Argument from incompatible attributes

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The argument from incompatible attributes is based on the description of God given in holy books and theology. Because God is described as having attributes that are incompatible or incoherent, that particular version of God cannot exist. Since there are many attributes that are applied to God, there are many forms of the argument.

This is a form of the argument from the attributes of God.

Loving and Judging[edit]

A God cannot treat people with both the severity they deserve (being just) and less severity than they deserve (being merciful). [1] Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out: [2]

"Whoever extolleth him as a God of love, doth not think highly enough of love itself. Did not that God want also to be judge? But the loving one loveth irrespective of reward and requital."

The problem of Hell points out that infinite punishment of Hell is never appropriate for finite transgressions. Therefore God cannot be just. If god is asserted to be immutable, he cannot be harmed by sin.

Divine simplicity and complexity[edit]

Main Article: Divine simplicity

Many attributes of God are based on the concept of divine simplicity. However if God is intelligent, he is complex. Divine simplicity has many other theological difficulties, particularly with the Trinity and the possibility of physical incarnation.


God desired to create the universe before he created it, and after it was created he no longer desired to do so. Therefore God is not immutable. [1]

God's personality varies in the Bible

A loving God must be affected by events, God is not affected by events (i.e. he is impassible), therefore he is not loving.

An immutable God cannot forgive sin, be affected by sin or answer prayers. Thomas Aquinas countered this by saying that prayer and its results coincides with God's great plan: [3]

"We pray not in order to change the divine disposition but for the sake of acquiring by petitionary prayer what God has disposed to be achieved by prayer"

The Biblical account of God having emotions at certain times is incompatible with immutability. God is "grieved" "at his heart" (Genesis 6:6). God is "grieved (Psalm 78:40), angry (Deuteronomy 1:37), pleased (1 Kings 3:10), joyful (Zephaniah 3:17), and moved by pity (Judges 2:18)." [4] Phillip R. Johnson defends divine impassibility by claiming these emotions are only metaphors (i.e. they are anthropopathic) and not to be taken literally. He exempts love, which God is still capable of, by special pleading. If the metaphors of God's emotions correspond to anything in God, they are still temporal in nature, triggered by a particular situation and imply mutability.

Jesus notices a change in himself (presumably in the divine half of his nature) when a woman touches his clothes and is healed. Mark 5:30.


Main Article: Omnipotence paradox

Omnipotence is not a coherent property because it must allow for God to limit his own powers. If he can't limit his own powers he is not omnipotent. This is usually expressed as "can God create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?"


If God is perfect, he has no desires. Therefore a perfect God would have no reason to create the Universe, and thus God does not exist. [1]

The argument from poor design points out that the universe is poorly designed, therefore the designer (God) cannot be perfect. For example, he regrets creating human beings in Genesis 6:5-7 [3].

The supposedly all-good and all-powerful God does not prevent evil[edit]

Main Article: Problem of evil

David Hume restated Epicurus's famous argument of the problem of evil:

"Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance surely. From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the Deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive; except we assert, that these subjects exceed all human capacity."


If the future is undecided (such as humans having free will), God cannot perfectly know the future. Therefore God is not omniscient.

Future events eventually become present and then past events. For God to know this, his understanding would change with time. [1]

Jesus appears to not know things and is sometimes surprised:

"And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? [...] And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. (Mark 5:30,32)"
  • He asks "How many loaves have ye?" in Mark 6:38 and Mark 8:5, but this could have been rhetorical.

If God knows what he will do in the future, he is not free to change his mind. [1] Anyway, he can't change his mind since he is immutable. Such a being cannot have free will because their choices are predetermined.


An omnipresent God cannot be a personal God. [1]


A transcendent God (i.e., outside space and time) cannot be omnipresent. [1]

A transcendent God cannot be a personal God. [1]

A non-physical God cannot be a personal God. [1]

Counter arguments[edit]

You can't define God[edit]

Main Article: God can't be defined

This is Loki's wager: [4]

"This absolute immutability is one of God's transcendent characteristics, and we must resist the tendency to bring it in line with our finite human understanding."


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Theodore M. Drange, Incompatible-Properties Arguments: A Survey, Philo 1998 (2), pp. 49-60 [1]
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
  3. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
  4. 4.0 4.1 Phillip R. Johnson, God Without Mood Swings, Recovering the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility [2]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

v · d Arguments against the existence of god
Existential arguments   Argument from nonbelief · Problem of Evil (logical) . Who created God? · Turtles all the way down · Problem of non-God objects · Argument from incompatible attributes · No-reason argument · Santa Claus argument · Can God create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? · Outsider test
Arguments from the Bible   Failed prophecy in the Bible · Biblical contradictions
Evidentiary arguments   Problem of evil (evidential) · Inefficacy of prayer
Reasonableness arguments   Occam's Razor · Outsider test · Argument from locality · Argument from inconsistent revelations
Other arguments   Emotional pleas