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How the divine properties fit together: reply to Gwiazda


Jeremy Gwiazda has criticized my claim that God, understood as an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free person is a person ‘of the simplest possible kind’ on the grounds that omnipotence etc. as spelled out by me are omnipotence etc. of restricted kinds, and so less simple forms of these properties than maximal forms would be. However the account which I gave of these properties in The Christian God (although not in The Coherence of Theism) shows that, when they are defined in certain ways, they all follow from one property of ‘pure, limitless, intentional power’. I argue here that a person who has these properties so defined is a person ‘of the simplest possible kind’.

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1. Gwiazda JeremyRichard Swinburne's argument to the simplicity of God via the infinite’, Religious Studies, 45 (2009), 487493.

2. CT refers to The Coherence of Theism, revised edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); CG refers to The Christian God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994); The Existence of God, 2nd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004).

3. Contra Gwiazda's claim, it is perfectly possible ‘to understand pure, limitless, intentional power without understanding Swinburne's discussion of freedom, knowledge, and power in The Coherence of Theism’; Gwiazda ‘Richard Swinburne's argument’, 491. The discussion of pure, limitless, intentional power in CG, ch. 7 relies on the analysis of the individual properties in CG, ch. 6 without presupposing any result from CT. Thus the definition of omnipotence in CG is in effect the same as the D and not the E of CT.

4. McEar is a being of a kind postulated by Plantinga and known to Ockham, who is capable of scratching his left ear but essentially incapable of performing any other task. He would count as omnipotent on definition [D] since he can bring about all that is logically possible for him to bring about, viz. that his left ear is scratched. But other beings can bring that about, and much else besides and so they have a greater claim to omnipotence than does McEar. (I have some doubt about whether McEar or any other person who is essentially such as to be limited in power in certain ways of a kind that in any other person would be contingent ways is a logically possible being, but I pass over that.) For the history of attempts to define the concept of omnipotence, see Brian Leftow ‘Omnipotence’, in T. P. Flint and M. C. Rae (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2009). Although attempts to spell out what is involved in omnipotence, in the sense of having the maximum logically possible degree of power, are complicated, the concept itself is simple.

5. Having this ability entails that P can bring about these states immediately and without feeling any exertion, and so can bring them about easily.

6. That is, he cannot affect ‘hard facts’ about the past, these being ones whose truth conditions are solely in the past.

7. I am most grateful to Brian Leftow for critical comments on an earlier version of this reply.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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