Attribute's of God

Attributes of God, covers:

Omnipotence, issues and criticisms

Omniscience, issues and criticisms

Benevolence, issues and criticisms

Issue of Benevolence, Just and Salvation

Scholary views from Calvin, Brummer, Dummett, Davies, Aquinas, Descartes and Mavrodes

  • Created by: sumbum999
  • Created on: 12-02-19 12:03

Omnipotence and Aquinas

GOD'S OMNIPOTENCE: God can do anything logically possible.

God cannot make a sqaure circle as this is logically absurd. According to the rules of logic, it's a contradiction in terms - the phrase 'square circle' is meaningless nonsense. God cannot do the logically impossible, but this does not make him any less omnipotent. 

Omnipotence can either be:

  • It is in practice within the power of the particular agent.
  • It is in theory something which can be done.

SIN: God's inability to sin isn't because he's not all-powerful, but because sinning is 'falling short of what can't be achieved'. God's omnipotence prevents him from sinning, because he doesn't fall short of anything. If God wanted to, he could sin. This is a conditional propostion (if ... then ...). Because God is omnibenevolent, he chooses not to sin (maybe this is what makes God good, he makes the moral choice not to sin).

A 'If man is a donkey, he has four feet.' The fact that man is not a donkey obviously means that in actual fact he does not have four feet, but if he was, then he would. 

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Omnipotence and Descartes

GOD CAN DO ANYTHING: God can do absolutely anything. As God's existence is prior to the laws of physics, God is not restricted or confined by the laws, and can therefore do absolutely anything.

We have no conception or knowledge of logical impossibilites - can you imagine a square circle?Let alone give a coherent definition of a sqaure circle.

However, God may be able to defy the laws of logic but chooses not to - after all, Jesus' miracles and his spiritual ressurrection disobey the laws of nature. Are we overthinking God's omnipotence?

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Criticisms of Aquinas

May need a more narrower definition of God's omnipotence compared to Aquinas because it limits Gods omnipotence, and other issues remain;

  • Can God ride a bike? God may not think of riding a bike, but it is logically possible for God to do so. After all, we can ride a bike. If God is conceieved as flesh and blood, it may be difficult to conceieve him riding a bike. It is a practical skill - you can't just know how to ride a bike (e.g by reading a book). But why would God ride a bike?
  • If God was all-powerful, then he would be able to do anything. Nothing would therefore be impossible. But, if nothing was impossible removes the idea of necessity, as if something is necessary, it is impossible for it not to be done (causes conflict for Cosmological Argument, as God's necessity is fundamental in arguing for his existence).
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'All-powerful' - the ability to perform any act

GOD CAN DO ANYTHING HE CHOOSES OR WILLS (AUGUSTINE): God is described as omnipotent as he can do anything that he wills. Just because he can do something and is omnipotent, doesn't mean that he necessarily does it. His divine power imposes self limitations that may contradict his nature; it doesn't mean that he can't do it. God can do evil, but chooses not to, as it goes against his benevolence.

RESTRICTIONS: We get frustrations when we can't do something or are restricted from doing something, but God doesn't, as if he willed to do it, then he would. This removes the issues about the omnipotence paradox, which Descartes and Aquinas face. After all, what would be the point of God making a square circle? Why would he will to do so? How can you criticise his omnipotence when he has no wish to do something?

ANTHONY KENNY: God has possession of all logically possible powers, which is possible for a being with the attributes of God to understand. 

SEMANTIC: 'Omnipotence' in a scriptual way. When a believer describes God, they don't want a scientific defintion of God or what he does or can do, they describe him out of awe, prayer and worship. Does it really matter what type of omnipotence he is?

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Omnipotence and Mavrodes

GOD CAN DO ALL BUT IMPOSSIBLE: Follows Aquinas' line of argument that God can do all but the impossible, agreed that we don't view the inability to do the impossible as weak. Our inability to draw a circular circle shows a lack of skill, but the inability to draw a logically impossible square circle is not a lack of skill - there is no skill.

STONE PARADOX: Can God create a stone heavier than him, or that he can't lift? Mavrodes states that ‘x is draw a square circle’ is clearly self-contradictory and thus impossible. However, ‘x is able to create a stone that x cannot lift’ doesn't appear self-contradictory. BUT creating a stone too heavy for God to lift can be self-contradictory. 

If we assume God isn't omnipotent, then he would be able to create things that he can't lift, like a heavy stone. There's no paradox or problem here. But this tells us nothing. If we assume he is omnipotent, then ‘a stone too heavy for God to lift’ is self-contradictory. God’s omnipotence makes the existence of a stone too heavy for God to lift a logical impossibility.

Whether or not God can lift a stone in a physical sense is also irrelevant if he is viewed as a transcendental being; we're not concerned with God's physical attribtues nor do these contribute to his greater being or his existence. We are anthropomising God by limiting him to human qualities. 

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Criticisms of Mavrodes

  • The statement 'God can't create a stone that he can't lift' is different to a 'square circle' - after all I can make a table that I can't lift (although I'm not God). Creating a stone too heavy for an omnipotent is logically possible as an omnipotent being can do all logical things, and actions are either logical or not.
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OMNISCIENCE: God is all-knowing, as shown in the Bible.

As the creator, he's aware of his creation and knows exactly what happens in creation (like a storyteller) e.g he knew when Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is because God's knowledge has a limitless nature.

'God has never learned anything nor needed to learn anything' - Isaiah, to state that God had to learn something may anthropomise him and bring him down to human level. As humans, we learn as part of our day to day lives as well as our moral development to becoming better Christians - this type of learning, God cannot do, as he is benevolent already. 

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Omniscience and Dummett

  • Difference between our knowledge and God's knowledge; God has no point of view and has a comprehension of all truth - it is completely different to humans.  
  • We have perspective and human faculties, and our understanding and knowledge can change. Only we can know our own knowledge. 
  • God, however, has a complete understanding of everything. His knowledge is beyond perspective and includes everything. Whilst we can get things out of proportion and can misunderstand things, which wouldn't happen if we knew everything. God does (so why does he let bad events occur) 
  • God knows things in 'a tense of timelessness' - could be true - 'The titanic sunk in the early hours of 15th April' - refers to a fixed historical fact, if it's true, it'll always be true, so if God knows everything, he would've known the sentence described a true event even if in the future. 
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Criticisms of Dummett

  • Dummett's account is limited
  • If God knows every true proposition, is the concept of knowledge exhausted? He can only have full knowledge if there were no knowledge other than that of facts
  • Truth of some sentences depend on time and space. I am eating cake' - can only be true for me at a particular time - (could God's understanding of this sentence instead be that it knows you are eating cake, indexical sentences tenses are present and therefore apply to present situations - God will know whether or not this is true if he is omniscience as he knows what point you were doing such). Sentences like such is only true at a particular time - indexical sentences. These cannot be known as true in a timeless sense. So is God's knowledge timeless or does he have a different understanding of indexical sentences (presumably not timeless)
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Types of Knowledge

Is it possible for omniscience to cover every type of knowledge?

There is knowing what it is like to be something - can God know what a non-God experience is like?  We may not know what A Level results we get, but God presumably does, he will know whether we pass or fail. God can't be ignorant therefore, if he knows everything, so can God know what it is like to be ignorant?

There is knowing how to do something - does God know how to drive a car? We can only know such through practice, but if God never practices, then how can he know?

Does God have descriptive knowlege (propositional knowledge) - knowledge expressed in declarative sentences or indicative propositions. Does God know you ate the last slice of cake?

Does God have non propositional knowledge - knowledge expressed using sentences without indicative propositions, including 'knowing of' or 'knowing how' (procedural knowledge) knowledge. Does God know how to walk? 

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Omniscience and Omnipotence Link

  • God may know everything that is logically possible e.g he may know what a square is, but not a square circle, as it's logically impossible by definition
  • To be fully omniscient, God must know everything and therefore must know what its like to feel ignorance - this is contradictory and therefore not logically possible 
  • So does God know everything he would need to or wish to know? God may not know how to ride a bike or have any non-propsitional knowledge, or how to feel ignorance, but does God really need to know this? 
  • But if God knows all that is logically possible for him to know, then what's logically possible will be different for a God constrained by time than one outside of it - link to God's eternity and Free Will
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BENEVOLENCE: Well-wishing         BENEFIENCE: Doing good and performing good actions

A benevolent God removes the Problem of Evil, as God wishes goodness for everything and everybody but doesn't participate in providing it. He's like a jolly old man. However, God can't just wish to do good things, he must do them, hence why the Problem of Evil and his omnipotence is so significant. 

Is a benevolent God whom only wishes good the same as the Judeo-Christian God, who is personal and can do good things, like perform miracles?

GODS GOODNESS LIES IN BEING GOOD IN HIMSELF: God has the goodness to not decay, rupture, disintergrate or be threatened by an equal. 

God could be good in the sense that a pen is good as it can write and doesn't break.

This use is different to 'moral good' - a good pen isn't a moral good. 

To be morally good, you have to have good intentions and choose to do good for others. God choosing to do good is a moral good and an act of divine will. God's not only good but consciously wills good. 

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Benevolence and Davies

DAVIES AND BENEVOLENCE: God's goodness isn't just the case of 'being well behaved' like a child. 

  • Aquinas doesn't conceive God as a moral person 
  • Bible shows God as righteous in sense that he never breaks covenant with 'his' people and is always true to his nature - but is he really? If God is good and is always true to his nature, then why did he allow excessive suffering and condemnation in the Bible or act like a toddler having a temper tantrum when humanity did anything he didn't like - is this true to his nature?
  • God is perfectly good as he never contradicts his own nature
  • Doesn't agree with Swinburne's claim that 'God's so constituted that he always does the morally best action... and no morally bad action' - states it is too simplistic or reductionist

WILKINSON AND BENEVOLENCE: God's goodness should be understood as part of his creative essence

  • God isn't a person among persons, like a moral agent
  • Living a moral life shouldn't be seen as just following moral laws God made
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Benevolence and Justice

  • How can God be perfectly benevolent and perfectly just? - if he was just, he gives each person what they deserve, but many accept that God sends good people to heaven and the bad to hell
  • Commonly accepted that if you do bad you are punished proportionally to the action committed, but there should always be an end to said punishment (in some cases death, e.g America)
  • Is it just to sentence somebody to eternal damnation/never-ending suffering with no hope of release, reform or redemption?
  • Hick points out how if this kind of hell were to exist it'd be part of the problem of evil itself
  • But what if God doesn't reward good deeds and punish bad? Surely a just and good God would pay attention to people's merits?
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Benevolence and Aquinas

BENEVOLENCE: God's justice isn't and can't be like ours on Earth

  • Certain types of justice don't apply to God - we don't 'trade' with God like we do a shopkeeper
  • God's justice concerns giving everybody what they need - equity
  • God's goodness works with his justice

'What is due to each thing is what it needs accoring to the divine wisdom'

  • God's justice lies in doing right things, as a 'good' God  who wills a 'good' universe
  • God's a standard for justice, God is a law unto himself
  • God isn't answerable to a higher abstract standard like we are: basically God makes up his own rules, his standard of justice is the only one
  • Doesn't explain the Problem of Evil however
  • But by saying that God's justice is mysterious to us isn't an explanation, but we can't provide one or rightly judge him, or even (if he's supreme) find a different moral standard to judge him
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Benevolence and Frankena

Moral principle of justice doesn't mean treating everyone in the same way, but making the same relative contribution to the good of people's lives - is this why we, in any circumstance, say we always have something to be thankful for?

It wouldn't be justice to everybody to send them to university as some will not cope, others will hate and people will be unhappy. In the same manner, a state can't give the same amount of welfare to everybody - we all require different needs dependant on our circumstances.

Some people may receive different amounts of resources and money dependent on their situation. 

But why do we people in Africa starve yet there is enough food in America for many people to eat and become obese? Surely, if God was just and benevolent, he would distribute the food and provide to those with little food or even clean water?

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Benevolence and Calvin

Being just might not mean treating everybody in the exact same way - this would mean God's justice would mean everybodys equally valued or treated identically - what about the sexism in the church? Is this justified? What about God's mercy for those out of the church?

CALVIN: Humans are unworthy compared to God

  • There is a greatness of God and a 'littleness' of human existence in comparison
  • Human kind has a corrupt and damnable nature 
  • God's goodness is revealed through his demonstration of mercy through the election of certain godly people, he grants salvation to these. 
  • Outside the Church there's no salvation, but in the Church only a few are saved.
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Criticisms of Calvin

Is Calvin's view truly merciful? A lot have no oppurtunity to be a member of the Church, and those who aren't may question whether this is actually a sign of the true goodness of God to choose a small number, and to offer neither redemption or hope for others?

Calvin argues that there isn't any injustice and no reason for the damned to complain, as nobody deserves to be saved. God exercises his mercy in selectong a small number for salvation - is this not both selective, favouritism as well as not omnibenevolent. Even if God only wished for others godness, this doesn't mean others don't deserve to be saved. You don't need to be Christian to live a good moral life, sometimes non-Christians live a more moral life than those select few in the church deserving condemnation - e.g criminalous clerks

Calvin's vision of hell creates problems for God's goodness

Hell was seperation from God to Aquinas, not a place of fire and torture. Calvin's view about it is more literal and traditional, where 'unhappy consciences find no rest, but are vexed and drven about by a fire whirlwind'. Surely if God creates everything, God would've created such. If this was the case, does this not go against the true nature of God?

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Calvin and Salvation

EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS: Most accept this idea (outside the Church, there's no salvation). But we can know good people who aren't Christian, and there is large population who haven't had the oppurtunity to join the Church. Are these not worthy of salvation? Why would a good and merciful God condemn them?  

What about 'Baptism of Desire' (those who had faith in God and lived their lives accordingly may be saved)? Catholic Church accepteed this notion even though they argued that baptism is required for salvation. 

THOSE WHO DON'T KNOW GOD: Traditional Catholics argue against the view that those, who through no fault of their own, didn't know the ways of God but still seeked God could be saved, with could be more consistent with a good and merciful God. Leonard Feeney was excommunicated for agreeing with such but still has many followers.

POPE FRANCIS: Francis states that 'we are all sinners but we are all forgiven'. This clearly contradicts both the churches and Calvin's view. Whilst he doesn't argue that everybody is saved, it is still a more merciful account of God compared to Calvins

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Brummer and Salvation

  • We can make sense of justice and mercy only if we think of God as personal 
  • Forgiveness doesn't consist in condoning an action, or suggesting that it doesn't matter much
  • One who forgives must absorb the pain out of love for a sinner, and the sinner must accept their own wrong-doing
  • But this causes issues about the attributes of God - can God really be thought of as not a personal being, not a superhuman being, or is he the personal Judeo-Christian God, required to make sense of mercy and forgiveness?
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