The Finite


The Infinite


George A. Blair

Copyright © 1996


George A. Blair


This is an objective investigation into the question of whether there actually is something that can meaningfully be called "Infinite," in the sense of an unlimited existence--or, in other words, whether there is objective evidence that there is a God.

The traditional arguments for the existence of God are treated and shown to be faulty, and the arguments against God's existence are also found to be fallacious; though in both cases there are some that are strongly suggestive.

The evidence then investigates why we say that anything at all exists, and how we know that there is anything except our own consciousness. It turns out that our conscious act is finite, or an act that is less than itself; and therefore it is not self-explanatory, and needs a real object (either directly or indirectly). But analysis of this object (this existence) shows that it too is finite, and therefore needs a cause; and it is shown that the only possible cause of any finite existence's finiteness is a non-finite existence. This is the Infinite.

The investigation then explores the "characteristics" this Infinite has to have in order to be able to make sense out of finite existence: first the negative "characteristics," and then the positive ones. Finally, the relation between this existence and the created universe is treated (the "causality" of this cause).


Chapter 1: Preliminaries I: The Object and the Method
1.1. What are we doing
1.1.1. Allowing for bias
1.1.2. Faith and the investigation A non-issue: the crimes of believers
1.2. The philosophical God
1.3. The method
1.3.1. Contradictions and effects Evidence
1.3.2. A type of conclusive proof Effect and affected object Cause and causer Implications for the God of faith Causality and condition Theorems about effect and cause Similar effects and analogy
Chapter 2: Preliminaries II: Arguments for God's Existence
2.1. Standard proofs
2.2. Where did you come from?
2.3. The need to believe
2.4. The moral argument
2.5. The "ontological argument"
2.5.1. Descartes' version
2.6. The argument from design
2.6.1. A note on the supernatural
2.7. The "five ways" of St. Thomas Aquinas
2.7.1. The first way
2.7.2. The second way
2.7.3. The third way
2.7.4. The fourth way
2.7.5. The fifth way
2.8 The argument from contingency
2.9. Final remarks
Chapter 3: Preliminaries III: Arguments Against God's Existence
3.1. Fallacious "refutations"
3.2. The world is self-sufficient
3.3. "God exists" is meaningless
3.3.1. Immanuel Kant's argument
3.4. The problem of evil
Chapter 4: The Argument I: From Consciousness to Existence
4.1. The problem about existence
4.1.1. The structure of the argument
4.2. Preliminary step: losing consciousness
4.3. Second step: Multiple-unit consciousness
4.4. Third step: the single act of consciousness
4.5. Fourth step: toward the cause
4.6. Existence and the imaginary
Chapter 5: The Argument II: From Existence to the Infinite
5.1. Existence and the ontological argument
5.2. Existence and essence
5.2.1. A note on St. Thomas's "real distinction"
5.3. On to the Infinite
Chapter 6: The Infinite: Negative Properties
6.1. A look back and forward
6.2. Unity
6.3. Simplicity
6.4. Distinctness
6.5. Self-sufficiency
6.5.1. The Infinite and "where did you come from?"
6.6. Formlessness
6.7. Spirituality
6.7.1. Energilessness
6.8. Imperceptibility
6.9. Positionlessness
6.10. Incorporeality
6.11. Sizelessness
6.12. Shapelessness
6.13. Immutability
6.13.1. Eternity
Chapter 7: The Infinite: Positive Properties
7.1. Activity
7.1.1. Omnipotence
7.2. Truth
7.3. Beauty
7.4. Goodness
7.5. Life
7.5.1. Freedom
7.6. Consciousness
7.7. Selfhood
7.7.1. Personhood
Chapter 8: Creation
8.1. The Infinite's causality
8.1.1. The Infinite as the only creator
8.1.2. The Infinite as Creator of everything
8.1.3. The Infinite as not the only cause
8.2. The Infinite and finite causes
8.2.1. The Infinite and free choices
8.2.2. Predestination
8.2.3. The "permissive will of God"
8.2.4. The Infinite and sin
8.3. Love
8.3.1. Why the Infinite creates; His will for His world
Appendix for the Christian






1.1 What are we doing?
This book is an attempt to be as honest as possible about the question of whether there actually is something that deserves the name of "God," particularly (since there are all kinds of things that have been called "gods," including the universe itself) something more or less like what Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in: a single, supreme, something-or-other that is, as St. Anselm says, "that than which nothing greater can be conceived": or in other words, an infinite being.

Put it this way: if it turns out that there is something beyond which nothing greater can be thought of, it doesn't matter what you call it (or him, or her, or them); it's what believers in God (at least in the world's main religions) say they believe in.


We are not presuming that an infinite being exists and trying to find reasons why we can say he (or it) exists. We are investigating the question of whether such a being exists or not.

It may even be that it is in fact nonsense even to say that such a being exists. That is, an "infinite being" might be something like "the fraction that equals the square root of 2," which doesn't exist, because it can be shown that such a "fraction" is a contradiction in terms. There are those who claim that "God" or "infinite being" involves a contradiction; and we will have to investigate whether this claim has any merit, or is based on assumptions that are themselves open to question.

The point is that if this is to be an honest investigation, we can't assume beforehand that one outcome is "obviously false," and so can't be proved to be true; it might turn out that we would have to conclude that there in fact is no infinite being, or anything approximating what the religious people call "God." So be it. But by the same token, we have to be willing to accept the fact that it might be possible to prove that such a being does in fact exist.

Furthermore, if the investigation is to be honest, we aren't going to accept as true any old argument that leads to the "right" conclusion. It might be "on the side of the angels," but still be flawed in that it doesn't actually prove what it says it proves. Similarly, any "refutation" of the side we would like to see false has to show really what is actually wrong with the argument, not trump up some debating technique that will make it seem fallacious when it actually proves its point.

Now if God can be proved to exist, this means that it is unreasonable to say that he doesn't. Hence, a person would then know that God exists, and not simply believe or have an opinion on the subject. Similarly, if it could be proved that he doesn't exist, we would know that fact.

This knowledge, however, does not exclude the possibility that one might be mistaken. For instance, we know that material objects consist of atoms and molecules, because this has been proved. But if further evidence comes up that would disprove the Atomic Theory of Matter, then the theory would be abandoned. We have knowledge, however, not an opinion or belief on this question, because (a) we have evidence that matter is atomic, and (b) we have no evidence that this is false.

There is also, of course, the possibility that a proof either that God does exist or does not exist cannot be arrived at. In this case, there are still several possibilities: (1) There may be some evidence, but not conclusive evidence on both sides, and the weight of the evidence might rest on the side that God does exist. (2) There might be evidence on both sides, but it is more probable that God does not exist. (3) There might be equally weighted evidence on both sides, so that you can't tell one way or the other. And finally, (4) we might discover that there is no evidence one way or the other on the question; it is just a phony question to begin with.

In the first case, a reasonable person would have an opinion that God exists; in the second, an opinion that he doesn't. In the third and fourth case, a reasonable person would have to plead ignorance on the subject. It is not reasonable to have an opinion (think something might be true) when you have no reason for thinking so.

1.1.1 Allowing for bias
But it's also the case that if we are going to be honest, we have to admit at the outset that each of us has already some preconceived notion on the subject. Perhaps you already believe that there is a God; perhaps you incline to think that there isn't one.

But then doesn't this preconceived disposition (whatever you want to call it) make an honest investigation impossible? You have a bias, and that is going to color the investigation, because you know what conclusion you want to come to.


Beware of thinking that only those who believe that there is a God are biased. It is just as possible to have a predisposition to think that "the whole God-question is just superstitious nonsense," and this preconception makes you refuse to take seriously any evidence in its favor.

You will not get anywhere in an investigation like this unless you admit going in that you have a bias, and allow for it. If you think "I have a completely open mind on the question," the probability is very strong that your bias is so great that it is blinding you to the fact that you have one.

Biases are a nuisance, but they can be overcome if you (a) recognize that you would like a certain conclusion to be true, and (b) allow for this and act skeptically toward reasons which lead to the conclusion you would like to see proved. You have to be a "devil's advocate" against the position you like, in other words, if you're going to make an honest investigation.

For instance, Stephen Jay Gould in The Mismeasure of Man relates how he was trying to refute Paul Broca's findings (that white people had larger skulls than people of other races) by reproducing the experiments without the "unconscious fudging" of the data that Broca had engaged in (because Broca thought that in fact whites were smarter and so probably had bigger brains than blacks). But in the course of the investigation, Gould caught himself tending to "fudge" the data in the other direction. But, seeing what he was doing, he then corrected for it (and still, as it happened, came out with the conclusion he was hoping was true).

So don't have a bias that biases destroy the possibility of objective investigation. Honest investigations are possible. A prospector for oil, for instance, obviously (1) knows what he is looking for, and (2) hopes he will find it under this field. But this doesn't automatically mean he'll find it. By no means. So a clear notion of the goal of the investigation and even a desire that the investigation lead to the goal does not determine that the goal will be reached.

The prospector sets up his depth charges and examines the seismograph readings, giving him a view of what the rock strata under the field are like, and if these strata are the kind that probably hold oil or not. If not, of course, he doesn't say, "Well, let's drill anyway; you never know." His desire to find oil under the field is not going to make him waste his money on a quixotic quest for it. Similarly, if he finds the right rock formation, he drills, and he either finds oil or he doesn't; and if he doesn't, his desire to find it doesn't make him say, "Well, I really found it, but you just can't see it."

Evidence, in other words, either leads in a given direction or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then the fact that you would like to have it lead there doesn't have to make you act like a fool.

1.1.2 Faith and the investigation
But now let me handle a difficulty connected with faith in God. Faith, Christians hold, is a gift given by God, and not a conclusion you come to. This looks as if having faith means that you believe without or even against reason that God exists, as well as that he is this or that kind of thing. And some Christians believe in this way.

But this is not necessarily what faith is. First of all, the early Apostles didn't act as if this were the case; they claimed that you should believe in (say) the fact that Jesus came back to life because they saw him killed with their own eyes and saw him walking around afterward with holes in his hands and his side--and their "martyrdom" (their "testimony") was confirmed by their death in the sense that their death proved that they had nothing to gain by lying about the matter.

So the way they acted, at least, seems to indicate that, though they were convinced that you couldn't believe in anything in itself so fantastic without some additional help, so to speak (the "gift" of faith), this gift wasn't contrary to reason or totally apart from evidence, but something that allowed you to see the evidence.

That is, the divine gift of faith, as I see it, is an aid in removing a bias, not something that supplants reason. It allows you to see the evidence objectively, without dismissing it out of hand as superstitious poppycock.

The problem with a "faith" that has absolutely nothing to do with evidence is that there would be no way to distinguish this gift from just stubborn adherence to what you want to be true, or even a delusion from the devil.

And that such things are possible must be evident to any believer, since there are people who seem sincerely to think they have the "gift of faith" and yet believe in things that contradict others who just as sincerely think they have it. For instance, Christians believe that Jesus is God, and Muslims believe that Jesus is not God. But they can't both be believing in what is objectively true, so one of them must be deluded. And even among Christians, Catholics who claim to have a gift of faith believe that the Communion wafer is actually the body of Jesus, while Protestants, claiming the gift of faith, believe that it isn't.

Presumably, God, if there is one, gave us intellects to reason with; and it would seem contradictory, if he gave us the ability to draw conclusions from observable evidence as to what the facts are, that he would then expect us (on the issue that perhaps is the most important in our lives) to refuse to use our intellects and simply accept blindly what--after all--some human being or book says God is saying.

So the view that, since faith is a gift, this means we are not to examine the question really makes the God you believe in perverse and a contradiction. So I take the view that faith doesn't supplant evidence, but actually is a help toward being able to assess the evidence objectively. If this is true, it would follow that the one with faith is less biased than the non-believer, who has no extra help in being objective.

For a person with faith, then, there is no "danger" in opening up the possibility that the evidence might lead to disproving what he believes in. If there really is a God, then he is not going to let your reason lead you astray, when you use the other gift he gave you to find the truth. You will be able to see through plausible sophisms. If God is running the universe, what do you have to be afraid of by being sincere in an investigation?

I would also caution atheists not to be afraid that they are going to "waste their time" in investigating the issue--which is apt to be a cover for the fact that they are going to lose their faith that there isn't a god. On the assumption that there have been sincere, intelligent people on both sides of this issue, we had better take it that the conclusion is not immediately obvious. A non-issue: The crimes of believers
But I had better handle here one of the "arguments" that seems to have great weight with some atheists. It is the ad hominem "argument" that "the greatest atrocities in the world have been perpetrated in the name of religion; and so if for no other reason than to preserve mankind from Inquisitions and other horrors, we should repudiate religion and be atheists."

First of all, what believers in God do has no bearing on the question of whether there is a God or not. Secondly, as far as Christianity, at least, is concerned, the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity are directly counter to what Christianity strictly commands in the way of human behavior.

But more important, the "argument" very conveniently ignores the fact that horrible atrocities have been committed, not only by atheists, but in the name of atheism and getting rid of religion. It was not the Christians who fed the Romans to the lions, after all. The French Revolution was involved in killing believers in the name of "Crush the infamous thing!" (the Catholic Church explicitly, but actually any organized religion). In our own century, the destruction of the Jews and of many Christians was perpetrated in the name of Nazism, an atheist political view; and even more crimes against believers of all religions were perpetrated by Communists, precisely in the name of eradicating religion from an avowedly atheist society. Actually, when you look at it, even in the United States, just a few years ago a religious compound in Waco, Texas was attacked and burned to the ground, not in defense of an attack by the Branch Davidians, but because they were storing up weapons. An excuse was trumped-up that they were molesting children (whom we had to burn to death to save?); but the real reason was that they were religious wackos and they had weapons (they said, to defend themselves against attack, surprise!), but no indication that they were a threat to anyone. Think about it.

If your reaction was that they, being led by a kook, were a danger to society, it turns out that when you scratch most of the "religiously-motivated" atrocities, you find that they were also (from the Spanish Inquisition on down) as much political as religious, if not much more so. Consider the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, the Serbs and the Croats in what used to be Yugoslavia, Saddam Hussein and the Kurds--and on and on.

Now what is the upshot of this? People will be bigoted, and religion has no monopoly on bigotry. It is idle to wonder whether bigoted religious people have done more damage than bigoted atheists. Neither position as an intellectual position demands destruction of others to advance itself; both positions have been used as an excuse for destroying others.

Even when atheists are worried about the political power of the "religious right" as "imposing their morals on the rest of us," that is a fault that is as inherent in the "irreligious left" as it is in the people they are hysterical about. I don't notice any strong religious affiliation in the Anti-Smoking Crazies (whose "science" about the dangers of second-hand smoke is about as scientific as alchemy), nor in the environmentalist zealots, who are busy imposing their green values on the rest of the population. People who happen to be atheists can (and often are) in practice just as ardent in seeing to it that people don't do the things they don't approve of as people who subscribe to some religion.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not trying to exonerate bigoted believers by what is called a "tu quoque" (you too) argument. The point I am trying to make is that this issue is a non-issue. The sins of believers and of non-believers prove nothing whatever about whether something that can be called God exists or not. Therefore, having brought this particular prejudice out into the open, let us henceforth ignore it.

1.2 The philosophical God
Let me now expand a bit on the notion of what we are looking for. There are a lot of things that could be called "gods"; and there are a lot of ways of understanding (or misunderstanding) any term that anyone can use to refer to God.

So there are disingenuous "refutations" of the existence or concept of God that aren't worth the trouble even to read, because they are gross misrepresentations of what is meant by the term by those who think there is a God.

For instance, one book that argues against God has this "argument": "The belief that god is basically unknowable is the most important epistemological element of theistic belief."(1) Never mind that in fact the "unknowability" of God doesn't figure heavily in most people's belief, the author takes this as given, and then goes on to "argue" that to the extent that God is unknowable, you can't know that there's a God, and you can't know what you're talking about.

The point here is that this sort of thing is simply silly. Even for those (except the nuts) who hold that there's an "unknowability" of sorts in God, it's one thing to say that you can't know God in the sense of knowing him fully or knowing "God as he really is" (can you know anyone or anything in this sense?), and another to say that you can't know anything about him. Not to mention that, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, God is in principle the most knowable being there is.

Similarly, you could take the word "infinite" we used as our target to investigate, and then use Aristotle's definition that says that what is infinite (like, e.g. the natural numbers) has always some of itself beyond it (i.e. for any number n, there is always an n+1), and then contend with him that such a thing can only exist potentially, not in reality (because it would always be less than what it is to be itself). But "infinite" need not have only this meaning, as Plotinus pointed out when he added the notion of "infinite" as a being that doesn't intrinsically have the limit that limited beings have (for which you can say "this is only a ___").

This other concept might have contradictions to it also; so we will have to make it very clear what we mean. This can't be done at the moment, however, but it will turn out that "infinite" in our discussion will have a precise and exact meaning. And how we will arrive at it is this:

If (a) we find that any limited (finite) thing somehow makes no sense just because it is limited (i.e. if there is something inherently "funny" in the mere fact that something is limited), and (b) it turns out that the thing in question (1) can't make sense out of itself, and (2) no other limited thing or (3) combination of limited things, however large, can make sense out of it, then (c) we can conclude that there must be something that doesn't have this problem that makes sense out of it. This, whatever it is, is what we will call the "infinite": and what we will know about it (at a minimum) will be that it doesn't have the inherent contradiction (whatever it is) that is involved in being finite.

The "infinite" being, then, will have for us only the characteristics necessary to account for how finite beings make sense in their finiteness. Nothing else will be known about it from this investigation--though it may have many other properties we don't know about. We may be able to deny certain alleged "properties" to this being if the being that makes sense out of the finite can't have the property and still make sense out of the finite.

This is a scientific investigation, in other words; and we will be bound tightly to the evidence, if any, for saying that this infinite thing exists.


If we manage to be able to prove that something infinite exists, this does not mean that we can leap to attributing all kinds of properties to it, based on the ordinary notion of "infinite"--or any other thing that we would like or believe God to be. Only what must be true based on the evidence for saying that this thing exists can be asserted of it in this investigation.

Beware also, however, of thinking that the fact that we can't assert some property of this being means that the being does not have that property, unless it can be shown from the evidence that it can't have it. Properties such as this must simply be unknown in this investigation.

1.3 The method
There are, however, those who say that it is a waste of time to argue to the existence of anything, because arguments are logical sequences, and logic can't get at reality, but only rearrange concepts.

[For a more in-depth presentation of the method outlined here, see Modes of the Finite, Part 1 Section 2.]

This is another silly objection, which I'll discuss in some detail later. But for now, we know that there were such things as dinosaurs, because the bones we have found belong to no known animal, and so there had to have been some kind of animal that had these bones. That's a logical argument, and it argues to the existence of something. Also, it argues to properties this existing something must have had based on the evidence for saying that it exists in the first place. For instance, we know that T. Rex had to have been a meat-eater, because it doesn't make sense that the skull's teeth would make it hard to chew leaves and such and easy to chew meat unless the animal ate meat.

Now it's true that just imagining something doesn't mean that the thing exists--and that's what meant by saying that "you can't go from the logical [i.e. purely mental] to the ontological [real] order"; but that does not mean that you can't argue logically from observable evidence to something that makes sense out of the evidence.

1.3.1 Contradictions and effects
But precisely because it's so easy to make something up and cook up "evidence" to say that it exists, we have to be very careful here. What is evidence, anyhow?

To approach this, let me begin by stating the basic law of all thought: the Principle of Contradiction.

Principle of Contradiction: What is true is not false in the respect in which it is true (logical formulation). What is is not what it is not (ontological formulation).

Now this is what is called a "self-evident" truth, because if you try to deny it, you can only do so by tacitly admitting it to be true. So it has to be true; you can't even honestly entertain the idea that it's false.

Why is that? Because if you want to say that in fact what is true is false (in the sense in which it is true), you can only "prove" this on the basis of some statement you make, which you expect your hearer to take as true (and not false). So if you're going to deny the Principle, you can do it only by assuming that it's true.

Don't get the impression that there's anything profound about this Principle; it is absolutely trivial. It is the minimum necessary for any statement (or any thing) to make sense. It just says that, though you can string words together so that they say the opposite of what they say (like, "This statement is false," which would be true if it's false and false if it's true), you can't think the "thought" that the words would correspond to (e.g. you can't think you're not thinking what you're thinking), and there can be no "fact" that they would correspond to (because it would not be what it is). What is is what it is. (This, by the way, is the Principle of Identity.)

Of course, things can be false in one sense and true in another, or false at one time and true at another; and that is why the phrase "in the sense in which it is true" is added to the Principle. That is, there is print on this page (within the margins) and there isn't print on this page (outside the margins); but that's not a contradiction. Or it is true (now) that there is print on this page; but when I was writing these words into my computer I could then say "It is false that there is print on this page," and that would have been a true statement. But that's not a contradiction either.

Another way of putting the Principle, then, is this:

There are no real contradictions.

But so what? Where does that get us?

Nowhere, in itself. But when we notice that in the complex world we live in, it sometimes seems as if the facts contradict each other, then--since we know they really can't--we can make some progress.

Let us take the following as an example:

Mommy bakes two dozen cookies in the morning, and puts them in the (previously empty) screw-top cookie jar. She comes back at three in the afternoon, and finds that the jar doesn't look as full as she remembers it.

At this point, Mommy's curiosity is aroused.

She says, "That's funny," and just to be sure, dumps out the cookies and counts them. There are only twelve.

Mommy has made an observation. What has she observed? An apparently contradictory situation: That is, she has information (a) that she put 24 cookies into the jar; (b) that cookies are not alive, and so can't unscrew the top of the jar and climb out; and (c) that 12 cookies that were there are not there any more.

The point here is that it can't be the case that there are still 24 cookies in the jar and that there are only 12 there. But based on the information she has there would still be 24 cookies in the jar, because (1) the cookies couldn't remove themselves, and (2) she saw no one remove them.

Now what has Mommy observed: An apparently contradictory situation. But there really aren't any contradictions (the 12 cookies are not really "in-the-jar-and-not-in-the-jar"). So she knows that she doesn't have all the information about the cookies and the jar. Some fact makes sense out of the contradiction.

So let's not call this situation a "contradiction" or even an "apparent contradiction," because it leads somewhere to a fact not at this time known. Let's call it

DEFINITION: an effect is a situation in which the facts known contradict each other. It implies that not all the facts are known.

DEFINITION: an explanation is a possible fact that could make sense out of (i.e. remove the contradictoriness in) the effect.

So Mommy thinks of an explanation and now goes looking for Johnny.

Mommy has now formulated a hypothesis.

What she has said to herself she now says to Johnny. "Johnny," she says, "I put 24 cookies in the jar this morning, and now there are only 12." Johnny answers, "That's interesting." "Johnny, those cookies didn't get up and walk out of there by themselves." "Well no, I guess." "Johnny, did you take those cookies?"

Johnny formulates an alternative hypothesis: "A cockroach ate them."

Mommy tests this hypothesis, and says, "How did he unscrew the top of the jar?" and Johnny answers, "I don't know."

Mommy has performed an experiment with Johnny's hypothesis and found that it doesn't fit the facts. That is, the hypothesis was supposed to make sense out of the situation (i.e. show how it isn't really a contradiction); but Johnny's hypothesis makes a cockroach do what is impossible for a cockroach; and so the situation as he "explains" it remains self-contradictory. His explanation doesn't make sense.

So Mommy now formulates her own hypothesis as a theory. Her hypothesis fits the facts: Johnny is capable of unscrewing the jar; Johnny likes cookies; so he had means, opportunity, and motive. His fantastic accusation of the cockroach also is consistent with a guilty conscience.

But just be sure, Mommy now makes a prediction from the theory.

She says to herself, "If Johnny took those cookies, he ate all twelve of them; I know him. So he's not going to be hungry. I'll cook hamburgers for dinner tonight, and see if he'll eat six, the way he usually does."

So she makes the hamburgers, and Johnny only eats two, and when she asks him why, he says, "I'm just not hungry." Thus, the prediction is verified, and Mommy has proved that Johnny took the cookies.

In case you didn't catch it, Mommy just went through the five steps of the scientific method: Observation, hypothesis, experiment, theory (prediction), and verification. So you could say that she proved scientifically that Johnny took the cookies.

Notice, however, that there are other possible scenarios here. Perhaps during dinner, her husband says, "Those were great cookies, Ann; I came home at noon and took a dozen of them back to the office, and everyone loved them." Mommy then looks at Johnny with consternation, and says, "Then why aren't you hungry, Johnny?" and he answers, "Oh, I went over to Jimmy's this afternoon, and we had a quart of ice cream."

So while Mommy may have proved scientifically that Johnny took the cookies, she didn't prove it conclusively. Scientific proof is always open to further evidence which falsifies the theory, because, though the verification process (making a prediction from the theory of what else must be true if the theory is true and finding that what is predicted actually is true) makes it more unlikely that the theory is false (because then the prediction "just comes true" by coincidence), it does not make it impossible that the theory is false. In order to do this, you would have to show that no other theory can be true: they all would involve an impossibility of one sort or another.

Let me just give you two more definitions, and we'll move on:

DEFINITION: The cause is the true explanation.

That is, the cause of the missing 12 cookies in this case is Daddy's taking them. That Johnny took the cookies is an explanation, but it's not the cause of the missing cookies, because it isn't a fact that Johnny took them; and what the effect needs to remove the contradiction is a fact. An explanation is only possibly a fact; the cause is the actual fact.

Obviously, in any investigation, you're looking for the cause and not simply any old explanation that fits all the facts. Scientific method, with its predictions, comes close to weeding out the cause from other explanations to the extent that the predicted event is less likely on any other hypothesis than the one in question. For instance, light, which has no mass (or, to be technical, no "rest mass") should not, according to Newton's gravitational theory, be affected by the mass of objects near its path. But Einstein's General Theory of Relativity predicted (i.e. logically implied) that, since (on his theory) gravity is not a force, but a bending of the geometry of space, then light would have to be bent in the vicinity of massive objects; and it was discovered to be bent just as he predicted. But what other explanation could there be that would account both for the behavior of massive objects and this strange behavior of light? So Einstein must be onto something. It's not impossible that there is another explanation that actually is the cause; but it's very unlikely (or at least unlikely to be one that is inconsistent with Einstein's view). Evidence
But based on what we have seen, we can give the following definition of what evidence is:

DEFINITION: The evidence for some (in itself unobserved) fact is the effect that it is the cause of.

The reason for this is obvious. We know that the cause must exist because otherwise the effect is a real contradiction, and real contradictions don't exist. And so, the effect is why we know the fact in question without actually having observed it for ourselves.

For instance, if you've never seen Rome, you know that there is a Rome because otherwise all the people who have talked about it would have to be in some kind of conspiracy to fool you that they had actually been there. But in practice, this is impossible (among other things, because there's no way they could all have gotten together to cook up the conspiracy). So their statements are your evidence that Rome exists.

At a deeper level, your evidence that there's a page in front of you is your act of seeing the page. We're going to see that it's impossible to say that you're seeing the page unless there actually is one.

In general, what we directly see or hear or experience is called "immediately evident." The evidence is the act itself of perception, not some effect that is perceived whose cause is an unperceived fact. Given that we can imagine things, however, this "immediate evidence" involves a certain effect which we will be investigating.

I said earlier that the Principle of Contradiction is "self-evident." That doesn't mean it's the cause of itself, but that it's not an effect--which you can verify by trying to deny it, and see that your denial presupposes its truth. In that sense, it's its own evidence.

Anyway, now we know what evidence is; and so the evidence for the existence of something infinite will have to be some directly observable effect whose cause is an infinite being.

1.3.2. A type of conclusive proof
Obviously, it would be a good idea to be able to formulate a conclusive proof rather than a merely scientific one. But that's impossible, isn't it?

Well, don't be too sure. If you're willing to give up some concrete knowledge, you might be able to. For instance, suppose Mommy wasn't really interested in who took the cookies, but just in what was the minimum necessary for the effect to make sense, or in other words, for whatever properties any cause would have to have in order to be a cause, then she could have reasoned this way:

"Well, the cookies couldn't move themselves and the jar couldn't unscrew itself; but in order to get the cookies out of the jar, whatever did it would have to be able to (a) unscrew the top, (b) move 12 cookies out, and (c) screw the top back on. Now in order to do this it would have to (a) have enough energy to do each action (b) be able to apply the energy in a screwing motion to the top, and (c) be able to attach itself to the cookies and move them from one place to the other.

So Mommy knows three facts about the cause, whatever it might be; because anything that doesn't have these three properties can't explain the effect. Daddy obviously has all three, and so has Johnny--and so has Mommy, for that matter, or a robot, or maybe some weird kind of tornado.

The point is that if Mommy is content with knowing only this much, and defines anything that has these three properties as "the taker," she now has conclusive proof that (a) there was a taker, and (b) that the taker has at least these properties, whatever others he or it might have. And the reason is that if there was no "taker" in this sense, the situation is a real contradiction (the cookies got taken but were not taken, because there was no taker); and if the taker lacks even one of these properties, the cookies couldn't get taken.


Even here, it is still possible to be mistaken if you have misread the original evidence, or if there is a flaw in the logic by which you have concluded that without such-and-such a property in whatever is the cause, the effect still remains a contradiction.

So, for instance, Mommy might actually have only baked 12 cookies and thought that she baked 24; and so there is no "taker" at all. Or it might be that she didn't take into account that half of the cookies could have been made with "self-gassifying dough" so that the cookies spontaneously turned into carbon dioxide after an hour.

So the "conclusive" proof is conclusive only on these suppositions; and so the theory we will be offering here is in fact subject to refutation by showing that the effect we thought we discovered isn't really an effect, or that we messed up the logic somehow.

Nevertheless, this kind of "minimalist" proof is better than a scientific proof, because scientific proofs also have these difficulties in addition to the fact that they can't rule out alternative explanations. This kind of proof does that, by the simple expedient of talking about only the characteristics that any explanation has to have in order to be an explanation at all.

And actually, this kind of thing does have a place in science: when the cause it is looking for is in principle unobservable, as sometimes happens. For instance, light itself (that is, a photon) cannot be directly observed (What could you use to observe it with but another photon? And anyway, it's far too small to see.) But things about photons can be known from the effects they are the explanations of. It turns out, for instance, that a photon has effects like those of a little ball moving through space, but also effects like a wave, which is a disturbance in a medium. In the macroscopic world (the objects we can see), a particle can't simultaneously be a wave; but no one is saying that a photon is a real "wavicle," because the photon doesn't have all the properties that a macroscopic particle does, or all the properties that a wave does; and the ones it does have aren't incompatible with each other (obviously, or photons couldn't exist).

No, the "wave-particle" theory of the photon is just one of these "minimalist" notions where the scientist is saying, "Whatever photons are, they have to have this and this and this properties. How these properties go together or what other properties there are, we just don't know." That's the best we can do if we can't get down there and actually look at them as they are.

This makes this kind of proof rather promising for our purposes, since it is obvious that if there is a God at all, then it's going to be something that isn't directly observable (at least as such. If Jesus was God, he was still only observable as a man.). Effect and affected object
But if we're going to argue to God in this minimalist kind of way, we are going to be thinking very abstractly; and so it would be well for you to prepare yourself for this.

In order to be a little more clear in what we are doing, I now want to make some refinements on the notion of effect and cause I defined earlier:

DEFINITION: The effect contains all and only the properties by which the situation is a contradiction.

DEFINITION: The affected object is the concrete object (or set of objects) which contains the effect as an abstract part of itself.

Thus, in the missing cookie problem, the affected object is the cookie jar with the 24 and then the 10 cookies. The fact that the jar is in the kitchen, that it is cylindrical, that it is a foot in diameter, that it is ceramic, with brown-colored glaze, and so on, are all irrelevant to the problem.

But as we saw, the fact that it has a screw top (which can't unscrew itself) is relevant.

So the effect contains the following facts: (1) the top of the jar can't unscrew itself; (2) it got unscrewed; (3) it got screwed back on; (4) the cookies can't move themselves; (5) the cookies moved out of the jar. Anything else is not part of the effect, but part of the affected object. Cause and causer
Parallel to the distinction between the effect and the affected object, we will now make a distinction between the abstract and the concrete dealing with the cause.

DEFINITION: The cause is the fact or set of facts which contains all and only the properties necessary to explain the effect.

DEFINITION: The causer is the concrete object (or situation) that contains the cause as an abstract aspect of itself.

That is, the cause is an abstraction, since it is just a fact (or a set of facts). So, in the case of the missing cookies, the cause is the three facts listed on page 14.

The causer in this situation is Daddy (or actually, Daddy's coming in and unscrewing the top of the cookie jar, taking the cookies out, and rescrewing the jar top back on).

Notice that it is quite possible for part of the causer to be part of the affected object. For example, when you rub your hands together and make them hot, the effect in this case is the increase in temperature of your hands beyond their natural temperature; the affected object is your hands; the cause is the energy needed to raise the temperature (not even the friction your hands made as you rubbed them together, since there are other things that could raise your hands' temperature), and the causer is (like the affected object) your hands as rubbing together.

So the cause (like the effect) is a very abstract aspect of the real situation. It is real, but it is only a part of the concrete whole.

Notice further that, since we are dealing with abstractions from the concrete situation, the cause will be different depending on how you define the effect. For instance, in the case of rubbing your hands together, you might define the effect to be "My hands now are above their normal temperature, and the rest of my body is at its natural temperature."

So the cause now has to contain the properties necessary to explain why only the hands are at the unnatural temperature, and also why this is happening at the present moment. So in this case, the cause is going to be energy applied at this point only at this time, and the causer is going to be the friction together with your choice to rub your hands together. But the friction is still not actually part of the cause here, since holding your hands to a fire would also do the job, and the cause contains only what is necessary to account for the effect.

In order to get the actual friction into the cause, you would have to notice some other aspect of the affected object that doesn't make sense by itself, such that your hands are rubbing together and simultaneously resisting the motion against each other.


"Cause" in the ordinary sense is close to what this book means by "causer." Be sure to keep these two straight.

But why make this distinction, which is apt to be confusing? Because the "cause" in the ordinary sense (the sense in which Daddy is the "cause" of the missing cookies) is a loose way of speaking. In ordinary investigations, even many scientific ones, this might not get you into trouble. But when what solves the problem is unobservable, then you can only say about it what has to be said in order for the problem not to be a contradiction.

And what does this distinction say? That the ordinary notion of "the cause," as I stressed, is the thing that I have defined as the "causer." But what aspect of the causer is actually doing the job is not necessarily obvious from just looking at the situation--but again, in ordinary sorts of situations, this doesn't make much difference. The aspect of Johnny's hands by which he is able actually to grab the jar and twist off the top and then take hold of the cookies is something that even physiologists would have trouble specifying perfectly accurately; and all we care about in most cases is whether Johnny was the causer or whether someone else was.

But, as I say, if the causer is not something you can actually look at, then you don't have this luxury, and you're stuck with the abstraction that is the cause--or you're going to wind up saying things you have no justification for saying, as when believers, having proved that there is an infinite being, start attributing to it the characteristics of the God they believe in. This is all too common in this particular investigation. You can't conduct an honest investigation this way. For instance, if it is not necessary for the infinite being (supposing we proved that there is one) to be conscious or a person, then we must (in this investigation) call it It rather than "Him" or "Him/Her" or whatever. Implications for the God of faith
But then, supposing that we can prove that there is an infinite being using this abstract definition of "effect" and "cause," what does this imply about the God you believe in, if any?

Clearly, the God of faith would be the causer, not the cause, because he obviously is going to have a lot of properties beyond the minimum necessary to account for how finite beings can be finite and still exist.

Now supposing also that one of the properties this infinite being has to have in order to be able to account for the finite is that there can be only one of them, it would follow that the God of faith either can't be infinite or can't have any properties that contradict the being we have concluded to the existence of.

That is, if we are able to prove, say, that the infinite being can't change, and you believe in a God that changes, then the God you believe in doesn't exist. Sorry.

And if you say, "Well, I believe in a God who changes, and so I simply deny that the God you argued to exists." Fine. But if you say that, then either you find some way that I have (a) misread the evidence, or (b) made a mistake in logic--or you admit that the belief you have is positively irrational and self-contradictory. Your "God" not only can't be proved to exist, he can be proved not to exist.

So this is not just an interesting exercise which comes up with a "point of view." There are consequences here. Causality and condition
Let me make still other distinctions we will need later on. It is one thing to know what the cause is and distinguish it from the causer; but there is more to the situation than just this. The cause is what is doing the causing; but this says nothing about how the cause is saving the effect from being a contradiction.

DEFINITION: The causality of the cause is the way in which it removes the contradictoriness from the effect.

DEFINITION: The being-affected is the way in which the effect is made sense out of by the cause.

The cause, then, is what makes sense out of the effect. The causality is the relation between the cause and the effect, looked at from the point of view of the cause (what, in ordinary terms, it "is doing" to the effect), while the being affected is the same relation, looked at from the point of view of the effect (what "is being done to it" by the cause).

So, for instance, if we notice that the earth is warmer on its light side than on its dark side, then earth, of course, is the affected object, and the difference in temperatures is the effect. the cause of this is the heat of the sun; the causer is the sun. The causality is the heating of the earth by the sun, and the being-affected is the being-warmed of the earth by the sun.

Now in general, you don't know how the cause manages to make sense out of the effect, even when you know what the cause is, and can separate it out from the causer. How did the rubbing of your hands together manage to raise their temperature? We know that it's the friction that did it, but how does friction create heat out of mechanical energy? Even the physicists throw up their hands at this, and say, "Well, we don't know; but it does it somehow." So they know that there is a causality here (how could there not be?), but they don't know what it actually is.

This turns out to be relevant, because we might not be able to describe just how God accounts for the finite; and there might be many "refutations" of the existence of God based on apparent difficulties in explaining how a being with the nature of X can account for a being of nature Y.

For instance, if God can't change and is eternal, then how could he create a world that changes and spreads itself out in time? Supposing that we conclude to such a God, then we've concluded that the changing, time-filled world, as finite, is a contradiction unless there is an unchanging, eternal being, then somehow this eternal, unchanging being accounts for it, and there's no contradiction in saying that it does (otherwise everything is a contradiction). The fact that we might not be able to specify how the Infinite manages this is no argument that it can't be done. You would have to have a positive reason for saying that there's a contradiction involved here, and that something else without this contradiction can solve the problem before you could offer this as a counter-argument.

That is, just as we can't account for the particle-wave compatibility of the photon, but we know that the photon combines the characteristics of a particle and a wave (or light doesn't make sense), similarly the fact that we are ignorant of what the causality actually is does not mean that we don't know what the cause is.

Notice, by the way, that the causality of the cause is in the effect (because it's the way in which the effect is made sense out of by the cause). The heating of the earth is in the earth, (it is its change of temperature), not in the sun or even in the heat of the sun; it is the action of the sun on the earth.

One other term:

DEFINITION: The condition is the cause of the cause.

The cause itself, while it makes sense out of the effect, might also contain self-contradictory aspects, which means that it can't make sense out of itself. In this case, it has a cause. That means, of course, that if the cause of the cause weren't there, there wouldn't be a cause, and so there wouldn't be an effect either.

Thus, your hands getting hot wouldn't be happening if you weren't rubbing them together. But if your parents didn't exist, then you would have any hands to rub together, and so your hands wouldn't be getting hot.

Hence, your parents' activity that produced you is the condition for your hands' becoming hot. Similarly, whatever it was that produced the sun in the first place is the condition for the fact that the earth gets warm on the sunny side.

Note that the condition is not the same as the causer. The sun is the causer of the warming of the earth; the cause of the sun is the condition.

One thing to note is that you don't have to know the condition in order to make sense out of the effect. The cause is a fact, whether it is self-explanatory or not; and, given this fact, the effect makes sense. So, for instance, the cause of your hands getting hot is the energy produced by rubbing them. Add this to the affected object and the effect makes sense. Perhaps the whole situation (cause + effect) doesn't make sense, but you were only trying to make sense out of the effect.

This notion of condition, however, is really put here for completeness, since if there is an infinite being, it will turn out to be such that it can't have a cause. But that will have to wait until we give the actual argument. Theorems about effect and cause
Since effect and cause are defined so abstractly, it turns out that there are some statements we can make about them that are necessarily true just by definition. Statements like this are called theorems.

THEOREM I: The cause is never contained within the effect.

This is obviously true because the effect is only the facts that don't make sense by themselves, and the cause is the fact that makes sense out of the whole situation. If the cause were part of the effect, then the effect would make sense, and so wouldn't be an effect.

The cause, as I said, can be part of the affected object, but it can't be part of the effect as I defined it.

For the same reason:

THEOREM II: Nothing can be the cause of itself.

If something were the cause of itself, then it would be simultaneously effect and cause. But if it is an effect, it is not self-explanatory, and if it is the cause, it is self-explanatory--which is clearly a contradiction.

So when Gottfried Leibniz and others call God "The cause of himself," they are not using "cause" in the sense I am using it. Insofar as what they say makes sense, they presumably are saying either that God is self-sufficient (i.e. not an effect, and needing no cause), or that God is some kind of causer, part of which is the cause of some other part of himself.

Here is a theorem that isn't immediately obvious, but is also true by definition:

THEOREM III: The cause is not affected by the fact that it is a cause.

This particular theorem seems in fact counter-intuitive, and seems to be going against Newton's Third Law: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." But Newton was talking about causers and affected objects, and in the world of physical motion; and even in the world of causers this is not always the case.

For instance, suppose you have your radio on and you hear that a nuclear weapon has just destroyed the whole of New York, where your brother is living. Obviously, the consternation you feel now as opposed to the euphoria you had a minute before is explained by the words you heard the announcer say. So those words are the cause. But if you didn't have the radio on, the announcer would have said exactly the same words, except that they couldn't be called the cause of this change of mood in you. So the only "difference" in the cause by its having an effect is the fact that the exact same reality is either called a "cause" when something happens to be explainable by it, or not, if nothing is explained by it.

And this is true even in the realm of Newton's physics. The earth is warmed by the heat of the sun. But the sun is producing this particular amount of heat all over a sphere at the distance the earth happens to be at (obviously; the heat is radiating out in all directions). That amount of heat--which is the cause of the warming of the earth--is no different at this point in the sphere just because the earth happens to be in the way of it; it's no greater or less than it is anywhere else on the surface of that sphere.

True--and here's where Newton's law comes in--the fact that the earth gets warmed makes it radiate out heat, and a little bit of that heat hits the sun, and makes the sun slightly (infinitesimally) hotter than it would have been if the earth hadn't been warmed by it's (the sun's) heat. But the sun is the causer, not the cause; and all this says is that one aspect of this being is the effect of its temperature as greater than it would be if the earth (the original affected object) had not been radiating out heat (the aspect of this affected object by which it is the cause of the new effect in the sun). So it might be true in the realm of physics that every causer containing energy is affected by the affected object it transmits the energy to; but it doesn't mean that the cause is affected by the effect, as we have defined them.

And of course, it couldn't be. The cause is just the abstract fact that makes sense out of the effect; as such, it is simply a fact, and by the Principle of Identity, it is the fact which it is. So it is not altered by the additional fact that this particular fact happens to be the one which makes sense out of some other fact.

Thus, supposing we can argue to the existence of an unchanging God, who can't be affected by anything outside Itself, then there's still no problem in It's being the cause of a finite universe.

COROLLARY I: The cause is always independent of the effect.

That is, (by Theorem I) it is neither part of the effect, nor (by Theorem III) altered by the fact that it has an effect; and so it is not dependent on the effect in any way.

The effect is dependent on the cause, since the effect without the cause is a contradiction, and so doesn't exist (because contradictions can't exist). But the cause is not dependent on the effect (except in the trivial sense that you then can't call it a "cause").

Actually, "cause" and "effect" were defined in this extremely abstract way so that the following theorems would be true:

THEOREM IV: Identical effects have identical causes.

The reason for this is that "effect" (in general) is defined as "that which does not make sense by itself" because something is missing from the situation. That "something," of course is the cause.

Hence, this effect is defined as this one, not by the fact that something is missing from its intelligibility (that's what it has in common with other effects), but by what is missing (which makes it appear as a contradiction).

But that's another way of saying that one effect is distinguished from another as effect by precisely what specific cause it has (since the cause is the "missing element" without which it is a contradiction).

Hence, if two effects are identical as effects, their causes are just by definition identical.

You could prove this theorem another way if you wanted to: Suppose you have two identical effects and their causes are different. That means that Cause A and Cause B are not the same set of facts; but they cause the same effect. Now Effect A's cause has all the properties necessary and only the properties necessary to make sense out of it. So if Cause B contains a fact that is not part of Cause A, then Cause B has a property not necessary to make sense out of Effect A--and this property is part of the causer, not the cause. Also, if Cause B lacks a property that Cause A has, then Cause B lacks something necessary to be the cause of Effect A, and so it's not the cause. So Cause B has to have exactly the same set of facts as Cause A. --Q. E. D. (Quod erat Demonstrandum, which means "which is what was to be proved.")

Thus, if you look at two waves in the ocean (which is water raised above its normal level), and let us even suppose that they are the same height above sea level, then these two (one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific Ocean) are identical as effects. Any differences are part of the affected object.

Let us now suppose that the moon's gravitation is what raised one of the waves, and an earthquake under the ocean is responsible for the other. Clearly, there are two different causers. But as causes these two are identical, since all that is needed to explain the raising of the water is energy of a certain quantity applied to the water. And if the energy were of a different quantity, the height of the waves would be different. So as causes the moon as acting on the water and the earthquake as acting on the water are identical.

So if you are going to understand this method, you have to learn to think abstractly.

Not surprisingly, the following is also a theorem:

THEOREM V: Different effects have different causes.

The reasoning here is the same as that for the first proof of Theorem IV: Since a given effect is specified by the fact that a given fact (its particular cause) is missing from the situation as observed, then it automatically follows that two effects are different simply because their causes are different.

There's nothing mysterious here, as I mentioned; the terms "effect" and "cause" were defined so that this would be true. This is not to say that the definitions aren't valid or are inapplicable to things; it's just that, since we can't observe the cause we're looking for, we want to refine the notion of "cause" so that we're not saying any more than we absolutely have to say; and it turns out that these theorems are a bonus we get when we define things in this way.

And we will see that these two theorems become very useful in the argument we are going to construct.

Once having established both of them, two corollaries automatically follow:

COROLLARY II: Identical causes have identical effects.

COROLLARY III: Different causes have different effects.

If Corollary II were not true, then you would have a case of identical causes with different effects, and hence different effects with identical causes, which contradicts Theorem V; if Corollary III were not true, then you would have a case of identical effects with different causes, which contradicts Theorem IV.

Before taking the next step, let me state the following theorem:

THEOREM VI: The cause is not the same as nor similar to its effect.

The cause will be completely different from the effect, because it is a different fact which is left out of the effect. This is perfectly obvious if you understand "cause" and "effect" abstractly, the way I have defined them.

It only seems counter-intuitive if you take "cause" in the usual sense, in the sense, for instance, that muskrats cause little muskrats (and not squirrels) to be born. But of course mommy and daddy muskrat are not the causes of little junior muskrat; they are the causers.

And little Junior isn't the effect; it's the affected object. The effect in question is the fact that a muskrat (and not a squirrel) began to exist, and the cause is the sexual activity of the two muskrats. And the last time I looked, sexual activity, even among muskrats, isn't anything like an actual muskrat. Similar effects and analogy
But there are similarities involved with effects and causes, even though there is no similarity between the effect and the cause. Since effects are more or less arbitrarily defined (by what is left out of the situation as you observe it), it's quite possible for two effects to have some facts in common and some facts that make them different.

For instance, if you looked at the two waves in the ocean (the one produced by the moon's gravity and the one produced by the earthquake), you might notice that the molecules of water were in the first case slightly farther apart than normal, and in the second, slightly closer together. So, the two effects now are the same as each other in that they are water raised three feet above normal; but they are different from each other in that the water is expanded in the one case and compressed in the other.

DEFINITION: Two things are similar to each other when they are partly the same and partly different (and you can point out the respects in which they are the same and different).

Obviously, in the respect in which they are the same, the two causes will be the same as each other, and in the respect in which they are different, the causes will differ among themselves--so the causes will be similar among themselves if the effects are similar to each other. But the theorem I am going to state uses a different term, for reasons I will explain:

THEOREM VII: Similar effects have analogous causes.

The reason, then, why the causes are called "analogous" and not "similar" is that all that is known from the similarity of the effects is the mere fact that their causes are somehow similar among themselves, and not the respects in which they are identical and the respects in which they are different.

DEFINITION: Analogy is the term used for similarity when only the fact of similarity (not the points of similarity) is known.

If you take the waves in the ocean, you can see what I mean. The moon's gravitational attraction and the mechanical force of the earthquake are somehow or other similar, because both are capable of raising water above its normal level, though in different ways (since one is by expansion and the other by compression). But what are the respects in which they are the same, and what are the different respects?

We don't really know, because we can't actually observe directly either the moon's gravitational activity (indeed, if it is a "warping of space-time," it would be hard to see how you could), or what the actual energy transmitted from the earthquake is. How a warping of space-time could in any sense be the same as molecules of water bumping into each other is a little difficult to conceive; but they must be the same somehow, or they couldn't produce effects which are the same in some respect.

Now of course, we can put names on these in-themselves-unknown points of similarity if we want to. We can say that the moon's gravity and the earthquake's impulse have, say, the same amount of energy, but are different forms of energy. But when you unpack these two "characteristics," you find that "energy" just means "the capacity for doing work," which in turn means "that which can have an effect of a certain type," or in other words, "energy" as a common term means, "whatever it is that certain causes have in common because their effects are similar"--which is right back to where we were.

That is, we don't know what makes energy energy, or what makes all forms of energy the same insofar as they are all energy, except through the fact that they have similar effects. So "energy" is an analogous term, indicating an in-itself-unknown sameness among objects that you know is there, but you can't point out.

This shows, of course, that analogy has its place in science. Similarly, a photon is analogous to a wave and simultaneously analogous to a particle, but we don't know it is the same as each, or even (in this case) how it is possible for it to be similar to both at the same time. We know that it is, however.


Be careful not to be misled by analogous terms. The mere fact that a name can be placed on an in-itself-unknown point of similarity does not mean that we know what that point of similarity is in itself. The name still means "the respect in which this cause is similar to other causes of similar effects."

Once again, we are at an extreme level of abstraction here. Now why I called this sort of thing "analogy," and what the relation is to, say, Aristotle's or Thomas Aquinas's or other notions of analogy is for a treatise on the philosophy of science. All I am trying to do here is amass the tools we need for an honest and serious investigation into whether there is something infinite or not.

And this turns out to be a very handy tool. Clearly, if there is an infinite being, It is going to be something unobservable, and also different from any of the beings we have immediate experience of, since they are all finite. Hence, anything we can know about It is going to be through its effects.

But it is quite possible (and in fact, rather likely) that the effects of this being will be somehow similar to the effects of certain finite causes; and so we might be able to say that the infinite being is analogous to these causes. In this way, we might be able to say more about the infinite being than we would otherwise be able to.

[A fuller treatment of this subject can be found in Modes of the Finite Part One Sections 1 Modes 1.1 and 2] Modes1.2


This book is as honest an attempt as possible to examine the evidence dealing with whether or not a God in the sense of an infinite being exists. We must recognize first that each person dealing with the issue has a bias one way or the other, and the investigator must correct for this if his investigation is to be honest. Faith is not necessarily an obstacle to an honest investigation, since if properly understood, it removes prejudices rather than creating them; if God gave us intellects, presumably He expects us to use them. One must not let the pseudo-issue of the atrocities committed by believers to influence one because (a) it is irrelevant to the question itself, and (b) there are just as many atrocities committed on the other side.

It is to be understood that the term "infinite" will mean what the evidence (if any) demands that it mean, and we are not allowed to go beyond the evidence and attribute characteristics to this infinite being that are not demanded by the evidence for saying that It exists. To find the evidence, we need a method.

The Principle of Contradiction states that what is is not what it is not, or that there are no real contradictions. If one finds facts that, taken by themselves, are a contradiction, this is not a contradiction but an effect. An explanation is a possible fact that could make sense out of the effect. The cause is the true explanation: the fact that removes the contradiction from the effect. Causes must exist if there are effects. The evidence for some fact is the effect that the fact is the cause of, since the cause is known through its effect.

Scientific proofs start from an effect, guess at (hypothesis) an explanation, test the explanation (experiment) to see if it fits the facts, predict other, unobserved "facts" that must be true if the theory is true (theory) and tests to see if the predictions turn out to be facts (verification). Scientific theories are always open to other explanations that fit the facts and the predictions. A conclusive proof can only be achieved if one can manage to exclude other explanations. This type of proof can be false only if the evidence was misread in the first place, or if the logic is faulty (but not on the basis of new evidence).

An effect contains all and only the properties that form the contradiction in question; the affected object is the concrete situation of which the effect forms an abstract part. The cause has all and only the properties necessary to make sense out of the effect; the causer is the concrete whole situation that contains the cause as an abstract part of itself. "Cause" in the ordinary sense is what we mean by "causer," and is not our sense of "cause." If we can prove that there is an Infinite being, then this Infinite will be the cause, and the God of faith would be the causer, because He would have properties that could not be known just from being the explanation of the effect we have discovered. The causality of a cause is the way in which it removes the contradiction from the effect (the "how" it causes); and the being-affected is the way in which the effect is made sense out of by the cause. The two are in fact the same relation, looked at from different ends. The condition for the effect is the cause of its cause.

Based on these definitions, various theorems follow logically: Theorem I: The cause is not contained within the effect--because then the effect would not be a contradiction by itself. Theorem II: Nothing can be the cause of itself--because then it would both lack and have what makes sense out of it. Theorem III: The cause is not affected by the fact that it is a cause--because it is simply the fact that makes sense out of the effect. (The causer might be affected by the affected object, however.) Corollary I: The cause is always independent of the effect--because it isn't part of the effect or affected by the effect (Theorems I and III). Theorem IV: Identical effects have identical causes--because the effect is an effect because something is missing from its intelligibility, and is a specific effect depending on what is missing. Identical effects may have different causers, but the causers contain identical causes. Theorem V: Different effects have different causes--for the same reason that identical effects have identical causes. Corollary II: Identical causes have identical effects. Corollary III: Different causes have different effects. Theorem VI: The cause is not the same as the effect--because it is a different fact, left out of the effect.

Two things are similar if they are partly the same and partly different. Two things are analogous if you know the fact that they are (somehow) similar, but don't know the precise points of similarity. Theorem VII: Similar effects have analogous causes--which follows from Theorems IV and V and the fact that we don't know what the cause is in itself just from knowing that there must be one to account for the effect. Even if (for the sake of convenience) we place names on the (in-itself-unknown) respect in which the causes are identical, this naming does not imply that we know what that respect actually is; we just know that there must be one.


1. George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1979, p. 42. This book, by the way, is a beautiful example of the sophistry that argues against God based on the alleged sins of believers.





2.1. Standard proofs

If we want to make this a serious as well as an honest investigation, then before starting the argument that I think actually does establish the existence of something infinite, we ought to take a look at the attempts that have been made throughout history, both to prove that God exists, and to prove either that he doesn't, or that there's no need for a God, and see if any of them work.

So we won't yet be making much use of the elaborate apparatus we came up with in the preceding chapter, but just of the general concept that a cause is something necessary to make sense out of what otherwise would be a contradiction. If some alleged "effect" turns out not to be a contradiction between facts, then the desire that it have a "cause" is not enough to establish that it has one.

For instance, God is not the cause explaining why anything exists at all, unless you can show what it is that is self-contradictory in saying that there is something rather than nothing--and frankly, I defy you to do that. Not to mention that, since God exists, he would on this showing "need a cause." No, the fact that something exists is just a fact, and facts by themselves need no explanation; it is only if the facts contradict each other as known that they need explaining. In other words, not every "why" question is a real "why" question.

Also, as we will see in many of the arguments that follow, if it is possible to explain the effect discovered without resorting to an infinite being, then despite the fact that an infinite being could be the causer of the particular effect, It would not be necessary to explain the effect, and so the existence of an infinite being would not be proved.

I thought it would be a good idea to give the standard arguments first and show that in fact they don't prove the existence of an infinite being, because the argument I am going to give--the only one I think is valid--is quite complex (in fact, you might find it mind-boggling), and you might wonder why bother with something so arcane when there are simple ways of arriving at the same conclusion. Obviously, you should resort to the complicated procedure only if the simple ones don't prove what they say they prove.

I hasten to add that I'm not going to try to give all of the proofs on both sides offered throughout history; that would be a multi-volume book in itself. Further, it's not really necessary, if what we are interested in is the question of whether an infinite being exists or not, since some of the "proofs" are simply silly, and others are variations on a few standard arguments. So what I'm doing here is boiling down the arguments into several, as it were, "model" arguments, making out the best case for each by modernizing some of the ancient ones with scientific facts that were unknown to the original formulators; and then seeing if the argument thus "fixed up" can prove what it says it proves. You will, of course, have to take my word for it that when I modify some famous historical argument, I am strengthening it and not setting up a "straw man" that I can easily knock down.

Let us, then, in this chapter take up the standard proofs for God's existence.


You should be advised that the burden of proof is on the person who claims that God exists. If the world makes sense without assuming that there is an infinite being, then a rational person would take it that there is no infinite being.

Why? Just because of the nature of cause and effect, as I said just above. If you want to claim that God is somehow the cause (or causer, but at least contains the cause) of something (or everything) that goes on in the observable universe, it follows by definition that the universe without God is a contradiction of one sort or another. That's what you mean by an effect. Hence, if the universe makes sense by itself, then there is no cause of it. You can't have it both ways. You can't say that the universe makes sense without God and God causes (is necessary to make sense out of) the universe.

2.2. Where did you come from?

The first argument, I think, should be the one you have probably heard in discussions of the question: the "origins argument," or the "Where did you come from?" argument. It generally takes the form of a dialogue between a believer and a non-believer, and it goes more or less this way:

Believer: Where did you come from?

Non-believer: My parents, of course.

Believer: And where did they come from?

Non-believer: Their parents.

Believer: Well, where did the first set of your ancestors come from?

Non-believer: From some pre-human animal.

Believer: And where did that come from?

Non-believer: Well, ultimately from the first living organism.

Believer: And that?

Non-believer: From the pre-living conditions on the earth.

Believer: And where did the earth come from?

Non-believer: Probably from material from a star that passed close to the sun.

Believer: Then where did that star come from?

Non-believer: From the coagulation of interstellar hydrogen.

Believer: And the hydrogen.

Non-believer: It was just there.

Believer: You see, I've got you. It had to come from something.

Non-believer: Why?

Believer: Because everything has to come from something.

Non-believer: Then what do you say it came from?

Believer: It came from God.

Non-believer: Oh? And what did God come from?

Believer: God didn't come from anything. He always was and always will be.

Non-believer: Well, if everything has to come from something, then God had to come from something. And if not everything has to come from something, why can't it be my interstellar hydrogen rather than your God?

Obviously, the "proof" as it stands proves nothing, because its premise (that "everything had to come from something") makes it a contradiction to stop anywhere.

So unless the believer can show (a) just what it is about the things he asks about that demands that they "come from something," (i.e. what it is about them that is a contradiction unless their origin was caused), and (b) that the interstellar hydrogen has this contradiction, and God does not have it, the "argument" is invalid.

This is not to say that this cannot be done. There do seem to be some suggestive points in its favor. For instance, if something begins to exist without having existed before, this does look as if it can't be self-explanatory. How could it have brought itself out of non-existence? Even if it is only a re-configuration of already existing material, this particular configuration can't account for how it got to be what it is; that has to be accounted for by condition of the material it came out of. So it does look as if it doesn't make sense to say that something that came into existence didn't "come from" something other than itself. That doesn't mean it came from God, of course.

But if you push the argument back another step, then you're in the "big bang" view of the origin of the whole universe (i.e. all the material that everything "came from"). And if you want to make sense, you can't just stop, as some physicists do, and say, "Well, we don't question this. It just happened."

That's irrational. Why? Because if the first moment of the universe-as-we-know-it was an explosion, this means that the material was unstable. But what is unstable is by definition in a self-contradictory condition: it can't exist this way, and destroys the form it's in, and reconfigures itself into something that can exist (in this case-high-energy radiation, which gradually interacts with itself and forms protons and electrons, which form the interstellar hydrogen, which then collects into starts and galaxies).

Now either the material of the whole universe (1) suddenly came into existence, and was not a reconfiguration of preexisting material, in which case, it clearly had to "come from something" that could bring something absolutely into existence--for which God sounds like a likely candidate--or (2) it came from a preexisting material in equilibrium, in which case (since equilibrium remains the same unless it is disturbed from outside) something other than the material we now call "the universe" disturbed it and made it explode--but this need not be something infinite, or something that people call God, because a tiny shock can make stable nitroglycerine explode, for instance--or (3) it came from the collapse of the preceding phase of the universe, which alternately expands and collapses for all eternity.

This last point would imply that the universe as a whole is basically in a kind of "oscillating equilibrium," much like a perfect pendulum, with energy neither leaving nor entering it, and so not really changing. This is just its activity, much as your heartbeat is how you maintain your stability, and does not really need an external cause.

The problem with it, however, is that the General Theory of Relativity, on which the "big bang" theory rests, predicts that the universe will oscillate in this way only if the total mass is beyond a certain point; and there doesn't seem to be that much mass in the universe. Now it could be either that (a) Einstein's theory is off, or (b) the mass is there, but just not observable by us. Still, the fact is that, based on what we can observe, the universe seems to have come into existence at a definite point in time, and be expanding without limit. This would militate against the self-sufficiency of the universe.

Well, when all is said and done, where have we got in the analysis of this argument? First of all, as it stands it proves nothing. Secondly, even when you fix it up with the physics of the "big bang," it doesn't prove that there's an infinite being, because there are other alternatives, including the possibility of an oscillating universe, which needs no external cause at all, let alone an infinite one.

I should say that the universe's coming suddenly into being is consistent with its being brought into existence by an infinite being; it's just that there are other possibilities, so there's no proof here.

On the other hand, note that the possibility of the (self-sufficient) oscillating universe supposes that there exists something (the amount of mass) that has not been observed, so you can't say that the universe as we know it to be makes sense by itself. So there's no proof here either that God didn't bring the universe into being or that you don't need a God to explain the universe's origin. The reason for this last statement is that if in fact there isn't the right amount of mass, then you need some external cause, and it's not obvious that anything short of an infinite being could do the job.

CONCLUSION: The evidence here does not prove that there is an infinite being, nor that there is no infinite being; but it strongly indicates that there is something beyond the universe as observed, and more weakly suggests that this something is probably greater than anything in the universe or even than the whole universe.

2.3. The need to believe

Another "rough-and-ready" argument comes from William James, who as a pragmatist holds that truth is "what works," or what makes your life make sense. The idea here is that many, many people think that their life is just meaningless and absurd unless there is a God, and makes sense and so on if they suppose that God exists and is watching over them and will ultimately "wipe every tear from their eyes," as Revelation says. By his criterion of truth, then, God must exist. That is, if there wasn't a God, we'd have to invent one, or human life wouldn't be bearable. Therefore, there is a God.

The trouble with this is that you can find other people who find life unbearable and absurd if there is a God, and who seem to have a need to believe in the non- existence of a God. So by this criterion of truth, you would have to say that for them, there is no God. But there can't both be and not be a God.

There is a kernel of truth in the "argument," in that contradictions can't exist. But what that means is that facts can't contradict themselves. The "contradiction" in the cases in question here, however, is not between facts, but between the facts and the ideal you have of the "right" or "meaningful" life--the life you would like to see exist. That is, when you say, "My life is meaningless unless there is a God," what you are really saying is, "I can't live the kind of life I want to live if there isn't a God (who will reward my virtue, or whatever)."

But this ideal is created subjectively by abstraction from and rearrangement of real situations (by using your imagination, in other words), and is not itself a fact; it is just an idea you made up. But if reality contradicts an idea you made up, there is no contradiction between the facts, and so no argument can be made from it.

Otherwise, the fact that there are people whose lives are made meaningful and so on if there are witches or horoscopes, or Santa Claus, or the Great Pumpkin, or all sorts of things would force us to say that all these things really exist. So the fact that people have a need to believe doesn't prove that what they need to believe exists.

Nevertheless, at a deeper level, there is also something suggestive here. The argument goes this way: Human beings have no goal for their lives built-in by nature (as other animals and plants seem to have); a human being cannot avoid setting his own goals for himself and trying to reach them, simply because, when confronted with alternative possible courses of action that you are aware of, you cannot avoid making a choice among them (even to choose not to choose is a choice--the choice to let circumstances dictate what will happen).

Now once you do set a goal for yourself, this sets up an unstable condition within you (an internal contradiction), which prevents your continuing to exist as you now are, and makes you move in the direction of the goal--just as letting go of a ball you are holding makes it unstable and incapable of staying at that height, and so it immediately falls to the ground, which is its equilibrium energy-level (its "natural" condition, to have the lowest amount of energy possible).

The point here is that there is a real internal contradiction involved in instability, which is resolvable only at the goal (the equilibrium) the instability points toward: it is impossible for an unstable thing to exist in its unstable condition; it must move out of it toward equilibrium. (Of course, it can be forced to stay in the condition by some external cause, as when you hold the ball up, keeping it from losing its excess energy. But that doesn't affect what I am saying here.)

The second step is to say that the process toward the goal makes no sense if the goal is impossible to achieve. Why? Because the goal is the state that removes the internal contradiction in the changing being; and if it can't exist, then the changing being cannot in principle get out of a state that contradicts itself. But contradictions don't exist, because in the last analysis, contradictions are nonsense, ways we have of speaking gibberish; apparent contradictions are always effects.

But what this means in the human case is that, since there is no natural goal for the human organism, its only goal is the (complex) one put there by the person's choices. But if it is in principle impossible for the human to achieve his goals, then his life contradicts itself.

But even when a person achieves an important goal of his, he is not really at the goal, because he does not want to lose the success he has achieved; so his goal implies, "I want to do X and I want to keep doing X."

Now since human beings die, their goals in this sense are in principle impossible to achieve, unless there is a life after death in which they are able to be fulfilled.

Stating the argument this way, then, it looks as if there is an actual contradiction in human life if human life ends with death--whether or not any given person actually wants to live forever.

Now of course, all this argument (if it is valid) proves is that there is a life after death such that a person's goals can in principle be achieved, not necessarily that (a) all goals of a person (some of which themselves may be self-contradictory) have to be achieved, nor (b) any goal necessarily has to be actually achieved; it is enough for the argument if it is possible to achieve at least some goals after death.

The argument as it stands does prove an afterlife. It could be refuted if you could show (a) that instability is not a contradiction with an in principle impossible goal, or (b) that choices do not set up real instabilities in a person, or (c) that death does not make it in principle impossible for the instabilities to have a realizable goal. I don't see any evidence that would establish any of these three propositions--which doesn't mean there isn't any; but if you're going to deny the conclusion, then you have to state what the evidence is.

In any case, this argument, though it proves an afterlife, does not prove that there is a heaven, still less that there has to be an infinite being governing the afterlife-condition, whatever it is. It is consistent with there being a heaven and a God who rewards good people by fulfilling their ambitions; but it doesn't prove that there is one.

I should point out that I know of no person who thinks that life goes on after death who does not also believe in some kind of a God who is running things. But that does not mean that the evidence for an afterlife establishes the existence of a God. The afterlife could, for instance, just be a natural psychological state of experiencing oneself as the kind of person one has chosen to be, now that one does not have the body interacting with a world to force one to "wake up," as it were, from this self-contained mental condition. That would fulfill the needs of the argument, without implying any kind of "reward for doing good."

CONCLUSION: The "argument" from the need to believe of itself proves absolutely nothing; but the more subtle argument from the goal-setting nature of human beings does prove that life must somehow continue after death, in such a way that at least some goals of some people can be achieved. But this does not imply that there is an infinite being.

2.4. The moral argument

There is another argument that sounds a good deal like the one just discussed, except that it tries to make out a case that acting immorally is a contradiction unless basically there is punishment in an afterlife, presumably administered by an all-seeing God who is just.

The argument (in a nutshell; it's pretty complex) goes this way:

A morally wrong act is an act which is inconsistent with the person acting. For example, stealing is taking something that doesn't belong to you, which means acting as if it belonged to you when it doesn't. Murder is acting as if the victim had no right not to be killed when in fact he does. Lying is stating as if it were a fact what is known not to be a fact. And so on.

Now then, an immoral choice is the deliberate choice to do an act that you think is morally wrong; hence it is a deliberate attempt to do something that contradicts itself in some way. This implies that, in some respect, you want the act to be different from what you know it really is. For instance, the liar, since he wants to be believed, needs the other person to take what he's saying as a fact; and he would clearly prefer that the other person would do so because it really is a fact, since (among other things) in that way he would not be found out. But of course, the lie does not just communicate the opposite of a fact; it also has other (desirable) effects on the other person (you cheat on an exam, the teacher thinks you know the subject, and he gives you an A). You would prefer to get the A by writing down the known answers, but you don't know them, so you pretend that you do.

The point here is that there is some aspect of the goal you want to achieve in such a choice that is in principle impossible, because it is a contradiction. This may not be the most important aspect to you; but since the morally wrong act contradicts itself in some respect, there will always be this greater or lesser impossible aspect to the goal.

But having a goal that you can't achieve is the definition of frustration. So every immoral choice involves a deliberately self-induced frustration in some respect; you are deliberately trying to do something that in some respect you know you can't do (but can only pretend you are doing).

It would seem, then, that you are necessarily worse off for choosing to do wrong than in choosing to do the right thing. But, of course, it's not that simple. Take cheating. It's frustrating to cheat to get an A in a course (because of the lie involved); but it's also frustrating to take a course that you can't pass--which might mean that you don't get your degree, and so the career you have set your heart on. And it may be that you can't pass the course, for some reason, unless you cheat.

In the real world, it is very often a good deal less frustrating to choose to do what is morally wrong than to choose the right thing and be frustrated by circumstances beyond your control. So in this case, the more rational thing to do is the wrong thing.

But that means that the reasonable thing to do is to do what violates, in some respect, your own reality--which clearly is not reasonable. It can't be reasonable to set a goal for yourself that you know you can't achieve. It's only that it's more unreasonable to allow yourself to be frustrated by circumstances you have no control over (when you can avoid the great frustration by making the immoral choice). These situations can often even be life-and-death ones. You might "have" to lie to avoid having someone kill you; you might "have" to kill someone to avoid having Darth Vader kill your wife and children; and so on.

Thus, why should anyone do anything except seek his own advantage? But this means that Stalin and Saddam Hussein did what is rational for a human being to do in their circumstances; they tortured and killed hundreds or even millions of people so that they could live in luxury. And because of people like this, those of us who don't happen to be lucky enough to succeed by destroying others get to be the destroyed, and are forced into an inhuman state of existence that we can't get out of (even if we make immoral choices).

This is how life makes the most sense?

But this is the conclusion you would have to come to unless there is a life after death, such that you are worse off for making an immoral choice than any (temporary) harm that could come to you from doing the right thing.

Hence, either it is stupid for a human being to act in a human way, or there is a life after death. But how can it be rational for a human being to act inhumanly? Hence, either human conduct can make no sense, or there is a life after death such that immoral conduct will be punished with a punishment great enough to make it always worse than doing the right thing.

Now then, in a smaller nutshell, it can be shown (and I'm not going to do it here) that choices, like all conscious acts, have no quantity (or degree), and hence are not forms of energy, and so are not subject to the "running down" aspect of energy, and further need not cease to act when the body disintegrates.

It can also be shown that once a conscious act is made, it can be (temporarily) forgotten by not sending energy into the nerves associated with it, but it can't actually be erased. And once the brain stops acting, then either all consciousness goes out of existence, or all one's conscious acts become conscious together, in a way that is no longer capable of changing (because you need energy to change).

If this is the case, then immoral choices a person made before death are part of his conscious state after death, and so eternally after death the person is striving to do something that he knows he can't do (because the immoral choice points to a known impossible goal). So the immoral person is necessarily frustrated eternally after he dies, by the mere fact that he has made the immoral choice. And, of course, a small frustration that can never be removed is always greater than a frustration or suffering, however great, that stops after a while.

So this argument leads to the conclusion that there is a life after death such that if you set in principle impossible goals for yourself you will be eternally frustrated. But, though it also proves that there is an afterlife, it does not prove that there is a God who will punish you for violating "his will"; the punishment is, on this theory, just the natural consequence of making the immoral choice in the first place--in fact, it is the choice with its impossible goal.

Now of course, this argument in this form is extremely complex, and, while as it stands it is valid, it is possible that new evidence might come to light which would establish (a) that there is a way in which in this life it is always advantageous for a human to do the human thing (that "honesty--in this life--is always the best policy"). I must say that people have been trying to find this for millennia without any great success. Or (b) that there is no contradiction in choosing a morally wrong act; or (c) that choices cannot survive death, that in fact they are nothing but energy; or (d) that life does not go on unchangingly after death--and a number of other points. But absent evidence that can establish any of this, then the argument does prove a life after death.

I might add that if you take this together with the one in the preceding section, the two tend to reinforce each other, because both establish that there is a life after death: the preceding one implies that somehow, non-self-contradictory choices will find (conscious) fulfillment, and this one adds that if you deliberately choose an impossible goal, you're stuck with the unfulfillable striving.

But neither argument, nor both together, proves the existence of a God. They are, of course, consistent with a God who "created" us human and free and therefore wishes us to fulfill our real selves and not to violate our humanity, and who "punishes" us by allowing our immoral choices to have their eternal consequences. But it's also consistent with their being no God at all, and just the eternal, conscious existence after death.

CONCLUSION: So this argument again proves that there is a life after death, but does not prove that there is any Supreme Being connected with this afterlife.

2.5. The "ontological argument"

The next argument has an interesting history. It was first proposed around the year 1000 by St. Anselm, in whose monastery the monks asked for a "simple way to prove God's existence." It immediately caused all kinds of controversy, and was rather decisively refuted by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. René Descartes revived a version of it around 1600, and Gottfried Leibniz seconded him about a century later, only to have Immanuel Kant refute it again around 1800, with the additional claim that all arguments for God's existence surreptitiously used some form of this invalid argument (Kant was the one who called it the "ontological argument"), and so were invalid; but right after Kant, Georg Hegel agreed that all arguments for God's existence were versions of or involved this one, and it was valid. In this century, the "linguistic analyst" school of philosophy again refuted it, using a kind of modern variation of St. Thomas's refutation; but recently (in the 1980's) Alvin Plantinga has revived it again, refuting the analysts' refutation.

Obviously, it's tricky. You have some of the greatest minds in the world on both sides of it.

In itself, however, it's simple; and even though at first blush it seems obviously invalid, when you try to see just what is wrong with it, it tends to slip away from you and refute your refutation.

It goes this way (I'll include some objections and an Anselmian kind of answer to them): The believer is actually proving the psalmist's line, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" The idea is that if you hold that there isn't a God, you're a fool, because you contradict yourself.

So the believer says to the unbeliever, "You believe there is no God. Now what I mean by God is 'something so great that nothing greater can be conceived.' Do you understand that?"

(If the unbeliever says that something like that is inconceivable, the answer is, "Obviously, you misunderstand. Nothing greater than this can be conceived; but it can be conceived; it is the upper limit of conceivability, the greatest conceivable something. But the greatest conceivable has to be conceivable.") "Do you understand what the words mean?"

When the unbeliever says he does, but that he doesn't think that such a thing exists, Anselm's monks then continue, "Then, since you have this concept, this "greatest conceivable" exists at least in your mind, because you're thinking about it.

"Now is it greater to exist in the mind and in reality than to exist just in the mind?" If the unbeliever says there's no difference, then Anselm would ask, "Is something real greater than nothing?" If he says Yes, then "Something real, then, is greater than something merely imaginary, because as far as reality is concerned, what's imaginary is nothing." If the unbeliever says, "Well, all right," Anselm pounces.

"Then if you admit that it's greater to be real than merely imaginary, and you say that the 'greatest conceivable' is merely imaginary, you are not thinking of the greatest conceivable something, because you can think of it as also real, which is greater. The imaginary "greatest conceivable" is so far short of being the greatest thing it is possible to conceive, that thinking of any real thing is to think of something greater.

"Therefore, if you can think of the 'greatest conceivable' something, you can't think of it as not existing without contradicting yourself. In other words, if you say God doesn't exist, you're a fool."

Now if you think there's something fishy here, you're right. The mere fact that you can think of something doesn't make it exist. But Anselm would counter, "Granted, if you think of 'the absolutely beautiful island' that doesn't mean that there is an absolutely beautiful island, because the island has the same beauty if it's imaginary or if it's real. But if you remove existence from 'the absolutely greatest conceivable object,' then you're obviously thinking of it without existence, which is to think of what is less than 'the greatest conceivable object.'"

Actually, the argument is invalid in the point that seems most obviously true: the statement that it's greater to exist than not to exist, and therefore, when you think of something as existing, you're thinking of something greater than thinking of that same thing as not existing. Oddly enough, that doesn't follow.

To see why this is so, we will have to go into a quite complex analysis--which we will do in a later chapter--of what we mean by saying that something "exists," which will turn on what grounds we have for saying that something exists. But not to leave this hanging in the air, I will oversimplify for now and say that what we mean by saying that some definite something exists is that either directly or indirectly, our minds are being acted on by it (i.e. it is the cause of some specific effect in our consciousness).

So, St. Thomas and the linguistic analysts are correct when they say that existence is not a quality things have, like intelligence, or color, which makes the thing itself greater if it has it and less if it doesn't. "Existence" is simply the abstraction of the fact that the thing is acting on me, and I am not making it up.

Obviously, then, when Anselm asks me to think of the "greatest conceivable," I make up the concept of "the upper limit of conceivability." Hence, I know that insofar as this is simply due to my mind fooling around with combining concepts, this being cannot be said to exist, precisely because the reason I have this idea at this time is not because some external object is forcing me to experience it (which is the grounds for saying "X exists"), but because I have spontaneously created it.

Now of course, this doesn't prove that there can't be such a being, because (under other circumstances) there is nothing to prevent such a being (if there is one) from acting on my mind either directly or indirectly (as the cause of something I directly experience).

Hence, this "greatest conceivable" is simply problematic. The argument actually proves nothing at all, because it misunderstands why we use the phrase "X exists."

As I say, we will have to visit this question of when we can say X exists and what you therefore mean by "X exists" later.

CONCLUSION: This argument is invalid. It neither proves anything, nor is it suggestive one way or the other about God.

2.5.1. Descartes' version

René Descartes had a slightly different take on this argument, which involves a kind of causality. It goes like this:

I recognize that I am imperfect, because I doubt, and I want to know, not doubt, and hence to doubt is to lack knowledge I ought to have. And as I look at myself, I recognize that everything about me is imperfect.

But to know that I am "imperfect" implies that I know what "perfect" means, because "imperfect" is simply the negation of "perfect." But if I and everything I can observe are all imperfect, where did I get the notion of "perfect"? I couldn't have given it to myself, nor could anything else I can observe have given it to me. The only way I could have gotten it is by having it planted in my mind by something perfect. Therefore, there is a perfect being, and this is what people call God.

The reason this is invalid is that, though the word is the negation of the word "perfect," it doesn't follow that you have to know perfection in order to get the concept (any more than you get the notion "not hot" by having a concept of "absolutely--i.e. infinitely--hot." An infinitely hot thing is a contradiction in terms.) Descartes got it from recognizing that he didn't know something that he desired to know; and therefore that he lacked this particular knowledge. Similarly, we know we lack height by noticing that there is a taller person and comparing ourself with this (finite but) greater object.

Then all you have to do is make the abstraction of "lacking" some of X, Y, or Z into the generalized notion of "lacking," and you've got the concept of "imperfection." Then all you have to do is negate that and you've got the abstract notion of "perfection." So it's possible to arrive at the notion of imperfection before you have the notion of perfection, and therefore, it doesn't have to be "infused" into you by a perfect being--and in fact, there doesn't even have to be a perfect being any more than there has to be a being that's "absolutely hot."

CONCLUSION: So not even this version works.

2.6. The argument from design

Another fairly common argument is grossly invalid as usually presented, and seems quite thoroughly refuted by evolution; but on further examination, the very thing that is supposed to refute it turns out to be something that supports it strongly, though it doesn't of itself prove that there is an infinite being.

The usual version of the Argument from Design goes like this:

We see the obvious regularity and systematic action of all sorts of things around us, from the orderly motions of the heavens to the fact that bodies always fall to the ground and inanimate objects act in ways predictable by the laws of physics, that plants and animals also act systematically in reproducing their own kind and growing and so on, as well as interacting together in predictable ways. So there is manifest order in the universe.

But order is rational and disorder is irrational. Hence, order among irrational things can only be accounted for if they are ordered by something rational. Therefore, there must be a rational being, Who has in charge the putting into order of what would otherwise be disordered and random. And this is what people call God.

This seems not only to prove the existence of a Being superior to the universe, but one who is rational (and so in some sense a "personal" being).

The problem comes in saying "order is rational, and disorder is irrational." What that means is that order can be rationally understood, not necessarily that it was produced by something rational. In general, "rational order" in this argument amounts to "what shows constant rather than random behavior." But if a thing has a constant structure underneath its operations, why wouldn't it act constantly, whether it's intelligent or not? In that case, it's not an effect that such a thing (even if unintelligent) would act in a constant way, so there's no need to assert a cause.

Furthermore, unintelligent things sometimes act in a disordered way. In addition to the planets going around the sun, there are comets that don't; and the asteroids and space junk seems to be from the explosion of a planet that used to be there. The animals that reproduce themselves sometimes produce monsters and mutants; and so on. But if God is "the Orderer," why does he produce disorder?

If you say, "Well, this is actually order, but at a deeper level; it just looks like disorder," you contradict the evidence itself. It was because of the observed regularity that you said that there was "order." Hence, observed irregularity contradicts it. If you say that the observed irregularity is just unobserved regularity, you have no retort for the person who says, "The observed regularity is just unobserved randomness."

The fact is that if you leave something with a constant structure alone, the probability is that it would behave constantly as a general rule, but there would be some random variation from this, which is just what is observed. So the mainly-constant-partly-random behavior argues against the Great Orderer rather than the other way around.

So the argument as it stands is invalid; it would be suggestive if there were nothing but order; but given some randomness, it is suggestive in the other direction.

And evolution, as I said, seems to confirm this. Given natural selection (that the better adapted prosper and the worse adapted die off) and random mutation, you can, just by chance, get from the simple beginnings of life to what we have today. And there are analogous scenarios dealing with the evolution of the physical universe from the "big bang" to the emergence of life.

There are, however, several difficulties with this view. In the first place, the driving force of evolution, both physical and biological, is energy; and the basic law of interacting energy is the Second Law of Thermodynamics: that things move from higher-energy states to lower-energy states (dissipating loose energy into the universe) unless forced (by something else that is going from higher to lower energy); and that, statistically, things move from more organized to less organized (more random) states. (That is, the ink drop put into a glass of water colors the whole glassful a faint blue; the blue water never coagulates into a dark blue ink drop in clear water.)

Now once you say this, then you can predict that the universe is going from a higher-energy state (the "big bang") to a lower one--which seems to be verified--but that it should be going from a more organized to a less organized condition. But early on after the explosion, you would have a random distribution of hydrogen gas in the universe. Why would it spontaneously collect itself into stars and systems of galaxies?

Now this is a statistical law, and so it is possible that it could go the opposite way from the one you would expect from the Second Law, just as it's possible for a person without loaded dice to throw a hundred twelves in a row. But if I saw someone do this, I would look very closely at the dice, because it's so improbable. Well, the evolution of the universe as we observe it much more improbable than that.

And when you get into living things, you find that the spontaneous tendency of the living body is to start at a low energy-level, and then move up to a super-high energy-state (which is unstable from the physics and chemistry of the system, as evidenced by the fact that it constantly loses energy and has to use its biological activity to replace it), which it maintains until it wears out enough so that the physics and chemistry of the system catches up with it and it goes down to its ground state (it dies)--but not before it has used its biological activity to produce another organism which preserves the form of life in a different body and the high-energy state continues indefinitely.

Now this the exact opposite of what the Second Law of Thermodynamics says should be happening; and so if living things arose out of inanimate bodies, how could these bodies be bamboozled into doing something directly contrary to (and in some sense superior to, since a higher energy-state than possible is achieved) their natures?

Furthermore, biological evolution, statistically, is a nightmare. Each chance occurrence of a better-adapted organism (one with rudimentary eyes, say) is unlikely to the tune of billions to one against it. That is, the number of possible gene combinations is in the billions, and all but a handful of those will produce dead or less well adapted offspring. But in order to get from the first living organism(s) to the complex ones we now see, you have to have (a) an unbroken string of (b) billions of (c) these exceedingly unlikely events. (On point (a): If the string is broken at any point, evolution stops there, and doesn't get to the organisms we now see.) Further, (d) these organisms ingeniously exploit each other for their own benefit (as bees drink the nectar of flowers), while at the same time benefitting the ones they exploit (as the flowers use the user-bees to pollinate themselves) in an incredibly complex network that works to the common good--in itself much more unlikely than either (a), (b), or (c).

Add to this the fact that when two unlikely events occur, the unlikelihood of each is multiplied, not added (as, for example, there's a one-in-six chance of the one coming up on one die, and a one-in- thirty-six--not twelve--chance of two ones with a pair of dice, and a one-in-two hundred sixteen--6 x 6 x 6--chance of three ones appearing with three dice).

So these events, which are billions to one against in each case, are godzillian godzillians to one against if you string them together. The unlikelihood of what happened's happening by chance is so great that you couldn't write the number.

So evolution extremely strongly indicates that something-or-other is manipulating the chance element in the development of the beings of the observable universe; though, since the development is random, there is the excessively--fantastically--remote possibility that evolution could have happened spontaneously. The problem is that this possibility is so unlikely that for practical purposes it is irrational to suppose it.

Put it another way: If you hold that evolution is "due just to chance," then you are even less rational than the person who buys a lottery ticket when the jackpot is up to forty million dollars and predicts that he's going to win, "because somebody has to, you know." That is not a rational position.

Put it a further way. What the "just chance" person is saying is, "Because you can't prove that evolution is a contradiction unless there is a "manipulator," then I choose to believe that there isn't one." That's not the view of a person who lets the evidence lead him; it's the view of a person who's committed to the non-existence of anything that could be called a God.

Nevertheless, though this argument for practical purposes proves that there is a "manipulator," it does not follow that the "manipulator" is an infinite being, nor that he is a "creator." True, it would be consistent with an infinite being who was also a creator to manipulate the chance element in his material universe so that it would do more than it could be expected to do on its own: to "lift it up" beyond its unaided powers; but the argument of itself does not prove this.

Note, however, that if you add what this argument indicates to what we said that the "big bang" argument suggests about the origin of the universe, there is an accumulation of evidence from science that points toward a being who caused the universe as we know it to begin to exist and to be directing its development. These could be two different beings (and indeed, there might not even be an "originator"); but it would be a pretty reasonable thing to assume that there was only one being involved in both of these effects (though of course, he would be the causer containing two different causes).

This being, however, need not necessarily be God. If we suppose that we are to this being what, say, a model airplane is to the builder, it could be that there are several "levels," as it were, of being, and we happen to be at an intermediate one--with our "beginner and director" himself a finite being who is a creature of a greater being, and so on.

Nevertheless, we can definitely draw the following conclusion:

CONCLUSION: The "cosmic watchmaker" theory of God is false.

Scientific and philosophical types at the time of the founding of this country were "deists," who held that reason established that there was a God, who perhaps created the universe and set its laws, but that once he "set it in motion," it ran by itself, by the laws he imposed upon nature.

The problem with this theory is that we established that if the universe were "running just by itself," those very laws would predict an evolution in many ways the exact opposite of what is observed to happen. Hence, the operation of these laws, in any sane reading of probability, has been interfered with.

Now if you counter to this, "Now wait a minute. It may be that we just don't understand these laws properly. This so-called 'interference' could be just the natural operation." This is an "argument" that is the direct counterpart of the dodge that "disorder is just a hidden kind of order." The evidence we have indicates that the universe ought to have developed in a way different from its actual development; if you want to say that there's something wrong with the evidence we have, find the flaw, don't just assert that there's one.

We can also draw a second conclusion:

Since the evolution of the universe is going in the opposite direction from what it would be if left to itself, this implies that the "manipulator," whatever he is, has to be aware in some sense of what is going on, so that he can direct the interactions of the bodies to make what is extremely unlikely occur. That is, individual events occurring when you would not expect them are what alters the course of evolution; and so this being, whoever he is, has to know about them.

CONCLUSION: The "manipulator" must in some sense be a conscious being.

GENERAL CONCLUSION FROM THIS ARGUMENT: Evolution indicates with great strength that there is some intelligent something manipulating the chance element in the development of the universe. But the argument does not establish that there is an infinite being, or that the manipulator is the same being as the one (if any) who accounted for the origin of the universe.

2.6.1. A note on the supernatural

As long as we have argued to some superior something that is manipulating the universe, I think I ought to clear up a possible misunderstanding about the term "supernatural."

There are those who consider that a "supernatural" being or act is simply a contradiction in terms, because if a being is either beyond nature or acts beyond nature, then by definition it is what it isn't, or does what it can't do. Obviously, to take the word in that sense is either stupid or captious.

First, let us take a supernatural act. You have a three-year-old child, and you want him to sign a birthday card to his Grandma. Well, he can't do it, so you put the pen in his hand and then put your hand over his and guide it so that he writes "Johnny" on the card. That is a supernatural act. That is, his nature by itself is incapable of doing what he just did; but his nature with help can be made to do what it is incapable of on its own. So a supernatural act does not contradict nature, it simply goes beyond unaided nature. And of course, the supernatural act was perfectly consistent with your (more developed) nature. (If you want to object that the boy's nature is capable of writing when it's more developed, you can make Rex your dog write his name to Grandma in the same way--and his nature is never capable of writing his name by itself.)

In that sense, what evolution actually did is supernatural, because, left to itself it in practice couldn't have done it. But there's nothing unnatural in what it did. And presumably, the manipulation is natural for the manipulator.

Now what about a "supernatural" being? If you choose to define "nature" as "material, measurable reality," then anything that wouldn't be material or measurable would be "supernatural." But on the supposition that there is something spiritual (i.e. not measurable), then there's nothing contrary to his nature in being spiritual, even though it's "supernatural" in the sense you define "nature." (I hasten to add that this argument does not prove that the "manipulator" is a spiritual being.)

But in fact, if there is a being superior to the observable universe, there's no contradiction in supposing him to exist (in fact, there's all but a contradiction in supposing him not to exist), and so it's just silly to define "nature" in such a way that it sounds unnatural to have such a being. This would be like arbitrarily defining "nature" to be "inanimate reality," which by definition would make living bodies "supernatural."

The point is that if you understand "supernatural" in any sane kind of way, there's nothing unnatural or contradictory about the concept.

2.7. The "five ways" of St. Thomas Aquinas

The most famous historical arguments for the existence of God are those given by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae (Compendium of Theology) toward the beginning where he claims that the existence of God can be proved in five ways. It turns out that as they stand, each of them is invalid, though it must be said that St. Thomas had in another place used the "contingency" argument (which is the valid one that I will give later) to prove God's existence, and most can be "fixed up" by showing that these are just five versions of a thing's being "contingent.

What St. Thomas was really doing here was refuting the Arabian philosophers who used Aristotle's proof for a superior being who was not like the Christian God to establish that the "scientific god" was incompatible with Christianity. He showed that the Aristotelian proofs, if you took Aristotle as a whole, were actually compatible with a Christian understanding of God. (Aristotle held that there were many "first movers," and they couldn't actually act on the earth, they were finite, though spiritual, etc.)

2.7.1. The first way

"The first and more obvious way [to prove God's existence] is taken from the fact of process. It is certain, and evident to the senses, that there are in this world some things that are in process.

"Now anything that is in process has its process initiated and maintained by something else. The reason is that nothing is in process except insofar as it is in potency toward what the process is directed towards; and something initiates a process insofar as it is in activity. To initiate and maintain a process is nothing more than to bring something out of potency into activity; but nothing can be brought out of potency except by some being that is in activity--just as what is actively hot, like fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actively hot, and by this initiates the process and alters it.

"But it is not possible for the same thing to be simultaneously in potency and in activity in the same respect, but only in different respects: what is actively hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot, though it is at that time potentially cold. Therefore, it is impossible for something, in the same respect and the same manner, to be what initiates a process and what is in [that] process, or that it initiate its own process. So everything that is in process has its process initiated and maintained by something else.

"But if the thing that initiates a process is in [a different] process, it must also have its own process initiated by something else, and that one [if the same applies] by still another.

"But here one cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first thing to initiate and maintain the processes, and consequently there would be nothing else in process--since the secondary initiators of processes do not initiate the processes unless their own processes are initiated and maintained by the primary one. For example, a stick does not move something unless it is being moved by a hand.

"Therefore, it is necessary to come to some first thing that initiates and maintains processes, but has no process initiated by anything. And everyone understands this to be God."

Now there is a lot that can be said about this argument; it has been misunderstood in sundry ways, some of which are open to facile "refutation." But let me try to make it clearer and bring it up to date this way: Basically, it says that when something is in process (i.e. is gradually changing), it is acquiring a characteristic that it didn't have before (what St. Thomas calls an "activity").

So think of an object that is gaining energy. St. Thomas's point is that it can't increase its own energy-level by itself (because it doesn't have it to give to itself). Hence, it has to be receiving energy from outside itself. That much is almost self-evident. (His argument, by the way, would not in modern terms apply to the process by which something is losing energy, for reasons I don't want to get into here.)

He goes on to say that if the thing that is giving it the new energy is also something that is increasing its energy-level, then obviously there is needed a third something, and if that's the same, then a fourth and so on until you come to something that isn't increasing its energy-level.

And you have to come to something like this in this case, because the energy-level the whole set is increasing, and even if the set were made up of an infinite number of members, it would still be true that the set as a whole would be adding energy to itself--which is impossible.

So there has to be something that imparts energy to any set of objects which are increasing in energy, which itself is not increasing in energy; and this is the "first mover," which St. Thomas says everyone calls God.

True, the Arabs and Aristotle called this the god, because they were taking the scientific view of the time that all the changes on the earth were due to the motions of the heavenly bodies that went around the earth; and their motions depended on each other. So there had to be something that "moved the heavens around" but was not itself in motion--or in any kind of process.

But in point of fact, even in St. Thomas's philosophy, there are things even on this earth, like choices, which are spiritual acts that can cause changes in our bodies without, strictly speaking, being processes themselves. Thus, while a stick won't move a rock without being moved by the hand that moves the stick, which is moved by the contraction of the muscles that moves the arm that moves the hand, which gets energy from the nerves that contract the muscles, which energy is transmitted from the brain, which has a reserve of energy which is channeled to the motor nerves, the spiritual act of the choice is what channels this energy and stops the series. You don't need to go all the way up to God to account for the series of processes.

So as it stands, the argument is invalid. If you want to fix it up by saying that process indicates a radical deficiency in reality, which ultimately needs an infinite being to explain it, then you're in another argument (the contingency argument) not this one.

2.7.2. The second way

"The second way is from the intelligibility of efficient cause. We find in those perceptible things an arrangement of efficient causes. But it is not found, and it is not possible, for something to be the cause of itself, because then it would be greater than itself, which is impossible.

"But it is not possible that there is an infinite string of efficient causes, because, in all efficient causes arranged in a series, the first is the cause of the middle one and the middle is the cause of the last one, whether the 'middle' is single or actually many. But when the cause is not present, neither is the effect.

"Therefore, if there were no first one of the efficient causes, there would be no last one, nor any middle one. But if there is an infinite series of efficient causes, there will be no first efficient cause, and so no final effect, nor intermediate causes--which is obviously false.

"Therefore, it is necessary to say that there is some first efficient cause, which everyone names 'God.'"

St. Thomas is actually talking here about the same series he talked about in the first way, except that now he is looking at these processes in terms of being the effects of some efficient cause.

First, let me connect St. Thomas's use of "cause" with the one I developed earlier. For him a cause is "that which influences the existence of something else," and this is another way of saying that the "existence" of that other thing would be different without it--and in turn, that means that without the cause, the "existence" of the other thing would be a contradiction (it is different from what it is). So the two definitions amount to the same thing.

Now an efficient cause is a cause which "influences" the existence by acting on it. In other words, its action on the affected object is what removes the contradiction, as, for instance, the energy from the hand imparted to the stick (acting on it) explains the increase of energy of the moving stick. (There are other kinds of causes. A final cause, for instance, would account for something, not by acting on it, but by being the state it's headed toward.)

So all that St. Thomas is saying here is that the series of processes producing processes can also be looked on as a series of effects that have efficient causes; and so the "first mover" has to be an efficient cause. He's countering Aristotle, who thought that if the "first mover" actually acted on the processes below it, it would have to lose some energy, and so couldn't be "unmoved"--and so the "first mover" of the heavenly spheres (which he thought moved eternally) couldn't be an efficient cause, and would have to be a final cause, desired by the spheres, which themselves would have to be living, intelligent beings, capable of desiring and acting on their desire.

What St. Thomas is showing here is that, based on his own principles, Aristotle should have concluded that his "first mover" had to be an efficient, not a final, cause.

Now then, what about the argument? First of all, it suffers from the same flaws as the first way, that the "first mover" could be a (spiritual) choice, which, as not energy, can cause changes in other things without itself losing anything (if it doesn't have an amount, then clearly it can't lose some of itself).

But secondly, the series of efficient causes which are effects of efficient causes only works if you make the distinction I made between cause and causer, which St. Thomas did not make. That is, you have to have a "first" in the series only if the causal action on the effect is what needs an efficient cause. But if the effect is produced by a causer which needs an efficient cause, then the series could go on to infinity, because the causer can act without (now) being caused.

That is, suppose my son is moving a stone by means of a stick in his hand. His choice is the "first cause" of that series; but of course he wouldn't exist and be able to make the choice if I hadn't caused him to be born. But he could be doing this after I die; I don't have to be acting on him in order for him to act. So this kind of a series can in principle stretch out to infinity, because, though each member depends on another, the combination of effect-cause does not. That is, the kind of thing I am now talking about is not like the increase in energy I spoke of in the preceding way, which needed a "first mover."

So it's only the kind of series like that of the first way which need a "first efficient cause." But that's just by the way, actually, since even when there has to be a "first" one, this doesn't have to be any more than a simple human choice.

2.7.3. The third way

"The third way is taken from what is able not to exist, and what is incapable of not existing. We find in things some that are able either to exist or not exist--since we find some that come into existence and go out of existence, and consequently are capable of existing and also of not existing.

"But it is impossible for everything always to be this way, because what has the capability of not existing, at some time does not exist. Hence, if everything had the capability of not existing, then at some time there was nothing at all.

"But if this were true, then even now there would be nothing, because what does not exist does not begin to exist except by means of something that exists. If, therefore, there were no being, it would be impossible for anything to begin to exist, and so there would not now be anything, which is obviously false. So not all beings are capable of not existing, and there must exist something that is incapable of not existing.

"But everything which is incapable of not existing either has the cause of this power to exist forever from outside, or it does not. But there cannot be an infinite series of beings that are incapable of not existing, but have a cause of this power, any more than there can be an infinite series of efficient causes, as was proved. Therefore, it is necessary to say that there is something which in virtue of itself cannot not exist, and does not have the cause of this power from something else, but is the cause of the incapacity for not existing of all the other ones. And everyone calls this 'God.'"

I have translated "possible" as "capable of not existing" and "necessary" as "incapable of not existing" to make clearer what St. Thomas is driving at. This "incapacity for not existing" is, however, a positive quality: the power to exist forever (without being able to be destroyed). The "possible" beings are "capable" of not existing because they lack this power.

What St. Thomas is trying to argue here is that, against Aristotle, who held that there were a whole bunch of "first movers," one for each of the heavenly spheres, who were spirits contemplating themselves (and being desired by the--living--spheres they moved), were more or less independent of each other, but not quite, since there was a system of interconnected eternal movements. St. Thomas is saying that there has to be a kind of "head first-mover" who causes the power that the others have to be incapable of not existing.

The argument turns on the statement, "it is impossible for everything always to be this way." The reasoning is this: First of all, what is capable of not existing must at some time not exist, or on what grounds do you predict that it will never go out of existence? Only on the basis of its nature. But that would mean its nature is such that it will never not exist, because (obviously) it can't not exist.

Secondly, if everything (i.e. each thing) is capable of not existing, then the whole set of "everything" (i.e. all of them together) is capable of not existing. That is, it is possible for all of the existing things to happen to go out of existence all at the same moment. Hence, the whole set of these objects is also capable of not existing.

But by the principle that what is capable of not existing actually doesn't exist at some time, then at some time nothing exists. But this "time" would have to have already occurred, since an eternity would have existed backwards from now and obviously, the non-existence would have to occur at some finite time. And St. Thomas's point is that if there ever is nothing at all, there won't be anything after it. No "big bang" is possible because nothing can't "existify" itself.

First of all, it doesn't follow that any being that's capable of not existing must at some time not exist. If it's capable of existing or not existing at any moment, then there's no moment in which it isn't capable of either existing or not. Suppose you just string together all the moments and at none of them does it happen to "exercise the possibility" of not existing.

What I'm saying is that, even given an infinity of time, it does not follow that all capabilities have to be realized. If that were so, then since the being is capable of existing at any moment, it's capable of existing at every moment; but at any and every moment, it's also capable of not existing. If every possibility has to be realized, then the being both will and will not exist at every moment--which is absurd. A possibility is just that, a possibility; it never becomes a necessity.

And that goes for the whole set, too. It is quite possible even that every single being comes into existence and goes out of existence, but that there never is a moment in which all the existing things happen to go out of existence together. In fact, you could imagine a scenario in which things could be so interconnected that in order for one being to go out of existence, it would first have to produce a being which would exist longer than it did--which would mean that each being would stop existing, but the whole set would continue for ever.

But there's no need to continue this. The fact is that, while it's plausible to say that if everything were capable of not existing, there would be nothing at some time, it's not demanded either by physics or metaphysics or logic. So the argument actually doesn't prove that there is any being which is incapable of not existing.

2.7.4. The fourth way

"The fourth way is taken from the degrees that are found in things. There are found in the world some things that are more and less good, true, changeable, and so on. But 'more' and 'less' apply to different things to the extent that they come close in different ways to what is 'most': for example, 'hotter' is what is closest to 'hottest.'

"Hence, there is something that is truest, and best, and most noble, and consequently 'most' being; because what is most true is most real, as is said in [Aristotle's] Metaphysics.

"But what is called the 'most' in any class is the cause of everything in that class; as, for example, fire, which is most hot, is the cause of all heat, as is pointed out in the same book. Therefore, there is something which is the cause of the existence of all beings, the cause of their goodness, and of any perfection; and this is what we call 'God.'"

What St. Thomas is trying to do here, obviously, is to say that the "first first mover" is the cause of the existence of everything else, not, as Aristotle held, a being that is all wrapped up in itself and having other beings "beside it," so to speak, that it only produced changes in.

But there are a number of problems with the argument (though it would, I think, have convinced Aristotle). First of all, as the unfortunate example of heat shows, there is no "hottest" that accounts for all the different degrees of heat. As I said in discussing Descartes' argument, the notion of "more" and "less" can be discovered from establishing somewhere a "zero" and working up and down from that point. You don't need an existing "absolute most" to get the concept of different degrees from.

(Of course, if there are three objects of unequal heat, then clearly one of them will be the hottest; but the object that happens to have the highest temperature is not what St. Thomas is arguing towards here; he means a standard that everything else deviates from negatively, like Descartes' "perfection.")

Secondly, the object that possesses the greatest degree of something is not necessarily the cause of lesser degrees of that quality. That is one of the fallacious inferences you can draw from the "influence" notion of cause: that the causer causes by "pouring some of itself" into the affected object. But that would mean that the beaver has "more of the essence of a dam" within him than the dam itself that he builds. But the probability is very high that he doesn't even have the plans inside him; he just feels like cutting down a tree and dragging it into the water; and he gets satisfied when the water builds up to a certain level.

No, the cause is just the "whatever it is" that makes the effect not a contradiction; and it doesn't mean that the cause has to have the same quality that the effect acquires. For instance, when you rub your hands together, the heat didn't come from what was hotter; it came from mechanical energy.

So if something is "good," say, it doesn't have to have got its goodness from something that is better. My son, I hope, is a better person than I am, and he began to exist because of me (maybe he got the excess from my wife?). But we see brilliant children the offspring of stupid parents and so on.

So the argument doesn't prove what it claims to prove. There may be an absolutely "best" and "existing" being, and an infinite being sounds like a good candidate; and in fact this infinite being might be the cause of the existence (and goodness and so on) of all finite beings. It's just that this line of reasoning doesn't establish it.

2.7.5. The fifth way

"The fifth way is taken from the directing of things. We see that some things which do not have knowledge (that is, natural bodies) act toward an end. This is evident from the fact that they always, or for the most part, act in the same way, to arrive at what is best. From this it is clear that it is not by accident but by intention that they achieve their work.

"But things that have no knowledge do not tend toward an end unless they are directed by something that has knowledge and understanding: for example, an arrow by an archer. Therefore, there is something intelligent, by whom all natural objects are given their orientation toward their ends; and this is what we call 'God.'"

This is obviously St. Thomas's version of the argument from design, which I have already discussed at length; and so, though there are some other things to say, I will not discuss them here, since this chapter is not an exhaustive investigation of historical positions, but of the basic arguments and their validity or invalidity.

2.8. The argument from contingency

Of the main arguments for God's existence, there remains only what Immanuel Kant called the "cosmological argument," which is more commonly known as the argument from the "contingency of being." It is, I think, when properly formulated, a valid argument for the existence of an infinite being, and in fact the only valid argument for the existence of such a being, since you can't prove that an infinite being exists unless you can prove that there is an inherent contradiction in any finite reality just because it is finite. Then, by the theorems that no effect can be its own cause and that identical effects have identical causes, you can argue that no other being which is finite can be the cause of any finite being as finite. That's what we're going to do, but we have to be very careful to make the argument rigorous and not to fall into various traps.

For instance, the reason that Kant thought that the argument was invalid and involved the ontological argument was because he (following other philosophers like Gottfried Leibniz, who thought it was valid) formulated it more or less in this way:

What is contingent is by definition dependent for its existence on something else. But if everything is contingent, then everything is dependent for its existence on something else. Therefore, there has to be something 'necessary' [i.e. not dependent on anything else for its existence], on which everything contingent ultimately depends.

This is actually arguing from the concept of contingency, and saying that because you define it as "dependent," then it has to depend on something; and so if everything is contingent, obviously everything depends on something.

But it completely ignores what it is that makes something "contingent" in this sense. How do you know it's dependent for its existence on something else, and its existence is not self-sufficient? And further, how do you know that there can't be an infinite string of dependent beings, each of which depends on the one before it without there being a "first" (which possibility we raised in discussing St. Thomas's second way)? It won't do to say that you can never get through an infinite string; maybe there's an infinity of time (which, if the "big bang" is the result of a preceding collapse, can't even be ruled out by modern physics).

So Kant was right; in this form, the argument is simply playing with concepts, and tries to move from the logical to the real order. You have to have evidence that finite reality contains real contradictory aspects (not just the concept of "finiteness" has problems) before you can establish that there is something without this particular contradictoriness. And that, believe me, is no easy task, as you will discover.

2.9. Final remarks

These, then, are the arguments for the existence of God. There are, of course, others, but they are either versions of one or another of the ones I have given, or are frivolous and not worth serious consideration. So what is the upshot of all that we have seen?


None of the arguments discussed actually proves the existence of an infinite being, though some indicate or even prove that there is more than the material, observable universe.

The Origin argument and the Argument from Design suggest or indicate that there is something beyond the observable universe; but they leave possibilities that there is no such thing (however unlikely these might be), and also rest to some extent on the present state of scientific theory. If new evidence comes up, changing these theories, then the arguments are either strengthened or refuted. For instance, if it is discovered that the mass of the universe is greater than the critical amount, then scientifically, the eternally oscillating universe is the conclusion, not an "originator." Similarly, it is conceivable, though I confess only barely conceivable, that someone could construct a theory of biological evolution such that chance plus the underlying structure of the organisms would be all that you'd need to be able to predict the kind of complex ecosystems of complex organisms we find. (Actually, the task gets harder the more science learns; when you get down into the molecular level, it is even more formidable than I said.)

So neither of these two arguments is conclusive. But still, there is considerably more reason to accept them than to reject them.

The argument from choice (the version of the "need to believe" argument) and the moral argument do prove that there is a life beyond death. It is true that if the evidence is misread or the logic is flawed, then they are not in fact sound arguments; but that is true of any argument, even a conclusive one. But, as I said, this life after death says nothing in fact about an infinite being.

Still, the reasonable person so far would, I think be strongly inclined to think that there is some kind of a God: a kind of creator and director of the universe, who probably has concern with the kind of life that we live, and who can intervene in the universe if he wants to. But whatever this God is, it is not a "cosmic watchmaker." The advances of science have established just the opposite of what scientists thought as little as a hundred years ago.

But of course, we haven't seen the arguments against God's existence yet; and there is one very powerful one, which seems to indicate that a being who creates and controls the universe and loves his creatures can't exist. So, believers, don't get too cocky. The God you believe in probably doesn't exist--or at least, he's not the way you think he is if he does.

Remember, we're after the facts here, not just something we can trump up to reinforce our prejudices on the subject.


We will not yet make use of the method developed in the previous chapter, but here discuss the standard arguments for God's existence, and see if they in fact prove the existence of something infinite. Note that the burden of proof is on the person who says that God exists, because God is supposed to be the cause of something in the world; and if the world makes sense by itself, then God can't be called a cause.

Where did you come from?: The believer keeps asking the unbeliever where he came from and where that came from until the unbeliever answers, "It was just there," and the believer retorts. "It couldn't be because everything had to come from something," and then claims that God is the ultimate source--At which the non-believer rebuts that by his own reasoning, God would have to come from something. The argument is invalid. The believer would have to show why everything else but God had to "come from" something and why God couldn't have come from anything.

But the "big bang" theory of the beginning of the universe is strongly suggestive here, because the known mass of the universe does not allow for an alternately expanding and contracting universe (which would not need an outside source); and since the original state of the universe was unstable (i.e. self-contradictory) something other than itself would have to have either (a) got stable material into this unstable condition, or (b) started it existing absolutely. But this thing does not necessarily have to be something infinite (and it is possible there is more mass in the universe than we know about). So this suggests but does not prove anything.

The need to believe: If "truth" is "what works," then it would seem that since people's lives are made meaningful if they believe in God, then it must be true that there is a God. But others' lives are more meaningful to them on the supposition that there is no God; and clearly there can't both be and not be a God. The argument is invalid.

Something about the argument, though, does prove that there is a life after death. It is self-contradictory for humans to have to set goals for themselves which are in principle impossible to achieve (because then they are always in a self-contradictory unstable condition). But if life ends with death, then goals can't be achieved (because even if we achieve them, we have the further goal of not giving them up). Hence, either human life goes on after death in such a way that goals are achievable in principle, or human life contradicts itself. This suggests that God might exist (to run the show), but it does not prove it.

The moral argument: An immoral choice is a deliberate attempt to do something inhuman, which in effect sets up a goal that in some respect is a self-contradiction. But "in the real world" a person can suffer much more for avoiding moral conduct than for making immoral choices. This means that it is more rational to act inhumanly (which for a human is irrational); and this is absurd--unless there is a life after death which punishes such immoral choices, making it in the long run advantageous to be moral. This proves that there is a life after death, but again it does not prove that there is a God, since the "punishment" might turn out to be just the natural consequence of making such a choice.

The ontological argument: If you think of what is the greatest conceivable ("that than which nothing greater can be thought") and you say that it doesn't really exist, then you have contradicted yourself, because you can think of it as existing, which is greater than to think of something merely imaginary. Unfortunately, though in fact it is greater to exist than not to exist, the fact that I can say "X exists" does not add anything to X; it simply means that I am being acted on somehow by X--which is not true in this case. Therefore, the argument is invalid. Descartes' version of this argument, that I could not have got the notion of "perfection" from myself or anything in the universe, since nothing is perfect, is also invalid, because I can form the notion by simply denying various "bad" qualities, and then making the generalization of "that which has no bad qualities."

The argument from design: The inanimate, non-rational, universe displays order, which is rational; therefore, there must be something rational bringing order out of what otherwise would be chaos. Unfortunately, "rational" here means "capable of being rationally understood," not necessarily "rationally produced." All you need is a constant structure to get order in the operations, not a "designer." Also, if God is the "orderer," then you could predict that there would be no disorder, which there is. So this seems to refute the argument.

If, however, we look at evolution, we find that its trajectory is the opposite of what you would predict from the laws of chance and the underlying driving force. Hence, though it is barely conceivable that nothing but chance and this force are operating, this is so improbable as to be insane. Therefore, the far more rational theory is that there is something intelligent manipulating the otherwise random operations in the world, directing them contrary to what their natural tendency is. Consequently, the cosmic "watchmaker" theory of God, a being which "started things going, which then continued on their own" is false. Whether this "manipulator" is something infinite or not, however, is not proven by this evidence.

Note that this means that the universe is doing something supernatural: that is, something beyond its unaided ability. But this does not mean that it is doing something impossible if it is helped, any more than the supernatural act of an infant's signing his name to a note to Grandma is impossible if Mommy guides his hand.

St. Thomas's first way states that process, as acquiring an "act," implies that the object has its process produced by something else, and if that object is in process, the pair are receiving something from outside, and therefore there must be a first "unmoved mover" for the series. Unfortunately, even in the Thomistic system, this argues only to a spiritual act (like a human choice), and not necessarily to something infinite. The argument is invalid.

The second way states that in any series of "efficient causes" (causes in which the causality is an action on the affected object), there must be a first efficient cause or there would be no last effect. But again, this only argues to something like a choice and not to something infinite. The argument is invalid.

The third way argues from the fact that things are capable of not existing, and if everything were like this, then everything would at some time not exist--which would have to have happened in the past, and so now there would be nothing. Therefore, there is something that is incapable of not existing (which has existence in its nature). Unfortunately, even if each thing is capable of going out of existence, it does not follow that everything must at some time go out of existence together. This is possible, but not necessary. So not even the existence of something that cannot not exist is proved. The argument is invalid.

The fourth way argues that the degrees in things get the different degrees of the quality in question from what is "most" in that category; and so degrees of goodness must come from what is "most" good and "most" being. But this does not follow, as can be seen from the fact that heat can come from what is not hot, and doesn't have to come from what is "hotter." The argument is invalid.

The fifth way is St. Thomas's version of the Argument from Design, and suffers from the defects of that argument. The argument is invalid.

The argument from contingency, it turns out, is (at least in one formulation, to be seen later) valid. In its common formulation, however, it is not, since it argues in this way: "If there are contingent (dependent) things, there must ultimately be something independent." But this either just argues from the concept of "dependence" to the fact of "independence," which is analogous to the fallacy in the ontological argument; or it argues that you can't have an infinite string of dependent beings depending on dependent beings. But as a matter of fact, there is no impossibility here. The argument in this form is invalid.

Hence, while there are one or two arguments suggestive of the fact that there is an infinite being (and two that prove that there must be a life after death), there is nothing that actually proves that there is one.





3.1. Fallacious "refutations"

There won't be many arguments discussed in this chapter, for the simple reason that by far the largest number of arguments against God's existence are refutations of various arguments for his existence--and so we have actually seen a number of them already. There are, in fact, a huge number of "refutations" that are fallacious, based, as I said in the first chapter, on a misconstrual (whether honest or disingenuous) of what the believer means. What I did in the preceding chapter was give what I consider to be the valid refutations of the pro-God arguments, and left the fallacious ones aside.

Let me here just give you an example of what I mean by a fallacious refutation:

St. Thomas's first way to prove God's existence, you will recall (Section 2.7.1), was the one from process as the gradual acquisition of an "act" that the being does not have. The word commonly used to translate "process," however, is "motion," and so what St. Thomas is translated as saying is "Whatever is in motion is moved by something else."

Against this, people cite Newton's First Law of Motion, which is that when an object is in motion, it will remain in motion at the same speed and direction forever, unless it is interfered with. This clearly implies, if it does not state, that motion does not need something to "be moving it"; its natural state is motion; it is in equilibrium when it is in constant motion, and so needs no cause.

But this "refutation" misses the point. All it means is that motion from one place to another at a constant speed (in which no energy enters or leaves the system) is not one of the acts St. Thomas is calling "motion," because no new characteristic or "act" is being acquired. So the fact that Newtonian constant motion needs no cause has nothing to do with his argument, because he's not talking about that. He's only saying that any act in which the being is gradually acquiring some new character needs a cause. For instance, his argument would apply to accelerated motion in Newton's system (i.e. motion that changes either speed or direction).

True, St. Thomas did in fact think that Newton's constant straight-line motion was a case of acquisition of a characteristic, and so he would have thought that it fell under the argument he was giving; and he was mistaken in this. But the point is that this mistake affects his argument not at all. Whether a given kind of thing is a case of the problem doesn't affect whether the things that are cases do what the argument says they do.(1)

Now, as I said in the preceding chapter, this is a book on whether there is evidence for and/or against the existence of an infinite being, not a historical survey of the issue; and so I am not going to bother with pointing out just how the fallacious refutations of arguments are themselves fallacious--unless they are the only "refutation," and need to be dealt with to show that a valid argument is valid.

But obviously, if an argument is validly refuted, why bother going through the invalid attempts to refute it? And so far, all the arguments we have seen for an infinite being have been validly refuted.

So what I am concentrating on here are arguments that purport to show either (a) that there is no effect which would demand a God as its cause, or (b) that there cannot be such a thing as a God causing the world to be what it is.

3.2. The world is self-sufficient

The main argument against the existence of God is that there is nothing about the world that needs a God to explain it: the world makes sense by itself. And, of course, this is a refutation. If you can't show that there is an effect, then obviously, you have no business talking about its cause.

But the notion that there is no effect in the world needing God for a cause is in itself just an assumption. One could just as easily say, "Bodies fall down. So what? Why do you need a cause to explain this? It makes sense to me." The person who says this is paying attention to the fact that bodies fall down, and, of course (since there are no contradictions), since it's a fact it makes sense somehow.

But, of course, given Newton's First Law of Motion (that bodies with nothing acting on them don't accelerate), and the fact that falling bodies accelerate, and that falling bodies apparently have nothing acting on them, there's an effect here. Falling bodies make sense, true, but not by themselves--unless you resolve the effect as Einstein did, by saying that Newton's First Law was not quite true.

So it by no means follows that because you don't see any effect in the world's being what it is, there isn't any. Throughout all known history and even beyond, people have been seeing problems that at least seem to demand a God of some sort for their solution.

And it's at this point that the assumption becomes an argument. The assumption is a perfectly legitimate "working hypothesis" as long as there's no reason to believe that it's not true, since (as I stressed) the burden of proof is on the one who asserts that there is a God. But given that there seems to be evidence that there is a God, the "working hypothesis" cannot remain simply an untested assumption if the non-believer wants to claim honestly that he is rational.

And so the argument that the world is self-sufficient goes like this:

Historically, there has seemed to be evidence that the world is nonsense unless there is a God. All of these claims have been investigated, and have turned out to be fallacious arguments for the God they supposedly prove. As science advances, we find more and more that "this worldly" causes take the place of what God was supposed to be explaining; and there's no reason for saying that the "arguments" that seem plausible now won't in the future have a perfectly sensible explanation by science in terms of this world. So there's no reason to assume that there is a God.

This would be a reasonable position if in fact what it asserts were true: that in fact as science advances, the "this-worldly" explanation tends to be more reasonable than the "other-worldly" one. But we saw in the preceding chapter that earlier scientific theories about the past of the universe (the eternally existing, non-evolving one) were more amenable to a "this-worldly" view than the present "big bang" evolving universe; and the theory that species by their nature eternally reproduce themselves is more consistent with a "this-worldly" view of things than an evolution which goes against what its underlying driving force would predict of it.

In fact, it is only by an act of faith that somehow or other these difficulties can be straightened out that scientists can nowadays cling to a total "this-worldly" view of things. The world as scientifically described is shouting at them that there is something beyond it, and there is no evidence that there's anything wrong with what it's shouting. And so it's only by closing its ears to the clamor that scientists can claim that "all the supposed problems requiring a God for a solution have been solved by science, and there's no reason to assume that they won't continue to be."

In fact, what I am saying is that the opposite is the case. And so the argument as an argument is invalid.

Now does this mean that it is false that the problems that seem to demand the existence of God as their solution will someday have a "this-worldly" explanation? No. It just means that you have no reason to believe they will, because the grounds on which you supposedly believe this are fallacious.

Nor is it even a tossup. The evidence as we now know it, as I pointed out in the last chapter, indicates that there is something (at least an afterlife) beyond the world as we observe it. It is positively irrational to reject this evidence because there might be some counter-evidence out there somewhere.

What I mean is this. The General Theory of Relativity, for instance, asks us to accept as true some pretty fantastic (what scientists call "counter-intuitive") things: that a massive object can somehow alter the shape of nothingness (the geometry of the space around it), and that real objects passing through this nothingness will have to follow its altered shape. But scientists accept these things, because observed events make sense on this assumption, and don't on any other known assumption. No physicist I know of is going to reject the General Theory of Relativity on the grounds that there might be some evidence that would be consistent with, say, a Euclidian view of the configuration of space and time (one that most people would be "comfortable with").

If you're a rational person, you draw the conclusions that are reasonable based on the evidence you have, not based on evidence that you have no reason to believe exists, but which you assert only because no one can prove it doesn't exist. That's the same as believing in leprechauns, and then alleging that the fact that no one's ever seen one is no reason for not believing in them. In fact, it's the very thing that this supposed "argument" argues against dealing with the existence of God.

Further, this argument doesn't address the possibility that there might be an argument that by its nature actually can rule out any "this-worldly" explanation as a possibility. And, in fact, it is just this kind of argument I propose. Any "this-worldly" explanation will have to have as its cause something finite (because everything in this world is finite). My contention is that I can show that there's a radical unintelligibility in anything finite just because it is finite, and that nothing but something without this unintelligibility can make sense out of it. If the argument is valid, then it is impossible that science will ever come up with a "this-worldly" explanation that solves the problem. The very best that can be done is to show that there was no problem in the first place.

But in order to hold that this world is self-sufficient, you would have to show that an argument such as I propose is impossible. And since I'm going to give it, you can't a priori say this. You will have to refute my argument before you can say that it is reasonable to say that the world is self-sufficient.

I don't say it can't be done; but nobody's done it so far, and if I were to take a page from the book of the people who "reason" that the world is self-sufficient, I could say that I see no reason to assume that anyone in the future will be able to do it--validly, of course. I'm not talking about specious "refutations."

In any case, the assumption that the world is self-sufficient is extremely shaky, and as an argument, it asserts as one of its premises something that simply is not true. So let's leave it.

3.3. "God exists" is meaningless

There's another line of reasoning which says that the whole God-question is a stupid question because it is only askable by a misuse of language. It sounds like a legitimate, factual question, but there's no way it even could be a factual question, because there's no meaning (or no factual meaning) to any possible "answer."

That is, for these people, asking the question, "Is there a God or not?" is something like what the ancients were doing when they asked "What fraction is equal to the square root of two?" Someone finally showed (if my memory serves me) that when this supposed "fraction" was reduced to lowest terms, it would still have to have an even numerator and an even denominator--which, of course means that it could be divided by two, and so is not in lowest terms. Hence, there can be no such fraction, because any possible one would contradict itself. The question looks like a question, but is no more a real question than, "How heavy is the color blue?"

But what's wrong with asking whether there's a God or not? The answer is that the concept of God is supposed to be such that it contains a contradiction if you say that such a thing exists or even could exist. So it's a waste of time to ask if it exists.

What's the problem? It's based on the view that you can only say that something is a fact if it is at least in principle possible to experience it; if it's "verifiable," in other words. But since God is not an object in the observable universe, and is spiritual and not material, then in principle he can't be perceived by the senses; and so to say that he "exists" is to misuse the phrase "X exists."

The difficulty with this is that if you exclude God because he can't in principle be perceived, you also have to say that, for instance, radio radiation doesn't exist, because we have no senses that can pick it up. The counter-argument to this is that, "Well, we could have senses that would pick it up, because radios can do it," so it's in principle observable. But there are other things, like photons, electrons, neutrinos, etc., which in principle can't be directly observed, because you'd have to hit them with photons to do it, which would knock them out of position. So do we want to say that it's meaningless to say, "There are such things as neutrinos."? It is also--obviously--in principle impossible to observe the "big bang," because at the time there could by definition be no observer. Is it meaningless to say that it happened?

So the notion that something has to be in principle directly  observable in order to be stated meaningfully as a fact means that you have to exclude a number of things that practically everyone regards as facts.

Of course, if you correct this by saying that it's meaningful to talk about what is indirectly observable, then it becomes meaningful to assert that God exists. Why? Because you indirectly observe something by observing something that could not be that way unless this other thing were there. We know that there were dinosaurs without ever having seen one because otherwise the bones we do see make no sense. In other words, you "indirectly observe" the cause of some effect that you directly observe.

So all you would have to do is show some effect that only God could account for, and you have "indirectly observed" him. Now whether or not that can actually be done, it is certainly in principle possible; and so it is meaningful to say that God exists.

So the next ploy is to say that "God exists" is meaningless because you can't simply assert existence of a subject. All statements are of the form "X is a Y," where the predicate is some quality that X is alleged to have; the simple "X is" is nonsense.

Of course, this view is nonsense. It implies that you can't ask the question, "Is there really an Abominable Snowman?" because the answer would not be "The Abominable Snowman is a mammal," but simply "Yes, the Abominable Snowman exists." Who are they to set rules that exclude such questions?

"But," comes the rejoinder, "what we meant was that you can't assert the existence of something that is absolutely indescribable, because then you wouldn't know what it was you were trying to say exists. That is, "A yasluvex exists" is meaningless, if someone asks, "What is a yasluvex?" and you answer, "There's no answer to that questions, because yasluvexes can't be described in any way." But the God people talk about is not such that he has no properties. We will see that the one we assert exists has the main property of being infinite, but is also unchangeable, spiritual, and various other things. So what's the problem?

"But these so-called 'properties' are either undefined, or have contradictory definitions." Not so, as we will see. They have very definite "operational definitions" as causes of given effects, and in fact can be related by analogy to finite causes of similar effects. They are no more unintelligible and contradictory than the "warped space-time" of Einstein or the "wave-particle" that is the photon.

So far, then, the attempt to say that "God exists is meaningless" is going to make you say that certain scientifically defined entities are meaningless to talk about. Now this is not just a debater's point; what it says is that, since it is obviously legitimate and not meaningless to talk about photons and so on as being real and not imaginary, then there's something wrong with the theory that says it can't be.

The last twist and turn of this line of thinking is that, though we can't actually verify some of the things that science talks about, like the "big bang," it is in principle possible to falsify these events or entities, since it is in principle possible either to find flaws in the reasoning that concluded to their existence, or to discover new evidence which makes their existence not necessary. For instance, the chemical "substance" phlogiston, which supposedly had negative weight was supposed to account for why the products of combustion weighed more than the stuff that was burned--until someone discovered oxygen (which of course has weight--which was added to things from the air during burning. So the "phlogiston theory" of combustion was falsified.

And of course, supposing that the argument I establish for the existence of God can be shown to have a flaw, or that my reading of the evidence that the finite as finite involves an in-itself-contradictory situation turns out to be a misreading of the evidence, then my argument for the existence of an infinite being is falsified. So it's certainly in principle falsifiable.

But what the proponents of this view we are now discussing would counter is that if it were falsified, then I would simply come up with some other line of reasoning, because I am determined that the conclusion be true, and I'll believe in a God no matter what the evidence actually is.

This is simply to accuse me of dishonesty and bias. The assumption is that I actually believe in God no matter what, and so no evidence is going to change my mind. I deny that. And I have plenty of friends who have believed in God and have subsequently come to think (for various reasons) that there isn't a God. So it doesn't follow that a believer is so committed that evidence doesn't count for him.

And this particular "argument" is a two-edged sword. I know some unbelievers who can't find anything wrong with the argument I offer, but say, "Nope. There's a fallacy in there somewhere. I don't know where it is, but there is one." What does that say? That there are non-believers who are just as committed to the non-existence of God, and whom no evidence will ever be able to convince.

So what else is new? There are biased people in the world. Big deal. But either you say that bias is so strong that it's impossible to draw conclusions based on the evidence, or any argument that you give is always in principle falsifiable. But the fact that there are believers who become convinced (on evidence that they see) that God doesn't exist, and also non-believers who become convinced (on evidence that they see) that God does exist establishes that bias does not even in this matter totally overwhelm the ability to follow evidence.

CONCLUSION: The notion that the phrase "God exists" is meaningless cannot be established in any meaningful way. The theory would make it meaningless to talk about all sorts of things that science talks about and that the people who hold the theory want to talk meaningfully about.

As a matter of fact, the theory itself is a beautiful example of how some people who believe in the non-existence of God can leap on any argument that seems to support their conclusion, however irrational it might be.

3.3.1 Immanuel Kant's argument

Actually, the "argument" I just discussed is a modern view that got its impetus from Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, in which he tried to show (a) that reason could not help raising the God-question, but (b) it could prove both that God must exist and that God can't exist--which is clearly a contradiction. Kant then went on to explain why there was this psychological need, which necessarily resulted in fallacious reasoning.

Now Kant was one of the most brilliant people who ever lived, so I am going to have to oversimplify here. His argument turns on the grounds we have for saying that every event must have a cause, even before we've seen all events. How can we know that this must be true of every single event, past, present, and future?

His solution, basically was that you can't think of an event (as opposed to what he called a "substance"--i.e. a thing) except as something that happens in time.

That is, an event is something that begins to occur, that has a date attached to it. So it necessarily must be thought of as occurring after the date that immediately precedes it. So just to think of something as an event means that you necessarily think of it as after something. And this was why he could show that David Hume's notion of cause and effect (a sequence of before-and-after in experience) was necessary and not simply (as Hume thought) just a habit we'd got into.

Of course, the necessary "before" in experience was what Kant called the "cause" of the event.

Now, according to Kant, reason wants to unite more and more of our experience. So taking this notion that this event has a cause (the preceding event), which as an event also has to have a cause, which as an event has a cause, which has a cause, and so on, reason then says, "Well, you can't go on in this way forever; because if the cause of the cause (what I called the condition) didn't exist, then the last event wouldn't occur; so all the causes-of-causes have to be "given," as he says, or there is no event. Therefore, there must be a first cause.

But, of course, this first cause is an event, which means that it must have a cause. Therefore, there can't be a first cause.

Now what Kant concluded from this is that reason necessarily tries to apply the notion of "cause" (which according to him is just a before-and-after sequence of events) outside the sequence of events; and so it commits a logical fallacy. Causes occur only in the world of sense experience; they are meaningless outside it.

(You see why the moderns try to say that "God exists" is meaningless? They are taking Kant's argument as valid.)

But the argument suffers as it stands from two logical flaws, and one serious difficulty in the definition of "cause" that is given. First of all, what he is talking about is a series of causers, not causes, since obviously the "event" which was your great-great-grandparents' activity that produced your great-grandparents did not have to be occurring at the time when you began to exist (the event in question). Hence, in a sequence of this sort, the "causes-of-causes" don't have to be "given" simultaneously in order to account for the event, and it is quite thinkable that there is an infinite string of them. We saw this in discussing St. Thomas's first and second ways (sections 2.7.1. and 2.7.2). So it is possible that you don't have to have a first cause.

Further, there is no contradiction in assuming something like a "big bang" which didn't have any event preceding it in time, but takes its "date" from the fact that it is before every other event. And remember, Kant's notion of the necessity of an event's having a cause is based on the notion that you can't think of something as an event unless you can locate it in time; but--supposing there to be a first moment in time--then that doesn't necessarily always mean that it has to be after some other event. It would in all cases except the first one. Granted, you can't imagine a first moment of time with no time (nothing) before it; but then you can't imagine time as stringing out behind us infinitely. But so what? You can't imagine your own mind, or a photon, or what radio radiation "really looks like" (since it doesn't look like anything) either. That doesn't mean you can't think it. So it's possible that there is a first event without a cause in Kant's sense.

So, if you analyze Kant's supposed "proofs" that lead to two opposite conclusions, both of which reason must accept, you find that neither necessarily leads to its conclusion; and so neither proves anything.

The difficulty in the definition of "cause" as Kant conceives it is that it is the "necessary 'before' in experience." But what about the event which is the dawn? That necessarily comes after the night; but it comes before the sun appears in experience. Now are we to say that the night causes the dawn and the dawn (the lightening of the sky before sunrise) causes the sunrise? Of course not. The light of the sun causes the dawn, even though it is never experienced except after the event that it is the cause of.

And the point, of course, is that we call the sun's light the cause of the dawn because without it the lightening of the sky is a contradiction; and certainly the dark night that came before it can't resolve the contradiction in the sky's being dark and then becoming light.

Actually, the main flaw in Kant's reasoning is that all of his explanations about "cause" as a necessary "before" and so on were attempts to give (as he said) the "conditions for the possibility" of the types of experience we actually have. He said at the beginning of the Critique that the fact that we have the experiences we have shows that they are possible; and therefore, all the conditions for their possibility must be met.

And in the course of this, he said that we have certain subjective structures ("a priori forms") of sensation, or the fact that we can't sensibly experience anything except as in space or time makes no sense; there are certain subjective structures ("categories") of thinking without which concepts like "cause" as we use them are nonsense, and so on. In other words, what he is saying is that unless our minds are constituted a certain way, our experience is a contradiction.

But that "condition for the possibility of" experience is exactly what I mean by "cause"; and Kant himself used this notion to get outside the simple sequence of sensory events, because otherwise the experiencing of the sequence would be impossible.

So without realizing it, he was using "cause" in its true sense to explain why you couldn't use "cause" in that "before-and-after" sense outside the realm of sensory experience. But as I said, the notion that the "cause" is a "necessary before" contradicts our experience of cause-and-effect in some cases, and so is a false view of our actual experience of cause.

CONCLUSION: So Kant's theory about cause-and-effect does not prove that you can't argue to what is beyond our actual experience; and in fact Kant did so in his own book. So there is no reason from this to believe that it is impossible to prove God's existence.

3.4. The problem of evil

Now then, the really serious argument against God's existence (as opposed to arguments that either say, "You haven't proved that God does exist" or "There's no effect, and so no need for a God") is called the Problem of Evil. It isn't necessarily of itself an argument against the existence of something infinite, but of a being which is (a) all-powerful, (b) all-knowing, and (c) all-good.

In itself, the argument is simple. It says, "If God is all-knowing, he knows that there is evil in this world of ours (harm, immorality, suffering); if he is all-powerful, he can prevent it if he doesn't want it to happen; and if he's all-good, then he doesn't want it to happen. So if God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good, there is no evil in the world.

"Therefore, given that there is evil in the world, then there is no God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good."

Now of course, this argument can be easily "refuted" if God doesn't have at least one of these properties, or has one only in a limited way. If, for instance, he doesn't know about the evil in the world, he wouldn't try to stop it; or if he's not all-powerful, he might not be able to stop it even if he knows about it and wants to; and if he's not all-good, he might not care.

But that's just a debater's way of getting out of the question, since the infinite being we'll be arguing to does know what's going on in the world, and it certainly powerful enough to stop any act in the world that he doesn't want to find there; and is in some sense infinitely good and loving.

Obviously, I think there's a way out of this, or why would I bother writing the rest of the book? Let me first remark, however, that this might turn out to be one of the "How could a being with Property X be the cause of something with Property Y"-type arguments, which are invalid provided you have conclusively proved that there must be a being with Property X, and you know that its effect does in fact have Property Y. The fact that you don't know how the X-being can manage the explanation of Y-beings is no argument of itself that there is no X-being. If so, then the Y-beings remain a contradiction (an effect without a cause), which is absurd.

But that way out doesn't look terribly promising. The argument at least looks as if you can predict from the properties of the infinite being that the world would have to be different from what it actually is. And what that means is that it's not just a question of how God can cause a world with evil in it, it's that he wouldn't. And of course, what that means is that there's something wrong with the argument for the existence of such a being; such a being couldn't exist.

Let me here give some other "refutations" of the argument that don't really refute it.

First, there is the argument that God only allows evil for the sake of a greater good that comes from it. The idea is that if God created another world without evil in it, it would be worse than the one he created; and so he's good, because this, while not a perfect world, is the best possible world. A better world than this couldn't actually exist.

But that's nonsense. Supposing God to be infinite, then God + the world is no greater than God alone (just as the set of numbers {1, 2, 3, ... n, n+1 ...} is not greater if you add 0 to the set). So if God wanted a world with no evil in it, all he had to do was not create anything and be alone. Then, what exists would be better than God + a world with evil; and so what actually exists (God + a world with evil) is not the best possible situation.

There's the argument that, since evil is just a lack of something, God didn't create evil. But that doesn't solve the problem, because we're supposing that an all-good God doesn't want "lacks" in things when the "lacks" are against their nature (as blindness or maiming is). So even if blindness is the inability to see, it is the inability to see in something reason says can in some sense see (how else would it be curable?); and so a good God, it would seem, would be positively unwilling to see his creatures deprived of what is due them.

There's the notion that suffering and so on are a punishment for human sins. But this has several defects. First of all, why were animals punished before ever there were any human beings to sin? If you say that the dinosaurs didn't suffer, then what do you mean, if they sank into quicksand and drowned? You have to stretch things to say that this fate was good for them--and what sense would it make to say that this was a "punishment" unless it was in some sense bad? But then you have a punishment (a) before the crime was committed (b) on something that had no part in the commission of the crime. In what sense could a good God justify this?

Second, why weren't human beings created incapable of sinning? "Because then they wouldn't be free." But our freedom even now is not totally unrestricted (you can't transform yourself into an alligator), and so why not make beings free to choose only among legitimate options? They'd still be free, but not absolutely free. But we're not absolutely free now.

"Well, but God saw that it was better this way." But that's the "best of all possible worlds" argument again; and that argument is invalid.

Finally, there's the argument, "Yes, but God's goodness is not the same as human goodness." But it sure looks as if God's goodness is not only not the same as human goodness, in many cases it would have to be the same as what we would call horrendous evil. That is, we wouldn't simply say that a man who blew up a building and killed a hundred people in it was just "less good than we'd like him to be," we'd say that he was a positively evil man. He'd be evil even if he knew the building was going to blow up and could stop it (or warn the people) and chose simply to let it happen. But God either causes volcanoes to blow up hundreds of his beloved creatures, or allows it to happen when he could prevent it. Does it mean anything to say that somebody like that is good in any sense?

--At this point, I'm going to leave you hanging. It turns out that there is an analogous sense of "good" in which you could say that God is infinitely good, and this infinite goodness is compatible with his being, from our point of view, a total monster. (Not to be too mysterious, it's analogous to the fact that it's not regarded as really evil of me to step on a cockroach or pull up a peony-plant or crush a rock.)

But, though there's a sense of "good" and "evil" that makes it not a contradiction that there can be a God who could cause the world as we know it, there is still a severe difficulty in this, especially if God reveals himself as good and loving. That is, it seems unlikely that the Christian God could exist. It turns out (and I will try to handle this at the end of the book) that there is a scenario involving the "punishment" notion that does seem to make some sense out of the situation.

I want to conclude, however, by saying that the denial of a good God does not make sense out of evil in the world. It doesn't make sense that natural objects would act contrary to their natures or suffer what is contrary to their natures.

CONCLUSION: The problem of evil is a valid argument against an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God, in all but rather bizarre meanings of these words. It remains to be seen whether the argument to be given establishes the existence of a God with these properties, and whether the analogous senses in which these are used falsifies the God argued to or not.


There are various "refutations" of the preceding arguments which are themselves fallacious; we will simply ignore them. Most of the arguments against the existence of God, however, are actually refutations of arguments for God's existence. But there are some that argue that a God can't exist.

The world is self-sufficient; that is, that it isn't an effect needing something infinite for its cause. As an argument, it says that all of the apparent "effects" that demand the existence of a God have found satisfactory "this worldly" answers from science, and so there's no reason to assume that science won't be able to explain any others. The trouble with this argument is that modern science's findings (in the "big bang" and "evolution") are less consistent with "this worldly" explanations than previous theories of physics and biology. So it simply is not the case that science has "satisfactorily" explained, in the context of this world, what seems to need God for its explanation. The argument is invalid.

"God exists" is meaningless is the assertion that no factual sense can be made out of an assertion that God exists, because it is unverifiable. But if you say that this means that you can't experience God, then you can't experience electrons either, which exist. If you say that it's meaningless because God can have no defined properties, this is nonsense, since they would be known as what is necessary for the effect (whatever it is) to make sense. (We will see many of them.) If you say that it's meaningless, because people who believe, apparently on the basis of some argument, will continue to believe when the argument is refuted. This (a) is not so in many cases, and (b) there are just as many cases of those who believe God doesn't exist and continue to believe this when their "arguments" are refuted also. Bias proves nothing except that there are biased people. The argument is invalid.

Immanuel Kant's argument states that the "cause" of some event is just the "before" in our experience that we have to resort to in order to think of an "event" as beginning in time. Therefore, it is not applicable beyond our sense experience. And if you do try to apply it, you get into a contradiction: It can be proved that there has to be a first cause, because an infinite string of caused causes is impossible; but if the first cause is a cause, then it is an event (the one before the effect) and so has a cause. Thus, this is simply a misuse of the category "cause." The problem here is that, in developing this "before-and-after" sense of "cause," Kant had to use our sense of "cause" (which he called "the conditions for the possibility of ___"), and he used it to argue to what was beyond our sense experience (a mind that unites experience, for example). It turns out that what Kant thought could "prove" that there has to be a first cause doesn't prove it, and that the first cause isn't first doesn't prove that either. The argument is invalid.

The problem of evil states that if God is infinitely knowing, he can know that evil exists in the world; if he is infinitely powerful, he can prevent evil if he wants; if he is infinitely good, he doesn't want evil. Hence, if that kind of God exists, there is no evil in the world. But there is evil. Therefore, there is no God of this type.

One could argue that maybe God doesn't have all those properties, but the God we will conclude to does. The argument is not refuted by saying that God allows evil so that a greater good will come of it, since the greatest good would be not creating a universe in the first place. It is not refuted by saying that evil is simply a lack, and God doesn't create a lack; but presumably he would not want a lack that ought not to be in a being. It is not refuted by saying that evil is a punishment for sin, unless you can show how it is just (and not evil) of God to punish something before the sin was committed (as he did with the dinosaurs, for example). It might be refuted by saying that God's goodness is not the same as human goodness and is consistent with there being evil in the world; but this has to be shown very clearly in order not to be just an ad hoc playing with words to gain debating points. It turns out that this can in fact be done; but we will have to wait for the argument to be able to do it.


1. I should perhaps point out that Newton's "straight-line" motion at a constant speed always involves acceleration unless the moving object is the only object in the universe. The reason is that if there is another object, the moving one will be cutting across its gravitational field (and so moving from one energy-level to another, or "falling"); and so it is actually accelerating with respect to that field. So St. Thomas was right in the "real world." But again, this has nothing to do with the argument he gave. On matters such as this are Doctoral dissertations written.





[For a rather more rigorous examination of this issue, see Modes of the Finite, Part 1, Section 3.]

4.1. The problem about existence

Fasten your seat belts, Ladies and Gentlemen; we are at last on the runway. One of the reasons, as I said in Section 2.1., that I went through the various arguments for and against God's existence is to show you that there's no simple way to answer the question, and to prepare you for the very complex argument that follows.

We saw in the Ontological Argument and the "God exists" is meaningless argument that not everybody seems to agree on what it means to say that something "exists." So the first task we have is to see if we can come up with something either that everyone can agree on (which is probably hopeless in practice) or such that those who disagree can only do so on the basis of some inconsistency.

And the way we can do this is to investigate when it is that we find ourselves forced to say that something-or-other exists, and examine that situation and define existence in terms of the situation.

There are those who say that this is a waste of time, because being (i.e. what exists) is already there in the very first of out thoughts as what we're thinking about, and so it's the most primitive of our ideas. And you can't "explain" or "define" the most primitive idea in terms of ideas derived from it (since they already presuppose it).

But while this sounds plausible, things aren't quite that simple. In the first place, as I said, not everyone is in agreement on what this "primitive" concept actually means; but more importantly, we've all known from the age of five or so that not everything we experience exists.

For instance, just the other night I was in the third floor bedroom of my parents' house in Watertown, Massachusetts, and my son, of about ten, came up to me, when I said, "How does it feel to be sleeping among wombats and wallabies?"--and as I looked down I saw them roaming all over the room. And then I woke up in Cincinnati, with only one son, in his thirties, who lives in New York. And yet I saw him and the wombats--or at least strange animals I took to be wombats, or maybe wallabies.

So while maybe every experience presupposes existence in some sense, it doesn't follow that every experience is of something that exists.

But that means that it's a legitimate question to ask, "When do we say that something exists?" Not just when we experience it, because we can experience what doesn't exist. But it does seem obvious that we can't say it exists unless somehow we experience it, either directly or indirectly. What other grounds could we have?

So we seem to have two kinds of experience: the ones that don't deal with something that exists (the imaginary kind), and the ones that deal with what is real (perceptions). So it sounds like what we should be doing is trying to find out on what basis we can distinguish between the two. Then whatever the "clue" is that lets us know that the perceptive-type belong in this category ought to be what we mean by "existence."

Ah, if only it were that simple! I used to teach this part of the argument that way, when I realized that there was a flaw in it which couldn't be got around until we backed up quite a way and talked about how it is possible to have more than one experience in the first place. It will turn out that existence is the cause of the perceptive-type experience, but it is the condition for the imaginary-type. So the "primitivists" are right in that existence is necessary for any experience. And the indirect involvement of existence in imaginary experience is going to figure in the definition of "existence."


In the analysis that follows, I do not want to imply that I think that you can't know existence unless you start from consciousness and then prove that there is such a thing as existence apart from it. I am merely showing that a given act of consciousness is in fact impossible if there is nothing "outside" it.

That is, the "primitivists," who say that existence is given through the experience (and so you don't need to "prove" it) are apt to interpret what I am doing as if I denied this. No, I am not "proving" existence from consciousness in that sense any more than I "proved" the Principle of Contradiction by showing that if you denied it, you had to base your denial on accepting it as true. I merely showed what is entailed in it.

This analysis, then, has three functions: (a) to show that those who hold that it's possible for there to be nothing but consciousness can't make sense out of consciousness, and (b) to arrive at a clear, precise meaning for "existence" and (c) show when it is legitimate to say "X exists" and when it isn't.

In a sense, the argument constitutes a proof for existence; but that doesn't mean that existence needs to be proved. It is immediately evident with the experience and through the experience.

4.1.1. The structure of the argument

It also turns out, however, that this radical investigation of existence is not really even going to be a side-issue. The proof that there has to be an existence in addition to consciousness and the conscious mind is actually based on the finiteness of the given act (or "moment") of consciousness; and so the argument is an exact parallel to the argument from (finite) existence to the Infinite. So in a sense, one you have established that anything at all exists, you have laid the groundwork for showing that therefore the Infinite must exist.

Let me, then, give you a preview of the way the argument will go.

First, as a preliminary, I will show you the effect in consciousness which forces us to say that we have minds which are conscious. This gives us the subjective side of experience. The mind is defined as "the whatever-it-is-that makes all my conscious acts the same (in that they are 'mine' and not yours)."

But then we will note that we have many conscious acts, each of which is a case of "my consciousness," and yet each of which is different from the others. What this will involve is that each is a finite case of my consciousness; and we will be able to define exactly what this means--and in the course of it show that it involves a contradiction, in that it is (among other things) both the same as and not the same as my consciousness.

That means that my consciousness as finite is an effect. I will show why this cause, whatever it is, can't be (a) another act of consciousness, or (b) any combination of acts of consciousness, even of an infinite number of them. Then it must be something outside my consciousness. But whatever this cause actually is, it can't be my mind, because my mind is what accounts for the sameness of all my acts of consciousness, and what we need is a cause for why this act is this one and not any other. (Different effects have different causes.)

I will call this whatever-it-is "existence," and then show that when it's the cause of a given experience, we call that experience a "perception," and when we're recombining stored experiences, the existence that originally caused them is now a condition for the imaginary experience. I will then generalize and show that existence can be called "activity," and so being is "whatever is active" in any way.

But it turns out that the cause of any given case of finite consciousness is an existence which is both the same as and different from other existences; and, on analysis, this will reveal that the existence which I directly perceive is always a finite case of existence. It is similar to the finite consciousness it causes in that it's finite; but different in that it's a finite case of existence rather than a finite case of consciousness.

But since anything finite contradicts itself simply because it is finite, then it follows that any case of finite existence is an effect. I will then show that (by the theorem that identical effects have identical causes) no other finite existence can be the cause of it as finite, nor can any combination, even of an infinite number of finite existences, be the cause of the finiteness of any given finite existence (because the combination turns out to fit the definition of a "finite existence").

Therefore, there must either be a (finite or infinite) non-existence, or an infinite existence. And I will show that it must be the latter, because similar effects have analogous causes, and what this Infinite does to finite existence is directly analogous to what finite existence does to finite consciousness.

So there is an infinite existence.

4.2. Preliminary step: losing consciousness

Fortunately, we begin with an easy application of the method I gave in the first chapter. The question to be answered is "How do you know you have lost consciousness?" That is, how do you know that you aren't always conscious, that you have been in a state of dreamless sleep at certain times?

The fact that you know that you have sometimes been unconscious is obviously an effect of some sort because you can't directly experience being unconscious without being conscious that you are unconscious--which is clearly a contradiction. And yet you do know that you aren't always conscious.

FIRST EFFECT: We know we have been unconscious, and yet we cannot experience ourselves as unconscious.

And the answer (the cause) is obvious. You know that you've been unconscious without being able to observe yourself as being unconscious, because when you wake up, the sky that was dark is "suddenly" light, the clock tells a different time, the radio mentions what was going on during the time that you weren't aware of, and so on.

That is, obviously as far as you subjectively are concerned, the last moment before you fell asleep (let's eliminate dreams from this since --take my word for it--they just introduce complications that don't affect the argument) and the first moment you wake up have to appear as the same moment, or you would be conscious of the unconscious state, which is a contradiction in terms.

But what you discover on waking is that there are indications of a lapse of time at this moment. So subjectively, no time has passed, and yet perceptively time seems to have passed. That's an effect--and this effect is your evidence for losing consciousness.

There are two possible causes of this effect. (a) Your subjective experience is correct, and the earth slipped on its axis, the clock moved in time with it, the radio announcer is lying, your mother is in on the conspiracy when she tells you how long you slept, and so on; or (b) the world went on its merry way following the laws of physics, and you lost consciousness for several hours.

Obviously, no sane person would accept (a) as the cause; and so we all accept (b) as the only explanation that makes any sense. Note that you couldn't prove that (a) is false, really, because any attempt to do so would just be part of the "conspiracy"--and anyone who is willing to accept that the earth's rotation is different when he closes his eyes will have no problem explaining away, say, a videotape of him snoring as tampering with the equipment ("You just filmed a double and slipped the tape of that in while I wasn't watching!").

But even if you can't prove that the "conspiracy theory" is false, it's still insane, and after all, we're trying to make sense out of experience. So the cause of how we know that we lost consciousness is that the experience after we regain consciousness is an effect whose cause is the actual loss of consciousness (i.e. the evidence for our loss of consciousness).

But this allows us to draw our first conclusion.

FIRST CONCLUSION: Any given person's consciousness is divided into many periods of consciousness separated by periods of unconsciousness.

4.3. Second step: multiple-unit consciousness

And that leads us immediately into our second effect, which is rather more relevant to the actual argument:

SECOND EFFECT: One and the same consciousness is actually many separated consciousnesses.

That is, when you fall asleep, your consciousness stops; it goes (using ordinary terms) out of existence. But when you wake up, that same consciousness begins to exist again. How do you know it's the same consciousness? Because you can remember what you were experiencing before you fell asleep, and you can't "remember" what anyone else is or was thinking; in fact, it's so obviously the same consciousness that, as I mentioned, the last moment when you lost consciousness and the moment you regained it seem to be the same moment.

The point is that there is a very real sense in which your consciousness is one single stream of consciousness; and yet, since it's separated by periods in which that consciousness doesn't exist, it's also many separate consciousnesses. Obviously, in itself that's a contradiction; but since it actually happens, it can't really be a contradiction, and so it's an effect.

And the cause has to be something-or-other that unites these many separated periods into a single stream of consciousness.

DEFINITION: Your mind is whatever accounts for the unity of your consciousness as "yours."

But what is your mind? Is it your brain? Is it some spiritual thing that is somehow lodged inside your body? We don't know, based on this effect. All we know is that there's got to be a mind, or it's impossible for your many periods of consciousness to be a single consciousness.

But notice that the mind has to have all that is necessary to do the job of uniting your consciousness; and so there are some things we can say about it:

FIRST PROPERTY OF THE MIND: The mind exists during the unconscious periods between conscious periods.

We can't argue from this effect that your mind existed before the first moment you were conscious, or that it will exist after you die (if you lose consciousness then); but it must exist in the "in-between" periods of unconsciousness, or it would be impossible for it to unite them into a single consciousness. Hence, whatever the mind actually is (or in other words, whatever it is that contains what we're calling the "mind"), it's got to have this characteristic.

But there's another thing we can say:

SECOND PROPERTY OF THE MIND: Your mind is not the same as your stream of consciousness.

Obviously, it can't be; if it did, it would go out of existence when you lost consciousness, and so it couldn't unite the periods into one single consciousness. So it is something which is conscious (or which has consciousness), rather than the consciousness itself.

So right away, we see that those philosophies which say that there is nothing but a stream of consciousness and no mind "behind" it are false. These people would logically have to hold that they never lost and regained consciousness--or that they never slept. But that view, as we said, is not philosophical, because it's insane. (Then why did they hold it? you ask. Because they didn't notice this particular effect. Their theory sounds perfectly plausible until it runs up against this effect.)

THIRD PROPERTY OF THE MIND: Your mind separates your consciousness from others' consciousness; hence, it is "private" to yourself.

That is, those philosophical theories that "we're all part of one great mind in the sky" are false. Why? Because if we were, then by definition, there would only be one stream of consciousness (the mind unites consciousness into a single stream), and I'd be able to experience what you're experiencing just as I experience what I was conscious of yesterday. Think of what that would be, when it came to take a test!

So you have your mind, and I have mine. If you will, though your mind unites your consciousness into this stream called "your consciousness," it limits your consciousness to being only yours and no one else's.

FOURTH PROPERTY OF THE MIND: The mind is the cause of the subjectivity of each person's consciousness.

That is, it's why your consciousness is distinctively yours and mine is distinctively mine; we have different consciousnesses because we have different minds. Surprise, surprise!

DEFINITION: The self is the causer of a single stream of consciousness.

That is, you are at least your mind; but you may be much more than just your mind. All you know from the effect is what the cause is; you don't know the causer except as whatever contains the cause as an abstract aspect of itself.

So in all probability (in reality, as it would turn out if we pursued this), René Descartes was wrong when he said that what he is is a mind, and that he has a body which is a different substance (i.e. a different thing) "attached" to it somehow.

Actually, it can be proved (but I'm not going to do it here), that what you are is a body which contains a mind; and the mind, it turns out, is actually your brain. This does not mean to imply that consciousness is a physical act your brain performs (it can be proved that this is false too, but I'm not going to do it here); and when you die, your consciousness continues, but your mind doesn't, because there's no possibility of being unconscious, and there's no "connecting into a unity" needed.

But all of that is very complex indeed, and we don't need it for our argument, so let's go on. I mentioned these various properties of the mind mainly to show you how the method I outlined in the first chapter works. We may not know what the mind is in itself, so to speak; but we can say certain things about it based on the effect it is the cause of. And notice how much we could say. This may give you some hope that we can actually say some intelligent things about the Infinite.

4.4. Third step: the single act of consciousness

Now let us focus our attention on a slightly different effect in consciousness, one a bit more difficult to see. At first blush, it seems very simple; but as you examine it, it gets more and more mysterious.

THIRD EFFECT: Any given act of your consciousness is (a) nothing but your consciousness, and (b) different from other acts of your consciousness (which are also nothing but your consciousness).

The reason for the first clause is that if your consciousness contained something in addition to (i.e. other than) your consciousness, what would this additional something be? It would have to be something (by definition) not conscious. But then how could you be conscious of it? Or rather, how could it be part of your consciousness?

And yet, if you look at the second clause, how could you possibly know that this act of consciousness (e.g. reading this page) is different from that one (hearing music) if there's nothing in the consciousness itself that's different? Obviously, the two consciousnesses as consciousnesses are different, precisely because you are aware of (conscious of) the difference: of the distinctiveness of each of them.

(Now the solution to this dilemma is going to be the obvious one, that the reason they're different is because you're conscious of different things. But that's the cause of the effect; what you have to see first is what the effect is. And remember, the effect is something that doesn't make sense by itself; and when you say, "Well, of course, they're different because they're conscious of different things," you're adding the cause--which of course makes sense out of it. Be patient, and take things a step at a time, because the process by which you get to this cause is the process by which you will have to admit that there is a God.)

So what it seems so far is that the "distinctive aspect" of each conscious act (a) can't be different from the "common aspect" (because then it would be unconscious, or outside consciousness), and yet (b) has to be different from the "common aspect," or both acts would be in every way identical.

FIRST DEFINITION OF THE FINITE: Something is finite when it contains what is not itself as identical with itself.

To use the example I gave, the first act of consciousness can't be "your consciousness + seeing the page," and the second "your consciousness + hearing the music" because the "seeing the page" as different from "your consciousness" would be unconscious. Then you'd be conscious, but not conscious that you were seeing the page.

Secondly, it is clear that "seeing the page" is not only part of your consciousness at the moment, it defines what your consciousness is at the moment. Your consciousness at the moment is, as I said at the beginning, nothing but seeing the page. Anything but reading the page is (now) unconscious; that is, hearing the music is (at the moment) precisely not what your consciousness is; it is unconscious.(1)

And so the point I am making here is that (at the moment) "reading the page" is what your consciousness is, and it is all that your consciousness is. And yet, "reading the page" is clearly not what your consciousness is, because then "hearing the music" would not be your consciousness, because it is clearly not "reading the page."

So "reading the page" both is and is not identical with your consciousness. Or, your consciousness (which can also be "hearing the music") contains something other than simply "your consciousness" (the "reading" aspect) as not other than itself.

You see why I said that this is an effect?

"Well, wait a minute," you answer. "It's only an 'effect' as you put it because you described it in that funny way. Consciousness doesn't have some 'other thing' called 'reading the page' inside it; it's just the fact that my consciousness at the moment is no more than reading the page--and at some other moment, it's only that other way of being conscious, and so on. The 'way' is not something else; it's just a fact about my consciousness."

Unfortunately, however, what this means is that you're saying that reading the page is simply the fact that your consciousness (at the moment) is not all there is to my consciousness; because at some other moment, it's hearing the music, or smelling the rose. But your consciousness at the moment is all there is to my consciousness, because (at the moment) all the "rest" of your consciousness is unconscious. And how can what is unconscious be part of consciousness?

SECOND DEFINITION OF THE FINITE: Something is finite when it is less than itself. Another way of stating this definition is that it is finite when it leaves some of itself outside itself.

That is, when you say that reading this page is not "my consciousness plus 'thisness' (the reading of the page)," but rather then "thisness" is really just the fact that the consciousness at the moment is nothing more than reading the page, what you're saying is that your consciousness at the moment (which is all that your consciousness really is) is less than what your consciousness really is. Otherwise how could it (at some other moment) be hearing music?

Or, putting it the other way, if you're saying that your consciousness while reading the page is not your consciousness plus something, but is simply a restriction on your consciousness to being not all it could be, then you're taking cognizance of the fact that most of your consciousness (all the ways you ever have been conscious in the past) is left out of your consciousness, because all of these are unconscious now--and you wouldn't want consciousness to contain unconsciousness, would you?

"Well," you say, "that's 'my consciousness' in the abstract, but not my concrete consciousness." Nosir. Your abstract consciousness contains all the ways you could be conscious; but concretely, you actually have been conscious in a limited number of these ways, and you can in principle remember all of them at any moment. So these are "your consciousness" in a sense in which your consciousness of what's on the next page isn't, at the moment (because you may never read it). So there's a sense in which your "real" or "actual" consciousness is mostly unconscious--which is absurd. Your "really real" consciousness is only the way you are conscious at the moment; but this is certainly less than what it is for you to be conscious. So your real consciousness is less than itself--which doesn't make any sense either.

So that "description" of your consciousness doesn't make it any less self-contradictory. So far, then, a given act of your consciousness is (a) either your consciousness plus something that is different from itself which is not different from itself, or (b) your consciousness minus part of itself (the other ways you could be conscious).

These are just two sides to the same coin: two different avenues of approaching what is basically the same dilemma; and there is a third one. Whichever approach you take, the fact is that now your consciousness (which is all there is to your real consciousness) is different from what your consciousness was five minutes ago (which at the time was all there was to your consciousness).

THIRD DEFINITION OF THE FINITE: Something is finite when it is different from itself.

That is, either your consciousness contains a property we can call "thisness" or it doesn't. If it does, this property both is and is not identical with the consciousness itself. If it doesn't, this "property" is not a property, but a fact about the consciousness which makes it in any given case less than what it is to be itself (because even now it could in itself be a different act, which it really isn't); and since there are many acts, and each one is the whole of your actual consciousness, then your actual consciousness is different at different times--but since it's always your whole actual consciousness, it is simultaneously the same while it's different.


I am not playing with words here. Try yourself to see if there is any way you can describe your consciousness in such a way that (a) you're being honest with the data, and (b) it makes sense without going beyond it. My point is that no matter how you describe it, you are going to run into a contradiction, unless you go beyond the conscious act.

As the definitions imply, the fact that your consciousness at any given moment is a given way of being conscious just a special case of the general fact of something's being limited (or finite). Think of a wooden ball; it has a surface. But what is the surface? It isn't something in addition to the wood, or you couldn't put a new surface on it by paring away some of the wood. And yet it's not the wood, because if it were, then that "surface" that will be there after you've carved away some wood would actually be there now. But it's absurd to say that there's a real surface under the surface. So the surface is not wood but is nothing but wood. It's not a "what," it's a "where": it's where the wood stops, where there's no more wood; but it's in the wood itself, not outside it (that would be the surface of the air touching the wood).

In other words, the surface is simply the fact that the wood is not all over the universe; or it's the wood as being less than what it otherwise would be. A limit is in itself nothing at all; yet it really makes what it limits less than what it otherwise would be. But how can nothing at all do anything? Well it can't. The limit doesn't limit the wood; it's just that the wood is limited. By what? Clearly, it doesn't limit itself because by itself (as just wood) it would be greater than this limited example of it. Then what does limit it to being this ball and only this ball? Clearly, the person (or machine) who carved it.

But what that says is that anything limited is an effect, which has to have some cause beyond itself. to account for how it got into this restricted condition.

SECOND CONCLUSION: Anything finite is an effect simply because it is finite. By itself it contradicts itself.

So what I am saying here is that your consciousness itself cannot make sense out of the fact that at this moment, it is only this form of consciousness, or this way of being conscious, or whatever. And the reason is that the "form" of consciousness (as both the same as and not the same as the consciousness) contradicts itself--unless consciousness is forced from outside this act to be less than what it is in itself, or what it otherwise would be.

That is, in common-sense language, your consciousness at the moment as you read this page is simply inexplicable without there actually being a page that you're conscious of. Why? Because at the moment, your consciousness could be any of the possible forms it could take; and there's nothing in your consciousness that would pick out this one rather than some other one.

But that's not quite rigorous; it leaves open a lot of loopholes where someone could logically say, "Well, yes, but ..." And the reason we're proceeding in this tedious fashion is to close the loopholes, so that anyone who objects to the reasoning process will have to admit that he's not being reasonable.

4.5. Fourth step: toward the cause

Very well. I think I can now take it as established that any given conscious act of yours is an effect simply because it is a case of finite consciousness. It either contains unconsciousness within it as identical with itself, or it leaves some of "your consciousness" outside itself, and so is both all there is to your consciousness and not all there is to your consciousness (it is less than itself), or it is your consciousness as different from your consciousness.

But you do have conscious acts; so they make sense somehow. Since they don't make sense by themselves, they must make sense through some cause.

DEFINITION: Existence is the cause of the finiteness of any finite act of consciousness.

This is another of those "solutions by definition." That is, we have no idea what existence is so far, based on this definition; it's just defined as "whatever it is that makes sense out of a finite way of being conscious." But now our job is to explore what is necessary to explain any finite act of consciousness, and see (as we did with the mind) if we can come up with some properties existence has--and some it doesn't.

FIRST QUESTION: Can existence be another finite act of consciousness?

That is, maybe the act of seeing the page doesn't make sense by itself, but some other act of consciousness you had makes sense out of it. And this seems like a plausible explanation; after all, if you remember your mother at the moment, it's obvious that your experience of your mother at some time in the past is what accounts for the particular experience you are now having.

But not so fast. Your previous experience of your mother might account for why this memory is a remembering of your mother (i.e. why the finite act has this form rather than the form of the image of your father); but that's a different effect from the one we're interested in. The same affected object can be many different effects.

What is, then, the effect we are interested in? The mere fact that the act is finite, not the particular way it happens to be finite. That is, it doesn't matter which act of consciousness you pick as the effect we are investigating, because they are all the same as cases of finite consciousness, even though the form the finiteness takes is different in each case.

But by Theorem IV of Chapter 1 (that identical effects have identical causes) if some other finite act of consciousness were the cause of the act we picked out as the effect, it would also have to be the cause of itself as finite.

But by Theorem II, nothing can be the cause of itself; therefore,

THIRD CONCLUSION: existence cannot be another finite act of consciousness.

SECOND QUESTION: Can existence be any combination of finite acts of consciousness all acting together on the one in question?

That is, maybe one single other act of consciousness can't be the cause of another one, because it's identical as effect. But a pair of them acting together wouldn't be identical with the act of consciousness they're supposed to explain (even though each of the components would); so maybe they could do the job.

But no. A pair of conscious acts, even taken together, is a case of consciousness that contains non-consciousness (the defining forms of each of the components) within it making it the particular (complex) act of consciousness it is; it just contains two "non-consciousnesses" rather than one. So it's finite. Also, it's clearly not all there is to your consciousness, since it leaves out of itself the act which is the effect you want to explain. So it's a (complex) finite act of consciousness.

Since two acts of consciousness acting together is actually nothing but a complex case of finite consciousness, then by the argument above, existence cannot be a pair of finite acts of consciousness.

The same argument would apply to a combination of three, four, five, or any number of components in this "other" (complex) act of consciousness that is supposed to explain the finiteness of the first one.

Even if the complex "cause" contained an infinite number of components, it would still be finite in our sense of the term, because (a) it would contain all of the particular forms of consciousness of the components, and these would be non-consciousness as within the consciousness defining it as this particular (infinite) set of components, and (b) it would leave out the act that it is supposed to be the cause of, indicating that it is less than what it is for you to be conscious.

Therefore, since any combination of finite acts of consciousness, however large--even with an infinite number of components--is still only a (complex) case of finite consciousness, existence cannot be any combination of conscious acts.

FOURTH CONCLUSION: existence is outside (i.e. other than) consciousness.

THIRD QUESTION: Can existence be the mind?

We know now that existence can't be within consciousness; but we already know that there is something "outside" consciousness: the whatever-it-is that we defined as the "mind," when we were talking about the different periods of consciousness.

But this won't work. The mind, as you will recall, was the cause of the fact that all of your consciousness is the same as "yours." But the effect we are now examining is the peculiarity inherent in the fact that each of your acts of consciousness is distinctively "this" act and not the same as the others.

But by Theorem V of chapter I (that different effects have different causes) existence cannot be the mind.

FIFTH CONCLUSION: existence is be both outside consciousness and outside the mind.

By this long and tedious route, we have been able to establish that when you're looking at something like this page, there really is a page "out there."

And having said this, we can say several other things about existence. For instance, we can resort to Theorem III and its Corollary I: that the cause is not affected by the fact that it's a cause, and the cause is always independent of the effect, and we can say this:

SIXTH CONCLUSION: Existence is not affected by the fact that you are conscious of it; it is completely independent of your conscious act.

True, you couldn't know there was a given existence if you didn't have an act of consciousness that "talked about" it (i.e. was the effect of which it was the cause); but that makes no difference to the existence itself. Whether you know it or not, it is still just what it is.

Your consciousness depends on existence, not the other way round.

Another way of saying this is that you can't make something exist by thinking that it exists.

You will remember that we said that the mind accounted for the subjectivity (the "your-ness") of any of your experiences. Existence accounts for the "thisness" of a given experience of yours. Hence, it follows that

SEVENTH CONCLUSION: Existence accounts for the objectivity of a given finite act of consciousness.

Let me make another definition analogous to the one between the mind and the self now, before I take the next step:

DEFINITION: Being is the causer of a given finite act of consciousness.

That is, being is "what exists." Is it anything but existence? We don't know at this point; it may be existence + various other traits, for all we know; but it is whatever it is that at least contains existence, whether it is just plain old existence or more than this or not.

But since existence is the cause of the objectivity of consciousness, but what we are actually conscious of is something concrete, not an abstraction, then we can now say this:

DEFINITION: Being is the object which I am conscious of in a given finite act of consciousness.

Furthermore, it is obvious now that

EIGHTH CONCLUSION: The finite act of consciousness is the reaction of my mind to existence (or to being).

It's the reaction of my mind to existence if I'm just interested in the cause; if I want to think of it as the reaction to the (concrete) object, then it's a reaction to being. In either case, the finite act of consciousness is what could not be what it is, unless my mind (which accounts for why my experiences are distinctively "mine") were affected by existence (which accounts for why the experience is "this" act of my mind).

Now I have used "act" of my mind and "reaction" here advisedly. The most primitive thing for us is consciousness as "talking about" existence; and what I have proved is that (as long as you have more than one conscious act) consciousness always "talks about" existence at least in some sense (we will see this shortly). So the act of consciousness is never "by itself" in any absolute sense; it is always an act that is responding to some existence or other.

Therefore, as an act, it is a reaction.

But a re-action is a response to an act.

Therefore, it is legitimate to make the following definition:

DEFINITION: Existence is activity. Being is whatever is active.

That is, existence (as the cause of the finiteness of a finite case of consciousness) is whatever it is that can cause a mind to react; and so any sort of activity would fall under this way of considering existence. This is "activity," then, in the broadest possible sense; it would include passivity, since being passive is actually reacting to something that's acting on you; and this is a (perceptible) activity; similarly, "just sitting there" apparently doing nothing has to involve some kind of activity, or you couldn't be perceived as "just sitting there." If you weren't doing anything at all in any sense, then no mind could react to you, and so there'd be no difference between you as "absolutely inactive" and nothing at all.

4.6. Existence and the imaginary

Well, we've come quite a distance, actually, because of this effect we saw in consciousness as finite. If we explored it enough, we could show that various philosophical theories (such as idealism) simply are untenable. But this is an attempt to investigate whether there's an infinite being or not; so let's move on, except for one problem that needs to be addressed:

What is the relation between "existence" as we just defined it and the rough-and-ready distinction we made earlier between what "exists" in the sense that it's something you perceive and what "doesn't exist" in the sense that it's imaginary? Obviously, the dream I had of the wombats and wallabies had to have existence as its cause, since it was a finite case of my consciousness. But it was obviously just a recombination of past experiences I had; and it was the past conscious acts which accounts for the contents of the experience.

There really isn't any contradiction here. Those past conscious acts are not the cause of the particular dream as a finite act of consciousness; they are the cause of the particular form that this finite act happened to be taking. If I had never seen wombats or wallabies, then I couldn't have dreamed about them; I was recombining past, stored images into a new combination, that is all.

And this solves the problem. If we make the assumption that we can store our acts of consciousness and recall them later without their being now caused by the existence that originally caused them, then we can make sense out of "existence-as-opposed-to-the-imaginary."

DEFINITION: Existence is the cause of perception-type as opposed to imaginary-type experiences. Such experiences have a being as their object.

DEFINITION: Existence is the condition for imaginary-type experiences. It is the cause of the original experience(s) of which the imaginary experience is a reproduction. Such experiences have no object.

That is, imaginary-experiences as such are not experiences of anything; their cause (as imaginings and not perceptions) is simply the mind in the state it happens to be in (i.e. as having past experiences stored in it). But the mind alone can't produce any experience; it has to have some previous experiences in order to imagine; and so existence indirectly causes the imaginary experience by being the cause of what is stored there.

I'm sorry it couldn't have been simpler; but I'm describing things the way they are, not trying to make a neat little scheme.

Now the reason I say that imaginary experiences have no object is, of course, that they aren't really reactions of the mind (now) to existence; they are (now) spontaneous acts of the mind, reproducing and recombining its previous reactions. And so when I dreamed of the wombats and wallabies, I wasn't dreaming of anything real; there was no object which I was experiencing; I was just "having an experience." Put it another way: the "wallabies" in my experience weren't wallabies at all; they were nothing but the "shape" of my act of consciousness; they were its particular finiteness, its limitation. The wallabies which were the ones I saw earlier (which gave me this stored experience) were the actual animals at the zoo which "shaped" my perception into the act of "wallaby-seeing."


Be very clear on this. The object of your experience is not the "picture" you have in your perception; that "picture" is simply the limitation of your act of perceiving. The object is the being which forced your mind to configure its perception in this way. And in general, the object itself is not like the "picture" you have of it.

We know this, because we know from science that the heat we feel and the light we see are as acts (i.e. as existences) the same kind of act (electromagnetic radiation) and only differ in degree from each other; but the appearance in our consciousness of these two acts is different in kind (because we perceive them with different organs, actually).

Now this opens up a whole new can of worms which we are promptly going to close, because it's not relevant to the precise problem we're dealing with here. But you will have to take my word for it that the solution doesn't affect our argument for the existence of an infinite being.

Actually, we will be dealing in the next chapter on some very general aspects of this problem; but let us leave it for now.


It would seem that what exists is what can be experienced, but (in dreams) we can experience what doesn't exist. Let us get a clear notion of existence from examining experience (though actually existence doesn't need to be "proved"; this is an analysis to clarify why we use the term and what we mean).

1st effect: We know we have been unconscious and yet can't observe (be conscious of) our unconscious state. Solution: Effects after we wake up ("sudden" shifts of time, etc.) have as their only sane explanation that we lost consciousness. 1st conclusion: our consciousness is interrupted by periods of unconsciousness.

2nd effect: One and the same consciousness is actually many separated consciousnesses. Solution: There is something that connects these into a single stream of consciousness. The mind is the cause of the unity of a single consciousness. 1st property: The mind exists during the unconscious periods--or it couldn't unify the conscious ones. 2nd property: The mind is not the same as the stream of consciousness--or it couldn't exist when unconscious. 3rd property: The mind separates this consciousness from all other streams of consciousness. 4th property: The mind is the cause of the subjectivity of consciousness--since it makes this consciousness "this" one and no other. The self is the causer of a single stream of consciousness.

3rd effect: Any given act of consciousness is nothing but your consciousness and yet different from all other acts (which are also nothing but your consciousness). If it is so by splitting into two aspects, "consciousness" and "thisness," then the "thisness" (as not the same as the "consciousness") is an unconsciousness contained within consciousness defining it as the consciousness which it is. 1st definition of the finite: That which contains what is not itself as identical with itself.

If you say that your consciousness does not contain something else, then this act of consciousness is your consciousness as less than what your consciousness is (since it clearly doesn't have to be this act to be your consciousness). In other words, your consciousness in a given case leaves some of your consciousness out of itself. 2nd definition of the finite: That which is less than itself, or that which leaves some of itself outside itself.

If you say that what is "left out" is abstract consciousness, not your concrete consciousness, this is not true. In this act, you are not conscious in all the concrete different ways you have been conscious, and yet they, like this act, deserve the name "all there is to your consciousness" (since everything but this act at the moment is unconscious, and how can what is unconscious be consciousness?). 3rd definition of the finite: What is different from itself.

This is not a word-game. The fact is that your consciousness, as a limited case of consciousness, contradicts itself if taken by itself, no matter how you want to describe it. But finite consciousness obviously occurs, and so it is possible. 2nd conclusion: Anything finite is an effect simply because it is finite.

Since it is an effect, it has a cause. Existence is defined as the cause of the finiteness of any finite act of consciousness. But what is existence? 3rd conclusion: Not another act of consciousness, because no effect can be the cause of itself, and the other act of consciousness is identical as effect with the one in question (and so has an identical cause), which would mean it was the cause of itself--which is absurd.

4th conclusion: Existence is outside consciousness. Since any combination of finite acts of consciousness (even of an infinite number of them) would (a) contain the non-consciousness defining each member, and (b) would exclude the act they were to be the "cause" of--making the combination fit the definition of "a (complex) finite act of consciousness," and so by the earlier reasoning it can't be the cause.

5th conclusion: Existence is both outside consciousness and outside the mind, since different effects have different causes, and the mind explains how consciousness is unified, and the effect here is that each act is different from every other.

6th conclusion: Existence is not affected by the fact that you are conscious of it; it is completely independent of the conscious act. The cause is independent of the effect. 7th conclusion: Existence accounts for the objectivity of a given act of consciousness. Being is the causer of this act. Being is the object which I am conscious of in a given act of consciousness. 8th conclusion: The finite act of consciousness is the reaction of my mind to existence. Existence is activity; Being is whatever is active.

But in a more refined sense, Existence is the cause of a perception-type as opposed to an imaginary-type experience. Existence is the condition for the imaginary-type experience (whose cause is the mind as having past experiences stored in it, to be spontaneously reproduced and manipulated). Since existence (causing the past experience) is only a condition for the imaginary-type experience imaginary experiences have no object.

Note that the "unicorn" you imagine is not a "something" (an "interior object") which you imagine; it is simply the "shape" or form (the finiteness) of the act of imagining. A conscious act reacts to itself, and so it (also) has as a kind of "pseudo-object" itself as active. But this is not a real object.


1. Of course, if you explicitly remember hearing the music while you are reading the page, your consciousness now is the complex act "hearing the music and reading the page," but this act, of course, is different from smelling a rose, and so it's still finite.





p>[For a rather more rigorous examination of this issue, see Modes of the Finite, Part 1, Section 4.]

5.1. Existence and the ontological argument

Having defined existence in the way we did after making the distinction between existence as the cause of a perception-type experience as opposed to its being a mere condition for an imaginary-type experience, we can now revisit St. Anselm's Ontological Argument (to give it the name Kant did) and all of its variants and see clearly what the flaw is.

St. Anselm, you will recall, asked the non-believer to "think of 'that than which nothing greater can be thought'": the "greatest conceivable" whatever. And the non-believer is asked to make up this concept based on his experience of greater and lesser things, and simply to deny all limitations.

Now right here, you can see that the experience is an imaginary-type experience, not a perception. Its cause is the manipulation of the already stored images we have of finite things, whose finiteness we "think away," as it were. We can do this without ever having a perceptive-type experience of something infinite (as I showed in discussing Descartes' problem with how he could know "perfection").

But as an imaginary-type experience, we know that it is not an experience of an object.

St. Anselm's second step is where the fatal flaw comes. He says, "You're thinking of the 'greatest conceivable.' Therefore the 'greatest conceivable' exists at least in your mind." But that assumes that the "picture" (or in this case the abstract concept you have formed) is the object of this experience: the "internal object," I suppose you could say, rather than an "external object."

But there is no object of an imaginary experience; the "picture," as I said, is not the object, but the "shape" of the act itself. There is no sense in which the "greatest conceivable" exists in the thinker's mind. All that exists is the act of thinking.

St. Anselm then goes on to say that "It is greater to exist in reality than to exist in the mind, because what exists in the mind is in reality nothing at all." Or in other words, it is greater to exist than not to exist. Given that existence is activity, we can say that acting is greater than not acting; and this is true.

But then, St. Anselm argues, "Therefore, if you say that the 'greatest conceivable' exists only in your mind (or doesn't have real existence), then it is not the 'greatest conceivable' that you're thinking of--because you can think of it as greater (existing).

But I can only say "X exists" when my conscious act is directly caused by X; and this is unaffected by abstractions such as "acting is greater than not acting." I know that the act as I have conceived it was spontaneously produced by my mind; and hence I know that precisely because of this I must deny that this act has an object.

It might, of course, be that I can find some perception that is a contradiction unless there is a "greatest conceivable"; this is what we are trying to do in this chapter. But until I do, the fact that I can form (using my imagination) an idea of an infinite being, this ability to conceive of one is no evidence whatsoever that there is one.

So the argument is invalid; but it was because of the tedious analysis of why we say that "X exists" and what "existence" therefore means that we were able clearly to show why.

5.2. Existence and essence

Now then, our task at this point is to establish that the existence which causes a definite act of consciousness is a finite case of existence. You might think that this is perfectly obvious; but we have to be very, very careful here not to leap to conclusions and leave loopholes open. Remember, existence is not in consciousness, and is not like the form of consciousness it causes; and yet our only contact with it is the particular act of consciousness that "talks about" it. So we can only be sure that we have nailed down some property about existence by using the method we have developed and showing that the existence has to be finite in order to be able to account for the particular act of consciousness which it causes.

So be patient, and let's take a step at a time. First of all, we can say this:

NINTH CONCLUSION: There are many different existences, one for each distinctive perceptive-type consciousness.

The reason this must be true is that identical effects have identical causes. If there were only one existence (that is, if all beings were identical insofar as they were existence), then all their effects would be the same as each other, which means that each act of consciousness would be identical with every other one.

But each act of consciousness is different from every other one; and existence is supposed to be what accounts for the difference. So the existence which causes your reading of this page is different from the existence which causes hearing music. "Well of course!" you say. But now you know not only that it is true, but that it has to be true.

I should point out here that we do know that sometimes we are encountering the same being--as for instance, if you come back and read this page tomorrow. How do we know? Simple. Since the act of consciousness the second time is (for practical purposes) a repetition of the first one (i.e. is identical with it), and yet it is a perception and not a recollection, it follows that it has to have been caused by the same existence (since identical effects have identical causes).

Well, then, if there are many existences and all of them are different, doesn't that establish right there that each of them is a finite case of existence? Not really.

It might be that the common word "existence" is just a name that doesn't imply any real sameness among these causes of conscious acts. What I mean is that we sometimes use, in classifying things, words that don't refer to a real aspect of what we're classifying.

For instance, the word "unique" means "not having anything in common with anything else." Now obviously uniqueness can't be a real characteristic that all unique things have in common--because then they wouldn't be unique.

So we have to rule out the possibility that the alleged "similarity" among all existences isn't just a convenient classifying device that doesn't imply that these objects are all really the same as each other in some way.

And to do this, we can note something about the effect whose cause turned out to be the mind: the Second Effect in the preceding chapter, that our (single) consciousness breaks up into many separated periods of consciousness.

If we look at one of these periods of my consciousness, what is it? Obviously, it is nothing but my consciousness; but at the same time it is only this period of my consciousness (as opposed to yesterday's and the day before's). So it is my consciousness as limited to being only this period.

So it turns out that a given period of my consciousness is a different sort of finiteness in my consciousness from a given act of my consciousness. So we have (at least) two different modes in which consciousness is finite: it is (1) a definite period of consciousness, and (2) a definite act of consciousness (or "form" of consciousness, if you will).


TENTH CONCLUSION: Every act of consciousness is similar as finite to every other act of consciousness: it is identical in that it is an act as opposed to a period of consciousness, and different in that it is the distinctive act it is.

And this allows us immediately to draw the following conclusion:

ELEVENTH CONCLUSION: All existences are analogous to each other.

Since the similarity among conscious acts is a similarity in their finiteness, which is the effect of which existence is the cause, then it follows that all existences are somehow similar among themselves. Now since this means that there is some sense in which they are identical and some sense in which each is distinctively itself, we can put names to whatever it is about an existence by which it is the same as and different from other existences.

DEFINITION: Existence is the respect in which all existences (i.e. causes of finite acts of consciousness) are the same.

DEFINITION: Essence is the respect in which each existence is distinctively the one it is (i.e. the respect in which it differs from others).

Once we make this distinction, however, unless we can establish that somehow essence is contained within the existence itself, we have to make the following modification of the Twelfth Conclusion, and say all beings are analogous to each other.

But it may be that existence is finite, in which case essence and existence are not different and separable aspects of the cause of finite acts of consciousness. If they are, the "existenceness" of existence is not necessarily "infected" with the problem of being less than itself, and doesn't contain essence within it, and so on. If not, what we can say of being, we can say of existence.

But since we can't observe existence "as it is in itself," so to speak, then how could we possibly know whether essence is really distinct from existence (eliminating, it would seem, the contradictoriness of being finite) or whether it is in some sense identical with existence (which makes the existence finite)?

That is, is being "existence plus essence," or is it "existence minus (some of) existence"--the "essence" in this latter case being the fact that the particular existence leaves some of existence outside itself?

We can know the answer if one or the other of these is necessary to account for the finite act of consciousness. So let us examine the act of consciousness again, in the light of existence and essence as its cause. Obviously, the act as identical with all other acts of consciousness (i.e. as an act and not a period) is caused by existence, and the act as this particular one is caused by the essence.

Now then, let us look at the act as identical with other acts of consciousness. Is this "actness" something that is in any real way distinguishable from the "thisness" of the act? Well, what would it mean? Since it is an "aspect" of the finiteness of consciousness, then it is a restriction of consciousness to being less than it otherwise would be--in the mode of being an act of consciousness rather than a period of consciousness.

But it is nonsense to talk about the restriction as if it were even conceivable without its being a definite restriction; that is, an "act" of consciousness that wasn't a definite act of consciousness doesn't make sense: an act that would be equal to "actness" in general. But this would be like talking about heat that wasn't any definite temperature. You can make the abstraction heat by ignoring which definite temperature it has, but any case of heat has to be some definite temperature. Put it this way: if there were an act of consciousness which actually were such that all definite acts (restricted to being "only this one") were somehow only lesser versions of itself, then it wouldn't be consciousness as finite. It would be the act of consciousness which would be equal to the whole of my consciousness; and so it would lack the effect which was consciousness as finite.

Now what does this mean? It means that the "actness" of the conscious act as a mode of its finiteness is the "thisness" of the act. If it is "separable" from it even in thought, it is a contradiction, because it is a mode of finiteness which is not finite.

So we are now in a position to draw the following conclusion:

TWELFTH CONCLUSION: Existence, the cause of the "actness" of the finite act of consciousness, must be identical with essence, the cause of the "thisness" of the finite act of consciousness.

And the reason is simply that, as we showed above, the "two effects" are in fact one and the same effect only considered from different points of view. Since there is no real difference between the "actness" and the "thisness," there can't be any real difference between the causes of the two "aspects" of the act. So essence is existence. Essence, therefore, has to be simply a way of saying, "In this given case, the existence is this one and not that one."

Or, to put it another way,

THIRTEENTH CONCLUSION: In the case of the cause of any definite act of consciousness, essence is simply existence as finite.

So essence can't be anything in addition to existence; it is simply existence as less than what it otherwise would be (whatever the other ones are that allow them to cause different acts of consciousness). And, if you think of existence as activity, this would have to be the case. If "existence" means "activity" (what can cause a mind to react), then essence, as different from existence, would have to be "non-activity"; but then, how could we know it? It would be the incapacity to cause a mind to react. So essence would somehow have to act on either the mind (in which case it is existence) or on the existence (in which case it is some kind of activity, acting on the mind indirectly through what it does to existence). So essence is simply the definiteness of a definite activity which restricts my consciousness to being a definite act of consciousness; it is not a "something-which" at all; it is a "fact about."

5.2.1. A note on St. Thomas's "real distinction"

St. Thomas's argument for the existence of God (not his "five ways") was based on his contention that essence is (except in God) really distinct from existence; and that, for him, established that the "essenced existence" is finite. I think he saw the problem I have been discussing; but his approach to it left open loopholes that he couldn't close.

What he said basically was that to ask the question what something is is to ask a different question from whether that something is or not. The two questions are irreducible to each other. You can describe a unicorn fully; but that doesn't tell you whether there are any unicorns or not. Hence the essence (the answer to "what?") is different from the existence (the answer to "is it?"). It follows that a given essence has existence and is not the existence it has; and clearly it can't give itself existence, since in itself (i.e. without existence) it is nothing.

The trouble with approaching this from the way we talk about things is that you're apt to run into linguistic forms that don't mirror reality (like the "common characteristic" of uniqueness); and it's hard to tell whether what the language forces you to say necessarily is due to the way things are.

And in this case, the linguistic problem is significant, because it's hard to see what sense it makes to even talk about an "essence in itself." This implies that the picture in imagination is actually an essence that doesn't exist, and is a kind of "object which" you are imagining; and I think that this falsifies the act of imagining; because then you have to talk about the "mental existence" of what is admittedly not real--or is really nothing at all.

There is, however, a sense, in the view I take to be the correct one, the one I developed above, in which essence is "really distinct" from existence. An essence (i.e. a definite, finite case of existence) is different from what existence as such is (i.e. from "what it is to exist") precisely because it leaves some of existence (cause of consciousness as finite) outside it: as activity that is less than "what it is to be active," it is different from "activity as such."

Now this doesn't necessarily mean that there is any such thing as "activity as such," any more than the fact that any definite case of heat is less than "what it is to be hot" means that there is any "absolute heat" which is beyond all temperature. But it still follows that there is a real distinction between this case of heat (72, say) and what heat is--or all heat would have to be this temperature.

Hence, in one sense there is a real distinction between essence (existence-as-definite and finite) and existence (existence-as-such), because any definite case of existence is not equal to what it is to exist.

But at the same time, in the given case, the essence is the existence; it is nothing but the existence; and the existence in this case is the finite existence. So in this sense, there is no real distinction between essence and existence.

And that allows us to draw the following conclusion:

FOURTEENTH CONCLUSION: The existence which is the cause of any finite act of consciousness, as a finite existence, is in itself self-contradictory, or is an effect.

5.3. On to the infinite

Very well, then, what will be its cause? Once again, we can make a "causal definition" and pick out a term which will mean "whatever is the cause of finite existence as finite."

DEFINITION: The Infinite is the cause of any finite existence (finite activity) as finite.

Now then, we can go through the same kind of argument we went through with finite consciousness.

FIRST QUESTION: Can the cause of any finite existence be another finite existence?

The answer is No, because identical effects have identical causes, and if it could be the cause of the finiteness of the other existence, it would have to be the cause of itself as finite, which is impossible by Theorem II.


FIFTEENTH CONCLUSION: No finite existence (activity) can be the cause of any other finite existence (activity).

SECOND QUESTION: Can any combination or unification of finite existences, however many may be combined into this unit, be the cause of any other finite existence (activity)?

Once again, the answer is No, because this combination (a) contains the essences (which are "non-existence-as-identical-with-existence") which make it finite in our sense of the term; or (b) is only this combination, leaving out all other possible forms of existence this combination could be.

Even if the combination contained an infinite number of components, it would be a finite existence, because it would precisely be different from the one it was causing. (An infinite existence in the sense of one that didn't contain any limitations as components wouldn't have this problem, because all it would "lack" would be the particular lack that the other one "has." So it would be all that the other one is and then some.)

But if the combination, even with an infinite number of components, is a finite existence, then if it were the cause of the other one, it would have to be the cause of itself, which is impossible.


SIXTEENTH CONCLUSION: The cause of any finite existence (activity) cannot be a complex activity consisting of a number (even an infinite number) of finite existences (activities).

I am putting "activity" in here to stress that this does not simply apply to those complex units we call "bodies" or "substances" or "things," but to each and every act of any thing. That is, it is not simply you who are a finite existence, but every act you perform. And since everything about you is finite (including the unification that makes you a single body), then, though you might be able to cause the specificity of the acts you perform, you can't be the cause of them as finite. Your body might even be said to have an infinite number of real "aspects" to it, which (as real) are acts that you perform; but even so, you can't account for the finiteness of any one of these aspects or behaviors.

In other words, you can account for why the act you are doing at the moment is reading and not singing, say; but that's a different effect from that same act as a finite case of existence.

It will be well to keep this in mind. Many pseudo-problems are actually solved by realizing that we have a very definite effect here; and different effects have different causes. The Infinite may be the cause of "everything" if everything but the Infinite is a finite existence; but It is not the only cause of anything, since there are other problems (apparent contradictions) about things beyond the mere abstract fact that they are finite cases of existence.

Now the Sixteenth Conclusion does say that there is something that is not a finite existence, or possibly there are many of them. But we're still not at the end of the road.

We saw that the existence that caused finite consciousness was also finite. That wasn't a violation of the law that identical effects have identical causes, however, since, though the existence was finite, it wasn't the cause of finite existence, but finite consciousness. It was the cause, in that it was existence and not consciousness; but it turned out that it had to be a finite case of existence to cause a finite act of consciousness.

But what this means is that the Infinite could be a "finite case of 'existence-cause'" which might be something different from existence that accounts for how existence in a given case could be this existence (or this essence, if you will). Or, of course, it might be an infinite case of "existence-cause." Also, there might be many of them, just as there are many finite existences which cause finite consciousness.

But fortunately, we can rule this out.

We know by Theorem VII that similar effects have analogous causes. That is, if the effects are similar, the causes must somehow be similar among themselves.

But finite consciousness and finite existence are similar as finite, and their finiteness is precisely an effect. They are identical as cases of finiteness, and different in that one is consciousness as finite and the other as existence as finite. Hence, their causes must be somehow identical and somehow different.

But the respect in which they are identical is precisely in their finiteness; and so the respect in which their causes are identical is in being causes of something as finite.

But we called finite existence "existence" because it was the cause of the act of consciousness as finite, and so what finite existence is doing to finite consciousness to make sense out of it is analogous to what the Infinite is doing to finite existence to make sense out of it.

In other words,

SEVENTEENTH CONCLUSION: The Infinite is a non-finite existence which is the cause of the finiteness of any finite existence.

And the Infinite is what many people call God--and, based on the definition, what it would seem every finite existence should call God, since every finite existence and every act of every complex finite existence depends for its (finite) existence on this Being.

We got there, finally.


In the ontological argument, when you are asked to construct (from past experiences) the "greatest conceivable" something, then this is not an object "in" your mind, it is simply the act of your mind. Hence, it is a fallacy to "add" existence to "its" qualities, since there is no "it" to add to; and further, when you say that something exists, you are being acted on (directly or indirectly) by it, which is not the case here. So the ontological argument is a fallacy.

9th conclusion: There are many existences, one for each distinctive perceptive-type experience. If there weren't, then identical causes would have different effects, which is absurd. But is each existence unique, or is it similar in some way to others? It is if we can show that the effects are similar as finite. 10th conclusion: Every act of consciousness is similar as finite to every other one, since all acts are a different type of finiteness from (finite) periods of consciousness. Therefore, 11th conclusion: All existences are analogous to each other. Existence: is now defined as the respect in which all existences are the same, and essence as the respect in which each existence is the distinctive one it is.

But since the "actness" of the finite act of consciousness and the "thisness" of the finite act are in fact one and the same thing (there can't be two separate aspects of the finiteness here), then 12th conclusion: existence, the cause of the "actness" must be identical with essence, the cause of the "thisness." From this it follows that 13th conclusion: In the case of any definite act of consciousness, essence is simply existence as finite.

Hence, in the individual case, essence is really identical with existence; but of course (as St. Thomas, from another point of view, discovered) essence (i.e. this existence) is really different from existence (i.e. existence as such), since, though it is nothing but existence, it leaves some of existence outside itself, or is less than "what it is to exist," which is its whole intelligibility. But this means that finite existence contradicts itself, taken by itself. 14th conclusion: The existence which is the cause of any finite act of consciousness, as a finite existence, is an effect. (It is not identical with finite consciousness, since it is finite existence; but it happens to be similar to it, since both are finite).

The Infinite is now defined as the cause of finite existence. 15th conclusion: The Infinite cannot be any other finite existence, since identical effects have identical causes, and then it would be the cause of itself, which is absurd. 16th conclusion: The Infinite cannot be any combination (even of an infinite number) of finite existences acting together, because they would contain the finiteness of each member (and so the combination as containing non-existence would by definition be a [complex] finite existence).

The Infinite cannot be something other than existence either, however, because similar effects have analogous causes, and finite consciousness and finite existence are similar as effects; and so what finite existence "does" to finite consciousness (restricting it to being "only this one") has to be similar to what the Infinite "does" to finite existence (restricting it to being "only this one"). Hence, the Infinite must be somehow like finite existence. Therefore, 17th conclusion: The Infinite is a non-finite existence.







6.1. A look back and forward

The argument we just got through is by its nature conclusive, and not merely scientific, since in order to get to the non-finite existence, we had to show that no finite existence was capable of being the cause. Hence, no "this worldly" solution of this particular problem is possible.

This does not mean, however, that the argument is irrefutable. It could be mistaken, and so be refuted, in one or more of several ways. Let us look at these, and see how plausible they seem.

First of all, it could simply be denied that there is a problem in consciousness as finite. That is, you could say, as some do, that you don't have to (and in fact shouldn't) argue to existence from consciousness, because existence is given in consciousness. My reply to this is, Do you mean that existence (as something other than consciousness) is given in an act of consciousness? In that case, you are saying what I am saying: consciousness contains within it what is explicitly not consciousness and is outside consciousness. But that's a contradiction. If you mean that the "existence" which an act of consciousness "talks about" is actually not something other than the conscious act (the philosophical position called "idealism"), then you have the other contradiction which I called "consciousness as finite": that the act is and is not different from itself (it is nothing but consciousness and yet is not the same as the other act which is also nothing but consciousness). There is also the not insignificant problem on this idealist view of how you account for imaginary-type as opposed to perceptive-type experiences, since the former don't seem to "talk about" existence. The point here is that if you want to attribute contradictory properties to something and then allege that "it doesn't need explaining," then I fail to see what would need explaining.

The weakest part of the argument is the one establishing that the existence that causes a given finite act of consciousness is itself a finite existence. I have given my reasons for thinking that it is; but it might be possible to construct a theory that would make each existence absolutely unique--which is the philosophical position called "nominalism." But this runs into the severe difficulty that we not only distinguish acts of consciousness from periods of consciousness, but we also classify acts of consciousness into all sorts of categories, implying further analogies among existences: we distinguish hearing from seeing, and these from tasting and smelling. In all cases, we are reacting to existence; but there must be something about all the existences we call "sounds" that makes them the same among themselves and different from what we call "colors," or how does the (single) mind react to them in different ways?

The point here is that if the theory is refuted by a denial of the finiteness of finite existence, then whatever refutes it must also be able to account for classifications of the effects of existence without a real identity-difference in the existences themselves. I don't see how it can be done; but this is not to say that I can prove that it is impossible to do it.

The theory could also be refuted if the theorems about identical effects, different effects, and similar effects turned out not to be tautologically true based on the concepts of effect and cause. It seems to me that the one about identical effects is incontrovertible, since you can show that it must be true by showing that its denial contradicts the definition. The one about different effects, however, doesn't seem to have this powerful a proof; and so it's conceivable that it is false, however plausible it might seem.

Of course, once you admit that something is in-itself-unintelligible as finite, and that the cause of a finite act of consciousness is a finite existence, then you're stuck; there has to be a non-finite existence.

There may, of course, be other weaknesses in the argument; but those are the ones I see, and why I don't really think that they're very weak.

So we will take it as established that there is a non-finite existence; and anyone who denies this now has the burden of refuting the argument if he is going to call himself rational.

Now then, where do we go from here? We know that this non-finite existence has all and (as cause) only the characteristics necessary to be able to make sense out of the fact that any given finite existence is the finite existence which it is; this thing, in other words, restricts (finite) existence to being no more than and no other than the finite existence which it is--analogously to the way finite existence restricts my conscious act to being just the conscious act it is (which is why it "talks about" the existence).

Clearly, since the Infinite (let us call It that from now on) is analogous to finite existence, it must be different from finite existence in that as an existence is it not finite, and the same as finite existence in that it too is an existence. But since you can't separate finite existence into "existence" plus "finiteness," as we saw, then this "sameness" between the Infinite as existence is only a to-us-unknown similarity or analogy. We have to be very careful what we say here, or we are going to go beyond what the evidence warrants.

Let us take the "negative properties" of the Infinite first, since they are the easy ones. These aren't really properties at all, of course, but negative statements you can make about the Infinite based on the fact that It isn't finite.

[You can find discussions of these also in Modes of the Finite, Part 1, Section 4, Chapter 7.]

6.2. Unity

One thing I am going to do here that does in a sense go beyond the evidence: I am going to put in reduced type Theological comments from the point of view of Christianity. The evidence establishing whether Christianity is true or not is the factuality of the reports from the New Testament about the claims that Jesus made and the things he did (including coming back to life) to establish those claims; and this is clearly beyond the scope of an investigation like this. I think, however, that the evidence is pretty solid; but it seems to be "refuted" by some of the characteristics the Infinite. It turns out, however, that, though some of the characteristics the God of Christianity has are very unlikely to be compatible with the Infinite, you still can't prove that they are. So what these comments will say, essentially, is that it's not positively irrational to be a Christian (and, supposing the evidence for Christianity is true, then it might well be irrational not to be one).

This becomes significant based on the first thing we can say about the Infinite: that there is only one Infinite.

The reasoning behind this is pretty simple. Suppose there were two, such that one was really not the other. Then clearly, at least one of the two, if not both, would have either of the following: (a) It would have to have a real something-or-other other than existence which would distinguish it from the other being--in which case, its existence contains a non-existence as defining it, as so it is (by definition) finite, not infinite. (b) It would have to lack (some of) the existence the other one had, in order to make its existence really different from the other one; in which case, its existence is less than what it is to exist, or is a finite existence.

So there can be only one non-finite existence.

It is, however, not inconceivable that there could be two (or three or more) Infinites such that each was not really different in any way from the others (that is, that whatever distinguished them was not an additional real characteristic or a lack of anything)--but in that case, "two" or "three" would mean in reality the same thing as "only one." So if you believe that God is a Trinity (a "three" which is "no more than one") this is not necessarily a contradiction, though it probably is one.

But actually, a "multiple unit" is not quite so far-fetched as it might seem. Your own consciousness as the "consciousness of this page" is also your consciousness as "the awareness that you are conscious of this page." But it can be shown that these, though in some sense not "the same" as each other, are nonetheless one and the same act. Any act of consciousness is both "aware of X" and "aware of its awareness of X" in the same act--which is why we can recognize imaginary experiences as imaginary. Each "awareness" contains the other one as "part" of itself--which obviously doesn't limit it, since the "part" contains "the whole" as part of itself. This is all very mysterious; but since our consciousness itself cannot be described as anything but a kind of "dunity," (dual unity), then a Trinity is not automatically a contradiction in terms.

It follows from this property that anyone who worships (acknowledges absolute dependence on) anything other than the Infinite is worshiping a false God. The reason is that your existence as a whole and the existence of any act you perform depends on the Infinite and nothing else for the fact that it is a finite existence (though which particular finite existence depends on other causes). Hence, if you can't show that the God you worship is compatible with the Infinite (i.e. is a causer which, as cause, is in fact the Infinite), then you aren't worshiping the one Being which alone should be worshiped.

Note that this does not necessarily imply that the Infinite ought to be worshiped. All it says is that worship, if it is given at all, should not be given to anything other than the Infinite.

6.3. Simplicity

Can this single Infinite be single but complex: that is, can It contain any parts? The answer is No.

The Infinite has no really distinguishable parts.

Suppose It did. Then Part A would be really different from Part B. But this would mean that whatever made Part A Part A and not Part B (its characteristic in addition to "plain old existence") would be a non-existence contained within the (whole) existence which is the Infinite--which in turn would mean that the Infinite is an existence containing within it a non-existence as defining its existence (the whole with this part in it). But that is the definition of the finite. Hence if "the Infinite" contained really distinguishable parts, It would be finite, not infinite.

By a parallel comment to the one above, of course, if the Infinite had a "part" or two that was identical with the whole, then the reasoning I just gave would not apply.

So all the Infinite is is existence: "plain old existence." When you say "is" of the Infinite, you've said all there is to say. Put it another way,

The Infinite is pure, simple existence.

6.4. Distinctness

There are some philosophies and religions (called "pantheisms" or "pantheistic" views of things) which maintain that God, as infinite, contains within him the whole universe. Some say that he is "the-universe-and-then-some," and some (who presumably think the universe itself is infinite) think that he's the essence of the universe itself.

Can we decide this question? Indeed we can.

The Infinite is a distinct, other Being from any finite being or even from the sum of all finite beings.

The reason for this is contained in what we already saw. If the Infinite actually contained some finite being within Itself, then it would by definition contain the "non-existence" (the limitation) that makes that finite being the finite being which it is. But, as we saw in the preceding section, that means that the Infinite is an existence containing non-existence within it, which is the definition of a finite being.

But then how can the Infinite be infinite if It isn't the only being? Obviously, it would seem, if It's only one among many beings, then there's more to being than just the Infinite (there are the other ones); and so It's finite.

Here is where you have to realize that we defined the "infinity" of the Infinite in a very precise, technical sense. The Infinite is the being which is existence with no qualification and no quantification: no internal non-existence within itself. This doesn't imply that It's the only being that exists; just that It's the one with no internal limitation on Its existence.

All other beings, in other words, are cases of existence that isn't equal to "what existence is in itself." The Infinite is the existence (and the only existence) which is equal to "what existence is in itself." So the other beings are distinguished from the Infinite in that they are limited cases of what the Infinite is the complete example of, not that they are actual parts of the Infinite.

Put it this way: The Infinite is more active than any finite activity (we saw that existence and activity are two different words for the same thing); but this doesn't imply that the Infinite has to include explicitly within Itself all limited cases of activity, any more than a temperature of 100 has all the degrees less than 100 actively within it; it's just greater than any one of them. Similarly "plain old activity" is greater than "this or that kind of activity."

So no, you are not part of God.

6.5. Self-sufficiency

We know that the Infinite is the cause of the finite existence of every finite existence. Can the Infinite Itself be an effect of anything? No, as we will see below. Therefore, we can say the following:

The Infinite is absolutely self-sufficient: It can have no cause.

There are actually two lines of reasoning to establish this. First of all, if It were the effect of anything, It would have to be the effect of something finite. But that would mean that it was the effect of Its own effect, which is impossible, since the finite being which was supposedly its "cause" would depend absolutely for its finite existence on what was its own effect. And, as we saw by Corollary I of Theorem III in Chapter 1, the cause is independent of its effect.

The second line of reasoning is that, in order for the Infinite to be an effect, there would have to be two aspects of It that would contradict each other. But the Infinite is single and simple; not only does It not have anything within It that contradicts something else within it, It doesn't have anything "within" It at all (i.e. as distinct from Its "whole self"). So the Infinite not only needs no cause (because It's just a fact, not a problem), but It can't have a cause.

6.5.1. The Infinite and "where did you come from?"

We can see now why the believer was, in a sense, right when he said that everything "came from" God; and the unbeliever's question "And where did God come from?" was not well taken. Everything finite must have a cause, because its existence contradicts itself (taken by itself). But the Infinite not only doesn't have the "problem of the finite," It doesn't and can't have any "problem" at all.

But in another sense, the argument is not a good one, because the effect there was not the effect of existence as finite, but of the beginning of (what happens to be a) finite existence. And that's a different effect, and different effects have different causes. The cause of your beginning to exist was your parents' sexual activity. Now that was a finite act, of course, and as a finite act (a finite existence) it had to have the Infinite as the cause of its finiteness; and similarly, your beginning existence (i.e. the transforming of the egg into a human being) was also a finite act, and as such had to have the Infinite as its cause.

So the Infinite was involved in your beginning to exist; but It was not precisely the cause of the beginning as such. So, supposing there to be an eternal, expanding-and-contracting universe, you don't need and would never get to the Infinite as the ultimate cause of the origin of the universe (because in that case, it wouldn't have one).

Supposing the "big bang" to have occurred only once, however, then this origin needs the Infinite, because we have the absolute beginning of finite existence, (not it's coming "out of" something, but just be-ing), and only the Infinite causes finite existence to be. It isn't that the Infinite "made something out of nothing," because nothing isn't something you can make something "out of." It's just that this is the first moment in which there is finite existence (or at least material finite existence)--which is precisely what the Infinite accounts for.

So be aware of the fact that the Infinite isn't what "brought you into existence." The Infinite causes you to exist now, because your existence now (just as at any other time) is finite existence, and can't exist now on its own.

This is not intended to deny that the Infinite might be needed to account for how you as organized spiritually could have come into existence from what was living at essentially a lower level of existence (human sperm and eggs are not spiritually organized); and so there is a problem in how these two beings can "lift themselves" to an essentially less limited kind of existence. So it might be (in fact it is) the case that what some call "the infusion of a spiritual soul" can only be accounted for by the Infinite. But to establish this gets us into a very complex analysis of the organization of bodies, which has all kinds of possibilities of error, and so it forms an "argument" for God's existence which is so weak as not to be worth mentioning. I put this here merely to show that, as far as I can see, the reasoning isn't false.

6.6. Formlessness

[The characteristics I mention here are discussed along with the particular modes of the finite in Modes of the Finite, Part 2 Section 1.]

The property I call "formlessness" is not one of the traditional properties of the Infinite (though it is implied in the tradition), and it doesn't mean that the Infinite is an "amorphous blob." What is "formless" in the sense of "amorphous" is something that has no definable shape, like a cloud, which changes shape from moment to moment and (at a given moment) doesn't "look like" anything in particular.

No, "formless" here means "lacking form," which is a technical word.

DEFINITION: The form of activity (existence) is the fact that the existence is (in this case) limited to being only this kind of existence (activity).

Another name for form is quality.

Thus, heat is a form of activity, sound is a different form, color a different one, and so on (these are all qualities). It turns out that we can classify our perceptions into various categories, with a number of perceptions in each category ("seeings," "hearings," etc.) similar among themselves and different from those in other categories. So all of the existences that cause a given category of perception are analogous to each other; and I (following a long tradition) give the name form or quality to the "commonness" of the cause of a particular category.

Clearly this form is some limitation of existence, since all the categories are perceptions and therefore are responses to existence; but it is a kind of "common limitation" that certain existences have that others don't have.

That's all we need for our purposes, because, since form is precisely an aspect of limitation, then it immediately follows that the Infinite has no form.

Of course, grammatically speaking, you can say that the Infinite lacks form; but since the form itself is a kind of "deprivation" of existence, what the Infinite "lacks" is a lack; and so that's another way of saying that the Infinite is not limited qualitatively.

6.7. Spirituality

The term "spirituality" is another term that is apt to be misleading; but not to make a long story out of it (which belongs to metaphysics, not this particular study), what it means is this:

DEFINITION: An act is spiritual if it is not limited quantitatively.

DEFINITION: Quantity is the limitation of a form of existence to being only this much of the particular form of existence.

It turns out that all the existences we directly experience (except the existence that is the very act of being conscious) are limited qualitatively and the quality has the further limitation of "having" a quantity. That, in fact, is why we know that there are many different examples of acts in a given category. They don't differ qualitatively, which implies that the "thisness" of each example is a limitation of the form of existence. (That is, as essence is to existence, so quantity is to the form of existence). The quantity is just how much of the form of existence there is in this case.

Thus, heat is a quality, and its temperature is the quantity (the amount of heat) that a particular case of heat is; color is a quality, and its brightness is its quantity; electricity is a quality, and its quantity is charge; and so on. The set of quantities for each quality tends to have its own distinct name, indicating that quantities of one quality are only analogous to quantities of a different one.

Of course, since quantity is a limitation (as a matter of fact, it's a limitation of a limitation), we can then say that the Infinite has no quantity, and therefore is spiritual.

No doubt you have noticed that quantity is what allows us to put numbers on things (or measure them). So when I say that the Infinite "has no quantity" I do not mean to imply that the Infinite is "zero activity"; nor do I mean to imply that the Infinite is "activity = ." That little sideways 8 (which people call "infinity") is a symbol for a number that doesn't exist, since it would be the last number. But any number always has another number following it, no matter how big it is. And you can see that in itself it is a contradiction in terms, since quantity is a limit, and this quantity "represents" the "unlimited limit." That's why mathematicians always use it with a little arrow pointing to it, indicating that the number they are talking about "becomes infinite" in the sense of arbitrarily large, or larger than any number you want to name.

So the Infinite is neither zero, nor any finite amount of, nor even an infinite amount of activity or existence. It is simply not describable in terms of numbers, since It is not limited in a way in which numbers would apply meaningfully to It.

This isn't too hard to fathom, actually. Consider a sheet of clear glass. What color is it? You say it's clear, or colorless. But what color is that? If you answer, "No color," I can come back with "Then it's black, because black is the absence of color." But it's not black. Then it's all colors. No, because then it would be white. And the glass is obviously not the color you see through it. It's "no color" in the sense in which "What color is it?" is a meaningless question.

Similarly, a spiritual act is "quantitiless" in the sense in which glass is colorless. To ask, "How much is it?" is to ask a question that has no answer. You say, "Well it has to have some amount." Why? Why is it necessary for something to be limited quantitatively in order to exist? In fact, quantity, as a limit, is an unintelligibility of the act, not what makes sense out of it.

It turns out that if you try to describe "how much" of a spiritual act there is, you get contradictory answers. We already saw this in a comment above when talking of your act of consciousness (which is one and the same act as your act of being conscious of this act of consciousness). So the act is both two acts and only one act. The fact that both of these answers are true is the best evidence that consciousness is spiritual.

Thus, if God is a "Trinity," all this implies in practice is that He is a spiritual act.

Note that there are finite spiritual acts as well as the Infinite. Finite spiritual acts would of course be "pure" forms of activity, and each would be a unique kind of activity, differing in quality from all others. Thus, the thought, for instance, that "2 + 2 = 4" is not half as much a thought as the thought that "4 + 4 = 8." They're just different.

Note further that a finite spiritual act is infinite with respect to quantity. That is, since it is not limited quantitatively, it is less limited than any quantified act, however large the quantity might be. Again, it's not that it has the quantity ; it's that it's beyond the quantitative limitation. So here we have an "infinite" in a sense that's still finite, because it's only a given form of activity (though it exhausts all the intelligibility in that form of activity, while a quantified act is not all there is to the form of activity which it happens to be).

6.7.1. Energilessness

We are now in the overlap between philosophy and physics, which can make things quite complicated. Suffice it here to say that the reality the physicist is referring to by his definition of energy as "the capacity for doing work" turns out to be any quantified (form of) activity (existence). In other words, energy is non-spiritual activity.

DEFINITION: Energy is any existence that is limited quantitatively.

What makes energy "energetic," of course, is the fact that it is existence or activity. What makes the activity able to be called energy (and not a spiritual act) is that it is measurable activity. But it's measurable because it's quantified.

Now as far as the Infinite is concerned, then since quantity is a limit, then the Infinite's activity (i.e. the Infinite) cannot be called energy. Of course, that would have to be true if It's spiritual. It's analogous to the "energeticness" of energy, but not to the measurability.

6.8. Imperceptibility

This is an easy one. Everything we directly perceive is a form of energy (or a bundle of forms of energy), as can be seen from the fact that all our information about anything other than our consciousness comes through our sense organs; and too much of the act that activates the organ destroys its ability to sense (as too bright a light blinds you, etc.).

Of course, it immediately follows that the Infinite cannot directly be perceived.

This does not imply that the Infinite is unknowable, any more than the fact that radio radiation is imperceptible implies that it is unknowable. Radio radiation is a form of energy (electromagnetic); but we just don't happen to have any sense organ that responds to it (just think of what it would be like if we did!). So we have to argue to it, just as we do to the Infinite, from some perceptible existence.

Note that that feeling of joy, love, and peace people sometimes get in prayer is not a "perception" of God; it is an emotional response to the act of thinking about God. The mystics tell us that direct contact with God (i.e. His action directly on our minds) has absolutely no emotional content (and is not even a definite, distinguishable thought, because that would have to be caused by a finite existence). It is more like an intellectual exclamation point. What I am saying is that you can't really "feel God's presence."

6.9. Positionlessness

Like spirituality, the "lack" of a position for the Infinite is apt to cause people trouble. The Infinite is not here, not there, not anywhere, not everywhere and not nowhere. As clear glass is to color, so the Infinite is to position. And why?

Not to make a long story of it, an object's position with respect to another object is how strongly it is acted on by the other's field. We could go into detail on what this involves; but it is enough for our purposes to realize that to be in a position is to be at a (measurable) distance from something; and this clearly implies quantity. But the Infinite doesn't have any quantity. Hence the Infinite is not in position.

So it's not strictly true to say that "God is everywhere," or that "God is within you." Some authors say this on the grounds that the cause "is where" its effect is. But then, since my gravitational field is (however slightly) affecting the moon, then you would have to say that I am on the moon--which is absurd. So God is not everywhere and not nowhere and not somewhere.

6.10. Incorporeality

[You can find a discussion of this in Modes of the Finite, Part 2, Section 2.]

This property is usually regarded as the same as spirituality (because traditionally "spiritual" is the opposite of "material" or "bodily" rather than "quantity"). There is a sense in which my approach would be consistent with this; but to go into it would be to engage in a lengthy description of a particular mode of the finite which is not necessary for our purposes here.

First of all, we can say this: The Infinite is not a complex unit, as our bodies are. This is obvious from the fact that the Infinite is simple. If, as spiritual, It is both one-and-more-than-one act, It does not have distinct parts (as our bodies do) connected to other parts making a unified whole.

Since the "many" of spiritual acts "interpenetrate" each other, it follows that any complex unit has to be a bundle of energies, with quantities. And it is this unified energy-bundle that we call a body. Therefore, the Infinite is not a body, or is "incorporeal."

Christians, of course, believe that Jesus, who is clearly corporeal, is God, in the sense of the Infinite. This is clearly a contradiction in terms, isn't it? Not so fast. Remember, we saw that a spiritual act can be a unit-that-is-more-than-one; or, if you will, it can "duplicate" itself in one and the same act. Now all we need is for one of these "duplications" to express itself in a finite way and to a finite degree, and we have an act that is both a spiritual act and a form of energy (with a quantity).

And this is not as far-fetched as it sounds. It turns out that our own acts of sensation are--as one and the same act--the form of energy which is the nerve-output in the brain, and the consciousness associated with this nerve-output. So such a spiritual act which contains as one of its "duplications" of itself energy (or which "empties itself" in this "dimension" as only energy) is not only thinkable, it forms the only sensible explanation of sensation as consciousness and energy.

Of course, Jesus in his corporeal "dimension" would have position and size and shape and would change and all the rest of it; and since Jesus is only one Act, the Infinite Act, then in this "dimension" of Itself, the Infinite can be said to be in position and change and so on. But that is not incompatible with the Infinite's being as such positionless and incorporeal and so on. God as causer would include Jesus; God as cause does not. Everything said about God as cause is true of the Christian God; but there are also things (because of the Jesus-"dimension" of God) that are true of the Christian God that are not true of the "dimension" of God that is "purely" Infinite.

This is, of course, not to say that Christianity is true, or that Jesus is in fact the Infinite in some "reduplicative dimension." All it says is that it is not a flat-out contradiction to say that he could be God, however fantastic and improbable it would be to do so.

6.11. Sizelessness

Obviously, only bodies have size. The space between bodies we call distance with its correlate, position. The size of a body is the (internal) distance between the outermost parts. But since the Infinite is not a body, then the Infinite does not have size.

This does not, of course mean that the Infinite is a point. That's the zero of size; but the Infinite is to size as colorlessness is to color.

6.12. Shapelessness

What shape actually is is a kind of complication of size; it involves the internal spatial interaction of the parts of the object that has shape. For our purposes, a discussion of this, like size, is not necessary; it is enough to realize that shape is something that belongs to a body insofar as it is a body. But since the Infinite is not a body, the Infinite has no shape.

Obviously, this does not mean that It is an "amorphous blob," as we saw, but that the concept "shape" simply doesn't apply to It.

6.13. Immutability

[This topic and the next are discussed at considerable length in Modes of the Finite, Part 2, Section 3.]

One of the traditional properties of the "philosophical God" is that He is completely changeless. The God of the Bible seems to change; but religionists have explained this as a way of speaking about God that could be grasped by philosophically unsophisticated minds.

But there are a number of philosophical theories nowadays that say that God is in process, and is developing or "becoming," in some real sense. Can they be true?

Well, if the Infinite is to "become different" in any real sense, then It must be different somehow afterwards than It was before--and yet also (in some sense) be the same thing (or why say It changed?). So It has to be in some real sense the same as and different from Itself. But this is the definition of the finite.

In fact, we were using the fact that consciousness changed (though I didn't explicitly say so) to establish that consciousness was finite. So clearly, change implies finiteness. Therefore, the Infinite cannot change in any sense.

"How boring to be the Infinite!" you say. No. You will notice that you are only bored when you are not doing what you want to be doing at the moment. But obviously, since the Infinite is doing all that can be done (It is activity itself), then there is no sense in which It could "want" to be doing anything else.

It turns out that in fact (for various complicated reasons) only bodies can change; and so when you die, you will be (as nothing but consciousness) your full self and will not any longer be able to change (at least naturally. God could supernaturally cause some changes in you, such as restoring you as a body--i.e. relimiting your activity).

6.13.1 Eternity

The concept of time is another of those complex issues that we don't need to go into in detail, since it is clear that in some sense time is measurable (and therefore either has or involves quantity, and so limitation). It turns out that "eternity" is the name given to the timelessness of the Infinite (and it can be applied to the timelessness of finite spiritual acts which can't change either, though some like to use "eviternity" for them). At any rate, we can say that the Infinite is eternal; that is, time-concepts do not apply to It.

This is a bit tricky to apply, however. Again, eternity is to time as colorlessness is to color. So the Infinite does not always exist; It does not now exist, It did not exist in the past, It will not exist in the future, and It does not never exist. Supposing the Infinite to be conscious, then everything--past, present, and future--is "present" to It in the sense of "not absent," but this does not imply that the Infinite now knows what will happen tomorrow.

So the question, "What was the Infinite doing before the 'big bang,' which was the first moment of time?" is a meaningless question. There was no "before" the first moment of time (obviously), and so the Infinite did not exist before time began. The Infinite exists eternally (timelessly).

The point of this is that time (which is actually a comparison of the quantities of changes) is a "tag" that describes bodies. It is actually not an activity in its own right, but a relation between two activities, or parts of one activity. Hang onto that. Time is a characteristic of bodies as related to certain other bodies, that's all.

And you have no problem with God (who is colorless) creating you as having a color, and God, who is positionless, creating you (causing you to be) at a position, and so on. So God, who is timeless creates you with a time-tag. For instance, I can now think of my dog Luthien as existing from 1979-1993; meaning that she was doing things that connected her with a certain set of other things (the ones we say existed "at that time"). Well then, what's the problem with the Infinite's causing her to exist as interconnected with that set of objects? That's all it means to exist at a certain time. But this doesn't have to imply that the Infinite is "connected" with those objects. It can't be, because It can't be affected by anything finite at all, as we saw.

Granted, it's hard to imagine the Infinite as not causing me (who am now 62) before you (if you aren't that old yet); but while I began to exist before you, that doesn't mean that the Infinite's act that caused me happened at that time. It can't have. It doesn't mean the Infinite is always causing me to exist beginning in 1933 either. It timelessly causes me to exist from then on.

You can understand this if you can understand what "colorless" means; but just as you can't picture colorlessness, you can't imagine eternity either. You have to use your mind, not your imagination.

Anyway, with this property, we come to the end of the properties which amount to things that can be denied of the Infinite.


Since the Infinite is non-finite existence, we can deny of the Infinite anything that is a characteristic of finite existence as finite. We can affirm that the Infinite is analogous to any characteristic of finite existence insofar as it is existence. First, the negative "properties" of the Infinite.

There is only one Infinite, since if there were two with a real difference between them, one would lack some existence that the other had, making it finite. The Infinite is a simple existence, having no really different parts within It, because if it did, then the finiteness of each part would be contained within the Infinite, making It finite, which is absurd. The Infinite is a distinct being, different from any finite being, because if It contained the finite being within It, It would contain its finiteness, making the Infinite finite. The Infinite is absolutely self-sufficient; It can have no cause, because to do so, It would have to contain within It really conflicting aspects, and It is simple. Thus, the Infinite does not need to, nor could it, "come from" something. The Infinite is formless in the technical sense that it is not a type or kind of being, since to be (only) a kind of existence is a limitation. The Infinite is spiritual because what is spiritual has no quantity or degree (cannot be measured), and quantity is a limitation of a form of existence (to being only this much of the form).

Since energy is any existence as measurable (or as "having" a form and a quantity), then the Infinite is energiless. It is active, and so analogous to what makes energy "energetic," but It does not have an "infinite amount" of energy (which is a contradiction in terms--an unlimited limit). It is just superior to energy as limited. Since what causes our perceptions is always some form of energy, it follows that the Infinite is imperceptible; we can only know of It as the cause of some (perceptible) finite existence. Since position is established in reality by the interaction of the energy in fields, the Infinite is positionless. That is, position-terms do not apply to It; it is neither everywhere, nor here, nor there, nor nowhere--just as glass is not white (all colors) or red (some color) or black (no color), but colorless.

The Infinite is not a complex unification of many distinct parts (It is simple); and so It is incorporeal or "bodiless." And since size is the internal position-relations within a body, so the Infinite is sizeless, which does not mean that It is a point, or is "infinitely big." By the same token, the Infinite is shapeless, which does not mean that It is a "blob," but that shape-terms do not apply to It.

To change means that something afterwards is different from what it was before, while somehow remaining the same thing; and this implies really different aspects of what changes. But the Infinite is just simple existence, and therefore, the Infinite is absolutely immutable; It cannot change in any way. And since time is a comparison of changes, matching up the progress of one change with the progress of another, it follows that the Infinite is eternal, meaning that time-words do not apply to It. Thus, the Infinite does not now exist, did not exist in the past, will not exist in the future, does not always exist, and does not never exist. The Infinite exists eternally. Eternity is to time as colorlessness is to color.




7.1. Activity

[This is discussed in Modes of the Finite, Part 1 Section 4, Chapter 9.]

The idea of the negative properties is that they are one-word distillations of sentences in which you can say, "The Infinite is not like finite existence insofar as finite existence is finite." They deny the various modes of finiteness when referring to the Infinite Obviously, the positive properties are one-word ways of saying, "The Infinite is analogous to finite existence insofar as finite existence is existence."

Of course, the Infinite will only be analogous to finite existence-as-existence, because you can't separate the finite existence from its finiteness (it is this inseparability, in fact, which forms the effect about it); and so, though it is (as we will see) legitimate to say that certain terms are used of finite existence not because they are limited but because they are existence, then somehow these terms apply to the Infinite. Remember, we know this based on the fact that finite existence is a cause (of the finiteness of a finite conscious act), and as a cause it is analogous to the Infinite, which happens to be its cause. So in this case, the cause is analogous to its effect; but that just happens to be so because this particular effect happens also to be a similar type of cause.

But since we don't actually know the points of similarity, we have to be very careful here that we don't say more than we have to. The Infinite will be similar to finite existences as existences, but not as finite.

The first positive property is one we have already seen, in Section 4.5. under the eighth conclusion: Existence and activity are just two different names for the same thing, depending on how you formulate the effect. So every existence is an activity and every activity is an existence. Therefore, the Infinite is infinite activity, or the Infinite is pure activity.

That is, It is "pure" activity in the sense of "just plain old" unqualified and unquantified activity. It is not "doing" this or that, it is not a type of activity or a kind of "doing"; It is just plain "doing." Absolute "doing" or absolute activity.

Now the point of the analogy is that we know that this is true, but this gives us no clue as to in what way this "absolute doing" is like the activities we experience. We know that It is like them in some way, and we put the name "activity" on this similarity; but it's a name that applies to the Infinite and finite activities insofar as they are both causes of similar but not identical effects. So don't be fooled by the fact that we can use a definite name for this "aspect" of the Infinite; all it tells us is that there is a similarity, not what it is.

7.1.1 Omnipotence

The fact that the Infinite is absolute activity allows us to speak clearly about a property that is ordinarily attributed to God: that He is "omnipotent." By the makeup of the word, it means that God "can do everything."

It can't, of course, be said of the Infinite that It can do something that It's not doing at the moment; so the Infinite doesn't have "ability" in the sense that we have the ability to do more than we're actually doing. But of course, this isn't the sense of "can" that is referred to in "omnipotence"; it means that the Infinite is all-powerful.

But then what is "power"? Clearly, if you remove the "can" notion above, it means the ability to cause an effect, to "do" something to something. But that, of course, is just exactly what was intended by calling existence "activity"; it was "cause" in the broadest sense of the term. So in that sense, existence is power.

And, of course, since the Infinite is absolute, unqualified existence, the Infinite is absolute, unqualified power, or is omnipotent.

What that amounts to, from the point of view of the effect, is that the Infinite can do anything that can be done. This excludes, of course, "effects" that are really contradictions in terms (such as a blank page with writing on it). In that sense, the Infinite "can't do" whatever you can formulate as "something to be done," because you can formulate nonsense, and nonsense can't be "done," because nonsense "exists" only in speech; there's no such thing as what the nonsense "describes."

Now in relation to the problem of evil we discussed in the arguments against God's existence, we now have the property of omnipotence attributed to the Infinite. So if the Infinite is both omnipotent and good, we've got to see how this can be reconciled with evil in the world, or there's something wrong with the argument, because then our cause is a contradiction in terms--which means we've been talking nonsense all this time.

Don't count on it.

7.2. Truth

[You can find a more detailed discussion of this topic in Modes of the Finite, Part 1, Section 5.]

Now then, if the Infinite is absolute existence, then it follows that what are called the "transcendental properties" of being will apply to It. The "transcendental properties" are properties all beings have just because they exist; they "transcend" or "go beyond" all categories of being.

The trouble with these properties is that, as applied to being, they don't mean much, or what they normally mean; but there is some sense in which they can be said of things just because they exist, and so we can use them to apply to the Infinite.

DEFINITION: Truth is the relation of agreement of our understanding of the facts about some being with what the facts about that being actually are.

This is actually quite tricky, and could involve us in a long discussion. It is not the matching of our perception of the object with the being which is the object; we saw that the being (the causer) is not like its effect (the perception). No, what it is is an application of Theorems IV and V in Chapter 1 (and a more general version that "related effects have causes related among themselves in the same way"). So if you look to me the same as John looks to me, then you are analogous (similar in color, say, or shape) to John. Or if I see you beside him, this is because your position is beside him.

So what's the big deal? Well, when you get down to things, the causes are often at a distance from the perceiving organs, and are actually at the end of a fairly long causal chain; and it can be that "links" (i.e. intermediate causes) in that chain can sometimes be different and can result in similar effects when what we think the causes are are actually different from each other. Look at this page now and look at it with sunglasses on. It will appear a different color, even though the actual color of the page hasn't changed; it's just that the light coming into your eyes has been filtered.

So we can make mistakes. All the definition of "truth" above says is that when you're not making a mistake, and the relation between the effects is in fact the same relation as the one between the causes, then that situation is called "truth."

For our purposes, however, notice that the truth as such is a relation, and in fact a relation between relations: the relation between the fact (the relation "out there" between the beings) and the understanding (the relation "in here" in my consciousness). Note further that the truth exists as such in my consciousness, not strictly speaking in the facts or beings. That is, it is my understanding which is mistaken or true; the fact can't be "mistaken"; it just is. I have to change my understanding and make it agree with the fact in order to correct a mistake.

But in that case, what sense is there in saying that an object or being is "true"? There is the sense in which you can call an object "false," when it is deceptive. But this involves a different sense of "true."

When we understand something, we tend to want to communicate it to others; and we do so by making a statement which expresses our act of understanding. I say to you, "This page is white," for instance. That means that it is like all the other things that affect my eyes (and so presumably yours) in a certain way.

DEFINITION: A statement is true when it expresses what the fact is.

So, if I were to tell you, "This page is blue," you would (since you can see it) realize that my statement is false. Now I might have blue sunglasses on and have forgotten than I was wearing them, and so I might be telling you what I think is true; but in fact, my statement doesn't match what the fact is; and so my statement is false. (If I know what the fact is and deliberately misstate it in order to deceive you, my statement is a lie.)

This kind of "deceptiveness" sometimes occurs in the real world too. That is, sometimes an object is such that it tends to make the unwary person think that it is like certain things that it's not like. For instance, iron pyrite looks a lot like gold; and that's why it's called "fool's gold" or "false gold." It isn't that it's lying to you; it's just that if you don't know what gold really is, you might think that this yellow rock is a piece of gold ore. Similarly a "false friend" is one who acts as if he's your friend, when actually he's your enemy.

Now then, what is called "ontological truth" takes this sense of "the truth of a statement" and applies it to being as if being were "making statements" to you about what it's like and so on.

DEFINITION: Ontological truth is the "truth" being has when one considers it as "communicating" information to the mind.

So the being is "ontologically true" when it induces you to think that it is the way it actually is; if it somehow induces you to think otherwise, it is "ontologically false."

But of course, the being is just acting on you in a certain way and to a certain degree; and this activity is in fact similar to what it's similar to and different from what it's different from, and so on. So if it deceives you into thinking that it's something different from what it is, this isn't the being's fault; it's your fault for not being sharp enough to tune your mind in to what the activity is. To put this another way, only a person can lie to you, and deliberately say what is the opposite of what (he thinks) the facts are. Being can't do this, because it doesn't formulate statements which express acts of understanding; it just acts.

Therefore being can't really be ontologically false; a being is ontologically true simply because it exists (or acts).

And of course, that immediately allows us to conclude that the Infinite is absolute ontological truth. Since It is absolute activity, It is such that it can cause a true judgment, if you're clever enough to understand It properly. Or, in other words, as a "communicator of information," this act is not in itself deceptive.

Notice that this does not necessarily imply that, if the Infinite is a conscious being and can communicate information by a kind of actual statement (analogous to the way we do it), and not just by the activity itself, then the Infinite couldn't lie to you. It sort of "stands to reason" that It (or He, in this case, since He'd be a person) couldn't consistently do this sort of thing; but I don't think you can establish this just from the fact that the Infinite is pure activity and this very very weak concept of "ontological truth."

Notice further, though, that if Jesus is God, then when Jesus said, "I am truth," he was literally correct, using this ontological sense of truth. He isn't "something true," he is Truth Itself.

But it's interesting to notice that, after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in such a way that she thought he was the gardener, he walked miles with the people on the road to Emmaus and "held their eyes" so that they didn't recognize it was Jesus until the breaking of the bread; and so on. He seemed to be having fun with these people, but in such a way that he deliberately seemed to be something he wasn't. So perhaps it doesn't follow that the Infinite would never deliberately communicate to us something false. (I hasten to add that Jesus didn't allow the deception to continue.)

7.3. Beauty

There is another transcendental property of being that involves a pretty trivial sense of the term: that being, insofar as it exists, is beautiful. To discuss this fully would get us deep into the science of aesthetics, and so I'll have to give a vast oversimplification again.

In a nutshell, then, we not only have perceptive understanding, we have aesthetic understanding. The relation between the two is this: All understanding is a recognition of a relation between what is in the mind and its causes in the world "out there." Now perceptive understanding grasps the relations between perceptions or parts of perceptions, which are essentially the mental results of information coming in through the five senses. So it is with perceptive understanding that we know similarities in color, or size, or taste, or odor, or sound, and so on.

But our brains also work as computers, and the "program" of this computer monitors the state the body is in and the information coming into it through the senses; and depending on the relation between the two, it directs energy into various "subroutines" which we call drives, to supply needs from the environment or to avoid dangers there.

DEFINITION: An emotion is the form of consciousness that this operation has when it is working.

So you see a lion running loose, and you tend to run for cover--and this tendency shows up in your consciousness as fear of a certain type. Your blood sugar drops below a certain level and you have to replace nutrients you've lost, and this shows up as hunger, and so on.

The emotions, then, are the conscious aspect of an act that responds not only to what is "out there" but to what is "out there" insofar as it is beneficial or harmful to the organism (based on the "built-in program" we have that automatically "decides" these things). But since it does respond (in part) to what is "out there," (i.e. to what we are responding to through our perceptions), then it is possible to use the emotions themselves as "receiving instruments" indicating something about what is "out there."

Thus, we talk of the "smiling meadow," because seeing a sunny field makes us feel emotionally the same way we do when someone smiles at us. Clearly, there's no perceptive similarity between a meadow and a smiling face; but everybody understands what you mean when you talk about the smiling meadow--and why? Because it makes everybody feel the way they feel when someone smiles at them.

But this indicates that there is something objectively similar between the sunny meadow and a smiling face; both are such that in fact they produce this emotional response in the normal person. It is the recognition of this "aesthetic fact" that is aesthetic understanding.

Very well, then, we can now talk about a kind of "aesthetic truth" by analogy with ontological truth. You can consider the meadow as an "emotive communicator," the way an actor communicates emotions to you (i.e. makes you feel them) by, for instance, crying or laughing during the speech he is reciting. And as such, the meadow is calculated to produce a certain emotional effect on you, which you can then understand using aesthetic understanding.

DEFINITION: Beauty is the characteristic of being as "communicating" aesthetically understandable facts about itself.

[This topic is discussed in Modes of the Finite, Part 4, Section 5.]

Now then, since we have an emotional overtone (depending on the state our body is in) to absolutely everything we perceive, then any being, just because it exists, is beautiful. That is, it is capable of producing an emotion which can be understood in relation to the emotional overtones of some other being.

And of course, from this it follows that the Infinite is absolute beauty. That is, It is not just "something beautiful," because finite being is beautiful because of its activity (its existence); but the Infinite is nothing but activity. Hence It is beauty, not "beautiful."

Note, however, that the degree of beauty of something does not depend on the level of existence it has. Music, for instance, which is nothing ontologically but a bunch of vibrations of the air, is often much more beautiful (because it produces more complex and profound emotions) than, say, a rat, which exists at a much higher level of existence. So the fact that the Infinite is Absolute Beauty does not mean that It is the "most beautiful of all beings." Generally speaking, the Infinite's beauty is rather far down on the scale, because we know of It through abstract reasoning, and there isn't much emotion or very powerful emotions involved in thinking about It. Still, it's true that beauty is something that can (in an analogous sense) be attributed to the Infinite.

7.4. Goodness

[You can find a discussion of this topic in Modes of the Finite, Part 1, Section 5, Chapter 10.]

We come now to the other property which figures in the problem of evil. What is (finite) goodness? Is something good just because it exists? If so, of course, the Infinite is not only good, but Absolute Goodness. But then how can there be evil in the world?

To attempt an answer to the first question, note that when you are talking about good and bad, you are not just describing how things are, you are relating them to a standard. And where do we get this standard? It comes from the fact that we can imagine situations as different from the way they are, and can the compare the actual state of affairs (the facts as perceived and understood) with the situation as we imagine it; and based on this comparison we can say that the actual state of affairs is good if it matches the imagined one (the ideal) and bad if it falls short of the imagined one.

So our ability to evaluate and to think in terms of good and bad is part of our ability to understand. But in ordinary understanding, (which gives us truth and mistakes), the facts are taken as the "independent variable," as it were, and understanding is what has to "bring itself into conformity with" the facts in order for understanding not to be mistaken and truth to occur.

Here, however, we have the same relation, only we are considering it the opposite way round. We have formed a pre-conceived judgment about things (this ideal we have constructed in our imagination), and we expect the facts to live up to (to match) it. If they do, then this (which would be the same as "truth," since the understanding and the facts match), is what we call "good"; and when they don't (i.e. when the relation corresponds to a mistake), instead of "blaming" our understanding and trying to correct it, we hold on to our preconceived idea and "blame" the facts and call them "bad."

DEFINITION: Evil or badness is a mistake looked at backwards.

That is, in both evil and a mistake, there is a discrepancy between the idea I have of the way the world is and the way the world actually is. When I consider the facts as the standard, I consider that I have made a mistake; but when I am in the evaluative mode of thinking, I hang on to the ideal as the way I think "things ought to be," and I then say that the situation is bad and "ought not to be that way."

So, for instance, I make the generalization that human beings can see just because they are human beings. I see a blind man. Now I don't want to give up the generalization that "all human beings can see," and so I say, "That's a defective case of a human being," or "There's something wrong with him," or "He ought to be able to see." There is a kind of contradiction in him: he's a human being, and all human beings can see (and therefore he can see), but he can't see--so he's a kind of sub-human human.

It is this apparently contradictory situation that is what evil consists in. Notice that this apparent contradiction isn't an effect exactly, because if you say, "Well, he can't see because his optic nerve is atrophied," you've given the cause of his blindness; but you haven't satisfied the person who's making the evaluative judgment, because he simply counters with, "What difference does it make why he can't see? Humans ought to have functioning optic nerves. Why have them at all, if they don't work?" That is, even if you explain why the evil situation exists, this doesn't alter the fact that according to the evaluation it ought not to exist.

The first thing to note here, now that we've clarified what's going on in our minds when we think in terms of good and bad instead of true and mistaken is this: The standard (the ideal) as such has no factual basis. You got it from using your imagination and just manipulating what was stored there into a form that satisfied you, for some reason. Now granted, you might have reasons for formulating the ideal; for instance, in the case of blindness, not only can "practically every" human being see, it also doesn't make sense to have eyes that are not functional, since "practically every" organ of "practically every" living thing has a function; and the function of the eyes in "practically everyone" is to see.

But the point is that the fact that "practically every" human being can see is no reason for saying that "therefore, absolutely every human being can see." But that's what the ideal is actually saying. Because practically every human being can see, then you make the leap and say that every human being ought to be able to see. You now set this up, in other words as your idea of the "real true" human being, whether that being exists or not.

And in doing so, what have you done? You form an ideal by mentally removing limitations from the limited cases you observe. That is, each human being (because he is an energy-bundle) is a limited case of "what it is to be human" (that form of existence); and so the ideal human being is the human being who doesn't have any of these particular limitations that some people have and other people don't.

But it's not quite that. Not everyone can play basketball like Michael Jordan; in fact, very, very few can. So these extraordinary talents don't (generally) form part of the ideal human being that most of us formulate for evaluating whether something is a good example of a human being or "there's something wrong with him." The evaluative ideal generally excludes the limitations that only a few have, and so it becomes a kind of "zero" at the bottom of "normality"; and we say that any limitation below this is too great a limitation, and ought not to be there.

In the same way, we say that any temperature below freezing is "badness" as far as heat is concerned, and we don't call it "very little heat," (which it is) we call it the opposite of heat, cold. That is, we (arbitrarily) set the zero of heat at the freezing point, and then call temperatures below that (which are still objectively cases of heat) "too limited," and therefore "negative heat."


DEFINITION: Ontological evil is limitation greater than the lowest limitation that we consider "normal."

But the point I am stressing is twofold: (a) Where you place the zero is arbitrary, and has no objective basis--as can be seen from the fact that the freezing point of water is zero on the Celsius scale, but that same temperature is 32 above zero on the Fahrenheit scale. And neither is "right," objectively; it all depends on how you want to look at things.

Now then, there is nothing in a (limited) being itself which says that it can't be limited in any way or to any degree that this being can be limited in. Obviously. That is, we say that human beings ought to be able to live at least seventy years; but we see that in fact human beings can live as short a time as a year and still be human beings (or ten minutes, for that matter). We see that human beings ought to be able to see, but we also see that there are human being who can't see, and they are human in spite of this extra limitation they have. And so on.

So what can we conclude from this?

Since evil is always a comparison of the real situation with an ideal that does not exist, and since that ideal was subjectively created, there is no objective reason why the ideal "ought" to exist. Therefore, evil is a "problem" only for those who choose to look on things in this way.

Now this is not to deny that things can "be" evil. They are in fact evil when in fact they do not live up to your preconceived expectations. That relation of discrepancy is a fact, but the ideal isn't. That is, evil has an objective and a subjective "pole" to the relation; you set up the subjective pole as the "real true" one (which it isn't, but you want reality to conform to it); and it is this that makes evil basically subjective. Things "become" evil or good simply by your changing your expectations, without their changing at all.

For instance, you doubtless don't consider it bad that you can't play basketball like Michael Jordan--because almost nobody can play basketball that well, and probably you're not interested in having that talent. But notice that Scotty Pippin might consider it bad that he isn't quite that talented (because, one supposes, he wants to be the world's greatest basketball player). Similarly, if you're blind, you can either say, "How terrible!" and complain about all the things you can't do that sighted people can do, or you can say, "Who cares what they can do? I can read braille, I can hear, I can do this, that, and the other, and I'm just not interested in doing those other things." And suddenly, being sighted becomes a kind of "talent" that other people have, like the ability to play basketball, and you don't any longer consider that there's "something wrong" with you, or that it's "bad" to be the way you are. Now I don't say that this sort of shift of the ideal is easy, but in fact it's what makes successful blind people successful; they don't "dwell on" their limitations.

The point is that you're free to make your ideal whatever you want it to be; there's nothing in reality that forces it on you. Hence evil exists or doesn't exist depending on how you choose to look at things, not because of something you discover "out there."

In essence, evil is limitation, taken from the point of view of the fact that the limitation is "too great."

But it follows from this that, since the Infinite is absolutely unlimited existence, then it is impossible to form an ideal about It, conceiving the Infinite as "less limited" than It is, which would allow you to say that "there is something wrong" with It. Hence, the Infinite is absolute ontological goodness.

Notice that the Infinite's goodness says absolutely nothing about the "fact" that evil "ought" not to exist in the world; because evil "ought" not to exist simply because of our arbitrarily set ideals by which we consider some limitations as "too great." But they are always and only subjectively "too great," and there's no sense in which the Infinite should cause finite beings to be less limited than they actually are. Just as, if your son wants you to take him to the amusement park and you don't want to, he says you're bad; but you're bad only according to his standards, and why should you conform to his standards? Similarly, if you say that I am wracking your brain with this book, and I "ought" to make it simple, why should I conform to your standards? I'm making it (believe it or not) clear and intelligible; you work at trying to understand it.

The point, of course, is that the goodness of the Infinite is quite compatible with evil in the world. The goodness of the Infinite just means that there's no way of conceiving It as "falling short" of a greatness it "ought" to have; but that's perfectly compatible with finite beings' falling short of some ideal you set for them; it just happens to be a contradiction in terms to set an ideal for God higher than infinite existence.

But it's not quite that simple, is it? I've been talking about ontological evil, the sense of "badness" in which the thing doesn't conform to your expectations of what it is. But there's also moral evil, which deals with the behavior of persons. A given person might be an extremely talented human being, but if he rapes other people, we consider his behavior wrong and call him an "evil" person.

DEFINITION: A person is morally evil when he acts inconsistently with the reality which he is.

A rapist, for instance, is using a cooperative act against the other person's will (i.e. uncooperatively); a thief is saying "What's mine is mine (because I'm a human being) and what's yours is mine (because I want it to be)."--and this is in effect saying either "I'm superhuman" or "You're subhuman" by his actions, and neither is true. So in moral evil, you are pretending that you aren't what you really are; you are acting as if you were greater than you really are.

And, of course, that's why moral evil is bad. You are, as it were, trying to act as if a subjective ideal of yourself (as, for example, superior to others) is the reality of yourself, when in fact it isn't. So you are not simply evaluating things according to the ideal, you are pretending that the ideal actually exists when it doesn't, because unless it actually exists, your action contradicts your reality.

But of course, since the ideal doesn't exist, the act does contradict your reality; and so everyone else, looking at what the reality is, calls this "morally wrong," and then says that you are morally bad.

The point, of course, is that you can't be morally bad unless you are in some sense or other acting as if you are greater than what you really are, or (if you want to put it that way) you are refusing to accept the limitation you have as human, and acting as if you didn't have it.

But it immediately follows from this that the Infinite cannot be morally bad. No matter what the Infinite does to any finite reality, no matter what limitations It imposes on any finite being, (a) the being is capable of being limited in this way and to this degree (or it couldn't exist), and (b) the Infinite is perfectly capable of doing this. So if a meteor falls down out of the sky and hits you in the head and splatters your brains all over Cincinnati, and if this is in "the providence of God," as they say, what objective complaint do you have? As Isaiah said, "Can the clay talk back to the potter?" You may not like the fact that you are the "earthen dish" St. Paul talks about which was made just to be smashed; but it is perfectly possible for you to exist this way; and so it is perfectly consistent with God to cause you to exist this way.

Notice that we don't even attribute moral evil to ourselves when we step on cockroaches or break sticks or uproot plants or crush rocks--because these things have no rights against us (or in other words, it isn't inconsistent with our reality to destroy them). Well obviously, it's not inconsistent with the reality of the One who causes us to be the finite being which we are to limit us in whatever way It pleases; It doesn't have to conform to our idea of what It "ought" to do to us. So the infinite moral goodness of the Infinite is perfectly compatible with evil in the world.

Of course, the upshot of this is that the Infinite can be said in a meaningful sense to be absolutely good, and still be a complete monster from our point of view. I don't imagine the cockroach you stepped on looks on you with grateful eyes from its place in cockroach-heaven either.

Hence, philosophically speaking, there's no real problem with there being evil in the world. And insofar as it is a problem, a denial of the Infinite doesn't make it go away. Insofar as you say that certain things ought not to exist the way they do, then they ought not to exist that way whether there's a God or not; and if the "ought" is objective, then the world contradicts itself, and nothing makes sense. How is this a more reasonable position than theism--however unpalatable the theism we've come up with looks to our evaluative judgment?

Nevertheless, there is a severe problem for the believer, if God has revealed himself as good. The problem is that, since the Infinite Himself has no ideals (the way he "sees" reality has to be the way reality is caused to be, or He isn't simple), then his "goodness" makes sense only from the point of view of his creatures. And that somehow must mean that in the last analysis they will look at Him and realize that what he is, and what He has done to them is good according to their own standard of goodness.

How this is possible is a tall order; but I think I can construct a scenario that explains how a good God (in the ordinary human-standard sense of "good") can have created a world with evil and suffering in it. But I will do this at the end of the book. Suffice it here that it is legitimate to call the Infinite absolutely good (or rather absolute Goodness) in both the ontological and moral sense, and to have shown that this does not imply that there can't be evil in the world It has caused.

I think I should point out here that this definition of "goodness" and "badness" is not something concocted ad hoc to make the world compatible with the Infinite. It is based, like our definition of "existence," on the conditions under which we use the terms, and the impossibility of our actually having objective knowledge of an ideal (since the ideal would have to be something like the sideways 8, a limited being without the limits). The definition also explains the empirical fact that no one has ever been able to come up with a notion of "good" that everyone agrees on. Why not, if it's something objective that can be discovered?

7.5. Life

[This topic is discussed in Modes of the Finite, Part 3, Section 1.]

Another complicated property that turns out to be applicable to the Infinite is that of life. Aristotle called it "self-initiated process," (which of course would exclude the Infinite, since the Infinite can't change); but (as I show in my book Living Bodies) I think his definition doesn't quite square with the facts as we know them today. If we examine living bodies as opposed to inanimate ones, we find that they maintain themselves at an energy-level too high to be accounted for by the physics and chemistry of the body, and so they are "free" to some extent of the action-and-reaction that inanimate bodies are subject to. When we go up the scale of life, we find living beings performing conscious acts, which can be shown to be spiritual and not to have quantity at all (though the "lowest level" of these acts, sensations, "attach" a quantity to themselves in one of their "reduplications" of themselves).

Making a long story short, we can put all the evidence together and give a dual definition of life, with the two definitions being the two sides, as it were, of the same coin:

DEFINITION: Life is existence insofar as it is not controlled by quantity.

DEFINITION: Life is existence insofar as it is in control of itself.

Life isn't exactly non-quantified existence, since the lowest forms of life have a quantity; it's just that in inanimate bodies, the amount of energy is what determines the state the body is in, while in living bodies, the form of the unifying energy is the controlling factor. But the more this form of unifying energy "escapes" from the quantity it has, the higher the form of life, and the greater control over itself the being has.

So we can extrapolate from that and say that spiritual beings can legitimately be called forms of life (though not embodied life); and presumably, they have greater control over their activity, since (a) they don't have any other object that can affect them, since only bodies can change; and (b) the highest form of embodied life, the human, can actually make choices and change his reality to make it agree with the choice--subject only to what his genetic structure sets to the range of possibilities actually open to him. Presumably, then, totally spiritual forms of existence (which contain themselves within themselves) are in at least as much control of themselves as humans are.

Given all of this, then, we can conclude that the Infinite is absolute Life.

7.5.1. Freedom

[You can find a discussion of this topic in Modes of the Finite, Part 3, Section 3, Chapter 6.]

This brings up the question of whether the Infinite has any real control over what It is, since after all, It can't be anything other than infinite existence. That is, granted that the Infinite is "free" from being affected by any finite being, as we saw (or the cause would depend on its own effect), still isn't the Infinite constrained by Its nature as Infinite, especially since It can't change at all; and so doesn't It "have" to do whatever It is eternally doing? Georg Hegel thinks this is so, and so redefines "freedom" in such a way that this internal (but not external) constraint is freedom. But he's wrong.

To answer this, we must distinguish between the "necessity of a fact," which is just a restatement of the Principle of Contradiction (what is is "necessarily" not what it isn't), and the "necessity" which means "inability to control what the fact is." That is, supposing that I am writing what I am now writing, it is necessarily the case that I am writing it. But that doesn't imply that (if I wanted to) I couldn't be just sitting here without writing. (In fact, just before I wrote the word "couldn't," I sat back and paused--because I am in control over what the fact is.)

Now clearly the Infinite is necessarily doing what It is doing, supposing It to be doing this. But this is the "necessity of a fact," and it doesn't follow that this "necessity" implies that the Infinite isn't eternally controlling what It eternally does. The fact that It can't change is no problem; all this means is that, if the Infinite eternally were making a different choice, then eternally Its activity would be different from what it happens to be because of the choice It eternally makes.

What I am saying here is that the infinity of the Infinite and the eternity and immutability of the Infinite do not argue against the Infinite's having control over what Its act in fact is. And the greater control finite beings have over themselves the more they "escape" from quantity seems to imply that you would expect the Infinite to have the greatest control over Its existence.

So far, then, there's something suggestive, but no real proof one way or the other. But if you add to this that the Infinite's act causes the existence of the finite universe (and the existence of this particular finite universe out of all the possible ones), then we can arrive at a proof. If the Infinite's nature forced It to be the cause of the finite (as Plotinus said, because "being is 'diffusive' of itself" by nature), then it would follow that the Infinite without the finite universe would be incomplete or in some other way a contradiction.

That is, if the Infinite has to cause the universe to be, then the existence of the finite universe is necessary for the Infinite to exist. But that means that the Infinite by Itself is a contradiction. Hence the Infinite would be an effect, whose cause would be the finite universe (since It couldn't exist without it). But that is absurd, since a cause (by Theorem III and Corollary I) is not affected by the fact that it is the cause, and is independent of its effect.

So the Infinite's existence is what it is no matter what the finite universe's existence is like; the finite universe's existence is in no sense necessary to the Infinite. Therefore, the Infinite's act as cause of the finite existences which It causes has to be a free act, not forced either by the nature of the finite universe, or the "internal necessities" of the Infinite existence itself.

Then why does the Infinite cause the finite universe to exist? Because It can. Because it is possible for the Infinite Existence to be the cause of finite cases of existence. Or in other words, Why not? That is the only possible "reason." It can't be because it is "better" that there be a finite universe. Better for the Infinite? Impossible, because the Infinite as Infinite can't be improved. Better for the finite universe? Well yes, of course, but how does this benefit or affect the Infinite in any way? It can't.

That is, there's no reason why the Infinite should or ought to cause finite existences, since there's absolutely nothing in it for It. On the other hand, it's not irrational for It to do so, because It in fact is capable of doing so, and there's no reason not to do it either. So the only possible answer to "Why does It do it?" is, as I said, "Why not?" The act as causing finite beings is a transrational, not irrational act. We will see more of this in the next chapter.

At any rate, what we can conclude from this discussion is that the Infinite Act is in absolute control of Itself, or it is absolute freedom: freedom from both external and internal constraint.

Note that, if we add to this what was said about goodness as applied to the Infinite, then there's no demand either that if the Infinite (freely) creates, then Its goodness necessitates that this be "the best of all possible worlds," as Gottfried Leibniz put it. The Infinite's goodness (at least in the philosophical sense) says nothing whatever about the state the world has to be in. So presumably the Infinite is free to be the cause of any world that is capable of existing (i.e. any world that doesn't have a contradiction in it), not just the "best" one.

But supposing that the Infinite has revealed something about himself, it turns out that it's not quite as simple as all that. We'll see this at the end of the book.

7.6. Consciousness

[This topic is discussed in Modes of the Finite, Part 3 Section 2.]

There are actually two lines of evidence which, I think, taken together establish (though I don't believe they prove conclusively) that the Infinite is a conscious act--or at least that God (the causer) is. What I mean is that it is conceivable that the Infinite is something beyond and greater than consciousness, but that It isn't at all like what we mean by "consciousness." Certainly it isn't like consciousness as we experience it, with a stream of different forms of consciousness all united as one consciousness; we saw that this can only be the case if consciousness is finite.

But you will see the "loophole" when I give the argument. The first line of reasoning is that a conscious act is aware of itself as well as aware of whatever it is "about." In fact, it is aware of its object by being aware of itself as (in this case) not spontaneous, but as "being restricted," which immediately recognizes "being restricted by something else." When we imagine, the act is aware of itself as spontaneous (and so knows that there is no object).

The upshot of this is that an act of consciousness contains the whole of itself within itself as only part of itself--or alternatively, acts directly on (and so reacts directly to) itself. (This, by the way, is why we recognize the conscious act itself as an act, or as existing). But this is only possible if the act has no quantity, because it is both one and more than one. Hence, a conscious act cannot be limited at the quantitative level.

It is therefore reasonable to say that a spiritual act is conscious. But notice that the argument doesn't prove this; all it says is that if you're not spiritual, then you can't be conscious. That is, I can show that you can't talk if you're not alive; but it doesn't follow that if you're alive, you can talk--as is obvious from all the living beings that can't. So it's conceivable that an act could be spiritual and still not conscious.

The other argument (a different effect, but which argues to the same being, the Infinite Act) hearkens back to the discussion on the arguments from morality and design that we saw in Sections 2.4. and 2.6. (and to some extent from Section 2.3.).

The moral argument implies that it makes more sense for a human being to act inhumanly (which in itself is absurd) when it is to his disadvantage in this life to act humanly, unless there is an afterlife in which (a) he will be worse off for the inhuman conduct than any disadvantage he could suffer from acting humanly, and (b) he will be able to achieve his human goals (freely set by him) if he acts in a human way. I said that this proves that there is an afterlife, or human conduct is absurd; but I said that of itself it doesn't prove that there is an Infinite.

But we have now seen that finite existence demands that there be an Infinite which causes it to be the being which it is. Therefore, we can conclude that this Infinite does not cause human beings to be not what they are; and so somehow the state of this afterlife must, like all states of human existence, be caused to be what it is by the Infinite. Now as far as the frustration for immoral conduct is concerned, this does not necessarily imply that the Infinite "knows" in any sense the immoral choice and punishes it, since the "punishment" is just the eternal having of a goal that you eternally are trying to reach, knowing that you'll never get there because it's a contradiction in terms. But for all morally good choices that set up possible goals to reach their actual fulfillment, it would seem necessary that these goals be given to the person who chose them but didn't actually attain them before death. But since these goals depend on the finite being's free choice and therefore are not determined by the laws of the universe, it would seem that the Infinite would have to know what these choices are in order to fulfill them for the person who has chosen them. This isn't a conclusive proof, since there might be some automatic mechanism which would do this; but I can't think of any. So, even though the effect is different, the cause is something about the Infinite.

Secondly, we saw that evolution doesn't go as you would predict from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is essentially a description of what's driving it. Further, if you take what I said about life a couple of sections ago, you see that the living being is essentially less limited than the inanimate, and conscious beings are infinite with respect to quantity (i.e. totally beyond quantitative limitation). Granted, some bodies can support an organizing activity which is spiritual (if it has an energy-"reduplication"); but how can a quantitatively limited act be the cause of an effect that is infinitely beyond itself?

Thus, in order to account for the "leaps" into these essentially less limited types of existence, you have to have as a cause something greater than the physical forces of nature. But since we now know that there is an Infinite, Which is the cause of any finite being as finite, and that therefore, all the finite acts of evolution are caused, as finite acts, by the Infinite, it is reasonable to say that the Infinite is directing evolution.

But since evolution is going in a direction different from what you would expect by its natural tendency (organizing itself, advancing in freedom from limitation, etc.), then the cause of this direction, (the Infinite Act) it would seem, has to know what is actually going on in the world, so that the world can be directed by manipulation of chance toward an end that is different from what it would be doing based on the laws driving it.

Therefore, the Infinite (or God) must know what is happening in the universe, so that It can direct its evolution. Presumably, the two effects have the same causer.

But of course, there could conceivably be some automatic mechanism that does this, some force that counteracts the tendency chance would give the direction, and this "force" could be something not infinite but greater than the material universe (some finite spirit, for instance). It is, after all, a different effect from finiteness. But wouldn't that imply knowledge in the finite spirit? So the alternative is pretty far-fetched.

So then we have three lines of reasoning, none of which is conclusive in itself, but all of which only have theoretical possibilities that the facts might conceivably be explained some other way. So we have at least three scientific proofs for the consciousness of the Infinite; and the three together are all but conclusive.

Hence, we can say that the Infinite Being, as a single causer of these effects, is conscious, and somehow knows the finite beings It causes to exist.

But wait. How could the Infinite know them and not be affected by them? Simple. Their existence doesn't cause Its knowledge of their existence; Its knowledge (since It is a simple act) is the act of causing each one to exist as it actually exists; and so It knows the finite being, not by being acted on by it, but by the fact that Its own action produces it (much as a composer knows the music before it's ever played).

But there are many finite existences; and if the Infinite in some sense has an "idea" of each one individually, then doesn't that mean that (a) there is a multiplicity in the Infinite, making It finite, and (b) the limitations of the finite being are within the Infinite, making the Infinite finite?

Neither of these follow. The Infinite, as spiritual, is a "multiple unit," where each "part" is identical with the whole. The "ideas," whatever they are, are simply "reduplications" of the Infinite Act as causing this or that finite being, and don't contain the actual limitations of the finite beings--any more than my idea of my dog Luthien "contains" the body of the dog within it. It contains the knowledge of the body, but the knowledge itself is not corporeal.

Now this is not to say that we understand just how the Infinite does know finite beings, or what Its knowledge is "like." All we can say is that it makes sense to say that the Infinite is conscious, and conscious of the finite universe; and we can prove that this doesn't imply a contradiction to Its infinitude.

7.7. Selfhood

[A discussion of "self" and "person" appears in Modes of the Finite, Part 3, Section 4, Chapter 6.]

We have finally got to a point where we can stop calling the Infinite "It." Again, to discuss the issue would be rather long and complex, so let me just make the following definition:

DEFINITION: A self is a conscious being who consciously controls his own existence.

A self "contains his own existence within him" and "makes his existence be what he wants it to be." But since the Infinite is free and conscious, it immediately follows that

the Infinite is a self.

Since selves are not described (in English, at least) with the neuter pronoun, then it is no longer appropriate to call the Infinite "It." Unfortunately, there is no unequivocally neutral "personal pronoun," and so we have to make a choice between "he" and "she." But since "she" always means only the female person, and to be limited to only one sex or gender is clearly a limitation, and since "he," while it also can mean only the male person, is the one traditionally used in those cases which involve ambiguity, I will henceforth use "He" to refer to the Infinite. It is to be understood that this implies nothing of "masculinity" or analogy with males as opposed to females.

For the Christian, YHWH is literally the "Father" as opposed to the "Mother." The reason is that Christians believe that God is the one who made Mary pregnant with Jesus, and Christians (insofar as they share in the divine life) are in a literal but mystical sense "organs in the body of Jesus"--since an organ lives with the life of the whole body as well as its own life. So the Christian himself has YHWH as his father and Mary as his mother. It is not here a question of a metaphor or symbol or an analogy; God is not like a father; He is the Father.

7.7.1. Personhood

It would seem that if the Infinite is a self, then obviously He is a person; but it's not quite that simple. Persons are the subjects of rights; and so personhood implies interpersonal relations, which actually boil down to selves being affected by (or being able to be affected by) other selves. This is another one of those complicated issues that we can barely touch on.

But if this is so, then, since the Infinite cannot be affected in any way by another being, it follows that the Infinite is not, technically, a person. Most of the time, we mean by "person" a "self"; and in that loose sense, of course, the Infinite is a person.

Nonetheless, we could say this: If the Infinite as conscious "contains himself within himself" (analogously to the way we do when our conscious act is [also] conscious of itself), and if this real multiplicity which is a real identity means something, then the Infinite could be many persons--as Christians, for instance, believe. It's just that, in the strict sense, He couldn't be just one single person.


In dealing with the positive "properties" of the Infinite, we only know that the Infinite is analogous (i.e. similar somehow) to the various aspects of finite existence as existence; but we don't know how It is like the finite existence (since the "existence" can't, as we saw, be separated from its finiteness).

But since "existence" and "activity" are different words for the same thing, we can say that the Infinite is pure activity; that is, "just plain doing," unqualified, unquantified acting. And since activity is the ability to cause an effect, and this is another name for "power," then we can also say that the Infinite is omnipotent; that is, It can do whatever can be done.

The "transcendental properties of being" (which "go beyond" all categories) are in effect just different ways of considering existence; and so they will apply to the Infinite. We already saw that the Infinite is one. But the Infinite is also absolute ontological truth. Truth is the fact that my understanding of a being corresponds to what the being actually is; but "ontological truth" is the being considered as "communicating information to my mind." But it does so, of course, insofar as it exists. Therefore, in this sense, the Infinite is not only true, but truth itself (since It, as a being, is nothing but existence). By the same token, aesthetic ideas about reality come about because reality causes emotional reactions, which can be compared, and so the realities can be understood as causing these emotions. Beauty is like ontological truth, the being insofar as it "communicates" an aesthetically understandable fact about itself. But since this is true of existence as existence, it follows that the Infinite is absolute beauty. (Note that this does not mean that It is "more beautiful" than finite beauties, however, because the degree of beauty does not depend on the degree of being.)

Goodness and badness are actually the truth-relation looked at in the reverse direction. I create (with my imagination) some ideal that I then want being to live up to; if it does, I call the being "good"; if not, I call it "bad." Thus, goodness and badness have a subjective basis. Nonetheless, since I call something "bad" if it is more limited than my ideal expects it to be, and since I cannot conceive of anything "less limited" than the Infinite, it follows that the Infinite cannot "fall short" of my idea of It, and so the Infinite is absolute ontological goodness. But this implies nothing about whether finite beings are more limited than I want them to be or not; and hence the Infinite's absolute goodness is compatible with evil in the world. A being is also moral if it acts consistently with itself (and does not pretend that it is greater--less limited--than it really is); but since the Infinite is omnipotent, then nothing that It does can "exceed Its limits," no matter what harm it causes to finite existence, and so the Infinite is absolutely morally good, no matter what It does to finite existences. Hence evil in the world is compatible with a God which is omnipotent and infinitely good, in spite of the fact that what happens to us might be monstrous.

Since life is existence insofar as it is not controlled by quantity, or existence in control of itself, it follows that the less limited you are quantitatively, the more your existence fits the meaning of life. But since the Infinite is not limited at all, then the Infinite is absolute life. By the same token, there is nothing outside the Infinite or within It that could constrain Its activity in any way; and so the Infinite is absolute freedom. This means that there is no necessity for the Infinite to cause a finite world to be (or the cause would depend on its effect, which is absurd), or to cause a given type of finite universe (since the Infinite's act says nothing about the state of the universe as good or bad).

Since consciousness cannot occur unless a being is not limited quantitatively, and since the greater freedom from quantitative limitation implies a greater consciousness, then by this reasoning it is probable that the Infinite act is an act of consciousness; but this is confirmed by the fact that the Infinite must actually reward moral people by giving them the goals they wanted but could not achieve in this life, and also the Infinite must direct the evolving universe along a path that is different from the one which it would spontaneously take; and so, taking all this together, we can say that it is scientifically established that the Infinite is consciousness.

We call a conscious (which "possesses itself") and free (which "controls itself") being a self; and since the Infinite Act does this, the Infinite is a self. A self in relation to (i.e. affected by) other selves is a person. But since the Infinite is not affected by anything finite the Infinite is not in this sense a person; though if He is somehow multiple within Himself (as the act of consciousness contains itself within itself), then perhaps he could be called analogously many persons.



8.1. The Infinite's causality

I said in Chapter 1 that in general we know least of all about the causality of a cause: how it does the job of making sense out of the effect. This is even more true in this case, since we can't observe the causer. Nonetheless, there are a few things we can say about the relation between the Infinite and the world He causes to exist as finite; and so let us try.

DEFINITION: Creation is the name given to the causality of the Infinite.

Creation, then, is the way in which the Infinite makes sense out of finite existence as finite.

8.1.1. The Infinite as the only creator

Plato in the Timaeus has a "demiurge" (an "artisan") distinct from the god, who actually does the "dirty work" of making the material universe. Is this reasonable, given what we know about what the Infinite has to be like? Can He "delegate" the task of causing finite existence?

The answer is, when you think about it, obviously No. Why? Because we argued to the Infinite because we discovered that no finite existence can do the job of causing the finiteness of any other finite existence, or it could cause itself, in which case we'd have a finite existence which made sense by itself, and was not an effect, which is absurd. But if the Infinite were to "delegate" creation (the act of causing finite existence) to any other being, this being would have to be a finite existence, which we just saw is impossible. Therefore, the Infinite is the only Creator.

Note that, if God is in fact multiple persons, the act of creation might be attributable "more" to one of the persons than another. So, of what St. John calls the "Word," he says, "everything came into being through Him"; though note that he says "through Him."

8.1.2. The Infinite as Creator of everything

Since every being and every act of every being is a finite activity, and so a finite existence, it follows that the infinite is the cause of (the finiteness of) absolutely everything that happens in the world.

Be aware of this. It isn't that the Infinite causes the (complex) being (i.e. the body, the thing: you), and then the being goes ahead and acts "on its own." No finite being can perform any act at all unless the Infinite causes the act to be the finite act which it is. The reason is that this act (of talking, say) is not just an act of talking, it is also a finite act (because talking is not all there is to acting), and as a finite act it is the same as all other finite acts (it is activity-as-less-than-activity), and so you, as also a finite act, can't account for this effect about it.

8.1.3. The Infinite as not the only cause

But the fact that the Infinite is the cause of the finiteness of every finite act means only that the Infinite is the cause of this effect, which happens to be an effect that every act happens (also) to be. But there are all kinds of other ways in which that finite act can appear (by itself) to be a contradiction besides the mere fact that it is activity-as-less-than- activity.

And so any finite act will be an affected object which contains many different effects. But different effects have different causes; and so the Infinite is not the only cause of any concrete finite act; He only causes the finiteness of it: what that finite act has in common with any other finite act.

But, for instance, the fact that you are talking now when you were silent a moment ago is not the same effect as the fact that your act is finite; and so the cause of this effect is the choice you made to say the words that you are saying. Granted, that choice is also a finite act; but why it occurred then and not some other time is actually accounted for by the choice itself (since it's a self-determining act). So there are other (finite) causes in addition to the Infinite; and these are real causes, not "just pretend" causes. St. Thomas calls them "instrumental causes," but I think that the term is a bit unfortunate, as will become clearer from the discussions that follow.

8.2. The Infinite and finite causes

One might think that the finite causes aren't real because after all the Infinite causes the finite being as finite, and all it is is a finite act. So what's left to be caused? So it looks as if we should take Gottfried Leibniz's view that there's a kind of "preestablished harmony" among finite beings, and God causes them to exist "together" in such a way that when He causes your activity of talking (as a finite act), He simultaneously causes my act of hearing as a finite act just as if your act was what made me hear.

No, this misunderstands what it means to be the cause of finite existence. The Infinite causes the finite existence to exist as it actually exists. And in the case of its being an effect of some other finite being, then obviously, it is caused to exist as really dependent on that other finite being, because that is the way it actually exists. That is, when you talk and I hear you talking, then my act of hearing is caused to be the finite act of hearing you talking--or in other words, it is the finite act which would not be what it is unless you were actually talking. So there is a real dependence of it on your act of talking, which is an aspect of it as the finite act which it is; and since the Infinite causes it to be the finite act which it is, then He causes it to exist in this way: as really dependent on its finite cause.

8.2.1. The Infinite and free choices

This notion of the infinite as causing the finite act as finite and not being the only cause of anything allows us to settle a controversy which has been going on for centuries between those who want to "save" the Infinite's causality as opposed to those who want to "save" human freedom. The first group, in maintaining that the Infinite is the cause of everything (and therefore the Infinite has control of everything) tend to assert that the Infinite causes the free choice and controls it by causing the person freely to decide to do X. But, says the other side, this takes away the freedom of the choice, because the act then could not be anything other than X, and so to say that the Infinite causes it "freely" to be X is to play with words. The act is free only if there are real alternatives, and in fact there isn't one, because the act is caused to be that of doing X and nothing else. So these people say that the Infinite knows what you would do in various circumstances, and so the Infinite causes you to be in the circumstances in which He knows that you will really freely choose to do X. The first side counters with the fact that this saves the freedom of the choice, but implies that you make the choice yourself, and not under the causality of the Infinite, which is impossible.

The first part of the answer to this is that to cause does not mean to determine (that is, to make it impossible for the act to be anything other than it is). It means to make sense out of what otherwise is a contradiction. So when the Infinite causes (the finiteness) of a free choice, which is (freely) the choice to do X, this causality itself does not determine it. The act as free is self-determining (let us stipulate this; I am not going to try to prove it here). If the Infinite's causality determined it, then it would be free-and-not-free, which is a contradiction; and the Infinite removes contradictions from the finite act; He does not create them.

So the Infinite's causality results in the act's being the finite act which it is, which in this case is an act determined by itself. That is, the choice is faced with the alternatives of doing X or doing Y, and it itself determines that it's going to be the choice to do X rather than Y. (It can do this, because as a spiritual act, it contains itself within itself, and so in some sense "acts on" itself.) So the Infinite causes the act to be the act that freely chooses X over Y, which is the act which it is.

But how does this save the control over the act that the Infinite has? Simple. If the Infinite chooses not to cause the act, the act doesn't happen. Just as if I knock you out so that you are unconscious, you can't choose something I don't want you to choose, so the Infinite can "disable" any free choice He wants not to happen simply by not actively causing that act to exist. As to positive control, the Infinite can guarantee that you perform a given choice in a given situation by the fact that His eternal knowledge knows what you will (in fact) freely choose in a given situation, and so (as the "freedom savers" say) He causes the situation in which He causes the choice you freely make in that situation.

So the choice is free, and dependent for what it is upon the (finite) choice itself (or, if you will, upon the person choosing); and yet the act, while free, is still under the absolute control of the Infinite.

And it follows from this that nothing can happen in the universe that the Infinite "can't prevent" or that the Infinite doesn't actively cause.

8.2.2. Predestination

This notion of the Infinite's causality and control which does not of itself determine what goes on in the finite universe allows us also to solve the problem of "predestination." Here, it is alleged, God has an "eternal plan" for the universe and every being and every act within it; and the universe unfolds exactly according to that plan. Therefore, those who go to hell were created, as it were, as "hell-bent," and if they go there freely, this going to hell and suffering was still predestined by God, and there's nothing they can do about it. It's going to happen no matter what.

This misunderstands several things. First of all, the "pre" of "predestination" is a misrepresentation of eternity. The Infinite's "plan" for the universe is, of course, identical with His eternal knowledge of the universe He eternally creates the universe to be what it actually is--but this "plan" in no sense predates the universe. The Infinite does not now know what is going to happen tomorrow; nor will he know it tomorrow, nor will He know it after tomorrow. All those are time-words. The Infinite does not "plan" something to happen before it happens or (since His "planning" it and His actually causing it are one and the same act, since He is simple) it would happen before it happens. Nor does He "plan" it at the time it happens, even though it happens at the time it happens; He causes it eternally, that is to say, timelessly.

Of course, he eternally causes to happen what happens next week, and that hasn't happened yet. So what? He eternally causes to happen what happened last week, and that doesn't exist any more. The time-tag on an event is simply a relation it has with other events, and is not something real in itself. So the fact that the future (which will exist) does not exist yet doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Obviously, it is what it is--which means that (from our point of view) it will be what it will be; but from the point of view of its contemporaries, it is what it (now) is, and from the point of view of those who come later, it was what it was. But the event itself is no different from itself because it looks different from these different points of view. So the Infinite doesn't "pre-cause" the event "from way back when in eternity." He cause the event to exist as it exists, and that includes the time at which it exists. The time is a property of it, not a "something" it exists "in."

So you are eternally caused to be in hell if in fact you choose to damn yourself; but that doesn't mean that from the moment you were born, you were "predestined" for hell, because there is no "pre" or "destination" to the causality at all. You choose what you freely choose and it has the consequences you are responsible for. And these free choices are caused as the finite acts they are, including the consequences. So there's plenty you can do if you don't want to be in hell; avoid the choices that put you there; it is you, not the Infinite, who specify what those choices are, in spite of the Infinite's causality and control.

8.2.3. The "permissive will of God"

Of course, what follows from what I have said is that the finite universe and every aspect of it is just exactly as the Infinite wants it to be. Since He must actively cause it to be what it is, then obviously (given that his causal act is free), He must actively want it to be as He causes it to be, or He wouldn't cause it to be this way--in which case, it wouldn't happen.

That is, there is no meaning to the idea that a finite being can do something that the Infinite would "rather he not do" and merely "permits" him to do. If the Infinite didn't actively cooperate with the act, then it wouldn't happen.

Since we are active and in control over (the specification of) our acts, then we want to believe that there is some sense in which we can act without the Infinite's control, or even against the Infinite's control: that we can do something that He doesn't want us to do. But we can't. Even if we blaspheme against Him, he must actively cause that activity as the free choice to rebel against Him.

But notice, in this connection, that, though the act of rebellion is objectively an offense against the Infinite (since it is a--futile--attempt to get oneself at least in one act out of his absolute control, and so contradicts the real relation of absolute dependence we have on Him), the Infinite is not offended by the act of rebellion. Why? Because the Infinite cannot be affected in any way by anything any finite being does (or the cause would be dependent on its effect, which is absurd, as we saw).

So it doesn't make any difference to the Infinite what you do with your choices. Put it this way: He creates you free, which means that you can make yourself into whatever you would like--with this exception: if you knowingly choose to make yourself into a contradiction, you know you can't achieve your goal, and so what you're choosing is to frustrate yourself. Since this act of self-frustration is a possible act, then if you want to do it, the Infinite, Who causes you to be free, causes this act also as dependent on your stupid and self-defeating choice itself. Why not? If you know what you're doing and want to do it to yourself, why should He "want" you to choose to be something you don't want to be--given that He creates you to be whatever you want to be, insofar as that is in principle possible.

So, no, the Infinite does not "permit" the act of rebellion; He actively causes it as the finite act which it is, as dependent on your free choice and as self-frustrating; because that is what you want. There is no sense in which He would "rather" you didn't do this act.

8.2.4. The Infinite and sin

"But wait a minute, now!" you exclaim. "You can't be saying that the Infinite wants me to sin! There are all kinds of Scripture passages that directly contradict this." First of all, remember that we are doing philosophy here, not Scriptural exegesis. But secondly, what I have said is compatible with what is in Scripture, as it happens.

The idea is this: The Infinite creates me with certain limitations. Obviously, if I am finite, my existence has to be limited. But if I am free, then I can choose to be whatever I want to be. But the choice in itself is absolutely unrestricted; I could, if I wanted, choose to be the Infinite, though (as a finite being) it is obviously impossible for me to be the Infinite.

Hence, the Infinite's commands are actually nothing but warnings that I have certain limitations (for us humans, our genetic structure) that I can do nothing about, and which prevent me actually from being certain things. I cannot be super-human; and so I can't actually have human rights that other humans don't have. For instance, I can't be the only one who has a right to life; and if I kill someone, I am acting as if I were the only one who had a right to live. So these commandments are simply stating the human limitations I have, and informing me that if I try to go beyond these limits, I will necessarily fail, because what I want to be is an "inhuman human," and that is a contradiction in terms.

But since my choice is spiritual and continues to exist after death, this information is also a warning that if I make such a choice (which is self-frustrating, because it chooses to be something in principle impossible), then the choice carries over to eternity, and so I will eternally be striving after this goal, knowing that I never can have it--or I will be eternally frustrated. This is hell.

Now all of this, which looks like a set of rules put down by a God who wants me to do certain things and wants me not to do others, is perfectly compatible with the Infinite Who is not bothered in any way by my deliberate choice to do what is self-frustrating.

That is, He doesn't want me to make the choice if I don't want to make it; but He creates the choice as free; and so He wants me to make it if I want to make it. He tells me, in other words, "These are the choices that condemn you to eternal frustration; but if, knowing this, you want to make them anyway, and so want to be eternally frustrated, fine--I'll help. You are to be whatever you want to be."

So the Infinite actively causes the sinful choice as the finite act which it is. Of course, He doesn't cause the sin as such, since as such it is simply the pretense that things aren't what they really are, and he causes (finite) reality, not "pretending." If he caused the pretense, then it would exist and wouldn't be a pretense. The pretense is just the relation between what exists and this (impossible) goal that you would like to exist but know can't. Obviously a relation between something real and something merely imaginary is not something real, and so is not "caused" as such. The choice and the act of imagining are caused to be what they are; but the imaginary as "real" is not caused--because it isn't real.

So in one sense, you can say that the Infinite caused the sin(ful act) you committed; but that does not mean that the Infinite in any sense made you sin or "wanted" the sin itself.

8.3. Love

"But God loves me!" you wail. "In spite of the sense of 'goodness' you have, doesn't the love God has for me imply that He couldn't allow me to suffer for no reason--or even send me to hell"? Unfortunately, the love God has for you doesn't mean that your life will be a bed of roses.

There is, of course, a sense of "love" that is the same as "affection," when we get that warm feeling being with someone we care about. Animals, especially dogs, "love" in this sense. (I will ignore the sense of "love" that means nothing but the sexual urge.) But "love" in this sense is only indulging in gratifying your own emotions, and sometimes this can even be done involving what is objectively damaging to the one you "love." I know a woman who once had a great affection for a diabetic, who constantly craved sweets, which "out of love" she would supply to him. It made her feel good; but it did him harm. So this is a perverse sense of "love," and obviously, since the Infinite can't be affected by anything finite, the Infinite has no affection.

But love is true love when a person deliberately acts for someone else's benefit rather than his own. So the criterion of whether an act is an act of love or not has nothing to do with feelings; it is who benefits from the act: if it is the self, it is an act of selfishness; if it is another, it is an act of love.

But since (a) the Infinite has absolutely nothing to gain from creating the world or causing any finite being to be what it is (and of course absolutely nothing to lose either), and (b) any existence, even the most lowly, is greater than non-existence, and so is in some sense a "benefit" for the creature, then it follows that the Infinite's act of causing any finite being is an act of absolute love.

But again, this love, while absolute, is quite compatible with causing a man to be born blind, deaf, crippled, and deformed, and in pain throughout his life. He might consider that he is better off dead, but that is according to his standards; objectively, his existence is greater than nothing at all, and so there has been a gain, not a loss, in the fact that he exists and is not nothing.

It's not very comforting, but the horrible life of this person is compatible with the absolute love of the Infinite for him. And again, this is not trumping up some weirdo meaning for "love" so that it will fit what we know of the Infinite; it is just that when you strip the term down to its essentials, you find that it applies to the Infinite's relation to the universe, no matter what state the universe is in.

8.3.1. Why the Infinite creates; His will for His world

But if what happens in the world makes absolutely no difference to the Infinite (and it can't make any difference, since then He would be affected by it), and if He didn't have to create a world (since if He had to, He'd be dependent on it), then why on earth did he bother to create in the first place--or rather, in the eternal place? What is His will for this world He creates?

To answer this, we must realize that the Infinite has and can have no purpose in our sense of the term for anything He does. For us, a purpose is a goal, a different condition that we are not now in but that we intend (by changing) later to be in. A purpose implies incompleteness in one who has it and has not yet achieved it. Even when you make something, your purpose is to be the one who produced this thing.

Still, this does not mean that the act of creating is irrational. While the Infinite gains nothing and loses nothing by the fact that His act actually results in finite beings (which he knows as resulting from His act, as we saw in discussing His consciousness), it is still the case that it is consistent with the Infinite Act that it result in finite beings. So there is no irrationality in creating (i.e. nothing contradictory about it), even though there is no particular reason why the Infinite should create (which in the last analysis would be a benefit to Him).

So the act of creating is neither irrational nor does it have a reason other than that it can be done. So, as I said, the answer to the question of why the Infinite creates the universe is and must be, Why not? That, in fact, is what you mean by an act of absolute love. It is a transrational act, not an irrational one, but not, strictly speaking, a rational one. The "motive," if you will, for creating is the Infinite's recognition that His act can result in finite beings, or is His own nature. But since this neither enhances nor diminishes Him, then the choice is absolutely free.

Now then, since His knowledge of what is going on in the world is also His act of causing those finite acts, it follows that the Infinite's will for what happens in the world is just exactly what happens in the world. It could not be otherwise. Absolutely nothing in the world can "thwart" his will, because even the free choices of creatures who rebel against him, as I said, are actively caused by the Infinite. He wills the creatures to be free and to do with themselves what they please (within the limits of non-contradiction); and so He causes them to do what they will to do, even when that is an act of rebellion against Himself--and is perfectly happy with it. They are doing just exactly what He wants, because what He wants is that they do what they want. What "stake" has He in what they do?

--As I said earlier, the God that emerges from this investigation is probably very different from the God you thought you believe in. If you say, "But I can't believe in a God like that!" then (a) if you believe in a different kind of God, then how do you escape believing in something positively self-contradictory in some way or other? and (b) you are not asked to believe in this God; you concluded to His existence; and if you claim that He doesn't exist, it is incumbent upon you to refute the argument, not just turn aside and say, "Well, I don't agree." You condemn yourself to irrationality if you do that.


Creation is the name for the causality of the Infinite: the relation between Him and the finite beings He causes. The Infinite is the only creator, since if he "delegated" the act, it would have to be to a finite being, which would then be a finite existence that caused existence to be finite, which is impossible. And since everything but the Infinite is finite existence, then the Infinite is the cause of everything. But since He only causes the effect of the fact that the being in question is a finite existence, and there are other effects, the Infinite is not the only cause of anything.

The Infinite causes finite beings to exist as they actually exist; and so a finite being which exists as dependent on finite beings for various aspects of itself is caused to exist as dependent in this way. So finite causes are real causes. Free choices are determined by themselves, and so they are caused as self-determining. "To cause" means "to remove the contradiction in," and does not necessarily mean "to determine," so there is no contradiction here. The Infinite has control over free choices in the sense that He could withhold His causality over them (as finite acts) and then they couldn't happen; and He can manipulate the circumstances so that any free choice He wants will in fact freely be made by the creature. But the choice remains free, and the creature, not the Infinite, is responsible for it (because the creature specified which free act it was).

We are not predestined by the Infinite, because the Infinite's "plan" (which is identical with His causal act) does not happen before our choice (nor during nor after); nor are we predestined because the specification of the choice was due to us, not the Infinite. The Infinite, therefore, does not allow acts that he would "rather not" have happen; he actively causes every act that happens, and so it happens just exactly as He "wants" it to happen. Even rebellions and sins, as finite acts are actively caused by the Infinite, since they can't occur unless He does so. The Infinite commands us not to sin in the sense that He informs us that certain acts (the inhuman ones) are self-frustrating, and that our choices (and their frustrations) do not end with death. But since He can't be affected by anything we do, our sinning and taking the consequences of it does not bother Him in the least.

The Infinite loves the finite beings He creates in that He has nothing to gain (or lose) from their existing in the way they exist; and the fact that they exist is greater than nothing, and so is a benefit to the creature, not the Creator. This, however, is true no matter what condition they are in, so the Infinite's love is compatible with suffering and pain in the creatures He creates. Then why does He create? Because His existence is capable of causing finite beings, not because of any benefit He gets from creating. And His will for his creatures is just exactly what happens to them, since if it were different, then their existence would be different.


[This whole issue is treated at considerable length in The Problem of Evil and the Kingdom.]

Just a brief word for the Christian, who is by now saying, "But then why did He become man and die for us, if His love is for practical purposes indifference?" And if He has revealed himself as benevolent and loving in more than this philosophical sense, how is this compatible with the Infinite?

[This subject is treated at length in The Problem of Evil and the Kingdom]

Let me sketch what I think in this way: Yes, YHWH, as causer, has a love closer to our meaning of "benevolence" than we can argue to from finite reality as an effect--but it is compatible with it. Since God is eternal, and since the universe as involving man was to be in man's control, the evolution of the universe before man was to be made dependent on the first man's choice as to what kind of (mammalian) body he would have and pass on to his descendants. He was given, in other words, limitations--which he refused to accept. His body, then, as a punishment for his rebellion, got "free" of total domination by his spirit, and eventually escaped it altogether, and instead of locking up his energy at the end of his development and living stably forever, he was to die. And all the world which was under his control also evolved with death and suffering as part of it. So yes, the dinosaurs were "punished" because of the sin of Adam.

But since human beings were not now masters over even their own (sensory) minds, then their whole personality was not wrapped up in any choice they made (as it is with angels and even Adam before the sin); and so it was possible for their minds to change without the necessity of completely destroying them--though they would have to reject the self they had thus created for themselves and become someone in part different. So a redemption from sin was possible.

In view of this YHWH freely chose to become man in Jesus and enter time, to give people a chance to restore the state Adam would have been in had he not rebelled: a state with no death, suffering, or evil, in which the lion would literally eat hay like the ox and the wolf would be a companion of the lamb, and so on. The whole (human-affected) universe would be transformed. The condition for this was that the Chosen People first, and everyone else afterwards, accept Jesus as their King and submit to His rule.

They refused, in the person of the leaders of the Chosen People and in Pontius Pilate, the representative of the whole Gentile world. The result of this second rebellion was that the redemption would not eradicate suffering and death from the world, but each person was to work out his redemption through uniting with Jesus (who is the human living with God's life), specifically with His crucifixion--and afterwards, share with Him his resurrection from the dead and His eternal life. But this punishment carried with it not only the fulfillment of all the moral goals of the people who had been redeemed from their sins, but also a sharing in the life of YHWH, which is, of course the Infinite Thought. That is, our minds, which are only in the abstract capable of thinking without limit (in that there is no prior limit to what we can think about), but in the concrete must limit our consciousness to some definite (i.e. finite) act, can be "expanded" by a miracle to realize (also) this infinite potential we have. And of course, he who thinks the Infinite Thought is "one and the same thing" as YHWH himself.

So the "punishment" for our dual rebellion, in the providence of God is that we not only fulfill our legitimate ambitions, but are actually divinized in the process; we retain our finite consciousness as one of the "duplications" of the Infinite Act that we are united with; and (by "adoption" instead of like Jesus by nature) we are "cells" in the body Who is the God-Man.

And, when the number of the chosen is complete, the restoration of the physical universe into a state of absolute equilibrium will occur; and we will live forever in the world as we have chosen to make it for our eternal selves.

At any rate, that is why I think there actually is suffering and death and disfigurement and destruction in the world, and yet there is a good God ("good" in our sense too) who creates it and manipulates it and watches over it. There is nothing to worry about; everything will be by your standards good; but because of human perversity, this good comes about only through the purging and purification of the evil in our perverse choices. God is both just and benevolent.

--Now all of this, of course, turns on whether it is a fact that Jesus claimed to be God Almighty, and did things that only God could do to back up the claim; and especially whether in fact he came back to life as he claimed he would. And looking at the evidence and seeing if it supports this is, as they say, "a whole 'nother story."

I will grant that, from a non-Christian point of view, it is foolishness. But I have one final remark: I personally see no other way to make actual sense out of the evil in the world except something like this "punishment" scenario. You can accept the evil and show that it is compatible with an Infinite; and you can show that the evil is "evil" only from the point of view of your standards, which are always to some extent arbitrary. But let's face it, they're not totally arbitrary; it may be that we can't absolutely say that people "ought not" to be born blind (since blind humans can exist); but it still doesn't really make sense for such people to have eyes that don't function. Nor does it make sense to say that we will ultimately fulfill our ambitions, and yet all the roadblocks we see in this life are constantly put in front of us.

In fact, I think that many people reject Christianity out of hand because it is "too good to be true." Since everything seems to fall into place to make the whole universe, including its evil, make sense, it looks too much like an ad hoc solution based on wishful thinking. But that, it seems to me, is a kind of "anti-wishful" thinking. The evidence seems to support the fantastic things claimed about Jesus; and if the truth about Jesus makes everything make sense, why should this be an argument against it?

But obviously a complete excursus on this would take volumes, and I think I should stop here.