Christian Theology and Apologetics

Divine Aseity Continued: Dealing with Realism (Platonism)


Threats to Divine Aseity

Two Types of Platonism

Perhaps the largest threat to the doctrine of Divine Aseity is Platonism. There are generally two types of Platonism; I will refer to these as hard and soft Platonism. Hard Platonism posits eternal abstract objects existing with God, whereas, soft platonism is only committed to abstract objects in the sense of semantic objects like “7.” For instance, if a truck driver radio’s over the CB, “what’s your twenty?” It does not follow, that he is asking for an object called “twenty.” This is just a grammatical direct object that which does not imply the actual existence of an object called your “twenty.” Thus, the soft Plutonists really pose no threat to Divine Aseity; rather, it is the hard Plutonism that is in conflict with God’s a se existence.

The Indispensability Argument

The Indiispensability Argument claims that we are committed to the reality of abstract objects by many of the statements we make in every day language. Statements such as “5+5=10” and so on. Today one of the more popular versions of the Indispensibility Argument is put forth by Mark Balaguer, which goes as follows:

  1. If a simple sentence (i.e., a sentence of the form ‘a is F’, or ‘a is R-related to b’, or…) is literally true, then the objects that its singular terms denote exist. Likewise, if an existential sentence is literally true, then there exist objects of the relevant kinds; e.g., if ‘There is an F’ is true, then there exist some Fs.
  2. There are literally true simple sentences containing singular terms that refer to things that could only be abstract objects. Likewise, there are literally true existential statements whose existential quantifiers range over things that could only be abstract objects.
  3. Therefore, abstract objects exist.[1][1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “Platonism in Metaphysics,” by Mark Balaguer.Premise 1 does not tell us what actually exists; it simply demonstrates the commitment to an ontological existence and tells us what must exist for whatever sentence we claim to be true. We make these commitments in a couple of ways according to the first premise: first, it claims that using singular terms such as names. Thus, if a sentence such as, “The Challenger space shuttle (a)was white (F)” is literally true, then the Challenger space shuttle exists. Now, it must be said if someone make a statement such as “his thoughts tossed to and fro inside of his head,” this is not making an ontological commitment; rather, they are using a metaphor, which is true, but not literally true. That is to say, no one thinks thoughts are literally being tossed around in ones head; what is being expressed truthfully is a person is positing various ideas. Also, when it comes to intensional contexts, the ontological commitment of premise 1 does not apply. A good example of this is the “monster” under the bed. For instance, it may be true that Susie fears the “monster” under her bead, but this does not commit us ontologically to the reality of the “monster” under her bead.

    This demonstrates that the inapplicability of Premise 1 for great portions of human discourse. This means that premise 1 is only applicable to extensional contexts. That is to say, sentences which refer to actual things. Sentences such as, “Johnie passed the basketball to Larry.” Thus, Premise 1 claims that the literal truth of extensional sentences in the form “There is a F” commits us to the reality the object F. 

Premise 2 claims that abstract objects mentioned in discourse are literally true and commits the users of these abstract objects to the reality of their existence. From Premise 1 and 2 it follows then that abstract objects exist a se. Thus, the Christian theist must reject the argument by rejecting one of its premises.

The options to the theist are more than most Philosophers and Theologians realize. One can adopt realism, anti-realism or arealism.  Under the realism/abstract objects umbrella, lies absolute creationism which posits that abstract objects, like concrete objects are created by God, thus preserving Divine Aseity.

Another option available to the theist is under the concrete branch of realism. Under this view mathematical objects can exist physically or exist as a mental object in either the human mind or the mind of God. Under the anti-realist umbrella there are numerous options open to the theist that wishes to hold to God’s a se existence. Neutralism rejects premise 1 and its ontological commitment by taking existential quantification to be neutral in regards to ontological commitments. Another view (fictionalism) denies that mathematical objects are true. Figuralism holds that mathematical problems are true, yet denies them as being literal. An additional view holds that these objects that are referred to in singular terms as non-existent; this is the Neo-Meinongianism view. Yet, another view holds that mathematical objects are a figment of imagination—the so called Pretense theory.

Between realism and anti-realism lies arealism which posits there is no real facts about mathematical objects. For the sake of brevity this will not be delved into, but, suffice to say hardly anyone today adopts this view. Simply put, there is no support for the theist in arealism for the reason that uncreated abstract objects exist, thus, there is no room for God in this philosophy.

Absolute Creationism—a branch of Platonism—mentioned in the above is no option for the theist either. This system posits that abstracts such as properties are created as well, which raises the question of the bootstrapping objection. That is to say, God must possess these properties in order to create them. In order for God to create the property omnipotence, he must first be omnipotent. It gets worse—if God does not possess the properties to begin with, he thus is featureless and inept to create anything at all. Thus, absolute creationism reduces to no creation by God at all. Thus, absolute creationism is not friendly to the doctrine of Divine Aseity.

Conceptualism is another form of realism but differs in that propositions are thought of as thoughts and not abstract objects. Greg Welty argues that these propositions as well as possible worlds are identified with Divine thoughts. Thus, he denies the existence of uncreated abstract objects and preserves Divine Aseity. The aforementioned bootstrapping problem. Namely, does God have to have the properties in order to think of them? It must be said that these thoughts in God’s mind are not abstract objects nor constituents to things, but rather, thoughts in the mind of God. Thus, logically there are no properties prior to God thinking of them. Thus, God does not need to have the property in order to conceive of it.

The difficulty with conceptualism is that God must be in a constant state of entertaining thoughts that correlates with every proposition and state of affairs. That is to say, God thinks of all sorts of propositions, even evil ones. Such a thought impugns the Holiness of God.

Another of the many difficulties with conceptualism is in regards to sets. Alvin Platinga regards “sets” to be the mental collections of God. This raises the problem of what we work with everyday when we collect things.[2] For instance, if I collect a “set” of stamps, then what exactly is it I am working with because in conceptualism these “sets” are locked in the mind of God. Thus, the sets we work with are not tantamount to God’s mental collections. Thus, conceptualism still has many difficulties that require kneading. Therefore, it is not the best possible option to deal with Divine Aseity.

[2] Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, pp. 289-90 


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