Follow up to: The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time; The Biblical God is a Malevolent Bully, Part II; God, Babies, Hell, and Justice; The Contradictory Failure of Prayer, Part II; There Are No Religious Facts
I’ve been running a Weekly Link Roundup series for quite some time now, currently in its twenty-fifth article and on track to grow further. In these series, I post whatever well-argued things that strike my fancy, and this has traditionally included a lot of arguments against the existence of God that I hate to see not given more prominence.
The arguments in question come from a series of YouTube videos by user TheraminTrees called “There are no gods”, that set out to explain what TheraminTrees used to believe about gods, and why he is an atheist now — including which gods he rejects, why, and with how much certainty. I want to single out these arguments here to give them a bit more prominence, but also to discuss them and analyze their success. I also think it’s good just to get them written up in text, since some people (like me) prefer reading a lot more than watching.
The Three Videos
He starts in the first video by outlining his time as a Christian. While it contains some interesting mentions of unsettling Bible passages, it’s nothing that hasn’t been covered in my essay “The Biblical God is a Malevolent Bully” or Adam Lee’s essay “The Abraham Test”.
Instead, I’d like to get to the really interesting arguments found in his second video about which Gods he rejects on the basis of them being impossible, which employs the only Incompatible Property Arguments (arguments which hold that God cannot exist because some of his properties are logically contradictory to some of his other properties, like a square circle) that I find actually good. Then I’d like to talk about his third video where he follows up on atheism as applied to gods we cannot really know much about. As a cumulative case, TheraminTrees ends up outlining a rather compelling account for atheism in response to a wide variety of god concepts.
Omnibenevolence vs. Hell
TheraminTrees starts out his first video on impossible gods by pointing out what makes a god impossible: incompatible traits. God cannot both have a trait and lack a trait. So simply find those incompatible traits, and you’ve disproved that specific God as logically impossible.
TheraminTrees’s first example is that Prince Phillip is Vanuatu’s Volcano God is falsified because the volcano god is said to be born in Tanna, whereas Prince Phillip was born in Corfu — because the birthplaces are contradictory, they are therefore incompatible, and therefore this god cannot exist.
Likewise, an omnibenevolent god can be said to be incompatible with the concept of Hell, and thus no “omnibenevolent god that allows people to go to a hell” can exist, because the concepts are logically impossible. While TheraminTrees doesn’t elaborate and takes this argument to, I suppose, be more or less obvious, I make this point in lots of detail and answer many objections in my essay “God, Babies, Hell, and Justice”.
More comment doesn’t seem necessary here, so let’s turn to the next claim.
Omnipotence vs. Immortality or Moral Perfection
TheraminTrees then turns his attack toward omnipotence and starts discussing its incompatibility with a variety of different concepts, outlining what are called omnipotence paradoxes.
TheraminTrees agrees that certain ideas of tasks, like “creating a rock that cannot be lifted”, are indeed silly challenges for a God. But I think he’s a bit too hasty in dismissing those, because they do force a redefinition of omnipotence. God is no longer the kind of entity that can do anything, but is now just the kind of entity that can do anything which is logically possible. I agree that this move is trivial, because an entity which can do the logically impossible is itself logically impossible so of course God isn’t like that, but it’s a change none the less that starts a fall down a slippery slope to absurdity.
Can God Commit Suicide?
So what’s the next part of this slope? Asking if God can commit suicide. If yes, God is not immortal in the sense of being absolutely impossible to kill. If no, God is not omnipotent, because he can’t kill himself.
This task is interesting because it points to something God cannot do that we humans can do — all of us can commit suicide, yet God cannot. Yet, this argument is still potentially unfair, because none of us can kill impossible-to-kill things. Thus we might be looking at the same kind of rock task we saw earlier, asking God to do the logically impossible.
This response is stronger than TheraminTrees and others, such as Nicholas Everitt in “The Nonexistence of God”, make it sound: they typically respond that since it is logically possible for God to not exist, then God can kill himself. But to me, it seems easy to say that while God could have never existed, it is true that “If God exists, God cannot fail to exist”. Or rather, one could simply argue as many do that God is a metaphysically necessary entity. So we’re left looking somewhere else.
Additionally, it seems easy to disarm this by simply denying that God is immortal in the absolute sense, and instead argue that God could bring about his own nonexistence, but is immortal to all other forms of death.
Can God Sin?
Thus TheraminTrees calls omnipotence over a bit prematurely. However, I think his argument can be saved by pointing out that there are indeed logically possible things that God cannot do. Can God create a second God, equal in power to himself? I don’t see any logical impossibility in that — all it would mean is that polytheism is logically possible, which I think it is. Yet, people say that God cannot create other gods.
This aside, another question asked by Nicholas Everitt is asking if God is capable of sinning. While it’s easy to imagine a God that can sin but simply always chooses not to, many theists insist that it is impossible for God to sin (also see here), because doing so would go against his very nature. Thus it must be asserted that it is logically impossible to deny one’s nature, but I don’t think that claim works. What is contradictory about simply changing your nature to a different nature? Why, exactly, can’t God become evil?
Thus it seems we have tunneled to a new definition of omnipotence: “An omnipotent being can do anything that is (1) logically possible and (2) not contrary to its essential nature”.
What is Left of Omnipotence?
Here’s where TheraminTrees’s argument kicks back in from the detour constructed for it: if an entity can be omnipotent despite not being able to deny it’s own nature, then humans are omnipotent. Given that it’s part of the essential human nature to be incapable of things like breathing water or sprouting wings, the inability to do this is no mark against human’s omnipotence.
TheraminTrees follows this up by quoting the Bible’s Genesis 11:5-6 saying that “[i]ndeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them”. This does makes it sound like that if humans speak one language, nothing they propose to do (such as breathe water or sprout wings) will be witheld.
I think this is a bit suspect as an overly literal reading of the passage. But returning to Everitt for another detour will really sell this home: imagine a being (affectionately called Nullipotent) that has an essential nature of being incapable of anything, other than existing. Such a being is omnipotent too by the new definition — while it can’t fly, doing so is contary to its essential nature, and thus does not make it loose omnipotent status.
Additionally, we could imagine another being (called Semigod) that can do anything God can do, except is furthermore not morally perfect and thus capable of sinning. Perhaps this being even sins once or twice, by saying something blasphemous or taking physical form and masturbating. Such a being is also omnipotent, also logically possible, yet has even more capabilities than God!
Thus omnipotence emerges as a concept contradicted by absolute immortality or absolute moral perfection. So any God that wants to survive this argument must be at least capable of suicide or sinning, even if such a being never actually does.
More to Come…
So what have we done? Using the basic incompatibility structure, We’ve ruled out a bunch of gods: those that are born once yet in two different birth places, those that allow people to go to Hell, and those that are omnipotent yet absolutely immortal or morally perfect.
That said, we’re not even close to finishing the first half of the video. No wonder I admire how dense this is! Next, TheraminTrees moves on away from omnipotence to discuss another omni-attribute, omniscience, or knowing everything. In the next installment of this series, I’ll follow him there.
Continued in TheraminTrees’s Atheism, 2: Omniscience
Author’s Note: On June 25, 2012, I split this essay into two parts — one for omnipotence and omniscience.
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