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.

Immutable[edit]

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"

However, this is difficult to reconcile with the kind of free will believed in generally by theists.

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.

Omnipotence[edit]

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?"

Perfection[edit]

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

God cannot be omniscient and morally perfect because if he's omniscient he knows all future events but if he knows all future events then my future is already determined. In other words, God has fated everything to happen by being omniscient thus he is the cause of all evil and misfortune.

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."

Omniscience[edit]

If the future is undecided (such as by 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.

The property of omniscience is an impossible property because God can't know everything:

  • Doesn't know what it is like to sin.
  • Doesn't know what it is like to be me and not be God.
  • Doesn't know what it is like not being omniscient.

Thus we can conclude that omniscience is an impossible property.

Omnipresent[edit]

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

Transcendent[edit]

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]

Can God change this mind?[edit]

God's omniscience is in contradiction with his omnipotence since if he's all-knowing he can't change his mind but if he's all-powerful he could, therefore God either has to be omnipotent or omniscient but because the two are related an all-powerful and all-knowing God can't exist.

Counter arguments[edit]

God is not required to do the logically impossible[edit]

This argument assumes that omnipotence is defined as the ability to do the logically impossible, which is false, omnipotence is defined as the ability to do anything that is logically possible, an omnipotent being cannot create a square circle or create a stone so heavy that he can't lift or cease to be omnipotent, it's nonsense and thus this counter-argument is invalid and doesn't disprove the concept of omnipotence in any way.

This question is incoherent because it's asking for something logically impossible. One is essentially asking: “can an omnipotent being bring something into existence beyond their power and still be omnipotent?” Obviously the answer is no because an omnipotent being, by definition, has power over everything in existence. If something existed beyond their power they would not be omnipotent, plus, again, omnipotence doesn't mean the ability to do anything logically impossible.

Let's say someone wanted to redefine logic to not be the description of everything that is or everything that is possible but a limited boundary of rules that one could escape from. Thus, an omnipotent being should be able to ascend beyond the limits of logic. All that would mean is you cannot use logic to try and debunk the existence of an omnipotent being because such a being would be beyond these limits. As a result the omnipotence paradox would also fail for the same reason since it attempts to use logic to show an omnipotent being would be incoherent and therefore proponents of this argument are shooting themselves in the foot.

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."

Defending omniscience[edit]

Like with the omnipotence paradox, this objection is based on a misunderstanding of how omniscience is defined. Omniscience is defined as:

  • Knowing all true propositions and believing no false propositions.
  • Knowing all logical and factual truths, as well as all true propositions expressed in future, present, and past tense.

This definition itself doesn't seem to contain any logical contradictions like how the opening objection is worded, and that is because this was defined by a conceptualist model, not a perceptualist model of omniscience.

  • A perceptualist model says God's knowledge is based on experiencing or perceiving everything.
  • A conceptualist model says omniscience is knowing all true propositions. God simply knows what will happen without having to experience that which will happen (example: I can know my sister will take a nap today without having to experience it through her eyes; my knowledge of this event taking place is not based on me actually experiencing it, but simply knowing the truth of the situation).

It is perfectly logical for a being to know all true propositions and therefore it's logically possible to be omniscient.

Asking can God change his mind is the same as asking: can a being that knows everything learn something new? Because 'changing your mind' is a cognitive process involving the manipulation of knowledge resulting in a different outcome. God's knowledge cannot change over time because from the very moment it exists it is completely perfect and the definition of omniscience entails the possession of every outcome of all possible manipulations of all possible items. Instantly. Therefore that fact that God cannot 'change his mind' is no more a refutation of God's omnipotence than the fact that he cannot learn anything new.

God should be able to do logically impossible things[edit]

An omnipotent being should still be able to do the logically impossible otherwise he'd be limited by logic.

Counter arguments[edit]

This objection assumes that which is logically impossible would be a part of existence. Logically impossible things are not, which is why they are impossible, in fact it is incoherent to call something that is logically impossible a thing at all. As the philosopher Richard Swinburne said:

"A 'logically impossible event' is not an event, just as a dead person is not a person. It is something described by a form of words that purport to describe an event, but do not describe anything that it is conceivable to suppose could occur, since the sentence that says that it occurred entails a contradiction."

The atheist philosopher, Nicholas Everett, also says:

"To say that something is logically impossible is precisely to exclude it from the realm of the do-able. So to say that God cannot do what is logically impossible is not to say that his power is limited in any way"

So that which is logically impossible is not something that is do-able or something in existence, it is just an incoherent collection of words that pretends to describe an event or thing but really does not, thus logically speaking, there's no ability that could make them happen in reality.

References[edit]

  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