The classical arguments for God – Part Three

We’re now ready to talk about the importance of essence and existence. I’ve already mentioned this argument in “God is not a god.” I won’t repeat of lot of what was said there so read that post first if you  haven’t already. Again, much of this is technical and philosophical in nature so I will try to explain it simply as possible. I’ve also provided links to videos explaining the graphics. Also, if you haven’t read part one and part two, I suggest you do so first since these arguments build upon one another. 

Keep in mind, this argument is derived from logical deductions that can be made from our everyday experience in the here and now. These arguments, according to Aquinas, are pre-theological in nature. They aren’t meant to prove a particular God. What they do prove is the absolute necessity of what’s been called a Prime Mover or Pure Act (see part two). From an ontological standpoint, you can call this causal agent whatever you want, as long as all the logical requirements are met (But it’s going to end up sounding an awful lot like God!) Nonetheless, it does prove you need a most fundamental cause. Otherwise you end up with ontological incoherence.

Here’s a simplistic overview of essence and existence in the Thomistic argument.

Essence and Existence

Essence is what something is (a tree, cat, human, etc.). Existence is that something is (I live right now).

For instance, I am a human (essence) and I live right now (existence).

However, essence that is distinct from existence would have to be imparted to such essences from without. For instance, my essence is distinct from my existence because it is possible for me not to exist. Logically, I (essence) cannot impart existence to myself because I would’ve had to exist prior to my existence, which creates a logical absurdity.

Also, keep in mind, like with the Argument from Motion (part two), if everything were like this, needing an outside source for it’s own existence, then it would follow that an infinite regress would result and, therefore, nothing could exist at all, even in principle. Only a Pure Act, or Subsistent Existence Itself (where essence is existence) can terminate this infinite regress. Here’s the diagram for the Argument from Essence and Existence that I used in “God is not a god” (all the following graphics are by Mathoma. Click on graphic for video explanation):

This most fundamental member in the causal chain is Subsistent Existence Itself  (or “Pure Act”, #8 in graphic), where its essence is its existence (“I am that I am” Exod.3:14). We theists call this “God.” Here’s what the Classical Theist said in his video, “An Argument for the Existence of God“:

“It must be understood that we’re not shoehorning a preconceived notion of God into the equation, but making the argument purely from the premises and conclusion. And this is the conclusion that follows: There must be that whose essence and existence are identical such that it is subsistent existence itself, and to this we are giving the nominal label ‘God’ whereby the word ‘God’ is just a nominal label ascribed to the concept.” (emphasis added)

Again, we’re not talking about chronological events, or the distant past, but fundamentally, in the here and now.  As a review from “God is not a god,” the following two graphics help illustrate the logical necessity for this argument. Hopefully, you’ll also see why when the universe started has no bearing on this argument nor is a “god of the gaps” relevant. The question is not when something existed but why does it continue to exist.

The next graphic shows why not having a most fundamental cause (Subsistent Existence Itself) leads to infinite regress, ontological incoherence and, consequently, non-existence.

We’ve already defined the logical requirements of the Prime Mover, which must be the following (reasons explained in part two):

  • Pure Act (fully actualized).
  • Immutable (unchangeable).
  • Eternal, Immaterial and incorporeal.
  • One, not many: the singular, ultimate source of all motion (simplicity).

With Subsistent Existence Itself, we can add the following by logical deduction (taken from “An Argument for the Existence of God” here):

  • Omnipotence (all powerful).
    • As Subsistent Existence Itself (“God”), through which all causal powers are possible.
    • When we say that God is simple we are saying that God is capable of all, of everything.
  • Simplicity
    • Since God is Subsistent Existence Itself, that which is to prior to God, metaphysically speaking, would be none other than a non-being.
    • Further explanation of simplicity in part two (under “One, not many”)
  • Perfect
    • Perfect, here, means fully actualized (no potential).
    • A thing is only perfect to the degree to which it is actualized (going from potential to actual), and so God is the wellspring of all perfections.
  • Omniscience (all knowing)
    • As Pure Act, God would necessarily be the source of all things actual and potential, and would thus “know” all things in the act of causing them, since He also possesses intellect.
  • Intellect
    • Since God is the cause of all abstract objects that exists essentially, then, given the principle of proportionate causality, He must possess something at least analogous to intellect.
  • Will
    • It is logically impossible for anything to cause God to create, and so the continuous act of creation whereby existence is given to all things other than God, would have to be fundamentally free, and therefore willful.
  • Love
    • Love, here, does not mean emotional affection but willing the good of the other.
    • Actuality is what conforms to a being’s nature, so if actualization is willed for a thing, then by extension so is its good, so whoever wills the actuality of a thing, by definition, shows benevolence toward it.
    • Therefore, since God wills the existence of all things, then it follows that, insofar as he wills the existence of all things, He wills their actualization since they come from the same metaphysical wellspring. It’s in this sense that it’s said that God fundamentally loves all things.

This final graphic lists the logical reasoning for these attributes:

There’s more to say about this but we will need to wait until next time.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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4 Responses to The classical arguments for God – Part Three

  1. Interesting! Essence is one of my favorite subjects. 🙂

    Lately I’ve been watching several pseudo-science programs. What I really notice is how they all follow this formula where the whole show is about making a logical argument for a Prime Mover, demonstrating why this must be true. But at the last moment, they always pose a ridiculous question. “Is it possible we were intercepted by ancient alien intelligence? Did the big bang cause water to mysteriously fall out of the sky? Could stardust possess a form of consciousness?” Drives me absolutely batty. I can laugh at the absurdity of “self aware stardust,” but others are listening to these pop culture scientists as if they have some kind if authority, as if they are not basically just beclowning themselves for entertainment’s sake or ratings.

    This was good too, “Actuality is what conforms to a being’s nature, so if actualization is willed for a thing, then by extension so is its good, so whoever wills the actuality of a thing, by definition, shows benevolence toward it.”

    • Mel Wild says:

      Is it possible we were intercepted by ancient alien intelligence? Did the big bang cause water to mysteriously fall out of the sky? Could stardust possess a form of consciousness?” Drives me absolutely batty. I can laugh at the absurdity of “self aware stardust,” but others are listening to these pop culture scientists as if they have some kind if authority, as if they are not basically just beclowning themselves for entertainment’s sake or ratings.

      How true! It’s the A.B.G. syndrome. Anything but God, no matter how absurd and incoherent!

  2. David Robertson says:

    Loving this series Mel!

  3. Pingback: The Classical Argument for Christ | In My Father's House

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