Friday, February 17, 2012

God and the Divine Essence

Sometimes I think the best argument for atheism is analytic philosophy of religion. Witness the following from Hoffmann and Rosenkrantz, The Divine Attributes, 90.

...Anselm's notion of a self-existent or self-explanatory being is rather obscure. For example, Anselm takes it to be an implication of divine self-existence that (i) God's existence is not explained by anything else, (ii) God's existence is explained by his essence, and hence that (iii) God is a necessary being. Unhappily, (i) and (ii) are incompatible unless God is identical with his essence. Anselm accepts the doctrine that God is identical with his essence; among traditional theologians such as Anselm this doctrine is commonly thought to be an implication of divine simplicity. But as we have argued, it is a category mistake to suppose that God, a substance, is identical with his essence, a quality. Moreover, necessarily, any quality of a concrete entity [of any sort] inheres in that concrete entity. But God's essence is a quality of God, and God is a concrete entity. So, God's essence inheres in God. Since it is impossible for a concrete entity to inhere in itself, it follows that God cannot inhere in himself. Because God's essence inheres in God, but God does not, God and his essence are diverse. For all of these reasons, God and his essence cannot be identical. Hence, (i) and (ii) are incompatible. Thus, if God's existence is explained by his essence, then strictly speaking God's existence is explained by something else. However, God's existence being explained by his essence seems compatible with God's being maximally great. There is no reason to accept without qualification Anselm's assumption that God's existence cannot depend upon something else.

Valid? Sure. Sound? 'Unsound' just doesn't do it justice. I would like to know what the point of having an essence is when it just inheres in a substance along with all the substance's other properties/qualities etc. Fond/convinced as I am of the usefulness of the formal distinction, I don't think I would posit it as obtaining between God and the divine essence.


Ron Krumpos said...

We cannot rationally conceive of divine essence, but we can have conscious awareness of being in it.

E=mc², Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. In my free ebook on comparative mysticism, I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Love, Grace, Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.

(quoted from "the greatest achievement in life," my free ebook on comparative mysticism)

Anonymous said...

the essence of something is a quality of it? i don't think so.
is not 'substance' just the way a given essence exists extra-mentally?

X-Cathedra said...

I could not agree more. It is this kind of thing that makes me despair of ever making any progress with Analytic types.

And it seems to me that this kind of reasoning is precisely what makes Thomist theories of analogy so attractive, and simultaneously, makes univocity seem like such a boogeyman (even if it isn't). It seems initially more effective to counter this by saying there is an important kind of equivocation obtaining between "substance" as applied to God and as applied to creatures; and the same goes for "quality." And if you miss that, you aren't talking about God anymore; at most you're perpetuating nothing more than a theistic sounding atheist discourse. That seems to be the perpetual temptation of Analytic Philo of Religion.

Pax Christi,

E.R. Bourne said...

I can't help but think that this is just another example of modern philosophy being plagued with a limited and dictatorial imagination that acts as the apparent arbiter between what is sensible and what isn't.

Philosophers of this mindset must be picturing some item called "God" with a bunch of tags (qualities) attached to it. Some say things like 'wise' or 'powerful.' One of these tags happens to read 'essence,' and, voila, "God cannot inhere in Himself," etc.

Am I wrong for also seeing this as sophomoric question begging as well? Even if, for arguments sake, the scholastics conceived of essences in such a manner, is not whether, in the particular case of God, his essence and existence are identical precisely what is at stake? In other words, to wave such a claim away by saying that this is usually not the case is not much of a rebuttal since no one happens to think otherwise.

If they do not think that Anselm is merely special pleading, they do not demonstrate that they are familiar at all with why he would argue for the identity of God's essence and existence in the first place.

Anonymous said...

In fairness, the authors are probably captive to a widespread contemporary theory of essences: according to this theory, the essence of an object is the set (or conjunction, or some such) of all properties that object necessarily possesses. So the authors employ a silly theory, to be sure, but one understandable in the light of current metaphysics.