05 / 06

How Free is God?

Closer to Truth interviews William Lane Craig

Time : 00:11:32

Robert Lawrence Kuhn (host of PBS' "Closer To Truth") interviews William Lane Craig about God's omnipotence. Questions explored: What can God do? What can God not do? What is an omnipotent God? How is God "limited"? Can God do a self-contradiction? Is God free to not make a creation? Is God free to make multiple universes? What else can God NOT do? Who is St. Anselm? Can God sin? To be worthy of worship must God be morally perfect? What is meant by counter-factuals of freedom? What is the "limitation" of God's freedom?


Robert Lawrence Kuhn: How free is God? What can God do and what can God not do?

Dr. Craig: The question you’re raising is the question of divine omnipotence, and although omnipotence is very difficult to define with great philosophical precision, I think we can get a rough and ready idea of this property by saying that an omnipotent being is a being which is capable of doing anything that is logically possible for someone to do in that situation.

So, God can’t do something like make a married bachelor or a round square. That’s not an infringement of omnipotence because those aren’t really things, those are just absurd combinations of words, and therefore, God’s ability to perform things would be limited only by logic.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: The classic example is that: Can God make a rock too heavy for him to lift?

Dr. Craig: Right, and that would be like a married bachelor. It’s a self-contradictory description.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And so, rather than being used as a way to discard theism, if you will, it is really a silly logical word game.

Dr. Craig: I think that’s right, but these can be helpful in the following sense: I think that these kind of conundrums can actually be very helpful to the theist in helping to craft careful definitions of the various divine attributes. And it is possible to do this with divine omnipotence, but it would be a very long and complicated definition that wouldn’t be helpful, I think, for this program. But the rough and ready idea that I gave I think will do.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: What are some other aspects of the freedom of God? For example, could God not have ever made a creation? Was God free not to make a creation?

Dr. Craig: Well, certainly on the traditional Judeo-Christian view, creation is a freely willed act of God and that therefore, God could have refrained from creation. And philosophers will express this by saying that we can conceive of a possible world in which God alone exists, and there’s no space, there’s no time, there is nothing exterior to God. God alone exists in that possible world, and that does seem to be a conceivable world.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And God is also free to create multiple worlds and infinite numbers of multiple universes?

Dr. Craig: That’s right. The idea that this universe is the only universe that exists isn’t part of Christian theism or a commitment of traditional monotheistic theology. God as an infinite being could create as many universes as he wanted to.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Are there other things that God is not free to do other than not doing logical contradictions?

Dr. Craig: I don’t think so, though—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Can God sin?

Dr. Craig: No, for example, he couldn’t sin because that would be a logical contradiction for an absolutely and essentially holy being to do evil.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: But that requires you to define as God’s essence a holy being who’s wholly good.

Dr. Craig: Right, and that, I think, is part of the definition of God. As Saint Anselm said, “God is the greatest conceivable being,” and so he would have to be a perfect being, and that would include moral perfection.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: I see a slight difference between God being unable to create a married bachelor and God being unable to sin because God is good, because in one case it’s just a fundamental contradiction; in the other case it’s a contradiction of what you assume to be a hard and fast characteristic of God.

Dr. Craig: I don’t think there’s any metaphysical distinction between the two. Both of them describe logical impossibilities. But I think what you’re hitting on is that when we think of a married bachelor, it’s just very evident that that’s a self-contradictory sort of description. But when you say a God who sins, that might not appear on the surface as contradictory to some people, but I do think that when you cash out the conception of who God is, namely the greatest conceivable being, a perfect being, then it’s evident that moral imperfection would be incompatible with such a being. And therefore, if God exists, he would be essentially good and therefore incapable of sin.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: I can follow that if God is essentially good then it is a contradiction, but it is an assumption, maybe it’s true, that being essentially good is an absolute requirement of this perfect being.

Dr. Craig: That’s right, though I think one can argue for that assumption, as I say, on the basis of the definition of who God is. [1] I don’t think that if there were a possible world in which there was a being that was very, very powerful, say, but was morally flawed, that that being would be worthy of worship.

To be worthy of worship, a being has to be morally perfect, and any being that is not worthy of worship can’t be God, it would seem to me, because you wouldn’t owe him worship, and God is to be worshiped. So, I do think it belongs to the very concept of God when you reflect on it, that he be morally perfect.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Some of these arguments, although making sense one to the other, do have a circularity to them, because you’re characterizing your God to be worshiped as if worship is like an independent variable. I mean, maybe there’s an omnipotent being who’s almost perfect and maybe we should worship or maybe not. I can’t eliminate those possibilities.

Dr. Craig: But surely you can. I mean, think about it, do you think if there were a being that were extremely powerful that that would merit worship? Does might make right? I don’t think so. It seems to me that in addition to power—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Well, maybe he just tries as best as he can and is almost perfect.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, well, then you would admire him, but you wouldn’t worship him.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Well, I mean, I don’t know, if he created me, I’d probably give him the benefit of the doubt. [Laughs]

Dr. Craig: [Laughs] Well, I think you might admire your creator but, I mean, you don’t worship your parents, and so I don’t think that just being one’s creator or even being extremely powerful would merit the kind of attitude that worship involves.

So, the whole thing is what you mean by God. If you’re talking about God with a big “G,” I do think things like moral perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, belong to the concept of that. If you’re talking about god with a little “g,” like the gods of Greece and Rome or something, well clearly those kinds of gods aren’t morally perfect.

So, that’s why I recur repeatedly to Anselm’s concept of God as the greatest conceivable being—that there is no being conceivably greater than God. And since to be morally perfect is a perfection, a greatest conceivable being would have to be morally perfect. If there were some being that was morally imperfect, well, I could conceive of something greater than that, and so that being wouldn’t be God.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: According to that definition.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Are there any other things that God can’t do?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I think that here we come to this issue that is raised by God’s omniscience and the theory of middle knowledge, which says that there are statements about how people would freely choose in certain circumstances. And the interesting thing about these kinds of statements is that they are contingent, they are not necessary truths like the truths of mathematics. In different possible worlds, we may choose differently in the same circumstances. So, they’re contingent. And yet, they are independent of God’s will. God doesn’t determine how you shall freely choose in the circumstances that you find yourself in. And what that means is—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: So, God is not, then, free to determine those acts?

Dr. Craig: That’s right.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: So, that’s a limitation on God’s own freedom.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s right, because these are logically prior to his decree to create the world. And so, if he has knowledge of these, they’re called counter-factuals of freedom about how people would act if they were in certain circumstances.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Define those terms: counter-factual.

Dr. Craig: Well, a counter-factual is an if-then statement in the subjunctive mood, like, “If I were rich, I would buy a Mercedes.” Now, I’m not rich, and so I don’t. But if I were, then I would. That’s a counter-factual. It states an if-then hypothetical in the subjunctive mood.

And the idea here is that God knows the truth value of all these counter-factuals about how creatures would freely choose in any circumstances they might be placed in, and if he does know these prior to his divine decree, then he doesn’t determine those. He doesn’t determine how you would act freely in any circumstances you might be in, and therefore, these lie in that sense outside his ability or power to determine.

Now, what that means is that there are logically possible worlds which are not feasible for God to create, because if he were to place the creatures in those circumstances, they wouldn’t do that thing, they would do something else. So, the theory of middle knowledge says that there are all of these possible worlds that God knows that are possibilities, but then there’s a subset—a proper subset—of these, which are all of the feasible worlds that God could actualize given the truths of these counter-factuals of freedom about how creatures would act. [2]

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And then he chooses the one that he thinks are the proper ones to make real, actualize.

Dr. Craig: That’s right, and then he will pick one of these feasible worlds to be the actual world. And so, that’s a very interesting, I think, limitation upon God’s freedom. Again, it’s purely logical because it’s based upon the logical impossibility of making someone freely choose something. That is logically impossible—it’s contradictory.

So, it’s not an infringement on God’s freedom that goes beyond logic. But it does have very interesting implications for God’s providence over the world, and for the evil and the imperfections that are in the world, because it may be that there was no world feasible for God in which everybody always freely chose to do the right thing. It’s possible that in any feasible world, some free creatures, at least, would go wrong and there would be sin and evil in the world. So, this has very interesting repercussions for questions about the evil in the world and the other imperfections and limitations in the world. [3]

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    Total Running Time: 11:32