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The Challenge of Ontological Disproofs


Dr. Peter Kreeft once noted that, “When Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his great Summa Theologica, he could find only two objections to the existence of God, even though he tried to list at least three objections to every one of the thousands of theses he tried to prove in that great work” (Fundamentals of the Faith, p. 54). The two objections that Aquinas had in mind were the problem of evil and the apparent ability of science to explain everything without God. During my doctoral studies, however, I came across a series of articles devoted to disproving the existence of God by showing that the very attributes of divinity are incoherent and thus impossible to actualize in reality. These are known as “ontological disproofs.”

Ontological disproofs are logical arguments against of the existence of a thing based on what it would be if it existed. These arguments are very important because they do not simply purport to prove that God does not exist (like, say, the Easter Bunny or martians), but that God cannot exist (like a square circle or a married bachelor). This fairly recent form of argumentation has gained quite a bit of popularity among philosophical atheists (for example, Michael Martin devoted 23 out of 33 articles in his book The Impossibility of God to ontological disproofs).

The basic form of these arguments is something like this:

  1. If God exists, he must be like ‘X’.  [Here ‘X’ = some attribute(s) of God, e.g.,  he must be good, loving, omnipotent, etc.].
  2. ‘X’ is actually impossible.
  3. Therefore, God cannot exist.

Unlike the simplistic rants of some atheists online, these are sophisticated arguments that demand equally sophisticated responses. The argument forms are valid, so to prove them unsound, some premises must be shown to be false.

Another reason for my interest is that I found myself unhappy with the responses I saw from some Christian apologists. It seemed like they were allowing the atheists to set up the rules in such a way that they could not lose, and the apologists were playing into their hands. Further, it seemed that some of the solutions proposed by these apologists would lead to theological heresy.

I saw the overall problem as one of how God can be spoken of correctly without creating these dilemmas that atheists use to argue against his existence. I believe the answer can be found in the classical "doctrine of analogy" – a way of understanding God-talk that does not open itself up (as easily, at least) to ontological disproofs, and also safeguards orthodox theology.

That pretty much summarizes my dissertation. For those interested in the topic, a more robust discussion follows.

Constructing Ontological Disproofs

Constructing a basic ontological disproof is fairly straightforward:

  1. Assert that God must have some attribute (‘X’).
  2. Define ‘X’.
  3. Offer counterexample(s) to the possible actualization of ‘X’.
  4. Redefine ‘X’ to avoid counterexample(s) problem.
  5. Repeat 3 and 4 until procedure shows that ‘X’ cannot be actualized,.
  6. Conclude that because ‘X’ cannot be actualized, God cannot exist.


  • Omnipotence: The ability to do all things must include the ability to not do certain things, for some abilities preclude others by definition.
  • Omniscience: No other being can know propositions with certain indexicals (time, location, subject-object, etc).
  • Supernaturality: There must be at least one fundamental law of creation which is not a result of God’s will – that of God’s will being effective. Therefore God’s ability to will is also natural.

A variant of this kind of argument is to pit two attributes against one another. If it can be demonstrated that God must have two attributes that cannot actually coexist, then God cannot exist:

  1. Assert that God has attribute ‘X’.
  2. Assert that God has attribute ‘Y’.
  3. Show that A follows from ‘X’.
  4. Show that ~A follows from ‘Y’.
  5. Conclude that because “‘A’ and ‘~A'” cannot be true, God cannot exist.


  • Perfection vs. Creator: A perfect being needs nothing, but without a need God would not create.
  • Creator vs. Immutability: An unchanging being cannot intend to create at one time and not at another.
  • Immutability vs. Omniscience: An unchanging being cannot know changing truths (which differ from one time to another).
  • Transcendence vs. Omnipresence: A transcendent being cannot be present as well.
  • Justice vs. Mercy: No being can both give what one deserves and not give what one deserves.

Answering Ontological Disproofs

Modern Philosophy

Although many responses to these kinds of arguments have been offered, most follow the same basic method. Namely, they accept that the only way out of these logical conundrums is to change the definition of God’s attributes until they no longer suffer from the atheist’s attack, and proceed to do so until they have reached that goal. A good example of the procedure is found in two chapters of William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (reproduced online here). In his response to ontological disproofs, Craig makes two interesting remarks:

  1. Scripture gives philosophers a wide latitude with regard to doctrinal formulations.
  2. Anti-theistic critiques can be helpful in forming more adequate conceptions of doctrine.

He goes on to say that “two controls have tended to guide this inquiry into the divine nature: Scripture and Perfect Being theology.” He goes so far as to conclude that “Theists thus found that antitheistic critiques of certain conceptions of God could actually be quite helpful in framing a more adequate conception.” An example of this procedure is found in his response to problems of God’s immutability (changelessness):

"Rejection of radical immutability leaves it open for us to affirm nonetheless that God is immutable in the biblical sense of being constant and unchangeable in His character. Moreover, He is immutable in His existence (necessity, aseity, eternity) and His being omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. These essential attributes are enough to safeguard God’s perfection without having Him frozen into immobility."

While “framing a more adequate conception” in this way might get around some skeptical arguments, this kind of thinking also leads Craig to deny that God is eternal (atemporal):

"A second powerful argument for divine temporality is based on God’s being all-knowing. In order to know the truth of propositions expressed by tensed sentences like “Christ is risen from the dead” God must exist temporally. For such knowledge locates the knower relative to the present."

Similar thinking has also led to Craig’s affirmation of admittedly heretical positions concerning God’s will and the the Son’s procession from the Father. By playing by the atheist’s rules, Craig and others may be handing over Christian orthodoxy in order to save (some kind of) theism.

I think the problem with most of these incoherency arguments, and many modern apologetic attempts to answer them by rethinking God’s attributes, is that they assume we can define God’s attributes in a univocal (same) manner according to how they are found in creatures. Definitions from finite reality are simply “blow them up” to the “size” of God (i.e., infinite).  For example, God’s omniscience (all-knowing) is defined as “knowing all true propositions” – as if making man’s limited knowledge of true propositions unlimited is all that is necessary to describe God’s knowledge. The problem is that such a method actually defines God’s attributes as “infinite finitude” or “limitless limits.” It is easy to see how contradictions will arise when an attribute of God is defined as an unlimited version of a necessarily limited concept. In theistic ontological disproofs, the atheist is simply noting this outcome.

Medieval Theology

Admittedly, in speaking about God, our language is using limited modes of expression. It must, for we have no other means of communication. All the words we have at our disposal are labels for things we experience in reality, and everything we experience is limited. It might seem, then, that univocal God-talk is all that is available to us if we are to say anything true about him. But because God transcends his limited creation, no concepts are attributable to God in the same way. On the other hand, we can say true things about God. So there must be a third way. That way is analogy.

In analogical talk, words mean similar things but are not univocal. We can speak of a  good knife and a good shoe, or say food is healthy and people are healthy. The common term in these pairs of statements have the same logical meaning, but do not pick out the same ontological reality. So while we can define “good” as “that which increases a thing’s ability to perform its function” we do not thereby say that “sharpness” in a good knife is the same as “comfort” in a shoe. Thus, in analogy we must know a thing’s nature – what it is, or what it is for – before we can know the meaning of the words used concerning it. For example, if I say, “My wife is a rose,” one immediately perceives that I am saying she is beautiful. Why not that she grows in the ground or photosynthesizes light? Because in knowing both the nature of a woman and the nature of a flower we can pick out logical similarities between them (e.g., beauty, softness, etc.) exclude dissimilarities (e.g., thorns, photosynthesis), then apply those logical similarities to the ontological realities.

With God we must continually purify our creaturely language of everything in it that is limited, image-bound, or imperfect. If we do not, we can easily be misled into thinking that the thoughts in our minds evoked by the terms we use in God-talk are really what they are in God. As Michael Martin himself notes:

“ordinary men tend to understand God in ways that are familiar to them despite the protests of theologians and intellectual ministers. As a result, God tends to be conceived of in the image of a man – a man much more powerful, moral, knowledgeable, and so on than ordinary men.”

Craig seems to agree with this assessment when he bemoans the problem of analogy:

"While we can say what God is not like, we cannot say what He is like, except in an  analogical sense–which must in the end fail, since there is no univocal element in the predicates 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. Why should we adopt so extraordinary a doctrine?"

I would say the reason we should accept such an “extraordinary doctrine” is that God is truly extra-ordinary! If God transcends all we know from finite reality, then we do not know his infinite nature directly. If we do not know God’s nature directly, then our words (which communicate only the finite reality in our minds) will fail to communicate the ontological essence of God – even when they are true statements. But we can know the truth of propositions about God without knowing God’s essence. For example we can know much about a person by looking at a painting of her, but paintings do not give us the true essence of a thing (one is paint on canvas, another is a human being). Another example: a child can know what it is to love pizza, love his toys, and love his parents – but when he considers that his parents love each other he does not really know what that love is. However, he can make true statements about their love and recognize their kind of love when he grows older and experiences it himself.

No creaturely words are used univocally (i.e., with the same meaning) of God and us; nor are they simply used equivocally (i.e., with two completely different meanings). Rather, God talk is analogical (i.e., in a way partly the same and partly different). So we must not confuse what we are thinking when we say something of God with what is literally true of him. Our talk of God is analogical – partly alike (univocal) and partly unlike (equivocal). We can thus speak truthfully of God in several ways:

  • Negation of the Limited (e.g., infinite, eternal, aseity, impassibility).
  • Super-Eminent Affirmation of the Unlimited (e.g., omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient).*
  • Metaphor (e.g., God’s “arm,” God’s “repentance,” “fire,” “rock”).

To say this leads to “genuine agnosticism about the nature of God” or the view that “God really has no nature” is to confuse what we can know about God with knowing God. Knowing God is not simply affirming true propositions about him – it is having his very essence in our minds. As finite creatures, we cannot know infinite reality in this way. But we can know true statements about God. Univocity is not found in the ontological referents of words, but in their abstract definitions. Knowing that good is “comfortable” when said of a shoe (because a shoe’s purpose is comfort) and that good is “sharp” when said of a knife (because a knife’s purpose is to cut) does not help me know what good is in anything else unless I know what that thing is. But I can abstract from its usage that “good” means “attains to its purpose.” Thus I can affirm statements about another thing’s goodness when I know what it is. Since I do not fully know the ontological reality being picked out by the word when it is used of God, I may not know what it is (= have it existing in my mind) – but I can affirm that the statement “God is good” is true.


Good theology begins with proper metaphysics – not by simply denying finitude to finite concepts. This is why theological definitions based on classical metaphysics of God’s perfections often sound so obtuse:

Classical Understanding: Popular Understanding:
Omnipresent God is whole and entire in each and every place as an agent who is acting in all places. God is everywhere.
Immutable God has no passive potency. God cannot change.
Eternal God possesses perfect, all-at-once, unending life. God has no beginning or end.
Infinite God is an unreceived act of existing. God has no limits.
Omniscient There is nothing lacking in God’s knowledge of His being which, being the cause of all that comes to exist, gives God knowledge of all existing things. God knows everything.
Omnipotent God can actuate all potentials. God can do anything.


If the doctrine of analogy is correct, the linguistic precision with which these atheists (and their apologist correlatives) approach ontological disproof arguments is simply not available for use. Finite univocal concepts are necessarily incoherent when applied to an infinite being, and so their use will naturally result in contradictions. While perhaps too unwieldy for contemporary analytic philosophers, these more precise definitions do not open themselves to the same kinds of critiques when understood analogically.
(Image credit: Graphicality)

Douglas Beaumont

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Douglas Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in Theology at North-West University. He is the author of Evangelical Exodus, The Message Behind the Movie: How to Engage With a Film Without Disengaging Your Faith, and a contributor to The Best Catholic Writing. Follow Douglas at www.douglasbeaumont.com.

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  • Mike

    Kind of like well if God created the universe it should have a beginning and end but if we find out that it has neither then God couldn't have created it ergo no God...except maybe, as GKC quoted Aquinas pointing out: maybe the adversary doesn't quite understand the full meaning of the word creator: if God is the true creator he could've created an infinite universe with no end and no beginning.

    • Peter

      At our current level of understanding, there is no scientific justification for asserting that the universe will last forever. Measurement of the mass of the recently discovered higgs boson suggest that the universe is highly unstable and could instantly fall to a lower energy state, wiping out everything at the speed of light. Although this may not happen for tens or even hundreds of billions of years, it does appear to rule out the prospect of an eternal universe.

      • Mike

        It's expanding isn't it and perhaps the speed of its expansion is even accelerating but what is it expanding "into"? ;)

        • Peter

          Just as there was no time before the beginning of the universe, there is no space outside the expanding universe.

          If I as a theist were to look for scientific justification to abandon my belief in God, I would be hard pressed to find it. The Church has taught for centuries that the world (i.e.universe) had a beginning, began from nothing and will come to an end.
          An expanding universe indicates a beginning; quantum mechanics explain a beginning from nothing; and now the instability of the universe points to a definite end.

          The fact that scientific discovery broadly corroborates Church teaching, instead of flatly contradicting it, would make me very wary about abandoning my faith and adopting the disbelieving stance of an atheist.

          • Mike

            I agree with you; i am catholic.

            You're right; Isn't it surprising that the natural order DOESN'T flatly contradict the basic metaphysical outlines discerned by the Church? Then again the Church IS NOT a science department and is only interested in natural philosophy ie science in a secondary sense.

          • Peter

            True, but atheists place science in the front line in their quest for promoting disbelief in God, and therefore the Church needs to respond in those terms, fighting fire with fire if you like. Traditional metaphysics alone doesn't hold much sway among atheists.

          • Mike

            I know what you mean and i agree that it is important for ppl who may feel threatened by the Science TM to know that if anything the discoveries strengthen the argument for God the creator of an orderly universe...i'd strongly recommend this article in this respect:


            truly it is incredible to think that a purposeless universe but with abstract math and beings which can do abstract math and math that in turn fits perfectly the problems of physics; strange indeed and pointing if to nothing else than to some intelligence/mind.

    • Douglas Beaumont

      GKC was right, for Aquinas, the eternity of creation is a matter of divine, not natural, revelation. Many people confuse Aquinas's argument with Craig's version of the Kalam. For Aquinas, whether it had a beginning or not, the universe still cannot accouunt for its own existence.

    • Loreen Lee

      I have encountered this idea in Philosophy referred to as 'Foundationalism'.

  • Christopher Mchugh does a good job illustrating the excellent points Doug made, for any interested:


    • Douglas Beaumont

      Gale, who this article quotes often, is an interesting thinker, I am reading his book on God's attributes right now.

      • As far as putative divine attributes, it seems we cannot a priori establish which merely successfully refer vs which might robustly describe, which lend themselves to apophatic vs kataphatic predication, which must be predicated univocally, equivocally or analogically, especially given that different root metaphors are being employed, now by this metaphysic, then by that. This requires an inordinate amount of conceptual disambiguation and rigorous definition as a prerequisite to any analysis of the concepts for logical consistency, internal coherence or external congruence. Most of our traditional God-talk, preceding Meister Eckhart and early apophatic mystics, even, has been sufficiently nuanced, just too facilely interpreted and popularly caricatured by the philosophically naive and theologically deformed.

        Good luck in your studies. Analytic theorists, like Richard Gale, serve the cause of truth in a hygienic fashion, clarifying what's at stake. His responses to McHugh were insufficient as he tended to critique the more popular misconceptions rather than the more esoteric, mystical nuances, which characterize the core of our approaches to both the ad intra and ad extra attributes of both the immanent and economic Trinity.

        • Douglas Beaumont

          I think it depends on one's starting point. Aquinas's was ipsum esse subsistens - the pure Act derived from his consideration of Being and Essence. That lends itself to a kind of a posteriori analysis which he uses to both define God's attributes as well as delimit how those attributes can be defined (i.e., analogically). Thus, I think he grounds his theology in both metaphysics and Scripture, and steers a course between a purely mystical apophaticism and a naive kataphaticism.

          Now, it may be that Aquinas (via Aristotle) was mistaken, and this starting point or its subsequent unpacking was incorrect, but I think he's done the best job at the project - and this side of the beatific vision, I think that's all we can ask for!

          • The starting points, once one digs deeply enough, seem to be converging. Because each must address both continuities and discontinuities, order and chaos, patterns and paradox, the random and systematic, symmetry and asymmetry, avoiding causal disjunctions, circular references, infinite regressions, question begging and other epistemic vices and ontological conundrums, there's a tendency for the various metaphysics to converge, transcending the pseudo-problems of essentialism vs nominalism, substance vs process, static vs dynamic and so on.

            Thus we see Thomists speak of deep and dynamic formal fields. We see process thinkers embrace identity, even though nonstrict and with asymmetric temporal relations. I prefer to inhabit a more vague phenomenological stance rather than invest in a specific metaphysical hypothesis, but I do see and affirm what these projects are about and their tendency to express similar intuitions with diverse concepts. Some of these metaphysical tautologies seem more Ptolemaic, others more Copernican, but one cannot use Ockham's razor where explanatory adequacy doesn't obtain. If our God-talk seems too heavily nuanced and rather evasive to its atheological critics, one can only hope they appreciate that any epistemic indeterminacy and ontological vagueness inher in the matter under consideration and aren't theological ad-hockery on our part, who, perhaps, should hesitate more often before effabling about the Ineffable!

  • Jeremy

    The ontological argument, like all the other common "proofs" of God's existence, does nothing to propagate scripture, Catholicism, or any other organized religion. If one were to believe in a god, it is more likely that he/she/it did not create the universe -- God is the universe. Everything that happens within, good/evil, birth/death, etc, is an expression of God's infinite nature.

    This is Spinoza's God, and, in my humble opinion, is all the ontological argument is capable of proving -- that there is perfection in the physical laws of the universe. Add scripture to the mix and the beautiful pantheistic vision of Spinoza collapses. This God does not ask us for our love or worship, as Spinoza said, the answer is to love God without expecting God to love you back. God, or at least the one "proven" by ontological arguments, is more likely a man-made representation of the physical laws that govern our universe.

    • Douglas Beaumont

      This post is not about the Ontological Argument, but thanks for sharing your opinion. :)

      • Jeremy

        Right, the article is about challenging ontological disproofs.

        "I found myself unhappy with the responses I saw from some Christian apologists. It seemed like they were allowing the atheists to set up the rules in such a way that they could not lose, and the apologists were playing into their hands. Further, it seemed that some of the solutions proposed by these apologists would lead to theological heresy."

        It seems that by analyzing Spinoza's proofs, he "set up the rules in such a way that they [pantheists] could not lose." Disagree with that if you like, challenge that if you like, but it is a bit of a stretch to say that commenting on the ontological argument in a post titled "The Challenge of Ontological Disproofs" is somehow off topic.

        Seems more likely that your comment was a less than subtle attempt to delegitimize what I wrote. And its Spinoza's opinion, not mine. :)

        • Douglas Beaumont

          I don't think anyone should set the rules up so they cannot lose, of course - and that point was not what I was commenting on. You say that "it is a bit of a stretch to say that commenting on the ontological argument in a post titled 'The Challenge of Ontological Disproofs' is somehow off topic," but I believe it is off-topic. The Ontological Argument is a theistic proof of God's existence, not an atheistic disproof of God's existence. The only direct connection I see between the OA and the subject of the original post is the word "ontological."

          • Jeremy

            There is no such thing as "atheistic disproof of God's existence" because you cannot disprove God's existence any more than you can prove it. Also, why would an atheist attempt to disprove something they reject as non-existent? The burden of proof lies with the theist. The atheists that you claim are challenging ontological proofs are trying to show the ontological argument to be fallacious, not disprove the existence of God. But I suppose that is off topic...

            Also, I wrote that the ontological argument points to a pantheistic god, I never said anything about atheism.

          • Douglas Beaumont

            Yes there is, Jeremy. If God can be shown to entail a contradiction, he can be disproved. I am not sure you are even reading the original post - you don't seem to know who is arguing for what. For example, your statement that "the atheists that you claim are challenging ontological proofs are trying to show the ontological argument to be fallacious" is doubly wrong - the OP is not about the ontological argument, and it is not the ontological argument these atheists are arguing against. Read the OP again and see if you can follow it.

          • Jeremy

            Since we are being condescending, at least in tone if not in intent, let me teach you about theological noncognitivism. What you call God is a fallacy, and can neither be proven nor disproven. To repeat: no true atheist feels a need to disprove anything about God, because attempting to disprove something validates its existence.

            I read your OP, and, shockingly, with my feeble education, was able to follow it. It renewed my interest in the ontological argument as a whole, as Russell says, it is fallacious on the surface but difficult to pin down where the fallacy lies. If your intent is not to spur a larger conversation, and to keep the topic strictly on what you wrote, that is fine. However, I've read a few other discussion boards and I see much wandering off topic. Why would my gentle veering from ontological disproofs to the larger ontological argument be so onerous? I apologize if my venture into Spinozism makes you uncomfortable.

            I have to admit, not once in any debate with a theologian or apologist have any of them been able to touch Spinoza's Ethics. I see no response here, just chastisement for not talking about the topic you want. One might be tempted to draw the conclusion that you would rather chastise me for straying "off topic" then answer the Spinozist challenge.

            But, this is your turf. I thought engagement was the point of this site. I will allow that perhaps I misread the intent, it almost seems as if this site is meant to be a proving ground for Catholic apologetics.

          • Douglas Beaumont

            My comfort is not at issue. I was taking you to task for making statements about what I wrote that I did not write, nor even imply. I am all for discussion, but several things you said were far more than "gentle veering" - you said things about the OP that were simply false, and in fact made it sound like you had not even read it (or, to be gracious, simply could not follow it).

            Concerning condescension, saying, "no true atheist feels a need to disprove anything about God, because attempting to disprove something validates its existence" ignores many of the most prominent atheists working today and thus is not only false but rude.

          • Jeremy

            No doubt the "prominent atheists" you speak of are grateful to have you defending their honor against my rudeness. Of course, "prominent atheists" are the ones who speculated about theological noncognitivism in the first place.

            As for being rude, after re-reading this thread, it is my opinion that the first and most blatant display of rudeness was your initial response to my first comment. Rather than simply ignore my allegedly being off topic, you felt compelled to belittle my comment, because it either didn't precisely conform to the direction you wanted the conversation to go, or you felt the need to distract attention from what I wrote. Indeed, one must wonder why you felt compelled to address such feeble, off topic, argle-bargle as my comment in the first place.

            I am content to let future readers of this thread make their own determination as to who is rude and who is not.

            On that note, I bid you a good day, sir.

  • Loreen Lee

    All I can say is Wow! How did all of you people who have already posted comments manage to read the articles. It's Monday. As far as my limited capacity is concerned I questions whether I can read, let alone understand all that is offered here before a new post is published on Wednesday. But I shall enjoy reading your comments.

    Have just been through a long and unexpected discussion on EN, and thought I had come to some understanding as to what is 'real' with respect to such concepts as a 'soul' and 'intellect'. Even with a consciousness that my understanding has developed somewhat in the process, I still remain an unsure doubted. It is confusing to find many competing reflections and presentations with respect to Divinity, as from Plotinus, and Neo-Platonism to Thomism. And now this. The same concepts it seems but in a different context, which presents challenges to my understanding with respect to their meaning. But this is theology is it not, and not philosophy. I feel more comfortable, as did Francis Bacon? when my attempts to understand are directed to the human rather than the divine. Within this context, I can speculate that it might even be possible to find or at least search for the 'absolute' within introspective/meditative/mystical contemplation, were I so enabled.

    I'm trying to figure out what and why I feel so uncomfortable about with regard to these arguments. I find it an 'impossible' task to define myself, my interior motivations, my self consciousness and capacity for reflection. How can I imagine myself capable to understanding let alone describing such an 'entity' as depicted in these arguments. The thought of how much intellectual 'pride' would be required of me in such a quest, reduces me to silence. Yes, I shall attempt to follow the arguments over the next day or so. But on the assumption that there is a Perfect and Necessary Being, I'm ot at all convinced that this is the best or proper way of achieving the worship and praise that is expressed for instance in the Psalms, for instance. Philosophy, let alone Theology, perhaps is not a substitute for developing a close relationship with one's inner self, let alone the humility that I would expect would be required within worship of a nature that is truly Divine.

    • Jeremy

      "I feel more comfortable, as did Francis Bacon? when my attempts to understand are directed to the human rather than the divine."

      Confucius -- "If we don't know life, how can we know death?"

      Savoyard Vicar, as written by Jean Jaques Rousseau -- "Is there one source of all things? Are there two or many? What is their nature? I know not; and what concern is it of mine.”

      I think your comfort with attempts to understand humanity instead of the divine is very natural. Since "the divine" is something that is outside of time and space, it is inherently unknowable. It is a fascinating exercise to speculate as to what may or may not exist beyond time and space, but we are better served to, as Bacon suggests, focus on the natural world.

      • Mike

        What if the natural world seems permeated with supernatural qualities?

        • It's ALL seems supernatural to me! As Haldane said, reality is not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we can imagine. As Wittgenstein mused, it's not HOW things are but THAT things are, which is the mystical. There's nothing in particular that needs to be enchanted when the whole kit and kaboodle is enchanted. When we observe known effects proper to no known causes, we reasonably can fall back on analogical predications, whether completing the periodic table of the elements, probabilistically, or musing about the essence of a putative self-subsisting existence, plausibilistically.

          • Mike

            I agree: einstein is said to have said that you can either go through life as though nothing is miraculous or as though everything is a miracle, and i can't see how that isn't true. This is why i think that ultimately there is just enough evidence to believe and to dis-believe and that there must remain some room for Personal Choice .

          • Doug Shaver

            I used to believe. I never chose to stop believing.

          • Mike

            I don't understand you didn't choose? so you just "fell away from faith"?

          • Doug Shaver

            Would you like to believe again?

            Suppose I did. How do you think my desire to believe should affect the way I assess the evidence?

          • Mike

            It should give the evidence in favor the benefit of the doubt; the desire should "temper" the "desire" of the intellect to dismiss the evidence - the desire should give the intellect the "courage" to give the evidence a "fairer hearing"....something like that.

            The "heart" of a person matters too and can and should inform the "head"....but where the exact balance ought to be well if we knew that we wouldn't need anything else would we.

          • Doug Shaver

            the desire should give the intellect the "courage" to give the evidence a "fairer hearing"....something like that.

            So, skeptics just aren't being fair. That's what I thought.

          • Mike

            Some are some aren't but it's not a question of true false it's a question of "desire"; some ppl want to believe but can't and that's terrible but at least they want to; some ppl don't want any kind of "hope" or ultimate justice they're fine with there not being anything "more".

            Anyway thanks for engaging.

    • I like to imagine that, regarding how I choose to interact with my self, with others and our cosmic home, how I am willing to risk all in the pursuit of truth, beauty, goodness and love, those very pursuits, themselves, being their own rewards, would not change a whit should ultimate reality be proven personal or impersonal, friendly or unfriendly. Any informative advance regarding ultimate reality (I expect none from philosophy or metaphysics) would change neither jot nor tittle performatively regarding our proximate reality, for me.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Doug, Thanks for such a useful and understandable OP!

    • Douglas Beaumont

      You're welcome!

  • But you are not making an analogy when you say "this knife is good", you are just using "good" in a different way than you use it when you are speaking of morality.

    An analogy would be to say something like "god is good like a good knife or a good shoe." This analogy would indicate that you mean it is a quality object that is effective at its purpose.

    Or you could say "God is good like a Good Samaritan is good" this would mean he is morally good, we can compare what we know about the Samaritan, and it helps us understand that god is like that, not the same.

    What I see actually being presented here is an explanation of why analogies don't work for particularly well for God. His attributes are simply not describable by our commonplace and material terms.

    The only analogies that seem to work for God is those about physics and especially quantum mechanics. For example, we try to provide analogies of how gravity works with planets orbiting stars by saying that a planet makes a divot in four dimensional space time like a heavy ball on a tight sheet of plastic and that smaller balls fall in a curve around it. But this doesn't really work, because we know immediately that a ball would just quickly fall into the centre. We say it is kinda like that, but not really and we accept that we can't really picture four dimensional "space". We can't picture time as a dimension. The problem gets worse when you add dimensions. When you try to explain what an electron "is". Our analogies lose their ability to assist in comprehension.

    The difference between these impossible to conceptualize scientific ideas and theistic claims, is that the science is actually describable by mathematics and are often confirmed by experiment. We may not be able to conceive of time being a dimension like length, width and depth, but we can accept this because it has been more or less proven, not simply been asserted.

    • Caravelle

      But this doesn't really work, because we know immediately that a ball would just quickly fall into the centre.

      Most things under the influence of gravity also "just quickly fall into the centre". It takes a fairly specific range of initial speeds and directions to result in a stable orbit.

      I don't know if that completely addresses the objection; it seems to me intuitively that it should be possible to simulate Newtonian gravity around a central mass using an adequately curved sheet. An inverse-square law isn't that complicated. But like you I'm also stuck with the mental image of the ball always, always just falling into the centre. (but then I think of allllll the meteors and space particles that fall to Earth, and wonder what the actual proportions are between "orbits" and "falls")

    • Douglas Beaumont

      Analogical God-talk is the *use of* analogy in speech, but it is not necessarily called out in the language (like metaphors). The knife / morality example is an example of this. If God is truly undescribable by commonplace and material terms, then you have several problems: (1) We'd be using commonplace terms to speak about God that commonplace terms cannot speak about God. (2) We'd have to know God's nature to know it could not be described, but that is the very problem that gives rise to the need for analogy. (3) All theistic religions claim revelation of God in words - which would be impossible if all God-talk was equivocal.

      • The knife morality is not an example of an analogy. Unless by morally good you mean "quality for the purpose for which it was designed". This is a problem sometimes between Catholics and atheists. I see moral goodness as being contingent on the consequences of actions on humans, not the intended purposes of others. But that's another story.

  • Mike

    "albels for things we experience in reality" - should be "labels".

    • GCBill

      There's also a lonely parenthesis in the 3rd paragraph under the Medieval Theology heading.

  • For example, God is timeless, transcendent of time. To me this idea is impossible to conceptualize. What analogy will help me?

    We could say that God is timeless, in the same way that sub-atomic particles are mass-less. But that is no help! I have just as big of a problem conceiving of a mass-less particle, and analogies do not really help. The only reason I accept this is on authority. But it is the authority of science and math, basically virtually universally accepted by those with the skills to do the math.

    What do theists have to justify the claim that god is time-less? Nothing, he just needs to be, somehow, if he is going to be "outside" or "beyond" time if he is going to bring it into existence.

    • Douglas Beaumont

      Analogical God-talk is not about helping one conceptualize God - for the infinitecannot be conceptualized by the finite. Rather, it exaplains how terms that do NOT help us conceptualize God can still be informative (or at least true) in some way.

      • Michael Murray

        There are many infinite things that can be conceptualized by the finite in mathematics. For example Infinite sets and convergence of infinite sequences. So I assume you are not asserting that every infinite thing cannot be conceptualized by the finite just because it is infinite but rather that God is one example of an infinite thing that cannot be conceptualized by the finite?

        • Douglas Beaumont

          No, I mean that an actually infinite "thing" cannot be conceptualized by a finite mind. By "concept" here I mean some *thing* that is held in the mind - not a formula or a definition of a thing. So while {1, 2, 3, . . . } might stand for an infinite set, it is not an infinite *thing*. It is simply a few bracketed numerals and dots seperated by commas and spaces.

          • Caravelle

            Nothing can be "conceptualized" by our minds in that sense; everything our minds give us are representations of things, with a given precision, and not the things themselves. God isn't a special case on this one.

            As you rightly point out that doesn't mean we can't make true statements about things, even if we don't have perfect knowledge of them. It's hard to notice this in the case of everyday entities that we intuitively have fairly good grasps of; it's much more obvious in the case of cutting-edge science and mathematics, where we're exposed to entities that cannot even remotely be grasped on an intuitive level - infinities, n-dimensional spaces, quantum behavior... And yet scientists and mathematicians can and do manipulate those entities and make true statements about them.

            They don't, however, assert true statements about those things. Nor do they reason by analogy - analogies are useful for explaining concepts, and for sparking new ideas, but they're not used for determining the truth value of statements about those entities.

            You explain in your article that while we can't know God, we can make true statements about Him. That makes perfect sense. But you don't give any method for how to make true statements about Him, how to determine whether a statement about God is true. You explain that typical ontological disproofs of God start by making assertions about God, and you criticize those assertions because they reason about God's attributes in terms of the Earthly meaning of those attributes. But everyone is stuck reasoning from non-Divine concepts, and you give no way to tell your own true statements about God from other people's wrong statements about God. Same thing with the list you give at the end; on what basis do we tell which column involves true statements about God, or if either of them even does so ?

          • Douglas Beaumont

            First, I disagree with the first sentence. If all we have are representations then we are cut off from reality beyond our own thoughts. In the system I am working in, knowledge is a metaphysical act wherein the essence of a thing comes to exist in the mind of the knower. This avoids problems of basic intuitions and the infamous Gettier Problem.

            Second, analogies and analogous speech are not the same thing - this is a technical term describing a sort of via media between purely univical and equivocal speech - not the lingusitic device called "an analogy" which is generally picked out by lingusitic markers and fairly easily judged as good or bad.

            Finally, as I have said elsewhere, this was never meant to be a comprehensive post - it was originally just a blog on what I was working on at the time. SN reposted it as-is, and I don't have time to put my entire dissertaiton on here. The qucik answer to your concern over method is that if one begins with good metaphysics, analogous talk can be grounded (if sometimes vaguely), even when dealing with descriptions of an infinite being.

          • Caravelle

            If all we have are representations then we are cut off from reality beyond our own thoughts.

            Only if the representations are completely unrelated to reality, and there's no reason to think they are.

            In the system I am working in, knowledge is a metaphysical act wherein the essence of a thing comes to exist in the mind of the knower. This avoids problems of basic intuitions and the infamous Gettier Problem.

            So... does the essence of the computer you're typing this on exist in your mind ? Do you understand, know it completely and fully ? Do you know how many atoms are in whatever chair or device you're sitting/standing/lying on at the moment ?

            Can you name a single entity that you hold the full essence of inside your mind ?

            The qucik answer to your concern over method is that if one begins with good metaphysics, analogous talk can be grounded (if sometimes vaguely), even when dealing with descriptions of an infinite being.

            I'm not sure how a bare assertion that it's possible without talking about method at all should answer my concern over method, but I understand you've got a lot on your plate.

            On the "even when dealing with... an infinite being" thing; I'll note that dealing with infinities in a grounded way isn't impossible at all. It's hard, I don't want to minimize how much mathematicians have struggled with the concept, but they've come quite a ways now. I also note that people in other fields that have to deal with infinity, like physicists, use the methods developed by said mathematicians to do so. But I've never seen theologians do the same.

          • Douglas Beaumont

            No, knowing the essence of a thing is base don knowing its perceptible qualities not knowing every minutiae of its existence. Nor is it necessary. Thomistic epistemology is actually quite intuitive. To know that the cow in the field is not a dog I need to know what a cow and a dog is (I need to know their essences), I do not need to know, say, their molar weight.

            As to representationalist epistemologies - it's fine to have theories that connect the image with the thing in extra-mental reality, but I am not sure how one could ever be sure. I see it like comparing a picture of someone vs. seeing them in real life. The only way I can know if it is an accurate picture is to compare it to the reality, not more pictures. So if all my knowledge of reality is images *of* reality, I would lack access to the standard of reality to check them against, right?

          • Caravelle

            So what's the difference between knowing something's essence, and merely knowing some true statements about that thing ? To tell a cow from a dog all I need is to know a few true facts about how cows and dogs differ, I'm not sure how their "essence" relates to that. Does "essence" mean "defining properties" ?

            As to representationalist epistemologies - it's fine to have theories that connect the image with the thing in extra-mental reality, but I am not sure how one could ever be sure. I see it like comparing a picture of someone vs. seeing them in real life. The only way I can know if it is an accurate picture is to compare it to the reality, not more pictures. So if all my knowledge of reality is images *of* reality, I would lack access to the standard of reality to check them against, right?

            You check for consistency between the "images" and how they respond to your own actions. If you see a pool of water, and as you walk towards it it gets closer, and when you're right next to it and step in it you feel the resistance of water and see and feel your shoes and feet getting wet, and if you bend down to scoop up some water your hand encounters the water at exactly the level you expected it to and feels exactly as water feels and when you drink it it sates your thirst, and you proceed not to die of thirst... then thats probably because there actually is water there.

            If you see a pool of water and it doesn't get closer as you walk towards it even beyond the point where it really should have then it's probably a mirage.

            But I'm confused by your disagreement here... Are you saying that our senses can tell us whether or not we're in the Matrix ?

          • Loreen Lee

            Ah! You too are involved in the 'reality' question. I have been considering a contrast between analogical thinking and dialectical thinking. The first, as one of your articles is possibly more related to analytic/definitive/identity thinking. (On what I understood you saying about tautologies, which I understood as a circularity/identity found within the method of analogical thinking.
            Dialectical thinking therefore would be more concerned with inter-relationship, and perhaps even difference, although there are many 'kinds' of dialectics.
            So now I've got 'something else to think about'.

          • Douglas Beaumont

            The difference is that in one case I know the thing and in the other I know the truth value of a proposition. I know George Washington was the first president of the U.S. and that he was male, but I do not know George Washington.

            Consistency between images could occur in an insane person, the problem is we aren't talking about images in our minds when we talk about things, we are talking about the things themselves. Since there is an epistemological theory that can account for that intuition, why resort to one that puts an uncrossable barrier between extra-mental objects and us?

            As to the matrix, if one agrees that such a thing is possible then no epistmeological theory can escape it. It is not that our senses can be fooled so much as it is that our judgment concerning sensrory experiences (second act of the intellect) can be in error. But of course everyone has to deal with that issue.

          • Caravelle

            I know George Washington was the first president of the U.S. and that he was male, but I do not know George Washington.

            How does this square with what you said in your previous comment, namely :

            To know that the cow in the field is not a dog I need to know what a cow and a dog is (I need to know their essences)

            You say you do not know George Washington, but surely if he were standing in a field you'd know he wasn't a dog. Yet you said that to know this requires knowing the essences of George Washington and a dog.

            Consistency between images could occur in an insane person

            It usually doesn't, that's why insane people often run into trouble relating to the world. It can very easily occur in the Matrix, or in other hypothetical brain-in-a-vat scenarios. (although one notes that in the actual film The Matrix, its existence was betrayed by internal inconsistencies)

            the problem
            is we aren't talking about images in our minds when we talk about
            things, we are talking about the things themselves.

            I don't understand this objection. Of course we're talking about the things themselves when we talk about things; the image of a thing in our mind is the image of the thing, not the image of an image. I never suggested reality didn't exist, quite the opposite I said there's every reason to think our mental representations of reality are related to reality. Not only do they look like they're related to reality, but the theory of evolution predicts they should be. To be trite, the hominid who didn't see the tiger in the bushes or thought the tiger was a bunny didn't live to pass on his genes.

            Since there is an epistemological theory that can account for that
            intuition, why resort to one that puts an uncrossable barrier between
            extra-mental objects and us?

            If the epistemological theory you're talking about is the one about essences, then as you can see I haven't figured out what you mean by that word yet; once I do I'll consider adopting it. In the meantime the theory of evolution accounts for our intuitions just fine. I'm not sure what you mean by "uncrossable barrier"; if you mean that the concept of a thing is fundamentally a different entity from the thing itself then sure, but you seem to also think this means we can't have any relationship with reality, which doesn't follow. The neural pattern that constitutes the image* of a dog in your head is not the same thing as the dog you're looking at, but your whole perceptual system is set up to make sure the two are very closely correlated. A bridge between the two entities if you will, or a telephone line, instead of an uncrossable barrier.

            As to the matrix, if one agrees that such a thing is possible then no epistmeological theory can escape it.

            Okay, so the question of "how one could ever be sure" is moot, since every epistemology has that problem.

            *I mean visual image, not overall mental representation

          • Wow! What a great discussion! Will use it for my blog http://essaymaxi.com/

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks for the reply. I think Caravelle has covered my next point (and more) but let me state it anyway. Taking your example it isn't necessary to hold the whole of the natural numbers in your mind to prove or disprove lots of things about them. Why can't we then prove or disprove things about God even though we cannot conceptualise God in the sense you are talking about?

          • Douglas Beaumont

            Actually I think this is (analogously, haha) close to my point. We can know and affirm truths about things that we cannot form concepts of. Analogous language accounts for both these truths. Thus, both purely apophatic and kataphatic theologies are shown to be lacking.

          • Michael Murray

            We can know and affirm truths about things that
            we cannot form concepts of.

            We can do better than that we can prove truths about infinite sets such as the natural numbers even though we cannot hold all the natural numbers in our minds. If God is infinite in this sort of way then I don't see why it is not possible to prove two propositions about God which are contradictory.

            I still think you are using some property of God which does not follow from infinitude. Something possibly like "impossible to be described accurately by a finite number of statements".

      • That's right, as utter incomprehensibility (of the whole) doesn't mean the reality of God cannot be intelligible (in part). We cannot swallow this ocean of mystery, which, in many ways, keeps us afloat.

      • But they are neither analogies or informative. What is the analogy? What information does it provide? Is the trinity like a shamrock? No. A shamrock is one thing not three persons. Is he like a split personality? No. He has the same personality.

        • Douglas Beaumont

          What is the analogy? Yeah, that's pretty much the question - and it is one that various thomists disagree upon. :) Some say it is that existence itself is analogical, others that it is just logical predication.

  • GCBill

    First of all, I should mention that I quite enjoyed this article.

    WRT omnipresence, I think the stated "classical understanding" is potentially more misleading than the "popular" one. God cannot literally be in each and every place, though action in all places is said to follow out of divine conservation. In fact, I was surprised when that rather important concept received no mention in this piece.

    WRT immutability, I think the absence of passive potency actually does entail that God cannot change in the normal sense of the word. Recall that potency was part of Aristotle's answer to Parmenides and Zeno. Furthermore, Aquinas' argument from "motion" is really an argument from any kind of change at all. So this is one case where the colloquialism really does capture what theologians mean to say about God.

    I'm also not sure what "unending life" means, since either/or 1) God can only be analogically alive, and 2) "life" as we know it is only one small dimension of what God allegedly possesses. Theology defines the forms of living things (and that which makes them alive) as "souls." However, God cannot literally possess a soul thanks to the constraint of infinity. Can you clarify what you mean by saying that God is "alive?"

    • Douglas Beaumont

      Good points, all. The problem is this article was never meant to be comprehensive. It was just a quick explanation of my dissertation topic that I wrote for my personal blog,and it was not modified for SN (in fact I did not even know they were using it until it was posted). I spend several dozen pages going through the major attributes and their attendant issues in the diss.

      As to the definition, that was Boethius that Aquinas used. His commentary can be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1018.htm

      • GCBill

        Thanks for the clarification, especially the Q18 link.

  • Caravelle

    But I can abstract from its usage that “good” means “attains to its
    purpose.” Thus I can affirm statements about another thing’s goodness
    when I know what it is. Since I do not fully know the ontological reality being picked out by the word when it is used of God, I may not know what it is (= have it existing in my mind) – but I can affirm that the statement “God is good” is true.

    I don't understand this; you say you can affirm statements about another thing's goodness when you know what it is, then you say you don't know what God is, and then you conclude that you can affirm that God is good. This is clearly an invalid logical progression, so there's something I'm missing. Shouldn't there be a few more sentences somewhere in there justifying the last statement, seeing as the sentences that actually are there do the opposite ?

    Or maybe it's not a logical progression at all but a juxtaposition of unrelated sentences, but words like "thus" and "since" and "but" suggest otherwise.

    • Douglas Beaumont

      We don't "know" what God "is" in the sense that we do not hold his essence in our minds. But we can know the truth value of propositions about him (or at least some of them). For example, I do not know Alexander the Great (at least not in the way I know my son), but I do know many true things about him and can affirm or deny propositions about him based on that data. When it comes to God, the situaiton is far more extreme, but some positive data remains. The data one uses depnds on how one does theology. For Thomas, the beginning is metaphysics and divine revelation.

      • Caravelle

        But we can know the truth value of propositions about him (or at least some of them).

        Right, but do you understand what I'm saying about the paragraph you mentioned ? The assertion that "we can know the truth value of propositions about God even without know what God is" doesn't follow from the preceding sentences, in fact the opposite is true. It follows even less from the rest of the preceding paragraph, for example where you abstract from the "good knife" and "good shoe" examples that "good" means "attains its purpose"; this doesn't allow us to know that "God is good" is true either unless we know God's purpose.

        The paragraph I quoted is, at best, so unclear that it confuses your argument. At worst it's blatantly self-contradictory.

        • Douglas Beaumont

          OK in the OP I wrote, "If God transcends all we know from finite reality, then we do not know his infinite nature directly. If we do not know God’s nature directly, then our words (which communicate only the finite reality in our minds) will fail to communicate the ontological essence of God – even when they are true statements. But we can know the truth of propositions about God without knowing God’s essence." I then went on to compare it to affirming propositions about a person someone one does not know based on a painting of that person. In this case, one does not "know" the person becqause they have never encountered that person, but they can affirm the truth value of (some) propositions about that person. Does that distinction help?

          The post was originally just a personal blog post describing the work I was dpoing, it was not meant to be a stand-alone feature as it might appear in its repost here.

          • Caravelle

            I think I understand what you meant given your explanations, which I thank you for, but as I said in my previous comment I'm pointing out a contradiction in what you wrote. Take it as a well-meaning proof-reader's note if you will.

            Or do you disagree with my assessment that the most straightforward reading of the paragraph I quoted is confusing, apparently contradictory and thus doesn't convey your meaning very well ?

  • Peter

    Perhaps the most powerful ontological disproof adopted by atheists concerns God's omnibenevolence. Why would an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God allow suffering? If God didn't know about it, he wouldn't be omniscient; if he did know but couldn't do anything about it, he wouldn't be omnipotent; if he could do something about it but didn't, he wouldn't be omnibenevolent.

    The answer lies in the nature of love. Love cannot be forced or coerced, but can only be given freely. God wants human beings to love him and love each other, in the same way that he loves human beings. To exercise that freedom to love, humans need freedom of choice which is the freedom to choose between good and evil. The suffering in the world is the cumulative effect of humans choosing to do evil from the very beginning.

    Atheists would say that if God is omnipotent, he would have created love to be different and not dependent upon freedom of choice which leads to evil and suffering. They say that if God cannot change the nature of love to avoid those things, he cannot be omnipotent or, if he can change it but won't, he cannot be omnibenevolent. But that is to misunderstand the nature of love and the nature of God.

    Love is not a created thing which can be changed, so that an inability to change it would represent a diminution of God's omnipotence, or an unwillingness to change it a diminution of his omnibenevolence. God did not create love at all because God is love. To change the nature of love would be to change the nature of God, but God is unchanging and therefore so is love.

    • Great Silence

      I am sorry, Peter, but that is an unacceptably naive view of the whole problem of suffering, even if couched as a defense against an ontological disproof. It demands centuries of suffering so that God can be loved, by some. It dismissively fails to deal with thousands of years of animal suffering, predation and death.

      That really is not the answer. There are better ways to approach the problem.

      • Peter

        Why are you talking about animals? God is omnibenevolent towards human beings who are created in his own image and likeness, and to whom he has given the ability to love him and each other through their capacity to choose between right and wrong.

        Your overstretching of the term "omnibenevolent" leads to absurdities such as saying that God is not omnibenevolent because he allows stars to die violently in supernovae.

        • Great Silence

          That, in my personal view, shows such a crass insensitivity to suffering from your side that I know that we will not be able to meaningfully take this any further.

          • Peter

            I am very sensitive to suffering caused to animals because of human greed, human cruelty, human exploitation and human selfishness.

          • Michael Murray

            What about suffering caused to animals by God's choice of natural selection as a tool to shape His creation ?

          • Peter

            I never claimed that God was omnibenevolent towards animals, only towards humans. Your overstretching of the term would have us believe God is not omnibenevolent because he allows matter to be mercilessly gobbled up by black holes.

          • Michael Murray

            I wasn't asking about God I was asking about how *you* feel about the suffering God causes to animals. Are you *very sensitive* to that ?

          • Peter

            Nature is nature. Without evolution I wouldn't be here. How do you feel about eating meat or wearing leather goods, or are you a vegetarian?

          • Michael Murray

            Nature is nature.

            You sound like an atheist. Have you changed you mind lately? Just in case let me remind you of what you used to believe. Nature is not nature it's God creation. It's God's decision to make it the way it is. All that animal suffering is God's decision.

          • Peter

            On the contrary, I have always believed that nature is God's creation. How could it be anything else?

            What you sentimentally call animal suffering throughout evolution is simply nature. Why are you sentimental about what you consider to be one form of matter and ignore the plight of other forms such as dying or exploding stars?

          • Michael Murray

            What you sentimentally call animal suffering throughout evolution is simply nature.

            I was just echoing what you said

            am very sensitive to suffering caused to animals

            Why are you so sentimental about animal suffering ?

            Me I don't particularly like the suffering of anything with a sufficiently well developed nervous system to feel pain. I'm don't know much about the nervous systems of stars. Perhaps you can fill me in on that.

          • Peter

            I didn't say that. I said that I am very sentimental to suffering to animals caused by human cruelty and exploitation. This is because it is not natural but stems from the choice humans have to do evil instead of good.

          • Michael Murray

            So if an animal walking through the woods has a branch fall on it which breaks its back and it slowly and painfully dies of starvation that's fine. But if instead a human breaks the back of that animal by hitting it with a branch and it slowly and painfully dies of starvation that's not fine.

            You forgot to tell me about the nervous system of a star.

          • Peter

            I doubt the animal would slowly and painfully die. It would probably be eaten far sooner, nature being as it is.

            So now we are beginning to understand that among materialists there are different categories of matter. Instead of everything being mere matter despite its variation of complexity, certain categories of matter take on a special significance because of their complexity.

            Why does the natural fate of an animal which is more complex deserve an emotional response while the natural fate of a star which is less complex does not?

          • Michael Murray

            Not in the bush in Australia. It would be eaten slowly and painfully by ants. But that is not really the point. You are ducking the question which is why does animal suffering only matter if caused by humans. Or in other words why does the actual animal suffering not matter at all.

            Still haven't filled me in on the stellar nervous system and how stars feel pain. I can't answer your other question until I can compare the animal nervous system and the stellar nervous system.

          • Peter

            Are you a materialist or are you not?

            The animal has a nervous system but it's still an arrangement of matter, just like the star. Because it can feel pain you are elevating the animal to a significance above the mere arrangement of matter. If matter acquires a significance above the material sum of is parts, it is no longer merely an arrangement of matter but something else belonging to an entirely different category.

            If you recognise this as such you can no longer be a materialist. Materialism only recognises things as varying arrangements of matter with no greater significance than that.

          • Michael Murray


            Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

            Not just arrangements but also interactions.

            I also see no reason why being a materialist would stop me from deciding that some arrangements of matter are of more importance or significance to me than others. Like on Friday I have a regular dermatologist visit and I'm rather hoping that none of the arrangements of matter on my skin are cancerous.

          • Peter

            So what? Material interactions take place within a star just as they do within the nervous system of an animal, so why is an animal elevated to a position of emotional significance?

          • Michael Murray

            Can the star feel pain ? That might be one difference between it and an animal. I might care about that because I'm a social primate who has evolved to be empathetic.

            You also haven't explained why you think it is OK for your God to create a world full of natural suffering. Why it is OK for your God to choose natural suffering to build His world. In my version of nature there isn't much choice but your God had a choice. After all He is Omnipotent !

            This arrangement of matter is off to sleep.

          • Peter

            If the objective of creation is to bring about a sentient race capable of choosing between good and evil, with the aim that they choose the good, then yes, a world filled with natural danger would be necessary.

            In order for humans to begin to exercise their capacity for doing good, they would have to be in a world where the potential existed for doing good. In a world free from danger, there would be no motivation for doing good and therefore no such potential would exist.

            Only in a world containing natural danger would the motivation and therefore the potential exist for humans to do good. In such a world, humans would exercise their capacity for doing good by selflessly tending to other humans and other creatures.

            The world was created over billions of years in preparation for the arrival of humans who possess the capacity to choose between good and evil, so that they could exercise that capacity.

            Was it worth the suffering of animals for billions of years? Well, yes, because animals didn't just suffer; they played, hunted, grazed, ran, swam, flew, climbed, mated, slept etc.. In short they had lives which they wouldn't have had at all had God not included them in his plan for the arrival of humans.

          • Michael Murray

            So you and your God don't actually care about animal suffering. Understood. Perhaps in the interest of honesty you could edit out the previous remark you made about being very sentimental about animal suffering. Because you don't give a toss in reality. Not that that is a great surprise I guess. Catholic's aren't allowed to give a toss.

            I'd done with this conversation.

          • Peter

            The world wasn't full of suffering animals; it was full of living animals, in an innocent world where only nature existed, before the arrival of humanity and the arrival of good and evil.

            It was intended that humans choose the good, to offset the natural dangers of the world. Instead they gravitated towards the evil and eventually turned the world from an innocent natural world full of living animals to an evil exploitative world full of suffering animals. And not just animals, but humans too.

          • So animals tearing each other apart for food and dying of natural disasters isn't a world of suffering? The literal garden of eden story is not something any intelligent person can believe.

          • Peter

            While I am not sensitive to the plight of animals who for millions of years lived their lives freely and innocently in a natural world, I am indeed very sensitive to the unnatural exploitation of animals in the modern world.

            Remember, in the world before humans arrived animals were born to live, not suffer. In the exploitative world of human beings, animals are born to suffer. Perhaps you should direct your anger at humanity, not God.

          • Great Silence

            Peter, you really do not understand the problem. At all. Your "explanations" make that abundantly clear. Some of us have tried to show you how big and nasty the question really is, to no avail. I could refer you to some modern essays and books on the topic, by atheists and theists, but I don't believe that you are interested in moving beyond the glib answers. As Michael says, let's rather be done with this.

          • Peter

            I don't agree that the question is big and nasty. For millions of years before humans came, animals were born and had life and freedom. Suffering was a part of their lives just as every other aspect of living was. They were born to live, not born to suffer.

            There were not born to spend short lives in cages or enclosed barns, or as experiments, or as spare parts, or as pet food, or as sport, or as clothing, or to be culled or poached or mutilated. These things only occur in the human world. So I reject your sentimentality. Blame man not God for the intentional suffering of creatures.

          • Great Silence

            I thought as much - the Bambi view of animal suffering and extinction.

          • Peter

            You have fallen for the atheist trick of picking out one component from a situation, labelling it as the overwhelming feature of that situation and then judging the situation purely on that feature.

          • Great Silence

            I thought as much - the Bambi view of animal suffering and extinction.

          • Caravelle

            So... being eaten slowly and painfully by ants doesn't involve any suffering ?

          • Peter

            What do you mean by that? For an animal to be incapacitated by ants there would have to be millions of them and so it would be eaten rather quickly. For an animal incapacitated by injury, would it not die quickly through lack of water before any significant damage is done by the odd passing ant?

          • Caravelle

            Yes, because dying of thirst is so pleasant.

            Also, ants are a social species. "The odd passing ant" is a scout, once it finds a large source of food it quickly turns into hundreds of ants.

            I was referring to your earlier exchange with Micheal Murray, where he talked about whether it was fine for a wounded animal to die slowly and painfully of starvation if no humans was involved, and you claimed that it wouldn't be slow and painful because it would get eaten first (and that's pleasant, presumably), and Micheal Murray pointed out that in the bush in Australia it would be eaten slowly and painfully by ants. And then you both moved on to something else.

            What's really confusing me is how you keep answering these questions in terms of "oh but your scenario wouldn't happen, [other scenario that also sounds slow and painful] would happen instead". What do you gain from this ? Frankly I thought I'd made a mistake with this last question, I posted it before reading your more recent comment where you explicitly mentioned animals suffering before humans came along. You made the point that before humans the animals were born to live, and that suffering was a part of that life, and presumably that was okay. Anyway, once I read that comment I thought "oh well that answers my question, Peter does agree animals can suffer independently of humanity's actions, I should have read all the recent comments before asking superfluous questions".

            But then you answered the question by, again, trying to deny the scenario itself and replacing it with another (pretty much the same one Michael Murray first brought up, weirdly enough) in an apparent attempt to minimize the suffering involved. If the actual distinction isn't in the suffering itself, but in being "born to live" vs "born to suffer", why do that ?

          • Peter

            In nature suffering is minimised compared with the unnatural suffering caused to animals by humans which is prolonged.

          • Caravelle

            "Making excuses for humans" ? Suffering is awful, and pointing out that suffering exists in nature would only excuse human-caused suffering if we assumed that the suffering in nature is OK, therefore by equating it to human-caused suffering we're showing that human-caused suffering is OK.

            But only one person here is arguing that suffering in nature is OK, and it's not me. Not that it's clear that's what you're doing either, since you claim that suffering is part of natural living in one comment but try to dismiss or minimize actual examples of this in all the others.

            Speaking of minimizing, when you say that suffering is minimized in nature compared to that caused by humans, do you mean that suffering is less in nature than that caused by humans, or do you actually mean "minimized" meaning it's as low as it could possibly be ? It sounds like you mean the former, but in case you mean the latter I can think of a number of ways that natural suffering could be lower than it is. For example, some predators and parasites inject anaesthetic or antiseptic substances into their prey. If all predators and parasites did this it would reduce natural suffering by quite a bit.

          • Peter

            I'll give you an example. In the last 40 years the earth has lost half of its wildlife (WWF). At the increased rate we're going, the earth could lose the rest in the next 20 years. Compare that with the mass extinction 252 million years ago which spanned 60,000 years.

            Humans cause extinctions a thousand times faster than nature's fastest mass extinction. An extinction period of 60,000 years will cover many thousands of generations, but an extinction period of 60 years will cover only a handful.

            The massive rate of change to create this rapid extinction would have caused infinitely more stress to that handful of generations than would the much slower rate of change have caused those thousands of generations. Individual creatures in the human-caused extinction would have suffered infinitely more than their counterparts 252 million years ago.

            Now do you see why nature minimises suffering compared to humans? Even the suffering, if any, of nature's most acute extinction is absolutely nothing compared with the suffering created by the human-caused extinction.

          • Caravelle

            Again, that's an argument that natural suffering is less than that caused by humans, which isn't something I disputed at any point, and you keep ignoring the points I did make.

          • Peter

            And you have ignored the reply I made to Michael Murray a day ago concerning the requirement for a naturally dangerous world so that humans could exercise their capacity to do good.

          • Caravelle

            And that reply might have been totally relevant to what Michael Murray was saying, but I'm not seeing how it's relevant to any question I asked. It just makes things even more mysterious - not only did you agree, elsewhere, that nature involves suffering, but you also gave a justification for it. So it still does not answer what I was wondering three comments ago, namely why you refused to deal with practical scenarios of animal suffering in nature if you had no problem acknowledging it existed (and even thought it existed for good reason).

            (to keep track, my first comment in this exchange was about whether you agreed that animals suffered in nature, and I consider that question answered, though strangely not in the direct reply to said question, hence my second comment three comments ago that I talked about in the previous paragraph. My third comment replied to things you said, the only question in it was what you meant by the word "minimize", and my last comment was about you not addressing the things that were actually in my comments. This comment is an attempt to remedy that situation, hope it helps)

          • Michael Murray

            And he still doesn't address the point that God in His infinite wisdom chose to let humans evolve by natural selection. Most of the unavoidable natural suffering is a result of that decision. So not really natural suffering but God chosen suffering. God could have just set the world up with a static non-evolving population of herbivores including us.

          • Peter

            "God could have just set the world up with a static non-evolving population of herbivores including us"

            Obviously, you have not been reading my comments from the very beginning of this thread, or have read them and they have not sunk in.

          • Michael Murray

            They sunk in. Although I must admit I stopped reading when you finally admitted you thought it was OK for your God to cause animal suffering.

          • Peter

            Again you are using the same old trick of picking out one component from a situation, labelling it as the overwhelming feature of that situation and then judging the situation purely on that feature.

            What defined animals before humans came was life, not suffering. That was just one part of life, more than balanced by the exhilaration of freedom. What defines animals in the human world is not life, but suffering. Not exhilaration but distress.

          • Michael Murray

            You are doing what you always do. Make claims with zero evidence:

            more than balanced by the exhilaration of freedom.

            Evidence ?

          • Peter

            Yes, there were no humans around at the time to destroy that freedom.

          • Michael Murray

            No I want evidence for the claim the suffering was balanced by the freedom. Start by explaining how you can possibly claim to know what goes on in the minds of all species that ever existed.

          • Peter

            I could ask you the same question. How could you possibly know that the entire lives of every species that existed was dominated by mental and physical suffering?

          • No, because dragging out extinctions for 60,000 years is actually worse than doing it in 60 years. There's more suffering for longer time. So nature is worse than humans.

          • Doug Shaver

            Humans may or may not have any excuse. But if what we do is worse than what nature does, that is no excuse for nature.

          • Michael Murray

            And returning to my original point which Peter keeps avoiding nature in his belief system is designed by his God. So the suffering is caused by his God.

          • Peter

            Nature gives animals a chance of life; humans give animals no chance of life.

          • Doug Shaver

            You're assuming quite a bit about animal cognition.

          • And yet for millions of years before humans evolved, animals suffered. So your view makes no sense.

          • Great Silence

            I asked you that question, and I am a Catholic.
            It sickens me to see the ignorance and insensitivity displayed by some of my fellow believers in handwaving this problem away.

          • Peter

            The atheist claim is that animals suffered through predation, sickness and mass extinctions, as part of the process of natural selection, before humans evolved, implying that evolution by natural selection is in itself a cruel process.

            Why, they argue, would a good God who creates through natural selection, allow creation to be undertaken in such a cruel way? Such a God, they conclude, is not good but cruel.

            If I as a Christian disagree that God is cruel and insist that he is good, I am automatically labelled as insensitive to the suffering of billions of animals over millions of years. If I become sensitive to their suffering, this would imply that God is cruel, or at best indifferent, in which case I would no longer be a Christian.

            How would you resolve this dilemma?

          • Great Silence

            That is exactly the atheist position - that their worldview ties in with what we find in reality. There is no benevolent God and hence what we see is what should be there. for them there is no problem, nothing to explain.

            Theists on the other hand need to explain the seeming discrepancy. In my experience very few theists really consider this problem at any depth. Not a few modern theist philosophers are starting to admit that we should steer clear of glib and dismissive "answers".

            Other than punting to mysterious ways, there are a few more imaginative and sensitive suggested solutions. if you want brief answers I would suggest you consider someone like Dinesh D'Souza's suggestion that this is the only way that God have created us (which limits omnipotence), to John Haught's book-length musings on how this is all a creative drama that somehow makes it better and more acceptable. if you want to have a more nuanced look i would recommend Elizabeth Johnson's "ask the Beasts", John Haught's "Making Sense of Evolution" or the really excellent "Animal Suffering and the Problem of Evil" by Nicola Creegan.

            Whether these suggestions are feasible, convincing or even orthodox is another matter altogether.

          • Peter

            Thank you for the book list, but what are your own views?

          • Great Silence

            Yes, I am. I believe that the best way to arrive at an acceptable worldview as far as that is concerned requires a very nuanced assessment of the facts, hence the books, which i believe deal best with a difficult question.

            if you insist on a soundbite answer I will have to go with the Dinesh approach - this is the only way in which God could have created the world. That tends to move the question from the standard battle-lines more to "Should God have created at all?"

            It is an ongoing problem for me, and while i have moved a long way towards a better understanding of the dilemma, I cannot say that I am really convinced by the theist explanations.

            I hope that we are not wandering too far off topic.

            William Lane Craig has a possible solution where he all but concedes the points against theists in this challenge, but then argues that cumulatively there is still more to establish the traditional view of God, and that we are still warranted our faith.

          • Peter

            From the beginning of creation God foresaw our coming, where humans would be the first on earth to be given the power to choose between good and evil with the intention that they chose the good and rejected the evil.

            What kind of world would have been necessary for humans to begin to exercise their capacity for good over evil? It would be a world where good and evil did not already exist, a purely innocent world where only nature existed.

            So what kind of natural world would it have to be for humans to exercise their capacity for good as God intended? It would have to be a world which gave humans the opportunity to choose the good, a naturally dangerous world so that humans could exercise their capacity for good by assisting and protecting their fellow humans and fellow creatures.

            In a world devoid of danger there would be no motivation for humans to choose the good and this would undermine God’s original purpose. Unfortunately, instead of choosing the good, the original humans chose evil, turning a naturally dangerous world which they could have tamed by choosing the good into a world fraught with infinitely greater danger and suffering.

          • How would you resolve this dilemma?

            By becoming an atheist.

        • David Nickol

          Your overstretching of the term "omnibenevolent" leads to absurdities such as saying that God is not omnibenevolent because he allows stars to die violently in supernovae.

          It seems to me that you are the one stretching omnibenevolent. Great Silence said nothing about stars. He spoke of animals. Are you saying it is not a work of benevolence to run animal shelters, find homes for dogs and cats rather than euthanize them, and have laws against cruelty to animals?

          The suffering in the world is the cumulative effect of humans choosing to do evil from the very beginning.

          We know there was suffering in the world long before human beings came on the scene. You seem to be saying animals don't count. Can't they suffer? Do you think it would be okay to torture a puppy or a kitten or a monkey?

          Are you saying people get cancer because of sin? Cancer existed in animals before homo sapiens existed, as did viral and bacterial infections. Are you saying that sin somehow caused smallpox or causes ebola?

          • Peter

            I don't know about origins of disease, but what I can say with regard to ebola is that the disease surfaced and caused the vast bulk of its deaths in the poorest parts of the world. And world poverty is most definitely due to sin.

            The overpopulation of domestic animals is again because of humans, as is the need for laws to protect them from human cruelty. Again it's all down to humans.

  • Douglas,

    Thanks for an enjoyable article. I will say I'm mostly with WLC on the question of analogy. It doesn't make sense to me. It seems difficult to describe how the language of analogy coheres. Maybe developing a rigorous logic of analogy would be worthwhile future work for contemporary analytic philosophers. Maybe philosophers have already done this.

    • Douglas Beaumont

      It is interesting that you bring this up because I think that the fault lies in the tenents of analytic philosophy. While AP is good when it is used to deal with objects in its proper domain, it retains too many leftover assumptions from Logical Positivism. Namely, that analysis of words is the proper methodology for doing philosophy. The precision which AP requires to do its best work requires univocal speech - the very thing unavailable if millennia of apophatic theologians are right. I think Aquinas gives us the most we can hope to get - analogy. it may not satisfy the requirements of AP, but it also does not lead to unorthodoxy and heresy (lines I am afraid WLC and others attempting to salvage theism from the ontological disproofs have crossed).

      • Great Silence

        I was surprised to see WLC make those concessions. Had I not seen it here I would have had my doubts as to its veracity.

      • There should be a way of presenting the language of analogy in a robust fashion, and to show that it is consistent and coherent.

        Otherwise, and this has been my experience dealing with the language of analogy in Aquinas, I'm not sure many of the statements make any sense at all. I suspect that they did to Aquinas, but if so, there should be a way to show, maybe not what the statements exactly mean, but that they are consistent and coherent, that they do actually mean something.

        Shamik Dasgupta has a great article on inexpressible ignorance, where he proposes a possible system for dealing with the inexpressible, that there are meaningful things we can say in relation to what cannot be asked about or understood in its essence. Although Shamik's project is to deal with inexpressible ignorance, I think it may be a good starting point for bringing Aquinas into a place where contemporary philosophy can understand him and appreciate his genius.

  • Douglas Beaumont

    ALL - I really appreciate all the dialogue here. One thing I need to point out (and I think this is justified, because I've seen Feser do it to!), is that this post was not written for SN. It was originally written for my personal blog just as a brief introduction to the work I am doing for my dissertation. It was never meant to be comprehensive, and I do not have time to fill it out here.

    Also, the basis for much of the above is Thomistic metaphysics / epistmeology, and I do not have time to either define or defend that system here. Terms such as "knowledge" and "analogy" are being used in their technical sense from within this system, and they do not always cohere with popular or modern philosophical usage.

    I hope this re-post will spur interest in this interesting and important subject, but I will be unable to respond much more than I already have below. Thanks!

    • Caravelle

      Thank you for replying to people's comments as long as you did ! Especially given you hadn't agreed to have this posted in the first place. I for one appreciated it.

  • TomD123

    I like this article. However, I have some disagreement. I do not see how God can have no passive potency. If we are truly free creatures, God must come to know our choices. Our choices are logically prior to God's knowledge. However, given that this is the case, then He must be in potency with relation to our choices. I think God can still be unchanging since I take an eternalist view on time (all times are ontologically similar, i.e. from God's perspective simultaneous). Still, He has some sort of potency with relation to choices. How would one solve this?

  • Cristalle

    Thanks for a great article! Particularly telling was the "classical understanding" vs. "popular understanding" chart -- it highlights the need to define philosophical concepts precisely, or at least as precisely as language will let us. ("God can do anything" leaves one open to the old question of "can God make a stone so heavy he can't lift it?" whereas "God can actuate all potentials" is much more clearly stated, and avoids this issue (at least, as far as I understand it...))

    • Jim Dailey

      Can you please expand on how this answers whether God can make a stone so heavy he himself can't lift it? George Carlin's priest advised "It's a mystery", but I was hoping for a better response.

      • Cristalle

        Because "being too heavy for God to lift" is not a potential, it is a logical impossibility; *nothing* is too heavy for God to lift. Therefore it does not fall into the category of things that can be actualized.

        (Again, this is as I understand it; I'm not trained in A-T philosophy, so probably someone else on these boards could give a far better explanation.)

  • Doug Shaver

    I don't find the article persuasive, but it hardly matters. If the coherence of some version of theism were undisputed, I still would have no good reason to believe in God.

  • Ezra Casa

    "Why are some people more religious than others? Answers to this question often focus on the role of culture or upbringing. While these influences are important, new research suggests that whether we believe may also have to do with how much we rely on intuition versus analytical thinking. In 2011 Amitai Shenhav, David Rand and Joshua Greene of Harvard University published a paper showing that people who have a tendency to rely on their intuition are more likely to believe in God. They also showed that encouraging people to think intuitively increased people’s belief in God. Building on these findings, in a recent paper published in Science, of the University of British Columbia found that encouraging people to think analytically reduced their tendency to believe in God. Together these findings suggest that belief may at least partly stem from our thinking styles."

    Here is an interesting section in wikipedia on intuition,creativity and their connection with various world religions.


    • Mike

      Ultimately it comes down to want a person's "heart" wants most: if what the deepest part of you wants there to be no God you will accumulate enough evidence to support that conclusion if you do want there to be God you will find enough evidence to support that conclusion - pure rational inquiry can not in principle answer the question.

      • Ezra Casa

        pure rational inquiry can not in principle settle the question.

        I agree.....the question of god cannot be settled by pure rational investigation....or by analytical philosophy or theology. However I don't believe that skepticism or agnosticism is simply the result of wanting something to be true or not true. That is getting into the realm of wishful thinking IMHO.

        • Mike

          i think i know what you mean and i agree that it can get into wishful thinking but i don't think that it has to.

          I think that in principle after all avenues of investigation have been exhausted honestly with sincerity that at that point it still comes down to what a person ultimately in some sense "wants" or "wills" to be true. (That may include a "want" to "not want to decide" but i think there is something our make up that almost "forces" the issue). That i would not call wishful thinking but i concede that unless the "search" is serious and sincere then it can become little more than wishful thinking. As agents ourselves in the universe i think that no amount of data from "this universe, this reality this consciousness" can settle the question definitively...and apparently Pascal agreed.

  • robinpcharlton

    Great post you are discussed here. The information is really understandable one, keep on blogging. I didn't read this post completely, but partially read and bookmarked this page. You can read some posts on best custom essay writing service blogs. Go through with them also for more info.

  • Stefania

    Love this phrase by one of the fellow commenters - I don't need a reason to believe he cannot exist. That's the whole point, people were made that way that even if there are evidence pointg to a different direction, he/she may choose to believe otherwise. When visitng writers per hour I've came acroos a statement from Kant "Noumena are “things-in-themselves,” the reality that exists independent of our mind, whereas phenomena are appearances, reality as our mind makes sense of it." This is the beauty of our existence.

  • Note: Check it

  • I can see a lot of x and y in your post and it’s really clever how you related it to God. This is such an interesting post.

  • This is a brilliant read. I'm impressed with the sophisticated style and evidence presented in proving that God cannot exist.

  • Dough has made a very difficult topic very easy to understand...all because if his writing style

  • KNH777

    Qualities pertaining to Maximum Excellence in Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Moral Perfection necessary to achieve Maximum Greatness is determined by the highest possible Evolution in any and every possible world.

    Maximum Excellence is point of reference, and Maximum
    Greatness is also a point of reference!

    1 Maximum Greatness exists in any and every possible world.

    2 Maximum Excellence exists in every possible way relative to the greatest or at the very least minimum application necessary to achieve it's highest possible evolution to Maximum Greatness in any and every possible world.

    3 If any of the possible worlds consists of only ants and bugs, then Maximum Excellence is whatever qualities are necessary to achieve it's highest possible evolution to Maximum Greatness in that possible world.

    4 So Maximum Excellence is relative to the greater or at least minimum applications necessary to achieve highest evolution of Maximum Greatness for any and all possible world.

    5 Maximum Excellence entails the application of qualities necessary to achieve Maximum Greatness relative to any and every possible world.

    6 There exists a Being of Maximum Excellence relative to the greatest or at least minimum qualities necessary to achieve Maximum Greatness in any and every possible world.

    7 Maximum Excellence as Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Moral Perfection are relative to the greater or at least minimum application necessary to achieve it's highest possible evolution to Maximum Greatness in every possible world.

    8 What is impossible in one possible world, may be be possible in other possible worlds.

    9 What is possible in one possible world may be impossible in another possible world.

    10 The proposition, there exists an Omnicient, Omnipotent, and Morally Perfect Being of Maximum Excellence relative to the greater or at least minimum application necessary to achieve it's highest possible evolution to Maximum Greatness in an actual possible world.

    11 So the conclusion is there must be a Maximum Excellent Being in any and every possible world that has the greatest or at least minimum qualities necessary in Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Moral Perfection relevant to the acievement of highest possible achievable Evolution in Maximum Greatness in that actual possible world .

  • Alice

    That's awesome

  • SCBrownLHRM

    Very helpful ~

    "....Good theology begins with proper metaphysics...."

  • Wow, I can't believe this post has only gotten 1 comment so far. Let me chime in some thoughts from the atheistic perspective...

    First, I find it totally ironic that at the same time the theist tells me that the purpose of the universe (and of man in particular) is to know god, and yet the theist is also telling me in the same breath that god is so beyond our capabilities that we cannot actually know god. Apparently god gave man a brain to know god, but that same brain is also incapable of knowing god.

    Second, to claim that you cannot really know or understand god, except by way of analogies that will always "fail," disallows you to make any ontological arguments "proving" god exists. If you can only speak of god through grammatical failures, you have no right to justifiably "deduce" his (or it's–since even assigning gender is an analogy) existence.

    Thirdly, in order to even consider the possibility that a god exists, we first need a coherent concept of god. The traditional notion of god in classical theism is that of a timeless, changeless, immaterial mind, who also must be infinitely good, infinitely wise, and can do anything logically possible. This is basically the same concept as Thomism's. There are some variations on this concept, but almost all traditional or classical theistic gods have these basic characteristics. The problem is that a timeless, changeless being by definition cannot do anything; it's causally impotent and nonfunctional. Change requires time, and time requires change. This is logically certain. To create something, one must do something. And doing requires a change, regardless of whether that change is mental or physical. A being that cannot do anything cannot be omnipotent. As a result, the traditional notion of god is self contradictory. The theist's only resort here is special pleading, but I like to get all theists to agree beforehand that god is not beyond logic. That is, god cannot do the logically impossible or be the logically impossible. Once a theist agrees with this, they've cut themselves off from special pleading. Some theists (like Craig) think god exists atemporally before creating the universe, and temporally after creating the universe. But how is it logically possible to exist timelessly and suddenly jolt yourself into time out of your own will, when your will was timeless and frozen? It makes no sense.

    The failure of theists to come up with a coherent description of god is enough by itself to warrant atheism, but there's many plenty more reasons to think no gods exist.

    Now if you disagree with the above, you're going to be claiming as you did in the post that god's attributes are not univocal, they're analogous. But that's irrelevant. Logic here demands 2 possibilities. Change logically requires time, and action logically requires change. To say god need not undergo any change in order to do something, is to say god can do something, without doing something. And I'm not talking about physical change, since obviously god is not physical.

    So this claim:

    If we do not know God’s nature directly, then our words (which communicate only the finite reality in our minds) will fail to communicate the ontological essence of God – even when they are true statements.

    Is false. Where there is a logical contradiction involved, knowing the actual truth about a thing becomes necessary. The painting analogy fails to take this into consideration. If a painting doesn't represent someone's eyebrow correctly, we can still infer that the person depicted in the painting had eyebrows. That's totally different from when the attributes of something are in contradiction with each other.

    If there is a contradiction with your terms and you can only speak in language that fails to accurately describe it you cannot make true statements about it.

    Since I do not fully know the ontological reality being picked out by the word when it is used of God, I may not know what it is (= have it existing in my mind) – but I can affirm that the statement “God is good” is true.

    No, you can't. The claim “God is good” is an inherently meaningless claim unless some standard of goodness exists independently of god.

    • Sample1

      The original posting drew 140 comments. This article's comment link is broken but fixable. Something which has been mentioned to Brandon Vogt (as recently as less than a month ago) by the owner of the site, Outshine The Sun.

      You can find a list of broken articles and the original comments here

      In all, per OTS, there are 69 broken comment threads which has been estimated to contain between 5,000 and 20,000 individual comments.


      • It was an act of god.

      • Anyway, thanks for the link. I've never seen this happen before on a website.

  • Jacob's Ladder: http://disq.us/p/1mncbql

  • Overland Park

    Thank you for this great post!