My favourite philosophical disproofs of God’s existence

SquareCircleMany atheist philosophers have taken an “armchair approach” to disproving God’s existence by arguing that his traditional core attributes are self contradictory: they are like a square circle.

Omnipotence –v- omniscience

One of the key disproofs is the apparent contradiction between God being omnipotent and omniscient.  If God is omniscient (everywhere in space and time) then he knows the future down to the last micro-detail.  But if he is omnipotent (all powerful) as well, then he can interfere with events in space and time in the form of miracles, which make his initial choices fallacious.  Mathematician John Allen Paulo’s gem of a book, Irreligion, summarises the contradiction very well:

If one assumes that God is both omnipotent and omniscient, an obvious contradiction arises.  Being omniscient, God knows how everything will happen; He can predict the future trajectory of every snow flake, the spouting of every blade of grass, and the deeds of every human being, as well as all of His own actions.  But being omnipotent, He can act in any way and do any thing He wants, including behaving in ways different from those he predicted, making his expectations uncertain and fallible.  He thus cannot be both omnipotent and omniscient.

As does Karen Owens’ limerick:

Can the omniscient God, who
Knows the future, find
The omnipotence to
Change His future mind?

Perfect being –v- Creator of the Universe

However, my all time favourite disproof was aired by physicist Victor Stenger at the start of his first debate against Christian apologist William Lane Craig at the University of Hawaii in 2003:

Perfect –v- Creator

If God is perfect, then he has no needs or wants.  This is incompatible with the notion that God created the Universe for some divine purpose.  Divine purpose implies that God wants something he doesn’t already have, which makes him imperfect.

In his rebuttal, Craig moaned that Stenger had not stated the philosophical premises for this argument, however, atheist philosopher Theodore M Drange states them rather well:

  1. If God exists, then he is perfect.
  2. If God exists, then he is the creator of the Universe.
  3. A perfect being can have no needs or wants.
  4. If any being created the universe, then he must have had some need or want.
  5. Therefore, it is impossible for a perfect being to be the creator of the universe (from 3 and 4).
  6. Hence, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 5)

To borrow Douglas Adams’ words in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (albeit in relation to the amazing properties of the Babel Fish, but no less relevant to the matters presently at hand), “‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.”

During his rebuttal in the Stenger debate and in this article on his website, Craig has argued that God did not created the Universe to satisfy any needs or wants of his own, but to benefit the objects of his creations so that they can enjoy a personal relationship with him.

To which Sam Harris has replied (sarcastically), “Lucky us…”

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4 Responses to “My favourite philosophical disproofs of God’s existence”

  1. Nicholas Joll Says:

    Interesting. But I think that (3) needs some argument. *Why* should a perfect being not have wants? Because that would be a lack (as the old sense of ‘want’ suggests)? Why, though? (We could replace ‘want’ with ‘wish’.) This line of thought will get us into free will, I think . .

    Also, one needs more than a sarcastic two-word reply to Craig’s response to the ‘enjoy a personal relationship’ line. Still, I see from your link that Harris does expand upon his point . .

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Nicholas! 🙂

      We can argue endlessly over syntax and semantics (Craig has clearly made a career out of doing that!), but my two pence is that a perfect being is by definition something that is completely satisfied with itself and has no needs, wants or wishes.

      While I was researching the post, I came across further “perfect being” refutations.

      A riff on the argument from evil:

      How can a perfect being could possibility create something imperfect?

      Expansions on refutations of the Kalam Cosmological Argument that if actual infinites are impossible, then so must an infinite God:

      Why would a perfect being that has existed for all eternity suddenly decided to create something within the finite past?

      If an infinitely old Universe would take an infinitely long time to reach the present, then even if an infinite God exists, it would take him an infinitely long time to create the Universe.

      Brain ache…

      MSP

  2. Nicholas Joll Says:

    Just one thing in reply, MSP:

    what you wrote somewhat suggests that you think it pointless to argue about semantics. But to argue about semantics is to argue about the meaning of words, and to argue about the meaning of words is (often, anyway) to argue about the meaning – the precise content – of ideas; and that, clearly, is important for philosophy. For one thing: a necessary condition for a deductive argument being sound, is that all the terms in its conclusion are present (at least implicitly) in its premises in the premises. That’s an example of how meanings, and even the words to which they attach, matter philosophically.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Nicholas

      Never mind “suggesting”; I am stating overtly that there is no point in wasting our lives arguing about words’ meanings. You can read all about my views regarding Craig’s unique brand of deductive “logic” here.

      If you watch or listen to Stenger’s first debate against Craig from 2003 to which I have linked in the main post, he makes the intriguing point that all theology amounts to is theologians tinkering around with God’s essential characteristics so they appear logically consistent and conform to what we know about the World, rather like computer game designers creating characters with superhuman powers.

      It’s as if the theologians have created an infinite Rubik’s Cube for themselves which is impossible to solve completely.

      Nowhere have I said on this post that the logical two objections to God’s existence proof or disprove anything with certainty: only cold, hard evidence will do that as it has done with evolution and gravity.

      In order to make sense of what we observe in the natural world, we use empirical logic, which is an essential scientific and philosophical tool.

      All I am providing on this post is food for thought.

      MSP

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