Fourth in a series of essays on the existence/non-existence
donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys.
An alternative view of Edward Feser's
discussion of the Thomistic Proof for
the existence of God,
"Five Proofs of the Existence of God."
There are several ways that we can determine if something really exists or if it exists only in human imagination.
First we use our senses: sight, touch, sound, smell, even taste. If I hear a bell that isn’t enough to prove that the bell isn’t just ringing in my head. If the other folks around me also hear a bell that confirms that a bell is ringing somewhere. However, we can’t tell whether the bell is a real physical bell or an electronic synthesized bell. All we really know is that something that sounds like a bell is ringing somewhere.
If I walk outside in the dark and stub my toe on something, I may not be able to see the something, but I can tell that something is there by the throbbing pain in my toe. I might have to reach down and touch the object to determine if it is a rock, or a log, or something else!
I can’t see the wind but I can feel the wind on my face, as it blows my hair and my clothes. I can see the effect the wind has on other objects, the movement of the limbs of trees and I can see trash blowing down the street.
I can walk into my house and instantly tell with my sense of smell that my cat just did a big stinky in the litter box!
Physicists confirmed the existence of the Higgs Boson and gravitational waves with the help of cameras. They confirmed the existence of Black Holes and Dark Matter by watching the effects these have on other objects.
So how can we tell if God really exists or if God exists only in the imaginations of humans?
Feser turns to logical arguments to try to prove that God exists. In his 4th argument for the existence of God, he first draws a distinction between something’s essence and its existence. He states that the essence of something is insufficient to prove that it exists because essence and existence are separate factors.
In the next part of the argument Feser tries to prove that God’s essence proves his existence because with God essence and existence are inseparable. Basically all the arguments so far have tried to prove this--each argument focused on one particular essence--actual actualizer, simple and non-composite, necessarily existing intellect to prove that God exists here and now, not just at some point in the past. I think the first problem with the argument is that Feser fails to understand the difference between a necessary essence and a contingent essence.
A necessary essence is such that A won’t be A if it doesn’t possess this quality/characteristic essence. For example a triangle will not be a triangle if it doesn’t have 3 sides. A right angle triangle has three sides but it must also have one angle that is 90 degrees. Without this 90 degree angle a triangle will not be a right angle triangle.
The claim of having a 90 degree angle is not the necessary essence of a triangle. The size of the
angles is immaterial to the fact that something is a triangle. But there must be one 90 degree angle present to claim that
something is a right angle triangle.
A dog as another example is my dog Spot. He has one large white spot on his side, one floppy ear, one upright ear, short hair. The characteristics of my dog Spot are contingent to Spot, they are not necessary to determine if Spot is a dog or a cow. Without canine DNA, Spot won’t be a dog.
If I find a tuft of hair on a bramble at the edge of the woods DNA analysis can tell me if the hair came from a bear or a coyote or a dog. But it can’t tell me if that animal is still alive only that it was alive long enough to produce the hair and then lose it on the bramble.
Some essences are necessary, without a specific kind of DNA a bear won’t be a bear, a cow won’t be a cow, a dog or a human won’t be what they are. Other essences, size, weight, color, even temperament, abilities, are contingent to each particular bear, cow, dog or human.
But Feser is right: even DNA evidence doesn’t prove that something still exists. The fact that something is a triangle because it has three sides doesn’t prove that exists outside my imagination. My throbbing toe and the fact that I could touch the object and determine it is a rock and not a log is proof enough for me that the rock isn’t a figment of my imagination. A necessary essence of rock is that it is something solid with mass (size and weight) and no DNA. If it doesn’t have mass and solidity, if my toe isn’t actually throbbing, it is a figment of my imagination or a bad dream.
So essence doesn’t prove existence.
But some essences can’t be separated from existence either. There are some essences that are necessary and some that are contingent. Are the essences that Feser states God has necessary or contingent? Could God be God without some of these characteristics / essences?
IF God can only be God IF he has these specific characteristics / essences then IF it is impossible for God to have some of these characteristics because they are in conflict with the reality of life on this earth, doesn’t that prove that God doesn’t exist even IF the logic of Feser’s argument holds? I think he tries to clarify this problem about necessary and contingent in his next argument.
I again return to the problem of Theodicy, the Achilles heel of Theism. How can a God that is omniscient, omnipotent, intelligent, all good, all powerful, perfect in every way allow bad things to happen? How could the essences of a perfect God conflict with the reality of life on this earth?
Until the Theist can address this problem with a reasonable answer, than all the proofs for God’s existence are null and void.
I will leave it to Bradley Bowen, who has a series of essays related to this topic on Patheos to dissect the logic of the argument.
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
- Edward Feser, "Five Proofs of the Existence of God," Ignatius Press (2017). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Available in the U.S.: in Kindle format for $11.78, and in Paperback for $14.22.
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Originally posted: 2018-JUN-05
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys