First of a series of essays on the existence/
donated by Contributing
An alternative view of
Case for God in his book:
"Five Proofs of the Existence of God."
I have enjoyed a series of essays on the Patheos web site by Bradley Bowen. 1 They critically review two books that attempt to present multiple proofs of the existence of God:
- Edward Feser: "Five Proofs of the Existence of God," 2 and
- Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli: "Handbook of Christian Apologetics." 3
Bowen provides an analytical/logical rebuttal of the arguments presented in the two books in favor of God's existence. I confess that his arguments seriously taxed my little grey brain cells. I am more of a literal and rational thinker than a logical analyzer.
I ordered a copy of Feser’s book 2 and worked my way through the first proof, the Aristotelian argument. In this series of essays I will look at each of the chapters in this book and offer my opinion -- another take -- of the arguments that he presents.
My arguments may not be as scholarly as Mr. Bowen's. I am not a professional philosopher. I do hope they will help people take a serious look at these arguments and decide for themselves whether they:
- prove the existence of God,
- disprove the existence of God, or
- are invalid.
The first 14 parts of Feser's arguments, if they work, lead to the conclusion that there IS a purely Actual Actualizer (I will use AA to refer to this term).
As Mr. Bowen points out in his analysis, there are several problems with the first 14 parts of Feser’s argument:
The biggest problems, for me, are that:
- The conclusion doesn’t definitively lead to an AA who IS. It could also lead to an AA who WAS. Isn’t it possible that the AA is what went BANG in the Big Bang. That is, he gave his last full measure of devotion -- or in Feser’s terms, he fully actualized his potential -- in the act of creation -- by blowing himself up. Thus, he no longer exists.
- Feser's conclusion doesn’t necessarly lead to a God with the characteristics that most Theists want God to have. For example: the AA could be a purely mechanical device such as a dynamo -- one that produces enough energy to sustain itself, while having enough extra to spew out and sustain the Universe. Such a device would have no self-awareness, no will, and no intent.
The rest of the argument, at lines 15 to 47, try to counter these difficulties by proving that God still exists and by outlining the characteristics that an AA must possess.
- Lines 15-18 argue that there can only be one AA, not more than one.
- Lines 19-21 argue that the AA is incapable of change.
- Lines 22-23 argue that the AA lives outside of time and is thus eternal.
- Lines 24-25 argue that the AA is immaterial, because something material would be subject to change.
- Lines 26-27 argue that the AA is incorporeal, because if it were corporeal it would be material.
- Lines 28-29 argue that the AA is perfect.
- Lines 30-32 argue that the AA is fully good.
- Lines 33-35 argue that the AA is all powerful and that all power derives from it.
- Lines 36-37 argue that the AA is omnipotent.
- Lines 38-39 argue that the AA is the cause of all things.
- Lines 40-44 argue that the AA has intellect or intelligence.
- Lines 45-47 argue that the AA is omniscient.
- Lines 48-50 present the conclusion that God exists.
It seems to me that all the lines 15 to 50 hinge upon the IS or WAS of the AA in line 14 and on whether the characteristics of the AA are an actual possibility or not.
I think Feser’s argument boils down to this: Physics has left no room for God inside our material Universe. This leads most people to think that God must exist outside of the Universe, and thus outside of space, time, and matter, as an Infinite entity of some sort.
Something that exists inside our minds -- thoughts, abstract ideas such as numbers, emotions, even God -- are outside the material Universe and also outside space, time and matter. They are infinite in some ways because there are no limits to our imaginations. They have many of the characteristics Feser ascribes to his AA: incorporeal, immaterial, though not the characteristics that would equate them with a living entity separate unto itself and thus be Theism's God.
Feser argues from line 15 to 47 that in order for an entity to be infinite, it must have certain characteristics: all powerful, all knowing, all seeing. Being infinite doesn’t just refer to having no beginning and no end. It also refers to having no defining characteristics that would limit it in anyway.
I think that the characteristics, that Feser insists an infinite entity must have, are limiting characteristics. Since they interact with each other -- presenting logical impossibilities and thus limitations -- means that such a God doesn’t actually exist.
For example IF God is all knowing, omniscient, fully good, has intelligence, and is all powerful and perfect and he sees children being blown to bits, or the parents of children blown to bits in front of their children, or he sees children starving to death before their first birthday -- and does nothing -- then he isn’t perfect. A perfect God would be able to figure out how to accomplish what needs to be accomplished without having to harm innocents. An imperfect God on the other hand would have no qualms about harming innocents to get done what he wants done.
The problems with attempting to prove that God exists always come back around to the problem of Theodicy: why a good, omniscient, omnipotent God with all the characteristics that Theists ascribe to God would allow the existence of Evil in the world. Also, why He/She/It/They would allow bad things to happen to good people while allowing good things to happen to bad people. There does not seem to be any way to get around this problem, other than to accept the fact that the God that the Theist believes in, with the characteristics Feser ascribes to his AA, does not exist. The characteristics that Theists ascribe to God create the problem of Theodicy.
The logic of the argument may work, but I will leave it up to Mr. Bowen to address that. It looks from his first group of essays that the logic doesn’t work. The argument fails because it fails to account for the reality of life in this world. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. A perfect God that is all knowing, all seeing, intelligent, all powerful, etc. wouldn’t let this happen.
Theologians have traditionally countered this argument with the statement: God works in mysterious ways and it isn’t for us to question his motives. This is also sometimes worded as the greater good argument: There is a greater good that God has in mind we just can’t see it. I believe that neither counters the argument; they side step it. As I said, if the claim is that God is perfect, then a perfect God would find ways to accomplish his tasks without harming innocents.
I also argued in another essay on this website titled:
"A solution to the problem of Theodicy: earthly evil with a perfect God. The fallacy of perfection: the perfect Catch 22."
I attempt to show that one can’t exist and be perfect. To exist is to be imperfect, because one has to make choices. This is something I think that Buddhists and Hindus figured out so I can’t claim to be the first that realized this problem!
Another counter argument is that God is beyond human comprehension. If that is the case than anything a human says about God is nothing more than a figment of their imagination. If God is beyond our comprehension we can’t comprehend anything about him or her or it: Whether this entity is:
- One or many;
- Male, female, neither, or both;
- Their nature or characteristics;
- What they can or can’t do;
- What they want us to do or avoid doing.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Bradley Bowen, "Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 23: Five Remaining Arguments,"
Patheos, 2018-APR-27, at: http://www.patheos.com/
- Edward Feser, "Five Proofs of the Existence of God," Ignatius Press (2017). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com
online book store Available in the U.S.: in Kindle format for $11.78, and in Paperback for $14.22.
- Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, "Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions," Intervarsity Press, (1994). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Available in the U.S.: in Kindle format for $11.78, and in Paperback for $14.22.
- Michael Shermer, "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies -- How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths," Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Available in the U.S. Kindle format for $10.99, in Hardcover for $34.00 and Paperback for $22.56. (Different over designs).
Originally posted: 2018-MAY-08
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys