Thursday, August 11, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Update on Alvin Plantinga

At this point, the conversation was dying down, and we had abandoned our agreement to keep unrelated stuff separate from conversation stuff. For that reason, I’m just going to cut out half of the following email.


I'm writing my research paper on Alvin Plantinga's solution to the deductive problem of evil. While studying it, I've come to the realization that I grossly oversimplified it when I explained it to you. In fact, I may have even misrepresented it. There's part of it I'm having a hard time understanding. You see, Plantinga (as well as most theists) understand omnipotence as the ability to do anything logically possible. So God could not, for example, create a four-sided triangle or a rock to heavy for an all powerful God to lift, because those entail contradictions and are not logically possible. But since they aren't logically possible, God's inability to do them doesn't diminish his omnipotence. God can do anything that power can do, because he is all powerful, and his inability to engage in logical absurdities has nothing to do with a lack of power. Anyway, one would think that if God can do all things logically possible, then God could actualize any possible world. But Plantinga argues that there are some possible worlds God can't actualize, because it would entail some kind of contradiction. At this point, I don't really understand that part. There's one part of it I understand. He says if there are possible worlds in which God does not exist, then God could not actualize those worlds, since it's impossible for God to both exist and not exist. But that isn't good enough for his argument. He needs to argue that there are possible worlds in which God exists that God could not actualize, and that's the part I don't understand. It goes into counterfactual propositions that describe possible worlds, and shows, using these counterfactuals, that there are some possible worlds it would be impossible for God to create. The nature of the counterfactuals makes it impossible. I'm just having a hard time following the argument. I think I may have to fudge through this part in my paper.

Your ole buddy,

Clarification on Plantinga's argument


At 8/12/2005 4:37 AM , Blogger Steve said...


Im no philosopher, but it seems to me you've got a problem of semantics rather than logic.

An all-powerful God should be able to do anything, including create a boulder so heavy an all powerful god couldn't lift it.

I think that at this point we need to enter in the arguments that detail our inability to describe God and his nature. The contradictions involving an "all powerful God" result from the semantical problems created by human terminology and conceptualizations.

It is not unreasonable to assume God transcends all these descriptions and would render such contradictions irrelevant (as you pointed out).

Moreover, we assume God is conscious in the same way humanity is, perceiving the world in such basic three dimensional terms. It is quite possible that, should God exist, his consciousness doesn't resemble the thought process we would recognize and therefore his efforts could not be understood in the ways we need him to in order follow his own will.

Perhaps he is existence itself and therefore its impossible for him to step outside himself to create worlds and things that are beyond his own existence.

These contradictions, then, may be the result of our own limited conceptualizations of God!

At 8/12/2005 5:15 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I suppose one could understand "all powerful" in one of two ways. Either it means God can do anything possible, or it means God can even do things that are not possible. "Possible" is taken in the broadly logical sense, so contradictions are not possible.

Christians usually take "all powerful" to mean simply that God can do all things logically possible. That does not include his ability to do the logically impossible (such as creating objects too heavy for an all-powerful God to lift or existing and not existing at the same time and in the same sense).

Now you may argue that that isn't what "all powerful" means. If it really does boil down to semantics, and your definition of "all powerful" is correct, then Christians would simply have to use different terminology to describe God besides "all powerful" but it wouldn't change the fact that Christians take God to be able to do all things logically possible.

But let's suppose the Christian idea of God being all-powerful really does mean what you say it means--God can even do the logically impossible. If God has that kind of ability, then God is not limited at all by logic. If God is not limited by logic, then the problem of evil is no problem at all, because, as we have stipulated, God can engage in logical impossibilities, including the ability to be all good even if he happens to be evil. And if we insist that God is not evil, that poses no problem either, since God able to not be evil even if he is evil. If we say that God is all-powerful in the sense that you say it must mean, then no argument against God can be made, because nothing that contradicts his attributes or existence can count against his attributes or existence. God can exist and not exist. He can be all powerful and not all powerful. He can be all good and not all good. He can be all knowing and not all knowing. If the idea of being all-powerful creates contradictions, then so much the worse for logic!

At 8/12/2005 5:30 PM , Blogger Steve said...

I see your points Sam.

I definitely agree with your latter point, that God transcends these contradictions if we assume "all powerful" includes logical impossibilities.

God SHOULD be able to be evil as well as good. God SHOULD be able to do things which contradict his own existence.

That is, of course, if we assume he has the power to do anyhing and nothing is greater than he.

Christians who object to logical impossibilities do so because those impossibilities are created by the superlatives "any" "most" "nothing greater."

But we shouldn't fear these attributes if God is "real"!

As Kant pointed out in "The Critic of Pure Reason,"The mere word reality, which in the concept of a thing sounds different from existence in the concept of the predicate, can make no difference. For if you call all accepting or positing (without determining what it is) reality, you have placed a thing, with all its predicates, within the concept of the subject, and accepted it as real, and you do nothing but repeat it in the predicate. If, on the contrary, you admit, as every sensible man must do, that every proposition involving existence is sythetical, how can you say that the predicate of existence does not admit the removal without contradiction, a distinguishing property which is peculiar to analytical propositions only, the very chracter of which depnds on it?"

At 8/12/2005 10:20 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I don't know what the context is of that quote, but it sounds like Kant is critiquing the ontological argument.

At 8/13/2005 3:29 AM , Blogger Steve said...

yup! He talks a lot about whether or Not god exists or is real.

But my interest mainly dealt with the notion that within a particular concept includes the objects and attributes we conceive them to have, because they necessarily have them synthetically.

At 8/13/2005 3:38 AM , Blogger Steve said...

I realize I probably have butchered most of the last 3000 years of Philosophy.

But i see one other possible analysis of the word "all powerful" that is worth considering.

IF one assumes that "all powerful" includes those logically impossible activities, such as creating a four sided triangle, then can we not argue that an "all powerful" anything is logically impossible?

And if we mean to say 'all logically possible power' then we again have that issue of semantics I pointed out. 'all powerful' has to mean, in my opinion, capable of doing anything. If we want to add in "anything logically possible" then we can... but it shouldn't be assumed!

At 8/13/2005 5:11 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

IF one assumes that "all powerful" includes those logically impossible activities, such as creating a four sided triangle, then can we not argue that an "all powerful" anything is logically impossible?

This same thing occured to me earlier today. Yes, I think I agree with you.

At 9/26/2005 1:05 PM , Blogger Kelly said...

Hello, I was pointed to this conversation from another blog. I hope you don't mind the intrusion and I'm not too late to interject.

It seems clear from Scripture that God cannot do certain things. He cannot sin. He cannot be unjust. He cannot be unfaithful. He cannot be un-infinite. A study of the text would produce quite a list of things that God cannot do, including, interestingly, that He cannot be un-logical.

The fact that He cannot sin, is perfectly just, and is completely faithful flow from His attributes (as described in the Bible). In the same way, logic is an attribute of God. It is not over Him, telling Him what to do. It is not under Him as something He could have prescribed otherwise (e.g. He could have arbitrarily decided to make it possible to have a square circle). Logic is part of His nature and character and it limits Him to certain actions, the same as His holiness, mercy, and justice limit Him. I don't think that this negates His omnipotence, though. It simply limits it in accordance with His other attributes.

God could not use His power to do something unjust or sinful. Neither can He use His power to do something illogical. You could summarize is something like this: "God is infinite in all His attributes and in accordance with the sum of all those attributes."


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