Questioning God’s many attributes
The ‘impossible cube’ seen from an angle which produces an illusion of impossibility. Structure based on L.A. Necker’s cube, and features in M.C. Escher’s lithograph Belvedere.
Published: 7 October 2012 (GMT+10)
I really liked this article, but I still have some qualms with your argument in terms of the attributes of God.
Yes, it was a very important article. However, it had a strong focus: dealing with one skeptical argument in a lucid and strong way. It could not be expected to cover everything. I will try my best to answer these questions, although many of them are found on the site.
Maybe some people can help me figure this out. You define God as:
Indeed we do. But we define them in their original intended meanings, which were actually negative—to indicate that God had no limitations outside Himself.
On omnipotence-simple, traditional arguments such as questioning whether an omnipotent being could create a rock too heavy for himself to lift seem to prove true omnipotence impossible. Moreover, the common response that God is commonly omnipotent, i.e., can only bring logical effects about seems to refute itself because it says that He/She/It
If you are objecting to the male pronoun, see What’s in a pronoun? The divine gender controversy by Lita Cosner, a female New Testament specialist.
We must define God’s omni-attributes in their original intended meanings, which were actually negative—to indicate that God had no limitations outside Himself.
cannot bring about logical inconsistencies, proving H/S/I not omnipotent.
But this was never the intended meaning of the term, as thoroughly shown in What does God’s omnipotence really mean? For example:
An all powerful God can do or make anything, but it’s meaningless to say that he can do or make a nothing. A logically contradictory state of affairs is not a thing at all, but NOTHING.
The point is, ‘a rock too heavy for God to lift’ is really ‘a rock too heavy for a being who can lift anything’, so it is a self-contradiction. Your son’s friend’s example really resolves to ‘a being more powerful than a supremely powerful being’, so is likewise self contradictory. A ‘square circle’ and ‘2+2=5’ are likewise contradictory states of affairs. Therefore these are all nothings. And a meaningless nothing doesn’t become a ‘something’ just because someone puts the phrase, ‘an all-powerful God could’ in front of it.
1. You concede the truth of the Second Law of Thermodynamics—that means if God were truly eternal, HSI would have already entropically decayed into chaos. If God is not subject to the laws of the material world, then what is the essence of God? If God only “exists” via faith and is not a real entity, then why is there a point of saying a "God" exists?
A ‘square circle’ and ‘2+2=5’ are contradictory states of affairs. Therefore these are all nothings. And a meaningless nothing doesn’t become a ‘something’ just because someone puts the phrase, ‘an all-powerful God could’ in front of it.
We don’t “concede” anything; we readily affirm the Second Law of Thermodynamics, including in the article you are writing about. We also refute critics both fairly briefly and in more detail. The Second Law applies only to things made of components. It is ultimately a probabilistic claim, because there are astronomically many more ways for a collection of component parts to become chaotic than to become organized. But God is simple, meaning not composed of parts (see Is God ‘simple’?), so the Second Law cannot apply.
2. Saying that God created the heavens and the Earth and simultaneously created time implicitly relies on a time “before” the creation of time.
It does no such thing. It rather implies that time itself came into existence.
Actions, motion, and existence are all measured with a benchmark of time—the raising of my arm is constituted by the state of it down at time 0 and up at time 1, with varying states of ‘up-ness’ between at times between zero and one.
Yes, we all live in a universe bound by time. But God created time, so He is not bound by it.
To say that time came into existence at a certain time, i.e., when God created the Earth means that God cannot truly be eternal.
I remind you of what I said before: that these attributes were originally intended to be understood negatively, that God was not limited. I.e. God’s eternality does not refer to infinite time, as if he is somehow within time, but that even time itself does not bind Him. E.g. Theopedia, an online Encyclopedia of Christianity, states:
The Eternality of God refers to his timeless nature. God had no beginning, and will have no end.
3. If God is absolved of a temporal paradigm per se, that is, he functions external to time, you cannot say that HSI is eternal, rather that HSI is external to time. Eternal requires infinite temporal existence.
Ipse dixit, and as above, is redefining the term contrary to what it was intended to convey.
1. We’ve seen that any discrete entity in the world is composed of fundamental particles-fermions, baryons, leptons, etc. … We’ve never discovered anything with a property of “Godliness”, or a state of immaterialness that can influence material.
G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936).
That seriously begs the question: you can say that only if you know in advance that all reports of an immaterial being influencing material are false. But you know them to be false only if you know that such a being can’t occur. In other words, you are arguing in a circle. G.K. Chesterton argued succinctly (Orthodoxy ch. 9) on a very similar matter:
Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them.
See also Miracles and science:
Thoughts are immaterial, but they influence the world via our action.
But then you have conceded that the immaterial can influence the material!
If God is truly immaterial, HSI would not be able to change the world. If God is “energy”, then HSI is still material because energy is made of particles (duality) and further, it would invoke the argument I made regarding the Law of Entropy and would concede the falsity of most of these statements about God.
That’s why God should be considered as pure being, not matter or energy, which as you say is part of the material world. One of the aforementioned articles says:
Since God’s existence and essence are indistinguishable (a principle of divine simplicity—no attribute is distinguishable from another regarding God’s being), God just is—his being has no potential for non-existence, and nothing caused him to exist. That is why divine simplicity explains God’s self-existence.
2. This ties into your argument about everything that has a beginning has a sufficient cause: thoughts don’t have a beginning—they are fluid and undefinable—
Do you really think so? ;)
they arise and are forgotten without heed. Although they don’t have a beginning (birth isn’t a beginning because you think about things that you learn and you don’t know much when you’re born.
Indeed, individual life begins at conception, about 9 months before birth, and there is evidence that Unborn babies may be “planning their future”.
Also, the time at which you learn things isn’t a beginning because you don’t necessarily think the way you do because of the material you learned), they have a physical cause, i.e., potassium and chlorine gradients forming along myelinated axons and subsequently releasing neurotransmitters.
Antony Flew (1923–2010).
Former leading atheistic philosopher Antony Flew, who turned to theism a few years before he died, pointed out in his co-authored book There is a God: How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (see review):
Although certain areas of the brain are associated with consciousness, they do not produce consciousness—a certain area of a person’s brain may show activity when thinking about a certain idea, but a neurologist cannot tell from that person’s MRI what he is thinking about. Consciousness is correlated with certain regions of the brain, but when the same systems of neurons are present in the brain stem there is no “production” of consciousness (p. 174).
He explained further:
Let us begin with a parable. Imagine that a satellite phone is washed ashore on a remote island inhabited by a tribe that has never had contact with modern civilization. The natives play with the numbers on the dial pad and hear different voices upon hitting certain sequences.
They assume first that it’s the device that makes these noises. Some of the cleverer natives, the scientists of the tribe, assemble an exact replica and hit the numbers again. They hear the voices again.
The conclusion seems obvious to them. This particular combination of crystals and metals and chemicals produces what seems like human voices, and this means that the voices are simply properties of this device.
Imagine that a satellite phone is washed ashore on a remote island inhabited by a tribe that has never had contact with modern civilization. The natives play with the numbers on the dial pad and hear different voices upon hitting certain sequences. … The conclusion seems obvious to them. This particular combination of crystals and metals and chemicals produces what seems like human voices, and this means that the voices are simply properties of this device.—Antony Flew
But the tribal sage summons the scientists for a discussion. He has thought long and hard on the matter and has reached the following conclusion: the voices coming through the instrument must be coming from people like themselves, people who are living and conscious although speaking in another language. Instead of assuming that the voices are simply properties of the handset, they should investigate the possibility that through some mysterious communication network they are ‘in touch’ with other humans. Perhaps further study along these lines could lead to a greater understanding of the world beyond their island. But the scientists simply laugh at the sage and say, ‘Look, when we damage the instrument, the voices stop coming. So they’re obviously nothing more than sounds produced by a unique combination of lithium and printed circuit boards and light-emitting diodes.
In this parable we see how easy it is to let preconceived theories shape the way we view evidence instead of letting the evidence shape our theories … . And in this, it seems to me, lies the peculiar danger, the endemic evil, of dogmatic atheism.
Therefore, things that don’t have beginnings still have causes.
But if our consciousness is really an effect of our brain responding to external stimuli via the laws of chemistry, then this belief itself is merely the result of neural chemistry. Therefore dogmatic materialists, according to their own belief system, did not freely reason out their belief according to the evidence. Rather, they believed their theory because they couldn’t help it—it was predetermined by brain chemistry. But then, why should their neurons be trusted over mine? They both obey the same laws of chemistry. Social commentator Dr Theodore Dalrymple, no Christian himself, commented on the atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett:
We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one [belief in evolution], are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true.—Theodore Dalyrmple on ‘New Atheist’ Daniel Dennett.
Dennett argues that religion is explicable in evolutionary terms—for example, by our inborn human propensity, at one time valuable for our survival on the African savannahs, to attribute animate agency to threatening events.
For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one, are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true.1
Consciousness is actually a big problem for the blind materialist faith. Richard Gregory, evolutionist and professor of neuropsychology and director of the brain and perception laboratory at the University of Bristol in England, explained the dilemma for evolutionists in the book Consciousness (1977, pp. 276–7):
If the brain was developed by Natural Selection, we might well suppose that consciousness has survival value. But for this it must, surely, have causal effects. But what effects could awareness, or consciousness, have?
Why, then, do we need consciousness? What does consciousness have that the neural signals (and physical brain activity) do not have? Here there is something of a paradox, for if the awareness of consciousness does not have any effect—if consciousness is not a causal agent—then it seems useless, and so should not have developed by evolutionary pressure. If, on the other hand, it is useful, it must be a causal agent: but then physiological description in terms of neural activity cannot be complete. Worse, we are on this alternative stuck with mentalistic explanations, which seem outside science.
In order for God to be proven, God must have a beginning. Even if HSI is timeless and fluid, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need a beginning.
It does so, because the very notion of “beginning” entails something bound by time. But God created time—see also How can God be outside of time?
Omniscience is easily proven impossible by things like certain aspects of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems and the statement “Nobody knows if this sentence is true” (that sentence’s truth value is impossible to know, so omniscience is impossible). Again, the argument that only logical situations ought to be evaluated concedes that God is not Omnipotent nor Omniscient.
Actually, what Gödel’s incompleteness proof actually means, as we have pointed out before, is not that something can’t be known to be true, but that a true statement can be not provable within the system. Gödel showed that in any philosophical system as complex as arithmetic or above, there would always be true statements that were not able to be proven within the system. So there are truths in that system that can be known to be true, so are within the purview of an omniscient God, but can’t be proven from the axioms.
Lastly, even if everything you’ve said is true, why is it necessarily the Judeo-Christian God that is the one that exists—there are nearly three thousand gods known to us.
Well, one article can’t possibly cover everything. This would require a whole book, and many exist. Fortunately one now exists from CMI: Christianity For Skeptics. In short, because there are thousands of possible answers for 1 + 1, we should deny that the answer 2 is the only one, not 3,4, or 4357? The difference between the Christian God and others is that Jesus Christ, the Son, came to earth and is the exact representation of God who proved His credentials by rising from the dead. The founders of other religions rotted in their tombs (see also Did Jesus Christ really rise from the dead? and Holy books? Which one are you going to trust?). And here is an extract from the last chapter of my book By Design: Evidence for nature’s Intelligent Designer—the God of the Bible (see also review):
Nature does not reveal the identity of the Intelligent Designer. This was a point made by atheistic philosopher Raymond Bradley in a debate on Christianity with the Christian classical scholar Prof. E.M. Blaiklock (1903–1983) at Auckland University in New Zealand, around 1965. The atheist began with a Parable of the Gardener, often used by the then atheist Antony Flew:
Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, “Some gardener must tend this plot.” The other disagrees, “There is no gardener.” So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. “But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.” So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. “But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible, to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.” At last the Sceptic despairs, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?”2
Blaiklock first pointed out that while the gardener might not be seen, his effects certainly are, where the skeptic sees only the weeds. Indeed, as shown in chapter 11, Flew himself recognizes the need for a ‘gardener’ to start life in the first place.
But then Blaiklock extended the parable. Another man appeared, and spoke to the two explorers:
I understand that you were wondering about whether this garden has a gardener. Indeed there is, because I am the gardener’s son. And if you want to know what the gardener is like, look at me, for I am his spitting image.
Indeed, looking at the garden can tell us only so much. For us to really understand the gardener, he would have to tell us himself, or send a reliable emissary to do so.
Blaiklock was an expert in the language and culture of the New Testament period. His research convinced him that the man Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the emissary from the Designer, and the Designer’s Son who is the exact representation of the Designer.3 The Son proved his credentials impeccably by his words and deeds.
Later, in 1985, Flew himself debated philosopher and theologian Gary Habermas on the most important reported deed of all, the proposition that Jesus Christ conquered death itself.4 This debate was held in Dallas in front of a crowd of three thousand people. It was judged by two panels of experts from leading American universities: one panel comprised five philosophers who were asked to judge the content of the debate, and the other comprised five professional debate judges who were asked to judge the quality of the arguments.
Four of the five on the philosophers’ panel voted that Habermas had won, i.e. the case he made for the Resurrection was stronger than Flew’s attempts to refute it, and one scored it a draw. The panel of professional debate judges voted three to two to Habermas. The following comments from two of the judges follow:I am of the position that the affirmative speaker [Habermas] has a very significant burden of proof in order to establish his claims. The various historical sources convinced me to adopt the arguments of the affirmative speaker. Dr Flew, on the other hand, failed, particularly in the rebuttal period and the head-to-head session, to introduce significant supporters of his position. Dr Habermas placed a heavy burden on Dr Flew to refute very specific issues. As the rebuttals progressed, I felt that Dr Flew tried to skirt the charges.
I conclude that the historical evidence, though flawed, is strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead. Habermas has already won the debate. … By defeating the Hume-inspired skeptical critique on miracles in general offered by Flew and by demonstrating the strength of some of the historical evidence, Habermas does end up providing “highly probable evidence” for the historicity of the resurrection “with no plausible naturalistic evidence against it.” Habermas, therefore, in my opinion, wins the debate.
The two debaters became friends after this, so when Flew renounced atheism 20 years later, he was happy to be interviewed by Habermas [see also above].5
More recently, James Patrick Holding has shown that there are at least 17 factors that meant Christianity could not have succeeded in the ancient world, unless it were backed up with irrefutable proof of Jesus’ Resurrection.6
You cite biblical evidence as fact—why do we need to accept that specific interpretation?
Furthermore, the historical evidence shows that Jesus believed that a collection of books we call the Bible was the authoritative revelation of the Designer’s message to His creatures.7,8 This includes telling us that He created, when He created, and the sequence of creative acts.9 And that book defeats all other explanations decisively as an explanation of the world as we find it, with both exquisite design and the present ugliness.10 This also explains geology (the Flood), languages (evolutionists have no Babel), population distribution, origin of agriculture, all things that ‘mere design’ can’t explain.
In this book, the Designer has also told us what He expects from those whom He made, and how their disobedience resulted in death and cutting off from himself.11 But the same book reveals His rescue plan. His Son Jesus Christ came into the world to take upon Himself the penalty for our sins, and endure death and shame in our place. He rose from the dead, proving that He had paid the price and conquered death.12
There is a lot more in Christianity for Skeptics.
I realize that this is very lengthy and that it sounds very skeptical, but I truly would very much love to know the answers because I, like everyone on Earth, seeks Truth— It seems that many of you have found it. Please help me get there myself.
As you can see, I took you at your word here. I hope it helps, both you and other sincere inquirers.
- Dalrymple, T., What the new atheists don’t see: to regret religion is to regret Western civilization, City Journal, Autumn 2007; city-journal.org/html/17_4_oh_to_be.html. Return to text.
- Flew, A., Theology and Falsification, University, 1950–51. Return to text.
- Hebrews 1:1–3 “ … God … has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact representation of his being, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Return to text.
- Habermas, G.R. and Flew, A.G.N., Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, ed. Terry L. Miethe, T.L., Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1987. Return to text.
- My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: an exclusive interview with former British atheist Professor Antony Flew by Gary Habermas, Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005; www.illustramedia.com/IDArticles/flew-interview.pdf. Return to text.
- Holding, J.P., The Impossible Faith, Xulon Press, Florida, USA, 2007. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Authority of Scripture, Apologia 3(2):12–16, 1994; creation.com/authority. While Jesus walked the Earth, the only Bible at the time was what is now called the Old Testament, but He also gave authority to his Apostles to write the Scriptures we now call the New Testament. Return to text.
- Livingston, D., Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture, in: ‘A Critique of Dewey Beegle’s book titled: Inspiration of Scripture’, M.A. Thesis, 2003; creation.com/jesus_bible. Return to text.
- See also Sarfati, J., Genesis: Bible authors believed it to be history, Creation 28(2):21–23, 2006; creation.com/gen-hist. Return to text.
- See also Catchpoole. D., Holy books? Which one are you going to trust? Creation 26(1):1, 2003; creation.com/holybooks. Return to text.
- For more information, see Sarfati, J., The Fall—Hugh Ross’s blunders on plant death in the Bible, J. Creation 19(3):60–64, 2005; creation.com/plant_death. Return to text.
- See also Good news! creation.com/goodnews. Return to text.
I think Dr. Sarfati really explained it thoroughly and logically to Karl S. People should know about this article because these questions are sharply faith challenging. Thank you for posting this article.
After reading this, I too could found ways to improve my comprehension about God. I mean, this article has helped me found my own limitation in understanding God, and I have made some adjustments thanks to this article.
“This ties into your argument about everything that has a beginning has a sufficient cause: thoughts don’t have a beginning—they are fluid and undefinable—”
“Do you really think so? ;)”
Haha, nice response to show that thoughts do have a beginning xD. Well written responses.
“Can God make a rock too heavy for God to lift?” may actually open the door for a fairly accurate description of God himself. First, his perfect love for you and his divine attitude of condescension allows him to ‘play weak’ on your behalf while he demonstrates the answer to your question. Next, he lets you watch as his limitless knowledge allows him to fashion a rock even he cannot lift. But alas, his limitless power kicks in and he lifts it. Then he explains to you that his limitless foresight allows him to see, that since he is eternal in nature, this vying between his knowledge and power could go on forever. That’s when his perfect intrinsic consistency steps in and shuts down the entire operation. So he begins to instruct you about truth, and tells you that since he is the ultimately True Being, he would not be true to himself to keep up this game of creating and lifting heavier and heavier rocks; it would lessen his godlike characters to do so. But he adds that he is not regretful for showing himself weak to the world that one time in human history when he offered up his own Son, and now also this time, when he made one more exception and answered your question.
Recently I was listening to a debate between a Christian apologist and a well-known atheist. One of the points the atheist had in regard to God being outside of time was something like, “If God exists outside of time, then God doesn’t exist at any time, therefore God doesn’t exist.” What would be a good response to a line of reasoning such as this?
As for God not being able to create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it, is essentially asking if God can create a logical contradiction. So would this also be a good response: since laws of logic are contingent upon God’s nature, and since God cannot violate His nature, God therefore could not create a logical contradiction such as the rock too heavy to lift, a squared circle, etc?
That atheist has just made an assertion. He has presupposed that existence is time-dependent, but in reality, modern relativity shows that time is itself dependent on other things such as gravity and speed.
For the second, this article might help, since what you said was a major part of it: If God can do anything, then can He make a being more powerful than Himself? What does God’s omnipotence really mean?