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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Existence and Nature of God

The Existence and Nature of God

By Jim J. McCrea

Originally published in the Iron Warrior in 1988 which is the engineering paper of the university of Waterloo
Republished here with minor modifications

Many people, both Christians and non-Christians, believe that God's existence must be held on faith alone. The existence of God and His main attributes, however, can be known by reason without the aid of revelation. This is established through a branch of metaphysics known as natural theology.

The existence and nature of God can be understood from the essence-existence dichotomy, which flows from the nature of being as such. The basic definition of being is that which is. The subject that refers to essence and the predicate is refers to existence. All beings, therefore, are a compound of essence and existence.
The essence-existence dichotomy is one of the most difficult principles of metaphysics to grasp; an example may help. If a watchmaker is to construct a watch, the essence of the watch or the "watchness" exists in his mind prior to its construction, but that essence does not exist in reality (essence is defined as "what a thing is"). When the watchmaker assembles the watch, he gives existence to the essence or "watchness." (existence is defined as "that a thing is"). Since the "what it is" can precede the "that it is" it can be said that essence and existence are principles that are formally distinct.

Since essence and existence differ, the concept of anything does not imply that it is. It can be said that all finite things that exist can possibly not exist. In this, they have what is known as contingency. A further analysis shows that essence has the form of a noun - it denotes "something" - and existence has the form of a verb - it denotes an "act." (we can call it "ising"). Now the act of existence of a contingent being requires a cause, precisely, because it is distinct from its essence. Nothing can be its own cause; therefore, it must have a cause extrinsic to it, and this cause we called God.

How do we avoid the obvious difficulty, which arises from the preceding argument that God Himself would seem to require a cause?
This difficulty is solved, first, by stating the nature that God must possess. The immediate statement that can be made about Him is that He is self-existent. While essence and existence are distinct in finite beings, the essence of God is His own existence. Since it is the nature of God to exist He is not contingent, but necessary. He cannot possibly not be. This property of necessary existence is known as aseity. It is His most fundamental attribute and is that from which His other attributes are logically deduced. The question: "why does God exist?" cannot be answered in the conventional manner because it has no meaning in the conventional manner. The identity of God's essence with His existence prevents this. He is the frame of reference against which all hows and whys are known.

What properties can be deduced from aseity?
If the essence of God is His own existence, He is Pure Being or Pure Existence, and therefore, must contain everything that being or existence can possibly imply. God, therefore, is necessarily unlimited, perfect, and possesses all positive attributes to an infinite degree. We can also understand, by looking at God's most fundamental attribute of self-existence, that the most fitting name that can be given to Him is He Who Is (or "I Am" in the first person - the name given in Exodus 3:14).
Two means of knowing God are by negation and analogy. Negation says what He is not and analogy says what He is. Any concept, which in itself, denotes an imperfection of any kind can be denied Him absolutely in negation. Any concept which denotes a perfection, pure and simple, can be attributed to Him, to an infinite degree, by analogy.
First of all, it can be denied that God contains matter because the concept matter necessarily implies passivity and indetermination, which are per se imperfections. It can be denied that He has form because any form is inherently limited by its definition. The simple name of God "He Who Is" rather than "He who is such and such" means that He is a universal principle which transcends all forms.
It can be affirmed that God possesses the attributes of infinite intellect and will. These are metaphysical perfections because intellect as intellect is the capability of apprehending truth without qualification, and will as will is the capability of being inclined to the good without qualification. Since intellect and will are the prime attributes of personality, we refer to God as He and not it.
It can be said that God is perfectly simple - that is, He has no composition of parts. This follows from the fact that He is an absolutely primary being. With anything that has composition, that thing must be referred to its parts and the principle of its composition for its explanation. That makes its parts and the principle by which it is composed in some manner prior to that thing. There cannot be anything prior to God, therefore, He cannot have any composition. It can be said that the only thing in God is God. A corollary of that is that the attributes of God are identical with Himself. The very intellect and will of God is God.
God does not exist in space and time because space and time are divisible and God is in no manner divisible. This rules out an anthropomorphic conception of Him, that some people have, that He possesses a human body and human type emotions. The book of Genesis talks about the reminiscence (Gen 8:1) and the regret (Gen 6:6) of God, but because they are metaphysical imperfections they can only be attributed to Him metaphorically (reminiscence is an imperfection because it is the bringing to mind something not thought at the time and regret is an imperfection because it denotes an error in judgment).
One very important point is that God is not the universe itself, as the pantheists hold. Although He is imminent in all things, in that He is infinitely close to them and sustains them in existence from instant to instant with His power, He is also transcendent - that is, He is unique and distinct from the things He sustains. We can understand this from the fact that the objects present to our reason and senses do not have the infinite perfections of God.
Although human reason can know the existence of God and many of His attributes, this knowledge has limits. We can only extrapolate from what we experience and understand (analogy is a term for intellectual extrapolation). We do not know, in itself, what it is for God to be intelligent, free, or good. This is why we also assign multiple attributes to a Principle that is necessarily one and infinitely simple. The human intellect is not subtle enough to grasp God through a single concept.

** End note 1 - It says in the book of Genesis that God made man in His own image (Gen 1:26). This in no manner refers to physical likeness. The proper interpretation is that man has a share in the functions of intellect and will of God, which are the attributes of His personhood.

** End note 2 - If God has everything that existence can possibly imply, that would not mean that He also contains evil. This is because evil is not a type of thing or being, but is the absence in something of what would constitute its proper integrity.