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The failure of Johnson’s critique of pure theology


On the
Reformed Baptist Weblog, Jeffrey Johnson has
to my First
Issues assessment
of his guide
Failure of Pure Theology: A Crucial Appraisal of the Philosophical Theology
of Thomas Aquinas
.  He makes
9 factors, none of which is any extra convincing than the guide itself is.  What follows is a point-by-point reply. 


I famous in
my assessment that Johnson attributes to Aquinas the view that God “doesn’t have
any potencies.”  (The quote is from p.
120 of his guide.)  I additionally famous that this
is a misunderstanding of Aquinas. 
Aquinas distinguishes between “passive efficiency” (which is the capability
to endure change) and “lively efficiency” (which is the ability to result in
results in different issues).  What Aquinas
truly holds is that God doesn’t have any passive potencies, however is supreme
in lively efficiency.  (Cf. Summa
I.25.1.)  Therefore it isn’t appropriate to say that for
Aquinas, God “doesn’t have any
potencies.”  Aquinas insists that God does have lively efficiency.  It is just passive efficiency that he lacks.

claims that he didn’t overlook this distinction and that I’ve missed his
level.  However he did overlook it, and I did
not miss his level.  Be aware first that the
phrases from p. 120 of Johnson’s guide that I quoted had been directed at one thing I
had written in my guide Scholastic
, the place I famous that for Scholastics like Aquinas, environment friendly
causation is a matter of a factor exercising “its personal lively potencies or powers.”  Johnson argues that Aquinas can’t coherently
take God to be an environment friendly trigger on this sense.  The rationale, he says within the full sentence from
which I took the phrases quoted, is that this: “How does God train his ‘personal lively
potencies’ if he doesn’t have any potencies?” 
Clearly, Johnson may assume this a telling response to Aquinas solely
on the idea that Aquinas denies that God has potencies of any form – an assumption that’s, once more,
false.  Therefore, I didn’t misunderstand
Johnson.  I merely known as consideration to
what he himself explicitly mentioned in his guide.

Neither is his
misunderstanding of Aquinas’s place confined to this one line.  As I famous in my assessment, Johnson repeatedly
attributes to Aquinas the thesis that God is “motionless.”  Now, Aquinas definitely thinks that God is immutable within the sense that he doesn’t
endure change, and that he’s impassible
within the sense that nothing exterior to him can have a causal affect on
him.  However Johnson says (at p. 137 of his
guide) that “immobility” includes one thing greater than immutability and
impassibility.  Right here’s one clarification by
Johnson of what else it includes:

Thomas added to God’s easy and
immutable nature a further attribute not taught within the Scriptures:
divine immobility. 

Aquinas made the idea that
mobility – the willful exertion of energy – is a vital attribute of
imperfection, finiteness, and temporality. 
As a result of God can’t be any of these items, mobility should not be in God
. (p. 5)

based on Johnson, Aquinas denies that there’s any “willful exertion of
energy” in God.  And that is, once more,
merely false.  Certainly, its falsehood is
very simply demonstrated.  For instance,
Aquinas says that “in God there’s lively energy within the highest diploma” (ST I.25.1); that
God “wills… different issues to be” (ST I.19.2);
that “God is first within the order of brokers” and that “his inclination to place in
act what His mind has conceived appertains to the desire” in order that “the desire
of God is the reason for issues” (ST I.19.4);
and so forth.  All of this entails exactly
that God does willfully exert energy,
opposite to what Johnson claims is Aquinas’s view.  Therefore Aquinas denies that God is “motionless” in Johnson’s sense.

Aquinas even permits that there’s a sense
through which God is moved.  For instance, he

For the reason that will of God is His essence,
it isn’t moved by one other than itself,
however by itself alone, in
the identical sense as understanding and keen are mentioned to be motion.  That is what Plato meant when he mentioned that
the primary mover
strikes itself. (ST

In fact,
Aquinas is talking right here solely of one thing remotely analogous to what we name
“motion” in us, because it doesn’t contain any actualization of passive
efficiency nor any causal affect from with out. 
However it additional underlines how far Aquinas is from attributing to God
“immobility” in Johnson’s sense.

Now, in his
reply to me, Johnson insinuates that his level was merely to argue that,
no matter Aquinas’s precise intentions, he’s unable to reconcile an affirmation
that God has lively causal energy along with his Aristotelian strategy to arguing for
God’s existence and spelling out the divine nature.  However there are two issues with this.  First, Johnson doesn’t merely say that Aquinas’s views suggest
that God lacks lively causal energy (even when Aquinas doesn’t intend this
outcome).  Quite – and as we now have simply
seen – Johnson claims that Aquinas himself
truly holds
that God lacks such energy. 
Once more, not solely is that not true, however in reality Aquinas explicitly says
the other.  So, Johnson has badly
misrepresented Aquinas’s place. 
Aquinas merely doesn’t imagine what Johnson claims he does. 

Johnson additionally doesn’t set up that
the Aristotelian premises Aquinas is working from truly entail divine
“immobility.”  Why does Johnson suppose in any other case?  One cause seems to be that Aristotle
himself conceived of God as shifting the world as a last trigger somewhat than as an environment friendly
trigger.  And Johnson appears to assume that
anybody working from Aristotle’s premises should conclude that it’s solely as a last trigger that God can transfer
the world, that God can’t act as an
environment friendly trigger. 

However that’s
definitely not Aquinas’s view, and Johnson doesn’t present that it follows from
something Aquinas says.  Johnson thinks he reveals that this follows as a result of
he thinks that Aquinas claims that there isn’t any efficiency of any form in God and
that God is “motionless.”  However as we now have
simply seen, not solely does Aquinas not declare these items, in reality he holds the
reverse.  Therefore he’s not dedicated to
the premises from which it will observe that God can’t act as an environment friendly

Certainly, even
Johnson permits that the “immobility” of the unmoved mover “will not be a crucial
conclusion” of Aquinas’s First Approach (p. 116) and that it’s “inconsistent” with
the conception of God that outcomes from the Second and Fifth Methods (pp. 118 and
130).  Johnson thinks this reveals that
Aquinas’s place is inconsistent, however that will solely be true if Aquinas had,
elsewhere, explicitly or implicitly dedicated himself to divine
“immobility.”  And as we now have seen, he
doesn’t achieve this.  In his response to my
assessment, Johnson writes:

Feser, nonetheless, didn’t try and
reply this dilemma that I raised time and again in my guide.  I assume that he leapt over it as a result of it
can’t be answered.  Thomas wasn’t in a position to
reconcile this contradiction, and I’m not satisfied that anybody is ready to do

quote.  However Johnson misses the
level.  I didn’t try and “reconcile
this contradiction” for the easy cause that there isn’t any such contradiction within the first place.  Johnson supposes in any other case solely as a result of he’s
attacking a straw man somewhat than Aquinas’s precise views.

Into the
discount, by the best way, Johnson misunderstands Aquinas’s First Approach.  He writes that “Aquinas’s first proof… is
primarily based on God being the last trigger of
the universe” (p. 115).  Now, because the
reader of the First Approach can simply confirm from ST I.2.3,
there isn’t any reference to last causality anyplace in it.  Nor does something Aquinas says there entail
that the unmoved mover should transfer issues by the use of last causality somewhat than
by the use of environment friendly causality.  In reality,
the textual content of the argument implies exactly the other.  For example the form of movement he has in
thoughts, Aquinas refers to fireplace making wooden scorching and a hand inflicting a workers to
transfer.  And fireplace and hand operate
exactly as environment friendly causes.  I might
guess that Johnson is assuming that as a result of (A) Aristotle introduced a model
of the argument from movement, and (B) Aristotle thought the unmoved mover moved
the world as a last trigger, then (C) Aquinas’s model of the argument from
movement have to be primarily based on last causality. 
However (C) doesn’t observe from (A) and (B).


I famous in
my assessment that Johnson claims that by permitting for the sake of argument that
the universe could not have had a temporal starting, Aquinas makes God and the
universe equally absolute.  I additionally famous
that this declare is fake, since Aquinas’s view is that, even when the universe
had had no starting, it couldn’t persist in being even for a second with out
divine conserving causality.  Therefore even
an infinitely outdated universe would rely for its being on God, who could be the
sole absolute actuality.  In his response,
Johnson claims that I’ve misrepresented him, writing: “In fact, Aquinas
made this declare.  I state this over and
over in my guide… Little question, Aquinas believed that with out God, there isn’t any
universe.  I’m wondering how Feser may have
missed me saying all of this within the guide.”

Here’s what
Johnson truly mentioned in his guide.  Commenting
on Aquinas’s view that philosophical arguments can’t set up that the world
had a temporal starting, he wrote: “That is the place Aquinas’s pure theology
breaks down… Aristotelian metaphysics by itself advantage can’t set up a
temporal universe.   And with out
a temporal universe, God ceases to be absolute
” (pp. 124-25, emphasis added).  He additionally says that “based on Aquinas, a
temporal and pointless universe is
not the logical conclusion of pure theology however, just like the doctrine of the
Trinity, is an article of religion that may solely be obtained by divine authority”
(p. 134).

based on Johnson, Aquinas holds that philosophy alone can’t set up that
the universe is pointless – that’s
to say, that its existence is contingent
upon some trigger exterior it.  And provided that
that had been certainly Aquinas’s view would his allowance for an infinitely outdated
universe entail that the universe and God are equally absolute.

However of
course, Aquinas does not assume that
philosophy is incapable of displaying that the universe is pointless or
contingent.  Quite the opposite, he argues,
on purely philosophical grounds, that something whose essence and existence are
distinct requires a trigger, and is subsequently contingent.  And he argues, once more on purely philosophical grounds,
that this trigger have to be one thing whose essence is an identical with its existence, and that such a trigger could be
distinctive.  It follows – once more, on purely
philosophical grounds – that all the pieces aside from this trigger relies upon for its
existence upon it (in order that all the universe relies upon for its existence upon
it).  This holds true whether or not or not the
universe had a starting (which is why Aquinas thinks that establishing that
the world relies upon for its existence on God doesn’t require arguing for a
temporal starting).

That is,
somewhat famously, one of many important themes of De
Ente et Essentia
, and it additionally seems in lots of different locations in Aquinas’s
works.  For instance, within the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas writes:

It have to be mentioned that each being in
any means present is from God.  For
no matter is present in something by participation, have to be induced in it by that to
which it belongs primarily… [But] all beings aside from God are usually not their very own
being, however are beings by participation. 
Subsequently it have to be that every one issues that are diversified by the varied
participation of being, in order to be kind of excellent, are brought on by one
First Being, Who possesses being most completely…

From the truth that a factor has being
by participation, it follows that it’s induced. 
Therefore such a being can’t be with out being induced
. (ST I.44.1)

Discover that
the argument right here appeals to philosophical premises, to not particular divine
revelation.  So, opposite to what Johnson
says in his guide, Aquinas does assume
that the contingency of the universe might be established by way of purely
philosophical arguments, and thus he does
assume that it may be proved by such arguments that God alone is absolute, despite the fact that such arguments can’t in
Aquinas’s view set up a temporal starting of the universe.

Whether or not
Johnson acknowledges elsewhere in his guide that Aquinas takes the universe to rely
on God is irrelevant.  For the purpose is
that Aquinas holds (opposite to what Johnson says within the passages I quoted
above) that philosophy by itself, aside
from particular divine revelation
, can set up this dependence of the world
on God.


In my assessment
of his guide, I famous that Johnson claims that for Aquinas, we are able to solely ever
know a illustration of God somewhat than God himself, and might solely converse of God
metaphorically or symbolically somewhat than actually.  And I cited particular passages through which
Aquinas truly says exactly the other of those claims – for instance,
passages through which he says that the blessed in heaven know the very essence of
God, and through which he says that some phrases do apply to God actually.  As I identified, Johnson misses the latter
level as a result of he conflates metaphor and analogical language (which can be metaphorical however needn’t be).

In his
response, Johnson doesn’t deny that he’s responsible of those errors – they usually
are very fundamental and critical errors of scholarship – even when he doesn’t fairly
admit it both.  As an alternative he tries to
change the topic.  He notes, for
instance, that Aquinas holds that God’s attributes are an identical, and suggests
that this makes it obscure what phrases like “good” imply when
utilized to God.  However there are a number of
issues with this type of transfer.  First,
it’s utterly irrelevant to the purpose I used to be making, viz. that Johnson misrepresented
Aquinas’s views about theological language and what we are able to find out about God.

Second, the cause Aquinas identifies the divine
attributes is as a result of he’s dedicated to the doctrine of divine simplicity – to
which Johnson can be dedicated.  So, if
the id of the divine attributes that divine simplicity entails is a
downside for Aquinas, it’s also an issue for Johnson.  To make certain, Johnson signifies at p. 164 of
his guide that he wouldn’t himself establish the divine attributes with one
one other.  However what he wants to clarify is
how he can keep away from doing so whereas at
the identical time affirming divine simplicity.

Third, Johnson
raises this challenge as if it weren’t one thing that Thomists and others have
addressed many instances within the giant literature on divine simplicity.  If Johnson doesn’t discover what they need to say
convincing, then positive, he’s free to boost objections to it.  However he appears not even to pay attention to it. 

Johnson additionally
means that, even when Aquinas does affirm that some phrases are utilized to God
actually, he was not “according to himself” insofar as he additionally denied that
we are able to know God’s essence on this life, and as a substitute need to symbolize God utilizing
phrases we be taught from their utility to created issues.  However there isn’t any inconsistency right here in any respect,
as a result of the latter declare doesn’t entail that no language about God is
literal.  Certainly, it doesn’t even suggest
that the insufficient methods we symbolize God utilizing phrases initially utilized to
created issues are non-literal. 

Once more,
Johnson clearly simply doesn’t perceive what Thomists imply after they speak about
the analogical use of phrases.  That’s no
sin – except you’re going to make absurdly overconfident pronouncements about
the “failure” of Aquinas’s philosophical theology, with out first bothering to
be taught what Aquinas truly says. 


In my
assessment, I famous that Johnson took a comment of mine out of context
(particularly, from my essay “Pure Theology Should Be Grounded within the
Philosophy of Nature, Not in Pure Science,” which seems in my anthology Neo-Scholastic
).  His misuse of the
quote, I identified, rested on a failure to tell apart between science as it’s usually understood
immediately and philosophy of nature.  In his response, Johnson means that he was
probably not saying something totally different in substance from the purpose I used to be making
in that essay.  Actually?  Here’s what he truly mentioned in his guide, in
the context of commenting on Aquinas’s First Approach:

[W]e can’t know for sure, primarily based
on Aquinas’s first proof, if God strikes himself or not.  Herman Bavinck positioned his finger on the
downside when he said, “We’ve got no proper… to use the legislation of causality to
such a primary trigger, and that we subsequently can’t say something particular about
it.”  The cosmological argument collapses
as a result of it jumps from physics to metaphysics, from science to philosophy,
with out having any epistemological warrant for such a leap.  It might seem that God’s nature might be
derived from sense expertise, from pure science, however such a conclusion is
solely a philosophical assumption.  Even one
of the main Thomistic students of our day, Edward Feser, admits to this: “I
do deny that arguments grounded in pure science alone can get you to
classical theism.”

That is the breaking level.  That is the place the pure theology of Thomas
fails.  (pp. 117-18)

I don’t assume
anybody who has learn the essay of mine quoted from, or certainly who is aware of something
about my work on pure theology, may say with a straight face that I might
agree that “the cosmological argument collapses,” or that we “can’t say
something particular” in regards to the divine nature primarily based on such an argument, or that
such an argument can’t be grounded in “sense expertise.”  What I truly imagine, after all, is that Aquinas’s
First Approach is a profitable proof of God’s existence, that it’s grounded in
sense expertise, and that following out its implications tells us a lot about
the divine nature.  True, I don’t assume
that pure science, as that’s usually
understood immediately
, can present the muse of such an argument.  However Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy of nature (the principle ideas
of which had been included as a part of “science” as Aristotle and Aquinas understood
it) can present such foundations.

says, in his response: “I wish to know what these broader ideas are.”  But when he actually learn the essay of mine he
quoted from, and the opposite works of mine that he cites in his guide, then he
ought to already know the reply to that query.  The ideas in query embrace concepts like
the Aristotelian idea of act and efficiency.)

Johnson additionally
now claims that he was merely noting, within the passage I quote from his guide,
which you can’t get to all the pieces the Bible
says in regards to the divine nature from science alone.  However as you possibly can see from the quote above, that
is not what he mentioned in that
passage.  What he truly mentioned is
one thing a lot stronger than that – that if science doesn’t present a foundation for
the First Approach, then Aquinas’s argument “collapses,” that his pure theology
subsequently “fails” altogether, that you just “can’t say something particular” in regards to the
divine nature on the idea of Aquinas’s argument, and so forth.  (And naturally, nobody ever claimed within the
first place that the First Approach will get you all the best way to all the pieces the Bible
says about God.  That’s a straw man.)


the subject of the “immobility” that he says Aquinas attributes to God, Johnson
 Sure, Aquinas claimed God exerted willful energy in
creation.  I cite him saying such
statements.  I by no means denied this about
Aquinas.”  However as I confirmed above, by
citing particular passages, Johnson does in
truth deny this in his guide.  (Johnson
says: “I truly surprise if Feser learn or merely skimmed my guide.”  Properly, I did learn it, each phrase.  However I’m beginning to surprise if Johnson learn it!)


In my
assessment, I famous that among the issues Johnson doesn’t like about Aquinas’s
account of the Trinity derive, not from the thesis of divine “immobility,” however
somewhat from the doctrine of divine simplicity, which Johnson himself
accepts.  In response, Johnson writes:

I’m going to nice lengths to
clarify the distinction between the 2 types of simplicity – a simplicity rooted
in philosophy (which I reject,) and a simplicity rooted in Scripture (which I
settle for).”

However that is
no reply in any respect.  For one factor, what
issues within the current context will not be the
of the concept of divine
simplicity (whether or not philosophy or scripture) however somewhat the content material of the concept.  For it’s the content material of the doctrine of divine simplicity that some declare to be
incompatible with Trinitarianism.  For
one other factor, although Johnson would declare that the content material he would give to the
notion of divine simplicity is totally different from the content material Aquinas would give to
it, what we have to know is precisely how
such a distinction would make a distinction to the precise challenge at hand.  For instance, precisely why is Trinitarianism appropriate with Johnson’s conception of
simplicity if it isn’t appropriate with Aquinas’s?  (At the least a part of the reply, for Johnson,
could be that Aquinas attaches the concept of “immobility,” in Johnson’s sense of
the phrase, to divine simplicity.  However I
have already proven that Aquinas will not be in reality dedicated to “immobility” in
that sense.)


I famous in
my assessment that Johnson merely asserts, with out argument, that the Bible does
not acknowledge the legitimacy of pure theology, however solely of what he calls
“pure revelation.”  In his response,
he primarily simply repeats this question-begging assertion.  He cites passages like the next:

The heavens are telling the glory of
God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork
. (Psalms 19:1) 

For what might be recognized about God is
plain to them, as a result of God has proven it to them. Ever because the creation of the
world his invisible nature, specifically, his everlasting energy and deity, has been
clearly perceived within the issues which were made.  So they’re with out excuse
(Romans 1:19-20)

However there’s
(opposite to what Johnson alleges) nothing in such passages that entails that
the information of God we get from nature is fully non-inferential and does
not require argumentation.


admits that his assertion that “Plotinus didn’t depart behind any writings” (p.
75) was an error. 


Johnson additionally
admits that he made a “copy/paste error” when purporting to cite the textual content of
the Second Approach from Summa Theologiae
I.2.3, at p. 101 of his guide. 
Sadly, he additionally claims that “the substance of what was
communicated by Aquinas was not compromised” by this error.  However that isn’t the case.  The passage Johnson wrongly introduced because the
textual content of the Second Approach from the Summa
comprises the next strains:

If the sequence of environment friendly causes
extends advert infinitum into the previous, then there could be no issues present now.
 That’s plainly false (i.e., there are
issues present now that happened by environment friendly causes).  Subsequently environment friendly causes don’t lengthen advert
infinitum into the previous

quote.  Not solely is that this not what the
Second Approach says, it instantly contradicts
Aquinas’s view that it can’t be proved by philosophical arguments that unintentionally
ordered sequence of environment friendly causes don’t lengthen advert infinitum into the previous. 
(That’s, in spite of everything, why, as we noticed above, Aquinas thinks that
philosophical arguments can’t show that the universe had a starting in
time.)  It is a fairly egregious error
of scholarship.

Johnson sums
up his response by emphasizing as soon as once more his important theme that “divine
immobility is incompatible with the God of the Bible.”  However as I’ve proven, Aquinas will not be dedicated
within the first place to “divine immobility” in Johnson’s sense.  His important objection, like his different
criticisms, is directed at a straw man.


Victoria Joy
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