Essay / Philosophy

the evangelical outpost: Form and Existence: The Incompatibility Between Platonic Idealism and Biblical Christianity

the evangelical outpost: Form and Existence: The Incompatibility Between Platonic Idealism and Biblical Christianity: “This leads to the question, “Where is God amidst all these Forms?” Plato had no difficulty in answering this conundrum: he simply posited that the God (the demiurgos) had an existence that was co-equal to these Forms. Christians, in contrast, believe that nothing can be self-existent other than God Himself. Platonic idealism, therefore, relies on a metaphysical pluralism that is incompatible with Biblical Christianity.”First, let me say that Evangelical Outpost is a must read. Just the fact that this question is raised, dealt with responsibly, and in the context of a blog that deals with broad cultural issues should make all of us stand up and cheer. All this nice stuff, meant quite sincerely, should lead the writer to suspect that a “but” is coming. And so it is.Plato is complicated and knowing exactly what he means is tricky. The sort of opinions expressed in this blog are respectable interpretations of Plato. In some cases, they are majority interpretations. However, the writer made a very strong claim. He argued that “Platonic Idealism” is incompatible with Biblical Christianity. There are many forms of Platonic Idealism. Of course, all of them lay claim to being based on the dialogues of the master. I believe that my own view (!) is that of Plato, but that is not important. My claim is that the form of Platonic Idealism I see in the text is:a. a respectable reading of the textb. is compatible with Biblical Christianity.Second, every person in the known universe should take this as a chance to read the most overlooked great Christian mind of the twentieth-century not named Johnson: A.E. Taylor. Taylor is just an incredible thinker, scholar, writer, and Christian. His masterful “Does God Exist” should be required reading in all Christian apologetics programs. His commentary on Plato’s “Timaeus” is the best ever written. It is fascinating and interesting reading. He presents a Christian Platonism that is well argued for and avoids the problems cited above.Third, let me try out my own simple response. I have argued (“Plato’s Unified Psychology” UPA, 2004) that Plato is postulating a creation in time in Timaeus. There is a first moment of creation. I have also argued that Plato believes that the Form of the Good is God. There are two creation accounts in Timaeus (the relevant work here) and I think (along with clues in Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, especially book X, and Laws. . .especially Book X) that these two creation myths suggest a unity between God and the forms. In short, God and the Form of the Good (which has only the property of Good) is actually the only form. This form manifests itself in matter in ways we call the Just, the True, and other standard names for “forms.” Of course, the obvious question is: Can a form be personal? This is akin (I think) to asking if a simple being can be personal. Divine simplicity is the idea (roughly) that God has only one property. For example, God’s justice is equal to his goodness. God has no parts. (This is a very Platonic notion.) Though once as widely believed as any other divine attribute, simplicity has fallen out of favor with Christian philosophers, but I think is defensible. (See relevant literature here.) If divine simplicity is coherent and compatible with a personal God, and most Christians in most times have believed it was, then God need not be apart from the Forms, he is the Form.Fourth, let me try a less simple response (pun intended). We could postulate that Forms are ideas in the Mind of God (not in Plato, but compatible with him). These ideas exist in God’s mind as ideas. The existence of these forms is necessary (since God has them), but they are necessary in the way God’s justice is necessary. Plato does NOT argue this, but it seems a reasonable extrapolation from his views. Finally, some of the language of “over flow” used in the post on evangelical outposts blog is more neo-Platonic, than the language of Plato. The writer has conflated some neo-Platonic notions with those of Plato. I would urge a Platonist to jettison this form of neo-Platonism if he wished to be a Christian. Other forms of Platonism are available after all! (My fourth point is in fact itself neo-Platonic, but is noted as such and is an attempt to develop a form of Platonism that my friend could find acceptable.)So I think there is a possible reading of Plato, adopted by many Christian thinkers, that dissolves the ontological problems with Platonism posed. I hope this hastily response is not too superficial.

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