What God Cannot Do – Part 5

Could God be a hero? I don’t think so. Based on recent discussion of this question, I can formulate an argument for the claim that God is not capable of being a hero:

1. Only a being who can suffer or be harmed can be a hero.
2. A person who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, and eternally perfectly free is not capable of suffering or of being harmed.
3. Something is God if and only if it is a person who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, and eternally perfectly free.
Therefore,
4. God is not capable of being a hero.

A person must at least be at risk to perform an act of heroism. A person who is not capable of suffering or of being harmed cannot be at risk to perform an act, so such a person cannot perform an act of heroism or be a hero.

A person who is eternally perfectly free, as Richard Swinburne understands this concept, must always make choices that are uninfluenced by emotions and desires. A being can suffer only if a being can be influenced by emotions or desires. So, if Swinburne is correct, a person who is eternally perfectly free is not capable of suffering.

A person who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, and eternally perfectly free cannot in fact lose its omnipotence, omniscience, or perfect freedom; otherwise it would possess those properties only temporarily, not eternally. A being who possesses the properties of omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect freedom, and who cannot in fact lose any of those properties, cannot be harmed.

Premise (3) states Swinburne’s analysis of the word ‘God’, at least the three core divine attributes. Swinburne argues that the other divine attributes are logically implied by those three attributes. The only thing I have left out is the property of being a ‘necessary being’. This condition introduces ambiguity and complexity into the analysis of the word ‘God’, which is why Swinburne leaves that condition out of consideration in section II of his book The Coherence of Theism. I don’t think that added condition has relevance for the question at issue here.

Since God cannot suffer or be harmed, God cannot put himself at risk, and thus God is not capable of being a hero.

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07559081710058635050 Pulse

    Bradley Bowen said:
    1. Only a being who can suffer or be harmed can be a hero.

    I'm still unconvinced by this premise. After looking up half a dozen definitions for 'hero', I find that they all mention qualities along the lines of admiration, nobility, and great exploits. While most of them also mention courage (and at least one specifically mentions risk and sacrifice), this attribute is always listed as only one of many possible qualities of a hero. Rather, the primary quality of a hero is that they are noted or admired. Nowhere can I find that suffering or harm or even the risk of suffering or harm is a necessary condition for being a hero despite how common the trait seems to be. Am I wrong?

    Bradley Bowen said:
    A person who is eternally perfectly free, as Richard Swinburne understands this concept, must always make choices that are uninfluenced by emotions and desires.

    In a separate post you also said, "Perfect freedom means that God's decisions are purely 'rational'…"

    Now I may just be nitpicking Swinburne here, but to me purely 'rational' is the same as purely deterministic, meaning anything but perfectly free. If God truly is uninfluenced by emotions and desires, then is he really capable of making a decision? Or is his thought process predetermined like a computer?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12132821431322748921 LadyAtheist

    *the* God of the Judeo-Christian tradition can indeed be hurt despite PR to the contrary. His feelings are hurt if we don't worship him, and he weeps over frozen embryos that get used for medical research.

    He can also get ticked off, and that's a sign of weakness.

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

    Pulse said…

    I'm still unconvinced by this premise. After looking up half a dozen definitions for 'hero', I find that they all mention qualities along the lines of admiration, nobility, and great exploits. While most of them also mention courage (and at least one specifically mentions risk and sacrifice), this attribute is always listed as only one of many possible qualities of a hero. Rather, the primary quality of a hero is that they are noted or admired. Nowhere can I find that suffering or harm or even the risk of suffering or harm is a necessary condition for being a hero despite how common the trait seems to be.
    ==================
    Response:
    Let's look at definitions and synonyms from Dictionary.com:

    her·o·ism
    1. the qualities or attributes of a hero or heroine: He showed great heroism in battle.
    2. heroic conduct; courageous action: Pat's returning into the burning building was true heroism.
    —Synonyms
    1. intrepidity, valor, prowess, gallantry, bravery, courage, daring, fortitude.
    —Antonyms
    1. cowardice, timidity.
    ====================
    he·ro
    1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
    2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
    ===========
    Consider each of the example sentences.

    'He showed great heroism in battle.'

    Heroism is associated with battle, because there are frequent opportunities for risk of suffering or harm in battle. One can risk suffering or harm in battle either to advance the cause of one's nation/people, or one can risk suffering or harm in battle to rescue a fellow soldier.

    'Pat's returning into the burning building was true heroism.'

    Going into a burning building is an opportunity for heroism because there is risk of suffering and harm from doing so, and one can go into a burning building in order to assist a person or an animal or to to retrieve a highly-valued object.

    'He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.'

    In some specific cases, the risk here might be relatively minor. If one is a good swimmer, if the water temperature is moderate, and if there are no dangerous currents, and no dangerous creatures in the water, and if the drowning child was small or calm, then there would be little danger to the rescuer.

    But saving a drowning child is considered heroic, because one or more of the above risk-conditions are frequently involved in such events. If saving a drowning child never involved such risks, this act would not be considered heroic.

    Note that most of the synonyms support my view: bravery, courage, daring, fortitude.

    How can one show bravery or courage or daring or fortitude by an action that does not involve some risk of suffering or harm to oneself?

    'heroism' is defined as 'courageous action'.

    Can you provide examples of courageous actions where there was no risk of suffering or harm to the person performing the action (and where the person performing the action was fully aware that there was no risk of suffering or harm in performing the action)?

    It seems to me that courage and bravery require actions that involve risk of suffering or harm to the person performing the actions. If heroism requires acts of bravery or courage, then heroism requires an action that involves risk of suffering or harm to the person performing the action.

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

    LadyAtheist said…
    *the* God of the Judeo-Christian tradition can indeed be hurt despite PR to the contrary. His feelings are hurt if we don't worship him, and he weeps over frozen embryos that get used for medical research.

    He can also get ticked off, and that's a sign of weakness.
    =============
    Response:
    There is a diversity of views and beliefs about God among the billion or so people who belong to the Judeo-Christian traditions.

    Among the many Christian believers there are some who think of God as a big old man in the sky.

    But among more thoughtful and sophisticated Christians, the idea that God is a spirit, a person who has no body, is a central part of how God is conceived. Obviously, a person without a body cannot literally weep tears, or yell loudly, or pound his fists on a table, or feel the blood rush to his face, etc.

    So, any biblical stories that portray God as a person who weeps or yells or pounds his fists, must be interpreted, by more thoughtful believers, in a non-literal manner.

    This in turn requires that talk about God being happy, sad, or angry also be viewed as in need of qualification and careful interpretation.

    There are other divine attributes that are central to the concept of God that don't fit well with the idea of God becoming angry, sad, happy, etc.

    For one thing, being omniscient means that God is aware of billions of events in the lives of billions of people all at the same time. Some of those events are very good (joyful), others are very tragic (sorrowful), and yet others involve great injustice (invoking righteous anger). God does not get just a few bits of information about a few events in a given hour. If there is a God, he/she is flooded with information about billions of events in the lives of billions of people each hour.

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

    Pulse said…

    Now I may just be nitpicking Swinburne here, but to me purely 'rational' is the same as purely deterministic, meaning anything but perfectly free. If God truly is uninfluenced by emotions and desires, then is he really capable of making a decision? Or is his thought process predetermined like a computer?
    ===============
    Response:
    For Swinburne, there are four main kinds of beings: inanimate beings and three kinds of animate beings.
    The three kinds of animate beings are distinguished in large part in terms of levels of freedom: (1) without free will (most animals), (2) with limited free will (humans), (3) with unlimited freedom (divine beings).
    (The Existence of God, 2nd edition, p.117-120)

    Humans have limited free will because we have desires and emotions that influence our choices, but that do not fully determine our choices.

    A divine being makes choices that are uninfluenced by desires or emotions, thus the choices of such beings are made purely on the basis of rational considerations. They always do what they believe to be the best thing to do all things considered (when there is a best thing to do). This contrasts with human beings whose emotions or desires can lead them to act contrary to their own best judgement.

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

    Comment:
    God is incapable of being a hero, because God cannot be brave or courageous.

    Courage or Fortitude is one of the four cardinal virtues.

    I believe that there are other virtues besides courage that God, as conceived of by Swinburne, cannot possess.

    Some other candidates for such virtues are abstinence, patience, generosity, honesty and diligence.

    I have already started making the case that God is incapable of possessing the virtue of generosity, so that will probably be the subject of my next post in this series.

    If I am correct, this does not show that God is evil, but it does show that God is an odd duck, that God is more than a little bit strange and very unlike a human person, if there is such a being as God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Bradley Bowen wrote: "A divine being makes choices that are uninfluenced by desires or emotions." Why make a choice if you have no desire?

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

    tmdrange said…

    Bradley Bowen wrote: "A divine being makes choices that are uninfluenced by desires or emotions." Why make a choice if you have no desire?

    =============
    Response:
    I don't necessarily agree with Swinburne's assumptions about free will and what is involved in the making of decisions.

    Swinburne appears to have a Kantian view of reason vs. emotions & desires.

    I also find this somewhat perplexing and implausible.

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

    Before I toss Swinburne under the buss, let me attempt to explain his view of God's motivations.

    If there were a best of all possible worlds, and if God could bring about such a world, then God would do so, because God always does what is best to do, when there is a unique best option among various alternatives.

    Swinburne argues that there is no best of all possible worlds, so God cannot bring about such a world. However, when there is no best particular option, God will always choose one option that is among the best kind, if there is a unique best kind available.

    Swinburne believes that we can imagine different kinds of worlds and different kinds of beings that God could create, and we can make sound judgements about which different kinds of worlds and beings would be best for God to bring about.

    Some things and situations are objectively better than other alternatives (in Swinburne's view), and an omniscient person will know which things are better or best, and a perfectly free person will always choose to do what is best.

    Here is an example of how Swinburne thinks about God's decisions:

    "Plausibly, it is better for God to bring about the existence of something beyond himself than to do any action of a kind incompatible therewith (that is, to refrain from bringing about anything). So the kind of action of causing the existence of something else is a best kind. God must bring about the existence of other things." (The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p. 117)

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

    I suppose someone who is in general agreement with Swinburne could say, 'God desires to do what is best'. So, perhaps God does have some desires on Swinburne's view.

    But then things get a bit more complicated. This suggests that some desires are 'good' or 'rational' and others are 'bad' or 'irrational'.

    What makes one desire rational and another irrational? Are some desires used as the basis for making this judgement? If so, then how can we validate the desires that are used as the basis for evaluating other desires?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00368601729438327258 Lincoln

    God can be hurt. In fact Christianity is based off the fact that God can not only be hurt, but he can die.
    Jesus, who is God, sacrificed himself for us. This is an act of heroism.

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

    Lincoln said…

    God can be hurt. In fact Christianity is based off the fact that God can not only be hurt, but he can die.
    Jesus, who is God, sacrificed himself for us. This is an act of heroism.
    =========
    Response:

    Let's set aside, for just a moment, the question about whether God can be harmed. Instead, lets think about whether a 'divine being' can be harmed.

    By 'divine being' I mean, any being who is eternally omnipotent and eternally omniscient, and eternally perfectly free (as Swinburne understands this concept).

    Was Jesus eternally omniscient? For example, when Jesus was two years old, did he know calculus, the speed of light, the causes and cures for cancer, the age of the soloar system, the 197th digit of pi, and did he know how to speak all existing languages?

    Was Jesus eternally omnipotent? When Jesus was two years old, could he have made the milky way galaxy turn into an apple?

    Was Jesus eternally perfectly free (i.e. was he completely uninfluenced by any desires or emotions)? For example, as a result of the sensations he experienced from having a large nail pounded through one wrist, would Jesus have had absolutely NO inclination or tendency whatsoever to avoid having another large nail pounded through his other wrist?

    According to Swinburne, any being that is omnipotent and omniscient must be a spririt, i.e. a bodiless person. Was Jesus a bodiless person? How can a bodiless person die?

    Also, if an omnipotent person dies, how can that person still be omnipotent while he/she is dead?

    If Jesus was not eternally omniscient, then he was not a divine being. If Jesus was not eternally omnipotent, then he was not a divine being. If Jesus was not eternally perfectly free, then he was not a divine being. If Jesus was not a bodiless person, then he was not a divine being.

    So, if we assume that Jesus was not a bodiless person, and was not eternally omniscient, then the fact that Jesus could be harmed does NOT show that a divine being can be harmed.

    Furthermore, if something can be God only if it is a divine being, then you are wrong in asserting that Jesus is God, since it appears that Jesus was not a divine being.

    Or do you think that God is less than eternally omnipotent? and less than eternally omniscient? and less than eternally perfectly free? Do you think that God is not a spirit?