On the Attributes of God
In discussing the existence of God with a Christian, I often encounter arguments that are offered without logical justification, let alone evidence. This can be a frustrating experience for someone who wants to refute the logic of the theistic arguments. You can't refute logic where there is none, or where the underlying logical basis for the theist's argument is hidden under layers of dogmatic belief. You end up arguing against the dogma, and no matter what you say, no matter how thoroughly you think you have refuted it, the same dogma keeps coming back from the theist, because dogma is not logical. It is dictated by the religious institution, and the faithful theist is required to believe it, no matter what.
Case in point is my ongoing discussion with Keith Rozumalski, about how the universe came to be. We have agreed for the sake of this argument that there must be a cause for the beginning of the universe, and that it must be one of three possibilities: something natural that exists eternally as a brute fact, an infinite series of contingent natural things that spawn universes, or God. We haven't focused much on the second of these possibilities, but I am willing to allow that an infinite series can be regarded as logically equivalent to the natural brute fact - that is, the series itself can be regarded as a brute fact. So we have a choice between the brute fact and God.
How, then, can we decide which of these possibilities is the best explanation? One way would be to regard both of them as one and the same. Whatever it is that created the universe, we could call it God, or we could call it a natural brute fact. But that ignores the heart of the question. The theist's objection to the brute fact lies in his understanding of the attributes or characteristics and qualities of the thing. A brute fact is something that exists without explanation, and God is not a brute fact because God exists necessarily (and therefore requires no explanation). Furthermore, unlike the natural brute fact, this god is intelligent and purposeful. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, etc, etc. And on top of all that, he's divinely simple. The natural brute fact, on the other hand, has no intelligence and no purpose. So there really is a significant choice about which of these possibilities to believe.
So my question for the theist is, what logical basis do you have for insisting that God must have all these qualities that you attribute to him? Why couldn't he be less than perfectly benevolent, for example? If that were true, it might explain why there is so much suffering in the world. But the theist rejects any such possibility. So I want to know what logical basis there can be for ascribing all these attributes to God.
Well, I don't KNOW with absolute certainty what God's attributes are, but I think that we can extrapolate them by using reason. If God isn't simple then Dawkin's who designed God? argument would have force because we would need to explain where the parts came from that make up God, as well as how these parts were put together. Not to mention what caused God to be. However, if God is a simple being who posses Aseity then there is no need to explain who designed God and he is not dependent on the existence of matter or anything else. The explanation for God's existence is by the necessity of his own nature.So Keith is telling me that God is divinely simple, because otherwise we would have to grant that Richard Dawkins has a good argument. The logic goes something like this:
1. If god is not divinely simple, then we would need to explain where his parts come from.
2. If god is divinely simple and possesses aseity, then we do not need to explain where he comes from.
3. God has aseity.
4. Therefore, we don't need to explain God's existence.
The first thing to note about this non-argument is that he shifts from defending divine simplicity to defending existence without explanation. The two concepts are not the same, but Keith treats them as if they are. The concept of aseity is that God is uncaused, and contains its own reason for existence. Notice that in statement 2, he adds in the quality of aseity. But this is not the same as divine simplicity. If God has aseity, it doesn't matter how many "parts" he has. If you can assert that a simple God needs no explanation, then you can just as well assert that two or more such gods need no explanation, and you can assert that a god with two or more parts needs no explanation. If any god has aseity, what does it matter how many parts it has? So the question of why God must be divinely simple remains unanswered.
As for the concept of aseity itself - God needs no explanation simply because we assert that he needs no explanation. Well, isn't that special? I wish I could win any argument in such a facile manner. But intellectual honesty compels me to have some valid reason for the things that I assert. The concept of aseity is tied in with the notion of necessary existence, which I would grant, requires no explanation. Earlier, I noted that we had agreed that there were three possible explanations for the cause of the universe. If you could eliminate the logical possibility of two of them, then the remaining possibility would indeed be logically necessary. But we haven't done that. Therefore, the assertion that God is a necessary being is false. There are other possibilities, and the existence of God is not necessary to explain the universe. Therefore that attribution of aseity is illogical. As long as there is a valid alternative explanation, you can't get away with asserting that God is necessary and needs no explanation.
And what of the other attributes of God? I objected that despite the claims of God's goodness, intelligence, etc, we see a world that seems to be at odds with those notions. Keith said:
I don't think that this is true at all--I think God's attributes are completely compatible with the world we live in. As I said before, much of the randomness you think you see could be nothing more than an illusion. The imperfect world that we live in is compatible with a good, powerful God in that this is the best possible world that contains free creatures. God could have perfectly good reasons for permitting evil--reasons that may not be apparent to us finite creatures.It's one thing to assert that this world is as good as it gets, but it's another thing to show it. The problem of gratuitous suffering can't be dismissed so lightly. Let's imagine a world that is, in every respect, identical to our world, with one single exception: that millions of years ago there was one single creature that was spared the suffering of being eaten alive by a predator. Later on in the course of events, humans evolved and everything is the same - the same people, the same moral lessons learned, the same outcomes. This alternative world is better than ours simply by virtue of the fact that it contains (slightly) less suffering. Does the theist wish to contend that such a world is not possible? Is it not within the capability of an all-powerful God to create such a world? If not, why not? Or could it be the case that God is either not omnipotent or not omni-benevolent? If the theist wants to assert that God has all these attributes, he has some explaining to do. Otherwise, I don't buy it. And to simply posit a logical possibility is not the same as arguing that there is any reason to believe that it is true.
The same can be said of Keith's assertion of God's purpose in creating the world. What we observe is absence of purpose. Things happen randomly. The vast majority of the universe is utterly hostile to human life. On our planet, random events determine what creatures evolve and what anatomical features they have. We see evolved biological structures that no designer would create intentionally, but that can be explained by a series of random past events. Keith answers:
What evidence do you have that say, the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs, was truly random in that no intelligent agent arranged the world in such a way that the event in question would happen. Just saying that it looks random to you doesn't make it so. So, in actuality, you have no evidence.But I do have evidence. Meteors behave in natural ways, not by God directing them to fall on earth. That's what we observe. And while it is true that this single event was significant in the evolution of mankind, so were billions and billions of other events. Does the theist wish to assert that God controls literally everything that happens? Because that's what it would take in order to assert that humans evolved by divine direction or design. To make such an assertion is to deny the laws of nature. One might as well say that every atom, every raindrop, every creature that ever walked on the earth was under the explicit control of God, and God made it all come out in a certain way. And it just so happens that when we observe this remarkable sequence of events, we can't distinguish it from randomness. But if God really did direct everything, how does the theist explain all the flaws in this design? And how can he assert that there is any freedom? It defies logic.
In the final analysis, the theist's assertion that God is the best explanation for us and our world falls flat. A naturalist explanation has the advantage not only of explaining all the things that cannot reasonably be accounted for by a God that has the attributes that theists insist he must have, but also of being consistent with observed evidence. The theist can't account for the world as we see it without a lot of hand-waving and contortions of reason. Nor can he point to observed facts and say "the evidence points to a supernatural explanation". Keith's defense of God's attributes is illogical and not supported by any observed evidence. It doesn't work at all.