Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.
There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.
Please click on the link above or the cover to grab yourself a copy (UK link here). Ebook formats are to follow before Christmas (all formats: Onus Books, 2017).
I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes.
Not Seeing OmniGodTM through Philosophy and Logic
Jonathan MS Pearce, A Tippling Philosopher
I have long had an interest in the notion of God in classical theism and how his attributes intersect. Or don’t. I say “his”, but I mean “hers” or “its”. There’s another headache right there.
By “classical theism”, I mean the idea that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. God is OmniGodTM. I often give talks to various groups, one presentation of which is a set of arguments against the existence of God that I call “God on Trial”, where I present five arguments against OmniGod’s existence. One point that is sometimes raised is that this is a straw man conception of what God is. “My idea of God is very different to this version you are presenting; therefore you are wrong. I, too, admit that this idea of God is problematic!” Well, there are as many versions of God as there are believers, and theists of various stripes can always shift the goalposts. However, we have to start somewhere. I cannot present a case against God and take into account the several billion variations thereof. Instead, I pick the most prevalent understanding of God that has maintained through history, brought about by philosophical ruminations over time.
These ideas of omni- are popular and, some argue, necessary threads that weave their way through ideas of what God is. So I will settle for picking my philosophical fight against this understanding of this perfect God: all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. If you want to propose another version of God, we can have that fight another time. Which will be sometime after you have wrangled free of your label of “heretic.” Good luck with that.
Let’s start properly conceptual, and narrow it down from there. Start big, I always say.
Why Create at all?
Imagine God, causally “before” creating anything, existing in total perfection, for that is what God must be. There is, or was, nothing greater than God in human (or any other) conception. Interestingly, there can have been no deliberation about creating. There was no time, after all. God’s decisions were instantaneous. Necessary, even. God “chose” to create this world. Why? What reason could God have? In order to intend to do something, there must be some kind of desire (if we forget, for a while, that was no time in this process! Oh, it’s all so problematic!). A desire signifies a lacking. If you want something, you lack what it is that that something gives you. If you have a lacking, then, it can be argued, you are imperfect. A perfect being will have no needs, no desires. If God has perfect foreknowledge, then God would know all future counterfactuals (if this happened, then that would happen). God would know the future. Heck, God could feel or imagine or experience the future, without even having to create it. Essentially, God could be sitting back in his virtual armchair really and actually imagining and sensing the universe without really and actually creating it.
Alas, I am here, really and actually experiencing stubbing my toe, and wondering whether that experience was real or not. So I exist, whatever I am.
But God apparently did create, so God wanted something out of this process, something he must not have had, rendering his perfection rather problematic.