Saturday, February 9, 2013

Richard Dawkins on The God Delusion


“Omnipotence and Omniscience”

 “Omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible. If God is omniscient, he must already know he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can’t change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent.” –Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

In order to evaluate the validity of Dawkins’ argument, let’s put it in the form of a syllogism.

If God is omniscient, He knows everything that will happen
If God is omnipotent, he has the power to change the course of history
God’s omniscience means He cannot change the course of history if He already knows that history
Therefore, omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible

In order for an argument to be valid, the conclusion must follow deductively from the premises. In this case, Dawkins would appear to have a valid argument. However, just because an argument is valid, that does not mean its conclusion is true. It simply means the argument has good form. What has to hold in order for an argument to be valid and have a true conclusion is that the premises must be true and the conclusion must deductively follow from those premises. Here is an example of a valid argument with a false conclusion:

All humans have two eyes
Bill only has one eye
Therefore Bill is not human

The form of this argument is good. The conclusion logically follows from the premises. However, we know that the conclusion is false. Why? What is wrong with this argument? The problem is located in the first premise. It is not true that all humans have two eyes. Some humans lose an eye while others may be born with only one eye. This fact does not make one non-human.

Here is an example of an invalid argument with a false conclusion:
All humans have two eyes
Bill has two legs
Therefore Bill is not human

This argument has a problem in that the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

Here is an example of an invalid argument with a true conclusion:
All humans have brains
Bill has two eyes
Therefore Bill is a human

Now, let’s return to Dawkins argument to see if his conclusion is true or false. Does God know all that will happen? Yes He does. This is attested time and again in Scripture. There is nothing hidden from God. Dawkins’ first premise is true. What can we say about the second premise? Can God change the course of history? At first glance, we may be tempted to answer in the affirmative. But before we do, we must first examine what we mean by history. We understand history to mean all phenomenon throughout the course of human existence from the beginning to the end. Can God change the course or path of human history? If it is true that nothing happens that God did not decree, and it is true that God is unchanging, then it follows that God cannot change the course of human history because unless God had decreed it, it would not exist in the first place.

All of human history is the result of the decretive act of God
God’s decretive acts cannot undergo change
Therefore, God cannot change the course of human history

This argument is not only valid, its conclusion happens to be true as well. In fact, the conclusion is necessarily true because 1) it follows from the premises, and 2) both premises are true. When the conclusion of an argument deductively follows from true premises, that conclusion is necessarily true.

Dawkins makes a category error in how he understands omniscience and human history. In addition, omnipotence does not mean God can do anything. For example, God cannot lie. God cannot sin. God cannot tempt others to sin. God cannot stop being God. Omnipotence means that God is powerful enough to do whatever God is pleased to do. "All-powerful" means there is nothing God cannot do if He indeed wants to do it. The reason God cannot do certain things is that God cannot do anything with which He is not pleased. In other words, God cannot act in a way that is contrary to His holy nature. It would be a violation of God’s nature for God to decree one thing and then do another. Therefore, God cannot change the course of human history because He has previously decreed that such a course be actualized before time began. The truth is that if God were not omnipotent, He would not be able to guarantee that what He decrees will actualize because something could take place beyond his power or ability to bring it to pass. Moreover, if God were not omniscient, He would not know what to decree, let alone how to bring it to pass. One would expect a man like Richard Dawkins to be able to construct better arguments. It is at times shocking to observe how sinful men employ the use of logic and reason in such unethical manners in order to suppress the knowledge of God in nature, and in human conscience.

2 comments:

  1. There is another issue here and that is that God is the creator of everything. When God made creation he made everything in it. It isn't that he just knows history, but he literally MADE history. God can't change who he is or what his perfect nature made. God doesn't have the power to change history... but then, neither do people, and that is devastating for freewill. As far as God's omnipotence goes, he has no power to change anything in a supposedly perfect creation.

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