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Key Attributes: Perfection and the Three Omnis

Nature

NOTE: Today we continue our six-part series by Karlo Broussard on a metaphysical proof for God's existence. The posts will run each of the next two Mondays:

 


 
Readers who have read the previous posts in this series on demonstrating God’s existence will recall how we’ve arrived at a reality that is worthy of the traditional term “God.” We demonstrated that such reality must be unconditioned reality, absolutely simple (i.e., unrestricted in its act of existence – pure being or pure existence itself), absolutely unique, immutable, eternal, immaterial, and the continuous creator of all else that is.

In the previous installment of this series, we left off with the question, “Can we go further in deducing key attributes for the one unconditioned reality that have been classically ascribed to God?” As indicated, the answer is yes. The attributes that I will consider for this post are absolute perfection and the three “omnis” – omnibenevolence (all-good), omnipotence (all-powerful), and omniscience (all-knowing).

Let’s take absolute perfection first. How do we know that the unconditioned reality is absolutely perfect? The answer lies in the understanding of what imperfection is.

Something is imperfect to the degree that it fails to realize or actualize an inherent potential that is present by virtue of its nature – a privation of what ought to be there. For example, an imperfect tree would be a tree whose roots do not hold the amount of water that it needs to be healthy. An injured animal that could not realize the ends its nature intends would be an imperfect animal. A human action that fails to realize its end, namely the good, would be an imperfect human action. So, imperfection is proportionate to the degree an inherent potential within a thing is unrealized or unactualized. But, as suggested in the previous post of this series in relation to the attribute of immutability, the unconditioned reality does not have any potentiality and is pure actuality – this means that no aspect of its being is unactualized or unrealized. Therefore, the unconditioned reality must be absolutely perfect.

Now, in regard to the three “omnis” – omnibenevolence (all-good), omnipotence (all-powerful), and omniscience (all-knowing) – one can arrive at them as a whole from the attribute of absolute perfection as well as from distinct lines of reason respective to each one.

Consider first the line of reason from the attribute of absolute perfection. If the one unconditioned reality was not all-good, was not all-powerful, or was not all-knowing, then it would lack some aspect of goodness, power, or knowledge. But the unconditioned reality cannot lack any aspect of being since it is absolutely perfect (as demonstrated above). Therefore, the unconditioned reality must be all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing.

Now, the line of reason that is distinctive to the attribute of omnibenevolence (all-good) is the scholastic principle that goodness is convertible with being. Basically ‘X’ is good when it succeeds in being the kind of thing it is. To put it another way, ‘X’ is good insofar as it possesses what is required for it considered as what it is by nature. For example, in as much as a cat exists it is good because it succeeds in being a cat – it possesses what we expect for something to have if it has cat nature. This is still the case even if the cat is sick and therefore imperfect. Notice the strong connection between goodness and being. Something is good in as much as it succeeds in being. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Goodness and being are really the same. They differ only conceptually...Something is obviously good inasmuch as it is a being.”1 Now, since the unconditioned reality is pure being itself it must therefore also be all-good (or omnibenevolent).

So, if there is a distinct line of reason for omnibenevolence, what about omnipotence? Recall from the third installment of this series that the unconditioned reality cannot have any real or really possible incompatible state of being on the same level of simplicity that would be excluded from it. This is simply another way of saying that no real or really possible being can exist without being existentially dependent on the one unconditioned reality. Therefore, there is no real or really possible being that is outside the range of the unconditioned reality’s power for being the ultimate ground of existence. In this sense the unconditioned reality is omnipotent or all-powerful.

Finally, we come to the line of reason distinctive for the attribute of omniscience, which obviously involves intelligence. So, first, we have to ask, “How do we know that the unconditioned reality is an intelligent being?” and then we can answer the question involving omniscience.

The first path for arriving at the unconditioned reality being endowed with intelligence is by way of the immateriality of the unconditioned reality. According to St. Thomas Aquinas2, the capacity to know is in proportion to the degree of freedom from matter. In short, the principle is based on the classical understanding of knowledge. Knowledge is the receiving of forms immaterially. For example, I observe Fido the dog and abstract the form or the essence of dogness which now also exists in my mind. But that form exists in the mind immaterially because it does not include the particular dog Fido nor does it include any other aspect of the material order (e.g., size, shape, weight, color, etc). Hence knowledge is the possession of forms immaterially. So, as Aquinas concludes, the degree that something is free from matter is the degree to which it will have knowledge. Now, the unconditioned reality is purely immaterial. Therefore, it follows that the unconditioned reality must be endowed with intelligence.

The second path for arriving at the attribute of intelligence is by way of the principle of proportionate causality. Such a principle states that whatever perfection is in the effect must in some way be in the cause, whether it is present formally (it exists in the cause in the same manner), eminently (it exists in the cause in a most excellent way), or virtually (the cause has the power to produce the perfection).

Now, consider the fact that the unconditioned reality is the Creator or cause of all other things that exist (the ultimate fulfillment of the conditions of every conditioned reality). This is simply another way of saying that the unconditioned reality is giving existence to things constituted of forms. Therefore, according to the principle of proportionate causality, the forms must in some way exist in the immaterial unconditioned reality. But for forms to exist in immateriality is the essence of knowledge. Therefore, the unconditioned reality must have knowledge; hence it must be an intelligent being.

So, now we’re in a position to address the question of omniscience (all-knowing). The omniscience of unconditioned reality simply follows from the unconditioned reality’s omnipotence. Recall that there can be no real or really possible being that is beyond the scope of the unconditioned reality’s power to ground existence. Now, it’s reasonable to conclude that if the unconditioned reality is and would be the ground for the existence of any real or really possible being other than itself, then it would know those real or really possible things. Therefore, there is nothing that does exist or could exist that is not within the range of the unconditioned reality’s thoughts. In this sense the unconditioned reality is all-knowing or omniscient.

So, in conclusion, there must exist one and only one unconditioned reality in all of reality. That one unconditioned reality must be absolutely simple in the metaphysical sense – it must be pure being or pure existence. Furthermore, the absolutely simple and unique unconditioned reality must be the continuous creator of all else that is. It must also be immutable, eternal, immaterial, and absolutely perfect. Finally, it must be omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient. I think that such a being is worthy of the traditional term “God.” Therefore, God, as defined, exists.

With the metaphysical demonstration now completed, I would like to highlight in my next and final post why such a demonstration is so important in the modern debate on God’s existence with an eye on some common objections from atheists.
 
 
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Notes:

  1. Summa Theologica, 1a.5.1
  2. Summa Theologica Pt I. Q 14. Art 1.
Karlo Broussard

Written by

After a three-year apprenticeship with Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. PhD., nationally known author, speaker, philosopher, and theologian, Karlo works as a full time apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers giving lectures throughout the country on topics in Catholic apologetics, theology and philosophy. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is one of the most dynamic and enthusiastic Catholic speakers on the circuit today. He resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo's online videos at KarloBroussard.com. You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.

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  • Kevin Aldrich

    I've often seen on SN the objection that even if philosophy could show God exists, it in no way follows that he has any of the attributes traditionally assigned to him by Christianity. I think this post and the previous one shows that critique is unfounded.

    • Mike

      There are also clues in the OT and NT about the kind of god they seemed to be talking about aren't there? Like when God says "i am who i am" or something like that; wouldn't that be a very strange way for one of the traditional invented gods to introduce themselves? Like imagine Zeus not saying he is the king of olympus and related to such and such person and interested in this or that but "i am". I am sure there are many other examples in which the god described seems eerily unlike all the thors or zeus' of mythology. So my take on it was always that revelation was one way of getting at ultimate truth and greek philosophy was the other and the 2 seemed to "fit"; they seemed to reveal things the other wasn't able to find, which is why things like the big bang and the mathematical order of the universe strengthen the traditional view imho.

      • William Davis

        Likely Greek philosophy and Christianity fit so well because they were both created by Greeks.

        • Mike

          Well, the "real" Jews were just Greeks who began worshiping the "one true" God and it was the Greeks who actually wrote the OT and NT so that makes sense ;)

          • William Davis

            Old testament was written by Jews, New Testament Greeks. The God is so different in the Old Testament than the one in the New that there were great divides in the early church on how to interpret the nature of God. We finally ended up with the doctrine of the Trinity, but it was a process, completed by Greek intellectuals who were trained in Greek philosophy. Ever notice how wrathful the God of the OT is compared to the New Testament? It is also believed that early Judaism wasn't truly monotheistic in the sense that we believe today. Take the first of the ten commandments:
            You shall have no other gods before Me. Notice it doesn't say I'm the only God. It is implied, then, that there are other gods (the gods of competing factions) but that Jews are simply to consider them lower than Yahweh. Lots of interesting things come from all different religions (Judaism is obviously a different religion than Christianity, though Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism). Contemplating the nature of the ultimate being is fascinating, probably because he is the ultimate role model.

          • Mike

            Dude you think the NT was written by Greeks? HA! Don't let them know their egos will explode!

          • William Davis

            See my reply to Kevin below.

          • Mike

            Whatever it is Greek did NOT write the NT; it was translated into the lingua franca which was Greek but it was written by jews.

          • William Davis

            I have no emotional attachment to the idea that Greeks wrote the New Testament, it simply seems to be the most plausible explanation of the evidence. Do you own research, consider the evidence and make your decision. I'd encourage you to also study the history of ancient Greece, their mythologies and understandings. God/men were common in Greek (think Hercules). It makes sense that the Greek mind would be much more receptive to the idea of a God/man than the Jews. Historians have much more specific reasons for thinking what I'm mentioning, though the evidence is far from concrete. I suppose we will never truly know, and will be just left with our best guesses. One major point, however, why would Jews be using the Septuagint, when Hebrew is their native language. Why would they understand the prophecies for the messiah different from other Jews (unless they, too had had visions of Jesus like Paul). I think it has been assumed they were Jewish for so long that it is just continued to be assumed. Do you know of any evidence they were Jewish. Understanding the Septuagint isn't really evidence. Perhaps it is impossible to distinguish a Greek educated Jew, from a Greek educated in Judaism.

          • Mike

            Even atheists don't think it was greeks who wrote it; some of them say it was made up by romans later on but most secular historians agree it was NOT written by greeks and indeed was laughed at by them in one of paul's letter where he talks about trying to convince the philosophers in athens of the truth of God.

          • William Davis

            Perusing the net, it does seem the majority opinion was that they were Jewish, I just fail to see any clear reason to think this. I just see "they were probably Jewish". Anyway, google
            Hellenistic philosophy and Christianity. They do a pretty good job of explaining what I mean. Perhaps they were Jews so immersed in Greek culture that their conceptualization seems greek to me. I think that's a good compromise, Greek thinking Jews. It may be more true than the idea that they were Greeks. I'll modify my position to that, in the absence of real proof, fair enough?

          • Mike

            :) Sure...look no one seriously thinks JC and his 12 bros were greeks, no one; that having been said the area was criss crossed by various cultures for 1000s of years and there were many "greeks" "romans" "persians" africans, egyptians there at the time, it was messy and shall we say "multicultural"; think of the money changers at the temple, they were there to change all that diff currency into the one used in Jerusalem; also don't forget that by then the jews had travelled from Ur in present day Iraq, had been to egypt and persia etc. etc. so they were themselves a mixture of ppls BUT maintaining their distinct belief in this weird "one god" who was unlike all the others worshipped around them. Also the msg on the cross INRI i think was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek bc that's what ppl spoke the latter by the authorities and "intellectuals".

            The reason you see so much fit bt greek philo and christ is because they are the 2 wings of the same "bird" both were coming to ultimate truth and happened to fit bc ultimately truth has to work both logically (greek) and "spiritually" (jewish)...i am presenting this really badly btw; plus as christianity spread through the greek world it adopted the reasoning of the greeks but the greeks LAUGHED at Paul and the apostles bc they knew bodies didn't rise from the dead.

          • William Davis

            I agree with most of what you said, except not many think JC and his disciples wrote anything. The writers are anonymous, simply later attributed to apostles. Paul's primary mission was to the gentiles, many of who were Greeks. Just because many laughed doesn't mean many other Greeks did not accept. Thanks for the conversation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The New Testament was written in Greek but not by Greeks. Even the Old Testament read and used by the early Church was in Greek (the Septuagint).

            > "Ever notice how wrathful the God of the OT is compared to the New Testament?" Actually, that was one of the heresies that arose in the early Church: Marcionism.

          • William Davis

            Marcionism is now considered heretical, but it was a legitimate dispute back then. Paul is the only Jew we know of who wrote New Testament books, and of those attributed to him were likely forged. All of the Gospels were anonymous and it is very likely that Greeks wrote them as only 5 % of the population were literate, and those that were literature usually learned to write in their native language. Most of the books are also written long after any original disciples had entered into old age and/or died (life expectancy was low back then). The Jews generally rejected Christianity, and still do, that is why they are still Jews. Paul was a notable exception. Christian interpretations of the Old Testament are quite different than that of Jews, especially with regard to the Messiah. I defer to Jews for the proper interpretation of their religious scriptures, of course, but is quite amazing as to what the Greeks made it into. Platonic concepts such as of the immortality of the soul appeared later.
            Nothing I'm saying should be that surprising, I thought this was a standard historical view held by most historical scholars of the time period

    • Vicq Ruiz

      I really don't see anything in the God described in this article with which Spinoza, or Jefferson, or Paine could not be comfortable.

    • David Nickol

      I've often seen on SN the objection that even if philosophy could show God exists, it in no way follows that he has any of the attributes traditionally assigned to him by Christianity.

      In many ways, I see it being just the opposite. This is not so much the God of Christianity as the God of Christian philosophy. The attributes of the God of philosophy make "him" far different from God as we see him in the Bible. I am bewildered as to how it would be possible to have any kind of relationship or interaction with the God of philosophy. Such a "being" would exist in an entirely different mode or manner as a human being to the point where I don't comprehend how it is possible to say you love God or God loves you, or how it is possible to say you offend God, repent, and God forgives you. How would it be possible to say you ask something of God and he gives it to you (or even says no)? I don't even understand how it would be possible for the God of philosophy to do something, such as create the universe. How can a God who is perfect and cannot change do something? And and particularly, how can he do things like forgive, which imply (to me, at least) a change of some kind. When someone offends me and then I forgive that person, I have changed. If God can't change, how can he forgive?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        One proof of God's existence is based on the fact that some things "move," i.e., change. God is reasoned to be the necessary first mover or changer. That in itself indicates that the God of philosophy can do something that affects the physical universe.

        If God is omniscient then he has to know what I am doing. If I know that God is omnibenevolent, has given me being, and provided me with all kinds of good things, and I realize I have a duty to thank him for this, and I do, he knows that. God shows he loves me by his benevolence and I show I love God by my thankfulness.

        In the dynamic of sin, repentance, and forgiveness, I think all the change is going on in the human person. When we say "God is offended by sin" I think the word offended has quite different connotations than when I say I am offended by someone who sins against me.

        I'm not saying the God of philosophy is identical to the God of Christian revelation. I'd say the God of philosophy is a subset of what can be said of the God of revelation.

        • David Nickol

          If God is omniscient then he has to know what I am doing.

          Both immutability and omniscience rule out the possibility of God knowing what you are doing—that is, knowing at the moment what you are doing at the moment. God can't learn anything. He is not watching things as they occur to see what happens. He is not listening to your prayers to hear what you want. If you offend him, he does not remain offended until you repent, at which point he forgives you. There can be no past, present, and future for God.

          I'd say the God of philosophy is a subset of what can be said of the God of revelation.

          It seems to me that—almost paradoxically—the qualities attributed to the God of philosophy in some ways limit him. It does not seem to me that an intelligence that exists, immutable and outside of time, can do much of anything. He can't listen to a melody, watch a drama, learn something new, be surprised, make a choice, wait, be steadfast, or get a joke.

          • William Davis

            Interesting point. One key element of intelligence is consciousness, and if you really think about it, consciousness can only exist in the present moment, and least anything that we can conceive of. The consciousness of a truly omniscient being would currently be considering what was happening in the 16th century as much as anything now. Would there be any kind of focus to such a mind? I've also thought that if the creator meddles with the creation, it would be an admission of fallibility by definition. Anything made perfectly the first time should not be in need of any correction.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why do you assume God did or had to create creation perfectly? Catholics don't.

            "Perfect" means completely made, and the universe has been developing for some 13.7 billion years. Even the Garden of Eden was not "perfect", since God told Adam and Eve to go do stuff.

          • William Davis

            I do engineering. Almost all first drafts of a project are flawed, so we have to make revisions and repairs. Better engineer's first drafts require fewer revisions. Some engineer's designs are so back they require constant meddling. From the point the view of a engineer this idea is a sign of fallibility. If the universe is God's cosmic play-toy/ongoing project, maybe not :) I suppose it depends on how you define perfect. Language can be annoyingly ambiguous sometimes. I'm surrounded by protestants, so it is difficult to separate my views of Christianity from theirs, though I try. The flexibility possible in interpreting the Bible is enormous, though obviously some interpretations are better than others. The more I learn about Catholicism, the better it seems compared to its protestant counterparts, though this could be a "grass is greener on the other side of the fence" bias.

  • Mike

    Fascinating thanks again for this.

  • GCBill

    It occurred to me why the Scholastic conception of good seems so bizarre to me. Rather than thinking of X as good when it "succeeds in being the king of thing that it is," I've always thought of X as good when it succeeds at fulfilling the role(s) which it currently performs. Goodness on this view is not so much a property of things as a result of the interactions between them.

    The most effective hammer is perfect for hitting nails, but it is not intrinsically perfect. There are many actions for which it would be bad. It is a "good" or "bad" thing by virtue of its role in processes involving other things.

    • Loreen Lee

      I think you're onto something here, GCBill. But even Jesus said that the only way to get to the Father was through him. (And the Holy Ghost). I understand this to refer to the possibility that through the process of assimilating or through a conscious integration of The Power of Judgement (or as in this post the potential or possibility of Omnipotence) and the use of our Intellect, or Reason, (Kant's critique of the concept of Pure, i.e reason considered apart from the context of process, experience, empirical evidence, etc.) expressed in this post as another Ideality called Omniscience, we come to the concept of Omnibenevolence; or God the Father. or Pure Being. Will is thus conceived to be distinct from the intellect, and perhaps even our thoughts, per se. This Good is not thoroughly explored by Kant by the way, and I understand his objectivity based on the universal and necessity to be similar more to the Christian Natural Law, i.e. Reason, then to the 'concept' of Omnibenevolence associated with the Will understood as Being..

      I have been thinking then of these concepts within their application to human limitation. Unfortunately, I have found that many conflicts arise from the interactions you spoke of, especially between/because of a 'self-interested' quest for Omniscience, and Omnipotence. !!

      . I believe modern philosophy has explored some of these 'realities' of experience, the most obvious being Nietzsche's Will to Power.. What is expressed within the pagan expression The Golden Rule, does however, recognize the rational a priori of a good will, in the expression. Love thy neighbor as yourself - for the Love of God. This recognizes both the power of judgment and intelligence directed towards a 'higher' 'state of willful being..

      I merely say this because I find it interesting to 'play' with these classifications, although in my hope to appreciate the history of philosophy, I have possibly just realized that Kant might have been the last philosopher to use the traditional trilogy of Christianity within a philosophic context.. Just a thought.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      FWIW, the idea that goodness can only exist in a relational context is very consonant with trinitarian theology. Goodness exists when God the Father breathes the Holy Spirit on the enfleshed Christ, and Christ breathes the Holy Spirit back on God the Father, in a perpetual dynamic relationship.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      This is why there can be a multitude of perfect persons--when they become completely what they are supposed to be, they will be perfect.

  • David Nickol

    Basically ‘X’ is good when it succeeds in being the kind of thing it is. To put it another way, ‘X’ is good insofar as it possesses what is required for it considered as what it is by nature.

    I had a friend in high school whose theory was that every thing is perfect. His most frequently used example was a broken lightbulb. A broken lightbulb is not a perfect lightbulb, but it is a perfect broken lightbulb. What more can you expect a broken lightbulb to be or to do other than what it is or does? Certainly a broken lightbulb "possesses what is required for it considered as what it is by nature"—that is, a broken lightbulb.

    I suppose we have to acknowledge that the ebola virus, the malaria parasite, the Yersinia pestis (plague) bacterium, and the loa loa worm are all "good" by the definition of goodness given here.

  • Krakerjak

    Mankind seems hardwired to seek peace of mind and contentment in the concept of an entity such as God, but a reasonable person is wise to be wary of losing himself in transcendent, metaphysical ideas and concepts which he cannot vindicate by experience, but at the same time such a being cannot really be refuted.

    Kant: "Reason with all its concepts and laws of the understanding, which suffice for empirical use, i.e., within the sensible world, finds in itself no satisfaction because ever-recurring questions deprive us of all hope of their complete solution."

    As individuals we can remain in a constant state of restlessness attempting to reason our way to a complete answer or solution to the question of whether or not god exists. Or we can just accept the fact that there are many and varied philosophical arguments put forth by a multitude of brilliant minds throughout the centuries up to the present that make reasonable arguments for the existence of god or the first cause, Pure Being, Unconditioned Reality, or the Tri-Omni entity or whatever name one wants to use, and get used to the idea that a creator god may actually exist, and then take it from there.

  • I have to say I am surprised at the definitions for the attributes advanced as the omnis here. Characterizing good as in moral goodness as being successful in being the kind of thing one is, seems completely contrary to how term "good" is used. By this definition is not everything "good"? Again this is a restatement of a laws of logic that everything is what it is, is not what it is not and is nothing in between.

    Presumably Mr Broussard is drawing arbitrary lines of distinction and imposing his own, or his theology's impressions of what "kinds" of things are and whether they are "successful" at being that. It is imposing theological ideas of what a person or a cat is and whether it is successful at being that.

    I propose a more sensible way of looking at things is that, things are what they are, and we form impressions about whether they are "good" meaning we make judgment calls on whether their existence or behaviour is consistent with certain values. What these values are and what accounts for them is another question.

    But to say that goodness is the same as existence, just pushes the concept of goodness and morality into a vagueness that deprives it of any relevant meaning.