An essay donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
The Problem With God's Perfection
Author Bradley Bowen has written an interesting series of articles on the Patheos website. As of late 2018-MAR, 17 essays are available. They can be found at http://www.patheos.com/ or, you can use the search tab on that web site to look for his name.
In these essays, Mr. Bowen presents a logical analysis of the proofs for the existence of God as presented in two well-known books:
- Edward Feser, “Five Proofs of the Existence of God,” 1 and
- Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, “Handbook of Christian Apologetics.” 2
As I followed his series of essays and read both books, I wrote three essays on this web site that took a different look at the arguments that he presented:
I am not proficient at logical analysis and I confess that Mr. Bowen’s writing stretched my little gray cells to their limits. I am more of a verbal person. As I reached the end of the 17th essay and the end of the arguments in both books I confirmed in my mind an idea I had first developed in 2012 and presented in a three part essay. The third part of the essay addressed what I called “The fallacy of perfection: the perfect ‘Catch 22.’”
Kreeft and Feser build their essays around one basic premise: that God is a Perfect Being. In doing so, think that both authors created the perfect Catch 22 for themselves and for God. Their arguments have fully proven that a Perfect Being can’t exist!
Saint Anselm developed the argument from perfection. Basically, in a nutshell, he argues that if you can imagine something that is perfect there must be something more perfect than what you can imagine. That something is the absolute model of perfection (otherwise you wouldn’t be able to imagine something that is perfect) -- and that something is God.
I can imagine that a Perfect God would have no favorites. She/he/it/they would love everyone equally: those with a homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual sexual orientation; transgender and cisgender folk, people of many faith traditions, and people of no faith (including Atheists like me). I can imagine that a Perfect God wouldn’t care if he/she/it/they were worshiped and definitely how that worship occurred. A Perfect God wouldn’t care about outer signs (what you wear or don’t wear, whether you shave or allow your hair to grow). God would only care about what is in your heart. All of what I imagine about a Perfect God is in opposition to many religious claims and exposes serious contradictions between religious claims and the claims that God is a Perfect Being.
In the spirit of Bowen's logical arguments I have created the following logical argument to prove that a Perfect Being can’t exist:
I will start with some basic definitions to clarify what I mean by certain words.
- A Catch 22 is a conflict that in order for A to happen then B would also have to happen BUT if B happens than A cannot happen, because B contradicts A.
- Perfect means that something or some Being is free from all flaws, defects, contradictions, inconsistencies, errors and mistakes;
- the quality or condition or abilities of this thing or Being cannot be improved in any way;
- a Perfect Being is master of, in perfect control of his/her emotions, will and ego; and
- There may be others that are equal but none that are greater in any and every possible way. By possible way, I mean every way that you can imagine that is a rational and real possibility and not something that can exist only in human imagination.
- Existence means to have a reality and independence, not being a figment of human imagination, and of being active in -- or capable of acting -- in this world.
- Being means an entity of some sort that exists. A Being with a capital B is here used as a noun not as a verb.
- To be a Perfect Being, such a Being must be perfect in every possible way.
- IF a Being is imperfect in any way then such a Being is not a Perfect Being; he/she/it/they would be an imperfect Being.
- IF God would be perfectly good, perfectly knowing (omniscient, knows all, sees all), perfectly wise; with perfect intelligence, and perfect Will, all powerful -- perfect in power, there is nothing that God can’t do.
In order to be a Perfect Being, God would also have to be perfect in every other way. For example:, perfect in the art of deception, perfect in the art of the lie, perfect in the art of conning others, perfect in the art of EVIL.
How can a perfectly good God also be a perfectly EVIL God? That is a logical impossibility, a perfect Catch 22: in order for God to be the one and only Perfect Being then God would have to be A: (perfectly good) and he would also have to be B: (perfectly Evil) But how can God be B and still be A? That is a self-contradiction.
Therefore, we can conclude God is not, and cannot be, a perfect Being!
Someone might try to argue that a perfect God can choose not to lie, or cheat, or con, or to be Evil, BUT Evil and all those other things, if not expressed, shows that God is not perfect in those areas and is an imperfect Being. Suppression of evil would be seen as a flaw, a defect. Suppression of evil might be an improvement of good, BUT it would not be an improvement of evil.
Some might try to argue that Evil is a defect, a flaw an imperfection of someone’s character. That only works if you see perfection as linear and leading in only one positive direction. My definition of perfection doesn't lead in only a single, positive direction.
Evil is the opposite of good, with perfect Evil on one end of a continuum and perfect Good on the other end. AND if you consider Anselm’s argument for the perfection of God, we must have a model of perfect Good in order to know what is good. There must also be a model of perfect Evil in order to know what is Evil.
One final argument that someone might use is that we don’t need a model of Evil to know what is Evil, Evil is just an absence of Good. That is right, Evil is the absence of Good it is at the extreme end of a continuum. To use a mathematical comparison:
This dualistic viewpoint isn’t something I figured out. It has been a prominent feature of many religions over the centuries.
- A continuum can go from 0 to infinity in positive numbers with good and God at one extreme end.
- In the opposite direction, it can go from 0 to infinity in negative numbers with Evil and the Devil at that extreme end.
- Here, zero is the midpoint, neither good nor bad; in moral terms, it is a mixture or balance of both. Zero isn’t the absence of Good. The negative numbers are the absence of good culminating in perfect Evil at the extreme end.
IF God is capable of intervening in the affairs of men, and if he sees children starving to death or being blown to bits in the wars of the Middle East and fails to do something, that would mean that he is an imperfect Being. The least he could do is shout “stop this madness, enough is enough”! His/her/it's/their silence is a flaw, a defect, an imperfection of character. Voicing disapproval is NOT interfering with human free will since they are still free to ignore his words.
A perfect Being is one that is in full control, master of his/her/it's/their emotions, will, and ego. BUT how can a loving, compassionate God who knows all and sees all not be moved by the plight of starving children? IF such a Being is unmoved, his/her indifference is a flaw in his/her/its/their character. If a human was unmoved, and showed no emotion at the site of starving children or of children being blown to bits in war we would say that there is something wrong with him/her.
Because of this contradiction I think Buddhists and Hindus realized that it is necessary to annihilate, and completely eliminate all emotions, one's will and one's ego. Nirvana the state of perfection that they strive for is a state of non-existence, as far as being active in this world is concerned.
When you consider all these points there is only one conclusion that can be reached: a Perfect Being cannot exist.
- Edward Feser, "Five Proofs of the Existence of God,"
Ignatius Press (2017). Available in Paperback and Kindle formats. Read reviews or order this book safely from the Amazon.com online book store
- Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, "Handbook of Christian Apologetics."
Available in Paperback, Hardcover, and Kindle formats. Read reviews or order this book safely from the Amazon.com online book store
Original posting: 2018-MAR-21
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys.