Divine Aseity and Christian Apologetics
The latest issue of Credo Magazine focuses on The Aseity of God. The following is an excerpt from Thorvald Madsen’s column, Divine Aseity and Christian Apologetics: Why God’s self-existence matters for defending the faith.
Thorvald B. Madsen (PhD, University of Aberdeen) has served at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1999 and is currently Dean of Graduate Studies, PhD Program Director, and Professor of New Testament, Ethics and Philosophy. In addition to his role at Midwestern Seminary, he also serves as a Research Fellow in Christian Ethics for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
If God is omniperfect—the greatest imaginable being—then he will exist a se, i.e., with absolute self-sufficiency. Nothing other than God will explain his existence and nature, and he will have no needs. Therefore, God will be all-powerful, all-knowing, and maximally good, since any shortfall in these attributes would compromise his aseity. This last conclusion follows from what aseity entails, should any being possess it. Consider the following argument which begins with some useful definitions.
God’s Aseity Demonstrates His Necessity
If something exists contingently, then it might not have existed; and in that case, its existence will be explained by something else. For example, then, the Eiffel Tower is a contingent thing, because it might not have existed; and in that case, something else explains why it does exist. However, if something exists necessarily, it cannot fail to exist. Accordingly, if God is a logically necessary being, the utterance, ‘There is no God,’ will imply nonsense, since God’s nature would guarantee his existence.
Now suppose that we describe God (wrongly) as all-powerful, all-knowing, but only very good. In that case, God’s degree of goodness will be a contingent fact about him. That is, he instantiates this or that level of goodness, and he might have instantiated a different one. But if so, his present state of goodness will require some explanation, since it could have been otherwise; and in that case, God could not exist a se. An outside factor will explain his present (but mutable) state of being. Therefore, if God exists a se, he will be maximally perfect, not just far better than we are. The same argument would require God to be all-knowing and all-powerful. A God who exists a se cannot be simply stronger and better informed, compared to us or the angels. He must possess his great-making attributes to the maximal degree.
These arguments show that some of what the Bible says about God must be said about God. He will have created everything out of nothing if he creates at all, because nothing could have existed prior to God or alongside God—not, that is, if he exists a se. If something else had existed before God, that something would explain God and thus be God. Only the ultimate explainer would exist a se and thus qualify as God. Likewise, if per impossible something co-exists with God, on his level, its co-existence with God will be explained by an outside factor; and this factor would replace God as God.
An a se God is Trinitarian
God’s aseity implies his freedom in having created us and saved us from sin since he cannot have needed to do either one of these things. God’s aseity implies his freedom in having created us and saved us from sin since he cannot have needed to do either one of these things. Click To Tweet The same attribute might also rule out his existence in the unitarian sense, such that there is no binity, trinity, or any other state of being, as per the Muslim account of ‘Allah.’ Suppose that relationships somehow complete persons, making them more than they otherwise would be. Wives complete husbands, and conversely. Friendships ‘realize’ parts of our nature which might otherwise be dormant. In that case, perhaps, a unitarian God could not exist a se, as he would lack the benefit of trinitarian relationship. Indeed, in this scenario, God’s creative acts would (plausibly) be acts of self-realization. He would need something from us after all, in which case this ‘God’ is not the God.
As a side-benefit, God’s aseity makes his existence demonstrable, once we grant that the universe exists. We know, for example, that the universe exists contingently, not with logical necessity. Nothing about the universe would entail its existence; and if so, the universe will be explained by something other than itself, something which exists independently or a se. We need an unheld upholder, or a self-explanatory explainer, lest we face an infinite regress of contingent causes or explainers, the whole set of them hanging in mid-logical-air. This explainer will also be personal, not an impersonal force, since the cause of all other things must self-actuate, rather than being actuated by something else. Therefore, it appears that God must exist and do so a se, as a logically necessary being.