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#229 Does Infinite Personhood Imply Pantheism?

September 04, 2011

Dear Dr. Craig,

My name is Nathan, I am 17 and live in Birmingham, United Kingdom. After reading Spinoza's Ethics, I am now in a philosophical conflict between what seems to be rational in pantheism and my religious views of Calvinism. I was wondering if you could help.

My question is regarding whether the concept of an 'infinite person' makes sense if you believe in the Theist conception of God. As God is infinitely powerful, wise and loving, if an infinite person as a concept makes no logical sense, then neither does the idea of God.

First, we must identify what it means to be a person. A person is to be a partivular person, distinct from others and with our own boundaries. The interaction between two people is only possible due them having their own border, for otherwise they would be not distinct person. Thus, we arrive at our first premise: 'Personhood is finite'

If personhood is finite then it follows 'Infinite beings are not persons'

Then we come to the idea of God. God is by definition an infinite being. This entails he has no boundaries, and he is not disticnt from other beings. Therefore, 'God is infinite, and is thus is not a person'.

We can summarise the argument as the following:

1) 'Personhood is finite'

2) 'Infinite beings are not persons'

3) 'God is infinite, and is thus is not a person'

Whilst this argument does not have implications for a pantheist, for it shows that if God is infinite He is not distinct from anything. However, a monotheist will have to reject this argument, for they believe that one can have a personal relationship with God, which is only possible if he is a distinct being from the believer. Therefore, my question Dr. Craig is how would you respond to this pantheistic argument?


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Dr. craig’s response


I was intrigued by your question, Nathan, because it mirrors so closely the argument of three theologians which I criticize in my article “Pantheists In Spite of Themselves?,” in which I argue that these theologians, in endorsing your sort of argument, are implicitly embracing pantheism! The article appears here on our site, and I’d commend it to you.

The problem with the argument, it seems to me, is that the first premiss is false. The justification given for the first premiss is that persons have “borders” or “boundaries” and are therefore finite. The assumption is that anything that is bounded is finite. That is demonstrably false. The natural number series 0, 1, 2, 3, . . . is bounded by 0 but is not therefore finite. To give a physical example, a wall of bricks with an infinite number of bricks in it may stretch to infinity to one’s right but may have a front edge and be, say, only three bricks in height. Persons have “boundaries” in a metaphorical sense: you are not I. God is not Gordon Brown. But the fact that two persons are distinct doesn’t imply that one of them can’t be infinite. Of course, God’s infinity isn’t really a quantitative concept but has reference to His superlative attributes. But then there’s no reason to think that one person could not be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, morally perfect, eternal, etc., and the other limited in these same respects. None of those attributes excludes the existence of a distinct person who has limited knowledge, goodness, power, etc.

By the way, why not explore Wesleyan theology as an alternative to Calvinism? That’s a far better alternative than Spinozism!

- William Lane Craig