Sunday, January 13, 2013

"I Don’t Believe God Exists"

Fr. Dwight Longnecker:

Did that headline getcha? 
What I mean is that I do not believe God exists in the way that I exist, or in the way that my mother exists or that tree or flower or mosquito exists, or the way the planet Jupiter or the Milky Way or the sand on the seashore exists. 
It is not that God exists, but that God is Existence itself. He is that power or source of Life by which and through which all things exist that do exist. As such he is who he is. He is Being Itself. As he said to Moses, “I AM who I AM”. This is Yahweh–the one Who is Existence. 
Consequently, the question, “Does God exist?” answers itself. He does not exist as any dependent being exists. Instead he is Existence. Can his existence be proved? Can we offer scientific evidence for his existence? To ask for this is to suppose that he exists out in the sky as some sort of big extraterrestrial. Sadly, this seems to be the concept of divinity that is held by most scientific atheists. They ask for “proof of God’s existence” as if he were the big guy out there who can be measured in some way. 
To ask such a question or make such a demand makes about as much sense as saying, “If there is such a thing as Beauty why can’t we take its temperature?” or to say, “If there is such a thing as Life why can’t we weigh it?” 
The Judeo-Christian claim is that the one God is the essence of existence itself, and that we can know this Existence through our own lesser existence in an analogical way. We discern the triune nature of this Existence through contemplation on our own self knowledge. There are three aspects to my self: 1. The self 2. Self consciousness (whereby I can observe and have knowledge of myself) 3. Self love – in which I can appreciate, be unified and be at peace with my self. 
Self contemplation of my own existence therefore reflects the triune self contemplation of God–who is the essence of Existence. His Existence is a dynamic of self-revelation and self knowledge–and this dynamic relationship we recognize and call The Trinity.

Fr. Longnecker stresses a central truth of Christian theology. God is not a "thing". He does not "exist", in the sense that things exist. He is the ground for existence. He is not dependent on another for his existence, as we are, as trees and rocks are.

God is existence, loosely phrased. More rigorously, God's essence is existence. For every created thing, the essence of the thing (what it is) must be conjoined to the existence of the thing (that it is). 'What something is'-- a round stone in my hand or a butterfly in my garden-- is a different assertion than "that something is'-- the fact that there is a round stone in my hand or a butterfly in my garden. Essence of things does not necessarily imply existence of things. We can describe the essence of unicorns quite precisely-- horse-like, a horn on the nose, wings, etc. Unicorns don't exist, though. Essence and existence are not the same.

This is one of the fundamental insights of Thomas Aquinas. He pointed out that the Ground of existence cannot be itself something with contingent existence. The Ground of existence does not depend on another to join its own essence to an act of existence.

God is the Ground of existence. The Ground of existence is not a thing. He will not be found under a microscope or glimpsed by a scientist.


  1. Exodus 33:11

    And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.

  2. Unicorns don't exist. God, even if you define him as the 'ground of existence' doesn't exist. Replacing one fictional characterization with another doesn't work.

    By the way - you're confused as usual. The mythical unicorn, which was believed to exist by medieval theologians, wasn't supposed to have had wings. You're thinking of Pegasus.

  3. I really appreciate Fr. Dwight Longnecker's blog. The post about God and Existence is one of his best, together with Why I love the Corrupt and Crime Ridden Catholic Church!

    Materialist commenters like bachfiend can only respond with lame comments and argue about unicorns and Pegasus!

    1. Pepe,

      Well, if Michael can't get the well known characteristics of a mythical creature such as the unicorn (it got enough publicity from 'Harry Potter and the Philosophers' Stone') right, then I doubt that he'll have any clue about the characteristics of an even more mythical and nebulous entity such as 'God'. Particularly when it's vague and impossible to disprove ('existence'), but then becomes discrete and threatening, in order to scare the shit out of believers, at the Last Judgement.

  4. Guess we’re not made in his image after all. Too bad for Christians, because without the Adam and Eve of the apparently incorrect genesis story, there is no original sin, no need for salvation, and no need for Jesus. The poor Doctor has just inadvertently refuted his entire religion.

    Your one way out is to accept that “in his image” means moral beings with free will, and that God’s chosen method of creating them was to create a large universe with the proper rules and then sit back and wait for them to evolve naturally.


  5. Egnor: God is the Ground of existence. The Ground of existence is not a thing. He will not be found under a microscope or glimpsed by a scientist.

    God exists in your mind, Dr. Egnor.


    1. 'Hoo' has no mind -- or, to phrase it more accurately: 'Hoo' denies that he himself *is* a mind.

  6. "God is existence, loosely phrased. More rigorously, God's essence is existence."

    Or, more succinctly: "God IS" … which is another way of saying God’s Name: "I AM That I AM".

  7. When that silly and vain (and quite nasty, as a person) woman, Ayn Rand imagined that she had disposed of God by "explaining" reality as being the result of "Existence exists", all she really did was to assert that what exists exists because God IS ... while deliberately speaking of God using intentionally anti-personal language.

  8. Interesting argument, Doctor Egnor.

    The self evidence of reality - the experiential nature of reality - is one of the least refutable arguments for the existence of the order and integral intelligence of the cosmos and the purpose of function of the mind.
    The fact we are able to discern these things is inescapable.

    Apparently these self evident truths are not visible in the depths of Plato's cave, or the various other 'rabbit holes' of eliminative materialism.
    The truly non existent aspect of this idea is the argument against it.

  9. He is not dependent on another for his existence, as we are, as trees and rocks are.

    Except that we aren't "dependent on another for existence". Aristotle assumed everything was contingent. But he didn't demonstrate it to be so, and there is no evidence that it is so.

    1. What? Just gibberish.

      Of course we're dependent on another for existence. We did not cause our own existence.