THEISM – All you want to know

THEISM – All you want to know

THEISM - All you want to know
THEISM – All you want to know

In Part One of this book it was concluded that the laws of logic apply to reality; reality is thinkable and one cannot meaningfully entertain the thought that reality cannot be thought. Further, it was concluded that contradiction is an adequate test for falsity of a position, as is self-stultification. Any view that contradicts itself or destroys itself in the process or act of affirming itself is self-defeating and false.

We further argued that a world view, that is, a philosophical position about all that is, cannot be established as true simply on the basis of the fact that it is noncontradictory, since every major world view might be internally consistent.

In Part Two we have argued two things thus far, one explicitly and the other implicitly. First, we have argued that every major nontheistic world view may be internally noncontradictory, but that they are, nonetheless, somehow self-defeating and false. Second, by implication, this would mean that theism, the only remaining noncontradictory view, would be true by the process of elimination.

In this final chapter of Part Two we hope to show that there are good positive reasons for believing that theism is true on independent grounds. We will present an argument for the existence of the theistic God of the Bible on what appear to be undeniable premises.

A Proof for the Existence of the Theistic God of the Bible

We have already conceded in the previous chapter that the traditional ontological, teleological, moral, and Leibnizian cosmological type arguments are invalid. None of them prove that God exists. And to speak of the probability of God’s existence begs the question, because probability makes sense only if it is already supposed that this is an ordered universe (which would thereby imply an Orderer, i.e., God).

We may state briefly the logic of our position. An ontological type argument moving from thought alone to reality is always invalid for it is always logically possible that nothing ever existed including God.1 All other arguments moving from experience (whether internal or external) to something beyond experience imply that there must be some cause or reason for the fact(s) from which they began.

The teleological argument supposes that every design must have a designer that caused it; the moral argument presupposes that every law must be caused by a lawgiver, and so on. Hence, all a posteriori arguments move from effect to cause, that is, from fact to sufficient explanation of that fact. This means that the moral. Ideological, and like arguments are based on the cosmological argument.2

Now the heart of the traditional cosmological argument is based on the principle of sufficient reason that affirms everything must have a cause either within itself or beyond itself. But as was observed in the last chapter, this principle leads either to an infinite regress of looking for a cause for everything including God or else it leads to a contradictory first cause that is causing itself to exist. Such is the apparent dilemma facing a theist: a priori proofs are invalid and a posteriori proofs are based on the causal principle that leads either to an infinite regress or to a contradiction.

Despite the seeming dilemma, all is not hopeless. The theist need not claim that everything has a cause; he need not use the Leibnizian principle of sufficient reason.3 Rather, he can return to the thomistic principle of existential causality which claims that every finite, contingent, and changing thing has a cause. If this principle is sound and leads to an infinite, necessary, and unchanging Being, then this Being will not need a cause. God will be the Uncaused Cause of everything else that exists. Such is the direction this chapter will take in developing a proof for the existence of God.

The Overall Logic of This Argument That God Exists
The Overall Logic of This Argument That God Exists

The Overall Logic of This Argument That God Exists4

First, let us outline the overall structure of this argument for theism.

  1. Some things undeniably exist (e.g., I cannot deny my own existence).
  2. My nonexistence is possible.
  3. Whatever has the possibility not to exist is currently caused to exist by another.
  4. There cannot be an infinite regress of current causes of existence.
  5. Therefore, a first uncaused cause of my current existence exists.
  6. This uncaused cause must be infinite, unchanging, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-perfect.
  7. This infinitely perfect Being is appropriately called “God.”
  8. Therefore, God exists.
  9. This God who exists is identical to the God described in the Christian Scriptures.
  10. Therefore, the God described in the Bible exists.

The Detailed Elaboration of Each Step in This Theistic Proof

With this outline in mind we will elaborate each point in detail. Since the argument cannot validly begin in the thin air of pure thought, it must establish itself firmly in the soil of undeniable existence.

Something Exists.

It is undeniable that something exists. No one can deny his own existence without affirming it. One must exist in order to deny that he exists, which is self-defeating. But whatever is undeniable is true, and what is unaffirmable is false. Hence, it is undeniably true that I exist.

It should be noted here that this argument is not claiming that one’s own existence is rationally inescapable. It is logically possible that I do not exist; but since I do exist, it is actually undeniable that I do exist. So while my existence may be contingent (i.e., it may be possible that I not exist), nevertheless, while I do exist is actually undeniable that I do exist. Hence, so long as someone exists he may begin the process of moving from the premise that something exists to the conclusion that something necessarily exists (i.e.. God).

My Nonexistence Is Possible.

Something undeniably exists. This existence must fit one of three logical categories: impossible, possible, or necessary. And reality is subject to the law of noncontradiction; reality cannot be contradictory. We will argue that since my existence is neither impossible nor necessary, it follows that it must be possible for me not to exist.

First, my existence is not impossible. I do exist and undeniably so. But what exists proves that its existence is actually possible. Only impossible things (like square circles) cannot exist. My actuality proves that it is possible for me to exist. Hence, my existence is not impossible.

Further, my existence is not necessary. A necessary existence is one that cannot not exist. The nonexistence of a necessary Being is impossible. If there is a necessary Being, then it must exist necessarily. There is no other way a necessary Being could exist than to exist necessarily.

(1) What is more, a necessary existence would be pure actuality with no potentiality whatsoever. If it had any potentiality with regard to its existence, then it would be possible for it not to exist. But this is precisely what a necessary existence cannot do; it is not possible for a necessary existence not to exist. Therefore, a necessary existence would be pure actuality with no potentiality in its being whatsoever.

(2) Also, a necessary existence would be changeless. Whatever changes must have the possibility for change. If change were impossible then it could not change. But a necessary Being has no possibility whatsoever.

(3) A necessary existence would have to be a nontemporal and nonspatial existence. If space and time involve change of position and moment, then a necessary existence could not be either spatial or temporal in its being. Its being cannot change, and both space and time involve change.

(4) Further, a necessary existence would have to be eternal. If it ever did not exist, then it would be a possible existence. But it has no possibility at all with regard to nonexistence. Whatever comes to be is not a necessary existence, for whatever comes to be moves from a state of potentiality to a state of actuality with regard to existence. And a necessary Being has no potentiality in its being whatsoever. Likewise, for the same reason a necessary Being could not ever cease to be. It has no possibility for nonexistence either.

(5) There can be only one necessary existence. What is pure actuality must be one since there is no way for one thing to differ from another in its being unless there is some real potentiality for differentiation. But in a being of pure actuality there is no potential whatsoever. Hence, there is no real differentiation in it. All of it is one; there cannot be two or more, since neither would really be different from the other in its being.

(6) A necessary existence would have to be simple and undivided. It could not be composed of different parts or elements. There is no principle of differentiation in it; all is simply one. Further, whatever is composed could be decomposed or destroyed. But it is impossible to destroy the existence of a necessary Being. If it exists at all, then it must be, and it cannot not be. Hence, a necessary existence must be simple and undivided.

(7) A necessary existence would have to be infinite in whatever attributes it possesses. If it is knowing, then it must be all-knowing. If powerful, then it must be all-powerful. If good, then it must be all-good. The reason for this is simple enough: only what has potentiality can be limited. Limitation means that which differentiates the sphere of one thing from another. Pure actuality is being pure and simple; everything else only has being in one form or another depending on its limiting potential. Pure actuality would be unlimited by any potential in and of itself. The only limitations on pure actuality are those of possibility outside it. Even pure actuality could not know or perform the impossible.

(8) Finally, a necessary Being must be an uncaused being. Whatever is caused passes from potentiality to actuality, for that is what causality means. But a necessary Being has no potentiality and it cannot change. Therefore, it is clear that a necessary Being cannot be caused. And since a self-caused being is impossible, it must be concluded that a necessary Being is an uncaused being.

Now from the above description of what a necessary existence would be, if there were one, it is both obvious and undeniable that I am not a necessary existence. First, I am a changing being. I change in space, time, and knowledge. I do not always live the same moment nor in the same place or relation to the world. This is an obvious fact of my experience.

Further, it is an undeniable fact of experience that I change in knowledge. Even if I claim to have come to the realization that my knowledge is unchanging, I have not avoided changing in my knowledge. For anyone who “comes to realize” or know something has in fact changed in his knowledge. There was the state of realization before he believed, which was followed by the different state in which he came to believe that he is unchanging in knowledge.

Hence, it is really impossible to come to know that one has unchanging knowledge. If there is anyone with unchanging knowledge, he would always have known it. But if I change in any way then I am not a necessary Being, because a necessary Being is both simple and unchanging. As simple, it has no parts and, hence, cannot be partly anything. Whatever it is, it is wholly and completely.

In addition, an unchanging being could not know anything in a changing way. Things could change, but its knowledge of them could not. All it knows it would have to know always. It follows, therefore, that I am not a necessary existence. For I know in a changing way, and a necessary existence could not possibly know in a changing way.

Second, I am not alone. I use language, but no language is entirely private.5 Language is a medium of communication shared with others. By language I speak to others. I cannot deny that I use language without using it. And I cannot deny that I use it to speak to others without speaking something to others. Not all language is emotive self-muttering. Even atheists publish books expecting others to read them. Whenever I use language with others I use it to speak to them.

When I make utterances strictly by myself, I mean nothing for others; I am simply emoting and mean nothing by it. But it is impossible to deny that I mean something by language without uttering a meaningful statement, which is thereby self-defeating. All who deny there is an other for whom their statement is meant either make no meaningful statement or else really have an other in mind for whom that statement is meant. In short, both the fact and use of language imply others. Without others there would be no language and no meaningful statement would ever have been made.

But it is undeniable that some meaningful statement has been made; otherwise that very statement would be meaningless. Hence, it follows that I am not alone; others are necessarily implied in my use of language. But more than one being cannot be necessary. There can only be one necessary Being, as was shown above. Wherever there is a multiplicity of beings, they must be limited; there cannot be many infinite beings.

But where there is a limited being there must be a limiting potential. Hence, I as a limited being, among others, have both actuality (because I am) and limiting potentiality, because I am not infinite. This means that I cannot be a necessary Being. A necessary Being has no limiting potential, as was shown above. Therefore, both change and multiplicity in what exists show that what I am is not a necessary Being.

We are now in a position to put the argument together. I exist; this cannot be denied. My existence cannot be impossible since I actually exist. Nor can my existence be necessary since my existence implies both change and multiplicity, neither of which a necessary Being can have. The only remaining alternative is that my existence must be a possible existence. That is, I am but I might not be.

My nonexistence is actually possible. I can come to be, and I can cease to be. I am a “may-be” but not a “must-be.” Although I exist, nevertheless I have the potentiality within my very being not to exist. I could go out of existence at any moment. I am contingent as well as limited and changing.

Whatever Has the Possibility for Nonexistence Is Currently Caused to Exist by Another.

Whatever has the possibility of nonexistence must be caused to exist by another because potentiality is not actuality. What is but could possibly not be is only a potential existence. It has existence but it also has the possibility of nonexistence.

Now the very existence of this potential existent is either self-caused, caused by another, or uncaused; there are no other possibilities. But it cannot be self-caused since this is impossible. Neither can it be uncaused. For if it were uncaused, then mere possibility would be the ground of actuality. But nothing cannot produce something.6 It must be concluded, then, that whatever has the possibility for nonexistence must be caused to exist by another. Let us now elaborate the argument.

First of all, by “causality” we mean the actualization of a potential. A “cause,” then, is that which affects a transition from potentiality to actuality. Further, no being whether contingent or necessary can be self-caused. A self-caused being would have to be ontologically prior to itself. It would have to be simultaneously in a state of actuality and potentiality with regard to being, which is impossible.

Potentiality is not actuality; nothing is not something. A cause of being must exist in order to cause. And what is to be caused must not exist or else its existence does not need to be caused. Hence, in order to cause one’s own existence one must simultaneously exist and not exist, which is impossible.

Furthermore, a being that could possibly not exist cannot be uncaused. Its being is only possible and not necessary. It is not a must-be but only a may-be which is. But the possible is not the actual; mere possibility does not account for actuality. The impossible cannot be, the possible can be, and the necessary must be. The impossible can never come to be, the necessary can never come to be or cease to be, but the possible can come to be and cease to be. But whatever can come to be must be caused to be.

For something cannot come from nothing; the mere potential for being cannot actualize itself. If it is an actualized potentiality, then it either actualized itself or else it was actualized by something outside itself. But no being can actualize its own existence. The actualization of a potentiality is what is meant by causality. Hence, to actualize one’s own potential for being would mean to cause one’s own being, which is impossible.

However, since the existence of possible beings has actualized, it follows that there is a cause of existence outside them which actualizes their existence. In short, the actual does not come from the potential unless something outside it actualizes its potential. No potential can actualize itself. The potential for being does not account for the existence of something. Many things which could possibly exist do not exist, for example, centaurs, mermaids, and Pegasus. Why then do other things which might not exist actually exist?

The only adequate explanation for why there is something rather than nothing at all is that the something that could be nothing is caused to exist by something that cannot be nothing. In brief, all contingent beings are caused by a necessary Being. Whatever is but might not be is dependent on what is but cannot not be.

Another way to see the need for a cause of all possible beings is to analyze the very nature or kind of existence it has. If there were a necessary Being it would be pure actuality with no potentiality in its being whatsoever. Impossible beings have neither actuality nor potentiality; they are not and cannot be. But possible beings have both potentiality and actuality in their very being. They consist of coprinciples of being. In Latin, their ens (being) is composed of esse (act of existence) and essentia (essence).

But whatever is composed of esse and essence must be caused to exist by another. Esse cannot cause itself and essence cannot cause esse. What something is does not explain the fact that it is, unless it is a necessary Being whose very essence is to exist. But it is not of the essence of a possible being, such as I am, to exist. It is of my essence that I might not exist even though I do indeed exist.

Hence, since it is not of my essence to exist and since it is only of the essence of a necessary Being to exist, then it follows that we must seek for the ground or cause of every possible being such as I am.7

There is perhaps an even easier way to see the need for a cause of every contingent or possible being. An infinite and unchanging being must be uncaused. But there can only be one such being, as was shown earlier (see p. 239ff.). Therefore, every other being must be caused by another, since to be self-caused is impossible. Since I am not a necessary Being, it must be concluded that I (and every other contingent being that exists) must be caused to exist by a cause beyond me (us).

Before leaving this point it should be stressed that all causality of existence is current. What is called for is not a cause for my becoming but for my continued be-ing8 The argument rests on conserving causality, not originating causality. The reason for this is very simple: I am right now a contingent being; it is not that I once was contingent when I came to be but now am not. Whatever was once contingent will always be contingent; for whatever can come to be is not a necessary Being.

A necessary Being cannot come to be; it must ever be and may never not be. This means that whenever I am contingent and however long I remain contingent I will always need a cause of my existence. In fact it is misleading to speak of “existence” as though it were something one could get all at once in a package to keep for the rest of his life. What we have is not really existence but a continual moment by moment process of existing. We do not have being but continuous be-ing.

What causes me to be when I need not be nor continue to be? This is the real metaphysical question that only theism can answer adequately. All causality of existing or be-ing is simultaneous and current. The cause of becoming may be before the effect, but the cause of be-ing must be concurrent with the effect. The cause of my here-and-now existence must be vertical and not linear.

The artist is the cause of the becoming of the painting but not of its continued being. The artist dies but the painting continues to be. Likewise, the parents are the cause of the coming-to-be of the child but something else must be the cause of the child’s continuing-to-be, since he continues to exist without the parents.

There Cannot Be an Infinite Regress of Current Causes of Existence

Since all causality of existence is current and simultaneous, it can be readily seen why an infinite regress is impossible.9 It is not necessarily contradictory to speak of an infinite regress of causes of becoming, because no cause is simultaneously existing and not existing. But a chain of causes, however short or long, wherein every cause is simultaneously both actual and potential with regard to existence, is clearly impossible.

If there were a series of causes wherein each cause was both causing existence and having its existence caused at the same moment, then it would follow that they were both potential and actual simultaneously. Furthermore, at least one (if not all) of the causes would be an impossible self-caused being. For in every series where causality is occurring at least one cause must be causing (and maybe all of them). But in an infinite series every cause is being caused by another.

If there were found one cause that was causing but not being caused it would be the uncaused cause which the infinite series seeks to avoid. Hence, the one (or more) cause that is doing the causing of every cause must be causing itself, since it too is being caused (as are all the other causes) by the causality in the series. But the only causality in the series is being given to the series by that cause itself. Hence, that one cause would be causing itself; that is, it would be a self-caused being, which is impossible.

Another way to put the impossibility of an infinite regress of current causes of contingent beings is to point out that either the series as a whole is a sufficient ground for all contingent beings or it is not. If not then there must be some being outside the series on which the series is grounded. In this case the series would be dependent on a cause beyond it and, hence, it would not avoid the theistic conclusion that there must be a cause beyond the alleged series. Either the causality which is admitted to be in the series comes from within the series or it comes from beyond the series.

If it comes from beyond the series, then the series is dependent on a cause which is independent of the series. If the causality is within the series, then there is simultaneous mutual self-causality going on. But adding up an infinite number of dependent beings within a series does not provide an adequate ground for them. If each being is a caused being, as they are admitted to be by the very nature of the series, then adding up all these effects does not provide a cause for these effects.

No amount of effects equals a cause. If the parts are contingent then the whole is contingent. Making the series longer or even infinitely long does not lessen the need for a grounding cause to explain it; rather, it increases the need for a cause. If a chain with five links in it needs a peg to hang on, then a chain with an infinite number of links would need an even stronger peg outside itself to hang on. Therefore, an infinite regress of current causes of here-and-now existence is impossible.

A point often overlooked in the question of an infinite regress is that there could not be an infinitely long series of causes of contingent beings because there could not even be a one-link chain between the cause of being and the being caused.10 The very first cause of contingent being could not itself be contingent. No contingent being can cause another being to exist. What does not account for its own existence could not possibly ground the existence of another.

How can what is an effect with regard to its own existence be a cause with regard to another’s existence? What is in a state of potentiality regarding existence for itself cannot simultaneously be in a state of actuality for the existence of another. The only possible ground for what can pass from potentiality to actuality (viz., a contingent being) with regard to being is what cannot pass from potentiality to actuality (i.e., a necessary Being). Those things whose being is an effect cannot be causes of being. What receives its existence from another cannot be the cause of another’s existence.

Only what is actual can actualize; what is in a state of potentiality can be actualized but it cannot actualize. But every contingent being is in a state of potentiality regarding being. Therefore, no contingent being can cause being. Only a necessary Being can cause the existence of a contingent being. Therefore, the very first being causing the existence of a contingent being must be a necessary Being.

Therefore, a First, Uncaused Cause of My Current Existence Exists

This conclusion follows logically and necessarily from the above premises. If I undeniably exist and if my nonexistence is possible, then I must have a cause that actualizes my existence. For I am not nonexistent but I could be. But the cause of all contingent existence, such as I am, cannot itself be contingent.

If it were contingent then it would not be the cause of the contingent; it too would be an effect. But it is the cause of the contingent, since the contingent undeniably needs a cause. Hence, the very first cause of my contingent existence is non-contingent, that is, it is a necessary Being. There cannot be any chain of such causes, surely not an infinite chain; the very first cause must be the necessary ground of all contingent existence.

This first cause of all else that exists must itself be un-caused. It cannot be self-caused (which is impossible) and it cannot be caused by another, because it is necessary and a necessary Being cannot be caused by another. Whatever is caused has the potentiality for existence, but a necessary Being is pure actuality without any potentiality. Therefore, a necessary Being cannot be caused.

It is literally the not-caused cause of all that is caused. It is the not-affected effecter of all effects. It is the necessary ground of all actualized possibility. There is, then, an un-caused cause of the existence of all that is caused to exist, of which I am one undeniable example.

This Uncaused Cause Must Be Infinite, Unchanging, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and All-Perfect.

We have already seen that a necessary Being must be necessary, pure actuality, changeless, nonspatial, non-temporal, one, simple, infinite, and uncaused (see p. 239ff.). It remains here to see whether it must be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-perfect.

By power we mean what can effect a change in another, that is, what can cause something else to be or not be in some way. But this is precisely what the uncaused cause is, namely, that which is causing the very being of all that exists. Further, this uncaused cause is infinite in its being. Hence, it has non-limited causal power in its very being which can effect anything that it is possible to effect. Of course, it does not have power to do what is impossible. The impossible cannot be. This unlimited cause cannot not be. But it has the power to make come to be whatever can come to be.

Further, this infinite cause of all that is must be all-knowing.11 It must be knowing because knowing beings exist. I am a knowing being, and I know it. I cannot meaningfully deny that I can know without engaging in an act of knowledge. Total agnosticism is impossible. But whatever I am, I have been caused to be. I cause my own becoming (this is what freedom is), but only the necessary Being is the cause of my be-ing.

Hence, the actual ability to know (which I possess) is caused to be by the cause of all finite beings. But a cause can communicate to its effect only what it has to communicate. If the effect actually possesses some characteristic, then this characteristic is properly attributed to its cause. The cause cannot give what it does not have to give. If my mind or ability to know is received, then there must be Mind or Knower who gave it to me.

The intellectual does not arise from the nonintellectual; something cannot arise from nothing. The cause of knowing, however, is infinite. Therefore, it must know infinitely. It is also simple, eternal, and unchanging. Hence, whatever it knows—and it knows anything it is possible to know—it must know simply, eternally, and in an unchanging way.

The only thing such a Mind cannot know is what is impossible for it to know. For example, an infinite mind cannot know what it is like to be finite or changing in its knowledge or experience. Since there is no potentiality or finitude in this infinite cause, then the one way it cannot be like its effects is that it cannot be finite, potential, and so on. But since what it causes has both potentiality and actuality, the infinite cause is like the effect in its actuality but not like the effect in its finitude.

Therefore, whatever implies limitations in the world cannot be attributed to the cause of the world. Likewise, since the cause is pure actuality, whatever potentials it causes in other things must not be attributed to the cause which has no potentialities in its being. The cause is like the effect only in the actuality it communicates.12

For example, hot eggs are like the hot water in which they boil, but the hardness in the eggs caused by boiling is not in the water that causes it (the water is mobile or soft). Heat communicates heat but the hot water does not communicate hardness to the egg. Hot water melts other things (e.g., wax). The hardness (or softness) is due not to the actuality communicated by the cause but to the condition or potentiality of the effect to receive causal efficacy. Likewise, not everything in the creature’s knowledge can be attributed to the Creator.

Some things are due to the finite and limiting potentials in which the causal power is received. It is for this reason that ignorance and other imperfections found in our knowledge cannot be attributed to the Cause of the world. Only the actual perfections communicated to the effect by its cause can be properly attributed to the cause.

Man knows finitely and imperfectly but the cause of all knowledge knows infinitely and perfectly. There is a similarity in what is known but a great difference in the way it is known. In brief, if we can know some things, the Creator can know all things. With us some knowledge is possible; with him all knowledge is actual.

Finally, for the same reason that the cause of knowing must be all-knowing, the cause of goodness must be all-good.13 Let us define good as that which is desired for its own sake. It is undeniable that some things are desired for their own sake.

Persons are an end and not a means; they have intrinsic value and not merely extrinsic value. But what if an end with intrinsic value is desired for its own sake? There are two arguments that we can offer in support of this contention. First, persons do want to be desired for their own sake.

Men do expect to be treated as ends, to be loved and not used. The proof of this is not how men act toward others nor even the way they say men ought to act toward others; the proof is the way they expect others to act toward them. In order to discover if a man really believes it is good to be just, do not look at the way he acts toward others; rather, look at the way he re-acts when others do something to him.

The quickest way to convince an antinomian student that he really believes in the principle of fairness is to give him an F on his brilliant term paper simply because you do not like the color of the folder in which it was enclosed! The most effective way to find out if a man believes it is wrong to break promises is to break a promise made to him.

Now if there is such a thing as good or that which is desired for its own sake, then it must be caused by the Creator of all that is. (It must be remembered that we are the cause of the becoming of good acts via our free choice, but the Creator is the cause of the be-ing of all good.)

Second, that there are values or goods desired for their own sake seems undeniable. For even the person denying all goods is enjoying the good of being able to express that opinion. There is an implicit good of personhood and freedom manifest in the freedom to deny that there are any such intrinsic goods. How can a person deny his value as a person without evidencing his value as a person in the act of making the denial?

But the cause of good must be Good, since it cannot give what it does not have to give. All actualities actualized in the effect must preexist in the cause. But since the cause of all goodness is infinite, it follows that he must be infinitely good. For whatever the infinite cause “has,” he must be in the infinity of his being. Since he is simple and has no parts he cannot be partly anything. Whatever he is, he is entirely and completely.

Therefore, the infinite and necessary Cause of all good must be infinitely and necessarily good. The unchanging Cause of all changing things must be unchangingly good. The cause of personhood cannot be less than personal himself. He may be much more than is meant by finite person but he cannot be less; he may be superpersonal but he is not subpersonal.

This Infinitely Perfect Being Is Appropriately Called “God.”

By “God” we mean what is worthy of worship, that is, what has ultimate worthship. Or, in other words, “God” is the Ultimate who is deserving of an ultimate commitment.14 “God” is that which has ultimate intrinsic value—what can be desired for his own sake as a person.

Anything less than what is ultimately and intrinsically worthy of our admiration and submission is not really “God” but a false god. An ultimate commitment to what is less than ultimate is idolatry. It may be a religious commitment, but it is a commitment to an object that is less than religiously worthy or adequate.

Now if the foregoing arguments (pp. 239–249) are sound, we have good reason to believe that an ultimate value worthy of our worship or ultimate commitment does indeed exist. For what is infinitely good (and personal), and is the ground and creator of all finite goods and persons, is certainly worthy of worship. Nothing has more intrinsic value than the ultimate ground and source of all value.

Hence, nothing is more worthy of worship than the infinitely perfect uncaused cause of all else that exists. Therefore, it is appropriate to call this infinitely perfect cause “God.”

Therefore, God Exists. We may conclude, then, that God exists. What in religion is known as the ultimate object of worship or commitment (viz.. God) is by reason known to exist. Hence, what philosophy leads to (via the above argument) is not an abstract unmoved Mover but a real concrete Ground for our being and personal object whom we can love “with all our soul, strength, heart, and mind.” The God the heart needs, the head has good reason to believe really exists.

This God Who Exists Is Identical to the God Described in the Christian Scriptures
This God Who Exists Is Identical to the God Described in the Christian Scriptures

This God Who Exists Is Identical to the God Described in the Christian Scriptures

The God described in the Bible is said to be eternal (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), changeless (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:18), infinite (I Kings 8:27; Isa. 66:1), all-loving (John 3:16; I John 4:16), and all-powerful (Heb. 1:3; Matt. 19:26). But there cannot be two infinitely perfect, changeless, eternal beings.

First, there can be only one infinite and necessary Being, as was shown above (p. 239f.). Second, there could not be two beings who have all possible perfections attributable to them. For in order to be two beings one would have to differ from the other; where there is no difference in being there is only one being. But there can be no difference unless one being has something the other does not.

But if there is something that an infinite being can have but one lacks, then the one lacking it is not absolutely perfect. Hence, there is only one absolutely perfect being. But if there cannot be two such beings, then the God described in the Bible is identical to the God concluded from the above argument.

Therefore, the God Described in the Bible Exists

If there is only one God and the God described in the Bible is identical in characteristics to him, then it follows logically that the God described in the Bible exists. For there cannot be two infinitely perfect beings; there cannot be two such ultimates or absolutes, and so forth. Hence, the God portrayed in Scripture does indeed exist.

This does not mean that everything the Bible claims that this God said or did, he actually said or did. Whether or not what the Bible says about this God is true is another question. What we may conclude here is two things: first, the God described in the Bible does exist; second, whatever the Bible claims for this God that is not inconsistent with his nature, it is possible that he did indeed do or say.

An Evaluation of Theism as a World View

Theism has been subject to many criticisms. They fall roughly into two classifications: first, those that attempt to disprove theism via some argument for atheism (these were discussed in the previous chapter); second, those criticisms that attempt to prove that theism is not true. The latter category may be divided into two groups: those based on a priori type arguments such as the ontological argument and those based on a posteriori type arguments such as the teleological, moral, and cosmological arguments.

Valid Criticisms Against Theistic Arguments

Many of the criticisms against theism are valid. Of these the following may be mentioned from the writings of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and some modern followers.15

Strictly A Priori Arguments About God Are Invalid. Nontheists have been correct in observing that there is an invalid move in every purely ontological type argument. One cannot argue from the mere concept of an absolutely perfect or necessary Being to its existence the way Anselm or Descartes did. For the rational is not the real and neither is the rationally inescapable the real (see Chapter 2). Even if it is logically necessary to conceive of a necessary Being as necessarily existing, it does not follow that It necessarily does exist.

It might be necessary to think that It exists but this does not prove that It really does exist. It is necessary to think of triangles with three sides on them; there is no other way to think of triangles. However, it is still possible that no triangles exist. All the nontheist must show is that there is a logical possibility that a necessary Being does not exist. This can be readily illustrated from the fact that it is a logical possibility that nothing ever existed including God. For the nonexistence of everything is a logically conceivable state of affairs.

If a theist objects that the proposition “nothing exists” is un-affirmable without self-destruction, the nontheist may correctly reply that this is true only because one is really beginning with the actual existence of the affirmer. But to argue “something actually exists undeniably so (viz., an affirmer), therefore, it is unaffirmable that nothing exists” is not the same as arguing from the mere inconceivability of the non-existence of a necessary Being. The necessity is merely conceptual and not actual. And if there is no actual necessity that God exists, then it is conceivable that he does not exist.

But in this case the theistic proof fails. Invoking actually the undeniability that something exists to rescue the argument from collapse really imports a cosmological move from experience and the argument is no longer strictly a priori. It says in effect, I exist, therefore, one cannot deny that something necessarily exists. But this is a move from what does exist to a necessary ground or cause for its existence, which is not an a priori argument but an a posteriori type argument from effect to cause.16

There is no purely rational a priori way to prove God’s existence. A Posteriori Arguments Are Also Logically Invalid. Nontheists are correct in observing that there is no way to provide a rationally inescapable argument a posteriori. Experience is never logically necessary. The opposite of any state of affairs in the world is always logically possible.

From flux only flux can come. The existence of God cannot be proven without appealing to some principle that is truly independent of experience. But to import an a priori principle is to open the argument to two criticisms. First, no a priori based argument is valid; there are no rationally inescapable arguments about reality, as was just shown. Second, even if one combines a posteriori experience and some a priori based principle, there is still the problem of the justification of that principle.

The principle most often invoked by theists is the Leibnizian principle of sufficient reason. It is argued by theists that this principle is self-evidently true or it is reducible to the law of noncontradiction. But arguments in support of the principle of sufficient reason fail. For it is not contradictory to deny the principle of sufficient reason. The statement “some things do not have sufficient reasons” is not contradictory. It would be contradictory to affirm “nothing has a sufficient reason,” for that assertion would include itself.

And either there is a sufficient reason for affirming there is no sufficient reason for anything (in which case the statement is self-defeating) or else there is not a sufficient reason for saying so (in which case there is no justification or basis for making the statement). But simply to deny the principle of sufficient reason by claiming that some things do not have sufficient reasons is not contradictory or self-defeating. Many theists and nontheists believe that something(s) is simply un-caused.

Something(s) could simply be “there” or “given” without the need for a cause. Sartre claims that the world is simply there with no explanation or cause needed; Aquinas believed that God was simply there eternally and necessarily as an un-caused Being. It seems both intelligible and defensible to affirm that something is without a cause or sufficient reason. But if it is logically possible that something can exist without a cause, then any theistic argument based on this principle is doomed to demonstrative failure.

Is there any way out for theism? Can the existence of God be proven, if both a posteriori and a priori routes are blocked? We believe the answer is affirmative and that the route is by a combination of the a priori self-evident principle of existential causality combined with the undeniable a posteriori fact that something contingent exists (as was argued above, pp. 239–250).

This argument is not subject to many of the traditional antitheistic arguments. First of all, it is not based on logical necessity; it admits that reality cannot be established by logical necessity. It acknowledges that it is logically possible (i.e., conceivable) that nothing ever existed including God. Hence there are no rationally inescapable proofs for the existence of God. The contrary to any state of affairs is alwayslogically possible. Second, not everything from experience lacks certainty.

I am certain that I exist; I cannot deny that I exist without affirming that I exist in that very denial. Hence, it is undeniable (though not logically necessary) that something exists. For even though my nonexistence is not inconceivable, it is unaffirmable. Or, positively put, my nonexistence can be conceived but it cannot be affirmed. I undeniably exist. Finally, the principle of existential causality is self-evidently true.

It may be stated this way: “everything that has been actualized has an actualizer” or “everything that passes from potentiality to actuality does so under the influence of some actuality.” Simply stated it is: “every effect has a cause.” Once one understands that an “effect” is something that is caused and a “cause” is that which can produce an effect, then the principle of causality is as self-evident as “all wives are married women.”

One need do no more than examine the nature of the subject and predicate to see that the predicate is reducible to the subject; they are both saying the same thing. With this in mind the basic theistic argument (pp. 239–250) can be summarized as follows:

Every effect has a cause;

The world is an effect;

Therefore, the world has a cause.

Unsuccessful Attempts to Invalidate the Argument for Theism. Most traditional arguments of Huroe,17 Kant,18 and others do not touch the above argument for theism; and other arguments fail as well. Let us examine some of the more important ones.

An Infinite Regress of Causes Is Impossible

An infinite regress of current simultaneous causes of what exists here-and-now is clearly not possible (see p. 245). There may be an infinite series of causes of becoming but not an infinite series of causes of here-and-now being. As long as there is a dependent being in the universe, there must be something independent on which it depends. If there is an existing effect, something must be effecting or causing it. No effect exists without its cause. If something existed without a cause then it would not be an effect; it would be self-caused or uncaused.

But since I am not self-caused or uncaused (p. 243), then my existence must be effected or caused by a cause. Hence, my existence demands a current here-and-now cause of its continuing be-ing. But one never reaches the needed cause by adding up effects; even an infinite number of effects never equals a cause. Hence, no infinite series of effects (which is what a serial “cause” is, since every “cause” in an infinite series is being caused by another) can ever replace the need for a cause of that which is being caused right now (viz., my existence).

The Principle of Causality Is Justifiable
The Principle of Causality Is Justifiable

The Principle of Causality Is Justifiable

The principle of existential causality—that every existing effect has a current cause—is justifiable (see p. 244). In fact it is self-evidently true once one understands what is meant by “cause” and “effect.” A “cause” is that which is producing an effect and an “effect” is that which is being produced by a cause. The real issue is not seeing the self-evident validity of the principle of causality, but it is with showing that the world is an “effect.”

The method by which this is accomplished may be described as a metaphysical analysis or unpacking of the nature of a finite, limited, changing being of which I am undeniably one. The argument may be summarized this way: my current existence must be either self-caused (which is impossible), uncaused, or caused by another. But it cannot be uncaused because I am a possible existence, that is, one that exists but might possibly not exist.

But whatever is only in potentiality to being must have a cause. For the potential is not the actual; no potential can actualize itself any more than the mere potential for a rock to be a building can form it into a building. Potentialities are actualized only by actualizers; things whose capacity has been actualized are caused by another. Hence, whatever exists but might not exist is caused to exist by another. But the world might not exist. Therefore, the world is caused by another, that is, the world is an “effect.”

The World as a Whole Needs a Cause

Nontheists sometimes object to the theistic argument on the basis that only parts of the world need a cause but not the world as a whole. They see the theistic argument as the fallacy of composition. Simply because each part of a puzzle is triangular does not mean the whole puzzle is triangularly shaped. But this objection does not apply to the above argument because the very nature of the parts demands that the whole world be caused. For example, by the very nature of brown floor tile, a whole floor of them must also be brown.19

Likewise, by the very nature of a wooden table, if each part is made of wood, then the whole table must be wooden. So it is that by the very nature of effects or caused things that the whole group of them needs a cause just as much as any one of them does. It is possible that the whole world might not exist. The world as a whole is contingent. And whatever is contingent is dependent on a cause beyond it. Hence, there must be a cause beyond the whole world on which it depends.

Sometimes nontheists press this argument a step further. They argue that the whole is more than the parts the way a triangle (A) is more than a three-sided figure (?). All the parts are there in the latter but it lacks the wholeness of the former. In this sense, they say, the whole universe could be necessary while all of the parts are merely contingent on the whole. This move, however, is insufficient because it proves to be only a back door kind of theism.

By admitting that the whole transcends, or is more than the parts, and that the whole is both eternal and necessary, and that all the parts depend on it, they have admitted there is a transcendent, eternal, necessary cause on which everything in the universe depends for its existence. But this is what the theist means by God! The nontheist has simply couched his description of God in the phrase “universe as a whole,” by which he means the same thing the theist means by “God.”

However, if the “universe” is thought of merely as equal to the sum total of all the contingent, changing, and finite parts, then there must be a cause beyond it to ground its existence as whole or sum total. If, on the other hand, “universe” means what is eternal, necessary, and more than the sum of all the parts, then it is the equivalent of what the theist calls God. But in either case one cannot avoid the conclusion that God exists.

There Is No Four-Term Fallacy in the Theistic Argument

Some nontheists have insisted that the argument for theism equivocates on the term cause. They insist that the word cause in the premises means “finite cause” but in the conclusion it means “infinite cause.”20 But the meaning of the same term may not be broader or different in the conclusion than in the premises.

Therefore, the conclusion of an infinite God is invalidly drawn from the premises of the argument. However, this objection misses the meaning of “cause” in the premises. “Cause” in the premise simply means “that actuality (whether finite or infinite) which produces an effect.” In other words, in the premises it is an open question as to whether it is an infinite or a finite cause.

But as it turns out, the conclusion demands a not-finite kind of cause which is causing everything else that exists (see p. 247). For every finite thing needs a cause; hence, the first cause must be not-finite. If it were finite, then it too would need a cause. But since it does not have a cause it must be a not-finite (i.e., in-finite) cause of all finite things. Therefore, an infinite cause is possible in the premise but necessitated by the conclusion of the argument. No four-term fallacy has occurred.

The Terms Necessary Being and Uncaused Cause Are Not Meaningless

Some nontheists insist that the terms Necessary Being, Uncaused Cause, or their equivalents have no meaning.21 Necessity, they claim, cannot be a characteristic of existence; necessity is a logical but not an ontological category. There are several ways to respond to this. First, the theist might claim that God is not a logically necessary Being but the statement “God exists” is a logically necessary statement.

In this case, either the nontheist’s contention is self-defeating or else it does not really succeed in eliminating the possibility that some logically necessary statements about existence are possible. For either his statement is a necessary statement about existence or it is not. If it is a necessary statement about existence to the effect that no necessary statements about existence can be made, then it is self-destructive.

On the other hand, if it is not a necessary statement about existence, then it leaves open the possibility that there might be some necessary statement (s) about existence. Second, the nontheist’s argument confuses two kinds of necessity: logical necessity and ontological necessity. We have already conceded that no reality (God included) is logically necessary. Hence, we are willing to grant the nontheist the point that it is meaningless to speak of God as a logically necessary Being.

But the nontheist has not proven that any contradiction has been shown regarding the meaningfulness of an actually necessary Being. The only way to understand “necessary Being” as contradictory is to view it as self-caused rather than as un-caused. Furthermore, if the above theistic argument is valid, then it is undeniably true that an actually necessary ground of the whole contingent is not only meaningful and possible but it is actually necessary.

For an actual effect demands an actual cause, and a contingent being demands a necessary Being to ground it. Therefore, it follows that the actual contingent world demands an actually necessary Being as its cause.

Nontheists sometimes claim that the terms necessary Being and uncaused Cause are purely negative or vacuous concepts devoid of all positive meaning. This objection is clearly not valid. There is a negative element in the concept but it is not entirely negative. God is not finite; this is the negative element. But God is a Cause whose essence is pure actuality, knowing, good, and so on; these are all positive concepts.

That is, our positive knowledge of the term God is provided by the similarity he bears to all perfections in the created being by way of the causal connection. However, since God is a not-finite (i.e., infinite) kind of cause, knower, good, and so on, then these positive attributes must be affirmed of God in an infinite or unlimited manner (see p. 247 above). Thus, there is both positive content in our understanding of God and a negative removal of all limitation in the affirmations about his essense.22

Finally, it is self-defeating to deny any meaning to the term God. The proposition “God does not exist” is either meaningless (since we do not know what “God” means in the statement) or else it is self-defeating, because it supposes that we do know what “God” means in the very statement affirming that we do not know what “God” means.23

Hence, either the nontheist must show that “God” is a contradictory concept such as “square circles” or else no meaningful statement can be made denying the possibility that the concept “God” can be meaningful. But if God is conceived as an “uncaused” Being there is no contradiction in the concept. For self-caused, caused, and un-caused are logically exclusive categories; there are no other possibilities.

But it would be contradictory to view God as “caused by another,” since he is the first cause and first causes have no causes before or behind them. And it is contradictory to view God as “self-caused,” for no being can be ontologically prior to itself. Therefore, the only remaining view (viz.. God is “un-caused”) must be noncontradictory, since the categories of self-caused, caused, and un-caused are logically exhaustive of reality, and it is impossible for all views about reality to be contradictory (see Chapter 1).

At least one position about reality must be possible, for the affirmation that no position about reality is possible is self-destructive (since it too is a position about reality).

In other words, logic does apply to reality. Any meaningful denial of the law of noncontradiction of reality is itself a noncontradictory statement about reality. But if it is impossible to deny that reality is noncontradictory, then whenever all other logically possible views about reality turn out to be impossible, the only remaining view cannot be logically contradictory. Therefore, God as an uncaused being cannot be a logically contradictory concept.

The Contingency-Necessity or Act-Potency Models Are Not Arbitrary

Sometimes nontheists contend that it is arbitrary or a loaded way of speaking of the world that leans in favor of theism.24 This criticism is clearly unfounded. Reality must be viewed in terms of the possible, the impossible, or the necessary; there are no other logical possibilities. These are logically exhaustive ways to speak of reality and it is far from arbitrary to speak of reality in logically exhaustive categories, especially since logic is applicable to reality.

Likewise, to speak of the world and God as either caused, self-caused, or uncaused is not arbitrary; again, there are no other logical possibilities. Therefore, to base a metaphysical view on what includes all the comprehensive possibilities about reality and to eliminate some as actually impossible, and to establish the remaining one as actually necessary, is far from an arbitrary imposition of some so-called loaded model on reality.

Other Objections to Theism Are Faulty

There are, of course, other objections to theism. But these too are unjustified as applied to the above argument.

(1) It is not a God of pure reason who is disassociated from the God of revelation, for they are one and the same (as was shown on p. 250).

(2) Neither is it religiously insignificant, for it is the God who is worthy of worship that is concluded from the argument (see p. 249).

(3) Nor is it true that we cannot know anything about reality, for agnosticism involves the self-defeating claim that one knows enough about reality that he can affirm that one cannot know anything about reality (see Chapter 1).

(4) Finally, it is not irrelevant if God exists. For if there is a God with whom we have to do, we cannot say in sobriety “so what?”

For if God exists, either one must choose to say “Thy will be done” or listen to God say to him, “thy will be done.” This will make a real and abiding difference in both the quality and meaning of one’s life. Indeed, if Christian theism is correct, it will make an eternal difference.

Summary and Conclusion

We offer the claim that theism is the only adequate world view. All others are self-defeating or actually unaffirmable. Only theism is actually undeniable. It offers an argument with undeniable premises that leads inescapably to the existence of an infinitely perfect and powerful Being beyond this world who is the current sustaining cause of all finite, changing, and contingent beings.

Most criticisms of theism miss the significance of this argument based on existential causality and are directed toward invalid a priori arguments, such as the ontological argument, or toward insufficient a posteriori arguments that either assume an unjustified causal premise (as the teleological and moral arguments), or else are based on a rationally unjustifiable form of the principle of sufficient reason. In this sense neither a priori nor a posteriori proofs for God’s existence are rationally inescapable.

There is however a valid argument that combines both the a priori self-evident principle of existential causality and the undeniable a posteriori fact that something exists (e.g., I exist).25 The criticisms of this argument are insufficient. Theism has found a firm ground in existence for the conclusion that God exists. This is a theistic universe.

SELECT READINGS FOR Theism

Exposition of Theism

  • Clarke, Samuel. The Works of Samuel Clarke.
  • Farrer, Austin. Finite and the Infinite.
  • Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald. God: His Existence and His Nature.
  • Geisler, Norman. Philosophy of Religion.
  • Grisez, Germain. Beyond the New Theism.
  • Hackett, Stuart. The Resurrection of Theism, pt. III.
  • Mascal, Eric. He Who Is.
  • Owen, H. P. The Christian Knowledge of God.
  • Reichenbach, Bruce. The Cosmological Argument.
  • Rowe, William. The Cosmological Argument.
  • Tennant, F. R. Philosophical Theology.
  • Thomas Aquinas. On Being and Essence.
  • ———. Summa Theologica I, 2, 3; I, 3, 4.

Evaluation of Theism

  • Flew, Antony (ed.). New Essays in Philosophical Theology.
  • Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
  • Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason.
  • Munitz, Milton. The Mystery of Existence.
  • Nielsen, Kai. Contemporary Critiques of Religion.
  • Penelhum, Terence. Religion and Rationality.
  • Russell, Bertrand. Why I Am Not a Christian.

1 See my Philosophy of Religion, chap. 7, for further elaboration on this point.

2 Geisler, Philosophy of Religion, chaps. 6, 8.

3 For contrast of these two principles see E. Gurr, The Principle of Sufficient Reason in Some Scholastic Systems, 1750–1900.

4 For a similar form of this cosmological argument see my Philosophy of Religion, chap.9.

5 See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, secs. 194 f.

6 Many nontheists have difficulty in seeing how the theistic doctrine of ex nihilo creation can avoid contradiction. How can God “make something from nothing”? But the theist may retort, a fortiori, to the nontheist who believes that “nothing can produce something.” It is not contradictory at all to say that an infinite power can bring into existence what did not before exist. But it is clearly contradictory to believe that “nothing can cause something.”

7 This argument is simply an amplification of Aquinas’ argument in De Ente (On Being and Essence, chap. 4). See translation by Armand Maurer (Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1968).

8 Even theists sometimes miss the force and importance of this distinction. See Keith Yandell, Basic Issues in the Philosophy of Religion (Boston: Allen and Bacon, Inc., 1971), p. 84.

9 See Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 44, 1, and Duns Scotus, Philosophical Writings, pp. 44 f.

10 Aquinas saw this in De Ente. He speaks only ad hoc to the problem of an infinite regress elsewhere in his writings in order to show it is impossible.

11 What follows here is the valid and supplementary role the teleological argument plays in showing what kind of cause is proven by the cosmological argument (viz., a knowing cause).

12 See my Philosophy of Religion, chap. 12.

13 What follows here is the valid and supplementary role the moral argument serves in showing that the God proven by the cosmological argument is a morally good kind of being.

14 See Paul Tillich, Ultimate Concern, chap. 1.

15 For a more complete critique of Hume and Kant see my Philosophy of Religion, chap. 9, pp. 208–24.

16 See my article “The Missing Premise in the Ontological Argument” in Religious Studies IX, No. 3 (September 1973).

17 See David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

18 See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, p. 327 f.

19 See Bruce Reichenbach, The Cosmological Argument, pp. 100–2.

20 See Allan P. Wolter, The Transcendentals and Their Function in the Metaphysics of Duns Scotus, p. 44.

21 See Kai Nielsen, Contemporary Critiques of Religion, chaps. 2 and 3.

22 For further discussion on the meaningfulness of the positive attributes of God, see chap. 12 of my Philosophy of Religion.

23 St. Anselm made this point in his reply to Gaunilon. See St. Anselm: Basic Writings, “I Reply to Gaunilon,” p. 153 f.

24 See Milton K. Munitz, The Mystery of Existence, pp. 103–25.

25 Some view this kind of argument as a transcendental argument. If so, positing God is more than a rational presupposition; it is an undeniably necessary reality condition for all contingent existence.

Geisler, N. L. (1976). Christian apologetics. Includes index. (237). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

THEISM – All you want to know

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