some properties as ideas in God’s minds and other properties as essential properties of God Himself. The important notion for the concretist is that all properties are concrete, not that they are all ideas in God’s mind. Though they note that such a distinction among properties might appear ad hoc, Craig and Moreland describe a similar position as follows: “Perhaps… [someone] might maintain that all the properties that God exemplifies as part of his nature—for example, being loving, being powerful and so on—do not exist… as do other properties. Rather, as a brute fact, God, along with his nature, simply exists a se. Other properties, such as being red, are sustained by God, either by his intellect, will or in some other way.”45

Before we turn to the topic of simplicity, it is worth noting something that was only briefly mentioned above; a concretist also understands God to be a concrete object. For example, Richards describes God as “the one necessarily existing, personal, concrete being and causal agent.”46 Within Adams’ metaethical model, he is explicit that “[i]f God is the Good itself, then the Good is not an abstract object but a concrete (though not a physical) individual. Indeed it is a person, or importantly like a person.”47  

Salvaging Divine Simplicity

Simplicity was the standard position among Christian theologians from at least as early as Augustine up through the early modern era. Simplicity, as understood by these theologians, should not be thought of as a property of God, but rather as the way God is related to His properties. That is why Thomas Aquinas began his discussion of God’s attributes by first explaining divine simplicity.48 Today however, the doctrine of simplicity has fallen on hard times; many contemporary theologians have flat out rejected it. For instance, Plantinga wrote that “…the simplicity doctrine seems an utter mistake.”49 Even Adams, whose entire metaethical model is built around the idea that God is the Good itself, wrote that “…the extreme doctrine of divine simplicity… which grounded much medieval thought about the otherness of God, offers much too formal a conception of that otherness… and I think it can be given up without insult to the divine transcendence.”50

Why has divine simplicity been thrown on the trash heap? I will argue below that the most common reasons given for the rejection of divine simplicity stem from the mistake of viewing properties as abstract objects instead of concrete objects. If one takes a concretist view of properties, then one can affirm the essential elements of divine simplicity while avoiding the absurdities that result from trying to affirm both ‘simplicity’ and ‘properties as abstract objects’. In order to do this I will use Richards’ list of eight senses of divine simplicity that appear in Christian theology.51

  1. All divine properties are possessed by the same self-identical God.
  2. God is not composite, in the sense that he is made up of elements or properties more fundamental than he is.  He has no external cause(s), such as Platonic Forms.
  3. God’s essence is “identical with” his act of existing.
  4. All God’s essential properties are coexstensive.
  5. All God’s perfections are identical.
  6. All God’s properties are coexstensive.
  7. God’s essential properties and essence are (strictly) identical with God himself.
  8. All of God’s properties are (strictly) identical with God himself.

Senses (1) and (4) are relatively uncontroversial aspects of simplicity that nearly all theologians affirm, even if they reject other senses of simplicity. Sense (1) merely affirms that the divine attributes refer to one and the same being, an uncontroversial statement about God’s unity. As for sense (4), William Mann explained that all that is being affirmed here is that “…it would be impossible for any being to instantiate the attribute being omniscient, say, without also instantiating the attribute being omnipotent, and vice versa.”52

Richards and I both reject (6) and (8), but doing so has little to no implications for applying simplicity to the Euthyphro Dilemma. The issue here has to do with the distinction between God’s essential properties and His contingent properties; someone who affirms (6) and (8) makes no such distinction, which I believe is a mistake. As Richards explained, Aquinas held that God did not have any contingent properties (sometimes referred to as accidental properties) because he viewed them as potentialities and did not want to assign any potentiality to God.53 However, claiming that God has no contingent properties violates God’s divine freedom because it entails that everything God does, He must do necessarily.54

I will discuss Richards’ (2) by itself because it seems to be the key motivation behind divine simplicity and, as I see it, the heart of the doctrine. The rest of the senses discussed below, though more difficult to understand and explain, are only possible implications from this proposition. As a reminder, sense (2) is that ‘God is not composite, in the sense that he is made up of elements or properties more fundamental than he is. He has no external cause(s), such as Platonic Forms.’ This sense of simplicity asserts that God is not dependent on anything outside Himself. A concretist can easily affirm this assertation while someone who views properties as abstract objects struggles to do so. Those who have a strong ontological view of abstract objects tend to think of properties as metaphysical parts, causing the artificial worry that God is a composite being dependent upon such parts.  

As opposed to a position like Plantinga’s, which views properties as abstract objects, a concretist can more clearly, and with less qualifications, say, along with Jay Richards, that “[t]here is no abstract essence that in any way precedes God’s concrete actuality.”55 This allows the concretist to maintain, again, along with Richards, that “God’s essence and properties are not parts of God, however, but fundamental facts about him.”56 In other words, the concretist has less difficulty saying that God ontologically ‘comes first’ before His properties. The advantage to the concretist here is well articulated by Richards when he wrote that “…by defining these things minimally as facts or truths… I think I have circumvented most of the problems that a more strongly Platonic view of abstract entities poses for God’s sovereignty and aseity.”57

Some theologians who reject simplicity acknowledge that the motivations behind it, such as this sense (2), were commendable. For example, Baggett and Walls wrote that “…while we retain the prerogative to refrain from affirming divine simplicity, we think it important to capture the insight inspiring it and to affirm God’s perfection and supreme ontological status.”58 Ronald Nash also rejected simplicity but noted that it “…resulted from attempts to avoid two extreme movements that were considered threats to Christian theology during the Middle Ages: extreme realism (or hyperrealism) and nominalism.”59 He explained extreme realism as the “tendency to take properties like wisdom and goodness and hypostatize them into existing entities. With respect to the properties of God, the problem was obvious. If the properties or attributes of God are hypostatized existents, then God is a composite being… This effectively made God’s nature a construct of more basic building blocks, namely, the hypostatized attributes.”60 This is an artificial problem, a problem resulting from the mistake of viewing properties as abstract objects.

Alternatively, Nash explained that nominalism had the advantage of “eliminating in one fell swoop all of the problems raised by the extreme realists. It is no longer possible to think of God as composed of parts (viz., the attributes) since the ‘parts’ do not exist.”61 That is, they do not exist in the ontologically heavyweight sense that extreme realists maintain. Unfortunately Nash himself affirmed “the existence of a whole host of abstract objects that… exist eternally and necessarily, including properties, relations, propositions, states of affairs, and numbers.”62 He dismissed nominalism because it rejected universals, but, as I explained above, a concretist can be a nominalist concerning abstract objects while still affirming the existence of universals.  

Addressing the Most Difficult Senses of Divine Simplicity

Richards’ (3), (5), and (7) all have to do with the ‘identity absurdities’ that supposedly result from divine simplicity.63 I will address them one at a time and contend that such absurdities mostly result when one views properties as abstract objects instead of concrete objects. First let us consider ‘(3) God’s essence is “identical with” his act of existing.’ By definition, for all finite contingent beings, existence is a contingent property; it is possible that they might not have existed at all. Thus all contingent beings, such as human beings, apples, the planet Saturn, etc., are a composite of essence (their essential properties) and existence. However, God, as a necessary being, necessarily exists and therefore for Him, existence is an essential property. Richards notes, colloquially though instructively, that “[w]e cannot get the daylight between God’s essence and existence as we can with finite creatures.”64 God is not composed of existence and essence but is simple in the sense that existence is an essential property for Him. Adams wrote that “…the most plausible form of the doctrine of divine necessity is the Thomistic view that God’s existence follows necessarily from his essence but… we do not understand God’s essence well enough to see how his existence follows from it.”65

Now let us consider ‘(5) All God’s perfections are identical.’ Plantinga explained this implication of simplicity is the first of two reasons he rejects this doctrine; he wrote that “…if God is identical with each of his properties, then each of his properties is identical with each of his properties, so that God has but one property. This seems flatly incompatible with the obvious fact that God has several properties.”66 One who views properties as abstract objects may claim that those who hold to divine simplicity can only speak as though God has one property, not several. Yet, as Plantinga says, we clearly think of God, and describe Him, as having several properties. Divine simplicity by itself does not result in the absurd notion that we can only speak of God as having one property. This absurdity only arises if one tries to combine ‘divine simplicity’ with the position that ‘properties are abstract objects.’ However, Richards explained that this criticism “against speaking of divine properties in the plural may stem from insufficient care in avoiding the connotation that properties are physical parts.”67 In other words, viewing properties as abstract objects gives them the connotation of being metaphysical parts, and trying to combine this with divine simplicity causes the absurdity Plantinga pointed out.

On the other hand, a concretist who holds to Divine Conceptualism maintains that we can consider God’s properties separately because God eternally ‘abstracts’ them by reflecting on the concrete actuality of His own being. Richards’ explanation of this worth quoting in full:

God’s being precedes the discrete universal properties, though universals eternally exist and are relevantly distinct, in the sense that God eternally abstracts them by reflecting on his own being. When we say that Socrates is wise, the claim is meaningful and true because of this prior act of God abstracting the concept of Wisdom by reflecting on the concrete actuality of his own being, one aspect of which is perfect wisdom. God’s eternal thought also allows us to speak much more easily about God, using the language of properties and essences. It is God’s intellectual activity that makes our intellectual and linguistic activity possible, not only in everyday contexts but also in theology.68

In addition, while defending divine simplicity, Brian Leftow responded to Plantinga’s critique here as follows: “Omniscience is or supervenes on that state which is God’s knowing what He does. Omnipotence is or supervenes on that state which is God’s having the abilities He has. The terms “omniscience” and “omnipotence” of course carry distinct senses, but what reason is there to find it odd that God satisfies them in virtue of the same inner state?”69

Now let us consider ‘(7) God’s essential properties and essence are (strictly) identical with God himself.’ Plantinga explained this supposed implication of simplicity is the second of two reasons he rejects this doctrine:

…if God is identical with each of his properties, then, since each of his properties is a property, he is a property… This view is subject to a difficulty both obvious and overwhelming. No property could have created the world; no property could be omniscient, or, indeed, know anything at all. If God is a property, then he isn’t a person but a mere abstract object; he has no knowledge, awareness, power, love or life.70  

Notice Plantinga’s assumption lurking in the background, the assumption that properties are abstract objects. It is this assumption which leads him to the conclusion that the doctrine of divine simplicity results in the absurd view that God is “a mere abstract object.” Because a concretist rejects the notion that God’s properties are abstract objects, she can thus embrace simplicity while avoiding this absurdity.

Craig and Moreland explain that those who view properties as abstract objects run into the difficult “…problem of the causal or explanatory priority of God relative to abstract objects… Some contemporary Christian philosophers have appealed to divine simplicity as a solution, for if God is identical to his properties, they are not explanatorily prior to him. But the classical doctrine of divine simplicity never envisioned making God identical with his properties as the Platonist construes them, for that would be to turn God into an abstract object.”71 However, if one does not, with the Platonist, construe properties are abstract objects, then one is not forced into the absurd conclusion that God is an abstract object.

While defending Robert Adams’ notion that God is The Good against the charge that this results in the implausible notion that God is identical to some abstract object, Baggett and Walls note that there is a “recurring debate among Plato scholars as to whether the Forms are best understood as archetypes, properties, or universals on the one hand, or standards, paradigms, or exemplars on the other.” They point out that Adams’ approach, thinking of God functioning as the exemplar of Goodness makes “better sense of God constituting Goodness, in the sense of being its exemplar, perfect standard, ultimate paradigm, and final source.” By viewing Plato’s Forms this way, as concrete instead of abstract, “…a person like God might function more paradigmatically as the ultimate Good than would some abstract principle or impersonal truth.” The result is that “[t]he tension between person and universal, or substance and property, is thus avoided.”72 In fact, Leftow, in his defense of divine simplicity, makes the case that, even though God is a person, He may play the functional role people often assign to abstract objects.73

Conclusion

God is a weighty topic, to say the least. As finite creatures, there is a limit to how much we can understand, and explain, God and His properties. However, the more implausible or incoherent a position is, the more strikes against it, all else equal. In that regard, broadly speaking, this paper is an attempt at the coherence of theism, that is, an attempt to show how theism is metaphysically intelligible and does not entail any logical contradictions. In particular though, in the context of trying to defuse the Euthyphro Dilemma, I argued that taking a concretist position on properties allows us to salvage the key aspects of divine simplicity. Certainly this is not the last word concerning simplicity; for instance, one large controversial issue that I left outstanding was how simplicity can be reconciled with the Trinity. However, I believe, along with Richards, that “we are now in the neighborhood of preserving the essential core of the doctrine of divine simplicity,” at least the core that is pertinent to the Euthyphro Dilemma.


Footnotes

[1] Plato, Euthyphro, 9e.

[2] For a brief summary see C. Stephen Evans, God and Moral Obligation (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2014), 89–91. For a fuller treatment see John Milliken, “Euthyphro, the Good, and the Right,” Philosophia Christi 11.1 (2009): 145–55.

[3] William Lane Craig, “The Most Gruesome of Guests,” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough?: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics (eds. Nathan L. King and Robert K. Garcia; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), 171–73.

[4] Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; repr., 2002), 7.

[5] Ibid., 14.

[6] Anselm, “Monologion,” in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (eds. Brian Davies and G. R. Evans; Oxford World’s Classics, New York: Oxford University Press), 5–82.

[7] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, Chapter 40.

[8] David Baggett and Jerry Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 91.

[9] Baggett and Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, 93.

[10] Erik J. Wielenberg, “An Inconsistency in Craig’s Defence of the Moral Argument,” European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 4/4 (2012): 65–74.

[11] Erik Wielenberg, “Reply to Craig, Murphy, McNabb, and Johnson” (presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Boston, Mass., November 20, 2017), 14. Forthcoming in Philosophia Christi.

[12] Ibid., 11.

[13] Erik J. Wielenberg, personal correspondence.

[14] Jeremy Koons, “Can God’s Goodness Save the Divine Command Theory from Euthyphro?,” European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 4.1 (2012): 177–95.

[15] Ibid., 194.

[16] Alvin Plantinga, Does God Have a Nature? (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980), 10.

[17] Ibid., 142-143.

[18] Ibid., 144.

[19] Ibid., 145–46.

[20] Ibid., 68.

[21] Ibid., 6.

[22] Ibid., 35–36.

[23] Ibid., 65.

[24] Ibid., 89.

[25] Jay Wesley Richards, The Untamed God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 15.

[26] William Lane Craig, God Over All: Divine Aseity and the Challenge of Platonism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 3.

[27] Wielenberg, Robust Ethics, 38.

[28] Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, “Nominalism in Metaphysics,” ed. Edward N. Zalta, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nominalism-metaphysics.

[29] Craig, God Over All, 8.

[30] Paul M. Gould, “Introduction to the Problem of God and Abstract Objects,” in Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract Objects, ed. Paul M. Gould (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 12.

[31] Craig, God Over All, 8.

[32] Robert Merrihew Adams, The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 218.

[33] Craig, God Over All, 51, 206.

[34] Ibid., 72.

[35] Greg Welty, “Theistic Conceptual Realism,” in Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract Objects, ed. Paul M. Gould (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 94.

[36] Ibid., 95.

[37] Greg Welty, “Truth As Divine Ideas,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 47.1 (2004): 59–60.

[38] For a dialogue about whether or not Thomas Aquinas should be considered a concretist in this regard, see J. Thomas Bridges, “A Moderate-Realist Perspective on God and Abstract Objects,” Philosophia Christi 17.2 (2015): 283. See also William Lane Craig’s response 292-293 and Bridges response back to Craig 309-310, 312.

[39] Of course there are incidental properties that humans conceive/create such as hipness, or the property of scoring a touchdown. However, these should not be considered universals.

[40] See Thomas V. Morris and Christopher Menzel, “Absolute Creation,” American Philosophical Quarterly 23 (1986): 353–62. Christopher Menzel, “Theism, Platonism, and the Metaphysics of Mathematics,” Faith and Philosophy 4 (1987): 365–82. For a fuller treatment, see Brian Leftow, God and Necessity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[41] William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2003), 505.

[42] Gould, “Introduction to the Problem of God and Abstract Objects,” 10.

[43] Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 506.

[44] Richards, The Untamed God, 245. In a footnote Richards thanks Greg Welty for helping him see this point clearly.

[45] Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 505.

[46] Richards, The Untamed God, 95.

[47] Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods, 42.

[48] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Question 3.

[49] Plantinga, Does God Have a Nature?, 47.

[50] Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods, 52.

[51] Richards, The Untamed God, 217.

[52] William E. Mann, “Simplicity and Immutability in God,” in The Concept of God, ed. Thomas V. Morris (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 256.

[53] Richards, The Untamed God, 234–35.

[54] Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 525.

[55] Richards, The Untamed God, 95.

[56] Ibid., 18.

[57] Ibid., 246.

[58] David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, God and Cosmos: Moral Truth and Human Meaning (Oxford University Press, 2016), 56.

[59] Ronald H. Nash, The Concept of God: An Exploration of Contemporary Difficulties with the Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1983), 86–87.

[60] Ibid., 87–88.

[61] Ibid., 88.

[62] Ibid., 96.

[63] For an interesting argument that these identity absurdities are actually erroneous implications resulting from of a misreading of simplicity, “carried into the present by contemporary defenders of simplicity who mistakenly take the traditional identity claims of, say, Thomas to mean strict identity” that is, a Leibnizian view of identity which the medieval theologians did not use, see Richards, The Untamed God, 217, 224, 227, 232, 248.

[64] Ibid., 222.

[65] Adams, The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology, 209.

[66] Plantinga, Does God Have a Nature?, 47. The two reasons Plantinga gives here for rejecting simplicity represent well the most common reasons people give for rejecting this doctrine. For a fuller treatment on objections to divine simplicity, see James E. Dolezal, God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 11-29.

[67] Richards, The Untamed God, 241.

[68] Ibid., 247.

[69] Brian Leftow, “Is God an Abstract Object?,” Nous 24 (1990): 598.

[70] Plantinga, Does God Have a Nature?, 47. 

[71] Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 505.

[72] Baggett and Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, 94.

[73] Leftow, “Is God an Abstract Object?,” 581–98.


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Convincing Proof