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The Necessity of God

The Necessity of God

Postby postodave » 08 Mar 2009, 14:58

This is one of those purely philosophical things some people are going to find tedious. It arises as so many things do from one of my discussions with Mitch. Mitch had identified God's necessity with his self-existence. I said these were not identical that to say a thing is self existent is to say it did not depend on anything else for its existence while to say a thing exists necessarily is to say it could not have not existed. Mitch agreed that these were logically distinct but in the case of God tended to be the same. He went on to point out that whereas some atheists would say matter is self existent they would not say it existed necessarily whereas Christians would argue that God is both necessary and self existent though he wanted to distinguish the claim that God's existence is necessary from the argument for God from necessary existence as used by say Aquinas. Now while agreeing that God is not contingent I still wanted to fight shy of saying his existence is necessary. So why do I do this? Well it seems to me the term non-contingent can only be applied to God apophatically as a denial of contingency and not as a positive affirmation of his necessity. The reason for saying this is that normally when we talk of something being necessary we can say what kind of law entails that necessity. A necessary proposition is made necessary by the laws of logic, a sum has a necessary result because of the laws of number. It is necessary for an organism to eat or die because of the laws of biology and one can have physical and chemical and even ethical necessities but always there is a law involved. But what kind of law can God himself be subject to. He is not logically necessary because to deny there is a God is logically possible even if one sees the laws of logic as being self existent whether as part of God's being or not. The conclusion that God exists necessarily can only be drawn by applying the law of excluded middle to God's own being and taking it as an inference from his not being contingent but we are talking about a type of necessity that is absolutely unlike any other necessity we know and which can be inferred only by negation hence I would question if this is necessity at all in any meaningful sense.

Would anyone like to comment on that?
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Re: The Necessity of God

Postby Robert » 11 Mar 2009, 20:12

I absolutely agree. I find that contingency and necessity as strictly applied to the reason for one's existence is clearly distinct from existence itself. As to how I came about for instance, whether it was something in my own nature to exist, which would imply I am without a beginning, or something else brought me about assumes that I do indeed exist. This sort of reasoning is subsequent to establishing existence. First, before one can state the manner in which a being exists-i.e. from whence it came or whether it does not need a beginning and its reason for its existence is in itself-one must demonstrate that it exists.

Furthermore, I find it hard to associate necessity of being-as it pertains to empirical necessity- with existence or necessity a priori. For that is the real debate. After all, God is not the sort of being which is empirically verifiable-or at least as far as I can tell. Certainly He has empirical features-I felt Him when I prayed. But an exhaustive catalogue of empirical features that services to fully capture Him is not in the nature of the Divine. Rather, what is known of Him more comfortably falls into the category of a priori reasoning. As such, necessity of existence truly precedes necessity of empirical being. So, demonstrating that God's reson for existence is in Himself because it is in His nature to exist is only good after one has established that He does exist and this is the sort of nature divinity possesses.

However, I believe that 'proving' God, though such a task is one that is humbly impossible in many respects, is similiar to the necessity argument. Consider Anselm's ontological argument. He finds that it is in God's nature to exist. This sounds identical to the necessity argument except in one respect; this has nothing to do with proving God's nature but His existence. It is proving that God exists by starting with the deduction that it is in His nature. The necessity argument seeks to prove this is the sort of nature God has. You see the difference?
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Re: The Necessity of God

Postby postodave » 14 Mar 2009, 13:26

Robert wrote:I absolutely agree. I find that contingency and necessity as strictly applied to the reason for one's existence is clearly distinct from existence itself. As to how I came about for instance, whether it was something in my own nature to exist, which would imply I am without a beginning, or something else brought me about assumes that I do indeed exist. This sort of reasoning is subsequent to establishing existence. First, before one can state the manner in which a being exists-i.e. from whence it came or whether it does not need a beginning and its reason for its existence is in itself-one must demonstrate that it exists.

I think I would want to put this quite differently. A religious belief is a belief in something as that on which all else depends and it is our experience of that thing which makes it seem that way to us. Hence knowing God exists and knowing that he is that self existent on which all else depends are part of the one religious experience. I was question whether this self existence can really be understood under any known category of necessity.
Robert wrote:Furthermore, I find it hard to associate necessity of being-as it pertains to empirical necessity- with existence or necessity a priori. For that is the real debate. After all, God is not the sort of being which is empirically verifiable-or at least as far as I can tell. Certainly He has empirical features-I felt Him when I prayed. But an exhaustive catalogue of empirical features that services to fully capture Him is not in the nature of the Divine. Rather, what is known of Him more comfortably falls into the category of a priori reasoning. As such, necessity of existence truly precedes necessity of empirical being. So, demonstrating that God's reson for existence is in Himself because it is in His nature to exist is only good after one has established that He does exist and this is the sort of nature divinity possesses.

I am just not persuaded that we can establish, except by negation, that God's existence is necessary
Robert wrote:However, I believe that 'proving' God, though such a task is one that is humbly impossible in many respects, is similiar to the necessity argument. Consider Anselm's ontological argument. He finds that it is in God's nature to exist. This sounds identical to the necessity argument except in one respect; this has nothing to do with proving God's nature but His existence. It is proving that God exists by starting with the deduction that it is in His nature. The necessity argument seeks to prove this is the sort of nature God has. You see the difference?

I think the comparison of the two arguments is interesting. What they have in common is an assumption that we can make deductions about what God's nature must be; that is to say both arguments assume that in himself God is a logically possible object. They then strive to Go beyond this and prove that God's existence is not only possible but necessary and in so doing presuppose that creational categories must apply to God.
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But the lamb ran away with the crown
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Re: The Necessity of God

Postby friendofbill » 14 Mar 2009, 13:54

From another perspective, is the orignal question perhaps based on an already false assumption, to wit, that God is a "which" or a "thing" about Which/Whom assertions can be made and regarding Whose being conclusions can be drawn? I think (JMO) that that is the direction you were pointing, Dave. Another excellent statement of the same idea is that of Thomas Merton:

In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is. He may or may not mercifully realize that, after all, this is a great gain, because "God is not a "what," not a "thing." That is precisely one of the essential characteristics of contemplative experience. It sees that there is no "what" that can be called God. There is "no such thing" as God because God is neither a "what" nor a "thing," but a pure "Who." He is the "Thou" before whom our innermost "I" springs into awareness. He is the I AM before Whom with our own most personal an inalienable voice we echo "I am."
(Italics his)

So ultimately we cannot make statements about God; we can make statements only about our perception of God, which are in fact statements about ourselves. Merton observes that "this should not be taken to mean that man has no valid concept of the divine nature. Yet in contemplation abstract notions of the divine essence no longer play an important part since they are replaced by a concrete intuition, based on love, of God as a person..."

One is reminded of the response of Aquinas, asked to write another book after having had an intense mystical experience: "I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writing seem as straw." Perhaps, then, the only possible response to such an experience is to be silent. To the mystic, the question "Is the existence of God necessary?" makes no more sense thatn the question "Does my mother exist, and is her existence necessary?" If we knew Who walks beside us on the way that we are walking, the question would never occur.

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Re: The Necessity of God

Postby postodave » 14 Mar 2009, 22:38

I'll drink to that!
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
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Re: The Necessity of God

Postby agingjb » 15 Mar 2009, 22:30

I'd guess that necessity is something that applies to the truth of a proposition rather than to an entity (or even to a proposition as such).

Then again, formal modal logic has a pretty much unlimited number of ways of characterising necessity, all slightly different.
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