Many nonbelievers have made the claim that “God” is an incoherent concept that is never really defined. Unfortunately, it is true that theists often have difficulty ascribing characteristics to God. Thus, in this article I will describe the attributes that, I believe, make God.
First, I must mention an important distinction to make about the definition of God. There are, in my mind, two different ways to define Him. The first way is a vague and nonspecific definition. This definition only seeks to understand what necessary characteristics or attributes God displays. This I will refer to as the “minimalist” definition. The second way to define God is according to a specific religion. For example, a Hinduist may mention all the characteristics of the God in which they believe. Since I am a Christian, I will seek to mention the characteristics of the Christian God.
What is the “minimalist” definition?
I believe God is an entity that is above and beyond the universe. This means that God is not subject to the laws of the universe. In addition, He created the universe and the physical laws that govern it. He has existed eternally, which is why He had no cause for His existence. Moreover, God is able to make decisions. He is not merely a robot, but instead has the ability to decide to do certain things.
This definition admittedly is very vague, but that is why I refer to it as the minimalist definition.
What is the Christian definition?
I believe that the Christian God has all of the aforementioned characteristics, as well as many others. Among these are omnibenevolence (all-loving), omniscience (all-knowing), immutability (unchanging), and interest in human beings. He is also omnipotent (all-powerful). He is perfectly just, and He is the basis for all morality. In fact, He created a moral code, which is imbedded within all humans. He is three persons in one God (known as the Trinity), consisting of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Son, Jesus Christ, sacrificed himself in order to allow us to live in heaven for eternity should we place our faith in Him.
What are the uses of these definitions?
Everybody may vary on what they believe defines God. However, it is important that everybody has at least some idea of what they believe defines Him. The minimalist definition is most important when arguing for the existence of God (see Cosmological Argument and Teleological Argument). The Christian definition is most important to know for inquiring nonbelievers and for one’s own personal convictions.
It is interesting to note that nontheists will often criticize theistic arguments for failing to show that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, and so on. As I point out, I think that most theistic arguments should only be concerned with establishing the existence of God as described by the minimalist definition. However, I feel that the expectations are impossibly high, for I think that it is impossible for us to really know that God is omnipotent, for example, on the basis of naturalistic evidence alone. To see this, imagine that you asked God to demonstrate that He is all-powerful. You may ask Him to perform some amazing act, such as instantaneously creating a million universes. However, such a demonstration would not prove omnipotence, for you could then ask Him to simultaneously create a million and one universes. This process could be repeated indefinitely- no matter how many universes you asked God to make, you could always ask for Him to make one more. Thus, it is impossible, strictly speaking, for omnipotence to be demonstrated. The same holds true for omniscience, omni-benevolence, and so forth.
It follows that the expectation that one “prove” that God is omnipotent is absurd. Nevertheless, belief that God really does possess such qualities can still be rationally maintained in a couple of ways. First of all, personal experience (see here) could testify to God’s perfection. Secondly, Richard Swinburne has argued that the hypothesis that God is all-powerful is simpler than the hypothesis that He is somewhat powerful. 1 Therefore, all things being equal, we should prefer the hypothesis that God is perfect.
1. Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. (New York: Oxford) 1991.
Recommended Further Reading
Theodore M. Drange, Incompatible-Properties Arguments: A Survey, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/incompatible.html This article discusses most of the various arguments used by atheists which attempt to show that the concept of God is incoherent. Read this article first, and then read the following two refutations in order to see the Christian responses to such arguments.
Joseph A. Sabella, The Case for a Coherent God, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/joseph_sabella/coherent_god.html
Ralph C. Wagenet, The Coherence of God: A Response to Theodore M. Drange, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ralph_wagenet/response_to_drange.html