Incoherence: Not God’s Problem

April 8, 2019 § Leave a comment

There are two reasons a person might say something is incoherent. One reason is that the thing being considered is incomprehensible. The other is that the person, for whatever reason, is unable to comprehend it. While both may be true, what one professor of philosophy calls “A God Problem” in a recent New York Times opinion piece reveals a problem with his own ontology. It’s a short read here.

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Peter Atterton takes us though a short series of “problems’ about the existence of God that philosophers have pondered for centuries. Interestingly, he offers the first two, and then offers the solutions for us.

THE OMNIPOTENCE PARADOX & THE LAW OF NON-CONTRADICTION

“…the paradox of the stone… Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted? … The way out of this dilemma is usually to argue, as Saint Thomas Aquinas did, that God cannot do self-contradictory things. … Not all philosophers agree with Aquinas. René Descartes, for example, believed that God could do absolutely anything, even the logically impossible, such as draw a round square.”

Well, sure. Philosophers and other humans disagree on all kinds of things—some are right and some are wrong. Aquinas was right; logic extends from God’s nature, so logical absurdities (such as a round square, or a rock too heavy for God to lift), and sin itself, are impossibilities for Him. God is a God of logic and therefore cannot do illogical things. God is good and therefore can do no evil. René Descartes was wrong because there is nothing in Scripture that suggests that God can do anything that contradicts His own nature.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL & FREE-WILL DEFENSE

Secondly, Atterton asks, “Can God create a world in which evil does not exist? This does appear to be logically possible. … Indeed, if God is morally perfect, it is difficult to see why he wouldn’t have created such a world… The standard defense is that evil is necessary for free will.” He then cites Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, “To create creatures capable of moral good, [God] must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”

Plantinga was also right; man’s free will necessitates the eventual probability of his choosing to sin, so it’s actually not logically possible for God to create human beings and not give his creatures freedom to make either choice. Adam and Eve did not know evil and the effects it would have on the world. However, in a glorified state in heaven, our clear and perfected view of God’s goodness may simply preclude the possibility of a free-will choice to sin. But we are talking about the world we are in now. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…” (1 Cor. 13:12)

NATURAL EVIL & GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

The author then presents two problems that he claims make God particularly incoherent because he can’t answer them. But, like God, coherent answers do exist. Seeming to allow Plantinga’s argument that human free-will necessitates evil choices, Atterton contends that “this does not explain so-called physical evil (suffering) caused by nonhuman causes (famines, earthquakes, etc.). Nor does it explain, as Charles Darwin noticed, why there should be so much pain and suffering among the animal kingdom.”

The problem of “physical evil” of “natural evil” included in Genesis 3’s curse of creation is not philosophically insurmountable either. As J. Warner Wallace proposes at ColdCaseChristianity.com, a world created to accommodate free will agency will also perceive both benefit and detriment from certain natural conditions. Some natural disasters are the result of man building and venturing in the wrong places at the wrong time. Some natural disasters may be God’s prompting us to consider Him, and others, to bring out the best in people using various trials (James 1:2-4). Whatever the reasons God may have to allow natural evil, the question of “why there should be so much pain and suffering among the animal kingdom”, or among people for that matter, is problematic. In a world where a small fraction of the current pain and suffering would likely still bring complaint and rejection of a benevolent God, what would the acceptable amount be? And why assume God’s hand has not restrained a great deal more? (Related post)

GOD’S THOUGHTS & OUR THOUGHTS

On to Atterton’s final reason he finds the concept of God incoherent: “If God knows all there is to know, then He knows at least as much as we know. … There are some things that we know that, if they were also known to God, would automatically make Him a sinner… like lust and envy. …one cannot know lust and envy unless one has experienced them. But to have had feelings of lust and envy is to have sinned, in which case God cannot be morally perfect.”

His logic here is super flawed, and the philosophers he cites to support his argument made the same mistake. God’s omniscience does not require Him to “know” sin in the same sense that a sinner knows it by experience (I write about this distinction in this post). That’s an unnecessary conflation along the lines of suggesting a God who can’t create logical absurdities is not omnipotent.

Critically, Atterton notes a motto French theologian Blaise Pascal had stitched into a jacket: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob — not of the philosophers and scholars,” and concludes with the notion that “Pascal considered there was more ‘wisdom’ in biblical revelation than in any philosophical demonstration of God’s existence and nature — or plain lack thereof.” I think we have to be open to the idea that Pascal chose not an incoherent God, but a God whose coherence he understood and the secular philosophers and scholars of his day did not. What yet another secular philosopher has managed to highlight in his challenge to the classic Ontological Argument is the failing of the mind of man, not the coherence of God.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways My ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are My ways higher than your ways
    and My thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:8-9)

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