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Qualified monism or classical theism? Three arguments
Qualified monism (which is my own conception of God) and classical theism of the sort affirmed in the catholic tradition of Christian theology are similar in some ways and differ in others. What I want to consider in this post is whether a case can be made for the former and against the latter. For convenience’s sake I will refer to them as QM and CT, respectively.
Where QM and CT agree is that God exists. God is defined as that which possesses existence or reality in an entirely original and underived manner. All other things besides God exist only derivatively. They exist because God causes them to exist. QM and CT also agree that God is not simply one more thing that exists among all other things. His being does not possess “borders” in the way that a dog’s or a cat’s might. He is rather infinite and thus cannot be given a definition which subsumes him within some particular category of being.
Where QM and CT disagree is how God relates to finite beings. QM asserts that between God and the finite being there is a difference without an absolute ontological distance. The finite being relates to God in something like the way one’s fist relates to one’s body or accident relates to substance. The finite being is a self-affected modification of God’s being which he brings about by acting upon himself. CT (in catholic Christianity anyway) asserts a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. This means that God brings about finite beings without acting upon any preexistent material or substrate whatsoever, whether himself or something else outside of himself. God is something like the efficient cause of the existence of finite beings but is not their material cause. He is separate from them. Their existence or non-existence makes no difference whatsoever in God’s own existence and life.
The principal difference between QM and CT therefore has to do with the way in which God is understood to relate to finite beings. Can any arguments to be given in favor of QM’s position and against that of CT? Here are a few that I can think of.
(1) Parsimony. The traditional arguments in favor of CT establish the need for an ultimate cause of the reality of finite beings. But QM offers a more parsimonious explanation of things. Instead of positing a cause beyond all nature and all finite reality whatsoever, it instead sees finite realities as self-affected modifications of an infinite reality. Instead of positing two utterly distinct and separate “things” corresponding to different ontological categories, it posits a whole that includes everything else as its part.
(2) Logic. In order to give a fundamental explanation of why anything at all exists, two things must be true at the foundational level of reality. There must be both a potential to effect and a potential to be effected. The potential to effect obviously belongs to God. He is the ultimate cause of everything. The potential to be effected must therefore belong to the world which God causes. But CT asserts that God creates out of nothing. This means that he does not create by acting upon some preexistent material or substratum of any kind, not even himself. There is consequently nothing to which the potential to be effected would belong prior to God’s act. How then could God effect anything if nothing already possessed the potential to be effected? QM solves this problem by saying that the potential to be effected also belongs to God. God brings about the world by acting upon himself and imposing a form upon himself in something like the way one might form a fist. The fist considered in itself is a potentiality of one’s body to take a certain shape. QM says that the finite being also is a potentiality of God’s own being to take on a certain definite form that he actualizes himself.
(3) Contingency and Providence. CT asserts that God causes the world to exist. But it also accepts the doctrine of divine simplicity according to which God’s own being cannot be otherwise than it actually is. But if a cause cannot be otherwise than it is, then either its effect occurs randomly or else it always produces the same effect. This means that either the world which God causes exists randomly or else just as necessarily as God himself does. If the world exists randomly, then it does not exist because God specifically wanted it to. And if it does not exist because God specifically wanted it to, then nothing that happens in the world happens because God specifically wants it to, so that his providential control over the course of history is undermined. CT thus threatens either the contingency of the world or else God’s providence. QM solves this problem by admitting that God can be otherwise than he is because he has the freedom to affect himself in various ways. But nothing happens at all unless God causes something to happen in himself. He thus maintains providential control over everything without compromising the contingency of the existence of things.
These are then a few arguments I can think of for preferring QM to CT.