Argument for Christianity from “Martyrdom”

The idea is that numerous Christian martyrs have suffered for their faith which indicates that there is something to that faith, because the martyrs thought it would be better to endure imprisonment, torture, and death than to renounce the faith or to worship a false god.

Stefan Molyneux’s response was as follows:

Remember a couple of years ago there were these guys who thought that the comet that was coming by was the mothership to heaven or something like that, and they cut their testicles off and then killed themselves to join that comet.

Well, if you are going to say that Jesus Christ is divine, because people died for him, then of course you are going to have to say that that comet is also divine, because people died for that. (podcast #13)

Now it is surely true that people have voluntarily suffered for communism, for the emperor, and for other objectionable causes. But not as many. “Tacitus is authority for the statement that an immense multitude… were put to death by Nero,” says the Catholic Encyclopedia. And not with such passion of conviction. And not for so long and in so many places, from Rome to Mexico to Japan. And, finally, not for a cause that has endured for two thousand years. These may be differences in degree, but the degree is considerable.

To get back to Stefan’s comet, the crucial difference between the two cases is that the Heaven’s Gate cultists committed suicide, while the Christian martyrs were murdered. It is an explicit Church teaching that one ought not to seek martyrdom. It’s a general opinion that suicide is a grave sin. So, the Christian martyrs wanted to continue living, but they were given a choice either to deny Christ or die. They would rather they were left alone and allowed to worship peacefully. The comet worshippers wanted a shortcut to heaven, while the Christian martyrs would rather have gone on with their lives.

In other words, there is, somewhat crudely, the supererogatory way to die (martyrdom, if the circumstances and one’s own judgment call for it), the right way to die (naturally), and the wrong way to die (suicide). Now it is true that suicide can be committed in a variety of creative ways. For example, one can pull a gun on a cop and have the cop shoot him in self-defense. (Such things have actually happened.) Perhaps there can be a suicide via upsetting the Roman emperor. Therefore, Christianity has nothing against trying as hard as one can to avoid both death and apostasy. If that is impossible, the decision which to choose is not legislated by any authoritative teaching but is left to the conscience of the individual.

It is true that both the martyr and the comet worshipper chose death. But for the former the choices were (1) renounce Christianity or (2) die; the opportunity to remain Christian and live was denied to him by his persecutors; whereas for the latter the choices were (1′) renounce the doctrine that committing suicide will lead to salvation or (2′) die; the choice to keep the “faith” and live was precluded as self-contradictory. The necessity of suicide was part of the core doctrine of the Heaven’s Gate cult; nothing like that is found in Christianity. Hence the Christian martyr suffered at the hands of the others’ intolerance and megalomania (such as when the Roman emperor wanted to be worshipped), while the Heaven’s Gate cultist suffered only from his own stupidity. Given that suicide is the wrong way to die, we can know with a degree of certainty that any religion that explicitly commands one to kill oneself to attain some benefits in the hereafter is false.

And so the comet worshippers are gone, while billions of Christians still practice their faith.

Methodology of Arguing for God

The task when proving God’s existence is always to uncover some attribute of God in which God is different from creatures.

For example, one argument can start by noticing that the world is very lawlike. There is order in it and not a whole lot of chaos.

Suppose we then suggest: This sort of determination, perhaps as instructions located deep in the essences of all things, must’ve been infused into those things by an intelligence. Law, we argue, implies a lawgiver.

This is extremely inadequate. First, a chaotic universe is not even conceivable or imaginable to human beings. This is especially so if causality is somehow an a priori part of the structure of our minds. The human mind expects to find order in the world, much more even than the brain “expects” to find functioning arms and legs in the body. An orderly and comprehensible universe which human beings can to some extent master and control is an ultimate given. It need not at first glance point to anything beyond.

Second, even if we surmount this problem, all we know at this point is that the lawgiver is intelligent. But so are human beings. How is God any different from man? Could God happen to be just a somewhat smarter human? Maybe the true God is Hephaestus or Zeus.

The correct way to utilize the fact of natural law is the way I do it in my book:

I first establish by a different yet also rigorous argument that the universe had to be created from nothing. I deduce that its Creator is “goodness” that is beyond being and suggest that its mode of causation is neither physical nor teleological nor Aristotelian. Instead, it is an eternal grounding cause that consists in “self-diffusion” of goodness. Notice how God is shown to be something sui generis: different yet not intractable.

So, the world’s existence and order are not just some brute facts. There is a lawgiver. Then I ask:

What informed the universe with laws? If object A gave the law to matter, then if A itself is law-bound, then the problem remains. “What ordered A?” we are liable to ask. We cannot go to infinity; hence, the ultimate first cause of the order of the universe itself obeys no laws at all. But there are only two sorts of things that obey no laws at all: one is pure chaos, and the other is absolutely simple; pure potency and pure act. But the chaos of the former does not generate order. We must acknowledge this simple thing that is free to such a perfect degree to be the cause of order of the universe and to be God.

The conclusion — now exceedingly interesting and useful — is not that God is intelligent (he may well be, but we need other arguments to give us a better idea of just how intelligent he is), but that he, unlike creatures, is materially simple and efficiently free.

One God, Many Distinctions

There are three major distinctions in God.

First, in the levels: goodness on 3; the Father-Son-Holy Spirit on 2; and simple matter on 1.

Second, between the persons of the Trinity.

Third, between each person’s intellect, will, and power.

Regarding the first, just as a human being is a machine-like spirit who features both level 2 and level 1 united into a single creature, so God by His nature consists of all 3 levels.

God’s 1st level is almost vacuous: His material cause is simple; and further He is efficiently free. (Thus, God is not composed of any pre-existing material parts, nor operates according to any prior laws of nature.)

God’s 2nd-level final cause is His unconstrained enjoyment of perfectly knowing His infinite self.

And God’s formal cause — the answer to the question “What is God?” — is goodness.

Regarding the second, we can picture the intellect of God as composite and split logically between the persons, such as the Father as “mind or subject knowing,” the Holy Spirit as “thought,” and the Son as “object known.”

His will can be considered similarly: the Father as lover, the Son as the beloved, the Holy Spirit as everything God loves about Himself.

Finally, power: to think (Father), to comprehend with the thought (Holy Spirit), and to be revealed in full, to self-actualize (Son).

Regarding the third:

God’s essence as a thinking being is manifested in God’s having thoughts. What are the thoughts about? Himself. God comprehends Himself in a single self-image or self-conception.

But comprehending oneself which in this case is holding of one’s image in one’s mind is owning oneself which pertains to power as possession. (God’s power to create the world is due to His 3rd level of goodness.)

Further, since God’s happiness lies not in anything outside God but rather within Himself (such that God suffices Himself), for God, again, love of concupiscence is the same as love of self. In keeping Himself in His mind, God ipso facto unites Himself and His understanding of Himself. But love is the only 2nd-level unitive force. Hence, God to His thought is as lover to the beloved. Insofar as God loves the thing He owns, He loves and enjoys Himself.

We can see that the act of God’s intellect, the act of His power, and act of His will are one and the same thing, namely, God’s conceiving and contemplating Himself. Consequently, the distinction between the three faculties is illusory. God is one (and so is a simple pure act) and supremely so.

Again, God’s integrity and fusion of the intellect, will, and power is a separate unity from the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is precisely my previous conflation of the two that introduced a defect into my system which has now been fixed.

There are two extra unities in God, specifically the Son:

(4) between Jesus’ divine nature and His human nature;

(5) between Jesus’ human body and soul or between His human will, intellect, and power.

Higher Divine Levels Entail Lower Ones

The main property of the 1st level, “matter,” is pure actuality, and especially simplicity and freedom.

The main property of the 2nd level, “spirit” is perfect and unlimited happiness.

But that includes virtually pure actuality. For if God is perfect, then included in the meaning of perfection is complete safety from losing any perfections or the happiness stemming from them. The Father-Son-Holy Spirit is pure act, because there is no potency in Him toward either greater or lesser happiness, knowledge, or anything else predicated of Him.

But not vice versa: perfection is a value judgment; pure actuality is entirely descriptive. So, a thing may have no potential for change yet still be imperfect.

The main property of the 3rd level, “goodness,” is unconstrained creative power.

That again includes virtually both complete happiness and pure actuality. Suppose that God was not completely happy and created because, for example, He wanted company. Then it would no longer be true that God “wills nothing except by reason of its goodness.” (ST, I, 19, 2, reply 3) He would have created because of the utility to Him of the creation which would be good as a means to the satisfaction of God’s “selfish” ends. In other words, there would be an evil in God which the creation would help remedy; and therefore, the creation would spring from something evil rather than from something good.

But again, not vice versa: thus, the 2nd-level natural deistic God is maximally happy in Himself but has no creative powers and so is not good as 3rd-level goodness is good.

Names of God: Analogical Predication

St. Thomas proposes the following caveat:

Although it may be admitted that creatures are in some sort like God, it must nowise be admitted that God is like creatures; because…

“A mutual likeness may be found between things of the same order, but not between a cause and that which is caused.”

For, we say that a statue is like a man, but not conversely; so also a creature can be spoken of as in some sort like God; but not that God is like a creature. (ST, I, 4, 3, reply 4)

The likeness of a creature and God simply means that a proposition that is true of a creature is also true, though not necessarily univocally, of God. The reason for the rider and to deny that God is like any creature is that God transcends creatures.

For example, God has an essence, and a man has an essence; God exists, and so does the man. But only for God is His essence identical to His existence.

God the Father knows possible worlds, and so do humans; God can create a world, and humans can shape matter into art. But God knows all possibilities, and for Him what is possible is conceivable, and vice versa; and only God can create ex nihilo.

We can see that the purpose of naming God “analogically” as “a mean between pure equivocation and simple univocation” is to describe both how God is like creatures, and how He differs from them by some spectacular excellence in degree or in kind.

Divine Simplicity Is Rather Complex

There are 5 ways in which simplicity can be ascribed to God.

First, on the 1st level of matter. Again, there simplicity means that God is not composed of (a) material parts that interact according to (b) some laws of nature that define and condition God. God is not a body, nor is composed of matter and form.

Second, the simplicity of the 2nd-level Father-Son-Holy Spirit is described in an earlier post, where I discuss both the unity of the persons and the unity of the divine intellect, will, and power.

In addition, God is not a union of past, present, and future life plus timeless abstracta but lives in eternity — a simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life.

Third, the simplicity of the 3rd level of goodness is due to our inability to discern intellectually any distinctions within it at all. Goodness cannot be known or understood, only judged (by a wise man) to be good.

Fourth, there is the union of the levels themselves. This is a highly mysterious issue, much more so than even the mind-body union in humans.

Fifth, the simplicity of our classification of God. Thus, St. Thomas argues in (ST, I, 3) that God is not composed of (1) essence and concrete object, (2) essence and existence, (3) genus and difference, or (4) subject and accident.

(1) The concrete Son and the Father’s mental grasp of Him through the Holy Spirit as the abstract form or essence of the Son contemplated in thought are self-same. God’s nature is not individualized in matter, such that the same nature, such as humanity, can be instantiated in many parcels of matter, such as individual men, but subsists in itself. Each angel, for example, is as if its own species, and so is God even more obviously.

(2) For St. Thomas, the main difference in kind between God and creatures is specifically the aspect of God’s simplicity of the identity of God’s essence and existence. I agree that God is His own existence, but I think that even this admittedly stupendous attribute pales in comparison with the distinction between 3rd-level goodness and lower-levels being.

(3) God cannot be described univocally by any property he shares with another thing + another property by which He is different from it.

For example, it is permissible to say that God lives. Does it mean that we can place Him in the genus “biological organisms,” such that He will constitute a species on par with bacteria, bees, or humans? A bee would differ as an insect that feeds on pollen and nectar and stores both and often also honey; a human would be a “rational” animal; and God would be a “divine” life-form. I don’t think so. God is alive insofar as He has or is a soul or spirit, unlike inanimate objects. We may even attribute to him intellect, will, and power. But the way He exercises the functions of life is so different from how creatures do so that no classification of God is possible. “God lives” is true merely analogically.

Thus, “God is not related to creatures as though belonging to a different ‘genus,’ but as transcending every ‘genus,’ and as the principle of all ‘genera’.” (ST, I, 4, 3, reply 2)

(4) Every divine property is essential to God. If God is essentially omniscient, then He would cease to exist entirely, if omniscience were somehow taken away from Him. Conversely, if God ceased to exist, then omniscience could not be predicated of anything else.

God Causes Inertial Motion

Consider the following table:

Act Potency
Matter position motion (momentum)
Energy motion (kinetic) transfer of energy

Things in inertial motion seem to move “on their own.” This is an illusion. For they are in act insofar as they occupy a given position, and in potency insofar as they seek to abandon this position and move further along their straight-line path. Now everything that begins to exist, stops existing, or changes generally has a cause. Object X leaves point A and so ends something and arrives to B which begins something.

A change of this sort cannot happen by itself. Something already in act must influence X in order to elicit or bring about the potential novelty (goodbye A; I’ll always remember you; hello B!) contained therein. Now if that something itself is in a similar inertial motion, then the problem is merely pushed back one step. Infinite regress is a no-no.

Hence we are led to postulate a thing that is 100% in act and no way in potency. Call this thing God. It must be the case that the reason why God is a pure act regarding matter is that He is already everywhere He needs to be. He’s already arrived to everywhere needful — which is all places. God has comprehended, fully possessed every point. He is everywhere by “essence, presence, power.” Every point in space is God’s bitch.

God is both transcendent and immanent; so it is not meaningless to speak of motion in regard to God. Since God is so big materially, we can call Him immense.

Existence is a proper act of every essence; and motion, of every substance. But each is powerless to gain the right act on its own. The Holy Spirit is the glue that unites object and act.

Since the act of energy is the potency of matter, and God considered materially is not in potentiality, God’s kinetic energy is zero. And of course, God has no potency in regard to energy, either. It follows that God’s intimate omnipresence does not interfere with secondary causes: e.g., if I am dragging a ball and chain, then it’s not inertial motion by God but induced motion by me, where there is no inherent potency of the ball to move.

Inertial motion then arises as a result of God’s dragging things through space.

God Can Perceive Absolute Space and Motion

For all non-divine physical objects in our universe, motion is relative.

If I am in deep space next to a ball that appears to be moving, I can’t tell whether the ball is moving up, or I’m moving down, or we are both moving. The idea of a “point in space” loses much of its intuitive sense: is the ball in a new point now or am I?

Motion need not be relative to any actual object but may be relative to an ideal abstract point of origin. Which one can fix anywhere. However, he will not be able to tell whether that point, too, is moving in absolute space. Thus, absolute motion is undetectable. Of course, it would be grotesque to imagine our universe as a giant cube, and God standing outside that cube providing a unique absolute reference frame. There’s space outside of space? Is there a wall separating our-space from God-space? These are childish inquiries.

But since God is everywhere in space, he can distinguish between every point. For God then, motion can be absolute.

God’s Eternity, 1

My view is that God exists in eternity, a roll-up of past, present, and future into a single super-Now, not “outside” of time but in time perfected and transcended. The Father may add to these 3 also timelessness, which is a mode of existence of abstract objects.

But suppose the contrary: God is not atemporally eternal but temporally everlasting, having neither beginning nor end, but existing in time. Problems abound.

1. Time for (merely) material objects consists entirely in the sequence of events and relationship of before and after; time for rational creatures adds to that the importance of the length of the duration between events. This is because waiting for something pleasant to happen for humans has disutility. If a satisfaction can be brought closer to fruition at no cost, then everyone will necessarily want that to happen.

But God is omnipotent. As Mises writes:

For an all-powerful being there is no pressure to choose between various states of uneasiness; he is not under the necessity of acquiescing in the lesser evil.

Omnipotence would mean the power to achieve everything and to enjoy full satisfaction without being restrained by any limitations. But this is incompatible with the very concept of action. For an almighty being the categories of ends and means do not exist. He is above all human comprehension, concepts, and understanding.

For the almighty being every “means” renders unlimited services, he can apply every “means” for the attainment of any ends, he can achieve every end without the employment of any means. (HA, 69)

But time is precisely a means, a factor of production. If God is in time, then certain pleasures He may desire will only become available to Him in, say, 1 million years. Yet what would compel an omnipotent God to wait so long for them? Why acquiesce to an evil of not being able to taste various happy (and possibly unique) experiences for such a long a time? An omnipotent being would surely lack any such a pathetic limitation.

If it is objected that God is altogether immutable and has no unsatisfied future goals, then it becomes unclear what the purpose is of situating Him in time.

2. If God is omniscient, then He knows not only our but also His own past and future perfectly. But knowing the future perfectly is exactly like having already lived it.

So, for God, His past and future are as vivid and present to His understanding as the present moment. The future brings no novelty to God, no new experiences. The past never fades for Him but is as real as the present.

Why live in time, then, when God already effectively possesses His entire life at every instant? Why not unite and collapse His past, present, and future into a timeless moment? Thus, an everlasting God would happily convert Himself into an eternal one if He could.

If, however, God is not omniscient and is in the process of becoming or self-exploration or some such thing, then by that fact he is neither eternal nor everlasting after all, because His future is still to come and possibly surprise Him. Unlike an angel or a saint in the state of glory, such a God has no beginning. Like them, however, His future, counting from any definite moment in time, is only potentially infinite. Which is contrary to both hypotheses.

3. God has no material parts interacting according to some laws of nature, as those would be prior to God and define and determine Him. For example, if God were to be disassembled, then He would cease to exist, yet His parts would not; nor would they lose their form. That God is materially simple is uncontroversial.

In addition, a God who existed in time would be composed of His numerous individual present experiences. What, however, would unite them as belonging to the same being? I am not demanding that the temporalist propose a theory of the divine personal identity, but I am suggesting that a robust doctrine of divine simplicity is incompatible with this view.

A related problem is that lots of creatures are in time. If time disappeared, then so would God. But if God disappeared, then time would presumably stick around. If would still remain a sort of container in which the life experiences of creatures took place. Thus, time would end up ontologically prior to God. But God is the first being and could not tolerate being conditioned by anything more fundamental than He.

God’s Eternity, 2

4. If God is a temporally everlasting being, then why did he wait so long before creating the world? “So long” here means an infinite amount of time. It may be replied that God might have been creating good things always and very frequently prior to the creation of our universe.

The Bible does say: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) It could mean in the beginning of time. But I have always taken “in the beginning” to mean “in the beginning of our story of the adventures of God and the human race.” At the most, this suggests that our universe is isolated from the rest of God’s creations.

But if God was creating all the time for an infinite amount of time, then our universe must have been infinitely low on His priority list. An infinite number of universes or things were more important to God if He created (and perhaps after a while destroyed) them first. Far from being the best possible of all ideal worlds then, our world has got to be pretty bad, unless there exists an infinite number of equally good worlds.

Thus, if “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16), then He must have loved His other creations at least as much. Have there been multiple Incarnations then? Has Jesus died an infinite number of times? (Even once is too many.) Is there an infinite number of souls in heaven, perhaps souls unlike our own?

The consequences of this objection are exceedingly bizarre. And there is the separate problem of the impossibility of forming an actual infinite by addition…

5. … to which we now come. Yet, according to the temporalist view, God must have lived an infinite number of finite time slices (e.g., seconds).

Now one indeed cannot complete an infinity of natural numbers by counting 1, 2, 3, … But this set has a beginning, 1. God does not have a beginning. Is the argument undone?

The best solution, in my view, is to declare temporalism on this issue simply unintelligible. What does it mean to start from -∞ and count forward? Obviously, one will not get anywhere. Further, -∞ is not a date, like 1/2/1345. What does it mean, then?

Divine life stretching forever into the past is best interpreted as a parable of divine infinity. God has been everywhere and done everything. He fully knows His own infinite self, having had an infinite amount of time to acquaint Himself with it.

The kalam argument uses similar reasoning with some additional points to show that the universe must have a beginning. But what’s good for the universe it good for God, too. Hence God either had a beginning or He is atemporally eternal.

6. If God is immutable, then He has to be eternal, because mere everlasting existence obviously entails changes in God.

But: perhaps the reason for attributing immutability to God is that He can change neither for the better nor for the worse. What of metaphysically neutral changes?

St. Thomas, for example, says no to them, too, for three reasons:

1) due to God’s pure actuality (see also the next argument);
2) due to God’s simplicity;
3) because

everything which is moved acquires something by its movement, and attains to what it had not attained previously. But since God is infinite, comprehending in Himself all the plenitude of perfection of all being, He cannot acquire anything new, nor extend Himself to anything whereto He was not extended previously. Hence movement in no way belongs to Him. (ST, I, 9, 1)

One could argue that God may extend to A which excludes B, and then He can forsake A and extend to B (which excludes A) in such a way that His perfection is unaffected. But what could be examples of such As and Bs? Perhaps this will do: God talks to Moses and then stops talking to Moses. Thereby God acquires a property, “having talked to Moses.” This new property changes Him neither for the better nor for the worse, but it does change Him neutrally. But the property of “having talked to Moses” predicated of God is entirely equivalent to the proposition “God talked to Moses.” The change of the truth value of this proposition with the passage of time does not entail any change in God.

In any event, we must distinguish between the original creation and one after the Fall: of the angels, man, etc.

So, perhaps God is immutable, and hence eternal, after all.

7. If God is pure act, then in Him there can be no becoming. This time, any change, whether value-neutral or not, entails a potential for that change. If there was no such potential, the change could not occur. Pure actuality does not take away merely mutability towards good or evil but all mutability whatsoever.

Again the doctrine of pure actuality is inconsistent with temporalism.

8. Supposing for God the past passes away, and the future is not yet, Thomas Morris puts it this way:

Time carries away things of great value. It also bears new values, but those too must quickly pass away. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the joys of the present and the future could be experienced without ever relinquishing any to a past which is beyond the reach of immediate awareness?

The fact that our joys are ephemeral is a function of, an aspect of, the fact that we are imperfect. Surely, it would be better for a being capable of love, appreciation and enjoyment never to suffer loss. So, surely, a greatest possible being, a perfect being such as God, should not be thought of as undergoing the sort of loss necessarily involved with being temporal.

God, therefore, must exist outside of or “above” time, eternally relating equally to every thing, person and event swept along by the river of time. (Our Idea of God, 130)

This, I think, is the strongest argument in favor of God’s eternity. A temporal being cannot be happy 100%. I think our perception of time is merely simplified and dumbed down divine eternity; it’s perfection of time thrown down against the earth and shattered into pieces.

Regarding the present time, God both is eternal and relates to us in time, insofar as union through love changes even God. And so He is brought low for our sake.