Attributes of God

Consider the nature of God; aseity, simplicity, necessity, immutability, impassibility and eternity. Look at evil and omnipotence, sacred writings, and the thinking of Augustine, Boethius, Russell, Aquinas and Mackie. With advice on past questions and essay tips

About Attributes of God

The attributes of God are a foundation for a study of the Philosophy of Religion. Consider other important topics dealt with in the subject, such as:

  • How the world got here
  • Whether the world is designed
  • Where good comes from
  • How evil is explained
  • Whether we can speak of God
  • Whether there are miracles
  • Whether God reveals Himself in the world
  • Whether there is life after death

Any discussion of these subjects rests on an idea of what God is. If God created the universe, then He must be outside space and time as we know it, and must have extraordinary power. If He is a designing God, He must have great intelligence. If He is the explanation for goodness, He must Himself be good.

Many of the questions asked in the Philosophy of Religion already PRESUPPOSE certain attributes that God has. Take the example of religious language. We would not ask the question of whether we can talk about God unless we already believed Him to be, in some way, outside the system, or at least very different from things we normally talk about.

Or take the question of how the world got here. The fact that God is seen to be one of the possible answers to this question shows what we already believe about God’s attributes: that He is powerful; that He could be the creator.

So the kinds of questions asked in the Philosophy of Religion can presuppose, and assume, certain attributes that God is said to have. It is therefore extremely important to talk about the attributes of God themselves, and enquire whether they are cogent. If the idea of God makes no sense, then that threatens many of the other questions in the Philosophy of Religion.

Key words and terms related to Attributes of God

  • GOD OF CLASSICAL THEISM – God as discussed in philosophical discourse
  • GOD OF SACRED SCRIPTURE – God as presented in the Bible
  • 95 THESES – Document written by Martin Luther condemning many of the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church
  • ECCLESIOLOGIES – Different theological views and practices
  • DOCUMENTARY HYPOTHESIS – The view that the Pentateuch has four different sources
  • LATIN DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH – Early Church Fathers who played a key role in establishing doctrine
  • HERESY – A view that departs from Orthodox teaching
  • MONOLATRISM Worship of one God: does not exclude believing there to be many Gods
  • NATURAL THEOLOGY – The idea that you can use reason and the world around us as a basis on which to draw conclusions about the divine
  • REFORMATION – The split away from the Church in Rome that started with Luther and people like him challenging papal authority
  • SCHOLASTICISM – The movement in medieval philosophy most associated with Aquinas, where Ancient Greek ideas, particularly those of Aristotle, become synthesised with contemporary thinking
  • ANTHROPOMORPHIC – Person-like, a depiction of God with human qualities, perhaps those that God is not usually said to have, such as having a body, walking etc.
  • BARA Hebrew word meaning “create”, but a word used only of God
  • EX MATERIA Out of matter
  • EX NIHILO Out of nothing
  • SCOPES TRIAL A famous case in which a high-school teacher was prosecuted for teaching evolution
  • SOCIAL DARWINISM A view where the idea of “the survival of the fittest” is applied to people to suggest that some have more value than others because they are stronger
  • TRANSCENDENT Above and beyond; a depiction of God that is beyond this world and not contained by it
  • COVENANT A promise made by God to his people, in exchange for their obedience
  • DIVINE COMMAND THEORY The view supported by Søren Kirkegaard, amongst others, that God’s command is what makes something good
  • EUTHYPHRO DILEMMA Raised in Plato’s Euthyphro, it is a dilemma surrounding the origin of goodness; whether God prescribes something because it is good, or whether something is good by virtue of the fact  that God prescribes it
  • FORM OF THE GOOD Plato’s idea of the highest summit of reality; the Form of the Good is the highest good; all other good derives from it
  • NEO-PLATONISTS – Thinkers coming after Plato, who are heavily influenced by him and adopt many of his ideas
  • NEW COVENANT A new promise made by God through Jesus of redemption to all people through belief in Christ
  • ALMIGHTY The most powerful thing. A being that is the most powerful thing but is not necessarily able to do everything
  • IN CONFLICT WITH GOD’S NATURE Something that is not impossible, but conflicts with another aspect of God’s nature
  • LOGICALLY IMPOSSIBLE Something impossible given the laws of logic as they are (eg 2 + 2 = 5)
  • OMNIPOTENT All-powerful. Can do anything, or according to Augustine, “what He wills”
  • PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE Something impossible given the laws of nature as they are (eg lead floating)
  • PSEUDO TASKS Aquinas’s term for things that seem, grammatically, like tasks, but are not because they are intrinsically impossible; not something that can be done
  • BEING ACQUAINTED WITH Knowledge of people or things; a different kind of knowledge
  • FOREKNOWLEDGE Knowledge of the future
  • KNOWING THAT Knowledge of facts. What philosophers would call “propositional knowledge”
  • MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE Molina’s view that God knows how possible created beings would act in certain circumstances
  • ONTOLOGICAL PROBLEM The problem that God cannot know the future because there is no future to know
  • PROBLEM OF FREEDOM The problem that God cannot know the future because if He did, our freedom would be compromised
  • ATEMPORAL – Outside time
  • MODIFIED ATEMPORALITY – Not constrained by time, but still relating to time
  • SEMPITERNAL – Everlasting

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