My last post on this subject (How Many Ways to Analyze the Word ‘God’ – Part 6) was from way back in February of 2011.
In that post I claimed that one can generate over 233 million definitions of ‘divine person’ from a set of just four attributes:
Since the word ‘God’ can be analyzed in relation to the phrase ‘divine person’, this means that one can generate over 233 million definitions of ‘God’.
Recently in looking over my previous analysis of how many definitions one can generate from a set of just four divine attributes, I noticed that my possible specifications concerning the degrees of strength of these attributes, were missing one possible specification, and that my possible specifications concerning degrees of duration were also missing a few possible specifications. By recognizing these additional possible specifications of degrees of strength and duration, one can actually generate over 2 billion defintions of ‘divine person’ from just four attributes.
The definite description to be used for this purpose can in turn be based upon a definition of the phrase ‘divine person’. In Swinburne’s view, the definite description and the associated definition of ‘divine person’ are criterial in nature. That is to say, it is not required that each and every condition be satisfied in order for a being to count as a ‘divine person’ or as the divine person; the requirement, in terms of the ordinary use of the word ‘God’ is that “many” of the specified conditions be satisfied, and that no other being satisfy as many or more of the conditions as the candidate for being ‘God’.
Swinburne goes on to propose a tightening or narrowing of the meaning of the word ‘God’ for purposes of philosophical investigation. His narrowing of the meaning of the word ‘God’ amounts to taking the conditions that define the phrase ‘divine person’ as being necessary conditions, as opposed to being criteria. In other words, each and every one of the conditions in the definition of ‘divine person’ must be satisfied in order for something to count as a ‘divine person’ and to be picked out as the individual who is ‘God’.
One of the necessary conditions specified by Swinburne is that the being be ‘eternally omnipotent’. It is important to notice that this necessary condition, although put in terms of two words, actually represents three different components. The word ‘eternally’ specifies a duration of time through which the omnipotence must be possessed by the being in question. In Swinburne’s view, one can be queen for a day, but not God for a day. In order to be a ‘divine person’ one must be omnipotent not just for a day or a year or a decade, but one must have always been omnipotent and must always continue to be omnipotent. If there was ever a period of time when a person was not omnipotent (or will not be omnipotent), then that person is not a ‘divine person’, and thus is not ‘God’, according to Swinburne.
The concept of being ‘omnipotent’ actually contains two different types of specification: a general attribute (in this case: power – represented by the root word ‘potent’), and a degree of strength of that attribute (in this case: unlimited – represented by the prefix ‘omni-‘). So, the necessary condition of being ‘eternally omnipotent’ means possessing (1) an unlimited degree of strength of (2) the attribute of power for (3) an unlimited degree of duration.
There are three degrees of strength for the four attributes:
These three degrees of strength can be combined into seven different specifications of degrees of strength:
4. human or superhuman
5. human or unlimited
6. superhuman or unlimited
7. human or superhuman or unlimited
Swinburne’s view, for example, is that it is a necessary condition that a being possess an unlimited degree of power in order to be considered a ‘divine person’. More specifically, it is a necessary condition that a being possess an unlimited degree of power eternally in order to be considered a ‘divine person’. Possessing unlimited power for a day or a year does not satisfy this requirement. So, we need to take into consideration the additional specification of the duration that the attribute (of a specified strength) is possessed by the being in question.
In the context of attempts to define the concept of a ‘divine person’ we must include the possibility of infinite durations of time, not just finite durations. In addition to finite durations there are three different types of infinite duration, for a total of four degrees of duration:
2. infinite past
3. infinite future
Considering various possible combinations of degrees of duration, we can generate fifteen different specifications of degrees of duration:
2. infinite past
3. infinite future
5. finite or infinite past
6. finite or infinite future
7. finite or eternal
8. infinite past or infinite future
9. infinite past or eternal
10. inifinite future or eternal
11. finite or infinite past or infinite future
12. finite or infinite past or eternal
13. finite or infinite future or eternal
14. infinite past or infinite future or eternal
15. finite or infinite past or infinite future or eternal
So, the basic components of a condition in a definition of ‘divine person’ are (a) an attribute (4 possibilities), (b) a specification of degrees of strength (7 possibilities), and (c) a specification of degrees of duration (15 possibilities).
If we assume that power, knowledge, freedom, and goodness are relevant attributes for defining ‘divine person’ and that these are the only relevant attributes (a simplifying assumption), then definitions of ‘divine person’ will include four conditions containing a specification relating to each of the four attributes. For each attribute there are seven different specifications of degrees of strength and fifteen different specifications of degrees of duration, which means there are 105 different possible specifications of strength and duration for each attribute (7 x 15 = 105).
So, if we focus in on just definitions composed of four necessary conditions (one condition for each of the four attributes), there will be 105 x 105 x 105 x 105 different such definitions that can be generated. That means, from just four divine attributes, we can generate 121,550,625 definitions composed of four necessary conditions.
If we start looking at criterial definitions and definitions involving a mixture of criteria and necessary conditions, then the numbers expand significantly:
A. Definitions composed of 4 necessary conditions: 121,550,625 (= 105 x 105 x 105 x 105).
B. Definitions composed of 4 criteria: 364,651,875 (= 3 x 121,550,625)
(3 conditions out of 4 satisfied, or 2 conditions out of 4 satisfied, or 1 condition out of 4 satisfied)
C. Definitions composed of 3 criteria and 1 necessary condition: 972,405,000 (= 8 x 121,550,625).
(4 basic definitions, because 4 options for selection of the necessary condition, and 2 variations of each basic definition, because can either require 2 of 3 criteria to be satisfied or 1 of 3 criteria to be satisfied. So, a total of 8 definitions can be generated from each of the 121,550,625 combinations of specifications)
D. Definitions composed of 2 criteria and 2 necessary conditions: 729,303,750 (= 6 x 121,550,625)
(6 basic definitions – because 6 options for selection of 2 necessary conditions, and no variations on those basic definitions – because with just 2 criteria you can only require satisfaction of 1 out of the 2 criterial conditions).
E. Definitions composed of 1 criterion and 3 necessary conditions: 0 (You cannot have just one criterion in a definition; otherwise the “criterion” simply becomes a necessary condition, since you cannot require a lower number than one condition, because requiring 0 criteria to be satisfied would make that one criterion irrelevant, and requiring one criterion to be satisfied would mean that the one-and-only criterion would HAVE TO BE satisfied, in which case it would be a necessary condition, not a criterion.
Total: 2,187,911,250 definitions of ‘divine person’ can be generated from just four basic attributes (power, knowledge, freedom, and goodness), specified in relation to three degrees of strength (human, superhuman, unlimited) in relation to four degrees of duration (finite, infinite past, infinite future, eternal), in the case where all four attributes are treated as being relevant, and where we consider four different types of definitions (purely necessary conditions, purely criteria, three criteria plus one necessary condition, two criteria plus two necessary conditions).
Hundreds of millions more definitions can be created by using only a subset of the four attributes to construct definitions (e.g. creating definitions using only three of the four attributes). Since the word ‘God’ can be analyzed or defined in relation to the phrase ‘divine person’, we can see that over two billion definitions of ‘God’ can be constructed from just four basic attributes.
This article is archived.