Interior dialogue: What does reason mean when it says “God exists”?

C: There is some meaning of “exists” that is common to God and creatures. When we say “God exists”, we either are speaking of an existence proper to God, or proper to creatures, or common to both. If the first, we are saying God exists in the way God exists, which says nothing; if the second, we are saying that God exists as creatures do, which is a contradiction, so it must be the last.

D: Why does it say nothing to say that God exists as he does? I understand God through an argument like

A exists

A is being caused by B

B exists.

But a cause need not have what the effect has in the same way, it can also have it in a more eminent way. So there is no need for “exists” to mean the same thing in the premise and the conclusion.

C: But then why conclude God exists at all? How do you avoid your argument resting on an illicit inference? How is it different from

Fire is hot

Fire is caused by air

Air is hot

That’s simply untrue.

D: Your argument in the line of material causes, and in this line air actually is hot with respect to fire; but it’s hot in the way that is proper to matter: in potency.

C: But how is it different in the line of agent causes?

This painting is beautiful

The painting is caused by Van Gogh

Van Gogh is beautiful

The same is true about parents and their offspring.

D: Just as before you looked at material causes and failed to understand them in the way that is proper to matter, now you are looking at agent causes and failing to understand them as agents. Effects that come to be from agents are not in agents according to their real existence, but in intention. There is a difference between a form that belongs to an agent, and a form that belongs to the agent as agent. Van Gogh only needed to have beauty the way an agent needs to have it- in the line of the relevant intention. Who doubts he had it in this way? In this sense, the picture counts as the evidence.

C: So to return to the argument, you are saying that God, the agent cause, has existence in the line of intention.

D: Yes. In proofs for God’s existence, we only show there is some agent who causes existence, but so far as he is an agent cause of existence he need only exist as Van Gogh is beautiful.

C: what does the proof for the divine existence conclude to?

D: To return to the original argument: when we say “God exists” the word “exists” is in one sense a concept said of creatures, and is present in God in the line of intention; in another sense it is said of God, as speaking to whatever mode of existence this intention has (is it a “subsistent intention”? A “property of a subject”? an “Intention that is subsumed in a subsistent relation”? Any possibility is open). There is no need for a common concept of existence in God and creatures. No transition from effect to cause as such allows us to posit any such thing.

C: Isn’t this denying that we say anythign of God substantially?

D: No, it simply says that the answer to this question is not given by proofs that conclude to God’s existence.

C: Look, a proof concludes to God existing. If this is only the way that concludes that Van Gogh is beautiful, then how is it a proof or the existence of God as such?

D: I can’t be responsible for people thinking they understand a divine proof when they don’t. If you think that a proof or God’s existence tells you something about God in his own particular nature, then you’re just wrong. Whether we say somethign about the substance of God when we say he exists is a matter or further argument.

1 Comment

  1. Brandon said,

    October 26, 2009 at 8:08 am

    This is a great dialogue; it has started me thinking about the matter in a light I really hadn’t before.

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