What God Cannot Do – Part 3

In Chapter 6 of Our Idea of God (1991), Thomas Morris provides a brief but helpful explanation of different types of necessity in relation to divine attributes.
Morris explains three different types or levels of necessity.

Let’s use claims about the divine attribute of omnipotence as examples of the three types of necessity. I think this might help with further discussion about the paradox of the stone and the divine attribute of omnipotence.

de dicto necessity
(1) Necessarily, God is omnipotent.

This means that nothing gets to count as being ‘God’ unless it is omnipotent, just as nothing gets to count as being a ‘bachelor’ unless it is unmarried. Having the property of omnipotence is a necessary condition or conceptual requirement for something to be (correctly) called ‘God’, just as having the property of being unmarried is a necessary condition or conceptual requirement for something to be (correctly) called a ‘bachelor’ . Something is ‘God’ only if it is omnipotent, just as something is a ‘bachelor’ only if it is unmarried.

de re necessity
(2) God is necessarily omnipotent.

This means that the being who in fact is God is not only omnipotent, but has omnipotence as an essential property, just as the being who in fact is Bradley Bowen is not only a person, but has personhood as an essential property. If the being referred to by the name ‘God’ ceases to be omnipotent, that being will cease to exist, just as if the being referred to by the name ‘Bradley Bowen’ ceases to be a person, then that being will cease to exist.

Note that with de re necessity, the possession of the essential property need not be logically implied the key word or phrase used in the statement. Thus, we could replace the word ‘God’, which might logically imply omnipotence, with another expression which did not have this implication, and still have a (potentially) true claim:

(3) The creator of the universe is necessarily omnipotent.

If (2) were true, then presumably (3) would also be true, even though the expression ‘the creator of the universe’ does not logically imply omnipotence. What matters is not the logical implications of the name or concept, but the nature of the thing to which the name or concept refers.

Because de re necessity concerns essential properties, the following is another way of asserting this type of necessity:

(4) Omnipotence is an essential property of the being who is God.

Similarly, personhood is an essential property of the being who is writing this blog post. If I cease to be a person, I will cease to exist. If God ceases to be omnipotent, he will cease to exist, according to claims (2) and (4).

Most theologians agree with (1), and many agree with (2). But many theologians want to make an even stronger claim:

(5) Necessarily, God is essentially omnipotent.

This claim involves a combination of de dicto and de re necessity. It means that nothing gets to count as being ‘God’ unless it is essentially omnipotent. Having the property of omnipotence as an essential property is a necessary condition or conceptual requirement for something to be (correctly) called ‘God’.

To be continued…

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00176754512128249839 Nathaniel

    The thing is, omnipotence has been rejected as plausible due to the paradoxes that result. The newest term is "maximally great". That is, to say that anything which could be called God would have the power to do any action which is possible to perform. I see this as just another logic trick, pushing god into a place where logic cannot reach him doesn't make the argument for his existence any more convincing.

    If god must obey logic, IE: he cannot do the impossible, then god is subservient to logic. If that were the case, then god is not the supreme power in the universe, logic is. Then again, you might get theists who then claim "god is logic; so obviously believing in god is logical."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Nathaniel said…

    If god must obey logic, IE: he cannot do the impossible, then god is subservient to logic. If that were the case, then god is not the supreme power in the universe, logic is.
    ===============
    Response:
    It seems to me that you are beguiled by a metaphor.

    Clearly any true statement about what God has done, will do, or can do, must be logical. True statements cannot be self-contradictions.

    God cannot produce or discover a married bachelor or a four-sided triangle. If you wish, you can describe this fact by the words "God must obey logic", but that is a metaphorical way of speaking, not a literal truth.

    In any case, not being able to produce or discover a married bachelor does not indicate any sort of weakness or disability.

    What this means is that the sentence "So-and-so produced a married bachelor" is incoherent. This sentence does not make sense, because it contains a self-contradiction.

    If so-and-so produced a married person, then so-and-so produced a non-bachelor, and if so-and-so produced a bachelor, then so-and-so produced a non-married person.

    It doesn't matter who the so-and-so is, the sentence in question will always be nonsense:

    'Tom produced a married bachelor'

    'Susan produced a married bachelor'

    'Obama produced a married bachelor'

    'Jesus produced a married bachelor'

    'God produced a married bachelor'

    So, the obviously true statement that 'God cannot produce a married bachelor' is just a specific implication of the more general fact that any statement of the form
    'X produced a married bachelor' is self-contradictory and thus nonsense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14034272529558335381 Vice SC

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