What If Only Matter Exists?
“If Matter is taken to be the only existent, and all other things as modifications of Matter, it is not legitimate to set up a single genus to embrace both the existent and the other things; consistency requires that Being (Substance) be distinguished from its modifications an that these modifications be duly classified. …
“The error in this theory is fundamental. To set Matter the potential above everything, instead of recognizing the primacy of actuality, is in the highest degree perverse. If the potential holds the primacy among the Existents, its actualization becomes impossible; it certainly cannot bring itself into actuality; either the actual exists previously, and so the potential is not the first principle, or, if the two are to be regarded as existing simultaneously, the first-principle must be attributed to hazard. Besides, if they are simultaneous, why is not actuality given the primacy? Why is the potential more truly real than the actual?
“Supposing then that the actual does come later than the potential, how must the theory proceed? Obviously, Matter does not produce form: the unqualified does not produce quality, nor does actuality take its origin in the potential; for that would mean that the actual was inherent in the potential, which at once becomes a dual thing.
“Furthermore, God becomes a secondary to Matter, inasmuch as even He is regarded as a body composed of Matter and Form.” ~Plotinus
If Only Matter Exists
It is hard to follow the archaic and convoluted style of Plotinus, but what he is saying quite simply is that it is not possible that Matter is the only thing that exists, and everything else (spirit, consciousness) is derived from Matter. While he may put it oddly, what he says is true.
We can add to this falsehood of the theory that only matter exists, a second one which says that matter existed before spirit or consciousness.
Actuality and Potential
What Plotinus is saying about actuality and potential means that matter, as he sees it as a potential. By itself, it has no form, no being. Being and form must be added to matter to create an actuality, such as an apple. So what Plotinus is saying is that something had to be added to matter to give it being and form, and that something cannot be simply more matter, but something that is not matter. But, he argues, if the actuality of the thing, with being and form, is no longer pure matter, it cannot be derived from matter, or at least not solely from matter.
Matter and Spirit
It is generally believed in science today that matter did come first, and the spirit and soul, if they actually exist, are offshoots of matter. This idea denies the whole concept of spirit.
Spirit is immortal. All spirits are immortal, all souls are immortal. They exist entirely without the limitations of time and space, so they have no beginning and no end. Matter, on the other hand, does have a beginning and an end. Everything in the material universe is born, or comes into existence, and is later destroyed or dies on its own. So matter could not have existed before the spirit or the soul.
Then we have to return to the previously mentioned form and being. If form and being did not come from matter, then where did it come from? The logical answer is that spirit added to matter brings about being and form. So this tells us again that spirit came before matter, it is not an offshoot of matter, it is not a form of matter. This is something that the great spiritual masters have taught for centuries, but few seem to grasp it. So not only is it false that only matter exists, but it is also false that matter generated spirit. And if being and form come from spirit, not matter, then all forms and all beings must be made up of a spirit as well as matter.
Matter and Consciousness
Even more than the idea of matter generating spirit, many in the scientific community cling to the belief that matter generates consciousness. Some may say that matter generates mind, and mind generates consciousness, but that is essentially the same thing. It is saying that matter existed first, then consciousness came later. But here is one of the many problems with that belief: if there was no consciousness, what caused matter to gain form and Being? Something had to do that. You can say it was God, but that means that God is not matter, but the highest level of consciousness, or perhaps all of consciousness with lesser beings just sharing in a small part of that One Universal Consciousness. Fortunately, there is a growing number of scientists who are saying that the spiritual teachers are correct, consciousness came before the brain, and before matter (click here to read a blog post about that on the Cosolargy site). You might also want to read this older post on this blog about consciousness.
God Secondary to Matter
Plotinus makes his final point that if only matter exists, God must be secondary to matter. That would be either because you believe God is made from matter and is therefore not the creator of matter since He would have to exist first in order to create it. Otherwise, God is spirit and as spirit is generated by matter, spirit is secondary to matter. Fortunately, neither of those theories is true. God is spirit and spirit existed long before matter. God is also Consciousness, and consciousness existed before matter. So the idea that only matter exists is false.