Lesson: taunting other bloggers who are (a) more creative, (b) have a far-reaching audience, and (c) have read more philosophy than I’ve forgotten is never a good idea. Especially when the original conversation happened when everyone was far too tired. Especially when the taunt depends upon a topic that one is eminently unqualified to speak about.
Joe Carter turned his evangelicaloutpost cannon on me for the conversation that we had at GodBlogCon about universals. After running the infinite regress argument against Plato’s notion of the forms, Joe proceeds to argue that the notion of necessary and universal properties (forms) is not compatible with Christian theism. Such a position, Joe claims, assails the independance and supremacy of God.
A little backdrop: I argued the position less out of a committment to Platonic forms and more from an intense desire to protect the notion of properties, something Joe seemed to deny (in that conversation). In other words, I argued that greeness is something that is had by green properties–it is a mind and object independant property that can be instantiated in various objects. The conversation took this to forms, which is natural, but not necessary. Contrary to this, Joe argued for a Dooyeweerd like “modes” analysis of objects. I am still not sure what he means by this, but that’s another discussion.
The claim that the forms are incompatible with Christian theism is, I think, the stronger and more interesting claim. Joe tosses the gloves aside and starts swinging with this:
This leads to the question, “Where is God amidst all these Forms?” Plato had no difficulty in answering this conundrum: he simply posited that the God (the demiurgos) had an existence that was co-equal to these Forms. Christians, in contrast, believe that nothing can be self-existent other than God Himself. Biblical Christianity, of course, rejects such metaphysical pluralism so Platonic Christians are forced to circumvent this difficulty by adopting a modified Platonism. They claim that while the Forms do not have aseity (existence in themselves) they do exist necessarily (i.e., they cannot not exist). What this means is that God’s existence is only causally prior to but not temporally prior to their existence…
The problem with this view, as philosopher J.P. Moreland points out,* is that since these entities exist necessarily, they are independent of the divine will. God is not free to not create such beings. Under this view, God could not have existed alone and had no other choice but to create these Forms. This appears to me to be inconsistent with the orthodox Christian understanding of God, particularly in relation to his creation.
The idea that “God’s existence is causally prior, but not temporally prior” to the forms is not a problem for Christian theism. After all, that seems to be the relationship between the Father and the Son, where the Son is begotten of the Father, but there was not a time when the Son was not.
I’m still working through the second issue, but right now I fail to see how the claim that an independantly existing necessary reality impugnes the self-sufficiency of God. What if the Being of God is such that it overflows into other realities? In other words, it is an attribute of the largesse and creative goodness of God that entails the forms existence, not an attribute of His neediness or poverty. On this account, God is no more “free” to not create these things than He is “free” to not follow the laws of logic. The claim depends entirely upon what we mean by “God’s existence”–I often think that it is not so barren or reduced as we tend to think of it.
Additionally, the existence of the Forms independant of God does not at all entail the creation of the real world in matter. While the Forms have some sort of being–after all, they exist–they are not “created” in the sense that this world is created, just as the Son is not “begotten” as human children are “begotten” (I do not use the analogy to put the Forms on the same level as Jesus, but merely to point out the difficulty of the language). The attribute “Creator” is given to God because of His unique ability to bring being out of non-being, which he does in the creation of this world. The existence of Forms neither enhances nor limits that power.
No doubt this won’t solve every problem. But it may save the Forms from the charge that they are inconsistent with Christian theism.
Update: I changed the sentence that was causing confusion (see comment 5) because it contained a silly error. Namely, I wasn’t thinking and used “antecedent” when I shouldn’t have. Poor form, really. I will save other comments for another post.