The Impossibility of a Changeless God
This is the second in a series of five articles addressing Irish writer Michael Nugent’s “twenty reasons why God seems implausible,” as he explained them in a debate with Dr. William Lane Craig in March of this year. During Nugent’s opening remarks he listed twenty or so reasons in rapid-fire succession, each leading into the next. I felt that, cumulatively, they built a pretty strong case for his position. This article addresses the points from Nugent’s list that dealt with the idea of a changeless God. Nugent spent almost a third of his list on this argument, making more points here than on any other topic, so I sense it’s an area he feels pretty strongly about. Or perhaps it was an area in which he felt his debate opponent, Dr. Craig, was vulnerable.
Nugent’s six reasons under this general argument are written out below pretty much verbatim as he gave them in the debate. After each point, I offer a brief rebuttal. At the end of the list, I offer a more complete explanation of why I think his general argument is built on a faulty foundation and fails to support his general premise that the existence of God is implausible.
Reason 3: If it (God) is changeless then it cannot create anything because it would have to change in order to do so.
This statement is true if you adopt Nugent’s view of God’s changelessness, which I believe is errant, as I explain in detail below.
Reason 4: Even if you believe that it (God) simply willed matter into existence, that act of will would be a change within a supposedly changeless mind.
Again, if I were to accept Nugent’s view of God’s changelessness I might agree with this statement. However, from the Christian point of view, there was no change to God’s essence, attributes, or nature when He willed the universe into existence.
And here I would point out that Nugent, perhaps unwittingly, provides a plausible theory against his own argument for the Implausibility of the Existence of a Pure Mind, reason #2; the mechanism by which an immaterial God can create a material universe is His will. Which, according to the reason shown above, presents no logical problems so long as we do not adopt Nugent’s view of God’s changelessness.
Reason 5: And if this mind (God) is perfect, then it couldn’t change anyway because it would either become more perfect, which is impossible, or less perfect, in which case it would no longer be perfect.
The Christian understanding of God’s perfection is that He is morally perfect (Luke 18:19)—meaning maximally good (Psalm 86:5), righteous (Deuteronomy 43:4), wise (James 3:17), and holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). And in His perfection God is changeless.
Nugent’s 5th reason falsely assumes that any change in God would necessarily require a change in His perfection. Yet it’s entirely plausible that God could change in ways that would require no increase or reduction in His attribute of perfection. For example, He could change from “not wanting to create the universe” to “wanting to create the universe” and still be a morally perfect being.
Reason 6: Even if it (God) could change, it would not want to change because being perfect it would have no desire to do anything.
Here Nugent invokes what I call the “If I Ran the Zoo” line of argument. His point is based on what he imagines he might want to do (or not do) if he happened to be God. In other words, it tells us what Nugent thinks his preferences would be in a hypothetical scenario, but it does not tell us anything about reality or the truth of the premise.
Secondly, this statement equates perfection with a lack of desire, which is a Buddhist, not Christian, tenet. In Buddhism, the cessation of suffering is the highest ideal. In Christianity love is the highest ideal, and love necessarily includes a desire for the good of others. This is why we can coherently believe God is perfect and that He has desires, which include (among other things) that everyone would be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Reason 7: If you respond that it (God) was changeless but it changed after it created the universe, then it is simply false to say that it is changeless.
This is an excellent point. I have always found the argument “God was changeless until He changed” a bit weak.
Reason 8: If the god is no longer changeless, or beyond time and space, then it may have ceased to exist sometime in the last 14 billion years.
Logically speaking, this is a valid conclusion based on the premise he posits. But it has no bearing on the validity of the Christian claims about the existence of God.
Nugent and I don’t disagree on his basic line of argument regarding God’s changelessness as much as I expected. But that’s largely because Christianity does not teach that God is “changeless” in the sense he uses that word. Thus, I would respectfully submit that Nugent does not rightly understand the Christian Doctrine of the Immutability Of God and is, therefore (inadvertently I assume) arguing against a “straw god.”
He seems to view God’s changelessness as something akin to an immobile, lifeless rock. That’s not the God that the Bible describes. Rather than a static unmoving entity, Scripture teaches that God is active; He creates, He interacts with His creatures, He guides the steps of men, He holds the universe together. So from that perspective, God is not “changeless.” The Christian Doctrine of the Immutability Of God teaches that God is unchanging in His essence; His nature, character, attributes, plans, and promises do not change. God was, is, and will always be unchangingly powerful, wise, just, good, holy, and loving.
“Whatever the attributes of God were of old, that they are now; and of each of them we may sing ‘As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen’… Take any one attribute of God, and I will write semper idem on it (always the same). Take any one thing you can say of God now, and it may be said not only in the dark past, but in the bright future it shall always remain the same: ‘I am Jehovah, I change not.'”-Charles Spurgeon
Thus, I submit that Nugent’s six reasons addressing the impossibility of a changeless God fail to support the general premise that the existence of God is implausible; largely because they are built on a faulty foundation, namely his misunderstanding of the Christian Doctrine of the Immutability Of God.
Next in the Series—Part 3: The Problem of Perfection.