In philosophy, an idea is incoherent if it is self contradictory, and cannot even be properly defined.
There are many things about the idea of God that some atheists think are incoherent. Here is a brief summary and comment on seven arguments, all of which I have seen presented, sometimes by philosophers, as serious and telling objections to the idea and existence of God.
It is impossible for God to be all-knowing (including knowing the future) and all-powerful. Either he knows the future, in which case he cannot change it, or he can change the future, in which case he cannot know it.
Christians believe God is outside time, so there is no such thing as foreknowledge with him. His knowledge of all things accompanies his actions, and neither prevents the other.
It is impossible for God to be perfect and yet know everything. If he is perfect then he cannot know what it is like to sin, but then he doesn’t know everything.
Just because God doesn’t experience sin doesn’t mean he doesn’t know about it – he observes it all the time and understands it better than we do.
Can God make a rock so heavy he cannot lift it? Whether the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, he mustn’t be all-powerful.
Philosophers generally define God’s omnipotence in terms of his being able to do anything that is logically sensible. I doubt many believers would be worried that God couldn’t make a rock so big he couldn’t lift it!
It is impossible for God to be perfect and to have created the universe. If God is perfect he has no needs, so didn’t need to create, and a perfect God wouldn’t have created such an imperfect universe.
Christians believe that God didn’t create the universe out of need, but out of love, which is giving rather than needing. The problem of God creating a universe that is so imperfect is another form of the argument from evil and suffering, discussed here, and this is an admittedly strong argument.
It is impossible for God to live ‘outside’ time and to have created the universe. To create, God must exist before the universe, but there is no time for him to exist in. Without time, nothing can happen.
We can have no idea how timelessness (eternity) works. Scientists and mathematicians can analyse the possiblity of backwards time, which seems nonsensical, so there is no reason to suppose we can rule out timelessness.
It is impossible for God to be both non-physical and personal. The idea of a bodiless person is inconsistent.
How do we know the idea of a bodiless person is inconsistent? We may not be able to imagine or understand it, but that doesn’t make it inconsistent.
It is impossible for God to be both just and merciful. Justice requires that every person be treated exactly as they deserve, whereas mercy requires that people be treated more favourably than they deserve. The two are incompatible.
A person can have two characteristics that can sometimes conflict, and they have to balance the two. God could balance justice and mercy perfectly.
I find it hard to take these objections seriously. It seems to me that they can all be answered fairly simply and very few of them challenge the idea of God that most christians believe in.
Besides, the aspects of God used in the arguments are only human descriptors of a reality that is far beyond our thinking. Define them slightly differently and the problems can disappear. At most, these arguments don’t disprove God, merely show that we cannot fully express God’s character in human definitions – something few christians would disagree with.
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This post is part of a series on Training disciples to stand. Check out all the topics here.
Picture of M C Escher’s Relativity from Wikipedia.