PHIL 1000 – Lecture 2: The Perfect God

I’m currently working through PHIL 1000 from New Orleans University, just for fun.

Professors can often communicate their worldview in subtle ways. Because philosophy and logic courses deal with worldview questions and with arguments, they provide ample opportunity for a professor to get his or her views across to the students without going off topic. Most often, this is done through the illustrations.

Here I want to discuss one of the illustrations Dr. Stufflebeam gives. The professor is attempting to illustrate us what an argument is. And the illustration is the following argument:

  1. Let’s assume that God exists and has created the world.
  2. If God exists, then God is perfect.
  3. If God is perfect, then whatever he creates should be perfect.
  4. But the world is imperfect in many ways.
  5. Conclusion: God is not perfect.

Thus ends the illustration. Dr. Stufflebeam moves on without saying much else about the argument. That’s the advantage of being the professor I suppose :). At any rate, I’m free to expound upon this here. The conclusion that God is not perfect would further entail that God does not exist, given premise 2. Another possible conclusion is that God has not created the world. In order to select only for the conclusion that God is not perfect (and, thus, does not exist) one would have to add a premise:

2b. If God exists then God created the world.

But either conclusion will be unacceptable for the classical theist. So how should they respond? Premise 3 is dubious. Human agents often create things that are not as “perfect” as they are capable of making. For illustration, I may draw my nephew a picture of a cat on a note that I give to him in his lunch box and that picture may not be the best cat depiction that I am capable of drawing. Further, this sub-par cat may be sub-par by volition. That is, it is not the case that the cat picture is sub-par due to some limitation on my ability to carry out my intention. Rather, I may have overriding reasons for not actualizing my cat-drawing potential. For instance, perhaps a less accurate picture of a cat will better communicate the playfulness I intend. In that case, the sub-par cat which I create is actually a reflection of my capability to carry out my intentions. Similarly, God may have overriding reasons for not creating a world as perfectly as he is capable of creating.

Another problem with premise 3 is that the idea of perfection is ambiguous and, thus, could create an equivocation with premise 4. Consider again the cat-drawing illustration (is there a pun somewhere in there?). In this illustration my intentions may be perfectly actualized even if my artistic ability is not perfectly actualized. Likewise, one may say that God did create the world perfect: that is, the world perfectly actualizes the intention of God. And the fact that the world is “imperfect” (e.g., there are natural disasters, persons suffer) is equivocal with that former sense.

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