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disillusioned

A Discussion of the Cosmological Argument

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I'm curious about what you say in the above quotation. How is it that Aquinas moves from the assertion that an infinite series of causes ordered per se is impossible to the assertion that there must be an uncaused first cause? In the example you gave, the man moves the stick, the stick moves the rock, and the rock moves to leaf. So, in a sense, the man is the "first cause". But he is not himself uncaused. Moreover, as you've already said, his cause does not need to keep existing, so we avoid the need for an actual infinite. Am I missing something here?

 

Hi disillusioned, yours above just popped onto my screen as I was posting the link to Summa Contra Gentiles II. ch. 39 goes into the above issue in general.

 

To pinpoint your question, Aquinas is simply making a comparison. Like Aristotle, he recognizes that a particular, isolated effect may be adequately explained from a starting point that itself would need explanation if the question pertained to a wider frame of reference. For the purpose of explaining the leaf's motion, it's sufficient to trace the chain of simultaneous causes back to the man. Aristotle doesn't like to use starting points that are too universal if he doesn't have to. Or to explain the efficient cause of Socrates, it's enough to point to Sophroniscus. But if you ask questions in a wider context, you have to point to the sun as universal cause of all life on earth, and so forth up the chain of being. Any chain of simultaneous causes ultimately is initiated by the Prime Unmoved Mover, first cause of all chains of causes. But not every causal explanation need go back that far; most of the time, we are not answering questions about universalities.

 

Aristotle followed by Aquinas will set forth different chains of causes, depending on the question. From one POV, the cause of your health is the harmonious state of your body From another, it's the doctor. From another, it's the doctor's medical science. 

 

Right now I think a key question for modern Thomists is whether they are entitled to insist that accidentally ordered series of causes are not sufficient to explain why things exist. Thomists insist that we must appeal to series of causes ordered per se. That means, they insist that God must SUSTAIN all contingent things in being. This gets to Thomas' argument that, if a First Cause did not sustain all things in being, they would have all popped out of existence within infinite time and there would be pure nothingness. 

 

I don't find the latter position convincing, but I don't think I know enough to articulate all that is wrong with it. 

 

 

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OK, I think I’m with you so far.

 

As far as Aquinas’ first way goes, I think I can see a few problems.

 

First, I’m not sure that it is true that “whatever is in motion is put in motion by another”. I think this is an example of Aquinas relying on Aristotelian physics as opposed to a more modern understanding. For example, we can look at any chemical reaction. When baking soda and vinegar are placed in contact, they both undergo change and the cause of the change ultimately reduces to the electromagnetic force. But the electromagnetic force is not exactly “another” in the sense of Aquinas’ second premise. It is, rather, an intrinsic property of nature. Another example would be nuclear decay, which is caused by the weak nuclear force. A nucleus which undergoes decay clearly undergoes change, but, since the weak nuclear force is intrinsic to the nucleus, this change is not caused by “another”. This seems to be a significant problem to me.

 

More importantly, I think we might be able to generalize the above to consider things from a wider frame of reference, as you suggested in your previous post. We can trace our causal chain from the leaf to the man, and ultimately to the sun, and from there we can go to the fusion which takes place within the sun, which is caused by fundamental forces, and the series stops. It seems that the fundamental forces are not changing, so they have no need of a cause.

 

Then there is the question of accidentally ordered series of causes, and their sufficiency which you raised. It seems to me very likely that every series of causes ordered per se can be traced back not only to the fundamental forces but also to an accidentally ordered series of causes. In the series considered above, we go from the leaf to the sun to the fundamental forces. But we can also look at the formation of the sun from a nebula which no longer exists. And so on, as far back as we like, but now we are definitely not considering a series of causes ordered per se. I’m not sure why this approach would not be considered sufficient to explain existence.

 

I’m inclined to think that there is no reason to assume that things must be sustained in order to continue existing, but I’m not overly familiar with arguments to that effect, so I’d be interested in exploring it further.

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Hi disillusioned, thanks for your thoughts. I'll reply just to your first paragraphs at the moment.

 

I think I need a little help on "force." I'm trying to think of how Ari or Aq might answer what I think you're saying. Are you saying that change or motion in some substances is not caused by another substance but by a force that is not a substance?

 

Aristotle's notion of dynamis can be translated as "force", though there are other Greek words for that, too. In Ari's framework, there is never a dynamis or force unless it is "in" a subject. A force is the force "of" some primary subject. Momentum is the forward motion of some object, of whatever size, that is in motion. Fire is made of very fine particles, in Ari, though not of particles as fine as the particles that constitute light. Heat is a quality or property of fire; the motion of particles is a relation into which the particles enter. I don't know of anywhere in Aristotle that we find forces that are not properties or potentialities of substances.

 

It might help if I note that Aristotle's way of talking about beings is to say that there is a principal category, the category of substance. Anything that is a substance can have qualities predicated or "said of" it. A substance is never "said of" anything. An individual substance like Socrates is a primary substance. The species, "human," is a secondary substance. If you talk about a human quality, you are not predicating "human" of the quality as though the quality is a human; you'd use an adjective meaning human-like.

 

Everything else is an attribute of a substance, or exists "in" a substance. At the beginning of Ari's logical work, he distinguishes nine categories in which we can group attributes that we predicate of substances. The nine are: quality, quantity, relation, location, time, being in a position, having a state, doing an action, undergoing an action.

 

A primary substance, Socrates, a man, can be "pale, one, son of Sophroniscus, in the Agora at noon, upright, virtuous, discussing, being heard by Plato.

 

I'm not sure how to fit a "force" into this unless it's the force "of" something. 

 

So does the science of forces blow up the system on which Aquinas relies for his arguments from motion and change? Or can he retool forces as immaterial substances, substances that don't have body?

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Adding: I think we're agreed in this thread that its focus is not antiquarian. What's at stake are positions that are adopted today and that affect, not only individuals' world and life views, but ultimately, political structures as well.

 

At the head of modern Thomists' project is an attempt to inoculate their system against infection from the obsolete science on which the metaphysics got its historical start. Thomists are quick to accuse opponents of "scientism." They insist that any attempt to answer the "big" questions from conclusions reached by science is misguided. They say that scientists start from metaphysical assumptions, even when the scientists may not be aware of them. And the Thomists say that Aristotelian metaphysics as modified by Aquinas is still NEEDED by science to give itself intelligibility. 

 

Attempts by non-Thomists to counter charges of scientism by saying things like, "all you guys offer is argument, not evidence," don't faze them, because they insist that before one can even make sense of data, one has to have an explanatory scheme that "accounts for" causality and/or other features of the scientist's eventual explanation. 

 

So I've had the sense that today's Thomists demand too many concessions. It does not seem kosher for them to concede that Aristotelian and medieval science is "off" but to double down on a metaphysics that was originally piggy-backed on that science, esp. that physics and biology. I'm fascinated by attempts to go further and tease out contradictions in Aquinas even from an Aristotelian POV. And the more I can learn about critiques of it from the standpoint of modern science, the more fascinated I'll be by those, too.

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I’m in complete agreement about the focus of the thread. We need to consider current positions and arguments, and not focus on the question of whether or not there was a time in the past when these arguments were convincing.

 

The response regarding scientism is interesting to me. I’m actually inclined to agree that we need to be careful not to grant to science too much power. I love science, and I think that it is very useful, but I don’t think that it can answer every kind of question. Certainly it is based in logic and relies on mathematics. It may also require metaphysics of some kind. But it seems to me that the metaphysics of Aristotle was based on the science of the day and not the other way around. So I think that, at the very least, we ought to consider whether it is need of an update.

 

Alright. Forces. I was using the term “force” in the sense of the Standard Model of particle physics, which contains four fundamental forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. I’ll try to explain this a bit more below. Please let me know if something is not clear.

 

In Newton’s physics, the term “force” is first used to mean something like “a push or a pull”. Newton’s second law states that an unbalanced external force acting upon a mass results in a change in that mass’ velocity (ie, an acceleration) according to the equation F=m*a. If I push on a ball, I exert a force on it, and it accelerates. The force needs to be external, which is why I can’t move my car while seated in it by pushing on the steering wheel, and unbalanced, which is why my house doesn’t fall down when I push on the wall (there are forces of friction in the wall which balance my pushing). But clearly this sort of force can be thought of as being the force of something/someone on something else.

 

Now, Newton’s third law states that forces exist in balanced “action/reaction” pairs. That is, when I push on the wall, the wall also “pushes" back on me. When a gun is fired, the bullet is pushed forward and the gun is pushed backwards. But it is still usually possible to fairly clearly define an origin for the force. If I push something, it pushes back against me, but I started it, so it could be argued that it’s “my” force.

 

Things get a little more hazy though when we start looking at action at a distance. The most generally accessible example is gravity. In Newton’s physics, objects which have mass are attracted to one another according to the law of universal gravitation. Objects which have more mass tend to appear to attract objects which have less mass, which is why rocks fall to the earth when you drop them and the earth doesn’t leap up towards the rocks, but it is actually the case that both the earth and the rock are acted upon equally by gravity; it’s just that the earth is so much more massive than the rock that the force exerted by the rock on the earth doesn’t result in any measurable acceleration of the earth. When we have two objects which are closer in mass, however, we see that both objects experience acceleration due to gravity. For example, the moon and the earth each affect each other’s motion. In any case, basically everyone agrees that objects which have mass exert the force of gravity on one another despite the fact that they are separated in space.

 

Newton had no way of accounting for gravity, and was very puzzled as to why objects should be able to “push” or “pull” each other from a distance. The eventual conclusion was that it’s just how things work. There is such a thing as gravity, and it seems to be fundamental to nature. And so one problem that I see here is that I think it is incorrect to view the force of gravity as a force “of” a particular object. The earth exerts the exact same force on the moon as the moon exerts on the earth, just in the opposite direction (aligning with Newton’s third law). So it isn’t “the force of the moon” or “the force of the earth”, it’s the force of gravity between the earth and the moon. Thus, the earth/moon system undergoes change, and the change is caused by nothing external to the earth moon system save for gravity itself.

 

Electromagnetism is similar to gravity, except that it acts between particles which have electric charges and magnetic poles. But EM forces still act at a distance, still require two objects, and both objects still experience the same force.

 

Those are the easiest two of the four fundamental forces to understand. We can get into the other two later, if necessary. For now, I’d like to look at a simple example of why I think this is a problem for Aquinas’ second premise.

 

Let’s say there are two ions: a hydrogen ion, which has a single positive charge and a chloride ion which has a single negative charge, and they are in proximity. They will exert an electromagnetic attraction on one another, and will come together to form an ionic bond. The hydrogen ion attracts the chloride ion, and the chloride ion attracts the hydrogen ion, and so they move towards each other and stick together to form a single molecule of hydrochloric acid. So the hydrogen and chloride ions have both “changed”, but the only thing that can be said to have caused the change is the electromagnetic force, which is fundamental to nature. Again, the electromagnetic force cannot be attributed to either of the ions individually; it exists between them, and within the hydrogen-chloride system. Hence, the system changes, and the change has no cause that is external to the system. I think this is problematic for the second premise of Aquinas’ first way.

 

Now, I suppose that you could treat a fundamental force as an immaterial "substance" if you really wanted to, but I’m not sure what that would get you. The other thing that I was trying to argue in my previous post was that we can essentially replace Aquinas’ unmoved mover with the fundamental forces, provided that they are constant, which they are generally accepted to be. Since electromagnetism is not changing, a causal chain which can be traced back to electromagnetism can terminate there, and there is no need to posit a God.

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Hello disillusioned, good stuff.

 

I can only answer in brief, partly from my ignorance, partly because of chores I have to do!

 

First, I'll note that the Thomist has more to defend than does the Aristotelian, since the Thomist has to defend the creation of the universe. The Aristotelian can have an eternal universe and thus has fewer problems to sort out than does the Thomist when it comes to explaining the interaction of the first mover and the universe that it is supposed to move.

 

Does the Aristotelian have an answer to what you say above about changes that occur within systems but are not caused by any substance external to the system? For quickies, I can pull two out of my butt:

 

1. lots of effects are adequately explained on the micro level. But there is always the macro level, depending on what question is asked. So ultimately, there are macro-causes. Systems like earth - moon or systems of ions are subsystems within larger ones, and those ultimately operate under the influence of superordinate entities. There may be a need to posit a First Unmoved Mover (god) if we push the inquiry back enough steps. An Aristotelian might poke around with the notion of an energy field that has mind ... but I get ahead of myself.

 

2. in order to make the world intelligible and to allow for our understanding it, we have to use classical teleological metaphysics such as Ari's. Remember that Ari explains reasons for things in four basic ways, his notorious four causes: formal, final, efficient, material. In your examples, you rely on the notion of formal cause, perhaps w/o noticing it. To have confidence in the properties of hydrogen and chloride, you must rely on knowing the nature of each chemical. A thing's nature is grounded in its form. Hydrogen by nature cannot have properties that are peculiar, say, to helium, and so on. You presuppose an intelligibility to the world when you study it and form conclusions about it, and that intelligibility is real because the world is composed of things that have real natures, grounded in their form. The effects of those things' actions and interactions can be predicted, again, because we organize knowledge by knowing causes, like knowing form.

 

OK, I can't write any more now. later, f

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Thanks ficino for pushing me on this. You have a way of forcing me to look at things from new and exciting perspectives that I really appreciate.

 

I think you're right about the modern Thomist needing to do more than the Aristotelian. If we do not assume a universe that is infinite in time, then the argument changes substantially. As we've already seen, there are lots of messy parts in what science has to say about the origin or possible origin of the universe. But lets leave that aside for the moment.

 

Regarding 1. from the previous post, I'll just say that as we move from the micro to the macro the fundamental forces still apply. I can't think of any examples of any motion or change that can't be traced back to the fundamental forces save perhaps for the inflation of the universe itself (and various quantum phenomena, which are bizarre), but then we're back to inflationary cosmology and the question of the origin of the universe, which is murky. Are there other examples of what you're referring to here that might help me to understand?

 

2. I think is very astute. The question of the intelligibility of the universe is very interesting. I think it is basically correct to say that science assumes that the universe is intelligible. It must do so in order to get any work done. This assumption is justified by the fact that science appears to work pretty well. But, at the end of the day, I'm not sure that the assumption of the universes' intelligibility needs to hold. Science builds formal models of the universe which it uses to ask and answer questions. But none of the models fits perfectly well, and modern models are leading to some very strange results indeed--results which sometimes leave me wondering whether or not the universe is actually intelligible at all. To paraphrase Haldane, I think it rather likely that universe is not merely stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine. So where does this leave us? Well, we build models of the universe that treat it as if it is intelligible because we can't really do anything else. Moreover, it makes a certain amount of sense to me that our minds, having evolved in the universe, ought to be able to understand some things about it, but are very likely not capable of understanding everything about it. But a thing can only be intelligible if it is intelligible to someone, and if we are not capable of understanding the entirety of the universe, then it seems to me that the universe is actually not intelligible (unless, of course, it is understandable by some other beings, but I'm not sure that this can be shown). But this doesn't mean that we can't do science, it just means that we may only be able to go so far.

 

I don't think that we can necessarily say that all things require an efficient cause. To make this assertion would seem to be to simply assume that God exists. It also seems to me that it might be possible to consider fundamental forces as ultimate efficient causes (eg, gravity might be said to be the efficient cause of the rotation of the Milky Way galaxy, the orbits of all stars by all planets, the Earth's orbit of the sun at its particular distance, and, by extension, the genesis and evolution of life on the earth), but I'm not sure if this can fly or not. 

 

I'm also not sure that, on the macro scale, a final cause can be insisted upon. To do so would be to presuppose that there is a purpose to the universe, which I'm not sure that we can safely say. Final causes only seem to make sense to me in the context of life, but maybe I'm just not understanding this properly.

 

I have to go for now, but I'm going to think more about this.

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You and BAA continue to push and instruct me, for which I am grateful. 

 

Just two responses for now.

 

1. I assume it's clear that when Aristotelians talk about final causes in nature, they aren't anthropomorphizing nature, or at least, they think they are not doing so. The tree is the final cause of the seed and the sapling, etc.

 

2. Aristotle insists that in order to have scientific knowledge, "episteme" (ἐπιστήμη), of something, you must know its cause/s, and you must be able to show that your conclusion follows by demonstrative reasoning. If your argument is not a demonstration, that argument does not yield episteme. If you do not know the thing's causes, your cognition does not reach the level of episteme; it may be perception or opinion or whatever.

 

  So what of an event which a scientist says is uncaused? If the event has no cause, its cause cannot be known, and there can be no episteme of it. So there can be no scientific knowledge of such an event. So the scientist does not have science of that event or of any event that falls under the same description.

 

I am not sure whether this last is purely a dialectical argument. But it clarifies the issue, what are the costs of holding that there are uncaused events? 

 

I understand that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle says that the scientist cannot know with equal precision both the position of an electron and its momentum at the same time. But I'm not sure it follows from that, that events in which that electron is a - what? an agent, participant, ...? - are uncaused. 

 

I think that Aquinas' arguments for God's existence fail to be demonstrations, though he claims that God's existence can be demonstrated. But that issue calls for further combox screeds.

 

Anyway, I very much appreciate the chance to try to figure stuff out together.

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I appreciate your fascinating conversation. I enjoy trying to work out what you all are talking about. One thing that I have noticed in relation to your discussion is Christianity's propensity to make things simplistic and show things to be black and white. But we know from reality that this is rarely the case. Humans often try to boil things down to their most simplistic nature at times and it seems that these arguments are presupposing, in some sense, the simplicity of the whole process. But I have come to the conclusion (as I suspect that you all have as well) that many times, there are multiple causes that ultimately produce the "events" that these arguments entail.

I see this as a weakness of the KCA, because it assumes a simplistic explanation about how the universe began.

Maybe this was addressed in a post and I missed it, but I suspect that there can be an infinite amount of causes that could never be narrowed down to one specific event that caused everything.

Even if a deity created the universe, you need not necessarily ask the next causal question of what caused the deity, but maybe the next causal question is: what caused the deity to make the choice to create the universe?

Then the next causal question might be what caused those causes and i f you continue on that path of causality, you then will eventually reach the point of what caused the need for a deity, so I digress that ultimately, we end up there.

Sorry if my questions are elementary to this discussion. I'm trying to play in the big kids playground.

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Over on Roll to Disbelieve, a commentator, dangitbobby, writes this:

 

"Actually, virtual particles "pop in and out of existence" all the goddamned time.

To quote an expert: "So how do virtual particles happen in the first place? Virtual particles are just a manifestation of the innate uncertainty of quantum fields."

In short, you're wrong. It's entirely possible for this universe to have formed from nothing into something. Virtual particles form from uncertainty and can gain "reality" (living long enough to gain all the properties of real matter) to the point that they become real matter.

In fact, the "real" particles that exist today and form, say, the computer you are typing on, were likely at one point to be "virtual".

Quantum physics and relativity answer many of these questions. And the more we answer, the less and less likely it seems that a first mover existed.

 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2017/06/08/the-ongoing-crisis-in-christianity-continues-apace/#comments

 

My little Aristotelian brain is already buzzing as I compare this to what BAA and disillusioned have been trying to beat into it. Quantum fields do the work that Aristotle's "prime matter" does? 

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Even if a deity created the universe, you need not necessarily ask the next causal question of what caused the deity, but maybe the next causal question is: what caused the deity to make the choice to create the universe?

 

Thanks for pitching in, Storm, and I'm sure I speak for the others on this thread when I say that we look forward to further contributions from you.

 

The Thomist of course will say that Thomas improved on Aristotle by realizing that the First Mover has a will and not only an intellect - though Thomas wants all God's properties, to which we give different names, to be identical in his essence (which is existence, but let's not go there for now).

 

Aquinas talks about God's freely willed creation, an act that is performed out of no necessity. That's why the whole universe is contingent: it's possible that it may not have existed.

 

At my stage of understanding, I think that Aquinas messed up Aristotle and produced an incoherent hybrid. Aristotle's Prime Unmoved Mover does not make any choices because it is Pure Act (sorry for the caps; they add rhetorical gravity). There is zero potentiality in the Unmoved Mover. And that's by necessity. If the unmoved mover did actually move, it would no longer be the starting point of motion and change, since something would be moving it. Even if that something were in its own nature, then an active part of it would move the passive part. So the first mover would just collapse into the active part of the Prime Mover. The passive part would not do any work for the first steps of Ari's argument from motion. So just cut out this otiose passive part and go ultimate and pronounce the Prime Mover as pure actuality, nothing that can be subject to change within it.

 

But if that's true of the PM, then the PM cannot decide anything. The PM's activity is unchanged and eternal, by its nature. Its activity is to think its own thinking. It doesn't even think about individual things, since then it would have to be aware of their limitations and would not be unchanged all respects. The PM's thought would be in process if it thinks about things that are in process. 

 

So no knowledge of the number of the hairs on your head for Ari's PM. Such a picture is unworthy of Ari's PM. 

 

All this works for Ari because he holds that the universe is eternal, and immortal substances like the heavenly bodies move in ways that never alter. Aquinas has to shoehorn a doctrine of creation into the scheme of a Prime Mover = Jehovah but that is totally actual. I haven't worked out yet all his arguments to prove that God can make decisions and perform actions within the realm of time and space, except to know that Aquinas holds that God is present in creation through His operations and not in His essence. I suspect this will not save God from taking his own potential to create and actualizing it. That step in turn explodes Aquinas' insistence that God is wholly actual.

 

Wm Lane Craig, btw, disagrees with Thomists and argues that God is not wholly actual in the Thomistic/Aristotelian sense. I think Plantinga does the same, not sure.

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Here are some things that strike me as problems for Thomistic cosmological arguments. They're from the structure of his arguments, not from conclusions of modern science.

 

1. In the first three Ways, Thomas argues from chains of causes to a first uncaused cause. He then identifies that with God. But later on, he argues that God is not in any genus because God’s essence is identical to His existence. Thomas speaks about the FC as though it’s in a genus of causes. So he cannot identify the FC and God. 

 

2. In the fourth Way, Thomas explicitly argues from the principle that there is a supreme member of every genus that serves as a standard for all lesser members. But see #1 above.

 

3. Thomas in the third Way concludes that it is necessary to posit something that exists necessarily, per se. But he does not here prove that there must be only one such necessary being (though he argues for that later on).

 

4. The relation between the necessary thing and the contingent things (i.e. things that are possible not to be) is either necessary or contingent. If the relation between them is necessary, the contingents become necessary. If the relation is contingent, we haven't explained anything. We can't say why the contingent thing is related to the necessary thing, only that it is so. This dilemma was sketched out by Carolyn Morillo, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 1977 and 1980.

 

5. Problems with predicating free will of God while denying that God can in any way be potential: 

   a. If God has reasons, his causative act is either determined by his nature, which is necessary, or the reasons are not "in" God's nature (cf. Euthyphro dilemma), so there's something autonomous from God. Or if God does not have reasons, his causative act fails to satisfy other things that the theist wants to affirm about God. (Dan Linford)

   b. Ascription of will to the First Mover implicates it in potentiality, since the FM decides to produce an effect that it may or may not produce. The FM's creative potentiality is actualized but not eternally so, since creation is not eternal.

 

6. Quantifier shift? Is there an illicit quantifier shift in going from “If something is contingent, there is a time at which it does not exist” to “For all contingents, there is a time at which they all together will not exist”? Is it enough to argue that, given infinite time, at some point all contingents together will not exist?

 

7. Thomas argues that from our experience of contingent things passing out of existence, we can see that all things might not exist if no one thing exists necessarily. But we do not perceive that when something is destroyed, we're left with pure nothingness. The destroyed thing is succeeded by some other configuration of material. So Thomas is not entitled to argue from our experience of destruction to imagine pure nothingness.

 

Criticisms? What am I getting wrong here?

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As to the place of scientific conclusions in arguments about God's existence, I said earlier that modern Thomists seem to start off by attacking "scientism" as self-refuting. Edward Feser in Scholastic Metaphysics (2014) quotes Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist's Guide to Reality (2011) as saying that "the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything" (p. 6). Feser replies that this claim itself is not a scientific claim and is not established using scientific methods.  Feser goes on to propose philosophical assumptions on which, he says, scientific inquiry rests, such as: there is an objective world external to scientists' minds; world is governed by regularities that scientific laws can capture; human intellect can uncover these. "Since scientific method presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle" (Feser p. 10). Philosophy has traditionally been the discipline that investigates the presuppositions of science or of other fields of knowledge and inquiry.

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1. I assume it's clear that when Aristotelians talk about final causes in nature, they aren't anthropomorphizing nature, or at least, they think they are not doing so. The tree is the final cause of the seed and the sapling, etc.

 

Yes, I see that, but I still think that it is hard to come with examples of final causes that don't involve life of some sort. I'm not sure that a hydrogen atom, for example, can be said to have a final cause.

 

 

2. Aristotle insists that in order to have scientific knowledge, "episteme" (ἐπιστήμη), of something, you must know its cause/s, and you must be able to show that your conclusion follows by demonstrative reasoning. If your argument is not a demonstration, that argument does not yield episteme. If you do not know the thing's causes, your cognition does not reach the level of episteme; it may be perception or opinion or whatever.

 

I'm inclined to say that we can't ever have complete scientific knowledge of anything. We gain partial understanding through scientific inquiry, but it may be the case that episteme is beyond our grasp.

 

The information from Roll to Disbelieve is correct, by the way. Quantum particles really do pop into and out of existence, apparently out of nothing, and uncaused, all the time. I have heard it argued by WLC and others that the quantum vacuum is not "nothing", and so this is not truly an example of something coming into existence ex nihilo, but I'm inclined to disagree with this line of reasoning. I don't see that we have reason to think that there is any other kind of "nothing" other than the quantum vacuum. I'm not sure what this does to Thomistic cosmological arguments in general, but it seems to me to have fairly strong implications regarding the nature of causality.

 

I will look at the problems that you brought up in post #37 a little later. For now, yard work is calling.

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I appreciate your fascinating conversation. I enjoy trying to work out what you all are talking about. One thing that I have noticed in relation to your discussion is Christianity's propensity to make things simplistic and show things to be black and white. But we know from reality that this is rarely the case. Humans often try to boil things down to their most simplistic nature at times and it seems that these arguments are presupposing, in some sense, the simplicity of the whole process. But I have come to the conclusion (as I suspect that you all have as well) that many times, there are multiple causes that ultimately produce the "events" that these arguments entail.

I see this as a weakness of the KCA, because it assumes a simplistic explanation about how the universe began.

Maybe this was addressed in a post and I missed it, but I suspect that there can be an infinite amount of causes that could never be narrowed down to one specific event that caused everything.

 

I see this as a weakness in the KCA as well, Storm. In short, I think that even if the argument is successful, it shows that the universe must have a cause or causes. It doesn't say anything at all about those causes. I think proponents of this argument engage in a massive non-sequitur when they conclude that the God of the Bible exists. 

 

 

Even if a deity created the universe, you need not necessarily ask the next causal question of what caused the deity, but maybe the next causal question is: what caused the deity to make the choice to create the universe?

Then the next causal question might be what caused those causes and i f you continue on that path of causality, you then will eventually reach the point of what caused the need for a deity, so I digress that ultimately, we end up there.

 

I can't reply to this better than ficino already did. This does seem to be a significant problem for a God that is posited to be wholly actual though.

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I'm inclined to say that we can't ever have complete scientific knowledge of anything. We gain partial understanding through scientific inquiry, but it may be the case that episteme is beyond our grasp.

 

 I have heard it argued by WLC and others that the quantum vacuum is not "nothing", and so this is not truly an example of something coming into existence ex nihilo, but I'm inclined to disagree with this line of reasoning. I don't see that we have reason to think that there is any other kind of "nothing" other than the quantum vacuum. I'm not sure what this does to Thomistic cosmological arguments in general, but it seems to me to have fairly strong implications regarding the nature of causality.

 

 

As to our getting complete scientific knowledge: I pretty much agree with you that we may not be able to achieve it. Scientists use a theory until it doesn't work anymore, right? I've long thought that many apologetic arguments of the "on your atheistic world view, you cannot properly know anything" sort wind up as special pleading, since they set the bar for knowledge claims higher than they set it in non-argumentative contexts. I'd like to see Matt Slick complain that his honorarium isn't the agreed on amount of money, and the organizer reply, Well, I can't properly know anything, so as far as I know, we agreed that you'll get twenty bucks for your appearance here tonight.  Or something like that.

 

Is the quantum vacuum the same thing as an "energy field"? A friend told me that the Aristotelian notion of matter is wrong, because physicists say that matter is just an emergent property of an energy field. Then I've seen theists insist the sort of thing that you ascribe to WLC, that the energy field can't create itself, etc.

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According to those who provide blurbs for Edward Feser's forthcoming book on arguments for God, Feser totally destroys the basis of atheism.

 

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2017/06/five-proofs-is-coming.html#more

 

Feser promises to set forth five arguments for the God of classical theism, which he calls the Aristotelian proof, the Neo-Platonic proof, the Augustinian proof, the Thomistic proof, and the Rationalist proof.

 

From what I've read in this area - more than most people, but not at an expert level - Feser's program seems to amount to assailing materialism for failing to justify its own central claim that the universe is a brute fact. And to assailing materialism for failing to offer the foundation for robust (?) accounts of things. So materialism undermines itself.

 

I'm guessing that Feser will start out trying to quarantine the conclusions of contemporary physics and biology, claiming that without metaphysics, the scientific enterprise is without foundation. 

 

For Feser to present five different arguments for God's existence kinda makes me think that thesis is problematic. After all, we normally don't need a multiplicity of arguments to demonstrate that something exists. It reminds me of Plato's repeated stabs at proving the immortality of the soul. IIRC, his dialogues present six different arguments, none of which is conclusive.

 

I don't plan to buy the book, but I will probably get it from a library when it reaches the shelves.

 

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Thanks for pitching in, Storm, and I'm sure I speak for the others on this thread when I say that we look forward to further contributions from you.

 

The Thomist of course will say that Thomas improved on Aristotle by realizing that the First Mover has a will and not only an intellect - though Thomas wants all God's properties, to which we give different names, to be identical in his essence (which is existence, but let's not go there for now).

 

Aquinas talks about God's freely willed creation, an act that is performed out of no necessity. That's why the whole universe is contingent: it's possible that it may not have existed.

 

At my stage of understanding, I think that Aquinas messed up Aristotle and produced an incoherent hybrid. Aristotle's Prime Unmoved Mover does not make any choices because it is Pure Act (sorry for the caps; they add rhetorical gravity). There is zero potentiality in the Unmoved Mover. And that's by necessity. If the unmoved mover did actually move, it would no longer be the starting point of motion and change, since something would be moving it. Even if that something were in its own nature, then an active part of it would move the passive part. So the first mover would just collapse into the active part of the Prime Mover. The passive part would not do any work for the first steps of Ari's argument from motion. So just cut out this otiose passive part and go ultimate and pronounce the Prime Mover as pure actuality, nothing that can be subject to change within it.

 

But if that's true of the PM, then the PM cannot decide anything. The PM's activity is unchanged and eternal, by its nature. Its activity is to think its own thinking. It doesn't even think about individual things, since then it would have to be aware of their limitations and would not be unchanged all respects. The PM's thought would be in process if it thinks about things that are in process. 

 

So no knowledge of the number of the hairs on your head for Ari's PM. Such a picture is unworthy of Ari's PM. 

 

All this works for Ari because he holds that the universe is eternal, and immortal substances like the heavenly bodies move in ways that never alter. Aquinas has to shoehorn a doctrine of creation into the scheme of a Prime Mover = Jehovah but that is totally actual. I haven't worked out yet all his arguments to prove that God can make decisions and perform actions within the realm of time and space, except to know that Aquinas holds that God is present in creation through His operations and not in His essence. I suspect this will not save God from taking his own potential to create and actualizing it. That step in turn explodes Aquinas' insistence that God is wholly actual.

 

Wm Lane Craig, btw, disagrees with Thomists and argues that God is not wholly actual in the Thomistic/Aristotelian sense. I think Plantinga does the same, not sure.

 

I struggle with how a Christian would even use this argument. Do they not realize the limitations that they put on their God by following this line of thinking? On the one hand, they say that in order to be a Prime Mover, his "decision" to create the universe and everything simply came as a result of a "whim", maybe? No "conscious" (so to speak) thought about it? but on the other hand, God's way are not our ways and his thoughts are higher than ours, indicating, to me, that the sky is the limit with god and he is able to do all things without our understanding the why or how of them. 

 

It sure seems like they are playing both sides of the fence here. The bible indicates that God can be moved by outside forces (compassion, anger, love, etc.), so it would be logical to conclude that those forces would still have existed prior to his creating the universe. As, I understand it, they need to put a limit on the prime mover because they need the event to "stop" there, however, the bible clearly says "let us make man in our image" clearly indicating that this was a "community" based endeavor (although Christians believe the "us" is referring to the trinity, thus keeping the singular PM), and because it was community based, there had to have existed other causal factors: thoughts, feelings, ideas, discussions, maybe? who knows? To entail it all into God's essence cuts the process short if you ask me.

 

So, purely out of speculation I ask, would I be considered the PM if I was the one holding the stick that moved the rock that moved the leaf, etc? Are my thoughts and reasons for moving the stick and so on considered part of my essence, or am I not in the same category as a divine being who essentially does the same thing?

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So, purely out of speculation I ask, would I be considered the PM if I was the one holding the stick that moved the rock that moved the leaf, etc? Are my thoughts and reasons for moving the stick and so on considered part of my essence, or am I not in the same category as a divine being who essentially does the same thing?

Hi Storm, as to your last paragraph:

 

1. to explain the movement of the leaf, it's fine for the Aristotelian to say that you are the first mover of the series of movers that causes the leaf to move. Of course, you yourself undergo change at the hand of bigger forces than you, so you're the first mover only on the micro level. (BTW for Ari and Aq, "motion" means basically any kind of change, of which locomotion is only one.)

 

2. Your essence as a human is a rational biped. Part of rationality is the exercise of deliberation about goods and the exercise of choice among them. I think Ari would say that any particular course of reasoning you start is not itself part of your essence but is an accident; you might be thinking one thing, but you might be thinking something else.

   But no, you are not in the same category as a divine being, esp, not in the same as the PM. Your thinking is discursive, and there are some parts of your mind that are not active at a given time. You may be a doctor, but your medical knowledge can be potential and not "in act" when, e.g., you're asleep or when you're thinking about something else. And we reason step by step. Ari's PM has no potentiality, so it thinks all at once. And it does not think about anything that changes.

 

As you note, it's a tall order to shoehorn Bible God into the slot occupied by Ari's PM.

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Hi Storm, as to your last paragraph:

 

1. to explain the movement of the leaf, it's fine for the Aristotelian to say that you are the first mover of the series of movers that causes the leaf to move. Of course, you yourself undergo change at the hand of bigger forces than you, so you're the first mover only on the micro level. (BTW for Ari and Aq, "motion" means basically any kind of change, of which locomotion is only one.)

 

2. Your essence as a human is a rational biped. Part of rationality is the exercise of deliberation about goods and the exercise of choice among them. I think Ari would say that any particular course of reasoning you start is not itself part of your essence but is an accident; you might be thinking one thing, but you might be thinking something else.

   But no, you are not in the same category as a divine being, esp, not in the same as the PM. Your thinking is discursive, and there are some parts of your mind that are not active at a given time. You may be a doctor, but your medical knowledge can be potential and not "in act" when, e.g., you're asleep or when you're thinking about something else. And we reason step by step. Ari's PM has no potentiality, so it thinks all at once. And it does not think about anything that changes.

 

As you note, it's a tall order to shoehorn Bible God into the slot occupied by Ari's PM.

 

So I suspect the next question for me to ask would be: Just as there are bigger forces acting on me, would it not then follow that there would be bigger forces than the PM on the Macro Level?

 

As a secondary question, do either of the camps account for the unknown? or is it still taken as a simplistic thought that it all has to start somewhere?

 

For example, its entirely possible that someone is placing me in a position by threatening me with death unless I take the stick and move the stone etc. But, it is unknown whether or not that causality exists, only the events that actually happened. Same would hold true for the PM at the macro level. We do not necessarily know what reasons exist for those movements being made. We could assume they are part of the PM's essence, but we do not know for certain.

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So I suspect the next question for me to ask would be: Just as there are bigger forces acting on me, would it not then follow that there would be bigger forces than the PM on the Macro Level?

 

As a secondary question, do either of the camps account for the unknown? or is it still taken as a simplistic thought that it all has to start somewhere?

 

For example, its entirely possible that someone is placing me in a position by threatening me with death unless I take the stick and move the stone etc. But, it is unknown whether or not that causality exists, only the events that actually happened. Same would hold true for the PM at the macro level. We do not necessarily know what reasons exist for those movements being made. We could assume they are part of the PM's essence, but we do not know for certain.

Disillusioned started this thread because some of us had been wondering, do modern cosmological arguments demand attention? Does any of them look as though it might have a shot at being a sound argument? That is, arguments for the God of classical theism, not for this or that individual religion or denomination. So our "targets," as it were, are people like Wm. Lane Craig or, for me, contemporary Thomists like Edward Feser, who claim to shore up Thomism with support from analytic philosophy. I gather this is your ultimate interest, too.

 

As to your question, though, I can only answer from what I know of Aristotle and Aquinas (or other philosophers).

 

No, there are no bigger forces than the PM on any level, unless under some unusual sense of "bigger." And we need to be clear that Ari's PM is not a "force" in the sense that it is stored power waiting to be unleashed or anything. It is always in pure activity.

 

The reason why Ari needs the PM is to account for per se series of movers, like the man to leaf series, where all the movers move at once. Since Ari denies that there can be an actual infinite, there cannot be an infinite series of movers going backwards. So the series must start somewhere, and the start cannot itself be in motion - cuz then, what's moving IT? It's no good, thinks Ari, to have only one part moving the other part, cuz then only the part that starts the motion is the PM and we can forget about the other part.

 

Aquinas takes up Aristotle's two major arguments from motion to prove God in the Summa Contra Gentiles (book 1. ch. 13). Modern Thomists like Feser insist that with the right filter to strain out Ari's outmoded physics, these arguments still work.

 

Aquinas also argues from contingency and necessity. A contingent being is one that might not exist. If all beings are contingent, he argues, we can't explain why anything exists now, since given infinite time going backwards, some time t would have come at which all the things didn't exist at once. The existence of things now is evidence, he thinks, that there is at least one thing that exists necessarily. So that's his First Cause. In a lot of ways, it does the same work as the PM. By definition, there can be no macro level behind it - since if there were, that macro level would just be the level where the First Cause is active.

 

---------------

 

ETA: Aristotle in Metaphysics Lambda throws out the idea that each sphere of the heaven has its own unmoved mover, giving a total of 47 or 54 of them, depending. But he never does anything with that idea. Aquinas does not even include that section of the Metaphysics in his commentary on the work. I think it would kick the can down the road to wonder whether the UM in our universe is moved by some higher UM, because ... then our UM wouldn't be a UM. So I don't think the idea of a macro level above the macro level goes anywhere when joined to the UM doctrine.

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Sorry for my tardiness in replying here. It's a busy few days. Here are a few thoughts.

 

 

Here are some things that strike me as problems for Thomistic cosmological arguments. They're from the structure of his arguments, not from conclusions of modern science.

 

1. In the first three Ways, Thomas argues from chains of causes to a first uncaused cause. He then identifies that with God. But later on, he argues that God is not in any genus because God’s essence is identical to His existence. Thomas speaks about the FC as though it’s in a genus of causes. So he cannot identify the FC and God. 

 

2. In the fourth Way, Thomas explicitly argues from the principle that there is a supreme member of every genus that serves as a standard for all lesser members. But see #1 above.

 

This does seem to be a bit of a problem. I'm wondering if one could get around the second problem by stipulating that a genus can have a "supremum" of sorts. In mathematics, the supremum of a set is the "least upper bound"; it is not in the set in question. For example, the supremum of the set A={1.9, 1.99, 1.999, 1.9999, ...} is 2. 2 is not a member of A, but it is, in a sense, "supreme" to A. I'm wondering if the fourth way could be adjusted to similarly allow for the standard of a genus to not be in the genus.

 

 

4. The relation between the necessary thing and the contingent things (i.e. things that are possible not to be) is either necessary or contingent. If the relation between them is necessary, the contingents become necessary. If the relation is contingent, we haven't explained anything. We can't say why the contingent thing is related to the necessary thing, only that it is so. This dilemma was sketched out by Carolyn Morillo, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 1977 and 1980.

 

This strikes me as a particularly strong objection. I'm not sure how I would begin to respond to this as a theist.

 

 

5. Problems with predicating free will of God while denying that God can in any way be potential: 

   a. If God has reasons, his causative act is either determined by his nature, which is necessary, or the reasons are not "in" God's nature (cf. Euthyphro dilemma), so there's something autonomous from God. Or if God does not have reasons, his causative act fails to satisfy other things that the theist wants to affirm about God. (Dan Linford)

   b. Ascription of will to the First Mover implicates it in potentiality, since the FM decides to produce an effect that it may or may not produce. The FM's creative potentiality is actualized but not eternally so, since creation is not eternal.

 

I think this is where Aquinas' versions of Aristotelian arguments really start to suffer. When we move from first mover to theistic God, we need to somehow tack on all of God's supposed other attributes, and I don't think that this can be done.

 

On a tangentially related note, when I was still a believer (but on the way out the door) I tried to argue that no logical argument can, in principle, prove that God does not exist. To do so we would need to accept that God is bound by logic. But a being that is bound by logic is not above all else. And since God is above all else, he need not be bound by our petty logic. He may exist despite the fact that our inferior reason dictates that he does not. Now, this struck me as not particularly strong even at the time; it was something a last ditch effort on my part. But now I'm wondering if we might not be able to turn this around. If God is supreme to all, then how could we prove his existence (or anything about him) using logic? Would that not be to argue that God must conform to logic, and hence could not truly be "supreme"? Just a thought.

 

I have heard some theists (can't remember who) argue explicitly that God cannot violate logic, but this seems problematic to me.

 

 

 6. Quantifier shift? Is there an illicit quantifier shift in going from “If something is contingent, there is a time at which it does not exist” to “For all contingents, there is a time at which they all together will not exist”? Is it enough to argue that, given infinite time, at some point all contingents together will not exist?

 

7. Thomas argues that from our experience of contingent things passing out of existence, we can see that all things might not exist if no one thing exists necessarily. But we do not perceive that when something is destroyed, we're left with pure nothingness. The destroyed thing is succeeded by some other configuration of material. So Thomas is not entitled to argue from our experience of destruction to imagine pure nothingness.

 

I think you're absolutely correct regarding the quantifier shift in 6. I had a mathematics professor who was adamant about quantifier shifts of this form. As an example, the statement "for any integer, there exists a larger real number" is true, and quite easy to prove (take an integer and add one), but the statement "there exists a real number that is larger than all integers" is demonstrably false. And, statements of the second type are generally much stronger, and much harder to prove than statements of first type. I can't see how one could move from "for any contingent there is a time when it does not exist" to "there exists a time when all contingents do not exist". The two are just vastly different statements.

 

Regarding number 7, I'm not sure that the notion of pure nothingness is actually coherent at all. You asked earlier if the quantum vacuum is an energy field. The answer is not simple (as is usually the case with QM). The quantum vacuum does have "energy", but it is supposed to be the lowest possible energy state. This is called a "zero-point energy". Particles come pop into and out of existence as the quantum vacuum fluctuates. There is much about this that is difficult to understand. What I'm wondering is whether or not there is any reason at all to think that the quantum vacuum could not exist. Currently, I'm not sure that we can have a different kind of "nothing". 

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This does seem to be a bit of a problem. I'm wondering if one could get around the second problem by stipulating that a genus can have a "supremum" of sorts. In mathematics, the supremum of a set is the "least upper bound"; it is not in the set in question. For example, the supremum of the set A={1.9, 1.99, 1.999, 1.9999, ...} is 2. 2 is not a member of A, but it is, in a sense, "supreme" to A. I'm wondering if the fourth way could be adjusted to similarly allow for the standard of a genus to not be in the genus.

 

 

 

Hi disillusioned, I really appreciate your reply and the suggestions and thoughts you express. Just a response to your 1st for now. I too have thought that Aq might try to argue sort of this way to say the FM/UM is not in a genus. In Thomistic/Ari's terms, the starting point and the universal cause of a species are not members of the species. I don't know enough about set theory to know whether this prospective comeback is in line with what you suggest about the supremum. But from the little I know, I'm guessing that what governs a set may differ from what governs a genus or a species of a genus. You can't say that the supremely good thing is not a good thing. From the POV of Ari's Physics, you can't say that the first mover/initiator of motion is not a mover/initiator of motion. The supreme in a genus, or the first in an order, seems to be a member of the genus or of the order. And I'm also guessing that to be grouped in an order, individuals must have some common feature by which they're grouped, so they'd all belong to some relevant species. 

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Right, I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think I communicated what I meant properly. I’ll try to elaborate. Please correct me if I get something wrong.


What if we took Plato’s philosophy of forms and applied it here? So take reality and separate it into the material and transcendent realms. Then members of the genus of things that are “good” exist in the material realm, and what the things in this genus have in common is that they are “copying” the form of good (ie, God). So God, as the form of good is not in the genus (He can’t be, because He is transcendent not material), but He is, in sense, the “head” of the genus. We could try to do this with the PM/FC as well. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about the intricacies of Platonism vs Thomism to know if this approach would actually be helpful to the argument, or if it would just lead to more problems.

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Interesting idea, disillusioned. I think your suspicion is right, though, that a Platonic approach leads to more problems. As far as the term "genus" goes, Plato uses it for large groups of forms, not of embodied instances of forms. And there is the problem of the Third Man, sc. is the Form of Good good? If so, is there a third Good?

 

Since Aquinas adopts Aristotelian metaphysics, I had been investigating that approach. You may have seen that Edward Feser promises a neo-Platonic argument for God in his forthcoming book, I doubt that genus/species problems will be much in the forefront there.

 

My "in a genus" argument against Thomas may fail if indeed the FM also, like Thomas' God, is not a member of any genus. So far I think the FM is in a genus and Thomas' God is not. So they can't be identified. But since the FM is transcendent, above the realm of change, maybe the FM can be said to be so universal that it's in no genus. That doesn't seem to square with Aristotle's Physics and, more tellingly, with Aquinas' commentary on Ari's Physics, where Aq talks about a genus of movers etc. I'm working on this problem the most right now.

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