Alternative concepts of God

On this blog I mainly talk about classical/traditional theism. Classical/traditional theism, at bottom, claims that there exists a Being who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. More specifically this Being is all-loving, personal, timeless, spaceless, uncaused, immaterial, immutable, etc. This position is also known as “Anselmian theism”, “Perfect Being Theism”, or “Theism”.

Saint Anselm held that God is “that which none greater can be thought”. However the problem with this suggestion is that without further argument, we haven’t yet arrived at a personal Being. Perhaps a non-personal Being is greater than a personal Being. In addition, Anselm held that such a Being would be worthy of worship, but the problem is that perhaps it’s logically impossible for any being to be worthy of worship. To be sure, I would personally be interested if an all-powerful and all-good Being existed (i.e. God); God existing would surely matter more than whether the number ‘2’ exists-assuming that latter matters at all!

It’s plausible that an all-good Being would have to be all-loving, and it’s also plausible that it would be in our interest to have a relationship with that Being. But again, that would not mean we should worship God. Even if it were logically possible for a being to be worthy of worship, that doesn’t mean that God would want us to worship her.

Alternative Concepts

But you might also think that it’s not possible for a being to be all-powerful or all-good. You might think of God or god as just very powerful or very good (i.e. quasi-perfect being theism). This might not be a completely dishonest position to take. Perhaps, for example, someone sees all the evil in the world and concludes that there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good. Then again, it stills seems that a very powerful and very good being wouldn’t allow the insane amount of horrific suffering in the world. On top of that, you then have the problem of asking what the a priori probability is of such a being existing. The reference class you will be looking at is ‘limited deities’, which is huge! (i.e. there are lots of limited deities that we can think of). So prior to looking at the data in the world, the probability that any limited deity exists is so small that it’s silly (just think of the likelihood of Zeus existing). Problems only get worse when you get to polytheism. But polytheism can at least explain evil and nonbelief better than classical theism and quasi-perfect being theism.

There’s also the option of pantheism. I’m sympathetic to Dawkins claim that pantheism is just “sexed-up” atheism. Calling the universe God seems like a semantic trick because maybe it is just that-a semantic trick. Not to mention, it’s not what most people mean when they use the term ‘God’. If you ask me, calling the universe God is worse than labeling bananas as vegetables. Therefore, pantheism is a bad definition of the term ‘God’; it’s not useful. Also, we are left with the problem of why we should care if the universe is God or a god. Panentheism doesn’t fare much better, especially when compared with classical theism. Panentheism still has to explain all the horrible crap that happens in the world, and also has to explain all the new conceptual difficulties that arise when we think of God as both in the world and outside of the world.

Thirdly, certain forms of deism explain the data in the world better than classical theism. If we construe deism (or other forms of theism) as strictly non-interventionist, that raises obvious problems. What distinguishes non-interventionist from non-existent? Pragmatically speaking, there is no difference; the null hypothesis is that there is no difference. We dismiss such hypotheses at first glance and rightfully so. If I were to say something like, “I can fly when nobody is looking” that is an unfalsifiable hypothesis like non-interventionist gods. I could also make ad hoc excuses when you bring up the fact that cameras could record me when nobody is looking. If you don’t affect reality, then that’s probably because you never existed.

Conclusion

What Christian apologists like Craig and Swinburne haven’t done is run a probabilistic comparison between classical theism and other forms of theism. They have not argued that the probability of classical theism is greater than the probability of all the various alternative theisms (individually or collectively). If an apologist wants to establish that classical theism is probably true, they have a lot of work to do [1].

Notes

[1] Things only get much worse when one wants to argue for Christian theism. For one, we run into problems of having historical knowledge. Apologists will admit that the supposed good evidence for Jesus having been resurrected isn’t enough to warrant someone to claim that they know Jesus rose from the dead. Moreover, many of them will also admit that the evidence isn’t good enough for outright belief. Secondly, apologists have also never compared the probability of Christian theism being true against the probability of other specific versions of theism being true….that aren’t under the category of ‘classical theism’; if they have done this, it’s rare (and certainly not very extensive).
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11 thoughts on “Alternative concepts of God

      1. In a naturally self-complicating universe, which ours is, there is also no “problem of good” for it can be shown that good only spawns greater and more talented evil/suffering.

      2. Philosophy of Religion blog (Does God Exist?)

        We could also apply skeptical theism to arguments against evil god. Lol. Skeptical misotheism

  1. “However the problem with this suggestion is that without further argument, we haven’t yet arrived at a personal Being. Perhaps a non-personal Being is greater than a personal Being.”

    What sort of attributes would a non-personal Being possess?

      1. I’m not sure how changing the word to ‘entity’ invalidates the question. The arguments for classical theology are not mere assertions. You need to clarify the details of your ‘alternative concepts’ of Anselm’s being “that none greater can be thought”.

  2. Same old ridiculous arguments. Same old crap spewed out…
    I don’t resent your arguments because I am a Theist. I resent and reject your argument because I am a rational thinker. Your argument it is poorly thought out and lazily presented. Any half decent Theologian or Thinker could drive a coach and horses through it, it is so weak.
    I suggest you read De Sade’s book ‘120 Days of Sodom’. It is not a pleasant read but it can be used to illustrate the ludicrous and destructive effects of atheism.

    1. //Your argument it is poorly thought out and lazily presented. Any half decent Theologian or Thinker could drive a coach and horses through it, it is so weak.//
      Same old Eddie. Same old dismissive claims. Perhaps if you backed up your claims now & then & offered a little enlightenment as to where/how the argument fails…………

  3. If you look at what claims are made for the powers of one’s religions god and then compare those powers with the claimed behaviors of aid gods, they just don’t match up … which is why these god stories are just that, stories.

    Consider Yahweh, who is claimed to be all-knowing and all-powerful, yet has enemies. How on earth could a being that knows the past, present, and future and can change reality with a thought have enemies? No matter how sharp these enemies are, this entity would know what they were going to do, where they were going to do it, and could counter anything they chose to do with a mere thought.

    Similarly, why would such a being require “helpers”? The amount of effort to explain to a helper what task was needed to be done would exceed the effort to do it oneself. So, angels, cherubim, seraphim, etc.? All unnecessary, not even desirable. I am told that Yahweh needed helpers for the company they provide. So much for being self-sufficient, another property claimed for this god. A needy god is not much of a god.

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