Classical theism is a theology of God emphasizing His simplicity. The term classical here means grounded along the contours and categories of Western thinking arising from the ancient Greeks, the Christian church fathers, and subsequently the medieval scholastics.
Under this framework, God is pure actuality, or infinite, unchanging being (existence) itself, and not composed of metaphysical parts like everything in the created order (e.g. angels are composed of form and existence, human beings are composed of form, matter, and existence, etc.). God is the “great ocean of being that all finite being derives from.”
But what happens when our conception of God shifts to Him as merely a particular being, rather than being itself?
Dr. Brian Huffling joins us to discuss the implications of such a view.
In the answer to a recent question sent in by a reader, Dr. William Lane Craig levies the charge that divine simplicity “entails that God is literally incomprehensible,” and that under this framework we “can have no positive knowledge of God.” Dr. Huffling also notes that in the book Time and Eternity, Craig ostensibly draws further implications from simplicity, such as God wouldn’t be able to cause things (because that would constitute an accident), and that God can’t know, or love.
But do these implications follow? Thomas Aquinas would likely answer that it is entirely possible to know positively about God, and that when we experience the beatific vision we will gain even more experiential knowledge about our Creator. Though his charge that we can have no positive knowledge of God does not follow, Craig is correct that due to metaphysical constraints we are bound to an unavoidably incomplete understanding of the nature of God, because He is an entirely different category of being that is infinite, while we are finite.
Theologically, this is hardly problematic, and is in fact healthy (a God that we could know fully and univocally would be finite, like ourselves, and unworthy of worship), but it could be disconcerting for those who, despite their finitude, have an unrealistic aspiration for an absolute, univocal understanding of an infinite God. Positive knowledge of God is indeed possible, but must be had analogically, rather than univocally.
To Infinity and Beyond
While opining the paucity of positive knowledge about God to be had on the view of simplicity, Craig characterizes God as infinite, but Huffling explains this term also falls short of Craig’s concern for positive knowledge about God due to the fact that it is a negation (not finite). Additionally, if God is not simple, and therefore a being with parts, then in order to remain aptly characterized as infinite God would have to have an infinite number of parts. This would seemingly render an actual infinite, which would do damage to his cosmological argument, with Dr. Huffling noting:
Simplicity is important, and infinity is important, and in some ways they go hand in hand, because you can’t have infinite parts.
Once again, we find while classical theism honors God as being in a class by himself as a necessary and simple being, other perspectives can often impose human, finite, and compromised characteristics onto God.
Dr. Huffling’s delightful aphorism captures it well:
“God doesn’t fit in any of our little, puny boxes.”
Don’t miss the full interview with Dr. Brian Huffling, and if you’re ready to examine your faith intellectually and give reasons for your hope in Christ, consider SES by downloading our free e-book at the link below.