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The Rationality of Theism 12: The Possibility of God: The Coherence of Theism


The author is addressing a few alleged logical contradictions in God’s attributes. First he looks at God’s incorporeality, pointing out that only certain ideas of infinity would prevent God from being an infinite individual. Nothing too objectionable here- he gets to define the terms however he wants.

The next problem is omnipotence, which the author ends up defining as “such that it is metaphysically impossible for there to be any being Y that has a more excellent scope of power.” This is to avoid Martin’s argument that God would not be able to bring about affairs like “a flood that was caused by a being that never was tri-une.”  I don’t know if there is anything that would trip up a user of this definition. Defining “excellent” seems pretty tough.

Next up is omniscience and freedom. If God knew everything that would happen, wouldn’t that mean people’s actions are not free, but set in stone? I think Taliaferro really drops the ball on this one, saying that free actions may not be possible to know, and omniscience does not include knowing things which are impossible to know. That’s a logical contradiction, so a being can be omniscient, while still not knowing how a person will act.

Taliaferro leaves it there, which is odd since Martin has some serious critiques of this, and Taliaferro has obviously read Martin since he responds to him earlier. If God doesn’t know how people will act, then why should we trust God’s plans? He is as ignorant as we are in many situations. How do we know things will turn out alright?

One response that comes to mind is that God could make things turn out okay in all possible situations, regardless of all free will choices. That really only works if our choices are not relevant to the goodness that ensues in the universe. If there’s a chance that we go to hell due to our choices, then it would seem that God is playing dice with our souls. Uncool. Moreover, God would not have knowledge of even his own actions, being perfectly free. If this is omniscience, then it seems to entail quite a bit of ignorance.

And lastly, my own critique is that contra-causal free will is incoherent, and that it does not ground responsibility. It also contradicts beliefs in divine justice and hell. Also, compatibilist free will contradicts beliefs in divine justice and hell. Logical problems ensue.

Kindle Notes:

Debate over divine attributes has had a long history in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. I shall highlight only one aspect of the debate: the flexibility of the terms involved (6254).

Note: Flexibility = imprecision and unfalsifiability.

Because God’s knowledge is of supreme excellence, theists need not have to choose between competing epistemological theories of knowledge which apply to beings with fallible, finite cognitive equipment (6271).

Note: So then what do you mean by knowledge?

A similar freedom is in play when it comes to forging an understanding of God’s power and agency. Contemporary philosophical accounts of agency offer competing theories of action in terms of mental and physical causation. Given that God does not have a material body, theists need not choose between competing human conceptions of embodied agency (6278).

Note: So what do you mean by powerful or agent?

I revise my earlier account of omnipotence to this: X is omnipotent = the scope of X’s power is such that it is metaphysically impossible for there to be any being Y that has a more excellent scope of power (6304).

Note: Does that work?

Because future free acts cannot be known, God’s not knowing what someone will do tomorrow is not a flaw in divine cognition. Most analyses of the divine attributes of omnipotence do not require that an omnipotent being be able to do something impossible (make 1 + 2 = 5). A similar point needs to be made about omniscience. If it is not possible for anyone to know what someone will freely do tomorrow, then omniscience should not be seen as covering the free act (6323).

Note: Interesting how he does not respond to Martin’s accusation that such an omniscience heavily erodes our idea of God. Why trust his ultimate plan if he can’t know anything resulting from free will? Not even his own actions.

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