Sunday, December 26, 2010

An Intro to the Philosophy of Religion, Ch. 1

This textbook normally costs over 50$, but the Kindle edition is only 15$.  I might as well notate my way through it.

Murray and Rea begin by narrowing their scope to Western monotheistic religious traditions, which aligns with their primary goal "to provide a properly representative introduction to the field of philosophy of religion as it has developed in English-speaking countries over the past fifty years..."

The first three chapters discuss the attributes of God.  An important distinction is drawn between "God" as a proper name and "God" as a title (i.e., referring to the "President of the United States" instead of "Ronald Reagan").  Philosophical theologians are more interested in the latter.  "On the other hand, if and when 'God' is used as a title, we can learn quite a lot about what God is or would be like simply by unpacking our concept of the role associated with the term 'God.'"
Three theistic claims about God
1. Nothing made God, and God is the source or ground of everything other than God. (creation theology)
2. God rules all that is not God. (providential theology)
3. God is the most perfect being. (perfect-being theology)

Perfect-being theology
Something is only God if it has "the greatest possible array of great-making properties."[1]  Broadly speaking, there are extrinsic and intrinsic great-making properties.  For example, being muscular is an extrinsic good because it only extends to particular circumstances (eg., for a bodybuilder but not a marathon runner).  Being muscular isn't good on it's own, apart from circumstances.  Happiness is an example of an intrinsic good--good on it's own without dependence on circumstances or outcomes.

How are great-making properties determined?  Usually by appealing to our  fundamental intuitions.  This parallels how we evaluate moral theories: we intuitively deem it wrong to torture a baby for fun.  However, there can still be disagreement about intuition.

It may be that some great-making properties are not compatible: for instance, being married and being a bachelor.  This has been a rich source of thought for philosophical theologians: given some set of attributes, are there problems or conflicts to resolve?  For example, can God be both all-powerful and perfectly good?

A host of prior conditions must have held in order for me to exist; however, the same is not said of God.  God is self-explaining....there is no "because of x,y, and z God exists."

Omnipotence: perfect power
"God's power explains and entails that God creates all that there is, sustains it in existence, and confers on those things the powers and limitations that they have."   The famous paradox of the stone objects to omnipotence on the grounds that it's incoherent: could God create a stone so big that he cannot lift it?  Theists response by defining omnipotence as that which is logically possible.  Not even God can make square triangles, married bachelors, or rocks too big for his lifting abilities...these ideas don't actually extend to anything real or doable.  Another response to the stone paradox is to focus on the ambiguity between lifting power and making power.  If a being's lifting power and making power are both unbounded, then the paradox dissolves (at no point could one exceed the other).

Omnipotence also draws tension with human freedom.  Think about what you had for lunch yesterday...could you have chosen otherwise?  It's logically possible to assume so; yet, if you were free to choose otherwise, then this appears limit God's ability (to actualize any logically possible state of affairs).  What of omnipotence and perfect goodness, is there a problem?  If God is impeccable (unable to sin), his power seems limited by his good nature.  Denying impeccability is an option, but is a perfect being who can't sin better than a perfect being who merely doesn't sin?  Some argue that God is able yet unwilling to perform acts that are evil; in that sense, perfect goodness doesn't degrade omnipotence.

Creation and Providence
Many theists believe that God creates and sustains His creation.   Divine concurrence proposes that God is involved in bringing about each event, perhaps what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, "In God we live, and move, and have our being."  Some salient positions on divine concurrence:

  1. God must make a causal contribution to every creaturely act, in order for him to perfectly know the future (Aquinas).
  2. Divine concurrence is necessary, otherwise his (free) creatures could thwart his plans or goals
  3. Causation involves new things or properties coming into existence, so God must be the ultimate source of all new being

There are difficulties here for philosophers to work out, or at least clarify.  Two wills are at odds: God and man.  Imagine two horses pulling a wagon; are they jointly sufficient and individually necessary?  Problematically, if God's causal contribution is not sufficient, then we run the risk of free human agents thwarting God's intentions or plans (consider the remote possibility of a novice beating a chess master)  The balance between divine providence and human free will is one of the most perplexing issues in philosophy of religion (in my opinion).

Theists believe God to be morally faultless, and maximally benevolent.  This creates problems for theists, as shown in the following argument.

1. God is omniscient and thus aware of all the possible worlds he can create
2. God is perfectly and unsurpassibly good and unfailingly drawn to do that which is best
3. Free agents can will an action that is less than the best only if they either fail to understand what is genuinely best, or fall prey to a weakness of will, thus choosing contrary to what they know to be best
4. God is susceptible neither to ignorance of the best nor weakness of the will
5. Therefore, God cannot do anything less than the best
6. Since our world exists, either it is the best world, or it is one among other worlds that are tied for best
7. To have morally significant freedom, one must be able to choose among alternatives of differing moral quality
8. If our world is best, God could not refrain from creating it and is thus not free in creating it
9. If our world is tied for best, God could not choose among worlds of differing moral quality and thus would lack morally signficant freedom in creating
10. Thus God lacked morally significant freedom in creating

Aquinas denied premise 6, arguing that there is no single best world but instead a series of increasingly better worlds ad infinitum.  How could God choose among infinite worlds?  No matter what he chooses, there will always be a better world, and consequently some philosophers (such as William Rowe) have concluded that God is morally surpassable as creator. [2]  However, others have challenged the assumption that if a better world is possible, then a morally better creator is possible.[3]  Others argue that God isn't obligated to create the best possible world.

[1] Thomas Morris, The Concept of God (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 35.
[2] William Rowe, "The Problem of Divine Perfection and Freedom," in Eleonore Stump (ed.), Reasoned Faith (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).
[3] Daniel and Frances Howard-Snyder, "How an Unsurpassable Being Can Create a Surpassable World," in Faith and Philosophy  11:2, pp. 260-8.


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