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#554 Does God Have both Necessary and Contingent Properties?

November 25, 2017

Dr. Craig, 

Wow, I am totally loving the new website! It is very well organized and beautiful. Clearly very well put together. I love how I can find everything so easily. You have shown great diligence, dedication and compassion for humanity in your work. On behalf of sincere seekers of truth everywhere, I would like to thank you for all that you have done. If only it was possible to thank you enough.

My Question is can the Christian God be correctly understood as a necessary being. the ontological and contingency argument clearly infer the existence of a necessary being which is compatible with the God of Israel. It seems that there may be a difficulty in applying arguments for God as a necessary being to Christianity. On the Christian view, God is a tripersonal being. How can He also be necessary? It seems that it is possible that God could have existed in a strict monotheistic sense like Muslims and Jews believe. This seems to suggest that the triune nature of God is not a necessary property. How can a necessary being possess an unnecessary property? Perhaps the already existing God can acquire contingent properties like a body in the incarnation of Jesus. Wouldn't Gods inability to contradict his own nature and His divine aseity prevent Him from acquiring new properties and changing his being. Lastly couldn't God just as easily been bi-personal instead rendering both a tripersonal or unipersonal God unnecessary? In a nutshell, it seems that it is necessary that a being must be (n) personal but if n is not necessarily equal to one then it now seems to be able an arbitrary value of any positive integer. Since n equal to one is not an option for the Christian theist how can the Christian God be a necessary being? This seems to turn typical arguments for God as a necessary being into arguments against Christianity in favor of strict monotheism. This has me seriously considering Judaism. I am not presumptuous enough to just give up on Christ in failure to recognize my own intellectual limitations. On the basis of my personal relationship with Christ, I am confident that this is not a fatal issue and is more likely just another block in the road that is greater than myself and is only a temporary obstacle but as an honest seeker of truth, I have to follow the evidence where it leads and press further inquiry until I can make sense of all the data. Dr. Craig thanks again for all that you do and thanks in advance for responding to my question. 


Trinidad and Tobago

Dr. craig’s response


Thank you so much for your encouraging words about the new website! This took years of work and tens of thousands of dollars to achieve.  The traffic to our old site was being significantly impeded because more than 50% of people use mobile devices to access the internet, and the old site was not mobile friendly.  But now the new site is, as well as being re-organized to make it easier for newcomers to navigate. Our hope is that these changes will greatly increase the reach and impact of Reasonable Faith.

Basically, what your question asks is whether God can have some of His properties necessarily and some of them contingently.  It seems to me that He can and does.  Those who deny this would typically appeal to the doctrine of divine simplicity, which in its strongest form asserts the identity of God with His properties. But so strong a version of the doctrine has no biblical basis, is unintelligible, and has no compelling arguments in its favor. Given that God is not in this radical sense a simple being, he can have a plurality of properties, some of which He has necessarily and some contingently.

For example, God is essentially existent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, good, and so on, and so has such properties in every possible world. But God has only contingently the properties of being the Creator of the universe, knowing what time it now is, being incarnate in Jesus Christ, being my Redeemer, and so on, since He has these properties only in possible worlds in which He wills to create a universe, which is the free and contingent choice of His will. Jews as well as Christians will recognize that God may have both sorts of properties.

This is not to say, however, that the number of persons in the Godhead is a contingent property of God. The fact that we can imagine a bi-personal God does not suffice to show that such a thing is metaphysically possible. For as the great philosopher Saul Kripke saw, there are metaphysically necessary a posteriori truths, as well as metaphysically necessary a priori truths. Some metaphysically necessary truths can be known a priori (prior to experience), such as “All bachelors are unmarried” or “Everything red is colored.” But there are metaphysically necessary truths which can be known only a posteriori (based on experience), such as “The atomic number of gold is 79.”

I’ve not seen any argument that would give us a priori knowledge that the number of persons in the Godhead is three. But given divine revelation, we know that there are three persons in the Godhead, and it seems reasonable to think that this is essential to God. It seems bizarre to think that in some possible worlds one of the persons of the Trinity goes missing! In this case it is a metaphysically necessary a posteriori truth that “The number of persons in the Godhead is three.”

So God has necessarily the property of being tri-personal, though this fact is known to us only via divine revelation.

- William Lane Craig