Smith maintains that theologizing about God is futile, because God must remain completely unknowable.
He correctly distinguishes between negative and positive theology or a theory of what God is not and a theory of what God is.
His first point is that God described solely in terms of negations would be indistinguishable from nothingness: “God is not matter; neither is non-existence. God does not have limitations; neither does non-existence. God is not visible; neither is non-existence. God does not change; neither does non-existence.” (52)
What is he talking about? Man has 2 levels to him: body and spirit; God has 3: matter, spirit, and goodness; so God certainly has a material aspect to Him; it’s just that His matter is simple, unlike the complex matter of created things.
It is not true that nothingness has no limitations; on the contrary, nothingness is 100% limited. It is limited to such an extent that it does not exist. Its actuality is so constrained that not even bare existence can be attributed to it. (I suspect that Smith imagines nothingness as a kind of infinite black Newtonian empty space.)
God is not visible to the physical eye, but He is seen by the mind’s eye.
Non-existence can surely change, by having existence created where there was none before. God, on the other hand, cannot disappear into non-being.
A much better comparison is that in negative theology, God is likened not to non-existence but to prime matter, i.e., pure potentiality. Neither are like anything created. For example, both God and a particle of prime matter are materially simple. The difference between them is established by positive theology, such as by arguing that God can make anything, while prime matter can be made into anything.
Regarding divine simplicity, there are a number of aspects to it in addition to the “1st-level” material simplicity.
Smith’s second point is that “without some positive idea of his nature, it is impossible to determine which characteristics cannot belong to God. If God’s nature is a complete blank to man, the Christian cannot list qualities that are supposedly incompatible with that nature.” (52) He is right here, but the only attribute of God we need to get us started on the road to describing Him is pure actuality understood negatively as absence of potency for change. The entirety of negative theology can be spun off of that.
Smith is also correct in pointing out that negative theology amounts to saying that God is unlike everything we find in the created universe. To Smith this is perverse, as it represents “the negation, the exact reversal, of how man perceives reality.” (53, emphasis removed) But the value of negative theology, on the contrary, is not slight. By it we are prevented from worshiping idols, stars, demons, Greek gods, and suchlike.
Let’s use the word invented by Smith: “unie.” When Smith asks me what an unie is, I say, “Well, we’ll get to that later; for now at least grasp that an unie is not a carrot.” I think that alone is a valuable piece of information. So is the knowledge that God is like nothing created.
Smith then lists a few specific queries:
How does the Christian know that limits are incompatible with God’s nature?
Why is it not possible for God to be a material, visible organism?
On what basis is it claimed that God cannot be a finite creature?
Why does change conflict with the nature of God? (52-3)
Well, if we define God as a TV set, say, then limits are indeed very compatible with this God’s nature, as are materiality, visibility, etc. The theistic procedure rather is first to prove that there must exist a certain something without limits, and then call this object, “God.”