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#276 Is God a Being in the Same Sense that We Are?

July 29, 2012

Do you accept the view traditionally ascribed to Duns Scotus: namely, the univocity of being (pertaining to both God and creatures)? It seems like your interactions with atheists presuppose the ability to reason on a sort of neutral plane of, say, "truth" or "reality."

If so, what do you think about the popular critique of this view as onto-theology? If God and creatures "are" in the same way and in the same respect, then God is just another being among others. The philosophical category of being subsumes even God under its all-encompassing ontological jurisdiction, thereby problematizing his transcendence.



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Dr. craig’s response


Yes, Joshua, I agree wholeheartedly with Scotus that there is a univocal concept of being which applies to both God and creatures. One of the aspects of Thomas Aquinas’ thought that I find most disturbing is his claim that we can speak of God only in analogical terms. Without univocity of meaning, we are left with agnosticism about the nature of God, able to say only what God is not, not what He is. Scotus rightly saw that when we say that God is or exists, we are using the term in the same sense in which we say that a man is or exists.

As for onto-theology, that means different things to different people! I’m not claiming that we have comprehensive knowledge or certainty concerning God, so as to promote pride, but I certainly am a realist when it comes to talking about God. When in discussions with atheists I affirm, “God exists” and they reply, “God does not exist,” we may need to be sure that we mean the same thing by “God,” but there is no equivocation on the meaning of “exists.” I take it that the biblical view is realism, and if modern theology feels uncomfortable about that, so much the worse for modern theology! As philosopher Thomas Morris used to say, the biblical God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Anselm.

The problem you pose brings us to the heart of my current work on divine aseity. What makes God more than just one being among many is precisely His aseity: God alone is self-existent; everything else exists contingently. Only God exists of Himself (a se); everything else exists through another (ab alio). That makes God the source of being for everything apart from Himself.

This doctrine is challenged by platonism, which holds that there are infinities of infinities of uncreated, necessary beings which exist a se, abstract objects like numbers, properties, and propositions. Truly, on platonism God is but one being among many and not the Creator from Whom and through Whom all things exist ( I Cor. 8.6)!

So, Haigen, God is not just a set of properties. A set is an abstract object, as are, most plausibly, properties. But God is a concrete object, capable of exerting causal power to bring about effects. Moreover, the set {all knowing, all powerful, all loving, all good} isn’t itself all knowing, all powerful, all loving, and all good, any more than the set of odd numbers is itself an odd number! So God is clearly not just a set of properties. There needs to be something that has those properties, a substance or thing which is all knowing, etc. God is such a substance. Not a physical substance, of course, but a spiritual substance like a mind.

Indeed, because I am an anti-platonist, I’m inclined to say that sets and properties don’t really exist. We use talk of sets and properties as a convenient façon de parler, but such talk shouldn’t be taken literally. So while I certainly think that God is all knowing, all powerful, all loving, and all good, I don’t cash that out in terms of God’s standing in some mysterious relation called exemplification to some abstract objects beyond space and time. Ironically, in that sense I agree with Aquinas that God is not composed of substance and properties (or accidents, in his terminology). But then neither are we!

- William Lane Craig