Many thanks to my fellow bloggers Bill Vallicella and Aiden Kimel for their thoughtful posts on the discussion/debate between Bill and me on whether God is to be thought of as a unique and perfect being, or not a being, but rather “Being itself” or “Existence.”
I was simply not able to keep up, due to travel and other immediate demands. For those following the discussion, here are the posts so far:
- Our discussion started in person, in this conversation: podcast 84 – Dr. William Vallicella on Existence and God
- Bill gets the blog discussion started in this helpful long post: God: A Being among Beings or Being Itself?
- I replied to only the first portion of this post here: Dialogue with the Maverick Philosopher: God is a being, not Being itself – part 1
- I continue here working through Bill’s set-up: Dialogue with the Maverick Philosopher: God is a being, not Being itself – part 2 Then I promptly got too busy to keep going! But things moved on without me.
- Lapping me, blogger-philosopher-runner Bill continues in God and Socrates: Two Different Ways of Existing?
- This is where our friend Fr. Aiden Kimel (blogger at Eclectic Orthodoxy) gets into the action, making it a trialogue (not to be confused with a triablogue). Absolute Deity: Being, Beyond Being, or a Being? In short, he’s vehemently on Bill’s side, saying it is “utterly obvious” than the Christian God is “not a being among beings.” More on this in a future post.
- But Bill is not so sure that it’s obvious: Is it Obvious that God is not a Being Among Beings? In his view, neither side is.
- Aiden stands fast though: To Be or Not to Be: The Christian Distinction
- And he continues in To Be or Not to Be: The A-being god of Theistic Personalists and To Be or Not to Be: Aquinas or Pseudo-Dionysius? He has other blog posts relevant to this issue, but you can find those for yourself at his blog.
I’m going to keep working through these discussions. But take heart, dear reader. I’m committed to short, digestible posts. I’ll try to keep them coming at short intervals, and I will try to get through it all.
To continue through Bill’s original post, then, he argues that God exists either contingently or necessarily. If contingently, then either there’s a cause of his existence or not. Suppose there is. This is either himself or something else. But a thing can’t cause itself to exist (this scenario is self-contradictory), and God, who is supposed to exist and have is perfections independently of anything else, can’t be caused to exist. What if there is no cause for his existence, yet his existence is contingent? Well, if God is a perfect being, this seems to require existing necessarily. (Being such that it is impossibly that he doesn’t exist.) And if God exists and doesn’t depend on anything in any way, there it would seem that there won’t be any conditions (except: his existing) which are logically or metaphysically necessary for his existence. But then, how can we avoid concluding, assuming God exists, that he exists necessarily? In sum, yes, I agree with Bill that theists, for various reasons, should rule out these first three options (what he calls P1-P3). This leaves his last two:
(P4) God is a necessary being, but nonetheless a being among beings really distinct from his existence and from Existence itself, or (P5) God is (identically) Existence itself.
This last option will be ruled out if there is no such thing as “Existence itself.” This is my own view. But let me grant for the sake of argument that this expression does refer to something. If there is such a thing, then I agree that a believer in God ought to be a little worried about God is related to it. If it’s more fundamental (and it’s hard to see how it could be less fundamental than God, or equally fundamental to him), then God will not be the ultimate reality, but rather a thing which depends on the ultimate reality. Bill, and others influenced by the Platonic tradition, thinks the best way is to collapse them, to think that God and Existence are one and the same, numerically one. I’m inclined to think that the cure is worse than the disease. One might be better off to simply declare agnosticism about exactly how God relates to Existence, if one believes in both.
But here Bill presses me. Here is his argument against (P4) above, which would leave only (P5) standing.
But if God is a necessary being, what is the ground of his necessity if it is not the divine simplicity? We agree that God cannot not exist. But I ask: why not? If in both God and Socrates there is a real distinction between essence and existence, and if in Socrates his contingency is rooted in the real distinction, then God too will be contingent. Dale needs to supply a ground for the divine necessity, and the only plausible ground is the identity in God of essence and existence.
Next time: my reply.