Commentary of “God is not a being”.

An argument in the combox at Strange Notions gave a variant on the “God is not a being” critique that I wrote a few days ago:

1) For all (x), [x exists -> x “has being”]
2) ~ “God has being.”
C) God does not exist. (1,2 by Modus Tollens)
3) If God does not exist, then atheism is true. (by definition)
C2) Atheism is true. (C,3 by Modus Ponens)

I deny 1* and the general premise of which it is an instance, since it applies only to what is derivative and not to what is primary. Because this is the case, as soon as we understand the domain in which premise 1 is true we can conclude to what classical theism calls a creator, that is, a cause of everything that exists and has existence.

Assume that heat or “what heats” is mean molecular motion. While it’s true to say both that fire heats and that it has heat, it is wrong to say both that mean molecular motion heats and that it has heat, since if we said it has heat then, by substitution, we would be saying that mean molecular motion has mean molecular motion. But this is the same sort of thing as saying that running has running or a computer has a computer, i.e. what we are saying is either ridiculous or changing the subject.

In the logical theory that classical theism draws from, things like mean molecular motion are said to relate to heat as being per se and first. They are also called “primary causes”, since it is in virtue of them that any other thing is able to cause.  This particular first cause has elements from both the formal and material order, and so we can just as easily call it a “reality” as a “cause”, and I’ll refer to the two indifferently for the rest of the post (understanding that by a reality I mean the intrinsic causes of something). Anyone engaged in systematic inquiry – not just the scientists but also a detectives, logicians, grammarians, mathematicians etc. –  is looking for this sort of thing all the time, and in fact it is exactly what we are looking for when we are trying to figure out what something is.

It follows that the sort of existence spoken of in premise 1 is derivative or secondary to a primary cause or reality. Not all that exists has being, for the same reason that not all that heats has heat. When one hits on a primary reality, the “having” predicate becomes ridiculous. In fact, the point of any systematic inquiry into “what X is” is to find that which is X without having it.**  

And so when we correctly understand the way in which premise 1 is true, it becomes a part of a defense of classical theism, or at least a very significant strain of classical theism:

1.) For all (x), [x exists -> x “has being”]

2.) But wherever this relationship obtains, one has what is derivative and secondary to a primary cause.

c.) There exists a primary cause of being for whatever has being.

3.) But the primary cause of being for whatever has being is what classical theism calls a creator.

C.) What classical theism calls a creator exists.

A more formal cosmological argument might be:

1.) The universe (or multiverse) and/or all its parts not only exist but have existence.

2.) Whatever both is X and has X is not X primarily.

3.) Therefore, the universe (or multiverse) and all its parts are not what exists primarily.

C.) Therefore, what exists primarily transcends the universe or multiverse and/or all its parts.

Contemporary people tend to want you to develop this idea a bit more before you call it “God”, but this is very doable. At any rate, the argument concludes squarely to supernatural causation, which seems to be pretty decisive against most contemporary atheisms.


*While the premise I deny is the same one denied by others on the comment thread, I don’t think the others hit on the logical principle at stake, which is one that underlies any systematic inquiry into what something is and/or what caused it to be. In other words, an unqualified acceptance of the sort of general claim in 1 ends up making all science pointless, since we have no hope of figuring out what something is or why it happened.

**Notice that this gives one very precise account of what St. Thomas calls analogy, that is, two terns whose ideas are in one sense the same and in another sense different. This analogous naming follows any primary and secondary cause, since the former is X without having it and the latter is X and has it.

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