Last time we took a brief look at Thomas Morris’ argument in Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology. Today I will highlight some of the things I believe he did well. If you want to read parts one and two click these links: Part 1 and Part 2.
Here I would like to highlight three positive observations:
- Morris is charitable in presenting competing positions. One such example of Morris’ charitable argumentation is his discussion on the necessary goodness of God in chapter three. Here he presents three arguments that other Christians have made for the necessary goodness of God. One such argument is the argument presented by William of Ockham. Morris presents Ockham’s argument, gives an objection to it, and then defends the plausibility of this argument. He explains why someone would be drawn to a position like that of Ockham’s. Although he goes on to show that Ockham’s argument fails, one can truly say that Morris was charitable to his opponent’s argument.
- Morris does a good job of providing an example of how philosophical methods can clarify our conceptions of God. One such example of how philosophical methods can clarify our conception of God is found in chapter four “The Power of God.” In this chapter Morris takes up the “paradox of the stone,” which poses the question: “If God is omnipotent, then can he create a stone which he cannot lift?” If the answer is no, then God is not omnipotent, if the answer is yes then God is not omnipotent. So no matter how one responds to the paradox it seems as though God is not omnipotent. Morris suggests two ways in which we can show that the paradox is not in fact a problem. The first way to do this is to use philosophy of language. Using philosophy of language we can point out that the act described in the paradox is actually an incoherent act description, therefore the paradox does not in fact create any problems. The other solution is to think about what God can do in terms of powers instead of ability. By showing that omnipotence is about powers and not ability, Morris is able to find a way out of the paradox. In order to show the distinction between powers and abilities, Morris once again uses philosophical methods.
- Morris is successful in showing how perfect being theology can be used to clarify our concept about God across various attributes that might not always seem to be related. For example, one might wonder how God’s goodness and God’s knowledge fit together. One might think that the only relation they have is that God has both of those properties. However because of the way Morris defines God, a being with the greatest possible array of compossible great making properties, we see why God must have both of those properties. In addition to showing that God must have these properties because they are great making properties, he shows the reader why we choose the set of compossible properties we attribute to God. For instance, Morris points out why power and goodness must go together. Morris says that “if he is perfectly good, we know he will endeavor to keep those promises. But unless he is sufficiently powerful we cannot be confident he will succeed…. To think of him as the greatest possible being is to think of that power as perfect.”These three things along with his clear and organized arguments contribute to this book’s excellence.
Next time I will make some critical observations regarding Morris’ work in this book.
 Morris, Our Idea of God, 66.
4 thoughts on “Book Review – Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology by Thomas Morris (Pt. 3)”
With respect to the dilemma of the stone (or other attempts to describe God), I would simply respond by saying that terms like omnipotent are finite terms which apply to man, but not to God. God is not a being or an entity, but a life force of pure consciousness (love).
You might have some good reasons to believe that, but given that I am coming from the perspective of the Christian tradition, I believe that God is a personal being (he is not a human being), nevertheless he is a being with intentions, beliefs, and abilities. Different theologians cash those things out in different ways, but all Christian theologians will at the very least agree to three claims.
I can certainly respect that. However, that’s why I quit going to church.