Question 1: Thomas on the Omnipotence of God
The aspect of God’s omnipotence as portrayed by different theologists in the contemporary times and before reflects the nature of man’s perception of God based on the limits of man’s thoughts. For example, Thomas argues that the descriptions accorded to God by man are “thought of by analogy with the human nature of reason and personality” (Pojman and Rea I.B. 3). It implies that the characteristics conferred to God resonate with the limits of human thinking and must, therefore, be different from one person to another. Consequently, the nature of the deity from the concept developed by Thomas is rational. It can be deduced to mean that as one individual differs from the other in reason and personality as well as rationality, God’s power also takes different shapes among different persons. However, in the context of a monotheist environment, this does not make perfect sense in that the characteristics of God reflect the rationality of all the members of a religious facet at once. The application of rationality to the description of God’s nature also reflects a limitation to the extent to which the power of God can be comprehended.
In explaining the concept of God’s power regarding rationality, Thomas goes around the principles of the explosion which means that a contradiction of one statement could help in proving the other. Such is accomplished through a comparison of the rational and irrational practices in the description of the personality of God. On the one hand, Thomas argues that rationalizing God’s features and power means that God is ultimately given a “one-sidedly intellectualistic and rationalistic interpretation,” (Pojman and Rea I.B. 3). It means that while rationalizing may help humans understand some characteristics of God; it is not always the best strategy for describing the all-powerful being. Therefore, the theologian does not foster the consideration of rationalizing as a wrong strategy towards describing the qualities of God.
The omnipotence of God is pushed even further into rationality by Mavrodes who describes the concept of holiness and the unholiness. Mavrodes begins his argument by supporting Thomas’s point that indeed God is all powerful being, supported not only by the rationality of men but also the efforts of the enemy to prove contrariwise. For instance, he asserts that “the enemy often has a keener vision in this matter than either the champion of religion or the neutral and professedly impartial theorists (Pojman and Rea I.B. 4).” In his argument, the conceptualization of God as a rational being requires the extradition of elements of contradiction from the minds of the people, religious and non-religious alike. At times, this happens naturally, as people choose to shut their eyes to most primitive manifestations of religion, although such manifestations may be unique presentations of the same.
To make the point clearer to the masses, Mavrodes says that people should be incited to notice that “religion is not exclusively contained and exhaustively comprised in any series of rational assertions (Pojman and Rea I.B. 4).” Moreover, it is worthwhile to bring together different religious moments clearly before one’s mind to manifest naturally. It is only in such a scenario that religious divisions, as well as followers thereof, can attain value in religious diversity, by not forcing others to adopt a rational perspective that is drawn from other people’s religions. The rationality considered herein is that collective responsibility where each religious facet contributes an element or two the description of omnipotent God depending on their own experiences.
While Mavrodes attempts to emphasize the point made by Thomas, Frankfurt seems to hold the opinion that Mavrodes pushes back the question that should be the point of discussion. Frankfurt, in his view, describes the concept of religious beliefs and their impacts on the descriptions of God based on a holy versus unholy perspective. His argument is drawn from the proposal by Mavrodes that rationality can be utilized as a precedent for the omnipotence of God. The concept of holiness or sacredness as per the argument posited eliminates the perception of God as omnipotent founded on the rationality of humans. Frankfurt argues that although holiness is a complex phenomenon, it contains “a specific element or ‘moment’ which sets it apart from the rational (Pojman and Rea I.B. 5).” This is based on the meaning of rational as previously explained by both Mavrodes and Thomas. This argument, therefore, transfers the conceptualization of God’s omnipotence from that rational preclusion to something beyond human apprehension.
As a foundation for his argument, Frankfurt posits that holiness as an element in itself is mostly found within the religious domain, making it impossible to separate holiness or sacredness from religion. It means that if the two concepts are brought together, then the aspect of rationality as a foundation of God’s characterization would collapse. However, Frankfurt argues that while holiness is inseparable from religion since “without it, no religion would be worthy of the name (Pojman and Rea I.B. 5),” the original meaning of the word holy has since been alleviated to some extent with the common perception of holiness being that which is good. Frankfurt, therefore, delves into an explanation of the concept of holiness within the context of God’s characterization.
Question 2: God’s Omniscience
It refers to God being knowledgeable about everything. Augustine (Pojman and Rea I.B. 6) derives his arguments from the concepts of holiness, goodness, and morality. The three concepts are the drivers of misunderstandings between those who consider God from his all-knowing perspective. It is also the soul of the argument concerning whether God is perfect given that not all that occurs is good, yet he allows it. From this premise, Augustine presents a different perspective to be adopted by those who counter the concept of holiness versus rationality in the description of God. The omniscience of God comes in as the ultimate level of knowingness that any being can possess. In his words, the mental status can be found everywhere and “while it admits of being discussed, it cannot be strictly defined (Pojman and Rea I.B. 6).” The implication here is that while one can hold discussions about what God can or cannot know, it is impossible to define that knowledge due to its vastness and the limitations of the human knowledge.
The description given by Augustine paints the picture of a flexible element which can be continuously guided and led until such a point in time when it would reach the optimum point of reference. The continuous training has to be conducted by “consideration and discussion of matter through the ways of his mind.” This is a depiction of the human will which can only be directed in the way in which it desires to go. In comparison to God’s knowledge, the human mind appears like a roaming element whose direction is determined by the barriers set on its path, a free will. The omniscient God has the capacity to transcend human thoughts and decisions through it limitlessness.
The all-knowing or Godly conscience is capable of knowing or preempting some of the experiences that there is need to show the mind. In most cases, such experiences are instilled by recalling from other parts of the mind or reassembling knowledge that is already known to the mind. The feeling of consciousness, the ability to differentiate between two or more elements, to notice the similarities between elements, is described as X. In Augustine’s argument, the X cannot be taught but can only be evoked in mind. There is no difference between this X and the free will. There are many choices or rather many paths in the human life, and the human mind is constantly aware of the many paths available to it. The ultimate knowingness is characteristic of God as he comprehends all the elements, is capable of distinguishing the moral from the unethical and ultimately makes decisions in support of all that is right in all circumstances. This is contrary to the human will which, even though there is that constant awareness of the paths surrounding the mind, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong at times becomes alien to the mind, resulting in decisions that diverge from the righteousness of holiness that is associated with God. This will is what cannot be taught but can be evoked (Pojman and Rea I.B. 6).
In Pike’s argument, the concept of human free will comes out clearly. Pike begins by imploring the reader to make an effort at remembering a time when they had experienced the feeling of true worship. He further suggests that those who cannot remember any such moments in his life “is requested to read no further (Pojman and Rea I.B. 7).” This declaration seems to suggest that although God has given humans the freedom to choose their directions in life independently, the effort to worship should come naturally to all men of moral inclination. He also suggests that while pondering over the feelings of worship, one should focus on the features that separate such feelings from those of other common happenstances since moral uplifting out of good deeds and being rapt in worship are two different things hence should raise two different feelings. Pike goes further to highlight the fact that feelings experienced in solemn worship can only be likened remotely to feelings experienced in the true Christian practice of aspects such as love, submission, reliance, and dedication among others. He, however, questions how one can describe that feeling of solemn worship and concludes that none of the practices offer “the special features of the unique and incomparable experience of solemn worship (Pojman and Rea I.B. 7).”
The assertions made by Pike provide a strong context within which Plantinga provides his arguments. In his position, Plantinga criticizes Schleiermacher’s description of the solemn worship as “the feeling of dependence (Pojman and Rea I.B.8).” While the description of the worship experience by Pie provides a position that somewhat aligns with this feeling of dependence, Plantinga argues that the feeling described is not that of dependence “in the natural sense of the word (Pojman and Rea I.B. 8).” It, therefore, follows that as much as the two may have the same perception about the differences between the feelings held in the face of other experiences and that of solemn worship, they seem not to come together on the actual description that can be accorded on the feeling of solemn worship. The issue under consideration is the argument between relative and absolute dependence. To some extent in latter arguments, Plantinga seems to tend towards adopting this perception of dependence but has a problem with the lack of distinction between absolute and relative dependence. The feeling that is prescribed in solemn worship is that of absolute dependence while the relative dependence is more common in other life experiences.
Question 4: Atheism
The concept of atheism as explored by Flew derives from arguments pitting the belief in God against the presumed wrath of God. According to flew, atheism derives from the mixed feelings of those who purportedly initially believed in God, but in the essence that God is all good and there is no evil in him. For this group of individuals, the concept of the wrath of God brings about a certain kind of confusion, in that they fail to associate the same good God with the perception of wrath that is depicted in their minds and their lives. For instance, he says that imagining the wrath of God can be daunting to those who have seen nothing in God’s divine “nature except goodness, gentleness, love, and a sort of confidential intimacy (Pojman and Rea V.C.2),” as the aspects of God which are turned towards men. The perception of wrath, therefore, has the potential of diverting this innocent belief into atheism. While this may be the bearer of atheism in men, the factor that maintains them in that zone is the inability to distinguish between the rational wrath and the expected characteristics of the presumed wrath of God. As such, not only do men presume atheism based on their perceptions but also maintain those atheist beliefs because of their inability to shift from the rationalization process which is prescribed from religiousness to the absence of rationalization in the description of God’s characteristics.
Flew also describes the wrath of God as synonymous with the jealousy of Yahweh, which has the effect of “prompting to a sense of terror that no natural anger can arouse.” Based on this perception, consideration of the wrath of God and the fear it arouses is described as a “numinous state of mind, in which the features of the tremendous pass over into the man who has experience of it (Pojman and Rea V.C. 2).” The human in this state of mind obviously presumes the impacts of God’s wrath, the same way they eventually presume the absence of God if the perceived wrath does not turn out to be as expected or appears too natural for the intended impact. Bergmann’s concept describes God’s nature and atheism in different words. Contrary to the perception of immense fear as described by Flew, Bergmann argues that the feeling developed as a result of the perception of God’s wrath is that of ‘overpoweringness’ or might (Pojman and Rea V.C. 3).
He further establishes a foundation for religious beliefs and humility which derives from the feeling of being under the might of God. The concept of majesty is explored as the foundation of the Reformation in religious epistemology. In each of the characteristics associated with God, the beings who feel overpowered or who have a sense of majesty over them develop a presumed tendency to feel like God is unapproachable. From the initial perception, the wrath of God developed feelings of fear and presumptuous atheism. On the other hand, the reformed epistemology concept results in changes not only in perceptions of God’s majesty but also in the impacts of those perceptions on those who have them. One of such impacts is that the feelings of un-approachability eventually pass away and the human elements of those feelings develop creature consciousness, through which their fate is resigned, and only a sort of shadow of the self-remains. This implies an intertwined or resonated existence where the individuals possess feelings of nothingness and dust as their nature. It results in religious humility instead of resulting in atheist presumptions, which is characteristic of the reformed epistemology.
Based on his description and understanding of the reformed epistemology, Bergmann criticizes the replies to the reformed epistemology concept through reference to the concept of dependence, whether absolute or relative. The first point of reference is that the concept of dependence intends to portray this feeling as the foundation of faith or lack thereof while on the other hand, the impacts of dependence as described are merely a secondary effect to what may happen. This is founded on the attempt to describe the religious object “only by way of inference from the shadow it casts upon self- consciousness (Pojman and Rea V.C. 3).”
From this assertion, it, therefore, implies that man’s self-perception vis a vis the concepts of religiousness versus atheism would be the determinant of their directions of movement. The new epistemology, therefore, challenges the core of foundationalism by dispelling the presumption that the decision towards atheism and religions is founded on the self- consciousness aspect. The decision to be atheist or not, is not a result of inclination towards self realization, but rather based on the inability to define the benefits of being religious versus the limitations of being atheist. When religion does not solve the human problems, atheism is a most probable solution, or rather distraction from the impending doom of mankind. Whether self- conscious or not therefore, one can follow other factors as preconditions for their religious inclinations or lack thereof.
Another concept developed by Bergmann in contradiction to the concept of dependence in connection to causality, which would represent evidentialism. The phenomenon of causality is attributed to the perception of God as the all causing and all conditioning hand in religion. However, Bergmann posits that the feelings of all conditioning hand are not similar to what is felt during moments of solemn worship. This, therefore, means that any feelings that characterize the presence of God should reflect during moments of worship. The arguments of Bergmann are believable yet with some aspects of questionability, especially on where then to place the boundary between dependence and rationalism as the foundation and progression of religion or atheism.
Pojman, Louis P., and Rea Michael. Philosophy of religion: an anthology 7th Ed. Wadsworth Publishing, 2014.