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Why You Continually Need a First Cause for Your Existence

Cause

NOTE: Today we continue an occasional series of exchanges between Catholic theologian Dr. Michael Augros, author of Who Designed the Designer?: A Rediscovered Path to God's Existence (Ignatius Press, 2015), and various email interlocutors. Enjoy!
 


 
Dr. Augros,

Your response to Mark's question of why the First Cause still has to be with us today was much anticipated, but unfortunately, left some of us disappointed (e.g., the will causes the body to act by moving the paint brush). You simply made the assertion that God is causing my will to exist in the here-and-now and to have its causal power, etc.

I desperately have been trying to understand the metaphysical/philosophical argument that God is sustaining and continuously causing *in the present* in order to overcome the argument that The First Cause/Mover is like a clockmaker who created everything and let it run.

Thank you,
Joe

 
 

Greetings Joseph,

Before trying to address your question, permit me to make a few preliminary remarks that might help avoid or remove certain confusions.

  1. The business about painting is only meant to serve as an illustration of a few points, not to be a free-standing argument for the existence of a first being that is the cause of the being of all things. It is intended to illustrate that when causes operate together, not one after another in time (e.g. this generation has kids, then that generation has kids, etc.), then such a series has the following properties: the prior cause is more a cause of the final effect than the subsequent causes are, there must be a first in the series, and if the first cause stops acting then everything stops, including the final effect (there is no longer anything “being painted,” even if the painted canvas continues to exist).
  1. The illustration is an example of a cause of something coming to be, not of its being, if we are thinking of the painting as the ultimate effect and the painter as the “first cause.” I cause it to come to be, not simply to be, which is why it can continue to be without my continued action. But if we consider its coming to be, of which I am a cause, that cannot continue without my continued action. And that is a general rule. To whatever extent one thing is the cause of another, the other cannot be without the one. So if I cause the painting’s coming into existence, then its coming into existence cannot continue without me. Similarly, if one thing causes another thing’s existence, then that other thing’s existence cannot continue without the action of the cause.
  1. In point of fact, God is causing my will to exist and to have its causal power for so long as it exists, and so my will, while it is a first cause of my painting among created things, is not a first cause absolutely speaking. This is far from obvious just from the illustration, but then the illustration was not meant to prove any of that. The same goes for other kinds of causes that might be first in this or that category of things, but that are not first simply and absolutely. There might be first causes in the natural world, for example, with no prior natural cause—perhaps a star is the first cause of its own light, and there is no prior cause in nature that is making the star exist and enabling it to produce light. If there is a cause prior to such a natural thing at all, then it must be the cause of the existence of the natural thing, since the natural thing already exists and is not coming into existence. But one needs a reason to suppose that there is such a cause.

So now let’s think about your question. How does one see that there is a cause of the very existence of my will, or of material things, even after they have come into existence? One way to go about it is in these steps:

[a] Show that there must be at least one “first being,” a thing that can exist and act all by itself, without help from any other thing.

[b] Show that there can be at most one first being—from which it follows (together with [a]), that there is exactly one such thing. And from this it follows that anything other than that one unique thing must derive its existence (and not just its coming into existence) from something else.

[c] Show that nothing with parts and nothing changeable can be the first being.

Step [a] is the conclusion of chapter 1 of Who Designed the Designer?.

Step [b] is the conclusion of chapter 2 of Who Designed the Designer?.

Step [c] is the conclusion of chapter 3 of Who Designed the Designer?.

From these things it follows that no familiar thing—not you or me, or anything in the whole world of nature, or the universe itself—can have its existence (and power of acting) just by itself. There is only one thing like that, if steps [a] and [b] are correct, and that thing cannot be anything having shape and size, nor can it be anything susceptible to change if step [c] is correct.

I myself, for example, am a thing with parts and susceptible to change. So I cannot exist and act entirely by myself, and consequently I must have my being and action with dependence on another thing. That other thing either is the one and only first cause, or else it is something else which (consequently) also is not an independently existing thing, which therefore relies on a prior cause of its existence. By the argument behind Step [1] this must terminate in the first cause anyway, and it follows that I derive my existence from the first cause, whether mediately or immediately.

(Now an aside: I do not derive my existence from the first cause through a bunch of intermediate causes, but immediately. There is not some created thing that is giving me my existence as long as I exist. Without going into all the reasons for that, I will say this: When a creature like me acts, it presupposes a thing to act on. I cannot paint a picture, for example, without paint and canvas. In my case, that is because I act by a kind of physical contact with things, and so unless there is something already there for me to contact, I cannot act and cannot produce any effect. And this means I will not be the cause of the sheer existence of things, but only of a new thing coming into existence in a pre-existing material—and this is also true even of other non-corporeal causes besides the first cause, but for reasons I will not get into here. I can also cause the existence or continued being of things that are mere properties or movements, of course. For example, I can cause the motion of the brush not just to begin, but to continue. And I can cause the glass in my hand not only to come to be in a certain place, but to remain there, if I am holding it up. But I cannot be the cause of the existence of a more substantial thing, like a painting, or a house—I can only cause such things to come into existence. In short, if the effect we are talking about is motion or change or quality, there might be a series of causes acting in concert, but if the effect we are talking about is the very existence of a substance, the “series” is very short, since it goes right from the effect to the first cause.)

Perhaps a quick explanation of step [c] is in order here. In the book, I try to explain mainly why a changeable, movable thing cannot be the first cause. Here I will try to sketch out a reason why nothing with parts can be the first being. Whatever has parts cannot be unless its parts exist. A whole sphere cannot exist unless its hemispheres exist, for example. And it is possible at least in some cases for the parts of a whole to exist without the whole existing, as the parts of a car can exist before the car exists, and while the car exists, and after the car exists. But in no case can a whole exist without its parts existing. So the existence of the parts always has a certain priority to the existence of the whole. No whole, then, can be the first being, a thing to which existence belongs of itself and independently of existence belonging to anything else, since existence belongs to it only because existence belongs with a certain priority to its parts. And the same goes for them, if they have parts. If we come to the points in a body that are in no way distinguishable into different parts, and which therefore have no size, these things do not exist of themselves and independently either, since they are more like properties of a thing than things in their own right. The tip of a pencil is (roughly) a point, but it cannot exist without the pencil, even if the pencil can exist without it. So nowhere in a whole can we find independent existence, and consequently we must look outside the whole for the source of its existence (and not just its coming into existence).

One could also say that a whole cannot exist unless its parts are together. But why are the parts together? Not just because they are distinct things outside each other, since not all things of that description are joined into a whole. Then for some other reason. And whatever that is, it will be a cause (of some kind) of the existence of the whole. So the existence of the whole is caused, and does not belong to it simply of itself. If we now turn our attention to the parts themselves, we can repeat the argument in their case. Therefore nothing that is composed of parts (whether they are physically separable or not makes no difference to the reasoning) can have its existence of itself. Therefore it has it from another. And this whole reasoning is about existence, not merely coming into existence. In fact, if we suppose that there is a whole which has always existed (as Aristotle thought was true about the “sphere of the fixed stars,” for example), this reasoning shows that such a thing would have always derived its existence from an outside cause, and continues to do so, even though it never came into existence at all. In a similar way, the Fifth Postulate causes the Pythagorean Theorem to be true even though the Pythagorean Theorem never began to be true at some point. Or the number 2 causes all other even numbers to be even, although they never began to be even.

Sometimes people imagine that once a thing exists, it should need no cause of its staying in existence, as if there could be a kind of “ontological inertia”—as though the easiest thing to do is to stay in existence, so no cause is needed to sustain that. I will mention two reasons why that thinking is defective.

First, it simply ignores the arguments showing that there is a cause of the existence of something (such as the argument outlined above showing that anything with parts or anything changeable needs a cause of its existence). Suppose I show that I depend on Euclid’s Fifth Postulate (his so-called “parallel postulate”) not just to come to know the Pythagorean Theorem, but also to know it (which is the case, by the way). Then as long as I know the Pythagorean Theorem, my knowledge of the Fifth Postulate must be at work, too, and cannot have just disappeared. If someone imagined that there might be such a thing as “intellectual inertia,” so that I could just continue to know something after coming to know it, without relying on any prior knowledge anymore, this is simply denying (contrary to fact and without evidence) that there is a cause of my knowing the Pythagorean Theorem. That is ignoring the real relationship between the Theorem and the Postulate—the Postulate does not just cause me to come to know the Theorem, but to know it. So as long as I know the Theorem, my knowledge of the Postulate also exists and operates. Similarly, my desire for health causes my desire for surgery—and it does not merely cause my desire for surgery to begin to be, but simply to be. If my desire for health and life go away before I have surgery, then my desire for surgery will go away, too. To suppose I might have some kind of “appetitive inertia” by which I simply continue to desire things after I have begun to desire them, independently of any influence from any other desire, is simply to ignore the way in which my desire for something like surgery depends on my desire for something like health. The one depends on the other for its being, not just for its coming into being. The same goes for the first cause. The argument outlined above establishes that there is only one thing that has existence of itself, and therefore everything else has existence (and not just coming into existence) from another thing. As long as anything besides the first cause exists, then, the existence that it has is an effect coming forth from the first cause.

Second, this way of thinking overlooks the radical nature of causing the very existence of a substance. If something is causing my very being, and causing the being of everything that is in my substance, then what is there in me that is not being caused by such a thing? What is there in me that is not from this cause? Nothing, of course. So what is there in me that might receive and retain the donation of that cause once that cause has stopped acting? Again, nothing. But nothingness has no power of retaining anything, or any power of any kind. All there is in me is what is from the first cause, so if the first cause stops causing, stops giving, there is nothing left of me. So as long as there is something left of me, the first cause must also be in existence and acting.

I hope that this has been of some use to you, Joseph. Your question is one that I know many people have, and it is a deep and difficult one to which it is impossible, really, to do perfect justice in an online exchange. Nonetheless, I thought it would be better to say something rather than nothing. On the other hand, I judged it wiser to stick to more basic points in the book, since a shorter book that provokes important questions and outlines some answers is probably better than an insufferably long one that no one will read!

Yours,
Michael

Dr. Michael Augros

Written by

Michael Augros earned his doctorate in philosophy at Boston College in 1995, and has been teaching ever since. He is the author of Who Designed the Designer?: A Rediscovered Path to God's Existence (Ignatius Press, 2015) and a tenured member of the faculty at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Since one of his teachers said never to trust philosophers who are no good with their hands, Michael keeps up oil painting and woodworking, too. But it is not his job or his projects so much as his wife and three children that keep him busy, happy, and well behaved.

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  • This blog title cries out for David Braine's The Reality of Time and the Existence of God: The Project of Proving God's Existence (Anthony Flood's review). The idea is that continued existence is not something guaranteed by the essences of things. For something to guarantee its own continued existence is problematic, not automatic. Without God, arguably there is no such thing as 'causation' as is typically perceived; see what Michael Tooley says on the matter:

        Of those two arguments, the more fundamental is the argument from causation. The thrust of this argument is that causation presupposes a dynamic world, and one, moreover, where the past and the present are real, but the future is not. If this conclusion is to be established, however, one cannot appeal to just any approach to the nature of causation: a quite specific account is required. In particular, the account that I shall employ is, first of all, a realist account, rather than a reductionist one. Secondly, it is a singularist account, according to which causal relations between events do not presuppose the existence of causal laws. Thirdly, it involves the claim that causal laws are connected with probabilities in certain ways. It is crucial, therefore, to offer support for this view of the nature of causation, and this I shall attempt to do in a detailed way. (Time, Tense, and Causation, 3)

    Tooley is advancing the case for a growing block universe ("dynamic world"), over against the [static] block universe. These days, special relativity is seen among scientists (or at least, physicists) as providing strong reason to accept the block universe model†. To see how this mixes with free will, see Jonathan Pearce's Time, Free Will and the Block Universe.

    For a more prosaic treatment of the matter, see Jacques Ellul's Hope in Time of Abandonment. The way Ellul gets at this matter is that, "Without God, there is no history." I would map this to the above by saying that 'history' means change, of the type prohibited by the block universe model. All change, all time, according to the block universe model, is merely an epiphenomenon (just like freedom of the will, if one rejects compatibilism as insufficient to e.g. sustain conceptions of moral responsibility—see Bruce Waller's Against Moral Responsibility).

    Yet another way to understand the need for God, in a causal fashion (Braine himself emphasizes causation as the principle matter on p3), is to consider that without God, Fitch's Paradox of Knowability requires that either (i) we can never learn something that all of creation which an 'know', doesn't already know; or (ii) we abandon claim to having "the ability to know and know that knowing-means-truth". Both of these seem like pretty drastic consequences of abandoning an omniscient being, but they flow by pretty simple logic. Newness is simply not possible without God. The most one can hope for is diffusion of extant knowledge, which is exciting for a time and then boring after that IMO. "All is vanity and chasing after the wind.", without God.

    † See The Thinker's Quote Of The Day: The Unlikely Possibility of Possibilism On Time and especially the excerpt from Vesselin Petkov's Relativity and the Nature of Spacetime, plus the conversation in the comments.

    • George

      "Newness is simply not possible without God. "

      Does god have a definition in the relevant text for that statement?

      • SEP: Fitch's Paradox of Knowability: For clearly there are unknown truths; individually and collectively we are non-omniscient. So, by the main result, it is false that all truths are knowable.

        Can you see where the inexistence of God is presumed?

  • Raymond

    I know this discussion isn't necessarily about the Judeo-Christian God, but doesn't this discussion disprove that God because it has three parts?

    • Andy Kang

      The "Threeness" of the Christian God is a bit more complex than that, and a peek at the Athanasian Creed which is most explicit on what it means to have one God who is three Persons can reveal just how complex it is. I'm not equipped to prove (and I don't really think it's possible to logically prove) the Holy Trinity, but just know that the understanding of the Trinity does not translate to a God with "three parts".

      • Doug Shaver

        a peek at the Athanasian Creed which is most explicit on what it means to have one God who is three Persons can reveal just how complex it is.

        But nevertheless, God is simple?

        • Andy Kang

          Alright, maybe complex was a misleading word. But the Athanasian Creed is actually doing that: showing how Three Persons can be one [simple] God. By claiming that God is not composed of parts, one claims that God is simple.

          • Doug Shaver

            By claiming that God is not composed of parts, one claims that God is simple.

            Parts or no parts, the Athanasian Creed does not describe God in simple terms.

          • Phil

            There wouldn't be anything rationally incoherent with explaining something ontologically simple using complex terms.

            In fact, all conceptual language (i.e., human language) is explaining things that are more simple than the language used for it.

            For example--the concept of procrastination is simpler than the language used to describe the concept such as, "it is an act of delaying or postponing something."

          • Doug Shaver

            There wouldn't be anything rationally incoherent with explaining something ontologically simple using complex terms.

            Perhaps not necessarily, but as I understand simplicity, when I read the Athanasian Creed, whatever concept it is referring to is not a simple concept.

            Of course, Christians can define simplicity any way they need to in order make their theology consistent. But when they do that, they're no longer talking about the same thing the rest of us are talking about when we talk about simplicity.

          • Phil

            I guess the question then is what would be your current understanding of philosophical/Divine "simplicity"?

          • Doug Shaver

            I guess the question then is what would be your current understanding of philosophical/Divine "simplicity"?

            Are you referring to Feser's writings? I haven't read anything else on the subject.

            [Added in edit.]Not quite true. I once took a metaphysics class where the idea of simplicity was mentioned in the context of the ontology of composite objects.

          • Phil

            Above you wrote:

            Perhaps not necessarily, but as I understand simplicity...

            So I was curious what your current understanding of simplicity is. It could just be that your personal understanding of simplicity is wrong or slightly off.

          • Doug Shaver

            What any word means is established by the people who use that word. The meaning, for me, of simplicity is that which other people seem to have been referring to whenever I have heard them talk about simplicity. It is possible that, during all the years I have been speaking with other people, I have misconstrued their intended referent in this case. I think it reasonable, though, for me to regard such a misconstrual as improbable.

            The Oxford English Dictionary lists dozens of adjectival senses for the word "simple" and appends the label Obs to very few of them. It is of Latin origin and apparently shares a linguistic ancestor with the Greek atomos, which would account for the particular sense of the word in which simple things are contrasted with composite things. In more prevalent ordinary usage, though, that which is simple is easy to understand or to do because it is uncomplicated. This is probably a derivative meaning because what makes something simple in this sense is that there is little that must be learned in order to attain understanding or proficiency. One might say that there is an irreducible amount of information or skill to be acquired. In this sense, something is as simple as it can get if there is only one thing to be learned.

          • Phil

            Yeah, it definitely takes some nuancing to come to understand something such as philosophical simplicity.
            -------------

            Providentially, the StrangeNotions article just posted, "Is an All-Evil God as likely an an All-Good God", contains a link to a Feser article containing a discussion of Divine Simplicity. So instead of listening to my rambling, just check 'er out!

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09/classical-theism.html

            -----------

            My ramblings....

            In short, perfect simplicity, as a metaphysical term, means being composed of absolutely no parts, whether they be physical or metaphysical in nature.

            This means that any "property" we attribute to God or anything we say about God, such as in the Creed, is not naming a property of God but rather it is something that is God is in and of Himself.

            For example:

            -God does not have the property of being, but rather is a pure simple act of Being.
            -God is not good, God is Goodness itself.
            -God is not powerful, God is a pure act of power.
            -God does not have truth, God is truth itself.

            So anything that we say about God, we always have to acknowledge that God will always maintain perfect simplicity.

          • Doug Shaver

            I find your ramblings unpersuasive, I'm afraid. I can see no difference, in terms of simplicity, between saying B, C, and D are properties of A, on the one hand, and on the other hand A is B and A is C and A is D.

          • Phil

            Would you say that there is absolutely no difference between something being good and something being goodness itself?

            From a philosophical point of view, those are two very different things.

          • Doug Shaver

            Goodness is a property. A thing that has a property cannot be that property.

          • Phil

            First off--Happy Thanksgiving!

            Goodness is a property. A thing that has a property cannot be that property.

            Yes and No--I probably misspoke when I called "goodness" a property of a thing, because it is more correctly a "transcendental property of being". This means that we are going to be able to investigate things about goodness that go beyond a property like "blueness".

            When it comes to physical created beings it is the case as you state above, but the "God of the philosophers" (which is self-same with the Judeo-Christian God) is something so radically different from created beings that it is possible to say that something, such as goodness, is part of God's very being.

            The question then becomes, why would we say that "goodness" rather than something such as "blueness" is part of God's very being? It is only the transcendental properties of being (that is, the properties that every single created being has) that are God's very Being.

            Check out this lecture and/or book for more clarification.

            You can skip to the part of the lecture entitled "Truth" and begin reading there: http://www.hebrewcatholic.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/13.05-Transcendental-Properties-of-Being-pdf.pdf

            Clarke has an awesome chapter on the transcendental properties of being:
            http://www.amazon.com/The-One-Many-Contemporary-Metaphysics/dp/0268037078

          • Doug Shaver

            more correctly a "transcendental property of being". This means that we are going to be able to investigate things about goodness that go beyond a property like "blueness".

            My ontology is lot sparser than yours seems to be. I don't believe the word "goodness" refers to an independently existing thing that we can investigate. The only thing to be investigated is the intended meaning of our statements that include the word. To call something good is to make a judgment about it. We should defend that judgement if we can, and if we cannot, then we should ask ourselves why we should persist in that judgment.

          • Phil

            Two thoughts:

            1) Would you say that there is nothing actually good about something that you say is good? (If so, when you say something is good is it completely meaningless in regards to the non-mental entity?)

            Put another way, the reason that you say something is good does not exist in the entity itself but only in your subjective mind? (If that is the case, that means there is nothing actually good about the thing you are calling "good". In that case, you are saying something about your subjective mind, not about the entity you are referencing.)

            2) To clarify, the human person only desires what she believes to be an apparent good; it is the good that we desire. When we speak about ontological/metaphysical goodness, we are speaking about the ability for an entity to be desired. Insofar as every entity has the potential to be desired, every entity is good. Therefore insofar as it exists, it is ontologically good. (This is where the Christian concept of the ontological goodness of all creation is in perfect harmony with what is discovered through reason, i.e., philosophy.)

          • Doug Shaver

            Would you say that there is nothing actually good about something that you say is good?

            No, I don't think it would make much sense to say that. It could be the case that I call something good when there is nothing actually good about it, but then I'm just making a mistake. If I'm thinking correctly, then it actually has whatever set of characteristics I'm using as criteria for goodness.

            the human person only desires what she believes to be an apparent good; it is the good that we desire. When we speak about ontological/metaphysical goodness, we are speaking about the ability for an entity to be desired. Insofar as every entity has the potential to be desired, every entity is good.

            Well, there we go again with Aristotle and with his potentials.

            I'm no expert on the history of philosophy, but I know a little bit about what philosophers have accomplished over the 2,300 years that have gone by since Aristotle was doing his thing. Among those accomplishments, I believe, has been a demonstration that he and Occam can't play well together. Everything that Aristotle tried to explain with his metaphysics, it seems to me, can be adequately explained without his metaphysics.

          • Phil

            No, I don't think it would make much sense to say that. It could be the case that I call something good when there is nothing actually good about it, but then I'm just making a mistake. If I'm thinking correctly, then it actually has whatever set of characteristics I'm using as criteria for goodness.

            Okay, so if you are speaking correctly about an entity in calling it good (whatever the reason may be for calling it good) then it is something about the actual entity that makes it good. This means that goodness resides in that object in some way. (A side note to remember also is that the type of ontological goodness we are talking about here is different from moral goodness.)

            The next question of course is what makes an entity 'good'? The key note with this question is we need a broad and general way of defining "goodness". It needs to be something that applies to all objects that could be held as being good. (Again, we aren't addressing moral goodness here which only applies to beings with free will.)

            Something that helps clue us into a proper understanding of goodness is that the human person only desires what it perceives to be good. We only desire something because we perceive it to be good. Put simply, we only desire the good; whether it be a true good or a distorted good.. So every entity can be desired by the human person in one of these two ways. Put another way, there is no such thing as an "ontologically bad" entity. We are desiring the good that resides in an entity, whether it is a true or distorted good needs to be reasoned through.

            So, in its most basic sense, an entity is good insofar as it is desirable for some end. So, in the end, every object is good insofar as it exists.

            Everything that Aristotle tried to explain with his metaphysics, it seems to me, can be adequately explained without his metaphysics.

            Unfortunately, that is a modern myth that I find many people believing. And actually, my reading today was talking about this. The method of physics itself--of abstracting from reality to understand via mathematics--necessarily leaves out such metaphysical ideas such as form, teleology, potency, traditional causality, etc. So it isn't that it has shown that they don't exist; the method itself confines itself in such a way it couldn't tell you if they exist or not. (It is like using an x-ray detector to find infrared waves, and upon not finding any you proclaim that infrared waves don't exist!)

            I do hear this myth proclaimed time and time again, "It is Aristotle/Aquinas, it must be wrong because I was told that someone--don't know whom--300 years ago proved them wrong." And this is said many times without any in-depth study of them (mind you, not all do this). People decided to throw out A-T several centuries ago and now everyone throws it out without even studying it (the times I do hear it mentioned it is not understood well). And as I've said before, the myth is so big because science itself is not coherent without a type of A-T metaphysics with form and teleology.

            Many throw aside A-T metaphysics without actually knowing what it says. That is why we are finding more modern philosophers who have begun to realize that, in the end, a materialist and dualist metaphysics are just intellectually untenable, and they are starting to hold metaphysical positions that are getting closer and closer to A-T.

            Sometimes I just want to find a way to slyly slide in a little A-T metaphysics written in modern language without them knowing it and seeing their faces light up!

          • Doug Shaver

            Okay, so if you are speaking correctly about an entity in calling it good (whatever the reason may be for calling it good) then it is something about the actual entity that makes it good. This means that goodness resides in that object in some way.

            No. You're assuming that the way we talk about things can tell us something about the way those things are.

            Everything that Aristotle tried to explain with his metaphysics, it seems to me, can be adequately explained without his metaphysics.

            Unfortunately, that is a modern myth that I find many people believing.

            It is not a myth just because you say it is a myth.

            The method of physics itself--of abstracting from reality to understand via mathematics--necessarily leaves out such metaphysical ideas such as form, teleology, potency, traditional causality, etc.

            Yes, it leaves them out. That's what I said. And I said it leaves them out because it doesn't need them.

            So it isn't that it has shown that they don't exist

            I didn't say it had. What has been shown is that we don't need the assumption of their existence.

            I do hear this myth proclaimed time and time again, "It is Aristotle/Aquinas, it must be wrong because I was told that someone--don't know whom--300 years ago proved them wrong."

            There is nothing I believe about Aristotle just because I heard someone say it. I don't need any authority to tell me what I should think about Aristotle or about Aquinas.

            science itself is not coherent without a type of A-T metaphysics with form and teleology.

            Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, not just because you say so.

          • Phil

            No. You're assuming that the way we talk about things can tell us something about the way those things are.

            Either our talk about things being good, in and of themselves, is completely subjective and illusory, or there is an objective reality to goodness. In your previous comment you mentioned that you believed that it is possible for us to speak truth about the goodness of an object. This is to admit that there is something in an object that makes it good.

            The next step to to figure out what makes an object good.

            Yes, it leaves them out. That's what I said. And I said it leaves them out because it doesn't need them.

            I'll invite you to read over that part of my comment again. Science doesn't leave them out because they are unnecessary, it leaves them out because it doesn't have the "proper apparatus to detect metaphysical principles". My comparison to the x-ray detector is key: It is like using an x-ray detector to find infrared waves, and upon not
            finding any you proclaim that infrared waves don't exist!

            This is what science is doing in regards to metaphysical principles. One is using a "scientific detector" to find metaphysical principles. You need to use a "metaphysical detector" to find metaphysical principles.

            [On science needing a proper metaphysics] Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, not just because you say so.

            Absolutely, and this is one of my favorite topics because it completely undermines the belief that we can keep modern science without a proper metaphysics.

            But I'll leave it up to you if you want to discuss this since we are still discussing the goodness of objects.

          • Doug Shaver

            Either our talk about things being good, in and of themselves is completely subjective and illusory, or there is an objective reality to goodness.

            That looks to me like a false dichotomy.

            In your previous comment you mentioned that you believed that it is possible for us to speak truth about the goodness of an object. This is to admit that there is something in an object that makes it good.

            It is to admit that there is something in an object that justifies my judgment that it is good. When I express a judgment, I speak truth if my judgment is justified.

            I'll invite you to read over that part of my comment again.

            OK, I've read it again. I disagreed with your comment the first time I read it, and I still disagree. If you think I should change my mind, you'll have to better than just continue repeating yourself.

            Science doesn't leave them out because they are unnecessary, it leaves them out because it doesn't have the "proper apparatus to detect metaphysical principles".

            It is your assumption that there are metaphysical principles to be detected. I don't think that assumption is justified.

          • Phil

            That looks to me like a false dichotomy.

            I'm very much open to you showing how it may be a false dichotomy.

            You should know that the ultimate reason I enter into these conversations is to learn and refine my own positions about the truth of reality. I am not opposed to changing my beliefs based upon reasonable arguments and evidence (you might have seen it happen on here in regards to my belief about the possibility of infinite matter/energy existing).

            It is to admit that there is something in an object that justifies my judgment that it is good. When I express a judgment, I speak truth if my judgment is justified.

            That's fair. And if you can potentially be justified, that means that something exists in that entity that makes you justified. The deeper question then becomes again, what is it that makes any object good (I did talk about this question in those two longer comments above)?

            It is your assumption that there are metaphysical principles to be detected. I don't think that assumption is justified.

            Are you proposing that we assume that certain metaphysical principles are false/don't exist without actually showing that they are false? Should we just ignore metaphysics without showing them to be true/false?

            Why not use proper reason to show proper metaphysical principles? (In the end, one can't hold no metaphysical principles. That is impossible.)

            OK, I've read it again. I disagreed with your comment the first time I read it, and I still disagree. If you think I should change my mind, you'll have to better than just continue repeating yourself.

            Okay--I'll try and clarify. I believe you might hold a belief that since science seeks to explore and explain the universe not using metaphysical principles, therefore those principles don't exist.

            But why should we expect science to discover metaphysical principles? The scientific method isn't equipped for discovering metaphysical principles; that isn't its purpose!

            For science to show that something does/doesn't exist it needs to use the scientific method. But you can't use the scientific method to prove/disprove certain metaphysical principles, you need to use metaphysics.

            Hence my example of using an x-ray detector to conclude that infrared rays don't exist. It makes no sense.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'll get to the rest of your post later tonight. For now . . . .

            It is your assumption that there are metaphysical principles to be detected. I don't think that assumption is justified.

            Are you proposing that we assume that certain metaphysical principles are false/don't exist without actually showing that they are false?

            I am proposing that, if we are debating whether they are true or false, we assume neither.

            Should we just ignore metaphysics without showing them to be true/false?

            As long as I have no good reason to think they are true, I fail to see why I am obliged to pay any attention to them. If you have an argument for their being true that I have not already heard, then I might be obliged to pay attention to your argument.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm very much open to you showing how it may be a false dichotomy.

            Any statement of the form A or B is a false dichotomy if it is possible for A and B to both be false. You asserted: Either (A) our talk about things being good, in and of themselves is completely subjective and illusory or else (B) there is an objective reality to goodness. I have denied (B), so am I logically compelled to affirm (A)? No, I’m not.

            To begin with, I don’t have to say that anything is good in and of itself. To call anything good is just to evaluate it, to make a judgment about its value. Such a judgment may be justified or not justified, and in many cases reasonable people can disagree about whether it is justified. But in any case, nothing has value independently of how we, as intelligent beings, perceive or experience it. In a universe without any conscious agents, the concept of value would be null and void. In a world with conscious beings, the concept is unavoidable. In other words, nothing is good (or not good) simpliciter. A thing is good (or not good) for some person or some people, perhaps for all people.

            And we so judge it for reasons. Our judgment may be erroneous if we use the wrong reasons or are illogical in applying the right reasons, but we will have our reasons, and those reasons will involve certain objectively verifiable characteristics of the thing being judged. Our reasons will also involve certain objectively verifiable characteristics of the situation we are in when making our judgment. There are things that are good for us in some situations and not good for us in other situations. To that extent, it cannot be true that goodness is completely subjective. Our judgment that something is good will be justified or unjustified depending on certain facts that will obtain regardless of any belief we may have to the contrary. And this dependence on facts also means that goodness cannot be an illusion.

            Thus, I can deny your (A) without affirming your (B), and so “A or B” in this case is a false dichotomy.

            And if you can potentially be justified, that means that something exists in that entity that makes you justified.

            I am justified if I correctly perceive the relevant facts and correctly reason from those facts to my conclusion. All that needs to exist is the thing itself and the situation in which I make my judgment.

            The deeper question then becomes again, what is it that makes any object good

            Nothing makes it good. The facts of the situation make my judgment that it is good a correct judgment.

            Why not use proper reason to show proper metaphysical principles?

            When you and I can agree on what constitutes proper reason, perhaps I’ll be able to answer that question.

            I believe you might hold a belief that since science seeks to explore and explain the universe not using metaphysical principles, therefore those principles don't exist.

            That is not exactly what I believe. What I believe is that science has, up until now, explored and explained the universe without having to invoke any metaphysical principles. I do not conclude, from this, that metaphysical principles do not exist. I infer rather that they are, or at least so far have been, unnecessary for exploring and explaining the universe. And if they are and will continue to be unnecessary, then whatever existence they might have is irrelevant. If a universe in which those principles exist is indistinguishable from a universe in which they don’t exist, then they might as well not exist. That’s what Occam’s razor tries to tell us.

            But you can't use the scientific method to prove/disprove certain metaphysical principles, you need to use metaphysics.

            I am not claiming to have disproved any metaphysical principles using science. All I have claimed so far is that I have no reason to believe in any metaphysical principles. If you can offer a nonscientific reason to believe in your metaphysical principles, then you may present that reason and I will critique it when I see it.

            Hence my example of using an x-ray detector to conclude that infrared rays don't exist.

            We do have infrared detectors. If you have a metaphysics detector, I’ll be glad to take a look at it.

          • Phil

            So that you don't think I'm ignoring your responses, I just wanted to let you know that I'll be MIA for about the next month.

            But I do want to continue our discussion, so I promise I will respond!

          • Doug Shaver

            Thanks for the notice. I might be having to take a break from the forum myself for a few weeks. Whenever we're both back, I look forward to taking up where we left off.

          • Phil

            Doug--A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family and friends! After a successful completion of another semester of grad school and a blessed Advent, I wanted to make sure I got back to you and our delightful discussion.

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

            In Regards to our Discussion of Metaphysical Principles in General:

            You had last stated:

            I am not claiming to have disproved any metaphysical principles using science. All I have claimed so far is that I have no reason to believe in any metaphysical principles. If you can offer a nonscientific reason to believe in your metaphysical principles, then you may present that
            reason and I will critique it when I see it.

            Let's look at that second statement: "All I have claimed so far is that I have no reason to believe in any metaphysical principles."

            It seems you have admitted above that one can't use the natural physical sciences to show that this belief of yours true. This is because it is itself a metaphysical belief/principle. Therefore, you must use good philosophical metaphysical arguments and principles to show that this above statement is true.

            But this leads to something quite interesting: to prove that there are no metaphysical principles in all reality one has to use metaphysical/philosophical argumentation. This is what we call a self-refuting belief and that original belief can't be coherently held.

            Therefore, we necessarily conclude that there are metaphysical principles to be discovered in reality. What they are must be figured out by using proper metaphysical/philosophical rigor to discover how reality actually exists as its deepest levels (e.g., the most common general ones argued for are a materialist, dualist, or hylomorphic metaphysics).

            That is not exactly what I believe. What I believe is that science has, up until now, explored and explained the universe without having to invoke any metaphysical principles. I do not conclude, from this, that
            metaphysical principles do not exist. I infer rather that they are, or at least so far have been, unnecessary for exploring and explaining the universe. And if they are and will continue to be unnecessary, then whatever existence they might have is irrelevant.

            What about the metaphysical principle that an entity can bring about some sort of change in another entity (i.e., some principle of causality)? If one doesn't believe this to be true, one can't do science. Therefore, one either implicitly believe this metaphysical principle, or ones belief in the work of science is unfounded.

            What about the metaphysical principle that the physical universe is actually able to be intelligibly explored and explained with the physical sciences in the first place? If this metaphysical principle is actually false then science isn't actually explaining the universe. Who knows what it is doing, but it ain't doing that!

            To state again though, what if trying to find metaphysical principles with science is like trying to discover infrared waves with an x-ray detector? Therefore, no matter how long you do science you will never discover any metaphysical principle. But one then can't conclude that they don't exist. You must simply conclude that science is the wrong "detector" for metaphysical principles.

            And we do have metaphysics "detector", it's called the study of metaphysics and philosophy as a whole (as you are probably aware, metaphysics is just a specific branch of philosophy).

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

            In regards to false dichotomies and the goodness of entities:

            The key thought you wrote is:

            Our judgment may be erroneous if we use the wrong reasons or are illogical in applying the right reasons, but we will have our reasons, and those reasons will involve certain objectively verifiable characteristics of the thing being judged. Our reasons will also involve certain objectively verifiable characteristics of the situation we are
            in when making our judgment. There are things that are good for us in some situations and not good for us in other situations. To that extent, it cannot be true that goodness is completely subjective. Our judgment that something is good will be justified or unjustified depending on certain facts that will obtain regardless of any belief we may have to the contrary.

            If you go back to what I explained the classical philosophical understanding of ontological goodness to be, it was simply that an entity, and all entities, is potentiality desirable for some end/goal. What you wrote above describes this process well. And all we have to admit is that objects themselves are desirable for certain ends because of how they objectively exist to see that ontological goodness exists in entities.

            In short, to hold that entities have no value in and of themselves would be to hold that that is nothing about a knife that makes is desirable--have value--for cutting. Whether a person's subjective view about the value/goodness of the knife is correct or not is something that can be rationally argued as you said. But what makes the knife valued is how it exists, in and of itself. In other words, we don't give "good cutting powers" to a knife through our subjective mind. It exists in a sharp knife just by its very existence.

            But then later on you state to my question of what makes any object good:

            Nothing makes it [the entity] good. The facts of the situation make my judgment that it is good a correct judgment.

            But where do these "facts of the situation" come from? They come from how reality, and how the entity specifically, actually exists. There is something about the entity and reality, i.e, the situation, that makes the entity valued/good for a certain end (see my knife example above).

            The second question that must be asked is how can your judgment about the value of an object in a certain situation be right or wrong if there is no objective goodness/value in external reality? The answer is that only if we believe that value/goodness exists apart from our mind could we even say that something can be judged to be good/bad.

            So to reiterate--it is not your subjective belief about the goodness/value of the knife for cutting that makes it actually good/valuable for cutting. The "knife object" itself is either good/valuable for cutting or it is not. Goodness/value exist in some manner in the object itself.

          • Doug Shaver

            Phil, thank you for the kind words.

            As I mentioned in another thread many days ago, circumstances have placed demands on my time that compel me to suspend my forum activities for an indefinite period. However, your comments and questions on this subject intrigue me greatly, and I am loathe to ignore them. I can promise nothing, but I will see if there is some way for me to give them the attention they merit.

          • Alexandra

            Please know I will miss you greatly. If you can believe it, I never met an Atheist before coming to SN.
            I now proudly can say - I met Doug Shaver, he's a good man. I look forward to your return. :)

          • Phil

            I apologize for bothering you as I greatly respect your choice of addressing the more pressing priorities right now as combox discussion ought to be pretty low on most of our priority lists! Know I expect no response in regards to this. But I wanted to pass this along before I forget. This was in a great book about the current state of theoretical physics which I've been reading the past month:

            This is what Einstein wrote to a young physicist who was trying to add philosophy classes to his physics courses without any luck:

            "I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today--and even professional scientists--seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but have never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historical and philosophical background gives the kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is--in my opinion--the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker of truth." --Einstein

            This is a big reason why knowledge of philosophy of nature, metaphysics, and philosophy of science is so important for science. I honestly think that philosophically literate scientists normally have the best chance of becoming great scientists.

          • Phil

            Any thoughts on the couple of points I listed below on goodness being part of external entities?

          • Doug Shaver

            Check out this lecture and/or book for more clarification.

            I'll be 70 years old in less than a month. I've been reading about these things for most of the those years, during which my thinking has evolved into what is now a fairly stable configuration. It is possible that some book I have not yet read will destabilize it and force me to conclude that everything I think I have learned about reality in general has been wrong. However, a brief look at Feingold's lecture gives me no reason to suspect that he has discovered some key insight that I have previously either failed to notice or rejected without good reason.

          • Phil

            Big birthday coming up; an early happy birthday then! I hope you never lose that openness to learning something new. Losing that openness would be the only true tragedy in our intellectual development.

            His lecture is based upon an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics. If you haven't studied A-T metaphysics in a serious and proper sense yet, I would highly recommend it. (If you have studied it, what books have you used?)

            Whether or not you end up agreeing with any of A-T metaphysics, there is a reason this system has stuck around in its most basic sense for over 2300 years. The book I linked above, "The One and the Many" is a great intro book I would recommend again.

          • Doug Shaver

            Thank you for the kind wish, Phil.

            I can't claim to have studied Aristotle in depth. He and Plato were covered in one course I took, and I have not paid much attention to him since then.

            My PHIL 101 course was basically a historical survey of Western philosophy from Thales all the way up to the postmodernists, and we obviously had to skip a great many pretty important names. The instructor did manage to work Thomas into the schedule, but he couldn't give us much of substance in such a short treatment.

            there is a reason this system has stuck around in its most basic sense for over 2300 years

            There seems to be hardly any philosophical notion that, once introduced, did not stick around ever afterward.

          • Phil

            There seems to be hardly any philosophical notion that, once introduced, did not stick around ever afterward.

            I think there is a small bit of truth to this, but I think we can still make some distinctions. There have been plenty of philosophical systems that have fallen away, and we don't hear about them because they have fallen away (think of the pre-socratics). So we only hear about the ones that have staying power in the first place.

            So there are some philosophical systems that have their heyday and then fall away (to take recent example, logical positivism, which next to no one takes as a serious philosophical system these days).

            In the end, there are really only a handful of philosophical systems that have had true staying power over the past 2000 years. Now, some do show up again in modified forms under different names (think of "atomism" from the time of Aristotle and modern day materialism).

            I think that the big mistake of modern day philosophy is we need to start looking again at general philosophical systems, instead of getting lost in the "trees" of small technical philosophical areas and problems. The job of philosophy is to describe reality as it is, and this means it will end up being a natural and organic system that will arise from our understanding of reality.

          • Andy Kang

            That's fair, but I think most Christians are not at all claiming a God who is simple to comprehend and definitely not one who is simple to define.

            The words "You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding" come straight from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

            Interested to hear your answer to Phil's question.

      • Raymond

        "Just know" is not a valid argument. It's totally unpersuasive. The Church is adamant that God has three parts (persons) but is still one God, but they are unable to explain how that is, so they are reduced to calling it an article of faith. Which is fine for the Christian, but for non-Christians it's a big "meh". Three parts are clearly established in the Bible, but the one God thing is a rationalization.

        • Andy Kang

          "Just know" was explaining that what was being discussed was not Church teaching. I made the point myself that I wouldn't try to argue for it. I was just trying to prevent an irrelevant conversation.

          Can you explain how three parts are clearly established in the Bible but one God isn't?

      • neil_pogi

        God is incomprehensive. God is beyond our understanding. Only humans 'invented' the concept of Trinitarian God, but in anyway, God is incomprehensible

        • Rob Abney

          Sorry Neil, Humans didn't invent the trinity.
          It is manifest that a dogma so mysterious presupposes a Divine revelation. When the fact of revelation, understood in its full sense as the speech of God to man, is no longer admitted, the rejection of the doctrine follows as a necessary consequence. Catholic Encyclopedia.

          • neil_pogi

            actually, i have no words to describe 'trinity' as just 'invention' by some churches. we find many scriptural support for the Godhead of Jesus, as the Creator of all things (John 1:1).

    • Ged Eduard Narvaez
  • Peter

    What sustains everything in being in the universe are the four forces of nature. Their constant operation explains why everything remains in continuous existence and evolution. What is not explained is why these four forces themselves continue in operation. We know their origin inasmuch as they split away from one force at the high-temperature beginning of the universe. But we do not know what keeps them going with the precise unswerving values they have.

    The operation of these forces at every instant represent changes, and therefore it isn't God who manually keeps them going at their precise values but some fundamental processes we haven't yet discovered. These processes may even regress infinitely, the former forever giving rise to the latter. However, even if that's true, it doesn't preclude the need for God, since God is the reason why reality as a whole exists instead of not existing at all.

  • Joe

    Dr. Augros,

    Very quickly I just wanted to acknowledge your post in response to my question. I am so grateful that you took the time to explain this difficult concept. I will be re-reading this post several times! Incidentally, I just received Who Designed the Designer and looking forward to gobbling that up. Thank you!

  • neil_pogi

    of course, all things is caused by a single cause. atheists refused to believe in it and yet they simply tell theists that a single 'replicating molecule' existed and caused a frankencell and a human being.

    'a single replicating molecule' -- the creator of atheists

    'a single God' -- the Creator of theists

    so atheists stop all your pretentions that there was never a cause for the universe and life. you are just making yourself hilarious and irrational