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If Everything Requires a Cause, What Caused God?

Bertrand Russell

W. Norris Clarke’s article, “A Curious Blind Spot in the Anglo-American Tradition of Antitheistic Argument,” first appeared in The Monist in 1970.  It was reprinted in his anthology titled The Creative Retrieval of St. Thomas Aquinas: Essays in Thomistic Philosophy, New and Old, which was published posthumously in 2009.  I recently read the essay, and I did so with embarrassment and gratification.  Embarrassment because I found that something I’ve been harping on for a few years now had already been said by Fr. Clarke over 40 years ago.  Gratification because I found that something I’ve been harping on for a few years now had already been said by Fr. Clarke over 40 years ago.

The stock caricature in question is, of course, the “Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause” argument.  As I’ve pointed out many times on my blog (e.g. here and here), no major proponent of the idea of a First Cause ever actually defended this argument.  Indeed, all the major proponents of arguments for a First Cause would reject the claim that “everything has a cause,” and on entirely principled, rather than ad hoc, grounds.  Hence the stock retort to this caricature has no force whatsoever against their actual arguments.  That stock retort is of course to ask, “If everything has a cause, then what caused God?” and then to suggest that if God need not have a cause, then neither need the universe have a cause.  Maybe, those who attack this caricature suggest, it is the universe itself (or the event that gave rise to it) that is the first or uncaused cause.

The “curious blind spot” Clarke is referring to is contemporary Anglo-American philosophers’ inability or unwillingness to see that in routinely trotting out this objection they are attacking a straw man that bears no interesting relationship whatsoever to what writers like Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. actually said.

On my own blog, I’ve given many examples of philosophers who attack the straw man First Cause argument.  They include Bertrand RussellSteven HalesNigel Warburton, and (as I showed in a post discussing several examples at once) Daniel Dennett, Robin Le Poidevin, Graham Priest, Michael Martin, Simon Blackburn, Jenny Teichman and Katherine Evans.  Clarke offers several further examples from philosophy textbooks of the mid twentieth century, including John Hospers’ widely used An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis.  As Clarke indicates, Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian may be the source from which many subsequent writers learned this caricature and the stock reply to it.  Clarke also notes that Russell in turn seems to have gotten the idea from John Stuart Mill, who in turn got it from his father James Mill.  Clarke thinks that David Hume, who in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion attacks something like the stock straw man First Cause argument, may be the first well-known writer to do so.  Clarke writes:

"Let it first be agreed without qualification that if one does admit the principle “Every being has a cause,” then the refutation is inescapable and devastating.  But the very ease of this refutation, if nothing else, should have aroused some suspicions in the minds of its users, one would have thought, as to whether their supposed opponents were actually using this principle.  And it is in itself a highly suspicious fact that no one among the many in this Hume-Russell tradition whom I have read ever quotes any specific theistic philosopher who does make use of it.  So constant is this pattern, in fact, that I am willing to wager that this family trait is found also in those I have not yet run across." (p. 55, emphasis added)

As I have noted in the earlier posts cited, the pattern in question certainly has continued in the 40 plus years since Clarke wrote.  Critics regularly attack the straw man without citing anyone who has ever defended it.  (Le Poidevin even admits that no one has actually defended it!)  After falsely accusing proponents of the First Cause argument of contradicting themselves by denying that God has a cause, Hospers smugly writes:

"Many people do not at once see this because they use the argument to get to God, and then, having arrived at where they want to go, they forget all about the argument..." (quoted by Clarke at p. 52)

But who exactly are these “many people”?  The critics do not tell us.  It’s tempting to conclude (paraphrasing Hospers) that these critics do not see that no one has ever really defended the straw man they attack because, having arrived at where they want to go -- a way of dismissing Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. tout court and thereby avoiding commitment to a divine First Cause -- they forget all about what these writers actually said.  Says Clarke:

"We can only conclude, then, that the Hume-Russell tradition of anti-theistic argument, on this point at least, somehow got off to a bad start by completely misunderstanding and misrepresenting the very argument it was trying to refute, and that it has continued to repeat itself ever since, talking only to itself, and without ever bothering to inquire whether the supposed other party to the debate was still there at all, or had ever been there.  In a word, it has become a tradition in the worse sense of the word, truly in a rut and apparently unaware of it." (p. 59)

Confirming evidence of this is provided by Steven Hales’ response to my recent criticism of him for peddling the straw man.  Prof. Hales wrote:

"I do find it surprising that Professor Feser chooses to hang his hat on the Cosmological Argument of all things, an argument that the vast majority of contemporary philosophers consider risible, but I suppose that no interesting philosophical argument is ever truly dead."

But of course, the reason “the vast majority of contemporary philosophers consider [the argument] risible” is precisely because what they know of it is the straw man version peddled in books like Hales’ rather than what proponents of the cosmological argument have actually said!  It’s a vicious circle.  “We know the cosmological argument in general is too silly to be worth taking seriously because the version we learned from the textbooks is so easily refuted; and we know there aren’t any other versions worth looking into, because the cosmological argument in general is too silly to be worth taking seriously.”  This tells you nothing about the value of the cosmological argument, and everything about the value of the conventional wisdom in academic philosophy.

In fact, as Clarke notes, Aquinas explicitly denies that everything has a cause.  He held that “to be caused by another does not appertain to a being inasmuch as it is being; otherwise, every being would be caused by another, so that we should have to proceed to infinity in causes -- an impossibility…” (Summa Contra Gentiles II.52.5).  For writers like Aristotle, Plotinus, and Aquinas and other Scholastics, it is not the fact of something’s existence as such, or of its being a thing per se, that raises causal questions about it.  It is only some limitation in a thing’s intrinsic intelligibility that does so -- for example, the fact that it has potentials that need actualization, or that it is composed of parts which need to be combined, or that it merely participates in some feature, or that it is contingent in some respect.  Hence these writers would never say that “everything has a cause.”  What they would say is that every actualization of a potential has a cause, or whatever is composite has a cause, or whatever has a feature only by participation has a cause, or whatever is contingent has a cause.

Accordingly, when they arrive at God via a First Cause argument, there is no inconsistency, no sudden abandonment of the very premise that got the argument going.  Rather, the argument is that the only way to terminate a regress of actualizers of potentials is by reference to something which is pure actuality, devoid of potentiality, and thus without anything that needs to be, or even could be, actualized; or it is that a regress of causes of composed things can be terminated only by something which is absolutely simple or non-composite, and thus without any parts whose combination needs to be, or indeed could have been, caused by anything; or that the only way to terminate a regress of things that cause other things to participate in being is by reference to that which just is being itself rather than something which merely has or participates in being, and thus something which neither needs, nor could have had, a cause of its own being; or that the only way to terminate a regress of causes of contingent things is by reference to something absolutely necessary, which by virtue of its absolute necessity need not have, and could not have, had something impart existence to it; and so forth.

Whatever one thinks of these sorts of arguments, there is no inconsistency in them, nor any ad hoc exceptions to general principles.  The only way to accuse them of either fault is by reading into them the silly straw man argument that their proponents would reject.

How did the Hume-Russell straw man tradition ever get started in the first place?  I noted in another blog post that Descartes’ “preservation” argument, an eccentric and now little-known variation on the cosmological argument, implies that there is a sense in which everything has a cause -- though it does not explicitly appeal to that claim as a premise, and it does not make an exception in the case of God since it regards Him as self-caused.  Clarke discusses this argument in some detail and shows that while Descartes’ development and defense of the argument in the Replies is complicated and confusing, at the end of the day even he does not appear to be saying quite the sort of thing that the Hume-Russell straw man attributes to First Cause arguments.  What Descartes is saying is something closer to a version of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), on which everything has an explanation.  And in the case of cosmological arguments that appeal to PSR (like Leibniz’s), the Hume-Russell style objection cannot get off the ground, because these arguments do not and need not make any exception in the case of God.  They hold that absolutely everything has an explanation.  In the case of contingent things, the explanation lies outside the thing, and in the case of a necessary being, the explanation lies in the thing’s own nature.  Again, whatever one thinks of such arguments, there is no inconsistency in them, nor any ad hoc exception to a general principle.

Clarke suggests that Descartes blurred the distinction between a cause and a sufficient reason, and that Spinoza (who also thought of God as self-caused) did the same.  What they really meant was something like “Everything has an explanation,” where they make no exception in the case of God.  But since they use the language of “cause,” it sounds like they are saying that “Everything has a cause” in the usual sense of an efficient cause which is distinct from its effect.  And of course that is the sort of cause that God is traditionally said not to have, and which Descartes and Spinoza themselves would deny that he has (even if they think he does have a “cause” in the sense of a sufficient reason).

Clarke suggests that what Hume did was essentially to confuse these two senses of “cause,” taking the rationalist claim that “everything has a ‘cause’-in-the-sense-of-a-sufficient-reason” to be identical to the claim that “everything has a ‘cause’-in-the-sense-of-an-efficient-cause-distinct-from-itself. “  In fact no defender of the cosmological argument ever made the latter claim, but since Descartes and Spinoza made the former claim it seemed to Hume as if someone had made it.  He then essentially made the further step of attributing this thesis to proponents of the cosmological argument in general.  And then, since proponents of the cosmological argument in general do deny that God has a ‘cause’-in-the-sense-of-an-efficient-cause-distinct-from-himself, the claim that proponents of the argument were contradicting themselves seemed to have force.  But as Clarke says:

"Thus the First Cause argument for the existence of God which the Hume-Russell tradition so devastatingly attacks is indeed an inviable metaphysical monster.  But it is a monster of their own fabrication, not that of any reputable theistic philosopher.  It is actually a kind of hybrid of both the traditional Scholastic and Cartesian rationalist traditions, which would make sense in neither and be repudiated by both." (p. 62)

Clarke goes on to note that while Hume may have had some excuse for this error given the confusing nature of Descartes’ terminology, “it is much harder to excuse his successors in this tradition, with all the resources of historical scholarship and linguistic analysis at their disposal, for perpetuating this confusion” (p. 62).  And again, Clarke wrote this over 40 years ago.  In the decades since, lip service to and indeed genuine knowledge of the history of philosophy has dramatically increased within Anglo-American analytic philosophy, and still this absurd caricature of the cosmological argument are routinely and matter-of-factly peddled by academic philosophers.

And unfortunately, the Hume-Russell straw man has so deeply distorted general understanding of the cosmological argument that even some theists -- indeed, even some sympathizers with the cosmological argument -- feel they have to treat it as if it had something to do with the arguments of Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al.  Consider Alex Pruss’s article “The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.  In general it is (as, of course, Alex’s work typically is) excellent.  But Alex says that “a typical cosmological argument faces four different problems,” one of which he describes as follows:

"The third difficulty is the Taxicab Problem, coming from Schopenhauer’s quip that in the cosmological argument, the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is like a taxicab that once used is sent away.  The difficulty here is in answering what happens when the explanatory principle… gets applied to the First Cause.  A popular formulation is: 'If God is the cause of the universe, what is the cause of God?'  Typical solutions argue that the case of the First Cause is different in some way that is not merely ad hoc from the cases to which the explanatory principle was applied." (pp. 24-25)

Alex goes on to argue that this “problem” can indeed be solved, but I think he should never have treated it as a “problem” for the argument in the first place.  Suppose critics of Darwinism routinely asserted that Darwinians claim that a monkey gave birth to the first human baby, and also routinely went on to ridicule this claim as evidence of the “risibility” of Darwinism.  Would it be a good idea for a defender of Darwinism to say that “a typical Darwinian argument faces four different problems, one of which is the Monkey Problem,” and then go on to offer a solution to this “Monkey Problem”?  Of course not, because the “Monkey Problem” is a complete fabrication that no version of Darwinism ever needed a “solution” to.  The proper response would be relentlessly to hammer this point home, not to dignify the objection by treating it as if it were something other than an attack on a straw man.  That only reinforces the misunderstanding in question in the very act of trying to resolve it.  But the same thing is true of the bogus “Taxicab Problem.”  (By the way, I think something similar could be said of the other three “problems” Alex refers to in his article.  They all concern issues that defenders of cosmological arguments are typically addressing head on from the start, not “problems” that remain to be solved after the arguments have been given.)

I’ll give Fr. Clarke the last word, by quoting a passage that I think conveys the correct attitude to take toward those who attack the Hume-Russell straw man.  I think a willingness to assent to what Clarke says here provides a useful test of the competence and intellectual honesty of any atheist and of any professional philosopher:

"[W]e are here in the presence of a philosophical tradition that is truly in a self-repetitive rut, a tradition that has long since ceased to look outside of itself to check with reality and see whether the adversary it so triumphantly and effortlessly demolishes really exists at all… [I]t would seem to be high time that those who still follow this particular tradition of antitheistic argument should have the grace and humility to acknowledge that their argument is dead, and let us get on with more substantive problems with regard to philosophical argument for and against the existence of God." (pp. 62-63)

 
 
NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his own blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.

(Image credit: Answer.com)

Dr. Edward Feser

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Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • Russell quite possibly misrepresented the cosmological argument. I'll grant that. So did lots of other people.

    Granting Dr Feser's claims are true, how do they help him? Maybe Russell misunderstood the cosmological argument, and thought it claimed "everything has a cause". He forgot to include God as the exception. But why should he? Why should God be a special exception?

    If God can be a special exception, why not the universe itself, or some physical or mathematical principle or force that started the universe (if the universe even had a beginning)?

    • Fr.Sean

      hi Paul,
      i don't think (although i may be wrong) that was the point Dr.Fessler is making. I think he's pointing to what exactly former philosophers and theologians mean. thus he points out the original phraseology of actual, potential etc. that there has to be an actual that is always actual and not potential. (kind of like "I am who I am") but to be honest i do not entirely understand the whole argument myself.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      The argument from "motion" (actually: from "actualization of potentials") is that anything that has potential (i.e. is subject to "change") cannot be the actualizer of that potential. What is potential does not actually exist and what does not actually exist cannot do squat. Therefore, whatever is potential must be actualized by something that is already actual. For example, a log that is set on fire: the part of the log that is potentially on fire is ignited by some other part of the log that is actually on fire; and at the beginning, that part is ignited by kindling or a match or a flamethrower or a bolt of fortuitous lightning.
      IOW, actualization of a potential requires something actual. That may be an outside force or it might be a part of the whole, but the whole cannot actualize itself.
      Now that which actualizes is either itself actual or receives its actuality from another. But a series of actualizers that receive their actuality from another cannot regress indefinitely, because then there would be no primary actualizer and hence nothing in the series would be actual. Therefore, such a series would have to terminate, as Dr. Feser describes, in something that is purely actual, something that has no potentiality at all, and which therefore does not require being actualized in the first place.
      This is especially clear with instrumental (secondary) actualizers, like a clarinet. The instrument can make Mozart's Clarinet Concerto actually happen, but it cannot do so unless it is concurrently being actualized by Sharon Kam or Benny Goodman. There must be a primary actualizer simply because instruments cannot act on their own.
      But even a series of accidentally-ordered actualizers, like a forwarded email, which can regress infinitely in principle, still requires a primary actualizer: Someone has to write the email "in the first place," an "unsent sender." Similarly, while a series of "taught teachers" of the Pythagorean Theorem could in principle have been teaching the theorem since who flung the chuck, it is still clear that "in the first place" someone had to prove the theorem without having been taught it: an "untaught teacher." This is because the principle by which the email or the theorem is propagated -- viz., "forwarding" and "teaching,"resp. -- are inadequate to account for their existence of such an email/theorem "in the first place." Forwarding, even an infinite number of times, does not write the content.

      Hope this helps.

      • Sqrat

        But even a series of accidentally-ordered actualizers, like a forwarded
        email, which can regress infinitely in principle, still requires a
        primary actualizer: Someone has to write the email "in the first place,"
        an "unsent sender." Similarly, while a series of "taught teachers" of
        the Pythagorean Theorem could in principle have been teaching the
        theorem since who flung the chuck, it is still clear that "in the first
        place" someone had to prove the theorem without having been taught it:
        an "untaught teacher." This is because the principle by which the email
        or the theorem is propagated -- viz., "forwarding" and "teaching,"resp.
        -- are inadequate to account for their existence of such an
        email/theorem "in the first place." Forwarding, even an infinite number
        of times, does not write the content.

        For the purposes of this analogy, what is the cause of the e-mail?

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Sqrat,
          The orininal author of the email.

          • Sqrat

            Are you sure you didn't skip a step there?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The composition of the content.

          Also, it is not an analogy.

      • Fr.Sean

        thanks TheOldStatistaction!

      • All of this, I think, suffers from an antiquated view of physical reality. It is based on an understanding of time and space that is far too simple. Even in that world, I think it still leads to a question mark, not a conclusion.

        But these rules of causes, effects, actualization of potentials and so on seems to break down when time and space and the laws of physics break down in a Big Bang singularity. You just cannot rely on them as establishing a cause for all material.

        When we also consider that space and time are the same, that tenseness or B-theory of time seems to be the case, Feser's ideas about God seem to be meaningless pantheism.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          All of this, I think, suffers from an antiquated view of physical reality.

          Actually, metaphysics deals with the underlying assumptions that must be for any physics to work. It is not a statement of physical reality, but of logical relationships.

          It is based on an understanding of time and space that is far too simple.

          Actually, their notion that "time is the measure of change in mutable being" and space likewise is a consequence of extension of matter is rather consonant with modern physics, now that Einstein has had his say. Aquinas elsewhere, I forget where, even speaks of the relativity of time (though in a different context) and Witelo wrote of the relativity of motion.

          But these rules of causes, effects, actualization of potentials and so on seems to break down when time and space and the laws of physics break down in a Big Bang singularity.

          In what way?

          • When time and space break down there are no potentials or actualization. This idea that there is a sequence of events seems to be an illusion. There is really no "potential" in this sense. There is a point where there is no causation or time but there is material.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The confusion lies between phenomenological laws and theoretical laws. The former tell us what happens in concrete situations. But the theoretical laws are abstract formulae "which describe no particular circumstances." We then mistake this lack of particulars in the model with a lack of corresponding particulars in the phenomenon. It is a mistake to suppose that because a model breaks down at a certain point, the physical universe must do so as well.

            That is why there is always more than one theory to explain a given set of facts.

          • Tom More

            Agreed.. metaphysics necessarily is prior to epistemology. Our causal principles do not break down a the subatomic level. But we do discover some limits to our knowledge on merely the physical plane. Formal and final causes are where the intelligibility lies as we see in our word.. information.

      • That's fine, but even if this sort of metaphysics were accepted, it doesn't answer the question of why God and not the universe. Why couldn't something in the universe be that completely actualised thing? It would have sat around forever and would have started the universe.

        Brian did at least as good a job as I would have criticising this sort of metaphysics. For reasons Brian's given, I don't find the potential/actual metaphysics very compelling.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          1. Not the universe because the universe is not a "thing." It is a collection of things, and has no more power than does the MoonPaul, which is the collection of the Moon and Paul Rimmer.
          2. Not anythingin the universe because it can be shown that whatever the thing of pure actuality may be, it cannot be mutable (because to be mutable, a thing must have potential to become something else and Pure Act has no potentials) and cannot be made of matter (because matter is the principle of mutability).
          3. Brian simply made a series of declarations. He did not show in what way the metaphysics is invalidated by anything in modern physics: an antiquated view of physical reality or these rules ... seems to break down, or cannot rely on them as establishing a cause for all material (whatever that means), or best of all Feser's ideas about God seem to be meaningless pantheism (which is utterly out of left field). He gives no reason for any of these pronouncements, which sound rather like this can't be true because Physics!

          • Well, you know I don't agree with (1). The universe intuitively seems like one thing. And it's not just intuition. It seems the most natural way to interpret quantum field theory. We are all complex series of field fluctuations over space-time.

            (2) Why can't the first cause change? Why can't part of the universe be unchanging? Why can't there be unchangeable matter?

            (3) You can respond to him if you like. I think he put together a pretty good defence. It's not just declarations.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            (1) This will be the first time that anything in quantum physics has been interpreted in the "most natural" way! (LOL) You seem to be identifying a collection of things: series, fields, fluctuations, space-time. Perhaps the "universe" is the collection of these things?
            (2) The proof of the first way concludes to a completely actualized being, an "unmoved mover" (where motion is understood as kinesis). If it had any potency, it could be actualized by another, which is a contradiction. Hence, the "first" actualizer cannot be actualized.
            Matter is the principle of potency. Matter can be transformed into a variety of actual things, such as aardvarks or asteroids. Therefore, it cannot be unactualized.
            Also matter is extended; that is, it does not consist of abstract dimensionless points (even if such mathematics provides useful approximations). Hence, matter is divisible and therefore mutable.
            (3) I did, but I still fail to see any reasons behind it.

          • (1) The idea is that there's only the field and space-time. We are fluctuations in that field. That seems the simplest understanding of quantum field theory, if we are going to take it seriously.

            (2) Mutability seems to imply that theres this thing that's one thing, and then it's something else. What it was doesn't exist anymore, and what it is now exists. "The kid who raises is hand" is replaced by "the kid who asks the question". But there's this eternal perspective, where all these things happen at once, all moments are now. If this is a valid perspective, then I fail to see how matter is any more mutable than the number 2.

            (3) Then you can talk with him about it, if you are so inclined.

          • George

            so because we can split our reality into different distinct categories of concepts, that makes it a collection, and cannot be considered some thing?

            how can something be "outside" the universe in your view?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Well, also because it consists of a collection of things: gasses, stars, planets, flowers, pretty girls, medium rare sirloin steaks, and so forth. Of if you like: fields, space-time, fluctuations, etc.

            The only kind of thing that can transcend the universe would be something that is not composed of matter, i.e., a compound of potency and actuality. If you are a Platonist, this would include things like "three".

          • George

            so we still couldn't consider the universe a thing and just calling that "Matter"?

          • George

            a few more questions just came to me.

            was the universe never a thing in your view? say, 2 picoseconds after the "big bang" (I prefer to use "cosmic inflation" myself), or just in general, further back in time where the reality we know of seems to tend more and more towards simplicity (fewer differentials of energy and mass).

            and a compound of potency and actuality is a thing in your view, and not a collection itself?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "Big Bang" was a derisive term given by the atheist physicist Fred Hoyle to the theory developed by Fr. George Lemaitre. At one of the Solvay conferences iirc, when he saw Fr. Lemaitre enter the auditorium he turned to his neighbor and said, "Here comes the 'big bang' man. We seem to be stuck with the terminology.
            It's a bad term, since it implies that there was somehow "space" into which the ur-universe "exploded." I agree that "inflation" is a better term, though it was by most accounts a very rapid one. (Even this conjures in the imagination some image of "empty space" into which a balloon inflates. But it is space-time itself that is inflating.)
            As I understand the model, in the "first" few picoseconds of its existence, the universe consisted of a "quark soup," which is rather like a sand dune: the quarks may be things (if they are real and not simply mathematical terms in an equation) in the sense that they have a unitary existence. But the universe would still be more like the dune than like the actual things that made it up.
            Grosseteste in the 12/13th cent. thought that the universe had begun as a pinpoint of light that rapidly expanded and that all of matter was a kind of "frozen" light. Given the limitations of language, this wasn't half bad. But another consequence of medieval thought is that there was no first moment of existence.
            Thing-ness comes from a unity of being. That is, a sand dune is not a thing because it is merely a heap of grains of sand and these have no intrinsic unity one to another. OTOH, a dog is not a heap: the heart, spleen, muscles, etc. that comprise a dog do not exist independently but function in a way subordinate to the dog-as-a-whole. In the same way, an atom is not merely a heap of particles: an electron in a "shell" of a sodium atom is subordinate to the atom-as-a-whole: it behaves very differently from a free electron; the protons in its "nucleus" do not repel one another as their positive charges would demand, but are held together by the "strong" force.

          • David Nickol

            I take it an atom is a "thing." Is an electron a "thing"? If so, is it a "thing" only when it is a free electron? Or is it also a "thing" when it is within an electron shell?

            I assume a brick is a "thing" and a brick house is also a "thing." So "things" can be arrangements of other "things," right? But a pile of bricks is not a "thing." But what if an avant-garde artist throws bricks in a pile and exhibits it in a museum? Does that make it a "thing"?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It doesn't even make it "art."
            +++
            Artifacts are their own world. They are entirely transient. That is, their doings originate in things external to themselves. The artisan being the type example. Where they consist of parts, like Behe's Mousetrap, the parts come together unnaturally, by violent motion. ("Unnatural" means the parts would not come together on their own; "violent" means not by the natural motions of the body.)
            When Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, it was her intentions that made it into a seat, nothing immanent in the tuffet herself. This remains true even if some fortuitous growth made the tuffet resemble a Queen Anne chair.
            +++
            A free electron (supposing it exists) is a thing, but when subsumed into the form of an atom it becomes a part. The same thing happens to the atom when subsumed into a molecule. The key question is to whether the whole functions as a whole and subordinates its parts. This is called synolistic by the ancients, "holistic" by the moderns, and "emergent properties" by those wanting to sound scientificalistic. Thus, a lemming is a thing (ousia, subtantia) but a swarm of lemmings is called a political party -- no, wait: a "heap."

            Ask whether a part can subsist when removed from the whole, as when a horse's body is removed from the horse and becomes a carcass.

          • Breezeyguy

            The universe has parts. An atom has parts. The parts interact. A brick can be broken into parts. Even a piece of (bad) art can be cut into half, or can be thrown out a window. The universe obviously has parts, which obviously interact, and which parts have mutual causal effects on eachother. A more difficult concept is contingency, which a hardcore material determinist may reject.

            These were the sorts of obvious observations that the Greeks took as mutually causal, interacting, mutually contingent in various ways. (You can eat breakfast, but you don't have to. Breakfast is a contingent.) Don't forget that when talking about causality, Aristotle considered at least four distinct types: material, formal, efficient (or "agent"?), and final. For a cake for example, the material cause is the ingredients, the formal cause is the blending and stirring and baking, the efficient/agent cause is the baker, and the final cause is the intended purpose(s) of the cake.

          • Michael Murray

            It's a bad term, since it implies that there was somehow "space" into which the ur-universe "exploded." I agree that "inflation" is a better term, though it was by most accounts a very rapid one.

            It's also bad because we really don't know there is a t=0 singularity. Once you get back to the Planck Epoch you need a theory of quantum gravity to explore what is happening and we don't know what that theory is.

            As I understand the model, in the "first" few picoseconds of its existence, the universe consisted of a "quark soup," which is rather like a sand dune: the quarks may be things (if they are real and not simply mathematical terms in an equation) in the sense that they have a unitary existence. But the universe would still be more like the dune than like the actual things that made it up.

            The sand dune analogy is not correct. The quarks are just "vibrations" in a single quark quantum field. Ditto the electrons and all the other particles. So everything is connected.

            http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/physics/2013/08/the-good-vibrations-of-quantum-field-theories/

            Electrons aren’t the only particles to consist of localized vibrations of a field; all particles do. There is a photon field, an up quark field, a gluon field, a muon field; indeed there is a field for every known particle. And, for all of them, the thing that we visualize as a particle is just a localized vibration of that field. Even the recently discovered Higgs boson is like this. The Higgs field interacts with particles and gives them their mass, but it is hard to observe this field directly. Instead, we supply energy to the field in particle collisions and cause it to vibrate. When we say “we’ve discovered the Higgs boson,” you should think “we’ve caused the Higgs field to vibrate and observed the vibrations.”

            This idea gives an entirely different view of how the subatomic world works. Spanning all of space are a great variety of different fields that exist everywhere, just like how a certain spot can simultaneously have a smell, a sound, and a color. What we think of as a particle is simply a vibration of its associated field.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            a) There is no t=0 except from "outside" the universe. In the medieval perspective, there is no first moment when the universe exists. It's like if you lived inside an open set (0,1) and raced toward zero. You'd never get there, yet the set is bounded. My cosmologist friend tells me that when a model produces paradoxes it's a good sign the model is wrong.
            b) Actually, quarks are just terms in a mathematical model. Both Hawking and Feynmann said at different times about different things that a term exists in a mathematical model does not obligate the physical world to go along with the gag. Higher physics has been captured and held by the mathematicians, and while I am partial to mathematicians, they do tend to get a little Platonic about matters. At this point, I would be wary of reifying mathematical abstractions. They make the math work out with acceptable accuracy, but they may be no more real than epicycles (which also made the math work out with acceptable accuracy).

          • Michael Murray

            I don't disagree with either of your a) or b) but I'm not sure what they have to do with my point that the universe is not a sand dune

          • Tom More

            Bang on. Materialism is adopted unconsciously paradoxically along with the AL narcissism that is nominalism. Your posts are marvelous.

          • Tom More

            Excellent rendering.

          • David Nickol

            Not the universe because the universe is not a "thing." It is a collection of things . . .

            I don't understand the rules for deciding what a "thing" is. Is the human body a thing? If it is, then what is the heart inside the body? Isn't it a thing? And isn't the liver a thing? So why isn't the human body a collection of things instead of a thing?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The human body is not a thing, but the human being is. The Greek word is οὐσία (ousia), which was translated into Latin as substantia, that which "stands under." However, the English word "substance" has been highjacked and no longer has its original broader meaning.

            There is a helpful discussion here, esp. at III, but one that is rather dense:
            https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/Forms.html

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Oops. I forgot the original question. Regarding things vs. heaps: things have an essential unity that heaps do not. If a human being is simply an aggregate of his parts, then Behe's Mousetrap is a telling critique of evolution. But things are not mere aggregates. The heart is not a "heart" except as an organ in an organism, that is, as a part-of-a-whole. It is in intricate relationships with other parts. In short, the interconnectedness which the grains in a sand dune lack.

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me that if a heart can be moved from one human being to another, it meets even your definition of "thing." What is the heart after it has been taken from the donor and is alive and being transported to be transplanted into the designated recipient?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            At that point, the heart is no longer a part of a living thing, but is simply a heap of tissue. It is preserved by clever artisans so that it may be embedded in and subsumed by another living thing.

            In what manner do we say a thing is alive? At the very least: nutrition, growth/development, and reproduction, with some sort of homeostatic system to keep things in balance. The thing must be autonomous, unless it is deficient in some way. That is, its doings are not derived from another. A heart ripped from a carcass does not seem to meet the criteria of life, except in a derivative way. That is, the term "alive" is being used in an analogous sense.

          • Barrett Turner

            Stat is right that it is no longer part of the man, but not right to say that it does not have substantial form ("simply a heap of tissue"), so Nickol's right in that case. The removed heart has an "incomplete substantial form" (St. Thomas's term), which was potential insofar as the heart is part of the man's body, but actual when it is removed. It is incomplete insofar as it "stands along the road of generation and corruption" (see SCG bk 2 ch 89). I'm getting all this from the fantastic work of David Arias, who wrote his dissertation on the principles of nature in Thomas.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            incomplete insofar as it "stands along the road of generation and corruption"

            That was my thinking. There is nothing that maintains it as such and nothing that contributes to its doings "as a heart." Insofar as it looks like a heart, it is like a carcass that looks like a horse. There's sorta-kinda a form there, but not as you note a substantial form. It's a bag of chemicals proceeding along the path toward dissolution.

          • Barrett Turner

            Except that there is no middle between being not in a subject (substance) and being in a subject (accident). There are no sorta-kinda forms. The freshly removed heart's form is not that of a human heart (which is a part of a whole). But in the same way, neither is the freshly removed heart a mere collection of chemicals. It is no big deal, I was just trying to encourage some of your interlocutors in that their questions were on to something, even if the main points go to you, Stat.

          • Gary

            And yet we do heart-transplants... so there seems to remain something there which is very "formie", more than just a bag of chemicals. The heart stays alive, briefly, very vulnerable, but remains a horse-part. Is this a "vegetative soul" kind of layer?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            And once transplanted, it does heart-y things once more. Certainly, a heart can be independently maintained by artifice -- and I suppose in that manner it can be regarded as any other artifact, with a outwardly-imposed form as any other artifact. But in nature, a heart ripped from the chest does indeed begin to decay and no longer acts as a heart.

            The vegetative (nutritive, reproductive) soul gives the potentially living body four generic powers:
            a) nutrition/digestion (a/k/a metabolism) by which the form is discarded and the matter subsumed and converted into the stuff of the digestor.
            b) growth/development by which the digested matter is added to the organism and differentiated into various tissues.
            c) reproduction by which in maturity some of the digested matter is formed into a new organism.
            d) harmonization (homeostasis) by which the organism maintains a balance among these operations. In higher animals this is the autonomic nervous system, but in plants and fungi there are homologous structures that act in an analogous way.
            (People who focus too much on eating and copulating are thus reducing themselves to a vegetative state.)
            A heart does not do this on its own.
            The nutritive soul is not a "layer" because animals and humans subsume the vegetative powers into a unified whole with the sensitive and rational powers.

          • Gary

            Heart stuff is new enough that we can't expect to have heard anything from the old masters on the subject, but how about something like tree grafts? Are you aware of anywhere Aristole or Thomas (or a respectable Thomist) applied or discussed hylomorphic doctrine to the case of, say, taking a branch from an apricot tree and grafting it onto an apple tree? Like the heart in the case of a transplant, the branch doesnt collapse into indistinct matter-goo, it retains its "part that it was", and in the case of the branch it even stays more "what it was", ie it produces apricots not apples.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Indeed, my ex-son-in-law's uncle had a tree that bore no fewer than seven distinct fruits apricots, figs, kumquats, pomegranates, and three other fruits peculiar
            to Jordan by grafting various branches to an apricot tree. But is this any more amazing than if seven people were attached to a single life support system?

            But the tree was an artifact, not a natural being -- the grafts of course eventually withered -- and so the principles of natural kinds do not necessarily apply. In the same manner, mice have been engineered to grow human ear shells on their backs. Even so, if a kumquat branch is not transplanted onto the apricot tree, it will in the common course of nature wither and die.

            Plants live differently than animals, even to the extent of blurring the nature of an individual. There is an aspen grove named Pando in which every "tree" above ground appears to be a shoot from the same root system. Each is genetically identical. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pando_%28tree%29

          • Gary

            Thanks for your responses YOS. Coincidentally, it was my father in law who was showing me (again) the grafts of various branches of fruit trees onto his pear trees just this weekend. Some never took, some have died, but many are flourishing. Sorry to hear that your SIL is "ex". I agree, plants can be a blurry case.
            The mouse/human ear thing reminded me that Aristotle wrote "Of Monsters", cant find the text of that online right now.
            So do you think there is nothing "formie" about the heart transplant, or the tree graft, which allows it to become part of another living thing, anymore than a heart-lung machine produced from dead matter by artifice? We produce the HL machine by artifice, but we dont produce the heart other than to remove it whole from the same kind of animal. Doing that is certainly a skill, but it relies very heavily on something formal about the heart as an organ.
            I know the old saying, there is know such thing as a dead lion, and I agree. But cougar meat sure is different from beef tenderloin, and they are both very different from a two-by-four. Arent these differences formal?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Well everything that exists has a form. But not necessarily an immanent, substantial form. In the case of a heart transplant, what we have is the heart-as-artifact. That is, it is acted upon "violently" so that it does something that it would not naturally do. It has the form of a heart only insofar as its shape and structure, and its ends are transient rather than immanent. Its forms -- of color, or weight, etc. -- are accidents, not substances. That's imho.

          • Gary

            Let me wonder out loud, provisionally. A sodium atom has a substantial form, as does a chlorine atom [nomally a diatomic molecule but potato/tomato]. But when these are combined (whether through artifice or because they otherwise pass in the night), there is a substantial change and a "new substance", which we call salt, and which we also now call a molecule rather than an atom, emerges. Molecules can be further grown into other "larger" things, or large molecules can be split, etc. Or alternatively, things can be mixed and you have a salad dressing rather than a pure molecular compound.
            In parallel: a heart awaiting transplant seems to be an "organic whole", more like a compound than a mixture. If you cut it in half, then maybe you have dinner, but if you leave it whole you have a heart. But perhaps this is easier to see with a single heart cell, or a single living cell of any kind. As with an atom or a molecule, if you split it then you have something else substantially. There is no such thing as "half a lion", no such thing as "half a sodium atom", and no such thing as "half a heart cell". There is an undeniable atomic unity to the thing, even though it was formerly part of a living animal. Is not an intact organ like a heart or a kidney awaiting transplant an "organic whole", arguably just like an individual cell?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There is a discussion of atoms and compounds here:
            http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02003.htm#8

          • Gary

            Thanks for this Barrett, I will have to look into your Summa Contra Gentiles reference further [is that where ST refers to "incomplete substantial form"?]. Will also look for Arias' work.

          • Barrett Turner

            Don't forget about unity of order. That is something the universe has that a heap does not. So the universe is like a sand dune in that the universe is not a substance, but the universe is not like the sand dune in that the universe has a unity of order.

        • Jonathan Brumley

          By the "universe", do you mean the conventional meaning, i.e. "everything"? If this is what you mean, then the "universe" can't be pure actualization. "Everything" is a composite which is composed of parts which have potential; therefore the universe also has potential.

          For something to be pure actualization, it cannot be composed of parts which have potential.

          • If we accept this metaphysics (which I said in my comment that I don't), then this still doesn't answer the question (also in the comment): Why couldn't something in the universe be that completely actualised thing? It would have sat around forever and would have started the universe.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            According to Aquinas, "that completely actualized thing" is in the universe, because God is omnipresent, in the sense that "an agent is present to that upon which it works".

            He further explains: "No action of an agent, however powerful it may be, acts at a distance, except through a medium. But it belongs to the great power of God that He acts immediately in all things. Hence nothing is distant from Him, as if it could be without God in itself. But things are said to be distant from God by the unlikeness to Him in nature or grace; as also He is above all by the excellence of His own nature."

            S.T. Part 1, Question 8.

          • David Nickol

            "No action of an agent, however powerful it may be, acts at a distance, except through a medium. . . .

            How does this relate to quantum entanglement?

          • Jonathan Brumley

            I haven't found anywhere that Aquinas elaborates this premise. It would be interesting to determine in what ways an entangled system violates it.

          • I fail to see the distinction between this and pantheism. I had a long discussion about this point a few posts back. At the end I still failed to see the distinction. From the other comments, I doubt I was the only one.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Pantheism - You and everything are some aspect of God.
            Theism - You and everything else is created by God and are not God.

          • Then God is a being who is not me. I'm happy with that.

            What I can't reconcile is "God is being itself" and "I am not part of God".

            Or "it belongs to the great power of God that He acts immediately in all things." Doesn't this sound like pantheism to you? God is acting in me right now, maybe to write this message. My actions are God's actions. God seems to have some issues.

            Anyway, that's my confusion.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            God ... acts immediately in all things." Doesn't this sound like pantheism to you?
            "Immediately"?
            Gravity acts immediately in all material things. That doesn't make you Gravity.

          • Well, in a certain way, I am part of gravity (as well as several other fields). I'm fluctuations in the vacuum. Atoms and the void. As far as I can tell. Saying that something's acting immediately in all these things makes me think that we are calling all these things part of God. But this isn't it; there's something separating "God" and "us" even though God is always there. The idea is that I have God, whether I want him or not. But I have trouble clarifying the distinction.

            When I say I'm confused about this question I mean it. I think there probably is an answer. People smarter than I am have thought about this problem and probably came up with a solution. I don't understand what their solution is. But the dialogue is helping with this at least.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            [ Lest there be any doubt: I am definitely not one of those "smarter people with a solution". Just offering some related intuitions here ... ]

            Paul, I applaud your tenacity on this point. I also find that it is a subtle distinction between, on the one hand, saying: "I am part of God" (technically incorrect, per Catholic teaching), and on the other hand saying: "I am able to partake in God's nature" (technically correct per Catholic teaching, or at least highly consonant with, e.g., 2 Peter 1:4).

            I don't have a completely satisfactory way of understanding the distinction, but it seems to me that a key element lies in the fact that Creation, as mediated through its human aspect, is *able* to partake in God's nature, but is not required to do so. We don't have to fully "be". If the universe, through us, just sits there drinking Big Gulp sodas and watching Seinfeld re-runs, there is some sense in which the universe fails to fully exist. We have the freedom to do that. That is, in my mind at least, part of what distinguishes us (and therefore Creation) from God.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            A thing which is pure act cannot be composed of anything which has potential.

            "Pantheism is the belief that the universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity,[1] or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent God."

            I think I'll look up the other thread.

          • ben

            "...It would have sat around forever and would have started the universe..."
            1) "forever" implies infinite time. The universe (the sum total of all that is) is only 13.7 billion years old; you cannot go back "forever".
            2) Any process that takes an infinite time to produce an effect or result will never produce any effect or result because infinity is not a point in time that can be achieved.

          • Michael Murray

            3) Since physics/cosmology asserts an absolute beginning for the universe, that which causes the universe cannot be "in" the universe. It must be utterly other than the universe and prior to it.

            That is not true. The best evidence is that the universe was in a dense, hot state roughly 13.7 billion years ago and has been expanding ever since. We can't investigate prior to that point without a working theory of quantum gravity and we don't have one.

            See

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bounce

            for some speculative theories not involving an initial singularity.

            4) Since physics/cosmology assert that time, space, matter and energy came into being together, this Cause is the cause of time and not subject to it.

            (4) implies that time is part of the universe. So what do you mean by "prior to" in (3).

          • ben

            I meant logically prior to. I did not mean temporally prior to...
            ------------
            The logical order of events is different from the chronological order in which they occur.
            ------------
            It usually used when dealing with simultaneous events where one depends upon there depends on the other. E.g. if a bowling ball is on a mattress we think that the bowling has caused the depression in the mattress. But the mattress has been depressed for as long as the bowling ball has been on it. So who's to say which caused which? Logical priority to the rescue! The bowling ball's being on the mattress explains why the mattress is depressed, so the bowling ball caused the depression, since otherwise the depression would explain the bowling ball's being there, since causes explain their effects.

          • Bob

            The bowling ball depresses the mattress, but the mattress keeps the bowling ball from hitting the floor.

            Is there something about this might seem a bit arbitrary to you?

          • 1) It's been 13.7 billion years since inflation. We don't know how long the universe existed before then. Maybe forever. Cosmologists disagree. But even if the entire universe can't go back forever, it may be that a part of the universe can (if the universe can't be thought of as a single thing). It's just that a part of what is now the universe existed before the universe started.

            2) I've never found that argument very compelling. I can think of "infinite time" as "any time you name I can name a time before that". And, especially if time is a dimension (however it's experienced by us), then like any spatial dimension, it seems like it could go on forever. I can conceive of an infinite space with something existing at a particular point. You could argue "but you'd never get to that particular point starting all the way left, because there's no end in that direction", but I don't need to start there. If there's a valid perspective where all times are "now", then there's no waiting all that time until you get to the present. The present, past and future are all equally real.

            3) No they don't. There's still quite a bit of disagreement about whether there is an absolute beginning to the universe. Some cosmologists think there is and some think there's not. I think that there probably is, but there doesn't have to be.

            4) Again, they don't all assert that. Some do. Some don't. There's no consensus.

            3+4) Even granting that the universe had a beginning, space, time, matter and energy, I suspect that this beginning can explain itself. The universe could have caused itself to come into being. Or some prior universe or universe generator caused this universe to come into being. Or even something now inside the universe caused the universe to come into being. There are many speculative possibilities and a lot of ignorance.

          • ben

            1) It's been 13.7 billion years since inflation. We don't know how long the universe existed before then. Maybe forever. Cosmologists disagree. But even if the entire universe can't go back forever, it may be that a part of the universe can (if the universe can't be thought of as a single thing). It's just that a part of what is now the universe existed before the universe started.
            3) No they don't. There's still quite a bit of disagreement about whether there is an absolute beginning to the universe. Some cosmologists think there is and some think there's not. I think that there probably is, but there doesn't have to be.
            ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            "... We don't know how long the universe existed before then. Maybe forever. Cosmologists disagree..."
            On the contrary, the Borde, Villiken, Guth theory convincingly demonstrates that ANY expanding universe must have a beginning in time. Note also, that "inflation" is a property/characteristic of the universe; therefore, it can only occur to an existing universe, it cannot be the cause of that universe: the universe is prior to inflation.

            The definition of universe that I am using is: "the sum total of all that is" ergo, that definition precludes a "sub-universe" as a component of some larger "sum of all that is". Note also, that this precludes regions of THE UNIVERSE where the rules/laws of physics are different. In order for that to be the case, there would have to be some boundary or interface to separate the different regions. There is no evidence for the existence of such a boundary. Such a boundary would have to be such that nothing what ever could cross in any direction because, in this universe the conservation of mass/energy/momentum, would be violated if anything, a proton, photon no matter how insignificant were able to pass through taking the laws and properties of this universe to any other. By crossing the boundary, it would simply cease to exist in the one it left and appear out of nowhere in the destination with a packet of laws and rules which were totally incompatible. But that senario is total conjecture, there is no scientific evidence, nor could there ever be: it just isn't science.

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

            2) I can think of "infinite time" as "any time you name I can name a time before that". "... I can think of ..." Hm, The basic unit of time is the second. It can be subdivided and it can be multiplied. Again, the Borde, Villiken, Guth theory convincingly demonstrates that ANY expanding universe must have a beginning in time, that is to say a T=0 point.

            All the evidence gathered so far indicates that T = 0 was 13.7 X 10^9 years ago. It doesn't really matter what the actual value is whether 13.7, 15 or 20, no matter what number you desire (despite the evidence), it will be a FINITE number. There is no evidence for a 100 trillion year old universe.

            If you "can think of "infinite time" as "any time you name I can name a time before that" then you have a problem with the universe as it is currently known to science. Consider that we know quite well how long stars survive; if your "new number" is significantly different from 13.7BY then you run the risk of a cold dark universe which is not the case. Also, we know very precisely the half-lives of the radioactive elements. Again, if you come up with some fantastic number far different than 13.7BY you have to account for their presence in the universe. All scientific evidence indicates that T = 0 was 13.7BY ago.
            Borde, Villiken,Guth convincingly demonstrates the necessity of T = 0.

          • BGV theorem doesn't say that. It says that there has to be a point in time where classical general relativity no longer can explain things. BGV also doesn't say when that happened, although Leonard Susskind argues using BGV that it would have happened effectively an infinite amount of time ago (see http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.0589 ).

            The reason BGV doesn't get us to a beginning of all space, time, matter and energy is because BGV is not quantum, so it can't hold for the pre-inflation universe (and it wasn't meant to).

            The two simplest ways to combine gravity and quantum field theory are either to make space-time into a quantum field, or include extended fundamental objects into the theory (like strings). Either way you do this, the cosmology works out about the same. If the total energy of the universe is non-zero, then the equations imply that the universe goes on forever forward and backwards. This is the “Quantum Eternity Theorem” (QET). If the total energy of the universe is zero, then the universe will have had a definite beginning.

            Current evidence doesn't say when T=0 happens, or whether it happens at all.

          • Michael Murray

            A useful quote from Valenkin posted on WLC's website

            . . . of course there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science, especially in matters like the creation of the universe. Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

            Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem#ixzz3C2eUjWMk

          • Breezeyguy

            Aristotle believed the universe was eternal. His arguments did not rely on or assume some "beginning". His arguments for God were therefor intended to be logical, not chronological.

            A colleague once said to me "Butter is good. But too much butter is bad. Therefore there is no such thing as good or bad." It didn't seem to bother him that his conclusion destroyed both his premises. But anyway, it got me thinking. Whether butter is "good" or "bad" (in this argument) seems to be related to its effect on human health. So the conclusion should not have been "no good or bad", but rather that there is a thing called "health" that governs the proper use of butter. There is a hierarchy of causes (vertical and logical, not horizontal and chronological, although maybe sometimes so) like this when discussing anything, up to the highest concepts of goodness, truth, and beauty. In this butter example, health is a "final cause" of butter, and determines the goodness or badness of its amount. You could go on to ask "what is the final cause - the purpose - of health?". In this direction, I definitely second Aquinas when he says "in the matter of causes and things caused, one cannot proceed to infinity".

          • William McEnaney

            Each object in the universe has metaphysical parts, and anything with metaphysical parts needs a cause, Anything with parts has potentialities.

          • Tom More

            your metaphysical stance is prior to your opinion on metaphysics as it must be. You're just not conscious of it. Stat k.ows.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        The argument from "motion" (actually: from "actualization of potentials") is that anything that has potential (i.e. is subject to "change") cannot be the actualizer of that potential. What is potential does not actually exist and what does not actually exist cannot do squat. Therefore, whatever is potential must be actualized by something that is already actual.

        What do you mean by anything with potential does not actually exist?

        The log has the potential to be set afire, but the log itself clearly exists.

        Are you saying that objects that have potential are all things that could exist, but do not?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The log is actual as to an act of existence, but not according to an act of igniting.

          Yes, a thing may have many potencies. A set of building materials has the potential to become a house. It also has the potential to become a barn for storing grain, a scaffold for dealing with impertinent comm boxers, a grandstand for others to watch the aforesaid entertainment, or etc., or it may remain a set of building materials. It does not have the potential to become an aardvark, so it's not Heraclitus' "Anything Goes."

          When construction begins, all those various potentialities collapse to a particular potential aimed at the one particular end. This is the first act: the potency becomes an "actual potency." The second act is when the kinesis reaches its equilibrium state (final cause): the house is actually finished. Between the first and second acts is what Aristotle called 'motion' or kinesis.

          In the case of the building materials, the motion is called "building" and the direction is called a "building." Motion is what we might call a superposition of two states: the constellation of characteristics that the thing has right now but also that-toward-which the motion tends; i.e., a present location and a vector. The vector is aimed at some final state that terminates the motion, a/k/a "equilibrium state." The growing puppy is both a puppy and aiming toward dog; a ripening apple is both green and aiming toward red. The latter is being moved by sunlight in the regions of 3,600 to 4,500 Å (which moves the anthocyanin in the skin to absorb the blue-green end of the spectrum and thus reflect red). The former is being moved by the proteins being assembled by its DNA (the part moving the whole).

          The puppy has the potential to become a dog. (It also has the potential to die before that happens.) It does not have the potential to become an aardvark. The apple has the potential to become yellow (in the absence of sunlight) as well as red (in the presence of sunlight). It does not have the potential to become an aardvark, either.

          The whole schema was an attempt to answer Parmenides demonstration that motion was impossible without falling into Heraclides' opposite notion that "anything goes" and apples could indeed become aardvarks. Plato's answer put the forms in a separate and aetherial realm. Aristotle's answer was that forms were abstracted from their empirical instantiations.

          There is a brief discussion of form/act and matter/potency here: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02002.htm
          The lecturer, William Wallace holds a masters in physics and a doctorate in philosophy.

    • staircaseghost

      "Russell (and several other big names) quite possibly misrepresented the cosmological argument. I'll grant that."

      Would it surprise you to learn that, just as Feser misrepresented Le Poidevan as misrepresenting the argument (in an article reprinted, without correction, on this very site!), he also misrepresents Russell as misrepresenting the argument?

      If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.

      "Either P or ~P. If P, then this contradicts your conclusion. If ~P then you might as well apply the same principle to arrive at my conclusion."
      "STRAWMAN! No one ever said P! SLEAZY! SLIMY! CONTEMPTIBLE!"

      • BrianKillian

        "If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God" shows just as much ignorance of those arguments as thinking they have the premise "everything must have a cause".

        • If that's true, it should be just as easy to answer. God's an exception to the rule "everything needs a cause". If God can be an exception, why not other things?

          • "If that's true, it should be just as easy to answer. God's an exception to the rule "everything needs a cause". If God can be an exception, why not other things?"

            God does not need a cause because he is, by definition, the Uncaused Cause. And when I say "by definition", I don't mean that theists arbitrarily define God that way. I mean logical deduction necessitates an Uncaused Cause, and this is what theists call God.

          • Great. Then I say that the universe can be one of these uncaused causes if Father can. If so, then theists can call the universe whatever they like.

          • "Great. Then I say that the universe can be one of these uncaused causes if Father can."

            It's true you can say the universe is an "uncaused cause", but saying something without evidence is simply an assertion.

            The "universe" has no causal power because it's not a "thing". It's a collection of things. It can't cause anything to exist, much less itself.

          • David Nickol

            It can't cause anything to exist, much less itself.

            And how do you know this? How much experience have you had with entire universes that you can make generalizations about them?

          • Maybe it can cause itself to exist. There are models which suggest at least the physical possibility. None of them are perfect, but it leaves the option open.

            I think of the universe as a single thing. But even if you think about it as a group of things, then you just have one of those things that is completely actual and that would actualize everything else.

          • Peter

            If the big bang is a quantum event then, because of time symmetry at the quantum level, the universe expands both forward in time and backwards in time. From our perspective, our universe is expanding and the backward expanding universe has contracted, while for observers in the contracting universe it is the other way round.

            This gives us the illusion of an eternal universe where the backward expanding universe expanding into eternity appears to have contracted from eternity. Such a universe is deemed to be a brute fact, always having existed and not needing an explanation.

            However, both an eternally expanding and an eternally contracting universe depend on the arrow of time pointing in both directions, to the past and to the future, from its inception at the big bang. This means that the forward and backward pointing arrow of time had its beginning at the big bang which would need an explanation.

          • From the eternal perspective then, no matter how the time-axis is oriented, there is no beginning or end. Time has no determinate direction from the eternal perspective.

            Some particles existing in time may experience time in the reverse. Like positrons. It would be an interesting science fiction story, positing a region of the universe that is all anti-matter, where anti-matter people observe the universe and wonder why it is contracting, and decelerating in its contraction. They may think that the universe existed infinitely into the past, and will eventually meet an end. They could even have reverse-cosmological arguments, where they posit that an end requires an ender.

          • Peter

            They would then be born old and die young, like that film with Brad Pitt.

          • True, they would have all sorts of physics laws written backwards (from our perspective). I wonder how their memories will work? Could they have memories at all?

          • BrianKillian

            Because the general reasoning of those arguments is that what needs a cause or explanation is change, contingency, etc. and those are features of the world. So the world cannot be the thing that does not require a cause - instead it must be something that is (on pain of infinite regress) immutable as opposed to changeable, necessary as opposed to contingent, etc. The world doesn't have those attributes, but it's deduced that something does exist that has those attributes - and many people would refer to such a being as God.

          • Why must the first cause be unchanging and necessary?

            Either the universe is a single unchanging 4-dimensional block (in which we experience something we call time), or it isn't.

            If it is, then why can't the universe be this unchanging first cause?

            If change is real, then it seems as though God changes too. At one time God hadn't taken on flesh, and then he did. He changed. If "unchanging" is necessary to be a first cause, then it seems that God cannot be the first cause.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Since when is "everything needs a cause" a "rule"?

          • If it's not a rule, why bother talking about the cosmological argument at all? We could say things just sometimes start without causes and be done with it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If it's not a rule, then denying that it is a rule has no traction on the cosmological argument. Recall that the argument in its classic form begins "some things in the world are in motion." Some, but not all. He doesn't need everything to be changing. The only thing the so-called "rule" accomplishes is to allow Russell to lift from Hume a "refutation" of an argument that was not made.

          • Why is it a rule that changing things need causes?

            Assuming that changing things need a cause: From the eternal perspective, the universe isn't changing, and so doesn't need a cause. If that perspective doesn't line up with reality, then it seems as though the Christian God changes (he wasn't incarnated in 500 BC, he's incarnated now), so the Christian God can't be the first cause.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Things that change need a cause because change is the actualization of a potential in something already existing. A match has the potential to burn but it is not burning until its potential to burn is actualized by striking it.

            Why do you say the universe does not change? All it does is change.

          • Things that change need a cause because change is the actualization of a potential in something already existing.

            Why is this a rule that those things that go from potential to actual can't be the first cause, or that they require a cause for their going from potential to actual? Can nothing go from potential to actual on its own?

            Why do you say the universe does not change? All it does is change.

            From this eternal perspective, where every moment is now, a perspective outside of time, nothing changes. Is this sort of eternal perspective valid?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Why is this a rule that those things that go from potential to actual can't be the first cause

            Because that which only exists in potential cannot cause anything. It does not actually exist. Only something actual can move a thing from potency to act. For example, by actually opening up the box, we move the cat from potentially alive (or dead) to actually alive (or dead).

            Can nothing go from potential to actual on its own?

            No, because if it starts in potency, it is not actual. See above.

            From this eternal perspective, where every moment is now, a perspective outside of time, nothing changes. Is this sort of eternal perspective valid?

            Certainly, the Parmenidean universe is what it looks like from the divine perspective; but you kinda have to have something Divine for that: something unchanging, "outside" time, every moment is "now," i.e., "eternal" and (given all of time is perceived simultaneously) omniscient, and necessarily not made of matter.

            Also, since you are describing the universe of Parmenides, you will (if you are consistent) commit yourself to Zeno's paradoxes, which spin off of it.

            Basically, the universe of empirical experience as seen by Man versus the universe as seen by God. An interesting speculation.

          • Part of me is potential and part of me is actual. Why can't the part of me that is actual cause the part of me that is potential to become actual? With living things and nonliving things both, we see what look to be examples. I get myself out of bed. I'm self-actualized ;). Carbon-14 decays. Nothing outside of Carbon-14, as far as we know, causes the decay. Living and non-living things seem to actualize themselves all the time.

            God's perspective would seem to be the truest perspective. In that perspective nothing changes. So in some real sense, nothing in the universe changes. Either that, or God's perspective is a temporal perspective, for him there is a preferred time-frame, the present, and God changes (maybe not in the important ways, but he would change).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Part of me is potential and part of me is actual. Why can't the part of me that is actual cause the part of me that is potential to become actual?

            It can. That was a key pre-argument in Aristotle's Argument from Motion. The usual example is a dog walking across a room. The dog-as-a-whole is moved by its legs. (And the legs by its muscles, and those by its nerves, and so on until you reach the dog's soul, which is the "first act" of a potentially living body.

            I get myself out of bed.
            cf. "dog," above.

            Carbon-14 decays. Nothing outside of Carbon-14, as far as we know,
            causes the decay.

            Argument from ignorance: the self-actualization of the gaps. We can induce decay by bombarding nuclei with neutrons. Surely it is possible that stray neutron do so in nature. But even so, see whole-is-moved-by-its-parts, above.

            The logical bar is that nothing can move itself as a whole from potency to act. It is changeable insofar as it is in potency, and is changing insofar as it is in act. But it if is entirely in potency or entirely in act, it is not changing (by definition!). Therefore, whatever is changing must be divisible in parts and some part is in act and another part in potency.

          • All that you say seems to allow something that has always been part potential, part active. And could have been forever, uncaused.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm glad @Ye Olde Statistician:disqus answered so well because your questions broke my brain.

          • George

            but change in what way though? is the universe ever not the universe?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If I follow you, and we want to consider the universe as just one thing, I think it would be valid to say that the universe has been continuing to actualize its potentials in the most amazing ways, including the ability of seemingly simple things to become more complex and store information.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            From the eternal perspective, the universe isn't changing
            I thought it was at least expanding, and that stars were "dying" and being "born." Stuff like that.

            Why is it a rule that changing things need causes?

            Pragmatically, if this is not so, all of natural science goes out the window. The cry of "It just IS!" is not a superior explanation to "GOD did it!" At least the latter puts the ultimate unexplainable out of reach "beyond" the "universe." The former populates the universe itself with unexplainables.

            But an actualizer is not exactly the same thing as a cause. An efficient cause is that which explains the existence of something, such as the cause of Paul Rimmer's body is his parents, or that a typo in the program code of a Venus probe was the cause of it failing to respond to course commands. (It was the omission of a comma in a DO loop :()

            An actualizer (or "changer" or "mover") is something that alters a feature that a thing already has: such as a green apple moving to redness or a puppy growing into a dog. A motion is not itself a thing (a/k/a ousia, substantia) but is an act of a thing.

            Since change is a reduction of potency to act, and a thing in potency cannot be its own act (because what is in potency can't do diddly squat), such a change requires a changer. Nothing can reduce potency except something actual.

            I was trying to straighten all this out in my own mind and posted something here:
            Part I: http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/07/first-way-some-background.html
            Part II: http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/08/first-way-moving-tale.html
            The example of the building materials is useful.

          • I thought it was at least expanding, and that stars were "dying" and being "born." Stuff like that.

            Sure, from our perspective. But from this eternal perspective, there's world-lines, geodesics, for each atom in the star, and the geodesics come close to each other and some go far away and some go closer still. But the lines are all there and don't change. The world-paths are all set out all at once.

            As for changing things and causes, I meant external causes, and not "cause as reason or explanation" but cause as "this set this off", "this hit this other thing and changed its trajectory", that sort of cause. In that context, it seems as though things that change change without cause all the time. Nothing outside the isotope happens to cause it to decay (as far as we know).

            Thanks for the links. This is a difficult problem.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The protons in a nucleus naturally want to repulse one another, all of them being positively charged. So the real question is what maintains the nucleus in being most of the time? Maybe the question is not "what causes the emission of an alpha particle" but rather "what gives the nucleus of the atom its form," i.e., what "actualizes the nucleus"? I suspect the strong force and gauge bosons have something to do with it. So now we can wonder what might occasionally weaken the strong force? The electrons being negatively charged, their natural motion would seem to be to plummet into the nucleus by electrical attraction, but the weak force (and other gage bosons) seem to prevent that. In any case, I would suppose that the emission is due to some part of the atom acting on the rest.

            And it seems only neutron-heavy atoms do this shtick. Hmm.

          • The protons in a nucleus naturally want to repulse one another, all of them being positively charged. So the real question is what maintains the nucleus in being most of the time?

            Gluons. Like you say further down.

            In any case, I would suppose that the emission is due to some part of the atom acting on the rest.

            I would also suspect so.

            Neutrons by themselves do this. You can leave a lone neutron, it's unstable, it tends to decay into an electron and a proton (and an anti-neutrino).

          • Roman

            I meant external causes, and not "cause as reason or explanation" but cause as "this set this off",........Nothing outside the isotope happens to cause it to decay

            I think that you are using the word "external" improperly in your example. You're thinking external to the nucleus. However, the real question is what makes the neutron leave the nucleus and decay. The answer to that lies in the balance or slight imbalance (in the case of an isotope) between the various forces exhibited by the different particles in the nucleus, e.g., strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, etc. So, we can say that the decay of an isotope is "caused" by a net repulsive force which makes it inherently unstable.

          • Michael Murray

            What is the cause of particle decay

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particle_decay

            and why can we not predict when it is going to happen ?

          • Michael Murray

            So, we can say that the decay of an isotope is "caused" by a net repulsive force which makes it inherently unstable.

            If that is correct why can we not predict the decay ? If we have a single atom and change nothing about it we don't know when it is going to decay. So how does it make sense to say something causes that decay ?

          • Roman

            Since quantum mechanics is probabilistic in nature, we can talk about the probability that a particular nucleus can decay. Hence the concept of half-life. If a nucleus has a half-life of 1 hour, that means that there is a 50% chance that it will have decayed after an hour. If you had a large sample size of these nucleii, then you would find after an hour that approximately 50% of the nucleii had decayed. But asking "when" the nucleii will decay is a different question than asking "how" the nucleii decayed, i.e., what caused it to decay. We can know the latter with certainty even if we don't know exactly when a particular nucleus will decay. Dr. Stephen Barr has a good discussion of this in his book "Modern Physics and Ancient Faith".

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks. I understand about half-lives. You wouldn't like to summarise Barr's idea would you ? I am guessing I will find his definition of causality unsatisfactory. That's what usually happens in these situations.

          • Roman

            His discussion is a bit too long to summarize. Its in Chapter 15...maybe you can take a peak on Amazon books. On a related subject though, I think we have to be clear when we talk about causality that the philosophical definition is not necessarily the same as the scientific use of the word. That's especially true for Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas who believed that the cause of an effect was simultaneous with it, not temporally prior to it. You may be aware that some of the modern philosophers, like David Hume, disagreed with this concept of cause.

          • Michael Murray

            Good point I'll have a go at google books or amazon. Thanks.

          • Roman

            From the eternal perspective, the universe isn't changing, and so doesn't need a cause.

            Really??? The universe is not expanding?

          • Is a cone expanding from vertex to base, or contracting from base to vertex? From the eternal perspective, all moments are "now", so there's no obvious way to say whether the universe is growing or shrinking (accelerating in its expansion or decelerating in its contraction). It all depends on how the time-axis is oriented. From our perspective, of course, the universe is expanding.

            As further example:

            Imagine you are standing on the earth (which, unless you are posting from the ISS, you probably are). You'd probably have the word "up" directed toward the sky, and "down" toward the ground. If you watched a rocket launch, you'd say "it's going up". But if you were floating in space, the definition of "up" and "down" may be better defined in other ways (along the axis of the Earth, or along the axis of your own body). From your perspective the rocket may be going "up", "down" or "sideways".

            If time's a dimension like space, then whether the universe is expanding or contracting is a question of your orientation.

          • Roman

            Generally, when someone speaks of the universe expanding, they mean that relative to the original singularity 13.8 billion years ago. Since the expansion of the universe is one of the primary principles of the Big Bang Theory, it sounds like you are contesting this theory. Are you?

            From the eternal perspective, all moments are "now",

            This is only true for an observer that stands outside of the universe, i.e., outside of time.

            there's no obvious way to say whether the universe is growing or shrinking

            I think that Edwin Hubble would disagree with you on this point.

          • I think that Edwin Hubble would disagree with you on this point.

            Maybe you could bring him back to life to find out. I don't think he would have when he was alive, but maybe his views have changed since then.

          • it sounds like you are contesting this theory. Are you?

            No.

          • Breezeyguy

            How can you state what the eternal perspective looks like? I invite you to come back to the human experience, where we can share some common data.

          • Michael Murray

            What I think Paul is referring to is a human perspective. It is the perspective arising from Einstein of the collection of all possible events forming a 4 dimensional space-time manifold. From this perspective things don't happen as we are dealing with the collection of all things that will ever happen. So in that sense it is an eternal perspective. What we see as "now" is a slice of that 4 dimensional space-time. Which slice depends on our velocity.

            It's like comparing a video file of a movie with what you see when you play the movie. The video file is everything and unchanging, hence eternal. What you see when you play it is the story evolving as your software moves through the file.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        What are you talking about?

      • It would not surprise me in the least, because I've read Russell's essay. Interpreting Russell in a way most favourable to Feser, you could say Russell misunderstood the cosmological argument in a way that had no effect on the power of his objection.

        • staircaseghost

          A response by Feser to Russell, in an ideal world, would go something like this:

          "Not so fast, Bert! You're underestimating the cogency of arguments for a being that is pure act, and especially underestimating the degree to which they are independently motivated. Plus, here are some independently motivated reasons why God is the only possible exception to the PSR, and why the set of all things unproblematically obeys the same principles as its individual members. It can't be brushed aside so casually."

          Russell is dismissive of the First Cause Argument and (perhaps more importantly) the habits of thought that give rise to it. It is a very human trait to find irksome a strong negative evaluation of an argument to which you give a strong positive evaluation, and so Feser is irked. That's fine.

          But not taking an argument seriously enough is not the same as misrepresenting it. Even if you add as a numbered premise "this argument is awesome, only fools or knaves disagree".

          • That's a fair point. I take the correction. There's a difference between dismissing an argument and misrepresenting it.

    • Breezeyguy

      No offense, but it seems to me you didn't read the article. Dr Feser's whole point is that the orginal argument properly stated didn't need to make any exceptions. As he states near the middle of the article:

      "For writers like Aristotle, Plotinus, and Aquinas and other Scholastics, it is not the fact of something’s existence as such, or of its being a thing per se, that raises causal questions about it. It is only some limitation in a thing’s intrinsic intelligibility that does so -- for example, the fact that it has potentials that need actualization, or that it is composed of parts which need to be combined, or that it merely participates in some feature, or that it is contingent in some respect. Hence these writers would never say that “everything has a cause.” What they would say is that every actualization of a potential has a cause, or whatever is composite has a cause, or whatever has a feature only by participation has a cause, or whatever is contingent has a cause."

      • No offence taken. As it turns out, I read the article carefully, and have already addressed the same objections in other comments here. Given that this comment is now rather old (9 days is an eternity on the internet), I'd recommend you read my other comments and responses in this article. If you still have questions or objections, feel free to contact me via Facebook, and we can talk there.

        Alternatively, you can raise these same objections in a future article.

    • Tom More

      The argument shows that an infinite immediate ground of being cannot be based in unactualized potential, so that something that is pure actuality , pure act .. with no possibility of change .. is the necessary ground of being to explain the existence of all finite things. We require something infinite at the ground of being. It's a very good argument.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Recently, some readers have complained that some of the postings on SN have been off topic, not of interest to atheists. Well, what about this one? It seems to me that the absolute central point of discussion between Catholics and atheists is whether God exists. That certainly is the point of this post.

  • staircaseghost

    "Le Poidevin even admits that no one has actually defended it!"

    1) How can someone be misrepresenting an argument when they "admit" no one defends that version?

    2) In what sense is "dialogue" fostered when you continually publish articles containing claims nonbelievers have already rejected on intellectual and moral grounds, which grounds have been spelled out in detail?

    • Fr.Sean

      hi StaircaseGhost,
      I think you might me missunderstanding dr.Feser. He is saying that Le Poidevin admits the correct version as it was originally written by theologians has not been defended as it was originally written. Thus when the rebuttals of the argument were brought out, the skeptic as well as the theist were both discussing the "first cause" argument" without discussing the details that made it compelling (aka actual, potential). Le Poidevin admits the argument wasn't reallu understood by anyone when it was being discussed by Russel, Hume etc.

      • staircaseghost

        "Le Poidevin admits the argument wasn't reallu understood by anyone when it was being discussed by Russel, Hume etc."

        Incorrect. Poidevan says nothing whatsoever about who understood what when. See here for a detailed explanation of what he "admits", and why. Certainly not Feser's finest hour.

        He gives what he explicitly describes as a simplistic version of the argument, in order to explain to 18-year-olds who have never read any philosophy why the better and more elaborate versions are better and more elaborate.

        I.e., he does not at any point "misrepresent" or make a "stock caricature" of the argument as though knocking it down were the same thing as knocking down the real thing.

        I.e. Feser has stated a malicious falsehood, then repeated the falsehood after having been publicly corrected, and SN is an accomplice after the fact.

    • "How can someone be misrepresenting an argument when they "admit" no one defends that version?"

      See Fr. Sean's reply, which I believe is accurate.

      "In what sense is "dialogue" fostered when you continually publish articles containing claims nonbelievers have already rejected on intellectual and moral grounds, which grounds have been spelled out in detail?"

      This is extremely vague, and thus almost impossible to respond to. Thus some clarifying questions:

      Which claim are you referring to?

      Which nonbelievers are you referring to?

      Which "moral grounds" are you referring to?

      Where have these grounds been spelled out in detail?

      And how does this topic not foster dialogue?

      • staircaseghost

        "See Fr. Sean's reply, which I believe is accurate."

        Then your belief outruns your memory of this having been pointed out to you before. With references.

        I wish, I wish, I wish, I wish wish wish wish wish people who were interested in converting nonbelievers understood that admitting clear error makes us trust you more, not less.

        Which claim are you referring to?

        Both the FCA itself, and the slanderous accusation that Poidevan misrepresented the FCA.

        "Which nonbelievers are you referring to?"

        The ones you haven't yet banned from your site.

        "Which 'moral grounds' are you referring to?"

        The grounds upon which it is wrong to tell a falsehood about what someone said, especially when the falsehood is defamatory and has been pointed out previously.

        "Where have these grounds been spelled out in detail?"

        Has it really been so long? Do a CTRL-F search on the comments for "stairc". Who is that little troublemaker in the comments?

        It's when an author or a blog-collective start going all Leonard-from-Memento that one party to the dialogue starts asking "hey, what did I ever do to make this guy so agitated? I've never seen him before!"

  • I am certainly in no position to respond to the thrust of the post, which is as I understand it, that no one has ever properly criticized Aquinas' First Cause argument, but rather are attacking straw men.

    All I can say is that I have never found any cosmological argument for the existence of God convincing. What we generally find is an equivocation on the nature of God, and I think we are seeing this here.

    The god Feser says is established by this argument "pure actuality, devoid of potentiality, and thus without anything that needs to be, or even could be, actualized; ... that which just is being itself rather than something which merely has or participates in being, and thus something which neither needs, nor could have had, a cause of its own being; or that the only way to terminate a regress of causes of contingent things is by reference to something absolutely necessary, which by virtue of its absolute necessity need not have, and could not have, had something impart existence to it; and so forth."

    I have no idea what he is describing, it seems to me he is describing concepts, not some"thing" that exists in any comprehensible way. I understand Christians to believe in a God that exists and has being, a body, it grew, changed and died, in some real actual way, not just conceptually. This entity that suffered and died on the cross really did it. It makes no sense to speak of "being itself" suffering for our sins and being resurrected. It makes no sense to say that "pure actuality" entered time and cursed a fig tree. You believe in something more that pure actuality. I would say that you believe in a being in the world that transcends the world, that has a mind and makes choices.

    When you define God as Feser does, you are not defining a thing in the world. You are talking no "thing". You are talking about nothing.

    • "I have no idea what he is describing, it seems to me he is describing concepts, not some"thing" that exists in any comprehensible way."

      I think most theists would (at least partly) agree with this claim, depending on how you define "thing", which is a very ambiguous word. If by "thing" you mean something material, or something within the world, then God is not "some thing" But if you're fine describing the sheer act of being as a "thing," then you might use that word to adequately describe God.

      "I understand Christians to believe in a God that exists and has being, a body, it grew, changed and died, in some real actual way, not just conceptually."

      This is partially true. The God of classical theism does not have being--he is being. But God did take on human flesh in the Incarnation. When Dr. Feser and other theists talk about "God", though, they're typically discussing God the Father, the First Person of the Trinity. Hopefully this will clarify discussion in the future.

      "It makes no sense to speak of "being itself" suffering for our sins and being resurrected."

      Agreed! Which is why Christians don't say this. We say that God--defined, if you will, as "being itself"--took on human flesh, and that human (Jesus) suffered for our sins and was resurrected.

      "You believe in something more that pure actuality."

      Indeed! But not less. The "more" is the Holy Trinity, which God has revealed to us through the person of Jesus Christ.

      "I would say that you believe in a being in the world that transcends the world, that has a mind and makes choices."

      Again, Christians wouldn't say this. As has been repeatedly explained at Strange Notions (see especially Fr. Robert Barron's articles), Christians don't believe in a being that has a mind, but rather being itself which is pure intellect.

      "When you define God as Feser does, you are not defining a thing in the world...."

      Yes! Christians agree--God is not in the world. If he was constrained by the world, he would not be God!

      "You are talking no "thing". You are talking about nothing."

      As mentioned above, this statement depends on how you're using the word "thing." Perhaps you can explain?

      PS. I might deliciously add that, according to many contemporary cosmologists, "nothing" can actually be "something." But i won't go there ;)

      • I get all that Brandon, I just think you are trying to have it both ways. God is pure act, being and intellect, but also flesh that can die. These concepts contradict themselves to me. I follow you when you speak of pure being, which is a concept. The concept does not represent anything material, I agree with that. I don't think the concept refers to anything that "exists" in any way independent of our thinking about it. If pure being itself can be actualization as a human being, I think you cannot speak of it as being pure being anymore.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          You are saying a bunch of things. I'll just comment on one.

          > If pure being itself can be actualization as a human being, I think you cannot speak of it as being pure being anymore.

          The being of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is NOT actualized as the human nature of Jesus Christ. Rather, the human nature of Jesus Christ is created and united to the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

          • Okay... But Jesus is God, right? There was a time when Jesus was not baptized but had the potential to be baptized. He had that potential that was actualized by his baptism. This is not an entity with no potentials. Or the Gospels are a lie.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay. So you don't actually think Aquinas is equivocating. You just don't see how these philosophically derived qualities or "attributes" of God fit in with other teachings of the Church about Go--specifically the person of Jesus Christ.

            The human nature of the person Jesus Christ is created--his human intellect, will, and body are created just as much as ours are. So in his human nature he had potentialities just like we do--he grew from a zygote to a full grown man, he learned things from experience, and so on.

            In his divine nature he did not have any potentialities to be actualized. He would be "pure being" or "pure act" as the philosophers would put it.

          • So his human nature and body did/do have potentials? If not we can't really say it was human. If it does then Jesus is not pure being without any potentials. You can't have it both ways.

            There is a conflict here, you must see it. As I recall the nature of Jesus was of considerable controversy in early christology. I think it was just resolved by saying god is simply both in some mysterious way. But this is not an explanation of reality it is a problem for your worldview.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Brian, What you think is a problem is only a problem if the Catholic faith claimed to be fully understandable through reason.

            The Catholic faith does not claim to be fully understandable through reason but its teachings consist of things which can be known by reason (natural revelation) and others that can only be known if they are revealed by God (divine revelation).

            Below is an exposition of the doctrine of hypostatic union which is giving you trouble:

            The union of the human and divine natures in the one divine person of Christ. At the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) the Church declared that the two natures of Christ are joined "in one person and one hypostasis"(Denzinger 302), where hypostasis means one substance. It was used to answer the Nestorian error of a merely accidental union of the two natures in Christ. The phrase "hypostatic union" was adopted a century later, at the fifth general council at Constantinople (A.D. 533). It is an adequate expression of Catholic doctrine about Jesus Christ that in him are two perfect natures, divine and human; that the divine person
            takes to himself, includes in his person a human nature; that the incarnate Son of God is an individual, complete substance; and that the union of the two natures is real (against Arius), no mere indwelling of God in a man (against Nestorius), with a rational soul (against Apollinaris), and the divinity remains unchanged (against Eutyches). http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=34037

            Even though this doctrine uses philosophical concepts so as to be as precise as possible, it does not claim to explain how God does this. If God is omniscient and omnipotent he can find a way to do it if he wants. It seems to me the supreme compliment to human beings that he would, in the second person of the Trinity, unite a human nature to his divine nature and become man.

            Since you don't even believe in God, I don't get why you are trying to also disprove Catholicism. Just focus on the philosophical arguments. If a rational argument for the existence for God ever convinces you, that is the time to consider if any religion can tell you more about him.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Just focus on the philosophical arguments. If a rational argument for the existence for God ever convinces you, that is the time to consider if any religion can tell you more about him.

            That's one approach, but I'd like to offer another perspective on that. Maybe for some people it is more fruitful to first work out their metaphysics and only then look to the Bible for some "value added" over and above that. Another approach would be to do what N.T. Wright proposes, which is to look at the person of Jesus as revealed through the stories that we have about him (evaluated, of course, in their proper historical / cultural context) and then "re-center your definition of God on that person". (I am paraphrasing because I'm too lazy to look up the exact quote, but I believe he has said something very similar to that). In other words: first discern an understanding of God based on the stories about Jesus (and Israel, etc), and then decide if you are willing to trust in that God that you have so discerned, rather than first systematically deciding if you believe in God and then mapping that belief to the stuff in the Bible. Or to say it another way: it may be better to start with an appreciation of the narrative and then work out the logical implications, rather than starting with logical conclusions and foisting a narrative on top of them.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I come at it this way: that which has no potentialities has a certain logic to the way that it must be. I think the idea is that that logic was completely revealed through the totality of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection. If one buys into that understanding (a big "IF", I acknowledge), then from there it is debatably not too much of a stretch to say that that which *completely reveals* the essence of being *is* the essence of being.

        • DrBCT

          Jesus was not a human being he was/is a divine person who assumed human nature. I recommend reading Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed...great explanation of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity...

          • David Nickol

            Jesus was not a human being he was/is a divine person who assumed human nature.

            But Jesus was and is a human being. I dare say Frank Sheed would affirm that. The Second Person of the Trinity did not just slip on a human body and call himself Jesus (according to Catholic teaching). Jesus was/is "true God and true man."

          • DrBCT

            He was/is a divine being/person that assumed human nature..

          • DrBCT

            The Hypostatic Union: The union of the human and divine natures in the one divine person of Christ...that in him are two perfect natures, divine and human; that the divine person takes to himself, includes in his person a human nature; that the incarnate Son of God is an individual, complete substance and that the union of the two natures is real, no mere indwelling of God in a man, with a rational soul and the divinity remains unchanged...

          • Sorry I thought Catholics believed Jesus was fully human and fully God. In any event if God or a third of God, or a version of God or whatever assumes human nature, they are a human being. At minimum there is a part of them that has potentials to be actualized. Otherwise, how can you say it assumed human nature in any meaningful way?

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        Brandon:

        I don't have any objections to proofs that the cosmos has a first cause. In fact, I'd be willing to concede that, completely, for the sake of discussion.

        Because what I would ask you to do, then, is to prove using the same impeccable logic that the "first cause" has an opinion, which I should feel bound to respect, about how I should best order my life.

        No apologist (including each and every author appearing on SN) has ever done this to my satisfaction. And I have read/listened to quite a few attempts.

        • "I don't have any objections to proofs that the cosmos has a first cause. In fact, I'd be willing to concede that, completely, for the sake of discussion.

          Because what I would ask you to do, then, is to prove using the same impeccable logic that the "first cause" has an opinion, which I should feel bound to respect, about how I should best order my life.

          No apologist (including each and every author appearing on SN) has ever done this to my satisfaction. And I have read/listened to quite a few attempts."

          Thanks for the comment, Vicq! I'm so happy to see it--it's clear you're moving in the right direction, at least from my perspective. Your questions all naturally follow after defining a First Cause. In fact Thomas Aquinas, in his "Summa Theologiae," spends just a few pages defending the existence of God but then hundreds of pages examining the implications>

          Here's the short answer to your question:

          Catholics hold that while God's existence can be known through deducing facts about the natural world, the fact that God loves us can only be known through divine revelation--most explicitly through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion was the ultimate confirmation of God's love for humanity.

          Therefore, we don't believe that you can prove God's love "using the same impeccable logic" as used to demonstrate his existence.

          But I think we can use logic to know that 1) the Creator of the world has an opinion, 2) that it's worth considering, and 3) that God's plan for your life is necessarily the best plan.

          The first fact flows from the realization that God didn't need to create the world. If he needed the world, he would lack something, and thus wouldn't be God. Therefore, God created the world out of a sheer expression of love, out of the desire to create beings that can share in his eternal bliss. This utter freedom, not bound by any lack or necessity, allows him free choice and thus free opinion. (Also, consider the creator of any work of art--an author, musicians, screenwriter, painter. Don't they all, unequivocally, have an opinion about their art? If so, why not the Creator of the cosmos?)

          Second, that opinion is worth considering because it's epistemically privileged. God sees the whole picture because he's ultimately responsible for the whole cosmos. Just as we consider the opinion of watchmakers about watches, since they presumably know more about the creation than anything else, so we should consider God's opinion.

          Third, God's plan for your life is the best plan because it follows from the previous realization: transcending creation, and thus not constrained by space or time, God knows what's best for our lives.

          Does that shed any light on your questions?

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Does that shed any light on your questions?

            Not a whole lot.

            God created the world out of a sheer expression of love - The first cause, assuming it can be sufficiently anthropomorphised to permit the attribution of personality traits, could equally likely have created out of idle curiosity.

            that opinion is worth considering because it's epistemically privileged - That may be, provided I have access to what I definitely know to be that opinion. But that's the sort of thing I suspect may be dependent upon the receipt of "divine revelation" - which is something that I have not been vouchsafed in my lifetime.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think the concepts Feser uses don't mean much to you because you don't understand what the words mean. To understand them would require engaging with Thomas' metaphysical concepts. It is just hard work to do that, but not any harder than engaging with math, chemistry, physics, psychology, and so on.

      • David Nickol

        To understand them would require engaging with Thomas' metaphysical concepts.

        The question is whether it would be at all worthwhile to master the work of Thomas Aquinas in order try to refute his arguments point by point. Ultimately, it seems to me, they rest on premises and distinctions that one either intuitively accepts or doubts. They also raise issues that Feser (as far as I understand him) does not discuss. For example, he claims that Hume argued against a "straw man" form of the argument, but he does not mention that Hume raised profound questions about causality itself. If your notion of causality is different from that of Aquinas, then any arguments about causes and uncaused causes are going to be seen in a different light. And even without getting into Hume's startling questions about the notion of causation, we have the whole area of quantum mechanics and whether our intuitive notions of cause developed prior to the discovery of the quantum world are solid enough to draw grand conclusions from.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          > it seems to me, they rest on premises and distinctions that one either intuitively accepts or doubts.

          Can you give an example so we can test your surmise?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          OTOH, we may suppose that accomplished philosophers like Watson, Oderberg, Stein, Shepherd, and even our own above-beloved Feser have in fact studied Hume, and in the case of Brandon Watson have become a specialist in Hume!

          I appeal to those who are acquainted with Mr. Hume's Essays, if this statement be not the sum of the argument—and I also appeal to every man capable of logical accuracy, if it doth not involve every species of illogical sophistry... a list of which follows at the link.
          Lady Mary Shepherd (1777-1847), who like Hume was Scots and so could understand his strange language.
          cited at: http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2014/03/lady-mary-shepherd-on-humes-account-of.html

          Hume can be overcome only on his own ground, or, more precisely, the ground on which he was trying to carry out his own considerations but which methodologically he himself was unable to secure sufficiently. He started out with nature as it presents itself to the eyes of the naive contemplator. In this nature there's one causative linkage, one necessary sequence of happening. He wanted to investigate consciousness of this linkage: what kind of consciousness it is and whether it is rational. All that kept him from finding the evident coherence that he sought was a half-baked theory of the nature of consciousness and especially of experience. It misled him on the conclusion as well, to explain away the phenomena from which he started out and without which his whole way of setting up the issue would become incomprehensible.
          -- Edith Stein, "Sentient Causality," cited at:
          http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2014/03/edith-stein-on-david-hume.html
          (She was a student of Husserl and his assistant at Freiburg, but was murdered by the Nazis in WW2, later canonized by the Catholic Church.)

          "I think the anti-theistic consensus, such as it is, has very little to do with Hume, and a great deal to do with larger trends of cultural degradation in the twentieth century. For one thing, historically the interpretation of Hume as being such-and-such tends to lag behind the fashion of affirming such-and-such. It was so with the logical positivists, and so with the logical empiricists, and so with more modern forms of naturalism. And part of the problem is that Hume's influence, while considerable, is entirely an influence through dilettantes who pick and choose. In reality, we would all be better off if naturalists today were really Humeans; instead they claim to be Humean but are lying, not even being Humean in spirit, because they refuse to do what Hume does admirably: pursue the actual consequences of what is put forward. The anti-theists would be anti-theists anyway, because the number of people who have seriously been convinced to that position by serious engagement of Hume is necessarily extraordinarily small; would that Hume were more of an influence on them rather than less. The problem with naturalists today is not that they follow Hume but that they don't take him seriously enough."
          Hume scholar, Brandon Watson, in a comment on Feser's blog post of this very essay:
          http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/07/clarke-on-stock-caricature-of-first.html?showComment=1405485550840#c8816820074321685349

          Suppose you buy Hume’s famous analysis of causation, and thus deny that we can have any knowledge of objective causal connections in nature (either because there aren’t any – the traditional, “verificationist” interpretation of Hume – or because there are but the mind can never genuinely know or understand them – the newer “skeptical realist” interpretation). You shouldn’t buy it..., but suppose you did. It is understandable why, in that case, you’d reject First Cause arguments for God’s existence. If we can’t have any knowledge of objective causal connections between things, then we can’t have knowledge of a First Cause. But how in that case could you fail to reject modern science as well?
          -- Ed Feser, "Hume, Science and Religion
          http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/06/hume-science-and-religion.html
          And again:
          "It is especially ironic that people who think of themselves as staunchly objective, guided by rational argument grounded in the hard earth of observable reality, should regard Hume as a hero. For Hume’s philosophy destroys reason and experience alike, effectively reducing both to the entirely subjective arena of imagination."
          -- Ed Feser, "A World of Pure Imagination"
          http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/02/a-world-of-pure-imagination.html

          And for the humorously inclined, a scholastic response to Hume written in the style of Hume and his contemporaries:
          "Hume, the Occult, and the Substance of the School"
          -- David Oderberg
          https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUieNV9tZkpobWVRWFE/edit?pli=1

          Have fun.

          • David Nickol

            I don't really see a point here. If we are going to trust that Feser is correct about Aquinas (Hume, Kant, etc.), then we just read Feser and say, "Well, there's the proof. Feser has all the answers, and it proves there's a God."

            And if we are going to read a handful of quotes (several taken from Feser's own blog) and conclude they prove Hume may be dismissed, what if someone posts a longer selection of quotes siding with Hume?

            Kevin's point was that to really understand Aquinas, you have to study Aquinas. And my point is that to really evaluate Aquinas's arguments, you have to study the criticisms of them that have arisen over the hundreds of years since Aquinas wrote.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            conclude they prove Hume may be dismissed
            No, ma'am. They prove that many sympathetic to the Aristotelian philosophy have indeed studied Hume.

            my point is that to really evaluate Aquinas's arguments,
            you have to study the criticisms of them that have arisen over the hundreds of years since Aquinas wrote.

            As indeed the people quoted have done. Why do you suppose that they haven't? Two of the philosophers quoted are/were Hume scholars! And one of them was a near contemporary.

            What would be really kool, Brandon wrote elsewhere, is if all the people quoting Hume actually read him.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          > The question is whether it would be at all worthwhile to master the work
          of Thomas Aquinas in order try to refute his arguments point by point.

          Are you saying that an atheist would learn Scholastic philosophy simply in order to refute it and not to find out if it describes reality? Are you slandering atheists?

          • David Nickol

            Are you saying that an atheist would learn Scholastic philosophy simply in order to refute it and not to find out if it describes reality?

            I said "in order to try to refute it." Suppose I were to make an argument in which I claim I prove Catholicism false. Would you read it with an open mind, trying to see if I had succeeded? Or would you read it with the presumption, as an already believing Catholic, that it was false and could be refuted? I can only presume it would be the latter.

            We all have deeply held convictions, and when presented with arguments against those convictions, we don't suspend those convictions while we ponder the arguments. If a deeply held conviction is wrong, and there is proof that it is wrong, then the conviction will not stand up to the evidence against it.

            An atheist is a person who does not believe in God. Such a person is not going to approach an alleged proof of the existence of God and expect the proof to succeed. An atheist is going to assume there will be flaws with any proof of God's existence, otherwise he or she wouldn't be an atheist. But if it is truly a proof, it will change the atheist's mind.

      • David Nickol

        Would you say that one should put in the hard work of understanding, say, Hume and Kant and their critiques of cosmological arguments, or should the hard work stop after studying Aquinas? Might it not be that one might be convinced by Aquinas's arguments if they are taken as the last word, but might revise one's opinion of Aquinas after studying Hume and Kant?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          One might.

      • No, I understand the words and the concepts, and the arguments. I just think at the end of the day it is all to vague to justify belief that any of these things that aren't things in the world to be said to exist in reality.

        You can see my blog post Pure Act Forum in which this is discussed at length with a commenter from these pages.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Vague in what sense? Equivocation is a misuse of language to deceive or it is using a word in different senses and not being properly clear which meaning you are using. Guys like Aquinas use words in very precise senses. When does Aquinas (or Feser) equivocate?

    • Gary

      That is correct Brian, the being of pure actuality under discussion is not a "thing in the world".
      The question of whether that thing could enter the world somehow is a difficult one. Christians believe that he not only could, but actually did. But that whole issue is way far away from the topic of this posting.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      <blockquoteI have never found any cosmological argument for the existence of God convincing.
      That is likely because the language has changed so much since the Attic Greek (of Plato and Aristotle), the Arabic (of ibn Rushd and Moses Maimonides), and the Latin (of Aquinas, Scotus, et al.) We don't divide the world up in quite the same way, so when a modern says "motion" he does not think of a ripening apple or a growing puppy dog. They meant something closer to what we mean by "change," an alteration in an attribute the thing already has. So if, e.g., a thing is in rectilinear inertial motion, it already has a motion and what requires an actualizer is a change in that motion, which we call "acceleration." Hence, Aquinas' major premise in his first cosmological argument ("Everything that is changing is being changed by another") is simply equivalent to Newton's first law of motion (An acceleration requires an outside force).

      Besides, an argument may be unconvincing for the reasons Thucydides once gave:
      "For the usual thing among men is that when they want something they will, without any reflection, leave that to hope, while they will employ the full force of reason in rejecting what they find unpalatable.
      -- Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Bk IV: 108

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Could you clarify what you think the "equivocation" in Feser's post is?

  • David Nickol

    Here is Peter Kreeft's statement of the argument, which I trust is accurate and which seems to me quite readable:

    Every being that exists either exists by itself, by its own essence or nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist, as a triangle cannot not have three sides. If, on the other hand, a being exists but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause, a reason outside itself for its existence. Because it does not explain itself, something else must explain it. Beings whose essence does not contain the reason for their existence, beings that need causes, are called contingent, or dependent, beings. A being whose essence is to exist is called a necessary being. The universe contains only contingent beings. God would be the only necessary being—if God existed. Does he? Does a necessary being exist? Here is the proof that it does. Dependent beings cannot cause themselves. They are dependent on their causes. If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on nothing and could not exist. But they do exist. Therefore there is an independent being.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      That's a fair summary of the Third Argument.

  • Peter

    As scientific discovery progresses and new hypotheses are developed, especially in the area of self-causation, it becomes very difficult to prove God philosophically, so much so that constantly regurgitating the same old philosophical arguments in one form or another does little to convince the unbeliever.

    As the Church says, God is known with certainty through his works, and it is through his works where we ought to look for him. The cosmos is rapidly unfolding before our eyes to be something completely different from what we believed only a few decades ago. Instead of being utterly on our own, the universe could be teeming with life and even sentient life. Even our closest star system, Alpha Centauri, may have habitable planets which we cannot see because of the current close alignment of its two main stars.

    A universe bursting with life is precisely the kind of universe that the God of Life would create. He would not create a vast dead universe except for one miniscule and precarious instance of life here on earth. Time is on the side of the believer as new telescopes reveal the widespread fertility of the cosmos, bearing testament to a Creator who loves life over death. Perhaps it's time to let the old philosophical arguments go.

    • Michael Murray

      A universe bursting with life is precisely the kind of universe that the God of Life would create.

      Billions of planets with animals tearing each other apart and suffering as they are eaten inside by parasites and disease. A universe red in tooth and claw.

      Nice.

      What happened to Mars and Venus by the way ? Did He miss them ?

      • Peter

        Nature red in tooth and claw. Why are you complaining? You wouldn't be here without it.

        • Michael Murray

          As a Catholic surely you are not going to argue that the ends justify the means?

          • Peter

            On the contrary, the end is highly complex life capable of sentience such as ourselves and potentially countless others across the cosmos, who can come to know the Creator through our comprehension of the world around us.

    • George

      Why should I be convinced by what you're putting forth? Where is your standard for any of this? What is the context? "Widspread fertility" and "bursting with life" are vague and not helpful. You mention alpha centauri, okay, so should every star system have life? Or should we expect every other star system to have life? And before any other actual life is discovered (more than what we just think are precursors-to-life and favorable conditions for such), you already believe in god right? If you're not simply a hopeful atheist, then I ask out of great curiosity why you came to first believe in god.

      • Peter

        The more appropriate question is why I continue to believe in God. That faith to a great extent is bolstered by my conviction that the universe has a purpose which is to create intelligent life that can come to know its Creator through its comprehension of the universe around it.

        Progressive cosmological discovery takes us closer to God, not further away as some cosmologists would argue. Apart from showing that creation has a purpose, it also reveals that creation, however it comes into being, depends upon a blueprint which can only be the product of a mind.

  • Doug Shaver

    If Aquinas has been misrepresented for lo these many years, then by all means let's set the record straight. But I don't find the corrected version of his argument one bit more compelling than the alleged straw man version.

  • Bob

    For something to actually exist, must it have the potential to exist?

    What if it had no potential, in this case, to exist?

    Could it actually continue to exist?

    If pure act met temporality would pure act poof out of existence since it has, by definition, no potential (to exist from one moment to the next)?

    Would pure act be like a picture, perhaps nice to ponder, but doesn't do much?

    I wonder.

    • Michael Murray

      pure act poof

      I don't think if you are Catholic you can have "pure act" and "poof" in the same sentence.

  • John Gonzales

    If the author were to deign to examine popular dialogue and discourse concerning cosmology and the god claim, he would realize that the First Cause proposition is not a straw man at all. I could cite numerous examples, but I am confident that many of those who encounter my response in this forum can attest that there is no need. Argumentative theists outside of the lofty climes to which Dr. Feser seems to confine himself constantly resort to the First Cause argument as a presumably all-sufficient defense of the god claim and even to deny the validity of the science behind the Big Bang, as though they have somehow caught the most brilliant physicists operating today with pie on their face. The theist on the street doesn't read Plotinus, Aquinas, or Hume, and while this may be a devastating blow to his ego, Dr. Feser and other philosophers--past or present--do not own the final word on the First Cause question: it has neither been confirmed nor entirely ruled out to the complete satisfaction of those most qualified to speak to it.

  • Pofarmer

    "Rather, the argument is that the only way to terminate a regress of actualizers of potentials is by reference to something which is pure actuality, devoid of potentiality, and thus without anything that needs to be, or even could be, actualized; or it is that a regress of causes of composed things can be terminated only by something which is absolutely simple or non-composite,"

    How is this not simply special pleading?

  • The argument is not "everything has a cause." This is a misstatement. Everything which is temporal, has a cause. Anything which is eternal does not require a first cause. Just because the human mind cannot comprehend something eternal, with no beginning, does not preclude its reality.

    The former posit that the universe was eternal and caused itself, is today invalidated by the data which confirms that the universe had a sudden beginning about 13.7 billion years ago.

    What cannot be answered by science is why after an eternity past, did the universe suddenly come into existence, at that specific moment, when there had been nothing previous--no time, no space, no matter.

    Science cannot convey answers regarding origins, only what happened after a beginning.

    When we apply these things to God, it makes perfect sense that He has always existed and has no first cause.

    • Michael Murray

      The former posit that the universe was eternal and caused itself, is today invalidated by the data which confirms that the universe had a sudden beginning about 13.7 billion years ago.

      What cannot be answered by science is why after an eternity past, did the universe suddenly come into existence, at that specific moment, when there had been nothing previous--no time, no space, no matter.

      If there was no time how could there have been an "eternity past" or how could something "come into existence" all these imply the existence of time. But, as you rightly point out, there is no time until there is a universe. Quite likely in fact no time until the end of the Planck Epoch

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_epoch

      • Thanks for the reply Michael. These are difficult concepts indeed.

        Eternity is the absence of linear time, but nevertheless, a physical property that encompasses an existence for things eternal. Since only God is eternal, it is clear that eternity exists for His benefit and as a result of His will.

        Most people think of eternity as lots of time, or time without end, but this is not true. In eternity there are no markers for events. Everything simply exists. For earth-bound beings such as us, it is very difficult to conceive of an existence which is not marked by minutes, hours, days and years.

        For God, and in eternity, everything has already happened. He has seen every event that will occur in time. When He speaks and describes events of time, He is not predicting the future, He is simply stating what Has already taken place.

        When God describes Himself, He defines His existence as "I AM." I simply exist, always have, always will. He does not change, or require more knowledge. He already knows everything and there is nothing that He must learn. He is perfect in every way and it is impossible, as a perfect Being, that He could ever do any wrong, otherwise He would not be perfect and could not be God.

        Further, there can only be on True God, who is above all other supposed god's. As all powerful and perfect, He would not tolerate an imperfect being who would take the title of God and usurp His authority. This is only right since only He is the Creator of all other beings, including those who claim to be "god's."

        These are the basic principles of God as He describes Himself in the pages of the Bible.

      • Thanks for the reply Michael. These are difficult concepts indeed.

        Eternity is the absence of linear time, but nevertheless, a physical property that encompasses an existence for things eternal. Since only God is eternal, it is clear that eternity exists for His benefit and as a result of His will.

        Most people think of eternity as lots of time, or time without end, but this is not true. In eternity there are no markers for events. Everything simply exists. For earth-bound beings such as us, it is very difficult to conceive of an existence which is not marked by minutes, hours, days and years.

        For God, and in eternity, everything has already happened. He has seen every event that will occur in time. When He speaks and describes events of time, He is not predicting the future, He is simply stating what Has already taken place.

        When God describes Himself, He defines His existence as "I AM." I simply exist, always have, always will. He does not change, or require more knowledge. He already knows everything and there is nothing that He must learn. He is perfect in every way and it is impossible, as a perfect Being, that He could ever do any wrong, otherwise He would not be perfect and could not be God.

        Further, there can only be on True God, who is above all other supposed god's. As all powerful and perfect, He would not tolerate an imperfect being who would take the title of God and usurp His authority. This is only right since only He is the Creator of all other beings, including those who claim to be "god's."

        These are the basic principles of God as He describes Himself in the pages of the Bible.