Sophisticated Theology: A Theological Argument Against God’s Existence

There’s a specific commenter that I’ve engaged with — mostly on “Evolution Blog” — about theology. He keeps insisting that he’s concerned with basic religion and what the people actually think, but keeps drifting — at least in my opinion — into arguments that go far beyond what I’d call “folk theology” and so can only be answered outside of it, but whenever I try to do that he insists that I can’t do that because it isn’t what most people think.

He replies to Shermer’s challenge for a test over at “Why Evolution is True” with this:

I know a way! Its quite simple: you ask your subject to explain and design the test.

A truly omniscient and omnipotent deity will be able to design a ‘test for omni-deification’ that is clear, confirmable, logically indisputable, and accessible to humans…and they will then pass that test. If your potential-deity cannot design a human-approved test that distinguishes the relatively omnipotent from the absolutely omnipotent, and then pass it, they are by definition not omnipotent and omniscient.

You might ask, “how would we know such a test is a good one? Maybe the test itself has a flaw we are too stupid to notice” But that’s part of the test. If your subject cannot design a test that is logically confirmable by humans, they aren’t omnipotent.

And immediately after that:

Incidentally, Vaal’s critique of Shermers “unknowable by science” (post # 22) is valid for the same reason. An omnipotent being would be capable of making their omnipotence knowable by science. If they can’t, they aren’t omnipotent.

Now, he doesn’t claim here that this is meant to be an “unsophisticated” argument, and we can all see that it clearly isn’t. There’s a lot of philosophical baggage here to unpack. But my contention here is that this is an attempt at “sophisticated theology”, as it is an attempt at an intellectual argument about either the existence or properties of a purported God. For me, that’s pretty much enough to count as theology. By that logic, I argue that “The Problem of Evil” is also a theological argument. It’s just one that argues against the existence of, at least, that sort of God. And yet the atheists who on the one hand insist that theology is useless on the other hand really do seem to be engaging in it, or something a lot like it. If God is so ill-defined that we can’t discuss its existence — as Myers claims — then it is equally problematic to discuss its non-existence. If discussing its existence is “making stuff up”, then it is equally so to try to discuss its non-existence.

Personally, I think neither is true, but I’d like the atheists who disparage theology to demonstrate that they’re doing something different here. Note that I feel the same way about people who wander into philosophical discussions with points but then when they don’t like/don’t understand the replies turn around and argue that philosophy is useless.

And speaking of philosophy and theology … my answer to eric’s point: Are you claiming that God can necessarily do so without changing the nature of either God, science or humans here? Being omnipotent, God can change natures (except, perhaps, his own). Thus, He could indeed always make it so that He could prove His existence to humans and possibly even using science by, in fact, changing the nature of humans or science so that they could then understand His nature and come to automatically accept His existence. But that would be changing the nature of those things, and so effectively changing the question. And so if some theologian posits that because of the nature of God, ourselves and science we cannot ever prove the existence of God using our capacities and science, this answer doesn’t in any way refute that. It merely changes the question. And if God has a reason for those things to have the nature they do, then God simply won’t do that, based on whatever reasons He has for giving us that nature in the first place.

I know that eric’s comment is ostensibly against an atheist arguing incomprehensibility, and not a theist. But I’m very sure that he wants to or will use it against theists as well, and probably against “folk theology” … so here’s the refutation of it, open for discussion.


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