R. T. Mullins & Steven Nemes Debate Divine Simplicity

Ryan Mullins
Steven Nemes

Episode: Unusually for OnScript, we held a debate. Or perhaps it is better called a friendly chat between two scholars who disagree. On what? On the question of divine simplicity and modal collapse. What does this mean, you may ask? Well, Christian theologians have traditionally held to what is called the doctrine of divine simplicity. This view is defended by Steven Nemes. This is the view that God is an absolutely simple reality, not subject to the various forms of composition and complexity which characterise created realities. This doctrine strongly emphasises the difference between the simple reality of God and the multiple or complex reality of created things. One common objection to this view, here presented by Ryan Mullins, is that divine simplicity leads to what is called “modal collapse.” A “modal collapse” occurs when the various different modalities all collapse into a single category. If God is an absolutely simple reality, then the question must be asked: would it have been possible for God not to create this particular world, or even not to create at all? If God is the creator of the world in virtue of Himself, and if God’s essence is an absolutely simple reality that could not have been otherwise than it actually is, then does it not follow that the world is just as necessary as God’s own essence? Alternatively, in order to secure the genuine contingency and freedom of creation, would we not have to say that there is in God a distinction between the way He is necessarily (His essence) and the way He is contingently (the creator of the world), thus introducing composition and complexity into the being of God? 

This was a fascinating peek into debates well above Chris Tilling’s pay grade. Glady, both Nemes and Mullins had a gift for making their arguments transparent and understandable to those outside their discipline. Nevertheless, you may want to listen to the episode a couple of times to appreciate the wrinkles of the discussion.


R.T. Mullins (PhD, University of St Andrews), is a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. He has published on topics such as God and time, the Trinity, the Incarnation, disability theology, and the problem of evil. His book, The End of the Timeless God was released in 2016 by Oxford University Press. His book God and Emotion will be out in 2020 through Cambridge University Press. He has previously held research and teaching fellowships at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Cambridge, and the University of St Andrews. When not engaging in philosophical theology, he is often found at a metal show.

Steven Nemes is an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University, where he teaches philosophy, and a doctoral candidate in Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. His dissertation is titled “A constructive-theological phenomenology of Scripture.” He has published articles in journals such as Open Theology, Journal of Analytic Theology, Heythrop Journal, Irish Theological Quarterly, and Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie. He is newly married to Rachel and they live with a nearly hairless Sphinx cat whom they affectionately call “Honey Moo-Moo,” since they obtained her after their honeymoon.

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