- Hardcover: 425 pages
- Publisher: Prometheus Books; First Edition edition (December 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1591021200
- ISBN-13: 978-1591021209
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,250,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Impossibility of God Hardcover – December 1, 2003
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"...carefully argued..." -- Free Inquiry, December 2004/January 2005
"Every chapter in this book is logical, definitive, indisputable (except by unteachables) and provides complete proof of its conclusions." -- Midwest Book Review,
"General readers...will want to browse this book. For believing theologians, it's a call to arms." -- Science & Theology News, March 2004
From the Inside Flap
In this anthology, Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier bring together for the first time a comprehensive collection of articles containing arguments for the impossibility of God. The arguments are grouped into five areas focusing on definitional, deductive evil, doctrinal, multiple attributes, and single attribute disproofs of God.
Part one, definitional disproofs, comprises arguments for the impossibility of God based on a contradiction within the definition of God. Startling contradictions are found, for example, by J.N. Findlay, when God is defined as the adequate object of religious attitudes, and by Douglas Walton, when God is defined as a being than which no greater can be thought.
Deductive evil disproofs--based on a contradiction between the attributes of God and the existence of evil--compose part two. J.L. Mackie formulates and develops the famous logical argument from evil for the impossibility of an onmiscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God. Several scholars, such as Quentin Smith, explore and further develop this argument.
Part three contains doctrinal disproofs, each based on a contradiction between God's attributes and a particular religious doctrine or story. For example, Christine Overall shows that a God with the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence is inconsistent with the doctrine of miracles. Richard Schoenig demonstrates that this God is inconsistent with the theistic reward/punishment doctrine regarding the postmortem fate of humans.
In part four, multiple attributes disproofs expose a variety of unexpected contradictions between different divine attributes. Theodore Drange, Matt McCormick, and many others offer arguments for the incompatibility of such attributes as omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omnipresence, agency, and immutability. Michael Martin, for instance, argues that omniscience and omnibenevolence contradict one another.
The last part comprises single attribute disproofs, each based on a self-contradiction within just one divine attribute. For example, J.L. Cowan formulates and defends an argument that omnipotence is self-contradictory, and Patrick Grim presents a battery of arguments, including indexical, Cantorian, and Godelian arguments, that omniscience is self-contradictory.
Finally, in the appendix, there is a remarkable selection written by Paul Thiry d'Holbach in 1770 that anticipates many of the insights in this anthology.
By providing a diverse collection of arguments for the stunning conclusion that God cannot exist, THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF GOD is an invaluable resource for anyone who ponders the nature and existence of God.
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Top Customer Reviews
Well, I can say a lot more about it than that, and The Impossibility of God provides new ideas that I hadn't yet become acquainted with.
I tended to think of myself as what you might call a "weak atheist" or a person who simply lacks belief in God. I was a born again Christian years ago, and after less than two years, I realized that my faith had slipped away. One of the reasons I could no longer believe was my reading both contradictions and false prophecies in the New Testament. Now years later, I realize that these difficulties were and are insurmountable, and that not only does God not exist, he cannot conceivably exist as explained in The Impossibility of God, and therefore strong atheism-the denial that there is a God-carries the day.
This book is organized into five parts:
1. Definitional disproofs of God in which one points out a contradiction in the definition of God. For example, James Rachels argues that total subordination to God excludes moral autonomy which is at odds with a God that is defined as worthy of worship.
2. Deductive evil disproofs are perhaps the best known disproofs and center on the paradox of positing a good God that allows evil. Quentin Smith, for instance, finds flaws in the free will defense and argues that a good and all-powerful God would have created a world devoid of evil.
3. In the doctrinal disproofs section, Christine Overall offers a perhaps surprising argument that miracles, if real, are actually disproof of God because God is supposed to have created natural laws.
4. In this part, several disproofs are presented that argue against the possibility of a God with two or more traits that are incompatible. Kretzmann discusses, for example, that no being can be omniscient and immutable because knowledge changes with time, and if God knows all, then his knowledge must change which results in his changing.
5. Finally, several of the contributors argue that any one of God's purported traits are impossible. One of these contributors, Cowan, explains that omnipotence is impossible as in the famous example of asking if God can do anything possible, then can he create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?
If I have any problem with this book, I can only complain that many of its essays may require a degree in philosophy to fully understand! Be prepared to encounter a plethora of technically difficult concepts.
In conclusion, I must say that The Impossibility of God presents fresh ideas to the debate surrounding God's existence. Believers may remain believers, and no doubt most of them will, but after reading this work, they can only believe based on faith. To reason with them may be, like God, impossible.
At any rate, what we have here are 32 closely-argued essays and an appendix written by 25 academics collected from mostly philosophic journals such as Philo, Sophia, the International Journal from Philosophy of Religion, etc, along with excerpts from various books. What is demonstrated is that the sort of hair-splitting arguments for which philosophy is famous are still alive and well in academia.
To my mind what the authors come close to proving (in the most painstaking fashion) is that the usual definitions of God are inadequate, thereby allowing one to derive contradictions from those definitions, contradictions that prove that God, defined in such and such a way, cannot exist. For example (and several of the contributors use variations on this theme), God cannot be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-benevolent since there exists the palpable presence of evil in the world. Actually the editors break this down more finely and throw out three categories of "disproofs" which might be called, (1) the argument to disproof from definition; (2) the argument to disproof from evil; and (3) the argument to disproof from doctrine. In the latter, what is demonstrated is that a particular formulation of God is inconsistent with a particular religious doctrine, demonstrating that THAT God cannot exist.
The astute reader will note that all three categories rest on demonstrating a disconnect between definitions. What the various authors are trying to do is NOT to prove that God does not exist, rather that it is impossible to define God in such a way that contradictions do not arise. As the editors point out in their introduction, the real task here is to show that God is a logical impossibility, and therefore, like a square circle, cannot exist.
One can get a feel for what the authors are up to by considering some of the essay titles. (God forbid that one should actually read the arguments!) Matt McCormick, for example, entitles one of his two essays, "Why God Cannot Think" with the subtitle: "Kant, Omnipresence, and Consciousness." What McCormick argues (borrowing from Kant) is that since God is omniscient and omnipotent, God is also omnipresent. However, McCormick argues, such a God cannot have a higher consciousness "because in order to be conscious a being must be limited in ways that an omnipresent thing is not." McCormick gets this notion from Kant's idea that "an omnipresent being cannot make object/representation discriminations, so it cannot make a self/other distinction." Consequently "it cannot apply concepts or form judgments." McCormick goes on to conclude that "an omnipresent being cannot have higher consciousness, so it cannot have a mind." Ergo, it cannot think!
Regardless of how one might feel about this argument, there is the additional question as to whether proving the impossibility of "it" is the same thing as proving that "it" does not exist. The other essays are similar in that they attempt to ensnarl prospective gods in webs made from human logic.
I have a couple of answers to this (if you will) sophisticated sophistry.
First, any God worth the name is beyond the restrictions of human logic, and can even exist and not exist at the same time. (Demigods, such as the anthropomorphic God as seen in fundamentalist Christianity or the many personifications of God in Hinduism or the gods presented in this book, etc., are a different matter of course.) In a similar question one might ask can the universe (or anything) exist and not exist? By the rules of logic, the answer is no. But might there be some sort of meta-logic of which we are not yet aware? Consider that something as simple as so-called "fuzzy logic" was unknown to the ancient Greeks, and the Boolean logic taught today was not completely formulated (if it is indeed completely formulated) until recent times.
Second, let me present a definition of God that, for some reason, the authors do not consider--or perhaps I missed it among the 439 pages of text. This is the definition of God from the Vedas, and is the source of the so-called "Way" of the Taoists, namely, a God with no attributes, a God about which nothing can be said, in short "God, the Ineffable." I challenge the authors to find some contradiction in a God about which nothing can be said!
What I think this book's authors demonstrate is that old saw about the futility of trying to reconcile the ways of God to man. In a sense, if we reverse the arguments, we can see just how apparently impossible it is to prove the usual--namely that God exists--while demonstrating that to even discuss such matters, it is necessary to have our terms clearly defined. There is the God of Old Testament. He is, by his actions, a far cry from the ocean of Brahma that one encounters in the East.
Nonetheless I like this book. It is handsomely presented by Prometheus Books, and well edited and proofread. In this age of mass media censorship (coercive, prior and self), it is good to see that in book publishing even the most unpopular views are still being allowed full expression.
One need not note that contradictions exist. All we need do is point out that the definitions of God simply fail, therefore, the onus (as it has always been) falls on the theist to prove God exists. Atheists have to prove and disprove nothing.
If no definition of God is adequate to prove God, further arguments for or against are ridiculous.
The question remains: did this book adequately demonstrate that there is no adequate definition of God. Read it and judge for yourself instead of taking my word or the word of Dennis Littrell or anyone else!
The arguments are mainly applicable to an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving God. Most Christians will simply retrench into a watered down version of God rather than truly be swayed against belief per se, without worrying about if such a tepid deity is worthy of belief and devotion anyway. Nevertheless, as an exercise in logic- of the rather ultimate sort- The Impossibility of God is undeniably fascinating and thought provoking.
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