August 20, 2012 — 23:36
What do we mean by “God”? St. Anselm defines God as “a being than which none greater can be conceived” (Proslogion). This means that God is the greatest being that one can think of. Or similarly, God is the greatest being there could be. This is one sense of understanding God as a perfect being – if a being, x, could be any better than it already is, then x is not perfect.
All philosophers agree with this definition, or some form of it. What they may not all agree on, however, is what properties such a being would have. What is a property? A property of an object is anything that is true of that object. For example, I have the property of being a Tennessean, because it is true that I am from Tennessee. I also have the properties of being bipedal, of rationality, and animality (since I am a two-legged rational animal). Every existing thing has properties.
So, what properties would God have? According to Alvin Plantinga, God is “an all-powerful, all knowing, wholly good person (a person without a body) who has created us and our world” (Warranted Christian Belief, 3). Similarly, Richard Swinburne defines God as “a person without a body (i.e. a spirit) who necessarily is eternal, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and the creator of all things” (The Existence of God, 7).
God, then, is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, immaterial, eternal, personal being, worthy of worship, and creator of all things other than himself. The belief that God exists is called theism. God may have other properties as well; according to Christian theism, for example, God is a Trinity.
Now, what do those properties mean? I will give a quick definition of each one. Omnipotence means that God has the ability to do anything that is logically possible. Creating a square circle, or a married bachelor, would be logically impossible. Omiscience means that God knows everything, every true proposition and no false proposition. Omnibenevolence means that God is morally perfect, does only what is good, and wills what is good for all things. Immaterial means “not material,” i.e. does not occupy space or have a body. Finally, a being is worthy of worship if and only if it is morally perfect.
While people may mean something different by “God” (the term is used in many ways), this is the definition used in the philosophy of religion, and the one I will be using in this blog.