Dagwood has a closet full of objections to Christianity (and Theism in general). Since the comment section of his blog has gotten too cumbersome for me I'm responding here. It's going to be hard for me to clearly articulate his challenge here because I hadn't gotten around to getting clarification on his objection seen here.
, if God did change his nature? 1) How would you know? And 2) How could you enforce it not happening? Is the “doctrine of immutability” a greater law than God?Question, Jeff. What could God do that is unjust and why is it unjust?
To be fair, I don't know for sure what he means here and will be guessing as best I can. So Dag, please correct me.
If this is taken as an honest question it deserves an answer. If it's somehow meant to be a challenge then I don't see the logical coherence except in the last sentence. So let me take that one first.
The charge is that the doctrine of immutability is logically incoherent. This could be claimed, also, of God's omnipotence (ie. Can God create a bolder too big for Him to lift?). The simple answer is that God cannot do anything that is logically incoherent. God is logical in His nature — He may be said to be "logic" just as He is "love" — and He does not do anything inconsistent with His nature. Indeed, the very idea of doing something logically incoherent is incoherent. One may say incoherent things (like, "I have a non-existent diamond in my pocket"), but producing instances of them is another matter.
Some examples would be:
- God cannot kill himself
- God cannot create a round square
- God cannot change in essence
- And on...
Do these limitations themselves negate omnipotence? The answer is "No". This is because the concept of divine omnipotence was never understood to mean that God could do the logically impossible.
The first two in the example above are logically incoherent, but why would the third one be so? That takes explaining. The Christian concept of God is that He is the greatest conceivable being. In fact, this formulation of God is relied upon by Anselm in his Ontological argument. Since God is the greatest conceivable Being, to change His essence would necessarily entail becoming less than perfect. Therefore, it's logically incoherent for God (and only God) to change His essence.
Of course there is a Biblical argument to support the concept of immutability, but non-Christians don't want to hear those arguments.
So on to the question: Can God do anything that is unjust?
My answer will be two-fold. First, the answer must be no. The charge from Dagwood (I think) is that this makes God subject to the laws of justice. To say yes would make God less than Just. This puts us on the horns of a dilemma, it seems (also known as the Euthyphro dilemma). Perhaps some would be content to say that it's OK for God to be subject to the laws of justice. But if so, where did these come from? Did they preceed God? Are they more powerful than God? Clearly this raises some issues that would cease to have God being God (remember the definition of 'greatest conceivable Being'?).
The answer is that this is a false dilemma. In Dagwood's own words: "I have to tell you. Whenever I see claims of dichotomies, all my red flags go up. There are too many variables in life." Seems he doesn't want to take his own advice and consider a tertium quid solution.
I prefer the answer given by Aquinas and C. S. Lewis. God is subject to a moral code (God cannot sin) and He does NOT define righteousness any way He pleases. God's immutable nature is that of righteousness. The moral code that He must follow is an essential part of His nature. Therefore, there is no dilemma. He cannot act contrary to His nature, yet He's not subject to something outside of Himself. Righteousness is God, and God is righteous. The laws that then proceed from Him are not arbitrary, but are consistent with His will and nature. Dilemma solved.
Some would argue from there that this constraint to act according to His moral nature constitutes a limitation that is inconsistent with omnipotence. Augustine answered this charge by arguing that 'evil' has no ontological value in itself. Evil is simply the absence of righteousness. Like a donut hole isn't a thing...it's the absence of donut. A shadow isn't a thing, it's an absence of light. Therefore you cannot say that since humans can sin, we can do something that God can't (that's true) and that we are therefore, in some ways, more powerful than God (our sin is only a weakness or a lacking, never a strength or capability).
Now on to the questions that were asked. Dagwood, if there is a proper challenge embodied by these, let me know and I'll try to address it.
First: If God did change His nature how would we know? Well, we loosely addressed immutability above, as well as the reason it must be so logically. Beyond that we have His revelation in the Bible attesting to it. But if the logically incoherent did happen and God changed His nature, I assume He would reveal it to us in the way that He revealed past points of change. The main covenants (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic...) were periods in time where God changed the rules by which mankind was to operate and men were notified of this. This would not necessitate a change in His own nature or the overarching moral principles, only a further unfolding of His temporal plans for humanity. The only way that God's intimate laws for mankind would remain static is if His purpose and plans for mankind were fulfilled and fixed at our creation.
Second: How could we enforce it not happening? Obviously mankind doesn't enforce anything in regard to God. I suspect something was meant that escapes me and that I can expect an elaboration soon.
There is an important note to add here in regard to God's justice. Dagwood likes to point out Biblical narratives that demonstrate inconsistency in God's behavior. I am not willing to say that on every point of God's behavior that I can subjectively justify it. This is because God has so much more knowledge than I do that I'm incapable in all cases of understanding.
However, it's possible in many cases. So here is a stab. Moral imperatives are not as low level as "Don't punch anyone in the nose". They are more general such as "Don't harm people". Well, what if someone is trying to punch me in the nose? Am I justified in punching their nose first to stop them? Most of us would agree it's justified in self-defense. Why? Because there are two competing morals. There is the moral cost of him hurting me and the moral cost of me hurting him. Which one is worse? I'd argue that him trying to hurt me without sufficient provocation makes his moral transgression worse and the overall moral cost of me hitting him first, is less than if he succeeds in hurting me.
That may not have been a great example, so I'll give another one. What if I could take $10 from my friend, and with that money I could provide a starving child with enough food to live for a month. Furthermore, let's assume that this child's starvation is such that she needs food within the next hour to survive. I'd steal the money, but the total moral outcome is far better than if I don't steal the money, thereby allowing the girl's death.
Now imagine that I'm the only one that knows about the girl because I have knowledge you don't. All you see is the theft of the $10 from my friend. You would assume that I was an immoral person. What if, unbeknownst to you, my friend owed me $10? This analogy is ideal for the claim of injustice against God. He's working to bring about the absolute best end result for eternity. He knows the future outcome of actions taken today (or not taken today) and does things that would appear to a finite being as being immoral (say commanding the death of all Canaanites). To top it all off, He owns this world and all the life in it (ala the $10).
Which brings me to a point that needs stressing in regard to the charge that God is unjust. Why is it wrong for us to kill? Is it because human life is precious in some sense? Well, yes. But is this human life precious in a way that is outside of God? (creating a bit of the Euthyphro dilemma again). The primary justification for the value of man is that man is God's creation.
Imagine an artist makes a beautiful sculpture. Now imagine 2 acts: Me walking in his house and destroying it; or the artist walking up and destroying it. The first act is immoral, the second act isn't. It's about dominion. Since God holds dominion over all of creation, He has the right to take human life without the charge of murder.
I know that last statement will make Dagwood tremble with anger. But there's no logical contradiction there, at least as I see it.