Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:13-14).
If you’re reading this in an artificially lit room, take a moment to draw your mind’s attention to the light bulb(s) within it. The light bulb lights up the room because it has electricity, which it has from the socket in the ceiling. The socket, in its turn, has electricity from the wires that are connected to it. The wires, then in their turn, have electricity from the local circuit breaker. And the circuit breaker has electricity from something else, from something else, from something else…
However, at the beginning of this series of things which have electricity is something that does not have electricity, but rather is generating electricity for everything else. What if, for a moment, this ‘generator’ cuts-out; what happens at that same moment, to the lights in the room? They no longer give light.
No ‘generator’ (of some sort), no working lights in the room.
Next, imagine your watching boxcars travel across the tracks in front of you. The box car, most immediate to you, has its movement from the boxcar in front of it, and then, the one in front of that box car, as well, has its movement from the one in front of it and so on, and so forth…1
But, at the beginning of this chain of box cars is something which does not have movement, but rather is moving everything behind it. This we know to be the engine car.
Lastly, imagine your standing in a wide ballroom staring at a magnificent chandelier suspended at its center. Directly above it, and connected to it, you can clearly see a series of links. The link connected immediately to the chandelier has suspension off the ground because of the link above it; and then, the link above that link, in its turn, has its suspension from the one above it and so on, and so forth…
But at the beginning of this chain of links is something out there which does not have suspension but rather is suspending from the ground everything underneath it. This we know to be the ceiling. And even, if, for whatever reason, we could not see the ceiling itself, we would still know for sure that something like a ‘ceiling’ must be out there in order to adequately explain the hanging chandelier.
Bringing it home
Now, take a look at your hand. Your hand has its being or existence from the various cells which make it up; and those cells have their existence from the elements which make them up. Those elements, in their turn, have their existence from the atoms which make them up, and the atoms themselves have their existence from the various subatomic particles, which make them up and so on, and so forth…2
But, for any of these things to have existence there must be something out there which does not have existence, but simply is existence and is generating existence for anything else which happens to exist, and at any moment it happens to exist.
And this is exactly what God claims to be in the event cited in Exodus. Furthermore, whatever is existence, exists necessarily, has always existed, and is the cause of anything else that exists. This is precisely what we mean when we speak about God.
If existence itself did not exist, then neither would anything else. In the same way that, without something out there which is generating the electricity for it, the light bulb in the room would not have electricity.
So if anything exists, then God exists. In the words of God himself, “I am who I am.” I am, am. I am Existence itself.
1. Of the three examples, this one is the least helpful. I include it for the sake of repetition, but would have to say much more about it if objections were raised against it.
2. I presuppose a materialist/atomist metaphysical view here, not because I am sympathetic to it, but because of its popularity today, and because it still requires the existence of an uncaused cause to explain it.
Appendix: The Divine Attributes
Just in case one might want to see how the above proof leads to the commonly ascribed characteristics of God, here is Ed Feser:
31. If that which is subsistent existence itself had some potentiality for existence which needed to be actualized, then existence would have to be imparted to it by some cause.
32. So, that which is subsistent existence itself has no potential for existence which needs actualization, but rather exists in a purely actual way.
33. Whatever is purely actual must be immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, omnipotent, fully good, intelligent, and omniscient.
34. So, each of the things of our experience has its existence imparted to it at every moment by a cause which is Subsistent Existence Itself, one, necessarily existing, the uncaused cause of everything other than itself, purely actual, immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, omnipotent, fully good, intelligent, and omniscient. (Five Proofs of the Existence of God, pg. 130).