God cannot exist because His attributes would require limits
I received an email from a Christian who was taking a philosophy class. He stated that the following argument, as a proof against God's existence, was presented in the book, Atheism: The Case Against God, written by George H. Smith (page 41). I have reproduced the argument given to me in his email and will attempt to answer it.
If a supernatural being is to be exempt from natural law, it cannot possess specific, determinate characteristics. These attributes would impose limits and these limits would restrict the capacities of this supernatural being....A supernatural being, if it is to differ in kind from natural existence, must exist without a limited nature--which amounts to existing without any nature at all.
If I understand the argument correctly, it states that God can't exist because such a being would have specific attributes which are naturally limits. These limits would mean it is subject to natural laws, not supernatural. Therefore, God cannot exist.
In order to answer this objection, I will break down his statements into an outline, with answers included in the outline.
- If a supernatural being is to be exempt from natural law, it cannot possess specific, determinate characteristics.
- "Determinate" means "precisely limited or defined." A "characteristic" is a distinguishing feature or prominent aspect of something. An "attribute" is a quality in something, usually that which identifies a characteristic. A characteristic of God is that he works patiently with people. An attribute of God is that he is all knowing.
- I assume that Mr. Smith means to be "exempt" from natural law means that God is not restricted to them or by them. That would make sense, since if God exists and if he created the universe, then by nature all laws are thus created by him and are, therefore, subject to him.
- However, I see no logical reason to state that God cannot have limited or defined characteristics. A supernatural being must, by logical necessity, operate in concert with his nature. In other words, God could not violate his own nature. This non-self-violation truth would be a characteristic: the inability of self-contradiction. By default, this is a limitation upon God that does not negate his existence. Since God is eternal by nature, He could not destroy himself and thus violate his attribute of eternality. In fact, such thinking would demonstrate the logic of His existence by affirming the lack of ability of self-contradiction. As we can see around us, all things that exist have a nature against which they cannot act in a contrary manner. A tree cannot be a galaxy; their natures are different. A cat cannot be a jumbo jet; their natures are different. The fact that a cat cannot be a jet does not mean that neither the cat nor the jet exist. The same with God. God is limited to his own nature because he cannot do things which are against his nature. For example, God cannot lie, stop being God and then become God again, etc. Therefore, the claim that attributes which necessitate limits disproves God's existence is illogical.
- Additionally, natural laws are creations of God and are reflections of his creative nature: consistency, absoluteness, etc. But, they are not beyond Him nor greater than Him since, by definition, God is greater than all things.
- These attributes would impose limits, and these limits would restrict the capacities of this supernatural being.
- As stated above, a restriction of capacity does not negate the possibility of God's existence. Again, God does not have the capacity to lie, steal, cheat, not be God, or violate his own nature, and these limits do not prove he cannot exist.
- A supernatural being, if it is to differ in kind from natural existence, must exist without a limited nature -- which amounts to existing without any nature at all.
- This is not a logical statement. The "must" in the statement is unqualified. Why "must" a supernatural being exist without limits? Limited how? In scope, size, duration, extent, nature, etc.? It is unspecified and, therefore, difficult to address in detail.
- Furthermore, above I demonstrated that God is limited to the characteristics of his own nature, in that He cannot violate his own nature. His attributes (omniscience, omnipresence, etc.), which are reflective of His nature, cannot be self-contradictory.
- Since God is not self-contradictory, he would act in concert with the natural laws which have been "designed into" the universe. However, since these natural laws are created by Him, He is in full control of them all and can act in a way that to us is miraculous.
- Furthermore, since God would be infinite, any natural laws reflected in a universe would be, by definition, limited; since the universe, a created thing, cannot exceed the scope, nature, and power of God since it is a creation. By necessity, then, when God created the limited universe, the natural laws in it cannot control or restrict him since they are finite and he is infinite. At best, the natural laws are only a reflection of His infinitude and internal consistency, and are subject to His control.
Also, I noticed the switch in terms from characteristic to attribute. Mr. Smith said, "If a supernatural being is to be exempt from natural law, it cannot possess specific, determinate characteristics. These attributes would impose limits..." The terms are not defined (at least not in the email I received), and are not identical words. Yet, Mr. Smith uses them synonymously which, I believe, weakens his argument further by demonstrating a lack of consistency.
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