Key Attributes: Perfection and the Three Omnis
by Karlo Broussard
Filed under The Existence of God
NOTE: Today we continue our six-part series by Karlo Broussard on a metaphysical proof for God's existence. The posts will run each of the next two Mondays:
- Part 1 - Why Must There Be at Least One Unconditioned Reality?
- Part 2 - The Absolute Simplicity of Unconditioned Reality
- Part 3 - The Absolute Uniqueness of Unconditioned Reality
- Part 4 - The Key Divine Attributes of the Absolutely Unique and Simple Unconditioned Reality
- Part 5 - Key Attributes: Perfection and the Three Omnis
- Part 6 - Important Features of the Metaphysical Proof
Readers who have read the previous posts in this series on demonstrating God’s existence will recall how we’ve arrived at a reality that is worthy of the traditional term “God.” We demonstrated that such reality must be unconditioned reality, absolutely simple (i.e., unrestricted in its act of existence – pure being or pure existence itself), absolutely unique, immutable, eternal, immaterial, and the continuous creator of all else that is.
In the previous installment of this series, we left off with the question, “Can we go further in deducing key attributes for the one unconditioned reality that have been classically ascribed to God?” As indicated, the answer is yes. The attributes that I will consider for this post are absolute perfection and the three “omnis” – omnibenevolence (all-good), omnipotence (all-powerful), and omniscience (all-knowing).
Let’s take absolute perfection first. How do we know that the unconditioned reality is absolutely perfect? The answer lies in the understanding of what imperfection is.
Something is imperfect to the degree that it fails to realize or actualize an inherent potential that is present by virtue of its nature – a privation of what ought to be there. For example, an imperfect tree would be a tree whose roots do not hold the amount of water that it needs to be healthy. An injured animal that could not realize the ends its nature intends would be an imperfect animal. A human action that fails to realize its end, namely the good, would be an imperfect human action. So, imperfection is proportionate to the degree an inherent potential within a thing is unrealized or unactualized. But, as suggested in the previous post of this series in relation to the attribute of immutability, the unconditioned reality does not have any potentiality and is pure actuality – this means that no aspect of its being is unactualized or unrealized. Therefore, the unconditioned reality must be absolutely perfect.
Now, in regard to the three “omnis” – omnibenevolence (all-good), omnipotence (all-powerful), and omniscience (all-knowing) – one can arrive at them as a whole from the attribute of absolute perfection as well as from distinct lines of reason respective to each one.
Consider first the line of reason from the attribute of absolute perfection. If the one unconditioned reality was not all-good, was not all-powerful, or was not all-knowing, then it would lack some aspect of goodness, power, or knowledge. But the unconditioned reality cannot lack any aspect of being since it is absolutely perfect (as demonstrated above). Therefore, the unconditioned reality must be all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing.
Now, the line of reason that is distinctive to the attribute of omnibenevolence (all-good) is the scholastic principle that goodness is convertible with being. Basically ‘X’ is good when it succeeds in being the kind of thing it is. To put it another way, ‘X’ is good insofar as it possesses what is required for it considered as what it is by nature. For example, in as much as a cat exists it is good because it succeeds in being a cat – it possesses what we expect for something to have if it has cat nature. This is still the case even if the cat is sick and therefore imperfect. Notice the strong connection between goodness and being. Something is good in as much as it succeeds in being. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Goodness and being are really the same. They differ only conceptually...Something is obviously good inasmuch as it is a being.”1 Now, since the unconditioned reality is pure being itself it must therefore also be all-good (or omnibenevolent).
So, if there is a distinct line of reason for omnibenevolence, what about omnipotence? Recall from the third installment of this series that the unconditioned reality cannot have any real or really possible incompatible state of being on the same level of simplicity that would be excluded from it. This is simply another way of saying that no real or really possible being can exist without being existentially dependent on the one unconditioned reality. Therefore, there is no real or really possible being that is outside the range of the unconditioned reality’s power for being the ultimate ground of existence. In this sense the unconditioned reality is omnipotent or all-powerful.
Finally, we come to the line of reason distinctive for the attribute of omniscience, which obviously involves intelligence. So, first, we have to ask, “How do we know that the unconditioned reality is an intelligent being?” and then we can answer the question involving omniscience.
The first path for arriving at the unconditioned reality being endowed with intelligence is by way of the immateriality of the unconditioned reality. According to St. Thomas Aquinas2, the capacity to know is in proportion to the degree of freedom from matter. In short, the principle is based on the classical understanding of knowledge. Knowledge is the receiving of forms immaterially. For example, I observe Fido the dog and abstract the form or the essence of dogness which now also exists in my mind. But that form exists in the mind immaterially because it does not include the particular dog Fido nor does it include any other aspect of the material order (e.g., size, shape, weight, color, etc). Hence knowledge is the possession of forms immaterially. So, as Aquinas concludes, the degree that something is free from matter is the degree to which it will have knowledge. Now, the unconditioned reality is purely immaterial. Therefore, it follows that the unconditioned reality must be endowed with intelligence.
The second path for arriving at the attribute of intelligence is by way of the principle of proportionate causality. Such a principle states that whatever perfection is in the effect must in some way be in the cause, whether it is present formally (it exists in the cause in the same manner), eminently (it exists in the cause in a most excellent way), or virtually (the cause has the power to produce the perfection).
Now, consider the fact that the unconditioned reality is the Creator or cause of all other things that exist (the ultimate fulfillment of the conditions of every conditioned reality). This is simply another way of saying that the unconditioned reality is giving existence to things constituted of forms. Therefore, according to the principle of proportionate causality, the forms must in some way exist in the immaterial unconditioned reality. But for forms to exist in immateriality is the essence of knowledge. Therefore, the unconditioned reality must have knowledge; hence it must be an intelligent being.
So, now we’re in a position to address the question of omniscience (all-knowing). The omniscience of unconditioned reality simply follows from the unconditioned reality’s omnipotence. Recall that there can be no real or really possible being that is beyond the scope of the unconditioned reality’s power to ground existence. Now, it’s reasonable to conclude that if the unconditioned reality is and would be the ground for the existence of any real or really possible being other than itself, then it would know those real or really possible things. Therefore, there is nothing that does exist or could exist that is not within the range of the unconditioned reality’s thoughts. In this sense the unconditioned reality is all-knowing or omniscient.
So, in conclusion, there must exist one and only one unconditioned reality in all of reality. That one unconditioned reality must be absolutely simple in the metaphysical sense – it must be pure being or pure existence. Furthermore, the absolutely simple and unique unconditioned reality must be the continuous creator of all else that is. It must also be immutable, eternal, immaterial, and absolutely perfect. Finally, it must be omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient. I think that such a being is worthy of the traditional term “God.” Therefore, God, as defined, exists.
With the metaphysical demonstration now completed, I would like to highlight in my next and final post why such a demonstration is so important in the modern debate on God’s existence with an eye on some common objections from atheists.
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