Ep4-The Attributes of God Ch 2 - Apostasy and Concepts of Perfection (Part 1)

We discuss how concepts of perfection from Platonism/Neo-Platonism heavily influenced early Christian thought on God's attributes. We then discuss the Absolutist system developed largely by Augustine and articulated by Thomas Aquinas. We bring up issues with the 'God' that arise when you follow this system to its logical conclusions.

The Logical Incoherence of Traditional Christianity by Blake Ostler

Show Notes:

Confluence of Greek Philosophy and Christian Theology:

“Mormons believe that traditional Christianity took a wrong turn by adopting Greek philosophy as the matrix to understand God.”

“Greek philosophy had a profound impact on Christianity beginning primarily with the Patristic writers”

“Because “God” is often taken to refer to a perfect being, the concept of perfection has far-reaching implications for the way in which we think of God. ”

“I propose to examine two very different systematic developments of the concept of perfection and the alternative ideas of God which are suggested by these notions of perfection. My primary purpose is to carefully articulate these two systems for comparison with Mormon thought in the next chapter”

Thomas Aquinas and Charles Hartshorne

A. Emergence of the Absolutist Tradition in Christian Theology:

“Judeo-Christian scripture began with basic categories of human experience such as personality, interpersonal relations, fidelity, faithfulness, love and so on. Neoplatonism was the Greek philosophy which had a dominating influence on conventional Christianity from and after the Patristic era, roughly 180 to 325 C.E. It approached the world through reason alone and regarded experience as an untrustworthy guide to truth. Neoplatonists accepted Plato’s view that what is real is permanent and unchanging.”

“Neoplatonists concluded that the real, the realm of eternal truths which does not change, can be arrived at only through reason. This basic epistemology, or theory of knowledge, led to several dichotomies which characterized the world of reason over against the world of experience: pure Being and becoming, the One and the many, the abstract Ideal and the concrete and material, the timeless and the temporal, the uncaused and the caused, and the necessary and the contingent.”

“The complex of absolutist properties derived from both Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism—immutability, simplicity, timelessness, impassibility and incorporeality—was accepted as axiomatic properties of divinity even though not a single one of these terms appeared in the Judeo-Christian writings and seemed to positively contradict much of what is found therein.”

“the early Christian writers held that scriptural statements must give way to this Neoplatonic vision of God rather than the other way around”


B. The Logic of Absolute Independence

“The Thomist theology is systematic—that is, it is logically interlocking in nature and all-inclusive in scope. Thomas believed that he could logically derive every divine property from a basic axiom adopted from Aristotle’s philosophy: everything is either caused or uncaused. The starting point for Aquinas’s theology was, like Augustine, the notion of creatio ex nihilo. Aquinas’s system is the logical outcome of adopting the notion of perfection as a maximum upper limit and absolute independence of the world of flux and change.”

1. Pure Actuality-There is no potentiality in God to be anything He is not.

God is pure act and must have no unrealized potential energy. Ball rolling down the hill metaphor

Created beings have potentiality that is not actuality, imperfections as well as perfection. Only God is simultaneously all that He can be, infinitely real and infinitely perfect: 'I am who I am'

2. Divine Simplicity-All of God’s properties are identical; God has no parts.

There are no internal relations in God; God is not affected by anything outside himself.

No parts. The general idea of divine simplicity can be stated in this way: the being of God is identical to the "attributes" of God. In other words, such characteristics as omnipresence, goodness, truth, eternity, etc. are identical to God's being, not qualities that make up that being, nor abstract entities inhering in God as in a substance.

3. Immutability-None of God’s intrinsic properties changes.

Changeless. “if God is simple he cannot change in any intrinsic property and must be immutably what he is.”

Can't change for better or it means you weren't as good as you could be. Can't change for the worse because well....it's worse

4. Timeless Eternity-God transcends temporal succession; the past, present and future are all possessed at once in the divine.

“Thomists usually interpret eternity to mean that all temporal moments are simultaneously present in God’s mode of life; and thus each temporal moment, past, present and future, is identically real and present from God’s perspective. It also means that God doesn’t have temporal location in time or temporal extension through a period or even all of temporal time. God transcends every form of becoming or temporal succession.”

Outside of time

5. Aseity-God is self-sufficient; none of God’s intrinsic properties depends on anything else; God does not need anything.

“God exists a se or, in other words, is self sufficient and independent of all other realities for anything that he is”

“Put in another way, God does not need the world for anything that he is.”

6. Impassibility-Nothing outside of God affects Him in any way; God’s bliss is not disturbed by anything outside Himself no matter what happens.

“God is thus impassible or without any feelings or passions. God is not causally acted on by anything exterior to himself. He is not affected by anything in the world.”

7. Omniscience-God knows all true propositions, including propositions about future contingents.

God knows everything that ever happened is happening and will happen all at once.

8. Omnipotence-God can do anything which is logically consistent.

“Aquinas adopted something like the following definition of omnipotence: “For any states of affairs x, if x is a logically possible state of affairs, God can bring it about that x.”

Incorporeality-God does not have a body and is not characterized by any physical or material properties.

Omnipresent-God is present to all places and all times simultaneously.

Creator ex Nihilo-God creates the world from nothing; it is a contingent fact that anything besides God exists.

Absolute Necessity-Every truth about God’s intrinsic properties is necessarily true: God is not open to any contingent fact in His being.

“Indeed, many critics of Thomism believe that if God is altogether unaffected by the world and it makes no difference to God whether the entire world is lost in unbearable misery and pain, then so much the worse for God. Does the notion of a perfect being really require that we are simply superfluous to God?”


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