Three Christian philosophers on perfect being theology, tradition in philosophy going back to the great medieval philosopher Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), but really, as Leftow has shown, back to Augustine, Plato, and the Christian Bible.
I did not know that Leftow was an open theist! As an open theist, he holds that God is not the all-determining puppet-master of the cosmos (or if you don’t like that metaphor, the novelist who writes every last word of her novel), but rather that he allows free creatures some leeway to control how things turn out. Consequently, when it comes to some aspects of “the future,” he must wait to see how things turn out, and then he freely responds to these new developments.
I wonder how this coheres with Leftow’s view that God is timeless?
One quibble: at the very end, he says that the concept of perfection is “presupposed in the attitude of worship.” I disagree. Worshiping is honoring. A person may worship God and it have never occurred to her whether or not God is perfect. But I agree with Leftow that the Bible implies that God is perfect, and that this is a fundamental truth on the basis of which we are to reason about how God must be.
In another interview, Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne explains why belief in a perfect God doesn’t imply that the cosmos God made is perfect. And why even though there can’t be a greatest possible cosmos, there can be a perfect being. And: isn’t it easier to believe in an imperfect God? (No.)
Note that at the very end he allows that it is coherent to worship a being who is less than perfect.
In a third interview, philosopher J.P. Moreland analyzes divine perfection as the greatest possible being – the greatest being there could possibly be. This does entail that we can do some things God can’t do. Can a perfect being be courageous? In one sense, Moreland argues, yes, but in another sense no. Does making good things make God better or greater? No. His life is enriched by having made good things, but he doesn’t need them, and they don’t make his life better. Moreland too believes in a temporal God (at least, given that he creates) who causally interacts with beings in his cosmos.
At the end Moreland gives an interesting argument God’s deserving our complete or full worship implies that God can’t improve. I don’t think this argument is sound, though I agree with his conclusion. Here’s why – suppose God were super-duper good, and worthy of more worship than all humans put together could ever give him – yet, suppose he were not perfect, as good as a being could possibly be. It would not follow that we should withhold part of our worship, giving say 90% rather than 100%. So, given that God deserves all we’ve got, as it were, with no reservations, it doesn’t follow from that, that he’s perfect.
Note that all three, so long as we’re in this sort of discussion, think of God as a perfect self – a who, a being which is the subject of mental states, who has a first person point of view – not a lifeless thing or even a group, gang, or family of selves.
Finally, a dissenting voice, theologian-philosopher Philip Clayton. He holds that this way of thinking is too limited. He urges that a more fundamental concept that applies to God is infinity, or being without limits of any sort, an “Infinite One” (aka “the Divine”) implying pantheism or monism, or both. Sort of the one inconceivable unity which somehow lies behind all (appearance of?) complexity – like Brahman or the Tao. Religion like this, I think, has always been a rival to any sort of monotheism, though it is often presented as a deeper version of it. One doesn’t properly approach such a thing with worship, which is a self-to-self attitude, but rather via philosophical reasoning, perhaps punctuated by some fleeting, ineffable, non-cognitive episodes of consciousness. On this view, the worshiper of God (the perfect self) is intellectually and spiritually shallow, stuck, as it were, in the kindergarden of theology, and ultimately mistaken.
It is an interesting question how both views, diametrically opposed, can be found within what we think of as a single tradition – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism – even Buddhism. I think a large part of the answer is that it is only small pockets of intellectuals who adopt the “infinite” sort of view, and that by accepting traditional language and practices, they sort of hide their disagreement from other people in the religion. But note that not all intellectuals do adopt it; our first three here are firmly in the perfect self camp.