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Does God Continue to Cause Our Existence?

Paintbrush

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. Today we share Dr. Augros' response to the question we posted earlier this week. Enjoy!
 


 
Mark,

I think I can address this one with just an email, no attachment. My will is the first cause (of my painting right now) in a qualified way, but not absolutely. Among created causes, it is the first, there is no creature prior to my will that is causing me to will to paint.

But God is causing my will to exist and to have its causal power, for so long as it exists. My will has no other cause than God, no created cause, and in that way it is first among created causes—but all its existence and causal power are continuously coming from God.

Something similar can be said in other cases—there might be a first cause (or many first causes) in nature, with no prior natural cause, but which does depend on some further cause outside nature. A first created cause, or a first natural cause, is not the same as a first cause simply speaking. A first created cause is one with no created cause before it—but one that still has a cause of some kind before it (if indeed it is created!).

How does one see that my will needs a cause of its being, even right now, and hence of its causal power? That flows out of the argument of Chapter 2 in my book, Who Designed the Designer?. (That chapter is also a bit tough.)

As far as Chapter 1 is concerned, it might well be that there are many “first causes” out there, things that depend in no way on any prior cause, but simply exist and act all by themselves. In Chapter 2, I present an argument against that, showing there can really be only a single thing that exists all by itself.

Warm regards,
Michael Augros
 
 
(Image credit: Pexels)

Dr. Michael Augros

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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.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • My favorite analogy about God continually holding us in existence is that of a mirror. I think I read it from lay apologist Frank Sheed.

    When you stand in front of a mirror, what do you see? You see your image & likeness. If you leave the mirror even for an instant, what happens to your image & likeness? It ceases to exist! You “being” in front of the mirror continually holds your image & likeness in existence.

    “And behold, I am with you always…” (Matthew 28:20).

    • Lazarus

      A lovely analogy, indeed. You could do some more with it by adding something about the "made in the image of God" concept also.

    • Robert Macri

      Very nice, thanks!

      It reminds me somewhat of St. Augustine's description of the trinity.

    • Doug Shaver

      When you stand in front of a mirror, what do you see? You see your image & likeness. If you leave the mirror even for an instant, what happens to your image & likeness? It ceases to exist!

      But we don't cause the image to exist. The mirror does that.

      • Robert Macri

        If in the theater of my mind I imagine a person standing in front of a mirror I cause both to exist.

        If an omnipotent, omniscient God exists then he can be responsible for both the means by which his image and likeness is "reflected" (however weakly) and, of course, the source of such image and likeness (himself).

        • Doug Shaver

          Your imagination can cause nothing to exist except in your own mind. Does your theology say that we exist only in God's mind?

          • David Nickol

            Does your theology say that we exist only in God's mind?

            It seems to me that if the whole universe is "radically contingent" and would wink out of existence the moment God stopped thinking about it, it only makes sense to think of the universe and everything in it as ideas in the mind of God. I confess I don't understand why and omnipotent God could not create a material universe that didn't require constant propping up.

            It makes me think of the moment in Forbidden Planet when a "monster from the Id" (of the Krell) was caught in the protective barrier neutron beams surrounding the earth ship and was visible as sparks of energy. Someone says, "It must've been renewing its molecular structure from one microsecond to the next."

          • I confess I don't understand why and omnipotent God could not create a material universe that didn't require constant propping up.

            It seems that he could. But to imagine this is to imagine a marriage where after some point, husband and wife no longer talk to each other or interact with each other in any meaningful way. It seems iffy to even call such a thing 'marriage'. If God wants actual relationship with us, it seems like he might have designed the need for that relationship into the very fabric of reality. He could design reality such that true thriving occurs when beings freely give of themselves to each other, with him playing a crucial role in this.

          • Doug Shaver

            It seems to me that if the whole universe is "radically contingent" and would wink out of existence the moment God stopped thinking about it, it only makes sense to think of the universe and everything in it as ideas in the mind of God.

            OK. I can't reject an implication just because I don't accept the antecedent. But if I don't accept P, then I can reject Q without denying P -> Q.

          • Doug Shaver

            It seems to me that if the whole universe is "radically contingent" and would wink out of existence the moment God stopped thinking about it, it only makes sense to think of the universe and everything in it as ideas in the mind of God.

            OK. That, or something very like it, seemed to work for Berkeley.

          • Robert Macri

            When we speak of sublime mysteries we often turn to simile, analogy, and allegory as a way to develop our insight, but we do not say that such things amount to an exact description. But this is by no means suggests a unique deficit in knowledge: every scientific model ever developed was/is approximate, not a full description. The difference is that scientific models are tested against measurement and logic while theological insights are measured against revelation and logic.

            So, no, it is not my theology that we only exist in God's mind, but it is my theology that we cannot exist at all unless we exist in God's mind, whose will it is that gives us being.

            Your imagination can cause nothing to exist except in your own mind.

            Yes, because I am neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Nor am I the existential ground of all being. But God is all of these things. It is certainly possible for him to imagine something so fully that it actually exists, and thus cannot be said to be imaginary in the human sense of the term.

            Rather, to further develop what I have stated above, nothing at all could be said to exist in any way unless God "imagines" it, not in the sense that we do not possess free will (but are manipulated like marionettes) but in the sense that "in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

          • Doug Shaver

            The difference is that scientific models are tested against measurement and logic while theological insights are measured against revelation and logic.

            If I read about some scientist having made some particular measurement, I can confirm whether he actually made that measurement. How am I supposed to confirm whether anyone got a revelation from God?

          • Robert Macri

            It is no easier to confirm that any individual received a revelation from God than it is to verify any number of other claims, even true ones (How would you verify my claim that I ate a chicken sandwich for lunch last Monday?) but we certainly can convince ourselves of the validity of such claims in general.

            Now, we generally confirm any claim in one of three ways:

            1) Through reason (as we would do to verify a claim such as "The sum of all prime numbers up to 11 is less than 30")

            2) Through observation (e.g. experiments to confirm that "ice melts at 32 degrees F")

            3) Through testimony ("Six reliable witnesses saw the defendant rob a bank")

            We tend to hold the first two in higher regard, because of the limitations of verification inherent in the last, but all methods have limits. For example, if I want to study supernovas I have to wait around for one to happen... I can't make one happen on demand.

            Now, to finally get to your question, I would say that the validity of the revelation can be seen in all three ways.

            As for method 1), that's what all the arguments for or against God on websites like this are about. Clearly not all will agree, but an individual can weigh the arguments.

            As for 2), we can observe instances of miraculous divine interaction. This is more of in the "supernova" ballpark than that of melting ice, because we can't force a miracle. But over time there are plenty, just as there are plenty of supernovas. (e.g. the miracle of the sun at Fatima, or, more recently, the well-studied Eucharistic miracles in Argentina and Tixtla)

            As for 3) We examine the integrity of the witnesses. (Or "You can tell a tree by its fruit.") That is, if we look at the lives of sincere believers (ie, the saints and martyrs), we will see how great the power of faith has been in their lives and in the lives of those around them. And, frankly, I think an encounter with a truly saintly person can do more to convince than all logic and miraculous claims combined. Their obvious peace and joy is something wholly attractive.

            We also gain confidence in the testimony of the church regarding revelation when we see how faithful it has been to its belief over 2000 years. Certainly that has been no shortage of sinners in the church, but the doctrinal teachings and worship of the church is just as it was at the time of the early church Fathers. The very fact that the church has remained fundamentally unchanged in spite of 2000 years worth of sinners is itself a powerful argument for divine guidance.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is no easier to confirm that any individual received a revelation from God than it is to verify any number of other claims, even true ones

            I asked how it could be done, not how easy or hard it is to do. I've done plenty of difficult things in my life.

            How would you verify my claim that I ate a chicken sandwich for lunch last Monday?

            Maybe I couldn't. It would depend among other things on whether, at the time you ate it, you wanted to be able to prove you had or wanted to arrange things so that nobody could prove it.

            but we certainly can convince ourselves of the validity of such claims in general.

            Yes, indeed: we can convince ourselves. But do you think it's a good idea to believe or not believe just on the basis of how easily we can convince ourselves of what is true?

            1) Through reason . . . 2) Through observation . . . 3) Through testimony . . . . I would say that the validity of the revelation can be seen in all three ways. As for method 1), that's what all the arguments for or against God on websites like this are about.

            Not really. An argument for God's existence has nothing to do with whether he has revealed anything to some particular person. If anyone does say "We know God exists because he has revealed himself," they're just begging the question.

            As for 2), we can observe instances of miraculous divine interaction.

            You believe a divine intervention happened because someone said it happened. We're back to the credibility of believers' testimony.

            As for 3) We examine the integrity of the witnesses. (Or "You can tell a tree by its fruit.") That is, if we look at the lives of sincere believers (ie, the saints and martyrs), we will see how great the power of faith has been in their lives and in the lives of those around them.

            I've seen what faith can do. My question was not about the power of faith. I'm asking why, when someone says they had a revelation from God, I should take their word for it.

            We also gain confidence in the testimony of the church regarding revelation when we see how faithful it has been to its belief over 2000 years.

            That may give you confidence. Not me. The persistence of a belief tells me nothing about the probability that it's true.

      • Mal

        You don't think that the ever-reliable properties of light have anything to do with it?

        • Doug Shaver

          We're talking about the cause of a reflection. Without light, there is nothing to be reflected, and light does not cause itself to be reflected.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      When you stand in front of a mirror, what do you see? You see your image & likeness. If you leave the mirror even for an instant, what happens to your image & likeness? It ceases to exist! You “being” in front of the mirror continually holds your image & likeness in existence.

      And then the lights were shut off.

      • Robert Macri

        The same God who created the "mirror" is also responsible for the "light".

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Somehow analogies don't work very well if we need to add the thing we are making an analogy about into the analogy.

    • Aquinasbot

      He also had a wonderful quip on the concept of God holding us in existence by pointing out that since God created the world from nothing that were God to cease holding us into existence we would become that which he created us from...nothing, non-existence.

      • Yes, Sheed is one of my favs.
        Everyone has need of some Sheed!

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Does the unnatural cause of my will fix my will? Does it explain why I choose to draw in red rather than blue? If not, then what explains why I choose red rather than blue?

    • Robert Macri

      Very good question. I hold it as a great mystery how the will can be both created and free, but the possibility of such a thing can perhaps be approached "sideways", as it were.

      I think we have to break this up into two questions: (1) how is it possible for a created entity to undergo some kind of change without coercion (whether by external forces or governing law), and (2) what is the nature of the act of choosing.

      As for (1), we see even in nature examples of events which are not entirely determined by any kind of law. For instance, Bell's theorem tells us that there can be no hidden variable theory which could offer a deterministic underpinning of quantum mechanics. If this is correct, then, there is nothing to force (or coerce), say, a particular photon to either be reflected or transmitted by a pane of glass.

      There is, then, a certain "degree of freedom" left open by the laws of nature. There exist potential events that can happen, but are not required to happen, even in "blind nature".

      As for (2), I think that is the far deeper mystery. The very act of choosing
      seems to involve something beyond any mechanistic framework. It is wrapped up in consciousness, rational self-awareness, and desire. I cannot accept the claims of some that these are "emergent properties" of complex but blind processes, because:

      A) There are things that we do when we reason that cannot be achieved by any algorithm (for more on this, I recommend Roger Penrose's books "Shadows of the Mind" and "The Emperor's New Mind"),

      and

      B) There is no reason to believe that self-awareness could even in principle be a mechanical type of thing. Simply adding circuits to a computer gives you more of what you had before; it does not suddenly give you thought, because thought is more than mere speed and memory. More even than complexity. No matter how complex a system of gears and pulleys and water-filled pipes became, no one would ever say it could "think". Why then would we suppose that a computer AI could potentially do so, simply because it uses electrons instead of water, integrated logic circuits instead of gears? If it was possible for one, why not the other?

      But what then gives rise to a self-aware, rational mind capable of choice? I cannot identify any physical causes that could accomplish such a thing. This is a property of mind, not matter, of soul, not physical substance. And here it is, then, that I run into a limit of knowledge, either of my own deficiency or because such knowledge is not possible. As Godel tells us, there are things that are true but cannot be proven, even in mathematics.

      In any case I tend to think of self-awareness and choice as "inherited" abilities, a kind of freedom by proxy. Our very possession of such gifts is a sharing in divine attributes. As we get heat from what is hot we receive the ability of thought from what thinks and existence from what exists. And as a gift, it is not a mere copying, but genuine non-competitive possessing. I receive the capability of thought from that which thinks, but I am not locked into thinking the very same things (as the photon I spoke of above is not locked into either reflecting or transmitting), and thus I am not locked into a particular choice. Though I don't think it possible, if I could program an artificial intelligence it would similarly get its ability to think from me (as a kind of offspring of my own ability), but it would not then have to think the same things as me, desire as I desire, choose as I choose.

      Quite a mystery, yes, but a wonderful one.

      • David Nickol

        Don't animals—say dogs, for example—make free choices? Or is the behavior of a dog entirely determined?

        • Mike

          very good q. seriously. as they don't have free will, we'd have to say yes. although to be able to predict it is perhaps impossible given that even the pull of the sun would in the final analysis have to be taken into account.

        • Robert Macri

          Don't animals—say dogs, for example—make free choices? Or is the behavior of a dog entirely determined?

          Sorry to equivocate, but in my opinion the answer would be "no" to both of these questions. (Or perhaps, "yes, but not exactly").

          "No" to the first question in the sense that animals do not exercise free will, which requires rational consideration (not mere desire or reaction).

          "No" (or "not exactly") to the second question in the sense that not all natural phenomena are uniquely determined. Currently physics tells us that there is no "hidden variable" theory to predict precisely what outcome a measurement of a quantum state will reveal (assuming a superposition of states, not a wavefunction collapsed to an eigenstate), thus there is no way to predict, even in principle, what every quantum system will "do" (e.g. will the photon be transmitted through the glass or reflected by it?)

          So there are some things in nature which can have this or that outcome, without being forced by any knowable law into any particular outcome.

          Now, this does not mean that God does not know what the quantum system (or even a dog) will do, but then he knows what human beings (who possess free will) will do as well, so that's a different discussion altogether.

          Sometimes I wonder if this indeterminate quantum strangeness is the "wiggle room" that allows for physical creatures endowed with free will in the first place. At the very least, it gives God a tremendous power to influence nature without having to suspend any natural law (though he can of course do that as well if he chooses).

          • David Nickol

            I did a little brushing up on the Catholic understanding of free will (or at least I took a look at some other opinions in Catholic forums), and it would appear that "free will" applies to moral decisions only. So your contention that free will requires "rational consideration" is, I think, subsumed in the contention that free will is exercised in moral considerations only, and we probably don't think of dogs as moral agents. (Although I think perhaps a case could be made that they act morally or immorally on a very limited level.)

            But the question this raises, if we think of free will applying solely to moral decisions, is how we can isolate moral decision-making in human thought from other decision-making. Does free will not apply to a decision to have chocolate rather than vanilla ice cream, or to become a doctor rather than a physicist? And if free will does not apply, are such things determined?

            Free will, it seems, in the Catholic interpretation, is some kind of supernatural power that applies only to moral decisions. It is difficult to imagine, though, that determinism applies to everything but moral decisions. Is how you reach points of moral decisions throughout your life determined, with only the moral decisions freely made?

    • Mike

      the only free thing about your free will is your ability to resist your natural desires or will. you unlike all the other animals can stop and ponder the choice or the predicament and can resist and via reason can try to alter those desires. but your natural will is like the animals apparently that's why pleasure via food is hard to resist for us bc although the pleasure from food is good, too much of it is bad.

      • Robert Macri

        Well said.

    • David Nickol

      There has been a question in my mind about "free will" for some time, and I continue to have a problem expressing it, but I'll give it another try. Suppose God is able to stop time at any given instant and "rewind" back a certain period of time—let's say a month. When time is set back, all conditions are exactly the same when the month begins again, down to the quantum level (or farther, if there is a farther). Toward the end of that month, there is a person struggling with a moral dilemma, and he must choose either A or B before the month is over. During the first run-through, he chooses A. Then the month is replayed, and replayed again, and replayed again, a hundred times. Can it be the case that our struggling person sometimes chooses A and sometimes chooses B? Or will he chose A every time. If he chooses A every time, in what sense was the choice not determined? And if he chooses A sometimes and B other times, in what sense are the choices his?

      Suppose upon making the fateful choice, the person dies, and if he chose A, he goes to heaven, but if he chose B, he goes to hell. If he can choose sometimes A and sometimes B, is it not the exact same person who sometimes goes to heaven and sometimes goes to hell? If he can only choose A, is the choice not determined, and if he can sometimes choose A and other times B, in what way is the choice not arbitrary?

      How can it be that the exact same circumstances produce different results (if they do)?

      Of course, this is just a "thought experiment," but it seems a reasonable one given the belief by Catholics (and others) that free will always allows a person a true choice at any given point, and (presumably) anyone facing a moral dilemma can freely choose the right path or the wrong path, no matter what

      • Alexandra

        Hi David. Were the circumstances leading up to the "CHOICE" exactly the same each time? It seems to me, given the same set of circumstances you would repeat the same choice. I'm trying to think of a case when this would not be true...

        Edit to add: Just realized you are saying the circumstances are the same...but I'm referring all the points right before the CHOICE.

        • David Nickol

          Yes, in my hypothetical situation, the circumstances leading up to the choice (virtually everything, including the temperature, wind direction, food digesting in the person's stomach, dust particles in the air) are exactly the same.

          • Alexandra

            It seems to me, for something inconsequential or a whim, like petting my dog on head, that could vary- but something like saving my dog's life, given who I am, I would make the same choice. I'm basing this on the fact that I would have the exact same thoughts, etc. leading up to that choice. It is still free will, but I'm conforming to who I am and how I would react at the time.

          • Robert Macri

            I like that. It distinguishes between the essence of the person you have freely chosen to be and the multiplicity of potential actions you might take which are consistent with your chosen state.

          • Alexandra

            Hi Robert,
            You stated that much more eloquently than I could hope to. :) It reminded me of Bishop Sheen's "If you do not live what you believe, you will end up believing what you live"- in that we are freely defining who we are.

            So then, I find David's thought-experiment oddly reassuring. We will be true to ourselves irrespective of circumstance. Undefined beliefs can cause varied results. "They are like chaff driven in the wind." But if we affirm and nurture goodness as who we are, through the grace of God, we will be so.

            Edit:Grammer

          • Robert Macri

            Alexandra,
            Thank you so much for the kind words. And that quote from the venerable Bishop Sheen is so perfectly apt. We really are "co-creators" of ourselves in a sense, aren't we? Deciding who to be and even what to believe. And as you point out so well, what we believe matters, and it matters greatly.

            Keep doing honor to your name ("Defender of mankind")! ;)

          • Alexandra

            Aw, this is one of nicest responses I've ever received. Thank you! 'You've very much uplifted my spirits. :)

            "Co-creator" - that is wonderful way to describe us. :) We are made in the image of the Creator and so we too have a participation in the goodness He has surrounded us by. What we believe in, is who we are, and it makes a difference in the world. It does matter. So we each have a profound responsibility- to love, to rejoice, to be thankful, and to be a light. . Thank God for His Blessings. :)

      • This seems to reduce to the following:

             (1) On Calvinism, God is to blame for those who go to hell.
             (2) On Arminianism, those who go to hell are to blame.

        The way you've phrased your question pushes toward (1), but there is a problem. The basis on which you reject (2) can be used to reject (1). The result is that there simply is no responsibility. There are no agent causes which are responsible for their actions. One author which takes this idea seriously is Bruce Waller; see his Against Moral Responsibility. Have you examined such lines of thought?

      • ClayJames

        If you rewind to a split second before that decision, then it will probably always be the same. However, the conclusions, thoughts and actions following that decision may differ which could change the course of actions in the following month and affect a decision you made yesterday.

        My biggest problem with determinism is that I see no way how I could trust the validity of my conclusions if they are all determined. To even talk about what is true, one must reject that all is determined.

        • David Nickol

          But if the same problem is presented to a computer over and over, or if the same problem is presented to many computers simultaneously, assuming they are well constructed computers, the answers will always be the same. We could not trust a computer that did not give the same answer again and again to a given problem.

          So if a person is well informed and following reason, he or she should come to the same conclusions as all other persons who are well informed and reasoning about the same issue. The fact that people do not agree is not a sign of their free will and reliable reasoning. It is just the opposite.

          • ClayJames

            The problem has nothing to do with the answers not being the same, it has to do with the fact that the answers couldn't have been anything else, whether they are right or wrong. Not agreeing on something is not the problem. In your example, computers are consistent, but there is no way to really know if the conclusions they are making are true.

            Pertaining to humans, the deterministic chain of events that lead to "true" claims are the same that lead to "false" claims, therefore we can't have any confidence that any one claim is true. It makes no sense to say that we can ground the truth value of beliefs on information, reason and confirmation of similar minded people when all things are based on the same deterministic chain of events as false beliefs and there is nothing you or anyone else could have done to believe otherwise.

      • Robert Macri

        Nice thought experiment, David.

        On the one hand, I would suppose that the "replays" would necessarily all be in some way different, as a consequence of quantum mechanics. QM tells us that if we had an ensemble of perfectly identical systems (that is, each system begins with exactly the same quantum wave function) the results will vary in a way that can be predicted statistically but not precisely.

        On the other hand, I think we have to remember that we are not the only free, thinking agent in this gedanken experiment. God is another. That is, while our reactions to varying circumstances may be different, God's assistance to us would also be different. (Imagine a child whose hand is guided by the gentle corrections of his mother as she teaches him to trace the letters of the alphabet. She responds differently to any error in the child's movements.)

        So I would say that God would provide such that, even with wildly varying circumstances, the person would have everything they require to make the right choice. Thus, I would tend to think that a person who is saved (or lost) in one replay is saved (or lost) in all, but this in no way means that they did not freely choose to be saved or lost in each instance, because God would always give the person whatever they need to succeed in the end.

        The mystery I sometimes ponder is, why would God create a person who he knew would choose damnation? But I suppose that if he did not do so then our free will would be an illusion, for there would be no chance for any created being to be lost. And I also suppose that his love and generosity demand that he give the gift of existence even to those who will choose an existence eternally separated from him.

        • David Nickol

          So I would say that God would provide such that, even with wildly varying circumstances, the person would have everything they require to make the right choice.

          Isn't this just another way of saying what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

          No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.

          And we know this to be false, taken at face value, at least. It seems to me to be contradicted by the Catholic criteria for mortal sin:

          1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

          God will not let you be tried beyond your strength . . . unless you are overcome by feelings and passions, external pressures, or pathological disorders.

          As I have mentioned before, suicide would seem to be the one sure ticket to hell, but the Catechism is almost upbeat concerning

          Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

          2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

          Now, I think it is to the credit of the Church that she takes these attitudes. But if one really believes what St. Paul says, then anyone contemplating suicide should theoretically be given all the "grace" to resist it, and anyone who doesn't resist it should go to hell.

        • David Nickol

          The mystery I sometimes ponder is, why would God create a person who he knew would choose damnation?

          One possible answer, it seems to me, is that the idea of damnation (assuming there really is a God) is a serious misunderstanding in Christian thought. No one has ever answered (to my satisfaction) how a finite being could merit infinite punishment. The thought that I, personally, might go to hell is a terrifying thought. But the thought that anyone might be punished for eternity (even if I am personally saved) is almost equally disturbing. It is simply not justice. (And please don't say something like, "The door to hell is locked from the inside.")

          The modern way around it is to claim that God does not want anyone to go to hell, and he is just honoring the freedom of those who choose it does not make any sense to me. Anyone who would choose eternal torment is obviously not competent to make choices on their own behalf.

          But I suppose that if he did not do so then our free will would be an illusion, for there would be no chance for any created being to be lost.

          I don't see why there can be no free will if what is right and good is so obvious that any moral agent would always choose it. Who in their right minds would not choose infinite goodness and eternal happiness?

          And I also suppose that his love and generosity demand that he give the gift of existence even to those who will choose an existence eternally separated from him.

          Well, that implies existence is a gift to the nonexistent. But the nonexistent don't exist, so how can they be given the gift of existence? And is it better to exist in torment for all eternity? The only way choosing eternal separation from God makes the least bit of sense is if those who choose it are content with it and are not punished. But according to Catholic doctrine, hell involves punishments in addition to the alleged suffering from being separated from God.

          • Rob Abney

            "Who in their right minds would not choose infinite goodness and eternal happiness?"
            Only those individuals who refuse to acknowledge that they are the created and not the creator. They will continue to expect infinite goodness and happiness from Man.

          • David Nickol

            Only those individuals who refuse to acknowledge that they are the created and not the creator. They will continue to expect infinite goodness and happiness from Man.

            I am afraid this is not a satisfactory answer. What would it mean for me to think that I am "the creator"? Interpreted literally, that would mean I am insane. Interpreted metaphorically, it would either mean that I didn't believe in God, or I didn't think God was "all he was cracked up to be." (A friend once said to me, "Oh, I believe in God. I just don't believe he's all he's cracked up to be.") But in either of those two cases, it seems to me it could be a matter of ignorance. And what kind of "omnibenevolent" God would punish people for all eternity because they were ignorant or mistaken?

            And who in his or her right mind expects infinite goodness and happiness from Man?

            It seems to me that eternal punishment (if it could ever be justified, and I don't think it could) would have to be merited only by those who acted with "informed consent." The Catholic Church gives three criteria for mortal sin—the misdeed must be seriously wrong, must be known to be seriously wrong, and must be done with full consent of the will. I suppose one might argue that it is next to impossible to give "full consent of the will" to an act that will result in eternal punishment.

            I am following with some interest the currently ongoing Synod on the Family and the question of whether the divorced and civilly remarried should be admitted to communion. If such married people are in a state of mortal sin (unless they stop having sex with their spouses), why would they want to come to church, raise their children Catholic, and so on, and so on? If mortal sin is a complete and deliberate turning away from God, and the consequence is eternal punishment, it would seem to me that anyone who chooses mortal sin should consider himself or herself perfectly free to break any and all moral rules. What is there to be lost? Once you have turned your back on God, why isn't the only logical conclusion for future behavior, "Anything goes"?

          • Rob Abney

            "Who in his right mind expects infinite happiness and goodness from Man?"
            Exactly, the free will must be informed by a right mind. But if the mind is blinded can't we just plead invincible ignorance and expect to avoid the consequences of a life separated from God? David, that's been answered by Aquinas and also the bible. Basically, you cannot will yourself to be invincibly ignorant because that demonstrates that your intellect is informing your will deceitfully.

          • Robert Macri

            Sorry about the long delay. I've been swamped.

            Anyone who would choose eternal torment is obviously not competent to make choices on their own behalf.

            Which is why, I think, that the problem of suffering exists. We make our eternal choice not all at once, but through a long series of small affirmations. The experience of struggling and suffering is the way we hone our choice, accepting it not in one big yes or no that we may not be competent to understand, but in a whole slew of them, each with repercussions that force us to consider that rightness or wrongness of our choice. If we were "competent" to make such a choice we would be like the angels and demons: instantly and permanently deciding.

            My kids want a dog. No matter how many times I describe the work and responsibility involved they say "yes, yes! We'll do it all!" But they cannot fully understand what they are saying "yes" to without experiencing it. If I were to let them house sit for neighbor's pets, or perhaps take on a foster pet for a time, then experience will help them to later make a full and heartfelt "yes".

            I don't see why there can be no free will if what is right and good is so obvious that any moral agent would always choose it. Who in their right minds would not choose infinite goodness and eternal happiness?

            Satan, and many others. And there was nothing wrong with his mind. The problem was his pride.

            Again, if we compare ourselves to the angels, who saw so clearly and finally the result of their choice that no change of decision on their part is possible, perhaps we will begin to see our limited knowledge as a gift: a long series of "second chances" to repent of a bad choice.

            That is, if we could see everything clearly, without doubt, without confusion, it is not at all necessary that we would all choose to serve God, though we all be "in our right minds". For some of our minds will be set on serving none but ourselves.

            Well, that implies existence is a gift to the nonexistent. But the nonexistent don't exist, so how can they be given the gift of existence?

            It is a gift given in advance of its reception, such as the college fund a parent starts for a child that has not been conceived yet.

            And is it better to exist in torment for all eternity?

            In the minds of the damned it is. That is why we attribute to Satan the phrase "I would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven." We do not think it is "better", of course, but we cannot make that choice for anyone else.

            The only way choosing eternal separation from God makes the least bit of sense is if those who choose it are content with it and are not punished. But according to Catholic doctrine, hell involves punishments in addition to the alleged suffering from being separated from God.

            Why do you use the word "alleged"?

            The way it makes sense is that the punishment is exactly what the damned most desire: it is precisely the absence from God's presence. Yes, such a choice would entail very real suffering: physical (with the resurrection of the damned), mental, and spiritual. But all of it flows from the separation from God, and all of it is freely chosen and desired (at least more than the opposite is desired) by the damned soul..

            I can't remember which saint it was (St. Margaret Mary, perhaps), but she once during a vision asked the Lord for permission to bring a soul out of hell, because she was convinced that if the soul could only see heaven he or she would certainly choose to stay there. God gave his assent, and the saint went to retrieve a soul. As she came closer and closer to heaven with her new charge the damned soul writhed in agony and cursed her repeatedly, demanding to be sent back. It was as if the proximity to God caused the soul even greater suffering than the torments of hell, just as the eyes of a person who for decades shut themselves up in the dark will suffer pain when the person is led into the light.

            We should not think of hell as mere punishment for stepping out of line, but as a reluctant permission for a soul to have what it most desires, even though that desire is to suffer an infinite loss.

            No one has ever answered (to my satisfaction) how a finite being could merit infinite punishment.

            Here's how Fr. Mitch Pacwa explains it (at least I think I heard this from him):

            Let's say one person punches another in the face (in anger, not defense). That is clearly wrong. But the severity of the offense depends on the party offended.

            If the person struck was a friend the crime is bad enough.
            If it was the person's employer the injustice (and penalty) is even greater.
            If it was a police officer, the injustice is greater still.
            It if was the president, even more so.
            If it was the pope, yet still more.
            If it was God...?

            Because God is infinite, an offense against him takes on an infinite character, even though the offender be finite.

            If you cut up my credit card you have wronged me. If you do the same to Bill Gates you have wronged him much more greatly. And if you were to destroy something of infinite value, such as your own eternity with God, then that offense is indeed infinite.

    • To say "cause of my will" indicates that you are but a causal nexus in which no causes originate. That very phrase seems to deny agent causation.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Does my will require a cause?

        • That would seem to be the question. On naturalism, the answer would seem to be "yes". Ultimately, it would be Shrödinger's equation or whatever true causal law it models. Your "will" would just be a convenient approximation; there would be nothing truly ontological about it.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            If my will does not require a cause, then events we witness everyday, acts of will, do not require causes outside the will itself. Maybe the beginning of the universe is a similar sort of event and likewise requires no cause outside the universe itself.

          • If my will does not require a cause, then events we witness everyday, acts of will, do not require causes outside the will itself.

            Please explain how this works. Here's an example: lightning strikes a tree, it falls over, destroying part of a house, unfortunately with a child inside who dies instantly. How would you understand this happening as "acts of will"? Are we hearkening back to the caricature of the Middle Ages where the world was 'spirited'? Perhaps Rome, with Zeus and his lightning bolt?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            My point is that, if acts of will are uncaused outside the will, maybe other events are uncaused outside their own agents. We might say that lightning is caused by charge separation, but that we only accept that due to the predictive power of such an explanation. Maybe on the other hand a radioisotope decays at a certain time and kills a cat. Do we understand this as being uncaused? Maybe so. Is this identical to an act of will? No. But it may be similar in that both events may not have causes outside their agents.

          • My point is that, if acts of will are uncaused outside the will, maybe other events are uncaused outside their own agents.

            I haven't made it through this book, but Rom Harré's and E.H. Madden's Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity might be construable as an argument for this, via what they call a 'powerful particular'. My suspicion is that it's a "both–and", not an "either/or".

            We might say that lightning is caused by charge separation, but that we only accept that due to the predictive power of such an explanation.

            Welcome to anti-realism about theoretical laws in science, per Nancy Cartwright's How the Laws of Physics Lie. It looks like Stathis Psillos' paper Cartwright’s Realist Toil: From Entities to Capacities may give a decent intro.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Thank you for the suggested resources. I will look into Madden's book; I'd never heard about it before.

            I've read some of Cartwright's book, and I think that inference to the best explanation doesn't require anti-realism even under her reading, so long as the explanations are causal explanations. If you believe that charge separation is the best way to explain lightning, it gets the best predictions, and then believe that this is evidence that charge separation really happens when lightning happens, you're being both a good realist and a good empiricist.

            Someone could look at a lightning strike and say that it is part of a (potentially very long) causal chain, going back to charge separation, to convective motion of droplets, to electrification of droplets, to cosmic ray ionization and radioionization of the atmosphere. A good realist may believe that all these things actually happen, and aren't only one set of several possible predictive explanations. Also with the isotope killing the cat, maybe you investigate, and our realist determines that the isotope determines when the isotope radiates and kills the cat, and that causal chain ends there. He would believe that the isotope really internally determines when and how this happens, without any further cause outside the isotope. Same with free will.

            A good empiricist and realist would simply accept external causes when there's evidence, and withhold judgement when there's no evidence. He might then look at the origins of the universe and determine that they had an outside cause or not depending on which theories explain the data best. He might do well to remain agnostic about whether the universe had an external cause.

            I'm not a good empiricist. I'm more a rationalist, committed as I am to the principle of sufficient reason. This leads me both to continually seek explanations for the way things are, and not to settle for these brute facts or 'powerful particulars' (if powerful particulars are brute). This also leads me to seriously doubt that we have free will.

          • I'm not a good empiricist. I'm more a rationalist, committed as I am to the principle of sufficient reason. This leads me both to continually seek explanations for the way things are, and not to settle for these brute facts or 'powerful particulars' (if powerful particulars are brute). This also leads me to seriously doubt that we have free will.

            But don't your causal chains have to terminate somewhere? The root question seems to be whether the person, or the mind, can be terminus of causal chains. Can the person, or the mind, be a fundamental building block of reality, irreducible to anything else? I don't think this requires Cartesian dualism; instead it is a fundamental question about how mind works. Those who think it is merely a [badly functioning] Turing machine would say "no". However, I'm not at all convinced that this is a good way to look at things, and I'm very interested in what the denial of the mind being a fundamental ontological unit ends up also denying.

  • David Nickol

    I am not sure Dr. Augros's post of today gets us anywhere important. The question was whether God continues to cause our existence.

    The answer is—now prepare yourself for a shock—yes!

    • Rob Abney

      I agree that Dr. Augros didn't shed much light on this subject, but I think Thomas Aquinas already has. This is from the Summa, part one, question 19. Difficult to read by itself but he always directs you back to how he arrived at his conclusions.
      Thomas' answer seems to be God sustains everything with His will, His will is his love for everything and it cannot logically be withheld.

      The will of God must needs always be fulfilled. In proof of which we must consider that since an effect is conformed to the agent according to its form, the rule is the same with active causes as with formal causes. The rule in forms is this: that although a thing may fall short of any particular form, it cannot fall short of the universal form. For though a thing may fail to be, for example, a man or a living being, yet it cannot fail to be a being. Hence the same must happen in active causes. Something may fall outside the order of any particular active cause, but not outside the order of the universal cause; under which all particular causes are included: and if any particular cause fails of its effect, this is because of the hindrance of some other particular cause, which is included in the order of the universal cause. Therefore an effect cannot possibly escape the order of the universal cause.

  • Can God temporarily withdraw from his "upholding existence"? For example:

    God came from Teman,    and the Holy One from Mount Paran. SelahHis splendor covered the heavens,    and the earth was full of his praise.His brightness was like the light;    rays flashed from his hand;    and there he veiled his power.Before him went pestilence,    and plague followed at his heels.(Habakkuk 3:3–5)

    As an analogy to cutting ourselves off from God's grace, one could consider what would happen to the Earth's ecosystem if a total solar shade were erected. Life would sorta-kinda continue for a time; some humans might even learn to survive long-term. However, prolonged existence would certainly be doomed in the longer run, unless we learned to penetrate that solar shade, or if it were somehow shattered.

    • David Nickol

      As I understand these various proofs that assert contingency, God cannot for an instant cease upholding of existence. It's why he's the "uncaused cause" or the "unmoved mover."

      We discussed in another thread that Aristotle and Aquinas thought of motion as needing a cause, and that is why God is the "unmoved mover." But since Newton and the concept of inertia, motion doesn't need to be explained, but it may be argued that a change in motion needs explaining. In one commentary I read on the matter, it said that we would therefore have to change the concept from the "unmoved mover" to the "unaccelerated accelerator."

      • I understand this, but some sort of change is described in Habakkuk 3:3–5. Suppose, for example, we associate the ontological existence of universals to be something God sustains. For him to "let go" would be for nominalism to slowly become true. The result would be a sort of "ontological disintegration". Instead of creation becoming increasingly conformed to God's will, or "the earth.. be[ing] filled / with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD / as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14), the opposite would happen.

        As to the kind of necessary upholding of existence, we could think of the laws of nature themselves. These days, the trend among physicists seems to be to treat them more descriptively than prescriptively, e.g. Sean Carroll uses the phrase "unbreakable patterns". But surely there is causation? Surely something accounts for why things are as they are? In quantum physicist-turned-philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat's words:

            Things being so, the solution put forward here is that of far and even nonphysical realism, a thesis according to which Being—the intrinsic reality—still remains the ultimate explanation of the existence of regularities within the observed phenomena, but in which the "elements" of the reality in question can be related neither to notions borrowed from everyday life (such as the idea of "horse," the idea of "small body," the idea of "father," or the idea of "life") nor to localized mathematical entities. It is not claimed that the thesis thus summarized has any scientific usefulness whatsoever. Quite the contrary, it is surmised, as we have seen, that a consequence of the very nature of science is that its domain is limited to empirical reality. Thus the thesis in question merely aims—but that object is quite important—at forming an explicit explanation of the very existence of the regularities observed in ordinary life and so well summarized by science. (In Search of Reality, 167)

        See also pp410–411 of his On Physics and Philosophy.

        Suppose, however, that we just choose to believe that there is no more "underneath", that we've figured out as much as is possible. That seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, since history has shown that one has to pour a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, and tears into convincing nature to give up her secrets. We would be emulating these folks:

        In 1590, skeptics still doubted whether humans can find universal regularities in nature; by 1640, nature was in irremediable decay: but, by 1700, the changeover to the "law-governed" picture of a stable cosmos was complete. (Cosmopolis, 110)

        The choice would be philosophical, not scientific:

            The assumption that any particular kind of fluctuations are arbitrary and lawless relative to all possible contexts, like the similar assumption that there exists an absolute and final determinate law, is therefore evidently not capable of being based on any experimental or theoretical developments arising out of specific scientific problems, but it is instead a purely philosophical assumption. (Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, 44)

        One way to describe this is: people would stop seeking God and start worshiping idols. So-worshiping, they would become like those idols, shedding their imago Dei in the process. That process, completed, might be 'Hell'.

      • George

        To play God's advocate, inertia couldn't be an answer but just moving the question back. "Why does inertia work the way it does?" You can form a grammatically correct sentence questioning the most fundamental concepts and then say God has to account for it.

        I'm far more curious about entropy and how that fits into the theologian's world. What difference does Luke's global sunshade example really make? The sun will last billions of years, but even that's not forever. It's end, and the end of life, is predicted by physics, just much more slowly. The universe expands and heads towards a state with smaller and smaller energy differentials. I'm not happy about it, so I'm ready for better news if there's evidence.

        So is this the system that god is sustaining? Does such a system NEED god to sustain it? This doesn't look like a bad candidate for an unsustained reality if you ask me. What if god has already pulled the plug on us and we're just riding it out to the end? Perhaps that would allow the apologist to deny that the metastasizing cancers and progressing Alzhiemers are being micromanaged by the Father of the children suffering from those diseases.

        One could say that's all wrong and that we'd blink out of existence instantly if god left us alone. But can't I use the theist's own rules to say that we already have blinked out of existence from god's eternal perspective? What if trillions(to the power of millions) of years of winding down is the only, the*necessary* process for the limited, temporal perspective within in the universe?

        • Peter

          If we create an environmental catastrophe, either short-term and devastating or long term and insidious, which results in generations suffering from cancer and other diseases, is it our fault or God's?

          Are you denying that mankind has wilfully created such catastrophes?

  • Ignatius Reilly

    But God is causing my will to exist and to have its causal power, for so long as it exists. My will has no other cause than God, no created cause, and in that way it is first among created causes—but all its existence and causal power are continuously coming from God.

    This is just an assertion.

    As far as Chapter 1 is concerned, it might well be that there are many “first causes” out there, things that depend in no way on any prior cause, but simply exist and act all by themselves. In Chapter 2, I present an argument against that, showing there can really be only a single thing that exists all by itself.

    What is the point of all of this, if Augros is not going to present an argument for what this article was supposed to be about?!?!?!

    • Joe

      Nailed it right on the head! I couldn't wait for Dr Augros' response and when I read it, I had the same reaction as you!

  • neil_pogi

    of course, it's like a flame. when there's no more flammable materials to be fed on the flame, the flame dies out.

  • Peter

    At the beginning of space-time there was one force which almost instantly split into four and set the universe on its entropy-driven journey to create the ingredients for life. These four forces underpin the whole of nature. They are the reason why nature continues to exist at every moment and behave the way it does. Where does God fit into all this?

    Does God directly sustain these forces in existence or do they depend on more fundamental processes for their operation? Do these fundamental processes regress infinitely or is there a point at which God is the first mover? We do not know and therefore cannot say for certain how God is involved.

    However, we see around us a vast cosmic factory producing the components for life. We see elegance and harmony, logic and intelligibility, consistency and uniformity. We, those of us with our eyes wide open, see beyond the nuts and bolts of the operation and realise that this is the work of a mastermind. God is the mastermind behind the whole venture. Does it matter if we do not know how he is involved?

    • George

      "We see elegance and harmony, logic and intelligibility, consistency and uniformity. We, those of us with our eyes wide open, see beyond the nuts and bolts of the operation and realise that this is the work of a mastermind."

      "God is the mastermind behind the whole venture."

      Here's why I don't care for that assertion.

      Do you think the god you believe in, itself, is elegant, harmonious, logical, intelligible, consistent and uniform? If so, why do you think it can be that way but not require an external explanation? Why does that work for god and nothing else?

      Further claiming that god is immaterial (I'm predicting) therefore he's all these qualities necessarily does not help matters. What do you mean by immaterial? what are you talking about if you say that?

      • Peter

        From the standpoint of design, I cannot prove that God does not need an explanation, nor can I prove that God is immaterial. I take these on faith.

        All I see is a sublimely ordered universe which can only be the product of a great mind. Since such a mind is so great as to be able to design and create our universe, I am happy to call that mind God.

  • ijstaartindeoven

    I don't believe in god. Is that his will or mine?

    • Alexandra

      Hello. It is entirely your choice. Have you always not believed in God?

      • neil_pogi

        therefore ijstaartindeoven has a free will to believe according to the dictates of his own self

    • Lazarus

      If you're right about God it can't be his will, now can it? If you're wrong about God then Catholics will tell you it's your decision.

      (My Dutch is terrible - your username refers to an iron in the oven / fire?)

    • Peter

      Isn't atheism a lack of will to believe?

      • ijstaartindeoven

        That is not what I asked.

        I don't want to live forever in heaven or forever burn in hell. I want to be dead when I die.

        • Peter

          This is is not atheism. Atheism is lacking belief in an afterlife due to the absence of evidence for it, with the default position of expecting oblivion at death. There is no desire involved one way or the other.

          To actually desire oblivion at death, where one is not accountable for one's life, is the same as desiring that God does not exist. Wanting God not to exist is not atheism, it is anti-theism.

          • ijstaartindeoven

            If I understand it correctly man has a free will. So if I choose out of my own free will, not to choose to believe in god and want to be dead, I will be thrown in hell?

          • neil_pogi

            whether you choose to believe in a something or not, that's free will.

            only evildoers and unrepentant sinners are to be thrown in hell to be annihilated. it's the second death

          • ijstaartindeoven

            God is love according to Paul. If that is true, why is there a hell?

          • neil_pogi

            hell is reserve to evildoers and unrepentant sinners. it's a place of 'second death'..

            if eternal torment is to be carried out in hell, then the book of revelation is untrue about its claim; 'Then I saw "a new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.' Revelation 21:1

        • neil_pogi

          if you die, you will live again, because atheists believe that a non-living matter (dead) becomes living matter!

          and why living matter devolve into non-living matter?

      • Doug Shaver

        Isn't atheism a lack of will to believe?

        No. Atheism is just lack of belief. Whether the will has anything to do with that lack is a separate issue.

        • neil_pogi

          lack of belief? but you believe in naturalism, therefore, atheism has belief system.
          if you have no will, you will not be here to post comments because why you care for theists? why not just let them alone? why are you sharing your own belief system?

          • Doug Shaver

            lack of belief?

            Lack of a particular belief. The context should have made that obvious.

            if you have no will . . . .

            I didn't say I had none. I said it had nothing to do defining atheism.

          • neil_pogi

            obviously, atheism is just another belief system

  • Joe

    Dr. Augros, your response to the question of why the First Cause still has to be with us today was much anticipated, but unfortunately, left some of us disappointed (ex, the will causes the body to act, e.g., moving the paint brush). You simply made the assertion that God is causing my will to exist 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.