The existence of God is often offered as a necessary explanation for the fact that anything exists. The underlying assumption of this suggestion is that existence itself requires an explanation. It denies the universe could simply be a brute fact, with the particular characteristics we find within it. But clearly, since there is something, something must be a brute fact. If the brute factuality of the universe needs an explanation, then so too would the brute factuality of God’s existence.
Whether the ultimate brute fact is the universe in the sense of its composite energy/matter, or it is God, something simply has to have always existed. So the fact there is something rather than nothing does not itself cry out for an explanation. It implies quite clearly that nothing can fully explain existence. Something has always existed. The task of philosophy is not to explain why anything exists, which must be inherently unexplainable, but rather to try to understand the characteristics of what exists.
Can Effects Exceed Their Cause?
Does the fact we can reason require the conclusion God must have made us? Some have claimed that for our Reason to be valid, a rational being must have created it. We do recognize our particular instantiation of Reason has not always existed (although theologians like Origen questioned this fact in his suggestion of our pre-existence). In this sense our Reason would differ from God’s, since God would always have existed. But does this prove our Reason could not have come to exist without God’s agency? Does it prove that our Reason cannot be considered valid, simply because it has arisen from a non-rational source?
Some would say it does prove this. They suggest an effect must express aspects inherent in its cause. Personality could not have come from impersonality. A personal beginning is proven by the fact that finite personal beings exist. But is this truly proven? It is often said that although God is not a physical being, he has created physical beings. How can something physical come from something non-physical, on the above line of reasoning?
Although we say God is uncreated, this does not change the fact that if we believe God exists, we also believe that it is possible for the present existence to include the element of personality. This would be so without requiring a creator to explain it, since God would be uncreated and yet would also be a personal being. But there is no explanation how God could have this characteristic of personality. Such possibility would simply be a brute fact about existence. We simply must posit it in the claim God exists. But in doing so we are admitting that personality does not require a personal creator to explain it. We are admitting that personality could simply be an inherent trait of existence. The only difference between the case of God and of finite personalities is that the former shows personality as being inherently present as an actuality in existence, whereas in the latter shows personality was inherently potential in existence.
Personality Is Inherent To Existence
So if we believe God exists, we are committed to the affirmation that the possibility of personality is a brute characteristic of what exists. This does not explain how this could be so. There is also nothing ‘behind God’ to found this existence of personality, nor to found the reliability of his own Reason. He simply exists as a reasoning being and the validity of his Reason is something he must assume, without being able to prove. If a being’s Reason can only be valid if a rational being created it, then God’s Reason cannot be valid, since it was not created. It would simply be a brute fact of God’s existence, which he must assume to be valid.
Although we cannot possibly describe how personality could have come from impersonality, can we truly say from our limited perspective of reality that this could not have happened? How would we prove such an assertion? In claiming God exists, we are claiming that personality can be characteristic of existence, though we cannot explain how this could be. In the same way could we not also envision that the potential for finite personal beings could be an inherent possibility of the existing matter/energy that lies at the base of the universe? How would we prove this could not be?
Additionally, if a finite personal being began at a particular point in time to exist, would this being not be required simply to accept the validity of its Reason as a brute fact of its existence? We have admitted that if God exists, he must accept the validity of his own Reason as a brute fact of his existence. What would be different in the first case that would invalidate a similar claim on the part of a finite personal being? Certainly such a being would not share God’s ‘omniscient’ perspective. This finite personality would be aware its reasoning is not infallible. It also would be aware its Reason had not always been functional. But it still would find itself, having come to be with the characteristics of a rational being, forced to accept the guidance of its Reason.
In truth, even the argument that God is necessary for finite Reason to be valid, can only be considered a true explanation on the prior assumption that the finite Reason we use to state the argument, and evaluate its conclusions, is in fact valid. This means we have to assume the validity of our Reason, to attempt to argue that our Reason could not be valid without God as its creator. But this is to directly contradict the claim that only God could make our Reason valid, since only if our Reason were considered valid before ‘knowing’ this, could we conclude this foundation was necessary. And unless we consider our Reason valid without this without this foundation, we cannot arrive at this foundation at all. So a finite personality would not find itself forced to conclude its existence implies a rational personality that created it. This conclusion can also be seen in another way.
Creation Of Personality Equally Inexplicable
An additional challenge to the supposed explanatory power of the theistic explanation derives from the fact that how God could create additional personalities is no less inexplicable than the suggestion offered by naturalism that such personalities could have arisen within the universe independently of God’s agency. This fact is usually not noticed because it is assumed that since God would be a very powerful personal being, this somehow implies he could have the power to create other finite personal beings. This is thought to be more explanatory than that these beings could have arisen from an impersonal source, without any personal agency producing this effect. But is it?
It is true that if God were a personal being, he would have the ability through his free will to begin a causal series. The fact the universe contains within it causal series does suggest the possibility of an initiation of these series. The fact that in certain parts of the universe things move from a state of ‘no personal beings’ to there being personal beings does represent a change in the state of things, a unique causal series of events. Personal beings can instigate changes, by beginning causal series. So the existence of such a change could imply God’s existence, since God is an agent who could begin a causal series, which this change is.
But God’s ability to begin a causal series does not in any way explain his ability either to create something out of absolutely nothing, or to create personal beings who were not there before. We normally find it rationally impossible to accept that something could come from absolutely nothing, yet the traditional account of creation appears to assert just this kind of situation. We should not be distracted by the fact theism posits a God who could begin a causal series, into believing that this now explains how something could come from absolutely nothing, as creation ‘ex nihilo’ implies. For the same reason, the fact God would be a being who could instigate a causal series does not in any way explain or offer the beginnings of an explanation of how God could cause finite personalities to come into existence. God may simply have this power, but then the universe might also simply have characteristics that would allow finite personalities to emerge from the impersonal.
One No Better Than The Other
So on the scale of the inexplicability of the emergence of finite personal beings in the universe, both theism and naturalism offer no clear mechanism by which this could have happened. Without any knowledge of the mechanism involved in either explanation, we are in no position to affirm that one offering is better than the other is. The only way that theism can be seen as a potentially superior viewpoint is in the fact that at least with theism we are positing a being that could produce a change in the state of existence, through God’s ability as a personal agent to initiate a causal series. But this explanation still requires us to accept that God has a completely inexplicable ability somehow to create the actual changes in view. And unless it can be clearly shown that infinite past motion is impossible, this does not eliminate the naturalistic hypothesis, as the source of the causal changes we see in the universe. Outside of this question, the mechanism by which finite personalities come to be in both naturalism and theism presently remain inherently mysterious, therefore preventing us from seeing one or the other to be superior in explaining this phenomenon.
This account does not disprove that God created the finite personalities that exist. It simply implies that it cannot be said with certainty that God must have created these beings, simply because they exist with the particular traits they have. And it does imply that on the basis of the existence of finite personalities we cannot say with certainty that this requires us to infer God exists. Without a knowledge of how finite beings could come into being ‘from nothing’, or how they could come into being ‘from something’, we are in no position to affirm theism or naturalism as the better explanation, though one of them must be true. As I have indicated, the argument from motion may still carry weight in support of theism, if infinite past motion is incoherent. But the argument from the existence of finite personalities does not seem to achieve its attempted outcome.
Copyright 2019 Kel Good. This publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. For more information write: Kel Good via What I Believe This Week (www.whatibelievethisweek.com)