What determines God’s nature?

The blog Facts About Religion asks, “[W]hy is Gods nature like A, and not like B? What determines Gods nature? (And if the pat answer is ‘well God determined his own nature to be Nature-A, not like Nature-B’ why did he determine Nature-A instead of Nature-B?'”

Undoubtedly there are better answers, but here is mine:

God must be as he is because if he were to change in any way, he would no longer be perfect, and therefore no longer God.

Suppose you had drawn a perfect circle and someone asked, “Why does the perfect circle have to be perfectly round? If it’s because that’s its nature, then why is it the nature of a perfect circle to be perfectly round instead of imperfectly round? or perfectly triangular?” Quite simply that’s just what a perfect circle is:  It’s the nature of a perfect circle to be perfectly round instead of imperfectly round, because if it were imperfectly round, or if it were triangular, it would not be a perfect circle.

Similarly, if God were not e.g. perfectly powerful (not limited by anything outside himself) or perfectly actual (not dependent on anything outside himself), he wouldn’t be God.

In what way could you change God such that he would still be perfect? This is like asking, in what way could you change a perfect circle such that it would still be a perfect circle? You can’t. Any change in the circle (that is, the circle in its essence as a circle, disregarding what color ink it’s drawn in, or how large it is, etc., which are accidental, not essential properties of a circle) could only detract from its perfection and therefore make it no longer a perfect circle but an imperfect one.

By the same token, any change in God could only detract from his perfection and would therefore make him no longer God.

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4 thoughts on “What determines God’s nature?

  1. Strictly speaking, the concept of nature doesn’t apply to God at all, or at least not in the same way as to other things. A nature is a limitation of act. The nature of a cat, say, has certain actualities that belong properly to it (four legs, night vision), but also excludes some actualities that don’t belong to it (the ability to derive nutrition from vegetables, rationality). Since God is unlimited actuality, he contains the perfections of *all* natures. So the natures of things in our experience are to the divine Nature kind of like how a person’s yard is to the Earth; rather than being another nature on the same level as every other nature in our experience, it’s like the source that other things derive their natures from. And when you look at it that way, there has to be a divine Nature; otherwise there’s nothing for other natures to derive from.

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  2. Good point, Leirbag. Maybe you could say that God’s limitation is to not have limitations. That’s obviously not really a limitation, but it’s sort of a thing that “defines” him; although again, the root word of “define” means to “set limits to”. We have to set limits to the things in our experience in order to distinguish one thing from another. But God being the origin of all things, sort of encompasses them all, I guess you could say. And yet you do have to “define” God in some way in order to think and talk about him. Very interesting that the very word “define” is inadequate in the case of God!

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  3. Q: Why are red blood cells red rather than, say, green?
    A: Because they have to be red by definition! If they weren’t red, they wouldn’t be red blood cells.

    But that answer misses the point of the question. Definitions can only explain why we use words the way we do, not why reality is the way it is. The fact that our hypothetical green erythrocytes couldn’t properly be called “red blood cells” is neither here nor there. The question is, why don’t we have those hypothetical green cells rather than the red ones we actually have?

    If you think a non-omnipotent being shouldn’t be called “God,” fine. That’s an opinion on the proper use of a particular English word, not an explanation of why reality is the way it is. To avoid getting hung up on “definitions,” perhaps we should not ask “Why is God the way he is?” but rather “Why doesn’t some slightly different being exist rather than God?” A not-quite-omnipotent being, say, or an embodied one, or a quaternity rather than a trinity?

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  4. Wm Jas:

    FAR’s asks in essence, “What is the cause of God’s nature?”

    The question assumes that “God” refers to God as traditionally understood by the Christian religion. This is clear based on the fact that he doesn’t qualify his use of the word “God” in any way, therefore it’s reasonable to assume that he means it in its most common sense. It’s also a reasonable assumption based on my experience reading his blog posts, which are all aimed at refuting the existence of the Judeo-Christian God in particular.

    God as traditionally understood by the Christian religion is the creator of all things. If he is the creator of all things, then he himself is not created (unless he created himself, which is absurd). Another way of saying this is that the cause of everything else is himself uncaused.

    The import of my answer was not simply that God must be as he is since that’s the definition of “God”. Rather, it was that God as traditionally understood by the Christian religion is *necessarily* the way he is, since if he weren’t then nothing would exist. In other words, the only reason created things exist is because an uncreated being exists, and an uncreated being can only be one way, that is, perfectly powerful and perfectly actual. If he were not those things then he must be caused by something else, in which case he is not the uncaused cause of everything else.

    In other words, there can’t be an alternative “God as traditionally understood by the Christian religion”, i.e. an uncreated creator of all that exists, but with a slightly different nature, because any slight change in his nature would introduce something less than perfect power and perfect actuality, thereby making him incapable of being the uncreated creator of all that exists.

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