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Notes on Rowe's Chapter 1 of his Philosophy of Religion: The Concept of God

Rowe’s Philosophy of Religion – Chapter 1

0. Preliminaries: Varieties of Views about God(s)
0.1 Polytheism: many gods
0.2 Henotheism: many gods, but one limits one’s worship/adherence to just the god of one’s tribe
0.3. Anthropomorphic Monotheism: the God “up there”
0.3.1 A physical being
0.3.2 Located in a specific region of space
0.3.3 Associated with a pre-scientific cosmology
0.4 Non-anthropomorphic Monotheism: the God “out there”
0.4.1 Our focus
0.4.2 The concept of God developed by the famous philosopher-theologians (Augustine, Boethius, Bonaventure, Avicenna, Anselm, Maimonides, Aquinas)
0.4.3 A spiritual, immaterial being
0.4.4 All-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good, creator and sustainer of the universe (from which God is separate and independent), omnipresent, self- existent, and eternal

1. Omnipotence and Perfect Goodness
1.1 Omnipotence: being all-powerful
1.1.1 Relative vs. absolute possibility
1.1.1.1 A relative possibility is something that a being or type of being can do. E.g., flying is a relative possibility: it falls within the scope of a bird’s abilities, but not a human’s.
1.1.1.2 An absolute possibility is something that isn’t logically impossible, i.e., isn’t self-contradictory
1.1.2 The classical definition of God’s omnipotence is in terms of absolute possibility: God can do anything that isn’t self-contradictory
1.1.2.1 Power itself is limited to what is logically possible.
1.1.2.2 Therefore, to say that God can’t do the logically impossible isn’t to say that God’s power has limitations, since they aren’t things that can be accomplished by power
1.1.3 Non-logical limits? God’s attributes
1.1.3.1 God’s goodness: can God do what is unethical?
1.1.3.2 God’s eternity: can God commit suicide?
1.1.4 Revising the definition of omnipotence: the ability to do anything that is absolutely possible, and consistent with God’s essential attributes.
1.1.4.1 This helps resolve the paradox of the stone – can God make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?
1.1.4.2 For now we can say that making such a rock would mean that God could not lift it, which is a task that is inconsistent with his essential attribute of omnipotence
1.1.5 A problem for the new definition of omnipotence: changing the past
1.1.5.1 The description of such a task isn’t self-contradictory
1.1.5.2 Also, such a task doesn’t conflict with God’s essential attributes
1.1.5.3 Still, it seems impossible for any being to change the past – even God
1.1.5.4 So it looks as though we need to modify our definition of omnipotence further to eliminate this problem and others
1.2 Perfect Goodness
1.2.1 Unsurpassible, essential goodness
1.2.1.1 Many theologians have thought that if God isn’t perfectly good, then God isn’t worthy of unconditional worship and gratitude
1.2.1.2 Thus, many theists hold that God is unsurpassably good
1.2.3 Also, theists don’t typically think that God just happens to be perfectly good, but rather that he’s perfectly good by nature – essentially perfectly good.
1.2.2 Good in both moral and non-moral senses
1.2.2.1 God is morally perfect: perfectly virtuous (benevolent, just, patient, etc.)
1.2.2.2 But also, his life is good: happy, worthwhile, full, etc.
1.2.3 God’s moral goodness as the standard for morality
1.2.3.1 A common view: The source of positive and negative duties
1.2.3.1.1 How is God the “ground” of morality?
1.2.3.1.2 morality grounded in his commands
1.2.3.1.3 a worry: the Euthyphro Dilemma
1.2.3.1.4 compare: mathematical truths: grounded in God?
1.2.3.2 Other common views
1.2.3.2.1 Even if God is not the ground of moral facts, still, God plays the crucial role of revealing morality to us – say, by commanding them and then revealing them to us via scripture or conscience
1.2.3.2.2 God is required to motivate us to be moral by rewarding good actions and punishing bad actions (in this life or in an afterlife)
1.2.3.2.3 A worry: if we do what’s right only if someone threatens to punish or harm us, are we truly virtuous, or are we merely imitating virtue?

2. Self-existence
2.1 Part of the very nature of God is to exist; He can’t fail to exist -- he exists of necessity
2.2 Why think this?
2.2.1 Anselm: God’s existence must be explained either by something else, nothing, or his own nature.
2.2.2 But he can’t be explained by something else. For God is supremely great, and if he depends on something else, then he wouldn’t be supreme or superior to all other things.
2.2.3 And we can’t say that his existence is explained by nothing whatsoever, for nothing exists without a sufficient reason for why it exists.
2.2.4 Therefore, God’s existence must be explained in virtue of God himself – it’s part of his very essence to exist
2.2.5 How could this be? The “stone and fire” analogy
2.3 My side note: a debate among theists: factually vs. logically necessary existence
2.4 We’ll talk more about self-existence when we discuss the cosmological argument

3. Separation, Independence, and Eternity
3.1 Unlike pantheism (the view of God expressed in forms of Hinduism and Buddhism), the god of theism is distinct from the material world, and the creator and sustainer of it
3.2 God can exist apart from the material world, and from anything else whatsoever; the universe cannot exist without God creating it and sustaining its moment-by- moment existence.
3.3 God is not in space and time. What does that mean? God is subject to neither the law of space nor the law of time
3.3.1 Unlike material objects, all of God can be present at multiple regions of space at the same time – indeed, all of God is simultaneously present at every region of space
3.3.2 Unlike material objects, God’s whole life – past, present, and future – is simultaneously present to him at every moment of time
3.4 The idea that God is not in time (i.e., timeless) is currently controversial among theists. Some think he’s timeless -- outside of time altogether. Others think he’s everlasting – inside the stream of time, but he has no beginning or end to his life.

4. Summing it all up: Theism is the view that there is exactly one god, and that this god is a self-existent immaterial spirit, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal (whether timeless or everlasting), perfectly good, creator of the universe, from which he is distinct and independent.

5. Basic stances about the god of classical theism
4.1 Theist: believes that a theistic god exists
4.2 Atheist: believes that no god exists
4.3 Agnostic: suspends judgment either way: don’t know/can’t tell whether a god exists

Comments

wwcccmst said…
This is terrific. Do you have any other chapters outlined?

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