« Hagee and the Politics of Pandering | Main | Christianity Today Resurrects Aquinas for Naught »

July 09, 2008



i dont get that magazine :) but have been surprised at this tendency with philosophers. i've read a couple things- articles, books, etc- where the writers don't seem to consider the "typse" of god that even some christians consider, as you say, the non-augustinian, the god that is coming into existence, the god that suffers, etc, etc... seems odd to me that there are theologians that actually come with fewer assumptions than some philosophers.


Your subtle distinction here points out the unsuitability of the question for sober, logical reasoning. The word 'God' in the question is one of the most emotional terms for people arguing all sides of the debate, and emotional thinking rarely coincides with careful reasoning. An alternative way of stating your question about the character of 'God' that might avoid protestation from most of the deliberate thinkers on all sides of the debate is to stipulate a meaning for 'God' as something like 'the force(s) that undergirds our reality.' Then you can define 'God' into "existence" and set about trying to understand the nature of that force through study and observation of that existence.

Jay Kelly

In philosophy of religion circles (at least in the analytic tradition), it's generally assumed that what is meant by 'God' is the Four Omni God (FOG for short). All loving, knowing, present and powerful.

That's the standard definition for a few reasons, one of the main ones being that the term doesn't have to get redefined for 5 pages at the beginning of every philosophy paper. There are also lots of interesting philosophical questions that are still very much alive that center around this definition.

That said, though, I think you're raising a fantastic question, Greg. In philosophy parlance it might be 'What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for something/someone to be appropriately called 'God'?' God as a FOG is the traditional answer post-Augustine, but it's far from clear that God as a FOG is the minimal set of criteria.

I'd LOVE for you to buy me a beer for my birthday from last week and talk this one over.

Teaser: Suppose we live in a Matrix/Sims world (I ran that argument by you a few months ago). If we are, would the programmer of our world be 'God', even if there was an actual FOG God in the programmer's world?

If the programmer could be considered God vis a vis us, would that mean that we would have 2 Gods--the programmer and the FOG?

I have a feeling this comment was rambling and incoherent. I'm not re-reading. I'm just hitting post . . . now!


Just fyi, I'm still planning on buying you a birthday beer as well... eventually. I figure that makes life more exciting - not knowing when a birthday beer will show up.


I'm still not convinced that "omniscience" is a coherent concept. What do you do with mathematical axioms like Choice (not related to free will btw) that can be either true or false within different models of number theory? Is there one "true" geometry, or does an omniscient being swap back and forth between incompatible models as needed, the way we do when we try to describe the universe?

What seems to happen in omniscience claims is that people have an intuitive notion of scholars "knowing" more than other adults who in turn "know" more than infants. And since knowing more is better than knowing less, knowing all has to be better than knowing most or some.

But the problem is, it hasn't been established that we can talk about all knowledge. That's actually a mathematical question as much as an epistemological one.

One of Aquinas's arguments for the existence of God was the Greatest Good: if you have a set of things measured by their "goodness," he says, it would have to have a greatest (maximum) good, otherwise each element in the set would have the same value. This greatest good we call God. But if you consider the set of all real numbers between 0 and 1, denoted (0,1), this is a strictly ordered set that does not have a maximum element. Thus Aquinas's reasoning fails; it is not necessary to have a greatest good in specific cases like the one he describes.

It is possible to partially rehabilitate Aquinas's argument by saying that (0,1) is bounded from above (by, say, 1), and if you include the boundary that is bigger than the set (in the larger world of the real numbers), then that is God and the argument works. But then you are reasoning that "good" things work like a mathematical set that is topologically closed, but not necessarily closed under things like square roots, may be embedded in a larger universe, etc. You've moved from talking about things that make intuitive sense to things that don't make sense at all. If the math is hard, that's one problem; if the math makes sense, you want to know how on earth you could think of "good" things as being like a subset of the real numbers. It's unclear to either viewpoint that the idea is coherent.

I think the idea of knowledge is like Aquinas's intuitive notion of goodness. You don't have to be a philosopher to say that some things, some choices, and maybe even some people are better than others. Likewise, our definition of "knowing" works well for saying that Alice, a finite person, knows more about computers (or about something specific like repairing video cards in Dell laptops) than Bob does. We trust people to advise us on some issues, and not others, based on our understanding of what they "know." We don't need detailed and rigorous ideas of what constitutes "knowledge" to trust a criminal lawyer above a real estate lawyer on matters of criminal defense. But just as we can't leap from the correct intuition of "Some things are better than others" to "There's such a thing as the unique Best thing" without doing a lot of legwork in figuring out what "good" means, we can't assume that it's possible to gather up all "knowledge" in one place without a lot of hard work figuring out what it means to "know" something.

My gut here is that almost everyone thinks of "omniscient" meaning "knowing all things," which means they're thinking of knowledge as knowing a set of specific things, namely propositions. But the problem with propositional knowledge is that it treats knowledge as a set of true things. In this case, it's not questionable whether omniscience makes sense; it's flat-out, cut and dried, black and white false (provided that our mathematics makes sense). This is because there's no largest cardinal, which is a rather obscure result about sets.

There are two ways around this for theists: open theism, which holds that God does not know all things; and that God somehow "knows" everything anyway (but we can't say how), in which case the category of omniscience becomes useless.

None of this speaks to the topic of the post, but it does go to show how often even people who ostensibly examine assumptions for a living will fail to examine their own in any depth.


Oops--forgot the third option that fundamentalists use, which is that it's far more important to make correct claims about God than to have the foggiest idea what they actually mean. Treating language as spellcasting rather than communication slipped my mind for some reason.


As long as we all agree that God does exist. We may not have Him figured out, but denying that there is a grand designer, at least to me, seems to pretty much disclude you from rational conversation.

Sorry Mr. Dawkins.


Sorry, Russell, no agreement here. I'm not sure what "God" means, and I don't think design is particularly plausible.

dr dobson

Discuse me, Russell, but you seem to have made Leighton's point loud and clear without even knowing it . . .


"...not plausible"?

What's your alternative? Random, unguided chance? That's been debunked by reality!

Every letter you type, every word you create, every reply you post, only continues to prove that order is created and designed. You know it and you believe it. You may be too stubborn to admit it, but regardless of how much you deny it here (or elswhere) you lay in bed each night knowing full well that the idea of "something from nothing" is scientifically void of support and logically bankrupt.

Please don't CREATE a response. Let chance do it for you. If, on the other hand you are forced to do what chance cannot, then you will be obviously proving my point.


I want to propose 'unintelligent design'. It certainly can't be random evolution that people like Russell, who obviously never went beyond a vacation Bible school understanding of origins, are still around. There are just too many of them.

It certainly isn't intelligent--I mean, just read the post.

So since this group hasn't self-selected out of existence, I have to assume that some unintelligent deity wants them around.


Oh Russell,

you picked the wrong person to tussle with. Leighton, I certainly hope you have the energy for Russell. It is summer, after all. You can't have that many classes...



I'm having trouble following the flow of your comment, but you seem to be accusing me of creating the universe. While I'm flattered, I must protest that staphylococcus was not my doing.



Are you responsible for Thai hookers? If you are, I owe you a beer.


I can understand the idea of not feeling able to explain God. Or to not be able to philisophically deal with all of the ramifications of God's existence. Who is he really? What is he really like? What did he do yesterday? How did he create and when/why?

On the other hand, I know that unless one is deranged or irrationaly deluded, they simply do not believe that the universe came from nothing. Again, they may SAY that they do, but in the quite space of their own mind, they no more believe that all of the matter of the universe popped out of "zero" matter than they believe that they are a cucumber.

Again, let's discuss what/how/who/when/why/where but the "if" is not logically valid.


Who said the universe was created from nothing? Question your assumptions, dude. You've been taught to equate not believing in any god with believing that the universe exploded from an infinity of nothingness. Been to the creation museum, have we?

And how the hell do you know what goes on in the quiet places of an atheist's or evolutionist's mind? You don't. Again, VBS thinking. You present some trite opinion as universal law. It's not gonna fly around here. At least D-Tim used to quote the Bible out of context. You're just making shit up.


The idea of atheism is that there is no God. Gnosticism says "maybe there is - maybe there isn't - I don't know enough to say one way or the other."

For someone to say there's enough evidence to conclude that a God does not exist, is simply illogical.



you're misunderstanding how logic works. since i teach it, i'm happy to tell you that it all comes down to whether or not the premises are true. Since the original premises involving god can't be proven or disproven, the logical approach breaks down. that leaves you a couple choices: naturalism, empiricism, rationalism, or revelation. Theism is dependent upon revelation. I find the records untrustworthy, so it's easier to disbelieve than believe. That's not to say I'm an atheist; I'm not going to decide that because it seems a pointless exercise. I'm not going to live any differently.

BTW, you also confused gnosticism with agnosticism.



Sorry, I'm not that creative. I wish I could claim credit for human retinas, though I'd like to think I wouldn't wire them backwards. I'd do it like the squids. Maybe human eyes were Cthulhu's trial run.


FYI, Gnosticism is a (mostly) dead sect of Christianity, one that was often very aggressive with claims that they do know lots about God. (Or maybe that was just Marcion.) Agnostics can say either "I don't know," or "I don't know--and you don't either." (The latter often call themselves "militant agnostics.") Atheists might say "There is no God," or "There is insufficient evidence for God and thus no reason to assert such a claim," or "I really don't care about the question." For what it's worth, the etymology supports claims 2 and 3; someone claiming 1 might more accurately be called an antitheist. But that's not a common word, so people use atheist for all of them. It's not very precise, but language can be kind of messy that way.

Anyway, I haven't made any claims about the origins of the universe, and this being before lunch, I don't see an obvious way to reconcile my actual thoughts with what you've asserted my thoughts clearly must be, so I'm going to leave it at that for now. I think I have a line on why we have such different ideas of how important this is, but it's too dangerous to speculate without food.



I appreciate your description of the "logic" process. The only question I would pose is what is meant by "prove." I know how the term is clasically understood, but even that is usually a "best assesment" based on the evidence presented. There are lots of things we "believe" that cannot be unequivocally "proven."

The idea of a creator may not be able to be "proved" like I can prove that your legal name is Greg (assuming it is), but considering the propensity of evidence that things of such order and complexity do not just randomly occur without design, then the evidence for such a being seems much more credible than not.


I guess my primary area of contention would be first cause. Was there something behind it (or evidence thereof) or do we assume it was totally unintended and "accidental." The evidence for intention is of far more overwhelming proportions than not.

Enjoy your lunch.



Please read the latest post for the classic "proofs" of God. That will answer your cause question too. You are, of course, free to believe anything you like. But prove assumes know. While I lean toward postmodern philosophy, I'm acutely aware of how much we need to know certain things. Since you can't "know" god exists, the best you can do is believe. I think your own Bible says as much.

The comments to this entry are closed.