Another Problem for Theistic Personalism

The problem stated:

(1) If God “stepped” into time at creation, then God is both actuality and potentiality (i.e. He had potential to become something He was not before).

(2) If God is composed of both actuality and potentiality, He is contingent.

(3) If God is contingent, He is not necessary.

(4) If God is not necessary, He was created by something that was necessary.


(C) God is not God.

I would anticipate the detractor to take issue with premise #2.

Why is it the case that if God is a mixture of actuality and potentiality then He is contingent?

There are two main reasons for thinking premise #2 is accurate:

  1. If God is composed of parts, then He requires a cause. The detractor might object by saying, “Well, God has been a mixture of actuality and potentiality for eternity!” However, while this may avoid a requirement for a linear causal agent, it doesn’t explain why the two parts that make God who He is are held together or sustained. If God sustains the binding or composition of His two parts, then He is self-caused, and self-causation is irrational.
  2. If God is composed of actuality and potentiality, then what actualizes God’s potentiality? If we say God actualizes His own potentiality, we are back at reason #1 for premise #2; God would be self-caused or He would Himself need another agent to do the actualizing, in which case God would not be God.

Let me a take a little bit to explain actuality and potentiality.

A baseball is potential in that it has the potential to be picked up and thrown, hit by a bat, or even destroyed. There are innumerable potentialities in a baseball. But a baseball, being potential, cannot actualize its own possible potentialities. For example, a baseball cannot throw itself, nor can it destroy itself. Something that is already actual must do these things, like a human.

Indeed, a human itself is a mixture of actuality and potentiality, but even we are not able to actualize our own potential. We cannot bring ourselves into existence. It takes our parents, who are already actual, to bring us into an existence. Now, we are different than a baseball in that we are animate and baseballs are not. We can destroy ourselves and we can even “throw” ourselves if we jump, for example. But these are things germane to the essence of a human being, we are rational. None the less, we still cannot actualize our own potential to exist, nor can we actualize our own potential in general.

It may seem that a human can choose to jump and in that respect, actualize his own potential. But think about the conditions which must already be actual in order for this to take place. The human needs the law of inertia, ground to push off of, space to move around in, a thought which leads to the action of jumping. All of these things must already be actual in order for the human to jump. This means that even the jumper’s choice to jump and his action of jumping must be actualized by something external to himself.

When speaking about God, we hold that God—if He be God—is a necessary Being. If He is necessary, He cannot be a mixture of actuality and potentiality. He would have to be pure actuality (purus actus). This is because if He were a mixture of both actuality and potentiality, He would need something external to Himself in order to actualize His potentiality. If He were a mixture of potentiality and actuality, God would need something which prompts the actualization of His potentiality. He would then not be necessary, but contingent, being reliant on that which actualizes His potential.

A Brief Word on Molinism

Molinism causes problems for anyone desiring to distance themselves from theistic personalism. Traditionally, when we speak of God’s knowledge, we speak of His natural and free knowledge. However, the distinctions within God’s knowledge (natural/free) are not real distinctions. Those distinctions are simply improper tools for talking about God.

Molinism has introduced a third category of knowledge which fits between natural and free knowledge, logically. However, unlike the distinction between natural and free knowledge, the distinction between natural and free on the one hand, and middle knowledge on the other must be a real distinction. This is because the content of middle knowledge is not grounded in God’s being but must derive from elsewhere in order for the Molinist to maintain a libertarian view of free will.

Therefore, the Molinist is unable to consistently hold to classical theism. This forces many Molinists to adopt a form of theistic personalism at best or social Trinitarianism at worst. Because of this, regardless of whether they want to admit it, the Molinist conceives of a contingent god. Now, whether or not this is a conscious or consistent affirmation is a different conversation. A person can affirm middle knowledge while inconsistently, albeit genuinely, confessing the true God.