Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Anthropomorphism about God

Consider an anthropomorphic picture of God that some non-classical theists have:

  1. God is not simple, and in particular God’s beliefs are proper parts of God.

  2. God’s beliefs change as the reality they are about changes.

Putting these together, it follows that:

  1. I can bring about the destruction of a part of God.

How? Easy. I am now sitting, and God knows that. So, a part of God is the belief that I am sitting. But I can destroy that belief of God’s by standing up! For as soon as I stand up, the belief that I am sitting will no longer exist. But on the view in question, God’s beliefs are parts of him. So by standing up, I would bring it about that a part of God doesn’t exist.

But (3) is as absurd as can be.

And of course by standing up, I bring it about that a new divine belief exists. So:

  1. I can bring about the genesis of a part of God.

Which is really absurd, too.


Unknown said...

I think one can hold that God's beliefs are accidents of his which are not identical to him (rejecting a strong doctrine of divine simplicity) without holding that they are "parts" of him in any sense that makes (3) or (4) absurd. Even for created beings like us, the accident-substance relationship does not appear to be at all the same as the part-whole relationship as common sense conceives it. (I would find it weird to say that my beliefs are a part of me in the same sense that my arm is a part of my body, for instance.)

Walter Van den Acker said...


How does it follow from the idea that God is not simple that God’s beliefs change as the reality they are about changes?

If (2) is true, isn't that a problem for divine simplicity as well? For on divine simplicity, God id identical to God's beliefs, so if (2) is true it seems that God changes as the reality changes, which conradicts divine simplicity as well as divine immutability.

Fr M. Kirby said...

I agree with Walter. It seems to me that 2 is more directly incompatible with God's atemporality than with his lack of complexity as such. An atemporal God who sees Creation across its history in toto as a block, whether He is simple or complex, has only true beliefs about everything that has been or will be, and about when each fact will be true for finite creatures who are temporal. But his beliefs don't change.

Although a God who changed with and experienced time such that his beliefs also changed might be thus considered complex across time by having temporal parts, that would seem to be assuming an A-theory of time for all (including God), then importing a B perspective at the end, incoherently. So, simplicity of essence (at any point in time) and atemporality could be distinguished I suppose, such that a person could affirm both simplicity and temporality of God. I'm not saying that any open theist holds this opinion, or should, but it seems a logical possibility from within that framework.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I agree that one could hold 1 without 2. But my argument is against people who hold the package of 1 and 2. Think here of process theologians, and their more orthodox cousins.

Fr M. Kirby said...

I'm not sure that the creaturely changes are necessarily "destroying" (or creating) parts of God (beliefs) on the open theists' assumption. I think they are determining them. I will assume open theists who believe God is maximally knowledgeable, that is, knows all that can be known, which does not include perfect knowledge of the future according to them.

On this set of assumptions God will still, however, have perfect foreknowledge of all possible outcomes as he can understand all possible cause/effect branches as First Cause. He just doesn't know which path along the branching options will eventuate before the time that they do. This means his knowledge grows only in the sense that he is able to pick out which of each fully foreseen branch is actualised. In other words, the only way his knowledge grows is by the steady lengthening of a "track" through a foreknown "space" of possible world-states over time. In such a scenario, creatures with free will would determine the direction of the track and thus the precise determination of God’s knowledge of it, but they would not be adding to or subtracting from God's beliefs in any quantitative sense. The addition that would occur comes about automatically as time flows, no matter what finite agents decide.

Please note, I do not hold this position, but it seems to me it is not guilty of the exact absurdity alleged here, whatever its other flaws.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It depends on the details of how they think beliefs work. But suppose they hold to this picture: for each proposition p that God knows, there is God's act of believing p. Moreover, these opponents of simplicity think that God's act of believing p is a different act for each different p that God believes. These different acts are on that view something like accidents of God. Thus, by raising one's arm one brings it about that God's belief that one's arm is in a lowered state does not exist and that God's belief that one's arm is in a raised state does exist, and so one destroys a part of God and creates a new one. (It is a part of the package that I am criticizing that propositions are tensed, and so it's not enough for God to eternally know that at t1 the arm is lowered and at t2 the arm is raised.)