This has been brought up a number of times recently so I thought I would recycle some old posts on the topic.
I am reposting this article as it is good to get previous writing seen by a new audience:
So in a [not so-] recent post I was talking about how God, prior to creation (at least according to classical interpretations of God based on the Ontological Argument), had ontological perfection. That is to say, he was in a perfect state of being (since this is built into the definition of God). The argument followed that, in creating the world, God would be either lacking something and thus having a need, which is incoherent with ontological perfection, or he was downgrading his perfect state in the process of creating this world.
Now, this argument is all good and well, and it certainly assumes the classical understanding of God in being ontologically perfect in every way. However, this post is going to look at the idea that any such argument for or against God does not really get off the ground since it is contingent upon the idea of perfection being logically coherent as an intrinsic value and characteristic. This, I am afraid, is wrong. One cannot make this assumption because perfection, as a stand-alone conceptual characteristic to ascribe to anything, is nonsensical.
I can only understand perfect as a goal-directed adjective such that A is perfect for B, or this catapult is perfect for getting this stone over the wall in such and such a manner. Now, one could say that God is perfect at being God, but this implies an infinite regress or circularity. What does it really mean to say that God is perfect? Is he perfect at getting a stone over the wall? Perfect at being loving, merciful and just; at being prefect, designing and moral?
Even establishing what a prefect painting is, is an entirely subjective process, depending upon personal tastes. And this applies to all sorts of things such that perfection becomes either subjective or incoherent. Being perfectly powerful and knowledgeable are admittedly simpler proficiencies to hold, conceptually.
The other problem is that perfection of a being involves multiple aspects such that, as the classic problem goes, God cannot be perfectly just AND perfectly merciful since to be perfectly just assumes punishing justly for a misdemeanour, and to be perfectly merciful assumes some kind of leniency.
With all of these characteristics which conflict, the theist retreats to maximal perfection, a sort of optimal scenario given all of the nuances and variables. But this becomes arbitrary and subjective. One more ounce of mercy and one less ounce of justice might be perfect for a God wanting to achieve A, but vice versa might be better for wanting to achieve B.
Therefore, we need to establish, without circularity or incoherence, what God is to be perfect FOR, before establishing whether God is or can be perfect. To have a timeless God sitting there and label it as perfect is, to me, meaningless (as a stand-alone descriptor).
Therefore, and given the subjective nature of appraisals of perfection, I see any argument using the term perfection as incoherent.
Please grab a copy of my reasonably priced ebook concerning lots of arguments about God’s characteristics [UK]:
Stay in touch! Like A Tippling Philosopher on Facebook: