Monday, June 28, 2010

God's attributes and the naturalness of hypotheses

For any perfection P, there are two fairly natural hypothesis:

  1. God has P to an infinite, maximal degree (e.g., knows everything, is perfectly just, etc.).
  2. God has P to zero degree.
So it may seem to be reasonable to suppose, for instance when solving the gap problem in the cosmological argument, that God has each perfection to a maximal degree, or to assign a higher prior probability to that.

But there is an objection to this line of thought. In the case of some perfections, like knowledge, there may be a fairly natural in-between hypothesis, such as:

  1. God knows all and only necessary truths.
  2. God knows all and only the truths about the present and anything entailed by them.
(Actually, I think (4) is not natural, but a presentist may think it is.)

Fortunately, there is a response to the objection. While for any particular perfection there may, in addition to zero and infinity, be other natural hypotheses, the only two global hypotheses that are really natural (simple, elegant, etc.) are:

  1. God has all perfections to infinite degree
  2. God has all perfections to zero degree.
If we use "God" to stipulatively designate the necessary being whose existence the cosmological argument demonstrates, hypothesis (5) is clearly preferable to (6), since in order to be the first cause, God cannot have power to zero degree.

Another problem for this line of reasoning is that one might think there are conflicts between perfections. I don't think there in the end are such. But if there were, one might have to modify (5) by saying that God has the best combination of the perfections or something like that.


Jarrett Cooper said...

Prof. Pruss,

Hello. I've been curious (just recently) about the Gap Problem and closing it. I was reading through your online paper Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments. In there you have have Section 5 - The Gap Problem with the following subsections: Agency, Goodness, Simplicity and beyond, and Gellman’s argument for oneness and omnipotence.

In the article you say that typically those (philosophers) who believe in a necessary being will be theists, and those who don't are typically atheists. I'm unsure of Quentin Smith's view, but I read that he argues that the necessary being could just be a timeless point and not some intentional agent of any kind.

I don't know if he actually believes in a necessary being, or if he did he would retort with the above statement and avoid believing that the necessary being would be what we call God.

I guess my question is this: is it possible for the necessary being to be "Good", but not be an intentional agent.

I find the argument from Goodness to be the most appealing (at least on the face of it and while reading over it in your brief piece given to it) argument in closing the Gap Problem.

The other question is: has anyone or groups of individuals collaborated and written any in-length details of closing the Gap Problem? As you note in the conclusion, "contemporary analytic philosophers have not sufficiently worked on, and what is perhaps the most promising avenue for future research, is the Gap Problem."

Or is this possibly a future endeavorer for you?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I suppose that prima facie the first cause could be a good non-person. But it would need some sort of teleology to define its goodness.

Josh Rasmussen has been doing good work on the gap problem, by the way.

Jarrett Cooper said...

Thanks for the reply.

It seems that even if we can argue for the Goodness (I capitalize it, b/c I'm referring the "The Good"), simplicity, omnipotence, and etc., that one can always retort that this necessary being with the aforementioned attributes is not God (as theists would use the term). This is b/c they can say this necessary being, even with all such attributes, still is not an intentional agent (person).

I guess my obstacle is wouldn't some of those attributes imply agency, or is it more broader in that such attributes may imply agency, but agency doesn't necessarily follow from such attributes?

Thanks for the heads up about Josh Rasmussen. I'm aware of him over at Prosblogion.

If I ever get the time I would like to learn and develop the articulation of a necessary being, and from there to argue for theism (closing the Gap Problem), and once we arrive at "bare theism" I'd to argue for Christianity. Then from there argue for a particular denomination. I'm aware you side with Catholicism. (I've just begun the task of studying Catholic doctrine and history.) This task may take some years. :)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Omnipotence does logically imply being an agent.

Jarrett Cooper said...

I would definitely agree with that -- especially given my view that omnipotence is inseparable from omniscience, and vice versa. Although, I don't know if this is the prevailing view among philosophers.

However, I wonder if there is still enough wiggle room for one, if the above is not the case, to simply retort that such a being is still non-agental. Much of this could come form my deficient view of omnipotence.