First Principles and God’s Existence

This argument has been put forth by Norman L. Geisler, a classical apologist and one of the few Protestant scholars who specializes in Thomistic thought. By the way, I don’t think God expects people to master this argument in order to find Him. I know the average person does not have the time to think through such a sophisticated apologetic.

Anyway, let’s move forward. First principles are the foundation of knowledge. Without them nothing could be known. Even coherentism uses the first principle of noncontradiction to test the coherence of its system. Realism affirms that first principles apply to the real world. First principles undeniably apply to reality. The very denial that first principles apply to reality uses first principles in the denial.  Without basic first principles of reality, nothing can be known. Everything we know about reality is known by them. Twelve basic first principles can be set forth. 1.     Being Is (B is) = The Principle of Existence. 2.     Being Is Being (B is B) = The Principle of Identity. 3.     Being Is Not Nonbeing (B is Not Non-B) = The Principle of Noncontradiction. 4.     Either Being or Nonbeing (Either B or Non-B) = The Principle of the Excluded Middle. 5.     Nonbeing Cannot Cause Being (Non-B > B) = The Principle of Causality. 6.     Contingent Being Cannot Cause Contingent Being (Bc > Bc) = The Principle of Contingency (or Dependency). 7.     Only Necessary Being Can Cause a Contingent Being (Bn → Bc) = The Positive Principle of Modality. 8.     Necessary Being Cannot Cause a Necessary Being (Bn > Bn) = The Negative Principle of Modality. 9.     Every Contingent Being Is Caused by a Necessary Being (Bn → Bc) = The Principle of Existential Causality. 10.     Necessary Being exists = Principle of Existential Necessity (Bn exists). 11.     Contingent being exists = Principle of Existential Contingency (Bc exists). 12.     Necessary Being is similar to similar contingent being(s) it causes = Principle of Analogy (Bn — similar → Bc)

Given these principles of being, one can know many things about reality; they relate thought and thing. Knowing is based in being. By these principles, one can even prove the existence of God as follows:

1.  Something exists (e.g., I do) (no. 1). 2. I am a contingent being (no. 11). 3.  Nothing cannot cause something (no. 5). 4.  Only a Necessary Being can cause a contingent being (no. 7). 5. Therefore, I am caused to exist by a Necessary Being (follows from nos. 1–4). 6. But I am a personal, rational, and moral kind of being (since I engage in these kinds of activities). 7. Therefore, this Necessary Being must be a personal, rational, and moral kind of being, since I am similar to him by the Principle of Analogy (no. 12). 8. But a Necessary Being cannot be contingent (i.e., not-necessary) in its being which would be a contradiction (no. 3). 9. Therefore, this Necessary Being is personal, rational, and moral in a necessary way, not in a contingent way. 10. This Necessary Being is also eternal, uncaused, unchanging, unlimited, and one, since a Necessary Being cannot come to be, be caused by another, undergo change, be limited by any possibility of what it could be (a Necessary Being has no possibility to be other than it is), or to be more than one Being (since there cannot be two infinite beings). 11. Therefore, one necessary, eternal, uncaused, unlimited (= infinite), rational, personal, and moral being exists. 12.  Such a Being is appropriately called “God” in the theistic sense, because he possesses all the essential characteristics of a theistic God. 13.  Therefore, the theistic God exists.

Sources: Geisler, N. L. (1999). BECA: Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

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One thought on “First Principles and God’s Existence

  1. Bill G. October 20, 2013 / 9:40 pm

    Not a good argument. Right off the bat I see serious flaws in the “first principles”. I knew this would not end good the minute I saw that the first principle is “Being is” and the second is “Being is being.” But things start to really go off the tracks with principle 7; only necessary being can cause a contingent being. This is clearly unsupported; while it is true that a contingent being can’t cause a necessary, there is no reason why a contingent being can’t be the cause of other contingent beings. Furthermore, the principle contains an unsupported implicit premise, that an uncaused being is a necessary being. One property of necessary being would be that it must exist. But the fact that something is uncaused does not mean that its existence is necessary. In principle, one can imagine an uncaused thing which causes a contingent thing to exist, which subsequently destroys the uncaused thing. That which can cease to exist is not necessary.

    Principle 9 is wrong also because the (not necessarily direct) cause of all contingent beings is (or was) really just an uncaused being, not necessarily a necessary being.

    Principle 12 is also suspicious because it’s just a tautology. Necessary being is similar to similar contingent beings it causes? True, but trivial; this is just saying it’s similar to things that are similar to it. [I suspect that is going to be used somewhere to try to substantiate something dubious.]

    Choice of the word “being” is suspicious here, because it stacks the deck in favor of a conclusion favorable to theism by referring to things which exist fundamentally as “beings” rather than simply “things”. The purpose of this is to make the eventual unsupported leap (that arguments like this always make) from talking about a necessary thing to a necessary conscious, living entity seem less strained.

    Now I will follow the argument step by step and see what mischief is afoot here…

    1. Something exists (e.g., I do) (no. 1). – Agreed

    2. I am a contingent being (no. 11). – Agreed

    3. Nothing cannot cause something (no. 5). – Agreed

    4. Only a Necessary Being can cause a contingent being (no. 7). – WRONG: There is no reason a contingent bring cannot cause another contingent being. A contingent being cannot cause a necessary or uncaused being but it certainly can cause another contingent being. This is a faulty premise. One can perhaps try to salvage it by saying that it is not possible for all contingent beings that ever existed to have been caused by other contingent beings. You could also say that caused beings imply the existence, at least at one point in time, of an uncaused being. But the argument has already gone off the rails here but let’s see where it goes nonetheless…

    5. Therefore, I am caused to exist by a Necessary Being (follows from nos. 1–4). WRONG: You are caused to exist directly or indirectly by an uncaused thing, but that uncaused thing isn’t necessarily necessary and might not have even been in existence any more at the time you were caused.

    6. But I am a personal, rational, and moral kind of being (since I engage in these kinds of activities). [Uh-oh, obviously something sneaky is around the bend (my BS meter is smoking). Never mind that we have not established what exactly a “moral” being would necessarily be like. I sense we’re about to make a HUGE leap…]

    7. Therefore, this Necessary Being must be a personal, rational, and moral kind of being, since I am similar to him by the Principle of Analogy (no. 12). WRONG: Here is where, as predicted, the suspiciously meaningless principle 12 is being used to try to substantiate something dubious. It does not follow from the fact that you are a personal, rational, and moral being that the (not necessarily) necessary being that is your (direct or indirect) cause has these qualities. Principle 12 just states, tautologically, that “Necessary Being is similar to similar contingent being(s) it causes”, it doesn’t say that the things it causes must be similar to it (and if it did, it would require it’s own argument to substantiate).

    8. But a Necessary Being cannot be contingent (i.e., not-necessary) in its being which would be a contradiction (no. 3). [Ever notice how the most strained leaps in bad arguments often begin with “But”? Step 8 here is a meaningless non-sequitur. I sense the existence of god is about to be declared established (and they say you can’t create something from nothing!)]

    9. Therefore, this Necessary Being is personal, rational, and moral in a necessary way, not in a contingent way. WRONG: You haven’t even established that this being is necessarily necessary, much less personal, rational, and “moral in a necessary way” (whatever that means).

    10. This Necessary Being is also eternal, uncaused, unchanging, unlimited, and one, since a Necessary Being cannot come to be, be caused by another, undergo change, be limited by any possibility of what it could be (a Necessary Being has no possibility to be other than it is), or to be more than one Being (since there cannot be two infinite beings). WRONG: See my response to step 9 above; the same applies.

    11. Therefore, one necessary, eternal, uncaused, unlimited (= infinite), rational, personal, and moral being exists. WRONG: Not even close. See my rebuttal to step 9. Unlimited and infinite are not the sane, by the way. [Get ready for a series of redundant QED declarations…]

    12. Such a Being is appropriately called “God” in the theistic sense, because he possesses all the essential characteristics of a theistic God. – SIGH: A being possessing the characteristics of step 11 might perhaps reasonably be called “God” in the theistic sense (even though we nowhere here address what is meant by “moral”), but no such being has been established here.

    13. Therefore, the theistic God exists – Sorry, not even close.

    Some final comments:

    This argument just isn’t very well thought through. It is basically a form of argument quote common in apologetics circles, sometimes quite effectively (if ultimately unpersuasive), though that is certainly not the case here. The basic strategy is to argue that (a) since something can’t come from nothing, an uncaused eternal thing must exist, and that (b) this uncaused eternal thing is the personal god of theism. The problem with all such arguments, and where they all fail (some more spectacularly than others) is in the attempt to equate (a) with (b).

    Unlike many non-theists who get involved in these sort of arguments, I think that (a) is actually on pretty firm ground. I do think that there must have always been “something”, because true “nothingness” does not and cannot exist. But there is no compelling arguments or evidence to support equating this “eternal something” with the personal creator god of theism of even some generic sort, much less with “the god of Abraham” specifically.

    Curiously, one of the few things many atheists and theists agree on (often with realizing it) is the absurd notion that “nothingness” can exist. Theists require it in order to make sense of the concept of “creation ex nihilo”. If god is to be said to be the reason why there is something rather than nothing (i.e. because “He” created “everything”, ex-nihilo, otherwise there would “be nothing”).

    This of course requires overlooking the 900 pound gorilla in the room, namely, that if a god existed prior to and outside of ” the universe”, there was already something – something far more extraordinary and interesting than the universe god is intended to “explain”. If something exists, a universe already exists, even if it at one point consisted of nothing but god. An “absolute creator”, a creator of “everything” ex-nihilo, is incoherent and a logical impossibility. In the end we are still just accepting the existence of a logically necessary eternal universe, but in the case of theism personalizing the early universe and attributing human, and superhuman powers to it.

    Atheist ideology often requires a similarly irrational insistence that “nothingness” can somehow exist, because they presumably find the notion of an eternal universe, even a godless one, uncomfortably ‘theistic’. This leads to a surprisingly wide and uncritical acceptance of absurd ideas such as the distinction between “philosophical nothing”, which cannot exist, and “scientific nothing”, a sort of “minimal something” which can exist and typically is equated with the quantum vacuum of space (“as nothing as you can get”). But a quantum vacuum is SOMETHING. It has properties, takes up space (just about all,of it, actually). “Nothingness” is like pregnancy; either it is or it isn’t. The most minimal something possible is still SOMETHING, and it’s absurd to try to argue otherwise.

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