God Is Who He Is

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I am going to file this under Retractions, mostly because I don’t have a category called Complicated Retractions. This one has to do with the philosophical “schools of thought” called nominalism and realism. In brief, nominalism is the view that only particular things exist, with a general name (nomen) given to those particular things which resemble each other, making it unnecessary for those objects to have reference to an independently existing universal. This view is opposed to realism, which is the idea such universals have real existence in distinction from the particular objects which instantiate them.

So what does this concern? In Angels in the Architecture (Jones/Wilson), there is a chapter which hails the nominalist revolution brought in by William of Occam. At that time (1998), I was willing to be a “yes, but” nominalist, provided that the nominalist world was tied together by the glue of God’s exhaustive sovereignty. There is a chapter in The Paideia of God called “The Great Logic Fraud,” where my arguments appear to have a strong nominalist flavor. And, just to keep it interesting, there is a section in Introductory Logic (Nance/Wilson) where I ground the laws of logic in the very nature of God Himself, sounding for all the world like an unrepentant realist.

I have been working through this whole business again, and have decided that I would much rather be identified as a “yes, but” realist than a “yes, but” nominalist. I certainly don’t want to embrace the real existence of some Platonic menagerie (wherein dwell real numbers and such), but I want to insist that the triune God is what He is, and could not be otherwise. I now believe a certain form of Christian realism follows.

God could have created a world in which the bark of all the maple trees was pink. He could have created a world in which there were two moons in the sky. But He could not have created a world over which He was not the triune God — because God is triune necessarily. Further, He could not have created a world in which a three-sided triangle was a four-sided figure. He could not have created a world in which He was revealed in truth to be unholy. Why? Because He is holy, and God cannot lie.

When God reveals Himself as I AM THAT I AM, I believe it is fitting for us to confess that He is what He is. God is bound by nothing other than His own nature and character — but He is “bound” by what He eternally is. “Bound” is in quotation marks because immutability is not a limitation at all — but it is still immutable.

Those things which resemble each other are tied together in a universal way by the way that God knows them. The universal has an independent existence from the object, but does not have an independent existence from the mind of God. I understand that many qualifications need to be made in discussing this, and I further agree that Platonism proper is a death trap to be avoided. But I believe that nominalism has been its own death trap, into which the Western world has tumbled. I want to minimize the number of qualifications, and reduce the number of “yes, buts.” I guess you could say that I want to use Occam’s razor on the question.

The most practical application to this has to do with the true spiritual authority of logic. I want to remove the refuge of “principled” self-contradiction from those Christians who want to live in some form of sin or unreason, and who want to justify it by saying that logic is a “human construct,” one that God is not bound by. To say that God is not bound by human constructs is to seek to bind Him by a human contruct (that one), and I find myself rapidly losing patience. So I just want to be Digory in the Narnia stories, wondering what they do teach them in these schools.



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Andrew Kern
10 years ago

Douglas, You keep inspiring me with your careful honesty. This reminded me of all the times I heard people ask: “If God is all powerful, can He make a rock that is too big for Him to lift?” when I was younger. (Do people still ask that?). I remember the day it dawned on me that I can easily make a rock that is too big for me to lift and that there is nothing impressive in doing so. God’s awesome transcendence and holiness only “bound” Him in a verbal sense. I mean, they “bind” Him in our minds that… Read more »