3.23.2011

Creatio ex Nihilo

 Since God’s essence is His existence, existence belongs to Him in virtue of His essence. An existence that is subsistent per se, though, must necessarily be one. Because of this, all other things have existence by participation and are therefore caused by God.

If all things which exist come from God, God does not require any pre existing material to act.

Matter itself is caused by God.

Moreover, act is prior to potency. But if God created from pre-existing matter, His first act would presuppose some potency. Potency, then, would be prior to act, which cannot be true.

So not only is God a creator but the Creator, the sole cause that requires no more universal cause than Himself in order to act.

3 comments:

  1. Greetings,

    Undoubtedly this a difficult topic, but what do you make of the 'argument from possibility' for the eternal existence of (prime) matter? Cf. e.g, Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, b.II, ch.14.

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  2. So, stated succinctly, the ‘argument from possibility’ for the existence of eternal matter runs thus:

    Before the universe existed it was either possible or impossible for it to exist. Since it does exist now it cannot be impossible for it to exist, therefore it must have been possible. To say that before the universe existed it was possible for the universe to exist is the same thing as saying that it was in potency towards existence. This potency, though, must constitute the matter out of which the universe was made. An infinite regress is impossible, so we must arrive at some prime matter which necessarily exists.

    I would object to this argument on two grounds. First, although it would be true to say that before the universe existed it was possible for it to exist, this possibility is not necessarily a potency. From Book V of the Metaphysics:

    “The possible in one way, therefore, signifies that which is not necessarily false, but in another it signifies the being true, and in another that which it is admissible may be true. Now this is what in geometry is figuratively styled potentiality. These, indeed, therefore, are things possible -- not so according to potentiality” (Met. 1019b).

    Essentially, the possible as opposed to necessary or impossible is not identical to that which is in potency.

    Second, even if we admit that possible in this argument is equivalent to potency , we may still hold, in opposition to Maimonides, that this potency is an active potency. In other words, to say that it was possible for the world to exist before it did is merely to say that God could have created the world before He actually did. Again, Maimonides may find this argument worthless because we are still admitting the existence of some potency, but he appears to overlook the fact that this potency does not involve the existence of eternal matter, which was the point of the argument in the first place.

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  3. Greetings,

    Regarding your first objection, and notwithstanding the distinction between possibility and potency, since (1) we both agree that possibility is a real feature of the world and that (2) it was possible for the world to exist before it actually existed, I then ask what is the ontological status of this ‘possibility’? Avicenna argues in Book IV of the Metaphysics of his Sufficientia that it will either exist as [a] a substance or [b] something that inheres in a substance. If [b], then it will exist either in [b.1] a material substrate or in [b.2] an immaterial substrate. But options [a] and [b.2] are false. Therefore, etc.

    Essentially, possibility, since it is a real feature of the world, must have an ontological basis and that basis must be primary matter i.e., a material substrate. The proof of the minor premise is quite long, but I can state it if you need me to.

    Regarding your second objection, your statement locating possibility in God’s power (“say that it was possible for the world to exist before it did is merely to say that God could have created the world before He actually did”) is ruled out by the negation of option [b.2] above (again, I can state the full proof of the minor if you need me to). Also, Maimonides had an answer for your objection in his formulation of the argument in his The Guide. He states:

    “However, an intelligent man from among the later Mutakallimun [i.e., Muslim theologians] thought that he had solved this difficulty. He said: ‘Possibility resides in the agent and not in the thing that is the object of action’. This, however, is no reply, for there are two possibilities. For with respect to everything produced in time, the possibility of its being produced precedes in time the thing itself. And similarly in the agent that produced it, there is the possibility to produce that which it has produced before it has done so. These are indubitably two possibilities: a possibility in the matter to become that particular thing, and a possibility in the agent to produce that particular thing.”

    And, I might add, the latter possibility i.e., that of the agent to act, depends on the former, i.e., that of the object to be acted on, for not even God Himself can do the impossible.

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