Is Metaphysics Christian?

Christianity took the opposite road. It has always been a religion seeking a metaphysic,

Alfred North Whitehead[1]

Metaphysic is a term first coined by an editor of Aristotle’s works after his death.  In a series of lectures, Aristotle sought to explore the nature of beings; τὰ φύσει ὄντα.  These works were entitled physics.  Physics study beings which change.  In Metaphysics, that which comes after (meta) physics, Aristotle studies beings that do not change. The first cause is unchanging and has little in common with mutable things.

The modern definition from Webster defines metaphysics as “a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology.”  Although immutability has been left out of the definition the idea of immutability pervades the discipline of metaphysics.

In Christian theology, metaphysics is an attempt to bring coherence, logic and consistency in the concepts relating to the attributes of God.  In itself, this is an acceptable practice, if the Scripture alone was used as evidence of the attributes of God.  However, classical Christian theology begins with the Platonic themes of immutability and simplicity, which are the attributes of the pagan Neoplatonic god then build a system from a false start.

In Platonic theology, especially in Plotinus, a coherent system of metaphysics was developed explaining the attributes of God.  Starting with simplicity and immutability Plotinus would build a god through syllogisms and logic.  This god would be immutable, simple, eternal (outside of temporal time), omnipresent, and impassable.  It is no coincidence, that these attributes resemble the Christian God.

A changing being is compound, it has parts which change and parts which do not change.  Since god does not change, he does not have any parts, he is simple.  If god could be changed, he might be able to go out of existence.  God does not change he is eternal.  If god could be moved to one place or another he would suffer change in position.  God’s position does not change, therefore he is everywhere, omnipresent.  If outside forces could change God then he would be subject to change (passable).  God does not change therefore he is impassable.

Alfred North Whitehead observes there is no such chain of cause and effect in the Scriptures in support of the classical attributes of god.  The metaphysical arguments are superimposed on the Scriptures in a manner patterned after the Platonists’ arguments.

Classical Christian theologians want to keep the Plotinian attributes of god but slightly modify the meaning of the attributes.  For example, if god is impassable he is not capable of having sympathy  or love for subjects.  God is capable of having love and answering prayers but he is not capable of a negative passion, suffering.  Impassable is redefined as “not suffering.”

Classical Christian theologians will add another attribute based on immutability.  Since God does not change, his knowledge does not change.  Therefore god is omniscient, knowing all things that have happened and all things that will happen.

Christian theologians will use the same arguments in support of these classical attributes as the Neoplatonist philosophers will use in support of the attributes of their god.  The classical
Christian theologians believe the evidence in Scripture in support of these Platonic attributes is mixed.  The evidence against their position will be dismissed as metaphors not representing the true nature of God.  (anthropomorphism or anthropopathism)  There is no reason to dismiss one set of arguments in favor of another except the preconceptions of the thelogians.

Open theologians offer a different conception of God.  This God is mutable, loving, personal and is affected by the plight his people. In additions the knowledge of God changes with the new actions of his creation.  Open theologians, do not dismiss some evidence as metaphors, but accept the Scriptural evidence about God.

The Neoplatonist philosophers base their chain of attributes on the nature of god as immutable and simple.  If god is not immutable or simple their chain is broken, the other attributes do not stand up to reason.  The arguments for the attributes of impassability, eternality, and omnipresence are not logically supportable.

In addition, the redefinition of the attributes by the classical theologians, in contrast to the definitions of the Neoplatonists, makes their systematic theology incoherent and illogical.  For example, how can impassable be redefined as including “good” mutable emotions allowing some kind of change in god, but insisting god cannot change his knowledge.  By insisting on the immutability of god and extending immutability to God’s knowledge, the classical theologians insist on God knowing all events that happen in the future.  This extension, known as the eternality of God, God existing in the eternal, is central to the coherence of their systematic theology.  Their system becomes incoherent.

Another claim of classical theology is the coincidence of the attributes.  They imagine the Platonists just happened on the right attributes of God.  To show the dependence of classical theology on Platonic theology, the early church fathers will be shown to admit their borrowing of the concepts of immutability and simplicity from the Platonists.  For example, Augustine will say he would never have become a Christian until he accepted the spiritual nature of god in Platonism.  Aquinas will quote the Platonists as confirmation of the arguments for the classical attributes.

Once the base attributes (immutability and simplicity) are discredited it becomes possible to demonstrate the source of the other classical attributes of god.  There are similar if not identical arguments used by the classical theologians and the Platonists to support their share concepts on the attributes of god.  These arguments are not in Scripture and are not coherent with the nature of God described in the Scriptures.

The God of Scriptures is far from simple.  He must have a knowledge capable of building life from nonlife on an intricate knowledge of Carbon compounds.  He probably has the knowledge and expertise to use a different element for life such as Silicon.  He has the potential to create other new worlds and to create other life forms.  He has to be far more complicated and varied then the universe he created.  He is not immutable.  He creates creatures who are able to be creative in their own ways.  Therefore, he has the ability to learn new things from his creatures.

Even if the substance of God were immutable because he is eternal this would not be any indication of the personality of God.  God’s personality is not dependent on his essence.  The philosophy of the Greeks begins with the immutability of the essence of God and attempts to construct a god out of the qualities of this imagined substance.  Parmenides would contrast the “what is” with the “is not.”  Aristotle would attempt define true being the “qua being” of god.  Mankind is created in the image of God, yet no one attempts to understand a human mind based on his physical being.  How can one insist on the immutability of God’s essence and attempt to construct his personality from his essence?

It is not logical to insist God’s essence is immutable therefore his knowledge is also immutable.  It is also illogical to link his essence with his attributes of love, justice and mercy.  The system of building the attributes of God from immutability and simplicity, are flawed.  God does not possess the base attributes of immutability and simplicity, the logical system based on these attributes (i.e. omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence)  is flawed and the linking of “material” assumptions of God (essence) with his character and abilities is incoherent.

[1] Alfred North Whitehead, End of Lecture 2, Religion and Dogma, King’s Chapel, Boston, February 1926  (Australia, Mountain Man Graphics)

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