Friday, September 22, 2017

Could There Be More Than One God?

Near Brasilia, Brazil

(In last night's Philosophy of Religion class at MCCC a student asked, "Why could there not be more than one God who created the universe?" I'm re-posting my response to this.)

Instead of there being one God who exists and created all that is, why could there not be multiple Gods? 

One answer sometimes given to this is Ockham's Razor, which states that causes should not be multiplied unnecessarily. For example, if I come home and discover a pan of freshly baked brownies on the table, I understand my wife Linda to have made them. But someone suggests, "Why could not the brownies have been made by several bakers? Why assume just one person made them?" Because, using Ockham's Razor, there is no need to multiply causes unnecessarily. That the cause of the pan of brownies is "my wife Linda" is enough explanation. Similarly, "one God" is enough explanation for the cause of the universe.

I'm thinking that one could employ German philosopher Leibniz's "Identity of Indiscernibles" to argue that the idea of multiple Gods is incoherent. This is an idea in process. Here we go!

Assume that "God" has essential attributes, which causally determine God's contingent attributes. For example, because God is essentially love, God's responses to unloving situations will be logically predictable. When God sees death, e.g., God respnds with comfort out of his loving compassion. God's particular manifestations of his loving compassion are not essential to the being of God, but contingent.

Now imagine there are two Gods, or even twenty-two Gods. If we define "God" as essentially omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then Gods One through Twenty-two are also essentially omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Were they not, then they would not be God. Given these omni-attributes, such as omnibenevolent, each of the twenty-two Gods will respond in exactly the same ways to, e.g., a particular human death. Sharing all the needed knowledge, they each would choose the very best response to that death, which would be the same. This would mean that each of the twenty-two Gods would share not only the same essential attributes, but also the same contingent attributes.

What is called "Leibniz's Law," viz. the Identity of Indiscernibles, states that no two objects have exactly the same properties. But in our example we stated that twenty-two Gods share exactly the same essential and contingent properties. Using, therefore, Leibniz's Law, Gods 1-22 are "indiscernible"; namely, they are the same object, which is to say there is only one God.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:


"The Identity of Indiscernibles (hereafter called the Principle) is usually formulated as follows: if, for every property F, object x has F if and only if object y has F, then x is identical to y. Or in the notation of symbolic logic:
F(Fx ↔ Fy) → x=y.
This formulation of the Principle is equivalent to the Dissimilarity of the Diverse as McTaggart called it, namely: if x and y are distinct then there is at least one property that x has and y does not, or vice versa."
If at least one of our twenty-two Gods had the requisite essential attributes, but each of the other twenty-one Gods had different essential attributes, then each of the other twenty-one Gods would not be God. The same applies to any varying contingent properties. Therefore, logically, there can only be one God, and the idea of multiple Gods is logically incoherent.