An Argument for the View that God has a Sense of Humor
Does God have a sense of humor? Here is one argument to think that he does. Let us start with the following uncontroversial premise:
(1) Having a sense of humor is a good-making property for human beings.
This does not seem to need much by way of defense: surely, ceteris paribus, we prefer someone with a sense of humor over someone without a sense of humor. In fact, when asked what we deem most important in relationships with other persons, the attribute of humor is usually in the top five. The second premise is as follows:
(2) For any property P, if P is a good-making property for entity X and P is intrinsically good, then for any entity Y that can have P, P will be a good-making property for Y.
Let me point out two important features of this premise. First, it says that if something is a good-making property for X, then it is a good-making property for Y if Y can have that property. The following example illustrates the relevance of this restriction. It is good for a building to be hurricane-resistant. However, since God is an immaterial being, it would be ridiculous to think that God is hurricane-resistant. God does not even have all good-making properties that humans have. Being a fast swimmer is a good-making property, but, of course, God is not a fast swimmer—nor is he a slow or an average one; he is simply not a swimmer at all, given that he does not have a body. That some property P (say, being hurricane-resistant or being a good swimmer) is a good property for one thing X (say, a building or a human being) does not mean that it is also a good-making property for some other thing Y (say, God). Only if Y can have that property is it good-making for Y.
A second important feature of (2) is that it is restricted to properties that are intrinsically good. It is a matter of philosophical debate precisely how we are to spell out what it is for goodness to be intrinsic rather than instrumental, but it seems the following will do for our purposes: something is intrinsically good if it is good in itself or for its own sake rather than as a means to something else. It is good that the water in my cup is fluid, but merely because I want to drink it. It is, therefore, merely instrumentally good. However, the beauty of Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride or the courage of a fireman who attempts to save someone’s life by risking his own life are intrinsically good, because they are good in themselves and for their own sake.
The third premise is:
(3) Having a sense of humor is a property that is intrinsically good.
To have a sense of humor seems to be a property that is intrinsically rather than (merely) instrumentally good. To have a sense of humor is good in itself or for its own sake, not merely because it is a means to something else. Among the things that are usually considered to be intrinsically good are happiness, beatitude, contentment, and pleasures and satisfactions of certain kinds. To be amused seems to be one of the pleasures and satisfactions that are intrinsically good, for it seems that if someone is amused at something and there is nothing morally wrong about that, then that is a good thing in itself: it need not serve any further purpose in order to be good.
From (1) through (3) it follows that:
(4) If God can have a sense of humor, then having a sense of humor is a good-making property for God.
The next premise is:
(5) God can have a sense of humor.
I return to this premise below. (4) and (5) together allow us to infer that:
(6) Having a sense of humor is a good-making property for God.
The next premise says that:
(7) If having a sense of humor is a good-making property for God, he has that property.
And from (6) and (7) we conclude that:
(8) God has the property of having a sense of humor.
Let me now defend the two premises not yet discussed. The reason to embrace (7) is that God is perfect in all regards. This is not to say that God will have any good-making property that he could have. It is, presumably, a good-making property of God that he has actualized the actual world. Assuming that God was free in actualizing this possible world, he could have actualized another possible world, and if he had done so, he would have exemplified the good-making property of having actualized that possible world. But God cannot actualize this possible world and another possible world. Hence, God will not have all good-making properties that he could have. With the property of having a sense of humor, things are different, though. There seems no property or set of properties that God contingently exemplifies, such as having actualized this possible world or having raised Jesus Christ from the dead, that rules out his having a sense of humor.
This leaves us with (5), which says that God can have a sense of humor. Is this true? Well, I see no reason to think that it conflicts with God’s omniscience. And I cannot think of a good reason to think that it would be ruled about by God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence, or any other properties that are traditionally ascribed to God as essential properties that he has. There seems to be nothing in the nature of being amused or having the disposition to be amused that is ruled out by God’s nature. Thus, for all we know, God can have a sense of humor.
It follows from the argument that God has a sense of humor.
The 2015 Analytic Theology Cluster Group at University of Navarra (Spain)
The Cluster Group in Analytic Theology at the University of Navarra “Philosophical and Theological Perspectives on Divine Providence” gather together philosophers and theologians to study and discuss the main approaches made to this issue with an analytic methodology. As a result of the group activities Analytic Theology will be introduced for the first time in Spanish academia. The Cluster Group is supported by the Project “Analytic Theology” of the Center for Philosophy of Religion of the University of Notre Dame, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
We will hold ten monthly Seminars related to our research project. Topics include:
- Providence, Omniscience and Foreknowledge.
- Providence and Divine Action.
- Providence and Evil.
- Providence, Libertarian Free Will and Determinism.
Two of the seminars will be given by two guests lecturers, Eleonore Stump and Brian Leftow. But also, we have two Public Lectures at Room 03, Amigos Building, University of Navarra. Participation is free without need of reservation.
- Lecture 1 (Monday 2 March, 2015), Brian Leftow: Providence Determinism and Hell.
- Lecture 2 (Monday 20 April, 2015), Eleonore Stump: Eternity, Simplicity, and Divine Presence.
For further information you can have a look at our website: http://www.unav.edu/en/web/facultad-de-filosofia-y-letras/analytic-theology
The first and third arguments use S5. I will leave filling in the steps in the arguments as an exercise (maybe not so easy in the case of A) for the reader, though I can help out as needed.
Argument A (in a paper I have in Szatkowski’s forthcoming anthology on ontological arguments):
- Necessarily, if a property B is limiting, so is any property A that entails B.
- Necessarily, if a property B is limiting, its negation is not limiting.
- Possibly lacking existence is limiting.
- Possibly lacking omniscience is limiting.
- Possibly lacking omnipotence is limiting.
- Possibly lacking perfect goodness is limiting.
- Possibly not being creator of everything else is limiting.
- It is not possible that x is a creator of y while y is a creator of x.
- So, there exists a necessary being that is essentially omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good and creator of everything else. This being has every property that it would be limiting to possibly-lack.
- Every first-order truth is knowable.
- The conjunction of all basic first-order truths exists and is a first-order truth.
- If all the basic first-order truths of a world w1 hold at a world w2, then w2=w1.
- Necessarily, if someone knows p, then p is true.
- So, there actually is a being that knows the conjunction of all basic first-order truths.
I don’t have an account of “basic”. Perhaps fundamental will do. I am thinking of “basic” here as a placeholder for a notion that makes (11) and (12) true.
- Possibly, an unlimited being exists.
- Necessarily, for every proposition q that is possibly true, there is a state of affairs p(q) such that p(q) grounds the possibility of q.
- Necessarily, if s grounds the possibility of x not existing or the possibility of x being limited, then s limits x.
- Necessarily, nothing limits an unlimited being.
- So, there is an unlimited being.
Emanuel Rutten sent me the following interesting argument which I am posting with his permission. Please make sure to be clear that if you cite this post, everything except the title, the preceding sentence and this sentence, is taken verbatim from Rutten. He has some other interesting arguments on his blog, some of which alas are in Dutch.
Take the following metaphysical principle, connecting possible worlds, knowledge and truth: ‘If it is impossible to know that p, then p is necessarily false’. This principle seems cogent. For, if a given proposition p could be true, then, plausibly, there is some possible world in which some subject knows that p is true. In other words, if in *all* possible worlds *all* subjects do not know that some proposition is true, then, plausibly, that is because that very proposition cannot in fact be true.
Well, on a Cartesian view of knowledge, that is, to know p is to be certain that p is true, the above principle has an interesting consequence. For, take for p the proposition ‘God does not exist’. It seems reasonable to hold that it is impossible to know that God does not exist. For, whatever the arguments against God, there will always be some (perhaps an extremely remote) possibility that God does exist after all, so that we can never truly say, on the Cartesian view, that we know that God does not exist. But then it follows that it is necessarily false that God does not exist. Hence, it is necessarily true that God exists. The principle thus entails theism. Is this new argument for theism convincing?
The end of the semester is fast approaching, which means an even more hectic academic schedule, followed by a vacation. This post will be a brief remark on Sobel‘s treatment of omniscience, which completes his interlude on divine attributes. Following this, I will leave off until after the holidays, at which point I will deal with the remainder of the book, which treats arguments against the existence of God, and also ‘Pascalian’ practical arguments for belief in God.
The main puzzle Sobel finds with omniscience is one pushed by Patrick Grim. The thrust of the argument is this: (1) a Cantorian diagonalization argument shows that there can be no set of all truths. But, (2) for any being, there is a set containing all and only the propositions known by that being. Therefore, (3) no being knows all truths. (This is my simplified reconstruction; Sobel spells out some of the set-theoretic details related to (1).)
As Sobel rightly points out, there is no reason for the theist to accept (2) and, as a result, the argument fails. (Sobel also considers a similar argument from Grim to the effect that the sentence ‘there is a being who knows every proposition’ fails to express a proposition, because there are no propositions about all propositions. Sobel is, I think, correct in saying that Grim’s premises involve details of a theory of propositions, rather than just an intuitive definition of propositions and ‘aboutness’, and any theory of propositions that has this consequence is clearly unacceptable.) All I want to note here is that Sobel doesn’t point out what I take to be one of the more interesting reasons theists might reject the premise. Consider the following argument in support of (2):
(a) For every distinct proposition p known by a being S, S is in a distinct mental state which (partly) constitutes S’s knowledge that p.
(b) No being can be in a proper class of distinct mental states.
Therefore, (c) No being can know a proper class of propositions, i.e. (2) is true.
(a) is plausible insofar as knowledge either is itself a mental state (as Williamson says), or else is partly constituted by belief, which is a mental state. (b) seems plausible probably because we typically think of mental states as concrete entities, and we balk at the idea of a proper class of concrete entities. (Having countably or continually many concrete entities is mind-boggling enough.)
I think Sobel probably has an argument like this in the back of his mind, and this is why he offers the suggestion (pp. 384-388) that if we aren’t too wedded to pure actuality and atemporality as divine attributes, we might hold that only some set of propositions is before God’s mind at any given time, but these propositions are such that God can easily (instantaneously) deduce any of the other propositions from them whenever he likes. Sobel calls this ‘virtual’ knowledge.
But, as Sobel realizes, the theist is at liberty to reject (b), and so to continue rejecting (2). What Sobel doesn’t seem to realize, is that certain theists, those who accept the strong (Western) form of divine simplicity, are under independent pressure to reject (a). According to this view, God is identical to each of his attributes. Therefore, if God knows that p, and God knows that q, then God’s knowledge that p = God’s knowledge that q = God, and similarly for God’s belief in each of these propositions. If this idea makes any sense (and I suppose we shouldn’t just take for granted that it does), then God can know a proper class of propositions without being in a proper class of mental states.
[Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net]
I’ve been teaching an introductory philosophy course this semester with a new text for my God unit, Thinking About God by Greg Ganssle. It’s designed to be usable for high school or introductory college/university courses, and it’s just about the lowest level of detail that I would want to use for this course. I’m supplementing it some with other readings also, but it’s nice to spend a lot of time just in one book after using lots of scattered readings in past versions of the course.
One thing that I found really interesting was in the section on the logical problem of evil. The logical problem of evil presents three traditional attributes of God (omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness) and then seeks to derive a contradiction if you admit to the existence of evil (which pretty much all traditional theists will do, and thus it’s a problem even if the person presenting the problem doesn’t happen to believe in evil, because the theist does, and it’s supposed to be a contradiction for theism). Now it so happens that hardly any philosopher today accepts the logical problem of evil as a good argument, for several reasons, but in the process of explaining why Ganssle hits on an interesting issue that I hadn’t thought of before. One way some people have resisted theists’ attempts to respond to the problem of evil might actually help the theist in surprising ways.