Let’s start by
clearing up some confusion. (1) While some people may think of
God as an old man
in the sky that is not the notion of God in the
nor addressed by Aristotle or the Buddhist
Logicians . For us, God is an Infinite being.
(2) “Infinite Being” does not mean “really big and powerful
being.” It means completely unlimited being.
In “How is Experience
Informative?” in chapter 5, I outlined the idea of a dynamic
ontology in which being is
understood as the capacity to act.
A finite being can
act limited ways, and an Infinite Being can do any possible act.
Finite beings can act in this way, but not that; here, but not
there; now, but not then. Infinite being can act in all
possible ways in all possible places at all possible times. So
we are not God and
have forgotten it, because forgetting is a limitation on our
ability to think. Nor is the universe God because it is
constrained by the laws of nature, which are more restrictive
than what is logically possible.
This helps us
understand the difference between essence and existence.
Essence, what a thing is, is the specification of its possible
acts. But a specification or description does not normally
entail that something actually exists. Existence adds a new
note of comprehension: that the thing we are talking about really can act. Not
only does it have a specification, but that specification is
operational. Perhaps an analogy will help. Essence is like a
photographic slide. It specifies the picture on the screen,
but there is no picture until the slide is illuminated.
Existence is like the light illuminating the slide. It makes
the projected picture actual.
To prove existence
we need to show the capacity to act. We can only show this by
pointing out a concrete act that must be attributed to the
being in question. We know concrete acts only through
does not make it exist. So “proofs” such as St. Anselm‘s
ontological argument fail because they only
prove that if we define God as the greatest
possible being, then we must think of God as
existing. But, thinking of God as existing does not make God
exist. We can think something in two ways – with commitment to
the thought and without commitment. The ontological argument
does not show that we must be committed to the thought that
God exists, but only that to be consistent, in the context of
the definition we must think of God as existing.
How we can prove
God‘s existence? We can only prove what we know implicitly.
Proofs show us how to assemble facts we already know to see
something we may not have noticed before. So, knowledge of
God’s existence is implicit in experience. People with good
intuition can see it directly, but may not be able to
articulate it for others. Those of us who are less intuitive,
or who trust intuition less, need a step by step construction
to come to the same conclusion. The proof will make the
connections needed for us to be aware of God in our
Finally, the proof
assumes a working knowledge of logic that not all may possess.
For example, the Principle of Excluded
Middle tells us that complete disjunctions like “A is
either B or not B” are always true if they are meaningful.
Premise 1: Something
This is a fact of
experience. At least I exist (cogito ergo sum), so
let’s take our self to be concrete.
Premise 2: Whatever
exists is either finite or infinite.
This is a complete
disjunction. Remember that “finite” means limited in ability.
I am finite because I can’t do everything that is logically
possible, but only what is physically possible for me.
Premise 3: Any
collection of finite beings, including the universe as a
whole, is finite in being.
Again, finite does
not mean quantitatively finite, but limited in its ability to
act. Even the whole universe is limited in its ability to act.
If it were not, logical possibility would be the same as
physical possibility and physics identical
to logic. There are logically possible acts that the universe
cannot do. Since it has finite dimensionality, there are a
finite number of directions in which its parts can move. It is
logically possible to move in more directions, and so the
universe is at least limited in this way. Even if the universe
were spatially or numerically infinite, it would still have a
limited capacity to act. Since the universe (or multiverses if
you subscribe to them) is the largest possible collection of
finite beings, any smaller collection will also be finite.
Premise 4: If a being
exists, its explanation must exist.
I discussed this
at length in chapter 2. Note that “explanation” has two
senses: (1) the fact(s) that make some state of affairs be as
it is. (We may or may not know these.) This is the sense I am
using. (2) Our attempt to articulate our understanding of (1).
(See table 1 in chapter 2.)
Premise 5: If
something exists, its existence is explained either by itself
or by another.
explanations exist, this is a complete disjunction: the
explanation is the thing in question, or not the thing in
Premise 6: A finite
being cannot explain its own existence.
whatever can be explained by a being, viz. whatever a being
can do, results from its essence, the specification of its
acts. For a finite being, existence, the unspecified power to
act, is logically distinct from its specification. I am human
and I exist. Being
human explains my ability to think, because that is part of
what it is to be human. But, being human does not imply that I
exist, or no human being could cease existing.
A thing is finite
because its specification or essence limits its capacity to
act, its existence. What limits differs from what is limited,
viz. existence, the
bare capacity to act – just as a slide limiting light differs
from the light it limits. Logically, limits negate the
capacity for specific acts, while existence does the opposite,
making acts operational. When essence limits existence,
existence is more comprehensive. Something less comprehensive,
a finite essence, cannot entail something more comprehensive –
existence. Thus, a finite essence cannot entail existence.
The distinction of
essence from existence does not apply to an infinite being if
it exists. Why? Because an infinite being’s capacity to act is
not limited by what-it-is. No possible act is negated by a
limited specification. So for an infinite being, what-it-is
would be identical with that-it-is.
Explanation of Premises 4, 5, and 6:
A being is
logically necessary when it is. (Once it is now, it is no
longer possible for it not to be now.) This logical
a real world necessity. In modal logic, the necessity of a
proposition derives from the proposition itself, or from the
necessity of its premises. Since finite beings have a history
of coming into and going out of existence, the necessity of
their present existence is not intrinsic. (It is possible for
them not to be.) So it must derive from other premises – their
explanation. Therefore, by logical necessity, every actual
thing has an explanation even if we are ignorant of it and
say, “It just is.” Our verbal explanation is not true unless
there is a reality it reflects.
Conclusion 1: The
existence of a finite being implies the existence of another
being, its explanation. P4, P5, P6.
Conclusion 2: This
other being cannot ultimately be finite.
P3, P6. Any
collection of finite beings, taken as a whole, is itself
finite and so requires a further explanation.
Conclusion 3: So, the
existence of a finite being implies the existence of an
infinite being, as its explanation. C2, P2.
Therefore an infinite being exists, which we call “God.” C3,
P1. We are free to name things as we will, but calling the
infinite being “God” corresponds to common usage.
All of the
commonly ascribed attributes of God (almighty, omniscient,
etc.) follow form the unlimited capacity to act. For example,
if God were not omniscient, then there would be a logically
reflecting on an item of information, which God could not do.
If God knows, God thinks and so is personal in the sense of
being aware, etc.
Note that this
does not show God as existing and acting
in only the past, but as the present and on-going explanation
of all existence.