Is God 'being' itself?

(Dominik Kowalski) #62

Mitchell, this is not correct. Maybe Tillich argued this way, but we come to the conclusion that this is not possible through rationality. Pantheism equates God with the reality, however the first cause which sustains reality cannot in principle be a part of it. Reality changes, matter changes, if something is within time it also changes. But the ground of existence cannot be within this frames, it has to be immaterial, eternal and unchangeable. Pantheism and Panenthesim therefor don´t work with the model of the classical theists. Sustaining is not the same as being a part of it. Here are Aristotles points against pantheism

However, Reggie himself, although apparently having read some thomistic material, isn´t quite there yet to understand why exactly the thomistic God is necessarily personal and has an intellect. Because it is pretty hard to get across to someone who isn´t familiar with the material and it´s probably the attribute which requires the most thinking, let me shorten it and get to the conclusion (@Jay313, this should be interesting for you, too) :

The thomistic God has an intellect, because in order to keep the principle of causality intact, everything that has been actualized (it necessarily is, because it exists and has a state) must be within the deepest causal principle in some kind (virtual, imminent, formal etc.). These forms/states have to exist within this cause (God) not in a particular, but in an abstract way, which requires intellect, understanding and intelligence.

This principle doesn´t stand in conflict to the “God being itself” idea, the latter is just a consequence of the principle of causality and rationality. It simply means that the reason for Gods existence isn´t found in context of external things, but within his very own nature. Your objections to the simplicity-complexity-attributes is correct in the sense, that they are used in the same way we describe material objects.

(Dominik Kowalski) #63


I appreciate your insights and opinions on scripture and I know that you don´t like the God of the philosophers at all. At the same time I think I made it clear enough why I am personally so interested in it. With that said, you should stop making assertions to it, it is clear that you don´t quite get the arguments @Reggie_O_Donoghue wants to make (Reggie, seemingly you have taken a look at the material I sent you!). But let´s go through this point by point.

In his book "There is a God: How the worlds most notorious atheist changed his mind" Flew gave a nod to Aristotle and Aquinas for pushing him over the edge. The "design argument" didn´t arise from the opinion that "the universe looks designed", but from the metaphysical arguments from Aristotle and Aquinas. Like I said, good metaphysics isn´t dependent on scientific evidences because it relies on the same presuppositions that science itself has to make in order to work.

This is very similar to the Cosmological argument presented by William Lane Craig. Quentin Smith noted, that this is the most defended argument in the professional literature concerning this topic at the moment. But the point I was trying to make the whole time was, that we can trace back the chain of causality to God, "The unmoved mover", without needing an ultimate beginning. Even if Paul Steinhardt were right with his model of a cyclic universe, it wouldn´t attack this point in the slightest.

I won´t repeat myself, I feel like we´re moving in a circle, so I´ll comment on the discussions Reggie had with you and others.

Reggie is arguing from the point of classical theism. It is not that God cannot do anything, the classical theist assumes that God cannot change, because he is one in his nature. You´re answers that God is three in one doesn´t matter here at all. But in fact, the classical theist also says that God is personal and has free will to act and engage with us. God is constantly sustaining the universe, he´s actualizing its potential to exist. However if God chooses to actualize something and not something else he´s not changing his own nature, so the argument that he´s unchangable because the uncauses cause cannot exist within time and space or have unactualized potentials, stays intact. The nature of your being isn´t changed if you actualize the potential of a staple of wood to become a birdhouse after all. @Reggie_O_Donoghue still seems to have some reservations concerning the "personal"-attribute of God, but this is a conclusion we came to through natural theology, which bases in rationality. Great how that works, eh? I will explain the intellect aspect of God later, it is important because the classical theist himself argues for a personal God which is compatible with the bible.

This is incredibly frustrating. If there´s a philosophical truth then why are you against using it to argue for Gods existence. Although the way you separate is way too simplistic, it underlines an important point I´m trying to make the whole time: Philosophical proofs for Gods existence don´t show the whole picture, but at least the have a perspective from which they can describe from. That of course makes your later made point

nonsense, because what they have in common is

  1. the same monotheistic God, this is important, true polytheism doesn´t fit because there can in principle only be one perfect deity, because to have several of them they have to be distinguishable which would require one deity to have attributes which the others don´t have, which runs into a wall when we´re talking about perfect beings.

  2. creatio ex nihilo, because God actualizes the potential of things distinguished from him to exist. This also works in an infinite universe, because the principle stays the same.

3.all the other divine attributes like omnipotence, omniscience (although the OT is less strict on that one I might add), personal, intellect.

Of course it also shows where philosophy ends and theology and history begin. Philosophy/natural theology says that miracles/interaction etc. are possible, but it can´t and won´t say where, when and how. It only shows that they need each other to have the most complete picture of God as human can possibly achieve to get.

In general, Roger, your objections are either emotional or reformulations, that doesn´t say anything other than what Reggie and I have said. Example, please?

This strucks me as pure denialism. In which way is this different from the first premise? Also I already explained to you, that "being" is a human construct and thus should be accepted as a way for humans to understand Gods nature, although it is ultimately false. If this is not accepted, then why should the attribute to God as "moral" be? But we´re engaging in nitpicking here.

This is not the conclusion I´d make. YHWH has intellect and is personal, both aspects which a philosopher also attribute to him. If God reveals himself to his people it is logical that he does it the way in which the bible describes it, because noone worships the God who sustains everything if he isn´t personal to his people. There is not a conflict. The conflict arises if we conclude from the way God presented himself to how God is related to the universe or what is true nature is.

No, but we´re confronted with an intelligible universe, which means a brute fact is impossible. Thus the utimate cause is intelligible, because his existence is explained by his own nature and not by an external thing. Thus "GOD IS BEING ITSELF". Get it?

We dialogued about this topic over several posts but I don´t think we have made any progress. And I don´t know how we could, if you don´t make any factual objections to engage with. "God is not the cause, he´s the creator", I mean, come on!

(Dominik Kowalski) #64

Sure, I never doubted that. My problem is that tha “the Germans” in general are biblical illiterate. And I think it is impossible to bring most of the people to engage with it, if they think it doesn´t have a rational base.

The problem is rather, that they don´t believe heaven exist in the first place. The most recent study had the belief in an afterlife at around 40%.

Exactly. Everyone here has heard the ridcule of God with saying that this he is something like the “sky wizard” or whatever. What seems to be a problem is, that many secular people actually believe that this is our concept of him.

Thus my engagement with Thomism. I didn´t come across it until around 6 months ago, but after what I´ve read it is the most coherent metaphysics I ever came across and offers logical proofs for Gods existence with attributes we can conclude solely from rationality and natural theology. And it is absolutely compatible with the God of the bible.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #65

Considering how Germany was once a land of great theologians, this is both ironic and sad.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #67

I am not a Pantheist, nor do I think Paul Tillich was. Whilst pantheists believe God is infinitely complex (as nature is), I am the polar opposite, God is completely simple, for if he wasn’t he would have prior causes.

Anyway, I (now) reject describing God as a mind, or a sentient entity because I believe God has to be described apophatically, lest we give him positive traits, which violate his simplicity. Whilst you could describe omnipotence negatively (as a lack of physical constraints), it is hard to do the same for sentience. Of course, the point is not that God has no sentience, but rather that we cannot know.

Previously in this thread I suggested that God couldn’t be sentient because if he had a mind, he would not be simple. I now recognise that it is possible that God ‘is’ a mind, though of course, according to my apophatic theology, it would be fallacious to describe him as such.

With this in mind I subscribe to all other traditional conceptions of God, as a transcendent, immanent ineffable, necessary creator, which fits everything which is described about the fundamental essence, be it YHWH, Brahman, Dao, Ilam, The One, etc, which Heiddeger described as being. My identification of God with being seems to be the most controversial point, but I see it as the only way to avoid polytheism.

To be clear, I believe two things:

  1. God, (or at least what humans call God) is absolutely real, hence I am a gnostic (as opposed to agnostic) theist.

  2. I am also gnostic that God inspired the Biblical writers. I am more agnostic about whether or not this inspiration is metaphorical or not, the same way we feel inspired by sportsmen an musicians.

(Mitchell W McKain) #68

Ok… so you do not self identify as atheist or pantheist. I got that. Doesn’t change the fact that I don’t see any substantial difference. A God which is not sentient is not a God at all. And it is not recognizable as theism. I don’t see how you are doing anything but slapping “God” as a label on something which already has a perfectly good word for it already. For being as such, I will use the word “being.” For the universe itself I will use the word “universe.” For all of existence, I will use that word, “existence.” And it is only for a self-existent sentient being who created the universe will I use the word “God,” and I think that is the what the word means for theism. You can make a new word for this belief in being itself with adjectives like transcendent tacked onto it for some reason… like “tran-theism” but it will likely mean that I will simply add that to the list of atheism, pantheism, and panentheism as something which is not theism. Sorry but calling something mindless by the adjectives transcendent, immanent, ineffable, necessary just doesn’t lift something above the level of an object and I can never agree to lifting something like that above the qualities of mind and life which are the very essence of being a subject.

For me it is kind of the whole point of God to lift up the subjective qualities of mind and life and making that transcendent over the objective for that is what best serves this purpose of a faith that life is worthwhile because the the ultimate reality is not this empty mindless lifeless thing but a person with whom we can have a personal relationship.

And I believe God has to be described in precisely the opposite way, cataphatically taken to the extreme of being all inclusive in the sense of having ALL positive traits. I have already voiced my objections to this idea of simplicity which along with this apophatic approach which reduces God to insignificance. There is a difference between being composite and being complex.

Believing that toads are absolutely real makes one gnostic as opposed to agnostic with respect to toads and I don’t see how slapping the name “God” on the toads changes anything at all.

There are two kinds of inspiration.

  1. There is the inspiration imparted by objects such as mountains. It is not intentional and in fact the mountains are not actually doing anything. All the inspiration is going on in the mind of the one “being inspired.”
  2. There is the inspiration given by subjects such as a child. This type of inspiration is intentional and the child is actually doing something and giving you something, so there is a communication from the child to you and it is not all simply something going on in the mind of the one being inspired.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #69

You misunderstand me, I argue that what humans ‘call’ God is absolutely real.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #70

If God has all positive traits, that leads to contradiction, God is both wholly good and wholly evil, to start with. As I said, God cannot have any positive traits as that would violate his simplicity and give him ontological causes. God is not insignificant if he is the cause of all that is. Besides, his power is the same, he is just spoken of differently.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #71

False equivalence, you can actually learn humans have intrinsic value by comparing them to the transcendent cause.

(Mitchell W McKain) #72

The quality of a relationship is not independent of the thing you are having a relationship with.

A pet rock cannot respond to your artistic endeavors. A pet rock cannot engage with your intellectual discourse. A pet rock cannot respond to the majority of what you are. And therefore if you make your life revolve around the pet rock you effectively diminish the value of all the things you are which the pet rock cannot acknowledge or engage.

To be sure you can righteously declare that you don’t need the pet rock to give value to your life or your artistic endeavors. And I will support similar such declarations by the atheist that they don’t need God any more than such a pet rock. Indeed I can only congratulate them on their sufficiency and have little doubt that they are perhaps better off without a belief in a deity. But other people find greater fulfillment in a relationship not only with pets who are more responsive and with people some of whom may be able to respond to most of what they are, but also in a relationship with a God who can respond to everything they are, because there is no limit to the capabilities of God.

(Dominik Kowalski) #73

Well, our “great” theologians had in general very strange views. Bultmann was Sartre in the way that he was an existentialist who yet coincidentally believed in God.

Now hold up there are two big mistakes in it.

  1. God has a mind, because all possible states of the actualized things and its potentials have to exist in the first cause in an abstract form. It requires an intellect to have it this way. I quote myself quickly:

The thomistic God has an intellect, because in order to keep the principle of causality intact, everything that has been actualized (it necessarily is, because it exists and has a state) must be within the deepest causal principle in some kind (virtual, imminent, formal etc.). These forms/states have to exist within this cause (God) not in a particular, but in an abstract way, which requires intellect, understanding and intelligence.

The omniscience-attribute relies on it in order to make sense, because everything is ultimately actualized by the uncaused cause, therefor he´s omniscient and omnipotent.
2. The mistake of saying that divine simplicity forbids us to make any assertions to God. This is not correct. In fact, every assertion a Thomist makes requires him to get only to one conclusion with no other possibility. That´s why Aquinas doesn´t argue for God being “morally good”, because although he sustains our existence at every point of time and therefor his goodness seems like a logical following, this isn´t airtight. But what is, is to say that God is fully “good” in the way, that he has no privation (potential to be different/quality that he potentially could have, but actually does not) and thus is completely good. To understand that I make the allegory that a tree with no or weak roots has the privation to have potentially rooted deeply into the earth in order to get nutrients. It doesn´t and is therefor a “bad” tree.
This has nothing to do with morality and I always say that this is the part where scripture comes into the play. However the “personal” and the “intelligence” is already established by philosophy. So your hesitance to accept that, has that something to do with you not really understanding it at the moment? No shame, I also needed quite some time, before it made click.

Well this is interesting. I wouldn´t apply the negative theology out of principle and risk it making it impossible for you to give any attribute to God. I don´t think we can say “God is a mind”, but certainly that he has a mind. I understand why not describing him as a mind, for one because we can´t establish it and for the other reason that we are talking about us having a mind and this mind is within God in an abstract form, which makes is distinguishable and thus different.

The attributes you mentioned are not coming only from scripture, but cam be established through natural theology, so this passage sounds unnecessarily dramatic :grin:
Polytheism is already excluded when applying the principle of the first cause. Because the first cause is immaterial and eternal and unchangeable and he´s purely actual in nature, he cannot possibly have any potentials to change, because he would then not be the first cause. But if he doesn´t have potentials to change, there is no way to say that there could be another unactualized actualizer, because there is no way to distinguish them, because they are the same and therefor belong to the same being. A pantheon of Gods can be scratched out. Hinduistic theology could be true, because it has the one great god and everything else are lesser sprits. This is allowed within the concept of causality and shouldn´t be a concern to anybody.

(Mitchell W McKain) #74

This just points to a difference in the way we are using the words. By “traits” you appear to mean adjectives whereas I mean “abilities.” Theism describes God as all-powerful and thus all inclusive when it comes to ability, so that God is unlimited except by coherence in the way He can make His will a reality. The adjectives of good and evil are certainly not abilities.

And I have repeatedly denied that simplicity is a valid description of God. Like I said composite and complex are not the same thing.

It was Stephen Hawing’s idea is that the cause of all is a quantum fluctuation so something being a cause of everything is not sufficient to make it anything of great significance other than simply being the cause.

No. The power of a person and the power of a battery is very different. The power of sentience cannot be replaced by the power of a power plant or a star no matter how great the quantity. Either God has all the powers of sentience or IT does not. And if it does not have the power of a mind then the power is NOT the same. But if God has all the powers of a mind then HE is sentient. He may not be limited to a singularity of personhood, but I don’t see that as a definition of sentience.

(Mark D.) #75

Is God all of being, itself? I definitely do not think so. Rather than delineate my understanding of God I’ll just say I think God is an inescapable aspect of my being and probably everyone else’s too. Distinct from us but having His existence in the same ground of being which gives rise to our selves. He mediates our experience always and we could not experience the world as we do without His continuing gifts. Recognizing our dependence, He is what keeps me from getting too big a head about myself or our kind. Nonetheless I think the Christian account of God is inflated, though at least it has served to call attention to something which enriches our experience but which could easily be overlooked.

(Mitchell W McKain) #76

It may be worthwhile at this point to consider the meaning of sentience. The Wikipedia definition tying sentience to consciousness is certainly different from what has been my understanding. I thought the point was to distinguish life like our own capable of civilization from other forms of life which are not, i.e. practically synonymous with intelligence. But since I believe consciousness is a property of all living things, then this definition of sentience as capable of subjective awareness and feeling would make all living things sentient in my view.

I don’t think this is right. But I do understand the need to distinguish a characteristic of being human apart from measures of intelligence alone. And thus I would add to this definition the ability to symbolize ones experiences in an abstract way rather than simply experience them subjectively. Perhaps this would be the key to our ability to reassemble the elements of those experiences in stories and thus to be an imaginer and source of experiences for others, making us so much more than simply the passive recipients of experiences.

(Marvin Adams) #77

It is a problem of our own making as insisting that our God has to be able to perform unnatural acts as miracles as his natural acts are not enough of a miracle. If you do not believe in a sky wizard you should explain to those sceptics why it is preposterous to think that Jesus would have wizzarded wine into existence at a wedding in Canaan to create a fake reality and declaring the shame not to be wealthy enough to by excess of wine worthy of divine intervention. On top you can argue that only a sky wizzard satisfying our materialistic wishes for reality would appeal to our materialistic evaluation of declaring wine more valuable than the water of ritual cleansing whilst a logical God does not do that. He would teach the wedding guests a lesson they would not forget, serve them the purest of waters, that which was allowed into those sacred vessels, and let the master of ceremony praise the honesty of the groom not to stretch the wine to pretend to have more wine, but to give out the clean water as the most valuable drink you could get. Check if your worldview is compatible with this explanation and if not, consider why such a God would not be good enough for you.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #78

I think simplicity is valid, for as I said, if God had parts, he would have prior ontological causes

(Dominik Kowalski) #79

You´re talking passed each other until you make it abundantly clear what “simple” and “simplicity” mean in which context

(Mitchell W McKain) #80

Like I keep saying over and over. Complex is not the same as composite. There is a difference between having parts conceptually because we use our own mind to understand something in terms of parts, and having parts from which its existence is derived. To keep insisting on simplicity in the first sense is to insist that God has nothing and can do nothing which is totally absurd – God has everything and can do everything. But God is not a physical being which like all macroscopic physical things derives their existence and abilities from the things they are composed of. Spiritual things like God are not composite. They are what they are by their own nature alone and any conceptual part has its existence from the whole and not the other way around.

Which I have been doing repeatedly and which Reggie ignores.

(Mitchell W McKain) #81

Conceptual simplicity is largely an illusion. This is something you tend to encounter at university. When you look carefully at the things we think of as simple, you usually find their simplicity dissolving into endless complexity. This is perhaps a sign that conceptual parts are largely an artifact of our own mental process of dividing things up into parts in order to “understand” them.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #82

God does not actualize the universe. God creates the universe out of nothing. This is what science indicates with the Big Bang and this is what Christianity says. I really do not want a faith that is safe, which is no faith, but a faith that is true.

I don’t think that we are different in our goals which is increasing faith in our world, but the problem is methodology, how do we best accomplish this. My experience says that the god of the philosophers is a dead end.

My experience says that science is different from philosophy in that science demands that there be solid evidence for facts. There is solid evidence for Creation and thus God in the Big Bang. There is no solid evidence for the speculation of the Unmoved Mover.

If you convert people to the god of the Philosophers, why should they change to the God of the NT? No reason. Then what have we gained? Nothing because they are still lost in sin.

Yes, we need to improve and reform theology, but not with the help of philosophy, because philosophy is very weak also. We need to fix theology based on the Trinity and at the same time fix philosophy too on order to help all people come closer to Jesus Christ…

“Being” is either real or not. I say that God create the universe, not being. Science says in effect that God created the universe. Philosophy says in effect that God created “being” that formed the universe. I do not think both can be true and I must say that theology and science are right and philosophy is wrong.

Philosophy is about understanding, that is wisdom and knowing, not about being. It needs to fixed so it stays within it own lane.

From what I understand you to say, one must not assume that the God Who is revealed in the Bible is the same God Who is the God of Nature or that YHWH reveals God’s True Nature in the Bible. It seems that you have room for two Gods in your belief system.

I would much prefer to say, I AM WHO I AM. YHWH is not the universe, YHWH is the Creator of the universe.