Sixth in a series of essays on the
donated by Contributing Editor Susan
An alternative view of Feser's
"Nature of God" in his book
"Five Proofs of the Existence
The 6th chapter of Feser’s Book, "Five Proofs of the Existence of God" 1 addresses the nature of God and of His relationship to the world.
He starts by outlining what he has proven in the first five chapters.
- There is a purely Actual Actualizer (AA).
- The AA is simple and non-composite.
- Abstract ideas, like universals,
propositions, numbers and possible worlds exist in a divine intellect. (I showed the problem with
this argument is that it ignores the reality of Theodicy: why this divine intellect creates Evil, and
allows bad things to happen.)
- AA is the ultimate cause of things and is subsistent existence
- The ultimate explanation of things can only lie in an absolutely necessary being. I pointed out that he didn’t prove this explanation has to be a being, instead of being a thing. Statements 1, 2, and 4 can apply to "things" such as those subatomic particles I have mentioned in other
essays about his book.
Feser then outlines three principles that he uses in the rest of his argument about the nature of God.
- The first is the principle of "proportionate causality" which states:
" that whatever is in an effect must be in its cause, insofar as a cause cannot give what it does not first have."
- The second principle is that of "action follows being." "The basic idea is that what a thing does necessarily reflects what it is."
No problem for me with either of these principles but I wonder if they will present problems for Feser as I get further into the chapter.
- The third principle is that "being" is used in an analogous way.
Unfortunately "being" can be used as a verb or as a noun. When "being" is used as a verb it means the act of existing. The analogy used when "being" is applied to something inanimate, a thing, is quite different from the analogy when "being" becomes a noun, "a being". That little letter "a" changes the nature of the analogy. With the addition of "a" we are referring to a particular type of being. Most people will
make the connection to that of something like a human being!
Feser starts listing and defining the divine attributes: Unity, Simplicity, Immutability, Immateriality & incorporeality, Eternity, Necessity, and Omnipotence. These arguments are all extensions of arguments he gave in the first five chapters. As I read I began to see problems, with arguments in one area conflicting with what was argued in another.
For example in the argument about Unity on Page 186 of his book, 1 he states that "God is purely actual, with no potentiality at all." If this is the case how can he cause anything to exist? How can he be the cause of anything? To cause something is to take some sort of action, action involves the realization of a potential, how can you act if you don’t have the potential to act? As he said above a "cause cannot give what it does not have". If you are giving something, doesn’t that
imply potentiality, and the ability to change?
He attempts to address this question. He refers to the second principle, "action follows being." He says:
"In this case we are talking about something whose very existence is purely actual and devoid of potentiality. So, from where in its nature are the (metaphysically less fundamental) potentialities for activity that the critic suggests it has supposed to derive?"
Good question. Doesn’t this prove that the God he is arguing for can’t exist?
The most serious problem for Feser arrives with his argument about Omnipotence. He states, on page 205-206:
"Power is the capacity to act or to make."
Here he uses another bait and switch.
In earlier arguments he used the word potentiality. Here he uses capacity. Isn’t capacity also a potentiality? He continues "causing things to exist is a kind of acting and a kind of making." How does a "kind of acting" differ from acting? How does a "kind of making" differ from making?
"It follows that anything that exists or could exist other than God depends at every instant on God for its existence."
If this is the case, he continues:
"The operation or
activity of anything at any moment also depends on God. ... how could it act at any instant apart
In the 3rd essay in this series I suggested that we should take his argument to its full and logical extension. Applying this to his argument that:
"... the operation or activity of anything at any moment also depends on God."
Feser has created a serious dilemma for God and himself: IF this is true, then God is responsible for 9-11, hurricane Katrina, all the wars and terrorist activity, all the actions of tyrants and bullies, all the bad things that happen, and all the EVIL in the world. Humans have no free will. We are merely God’s puppets, or toy soldiers, or pieces on a chess board he moves around or wipes out on a whim.
The God, who Feser is arguing for, is a monster, not a good or perfect being. AND, this isn’t what Feser really wants to prove. But. IF his arguments hold, then this is where they lead.
He perhaps attempts to address this problem by claiming on Page 208:
"God possesses perfect goodness, and thus cannot sin."
Since sin is often defined as defying God, that statement makes no sense, for how can a willful God defy himself? Sin is also defined as an immoral act. How can a good, perfect God commit an immoral act? YET we know such acts occur. If God is responsible for every action a person makes than God is committing these immoral acts.
Also to claim that something that causes great harm isn’t sinful is itself a sin! How could a perfect, good God demand more of us than he is willing to do himself? If we aren’t supposed to kill, how could a perfect, good God justify mass killings that he himself is the cause of?
The problem of Theodicy once again is Theism’s and Feser’s "Achilles Heel." There is no getting around this problem other than to admit that the God who Feser argues exists, doesn’t actually exist!
I think he tries to address this dilemma in his argument about Perfect Goodness starting on Page 216.
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.
Originally posted: 2018-JUN-04
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys