JAMES ROBERT PIERCE 05-03-91 A Brief Inquiry Into The Concept of God The concept of God,

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JAMES ROBERT PIERCE 05-03-91 A Brief Inquiry Into The Concept of God The concept of God, as presented in the Christian theological tradition, includes such essential properties as perfect love, perfect goodness, limitless mercy, forgiveness, omniscience, and omnipotence. According to the same tradition, God cannot have been caused to come into existence, or have happened to come into existence; nor can he cease to exist or, just happen to cease to exist. In short, the concept of God is that of a being a greater than which cannot be conceived. From the above analysis we may argue that the traditional concept of God entails necessary existence as one of his essential properties. In other words, if God exists at all, then it is impossible that he could not exist. The upshot of the above analysis is that the idea of contingent existence is said to have no application to the concept of God. If God does not exist, then he is a being which cannot have come into existence by some direct cause or by happenstance . Therefore, it is either logically impossible that God should exist, or it is the case that God necessarily exists. The latter is true if the concept of God is not self-contradictory, and the former is true if the concept of God is self-contradictory or nonsensical. The properties of forgiveness and mercy as found in the concept of God imply that God exists, if he exists at all, in a manner requiring his active participation in the lives of those receiving the benefits of his properties. Furthermore, it is this active participation with the constituents of the world that implies the idea that God is an individual (I would add here that the essential properties of God collectively comprise the nature of a individual.) I believe an analysis of the Judeo-Christian theological tradition would substantiate the ideas presented here; namely, God actively forgives and is merciful to those who repent of their transgressions against him. This of course requires a relationship between God and the constituents of the world. If God is active in the world maintaining his relations with its constituents, then he exists in some sort of spatial-temporal relationship with the constituents of the world. But, if he exists in some sort of spatial-temporal relationship with the constituents of the world, then he exists as an individual, in space and time. If God exists as an individual in space and time, then he is subject to limitations individuals experience in space and time, e.g. there would be a time God did not exist, or God will cease to exist, if he exists at all, in the future. The upshot here is, if God, as an individual, has experiences with the constituents of the world, then he exists under the limitations of the world. This would indicate that God is a limited being, i.e. his existence would be dependent upon something else, but it is contradictory to assert the idea of a necessary being who is dependent upon something else for its existence. Further explanation may be warranted here: if God, as an individual, actively participates in the affairs of the constituents of the world, then he is finite in existence (at least for the aforementioned reasons). If he is finite in existence, then the Christian conception of the existence of God is contradictory. Since the conception in question contains a contradiction, it is impossible that God should exist. On a similar line, we may argue that the properties of omniscience and omnipotence are contradictory with the property of perfect goodness. If omnipotence is one of God's essential properties, then God could not lack omnipotence in any possible world. If God lacks omnipotence in any possible world, then omnipotence is not an essential property of God; which is to say, God would not be the greatest being in all possible worlds. If omnipotence is one of God's essential properties, and if we define omnipotence to naturally mean, the inability to fail at doing anything which is logically possible, then it follows there is a possible world in which God accomplishes greater evils than Hitler, or any other homicidal maniac. However, if in every possible world perfect goodness is an essential property of God, then he cannot destroy millions of innocent individuals in any possible world for the "homicidal fun of it," i.e. for the sake of killing only. Since God cannot perform evil acts in any possible world, then God is limited to performing only good acts in all possible worlds. Since there is at least one possible world in which God is incapable of performing horrible evils, then it is the case that omnipotence is not one of God's essential properties. The theological tradition spoken of earlier seems to indicate that omnipotence is a essential property of God, i.e. only an omnipotent deity is an adequate object of worship; any being lacking the property of omnipotence would not be divine, according to the same tradition. It appears then, that there is a contradiction between the idea of perfect goodness as an essential property of God and the idea of omnipotence as a essential property of God. Therefore, it is impossible that God should exist. It should be added that the idea of perfect goodness is also problematic at best. If we want to salvage the idea that omnipotence is a essential property of God, then we must do this at the cost of abandoning the idea that perfect goodness is a essential property of God. That is, if we understand omnipotence as defined previously, then it is the case that God could commit evils against the constituents of the world just for the sake of doing the act: whether he actually would do such an act is not important. If God is omnipotent, then he could commit an arbitrary act of evil, which is to say that there is a possible world in which he does such an action. This precludes any idea that perfect goodness is an essential property of God since by definition, perfect goodness removes any possibility of God doing any evil act, for the sake of doing evil, in any possible world. Lets consider the property of omniscience relative to perfect goodness. If omniscience is one of God's essential properties, then he is omniscient in every possible world. Lets suppose there is a possible world God created with the knowledge that it would contain homicidal maniacs like Hitler. If perfect goodness is an essential property of God, and if omniscience is an essential property of God, then there is a possible world, that God created with knowledge that it would contain homicidal maniacs like Hitler, in which God is a immoral monster. Therefore, either omniscience is a essential property of God and God is a immoral monster, or omniscience is not an essential property of God and God is not an immoral monster, i.e. God had no knowledge that homicidal maniacs would exist in any of the worlds he created. The upshot of this dillema is if God did create a world with full knowledge that homicidal maniacs would exist, then perfect goodness would not be an essential property of his. Thus, a contradiction arises in the traditional conception of God. The other horn of the dillema reveals another contradiction in the concept of God. If God created a world, but did not know homicidal maniacs would exist, it would be the case that omniscience is not an essential property of God. Since the concept of God can be impaled upon either horn, we must conclude that it is impossible that God should exist. Perhaps we could escape the contradictions of part one of this inquiry and problems with the assertion that the concept of God employs a non-literal language in its descriptions of God's nature. For example, phrases such as God is loving, God is Good, God is omnipotent would be descriptions of God that are not to be construed in a literal way. Suppose the search for the Holy Grail is a symbol of our inner spiritual search. If in searching for the Chalice we find our travels are difficult, then it would follow allegorically that our spiritual search was difficult. Likewise, another individual sets out on the Grail journey, but finds the journey to be easy. It would follow allegorically that this individual's spiritual search was easy. What is important to note from the above story is that both individuals set out on their respective journeys with the same goal in mind, but they derived different conclusions concerning their spiritual quest based upon their own experiences. It is difficult to see, from the above story, how one can maintain that a non-literal conception of God could be understood objectively. One may claim that God is a contingent being, while another could claim, with equal justification, God necessarily exists. Neither claim could literally be true if they are to be understood as non-literal descriptions. The problem here is that non-literal descriptions of the nature of God could not provide for literal conclusions concerning the existence of God. In other words, one could not affirm the literal existence of a being if descriptions of the being in question are to be construed in a non-literal language. At best, one could provide a non-literal conception of such a being, but translating such a conception into literal conclusions would be problematic. One problem would be understanding the meaning of non-literal definitions. Non-literal definitions would be inadequate for the purpose of literal explanations for any state of affairs. By inadequate I mean this: any non-literal description referring to a property of God would not be intelligible since its meaning would be obscure, i.e. one could not understand a non-literal description as representing a literal truth since the literal meaning would not be known. For example, one could not literally know the truth or falsity of the statement all vixens are foxes if the statement is to be construed non-literally. One possibility in solving this problem is to assert that non-literal descriptions of God describe literal experiences; thus, there would be truth value in non-literal descriptions, i.e. the non-literal descriptions would be true or false depending upon the nature of our experience. But, this move has its difficulties. The non-literal statement, God is omnipotent, appears to mean that God is unlimited in power. If the non-literal description is applicable to God, then it must be some descriptive device employed by some who claim to have had an experience of a being (God) with extraordinary powers. However, the meaning of the description would rest upon the person's experience, and if we are to consider the religious experience as a private experience, then an outside observer could never understand the meaning of omnipotence as defined by the person who had had the religious experience. Without a religious experience, one could never know the truth of a non-literal description of God. Therefore, any affirmative conclusions concerning the existence of God, based upon non-literal descriptions of God, would be vacuous since the descriptions could only be intelligible to those having the requisite experience. Worse yet, it appears that premises in an argument for the existence of God, which employed non-literal descriptions, would not be understood on the basis of definition alone, i.e. if the premises of a argument contained non-literal descriptions of God one could not know what literally would be meant by such descriptions as God is omnipotent unless one had a prior religious experience. Finally, if one has had a prior religious experience, then any philosophical demonstration of the existence of God appears to be nugatory. It does not make sense to require proof for the existence of a being one claims to exist in virtue of one's own experience. If we are to accept the statements in the concept of God as literal, then we must accept the conclusion that the concept is contradictory; thus, it is impossible that God should exist. One may escape this conclusion by asserting the idea that descriptions of God are to be construed a in non-literal language. However, this attempt has proven to be problematic since the concept of God could only be understood by those who have had a private religious experience. Furthermore, non-literal descriptions of God, inserted in the premises of an argument, would not provide for a affirmative literal conclusion concerning the nature of God. If one must have had a religious experience in order to understand premises in a argument containing non-literal descriptions of God, then such an argument is nugatory. The final conclusion, it is impossible that God should exist.

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