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A Disproof of God’s Existence

The traditional definition of God credits him with three attributes: moral perfection, omniscience, and omnipotence. These are supposed to be logically independent, with none entailing the others. But that is not obviously correct: How is moral perfection possible without omniscience and omnipotence? How is it possible to be omnipotent without also being omniscient? Isn’t omniscience a type of omnipotence—a power to see and know everything? In fact, can’t we simply define God in terms of omnipotence, since his other attributes flow from this? If God is omnipotent he must be morally perfect, since he has the power to be morally perfect, and why would he not exercise that power? And if he is omnipotent he must be omniscient, since omniscience is an epistemic power. At the least he has the power to be both morally perfect and all knowing, given that he is all powerful. Thus omnipotence seems to be basic in the definition of God. God differs from lesser beings precisely in having powers they do not have—moral powers, epistemic powers, and other powers (causing earthquakes, healings, etc.). God is replete with power, overflowing with it, by no means lacking in it. Any power there is, he has.

God essentially lacks certain powers as a condition of being who he is.

But is that right? Does God have every power? He has the power to create and destroy universes, but does he have the power to sneeze or digest food or pick his nose? Those powers require possession of a body with a certain anatomy, but God has no such body, being disembodied. Does he have the power to decay or split or emit radiation? How could he have these powers given his immaterial nature? Does he have the power to come down with a cold or be bed-ridden or have the runs? Surely not: God has the powers that are proper to his divine nature, not any old powers that things of other natures have—animals, plants, atoms. God essentially lacks certain powers as a condition of being who he is. He has the powers of a god not of a worm or cactus plant. Everything must lack something in order to be something, i.e., to have a determinate nature.

Does God have the moral powers of Satan or of a petty human sinner? Does he have the power to feel pleasure at the suffering of an innocent child? Does he have the power to relish the demotion of an office rival? Does he have the power to long for the death of an enemy? No: God has the power to feel only virtuous emotions and to perform only virtuous actions—he is incapable of petty jealousy or vindictive revenge. It is simply not in God’s nature to be subject to base feelings. Even to be capable of such feelings is alien to God’s nature. He exists beyond base emotions, being pure through and through. Certainly it would not make him more godlike to be capable of the lowest human failings. So it is wrong to say that God is by definition all powerful; he is only powerful within the limits of his nature. With respect to the powers he has by that nature, he is limitlessly powerful, but he does not have every power that everything in the world has—for that he would have to be the world. But God stands apart from the world, having a different nature from that of the world; he is a being unto himself.

If we want God to be literally all-powerful, we will end up with a Spinozistic pantheism, which is tantamount to the denial of God’s existence as traditionally conceived. But if we choose to restrict the powers that God has, then we can no longer define him as all-powerful. There cannot be a god that has all powers (and to the maximum degree): for such a god would not be a god but a strange hybrid of the mortal and the divine—a being of mixed nature, neither one thing nor the other. A sneezing, digesting, nose-picking god is no god. Nor can it be that God merely has the potential to do these things while never actually doing them: for first, to have even the potential is already to place God in the wrong ontological category; and second, if he were to exercise these powers that would immediately deprive him of his godlike status—he would become at best a godhuman hybrid (like Jesus). If God were to pick his nose one day, he would thereby cease to be God. So having that power is no part of his nature.

(We should distinguish actually having certain powers from the ability to transform oneself into an entity with certain powers. Maybe God has the ability to transform himself into a worm at will, but that doesn’t imply that he now has the powers of a worm. And if he did so transform himself, he would have converted himself into a non-god, because no worm is a god— though a worm might once have been a god.)

The difficulty for God is to specify what kind of omnipotence he is supposed to possess. And the dilemma is obvious: either he has powers that do not properly belong to his nature as divine, or he lacks powers that other things possess, thus being less than all-powerful. The concept of an all-powerful being is actually, when you think about it, incoherent. To be a thing of a certain type is necessarily to have a limited range of powers, because powers and natures go hand in hand. END

About the Author

Dr. Colin McGinn is a British philosopher who has been a professor of philosophy at University College London, the University of Oxford, Rutgers University, and the University of Miami. He is the author of over 20 books on philosophy, including The Character of Mind, The Problem of Consciousness, The Meaning of Disgust, Inborn Knowledge, Prehension, and Philosophy of Language.

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Agent of Cisdom
May 26, 2019 8:19 pm

If God was omniscient – why would he bother with creating humans. He knows in advance what each person will decide, whether they will get to ‘heaven’. Also heaven can only mean obliteration of any sense of self – a consciousness cannot merge into a omniscient whole and remain a self in any way.

Also if the universe is spacially infinite how does one become omniscient of same.

If God was omnipotent – where does this leave “free will”. Is not free will automatically negated.

If God was omnipresent does this just mean he is everything, including each of our supposed souls. How does one affect themselves when there is no separation of the parts.

If god can affect things how does he do so without any material affect at any level of existence.

Erik
May 22, 2019 11:55 am

“…he is incapable of petty jealousy or vindictive revenge.”

as if

Joe
May 17, 2019 12:36 pm

Jeff Lewis says;

“This article is little more than a more wordy version of the old saw, “If God is all powerful, can he make a rock so heavy that even he can’t lift it?” It’s semantics and word play.”

The old saw illustrates a significant contradiction held by the claim that an omnipotent god exists. Where are the semantics and/or wordplay that disqualifies the old saw as serious and turns it into a quibble?

Jeff Lewis
May 17, 2019 11:07 am

A few comments have already pointed out how silly this article is, particularly Dr. Michael W Ecker in comment 7, Steven Podvoll in comment 16, and Bill McConnell in comment 38. This article is little more than a more wordy version of the old saw, “If God is all powerful, can he make a rock so heavy that even he can’t lift it?” It’s semantics and word play. I wouldn’t dream of showing this article to my Christian friends and expect them to find it particularly thought provoking. And other people with less omnipotent conceptions of gods wouldn’t find it troubling at all.

All you have to do fix the problem is get rid of the ‘omni’, which in practice, is how most religious people see their gods, anyway. I mean, the central tenent of traditional Christianity is the necessity of the crucifixion for forgiveness, which doesn’t seem particularly omnipotent. Add in the infamous iron chariots episode, God having to go visit Sodom and Gomorrah in ‘person’ to see if things really were as bad as he’d heard, or any manner of stories from the Old Testament, and the Bible itself doesn’t present a particularly omnipotent or omniscient God.

There are plenty of good arguments in support of atheism. This article isn’t one of them.

Joe
May 16, 2019 8:19 pm

The onus of proof is on he who asserts the positive.

My claim was that to say an omnipotent entity exists is to state a contradiction. I showed how that is. Feel free to show the inconsistency and/or the “contradiction/confusion” in the argument.

Hugh Xiao
May 16, 2019 7:55 pm

You did not disprove the existence of God, you just showed the contradiction/confusion of the humanity’s perception of God.

Joe
May 16, 2019 7:22 pm

To say there is a god and he is omnipotent is a contradiction. His omnipotence means every fact is subject to change which means, then, that there are no facts. Aside from the reality that facts do exist (drinking water is wet and is always wet) even to claim that there is a god is then subject to change and cannot be factual. The claim contradicts itself!

That the existence of an omnipotent entity such as god is a contradiction is no limit of language or human epistemology. It is simply the recognition that in reality there are no contradictions. Contradictions are man-made.

Hold a contradiction if you like, but you’d be entertaining the unreal and the arbitrary and cannot claim to stand for intellectual honesty.

Bill McConnell
May 16, 2019 7:09 pm

Poor Dr. McGinn starts his disproof of God’s existence by citing the “traditional definition of God,” which conveniently allows McGinn to pick the attributes that he wants to deny. Needless to say, McGinn’s definition is not everybody’s definition. Then the author proceeds with masculine pronouns to describe God. I don’t know who, what, or if God is, but even if God possesses the traits that McGinn assigns, I doubt testosterone or male sex organs are relevant. All together Dr. McGinn’s essay shows the shallow vapidity of his thinking.

Stx mahn
May 16, 2019 6:34 pm

Describe the taste of an apple and the words are poor reflections. Think of religion as a scientific experiment – wholeheartedly try one for a year and then see what happens in the lab of your life. Scriptures are poor reflections of seeing God in the bosom of your being.

Eric Schulzke
May 16, 2019 4:59 pm

“Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that something so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

“The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith, I am nothing.’ ‘But, says Man, the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’

‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and vanishes in a puff of logic. ‘Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

“Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo’s kidneys, but that didn’t stop Oolon Colluphid from making a small fortune when he used it as the theme of his best-selling book, Well That About Wraps It Up For God.

– Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Jack
May 16, 2019 4:43 pm

Its clear the author has never spent much time honestly looking at Thomas Aquinas, or any serious theological thinker.

I would have liked to read an objective and reasoned argument. Please post a new one when you’ve done your research, until then its a stereo typical sophomoric writing exercise.

Roger Neufeld
May 16, 2019 3:23 pm

To me the argument feels like a spoof of some of the arguments for the existence of God. To that extent, maybe it’s a good argument.

Constance Underfoot
May 16, 2019 3:13 pm

This is philosophical tripe. His argument is basically “because God isn’t flawed, he can’t be God.” Picking one’s nose, is more a flaw than a desirable attribute, and having to eat to survive is a condition of our existence, not his.

By his own query,” does God have the power of Satan,” but the existence of power, of that ilk, can only exist if it is possible to wield it. Theoretical capability is only that if the very essence of the being is devoid of evil. So the author’s logic is that God could be God if only her were also evil.

While not a church goer myself, I find the skeptics logic at disproving God not about God at all. It’s far more personal for them, a mental repression on themselves that they feel, like a teenager craving from being free of being judged.

There is no esoteric man made argument to prove, or disprove God, or even the qualities of his being should he exist. The very argument is is more self-aggrandizing than contributing to anything.

Steve Mencius
May 16, 2019 3:03 pm

The author uses reducto ad absurdum to disprove God’s existence.

You have to remember, though, that raa gives you the right answer only if you ask the right question. So I’m going to disprove the axiom.

How many angels can stand on a tip of a pin?

There it is, in a nutshell. The false equivalence of ‘spirituality’ (angels) and materiality (pin).

Garbage in, garbage out.

Andrew
May 16, 2019 2:29 pm

This is very poorly argued, and frankly silly. As usual with atheists, the author accepts a view of God from a 10th grade theology class and then pokes holes in it. This argument can safely be ignored.

Doug
May 16, 2019 2:15 pm

What men feared, they worshipped.

Roy Collins
May 16, 2019 2:08 pm

This is basically Anselm’s ontological argument used in reverse. It is embarrassing.

God Himself
May 16, 2019 12:45 pm

Why is God by definition required to be ALL knowing and ALL powerful? Simply so that philosophers and theologians can twist themselves into logical knots as the author has done?

Isn’t is merely sufficient to assume that God possesses powers and knowledge, that while perhaps not infinite, are nevertheless adequate to the task yet simultaneously beyond human comprehension?

Steve Northrop
May 16, 2019 12:27 pm

This is the problem with atheist arguments. Those who attempt to “disprove’ he nature/essence/existence of God place their own prejudice and limitations upon the limitless. I can not claim to understand the nature of God, but everything I experience tells me there must be one. Religion, as a theory tries to define that which is indefinable, but everything we know about the universe and its makeup points to a design. The maxim, the more we learn, the less we know, also points to a Creator. To attempt to limit this to our limited understanding is futile, but essentially what we do when referring to God.

He? She? It? We cannot know. What is the nature of the Almighty? Yes, wold be the best response. Anytime someone claims what God can and cannot be, all they do is illustrate human ignorance.

HEVF
May 16, 2019 11:19 am

Everything that exists must have a beginning.
God does not have a beginning.
Therefore, God does not exist.

jay frederick
May 16, 2019 11:05 am

The problem with his line of argument is the same mistake all these know-it-alls make: His definition of God doesn’t line-up with the God of the bible. He wants to disprove the God of the bible, but he won’t let the bible define God.

In the bible’s definition of God: He is all-knowing and fills the universe and has ultimate authority, He is the creator of the universe, He lives from everlasting to everlasting, He can not lie, He is jealous of our attention, He loves, He hates, He saves, He condemns, etc.

Yet, the author views jealousy as “petty” – but who is the author to determine whether every form of jealousy is “petty” or not? Does the author think it is “petty” for a wife to be jealous for her husband’s attention if he is ignoring her?! If so, then the author is probably a terrible husband. Jealousy can, and is often, simply a product of unrequited-love, and in the case of God’s love, He gets jealous when we don’t love Him back, which is one reason why “Love God with all your heart” is the first commandment.

But, I’ll step down off my soap box…

Sam
May 16, 2019 10:58 am

You can’t prove a negative. It’s a logical fallacy to begin with.

Brian Battles
May 16, 2019 10:55 am

Seems to me a semantics issue, too. Having the “power” to feel pleasure at the suffering…” etc. Seems like a poor use of the word “power”. Like saying does an omnipotent god have the power to not be able to do something. Kind of a word salad. You can write the words, but does it mean anything?

John DeVera
May 16, 2019 9:00 am

The concept of omnipotence, and actually every concept we can name (put a label on) is limited by the very nature of human language. A definition of “omnipotence” is only as good as our language; since language is inherently limited, and God is transcendent, which means our language is inadequate to describe Him. There is only one thing that God CANNOT DO. God cannot stop being God, even for an instant. Now you can parse that in a lot of ways. Goid cannot do evil. God cannot make a mistake. God cannot create a rock so big that He can’t lift it. All those things make the idea of omnipotence meaningless.

tvtaerum
May 16, 2019 7:45 am

A very interesting argument and one which could inadvertently lend credibility to a particular religion… if sneezing is a requirement for being God, did Jesus sneeze? The weakest part of the argument is distinguishing between what one has the “power to do” and having the “power to not do what one has the power to do”. Might it be better translated, “and God sneezed, ‘let there be photons'”. I’m sure I’m not fully grasping the intent of the need for a sneeze but in the end, what difference does it make?

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