3.3 Metaphysics of God

The concept and nature of 'God'

God's attributes:

  • God as omniscient, omnipotent, supremely good (omnibenevolent), and the meaning(s) of these divine attributes
  • competing views on such a being’s relationship to time, including God being timeless (eternal) and God being within time (everlasting).
  • arguments for the incoherence of the concept of God including:
    • the paradox of the stone
    • the Euthyphro dilemma
    • the compatibility, or otherwise, of the existence of an omniscient God and free human beings.

Arguments relating to the existence of God

For the arguments below, students should pay particular attention to nuances in the logical form of the arguments (deductive, inductive etc), the strengths of the conclusions (God does exist, God must exist etc) and the nature of God assumed or defended by the argument.

Ontological arguments

  • St Anselm's ontological argument.
  • Descartes' ontological argument.
  • Norman Malcolm's ontological argument.

Issues that may arise for the arguments above, including:

  • Gaunilo's 'perfect island' objection
  • Empiricist objections to a priori arguments for existence
  • Kant's objection based on existence not being a predicate.

Teleological/design arguments

  • The design argument from analogy (as presented by Hume).
  • William Paley’s design argument: argument from spatial order/purpose.
  • Richard Swinburne’s design argument: argument from temporal order/regularity.

Issues that may arise for the arguments above, including:

  • Hume's objections to the design argument from analogy
  • the problem of spatial disorder (as posed by Hume and Paley)
  • the design argument fails as it is an argument from a unique case (Hume)
  • whether God is the best or only explanation.

Cosmological arguments

  • The Kalām argument (an argument from temporal causation).
  • Aquinas' 1st Way (argument from motion), 2nd Way (argument from atemporal causation) and 3rd way (an argument from contingency).
  • Descartes' argument based on his continuing existence (an argument from causation).
  • Leibniz’s argument from the principle of sufficient reason (an argument from contingency).

Issues that may arise for the arguments above, including:

  • the possibility of an infinite series
  • Hume's objection to the 'causal principle'
  • the argument commits the fallacy of composition (Russell)
  • the impossibility of a necessary being (Hume and Russell).

The Problem of Evil

Whether God’s attributes can be reconciled with the existence of evil.

  • The nature of moral evil and natural evil.
  • The logical and evidential forms of the problem of evil.

Responses to these issues and issues arising from these responses, including:

  • the Free Will Defence (including Alvin Plantinga)
  • soul-making (including John Hick).

Religious language

  • The distinction between cognitivism and non-cognitivism about religious language.
  • The empiricist/logical positivist challenges to the status of metaphysical (here, religious) language: the verification principle and verification/falsification (Ayer).
    • Hick’s response to Ayer (eschatological verification) and issues arising from that response.
  • Further responses: the 'University Debate'
    • Anthony Flew on falsification (Wisdom’s ‘Gardener’)
    • Basil Mitchell's response to Flew (the Partisan)
    • Hare's response to Flew (bliks and the lunatic)

and issues arising from those responses.

Set texts

Anselm, Proslogium, Chapters II–IV and Gaunilo, from the appendix to Anselm’s Proslogium

Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica, Part 1, Question 25, Article 3 and Question 2, Article 3

Ayer, Alfred J (1973/1991), The Central Questions of Philosophy, London, Penguin, 22–29 and Ayer, AJ (1946), Language, Truth and Logic, 2nd Edition, New York, Dover, (Chapters 1 and 6)

Descartes, René (1641), Meditations on First Philosophy, 3 and 5

Flew, Antony, Richard M Hare and Basil Mitchell (1955), ‘Theology and Falsification’ in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, edited by Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre, London, SMC Press

Hick, John (1966/1978), Evil and the God of Love, New York, Harper and Row (revised edition). Chapters 13–17 (esp chapter 13)

Hume, David (1779), Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Parts II, V, VIII and IX

Hume, David (1748), Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Part XI

Leibniz, Gottfried (1714), Monadology, sections 32–39.

Malcolm, Norman (1960), ‘Anselm’s ontological arguments’, The Philosophical Review, 69, 41–62

Midgley, Mary (1984), Wickedness. Routledge, Chapters 1 and 5

Paley, William (1802/2008), Natural Theology, OUP, Chapters 1, 2 and 5

Plantinga, Alvin (1975), God, Freedom and Evil: Essays in Philosophy, George Allen & Unwin, 29–34 and 59–64

Plato, Euthyphro

Stump, Eleanore & Kretzmann, Norman (1981), Eternity. Journal of Philosophy 78 (8):429–458

Swinburne, Richard G (1968), ‘The Argument from Design,’ Philosophy, 43 (165), 199–212