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Philosophy on the Knowledge of God

Throughout history, there has been a concept of a greater being(s) that guided our lives. In the beginning, the main idea was that of plurality and polytheism. In ancient Greece and Rome, there were various gods that were believed to control different aspects of life. At some point, people began to worship only one god, the god of their own tribe. This religious position of henotheism eventually shifted to monotheism, for many. With monotheism comes the idea that your god is not only the god of your “tribe” but of all humanity. And it is this position that has undergone the most change and evolution throughout time. Yet, it remains with us today. As John Robinson explains, the most profound change within monotheism is that of the idea of God changing from “up there” to “out there.”

This change has brought us to the most traditional concept that we have of God today. This is a concept in which we imagine God as a purely spiritual being, separate and independent from the world. He is supremely good, all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. (these attributes will be discussed later in the paper). Whether Robinson’s ideas of the existence of God are right or wrong, we can say that it is undeniably true that there is an idea of God that most of us refer to. And, that is the idea of traditional theologians. It is for this reason that it is beneficial to elucidate our own thoughts about God and to investigate more thoroughly the concept of God that emerged from the thinking of past theologians.

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The Attributes of God

As a closer study of past theologians advances, we come to St. Anselm. Anselm, a good philosopher and great theologian developed a formula for what we can claim to be the attributes of God. He began this formula by stating that (1) God is a being than which none greater can be conceived and (2) God is the greatest conceivable being (Notice here that Anselm leaves room for a being greater than God. He urges us to not disprove the idea that there could be a being greater than can be conceived). With these two statements, we can begin to formulate what Anselm meant by greater: power, goodness, knowledge?

This analysis eventually lends itself to the God Hypothesis of Theism. The notion of this hypothesis is that there is one and only one being that possesses a certain list of attributes. There are numerous attributes within this hypothesis that the being, God, must possess in order to be the greatest being that can be conceived. For example, God must be omnipotent. This means that God can do all that is logically possible, as long as it does not conflict with another characteristic. For example, God destroying the world conflicts with omnibenevolence, another necessary attribute. An additional trait that God must possess is that of omniscience, God knowing all that can be known. There are problems that arise with this attribute, especially between it and the attributes of immutability and being separate and distinct (this conflict will be discussed later). Another quality is the idea of God being eternal.

This characteristic also carries disagreement. It is oftentimes argued whether this is meant to mean that God has an infinite duration or if it is meant to mean that He is timeless (outside of time). It must also be stated that God is the creator of all that exists but himself and God must be spiritual, not bound to the laws of nature. God must also be personal, caring for each individual, and independent of laws of space and time, and of human conceptions. Lastly, there is the attribute of self-existence, which Anselm considers to be the most significant, and which will be discussed further.

As was stated previously, Anselm gave God the title of “a being than which none greater can be conceived”. With this statement by Anselm, comes the Ontological Argument. This argument states that of this “being of which none greater can be conceived,” there is one necessary property that is necessary and that is its self-existence. For if the being has all properties yet does not exist, then there is a greater being that can be conceived (one that has all of these properties and exists).

Anselm first realized, through various arguments, that among the beings that exist and have existed, there is one that is supremely good and that nothing that ever existed or will exist will be it’s equal (Rowe 9). With this, Anselm was brought to question what accounts for or explains the fact that it exists? He was led to three possibilities: something’s existence is explained by another, explained by nothing, or explained by itself. Anselm states that the supremely good being could not have its existence due to another thing, for then it would be dependent on that thing, and no longer be the supreme being. Anselm then moves on to say that “it is utterly inconceivable that… something should exist through nothing” (Howe 10).

He leaves this point unexplained, believing it to be such apparent truth that it needs no explanation. He then professes that all that he is sure of points to the fact that a supreme being is due only to itself. This does not mean God created himself, though. For eternity is one of God’s characteristics, so He clearly can not come into existence at a certain time. (Howe 10) So, with this, we are left to believe that God can not be explained by anything else but His nature, just as a fire’s warmth can be explained by nothing more than the nature of fire. So, it can be concluded that since nothing can exist whose existence lacks explanation (Anselm’s own basic principle), and since the supreme being would not be supreme if its existence were due to something else, it is inevitable that the supreme being, God, has the explanation of His existence within His own nature (Howe 11).

Arguments for Existence

There are two common arguments that have been developed by theologians and philosophers for believing in the being that we have been examining. They are the Cosmological Argument and the Teleological Argument. It has been debated over time as to which, if either, is a better argument for believing that there exists such a being. I feel that neither does a sufficient job of truly helping one to believe that there is such a being, yet I am more comfortable with the Cosmological Argument. There are many reasons as to why I feel that it is a better argument. First, though, I will say why I feel that the Teleological Argument fails to be the better argument. First of all, I feel that this argument is based too much on observation. Secondly, the entire formulation for the argument is based on the statement that the universe is “orderly, purposeful, and efficient.” I have reservations about this statement.

What can one say is the purpose of the universe? Does it have one? Moving on, I feel that there are also problems with the argument sketch. First, trying to justify God’s intelligence through us can cause problems. Also, at the end of Hume’s article, Philo himself destroys theism. He states that for the argument to be good, you need close analogies. But, if the analogy between machine and universe are too tight, then divine and human intelligence are too close, and therefore there is proof that there is no existence of God.

The argument that I am more comfortable with, though, is Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument. This argument relies on empirical observation; it begins with an observation of a factual feature of the world and reasons itself back to what may have been the case in order for the world to be this way. It is in this way that we observe the world not as a cause of another thing, but as the effect of something prior. For example, we can see the world in these terms: if a cause exists, so does its effects; if the effects exist, so does the cause; the effects exist; so the cause is. It is through this idea that Aquinas tries to show that God exists (God being the cause). Now that we can see God as a cause that exists, Aquinas tries to demonstrate that there is a first cause and that this is God.

This is shown through the following: (1) There is a casual order (2) Nothing causes itself to exist (Note: this does not contradict what I have stated above, that God exists due to himself- this is because above it is God’s nature to exist himself- yet here I am saying that one cannot cause its own existence- this would only be comparable to saying God created himself – this is not what was said) (3) The casual order cannot be infinite (i) because casual orders are such that the first causes the second, the second causes the third, etc. (ii) to take away a cause is to take away an effect (iii) in an infinite casual order there is no first member (iv) if there is no first member, then there is no second if there is no second, then there is no third, etc. (v) since there is a casual order then there must be a first member or cause (4) Therefore, there is a first cause, God.

This argument has many strengths which bring me to my comfort level with this argument. For example, I feel that the conditions set under Aquinas’ Second Argument are all-sufficient. It begins with the statement that there is a causal order, which is an observable, empirical truth. The next point is a necessary truth, and the rest all derive from those two truths. For example, one can easily understand how point 3 can be formulated as truth itself.

I, myself, must prefer this idea of casual order not being infinite because one can not grasp the infinite without beginning. Also, some may say that there have always been casual orders and effects; that they don’t necessarily have a beginning; they just are. Yet, I feel that when we see these parallel casual orders, we can not see them as multiples, but like a tree that if followed all the way back goes to the same first cause, God. Lastly, I feel that we can see this infinite casual order idea as a false one because if the series of events of this world were infinite, we could never get, here, to this point.

I feel that this idea of infinite duration can be disproved by Xeno’s Paradox. This paradox states that if you are travelling from point A to point B, you necessarily must travel half of the distance to point B before travelling all of the distance. Now from that point, you must again travel half of the remaining distance. If you continue to do so (travel half of the distance) you will never reach point B. Therefore, with this paradox, we can prove that if the universe is an infinite casual order, then motion (in time) is impossible. Yet, we know motion to be possible because we are here now. So, the casual order is not infinite. It does have a beginning, or first cause, God.

There are some weaknesses, though, to this argument. For example, the first is that, plainly, this argument may be considered invalid. In a valid argument, you can not have premises that are true and a conclusion that follows to be false. And, in this argument, this may very well be accurate. For example, the argument does not show that the first cause that it has deducted must be God. Why not an event? Secondly, it does not show that there is only one casual order, and therefore first cause.

Lastly, it doesn’t show that the first cause continues to exist. Yet, I feel that maybe only the first of these objections is really a problem, for it is the only one that we were truly trying to ultimately accomplish with this particular argument. Another problem that we have with this argument, though, is that it may not be a sound argument. This is said because the argument states that if there is not the first cause, then there could not now be anything.

Since this is an absurd claim, it is said that it is automatically false. Yet, is it? Could it just be unusual or beyond us (too complicated for the human mind to grasp)? Also, there is the argument that there simply could be an infinite casual order, which Aquinas has overruled. It can be said, that a believer in this infinite series does not deny the existence of a “first” cause, A, (which means that there would not be anything new), but he/she does deny that A has the special feature of being the first member of the series. For example, this can be more clearly seen by saying, “ Elizabeth is the smartest student ever at Miami.” Here we are not denying the fact that Elizabeth is a student at Miami and she exists, we are only denying that Elizabeth has the property “smartest student ever”. This is the same as saying that A may exist, but it does not have the property of being the first member.

Omniscience as a Problem for Theism

As I started this paper, one of the first things that I discussed was the multiple attributes that can be, and must be applied to God in order for him to be “a being than which none greater can be conceived.” As could be seen, there were conflicts throughout that could be raised. These conflicts may or may not disprove the existence of God as this type of being, yet there are two conflicts that definitely pose a threat to Theism itself. These two conflicts are between omniscience and being separate/distinct, and between omniscience and immutability.

The first conflict is between omniscience and the idea of God being separate and distinct from all things of this world. This argument begins with the fact that Theism holds God to be a separate being and to be omniscient. Yet, the problem arises when we see that there are some propositions that only the knower can know. For example, “I am typing this paper right now” can only be known by Elizabeth. Yet, “Elizabeth is writing this paper right now” can be known by almost anyone, including Elizabeth. But, the two of these are different knowings. This causes a big problem. For if God is separate and distinct, then He is separate from Elizabeth, and if God is omniscient then He must know both “knowings”. Therefore, if there is an omniscient being then Theism is false since an omniscient being cannot be separate from a knower of certain propositions. Or, if there is an omniscient being then Theism is false for the reverse reason.

So, this argument proves that Theism is false. Or does it? Is there a way that Theists can respond to these problems? I believe so. Theists may respond by pointing out that just as it can be argued that God is outside time, He is outside human thought. We can see this as God looking “down on us.” He can see every action that is taking place and He can “receive” our thoughts as if they are being sent to Him. So, if we observe this relationship in this way, we can see that God receives the thought of “I am typing this paper right now,” yet is able to know it and still separate it from His own actions and being. I feel that this is one way in which Theists could respond to this problem. As to whether or not this response is adequate can also be argued. To me, as a believer of God, the response makes complete sense, while remaining with this specific attribute, yet an atheist might not transfer my idea in the same way.

Another way in which the attribution of omniscience to God is a problem for Theism is that it can be seen as incompatible with immutability. This argument unfolds in this way: (1) Theism holds that God is immutable (2) Theism holds that God is omniscient (3) A being who always knows all that can be known always knows what time it is (4) A being that knows what time it is is a being that is always changing (5) Therefore, there cannot be a being that is both omniscient and immutable (6) God does not exist. There are a few different ways in which a Theist can respond to this problem, according to Norman Kretzmann.

The one that I think holds best is that if God always knows what time it is, then He undeniably always knows something that is always changing. Yet, change in the object of one’s knowledge is not change in the knower. I feel that this is a very adequate response. It is one with little availability for rebuttal and I feel it is one that can easily be analogized to our own experiences.

As one can see, the knowledge of God is a never-ending argument between all believers and non-believers. The multiple arguments seem unsolvable at times, and what is thought to be a conclusion to one problem is really the rise of several more unanswerable problems. As a Theist, though, I think maybe there is no rhyme or reason to God. He instilled this notion of God within us so that we may strive to be better people, yet He is only to understand Himself. Through analyzing the above arguments though, I have only shown myself that there of course will always be differing views and what I have believed may not be right.

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