Omnipotence, Omniscience, Etc.
|October 5, 2006||Posted by Anthony under Blog, General|
I’m always amazed at how the same things come up over and over again from atheists. The funny thing is that they always think they’re bringing some new revelation, as though Christians and theists in general haven’t been hearing- and answering- these things for thousands of years. Sparking this blog is this thread and the two threads it references: http://www.sntjohnny.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=2199.
A robust understanding of the ‘omnis’ of Christian theism… omnipotent, omniscient, etc… is easily gained by anyone spending time engaging solid Christian material rather than taking cues from skeptic’s ‘objections’ so I’m not going to expound on that too much here.
What I thought would be helpful, I think, is to understand that even though Christians maintain that God posesses omni-traits, the story doesn’t end there. Skeptics, new believers, and young folks often imagine that by being ‘omnipotent,’ for example, that God’s ability to do everything not only includes the ridiculous and logically incoherent (which it doesn’t), but also that his abilities are somehow patterned according to our own abilities. Now, there is room in Christianity for that direction in thinking, since that is what the whole ‘image of God’ thing is geared for. We are supposed to be able to look to our own nature as clues about God’s nature. What is missed in that analysis is what an ‘image’ is, though. An image is not the thing. It is a picture of the thing. Yes, you can learn about a coffee mug from looking at a picture of a coffee mug, but your picture will not hold coffee nearly so well as the real mug will.
The result of this thinking has far reaching repercussions. I have met atheists who think that the Christian’s understanding of God is the same sort of thing as Zeus, or other so called ‘mythical’ gods. The problem is that these other entities are still not substance. That is to say, they appear just like humans, but with super powers. By ‘super’ they just mean the ability to manipulate the existing laws of nature in bigger ways. For example, a modern equivalent to this sort of thinking is Superman. Superman does not violate the laws of nature by being super-strong. He’s just that- super strong. He’s stronger, can see better, etc. But the ‘super’ in Superman is not the same sort of ‘Super’ as in ‘supernatural.’
The ‘super’ in Superman is just a lot more of the same. The ‘super’ in supernatural is a transcending. It goes back to the Latin sequence… super…. sub. Sub is below, inferior, etc. Super is above, transcendental, etc. God, by definition supernatural, is above and beyond and transcends nature itself. He is not merely stronger than us: he transcends us and our world. Our world itself is sustained by him and completely contingent on him. He does not or did not manipulate existing natural laws- he set them as it pleased him.
This does not mean that his omni-characteristics are unbounded by logic. For one thing, there is little reason to think that most of our natural laws have any bearing on logic at all (I’m pretty sure the definition of a square would be the same whether gravity was stronger or weaker…). What it does mean is that our own logical system is itself going to be an image. Our logic is to God’s logic as a picture of a coffee mug is to the real coffee mug. This does not mean that the coffee mug does not operate according to certain principles- it just means that it operates according to ‘super’ principles- principles that transcend but do not contradict the ‘lower’ principles.
A fun and interesting exploration of this concept is found in a somewhat famous book called “Flatland, A Romance of Many Dimensions” (Abbot, 1884, http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/eaa/FL.HTM) explores this concept just along geometric lines. Yea, you read that right… 1884. I’m not talking about a new concept here, invented to counter the high class modern objections of atheists. In this book, two dimensional beings struggle to understand the nature of a three dimensional world. It is demonstrated that the rules of the three dimensional world are ‘super,’ but not unbounded by logic, either. It is a ‘super-logic.’ And even Flatland is a limited analogy, as it applies only to geometry and our own logical frame of reference. The whole system of geometry as we know it is only an image of the substance that is the ‘super-geometry.’
Taking into account that God, if he exists as Christians describe him, would possess a ‘super-logic’ helps make sense of quite a lot of things. In the first place, it makes it plainly clear that this is not in any sense saying that God is by nature unintelligble and irrational where all rules are off. Understanding that his is a super-rationality and ours is only the image of that rationality helps us see how we might understand some difficult questions.
For example, as a father, my son asks me for a lot of things. Some of them aren’t good for him, but he doesn’t know that yet. The better he knows me, the better he knows what to ask. In the meantime, some of his ‘prayers’ will go unanswered. It is the same with God. It is not an analogy, exactly. Just as the three-dimensional world transcends yet keeps as valid two-dimensional ‘proofs,’ this principle applies to God as well. It is true with God- and ‘super’ true, too. There are more things to consider from more angles and from other frames of reference.
Thus, we are in the position of my son. There comes a point where we understand that we are not yet in a place where we can understand exactly what the Father’s reasoning is, and we’ll just have to trust him- not a blind trust, either, other grounds for trust will exist- on some matters. That does not mean there is no reasoning, nor that we will never understand it. But if we do understand it, it will be like the two dimensional figures of the Flatlanders trying to make sense of a sphere- even the understanding is two-dimensional.
So, in respect to the atheist’s comments which prompted me to speak on this, it should be said that this point of view is completely reasonable up to this point. The only real and legitimate objection would be as to whether or not God has provided sufficient grounds to trust him in certain areas. I am not here invoking the ‘God works in mysterious ways’ cop-out. People fail to remember that if the Christian story is correct, the ‘mystery’ has much less to do with God’s inscrutable methods and reasonings, and more to do with the broken relationship between God and man and the corrupted nature that humans now possess.
In that light, God’s coming to earth to take matters in his own hands, suffering, and dying, is a clear demonstration that he is not silent or absent, but is acting in a way that is logically consistent with the goals and purposes and outcomes he wants to achieve. (ie, if God wants free will, he must actually allow people to disobey him, or else its logically NOT free will).
As mere ‘images’ our knowledge may be limited, but history is our frame of reference. And if it seems that the historical record is clear that a man claiming to be God actually did rise from the dead, that in my opinion is sufficient grounds for trusting him when he said to his disciples that it would be better for him to leave and send his Spirit. I’s not like he didn’t promise to return in force…