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Today we are moving on from the existence of God to look at the philosophical debate surrounding the traditional divine attributes - omnipotence, omniscience, omnitemporality, and omnibenevolence. We are exploring the puzzles that these attributes create as well as some possible solutions to those puzzles, from Aquinas’ ideas of analogical predication, to the work of Eleanor Stump.


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 Hank's Intro  (00:08)

We've spent quite a bit of time looking at arguments for god's existence, but we haven't said much yet about this god.

Like, what's he like? Is he a he? Is he, like, strictly Marvel Superheroes or is he more of a DC guy? Does he prefer his salsa with or without cilantro? I like corn. Who's his favorite crystal gem from Steven Universe?

I guess those kinds of questions would only apply to a heavily personalized and anthropomorphic god. But the traditional picture of god - the one accepted and even assumed throughout Judeo-Christian tradition up into modern times - is what we might call an Omni-God, possessing particular divine attributes, the characteristics believed to be held by god.

Now let's pause for a moment to acknowledge that this discussion is of one particular god: the one that stars in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures. Of course, lots of people believe in lots of other gods, and they all have attributes of their own. We're focusing on this god because he's the one all of the philosopher's we've been studying were talking about. He's the one they believed or didn't believe in.

Philosophers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, who were themselves influenced by the writings of Plato and Aristotle, came up with a general set of divine attributes that are still widely held among today's theists. And in this view god is omniscient, which means he knows everything that can be known, and he's also omnipotent, or all-powerful. He's been said to be omnibenevolent, or possessing perfect goodness, and he's omnitemporal and omnipresent, meaning he exists at all places and all times at once.

Now, it's worth noting that none of these attributes is actually mentioned in the bible, but philosophers like Aquinas reasoned that they must be the case if god is perfect, and these philosophers took it as given that he is.

The problem is a close investigation of these attributes reveals some rather tricky little puzzles - no, I take that back. Uh, they are really, really big puzzles.

 Music Intro

 Body: Divine Attributes & Quandaries (02:02)

"Can god created a rock so heavy he can't lift it?" is just one of an infinite number of unanswerable questions that can be asked about god, like:

"If god is omnipotent, he has to be able to create something so heavy he can't lift it. Otherwise, his inability to create it would mean that there's at least one thing he couldn't do."

But then he wouldn't omnipotent, because if he were truly all powerful, he'd be able to lift anything.

Quandaries like this come up all the time when you consider the divine attributes, and some of the questions that arise are not only about god but also about us.

For instance, if god knows everything, then he also knows the future, right? Which makes sense if he's also omnitemporal because that would mean that he's already in the future, and also in the past, and don't forget the present!

 Body: Free Will

But many theists also believe that god gave us free will, so how can we be free if god already knows what we're going to do? In that case, are we really free, or is freedom just an illusion he created for us to make us feel like we're in control?

What we're seeing here is that, at least on the surface, god's traditional divine attributes are internally inconsistent - meaning, they can't all be true at the same time. 

And what do you do if you hold inconsistent beliefs? Well, if you're being philosophically rational, you either give some of them up, or you figure out a way to understand them that makes them consistent. This is what a theist who believes in the omni god has to do.

Let's think about the contradiction that arises from believing the following propositions:

1) god is omniscient
2) humans have free will

Is there any way to resolve this contradiction, or do we have to surrender one of those beliefs?

 Body: Knowledge, Causation, & Pecan Pie (03:29)

One possible response is to say that knowledge and causation aren't the same thing. So god might know that we're going to do something, without actually causing us to do it.

This actually makes sense if you think about it. Imagine a person standing on a cliff looking down at a train track that curves around a bend. From her vantage point, the onlooker can see that just on the other side of the bend, a person is stuck on the track as the train approaches. Too far away to do anything, the onlooker knows the accident will happen before it does, but the fact that she knows it will happen doesn't mean that she caused it to happen.

To use a less gruesome example, if god knew you were going to eat an entire pecan pie by yourself over the course of a lonely weekend, that doesn't mean he caused you to do it. That was all on you.

But wait. If god is omniscient, then he can't be wrong, can he? Because if he was ever wrong, then there was something he didn't know. So if god knew you were going to eat the whole pie, then  you couldn't not eat the pie because if you decided not to at the last minute, then you would have just proven god wrong, thereby single handedly stripping him of his divine omniscience. Good job!

So the knowledge and power of god are, to say the least, philosophically perplexing.

 Body: Can God Sin? (04:34)

Now let's consider another question about god's personal skill set: can god sin?

If he's omnipotent, it would seem that he can, because he can do anything, but if he's omnibenevolent, or inherently good, then it would seem that he can't.

This doctrine, which says that god can't sin, is known as divine impeccability. But if god is impeccable and incapable of sin, then doesn't that mean that he is not omnipotent?

After all, I can sin - easily! I mean, give me five minutes, I could probably break like two or three commandments. Like the ones about coveting stuff, not the murdery ones.

Still, it's seems kind of weird to think that I can do something that god can't. Some people try to solve this particular puzzle by saying that sin is necessarily a failure, so therefore a perfet being can't do it.

Others say that even though god might do something that would be a sin if a human did it, the idea of 'sin' simply doesn't apply to god. Perhaps because given his omnibenevolence, everything that god does is inherently good.

Now, many philosophers find this solution troubling because it kind of makes god's goodness vacuous. After all, it basically means that saying "god did a thing" would be the same thing as saying "god did a good thing" because, ipso facto, anything god does is good. And if that's the case, then his goodness doesn't have any real meaning.

Yet another contradiction presents itself there in the belief that the omni god is also a personal god. Many people find it difficult to suppose that god could be omnitemporal and omniscient, yet still have a personal relationship with his creatures.

It's hard to understand how god could relate to us or feel the way we feel if he doesn't experience time as we do. If he already knows what's going to happen, how could he ever be surprised or change his mind? And if god is omnitemporal, is it even possible that he could be moved to respond to prayers.

 FLASH Philosophy - Thought Bubble (06:09)

Let's look at this idea up close in this week's FLASH Philosophy.

When people talk about praying for something to happen, or to not happen, or are otherwise making a request of god, they're making what are known as petitionary prayers. When you pray in this way, you're asking god for something - to help you pass a test, or to save a loved one who's in danger, or to make sure the Patriots win the game.

Contemporary American philosopher Eleonore Stump argues that:

"We have no reason to think that asking god for something would actually make a difference."
She thinks about it like this:

If god knows everything, including the future (which he does if, he's omniscient), and if god has the power to bring about any state of affairs (which he does. if he's omnipotent), and if he always wants to bring about the best state of affairs (which he does, if he's omnibenevolent), then god has already decided what's going to happen in every single case.

To everyone.


So either your prayer is asking god to do something he was already going to do, in which case your case was kind of a waste of time, or your prayer is asking god to do something he's already decided not to do because it wasn't factually the best thing. Sorry Patriots. And in that case, even if god wanted to change his mind based on your prayer,  you wouldn't want him to because it would actually make things worse then they would have been if you'd just let god do his thing.

In other words:
"If god knows what's best, why would you want to change his mind?"
Now, Stump suggests that:
"There might be some value in the asking. Even if the prayer doesn't actually change what's going to happen."
Maybe you agree with her, but at this point, it should be clear just how many problems there are in the divine attributes when you think about them. Thanks Thought Bubble.

 Body: Analogical Predication

Thomas Aquinas, the thinker who's largely responsible for the traditional divine attributes we think of today, responded to these sorts of puzzles by saying that all this speculation of what god is like is just analogical predication.

Basically, Aquinas said that we can't predicate, or assert, anything about god, because he's so far beyond our understanding.

When we speak of god, Aquinas said, we never really say anything that's true. Instead, we have to speak entirely in analogies, because that's all we can do.

So god isn't literally our father, for example, but we can understand his role for us as being father-like because that's as close as we can get to really understanding what he is.

Or think of it this way: people in South Florida might say it's cold when the temperature dips into the 50s, but in Alaska, it's not cold until it's well below 0.

But both of those frames of reference are more similar to each other to each than they are to the cold that is absolute zero, which is about -273 degrees Celsius. You might even say that absolute zero cold and -10 degree cold are not even the same thing, but we use that one word, "cold," to describe them both as a kind of analogical way of talking about something that defies our complete and personal understanding.

So Aquinas basically said not to worry about all of these puzzles because none of these things we say about god is more than an approximation - a little analogue that our tiny little minds can come up with so that we can talk about an infinite being.

 Conclusion: God May Love Amethyst  (08:49)

Now there are other thinkers, particularly in modern times, who point out that none of the traditional divine attributes are in the bible anyway, so maybe god isn't an omni god. Maybe he's more like a superhero - he can be way smarter than us, way more powerful than us, way more good than us, but still not perfect.

This seems like a sacrilege to a lot of people, but some philosophers argue that it's more compatible with the god of the bible. After all, in the bible, we see god doing very human things like walking in the garden, getting angry, being surprised, and changing his mind. So it could be possible that god actually does hate cilantro or is a big fan of Amethyst.

 Closing: What We Learned  (09:22)

That's the kind of stuff that we, as philosophers, get to ponder - kindly, and thoughtfully, in the comments :)

Today, we learned about The Traditional Divine Attributes, Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnitemporality, and Omnibenevolence, and the puzzles they create for our understanding of god.

We also explored some possible solutions to those puzzles from Aquinas' ideas of Analogical Predictions to the work of Eleonore Stump.

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