This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig!
I'm Sanket from the state Maharashtra of India. I was born in a Hindu family. When I was 19 I started wondering about the hard questions about life like "Does God exist? " or "if God exist, why there is so much suffering? "and so on. First I tried to find the answers to my questions in my own Hindu texts like upanishads and bhagwatgeeta but I realise that the core beliefs of Hinduism like law of karma and reincarnation doesn't answer my question and more accurately they are absolutely incompatible with my intuitions of how God must be. If it wouldn't have been for your videos on YouTube and this site, I would've never realised that there are such things as 'philosophical arguments of God's existence'. It is because of you that I started taking interest in philosophy, theology and ultimately Christianity and studied the evidence of Jesus' resurrection. But even when I started pretending myself as a skeptic and ask questions and research them honestly from both sides, I realise that if there really is a God then it can be no one but Jesus. The moment I realized that I became so grateful I immediately accepted Christ as my God and saviour. So I don't know how can I possibly convince you that how much thankful I'm and how much I cherish the fact that through you, the living God had brought me out of darkness and gave me peace and joy through the sacrifice of our Lord God Jesus Christ on the cross. Now though my struggles have increased being in a hindu family and at the same time being faithful to my new faith in Christ, I feel very blessed and happy and hopeful that God will show his mercy to my family.
My question is about the Omni nature of God. When I studied the Kalam cosmological argument, I understood the fact that it argues for a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, Eternal, intelligent, personal, transcendent and necessary being. And that's perfectly logical. Also you have pointed out while answering the objections of Richard Dawkins that this argument is not designed for supporting the Omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolent God. But when we come across the ontological argument, it defines God as "maximally great being", therefore Omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God. If the first premise is true then (2) - (6) logically follows. The concept of 'maximally great being' as I understand logically imply that this being must also be a necessary being. But what if God is only a necessary being? This is to say that if God is only a necessary being and have all the characteristics as kalam argument imply, it obviously doesn't imply God is a maximally great being. So if I replace the first premise of ontological argument with - "it is possible that extremely powerful, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, Eternal, intelligent, personal, transcendent and necessary being exist". Then would the conclusion logically follows that such being exist. as after considering the BGV throrem, such being is indeed necessary for most if not all universes? If yes, then how do we actually know that God is indeed omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent? Are there philosophical arguments for supporting such characteristics especially omnipotency? If no, then please show me where I’m getting the ontological argument wrong. I would truly appreciate your answer. Thank you.
Blessings from India,
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
What a thrill to receive your letter, Sanket! We’re so glad for your new-found life in Christ! May the Lord strengthen you in the midst of the tribulations that must surely attend you as you seek to live out your faith in a Hindu culture! May the Lord speak to the hearts of your family members, as they see the change wrought by Him in you!
As for your question, I’ve addressed this under the rubric of whether one could not parody the ontological argument by arguing that since a quasi-maximally great being is metaphysically possible, therefore such a being exists. My answer to this challenge is two-fold: (1) The co-existence of a maximally great being and a quasi-maximally great being is impossible, since the maximally great being, as an omnipotent being, must have the power to create or annihilate the quasi-maximally great being, in which case the latter does not exist necessarily and so is not quasi-maximally great after all. Hence, one of these two conceptions is not metaphysically possible. (2) It is more plausible to think that it is the quasi-maximally great being which is impossible, rather than the maximally great being, since our intuition that a quasi-maximally great being is possible is parasitic upon our intuition that a maximally great being is possible. The reason we initially think that a quasi-maximally great being is possible is because we think that a maximally great being is possible, and we then attenuate the concept of maximal greatness by subtracting some attributes from it.
In the case of your scenario, though, the question is easier to answer: the being said to be “extremely powerful, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, Eternal, intelligent, personal, transcendent, and necessary” just is the maximally great being of the ontological argument under a more modest description! This fails as a description of the quasi-maximally great being because it fails to stipulate that God is merely extremely powerful or finitely intelligent. Omnipotence entails being extremely powerful and omniscience entails being intelligent. So your description is not incompatible with maximal greatness. Think of it this way: God has lots of other great-making properties than those that Alvin Plantinga includes in maximal greatness (viz., omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, and necessary existence), for example, aseity and transcendence. So Plantinga’s list of attributes is already partial. You just cut it a little more without contradicting it.
As for the question “how do we actually know that God is indeed omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent?”, the answer is that because such a conception is possible it is actual. It is either possible or impossible; that is the choice which the ontological argument makes us confront.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.