Is the concept of God incoherent?

I don’t have a Ph.D., nor do I claim that I have some special knowledge. But it is interesting when I hear laymen talk about certain philosophical topics like abortion or God. I say it’s interesting because a lot of the public discourse around these topics seems to be outdated by 50 years, as if certain literature hadn’t been written.

For example, when it comes to abortion, you have a lot of people who think the whole issue is whether a human fetus is a person in the morally relevant sense. However, Judith Jarvis Thomson’s whole argument is that even if we grant that the human is a person with the right to life, the pro-life conclusion doesn’t follow. In other words, the right to life does not include the right to be kept alive by the use of someone else’s body. This was defended over 50 years ago, yet many people apparently didn’t get the message (1);(2).

Similarly, when it comes to debates on God’s existence, I hear arguments that seem a tad outdated in the sense that there are new types of arguments against God’s existence. What do I mean? Well, these days, arguments against God’s existence tend to focus on certain facts in the world that count as evidence against God (i.e. what data points would we expect to see if God does not exist?). They don’t try and show that the concept of God is somehow incoherent like a square-circle or married-bachelor. Yet, the arguments that try to show that the concept of God is incoherent are as old as the ontological argument for God, but I see them all the time in YouTube comments. I don’t find these type of a priori arguments to be persuasive. For examples of such arguments, see here.

I certainly don’t think they’re good arguments, because they seem to beg the question. A theist just might not accept the way that you’re defining God. Not that the theist is saying that God doesn’t have certain attributes. Rather, the theist is saying he doesn’t think a certain attribute of God should be defined in the exact way that an atheistic argument is proposing. So, these arguments are just not convincing unless you already accept the conclusion that God does not exist. In other words, they beg the question. On the other hand, the arguments I favor don’t beg the question, at least not in the same sense. That’s because of their format. The arguments I employ can be accepted by theists because, at least taken individually, they don’t conclusively show that God does not exist. Theists can accept that there is some evidence against God. In the same way, atheists can accept that there is some evidence for God while thinking the evidence is incredibly weak.

My point is that I don’t know whether God is incoherent or coherent, and I don’t think a priori speculation is a good way to arrive at truth. If you pulled my leg, I would say it’s probably slightly more likely that God is incoherent than coherent; that doesn’t mean I outright believe that the concept of God is incoherent. In that way, you can see why it doesn’t matter whether we treat God as a necessary proposition that is either necessarily true or necessarily false (i.e. I don’t think all necessary truths have a probability of 1 because of epistemic probability). Thus, I treat God, if God exists, as a contingent proposition/being. Certainly it would be very implausible to argue that it’s contradiction for God not to exist, even if one thinks God is factually necessary or metaphysically necessary (3).

By the way, I think theists like Edward Feser can disguise their arguments as NOT being speculative in nature or relying on pure reason, when in fact that’s exactly what they are. That’s what Kant’s critique of the traditional argument from contingency was. Nowhere in Edward Feser’s arguments is he testing his ideas against reality. That’s not science, that’s bullshit speculation–if not downright appeals to intuition like William Lane Craig.


(1). During the first trimester, of course I think the fetus is a biological life–a biological human. The issue is whether that’s morally relevant. Neither life itself (like plants) nor human-ness itself seem to be relevant. What does seem to be relevant is sentience or consciousness, which takes place way later during pregnancy. With respect to viability, one reason people are horrified of abortions taking place after the fetus is capable of living outside of the womb, minus cases like the mother’s life, is because it’s unnecessary to kill a fetus if it can live outside the womb.

(2). David Benatar argues that not only is it morally permissible to abort during early stages of pregnancy, but it’s actually morally obligatory.

(3). These ideas aren’t totally original to me. Richard Carrier and Paul Draper have argued similar points.

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9 thoughts on “Is the concept of God incoherent?

  1. >>>I say it’s interesting because a lot of the public discourse around these topics seems to be outdated by 50 years, as if certain literature hadn’t been written.<<<

    This is 100% correct. So many internet Atheists today utilize old-fashion and mostly refuted arguments such as Scientism (which is basically just dressed up-logical positivism) and a lot of the incoherence arguments you mentioned. A lot of internet Atheists also still use a very basic formulation of the logical problem of evil as well. Many people seem unaware of the sophisticated and powerful arguments from evil developed by Paul Draper, William Rowe, Robert Bass, J.H. Sobel, Michael Tooley, and many others. I bet even fewer are aware of the cutting-edge approaches to arguing for Atheism, by showing Naturalism's explanatory power and simplicity as compared to Theism like Graham Oppy does. Mike Almeida's excellent critique article is perhaps the best work on this subject on the differences between popular level debates and the philosophy debates:

    "Many theists find resources to defend their beliefs in the important literary and apologetic work of C.S. Lewis. There is much to be said for Lewis’s popular style, rhetoric, and incisiveness. It is persuasive and pleasurable reading, and perfectly effective when we are in what we might call the popular room. But philosophers and laymen sometimes—perhaps often, these days—find the standards on cogent argumentation raised, and indeed want them raised.

    Consider, for instance, the powerful critical assessment, by academic philosophers, of the currently popular arguments against theistic belief. Popular atheological arguments wither under such scrutiny. Of course, serious atheists may be unimpressed. The standards for atheological argumentation also go much higher than anything imagined in Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and a host of other popular writers.

    The work of atheistic thinkers such as John Mackie, Jordan Howard Sobel, and William Rowe, for example, is much more powerful, if much less popular. So, how well does theistic belief do when the standards and expectations on good reasoning are at their highest? How well does religious belief do when, as David Lewis described it, we are in the philosophy room?

    In the philosophy room, the otherwise impressive work of C.S. Lewis is much less helpful. His work will not serve to defend theistic belief in the face of the sheer critical power and breadth of, say, John Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism or Jordan Sobel’s Logic and Theism.

    …. the level of discussion among serious theists and serious atheists is extraordinarily high. Clearly, arguments for and against theism (and for and against atheism) can be carried on at a level of discourse that leaves the popular discussion of these views far behind, beside the point, and largely irrelevant."

    With regards to Abortion, even the violinist example is a bit old. David Boonin's arguments from the right to refuse with analogies related to Bone-Marrow donation are much more effective. With regards to personhood arguments, Jeff McMahan is pretty good too.

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

      Thanks for the response. You’re quite right that the violinist example is old, which makes the popular pro-life arguments even more egregious. I love Boonin; he’s had a huge influence in how I view abortion.

  2. I think “God” is the poster boy of incoherence. This is because everyone has a different definition for the term, basically every one worships a different god.

    As to arguments . . . it is much harder to prove something does not exist than proving something does exist (in general, not always in specific). There is one newish argument I like a lot because it knocks the underpins out of the “God is the source of morality” folks. Here it is:

    The Argument From Moral Autonomy
    (This is from James Rachel’s “God and Moral Autonomy:”)
    1. We are moral agents with moral autonomy and a responsibility to exercise it.
    2. Abandoning one’s moral autonomy is immoral.
    3. God is a perfectly good being worthy of worship.
    4. Worship is the recognition of one as inferior and subordinate to a greater being.
    5. Worship of God includes the total abandonment of one’s moral autonomy in favor of blind, non-questioning obedience of God.
    6. This is immoral, unless we can continuously be sure the being we are worshiping is (perfectly) good, and that the being we are worshiping is indeed a (or the) “God.”
    7. To continuously evaluate whether a being is good requires moral judgment, which requires moral autonomy.
    8. Therefore it is not possible to continuously evaluate if a being is good while also worshiping it.
    9. Therefore, worshiping necessarily requires abandoning one’s moral responsibility, which is immoral.
    10. Therefore, no being is worthy of worship.
    11. Therefore, God does not exist.
    In short – worship makes it impossible to know the object of worship is good, and a non-good object of worship isn’t worthy of worship. It is said that it can be known that God is good, and that God is worthy of worship, which is a contradiction, which cannot exist.

    Obviously you cannot really prove anything through a philosophic argument as they just tie conclusions to premises and premises cannot be proven per se.

  3. Jonathan Barker

    Academic philosophers continue to persist in the silliest kind of sophomoric debates about the “existence of God”. The arguments still range between the “proof” offered by reason and the “proof” offered by revelation – but both kinds of “proof” are nothing more than the poor servants of the adolescent dilemma of left-brained Spirit-killing “rationalism”.

    To ask if God or The Living Divine Reality exists is already to doubt God’s existence absolutely – and it reflects a commitment to the unexamined presumption that God does not exist until it is absolutely proven otherwise (using the same doubt-filled mind). Once it is presumed that the existence of God is in doubt or in need of “proof”, the dreadful dilemma of separation from The Living Divine Reality has already solidified, and neither inner left-brained Spirit-killing reason nor outer presumed revelation has sufficient power to liberate the individual from the subtle and fundamental despair that is inherent in such Godlessness.

    The search for proof of the existence of God is really a search for reasons to be happy. But the existence of God cannot be “proven” to the point of ecstasy, or the awakening of the opposite of irreducible doubt. The apparent question “Does God exist or not? is itself a proposition – it IS doubt, it IS the idea of separation from ecstatic Fullness, it IS the self-image of the Godless sinner, it IS the emotional contraction of the body-mind from God, Life, and all relations. Reasons and presumed Revelations (as is the case with Christian-ISM) are only a hedge around the sinner – a false sanctuary for the wounded self, who presumes him or her self to be trapped in the dead ends of the Machine of Nature.

    Our encounter with the most fundamental questions or considerations of our experience must go beyond mere self-serving belief and mental changes to become profound psychic, emotional, physical, and moral (or relational) transformation. And only such transformation is truly religious, because it makes us happy, free, benign, compassionate, and loving in the world and in ALL relationships.

    The conversion of the total body-mind releases us beyond mere belief and consolation to ecstatic Communion with the Living Divine Being. And only such Divine Communion, rather than the believer’s hopes of eventual reunion with God, IS salvation. Salvation, or present Communion with The Living divine Being, is the primary religious principle. But that principle is not a promise of a mechanically inevitable “heavenly” future. Present-time Communion with God – not travel to a (presumed) place where god will be found – IS salvation.

    Communion with The Living Divine being IS the sufficient and only substance of ecstatic happiness. And such God-Communion IS itself the ultimate Process whereby or wherein we are positively changed and Transformed in our appearance and destiny.

  4. Jonathan Barker

    The self-consciousness of every individual being (both human and non-human) inheres in the Transcendental Consciousness, or Transcendental Divine Being Itself.

    The body-mind of every individual being (both human and non-human) inheres in the Self- Radiant Love-Bliss of Transcendental Divine Being Itself.

    Nature , or all the worlds of the relations of self-conscious psycho-physical beings, inheres in a Matrix of Light or Energy that also inheres in the Self-Radiant Love-Bliss of Transcendental Divine Being Itself.
    That in Which or in Whom self-consciousness, the body-mind-complex, and all of the possible worlds of experience and knowledge inhere is Self-Radiant, Eternal, Indestructible, Perfect, and Absolute Happiness.

    We are, in essence or in Reality, That One.
    We are not destructible, even by death.
    We are, in our conditional individuality, transformable in or by death.
    We can and, ultimately or inevitably, we will Realize our prior Identity with That One. And by that Realization we can and necessarily will Ascend into the Radiant Domain of That One.
    This IS the “faith” or intelligent certainty of those who are founded in such clear unambiguous understanding.

    All conventional philosophies whether secular or so-called “religious” are actually neurotic psychologies based on the failure to understand the self, transcend “sin”, and recognize the worlds or processes of experience and presumed knowledge. All such presumptuous philosophies wrongly attribute independence to form and mind and consciousness.
    All such psychologies are grounded in fear, misunderstanding, recoil, alienation, horror, and death..
    Therefore, what is necessary is radical self-understanding, self-transcendence, and a recognition of all possible appearances in their substance or Source-Condition. Then the Unity of Existence with Stand Obvious in the midst of self and world.

  5. Pingback: Why I Am An Atheist – Emerson Green

  6. Pingback: Faith in one or more gods – Questiontime – Vragenuurtje

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