A speech by Matt Dillahunty was linked to for my edification from an atheist website on which I presented my arguments for the existence of God from “contingency.”

At the beginning, Matt distinguishes between two kinds of contingency: “causal” and “sustaining.” P may be dependent on Q for its coming to exist, but also for its continuing to exist. Thus, he argues that it is possible that some X caused or created the contingent universe and then disappeared. My own arguments are untouched by this distinction, because they all ask what ultimately sustains contingent things in being, such as the unions of (1) potency and existence; (2) act and existence; (3) potency and act.

There are three kinds of necessity relevant to this problem. The first type of necessity I call “imperishability.” An object is necessary in this sense if, once it exists, it will never stop existing (and perhaps always has existed). Yet such an object is still contingent, because there will always be possible (though non-actual) ways to destroy it. There is no such thing as an ordinary indestructible object, because we can always postulate an irresistible force in some possible world that will smash it into smithereens. The proof begins with noting the perishability of numerous things and continues that there must be at least one thing that is imperishable or necessary in the first sense.

Matt appears to wonder what we can point to that is imperishable. I list three things: matter, in accordance with the law of conservation of matter and energy; certain forms, such as a stable elementary particle of some sort perhaps that is sure to exist forever; and the universe as a whole. Different arguments follow from each of these.

The second sense of necessity is illustrated by an X in which it’s not the case that its essence and its existence are united by yet a third thing or force or what have you, but such that its essence and existence are numerically identical to each other, self-same. St. Thomas pronounces this astounding thing in particular to be “what all men call God.” Imperishable matter and forms are such merely in this actual world; X is imperishable in all possible worlds. Matter and these imperishable objects are necessary in the first sense but not in the second sense. This time, it is not possible even logically to separate X’s nature from its existence, because they are one and the same thing. However, the universe as a whole might indeed be necessary in the second sense, too, as far as we are concerned, and as Matt proposes. Must we then allow that the “cosmos” might be “God”?

Now let us not underestimate our achievement so far. We’ve already established that there must be some thing that is extremely and fantastically different from ordinary matter and objects in the fact that its essence is its own existence. We may stop here and call this “God.” Matt objects to calling it God, because it may be the “cosmos as a whole,” whatever it is, that may feature this very property. And I agree that there are further insights to be gained by following the argument to its final stage.

Note that even if it is possible for the cosmos to be necessary in the second sense, the cosmos cannot cause the necessity (in the first sense) of matter and imperishable forms. This is because all those are part of the cosmos, and the whole cannot give existence to its parts; rather the reverse. Whatever X is keeping things in perpetual existence must be distinct from the cosmos, even if both X and the cosmos are necessary in the second sense.

The third and last sense of necessity for us is modal logical necessity. In the X under our investigation, it has been revealed, there is a perfect (i.e., numerical) union of being and essence; but if the “cosmos,” understood as everything that there is, consists in nothing but “being,” then there may be possible worlds in which X does not exist at all. If God exists, then He is absolutely imperishable or necessary in the second sense. But He has not yet been demonstrated to be necessary in the third sense, as is evident from the ease with which His non-existence can be contemplated by the mind. Matt refuses to engage the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” apparently considering it nonsensical, but I urge him to change his mind. It is a perfectly reasonable query.

And as I therefore argue, the answer to it is that X is not really a “thing” at all; it is rather the Creator of things. Insofar as we (hopefully) are willing to consider the cosmos to be a good thing, its Creator would be the quintessence of goodness itself. This goodness is beyond being. For the sake of illustration only, and we are now going beyond our argument, the Father-Son-Holy Spirit would be perfectly and infinitely happy on the “2nd, spiritual” level. God on His ultimate and unique 3rd level of goodness does not seek happiness at all; but this goodness overflows and diffuses itself into things-that-seek-happiness, such as human beings. Even the Trinity is comparatively a mere attachment to God’s essential goodness. As such, X-as-goodness transcends possible worlds and exists in all of them. Our X is now necessary in the fullest and most spectacular sense of this word.

Regarding the name of God, “goodness,” I have a counter-argument. Imagine a world W of intelligent crystals who reproduce against their will, who live a long time, and who are always in agonizing pain. They long to die. Eventually, they develop the technology to commit suicide and actually all, as one, kill themselves. It is doubtful that even if the crystals reasoned their way to God’s existence, they would concede His goodness. At the very least, W would clearly be incompetently and probably maliciously made. I submit that given the knowledge of God we’ve obtained in the course of this argument, it is more likely that W is an impossible world. It is conceivable, but there is a difference between what is conceivable and what is possible. W is only apparently possible and in fact not; hence, we are barred from using this example to argue against God’s goodness.

Again, it is true that humans have on many occasions created a hell on earth, but very rarely to such an extent as to, through their crimes, cause their fellows to want to die.

Matt complains that the proofs under consideration do not supply us with the full understanding of God; they give us only a slice of God. Well, that is enough for these proofs. There are other proofs that reveal other aspects of the divine nature.

My methodology is that at the beginning of any systematic unveiling of the nature of “God,” I deliberately forget so much as the common meaning of the term “God.” I assume nothing. The most I allow myself is a question, “What is this God that other people occasionally mention in their speech?” Matt may object that I am still conditioned by my “culture” to use the word “God.” True, but I do so only because I want to be understood rather than stew in my own solipsistic juices. Matt can hardly condemn a desire so innocent.

In sum, the argument from contingency succeeds at establishing a number of attributes of God; and moreover the use of the word “God” should cause the skeptic no offense, especially upon demonstration of how greatly God differs from creatures.


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