Sunday, June 3, 2012

Arguing from 'God is Being Itself'

We want to know the basic principles that operate now, which govern all connections between God and the individual finite beings that are us. That is what useful knowledge -- science -- needs.

We will use one of the standard arguments of philosophical theism: the Argument from Being. We are arguing from 'God is Being Itself'. The argument uses Postulate 3 above, and proceeds as follows:

  1. God is Being itself (Postulate 3)
  2. We (as individuals) have being (as, we exist).
  3. Therefore, our being either is, or depends on (derives from), God (Being itself). 

This argument uses the metaphysical principle that being can only come from being and not from non-being (which is nothing). It uses the empirical fact that individuals in the world do exist. At least I exist, Descartes would claim. That is, there are some objects that are being in existence, so that we say that they ‘have being’. Then, since God has just been defined as ‘being itself’, we say that God must have some role in our existence. Simply put, we say that “We are, because God is."

This argument establishes an ontological dependence of us individuals on God. We appear to be beings; God is Being itself; therefore we appear to depend on God. Some essence of our being (namely Being itself) is identical to God. A corollary of this argument is: we cannot have our existence separately from God or derived originally from anything other than God. If we had some other kind of being, then we would still have being itself, which is God. Postulate 3 establishes that just by existing, we are dependent on God.

Of course, this does not explain the manner in which we depend on God. I state an alternative formulation (‘derives from’) in the conclusion above but do not explain that. More details will come later.


The Argument from Being does not establish that we are distinct from God at all. If we were somehow identical to God, then our being would be being itself, and our continued existing would be obvious. This argument, by itself, can lead to several non-theistic accounts of the manner in which we depend on God. For now, I only explain what these other accounts are. Only later will we have the logical means to discriminate between the other accounts and core theism.

The first non-theistic account says that all things of creation—all of us finite individuals—are in fact equal to God. This appears to solve the problem if all of us really are God (or Gods) though we simply never knew it. This is pantheism: that everything is God. An equivalent formulation is to say that “God is All That Is." Every smallest atom, every last bacterium, every planet, every galaxy, would then in fact be God. Religious life would then consist of learning (or remembering) this fact, which on the face of it is not obvious. It might be justified by Jesus saying that “the Kingdom of God is in you" (Luke 17:21) or Sankara saying that “everyone is in fact Divine." (The “I am Brahman" of Sankara (Sankaracharya).)  Certain mystical experiences, such as those arising in nature mysticism, certainly appear to show that the Divine is present in all of nature, and these can be used to support pantheism. Later I will dispute pantheistic belief. Here I only note that its simplicity seems attractive intellectually. However, most of us, on practical reflection concerning our state in the world, cannot bring ourselves to believe that we are identical with God. Our everyday world certainly seems to be far from God.

A second non-theistic account states that the everyday world is an illusion: a false appearance produced by imperfect perceptions. Reality—if only we realized it—is actually the Infinite glorious God and only that God. This account is called non-dualism, and asserts that our everyday world is maya, a veil or an illusion. There appears to be a duality between the Eternal Brahman and the world of finite creatures, but reality is actually non-dual. Only Brahman exists, and the religious task is to acknowledge that in our souls.

There are further accounts which develop some kind of monism about what exists. In Idealism, God is taken as some kind of thought (or thinker) that includes all our individual ideas that appear to make us separate. There is even a way to bring in materialism, if we take energy as eternally existing and therefore divine. In that case, God (as being itself) is identified with energy, and then, according to our Argument from Being, is the being itself of everything that exists. We see that it is sometimes strangely difficult to distinguish pantheism from materialism.

Finally, a claimant such as myself has still, with assertions like these, the responsibility of showing that God identified in such a way is identical with the traditional God of the theistic religions. From the religious point of view, it would be a failure if God turned out to be identical to eternal and immutable atoms!  Strictly speaking, logically if not theologically, that would be consistent with what has been asserted so far. In that case we could still define God in the manner of this chapter, even though God would not be a single being, and God would be distributed around all the individual atoms that somehow ‘participate’ in being itself. Individual atoms would have, say, instances of ‘being itself’ within themselves and hence be part of God. Further assertions may discount this possibility, but that will have to be the subject of discussion. Any ‘proof of God’, therefore, is not complete until we are satisfied that it is ‘our’ God who we are talking about and not other things such as microscopic atom(s). This is usually the non-trivial part of the argument. It will have to contain a demonstration of how God can be a One and yet multiple objects exist in the world.
Adapted from chapter 8 of Starting Science From God.


  1. Are postulates basically the same as assumptions? As educated guesses?

  2. Are postulates basically the same as assumptions? As educated guesses?

    1. The main difference between postulates and assumptions is that postulates are explicit and (better) numbered, whereas assumptions are often hidden and only appear when you examine the details of the presentation.

      The question of where either comes from is (or should be) independent of what they mean and how they are used in arguments. They might be guesses or inspired, but the effects should be the same. You judge them by their fruits.

  3. Ok, thanks. Another question:
    In 18.7 Consciousness, are you defining what consciousness is or just giving an example of one type of consciousness? I.e. When love acts by wisdom and creates an action and there is consciousness in that production of an action, does that mean that that is always where consciousness comes from?

    1. I think that this is the general principle for the generation of individual consciousnesses. Here I am following the guidelines of Swedenborg in DW 3, when he discusses the first appearance of consciousness after birth.

      I discuss this further in 27.2 Awareness. There, I want to allow for 'modules' of mentality, in which love and wisdom have an already-established pattern of integration. This should give the conclusion that there is no consciousness within the detailed mechanisms in that module.

  4. Tillich's idea is not pantheism, in systematic Theo. 1 he states clearly and discusses why it's not. Essential;ly because pantheism defies nature and thus is a thing in creation among other things not being itself.

    1. Tillich's idea of God is the 'ground of being' is certainly not pantheism.