Christian Apologetics - Lesson 29

Attributes of God

Divine omnipotence and divine omniscience are two attributes of God.

Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Lesson 29
Watching Now
Attributes of God

Attributes of God


I.  Divine Omniscience

A.  Reformed View of Freedom

B.  Redefine the Meaning of Free

C.  Compatibleism vs. Incompatibleism

D.  Two Kinds of Freedom

1.  Liberty of Indifference

2.  Liberty of Spontaneity

E.  Arminian View of the Reformed View

F.  Alternative to the Reformed View

G.  Timelessness of God


II.  Divine Omnipotence

A.  Famous Paradox

B.  An omnipotent being cannot do anything that is logically impossible.

C.  Three Things God Cannot Do

1.  Violate the laws of logic

2.  Sin

3.  Change the past

  • Introduction to Apologetics.

  • Apologetics involves finding evidence and presenting arguments to defend the Christian faith.

  • Two prominent worldviews are Christian theism and naturalism.

  • The law of non-contradiction states that A cannot be B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.

  • Explanations and responses to different worldviews.

  • If God is good and all powerful, then why does evil exist?

  • Discussion about how the existence of evil is consistent with God's character.

  • Your noetic structure, presuppositions and view of epistemology are important elements in the formation of your worldview.

  • Discussion of deductive presuppositionalism vs. inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Objections to inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Arguments for and against evidentialism.

  • Arguments for and against foundationalism.

  • Discussion of natural theology.

  • There are valid, sound and cogent arguments for the existence of God, but no coercive proofs.

  • Discussion of different arguments for God's existence.

  • One version of the cosmological argument for God's existence emphasizes God as first in time, another emphasizes God as first in importance.

  • A possible world is a way the real world could have been. Modal logic, propositions, state of affairs and eternal entities are some of the considerations when discussing a possible world.

  • Something is logically possible if its description does not include a logical contradiction. The existence of the laws of knowledge refute the system of naturalism.

  • Middle knowledge is a form of knowledge attributed to God by Molina.

  • Miracles are a dividing line and central to Christianity.

  • David Hume's rational arguments against miracles and responses to those arguments.

  • Two miracles central to Christianity are the incarnation and resurrection.

  • The question of whether or not Jesus is the only savior touches on pluralism, inclusivism and exclusivism.

  • Pluralism is the view that all religions have salvific value.

  • Inclusivism is the view that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for a person to be saved.

  • Salvation is totally the work of God and all children who die in infancy are elect of God.

  • Discussion from a biblical perspective of God's character and attributes.

  • Open theists believe that God does not have a perfect knowledge of the future.

  • Divine omnipotence and divine omniscience are two attributes of God.

  • When contemplating life after death, remember, Jesus has been there and come back. Will you commit your life to him or reject him?

These lectures were given at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida during the fall of 2001.


Dr. Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Attributes of God
Lesson Transcript


[00:00:02] May I just introduce one other set of issues regarding divine omniscience? In chapter four. It's the whole issue of divine omniscience and human freedom. Now, this is a big issue. This is a hot issue. Let's forget open theism, even though this leads into open theism. There have been a whole lot of people who have said this. If God has perfect knowledge of the future, then human beings cannot be free, cannot possess freedom. For example. For example, suppose God knows now what you're going to have for supper. Okay. Now, let's say God knows right now that you're going to have you're going to go to McDonald's for supper. You're going to have a quarter pounder. Fries and Coke. God also knows right now that by choosing that food for supper, you're shortening your lifespan by six months. Okay. God knows that. Now, here's the issue. If God knows that at 5:00 today, you're going to order and a McDonald's restaurant, a quarter pounder, fries and Coke. Do you have the power not to do that? The answer is no. Because if you had the power not to do something that God knows you are going to do, then you have the power to turn God's foreknowledge into for ignorance. And no human being has that power. So it would seem some people think that if God knows what you're going to do in the future, then you have to do it. You're doing it is necessary and therefore you lack the power to do otherwise. So that divine foreknowledge seems to preclude any degree of human freedom at all. Mm.


[00:02:29] Now, what I do in chapter four is this. I look at I don't know what five five ways to get out of that pickle. Five ways to escape the bad consequences. And let me just look at a couple of them. Various. First of all, the Presbyterian Way or the Reformed Baptist Way, and that is we redefine the meaning of free. Okay. Now, let me just expound on this a little bit. It is in your book, but let me contrast a couple of terms for you to work our way into this. The first two terms I want to compare are compatible ism versus incompatible ism. Incompatible ism is the belief that determinism and human free will cannot be reconciled. There is no way to synthesize determinism versus. Free will that they are incompatible. Compatible ism, on the other hand, is the belief that human freedom and divine predetermination. Can be reconciled. They are compatible so that at the same time that God is determining or if you're not a Christian or if you're not a theist, that something else is determining what your action. You can be both determined and free at the same time and in the same sense. So you got that. Now, typically our minions are incompatible lists. And reform people, whether they be Presbyterians or whether they be reformed Baptists or something else, they're going to be compatible lists. In fact, I'm inclined to think that if you're reformed and you're not a compatible list, you've got a weird world view, and I'd like to hear you spell it out. Okay. Now, let's take let's explore this a little further. The proper way to set up compatible ism is to distinguish two kinds of freedom. Two kinds of liberty. They are the liberty of indifference and the liberty of spontaneity.


[00:05:10] Spontaneity. Now, here's the difference between these two kinds of freedom. The liberty of spontaneity is the liberty to either choose a or not choosing. The liberty of spontaneity. I'm sorry, the liberty of indifference. You can either choose to have Wheaties for your breakfast cereal or choose not to have Wheaties for your breakfast cereal. Okay. Now, that is our money and freedom. The liberty of indifference. That's our money and freedom. You can either choose to believe in Jesus or choose not to believe in Jesus. It is up to you. Okay. That's also Baptist Dominionism right there. The liberty of spontaneity, on the other hand, says you are free when you have the power to do what you most want to do. You are free when you have the power to do what you most want to do. If you want what I think is the clearest exposition of the liberty of indifference. Published anywhere. I think my chapter on that subject, I think it's chapter 16 in here. We'll do it. Because what I'm doing in chapter 16 is I'm explaining the liberty of indifference. I'm relating to to to ordinary, everyday human choices. And I'm presenting this as a serious problem for in determinism. Now, here's an example. I used to say, suppose it's 630 in the evening and I want to watch Tom Brokaw and the NBC News. And let's suppose that at 629, an Iranian terrorist, because those were the terrorists a few years ago, breaks into my living room. He's got a machine gun on me. And he says, I order you to watch the news on Channel four. Tom Brokaw. That's all he can say in English. Okay. And I'm just thinking. Well, you dummy. Machine gun or not. That's the news I want to watch.


[00:07:38] I'd rather not watch it with you in my living room, but I will. I'm going to watch. Okay. So he thinks he's coercing me, but I'm really free because I want to watch the news. I don't want to talk to this guy about Iranian food. I, you know, I want to watch the news and I want to watch it on NBC. That's the liberty of spontaneity. I am free one, I can do what I most want to do. Okay. Now, if the guy says to me, turn off NBC and I want you to watch Dan Rather, then I scream. Then I pray. I cry. No, don't. Don't torture me like that. The worst thing you can do to torture me, he says. I know. What. That's why I'm forcing you to watch Dan Rather. Now, the liberty of spontaneity is compatible with determinism. See? Because whether there's an Iranian terrorist holding machine gun on me or whether there is something going on in my psyche. Whether I could be programed, I could be hypnotized. There's something perverse about me that makes me watch Tom Brokaw and NBC News. So I'm determined to do it, but I'm still free because that's what I most want to do. So here's the point. Suppose God's perfect knowledge of the future does by itself predetermine the future. You can still be free if you do what you most want to do. There's an excellent discussion of this in St Augustine's book on the freedom of the will. This theory goes all the way back to Augustine on the freedom of the will. What Augustine says there, and I'm going to draw out the theological implications is this what God does with respect to salvation and belief? And Jesus is God works upon your heart and He makes believing in Jesus.


[00:09:49] The most important thing for you to do. And thus, even though God determines you because He works on your will, but He doesn't coerce you, you simply do what you most want to do, which is under those circumstances, believe in Jesus. You're free. Okay, That's the reformed view of human freedom. Well, that's one of five ways. See, what our minions want to do is they want to picture us as puppets on a string where God manipulates us against our will. God coerces us. We don't really want to believe in Jesus. Therefore God coerces us. But that's not the reformed understanding of this. The reformed understanding is God doesn't force anybody to do anything against God, doesn't force anybody to do what he doesn't most want to do. What God does is lovingly change our attitudes so that you know. Get out of my way, people. I want to believe that's not coercion. I'm doing what I most want to do. That's the liberty of spontaneity. Let me tell you the alternative. Let's be very blunt. If by one means or the other, I don't reach the place where I most want to trust Jesus, I'm going to hell. Okay, So if I've got enough sense, I will not only do what I most want to do under these conditions, but I'll thank God because. He gave me the desire to want to do something that I didn't want to do. If it had been up to me. And because of that, he has he has given me an eternity with him in heaven. Thank you, God. Because the simple truth is, if if God proceeded on our many and grounds and gave every human being the unaided opportunity to do what an ordinary regenerate person wants to do, no one would believe, No one would believe.


[00:12:14] One of the problems with our many in ISM is and I've already touched on it when I mean in an Armenian universe, when Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, in in our many in universe God, the Father had no assurance that even one person would come to believe in his son. That's that's one of the logical entanglements of Armenian ism. That whole redemptive plan might have been for nothing. Jesus would have opened his arms and every sinful human being in the human race, which is everybody would have said, No, thank you, God, I want nothing to do with you. I will not have this man to rule over me. And thus there is no church where and to quote Bill Haskell again. God's pretty darn lucky that he ended up with a church out of this man. So. Yeah. Okay. Now, what's another approach here? The timelessness doctrine, the time. Now, you got to understand, these are different ways in which different people have, for different reasons, tried to accommodate, accommodate both God's perfect knowledge of the future and something called human freewill. Okay. Now the timelessness view was this God is independent of all time. He has no space, no temporal location. He has no temporal duration. If this is the sphere of time, then according to this view, God is totally outside of time. It's hard to draw that picture. Lots of famous advocates of this view. Saint Augustine held a view of divine timelessness. Both atheists. Thomas Aquinas. Lots of people. Here's how it would work. Watch me right now. You're going to perceive something in your presence. You're going to watch me pull my right ear lobe. Okay. That feels good. Which tells you that my life has been pretty bad recently.


[00:14:25] Okay. You are watching me in your present. Pull my right earlobe. Now. Is there anybody here foolish enough to think? Oh, foolish enough to think that you're observing My pulling of my right earlobe caused me to do it. Obviously perception of something in your present does not cause have any causal effect upon that, Right. So because everything that God perceives occurs in his eternal present, God's knowledge of what you were going to do in your future, which God perceives you doing in His present, also has no causal effect on what you do in the future. Therefore, there is no limitation upon your free will in the future. So what we're looking at here are different moves, and I think I'm going to have to leave the rest of this chapter because you can understand it. So let's switch now to the chapter on Divine Omnipotence. Here's the problem with Divine omnipotence. For at least 50 years, Western philosophers have believed that there is something inherently self-contradictory about this attribute, that the very notion, even if you're if even if you're not a theist, if you just talk, if you just think. Theoretically about an omnipotent being. There seems to be philosophical problems here. Those problems are sometimes expressed in a famous paradox that I throw in at the end of the chapter where you're supposed to a man. Let me see. How do we set this up? Can God create a stone too heavy for God to lift? And here's the paradox. If God can create the stone, then there is something else that God cannot do. That is He cannot lift the stone. But if God can lift the stone, then there's something else that God cannot do. He cannot create the stone. Therefore, God cannot be omnipotent.


[00:16:46] Because however you pursue this paradox, you end up with something that God cannot, cannot do. And I then trace some of the interesting answers, interesting answers that have been given in a variety of philosophical journals. And the major authors of these journals include George Brody's, who's an old and a dear friend of mine, George Brody's, who retired recently from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Michigan, then Harry Frankfurt, and a fellow named Wade Savage. Seaweed. Savage. Yeah. Now, what each of these authors shows in a different way is that this paradox of omnipotence really doesn't amount to anything. Once you make one assumption. And that assumption is. And omnipotent being cannot do anything that is logically impossible. Once you make that assumption, all of these alleged problems with divine omnipotence fade from view, including the paradox. What they all do is show in different ways the logical absurdities of presupposing that God can violate the laws of logic. Let me. Let me. So let's go back to that point and then if time if we still have time, we'll show you how the paradox of the stone disappears. I argue in the earlier parts of the chapter that there are three things that an omnipotent God cannot do. First of all, he cannot violate the laws of logic. He cannot violate the law of non contradiction. Now, there are some people who have trouble with this. I believe I told you once how I was. Speaking informally to a group of high school kids at Summit Ministries in Colorado Springs. And I had mentioned earlier in the day that God cannot break the laws of logic. God cannot violate the law of non contradiction. And one young lady, 16 or 17 years old, she said, When did you stop being a Christian? Okay.


[00:19:27] Because God can do absolutely everything. See? Well, now, that's from the very beginning. Good philosophers, including Aquinas, for example, have recognized that Omnipotence is not the ability to do absolutely everything. Scripture itself. And now here I am repeating myself. But that doesn't hurt too much. Scripture itself tells us that there are a number of things that God cannot do. He cannot lie. He cannot swear by a being greater than himself. And in my account of those passages, both of which appear in Hebrews chapter six, they are both instances of gods not being able to violate the laws of logic. Now, you know, we don't want to pursue this too deeply because we really have beaten this horse over the over the head. To say that God cannot violate the laws of logic is not to subordinate God to some principle or law that is above him. The law of non contradiction is a part of God's own nature. And to violate the law of non contradiction is to do that is is. You know when you say God cannot create a square circle or God cannot create a stone heavier than a two, so heavy that God cannot lift. You're just using language in a way that appears to be a normal use of language, but really isn't. A square circle is logically impossible. Therefore, it cannot be created. But that is no limitation upon God because a square circle is nothing in the first place. Okay. Now, the second point is God cannot sin. Now, Aquinas agrees. I agree with Aquinas here. In the first case, God cannot violate the laws of logic and Aquinas, and I would give basically the same reasons. In the case of sinning, Aquinas leaves the reservation by chapter, tells you what his position is.


[00:21:41] But he's he's far too he's far too obscure and far too abstract. The reason why God cannot sin. Requires us to understand what the full complement of God's attributes are. And that brings us to an awareness that God is a morally perfect, i.e. holy being. And therefore, to say that a a morally perfect that is holy being can sin involves you in a logical contradiction. And you see the logical contradiction Once you recognize that God, what, what, what God's nature is. Now, there is one last little business here. Can God change the past? Can God change the past? And of course, I affirm that God cannot change the past, which then imposes upon me the obligation to explain why He cannot. In this connection, however, I want to, this is a true story. And the reason I'm going to tell you this true story is because, you know, I'm I'm an open minded guy. I'm not a dogma, just. I'm a centrist, as always. And this true story is going to reveal something about my character flaws such as they are. Back in 1971, I was a member of the Athletic Committee of Western Kentucky University, and we had a super basketball team, Super. We were rated one where we could never be rated number one because UCLA always had its big teams back then. I think they had Lew Alcindor then. I don't know. But UCLA was ranked number one in the country the whole year. We were ranked two, three, five, six, somewhere in there, good basketball team. And I was a big college basketball fan then, and it came up to the last regular game of the season and we were supposed to play some little school in Murray, Kentucky, called Murray State University.


[00:23:51] And it was very important that we beat Murray State at their on their home court because that then gave us home a home court advantage throughout the whole postseason tournament and would guarantee placement in the NCAA tournament. So Murray State was a tough place to win. There was a lot of home cooking referees would always give Murray State, you know. So I was speaking somewhere that night. I don't know. At Virginia Tech, I can't remember where I was, but I was driving back late at night and I had to cross what is called the Tennessee Plateau between Knoxville and Nashville. And I'm I'm trying to get the ball scores. It's about 10:00 at night, 1030 at night. I'm in the middle of nowhere and I'm trying to get a radio station. And so finally I get a radio station from who knows where. And he says, Oh, here's a score that nobody cares about. Western Kentucky, 66. Murray State 67. Now, here's where I ask for your forgiveness. You know, I was I was more carnal then. I said, Oh, dear Lord, no. That's what I said. And then, you know, I went on the next morning. I always went to school very early, got to school about 6:00, read the Louisville paper. I opened up the Louisville sports section and there was the score, Murray State, 66, Western Kentucky, 67. And I thought and I honestly did the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man of Baylor much you guys don't you guys don't know the power of prayer. All right. Now, I know some of you are cynics, skeptics. You're saying Nash's prayer didn't change the outcome of that ballgame. Really? I know you're. See, I know you liberals. You're going to think now that was some.


[00:26:08] I got to see it. I got to say it. No other word works. I'm putting another dollar bill away. Some dumb illiterate public school graduate couldn't read the ball score. All right. And Western always won that game. It was just that this public school graduate couldn't read. Now, I still believe to this day. That? Well, anyway, can God change the past? Here's what Aquinas says, and this is my position, Aquinas says. That if something really happened. If, for example, Murray State really had won the game at t1t1 being the time at which let's say I first heard that ball score and Murray won Murray State one and then at T2, which was 7:00 in the morning when I open the Courier Journal from Louisville and WQ won. What we've got here are two contrary states of affairs, two contradictory states of affairs. This state of affairs contradicts this state of affairs. And therefore, again, according to the law of non contradiction, God can't change the past because if God could change the past, then the same proposition would be at one time true and at another time false. I hope you follow that. Therefore, the facts, the fact I'm sorry, the past really is fixed. The past cannot be changed. And we should we should take account of all of that and all of our dealings with information about the past. So on two of those issues, can God change the past? Can God can God change the laws of logic? Can God break the laws of logic? Can God sin? And can God change the past? Nash and Aquinas agree that number one and number three both violate the laws of logic and thus cannot aren't possible for an omnipotent being. Aquinas comes up with some little other explanation for the question whether God can sin or not.


[00:28:41] I think the smart thing to do is to handle that in the same way that we handle the one in three and say that there once again you're dealing with logical impossibility. And so God cannot sin on those grounds either. And now the problem with respect to the paradox of the stone is this, that when you unpack all of the implications that are left unstated in the paradox, can God create a stone too heavy for God to lift when you unpack all of the presuppositions and that once again you're dealing with a logical impossibility and that leads to absurdity. And the paradox is what you do is you just dismiss the paradox out of hand. Thank you for listening to this lecture. Brought to you by biblical training, dawg. Your prayers and financial support enable us to provide a biblical and theological education that all people around the world can access. Blessings. As you continue to study and live out your faith and as you grow in your relationship with the Lord.