Philosophical Problems with the Mormon Concept of God
by Francis J. Beckwith
Most Christians who critique the Mormon view of God do so from a strictly biblical
perspective. Christian apologists have correctly pointed out that Mormon theology
conflicts with biblical doctrine in a number of important areas, including the nature
of God, the plan of salvation, and the nature of man.
Although the biblical approach should be the Christian's primary focus, Dr. Stephen
E. Parrish and I have suggested another approach in several articles and books.
This approach focuses on the philosophical rather than the biblical problems with
the Mormon concept of God.
In this article I will (1) compare and contrast the Christian and Mormon concepts of
God and (2) present three philosophical problems with the Mormon view.
THE CHRISTIAN CONCEPT OF GOD
Christians claim that their concept of God is found in the Bible. Known as classical
theism, this view of God has long been considered the orthodox theistic position
of the Western world. Though there are numerous divine attributes that we could
examine, for our present purposes it is sufficient to say that the God of classical
theism is at least (1) personal and incorporeal (without physical parts), (2) the
Creator and Sustainer of everything else that exists, (3) omnipotent (all-powerful),
(4) omniscient (all-knowing), (5) omnipresent (everywhere present), (6)
immutable (unchanging) and eternal, and (7) necessary and the only God.
Let us now briefly look at each of these attributes.
1. Personal and Incorporeal. According to Christian theism, God is a personal being
who has all the attributes that we may expect from a perfect person: self-consciousness, the ability to reason, know, love, communicate, and so forth. This
is clearly how God is described in the Scriptures (e.g., Gen. 17:11; Exod. 3:14;
God is also incorporeal. Unlike humans, God is not uniquely associated with one
physical entity (i.e., a body). This is why the Bible refers to God as Spirit (John
2. The Creator and Sustainer of Everything Else that Exists. In classical
theism, all reality is contingent on God -- that is, all reality has come into existence
and continues to exist because of Him. Unlike a god who forms the universe out
of preexistent matter, the God of classical theism created the universe ex nihilo
(out of nothing). Consequently, it is on God alone that everything in the universe
depends for its existence (see Acts 17:25; Col. 1:16, 17; Rom. 11:36; Heb.
11:3; 2 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 4:11).
3. Omnipotent. God is also said to be omnipotent or all-powerful. This should be
understood to mean that God can do anything that is (1) logically possible (see
below), and (2) consistent with being a personal, incorporeal, omniscient,
omnipresent, immutable, wholly perfect, and necessary Creator.
Concerning the latter, these attributes are not limitations of God's power, but
perfections. They are attributes at their infinitely highest level, which are essential
to God's nature. For example, since God is perfect, He cannot sin; because He is
personal, He is incapable of making Himself impersonal; because He is omniscient,
He cannot forget. All this is supported by the Bible when its writers assert that God
cannot sin (Mark 10:18; Heb. 6:18), cease to exist (Exod. 3:14; Mal. 3:6), or fail
to know something (Job 28:24; Ps. 139:17-18; Isa. 46:10a). Since God is a
perfect person, it is necessarily the case that He is incapable of acting in a less than
perfect way -- which would include sinning, ceasing to exist, and being ignorant.
When the classical theist claims that God can only do what is logically possible, he
or she is claiming that God cannot do or create what is logically impossible.
Examples of logically impossible entities include "married bachelors," "square
circles," and "a brother who is an only child." But these are not really entities; they
are merely contrary terms that are strung together and appear to say something.
Hence, the fact that God cannot do the logically impossible does not in any way
discount His omnipotence.
Also counted among the things that are logically impossible for God to do or create
are those imperfect acts mentioned above which a wholly perfect and immutable
being cannot do -- such as sin, lack omniscience, and/or cease to exist. Since God
is a personal, incorporeal, omniscient, omnipresent, immutable, wholly perfect, and
necessary Creator, it follows that any act inconsistent with these attributes would
be necessarily (or logically) impossible for God to perform. But this fact does not
count against God's omnipotence, since, as St. Augustine points out, "Neither do
we lessen [God's] power when we say He cannot die or be deceived. This is the
kind of inability which, if removed, would make God less powerful than He is.... It is
precisely because He is omnipotent that for Him some things are impossible."
But what about Luke 1:37, where we are told that "nothing is impossible with
God?" (NIV) Addressing this question, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that this
verse is not talking about internally contradictory or contrary "entities," since such
"things" are not really things at all. They are merely words strung together that
appear to be saying something when in fact they are saying nothing. Hence,
everything is possible for God, but the logically impossible is not truly a thing.
4. Omniscient. God is all-knowing, and His all-knowingness encompasses the past,
present, and future. Concerning God's unfathomable knowledge, the psalmist
writes: "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of
them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I
awake, I am still with you" (Ps. 139:17,18). Elsewhere he writes, "Great is our
Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit" (147:5). The author of
Job writes of God: "For he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under
the heavens" (Job 28:24). Scripture also teaches that God has total knowledge of
the past (Isa. 41:22). Concerning the future, God says: "I make known the end
from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: 'My purpose
will stand, and I will do all that I please,'" (Isa. 46:10). Elsewhere Isaiah quotes
God as saying that knowledge (not opinion or highly probable guesses) of the
future is essential for deity (Isa. 41:21-24), something that distinguished God from
the many false gods of Isaiah's day.
5. Omnipresent. Logically following from God's omniscience, incorporeality,
omnipotence, and role as creator and sustainer of the universe is His
omnipresence. Since God is not limited by a spatio-temporal body, knows
everything immediately without benefit of sensory organs, and sustains the
existence of all that exists, it follows that He is in some sense present everywhere.
Certainly it is the Bible's explicit teaching that God is omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-12;
6. Immutable and Eternal. When a Christian says that God is immutable and
eternal, he or she is saying that God is unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:17; Isa.
46:10b) and has always existed as God throughout all eternity (Ps. 90:2; Isa.
40:28; 43:12b, 13; 57:15a; Rom. 1:20a; 1 Tim. 1:17). There never was a
time when God was not God.
Although God certainly seems to change in response to how His creatures behave
-- such as in the case of the repenting Ninevites -- His nature remains the same.
No matter how the Ninevites wo