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The “Designer-of-the-universe-is-not-God” error

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Some people who are impressed by the arguments of the intelligent design movement will finally admit that an intelligent designer may have created the universe. However, they simply refuse to believe that this designer could have been God. Although the question of the Designer’s identity goes beyond Intelligent Design theory, and belongs to the domain of metaphysics and theology, it may be worth considering why their position is fundamentally inconsistent.

To demonstrate this inconsistency, it will be necessary to very briefly explain the terms of the issue from the perspective of metaphysics. (By “metaphysics,” I do not mean to refer to the multitude of modern pseudo-metaphysics; rather, I am referring to the traditional metaphysics of the ancients.) What theology calls “God,” metaphysics refers to as “Being.” And what we call the “universe” or the “cosmos” is simply the “universal existence” or “manifestation” of Being. The universal existence is everything that exists. Incidentally, let us note in passing that the multiverses conjectured by modern science do not transcend the concept of universal existence – i.e. the cosmos or global world as meant in the traditional doctrine – since in any case they would be nothing more than sub-worlds, or worlds within the cosmos. Simple logic dictates that there can be nothing beyond the set of everything that exists.

In metaphysics it is important to conceptually distinguish between the verbs “to be” and “to exist,” although in everyday language this difference doesn’t matter very much. The verb “to exist” (from the Latin “ex-sistere“) etymologically means “to stay outside.” Thus a thing exists when its principle or “sufficient reason” or cause stands outside itself. This is precisely the situation for all the things in the universe. On the other hand, the ontological verb “to be” has a nobler and more powerful meaning than the verb “to exist,” and for this reason it should be applied to the principle or cause of all that exists, i.e. Being, the First Cause.

The auxiliary verb “to be” is, logically and linguistically, the more important verb, as a consequence of its ontological supremacy. Every other verb, as well as any word or logical term whatsoever, presupposes the verb “to be,” and is, as it were, its consequence or effect. From this point of view, Descartes’ rationalistic motto “Cogito ergo sum” should be inverted as “Sum ergo cogito“. Any action (and thinking is an action) presupposes an agent, someone who − before acting − has to be, in the first place. Likewise, the set of all beings, actions, events and things (the manifestation) presupposes Being.

In metaphysics, less definition and specification implies greater power and universality. To define something is to limit it in some way: if I say that a thing is red, I am placing limits on its color; but if I say that a thing is, then that thing can be of any color or none at all, and can possess any property whatsoever. Universal principles are those which are minimally specified. Being has but a single specification: the property of being. It is important to understand that the principle of manifestation (Being) cannot be specified with another property beyond that of being. For instance, to say that “Being is x” or “Being is y” would mean that Being manifests only x or y and cannot be manifested in any other way. To truly be the principle of all manifestation, Being must be defined only by the statement that “Being is.” As a traditional dictum puts it: “God is that by which all things are manifested, but that which can be manifested by nothing.” Since the verb “to be” is so fundamental and contains the minimal degree of specification, there can be only one subject or agent who is. Being is therefore unique. While there are many things that exist, only one Being is.

Another way to understand the uniqueness of Being is to consider a corollary of Leibniz’s principle of “Identity of Indiscernibles.” This principle states that two things that have exactly the same properties cannot be distinct in any way and are in fact the same thing. The corollary is: if two allegedly distinct Beings have exactly the same property of being, then they are not distinct and are in fact a single, unique Being. Regarding the deep relations between “being” and “unity,” Leibniz also rightly remarked: “Who is not truly one being, is not truly one being“. So whatever our point of view, we always arrive at the basic metaphysical statement: God is the Supreme Unity, the Highest One. No matter how many names people may attribute to God, there cannot be two Gods.

For the above reasons, the famous question, “Does God exist?” is expressed improperly and misrepresents the problem. God does not exist; God is. God is the “I am Who I am” of Exodus 3.14, in the sense that “Being is Being.” The use of the incorrect verb “to exist” when referring to God implies a naturalistic conception of Him, whether we are aware of this fact or not. If Nature is all that exists, and God is beyond nature, then God does not exist. Naturalism denies ontology. To mistakenly apply the terms “to exist” and “existence” to God, instead of the correct terms “to be” and “Being,” is a clear sign of implicit naturalism. Unfortunately, this error is also committed by many opponents of naturalism.

Another difference between Being and existence is that the former is fixed and the latter variable. While that which exists is capable of coming into and going out of existence, and may continually change during its lifetime, that which is cannot begin to be or cease to be. In other words, manifestation is the reign of becoming and variation, while Being is the immutable and constant support and carrier on which manifestation appears.

While the principle of a thing is not within that thing, the thing itself is contained within its principle. Effects are virtually contained within their causes. God does not exist within the universe; rather the universe exists within God. In other words, the universe is immanent, while from this point of view, God is transcendent. This asymmetrical relation is the total negation of all pantheistic conceptions of God, which are heterodox. It should be noted here the “within/without” relation is not a spatial one, because space exists only in the cosmos, and cannot be meaningfully applied to God. It would be nonsense to speak of God as either inside or outside physical space, or as somehow limited by space. The spatial relation between container and contained is used symbolically here, to represent causal inclusion.

At this point, some readers might envisage Being simply as an abstraction or a logical concept. However, this would be to seriously misunderstand the simplicity of Being. This is a classic blunder, which results in a total lack of understanding of metaphysics. In reality, Being, as a metaphysical principle, is anything but an abstraction, and Being’s “simplicity” means nothing more than that Being is without parts. In a quite different sense, Being is immensely and unimaginably complex, since it must contain the essences and qualities of all beings and things of the universe. Being’s manifestation is the deployment (in Aristotelian terms, the passage “from potency to act”) of what it potentially contains inside itself.

Some people may ask how the existence of a thing can constitute evidence of Being. In general, anything which exists evidences and manifests He Who Is. Whatever exists, is capable of existence only because its ontological principle is. Nothing could exist without such a preliminary ontological condition. Whoever denies this ontological principle cuts the branch of the tree which he is sitting on, and ultimately denies se ipsum, and therefore his/her entire reality. Some theists put forward the Big Bang as evidence for God. But in reality, the arguments above imply that everything in the universe – even its tiniest part – constitutes evidence of God. When arguing in front of an audience of atheists, to cite the Big Bang as the only evidence for God is to play a defensive game and to assume a weak position. From this perspective, Thomism is perfectly correct in saying that all manifested things have a purpose and meaning and reflect the glory of God. Moreover, there is the traditional dictum that “In every thing there is a sign showing that God is Unity,” which underlines the fact that everything in the cosmos points to His uniqueness. The cosmos is a giant set of symbols of the transcendent reality that lies beyond it.

Since the universe is an intelligent design (and ID theory provides scientific methods and techniques to infer that it is), it follows that its cause, Being, can be symbolically thought as the Great Designer. Everything that can be said about the analogical “interiority” of the universe within its First Cause in no way undermines, but rather confirms, the symbol of the Great Designer. In fact any designer must preemptively conceive his design within himself. In the case of human designers, their designs are eventually physically constructed outside themselves; however this is not an essential feature of design. The designer’s first step is always the conception of the project. Intelligence precedes matter.

The brief excursus above allows us to see specifically why the belief that the Designer is not God is utterly illogical. Let us suppose per absurdum that the designer of the universe is not Being. Question: is this designer immanent or transcendent? If it is immanent, then since immanency means existence in the universe, we would have a designer who is part of the universe, and who designs the universe, and therefore designs himself. The part would design the whole within which it is included. This is a logical fallacy that Thomism refers to in its dictum, “Nihil agit se ipsum“: nothing acts on itself. Since, in supposing the designer to be immanent, we obtain an impossible result, it follows that the designer must be transcendent. Transcendence means non-existence in the universe. However, this Designer, in order to be able to design, must have the property of being (because what does not exist and besides is not can do nothing). As we saw above, what has the property of being has no other property. Hence this designer, having exactly the same properties as Being, is identical to Being (as a consequence of the principle of “identity of indiscernibles”). Hence we arrive at the conclusion that the Designer of the universe is Being (God).

There are two direct consequences of this argument. First, any attempt to make intelligent design compatible with atheism is incoherent. Conversely, ID is compatible with any orthodox theistic doctrine (Thomism included).

20 Replies to “The “Designer-of-the-universe-is-not-God” error

  1. 1
    above says:

    niwrad,

    I impressed and at the same time completely shocked by your article. Impressed by the eloquence of the argument and sochked because two days ago, while skiing, I contemplated about the exact same thing.

    Specifically, the question “Does God exist?” I came to realize, makes absolutely no sense, for the reasons you just explicated. To speak of God in terms of existence would be to reduce God to something that He is not. In doing so, you no longer speak of God.

    I have one simple question for you, which I might have misunderstood. When you speak of Being, you do so within the context of an agent, correct? In other words, you are rejecting the essentializing of being into a neo-platonist form, and also reject heidegger’s approach to the concept of being. Am I getting it right?

    If I am getting this right, you’re saying that you cannot speak of Being as being apart from God. Correct?

  2. 2
    tyke says:

    The presumption seems to be that the Universe (all time, matter, and space that came into existence at the Big Bang) is the sum total of existence.

    If that is not true — if there are, say, an infinite number of other Universes in some kind of all encompassing “Multiverse” — then there is plenty of room for designers who are not God (i.e. the Being).

    What if our Universe is merely an exhibit in a trans-cosmic art gallery filled with other Universes, each lovingly created and put on display by a designer in hopes of winning some kind of prestigious award?

    We just don’t know, and without that knowledge, appeals to metaphysics are not enough to cement the idea that our designer (if there is such a thing) must be God.

    I also have a hard time believing that such a dissertation can survive an encounter with the quantum world, where a dozen of more completely counter-intuitive things can happen every day before breakfast.

  3. 3
    niwrad says:

    above #1

    When you speak of Being, you do so within the context of an agent, correct?

    In Being’s manifestation there exist agents (e.g. humans). Given these agents get all their reality from Being, Being can be considered the Supreme Agent.

    In other words, you are rejecting the essentializing of being into a neo-platonist form, and also reject heidegger’s approach to the concept of being. Am I getting it right?

    Sorry I am not sure I understand you here. However, metaphysically, possibility is what matters and the possibilities of manifestation are exactly those included in Being. Since Platonist forms belong to the set of the possibilities of manifestation it seems to me we cannot properly say that a Platonist form disagrees with the essence of Being.

    If I am getting this right, you’re saying that you cannot speak of Being as being apart from God. Correct?

    Yes, according to most Western theologians God and Being are the same thing.

  4. 4
    above says:

    I think we are in complete agreement.

    Here is a relevant quote I found from Soren Kierkegaard:

    “God does not think He creates; God does not exist, He is eternal”

  5. 5
    Heinrich says:

    Some people who are impressed by the arguments of the intelligent design movement will finally admit that an intelligent designer may have created the universe. However, they simply refuse to believe that this designer could have been God.

    I must admit I wasn’t aware of anyone who thought this. Can you give some examples of people who think like this?

  6. 6
    StephenB says:

    niwrad, you have performed a valuable public service by writing this post. While many here may not be familiar with the subject matter, it is essential that the ID community grasp the importance of recognizing good metaphysics as an intellectual partner to good science.

    In keeping with that point, Thestic Evolutionists who attack ID on metaphysical grounds either do not understand Thomistic metaphysics, do not understand ID, or do not understand the relationship between good metaphysics and good science and the role that each plays in the search for truth.

    In spite of their protests, they do not really believe in the unity of truth. If they did, they would not fear the empirical evidence for design which confirms and supports the metaphysical arguments that they claim to hold so dear.

  7. 7
    niwrad says:

    Heinrich #5

    UD commenter wagenweg in his comment #6 here informs us that Richard Dawkins believes in a designer of the universe different from God.

  8. 8
    above says:

    @StephenB

    You said:

    “the relationship between good metaphysics and good science and the role that each plays in the search for truth”

    That I think is a problem with much of the scientific community as a whole. An issue that is exposed by philosopher of science paul feyerabend. He accuses the modern scientist of not being philosophically informed much like the “greats” of past generations.

    The nature of modern science is such that people specialize in their fields and rarely venture out to see the bigger picture or even understand the underlying axioms of his/her own methodology. Often this leads to misinformation and in the case of some straight out lies.

    A good example of this would be eveyone’s “favorite” zoologist from Oxford turned sophist. His name I shall not mention 😛

    @niwrad
    What he says in that video, if I am not mistaken, is that the origin of life could have been the workings of an intelligent creator, not the universe as a whole.

  9. 9
    above says:

    *Clarification:

    In references to the “great” scientists of the past… the sentence should read”

    unlike the “greats” of the past, who were philosophically and metaphysically more informed

  10. 10
    StephenB says:

    above @8.

    —“unlike the “greats” of the past, who were philosophically and metaphysically more informed.”

    Exactly right. In order to evaluate the main arguments put forth by Darwinists, TEs, and ID supporters, one needs an education in both metaphysics and science. ID’s science critics know little or nothing about philosophy, and its philosophical critics know little or nothing about science.

    At one extreme, the Darwinists, who do not understand the metaphysical foundations for modern science, ignore the law of causality and argue that something can come from nothing [universes coming into existence without a cause, minds coming from matter, and life coming from non life].

    At the other extreme, TEs, who do not understand the unity of truth, think that science can conflict with metaphysics, rejecting even good science if it doesn’t harmonize with their ready-made notion about how God must have created the universe.

  11. 11
    niwrad says:

    tyke #2

    I also have a hard time believing that such a dissertation can survive an encounter with the quantum world, where a dozen of more completely counter-intuitive things can happen every day before breakfast.

    Traditional metaphysics doesn’t fear quantum theory (and by the way any other unbiased and honest scientific finding). Question: are the quantistic counter-intuitive things phenomena after all? Yes, they are for definition. All that is phenomenic pertains to existence, therefore the quantum phenomena (both those already discovered and those still undiscovered) cannot disprove metaphysics in principle.

    What if our Universe is merely an exhibit in a trans-cosmic art gallery filled with other Universes, each lovingly created and put on display by a designer in hopes of winning some kind of prestigious award?

    Universal existence is a concept of traditional cosmology that is entirely independent from the Big Bang presumption of modern science. In other words, whatever alleged “art gallery” of (discovered/undiscovered) universes is included in the universal existence however. Modern science is based on conjectures and experiments, while traditional teachings are based on principles.

  12. 12

    niwrad,
    Thanks for your excellent post!

    I just finished a course at seminary on this metaphysical approach to God, and it concluded with Hegel and Idealism. In other words, you have outlined Metaphysics 101: Ontology, but you have not yet dealt with Metaphysics 102: Personality (= Ethics). The God you describe is still not a Theist God, and despite your attempts to locate him outside the Universe, I think there have been many approaches, such as Whitehead and perhaps Hegel, who locate him co-existent with the Universe — Panentheist–not to mention all those idealists who ended up Deists.

    But supposing that we have finished the sequence of Metaphysics 101, 102 and 103, from Plato to Hegel, with a dash of Feyerabend and Post-Moderns, we still haven’t dealt with the immanent/transcendent divide, the nature of language, consciousness, morality, and the “personhood” of God, Man and language. In other words, I think there needs to be Metaphysics 201, “Tri-unity” which builds from these foundations. Which, BTW, was the course I took at seminary. For without the trinity, I don’t think we can move on to Metaphysics 202, Epistemology and Modern Science.

  13. 13
    above says:

    @tyke #2. You said:

    “I also have a hard time believing that such a dissertation can survive an encounter with the quantum world, where a dozen of more completely counter-intuitive things can happen every day before breakfast.”

    It already has. Quantum mechanics is a holistic theory as opposed to a reductionist one. So quantum mechanics is more of an issue for the materialist than the non-materialist.

    Second, there is an issue that is still unresolved in quantum theory, which pertains to its status. In other words, is the behavior of the quantum world an effect of the limits of human epistemology (i.e. a result of the way we perceive the subatomic) or is it trully ontological?

    Heisenberg made the case that it’s ontological (uncertainty principle having real ontological status), while Bohm (if I am not mistaken)argued that it was epistemological (i.e. the effects were merely due to human limitations) maintaining a deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    In my opinion Theism and quantum theory have no axe to grind. On the contrary.

    As far as the multiverse is concerned, that is nothing but sheers science fiction. Even if one were to accept it, the problem still remains. All that is accomplished is throwing the explanation of origins one level up, leaving it in effect unexplained.

  14. 14
    above says:

    @ Robert Sheldon

    Can you please expand a little on the course you took? If it’s not much trouble and you have some time to spare I would be very interested to hear what you learned.

  15. 15
    bornagain77 says:

    off topic but of interest to the subject:

    I just found this interesting tidbit:

    Cosmos – Speed of Light – Einstein’s Special Relativity – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIfRZhztNos

    I realized the tunnel Carl Sagan describes fits well with the tunnel experienced in “crossing over” in Near Death Experiences:

    Near Death Experience – The Tunnel – The Light – The Life Review – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4200200

    Mindsight: Near-Death And Out-Of-Body Experiences In The Blind.
    Excerpt: ,,,found herself rising through the roof of the hospital and being sucked up a tube-like structure toward light; rolled out into an otherworldly pastoral realm where she “saw” trees, birds, and flowers and encountered deceased friends and relatives who were “made of light”,,,
    http://findarticles.com/p/arti....._65076875/

    This “made of light” theme seems to be a recurrent theme in Christian NDE’s:

    The NDE and the City of Light Kevin Williams’ research conclusions
    Excerpt: These cities of light are said by experiencers to represent an entire world, made of light and love, radiate with multi-colored lights, with transcendental music, filled with light beings, made of glass, built of the purest light, multi-dimensional, built by God,
    http://www.near-death.com/expe.....rch19.html

    As well, the time dilation proven by Einstein’s special relativity, seems to be a common occurrence in Near Death Experiences:

    The NDE and Time – Kevin Williams’ research conclusions
    Excerpt: When you die, the fixed measurement of Earth time becomes soft and flexible. It stretches and shrinks like a rubber band. Entering the spirit realm feels like you were there just a few moments ago. Your time on Earth seems like only a brief instance. You can examine the events of your past with great clarity and detail than you ever could in life. You can linger in your past for what seems like hours. When you are done, it seems like no time at all went by. Time can contract and centuries can condense into seconds. Millenniums can shrink into moments and the entire history of civilization can pass by in the blink of an eye. Time and space is no obstacle. You can go in and out of worlds and stay there for as long as you desire. You feel eternal once again. There is no way to tell whether minutes, hours or years go by. Existence is the only reality and it is inseparable from the eternal now.
    http://www.near-death.com/expe.....rch13.html

  16. 16
    StephenB says:

    —Robert Sheldon to niwrad:

    —“In other words, you have outlined Metaphysics 101: Ontology, but you have not yet dealt with Metaphysics 102: Personality (= Ethics).”

    I would argue that it is appropriate to discuss metaphysics and ethics separately unless one is describing the ways in which the former illuminates the latter.

    —“The God you describe is still not a Theist God, and despite your attempts to locate him outside the Universe, I think there have been many approaches, such as Whitehead and perhaps Hegel, who locate him co-existent with the Universe — Panentheist–not to mention all those idealists who ended up Deists.”

    To discuss God’s transcendence is not necessarily to deny God’s immanence. The opposite error of the Deists [no immanence] and the Pantheists [no transcendence] is to affirm one component of reality and deny the other.

    Also, one important point of the post was to show that, metaphysics properly applied, demonstrates that God must be transcendent [outside] and logically prior to the universe. That fact doesn’t negate the point that God’s fingerprints and influence are found everywhere IN nature.

  17. 17
    Ilion says:

    :niwraDFor the above reasons, the famous question, “Does God exist?” is expressed improperly and misrepresents the problem. God does not exist; God is.

    I have been guilty of using ‘exist,’ rather than ‘to be,’ in reference to God … for, as you say, “in everyday language this difference doesn’t matter very much.” But, I take your point.

    :niwraDThere are two direct consequences of this argument. First, any attempt to make intelligent design compatible with atheism is incoherent.

    I think everyone, and especially the so-called atheists, understands this; which doubtless explains much “scientific” hostility to ID.

    :niwraDConversely, ID is compatible with any orthodox theistic doctrine (Thomism included).

    *grin*

  18. 18
    Heinrich says:

    UD commenter wagenweg in his comment #6 here informs us that Richard Dawkins believes in a designer of the universe different from God.

    Are you really saying that Dawkins is “impressed by the arguments of the intelligent design movement”? I hope you’ll understand my skepticism.

  19. 19
    Joseph says:

    niwrad

    Although the question of the Designer’s identity goes beyond Intelligent Design theory, and belongs to the domain of metaphysics and theology, it may be worth considering why their position is fundamentally inconsistent.

    It may be beyond ID but it does not belong solely to metaphysics and theology.

    We can use the evidence to make some scientific inferences about the designer(s).

    But anyway when speaking of “God” it is assumed there is salvation.

    Yet the designer(s) of the universe and living organisms might not even care. They may not even still exist.

    I apologize niwrad but on this we will just have to agree to disagree.

    I am already being moderated and if I say any more I will be banned for sure…

  20. 20
    jstanley01 says:

    From my point of view theologically FWIW — which I suppose could be called a biblical unitarian (as opposed to trinitarian) perspective — “God is One,” but at the same time “the Word” (ho logos), which “in the beginning” according to John 1:1 was both “with God” and “was God,” exists within history — with Christ who is “the Word (ho logos) made flesh” as its ultimate expression.

    How the Word (ho logos) could exist with the God who is yet at the same time be the God who is can be very simply explained by The Figure of Speech Antiptosis in John 1:1-2 (pdf).

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