bookmark_borderCases for God

I’m thinking about which cases for the existence of God to focus in on, for my evaluation of Christianity.  Right now, I’m thinking about examining the cases of four well-known Christian apologists:

  • Norman Geisler
  • William Craig
  • Peter Kreeft
  • Richard Swinburne

I just realized that two of these philosophers are Thomists, and two are not Thomists.
Geisler is a conservative Evangelical Christian, but his favorite argument for God is a Thomist cosmological argument, and his concept of God is clearly shaped by the thinking of Aquinas (see his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics entry “God, Nature of”, especially the sections on “Simplicity” and on “Immutability”).
Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher of religion, and his favorite arguments for God are the “Five Ways” of Aquinas (which reflects a complete misunderstaning of Aquinas, since the “Five Ways” are NOT arguments for the existence of God), and Kreeft has written a commentary on selected sections of Summa Theologica by Aquinas (called Summa of the Summa).  The commentary is an attempt to make the thinking of Aquinas about God and theology more accessible to the general public, because Kreeft admires Aquinas and believes most of what Aquinas has to say about God.  So, Geisler and Kreeft are both Thomists.
Craig, however, rejects the key Thomist notion of God’s “simplicity”:
According to the doctrine of divine simplicity God has no distinct attributes, he stands in no real relations, his essence is not distinct from his existence, he just is the pure act of being subsisting.  All such distinctions exist only in our minds, since we can form no conception of the absolutely simple divine being.  While we can say what God is not like, we cannot say what he is like, except in an analogical sense.  But these predications must in the end fail, since there is no univocal element we assign to God, leaving us in a state of genuine agnosticism about the nature of God.  Indeed on this view, God really has no nature; he is simply the inconceivable act of being.
[…]
The doctine [of divine simplicity] is open, moreover, to powerful objections.  For example, to say that God does not have distinct properties seems patently false: omnipotence is not the same property as goodness, for a being may have one and not the other. … (Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Craig, p.524)
It’s wonderful to have Craig’s help to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, since Craig provides some powerful reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God as incoherent and as logically implying “agnosticism about the nature of God”.  I’m starting to like Craig a bit more now.
Swinburne clearly rejects the immutability and timelessness of God, which are key aspects of the Thomist concept of God, so Swinburne also provides some very good reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God, and thus one of the brightest and best modern Christian philosophers will also help me to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft.
My work is already half done, and I have not even begun!
====================
UPDATE on 10/12/16
====================
William Craig made a podcast earlier this year in which he criticized the Thomist concept of God:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-it-possible-god-is-not-personal
“Is it Possible God is Not Personal?”
Dr. Craig takes on two interesting questions on the personhood and nature of God.
[Transcript of a podcast with Kevin Harris and William Craig. Date: 04-09-2016]
Edward Feser replied to Craig’s criticisms (in the above podcast) of the Thomist concept of God :
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/04/craig-on-divine-simplicity-and-theistic.html
FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2016
“Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism”
[blog post by Edward Feser]
 

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 4

Previously, I argued that it is not possible to become eternal. Recall that a person P is eternal if and only if P has always existed and P will always continue to exist. Here is a step-by-step proof showing that it is impossible for a person to become eternal:
<————|———–|————–>
…………….t1………..t2
1. At time t1 person P is NOT eternal AND at a later moment t2 P is eternal. (supposition for indirect proof/reduction to absurdity)
2. At time t1 P is NOT eternal. (from 1)
3. At time t2 P is eternal. (from 1)
4. At t2 P exists. (from 3)
5. At every moment prior to t2 P exists. (from 3)
6. At every moment after t2 P exists. (from 3)
7. At t2 P exists AND at every moment prior to t2 P exists AND at every moment after t2 P exists. (from 4, 5, and 6)
8. If at t2 P exists AND at every moment prior to t2 P exists AND at every moment after t2 P exists, THEN at every moment P exists. (analytic truth)
9. At every moment P exists. (from 7 and 8)
10. EITHER at t1 P does not exist OR at some moment prior to t1 P does not exist OR at some moment after t1 P does not exist. (from 2)
11. If at t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist. (analytic truth)
12. If at some moment prior to t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist. (analytic truth)
13. If at some moment after t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist.(analytic truth)
14. There is a moment when P does not exist. (from 10, 11, 12, 13)
15. Any moment when P does not exist is a moment when it is NOT the case that P exists. (analytic truth)
16. There is a moment when it is NOT the case that P exists. (from 14 and 15)
17. It is NOT the case that at every momement P exists. (from 16)
18. At every moment P exists AND it is NOT the case that at every moment P exists. (from 9 and 17)

19. The following statement is FALSE: At time t1 person P is NOT eternal AND at a later moment t2 P is eternal. (1 through 18, indirect proof/ reduction to absurdity, because 18 is a self-contradiction that was deduced from 1).
Thus, it is logically impossible for a person to become eternal.
I have been thinking about omnipotence and the idea of omnipotence as an essential property of some person.
Some of my thoughts remind me of the conversations that boys in Jr. high used to have: “What if Superman was to get into a fight with Batman? I think Superman could take one swing at Batman and knock him so hard that he would land a block away.” Such conversations seem silly and trivial, but in the case of philosophy, it can be helpful to have a childlike enjoyment of such imaginary scenarios. Imagination helps one to map out the logical boundaries of a concept, plus it makes thinking about God fun, even for an atheist.
We have previously seen that ‘existence’ appears to be an essential property for anything that in fact exists, so if ‘necessary existence’ means ‘having existence as an essential property’ then necessary existence is nothing special. We have also seen that ‘being eternal’ is an attribute that cannot be lost; once something is eternal, it will always be eternal (and will always have been eternal). So, again having the property of ‘being eternal’ as an essential property is nothing special, there is no other way of ‘being eternal’. One cannot have the property of ‘being eternal’ as an accidental property.
I eventually want to figure out what it means for a person to have the property of ‘being eternally omnipotent’ as an essential property. But before I tackle that challenge, it may be helpful to first consider the simpler property of just being omnipotent. After that I will consider the more complex idea of having the property of omnipotence as an essential property.
Being omnipotent does not mean that one can literally do anything. An omnipotent being cannot create a four-sided triangle. This is no limitation of power or ability. The idea of a four-sided triangle is incoherent, so the statement “John made a four-sided triangle” is an incoherent statement, a statement that contains a self-contradiciton.
Can an omnipotent being create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it? I agree with Swinburne’s analysis of this traditional problem. The answer is: YES.
But in order to do so, the omnipotent being must make itself less than omnipotent. Time is the key missing ingredient in this puzzle. At one point in time an omnipotent being creates a massive rock, say a rock that has ten times the mass of our universe. Then the omnipotent being causes itself to have a certain degree of weakness- the inability to lift rocks that are ten times the mass of our universe. Now the being is unable to lift the massive rock. The being, however, has sacrificed its omnipotence in order to achieve this feat, but it is a feat that an omnipotent being can achieve.
The being started out as an omnipotent being, formed the objective of creating a rock that it could not lift, and then using its unlimited power acheived that objective. However, in order to achieve the objective the being must sacrifice its omnipotence.
There are various other limitations on what God can do. God cannot change the past. This is because changing the past would involve backwards causation, and backwards causation is logically impossible. So, again God’s inablility to change the past is not a weakness or lack of power. The problem is, rather, that sentences like “John changed the past” are incoherent; they involve a logical self-contradiction.
Omnipotence can come into conflict with other divine attributes. God is perfectly good, and so according to Aquinas and Swinburne God cannot do evil. God’s goodness thus creates a limitation on what God can do. Human beings can be unjust and cruel but God is not able to be unjust or cruel, on this view. So human beings can do some things that God is unable to do. But this is considered to be a ‘legitimate’ exception or limitation of God’s power. So, when Christians assert that ‘God is omnipotent’ they usually will allow that God’s perfect goodness creates constraints on what God can do.
One might say that God can do anything that it is LOGICALLY POSSIBLE for a perfectly free and omniscient and perfectly good person to do.
I think there are some additional constraints on God’s power or ability to do things, but this clarification of ‘omnipotence’ covers the constraints that arise from God’s other divine attributes.
Can a person become omnipotent? or is omnipotence like the attribute of being eternal? One cannot become an eternal person, so perhaps it is also impossible for one to become an omnipotent person.
On the face of it, I don’t see an obvious problem with the idea of becoming omnipotent. Human beings have various powers and abilities. We can imagine becoming more and more powerful. One can imagine discovering one day that one can make objects ex nihilo (from nothing) just by willing the objects to appear. One can imagine stumbling on the power to move mountains or even planets by sheer willpower. Of course one could never have enough experiences to prove with certainty that one had become omnipotent, but we can imagine experiences that would strongly support this hypothesis. Thus, it seems perfectly conceivable that an ordinary human being could become an omnipotent person.
But once a person becomes omnipotent, one might think that they could never lose their omnipotence. We think of gaining great power as being like obtaining great wealth: someone else could take away what we have gained. But in the case of omnipotence, who could take that away? If I’m the biggest and strongest kid at school, then I don’t need to worry about a bully taking my lunch money, right? If I become omnipotent, then I don’t have to worry about any being taking away any of my power.
But what if there was another omnipotent person? Such a person, it would seem could take away my omnipotence, because our power would be equal, so I would not be like the biggest and strongest kid on the block, if there were other omnipotent persons who might want to take away some of my power.
However, there is an old puzzle about omnipotence that comes to mind: Can there be two omnipotent persons? It seems as if there can be no more than just one omnipotent person. Suppose that there are two omnipotent persons: John and Sara. John and Sara both simultaneously look at the same little gray rock resting on a desk. John wills the rock to immediately rise up into the sky, but Sara wills the rock to immediately plummet downward, through the desk and through the floor and the foundation, etc. These two objectives are not logically compatible with each other. The rock cannot both rise and fall at the same time. So, either the rock will rise and Sara’s will will be defeated by John’s will, or the rock will NOT rise and John’s will will be defeated by Sara’s will. At least one of them must fail to cause their desired outcome.
Let’s suppose that there can only be one omnipotent person in existence at any given point in time. Does that mean that becoming omnipotent, and thus being the one and only omnipotent person, would mean complete safety? Does this mean that I have no reason to fear losing some of my newly gained power? Sadly, it does not. Even if there can be at most only one omnipotent person, there is nothing to prevent some other person from being or becoming omniscient (all knowing).
If I have become omnipotent, I would still be in danger of losing my omnipotence if some other person was omniscient. This would set up the classic struggle between brains and brawn. The omniscient person would know everything about me, including my deepest secrets and my every thought. The omniscient person would know all of my weaknesses. The omniscient person would know every detail of my personal history. The omniscient person would know everything there was to know about human psychology and about how to persuade and manipulate other people. So, it is quite possible that an omniscient person could fool me into destroying myself or causing myself to become less than omnipotent, perhaps even getting me to make that other person into the one and only omnipotent person, and then that person would be both omniscient and omnipotent.
However, an omnipotent person does have a way to fight back. An omnipotent person could make himself or herself become omniscient. There is no obvious logical contradiction between there being two or more omniscient persons. Two people can know the same fact without there being any conflict or contradiction, for example. So, if an omnipotent person was concerned about the possibility of being fooled or manipulated by an omniscient person, then he or she could simply will it to be the case that he or she immediately became omniscient, and presumably a being that was both omnipotent and omniscient would not have to worry about a being that was merely omniscient being able to fool or manipulate him or her.
Nevertheless, although there is this nice strategy for how a person could easily secure his or her newly discovered omnipotence, there is no logical necessity that this would be the case. If you wake up tomorrow morning and have become an omnipotent being while you were asleep, it will probably take several hours or days before you have enough experiences to confidently conclude that you have become omnipotent. The experiences you have that convince you of this fact would be quite unusual and extraordinary experiences (such as moving the moon across the sky with just a thought), and those experiences would keep you very distracted for a while. You probably would not immediately start thinking about the question “How can I secure my omnipotence, so that if there is a omniscient being somewhere I can avoid being fooled or manipulated by that being into giving up or losing my omnipotence?”. For as long as you do not think about this question, you would be vulnerable to being deceived by an omniscient person.
Furthermore, even if you immediately began to worry about this possibility of being decieved by an omniscient person, you might not immediately come up with the solution of making yourself become omniscient. Having been an ordinary weak human being for many years, your attitudes and beliefs about yourself may take time to change, and you might not immediately realize that you have gained the ability to radically transform yourself.
Even if you immediately started to worry about the possibility of being deceived by an omniscient person, and even if you immediately realized that you had the power to make yourself omniscient, you might well hesitate to do so. You have lived your entire life up to that moment as a limited and finite human being, and willing yourself to become omniscient would mean basically willing yourself to become God. But being omniscient or having a God-like experience of reality would be radically different from experiencing reality as a limited and finite human being. Would you really want to give up ordinary human thoughts and feelings and experiences, to become a god-like being? The idea seems terrifying to me. I would certainly hesitate, and give some thought to the matter before turning myself into an omniscient person.
So, although it may be possible for an omnipotent person to turn himself or herself into a person who was also omniscient, it is quite possible that it would take a significant amount of time for a person who had recently become omnipotent to become worried about the possibility of being deceived by an omniscient person, to come up with the solution of making oneself omniscient, and to actually make the very serious decision to carry out this plan and make oneself omniscient, and some might well decide to live with the risk rather than to so radically transform their own consciousness of reality. Thus, it is likely that there would be a significant period of time in which a person who had become omnipotent would remain less than omniscient and thus would be subject to being deceived or manipulated by an omniscient person, so that the omnipotent person would destroy himself or herself or would cause the loss of his or her own omnipotence.
Therfore, it seems to me that not only is it possible for a person of finite and limited power to become an omnipotent person, but it is also possible for an omnipotent person to lose his or her omnipotence.

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 3

Richard Swinburne analyzes the concept of ‘necessary being’ into two implications (COT, p.241-242):
1. It is not a matter of fortunate accident that there is a God; he exists necessarily.
2. God is necessarily the kind of being which he is; God does not just happen to have the properties which he does.

In his simpler and more popular book on God (Is There a God?), Swinburne clarifies these implications further in terms of the concept of ‘essential properties’:
But theism does not claim merely that the person who is God has these properties of being everlastingly omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. It claims that God has these properties necessarily–these are essential properties of God.
(ITAG, p.18)
Swinburne also defines this concept for us (see ITAG, p.18). Here is my formulation of Swinburne’s definition:
Definition 3:
Property P is an ESSENTIAL PROPERTY of a thing or a person X if and only if X could not cease to have property P and yet continue to exist.
In a comment on Part 2 of this series, Eric Sotnak points out a serious problem with this definition in relation to ‘necessary existence’. If we treat existence as a property and draw the implication that ‘necessary existence’ equates with having existence as an ‘essential property’, then every thing that exists would have necessary existence, and thus there would be nothing special about God possessing ‘necessary existence’.
I’m not sure how Swinburne would respond to this objection. However, for now, given that there are two parts to Swinburne’s analysis of ‘necessary being’, I’m goin to suggest that existence is not a property, and therefore Swinburne’s discussion about ‘essential properties’ does not apply to the concept of ‘necessary existence’.
That still leaves us with the question of whether part 2 of Swinburne’s analysis makes sense, given his definition of ‘essential properties’.
Before I begin working through a specific example, let me share a key passage from Swinburne that I’m struggling with:
By contrast, theism maintains that the personal being who is God cannot lose any of his powers or knowledge or become subject to influence by desire. If God lost any of his powers, he would cease to exist, just as my desk would cease to exist if it ceased to occupy space. And eternity (that is, everlastingness) also being an essential property of God, no individual who had begun to exist or could cease to exist would be God.
(ITAG, p.19)
Note how Swinburne relates the concepts of ‘eternity’ and ‘everlastingness’ to the concept of existence. By itself that makes perfect sense. If God is ‘eternal’ that implies that God has always existed and that God will always continue to exist. But then being ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting’ implies existence, and Swinburne’s definition of essential properties does not work with the concept of existence.
Let’s suppose that ‘eternity’ is a property, and that some person P has this property. Can P be eternal on Monday, cease being eternal on Tuesday, and yet continue to exist for the remainder of Tuesday and the next day (Wednesday) as well?
This doesn’t seem to make sense to me. If P is eternal on Monday, that means that P will continue to exist forever. If P will continue to exist forever, then P will exist every day following that Monday. If P ceases to exist the next day, on Tuesday, then P will NOT have continued to exist forever, and the statement “P will continue to exist forever” (made on Monday) will have been dispoved, shown to be false. But that means that it was also false to say “P is eternal” (on Monday). In sum, if there is ever a day where P ceases to exist, then the claim “P is eternal” will be a false claim for any day prior to the day when P ceases to exist.
Now something like resurrection does seem logically possible, so it might be possible for a person to cease to exist for a period of time, and then come back into existence. If this is logically possible, then there is a sense in which ‘P is eternal’ might be correct, even if P later ceases to exist. If P ceases to exist for a period of time, and then P is brought back into existence and then continues to exist forever, without interruption, it is tempting to say that the claim “P is eternal” was correct even though there was a period of time (after that claim was made) in which P did not exist.
This particular complexity can be set aside by means of a definition. The meaning of ‘eternal’ in terms of this being a divine attribute implies that there will be no interruption of existence. In asserting that ‘God is eternal’ the theist means that God has always existed (without interruption) in the past, and that God will always continue to exist (without interruption) forever into the future.
Thus in supposing that a person P is eternal on Monday, in the sense intended when theists use this concept to describe God, it follows that P will also be eternal on Tuesday, and eternal on Wednesday, and so on forever and ever. Once you are eternal there is no going back to being non-eternal, at least not in terms of continuing to exist in the future.
What about the implication of having always existed in the past? Being eternal does not just mean existing forever into the future, it also means having always existed forever in the past.
Suppose again that a person P is eternal on Monday. We have previously determined that P cannot cease to exist on some day in the future, after that Monday, for that would mean that P was not really eternal on Monday. But what about P’s having always existed in the past? Could it be the case that on Monday P had always existed in the past, but that on Tuesday it was no longer the case that P had always existed in the past? Could this property of having always existed in the past go away?
The past cannot change. Let’s assume that this not a matter of physics, but is a matter of logic. Let’s assume that it is logically impossible for the past to change. So, if on Monday it was true that P had existed the previous Friday, then on the day after Monday (on Tuesday) it must still be the case that P had existed on the previous Friday. And if it was true on Monday that P had existed for every previous day back into eternity, then on the day after Monday (on Tuesday) it would still be the case that P had existed on each of those days prior to Monday.
Of course, P might cease to exist on Tuesday morning, and if so then on Wednesday it would be incorrect to say that ‘P has always existed’ since P would not have existed on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. But the possibility of P ceasing to exist on Tuesday morning is ruled out, because if it was in fact true on Monday that ‘P is eternal’ then P could not cease to exist on any day after Monday, including Tuesday.
So, it seems to me that if we treat ‘eternity’ or being ‘eternal’ as a property, this is an odd sort of property that one cannot eliminate or get rid of, in the way that one can eliminate or get rid of the property of being dirty or of being hungry. Once a person is eternal, that person will always be eternal; there is no going back.
OK. What about the idea of some person having the attribute of being eternal as an essential property? Does this make sense?
Suppose that there is a person Q who is essentially eternal, who possesses this property as an essential property. That means that Q is not only eternal but, according to the definition, if Q loses the property of being eternal, then Q will cease to exist. Do you see a problem here?
Q cannot lose the property of being eternal, because it is logically impossible for any person to lose the property of being eternal. So, we might as well say “If Q loses the property of being eternal, then Q will turn into a giant fire-breathing dragon”. The antecedent of the conditional statement will always be false, because it is logically impossible for any person to lose the property of being eternal. Because the antecedent is necessarily false, the conditional statement is necessarily true; it is a logically necessary truth.
Thus, it seems to me that ANY person who has the property of being eternal is also a person who has the property of being eternal as an essential property (given Swinburne’s definition above). Thus, there does not appear to be anything special or unique about having this property as an essential property. There cannot be any person who has the property of being eternal, but has this property as an accidental property rather than as an essential property.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 2

Although there is an extensive discussion of the meaning of the claim ‘God is a necessary being’ by Richard Swinburne in his bookThe Coherence of Theism (revised edition, hereafter: COT), the main passages that I’m interested in understanding are found in a shorter and more popular book: Is There a God? (hereafter: ITAG), also by Swinburne.
In COT, Swinburne specifies two implications of the claim that ‘God is a necessary being’:
However, most theists, and certainly most theologians, have put forward two further claims [in addition to the usual claims about God’s divine attributes: omniscience, omnipotence, perfect goodness, etc.] which they have made central to their theism…. The first such claim is that God does not just happen to exist. It is not a matter of fortunate accident that there is a God; he exists necessarily. The other is that God is necessarily the kind of being which he is; God does not just happen to have the properties which he does. It is not by chance that he is omnipotent or omniscient. Being omnipotent is part of God’s nature.
(COT, p.241-242)
This gives us a general understanding and a feel for the meaning of the claim that ‘God is a necessary being’.
In ITAG, Swinburne provides further discussion of what this means, a discussion that is simpler and easier to follow than what he says in COT. First, he briefly explains the idea that God’s divine attributes are possessed necessarily:
But theism does not claim merely that the person who is God has these properties of being everlastingly omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. It claims that God has these properties necessarily–these are essential properties of God.
(ITAG, p.18)
So, to say that, for example, ‘God has the property of being everlastingly omnipotent necessarily‘ means that ‘Being everlastingly omnipotent is an essential property of the person who is God’.
But this is only helpful if we understand what it means for a property to be an ‘essential property’ of a thing or a person. Here is his initial clarification:
Every object has some essential properties and some accidental (i.e. non-essential) properties. The essential properties of an object are those which it cannot lose without ceasing to exist.
(ITAG, p.18)
Swinburne gives two examples to illustrate this concept. The first example is about a physical object:
One of the essential properties of my desk, for example, is that it occupies space. It could not cease to occupy space (become disembodied) and yet continue to exist. Byt contrast, one of its accidental properties is being brown. It could still exist if I painted it red so that it was no longer brown.
(ITAG, p.18)
He gives a second example about a person (himself):
Persons are essentially objects with the potential to have (intentional) powers, purposes, and beliefs. I may be temporarily paralysed and unconscious and so have temporarily lost the power to think or move my limbs. But, if I lose the potential to have these powers (if I lose them beyond the power of medical or other help to restore them), then I cease to exist. On the other hand, my powers can grow or diminish, and my beliefs can change (I can forget things I once knew, and aquire new areas of knowledge), while the same I continues to exist through all the change.
(ITAG, p.18-19)
If Swinburne loses the potential to have the power of thinking, then Swinburne will cease to exist (even if his body continues to exist). So the property of ‘having the potential to have power of thinking’ is an essential property of Swinburne. But if Swinburne forgets the proof for Bayes Theorem, he can continue to exist. So, knowing the proof for Bayes Theorem is only an accidental property of Swinburne.
Definition 3:
Property P is an ESSENTIAL PROPERTY of a thing or a person X if and only if X could not cease to have property P and yet continue to exist.

To be continued…

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 1

In his book The Coherence of Theism (Revised edition, hereafter: COT), Swinburne defends the claim that the sentence ‘God exists’ makes a coherent statement.
In Part II of COT, Swinburne defends the coherence of the concept of “a contingent God”, which is basically the traditional concept of God minus the attribute of ‘necessary being’. In Part III, Swinburne analyzes, clarifies, and defines the attribute ‘necessary being’, but he concludes that when this attribute is added back into the concept of ‘God’, it is no longer possible to prove in a direct way that the concept of ‘God’ is coherent, or that the claim ‘God exists’ makes a coherent statement.
The basic problem is that God is a person, but the concept of person allows for the logical possibility of gaining or losing knowledge, and gaining or losing power, and gaining or losing freedom. When it is asserted that ‘God is a necessary being’ the implication is that it is NOT possible for God to gain or lose power, to gain or lose knowledge, or to gain or lose freedom. So, God is a very odd sort of person, a person whose very existence has a necessary connection with his continuing to be omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly free.
Swinburne’s analysis of the attribute ‘necessary being’ is complex and difficult. I’m not going to get into the gory details of his analyis. But even the general outlines of Swinburne’s understanding of this attribute are challenging to understand. I’m not entirely clear on what he means myself. But I’m going to attempt to understand and clarify some of the points Swinburne makes about ‘necessry being’. I will do this partly to help others understand this concept, but also partly to improve and clarify my own understanding (one of the best ways to get clearer on an idea is to try to explain it to other people).
Let’s start with a stripped-down version of Swinburne’s analysis of ‘a divine being’:
Definition 1:
X is A DIVINE BEING if and only if X is a person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free.

Let’s note some important aspects of this definition. First, on this definition, something can be ‘a divine being’ for a brief period of time. This concept of ‘a divine being’ would be useful to Mormons, for example, because they believe that humans can evolve to become gods, and that God was once a limited and finite person. Given Definition 1, a person can be a limited and finite human being for several decades, and then become ‘a divine being’.
Another important thing to note about Definition 1 is that it allows for a person to be ‘a divine being’ even if that person has only existed for a few years or a few days. So long as a person is omnipotent NOW, and omniscient NOW, and perfectly free NOW, that person is correctly categorized as ‘a divine being’.
But, as Swinburne asserts, traditional theism makes a stronger claim than this. When theists assert that ‘God exists’ they have something more in mind than just that there is a person who has recently become omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. They are asserting that there is a person who HAS ALWAYS had those divine attributes, and who ALWAYS WILL have those attributes.
We can formulate a revised definition that is more in keeping with traditional theism:
Definition 2:
X is A DIVINE BEING if and only if X is a person who has always been omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free, and who always will be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free.

On this narrower definition, the being worshipped by Mormons would not count as ‘a divine being’ because there was a point in time in the past when (according to Mormon doctrine) this person was NOT omnipotent or NOT omniscient or NOT perfectly free. Such a being would be impressive now, but given its less impressive level of power, knowledge, and/or freedom in the past, would be something less than ‘a divine being’ if we go with Definition 2.
Also worth noting is that in order to have ALWAYS been omnipotent, a person must have ALWAYS been in existence. And in order to ALWAYS continue to be omnipotent, a person must ALWAYS continue to exist. Thus, any being that satisfies the conditions set by Definition 2 must be an eternal being, a person who has always existed in the past, and who will always continue to exist in the future.
According to Swinburne, the word ‘God’ is a proper name that should be understood in terms of a definite description that allows us to pick out or identify one particular person. The definite description is basically the same as the characterization of ‘a divine person’. So, this characterization is supposed to apply to one, and only one, person:
ANALYSIS of ‘God exists’:
GOD EXISTS is true if and only if (a) something is a divine being, and (b) nothing else is a divine being.

For this analysis of ‘God exists’ to represent traditional theism, the phrase ‘a divine being’ needs to be understood in terms of Definition 2, rather than Definition 1.
Suppose that we determine that a particular person has always existed and that this person has always been omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. What about determining if this person will always continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free? This determination might be possible in a couple of ways.
First, the person in question might communicate to us that he/she would continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free for all eternity. If we were already convinced that this person was omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free, then we would have good reason to believe this person was telling us the truth. Being omniscient, the person would know whether it was true that he/she would continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free for all eternity, and being both omniscient and perfectly free, the person would (according to Swinburne’s argumentation) have to be perfectly good, and thus would not be a great deceiver, so we could trust this person to tell us the truth on this matter.
But even if we could not base this determination on ‘divine revelation’ (as described in the previous paragraph), we would have good inductive reason to believe that this person would continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. Since we have already concluded that the person has always been omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free (stretching back in to eternity in the past), it makes great sense to infer that it is highly probable that this person will continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free for a long time to come, perhaps for all eternity.
Thus, it seems possible that we could determine that some person satisfied the conditions required to be ‘a divine person’. If we also became convinced, perhaps by a philosophical argument, that there could be AT MOST just one such person, then we could identify a particular person as being ‘God’ and conclude that ‘God exists’.
But even if we somehow were able to come to this incredible conclusion, there would still be a philosophical/conceptual problem that would mean that traditional theism had not yet been fully verified. According to Swinburne, traditional theists also maintain that God is ‘a necessary being’. One of the key implications of this is that it is NOT sufficient for a person to have always been omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free, and to always continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free into eternity in order for that person to be ‘God’. As ‘a necessary being’ it is NOT a matter of chance that this being has always been and will always be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. This person is such that it is not possible for him/her to be anything less than ‘a divine being’.
Take the eternal existence of this person, for example. A being could conceivably be lucky and simply avoid by chance numerous bad events and circumstances which would have put an end to the existence of that being. Continuing to exist for all eternity on the basis of chance or good luck is not enough to qualify a person as having the sort of eternality that God is supposed to have. The eternal existence of God cannot rest on chance or luck, it must somehow be necessary and unavoidable that God continues to exist for all eternity.
In other words, given the above analysis of ‘God exists’ and given that we understand ‘a divine person’ in terms of Definition 2, this still leaves open the possibility that we locate and identify a person who has IN FACT always existed, and who will IN FACT always continue to exist, but this person is not really and fully ‘God’ because his/her continued existence is a matter of chance or luck, and is not absolutely secure.
So, the definition needs to be revised again, in order to add the attribute of ‘necessary being’ into the concept of ‘a divine being’ and thus into the analysis of the sentence ‘God exists’.

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