Joel L. From

September 12, 2000


“I remember well how during my study of philosophy as an undergraduate one of my teachers wrote the following words (or their like) on the margin of an essay in which I had criticized a certain accepted theory: ‘Every theory has its difficulties, but you have not considered whether any other theory has less difficulties than the one you have criticized.’  And I remember that the further reflection set up in my mind by that simple remark was, in that particular instance, enough to lead me back to the received doctrine.  I am happy to count among my own friends a rather remarkable number of men of high intellectual distinction who have returned to the full Christian outlook after years of defection from it, and I should say that in practically every case the renewed hospitality of their minds to Christian truth came about through their awakening to the essential untenability of the alternative positions, which they had been previously attempting to occupy.”[1]

            Paul Recoeur:  Naivete-----Critical Phase-----Post-Critical Naivete


II.                 SOME DEFINITIONS

Religion is “. . . constituted by a set of beliefs, actions, experiences, both personal and corporate, organized around a concept of an Ultimate Reality.”[2]

Although any given religion is clearly more than the sum of its beliefs, it clearly asserts various propositions which it holds to be true.  These belief statements are asserted as truth-claims and, as such, are subject to critical scrutiny and reasonable evaluation.

Philosophy of Religion is “the attempt to analyze and critically evaluate religious beliefs.”[3]

Philosophy of religion must be distinguished from apologetics: the latter is concerned with persuasion; the former with rational evaluation.  Although these undertakings are closely related and dependent on each other in several ways, they are distinct enterprises.


1.                   Arguments for/against fundamental religious beliefs, e.g., the existence of God

2.                   The cognitive status of religious experiences and beliefs

3.                   The nature of religion itself

4.                   The relation of science to religion

5.                   The possibility of divine revelation and its relation to human experience

6.                   The logical analysis of religious language

7.                   The nature and significance of religious symbolism

8.                   The possibility of reconstructing religion along naturalistic lines--e.g., Freud

9.                   The possibility of miracles

10.               The nature and attributes of God—the concept of God

11.               Immortality and future states



“During the past thirty years, there has been a remarkable renaissance in philosophy of religion.”[5]

With the decline of logical positivism in the mid-20th century, philosophy of religion has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in the past thirty years.  Logical positivist’s held that characteristically Christian utterances about God, his person, and his activities were utterly nonsensical.  It was not that these statements were false—they were meaningless, equivalent to gibberish.  The notorious verifiability criterion of meaning which was absolutely devastating to all forms of theism has been decisively shown to be false.

Orthodox Christians (including many evangelicals) have contributed to the reemergence of philosophy of religion.  The Society of Christian Philosophers is now one of the largest sub-groupings within the American Philosophical Association.  SCP members now number in the thousands.  Pioneering work by Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Robert and Marilyn Adams, Eleonore Stump and many others have reinvigorated many of the issues of concern to philosophers of religion and theologians. 


Joel L. From

September 14, 2000

I.                   INTRODUCTION

The question of the relation of faith and reason has particular forcefulness in that early Christian beliefs confronted an autonomous Greek rationalistic tradition.[6]

Two dominant polarities resulted from the interaction of Christian belief and Greek philosophy.

(1)        “Faith seeking understanding”  (Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas)

“[W]e are impelled toward knowledge by a two-fold force: the force of authority and the force of reason.  And I am resolved never to deviate in the least from the authority of Christ, for I find none more powerful.  But as to what is attainable by acute and accurate reasoning, such is my state of mind that I am impatient to grasp what truth is—to grasp it not only by belief, but also by comprehension.”[7]

            This view stresses the continuity between rationality and the content of faith

(2)        The utter uniqueness, even absurdity, of faith vis-a-vis a particular conception of rationality  (Tertullian, Peter Damian, Luther)

Luther called reason “carnal,” “stupid,” a “beast,” a “whore,” and an “enemy of God.”[8]

This view holds that faith is mysterious and thus defies external rationality.  Adjusting faith to the demands of reason subordinates it.

Both polarities can refer to biblical examples: (1)--Paul; (2)--Abraham, Job.

(1) can be further characterized as highlighting the cognitive or meaning aspects which are essential if the faith is to be communicated to believers and unbelievers alike.  Faith is belief in specific propositions.

(2) can be characterized as highlighting the conative side of faith, personal acquaintance with God.  Faith does hold essentially to propositions but also to a personal acquaintance with God.

Virtually all accounts of the relation of faith to reason give some place to reason in the life of faith.  This seems to be necessary in that all religious experiences invoke a particular set of religious beliefs which can be subjected to reasoned scrutiny.  The real issue in the debate between faith and reason is thus not whether reason must be admitted to province of the religious life but what role it should it play.  Do reasons provide a necessary (and prior) ground for justified religious belief?  Or do they merely offer post facto assurances or vehicles of apologetic engagement?


A.                 Introduction

Many discussions of the relation of faith to reason flounder because they fail to acknowledge differing conceptions of reason.  Furthermore, it is important to distinguish between reason as a process of deliberation (reasoning) and reason as a particular outcome of a rational process.  Faith may be rational in the former sense without agreeing with the latter.

B.                Reason as Universal “Substance”

This influential account of reason holds that Reason is substantive; it has definitive content.  This account figures prominently in the ancient Stoics, Aquinas, and Hegel. 

“The fundamental principle of the Stoic ethics and politics is the existence of a universal and world-wide law, which is one with reason both in nature and in human nature and which accordingly knits together in a common social bond every being which possesses reason, whether god or man.”[9]

C.                Reason as Passage to, and Receptive of, Reality

The Greek verb aletheuein . . . meant, originally, to let something be seen as it is in itself; not to conceal something. . . . Thus, according to ancient Greek conviction, only the logos, rational thought, has access to the being of beings in its unconcealedness.”[10]

“Let us keep in mind that for the classical theology of the Church, reason always and only means the ‘passage’ to reality.  We must avoid the temptation of transferring our justifiably contemptuous lack of confidence in the dictatorial ‘reason’ of the idealist philosophers of the nineteenth century to the ratio of scholasticism, always closely related to reality.”[11]

D.                Reason as Instrument, Technia

“For we are ever pushing our Reason which way soever we feel Passion to draw it, and Self-love pleads to all human Creatures for their different Views, still furnishing every individual with Arguments to justify their Inclinations.”[12]

“God having made Man, and planted in him, as in all other Animals, a strong desire of Self-preservation, and furnished the World with the things fit for food and Rayment and other Necessaries of Life, Subservient to his design, that Man should live and abide for some time upon the Face of the Earth, and not that so curious and wonderful a piece of Workmanship by its own Negligence, or want of Necessaries, should perish again, presently after a few moments continuance: God, I say, having made Man and the World thus, spoke to him, (that is) directed him by his Senses and Reason, as he did the inferior Animals by their Sense, and Instinct, which he had placed in them to that purpose to the use of those things, which were servicable for his Subsistence, and given him as the means of his Preservation. . . . For the desire, strong desire of Preserving his Life and Being having been Planted in him, as a Principle of Action by God himself, Reason, which was the voice of God in him, could not but teach him and assure him, that pursuing that natural Inclination he had to preserve his Being, he followed the Will of his Maker.”[13]

 “. . . correct knowledge doesn’t come anymore from our opening ourselves to the order of (ontic) Ideas but from our constructing an order of (intra-mental) ideas according to the canons of evidence . . . the modern conception of reason is procedural. What we are called on to do is not to become contemplators of order, but rather to construct a picture of things following the canons of rational thinking. . . . Rationality is above all a property of the process of thinking, not of the substantive content of thought.”[14]

E.                 Reason as (Creative) Domination

 “The intellect does not derive its Laws (a priori) from nature but prescribes them to nature.”[15]

“The primary function of reason, as applied to man in society, is no longer merely to investigate, but to transform.”[16]

“In the pragmatic thinking of the modern world, knowing something always means dominating something: ‘knowledge is power.’  Through our scientific knowledge we acquire power over objects and can appropriate them.  Modern thinking has made reason operational.  Reason recognizes only ‘what reason herself brings forth according to her own concept.’ [I. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to 2d ed.]  It has become a productive organ--hardly a perceptive one any more.  It builds its own world and in what it  has produced it only recognizes itself again.  In several European languages, understanding a thing means ‘grasping’ it.  We grasp a thing when ‘we’ve got it’.  If we have grasped something we can do with it what we want.  The motive that impels modern reason to know must be described as the desire to conquer and dominate.”[17]

F.                 Reason as Dialogue or Deliberation

“Plato once described philosophy as the soul’s dialogue with itself.  It is a pity that this clue was not followed up. . . . The ability to reason, in the philosophical sense of thinking critically about one’s beliefs, develops only if a man keeps critical company so that a critic is incorporated in his own consciousness.  The dialogue within is inseparable from the dialogue without.”[18]


A.                 Strong Rationalism  (aka Evidentialism)

Strong rationalism holds that “in order for a religious belief-system to be properly and rationally accepted, it must be possible to prove the belief-system is true.”[19]

“No simplicity of mind, no obscurity of station, can escape the universal duty of questioning all that we believe. . . . To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” [20]

“Now a belief in something for which there is no evidence, i.e., a belief which goes beyond the evidence, although a lesser sin than belief in something which is contrary to well-established laws, is plainly irrational in that it simply amounts to attaching belief where it is not justified.  So the proper alternative, when there is no evidence, is not mere suspension of belief, e.g., about Santa Claus; it is disbelief.  It most certainly is not faith.”[21]

The evidentialist argument against theistic belief can be formulated as follows: [22]

(a)        It is irrational to accept theistic belief without sufficient evidence.

(b)        There is insufficient evidence to support belief in God.

(c)        Therefore, belief in God is irrational.


The central issue is: Do all beliefs need to be supported by evidential relations in order to be rational?

Alvin Plantinga argues that some perfectly rational beliefs are basic—that is, they are not held on the basis of other beliefs, including beliefs arising from evidence. These beliefs are not based on evidence or inferences (though such may in fact exist).  Even though they are not believed on the basis of inferences or evidence, they are not thereby groundless.  It is the fact of their being occasioned under a given circumstance that warrants belief.

“Belief in the existence of God is in the same boat as belief in other minds, the past, and perceptual objects; in each case God has so constructed us that in the right circumstances we form the belief in question.”[23]

“. . . the Christian faith gives us good reason to think that the belief in God is properly grounded in the right sort of experiences—experiences in which we encounter God’s love, forgiveness, disapproval, guidance, etc.  That is, such experiences tend to produce in us the belief that there is a God, and it is rational for us to believe in God under those circumstances.”[24]

Even if all evidential attempts to prove God exists fail, it is still rational to believe that God exists.  Belief in unsupported propositions can be rational.

Strong rationalism is too strong since it rules out all basic beliefs, including the veracity of sense perception, beliefs about the past, let alone all religious beliefs about God.

Discuss  William James, “The Will to Believe”

B.                Fideism

1.                   Introduction

Fideism is the view that “religious belief-systems are not subject to rational evaluation.”[25]

“Faith does not require information, knowledge, or certainty, but a free surrender and a joyful bet on his [what ‘his,’ one might ask?] unfelt, untried, and unknown goodness.”[26]

“Man has to refrain from upholding his intention against the will of Yahweh, regardless of what he is able to perceive or understand.  The life of Abraham, as explained again and again in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, offers the most striking example of that attitude.  Abraham is prepared, without the slightest hesitation, to sacrifice his son, the only warrant of Yahweh’s promise, for no other reason but that because Yahweh has told him to do so.  It is not said in Genesis 22 that Abraham even reflected on the sense such an order of Yahweh’s could possibly make [cf. Hebrews 11:19].  His confidence in the results of what Yahweh has initiated does not imply a challenge to his intellect. Rational understanding does not provide any kind of congruity between the intentions of God and men.”[27]

In several well-known examples of this view, noncognitive commitment [to which object, one might ask?] becomes the expression of true faith.

2.                   Kierkegaard: Truth is Subjectivity

Kierkegaard railed against German Idealism’s subordination of all reality under a grand impersonal logic.  Hegel’s absolute dialectic, for instance, implied that all statements, whether true or false, will be gathered up into a greater synthesis in the future.  Objective truth is thus radically open and inaccessible to the temporally-located individual.

Kierkegaard was particularly exercised by those theories which suggested that objective knowledge—either of the empirical or the idealist sort—was the end-all and be-all.  These accounts of knowledge/truth were inadequate to the radical demands of everyday living since they were only approximations at best.  Furthermore, Idealism was existentially defective since it purchased its objectivity at the cost of trading in abstractions which could not be decisive for the actually-existing individual facing dizzying and anguishing choices.[28]

In Kierkegaard’s view, these views overlook the existing individual, an individual who strives, who must choose, who must decide, and who must commit herself.   This individual is faced with an Either/Or decision, not the all-encompassing both/and of Hegelian synthesis.  There is a necessity inherent within the Either/Or decisions of the existing individual since her life is short.  She hasn’t got time to wait for the grand synthesis to reveal absolute truth.

Moral and religious truths—truths about how to live—impinge on the chooser.  Religious life demands an either/or choice.  The individual must choose now and without the aid of objectivist truth and knowledge.  Belief is existentially necessary.

“Since existence is a process or ‘a way,’ the only perfectly adequate form for the realization of the truth about existence is the process of existing itself.  If the truth is to be more that an ideal, if it is to become actualized in time, it must be lived.  When the truth is existentially realized in this way, the exister is in the truth, and his existence itself may be described as true.”[29]

Kierkegaard does not deny the importance or reality of objective truth.  He is not a simple-minded epistemological relativist.  His assertion of subjective truth (lit., having to do with the subject) is a rejection of the objectivist ideology with its omni-competence of objective modes of knowledge/truth and its impersonal atemporality.

For Kierkegaard subjectivity is to think about what things I ought to do, what kind of life I shall lead, and what sort of person I shall be.[30]  Insofar as there is truth to be had about such matters, it is subjective, i.e., related to the concerns of the subject.

Objectivist modes of knowledge/thought are valuable in their own right if their limitations are acknowledged.  In all cases, however, they are unable to address the actually-existing individual in the throes of her dilemmas.

Discuss  Soren Kierkegaard, “Truth is Subjectivity”

C.                Critical Rationalism

Critical rationalism is the view that “religious belief-systems can and must be rationally criticized and evaluated, although conclusive proof of such a system is impossible.”[31]

Discuss  Thomas Aquinas, “The Harmony of Reason and Revelation”

“The gifts of grace are added to nature in such a way that they do not destroy but rather perfect nature.  Thus the light of faith which is infused in us by grace does not destroy the natural light of reason divinely given to us.  And although the natural light of the human mind is insufficient to manifest what is manifested through faith, nonetheless it is impossible that what has been divinely given us by faith should be contrary to what is given us by nature.”[32]

Discuss  William Abraham, “Soft Rationalism”


Joel L. From

September 28, 2000

I.                   INTRODUCTION[33]

Much of the recent work on the concept of God has concentrated on whether the theistic conception of God is coherent, plausible, and religiously adequate.  The following conditions seem necessary for any coherent account of God.

1.                   Each individual attribute must be self-consistent, that is, non-self-contradictory.

e.g.,      Omnipotence: “Can God create a stone too heavy for Him to lift?”

e.g.,      Omniscience, timelessness, simplicity & necessity:  All of these attributes have been alleged to be self-contradictory.


2.                   The set of putative divine attributes must be logically compatible with each other.

e.g.,      Omniscience versus Immutability: Can God be described as knowing, for instance, what time it is now without implying a succession of differing states within God?

3.                   The divine attributes must be consistent with other aspects of the theological system.

e.g.,      Omnipotence combined with goodness versus the existence of evil.

e.g.,      Omniscience versus future contingent states.

II.                 NECESSARY BEING

A.                 Anselm’s Classic Argument for God’s Logical Necessity

In a second formulation of his ontological argument, Anselm presents an argument for God’s necessary existence.  The relevant  passage reads:

“For it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist; and this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist.  Hence, if that than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, it is not that than which nothing greater can be conceived.  But this is a contradiction.  So truly, therefore, is there something than which nothing greater can be conceived, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist.”  (Proslogion, 3)



1.  God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.

Generally accepted definition of God.

2.  It is possible to conceive of a being who exists necessarily—that  is, who exists in all possible worlds.

Any coherent conceptualization is logically possible.

3.  A being who exists necessarily is superior to a being who does not exist necessarily.

Necessary existence is a maximal excellence which is superior to contingent existence.

4.  That which nothing greater can be conceived must exist necessarily.

Entailed by 3.

5.  God exists necessarily.

Substitute ‘God’ for his definition.


B.                A Necessary but Actually Existing Being?

The doctrine of divine necessity, as traditionally understood by Christian theists, contends that “God’s existence is necessary in the strongest possible sense—that it is not merely causally or physically or hypothetically, but logically or metaphysically or absolutely necessary.”[34]

“The notion of a necessary being, applied to God and withheld from man, indicates that God and man differ not merely in the characteristics which they possess but more fundamentally, in their modes of being, or in the fact that they exist in different senses of the word ‘exist’.”[35]

“Necessary existence is just existence in all possible circumstances, in all possible worlds. A necessary existent being is a being whose nonexistence is strictly, metaphysically impossible.”[36]

Since the time of Hume and Kant, philosophers have typically held that only abstract objects such as numbers, properties, and analytic statements (which merely express relations of meaning between terms) can be logically necessary.  For instance, the statement “if A is larger than B, then B is smaller than A” is logically necessary in that the relation between these ideas and their meanings cannot be coherently denied. The statement ‘a triangle has three sides’ is logically necessary as well.  In Kant’s view, statements of this sort can only be logically necessary insofar as they do not assert the existence of anything.

In Kant’s influential account, an existing being cannot be defined as existing.  “To say that x exists is not to define, or to expand the definition of, the term ‘x’, but is to assert that this term refers to some object.  And whether a given description has a referent or, to use another terminology, whether a given term has denotation, is a question of fact which cannot be settled a priori.”[37]  Because propositions with existential referents denote existence rather than connote it, they cannot be understood solely in terms of the relations between their ideas.  Thus they cannot be analytic and, therefore, cannot be logically necessary.

A major area of contention in the debate about God’s necessary existence is whether or not the property of logical necessity can be extended to things with concrete existence or whether it is only appropriately applied to linguistic or meaning relations.  In J. N. Findlay’s phrase, is it possible to “build bridges between mere abstractions and concrete existence?”[38]

C.                Findlay’s Argument For and Against God’s Necessary Being

Findlay argues that a religiously adequate understanding of a God worthy of worship implies a being whose existence is logically necessary.  If it turns out, as Findlay believes, that logical necessity cannot be ascribed to any being with concrete existence, and thus God, then the God of classical theism cannot exist.

Findlay argues that the property of necessary existence is required if God is to be an “adequate object of religious attitudes.”[39]  For Findlay, religious consciousness demands an object that is superior, unlimited, unsurpassable, all-comprehensive, infinite, and ultimately, necessarily existent, that is, the adequate object of religious attitudes cannot not exist.[40]

“Not only is it contrary to the demands and claims inherent in religious attitudes that their object should exist ‘accidentally’: it is also contrary to those demands that it should possess its various excellences in some merely adventitious or contingent manner. . . . an adequate object of our worship must possess its various qualities in some necessary manner.”[41]

Findlay now plays his trump card.  He invokes a straightforward application of Kant’s argument against propositions with existential referents being able to coherently express logical necessity.  This means, unfortunately, that the religiously-adequate conception of God is incoherent and that the object of religious devotion contains contradictory properties, i.e., the property of being logically necessary (for religious purposes) and the property of not being logically necessary (on Kant’s theory).  Any being which has formally contradictory properties is impossible.  Therefore it is impossible that an object of religious adequacy can exist.

“It was indeed an ill day for Anselm when he hit upon his famous proof.  For on that day he not only laid bare something that is of the essence of an adequate religious object, but also something that entails its necessary non-existence.”[42]

D.                Responses to Findlay’s Argument

John Hick concedes Findlay’s (and Kant’s) case against the concept of necessary existence.  He suggests, however, that theists need not adhere to the doctrine of God’s necessary existence as Findlay suggests. Hick argues that factual necessity is sufficient for theism and in fact is what theists hold.  God’s factual necessity means that God existence is required given the world as it is.  As a matter of fact God is incorruptible, indestructible, self-existent and without beginning or end.  But does it follow that it is impossible for us to conceive of a world void of God’s existence?  In Hick’s view, “[t]he reality of God is [only] a sheer datum.”[43]

Thomas Morris suggests (argue would be too strong a term) that Findlay and others have been too restrictive about “the grounds of necessity and impossibility.”[44]  Unfortunately he does not develop this suggestion into an argument.  Morris also chastises Findlay for equating necessity with analyticity, although he only suggests that the principle itself may be self-referentially absurd.  What an analyticity-free doctrine of logical necessity might look like, we are not told.

Robert Adams concedes that existential propositions cannot be analytic, but he sees no reason to believe that all necessary truths (statements whose negation implies a contradiction) must be analytic (“husbands are married men”).[45]  If it is true that there are necessary truths which are not analytic, then perhaps existential claims can be necessary truths even though they are admittedly non-analytic.  Adams offers a very sophisticated argument to the effect that the necessity in necessary truths cannot be equated with analyticity.

Adams also challenges the common assumption that necessity, being only a property of abstract objects, cannot determine or explain reality.  Necessary existence, on this view, is “too real to be necessary.”[46]  Adams argues that the truths of a necessary science like mathematics do in fact bequeath certain advantages to those who can suitably use them.  These necessary truths do seem to help determine or explain reality.  If the necessary truths of mathematics are causally efficacious in some way, it cannot be true, in principle, that necessary existence is “too real to be necessary”.

III.              OMNIPOTENCE

A.                 Introduction

The concept of God’s omnipotence is important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the doctrine proper.  In addition, this attribute raises interesting questions having to do with the ontological status of the laws of logic, the possibility of moral failure in God, the possibility of changing the past, and the religious adequacy and/or necessity of this doctrine.

B.                Classic Formulations and Their Problems

Descartes suggested an account of omnipotence which had the following logical form:  x is omnipotent =df. x can bring about any state of affairs.[47]  Descartes understood that even the laws of logic and arithmetic are freely made true by God’s will.  Given the world that we inhabit, the truths of logic, for instance, are necessary, but they are not necessary in all possible worlds.  This view leads to what many take to be absurd notions such as God can, if he wills, create round squares.

A second account of omnipotence, suggested by Aquinas and others, can be formalized as follows: x is omnipotent =df. x can bring about any state of affairs that is metaphysically possible.  “. . . this phrase, God can do all things, is rightly understood to mean that God can do all things that are possible . . . .”[48]  There are several problems with this formulation.  The first one is theological.  Christians have always held that God cannot lie or break his promises.  He is morally impeccable.  Thus any state of affairs that contains a broken promise or lie by God, although logically possible is not in fact possible for God.  These states of affairs are logically and metaphysically possible, yet God cannot bring them about. 

There is a second problem with Aquinas’ formulation, namely, the interpretation of the ‘all’ in “God can do all things that are possible.”  If this ‘all’ is interpreted as God can individually or serially bring about all logically possible states of affairs, can he make a thing that he cannot afterwards destroy?[49]  This is a logically-possible state of affairs since it happens to human beings.  Is it possible for God to bring this state of affairs about?  Furthermore, another reading of ‘all’ suggests that God can bring about all possible states of affairs simultaneously.  Such a power, however, is logically impossible for it would involve a direct violation of the law of non-contradiction since objects themselves would possess contradictory properties simultaneously.  For instance, an object which can be either round or square (e.g., a pancake) would, on this account, possess these properties simultaneously.

A third problem with Aquinas’ claim that God can do all things that are possible is the relation of this claim to certain matters of fact or fait accompli.  It is logically possible at t - (x + n), where t = the current time, x = the age of the universe, and n, any temporal unit, for God not to have created the universe.  So much is certified by the doctrine of creation ex nihilo.  However, this logically-possible action or non-action is no longer possible given God’s creation of the universe and thus even omnipotence cannot bring it about.  What is possible for God, therefore, will be different at different times.[50]  Peter Geach argues that Aquinas himself suggested this line of reasoning and thus abandoned his earlier claim that God can do all things that are possible.  Alvin Plantinga uses a similar line of reasoning to suggest that given God’s desire to create free creatures, he is not able, i.e, it is no longer possible, to guarantee that these creatures will not exercise their free will in the service of evil.

C.                Contemporary Formulations

In recent years, philosophers of religion have offered increasingly sophisticated formulations of omnipotence, particularly as it relates to the God of Christian theism.  Here are several examples.

Edward Wierenga offers the following analysis:

a being x is omnipotent in a world W at a time =df. In W it is true both that (i) for every state of affairs A, if it is possible that both S(W,t) [an initial segment of world S terminating at time t] obtains and that x strongly actualizes A at t, then at t x can strongly actualize A, and (ii) there is some state of affairs which x can strongly actualize at t.[51]

In a less technical formulation, Wierenga argues that

what is required for a being to be omnipotent is that it be able to strongly actualize any state of affairs which is such that that being’s strongly actualizing it is compatible with what has already happened.[52]

Thomas Flint and Alfred Freddoso offer the following analysis:

S is omnipotent at t in W if and only if for any state of affairs p and world-type-for-S Ls such that p is not a member of Ls, if there is a world W* such that:

·         Ls is true in both W and W*, and

·         W* shares the same history with W at t, and

·         at t in W* someone actualizes p,

then S has the power at t in W to actualize p.[53]


For various reasons, Erik Wielenberg suggests that all of the classic accounts of omnipotence as well as those suggested by Wierenga, Flint, and Fredosso fail.  In their stead he offers the following analysis of omnipotence:

x is omnipotent if and only if it is not the case that there is some state of affairs, p. such that x is unable to bring about p because of a lack of power in x.[54]

D.                On the Possibility that Omnipotence is Incoherent

The attempt to argue that God can do everything has, in Peter Geach’s view, been unsuccessful as has the attempt to derive conclusions from this property taken as a premise.[55]

“When people have tried to read into ‘God can do everything’ a signification not of Pious Intention but of Philosophical Truth, they have only landed themselves in intractable problems and hopeless confusions; no graspable sense has ever been given to this sentence that did not lead to self-contradiction or at least to conclusions manifestly untenable from a Christian point of view.”[56]

Geach argues that fortunately the Christian is not committed to the doctrine of omnipotence.  The incoherence of omnipotence, therefore, does not have religious consequences for the Christian.  A Christian must, however, attribute the property of ‘Almightiness’ to God.  The distinction between ‘omnipotence’ and ‘almightiness’ is subtle but important.  Geach takes Almighty to mean that God has power over all things, whereas omnipotence means that God can do everything.[57]

Almightiness implies much of what omnipotence implies.  God’s power is incomparable to that of his creatures since all power issues from him.  There is no question of God failing in anything he wills; the concept of trying but failing finds no possible application in God.  None of these attributions implies that God must be able to do everything.[58]

“. . . the absolute confidence a Christian must have in God’s revelation and promises involves . . . both a belief that God is almighty . . . and a belief that there are certain describable things that God cannot do and therefore will not do.”[59]

IV.             TIMELESSNESS

A.                 The Classical Account

“Nor dost Thou by time, precede time: else shouldest Thou not precede all times.  But Thou precedest all things past, by the sublimity of an ever-present eternity; and surpassest all future because they are future, and when they come, they shall be past; but Thou art the Same, and They years fail not. . . . Thy years are one day; and Thy day is not daily, but To-day, seeing Thy To-day gives not place unto tomorrow, for neither doth it replace yesterday.  Thy To-day is Eternity.”[60]

“Now, eternity is the complete possession of an endless life enjoyed as one simultaneous whole . . .”[61]

“For, even granted that it has an infinite lifetime, it does not embrace this life as a simultaneous whole; it does not now have a grasp of the future, which is yet to be lived through. What is rightly called eternal is that which grasps and possesses simultaneously the entire fullness of an unending life, a life which lacks nothing of the future and has lost nothing of the fleeting past.  Such a being must necessarily always be its whole self, unchangingly present to itself, and the infinity of changing time must be as one present before him.”[62]

“Thou wast not, then, yesterday, nor wilt thou be to-morrow; but yesterday and to-day and to-morrow thou art; or, rather, neither yesterday not to-day nor to-morrow thou art; but simply, thou art, outside all time.  For yesterday and to-day and to-morrow have no existence, except in time; but thou, although nothing exists without thee, nevertheless does not exist in space or time, but all things exist in thee.  For nothing contains thee, but thou containest all.”[63]

“Theirs [Augustine, Boethius, Anselm and Aquinas] is a conception of timeless or atemporal fullness of being.  According to them, God does not in any way exist in time.  There is no temporal location or duration in the life of God.  He undergoes no temporal succession whatsoever.  There is no past, present and future in God’s own unique form of existence or within the divine experience.  On this picture, God does not exist throughout the eternity of time; he exists wholly outside of time. The whole temporal realm is a creation of God’s and does not contain him as a part.  As he transcends space, he also transcends time.”[64]

In many of the classical theists, the doctrine of divine timelessness is derived from the doctrine of divine simplicity or other more basic considerations and is deployed to solve problems with the omniscience of God, especially as it relates to human free will.



1.     God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.

Generally accepted definition of God

2.     Permanence is greater than nonpermanence (change).

Assumption of Greek ontology

3.     Pure act is a type of permanence.

Definition of pure act

4.     Temporality is a type of nonpermanence.

Definition of temporality

5.     Therefore, pure act is greater than temporality.

Entailment from 2, 3, and 4.

6.     Therefore, God is nontemporal.

Entailment from 1 and 5.


Conclusion 6. is now available for arguments having to do with the omniscience of God and how it relates to future contingencies.


Absoluteness:   The absence of internal relations with other objects.  God’s being in no way depends on or is constituted by his relations with other beings.

Pure Actuality: There is no potentiality in God for anything that He is not.

Total Necessity: Every true proposition about God is necessarily true.

Total Simplicity: God has no unrealized potentials.  God has no distinguishable components.

Creation ex nihilo: God created by a free act of will.  He could have refrained from creating anything.  It is a contingent fact that anything exists other than God.

Omnipotence:  God has the power to do anything which He wills to do and which can be done.

Incorporeality:  God has no physical body and thus cannot be localized.

Non-temporality:  God does not live through a series of sequential states.

Immutability:  This follows from God’s Non-Temporality in that God cannot change since there is no temporal succession in His being.

Absolute Perfection:  God is unsurpassable--even by Himself.  It is forever the case that God is that than which no more perfect can be conceived.

B.                The Coherence of Timelessness

Unlike the concept of omnipotence, the concept of timelessness is generally accepted as logically coherent.

Philosophers have typically ascribed timelessness to mathematical objects.  It would be strange indeed to apply tensed verbs to statements such as 2 + 2 = 4.  The present tense in mathematical expressions is typically taken to be a timeless present.[66]

We will assume in what follows that a coherent account of time can be given.  Time is typically treated as a noun, a thing, which somehow exists on its own.  It is not clear that this is the case.  Time may simply be a way to demarcate change.

We will also assume that a coherent account of eternity can be given.  Some philosophers have suggested that eternity is like the “specious present” forever held in abeyance.[67]  Richard Swinburne argues that “[a]nother way of putting these points is to say that God has his own time scale.  There is only one instant of time on the scale; and everything which is ever true of God is true of him at that instant.”[68]

C.                Timelessness as a (Strange) Attribute of God

The problem with the concept of timelessness is when it is applied to a living person (the Christian God) and when it is set against his other attributes and the temporal world.

Several recent philosophers argue that the proposition “God is timeless and a living being” is unintelligible (meaningless).  Robert Coburn argues that the attributes which must be given up when attributing this conception to God, e.g., remembering, anticipating, reflecting, deliberating, and deciding, mean that God, if he is timeless, cannot be a person.[69]

Furthermore, if God is timeless there are a number of strange attributions which must be true of him, for instance, as Anselm wrote, “In no place or time, then, is this Being properly said to exist.”[70]  If asked, “Does God exist?” the answer must be “No.”  Has God ever existed at any time?  “No.”  “Does God exist at all times?”  “No.”

D.                God Everlasting versus God Eternal

Nicholas Wolterstorff argues that the biblical narratives affirms the existence of an everlasting God and not an eternal God.  God-everlasting exists in time without beginning or end, whereas God-eternal exists outside of time.  The latter conception in Wolterstorff’s view, originates in Greek philosophy, not Christian theism.

“If we are to accept this picture of God as acting . . . we must conceive of him as everlasting rather than eternal.”[71]

To clear up a confusion, which Wolterstorff seems to fall into on occasion, the fact that God acts in time is not a decisive objection to the God-eternal conception, as we will see.  It does not follow that God must be merely passive—in either the Oriental or Deist sense—if one accepts the God-eternal account.

Wolterstorff’s argument can be represented as follows:

(1)        Acting in time requires temporal succession in the acting agent.

(2)        The God of the Scriptures acts in time.

(3)        Therefore, the God of the Scriptures is temporal.

The critical premise is (1).  Is it the case that acting in time requires temporal succession?  This premise has been widely denied in Christian thought, most famously by Thomas Aquinas.  If we distinguish between an act and its effects, God may be able to act outside of time and still have the effects of that single, unitary, and eternal act manifest themselves in a temporal sequence.  Part of God’s eternal act is the determination that its effects will occur in time.  God’s acts are not, in Wolterstorff’s delicious phrase, “infected with temporality.”  Hasker summarizes this counter-argument as follows: “the temporal characteristics of the effects of divine actions need not characterize the actions themselves.”[72] 

Wolterstorff concedes that this is a coherent account of God’s actions and its temporal effects.  Rather than seeing it as a victory for the God-eternal conception he adapts it to his God-everlasting account.  He also does not develop the objection to God’s timelessness based on His responsive or interactive acts.[73]

Wolterstorff elects rather to develop an objection which issues from the relation of God’s omniscience and his timelessness.  The objection goes as follows:

. . . every case of knowing about some temporal event that it is occurring itself either begins or ends (or both).  Hence the act of knowing about e that it is occurring is infected by the temporality of e.  So also, the act of knowing about e that it was occurring, and the act of knowing about e that it will be occurring, are infected by the temporality of e.[74]

Is it the case that God cannot timelessly know what time it is now?  Notice that the answer to this query—a single proposition, i.e., it is 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 12, 2000 A. D.—can be expressed by many other time-referenced statements, e.g., it is three hours before noon on Thursday, October 12, 2000 A. D.  Therefore, it is not necessary that God know any given equivalent rendition to know that it is 9:00 a.m.  Is it possible to identify the current time without any reference to time?

Perhaps.  Since this question refers to a state of affairs, the ‘now’ is redundant if that state of affairs is unique.  The term ‘now’ simply points to or indexes a discrete slice of the temporal process which can be identified in other ways.  If God knows everything about all states of affairs, He can identify any one by its unique characteristics.  For instance, given the fact that God knows that quartz crystals oscillate at a given frequency and that time can be measured by the cumulative oscillations, he can timelessly know the temporal location of any slice of the temporal array.  Similarly God can know the time by the knowing the positions and velocities of all of the heavenly bodies and deducing the time from these nontemporal units by using, perhaps, a formulae such as distance = time x velocity.  Therefore, God can timelessly determine the time of any temporal moment, even those demarcated as ‘now’.  To paraphrase a point made in another context by Hasker:

“. . . he knows the current time by knowing, in timeless representation, the content of each moment of temporal existence, as well as the order of the moments—an order that he knows to represent temporal sequence, though it cannot be such for him.”[75]

E.                 The Process Conception of God’s Attributes



Relativity:  God is internally related to creatures by way of His knowledge of them and His actions towards them.

Absoluteness:  The absence of internal relations with other objects.  God’s being in no way depends on or is constituted by his relations with other beings.

Potentiality:  God does not actualize everything that is possible for Him.

Pure Actuality:  There is no potentiality in God for anything that He is not.

Necessity and contingency:  God exists necessarily, but various things are only contingently true of him, e.g., His knowledge of what is contingent.

Total Necessity:  Every true proposition about God is necessarily true.


Total Simplicity:  God has no unrealized potentials.  God has no distinguishable components.

Both God and a world of creatures exist necessarily, though the details are contingent.

Creation ex nihilo:  God created by a free act of will.  He could have refrained from creating anything.  It is a contingent fact that anything exists other than God.

God has all the power any one agent could have, but there are metaphysical limitations on his power, e.g., God cannot destroy all worlds.

Omnipotence:  God has the power to do anything which He wills to do and which can be done.

Corporeality:  This world is the body of God.

Incorporeality:  God has no physical body and thus cannot be localized.

Temporality:  God lives through temporal succession, but does so everlastingly.

Non-temporality:  God does not live through a series of sequential states.

Mutability:  God is continually attaining a richer synthesis of experience.

Immutability:  This follows from God’s Non-Temporality in that God cannot change since there is no temporal succession in His being.

Relative Perfection:  At any moment God is more perfect than any other individual, but He is surpassable by Himself at a later stage of development.

Absolute Perfection:  God is unsurpassable--even by Himself.  It is forever the case that God is that than which no more perfect can be conceived.


F.                 Selected Theses of Process Theology[76]

1.                   All entities (including God) are becoming.  Becoming includes being.

2.                   God and the universe are both necessary and necessarily dependent on each other. They are interdependent cooperators.

3.                   God’s perfection is continually being surpassed as His temporal experience enriches Him.  He is finite =df. He is surpassable.

4.                   The future is really open, that is, it is partly indeterminate.

5.                   Only what exists or has existed can be known.  Therefore God can only know the past or the present.  The future does not exist and thus God cannot know “it.”

1.                   God has two natures—His primordial, which contains eternal forms, mathematical truths, possibilities, etc., and his consequent, the ever-developing, concrete aspect of His actual experience.

2.                   The aim of perfect goodness is to increase the harmony and intensity of earthly experience--God is also thereby enriched.

3.                   The ultimate evil in the temporal world lies in the fact that the past fades and that time is a perpetual perishing.

4.                   God’s power is persuasive agency, not coercive force.  God is urging, luring the creation towards his goals.

5.                   God is from eternity continually refashioning his body out of an earlier universe and its potentialities for transformation.  God gives order, not existence, to nature.


Joel L. From

October 17, 2000


“No simplicity of mind, no obscurity of station, can escape the universal duty of questioning all that we believe. . . . To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” [78]

The evidentialist argument when applied to theistic belief can be formulated as follows:

1.                   It is irrational to believe x without sufficient inferential evidence for x.

2.                   Inferential evidence =df. other beliefs which conjointly support x.

3.                   There is insufficient inferential evidence for belief in God’s existence.

4.                   Therefore, belief in God’s existence is irrational.


The evidentialist account of proper belief formation has been widely adopted by nontheists and theists alike.  Both concur with premises 1. and 2.  They differ, of course, on the matter of fact expressed in premise 3.

Several problems have been suggested with this conception of rational justification.  First, it is not clear that the proposition, “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence,” can be inferred from any set of evidence.  It has been suggested, secondly, that this standard of rationality is too high.  Much of what we believe must simply be taken without proof.  Some of our most important beliefs cannot be demonstrated inferentially, including our belief in other minds, the veracity of memory, and the veracity of sense perception.  And finally, the requirement for inferential evidence for all beliefs must logically terminate in beliefs which are not believed on the basis of other beliefs.  Evidentialism, therefore, cannot be a general theory of rational justification. [79]


The position that all rationally-justified beliefs must be supported by inferential evidence must, as noted above, rely on a conception of epistemic justification which distinguishes between beliefs held on the basis of other beliefs and those which are not.  This position is called foundationalism.

Aquinas held that there are propositions which we are rationally justified in accepting even though we don’t have evidence for them.  These propositions support other beliefs which are founded on, or derived from, them.  These propositions are in a descriptive sense basicthey are not as a matter of fact believed on the basis of other propositions.  Additionally, however, they are properly or normatively basic—they do not contravene canons of epistemic propriety.[80]

Aquinas held that we are rationally justified in believing the following classes of propositions, even though we do not have evidence for them: (a) beliefs which are self-evident to me, e.g., 1 + 2 = 3, and (b) beliefs which are evident to the senses, e.g., ‘I am appeared to greenly’.  Later foundationalists, such as Descartes and Locke, held that a proposition was properly basic only if it is (a) self-evident to me or (c) indubitable—it cannot be doubted, e.g., I think, therefore, I am.

On the strong foundationalist account, a person is rationally justified in accepting a belief x if and only if x is self-evident, evident to the senses, or indubitable or is derived from self-evident, evident to the senses, or indubitable beliefs using acceptable methods of logical inference.[81]  To have a rational noetic structure is to be warranted in holding beliefs by virtue of these relations.


Are there good reasons to suppose that the three conditions of proper basicality, i.e., self-evidence, evident to the senses, and indubitability, are jointly sufficient?

Is the belief “x is properly basic to me if and only if x is self-evident, evident to the senses, or indubitable” basic or nonbasic?  If the former, it must be either self-evident, indubitable or evident to the senses which it is not.  If the latter, it must be supported by inferential evidence of some sort which has not been forthcoming.  In other words, “If strong foundationalism is true, then no one is rational in accepting strong foundationalism.”[82]

Strong foundationalism thus fails this self-referential test; it self-destructs.


“. . . the fact that a belief is properly basic in no way guarantees the truth of that belief.”[83]  However, it does insure that the person holding x as properly basic is rationally justified in doing so.

It is also possible to be rationally justified in holding x even if others do not agree since they may not have access to the ground on which the belief is non-inferentially based (see below). 

Belief x is properly basic for a given person at a given time when there is some specific experiential condition, e.g., being appeared to greenly, which justifies or grounds x non-inferentially.  X is not based on inferences, although inferences may in fact exist.  Even though x is not believed on the basis of inferences, x is not thereby groundless.  It is the fact of x’s being occasioned by specific circumstances which warrants belief in x.  It follows, therefore, that beliefs can be warranted in ways other than logical inference.

“. . . typically, a basic belief is formed when an experience ‘triggers’ some faculty or belief-producing disposition.  My basic belief that a bird is on my window sill is produced when a particular sensory experience triggers a complex belief-forming mechanism we call ‘vision.’  Basic beliefs are produced by many other mechanisms—memory, for example, or spontaneous trust in the testimony of others—when triggered by specific circumstances or experiences.”[84]


In light of the collapse of strong foundationalism, Alvin Plantinga can find no reason why propositions about God should not be proper basic. 

“Belief in the existence of God is in the same boat as belief in other minds, the past, and perceptual objects; in each case God has so constructed us that in the right circumstances we form the belief in question.”[85]

In Plantinga’s view, humans display a disposition to spontaneously form beliefs under certain common conditions.  For example,

(a)    God is speaking to me.

(b)    God has created all of this.

(c)    God forgives me.

(d)    God is to be thanked and praised.[86]


The experience of God, just in case it is an actual experience of its object, provides non-inferential warrant or ground for the beliefs produced by the experience in tandem with our disposition to form these beliefs under these conditions.  These beliefs are justified apart from any inferential basis.

From any one of these propositions (d)–(g), the belief ‘God exists’ is immediately entailed.  In this sense, “God exists” is almost properly basic for a person in the right circumstances.

“. . . it is rational to believe that there is such a being as God, without basing that belief on any argument. . . . the Christian faith gives us good reason to think that the belief in God is properly grounded in the right sort of experiences—experiences in which we encounter God’s love, forgiveness, disapproval, guidance, etc.  That is, such experiences tend to produce in us the belief that there is a God, and it is rational for us to believe in God under those circumstances.”[87]

V.               CONCLUSION

Even if all evidential attempts to prove God exists fail (and this is still an open question), it is rational to believe that God exists.  Believing in non-inferentially-grounded propositions can be rational in certain conditions.


Joel L. From

October 24, 2000

I.                   INTRODUCTION

Religious language, or, more precisely, propositions which attribute qualities to God, are problematic in terms of their veracity, literalness, and meaningfulness.  How, for instance, can terms and their denotated concepts be attributed to a Being who does not possess his attributes in the same way as human beings possess their attributes?  To speak literally of God seems to require that he share with his creation some of the same characteristics.  Are there any such characteristics?

For those who hold to a classical account of God’s simplicity, predicates cannot be attributed to God in the same way as they are to human beings since, strictly speaking, God’s Being does not support multiple characteristics.  Creaturely predications isolate properties vis-à-vis other properties; this is clearly not possible for those terms which are properly attributed to God.  Furthermore, the classical conception raises questions about statements which attribute action to God.  How can the same attribution range over both divine and creaturely actions if divine actions are unlike creaturely actions in most, if not all, respects?

Several contemporary theories of religious language concede that we cannot attribute properties to God in any straightforward sense.  On these views, divine predications, if they are meaningful, refer to something other than God, perhaps Being-in-itself, some feature of the religious community or consciousness, or even an entirely natural condition.


Theistic philosophers traditionally answered the question of divine predication by suggesting that propositions about God are neither univocal (used in the same sense) nor equivocal (used in completely different senses).  For instance, when we apply the attribution ‘x is a dog’ we use the predicate ‘dog’ univocally iff [if, and only if] it is the case that the objects denotated by term share the property caninity.[88]  When we apply the attribution ‘x is a bat’ we use the predicate ‘bat’ equivocally iff it is the case that the objects denotated by the term do not share a common property, such as being a winged mammal.  If one object denotated is a winged mammal and another is a stick used to hit a ball, we equivocate.

Classical and medieval writers concluded that divine attributions are neither univocal nor equivocal but analogical, that is, the property referred to in God and creation is neither wholly univocal nor wholly equivocal.  Thus, Thomas Aquinas claims that “it is impossible that anything should be predicated of both creatures and God univocally. . . . [and] . . . terms are not used purely equivocally either . . . “[89]  Theological language requires an “ordering” between God and his creatures; analogy provides an account of that ordering.

An example of analogical predication: A property, e.g., ‘healthy,’ can be applied to persons and to places analogically, such as ‘Radium Hot springs is healthy,’ meaning, it induces health and ‘Mr. Jones is healthy,’ meaning, he enjoys health.[90]

Aquinas notes that there are three types of analogy which must be distinguished.[91]  First, there is analogy duorum ad tertium which holds between two things based on their relation to a third thing.  For instance, we can use the term ‘healthy’ to apply to both medicine and blood.  The relation between healthy medicine and healthy blood is analogical, that is, it refers formally to an individual who is the prime analogate.  Underlying healthy medicine and healthy blood is an exemplar who “anchors” both terms analogically.  This type of analogy will be of little use in referring to God’s relation to his creation since there isn’t a suitable external prime analogate for God.

There is another type of analogy which Aquinas notes and which can in fact analogously refer to both God and his creation.  This is sometimes called analogy unis ad alternum.  In this type of analogy, both relata, i.e., God and some aspect of his creation, relate to a property which is the sole possession of one of the relata.  For example, the property ‘powerful’ links God with his creation under the relation or modality of cause and effect.  To use the term ‘powerful’ in reference to both God and man, therefore, is to indicate that God is the cause of what we pick out by the term ‘powerful’ in our creaturely sphere.  It does not imply that God’s power is like our power in any way, only that it is the cause of the same.  When we attribute ‘power’ to God, we are not attributing what we understand as ‘power’ univocally to God, rather, we are attributing a certain mode or relation between God’s and our power, namely, He is causative of what we know as power.

There is yet another type of relation which applies analogically to God and his creation.  This is sometimes called analogy plurium ad plura.  This type of analogy trades on an internal relation or proportionality between a given property and some other feature of the possessor’s being.  This relation or proportionally is uniquely determined by the mode or nature of the being itself.  For instance, a cabbage possesses its life in a mode corresponding to the essence of a cabbage, a man possesses his life in a mode corresponding to the essence of a man, and God possesses his life in a mode corresponding to the essence of God.  Cabbages, men, and God will all possess their lives in very different modes, but we can attribute ‘life’ analogically (and thus meaningfully) to all of them since the term denotes the proportional relation between a feature of a being and the essence of that being.


The early twentieth century witnessed a fundamental critique of religious and metaphysical attributions.  Logical positivism argued, following Hume, that only analytic and synthetic statements are meaningful: the former, however, are merely verbal truths; the latter must be able to be verified in the way scientific or factual matters are verified.

“. . . when we analyze our thoughts or ideas, however compounded or sublime, we always find that they resolve themselves into such simple ideas as were copied from a precedent feeling or sentiment.  Even those ideas which at first view seem the most wide of this origin are found, upon a nearer scrutiny, to be derived from it.  The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise, and good Being, arises from reflecting on the operations of our own mind and augmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom.”[92]

Note Hume’s empirical criterion of meaning: all meaningful statements (about the world or God) contain terms which refer to particular simple impressions.

This principle was revised by the Logical Positivists of the early twentieth century.  Here is A. J. Ayer’s statement of the principle:

“The criterion which we use to test the genuineness of apparent statements of fact is the criterion of verifiability.  We say that a sentence is factually significant to any given person, if, and only if, he knows how to verify the propositions which it purports to express—that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false.”[93]

Ayer himself demurred from this strong version of the criterion of verifiability.  He pointed out that it renders many general statements meaningless.  For instance, the general claim that all men are mortal is not, strictly speaking, verifiable by a person.  Although it is possible to specify the conditions under which this could be verified—having access to all persons as they expire—this could never be determined by a single human being—the ‘him’ in the quotation immediately above.

Second, scientific hypotheses are notoriously difficult to verify (or falsify) in the strict sense implied in the verifiability criterion.  This is due to the fact that all scientific theories are necessarily supplemented by a set of auxiliary hypotheses—conditions and interpretations which link the scientific hypothesis to the conditions used to test it.  The failure or verification of a scientific theory can never be straightforwardly attached to the hypothesis itself but only to the set whose members include the auxiliary hypotheses and the scientific hypothesis.

Third, as many have pointed out, the verifiability criterion may fail a self-referential test.  Assuming that it is not an analytical statement, what empirical conditions verify or falsify the criterion?  If none are forthcoming, the criterion itself is meaningless.

Fourth, historical events, in their entirety, seem to be in some doubt as to their meaningfulness.  Once again, the conditions of verification can be easily specified in a formal or verbal sense, but in practice, for a given person (the ‘him’), most are impossible to verify.

Fifth, there are several types of statements which are not intended to express matters of fact.  They are, nevertheless, meaningless by this criteria.  Imperative statements (“Do this!”), performative statements (“I pronounce thee man and wife”), and emotive statements (“Ouch”) are typically taken to be meaningful, but seem to fail this criterion of meaningfulness.

It is not clear that the verificationist principle can be rendered as a general principle which governs statements which do not purport to be declarative statements about matters of fact.


A.                 Introduction

Subject-predicate syntax imposes a distinction between a subject and its ascribed properties.  For most purposes, this is unproblematic.  The statement ‘x is a dog’ isolates one feature of x from x by the very act of denotating that feature.  The subject-predicate syntax assumes an ontology of relational properties.  This feature of subject-predicate attribution is much more problematic in the case of classical conception of God which denies any distinction between God’s essence and his properties.

In spite of this inadequacy of human language systems, William Alston insists that the concepts which are denoted by terms such as ‘love,’ ‘power,’ or ‘action’ can be formulated in ways which do not invoke what Michael Peterson et al. call “creaturely conditions.”[94]  In Alston’s view, there is a core meaning for these concepts which can be literally applied to God.

Alston only needs to show that some predicates apply literally to God.  This minimalist claim is sufficient to defeat theories of divine predication which rule out literal usages.  Alston elects to concentrate on what he calls ‘P-predicates’ or those predications which can only be attributed to persons, e.g,. willing, planning, acting, etc.  His question is whether these predicates can be literally attributed to God?

B.                Literal Attribution

The term ‘literal’ indicates a certain manner of using a language system (with its given meanings).  To use a term literally, I must emit a sentence which claims that the property signified by the term is possessed by the subject or holds between subjects if the predicate is relational.  If ‘x is a dog’ is used literally, I affirm that there is a state of affairs, y, such that it is the case that x is a dog in y.

To speak literally of God requires that the terms attributed to God signify conceptualizations or concepts of God’s properties.  If we can form plausible concepts of these properties, it is possible to speak literally of God in those instances.

“Thus it is possible for a term in a certain language to signify a certain property iff speakers of that language have or can have a concept of that property.  Hence our language can contain terms that stand for intrinsic properties of God iff we can form concepts of intrinsic properties of God.”[95]

Alston elects to concentrate on one important divine attribute, namely, his incorporeality, since critics of literal attribution often insist that God’s incorporeality implies that he cannot act in the ways required by action predicates.  Is it possible to speak literally of a being who acts but who nevertheless is incorporeal?

C.                Action Predication and God

Alston draws our attention to a distinction between basic and non-basic actions.  Basic actions are those actions which, for humans at least, consist in bodily movement, e.g., raising a hand.  Non-basic actions are those actions which can only be carried out by performing a basic action, e.g., hailing a cab by raising a hand or whistling.  It seems clear that God cannot perform basic-for-humans actions since his incorporeality prohibits this mode of activity.  It is not clear, however, that incorporeality prevents God from performing basic actions in some more general sense, including such matters as making, commanding, or guiding.

The issue of action predication turns on what is meant by the concept of action.  Are the features (limitations) of human action constitutive of action per se?  The difficult task is to isolate the concomitant factual matters which are not essential to the concept itself from those features which are essential.

For instance, if it were the case that all mammals had four legs, would it follow that the concept of mammality must contain four-leggedness as a necessary condition?  Or, if all humans are sinners, does it follow that sinfulness is part of what we mean by someone being human?  Conceptualization requires skillful abstraction which eliminates merely factual commonalities from the meaning, or closed set of necessary conditions, of the relevant term.

Alston argues, further, that the concept of action =df. an event caused by the agent itself.  This conceptualization does not specify any particular mechanism of causal influence.  In the case of human beings and as a merely factual matter, actions do require certain bodily movements.  The general concept of action, however, contains no such restriction and can thus range over a broader variety of agents.

Basic actions which for humans consist in bodily movements are not necessarily “bodified.”  The general concept of basic action is distinct from basic human action.  The general concept of a basic action =df. an action that is not performed by or in performing some other action.  Since incorporeality is not ruled out by this conception, it cannot bar the performance of basic actions by noncorporeal agents.

The statement, ‘God acts’ denotes a property ‘acting’ which can be literally applied to both God (and humans) since the predicate ‘acts’ attributes the concept of action (=df. an event caused by the agent itself) to all relevant agencies.   And since the concept of literalness requires that there be a coherent concept denotated by the relevant term, it follows that the predicate ‘acts’ can be literally applied to God.  And since the concept we denote in action predications contains as necessary properties only those attributions which both noncorporeal and corporeal agents share, we can speak literally of God’s actions and our own.  The agent’s mode of being with respect to these action predications is irrelevant.

Therefore, we can speak literally of a God that acts. 


Joel L. From

November 14, 2000

I.                   INTRODUCTION

The claim that the person, self, or soul survives death is fraught with philosophical conundrums, many of which centre on the coherence of the soul-concept and the proper locus of personal identity.  Philosophers are primarily interested in the plausibility of the concepts which underlie life-after-death claims.  If the underlying concepts are not coherent the possibility of life after death can be settled (in the negative) apart from any evidence, cf. because the concept of a square circle is incoherent, we don’t have to bother looking for evidence of such a thing.  This unit will focus on these conceptual matters rather than on the evidence for or against life after death.

There are many theories of personal immortality.  Some of the most prominent include:

1.                   The soul can survive for a period of time without a body

2.                   The soul can survive indefinitely without a body

3.                   The soul is immediately re-bodified after death

4.                   The soul is absorbed into the Universal World-Soul (The One)

5.                   The soul is eventually re-united with its original body

6.                   Persons, as psycho-physical unities, are re-created sometime after death

7.                   Immortality is achieved through fame or remembrance


Philosophers typically reject the physical body as a suitable bearer of personal identity.  Since the body is subject to contingencies—including the possibility that no single atom persists in the body over a lifetime—, it is difficult to ground personal identity in any particular physical state or series of states.  Personal identity seems to require reference to self-consciousness (based on our subjective experience of our identity through time) as well as a proper locus for moral attributions which seem to be independent of bodily states.

As a response to problems with body-essential accounts of personal identity, classical, medieval, and early-modern philosophers posited that the soul is a spiritual substance which is the subject or possessor of mental states and the bearer of personal identity.[96]

The concept of substance received decisive criticism in the work of the British empiricists who argued that a temporally-extended substance which has no recognizable features of its own is a meaningless notion, an artifact of language. The soul-as-spiritual-substance, unfortunately, is subject to the same criticisms as substances in general.

Anthony Quinton concedes the argument against a substance theory of the soul, but holds that it is nevertheless possible to give a mentalistic account of personal identity without invoking a substance theory.  Quinton believes that there is a “unitary nonbodified aspect to a person,” “a connected sequence of conscious states” which can be specified in empirical terms without recourse to an unobservable substratum.[97]

Quinton argues that the soul can be defined empirically “as a series of mental states connected by continuity of character and memory.”[98]  He uses the concept of a soul-phase to help clarify the link between character and memory within a series of mental events.  A soul-phase is a set of simultaneous mental contents which conjointly imply continuous and contiguous memory and character paths.  The totality of all interlocking soul-phases can be identified with a particular soul.

If Quinton is correct, the soul can be identified with particular strings of conscious states.  It is still an open question, as he readily acknowledges, whether or not souls-as-character-and-memory-paths can exist apart from bodies.


Throughout the history of the soul-concept important objections have been raised.  In our discussion we will concentrate on several which have particular force today.  The first objection suggests that cognitive processing necessarily depends on a physical brain.  The second objection suggests that statements which refer to mentalistic events can be translated without remainder into descriptions of physical events.  We will consider these objections in turn.

A.                 Is The Brain Necessary for Cognitive Processes?

There is mounting empirical evidence that cognitive functioning depends on the brain.  That brain damage impairs cognitive functioning, that cognitive disorders can be treated chemically, i.e., as physical deficiencies in the brain, that hormones directly affect cognitive processes, and that mental events can be associated with specific brain events supports the conclusion that the brain is essential for cognitive functioning.  Arguments of this type, however, face an immediate objection which can be expressed as follows: It does not follow from brain-mind correlations that there is an inviolable law which states that mental events can only be caused by brain events.  These correlations seem to support a much weaker proposition of the following sort: If a soul has a body, that body is essentially connected with the soul’s mental functioning.  The necessary relation between mind and body turns out, on this weaker claim, to be a material or factual necessity (that is, given our current constitution) and not a logical necessity.

Richard Swinburne argues that given what we know the soul may well exist apart from a supporting brain, but it cannot function as a soul apart from a supporting brain.[99]  This distinction permits Swinburne to deny that self-awareness is a necessary condition of the soul’s existence.  He points to the sleeping state as evidence that we acknowledge that self-awareness cannot be a necessary condition of the soul-concept.

Swinburne believes, furthermore, that when the body dies, the brain dies, and more importantly, the soul ceases to function.[100]  The post-death soul is incapacitated, but not necessarily extinguished.

Swinburne understands that the functional dependence of our cognitive capacities on our brains cannot be conceptualized as a necessary relation between mental events and any given brain event.  If there is a functional equivalence for our brains in another world there cannot be a necessary relation between brain events and mental events in this world.  For instance, a capacity to support cognitive functioning in a manner similar to the way in which our current brains support cognitive functioning could be attached to human souls by God in the life after death.  Since there is no necessary relation between cognitive states and any given supporting medium, there is no a priori way to rule out brain equivalences even if mind are dependent on brains in this life.

H. H. Price argues that disembodied, post-death experience is a possible and plausible account of what the “Next World” will be like.  Post-death experience may consist solely of a world of mental images (in a broad sense of the term, cf. Locke’s ideas).  Price suggests that we currently experience the world in some situations, e.g., dreams, in a manner which is phenomenonologically indistinguishable from an imaged world.  The imaged world of the life to come, would rely on memory to supply the material out of which new imaged scenarios could be constructed and experienced.

Price’s account suggests that although we would presumably lose the input devices which ferry sensory data into our consciousness, we would not lose our sensory images nor much of the richness of our current experience.  Price’s account leaves open the (Berkelian) possibility that God may use another type of input device (direct downloading, perhaps) to generate new sensory-like experiences within the disembodied souls of the Next World. 

B.                The Self as a Psycho-Physical Unity

A powerful critique of the concept of the soul emanates from Central-State Materialists who hold that descriptions of mental states (“x is experiencing pain”) can be completely translated into descriptions of physical events (“These specific C-fibers are firing within x”).  To say that x is in pain is to say that x’s C-fibers (a particular brain event) are firing.  Any given meaningful statement is linguistically equivalent to another physicalistic statement.  Both types of statements, insofar as they are meaningful, ultimately refer to some physical state of affairs.

If this account is true, it is impossible to speak about a soul in a non-derivative manner, that is, by not merely indicating a preference for a particular set of linguistic descriptors, since all meaningful assertions about the soul can be translated into the more fundamental language of brain events.


Ironically, if Central-State Materialism is true and persons are only a series of physical events, it becomes more likely that persons can be re-created without any necessary physical or mental continuity with their previous embodiments.

If a person is no more or less than a set of physical events which can be described by a code which specifies a discrete formation of physical matter, it is possible that the same person can be instantiated or replicated in two different temporal or spatial locations.  Central-State Materialism implies that there are no physical or non-physical continuities (such as the soul) which prevent the simultaneous or sequential existence of two separate persons, x and y, who possess an identity relation to each other (They are identical insofar as the properties essential for personhood are concerned.  X need not share the same atoms as y for this relation to hold.).  It is the software code (a complete description of the physical properties of x) and not the hardware (a particular parcel of matter which instantiates the software specifications of x) that captures the essence of the person and which ironically also permits multiple copies to run in different hardware environments.

In light of the current hegemony of psycho-physical accounts of the person (such as Central-State Materialism), John Hick argues that spatiotemporal continuity is not necessary for personal identity.  In his view, it is possible to have a discrete personal identity without causal or temporal links holding between all of the states of the person.[101]

Hick argues that it is possible for a psycho-physical unity (i.e., a person) to be recreated in another dimension (or space, as Hick himself describes it) sometime after death.  Given what we have said above about the person as software code, there is no reason why this code could not be embodied in another parcel of matter in another dimension or even as a replica in our spatial dimension.  (Replicas must be distinguished from clones which share a common causal ancestry with another identical being.)  Hick thinks that we would ultimately concede that x is the same person as y even if there is no causal path between x and y.  But would we?  Would we not want to know if x or y were our mothers?  Would we not hold off assigning identity until we knew which one actually (causally) gave birth to me, etc?

Hick believes that this account of cross-dimensional replication preserves the identity of the person (the software code) and can provide the conceptual core for a doctrine of personal resurrection.  (Some theists, including Bruce Reichenbach, if my memory serves me, argue that God will only replicate the righteous in the resurrection and will leave the unrighteous in a state of nonreplication.  To put it crassly, the “software configurations” of the unrighteous will never be given a parcel of mater in which to “run” again.

Hick’s account leaves open the possibility that there might be several replications of x in the life after death.  Or even more interestingly, it leaves open the possibility that x may have one or more replications in the current dimension.  Even though he resists this contention, Hick’s case against it is not compelling.  His strongest argument against this possibility may be that since God is the only one who can carry out these replications and since there is little reason to suppose that God would carry out multiple replications, we should not expect to encounter what is admittedly a logical possibility in any actual world.

A further problem for Hick’s account is the relation of the last moment of x’s earthly existence to the first moment of y’s resurrected existence.  Hick’s account of simultaneous replication in another dimension seems to imply that the resurrected body would appear in deplorable condition—literally on the verge of expiration.  Hick is well aware of this problem and offers several responses to it.


Joel L. From

November 21, 2000

I.                    INTRODUCTION           

The current debate regarding how religious diversity is to be appraised has led to three main positions.  Exclusivism holds that one and only one religion has it mostly right and all other religions are fatally flawed.  Since the various religions make formally contradictory claims only one (at most) can be right.  Inclusivism holds that one and only one religion has it mostly right but devout practitioners of other religions are implicitly and graciously linked to the salvation offered in the mostly true religion.  Pluralism is the view that all the major religious traditions are in contact with the same ultimate reality, and that “all of them offer paths to salvation or liberation that are, as far as anyone can tell, equally effective in producing transformations from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness.”[102]

II.                 NORMATIVE PLURALISM (John Hick)

A.                 Introduction

John Hick presents the most comprehensive normative theory of religious pluralism.

In developing his account, Hick seeks to avoid the pitfalls of the following positions:

(1)     The absolutist—Only one set of religious truth claims are true; the salvific effects of these truths are only available to practitioners of that religion.

(2)     The inclusivist—Only one set of religious truth claims are true, but they are salvifically and covertly applied to devout practitioners of other religions.

(3)     The naturalist—All religious truth claims/experiences are illusory; their purported “Ground” does not exist.

(4)     The radical pluralist—All religions make truth-claims which are fundamentally in contradiction.  The reality to which they refer is pluralistic.  Each truly represents its own Reality.

Hick’s pluralistic project is complicated by the fact that many of the world’s religions hold an absolutist view of their own claims and those of their rivals.  How is it possible to maintain the integrity of these religions (as a pluralism must) in the face of claims that a hitherto unnoticed common core unites all belief systems?

“The basic issue in the philosophy of religion is thus whether religious experience is simply a modification of man’s consciousness, generated from within the human mind, or arises from contact with supramundane reality and constitutes cognition, however incomplete and/or distorted, of our more ultimate environment.”[103]

B.                John Hick’s Spiritual Journey[104]

“At this stage I accepted as a whole and without question the entire evangelical package of theology—the verbal inspiration of the Bible; creation and fall; Jesus as God the Son incarnate, born of a virgin, conscious of his divine nature, and performing miracles of divine power; redemption by his blood from sin and guilt; his bodily resurrection and ascension and future return in glory; heaven and hell” (15).

“Without ever being tempted to become either a Hindu or a Buddhist I could see that within these ancient traditions men and women are savingly related to the eternal Reality from which we all live” (18).

“. . . a paradigm shift from a Christianity-centered or Jesus-centered model to a God-centered model of the universe of faiths” (18).

C.                Toward a Philosophy of Religious Pluralism

“ . . . we are nevertheless assuming that, basically, religion is a range of responses to reality . . . rather than being pure projection or illusion” (89).

“The great world religions, then, are ways of salvation.  Each claims to constitute an effective context within which the transformation of human existence can and does take place from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness.”[105]  Each major religion produces exemplars who manifest a transforming salvific vitality in their growing compassion and other-centeredness.

Hick offers a neo-Kantian hypothesis to account for the seeming salvific parity among the world religions.  He postulates “an ultimate transcendent divine reality which, being beyond the scope of our human concepts, cannot be directly experienced by us as it is in itself but only as it appears through our various human thought-forms. . . . In Kantian terms, the divine noumenon, the Real an sich, is experienced through different human receptivities as a range of divine phenomena, in the formation of which religious concepts have played an essential part” [59].

In God Has Many Names, Hick refers to the different forms of religious awareness as “different experiential transformations of the same transcendent informational input” (94).

“[The divine Reality in itself] cannot be said to be one or many, person or thing, substance or process, good or bad, purposive or non-purposive.  None of the concrete descriptions that apply within the realm of human experience can apply literally to the unexperienceable ground of that realm . . . We cannot even speak of this as a thing or an entity.”[106]

“ . . . God is experienced by human beings, but experienced in a manner analogous to that in which, according to Kant, we experience the world—namely by informational input from external reality being interpreted by the mind in terms of its own categorical system and thus coming to consciousness as meaningful phenomenal experience” (105). 

Hick believes that theism, nontheism, and polytheism are the initial categories of religious perception—cf. Kant’s categories of space and time.  “It is the variations of the human cultural situation that concretize the notion of deity as specific images of God.  And it is these images that inform man’s actual religious experience” (105f).[107]

“. . . our human religious experience, variously shaped as it is by our sets of religious concepts, is a cognitive response to the universal presence of the ultimate divine Reality that, in itself, exceeds human conceptuality” [63].

In Hick’s account, the salvific “goods” which religions deliver supersede the truth claims they assert, the latter being but “packaging and labelling”[108] {87}.  Hick is tolerantly agnostic about religious truth-claims, not because they are not cognitive assertions, but because they cannot be adjudicated in this life.  Hick argues that although there is no extant way in which these truth-claims can be adjudicated, they are, in principle, confirmable in the life to come.  Eschatological verification holds out the promise that religious claims are, in principle, cognitive and subject to (eventual) confirmation or disconfirmation.  In the meantime, we must use broad, pragmatic criteria to ascertain whether or not religions deliver the salvific goods and aims they set for themselves.


A.                 Is Hick’s Revisionism Hermeneutically Adequate?

Is it the case that for all their contrariety world religions share a transcendental unity or is this contention merely a necessary postulate within a pluralist account of religious beliefs?  Do world religions share a common salvific goal and participate in the same transformational process?  Critics argue that Hick’s revisionism violates the self-understanding internal to the religious traditions.  Many critics are willing to concede similarities between religions with respect to aims, practices, and concepts, but few are willing to postulate an underlying unity within these structural similarities, especially in light of the way in which the various religions interpret their practices and beliefs vis-à-vis other religions {73-74}.


Sumner Twiss suggests that criticisms of this sort confuse two types of hermeneutic adequacy, namely, (1) descriptive, and (2) explanatory adequacy.  Only the former is accountable to the religious self-conceptions of practitioners.  The latter (2) offers a theoretical explanation of religious phenomena in terms of a larger framework or schemata by which the practitioners’ diversity can be understood.[109]  Sumner concedes that Hick sometimes seems to be offering a (1) hermeneutic but argues that Hick’s project proffers an explanatory (2) hermeneutic.


B.                Is Hick’s Postulate of a Divine Noumenon Coherent?

Hick is well aware that his pluralist hypothesis requires the further postulation of “a divine noumenal reality underlying and serving as the common ultimate referent of phenomenal religious systems” . . . {82}.  This noumenal postulate is critical if naturalistic accounts of religion are to be defused and the cognitive/realist aspects of Hick’s theory are to be sustained.  The ontologically Real, as the ultimate ground of all religious experience, supports an epistemological realism in spite of the culturally-determined interpretations of the Real.

Critics have focused a great deal of attention on Hick’s conception of the noumenon and its relation to ultimate concepts within the various religions.  The basic problem is to articulate the relation between the noumenon and its phenomenal expressions.  For instance, are these relations causal?  Hick’s claim that the noumenon provides “transcendent informational input” (94) seems to be offering a causal account.  If it is causally related to the phenomenon, however, the noumenon must have the property of “being the cause of x (a given religious phenomenon)” and as such it can be positively conceptualized—a claim which Hick denies elsewhere.  Furthermore, any strong continuity between the noumenal and the phenomenal seems unable to account for the formally contradictory “outputs” (personal vs. impersonal) of the noumenon in the phenomenal {83}.  Continuity may taint the noumenon with specific phenomenal properties, e.g., personal, impersonal.  And since the impersonal is formally incompatible with the personal, the coherence of the noumenon itself is threatened.

Twiss suggests that the dualistic nature of light—wave vs. particle—provides an analogy for Hick’s noumenal/phenomenal relation.  Unfortunately for Twiss’ (and Hick’s) analogy, waves and particles are not, strictly speaking, formally contradictory in the way that personal and impersonal are.  The fact that we believe that the light consists of both is proof that we do not take them to be contradictories.  We have an obvious referent for wave/particle duality, namely light; we have no such referent for a impersonal/personal property.

Discontinuous accounts of the noumenon/phenomenon relation, in their attempt to avoid the type of problem specified above threaten Hick’s realistic references to the noumenon which are implied in the terms images, manifestations, etc.  Furthermore, naturalistic, polytheistic, or other radically pluralistic accounts of the noumenon may not be eliminable on a discontinuous account. 

C.                Is Hick’s Concept of Religious Traditions Adequate?

Hick constantly refers to the great religious traditions.  These traditions are conceptualized so broadly that they are in danger of becoming mere abstractions.  Can Hick give proper place to the intramural doctrinal disputes within each religious tradition?  For instance, the Christian tradition, as a whole, does not hold to the ineffability of God, yet Hick is quick to attribute this belief to Christianity qua tradition.[110]  Can Hick avoid the charge of internal (to the religion) exclusivism in that he has arbitrarily chosen one stream of the tradition as definitive of the whole?  In order to conceive of religion generically, Hick has had to apply an exclusivistic bias to a wide range of doctrinal viewpoints within the traditions.

D.                Must Exclusivist Religious Beliefs Be Justified Consensually?

Hick and other pluralists assert that exclusivist religious beliefs require consensual justification.  But is this the case?  Willam Alston argues that since there is no non-circular or consensual justification for doxastic practices in general, e.g.,sense perception, we should not expect that there would be non-circular or consensual justifications for beliefs which emerge from religious practices.[111]  If there are no consensual justifications for perceptual beliefs (cf. Plantinga’s basic beliefs) and no consensual justifications for religious beliefs, why should we expect consensus when we compare religious beliefs across doxastic practices?  Even if there is no consensus, this fact alone does not obviate the rationality of holding exclusivist beliefs generated within these doxastic practices.  Even if religious perceptions were as reliable as they could be, we may still not be able to make a completely compelling case for their reliability. 


Joel L. From

November 29, 2000

I.                   INTRODUCTION

Doctrinal affirmations have received increasing philosophical attention in recent years.  Many of the philosophers working in this area are Christians who use the tools of analytic philosophy to assess the meaning and coherence of classic Christian doctrines.  In many cases, these philosophers proceed by defusing common objections against the doctrine in question and then assess whether or not a rational person may affirm the doctrine once these objections have been defeated.

In this unit we will look at recent work on the doctrines of the incarnation, the vicarious atonement, and petitionary prayer.


“The Christian formula is not: ‘Humanity manifests certain adumbrations [vague shadows] of the divine,’ but: this man was very God.  On that pivot of singularity the whole Christian interpretation of phenomena uncompromisingly turns.”[112]

“Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-Begotten, recognized IN TWO NATURES, WITHOUT CONFUSION, WITHOUT CHANGE, WITHOUT DIVISION, WITHOUT SEPARATION; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ . . . .[113]

The classic philosophical critique of the Chalcedonian doctrine of the incarnation is that it is not possible for the essential characteristics of the deity and the human to co-exist in one person at one time.  According to this view, human attributes are the logical complementaries of divine attributes, e.g., all-powerful vs. not all-powerful.  How can logical complementaries be true of one being at one time and in the same respect?

A.                 Thomas Morris’ Defense of the Orthodox Position[114]

“. . . there must reside in human nature the possibility of taking up the divine into itself, just as did happen in Christ.”[115]

Arguments against the orthodox conception of the incarnation typically distinguish essential and accidental properties.  In this view, every being possesses a set of properties which are severally necessary and jointly sufficient and which uniquely define that being over against all others.  Critics go on to point out that the set of essential properties for humans are not compossible with the set of essential properties for deity.

Morris argues that determining which properties are essential to human nature is no easy task.  To begin, a distinction must be drawn between essential and common properties.  A property which is common or universal among human beings, e.g., being less than fifteen feet tall, is not necessarily essential.  Morris hypothesizes that human beings may someday grow to be fifteen feet tall.  In that case, he believes that we would still take them to be in full possession of human nature.  The universal property of being less than fifteen feet tall is not essential for humans.  This distinction permits Morris to re-examine the alleged contrariety between God’s attributes and human attributes.  Why, he asks, should we assume that omnipotence, for instance, cannot be an attribute of human nature.  Admittedly, it isn’t typically found in human beings, but it this the case necessarily?

Morris asks us to consider another distinction: being fully x versus being merely x.  To be fully x an entity must possess all properties essential to x’s nature.  To be merely x is to possess all of the properties essential to x’s nature plus some additional limitation properties as well, e.g., for humans, being less than omnipotent.  Morris suggests that this distinction can be illustrated by comparing a diamond, turtle and human being.  The diamond has all the properties essential to a physical object.  It is therefore fully physical as well as merely physical.  A turtle is similarly fully physical but without being merely physical.  The turtle does not have the limitation properties of a diamond.  Similarly, a human being is not merely physical nor merely organic but fully physical, fully organic and fully human.  Most human beings are merely human as well.





Fully Physical




Fully Organic




Fully Human




Merely Physical




Merely Organic




Merely Human




Not Merely Physical




Not Merely Organic




Not Merely Human





According to Morris, the orthodox account of the incarnation holds that Jesus Christ was fully human and not merely human.  Furthermore, all human properties which are logically incompatible with a divine incarnation, e.g., coming to be at some time, are, at most, essential only to being merely human.







Fully Physical






Fully Organic






Fully Human






Fully Divine






Merely Physical






Merely Organic






Merely Human






Merely Divine






Not Merely Physical






Not Merely Organic






Not Merely Human






Not Merely Divine







B.                John Hick’s Critique of Morris’ Account[116]

Hick is willing to grant Morris’ analysis of the ontological hierarchy of beings—gems, animals, humans.  But he wonders if the plausibility of this ascending model automatically works in reverse.  Although it makes sense that a turtle can have higher-level attributes without giving up it lower-level attributes, is it possible for a turtle to take on human-essential characteristics and still be a turtle?  Hick denies that this is possible since the turtle could not sustain a human brain and thus could not support an essential human property.

This, of course, depends on which properties are essential to human nature.  I can see no reason why Morris could not simply deny that having a human brain is essential to human nature.  Hick’s criticism depends on the truth of some form of mind-brain identity theory, a theory which needs broader support in order to sustain this criticism.

Hick also mentions a class of problems which can, it seems to me, be dismissed.  Hick asks, “How could a finite human physique be able to exert infinite power” (412)?  In defense of Morris one might reply that since no “physique” supports the exertion of infinite power in God himself, why should we expect the incarnated God to suddenly need a physique to support these activities?  Neither God nor the God-man needs a body in order to support his divine attributes.  Hick also asserts that any human being who possessed divine attributes could not be mistaken for a mere mortal (414).  Again, it appears as if Hick assumes that these attributes can be seen or observed directly.  If the incarnate God has good reasons not to be revealed as God, surely there is no reason why these attributes must be “worn on his sleeve.”


A.                 Introduction

“ . . . three main types of theories [of the atonement] have arisen.  The first is the Classical, Dramatic, or ‘Ransom to Satan’ theory, based on passages such as Matthew 20:28, I Timothy 2:6, and Romans 5:18-19.  This theory regards sinners as the possession of Satan since the Fall.  Christ on the cross paid the ransom for their redemption, and Satan accepted Christ in their place. . . . The second is the Satisfaction or Juridical theory, which originated with Anselm (1033-1109).  Here human sin is regarded as an affront to the majesty of God.  Such an affront requires an infinite satisfaction.  But no human can adequately offer this; only the God-Man can render satisfaction and bear the penalty of sin. . . . The third is the Subjectivist or Moral Influence theory, developed by Abelard (1079-1142). It holds that the chief human problem is how to be freed from the fear of God, that we might respond personally to God’s love.  This is made possible by the embodiment of God’s love in Christ’s sacrifice, which is meant to evoke a moral response in human beings, leading them to repentance and amendment of life.”[117]

B.                Quinn’s Modification of the Juridical Account of the Atonement

Philip Quinn suggests that penal-substitutionary account of the atonement forms the core of the traditional doctrine, that is, the death of Christ satisfies the juridical punishment which accrues to humans.

In examining Aquinas’ account of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction, Quinn notes that medieval penal codes provided for vicarious (pecuniary) satisfaction.  Virtually any crime could be atoned for by monetary payment.  In general, these models were indifferent as to who paid the debt.  Quinn suggests that these commonplaces may have served as models for Aquinas’ views on this matter. 

Quinn suggest that current moral intuitions do not generally permit the transfer of satisfaction-making to a third party.  Indebtedness for serious offenses seems to attach to particular persons (the offender) and cannot be satisfied by any payment by another party.  For this reason, Quinn finds the “very idea of vicarious satisfaction for the debt of punishment of sin hard to swallow.”[118]

Read parable (time permitting)[119]

Quinn suggests that the traditional account must be modified to overcome this difficulty.  He argues that Christ’s exemplary sacrifice does not literally pay the debt of sinners (which no one other than the sinner herself can pay) but moves God to be less severe with the sin-debt owed him.  The example of Christ, in other words, compels God to forgive that portion of a sinner’s debt that she cannot pay.  And since a range of severities vis-à-vis sin is compatible with justice, it cannot be the case that justice per se requires any particular level of severity.  The death of Christ moves God to adopt a fully-just, but less severe, means of satisfaction.


Any satisfactory account of petitionary prayer will have to deal with objections which arise from God’s omniscience (he already knows what needs to be done) and his ability to bring about what he is going to do whether or not we request it.  In response to similar objections, Thomas Aquinas suggested that God not only wills the effects in this world but what causes will brings about those causes.  “. . . God has by his providence arranged things so that free human actions and human prayers will form part of the chain of cause and effect leading to the state of world ordained in God’s plan.”[120]

Eleonore Stump holds that the Thomistic account of petitionary prayer is unable to account for why God relies on prayer in this way.  To specify how God could permit petitionary prayer is not to answer why he does.  Stump proposes, therefore, that another account is needed which answers the why question.

Stump holds that God desires a loving relation/friendship with humans.  Difficulties immediately arise in that a God-man relation/friendship is highly unequal.  This situation puts the human at risk in at least two ways.  First, the human may be simply overwhelmed by God and become a passive and slavish receptor.  Second, the human may be spoiled by having such a close connection to omnipotence.  “. . . if God wants some kind of true friendship with men, he will have to find a way of guarding against both kinds of overwhelming.”[121]

Assuming that God just cannot will/create friendship (without violating the human integrity which makes friendship desirable and possible), Stump argues that petitionary prayer is a safeguard against these two inherent dangers.

The act of petitioning God is a healthy way in which the distinctiveness of God and humans can be maintained.  God will not overwhelm us with his person or benefactions.  In some crucial cases, he awaits our petition before he responds.  This is a necessary safeguard within vastly unbalanced relations.  Furthermore, the uncertainty inherent in any petition prevents overwhelming spoiling and a “tyrannical and self-indulgence pride”.[122]

Stump argues that petitionary prayer on behalf of others reduces the risk that these others will fall prey to the two dangers mentioned above, especially when they learn that their friend has been praying for them.  Stump suggests, furthermore, that petitionary prayer on behalf of others may adjust the timing of God’s gracious intervention into their lives and perhaps even the consequences which issue from the friend’s response to God’s gracious giving.

“God must work through the intermediary of prayer, rather than doing everything on his own initiative, for man’s sake.  Prayer acts as a kind of buffer between man and God.  By safeguarding the weaker member of the relation from the dangers of overwhelming domination and overwhelming spoiling, it helps to promote and preserve a close relationship between an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good person and a fallible, finite, imperfect person. . . . one of its [prayer] main functions [is] the production of closeness between man and God.  But not just any sort of closeness will result in friendship, and promoting the appropriate sort of closeness will require inhibiting or preventing inappropriate sorts of closeness, so that a relationship of friendship depends on the maintenance of both closeness and distance between the two friends.”[123]

[1]John Baillie, Invitation to Pilgrimage (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1942), 15.

[2]Michael Peterson, et al., Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 9.

[3]Ibid., 11.

[4]Many of these facets of philosophy of religion are mentioned by Wm. Alston, “Philosophy of Religion, Problems of,” s.v. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards, 8 vols. (New York: Macmillan/Free Press, 1967), VI, 285.

[5]Kelly James Clark, “Introduction” in Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Kelly James Clark  (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2000), xi.

[6]See John E. Smith, “Faith, Belief, and the Problem of Rationality in Religion,” in Rationality and Religious Belief, ed. C. F. Delaney (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), 42-3.

[7]Augustine, The Essential Augustine, ed. Vernon J. Bourke, Against the Academics, III, 20.43. Indianapolis: Hacket Pub.  Co. , 1974, 25.

[8]B. A. Garrish, Grace and Reason: A Study in the Theology of Luther (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 1.  I owe this citation to Caleb Miller, “Faith and Reason,” in Michael J. Murray, ed. Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 135.

[9]George H. Sabine and Stanley B. Smith. “Introduction” to Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Commonwealth [51 B.C.], trans. George H. Sabine and Stanley B. Smith (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Pub., 1976), 22.

[10]Wolfhart Pannenberg, “What is Truth?” in Basic Questions in Theology, trans. George Kehm (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), II, 3-4.

[11]Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966), 125.

[12]Bernard Mandeville, “A Search into the Nature of Society [1723], in The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1924), I, 333.


[13]John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), I, 86.

[14]Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 155.

[15]Immanuel Kant, “Prolegomena to Every Future Metaphysics That May be Presented as a Science,” trans. Carl J. Friedrich, in The Philosophy of Kant, ed. Carl J. Friedrich (New York: Modern Library, 1949), 91

[16]E. H. Carr, What is History? (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962), 190.


[17]Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 9.

[18]R. S. Peters, Ethics and Education (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1968), 51.

[19]Michael Peterson, et al., Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 45.

[20]W. K. Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief,” in Lectures and Essays [1879].  Reprinted in Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery, 4th ed., ed. Shipka and Minton (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 83, 85.

[21]Michael Scriven, Primary Philosophy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), 103.

[22]Taken from A. Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God,” in Faith and Rationality, ed. Plantinga and Wolterstorff (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 16-93.

[23]Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God,” 90.

[24]Caleb Miller, “Faith and Reason,” in Michael J. Murray, ed. Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 143.

[25]Peterson, Reason and Religious Belief, 49.

[26]Luther Martin [1483-1546]. Sermons 25.vii (1522), D. Martin Luthers Werke (Weimar, 1883-), 10-III:239.  Quoted in and translated by Jaroslav Pelikan, Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700), vol. 4, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 165.

[27]Albrecht Dihle, The Theory of Will in Classical Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 14.

[28]See C. Stephen Evans, Kierkegaard’s “Fragments” and “Postscript:” The Religious Philosophy of Johannes Climacus  (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1983), 121-22.

[29]Evans, Kierkegaard’s “Fragments” and “Postscript,” 125.

[30]C. Stephen Evans, Subjectivity and Religious Belief (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian University Press, 1978), 90.

[31]Peterson, Reason and Religious Belief, 53.

[32]Thomas Aquinas, Exposition of Boethius’s On the Trinity,” Summa Theologiae, I, 2, 3, trans. The Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 3 vols. (New York: Benzinger Bros, 1948), n. p.

[33]See Ronald Nash, The Concept of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 11-14.

[34]Robert M. Adams, “Divine Necessity” The Journal of Philosophy 80 (November 1983).  Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3d ed., ed. William L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1998), 12.

[35]John Hick, “Necessary Being” Scottish Journal of Theology (December 1961).  Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, ed. William L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), 14.

[36]Thomas Morris, Our Idea of God.  Reprinted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, 105.

[37]Hick, “Necessary Being,” 16.

[38]J. N. Findlay, “God Necessary Existence is Impossible,” Reprinted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 97.

[39]Findlay, “God Necessary Existence is Impossible,” 98.

[40]Findlay, “God Necessary Existence is Impossible,” 100.

[41]Findlay, “God Necessary Existence is Impossible,” 101.

[42]Findlay, “God Necessary Existence is Impossible,” 102.

[43]Hick, “Necessary Being,” 24.

[44]Morris, Our Idea of God, 108.

[45]Adams, “Divine Necessity,” 13.

[46]Adams, “Divine Necessity,” 15.

[47]This formulation is suggested by Erik J. Wielenberg, “Omnipotence Again” Faith and Philosophy 17:1 (January 2000): 26.

[48]Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia q. xxv art. 3.  Reprinted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 110.

[49]This problem is suggested by P. T. Geach, “Omnipotence” Philosophy 48 (April 1973).  Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3d ed., ed. William L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1998), 69-70.

[50]This objection is suggested in Geach, “Omnipotence,” 70-71.

[51]Edward Wierenga, The Nature of God (New York: Cornell University Press, 1989), 25.

[52]Wierenga, The Nature of God, 25.

[53]Thomas Flint and Alfred Freddoso, “Maximal Power,” in The Existence and Nature of God, ed. A. Freddoso (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 99.

[54]Wielenberg, “Omnipotence Again,” 39.

[55]Geach, “Omnipotence,” 64.

[56]Geach, “Omnipotence,” 64.

[57]Geach, “Omnipotence,” 63.

[58]Geach, “Omnipotence,” 64-5.

[59]Geach, “Omnipotence,” 73.

[60]Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. Edward B. Pusey  (New York: Random House, 1949), Bk, 11, 252-3.

[61]Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy.  Reprinted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 122.

[62]Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, 122.

[63]St. Anselm, Proslogium, ch. 19, trans. Sidney N. Deane.  Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, ed. WIlliam L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright, 3d ed. (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998), 76.

[64]Thomas V. Morris, Our Idea of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 121.

[65]These attributes and their characterization are based on William Alston, “Hartshorne and Aquinas: A Via Media,” Unpublished essay, July 1981.

[66]Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, 148.

[67]Charles Hartshorne suggests that there is no logical problem in supposing that the specious present, which is in some interesting ways outside of the movement in time, if only instantly, may be found to have a longer duration elsewhere in the universe.  See Charles Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method (London: S C M Press, 1970), 193-4.

[68]Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism, 216.  Cited in Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, 150-1.

[69]See Hasker, God, Time and Knowledge, 150.

[70]St. Anselm, Monologium, chapter 22 in St. Anselm: Basic Writings, 2d ed., trans. S. N. Deane (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Pub., 1962), 81.

[71]Nicholas Wolterstorff, God and the Good.  Reprinted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 125.

[72]Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, 158.

[73]For a discussion of the God eternal response to the interactive problem see Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, 157-8.

[74]Wolterstorff, God and the Good, 130.

[75]Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, 168-9.

[76]See Process and Theology, ed. Ronald Nash (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987).

[77]Much of the material in this unit is taken from A. Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God,” in Faith and Rationality, ed. Plantinga and Wolterstorff (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 16-93.

[78]W. K. Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief,” in Lectures and Essays [1879].  Reprinted in Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery, 4th ed., ed. Shipka and Minton (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 83, 85.

[79]Some of these criticisms of evidentialism are taken from Kelly James Clark, “Without Evidence or Argument,” in Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Kelly James Clark (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2000), 193.

[80]This definition of proper basicality is suggested by Philip L. Quinn, “On Finding the Foundations of Theism,” in Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, 198.

[81]The phrasing in this paragraph is borrowed from Michael Peterson, et al., Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 149.

[82]Michael Peterson, et al., Reason and Religious Belief, 150.

[83]Michael Peterson, et al., Reason and Religious Belief, 152.

[84]Stephen J. Wykstra, “Towards a Sensible Evidentialism: On the Notion of ‘Needing Evidence’,” Reprinted in William Rowe and William Wainwright, ed., Philosophy of Religion, 3d ed. (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1998), 483.

[85]Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God,” 90.

[86]A. Plantinga, “Is Belief in God Properly Basic?” Nous 15:1 (March 1981).  Reprinted in William Rowe and William Wainwright, ed., Philosophy of Religion, 477.

[87]Caleb Miller, “Faith and Reason,” in Michael J. Murray, ed. Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 143.

[88]I am grateful for this example to E. L. Mascall, Existence and Analogy.  Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, ed. William L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), 465-6.

[89]Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1.13.5.  Reprinted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, 351-2.

[90]Mascall, Existence and Analogy, 466.

[91]In this discussion of the three types of analogy, I am greatly indebted to Mascall, Existence and Analogy, 468-71.

[92]David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding [1748], ed. Charles W. Hendel (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1955), 28.

[93]A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth & Logic, 2d ed. (New York: Dover Publications, 1952), 35.

[94]Michael Peterson, et al., Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 181.

[95]William P. Alston, “Speaking Literally of God,” in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 370.

[96]This definition is suggested by Anthony Quinton, “The Soul,” The Journal of Philosophy 59:15 (July 19, 1962).  Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3d ed., ed. William L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1998), 514.

[97]Quinton, “The Soul,” 517.

[98]Quinton, “The Soul,” 518.

[99]Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul, 1986.  Reprinted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, 432.

[100]Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul, 433.

[101]John Hick, Death and Eternal Life, 1976.  Excerpted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, 452-463.

[102]Kevin Meeker and Philip L. Quinn, “Introduction: The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity,” in The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity, ed. Philip L. Quinn and Kevin Meeker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 3.

[103]John Hick, God Has Many Names (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1982), 79-80.

[104]Hick, God Has Many Names.  Subsequent page numbers in parenthesis refer to this source.

[105]John Hick, “Religious Pluralism and Salvation,” Faith and Philosophy 5 (October 1988): 365-77.  Reprinted in The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity, ed. Philip L. Quinn and Kevin Meeker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 56.  Subsequent page numbers in square brackets refer to this source.

[106]John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 246.

[107]In his later work, An Interpretation of Religion, 1989, Hick abandons the terms ‘God’ and ‘God as such’ for the ‘Real’ and the ‘Real as humanly thought and experienced.’ This terminological shift accommodates nonpersonalistic religions better than the term ‘God’.

[108]Sumner B. Twiss, “The Philosophy of Religious Pluralism: A Critical Appraisal of Hick and His Critics,” The Journal of Religion 70 (1990): 533-68.  Reprinted in The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity, 67-98. Subsequent page numbers in set-enclosure brackets { } refer to this source.

[109]Exclusivistic theists should welcome this reading of Hick’s theory of explanation.  The possibility or a (2)-type explanation seems implicit in orthodox accounts of the effects of sin as a reading of religious diversity.  Exlusivist accounts of religious diversity seem to require some type of (2) hermeneutic.

[110]For a critique of Hick’s account of the divine ineffability and infinity in the Christian tradition see Paul R. Eddy, “Religious Pluralism and the Divine: Another Look at John Hick’s Neo-Kantian Proposal,” Religious Studies 30:4 (December 1994): 467-78.  Reprinted in The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity, 129-30.

[111]William P. Alston, “Religious Diversity and Perceptual Knowledge of God,” Faith and Philosophy 5 (October 1988): 433-48.  Reprinted in The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity, 203.

[112]Dorothy Sayers, Cited in The Divine Comedy, vol. 2, Purgatory, trans. Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1980), 39.

[113]Council of Chalcedon, Actio V.  Documents of the Christian Church, 2d ed., ed. Henry Bettenson (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), 73.

[114]Much of what follows in this section is taken from Thomas V. Morris, Anselmian Explorations: Essays in Philosophical Theology, 1986.  Reprinted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 551-559.

[115]Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 64.

[116]John Hick, “The Logic of God Incarnate,” Religious Studies 25 (1989): 409-423.

[117]Keith J. Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, 1792-1875 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 385.

[118]Philip Quinn, Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement.  Excerpted in Michael Peterson et al., eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 566.

[119]Quinn, Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement, 566-7.

[120]Eleonore Stump, “Why Petition God?” American Philosophical Quarterly 16:2 (April 1979): 81-90.  Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 569.

[121]Stump, “Why Petition God?,” 570.

[122]Stump, “Why Petition God?,” 571.

[123]Stump, “Why Petition God?,” 575.