Essential and Non-Essential Attributes
Consider the following argument:
P1) If two people worship the same God, then both people must ascribe the same attributes to God
P2) If there is attribute disagreement, then they are worshiping different God’s
P3) Christians and Muslims ascribe different attributes to God
P4) Christians and Muslims, therefore, worship different God’s
P5) But even two Christians will ascribe different attributes to God
P6) Therefore, the two Christians worship different God’s
What this argument shows is that any disagreement in attributes entails a division, or separation, in religions, or in this case, persons; attribute disagreement implies the existence of two different persons.
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But is it true that attribute disagreement implies that two different persons are being spoken of? If so, then we get certain results right, eg, Islam and Christianity worship two different God’s. But are we prepared to concede that if two people at a bible study have a different conception of God, eg one believes Jesus’ resurrected body was physical with the other thinking it was more like a ghost, that they are thinking of different God’s? Do we want to say that these two people are of different faiths? If we are to remain consistent, it seems that we should say that they are of different faiths; but we are torn, since these two people are certain that they worship the same God. We are certain that both are Christians who happen to ascribe different attributes to God.
Here is the problem summarized:
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If attribute agreement is necessary to worship the same God, then Muslims and Christians worship different God’s, and so do two people at a bible study.
If the two people at the bible study worship the same God despite the fact that they ascribe different attributes to God, then we must be able to make sense of essential and non essential attributes of God, lest we be guilty of arbitrarily putting the Muslim outside the boundary of orthodoxy but leaving the other person from the bible study inside the boundary. In other words, we need a principled account of essential and non essential attributes of God.