Contradictions in the Concept of God

An article was recently written by The Closet Atheist entitled 6 Contradictions of God.  The author presents her understanding of the traditional conception of God and then asserts that there are contradictions in this conception.  I would encourage you to take a look at her article if you have not seen it already.

Much of the author’s concerns come from misunderstandings regarding the classic doctrines of God.  Norman Geisler is helpful here in his work, Systematic Theology in One Volume.1

In particular she seems to think that Omnipotence entails that God can do anything that can be formulated in a sentence.  The author can formulate, “Can God create a being powerful enough to destroy him?” and so takes this to be a valid object of God’s omnipotence.  This is nonsense, however, as God is indestructible by nature.  Consider the question, “Can God create a fjioeo?”  Now fjioeo does not refer to anything, it is a meaningless combination of letters.  So the answer isn’t really “yes” or “no”, rather the question has no answer because it is a nonsensical question.  In the same way, “Can God create a being powerful enough to destroy him?” doesn’t have an answer because it is a meaningless combination of words.  The question itself is nonsense.  As Geisler puts it, “Theologically, omnipotent means that God can do whatever is possible to do … Negatively, omnipotence does not mean that God can do what is contradictory.”  This same sort of reasoning can be applied to the author’s comments about God’s knowing the unknowable.  As Geisler puts it, “only the impossible (the contradictory) is outside the knowledge of God.”

In her second challenge, the author makes a category error.  She thinks that if God is all-powerful then he must be able to do evil and if he is omni-benevolent then he cannot do evil.  Omnipotence deals with what God can do and omni-benevolence deals with what God would do.  So, in theory, God could do evil in terms of his power but it is impossible that he ever would do evil because of his omni-benevolence.  There simply isn’t a contradiction between these concepts.

Her third and fifth objections are similar to each other, and are a modified and standard version of the problem of evil.  Essentially such problems take the form of, “If God is ‘X’ then he would do ‘Y’.”  I’ve dealt with the problem of evil more thoroughly elsewhere, but the bottom line is that the burden of proof is too high for the atheist.  The critic would need to show that God does not have a morally sufficient reason to allow “Y”.  In this author’s case, she would need to show that God does not have a morally sufficient reason to allow unbelief or evil.  This seems to be a monumental task, and so it seems that the critic cannot get her argument to go through.

It is not enough in these cases for the critic to simply challenge the Christian to give God’s morally sufficient reason.  She cannot simply ask us, “Well then why has God allowed it?”  First, it is not our job to answer this question. She is making a claim, and it is her burden to support that claim not our burden to tear it down.  Second, it does not follow from our ignorance of God’s reasons that he does not have reasons.

Philosopher Stephen Wykstra gives a good illustration for this.2  He invites you to imagine walking into a dog park and observing, ‘There seems to be no hippopotami here.”  This is reasonable because one would expect to see a hippopotamus if it were present.  Suppose instead you were to observe, “There seems to be no dog whistles being blown.”  This conclusion would be invalid because you would not expect to hear a dog whistle if it were being blown.  Relating this to evil, Ganssle and Lee say, “given the gulf between God’s knowledge and our knowledge, it seems unreasonable to expect that we could know the God-justifying reason for every case of evil.”  The same would go for every case of unbelief.  We simply have no reason to expect that we should know what God’s reasons are for allowing “Y”.

The author’s misunderstandings in her fourth challenge can perhaps be the most easily forgiven, since one would not expect her to fully understand prayer as an atheist.  She seems to insufficiently value the relational aspect of God.  God is not just some sort of architect who is interested in creating a perfect world as an intellectual effort.  Rather God is a loving personal being who wants to relate to those in his creation.  So he has “baked into the cake” our prayers.  In other words, God knows what you will and will not pray about in advance.  When he planned our world, your prayers were taken into account (or your lack of prayer).  Whatever additional concern your prayer entails was weighed in the balance when God made his decisions about how our world should be ordered.  Now the critic cannot say that your personal concern does not matter, because it does matter to God.  It is not just the physical world out there that God cares about, but he cares about you individually including your concerns.  If it matters to you, then it matters more to God for your sake.  We experience this in our own lives.  We are in relationship with others, and their concerns about what happens matter to us oftentimes more than the physical reality they are concerned about.  God does not just want a world full of perfect objects, he wants relationship with the beings he has created.  Consider John 17:20-23 when Jesus prays for all of us who will come to believe.  This speaks to God’s concern for you, of course he cares about your concerns.

One might imagine a father asking his son if he wants to go to the ice cream parlor.  Of course the father knows his son will say, “Yes,” but he is inviting his son into relationship with him by asking the question.  In some sense, our prayers are like that.

1 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology in One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2011).

2Gregory E. Ganssle and Yena Lee, Evidential Problems of Evil in God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

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