Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Faceplant of the Day - Debunking Christianity: God Cannot Be Perfect Because Perfect Does Not Make Sense

I have seen a few posts from Jonathan MS Pearce on Debunking Christianity in which he tries to use philosophy to disprove Christianity. I don't doubt that he is well educated in philosophy, but he does not seem to understand the Bible or what it says. His words are in black and my comments will be in red

In another post I was talking about how God, prior to creation (at least according to classical interpretations of God based on the Ontological Argument), had ontological perfection. That is to say, he was in a perfect state of being (since this is built into the definition of God). The argument followed that, in creating the world, God would be either lacking something and thus having a need, which is incoherent with ontological perfection, or he was downgrading his perfect state in the process of creating this world.

"Ontological Perfection" does not mean that there is a standard of perfection which God meets. Instead it means that the standard by which perfection is measured is the being of God. God does not have perfect qualities, God is perfection. Why does it follow that God created the world  because of a need? The Bible does not say that God created the universe out of needing to fulfill something. I realize that some well-meaning Christian philosophy make the argument that the universe was created so that God could make humans so that He could have loving relationships. It's a popular idea, but it's not in the Bible. God does not need us. Yes, He made us because He loves us but he does not need us to express his love. This is why God's Triune nature is such a major doctrine. The Being of God has three persons - eternal and equal - and any need is fulfilled and satisfied in God's own being. Jesus said

The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. - John 3:35

I won't take the time to demonstrate the reality of the Trinity, but it's essential given if you are going to argue from a Biblical perspective. 

Now, this argument is all good and well, and it certainly assumes the classical understanding of God in being ontologically perfect in every way. Not exactly as he framed it. The Ontological Argument does not depend on God having made the universe out of need.

However, this post is going to look at the idea that any such argument for or against God does not really get off the ground since it is contingent upon the idea of perfection being logically coherent as an intrinsic value and characteristic. This, I am afraid, is wrong. One cannot make this assumption because perfection, as a stand-alone conceptual characteristic to ascribe to anything, is nonsensical.

Strangely, I have to agree with him on this point because he is starting in the wrong place So far he has not defined what definition of perfection he is using. If you don't ground perfection in the being of God of course the argument (and all rationality) becomes nonsensical. 

I can only understand perfect as a goal-directed adjective such that A is perfect for B, or this catapult is perfect for getting this stone over the wall in such and such a manner. Now, one could say that God is perfect at being God, but this implies an infinite regress or circularity. What does it really mean to say that God is perfect? Is he perfect at getting a stone over the wall? Perfect at being loving, merciful and just; at being prefect, designing and moral?

Aah...finally something of a definition for "perfection". It is not a Biblical definition. He gives what he understands "perfection" is and then just runs with it. Just because that is the way he understands what "perfection" is does not mean that is what the Bible is talking about. It's more than just being unable to fail at reaching a goal or being loving or merciful or being moral. A more accurate Biblical description that someone from his mindset might understand is this: God is unable to fail. 

Even establishing what a prefect painting is, is an entirely subjective process, depending upon personal tastes. And this applies to all sorts of things such that perfection becomes either subjective or incoherent. Being perfectly powerful and knowledgeable are admittedly simpler proficiencies to hold, conceptually.

This is why God - due to who God is - is best to objectively and exhaustively define perfection. Not you. Not Pearce. And most certainly not me.

The other problem is that perfection of a being involves multiple aspects such that, as the classic problem goes, God cannot be perfectly just AND perfectly merciful since to be perfectly just assumes punishing justly for a misdemeanour, and to be perfectly merciful assumes some kind of leniency.

True if only you misdefine "justice" and "mercy". God's justice is perfectly satisfied and displayed in that most certainly all sin is atoned for because God the son paid the punishment for sin. God's mercy is perfect because He saved some from the penalty of our sins. God remains in control because it's his choice about how much mercy we get.

With all of these characteristics which conflict, the theist retreats to maximal perfection, a sort of optimal scenario given all of the nuances and variables. But this becomes arbitrary and subjective. One more ounce of mercy and one less ounce of justice might be perfect for a God wanting to achieve A, but vice versa might be better for wanting to achieve B.

Pearce is setting up a false dichotomy. It's not either mercy or justice. God is perfect because He is both. We are not. 

Therefore, we need to establish, without circularity or incoherence, what God is to be perfect FOR, before establishing whether God is or can be perfect. To have a timeless God sitting there and label it as perfect is, to me, meaningless (as a stand-alone descriptor).

Why? Pearce seems to be assuming that there are things that God is not perfect FOR. Understanding that there is nothing God is not perfect about in His being and actions would be an answer to the issues he is raising in this article.

And, therefore, given the subjective nature of appraisals of perfection, I see any argument using the term perfection as incoherent.

Using his definition he is right. Too bad Pearce does not seem to realize that the Bible is not using his definitions. 

Recently, I released an ebook called The Problem with "God", which looks at the issues inherent with the nature of God seen in classical theism: omnibenevolent, -scient and -potent. There are a whole number of reasons why it is problematic. I have written a good deal on this topic over many years of blogging, so thought I would put this to good use and compile many of the posts, together with some original material, into one easily digestible anthology at a reasonable price. I also talk a little about Satan and hell, because these entities and ideas, if existent, must make sense in light of a God who could get rid of them with the omnipotent click of the fingers. This was another short little hint of the issues apparent with this kind of God, and the idea of a nemesis following on from my post last week.

I think reading, Pearce's ebook is a good idea because it will help understand where he is coming from. I fully disagree that the nature of God is programmatic or that there is contradiction with God's existence and the reality of Evil.  I too have  blogged on these issues and Christians have dealt with these issues for the last 2000 years. People like Pearce intrigue me because it's like they have never read/heard what Christians have already because they never interact with the answers and ideas that have already been given. I do plan to read his book. Maybe he will finally interact with the really good answers Christians have given or at the very least provide more entertaining faceplants and facepalms.