Nature of God

David Bayne
Mind Map by , created over 6 years ago

GCSE A2 Mind Map on Nature of God, created by David Bayne on 05/14/2013.

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David Bayne
Created by David Bayne over 6 years ago
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Nature of God
1 Definitions and understandings of God
1.1 Simple God

Annotations:

  • By ‘simple’ philosophers are referring to the traditional way in which God was thought of as not being changeable and not having parts or characteristics. When philosophers talk about God being simple they are saying that God does not consist of parts or characteristics. St. Augustine commented that God is unchangeable and thus cannot lose or gain any characteristics. St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of God being simple as God signifies ‘being/existing’. A simple God can be referred to in three ways: God is God - God cannot be broken down or explained in terms of parts. Philosophers like Aquinas say that God’s nature (what God is) and God’s existence are the same thing because to talk of God is to talk of a being that exists. God is unchanging / immutable - God is unchanging because change involves a movement from being one thing to being another. Because God is perfect, God lacks nothing and is not capable of changing into something else God is immaterial - if God is immaterial as argued by Aquinas and many other philosophers God does not have a body which has characteristics. God simply is God.
1.1.1 God is God
1.1.2 God is immutable
1.1.3 God is immaterial
1.2 Eternal - timeless & everlasting

Annotations:

  • In Judaeo-Christian philosophy the concept of God being eternal can have two senses: Eternal refers to God existing outside of time (Timeless) Eternal refers to God having no beginning and no end, but time does pass for God (Everlasting)
1.2.1 Timeless - Boethius

Annotations:

  • The Christian belief that God is eternal was strongly influenced by the philosophy of Boethius. Boethius argued that God is changeless and does not exist in time. Boethius argued that God’s life is limitless and that God possesses the whole of his/her life eternally without end. For God there is no past, present and future. Instead, God exists eternally and all of time is present to God at the same time. God does not see the future as it happens; instead Boethius argues that all time is present to God ‘simultaneously’. “God ponders all things as if they were enacted in the present.” Boethius argues that God sees everything in ‘one glance’. The reason that Boethius believes that God is eternal is because God is simple and hence does not learn new things and time does not pass for God: “And God possesses this present instant comprehension of and sight of all things not from the issuing of future events but from his own simplicity.”
1.2.2 Timeless - Aquinas

Annotations:

  • God exists unendingly without a beginning or conclusion. God must exist outside of time because time consists of parts and the notion of time involves beginnings and ends. God is the Creator of the universe and all life who always exists without end; time does not pass for God. Second, Aquinas, like Boethius, states that time involves living life ‘successively’. By this they mean that one event in life follows another, but for God this is not  the case. God exists outside of time and the nature of God is to exist.
1.2.3 Everlasting

Annotations:

  • By ‘everlasting’ theologians mean that God always exists and will exist without end, however, time passes for God. Richard Swinburne supports the view that God is everlasting. He argues that the idea of events occurring simultaneously to God cannot be made sense of. Second, he suggests that belief in an everlasting God fits more satisfactorily with God as revealed in the Bible: “For myself I cannot make much sense of this [all events being simultaneously present to God] suggestion – for many reasons.” Nicholas Wolterstorff (1975) argued that God is everlasting because this is the picture of God we gain from the Bible. The picture in the Bible might suggest that God is everlasting rather than eternal. For example - The story of the Ten Plagues in Exodus. A further claim is that God can only be understood as Saviour and Redeemer worthy of worship if God is everlasting. Essentially, proponents of an everlasting God are appealing to the notion that God has directly revealed himself to his creation throughout history.
1.3 Omnipotent

Annotations:

  • There are two main ways in which God’s Omnipotence has been viewed: Omnipotence concerns God’s ability to do anything including the logically impossible. Omnipotence concerns God’s ability to do what is logically possible for a perfect God to do.
1.3.1 Logically Possible

Annotations:

  • This is a statement that God’s power is different from our powers. Aquinas argued that God’s power is omnipotent because it is infinite and the reason that God’s power is infinite is that God is not limited. This in turn relies on the idea that God is eternal and therefore not bound by the limitation of physical existence. Therefore if people ask a question such as ‘Can God climb a tree?’ If God is eternal and not physical then God does not have a body with which to climb. This does not mean God lacks omnipotence it means it is illogical to ask the question.
1.3.2 Logically Impossible

Annotations:

  • René Descartes supported the view that God could do anything including what might seem impossible. He suggested God could change the fundamental laws of physics, which as far as we know are unchanging and apply universally. For example, it is logically impossible for God to perform certain miracles as they go against the laws of nature. However, imagine God as a designer of a computer game; the designer could change the game because the rules don’t apply to him. This is much the same for God if he created the universe.
1.4 Omniscient
1.4.1 Unlimited

Annotations:

  • This refers to God’s unlimited knowledge, including all history, past, present and future. According to this view, God is outside of time and has knowledge of the whole of time from beginning to end. This view fits in with belief that God is eternal.
1.4.2 Limited

Annotations:

  • God’s knowledge is limited to what it is logically possible to know or God chooses to limit what he knows to allow humans free will. According to this view God’s knowledge changes over time, since God acquires new knowledge as events occur. This view fits in with the belief that God is everlasting.
1.5 Omnibenevolent
1.5.1 God is perfect

Annotations:

  • God is perfect - God must possess perfect goodness. Being perfectly good must entail being good in all ways at all times and towards all other beings. Many theologians and philosophers have tended to argue that God is indeed essentially good, which means that it is impossible for God either to will evil or to cause evil — everything that God wills and everything that God does is, necessarily, good. Moreover, this understanding of God suggests that goodness (morality) comes from God and God is the standard that we should strive for.
1.5.2 God has desire for perfection

Annotations:

  • God has a desire for perfection - While God is perfect, God is still capable of doing evil. This argument attempts to preserve a broader understanding God’s omnipotence; more importantly, however, it makes God’s failure to do evil more praiseworthy because that failure is due to a moral choice. If God does not do evil because God is incapable of doing evil, that would not seem to merit any praise or approval. This understanding suggests that morality does not come from God but from an external source that God also abides by.
1.6 Creator
1.6.1 Ex nihilo

Annotations:

  • Creation ‘ex nihilo’ - God created everything ex nihilo — out of nothing. This expresses the important idea that God did not operate on pre-existing matter and is not an agent among other agents. Instead, God is the absolute origin of all that exists — all matter, all energy, and all organisation. There are many examples of God as this type of creator in the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?” (Job 38:4)
1.6.2 Ex materia

Annotations:

  • Creation ‘ex materia’ is a less common belief in Christianity, but it has its roots in the philosophy of Aristotle. He held the view that the universe had always existed independently of God, who, in the creation imposed order and form upon it. This view was developed in the Judeao-Christian tradition and the Bible includes some references that suggest to some philosophers that God worked on pre-existent matter. “Now the earth was formless and empty,      darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”(Genesis 1:2)
1.6.3 Ex Deo

Annotations:

  • Creation ‘ex deo' - out of the very substance of God. God created the world from himself rather than from nothing or from some external pre-existing matter. One modern expression of the doctrine of creation ex deo can be found in process theism, according to which the universe can be conceived as something akin to God’s “body.” This means that God and our material reality are not wholly distinct: God quite literally shares in our existence through our experiences of it. As we grow and develop, so does God.
1.7 Transcendent & Immanent
1.7.1 Transcendent

Annotations:

  • To transcend means ‘to exist above and independent from. Being transcendent, God is both the unknown and unknowable. The Christian idea of a transcendent God has roots both in Judaism and in Plato’s philosophy. Plato’s philosophy emphasised the idea that God is so pure and perfect that it completely transcended all of our categories, ideas, and concepts. Furthermore, if God is absolutely perfect beyond all experience and understanding, then God must also be transcendent. If God is timeless (outside of time and space) and unchangeable, then God cannot also be with beings who are within time. Such a God must be wholly “other,” transcendent to everything we know. This notion is supported by Aquinas and his Cosmological Arguments – Aquinas describes God as an Unmoved Mover, Uncaused Cause and a Necessary being. These definitions are in direct opposition to contingent beings that exist within the universe. Therefore, in order for God to be unmoved, uncaused and necessary He must exist transcendently from the universe or else God too would be contingent and thus by definition dependant on something else for His existence.
1.7.2 Immanent

Annotations:

  • An immanent God, is one which exists within — within us, within the universe and, hence, very much a part of our existence. The idea of an immanent God can also be traced to both Judaism and Greek philosophers. The stories of the Old Testament depict a God who is very active in human affairs and the working of the universe. Christians, have often described a God who works within them and whose presence they can perceive immediately and personally. Interestingly, this notion is also supported by Aquinas and his Cosmological Arguments – Aquinas describes a God that is wholly distinct from time and space yet is its sustaining cause. This notion was developed from Aristotle and the idea that movement or change is sustained by the Unmoved Mover that exists separately to the world. Therefore, it is not unusual for Christians to suggest that God can be both transcendent and immanent.
2 Distinction between natural and revealed theology
2.1 Revealed theology

Annotations:

  • Revealed theology is based on the notion that God somehow directly reveals himself to his people. This revelation may come in the form of Holy Books, for Christians, the Old and New Testament. It can also be viewed as ‘supernatural’ where God reveals himself through religious experiences such as miracles or visions. Revealed theology takes it reasoning from the Bible as it highlights the idea that God has and will continue to directly reveal himself to humanity. The concept of revealed theology is perhaps most evident in the New Testament with the incarnation of God in Jesus. Jesus was fully human and fully divine. He held all the power and authority of God, but he voluntarily, for our sakes, subjected himself to the limitations of human existence. “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)
2.2 Natural theology

Annotations:

  • This is the study of God based on the observation of nature. Over the years, the miraculous was downplayed as Christianity was reduced more and more to a “rational” philosophy. The tendency for philosophers to accept only natural theology led to the formulation of deism. Deists rely solely on natural theology for their knowledge of God, to the complete exclusion of revealed theology. To the deist, God is unknowable except through nature, and the Bible is unnecessary.
2.3 Propositional Revelation

Annotations:

  • This refers to God revealing truths about his nature to his people. They are called ‘propositions’ to indicate that the revelations are statements of facts. The key to propositional revelation is that truths about God are revealed as propositions. Since the revelations communicate facts from God or about God, religious believers argue that the propositions are true – beyond debate or doubt. Jews and Christians would argue that the Ten Commandments revealed to Moses are revelation from God. They are not debatable, they are not open to question; they are facts laid down by God. The Propositional view of revelation is that it is infallible (cannot be wrong).
2.4 Non-propositional Revelation

Annotations:

  • This refers to the idea that God does not reveal facts or truths to people; instead the religious believer recognises God acting in human history and human experience. For Example, a religious believer may come to see God in a beautiful natural scene. William Paley was famously impressed by the human eye. This revelation is indirect and a matter of interpretation. Hence the view is called non-propositional because the revelation is a human being’s recognition of God’s acts in the world. According to this view of revelation, a religious book such as the Bible is a witness to and record of how the revelation of God has been understood in history by religious believers. God has acted in history, and the perceptions of people who witness these revelatory acts are what are recorded in the Bible. An example of this is the signs given by Jesus; people witness the sign and interpret what they saw. Non-propositional revelation is a human’s free response to God rather than passively receiving God.
3 Coherence of different definitions and understandings of God
3.1 Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnibenevolence
3.1.1 Criticisms

Annotations:

  • Problem of Evil. The major issue raised by this collective understanding of God is the problem of evil and suffering. If God is omnipotent, then why does God not prevent evil and suffering occurring? If God is omniscient, then surely God would have known that evil and suffering would have occurred, as a result of creating this world? If God is benevolent, then surely God wants to remove evil and suffering from the world? Therefore, God is either not omnipotent, not omniscient, not benevolent or as David Hume would suggest God does not exist.
  • Omniscience and freedom. If God is omniscient, this implies that God knows everything I am doing all of the time. If this is correct it means I do not have a real choice as God already knows what I will do. The clear implication of this is that God has knowledge of future human actions. If God has knowledge of our future actions this would undermine claims that human beings have free will as God, being omniscient and perfect, cannot be mistaken.
  • Moral and Natural Evil. The world contains both moral and natural evil. Therefore, if God is perfectly good then why does he allow this suffering to take place? The free will defence may explain moral evil, however, natural evil is not as easily explained away and it leaves God looking far from perfect. The knock on effect of this challenge is simply to deny the existence of God.
3.1.2 Response to criticisms

Annotations:

  • Evil and suffering is not from God. God created all humans with free will so that is why evil things happen. Humans freely choose to bring about evil and suffering. God is powerful enough to create genuine freedom, knows the future but doesn’t interfere so humans remain free and loves as he creates us free and not like robots.
  • God is everlasting. A solution to the problem of omniscience and human free will is to suggest that God is everlasting rather than eternal. If God is everlasting this suggests that time passes, in some sense, for God. Given that time passes, God learns about the future as it unfolds. Philosophers have suggested that the past is closed and unchangeable – it cannot be different. The future is open and not necessary, as it has not yet happened. This means God is aware of all past events and all present events. He does not know the future as it hasn’t happened yet.
  • Miracles and eternal life through Jesus’ sacrifice. The miracles that are recorded in the Bible highlight that God acts for the benefit of people. Furthermore, miracles that have been recorded in recent history also show that God will contravene the laws of nature if he feels it is necessary. In addition, human suffering can be explained in terms of God providing the most loving act through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus.
3.2 Transcendence
3.2.1 Criticisms

Annotations:

  • Intimately Personal God - Judaeo-Christian theology advocates that humans are able to enter in a personal and loving relationship with God. In simple terms, if God exists ‘above and independent’ from the world then how can this be possible. The dictionary defines a relationship as ‘The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected’ – if we use the analogy of a couple who are married yet live at the opposite sides of the world we may say they have a relationship but it is by no means personal or intimate. Above and beyond understanding - The assertion that a transcendent God surpasses our understanding implies that we have no way of actually knowing anything about God. If we know nothing about God then by definition we don’t know if God exists. A transcendent God is, therefore, so detached from the world that he simply becomes a human invention created to answer the most puzzling of questions regarding life and its meaning.  Verification – if God exists above and beyond the universe then we cannot verify God due to a lack of experience and observation. Therefore, to make a statement that God is transcendent is meaningless.
3.2.2 Response to criticisms

Annotations:

  • The nature of God – if God is a creator then he has to exist outside the universe. It would be logically impossible for the creator to exist within the thing that they created. Furthermore, if God is simple and timeless then again by definition God must exist outside of the universe or He would be affected by time.   Scriptures and Religious Experience - In much the same way that the Bible and religious experiences provide evidence of God acting immanently they also provide as much evidence to suggest that God is transcendent. The Old and New Testament make many references to God existing above:   The Lord is “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.”   “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.”   Furthermore, if we accept William James’ classification of a mystical/religious experience then we have to accept that God surpasses our understanding and description. William James referred to this as ineffability – ‘too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words’. Therefore, God must exist transcendently or we would have the ability to understand and describe God in human language.
3.3 Immanence
3.3.1 Criticisms

Annotations:

  • Verification - Is it possible to verify (prove) the accounts of God’s immanence in the Bible or the apparent miracles that have took place throughout history. From an empirical viewpoint, we lack any way of proving these events through observation. If we take the view that the Bible is a testament of faith rather than a historically accurate text accepting God as directly revealing himself is empirically meaningless.   Coherence of the Triune God - The stumbling block for many philosophers regarding the Trinity is the logic behind it. However, if we look at the argument below we can see the difficulty in the logic. The doctrine of the Trinity states that God is three independent beings who are one being. The principle of coherence states: 1.      It is not possible for three oranges to be one orange 2.      It is not possible for a father to be a son; this contradicts the definitions of both father and son. The son is defined as offspring of a father not an ‘onspring’ as it were. 3.      Sons are by definition created by their fathers, a son cannot be uncreated.    
3.3.2 Response to criticisms

Annotations:

  • Scriptures – The major argument in favour of God’s immanence comes from revealed theology. This is an idea that God directly reveals himself to the world. The two main ways in which this is recognised in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is through scripture (Bible) and religious experiences (visions and voices). The sheer number of examples within the Bible and history that refer to God acting on behalf of his creation add strength to the argument that God is most definitely immanent in the universe.   The Trinity - From a Roman Catholic viewpoint the strongest evidence for God’s immanence is not simply the written word of the Bible or the apparent experiences people have had. The strongest is Jesus and the Holy Spirit – two parts of the Holy Trinity. In Catholic theology, Christ and the Holy Spirit immanently reveal themselves; God the Father only reveals himself immanently explicitly through the Son and Spirit.
3.4 Creator
3.4.1 Challenges

Annotations:

  • If God created everything then God created evil. If we accept that God is an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent creator of the universe then we are left with the difficult problem of why the creation clearly contains evil and suffering. We can accuse God of doing a very poor job with creation. If we bought an expensive car such as a Ferrari and the engine blew on its first drive, you would be right to complain and expect reimbursement; the same is true of God if we accept this understanding of him. Far from perfect creator. The Oxford English dictionary defines perfection as “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be” – can we describe God and his creation “as good as it is possible to be”; David Hume would say categorically no.   “Such a God would not possibly allow evil to exist.” If God created the universe, it begs the questions what created God? If we follow the logic of Aquinas and his argument of causation (cosmological argument) it is very difficult to comprehend logically the notion of an uncaused cause. Furthermore, we can quite simply ask the logical question, who or what caused God. ‘Ex nihilo’ is incoherent. How can a human, in their limited experience and understanding accept the concept of something being created from nothing?
3.5 Timeless
3.5.1 Criticisms

Annotations:

  • God knowing all time simultaneously is incoherent (it doesn’t make logical sense). Anthony Kenny famously argued that the notion of all time being simultaneously present to God is incoherent. The analogy of God viewing the entire creation at once much like viewing an entire film at once is not consistent with how humans understand time. Richard Swinburne echoed this criticism stating that he could not ‘make much sense’ of talk of all events being simultaneously present to God.   How can God be personal and act in creation? The Bible implies that God is personal and acts in creation. For example God’s response to the Israelites prayer for freedom from slavery in Egypt and God intervening to help Joshua in battle. These biblical events imply that God is personal and acts in time.   How can God love his people and respond to them? Love involves a two-way process and ability to respond. If God is eternal how can God love his people and respond to them? In the Bible God responds to people in need out of love for them. Other philosophers have questioned how an eternal God can respond to people’s prayers.
3.5.2 Response to criticisms

Annotations:

  • God is ‘time free’. Abandon the idea of eternity involving events being simultaneously present to God. God should be considered to be ‘time free’. This means that time does not affect God, therefore it doesn’t limit God. This can be linked to the argument of God as a computer game designer; the rules of the game that apply to everyone who plays it do not apply to God.     God is not a person. This response focuses on the idea that God should not be considered a person. Language that suggests God is acting personally in the Bible reflects the experience of people in past times who described their encounters with God using personal language. Philosophers alternatively would talk about God using language that is analogical or symbolic as God is immaterial.       God’s love is displayed through the creation. God is loving because God changelessly sustains creation for people. This is because the universe and everything within it exists contingently, meaning it has been created by something else. God’s benevolence therefore, is displayed through the initial act of creation and the fact that God sustains his creation.
3.6 Everlasting
3.6.1 Criticisms

Annotations:

  • An everlasting God will be constantly surprised by his creation. Brian Davies has commented that an everlasting God would be continually surprised by his creation. The future for God is as much a surprise to him as it is to us. This does not fit with the idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient as it suggests he is lacking in some way.   An everlasting God is subject to change. Perfection does not allow for change, which means that God is changeless (immutable). However, change is a necessary consequence of any person who experiences the changing circumstances of the historical process. An everlasting God, by definition, experiences the changing circumstances of the historical process so this God is subject to change. This means therefore, that God is not perfect and contradicts the classical understanding.
3.6.2 Response to criticisms

Annotations:

  • God has immanent omnipotence. An everlasting God is a part of, and acts within history. He exists through time like any other person, but has no beginning and no end. An everlasting God is unable to know the details of our future action, which leaves humans with free will. This everlasting concept of God has become more popular amongst believers and philosophers because it is far easier to comprehend humans having free will and is more compatible with religious experience.   God does not change. Richard Swinburne argues that an everlasting God is far more palatable. An everlasting God does not lack any power; rather his powers are far more believable and logical. He disagrees with the idea that because God acts in the historical process God must change. Instead, he supports the idea that the only thing that changes is God’s omniscience. As time changes, he knows everything that is logically possible but does not infringe or impact upon our freewill. The notion of an everlasting God is also supported by the Bible and the Christian belief that God answers prayers and can become involved in time and space
4 Arguments For and Against Natural and Revealed theology
4.1 Criticisms of Revealed
4.1.1 How can we verify RT?

Annotations:

  • There is no way to verify or prove that propositional revelations happen. The Logical positivists (empiricists) would claim therefore that the propositions were entirely meaningless because there is no way of establishing proof of revelations of God.
4.1.2 Liberal interpretation of scriptures

Annotations:

  • Many liberal Christians reject the infallibility of biblical accounts. Instead, many Christians read the scriptures symbolically as opposed to literally due to the difficulties a literal interpretation can cause for rational belief. For example, the creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2. Therefore, if we are to adopt a liberal reading of the text can we actually accept propositional revelation?
4.1.3 Different revelations among religions

Annotations:

  • Different religions claim to have received propositional revelations, yet sometimes the truth claims of different religions conflict. How can these contradictions be resolved? How can we know which truth claim is correct?
4.1.4 Issues of accuracy

Annotations:

  • Propositional revelations of God may not be recorded accurately as the human mind makes mistakes. This has serious connotations for the reliability of the person making the statement. Furthermore, how can we know which revelations are true propositions?
4.2 For Revealed
4.2.1 Experience is best form of verification

Annotations:

  • Using facts is a powerful means of convincing someone of the veracity of something. Facts can come from your reading, observation, or importantly personal experience. Facts cannot be disputed and this makes them a strong form of evidence. The philosopher William James accepted this and suggested the experience was the final arbiter of truth, or in other words the evidence proves something. Therefore, as revealed theology is direct is should be accepted
4.2.2 Bible is infallible word of God

Annotations:

  • For many Christians we should accept revealed scriptural theology because quite simply the Bible is the literal and direct word of God. God by definition is perfect therefore the Bible is perfect and should be accepted without question. According to Kant, if a statement is analytic then it is true by definition. If we accept the statement ‘God is perfect’ and then consider the statement ‘The Bible is the word of God’ then by definition it is truth as we accept that God cannot be wrong (infallible).

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