is God Perfect? (Part 1 of 2) - William A.Dembski

William A. Dembski - Science and Religion

William A. Dembski

William Albert Dembski is an American philosopher and theologian. He is currently a Professor of Culture & Science at the Southern Evangelical Seminary at Matthews, North Carolina, and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

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William A.
Dembski

Theologian, Southern Evangelical Seminary

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Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Bill, what does it mean to you to hear that God is perfect?

William Dembski:

In the traditional view of God, and trying to describe His perfections, it's not that we take some human quality and just run it up the flagpole as far as we can. In fact, the approach tends to be, rather, that any attempt to take some characteristic of humans and just expand it to the limit is going to not give us an accurate picture of God. In fact, there's a whole tradition in theology called an apophatic tradition in which we approach God through negation. So, if we think of God as being simple, well, it's not simple in the sense that let's say, a homogeneous block of stone is simple. You know, so there's, so we get at these perfections, as it were, by negation. You know, whatever we ascribe to God, in a sense, we've never quite mastered it, [unintelligible], that makes sense.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

It's what God is not. We can say all the things that God is not, and that, that sort of gives us a richer understanding of what God may be, even though we can't say what God may be.

William Dembski:

That's right, but I think we, even among the Greek Orthodox theologians who were pushing this apophatic line, they would never just say that that's the only way we approach God, okay, because that's the sort of, I mean, just making God, as it were, just pure mystery, because there's also this cataphatic approach which is that we can also approach God by affirmations. And in fact, if you eliminate the cataphatic, you just say, we're just dealing apophatic, in a sense, the claim, you know, we can only approach God by negation becomes a positive claim. You know, so you can't, you can't just leave it at the level of negation, but there's still a sense in which all our metaphors, all the things, all our language that we impress into service, to try to describe God, are, are, are not going to be fully adequate. You know, there's always going to be this falling short, and I think that's what the, the apophatic approach gives acknowledgement to.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

But we want to try to apprehend what God is, I mean, to, if, from my point of view, I want to know whether God exists or not. You're sure that He does, and I respect that. But in, we both, you want to know, you believe God exists, you want to know what that God is that you worship. I want to know what that God is to decide whether I want to believe in it. And so, these are important questions. And so, so let's go through some of the traditional ones, that God is all-powerful, omnipotent, God knows everything, God is perfectly good, you know, those are some of the more traditional ones. Do those have a, a, some sort of an absolute meaning? I mean—

William Dembski:

I mean, I would subscribe to a number of them, and I think there's also an issue of how you take them. I mean, I think within process theology, for instance, or various, more recent approaches to theology, divine omniscience, for instance, that God knows everything. Well, in a sense, it's taken to be God knows everything that's noble, and the future is not noble, so God doesn't know the future, or that's a view that's taken. And so, I would counter that, I would take a much more traditional view that God knows everything, and that includes the future, if the future is knowable. But there are some classical perfections that I think aren't really born out by Christian experience, and the teaching, Christian teaching. I mean, I think for instance, this notion of impassibility, that God is not moved by human affliction, or that there's no emotion in God. I think that's, that's one that—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Or God can't change at all, that nothing human beings will do would have any impact on, on God's own being.

William Dembski:

Yeah, I mean it seems that God is intimately connected to the world, and that things we do, you know, he's responsible. You know, and so it's not that there's this, you know this sort of, I mean, for instance, the Aristotelian God, who thinks about nothing but himself, because he's the only one who's perfect. You know, I mean, that's, you know, it seems that rather, God delights in our humanity and in a sense, in our, the limitations. It seems like human limitation, in a sense, gives God a way to work that, that a world of no limitations doesn't. You know, I think it's interesting mathematically that there are two ways to go to infinity. One is you just go to get bigger and bigger. The other is you do a fraction where you go, where the denominator goes to zero. And you know, so I see that, in a sense, it's, you know, the world is a drama, and it seems that God works in this world where human weakness, limitation, is something that He works through, and is able to do marvelous things that, that wouldn't have a possibility in a world where, you know, in a sense, you're optimizing everything. You know—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So, let's, let's continue this, this search for perfection and what it means, because there seems to be some things that look like, at least on their surface, to be if not contradictions, paradoxes. That God is all-powerful, and all-good, and yet there is substantial evil. You know, this is a huge topic. But in your mind, that doesn't leech anything away from God's perfection?

William Dembski:

Well, I mean, the standard response, Christian response, at least one response, to this problem of evil is that God permits evil in order to bring a greater good out of it. I think you have to be careful there that you get into a means/ends type fallacy. But, but it seems that that's, that's a way around it, so that's, there is reason and that there are, there's a good that can come out that is greater if God had not permitted evil.