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Proving the First Cause is Real…and Still Exists Today

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


 

Hello Mark,

First of all, thank you very much for your interest in my book and for your thought-provoking questions!

Perhaps a good way to approach your questions would be to start with a fresh example or two, and then come back to your specific concerns.

Knowledge and opinion are among the things in our experience that require some kind of cause, so let’s consider these as an illustration of the rule that a series of simultaneously acting causes cannot be without a first cause. Sometimes one thing you know can cause you to know another. That’s what happens when you reason from premises you know to be true. Note, too, that the premises cause you to know the conclusion, and not just to come to know it. If you show me a reason to doubt one of the premises I always relied upon for concluding to the truth of the Pythagorean Theorem, I would realize that I do not really know the Pythagorean Theorem—so my knowing it depends on my knowing that the premises behind it are true, for so long as I know it.

But how do we know the premises prior to any conclusion? Must there always be other premises before them, causing us to know them? If that were so, we could know nothing at all, or not by reasoning. Take our present question, for example. I say that there must be a God:

God exists.

Someone else says “I don’t see that.” So I supply some kind of argument:

God is X.

X exists.

So , God exists.

But now my interlocutor calls my first premise into question. How do I know God is X? In reply to this challenge, I supply another argument of some sort:

God is Z.

Z is X.

So, God is X.

If my challenger now calls one of these new premises into question, I will have to supply still more premises. Suppose I have in stock a whole infinity of premises none of which is convincing to anyone (not even me) by itself. They are all unknown, iffy, questionable, and each one will become known only if something prior to it makes it known. That description applies to every single one of these premises I have in store. If each one of these in-itself-unknown statements follows from prior ones in this infinite list, can the infinity of such premises cause anyone to know their ultimate conclusion? Can we know that “God exists” (or any other true statement) if our knowledge of it depends on an infinity of prior premises, with nothing that is self-evidently true and principle of the whole series of premises?

I say no. And that is not just because we don’t have enough time to go through the whole infinity of premises. Even if you knew what they all said, you still wouldn’t know the truth of the conclusion, so long as no premise in the whole lot had any convincing power of its own. The whole infinity of premises (each one of which follows from certain ones before it in the list) is like one giant thing you don’t know. Introducing more things you do not know to be true, even an infinity of them in a logical chain, cannot cause you to know anything at all.

In this example, as in the others in the book, it is possible to discern the reason why there must be a first cause. Remember, “first cause” here does not mean what is “first in time” (although a first cause might also be first in time, or even causally prior to time itself), but means instead something that is prior to other things in causation, and does not in turn depend on any other cause at all.

The principle or axiom at work here is this: Before anything that is “by another” there must be something “not by another.” To illustrate this axiom:

If a towel is wet, but not simply because it is a towel (and so it is not wet just “by itself,” that is, by being itself), then it is wet “by another,” that is, due to something else, such as the water in it. And that cannot be the whole story—there must be something prior to the towel being wet by another, such as the water in it that is wet by itself, not by something else.

If the coffee is sweet, but not simply because it is coffee (and so it is not sweet just “by itself,” that is, by being coffee), then it is sweet “by another,” that is, due to something else, such as the sugar in it. And prior to the coffee being sweet by another, the sugar is sweet just by itself—it is not sweetened by something else.

If some type of invasive surgery is good for you, but not simply by itself (as though such surgery could be a good option for you regardless of what further results it might or might not bring), then it is good “by another,” that is, due to something else, such as the health that it can restore. And your health is good of itself, not just because of something else it might bring (i.e., it is good by itself, not “by another”). Or if your health is not good of itself, but is good only because of its connection to something else, there still has to be something that is good or desired by you just on its own account, and not purely because of something else, or else nothing will be good for you or desired by you at all.

Now, one has to be careful about how one understands and applies this axiom. It is not always the case that “What is X by another” leads back to “What is X by itself.” For example, “What is held up by another” (e.g. a hat is held up by a nail) does not ultimately lead us back to “What is held up by itself,” but instead leads us back, ultimately, to “What is not held up” at all, such as the earth. The series still terminates in something distinct from all the other members of the series, but not in “What is X by itself,” but simply in “What is not X” and is something else altogether. So we must be aware that this can happen sometimes.

Another example of this: “What is proved by another” does not lead back to “What is proved by itself.” Nothing proves itself. That would involve a contradiction, since in that case the same statement would both need to be proved and would also supply the proof for itself at the same time. Instead, “What is proved by another” goes back ultimately to other statements that simply are not proved—but statements that are still known, because although they are not proved they are self-evidently true.

So in this way “What is by another” must always lead back to “What is by itself”—sometimes “What is X by another” leads back to “What is X by itself” (as “What is sweet by another” goes back to “What is sweet by itself”), and other times “What is X by another” leads back to “What is not X at all, but is Y, by itself” (as “What is proved by another” goes back to “What is not proved, and needs no proof, but is evident by itself”).

(Another example of the latter is the case of things in motion—everything in motion is in motion by another, but this does not go back to what is in motion by itself, or not ultimately, but instead goes back ultimately to what is not in motion at all. But that goes a little deeper than we need to go right now.)

Whew! If you’ve digested that, then let’s apply this now to your first concern in your email. You ask about this argument:

"If there were caused causes, with no first cause, they would constitute a middle with nothing before it.

But it is impossible for there to be a middle with nothing before it.

Therefore, there cannot be caused causes with no first cause."

You ask (in effect) why we cannot deny the first premise. Why not say that we have a series of causes, and each one has a cause before it, so that we have an infinity of causes and no first one at all?

The answer is: because on that supposition, every cause would be a cause “by another,” due to something else, and not just by itself or of itself. Now the axiom illustrated above demands that where there is something “by another” there must also be something that is “not by another,” or something that is “by itself.” Since there are caused causes, that is, things that are causes not just of themselves but only by another, therefore (by the axiom) there must also be, prior to them all, a cause that is a cause “not by another.”

Since this thing is the cause of other things, but it is not made a cause “by another,” its being and causation must either be “caused by itself” or else “not caused at all.” But what is “caused by itself” involves a contradiction, if we take the phrase strictly (supposing the thing does not exist and then causes itself to exist, or somehow continually gives itself its existence). Instead, then, we must say that it is not caused at all—and so it is a cause of other things, but nothing is a cause of it. And that is what a first cause is.

The first premise above is just another way of saying all of this. If there were things that were causes by another (that is, each one is a cause only because something else is making each one to be a cause), but there were nothing that was a cause by itself, then this group of causes would require something before all of them (by the axiom above, and by the supposition that they are all “by another”), and yet there would be nothing before them all (by the supposition that there is no first cause).

I hope that helps with regard to your first concern.

Your second concern is about the entirely separate argument about the maximum in the series, which I stated only very briefly in the book. How can there be a maximum if we assume there is an infinity of causes?

To be clear, I am not making a claim that every infinite set must have a maximum. If we were to speak of the set of all possible instances of the number 3, then that set is infinite in some way, but all the members are all equal. There is no maximum in such a case.

Nor do I think that a set that is unfinished, but which might be added to, has to have a maximum possible member. For example, the set of positive integers. In reality, we can only have a finite number of integers written down or instantiated in things, or so it seems to me. But we can always add the next integer, and there is no “greatest possible integer.”

But if we are talking about a set of things no two of which are equal, and that are (or can be) set out in order, and they all exist simultaneously and in complete reality (they are not mere possibilities, but really existing and acting entities), then the very nature of this completeness demands some sort of maximum. And this is part of what I mean when I speak of a set of things being definite in the way I used that expression in the book.

Let’s look at an example other than the causal series we are particularly concerned about. Suppose I add up the inverse powers of two. As I’m sure you know, this sum can never get as large as 2, no matter how many terms we add, although it can get as close to 2 as we please. One might think that if we only had them all somehow, then we would have exactly 2. But I do not see how this can be so (and neither did Zeno, or Aristotle, or Thomas Aquinas). If we suppose we had them all, then by the very nature of the completeness we are supposing, there must have been a last term added. Now what was this last term? It is either zero, or a finite quantity, or an infinite one. If the last thing added is infinite, then the sum is infinite in magnitude, not 2. If it is some finite quantity, then since an infinity of terms precede it that are all greater than it (since each prior term is double the next), we again have an infinite magnitude. If the last thing added is zero, then since all the terms prior to it are multiples of it, they are all zero as well, and the sum is zero. And no matter what one thinks of this dilemma, one cannot get around this: if we have all of the terms of this series, then thanks to their order and completeness there must be a last term, even if we still try to insist that the members of the series are infinite in multitude.

Much the same thing is true in the case of a series of causes each one of which is caused by the one before it. If we are only talking about a possible series of causes in our heads or imaginations, then indeed there is no limit to the multitude of prior causes we can add. For example, suppose that

A is being caused by B, B by C, C by D, D by E

Can we add another, so that E is being caused by F? Sure. And there is no limit to this, so long as we are talking only about a possible series that might be realized. Consequently, there might also be no maximum, so long as we are talking about certain kinds of causes. For example, if the terms are boxcars, each one being moved by another, there is no general principle of causation that says you can have only 5 of them in a train. Why not 25? Or 9,867? There might be special reasons of physics that limit the number, but that is another matter.

But once we suppose we are talking about a real causal series (outside our heads) that is finished, complete, and functioning, we have committed ourselves. Even if we suppose there is an infinity of boxcars moving on the tracks (again, there might be physical impossibilities besides the metaphysical ones, but let’s not worry about that for the moment), there must be a complete causation, since the effect is being produced. That means all the causes of this effect, the ones presently producing it and necessary in order to produce it right now, are presently existing. So it is not a matter of some abstract series we might add to in our heads. It is all here. And even if we suppose it includes an infinity of boxcars, each pulling the one after it and being pulled by the one before it, we must admit that something makes the causal series complete and functional (this will be the reason, for example, that the whole series of cars is moving one way rather than the other way). But no single boxcar does that. So something else does. Whatever this is, it is the cause of the whole shebang, and so it is most of all a cause (a maximum in causation). And since it is more a cause than anything else, and is a cause of all the causation of all the other causes, there can be nothing that is a cause of it. So it is uncaused.

You voice a third difficulty:

"I am also having problems understanding how the first cause necessarily needs to still exist with us today. To tweak your train analogy, if the engine, which you designate the first cause, spontaneously exploded and the explosion pushed all the connected boxcars on a frictionless railroad track indefinitely, we would still have the same chain of causes and effects but with an initial mover that no longer exists."

Let’s consider a simpler case similar to your exploding engine—a thrown baseball. While a baseball is being thrown by me, its motion is caused by me. As soon as I release it, its motion is no longer being caused by me. I could die of a stroke, and the ball will keep going, especially if I throw it out in space where there is nothing to slow it down, or not much. So you could find my baseball, or Voyager II, still moving out in space long after the causes that got these things going have vanished out of existence.

As soon as we are thinking along those lines, we have stopped thinking about a series of essentially ordered and presently acting causes. We are thinking about things that used to be acting causes, and are no longer. The question about a “first cause” (where this is defined as first in causation, not in time), however, is precisely about causes acting now, in the present, not about series of things going back into the past. If I am painting somebody’s portrait, we find a series of causes like this:

My Brush : My Hand : My Brain : My will ...

These causes are working together in the present, not one after another in time. This is the kind of series that cannot go on through an infinity of causes without a first cause. It might also be true that we have a kind of series of causes like this:

Me painting right now : My parents conceiving me : Their parents conceiving them ...

If my parents had never conceived me, I would not be here and I would not be painting this portrait. And if their parents had never conceived them, they would never have been, and I would never have come to be, and I would not be painting this portrait right now.

But this is a very different kind of series! In the first series, all the causes are working together at the same time. In the second series, the causes work successively, and not at the same time. In the first series, each cause is being given its causal power by the prior cause (the one named next in the series). My brush is producing the painting only because my hand is causing it to do so. But that is not what is happening with the second series. I am not painting this portrait because my parents are conceiving me right now. Although I must have been conceived in the past if I am to be painting now in the present, the act of conceiving me does not cause my act of painting. That is why I get more credit (or blame) for the painting than my parents do.

The arguments of Thomas Aquinas (and others) for the existence of a divine being are about causal series like the first one, not like the second one. It is in a series of that kind that God is called a “first cause.” And that is why he is more a cause of the world than are any of the secondary causes in between, just as I am more a cause of the portrait than is the brush I am using. (If you are interested in the terminology, the first kind of causal series is said to be ordered per se, the second per accidens, since in the first type each member is a cause of the next thing being a cause, not just a cause of a thing that later happens to be a cause.)

Coming back, now, to your tweaked version of the story of the train. Let us suppose that an engine (or whatever cause) has gotten a train going by pushing it, and then it is decoupled from the train of boxcars and they keep going along the tracks for some time. Certainly that can happen. I talk about similar cases in the book. A carpenter can build a house and then die on the way home, yet the house continues to exist without the carpenter. But that is because the carpenter is only a cause of the house coming into existence, not a cause of its continuing in existence. The carpenter causes the house to come to be, not simply to be. The engine is the cause of the train accelerating, or of its terminal velocity coming to be, not of its maintaining that terminal velocity.

So we must now ask: what is the cause of the train’s continuing in motion, now that the engine is no longer causing its motion?

One answer we might give (and this answer is often given) is “There is no cause of its motion—the motion needed a cause to bring it into existence, but once it exists, it continues on its own with no need of any cause whatsoever.” I try to show that this is false in chapters 2 and 3 of the book. But I can say something briefly here that might be helpful. If I pour milk into a glass, it takes on the shape of the glass—I caused the milk to take on that new shape. If I die right afterward, the milk continues to have that same shape, but this is no longer due to me. Does it follow that the milk now continues in that shape just of itself, due to no cause whatsoever? Not at all. There is still a cause. It continuously depends on the glass in order to continue to have the shape of the glass. So just because one cause is responsible only for the coming-to-be of something, and no more, does not mean there is no other cause at work that might be responsible for its continuing to be. The same goes for the motion of the train. The engine is not needed in order for the train to continue to move. That does not prove that there is no cause of its continuing to move.

Your question about the train brings out that the train of boxcars owes its motion to something other than just the engine. I must agree, of course, since I think that God is the cause of all things whatsoever other than himself, including the motion of the train and the existence of the engine (and the laws of physics inherent in its materials and in the surrounding space, etc.). But the train illustration, like the one with the chain and the lamp, is not supposed to get us back to the absolutely first cause of all things. It is only meant to illustrate the point that what is “by another” must take us back to what is “not by another,” just as the boxcars that are “moved by another car in the train” must take us back to what is “not moved by another car in the train,” namely the engine. So too what is “caused by another cause” must take us back to what is “not caused by another cause.”

Even if we supposed that the train is no longer being moved by anything, but just is in motion by itself without any cause whatsoever, we would be admitting that we have found a being and a cause which has no presently existing cause of any kind—the motion of the train, which we are supposing just exists by itself (and causes any number of effects), without being caused by anything. This is not true, but it concedes the main point of Ch.1, namely that there has to be at least one cause in existence that is not presently being caused by anything at all.

If the foregoing remarks seem too indigestible at points, you can simplify the question by asking yourself whether you think you can know anything through proof from an infinity of premises. If you see the impossibility of that, and see that the impossibility is not merely a matter of time constraints, then you are well on your way.

Thank you again, Mark, for your interest in the book, and for your intelligent questions. I do not always answer email inquiries about it, but I do my best to respond to thoughtful and honest concerns such as yours.

Warm regards,
Michael Augros
 
 
(Image credit: WallpapersDB.org)

Dr. Michael Augros

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

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  • Peter

    All actions within the universe depend fundamentally on the four forces of nature. A modern Thomist would argue that God sustains these forces in operation at every moment and at every point in the universe, and that from their operation every other action instantaneously takes place.

    The problem here is that the difference between causes working simultaneously and successively is blurred. Time is divisible into trillionths of a second, and a trillionth of a second is no less valid a unit of time than a second or a minute or an hour. One of the four forces, the electromagnetic force, for example, operates at the speed of light, which means that there must be a time lag, albeit infinitesimal but no less valid, in any action that requires it.

    It is possible that no actions within the universe are truly instantaneous. Even the act of being for anything depends on trillions of minuscule actions which each take up triliionths of a second.

    • Phil

      Hi Peter,

      Something that might help clarify is that there can be a slight difference between "instantaneous" and "simultaneous". That something must be in a simultaneous relationship does mean that they also exist in an instantaneous relationship.

      For example, that we exist as we do right now is due to the simultaneous functioning of the 4 main forces (possibly more). This simply means that all 4 forces are "functioning" right now. This is completely in harmony with the fact that if the 4 forces stop functioning that it may take a very small amount of time us to stop existing as we do right now.

      In fact, it may be true that nothing in material reality happens "instantaneously". We may just use instantaneously to mean "a very short amount of time that doesn't seem relevant in regards to what is being talked about". (Whether it is proper to use "instantaneous" is another question then.)

      • Peter

        Thankyou for your clarification. I have amended my first paragraph to read "instantaneously" instead of "simultaneously", and my third paragraph to read "instantaneous" instead of "simultaneous".

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          But there is no requirement that the cause effects instantaneously.

          • Peter

            The author claims that there is a series of causes where all the causes work together at the same time.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            A better term would be "concurrent." People sometimes confuse "simultaneous" with "instantaneous" and suppose that when an actualization is initiated it is instantly apparent to all observers. But Roger Bacon observed that the clang was heard at a distance after the blacksmith had struck. But that only means that sound travels more slowly than light. They were well aware that there is a “beginning-to-be” and a “ceasing-to-be” in the
            kinesis of a potency. As Whitehead wrote in The Principle of Relativity, nothing in physics happens in an instant; events always take place across some span of time. Kinesis takes place over time.

            A body does not start moving unless and until a motive is supplied. A green apple does not move to red all by itself. Sunlight in the 3,600 to 4,500 Å range activates the anthocyanin in the apple's skin to absorb the green, blue, violet,and near-ultraviolet regions of the spectrum, thus
            causing it to reflect red. But this does not happen in an instant. If the sunlight is removed, the act of changing-to-red will cease, even if an impetus has been absorbed and the ripening continues for a short time in the darkness.

            The inertial motion of a body continues so long as its momentum continues. The table pushes up against the book so long as the book presses down against the table. The clarinet plays the concerto so long as Sharon Kam is playing it. If Sharon Kam decides she wants to stop playing, the clarinet will not carry on without her. This has nothing to do with instants, or with the melody "lingering" in the air after Kam has stopped, or someone at a distance hears it later. In all cases, the act of changing has ceased. If you remove the pushing cause, the effect of getting-more-momentum does cease; remove a retarding cause (such as friction), and the effect of losing-momentum will likewise cease.

            The issue of first and last moments is discussed in Grant's book, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages.

          • Peter

            It would appear from your explanation that the act of existence itself depends on concurrent causes which are no different from successive causes, so that even existence is a change.

        • Phil

          Hey Steven--Thanks for the link! A few comments:

          Furthermore, I apply this privileged status of science mostly when entertaining questions regarding ontology, such as the fundamental nature of reality—for which science is our most reliable epistemology, contrary to what Feser says. No logician could ever derive the physics of quantum mechanics from the laws of logic, or from metaphysics.

          What "The Thinker" misses here is that metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy in general, must precede science in general. Now, he also seems to propose science as a type of "epistemology". The natural sciences proper are not epistemology.

          Now, he may be equating "soft-empiricism/soft-scientism" (types of epistemology) and "science".

          But science itself is not a philosophical view, though it most definitely relies on underlying metaphysical and epistemological assumptions.

          Now, Thinker admits here:

          You cannot prove that the external world exists scientifically, you have
          to assume it on the additional assumption that your senses are at least partly reliable. Some philosophically naive atheists don't acknowledge this and start with these assumptions not realizing that they've assumed a metaphysics.

          This points us towards the fact that maybe he actually would agree with my point above. But its not something I could assume without talking to clarify what he means in my first quote above. The main point being, science cannot be a primary way of understanding reality because it relies on a proper metaphysics to ground it before you can even do science. Therefore science cannot be placed prior to metaphysics.

          On the flip side, when dealing with questions of human nature, I don't emphasize physics, I turn to biology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy.

          Again, The Thinker seems to mix up biology as a science and philosophical anthropology. Biology cannot tell you the anthropological nature of the human person; it can only tell you how the human person functions at a physical biological level. This is very different from philosophical anthropology.

          The Thomist god is full of mystery, and the analogies give us little to no clue as to what god really is. When questioned, the Thomist will say that our finite minds can't fully grasp the true wonder of god.

          His comments on the mystery of God miss the mark because it is proper to hold that one can know something about God insofar as we know what God is not, but we can never know what God is (because he is not an object we can know).

          The Thinker misses the mark when he claims that Thomist's "define God into existence". Rather we come to know something of God through what is necessary if the cosmos exists as we observe it; cosmological arguments always start with the world and then move to understand who/what God is (we don't start with a definition of God).

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

          --Onto his commentary of the arguments for God--

          1 Unmoved Mover

          Feser reiterates the idea that essentially ordered causes are all simultaneous, which I've already argued is not the case.

          Here the Thinker makes the mistake of assuming that "simulateous" means "instantaneously". The Aristotelian-Thomist (A-T for short) uses simultaneous to mean "concurrently".

          For example, for me to be holding a ball, the neurons must be firing *concurrently/simultaneously" as the ball in being held. If the neurons stop firing, then I will not be holding the ball (it doesn't need to happen instantaneously for this to be true). The neurons firing are the reason why the ball is continuing to be held at this moment. If I kept holding the ball forever after the neurons stopped firing, then the neurons would not be the reason I'm holding the ball.

          Because of this misunderstanding the first critique would fall apart.

          First is the spacetime block universe we get from Special Relativity that says all moments of time, past, present, and future are all equally real and exist. In such a case the universe could have a finite number of moments in the past, or infinite, and would still be eternal. [This is called eternalism}

          This is not a good metaphysics of time because one must then hold that change is not real since everything happens at once. We just first understand that "time" is merely change. This philosophical view directly contradicts, rather than explains, reality as we experience it. This points us towards a bad metaphysical view.

          In short, if change is real, then eternalism is not true.

          A changeless god cannot actualize a potential because that would require
          change. Thus the very notion of a creating and intervening god as "pure act" makes no sense.

          The Thinker misunderstands what one means by God and being pure act. Because God is pure act, a pure act of existence itself, God is fully present at each moment. God does not exist "in time", so it makes no sense to say that God "intervenes" as if he wasn't there at a previous time. God is acting equally at all moments of time and all places of space.

          Third, a timeless, unchangeable being of pure act and no potential "whatsoever" cannot become a physical being (as the Christian god does) or a creator. Going from a potential creator to an actual creator actualizes a potential; it requires change.

          Yes, the incarnation is the top mystery of Christianity. Now, we can't say that the incarnation changed God as God. But is the incarnation directly contradictory to an eternal God, no. It is supra-rational, not irrational.

          Fifth, let's grant that essentially ordered series exist in the universe and are truly simultaneous. Why does the universe have to be essentially ordered? Why does an atom need to be continually held in existence by a god? Is it metaphysically impossible for god to create something physical that continues to exist without sustenance? Is that something god can't do, like creating a stone he cannot lift? It would have to be the case given Thomistic metaphysics. I see no reason to believe an atom must be continually sustained in existence.

          We don't assume that an atom needs to be held in existence, we observe that that is the way it is. We find nothing in the atom itself that explains why it exists at this very moment. That's the reason we say there must be a pure act of existence holding everything that exists in being.

          2 5th Way - Teleological (Supreme Intelligence)

          But as I've argued in my review of the last chapter, Feser has not plausibly established teleological final causes to exist.

          For The Thinker to hold that final causes do not exist, he would need to admit that a match is as likely to turn into a unicorn as it is to light on fire when struck against a matchbox. Obviously, this view would destroy science and knowledge itself. Therefore, if the Thinker wants to hold onto science as a valid way of knowledge, he needs to hold onto final causality as a real existing property of being.

          To clarify on the 5th way--So because we understand that inert things have final causes, they are directed towards certain outcomes rather than others, we must explain why this is so. We wouldn't say that the matter is consciously choosing to do it. No, whatever is holding the inert matter in being is also holding its nature (its "formal cause") in being as well, which directs it towards its final cause.

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

          So to wrap up, I simply think that The Thinker needs to get a little better grasp on A-T metaphysics. A-T metaphysics has the advantage of simplicity and being able to explain reality and support science. It simply takes the 4 causes (formal, final, efficient, and material), and act/potency to explain how all material being exists. That's it. And science can't be coherently explained without those 6 concepts.

          Thanks again for the link!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The Thinker misses the mark when he claims that Thomist's "define God into existence". Rather we come to know something of God through what is necessary if the cosmos exists as we observe it; cosmological arguments always start with the world and then move to understand who/what God is (we don't start with a definition of God).

            The Thinker's critique originates with Kant.

            Here the Thinker makes the mistake of assuming that "simulateous" means "instantaneously". The Aristotelian-Thomist (A-T for short) uses simultaneous to mean "concurrently".

            For example, for me to be holding a ball, the neurons must be firing *concurrently/simultaneously" as the ball in being held. If the neurons stop firing, then I will not be holding the ball (it doesn't need to happen instantaneously for this to be true). The neurons firing are the reason why the ball is continuing to be held at this moment. If I kept holding the ball forever after the neurons stopped firing, then the neurons would not be the reason I'm holding the ball.

            Then it is unknowable whether or not a causal series is accidental or essential. It seems I could also say that when my dad dies, I will eventually die at some later time. Therefore my life is essentially caused by my dad's life.

            If I am pushing a car down a road, is the car's motion essentially or accidently ordered?

          • Phil

            It seems I could also say that when my dad dies, I will eventually die at some later time. Therefore my life is essentially caused by my dad's life.

            Your life is only caused by your dad in an accidental way. Your dad is not causing you to exist right now at this very moment. Your dad could go out of existence and you would still exist right now. Also, you could die before your dad, therefore it is not your dad causing you to exist in this way right now, because your dad still exists physically and you don't. In simple, your dad's death has nothing intrinsically/essentially to do with your death, only accidentally.

            On the other hand, there is an intrinsic connection between your hand grasping a ball and the functioning of the fundamental forces of reality. In other words, if all the fundamental forces of reality stop existing, you will no longer be holding the ball. There is an intrinsic connection between you being able to hold the ball and the fundamental forces existing.

            If I am pushing a car down a road, is the car's motion essentially or accidently ordered?

            There are both accidentally and essentially order series happening concurrently. Remember, the difference between the two is that essentially ordered series go down in "ontological levels" where all are necessarily functioning concurrently, and not necessarily back in time. Whereas, accidentally ordered series go back in time.

            For example, the series of why you are actively pushing the car could be looked at from at least two ways:

            (1) Essentially ordered series: Why are you actively pushing the car? Because your neurons are firing in your body giving you the ability to push, this is due to the overall state of the nervous system, the overall state of the nervous system is due to the continued functioning of the fundamental forces of reality, etc. All these things must be happening concurrently. If one stops, you actively pushing the car will stop (how fast that happens will probably be at the speed of light).

            (2) Accidentally ordered series: Why are you actively pushing the car? Because it ran out of gas. Why did it run out of gas? Because I forgot to check my gas level. Why did I forget to check my gas level? Because I was distracted after my girlfriend broke up with me, etc...

            Those things come to explain why I have come to be actively pushing my car right now, but the things associated with those previous things could go out of existence while I am pushing the car and it would not affect my ability to actively push the car.

            The only things essential to my actively pushing the car is myself, the car, and the reason for my nervous system functioning and the cars continued existence at that moment. All of these eventually lead to the fundamental forces of reality, and then past them to the reason for their continued existence.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Your life is only caused by your dad in an accidental way. Your dad is not causing you to exist right now at this very moment.

            How do you know? You just said that essentially ordered causes needn't be instantaneous. Perhaps there is just a longer delay between when my father dies and I die.

            Your dad could go out of existence and you would still exist right now. Also, you could die before your dad, therefore it is not your dad causing you to exist in this way right now, because your dad still exists physically and you don't.

            This objection does not work. Oxygen is said to an essential cause of a flame, yet the fires can go out and the oxygen remains. An essential cause could remain after the end of whatever it is causing. The universe will die before the supposed sustainer dies.

            In simple, your dad's death has nothing intrinsically/essentially to do with your death, only accidentally.

            How could you possibly know this? Essentially ordered series needn't be instantaneous and I cannot have existed unless my dad existed. By removing the instantaneous requirement, you have stripped yourself of the ability to tell the difference between essentially and accidently ordered causes.

            On the other hand, there is an intrinsic connection between your hand grasping a ball and the functioning of the fundamental forces of reality. In other words, if all the fundamental forces of reality stop existing, you will no longer be holding the ball. There is an intrinsic connection between you being able to hold the ball and the fundamental forces existing.

            What are these fundamental forces you are talking about?

            The only things essential to my actively pushing the car is myself, the car, and the reason for my nervous system functioning and the cars continued existence at that moment. .

            So, I am pushing the car and thus I am an essential cause to the cars motion. However, if the highway I was pushing the car on suddenly became frictionless and I stopped pushing, the car would continue moving forever unless another cause stopped it. The car continues even thought the essential cause (myself) stopped acting.
            When something that you consider essential to an action stops and then the action stops, this is not necessary indicative of some kind of intrinsic relationship between the two. Another cause may come into play that stops the action. For instance, in the case of the car on a frictionless road, a giant barrier could stop the car.

          • Phil

            So, I am pushing the car and thus I am an essential cause to the cars motion. However, if the highway I was pushing the car on suddenly became frictionless and I stopped pushing, the car would continue moving forever unless another cause stopped it. The car continues even thought the essential cause (myself) stopped acting.

            Sure, there is nothing controversial about this. Let's say you stop actively pushing the car and it keeps moving for a time because of inertia.

            Here is the essentially ordered series: Why is the car moving right now, 1 second after you've stopped pushing it? It is moving because it has inertial energy. Why does it have inertial energy? Because it has mass that gives it a resistance to change in velocity. Why does it have mass? Mass comes from the certain particles that make up the car. Why do the particles exist in a way that has mass? Because of the strong nuclear force and possibly other forces, etc, etc. This keeps going on until we get to the most basic part of all reality (ultimately we come to God as Aquinas notes).

            So notice that all these things must exist and be acting concurrently for the car to be moving at that moment in time. For example, if inertial energy ceased to exist, then the car would not be moving after you've actively stopped pushing it.

            In short, every single event has both an essential and accidental series associated with it. Aquinas' 5 ways focus on explaining the essential series.

            How do you know? You just said that essentially ordered causes needn't be instantaneous. Perhaps there is just a longer delay between when my father dies and I die.

            If you want to hold this, you need argue for why all parents' deaths directly causes their children's deaths.

            If you think about this for a second, I think you will see how absurd this is. (And think about the consequences for sciences if you are going to try and hold this view consistently.)

            This objection does not work. Oxygen is said to an essential cause of a flame, yet the fires can go out and the oxygen remains.

            Remember, in your example we would be trying to explain why the flame is burning.

            If a flame is burning, and suddenly all oxygen ceases to exist in the cosmos, then the flame will stop burning. The existence of oxygen is part of the essential series of a burning flame.

            What are these fundamental forces you are talking about?

            Right now we understand them to be the strong/weak nuclear force, gravitational, and electromagnetism. But it could be the case that there is only one fundamental force (or there could be more than 4). I use "fundamental" in the most general sense; whatever is most basic to physical reality.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Here is the essentially ordered series: Why is the car moving right now, 1 second after you've stopped pushing it? It is moving because it has inertial energy. Why does it have inertial energy? Because it has mass that gives it a resistance to change in velocity. Why does it have mass? Mass comes from the certain particles that make up the car. Why do the particles exist in a way that has mass? Because of the strong nuclear force and possibly other forces, etc, etc. This keeps going on until we get to the most basic part of all reality

            Before I was the essential cause of the cars motion. Now inertia is. If I am pushing the car on a road with a lot of friction, why doesn't the essential cause (inertia) make the car keep going?

            I would hesitate to call the fundamental forces causative.

            So notice that all these things must exist and be acting concurrently for the car to be moving at that moment in time. For example, if inertial energy ceased to exist, then the car would not be moving after you've actively stopped pushing it.

            This cannot happen. So inertia is a necessary thing?

            If you want to hold this, you need argue for why all parents' deaths directly causes their children's deaths.

            No I don't. You need to tell me how we know the difference between essential and accidentally ordered causal series. If instantaneity is no longer a requirement, we cannot tell the difference without more information.

            If you think about this for a second, I think you will see how absurd this is. (And think about the consequences for sciences if you are going to try and hold this view consistently.)

            All I am doing is denying that you have given enough philosophical information to tell the difference between an accidental and an essentially ordered series.

            Remember, in your example we would be trying to explain why the flame is burning.

            If a flame is burning, and suddenly all oxygen ceases to exist in the cosmos, then the flame will stop burning. The existence of oxygen is part of the essential series of a burning flame.

            So this is a counter-example to your claim that X cannot be essential to Y if X can continue when Y ceases. You said as much here:

            Your dad could go out of existence and you would still exist right now. Also, you could die before your dad, therefore it is not your dad causing you to exist in this way right now, because your dad still exists physically and you don't.

            How do you know essentially ordered series even exist?

          • Phil

            All I am doing is denying that you have given enough philosophical information to tell the difference between an accidental and an essentially ordered series.

            You need to tell me how we know the difference between essential and accidentally ordered causal series. If instantaneity is no longer a requirement, we cannot tell the difference without more information.

            This is a fair, and key, question--how does one tell the difference between an accidental and essential series? If one doesn't understand this, then anything I say won't make much sense.

            An example:

            We have a burning candle in front of us. We ask, what is the reason this candle is burning right now? We have at least two answers someone could give: (1) Oxygen exists right now, or (2) Joe lit the candle.

            Answer (1) leads to an essential series. If oxygen ceased to exist, the candle could not longer be lit. Answer (2) leads to an accidental series, if Joe had a heart attack 1 minute after lighting the candle, the candle could still burn. Joe's continued existence has no intrinsic/essential connection to the candle continuing to burn. Oxygen's continued existence does have an intrinsic connection to the candles continued burning.

            So the main philosophical distinction could be stated as such: The difference between essential and accidental series references whether something is an intrinsic (necessary) or extrinsic (accidental) reason for something to exist as it does right now.

            [It may be best to focus less on timing, and more on an analysis of causes like the above example. In the end, time is just an analysis of change; so we focus on the change (the candle burning).]

            Does this help any? Questions, comments? I apologize if my explanations haven't been clear.

            -----------

            Before I was the essential cause of the cars motion. Now inertia is. If I am pushing the car on a road with a lot of friction, why doesn't the essential cause (inertia) make the car keep going?

            I apologize, as I realize I wasn't as clear as I could have been. The first essential series I listed (not the last comment) was explaining why you were actively pushing the car. This last essential series explains why the car is moving after you have stopped actively pushing it.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The difference between essential and accidental series references whether something is an intrinsic (necessary) or extrinsic (accidental) reason for something to exist as it does right now.

            If Y is essential to X, like say oxygen is to fire, it is till possible to get X without Y? For instance, we could have an oxidizing agent other than oxygen and still get fire.

            Is it possible to have a universe without essential series? Is whether or not a given series is essential a philosophical or scientific question? Or maybe somewhere in the middle.

            No need to apologize. It is difficult to be clear when talking philosophy. :-)

          • Phil

            The key to this discussion is to stick to tangible real world examples. So let's look at the candle example again.

            You asked:

            If Y is essential to X, like say oxygen is to fire, it is till possible to get X without Y? For instance, we could have an oxidizing agent other than oxygen and still get fire.

            So we have our burning candle in front of us. Either oxygen is essential for the continued burning of the candle right in front of us, or it is not.

            So this doesn't ignore that fact that something else could be burning via an oxidizing agent and not via oxygen. Therefore, the oxidizing agent would be part of that essential series.

            The key to remember is that when we are analyzing these series we need to think of some entity that is existing in a certain way, then freeze frame it. We then analyze why this freeze frame exists as it does. The question becomes "why does this exist as it does at this very moment right now; what is essential to its existence at this very moment?"

            Is whether or not a given series is essential a philosophical or scientific question? Or maybe somewhere in the middle. Is it possible to have a universe without essential series?

            It takes both philosophy and science to give the full explanation. Philosophy tells you the underlying structure that is necessary for what we observe, and the physical sciences tells us what the purely physical structure and details are. So philosophy tells us that we need an adequate explanation for why the candle is burning right now and whether a certain explanation is adequate or not.

            In reality, when people think they are doing "pure science without philosophy", they are mistaken. Science can't judge what is a good explanation verses what is a bad explanation for something. The scientific method gives you way to run experiments, but you must use good reasoning (that is, good philosophy) to tell you what these experiments actually mean; to "interpret the data".

            I won't comment right now on other possible physical cosmos' so that we can stick to the one we inhabit (though that is a good philosophical question).

          • David Nickol

            Sure, there is nothing controversial about this. Let's say you stop actively pushing the car and it keeps moving for a time because of inertia.

            As I understand it, neither Aristotle nor Aquinas knew of inertia, and hence they could not incorporate the concept into an argument about the "unmoved mover." Both men assumed that if something was moving—even, say, an arrow in flight—a force was acting on it until it's motion ceased. And the sun, moon, and planets were in motion because a force was causing them to move. If that force ceased, they would stop moving.

            But according to Newton's first law, it is not the case that the natural and expected state of objects is rest. Objects in motion will remain in motion unless acted on by a force, and objects at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by a force. Consequently, motion does not need to be explained. Aquinas's "first way" became obsolete with the acceptance of Newton's laws of motion.

            I have Who Designed the Designer, and I see that the Dr. Augros deals with Newton's laws in an appendix, but I haven't read it yet, so I don't know how successful he is. But from what I have read elsewhere, the formulations of Newton present serious or fatal contradictions to Aquinas's "first way."

          • Phil

            But according to Newton's first law, it is not the case that the natural and expected state of objects is rest. Objects in motion will remain in motion unless acted on by a force, and objects at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by a force. Consequently, motion does not need to be explained. Aquinas's "first way" became obsolete with the acceptance of Newton's laws of motion.

            I agree, and let's assume that it is the case that the natural state of objects is in motion. So now the question becomes, "why is the natural state of objects to be in motion?"

            We either accept this as a brute fact (which doesn't ultimately explain anything) or we have to look outside of physical reality as whole to explain this fact.

            The key point to remember is we can't disprove A-T metaphysics or Aquinas' 5 ways through science. They are metaphysical arguments, not scientific ones. Therefore one must use a metaphysical argument to disprove them.

            -------
            Another point to remember is that though Aristotle and Aquinas didn't have the scientific knowledge we have now, which means that some of their scientific understanding of reality can be quite off at times, they were mainly doing metaphysics. A true metaphysics will be right or not regardless of what the physical details are (which can be discovered at a later date via the physical sciences). So when people write off A-T metaphysics because of what they got wrong in science, it is like writing of someone's "history book" because they were actually writing poetry at that point!!

          • David Nickol

            I agree, and let's assume that it is the case that the natural state of objects is in motion. So now the question becomes, "why is the natural state of objects to be in motion?"

            It seems you are abandoning Aquinas's "first way" without a fight!

            We either accept this as a brute fact (which doesn't ultimately explain anything) or we have to look outside of physical reality as whole to explain this fact.

            It seems to me that what you are suggesting is that any "proof" that fails can be salvaged by asking, "Why is such-and-such the way it is?" So Aquinas assumes that when it comes to motion, the natural state is rest, and proceeds to say therefore that motion must be explained. We see that some things are moving. Why?

            But Newton came along and said that objects in motion stay in motion, and objects at rest stay at rest, and consequently, because of the concept of inertia, we don't have to explain why things are in motion. Your response is, "Why is there inertia? The natural state could have been rest alone, and it could have been motion alone, but it's rest for things at rest and motion for things in motion. And why? Because God made it that way, therefore God must exist. That is an entirely different tack than Aquinas. Aquinas could have said, "Why is it that the natural state of things is rest? It could have been different, so there must be a God who created a universe in which things can be at rest."

            The key point to remember is we can't disprove A-T metaphysics or Aquinas' 5 ways through science. They are metaphysical arguments, not scientific ones. Therefore one must use a metaphysical argument to disprove them.

            But that's not correct. If I make a "philosophical" argument that when I fire an arrow, it can never reach its target, because it must first go halfway to the target, and then it must go halfway from the new distance to the target, and then from its new position it must go halfway again . . . and so it will never hit the target, your metaphysical assumptions are totally undermined as soon as someone shoots an arrow that hits a target.

            As I understand it—to go on with arrows!—Aristotelians tied themselves in knots trying to come up with an explanation for why an arrow continues to move once it has left the bow:

            A notorious problem for the Aristotelian view was why arrows shot from a bow continued to fly through the air after they had left the bow and the string was no longer applying force to them. Elaborate explanations were hatched; for example, it was proposed that the arrow creating a vacuum behind it into which air rushed and applied a force to the back of the arrow!

            If you believe in Newton's laws, you need no explanation for why arrows continue to fly once they have left the bow. So any metaphysical approach that requires some difficult-to-fathom explanation for why things continue to move once set in motion is a discredited approach.

          • Phil

            It seems you are abandoning Aquinas's"first way" without a fight!

            Not at all--I was showing that the challenge you posed to motion does not destroy the argument from motion because it hasn't explained why all things would be in motion in the first place. The argument from motion keeps going deeper into reality for why something is in motion the way it is right now.

            So if we keep moving down into deeper parts of reality and we get to the point where we say there is a single unified substance that is in motion, we still have to ask why this substance is in motion. We then must necessary move to something that transcends this entire unified substance.

            It seems to me that what you are suggesting is that any "proof" that fails can be salvaged by asking, "Why is such-and-such the way it is?" So Aquinas assumes that when it comes to motion, the natural state is rest, and proceeds to say therefore that motion must be explained. We see that some things are moving. Why?

            The reason why the arguments work is because to explain something we have to keep asking "why". We should not arbitrarily stop asking "why".

            On the 2nd point--Aquinas assumes that there must be a reason for why something is the way as it is, whether it be in motion or "at rest".

            If I make a "philosophical" argument that when I fire an arrow, it can never reach its target, because it must first go halfway to the target, and then it must go halfway from the new distance to the target, and then from its new position it must go halfway again .. . and so it will never hit the target, your metaphysical assumptions are totally undermined as soon as someone shoots an arrow that hits a target.

            We would use philosophy to see that what you have shown is that the belief that an object transverses a finite distance by traveling half the remaining distance an infinite amount of times is merely an abstract mathematical truth, and is not a metaphysical truth about material reality.

            Your point that the arrow would never reach the target showed this. But the arrow does, so the above abstract mathematical understanding is just that, an abstracted understanding.

            If you believe in Newton's laws, you need no explanation for why arrows
            continue to fly once they have left the bow. So any metaphysical approach that requires some difficult-to-fathom explanation for why things continue to move once set in motion is a discredited approach.

            This is a question of Aristotle's physics, not his metaphysics. It makes little sense to disprove someone's metaphysics by using physics. We need to use metaphysics to disproves someone's metaphysics. (Now, this doesn't mean that there can be actual direct contradictions between our physics and metaphysics. It just means that if there is an actual contradiction between physics and metaphysics, then we have something wrong. But we shouldn't use physics to do metaphysics, and vice-versa.)

            Remember, I mentioned above that a good portion of Aristotelian physics is off, but his metaphysics is pretty much dead on (the general metaphysics being the A-T understanding that underlying all of material reality is formal, final, material, and efficient "causes"; and actuality and potency).

    • Robert Macri

      It is possible that no actions within the universe are truly instantaneous.

      I agree with you, a few nit-picky things aside (such as the instantaneous collapse of a quantum wave function). But I think the key phrase here is actions within the universe.

      The interactions of matter and energy within the universe comprise causal chains in finite time (by "finite" I chiefly mean "non-zero".). But they are not the only kinds of causal relationships. Some causal relationships do not depend on time at all, such as the very basis for the existence of any thing at all.

      If the sun were to instantaneously cease to exist we would not know about it for about another 8 minutes because of the finite speed of light (and, by extension, gravitational influence). But while the sun's influence would continue to "be", its very existence would not. It would, in fact, not be. So existence itself is something different from interaction.

      We also must consider that time is just as much a part of creation as the various things which interact within it. Space-time can bend and change. So rather than look at the causal chains of things acting in time, let's look at space-time itself.

      If we imagine ourselves somehow outside of space-time with a "God's eye" view of the universe (that is, viewing all of space-time at once) we would see every particle within the universe as a thread (the time line of the particle) jumbling and joining within a mass of other threads. It would appear static, because time itself would just be another direction (width, height, breadth, "time"). Thus, the "time" between particle interactions would be just "distance along the thread". Here and there a thread may change "color", or angle off in a different direction, but everything would all exist "at once", like a giant, knotted multidimensional tapestry.

      But what would be the causal basis for this thing to exist? Whatever it is, it certainly would not involve any interaction "time".

      From this perspective, then, I think we can distinguish between the causal chains within time and the greater, timeless causal relationship by which God sustains all things in existence.

      • George

        "But while the sun's influence would continue to "be", its very existence would not."

        Except from the frame of reference of someone on earth, that doesn't really mean anything.

        • Robert Macri

          "But while the sun's influence would continue to "be", its very existence would not."

          Except from the frame of reference of someone on earth, that doesn't really mean anything.

          Sure it does. It means that fact of non-instantaneous exchange of information does not imply that we cannot speak of existence in a non-temporal way. That is, our observations of the universe is limited to temporal causal chains, but that is not the only possibly type of causality.

          • Peter

            Even the act of existence itself, as I suggested above, is one of temporal causality. The existence of the sun, for example, at every moment depends upon trillions of subatomic interactions each of which take trillionths of a second.

            This may seem instantaneous to us, that the sun continues to exist at every moment instead of not existing, but its ongoing existence depends on interactions each of which takes an infinitesimal amount of time.

            These interactions, and every interaction in the universe which keeps things in existence at every moment, are not instantaneous. They stem within non-zero time from the constant operation the four fundamental forces of nature.

            The Thomist can answer that God sustains these four forces in existence from which everything else stems. However, that would be a God-of-the-gaps argument since we may discover even more fundamental forces at work.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    I mostly agreed with the answer, except for the thing about the sum of infinite terms:

    There are ways to carry out infinite series that converge to a finite value. I suspect Zeno and Aristotle struggled either because they were really thinking of something besides numbers, or because they were ignorant of modern analysis.

    An infinite sum can be carried out using other techniques than simply adding numbers together one after another. Some series converge under all standard approaches, some diverge under the standard approaches, and some converge under some approaches and diverge under others, for example the series:

    1+2+3+4+...,

    which under partial sums diverges, and under zeta function regularization can be assigned the value of -1/12, even though no individual number is negative. The regularization technique yields results that are useful in science.

    I agree though that an infinite series of explanations would seem to be an infinite number of bad answers to the question of why things are the way that they are. The series seems like it needs to terminate. Maybe there's some sort of self-evident explanation, or maybe it's just a brute fact.

    For example, with motion, some people have the intuition that things that can exist forever, like constant motion of a particle, may need no explanation. Eternally propagating effects may simply be brute. They might just be the way that they are, and there is no answer to why.

    I am a believer in the principle of sufficient reason, so I accept that there should be this self-evident explanation. I suspect it is the final theory of everything, and that maybe someday the physicists can describe this theory, even if they cannot fully understand or apply it.

    • Phil

      Hey Paul,

      I am a believer in the principle of sufficient reason, so I accept that
      there should be this self-evident explanation. I suspect it is the final
      theory of everything, and that maybe someday the physicists can
      describe this theory, even if they cannot fully understand or apply it.

      Let's suppose that we do discover a single theory of everything that completely describes material reality. The question that will still not be answered is why does this entire material reality exist as it does right now?

      Put simply, the explanation for physical reality as a whole cannot exist within the whole of physical reality, it must exist outside of physical reality. This is because if the explanation exists within reality, that explanation itself must need to be explained.

      ------
      I wanted to separate out a thought about your comments on infinite sums and such.

      I think we should understand that thinking about abstract mathematics is different them being instantiated in actual material reality. In other words, something can be mathematically conceived that is not possible to exist in material reality. This is why when we doing physics we need to always keep sight of material reality and not focus on the mathematics completely divorced from actual existing reality.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        The question that will still not be answered is why does this entire material reality exist as it does right now?

        I think a satisfactory theory of everything must answer this question for all of reality. It must explain why the cosmos exists, and why it is the way it is right now.

        If there is a satisfactory answer to this question, then it seems that everything must be the way it is and could not have been another way. If things could have been different, then the question arises: why this way and not another? It would seem that in such an event, this question would not have a satisfying answer, or otherwise things really couldn't have been otherwise after all.

        • Phil

          That is why the answer to this question must ultimately come from outside of material reality as a whole (whatever that may end up being). Any answer that we get from within is always susceptible to asking, why does this explanation exist as it does right now?

          So we either accept the whole of material reality as a brute fact (which gives up on understanding the rationality of the whole of reality), or we admit that the answer to understanding the whole of material reality comes from outside of material reality.

          For example, the closest we can get to explaining the whole of reality is a single, simple law/description. This law does not rely on anything else because it "reigns" over everything else. But we still need to know how this law/description exists as it does?

          (Thinking further through this, it seems that this single, simple law can't explain itself without being personal, i.e., capable of intellect/will, in some way as well. This would seem to be necessary to be completely self-explanatory.)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Why would this be? Maybe there are certain laws or structures that are self evident or autonomous, not in need of further explanation. I suspect conservation principles, like conservation of energy are similar to this notion. It does not seem possible to falsify conservation of energy really. This may suggest it is a necessary feature of the cosmos and, when properly understood, we would see why it must hold true.

          • Phil

            Why would this be? Maybe there are certain laws or structures that are self evident or autonomous, not in need of further explanation.

            As you probably have heard before, the simple answer is that scientific explanations only describe what exists, they don't tell us why there is anything to describe in the first place (this is where the "why something rather than nothing" statement comes from).

            But, let's make it as simple as possible. Perhaps all of reality can be explained by an equation that reduces to the number '5'. '5' is, in reality, the Theory of Everything. Well, now we have to explain why '5' explains all of reality. Why isn't reality '6' or any other type of reality? So '5' explains all of reality, but is doesn't explain why it exists as it does. It doesn't explain why it exists at all.

            One proposal could be a circular explanation, in that '5' itself is explained by something else in the cosmos. But we would only propose this seriously if we forgot that '5' itself was trying to explain the thing we are now using to try and explain '5'. That would be an incoherent circular explanation.

            That is why we need to get outside of the physical cosmos entirely to explain the cosmos as a whole.

            (Also, anything within the physical cosmos that explains all of reality that is even more complicated than '5' will open up further questions and issues.)

            Many can then take the next reasonable step and ask, why doesn't "God" fall into these same critiques? This is because, as you are well aware of from past articles, God is what the universe is not, i.e., perfectly simple, pure actuality, uncaused etc. A being can only be perfectly self-explanatory if it is these things. And we don't arbitrary say these things about God. We say that if the universe exists as it does right now, then God must exist as perfectly simple, pure actuality, uncaused etc.

            I suspect conservation principles, like conservation of energy are similar to this notion. It does not seem possible to falsify
            conservation of energy really. This may suggest it is a necessary feature of the cosmos and, when properly understood, we would see why it must hold true.

            No conservation principle necessarily needs to exist. We believe we live in a physical cosmos where something like the conservation of energy is true, but it need not be. It is perfectly coherent to say that a physical cosmos could exist where things would suddenly and completely "pop" out of existence; where the total mass/energy before would be greater than the total mass/energy afterwards.

            Therefore, we would need an explanation as to why our physical cosmos is not like this. This explanation could only come fro outside the entire physical cosmos.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            As you probably have heard before, the simple answer is that scientific explanations only describe what exists, they don't tell us why there is anything to describe in the first place (this is where the "why something rather than nothing" statement comes from).

            I think that a satisfactory theory of everything will be able to describe not only why we must have something rather than nothing, but why it is this something.

            But, let's make it as simple as possible. Perhaps all of reality can be explained by an equation that reduces to the number '5'.

            If so, then it reduces to a brute fact, something that has no further explanation, even though we could imagine it having a further explanation. The buck stops there. My intuition is that, instead, there is a sort of theory that does not require further explanation. It will be clear why it is true.

            No conservation principle necessarily needs to exist. We believe we live in a physical cosmos where something like the conservation of energy is true, but it need not be.

            How do you know it could be otherwise? If it could be otherwise, isn't it just a brute fact, a fact with no satisfying explanation? If it has a satisfying explanation for why it is the way it is and not another way, won't that explanation make the conservation of energy necessary?

          • Phil

            I think that a satisfactory theory of everything will be able to describe not only why we must have something rather than nothing, but why it is this something.

            Yes, and the theory of everything that you are searching for must transcend the whole of physical reality if you are trying to explain physical reality as whole.

            What I am finding is that there are some that wish to posit the physical cosmos as necessary and self-explanatory. What you will find is this cannot be the case. You will not find the reason for something's existence within itself. You always have to look outside of it. A physical entity cannot be non-contingent because it is always a composite being that could exist in some other way. If it could potentially exist in some other way, then you have to look further for an explanation for its existence.

            If so, then it reduces to a brute fact, something that has no further explanation, even though we could imagine it having a further explanation. The buck stops there. My intuition is that, instead, there is a sort of theory that does not require further explanation. It will be clear why it is true.

            If one can turn what traditional theists call "God" into the whole of the cosmos, then you have found where the buck stops. The problem is that we can't turn the cosmos into "God".

            How do you know it could be otherwise? If it could be otherwise, isn't it just a brute fact, a fact with no satisfying explanation? If it has a satisfying explanation for why it is the way it is and not another way, won't that explanation make the conservation of energy necessary.

            A brute fact isn't an explanation. If the explanation for the entire physical cosmos is "5" and one simply accepts that as a brute fact then the entire cosmos is unintelligible and unexplainable because it all reduces to "5". A complete explanation necessarily leads to a self-explanatory perfectly simple entity.

            In regards to the conservation of energy, you had proposed it as something that was necessarily true. So I simply pointed out that it is possible that the conservation of energy didn't exist. Therefore is doesn't necessarily exist.

          • George

            "that it is possible that the conservation of energy didn't exist."

            How?

          • Phil

            If we lived in a physical cosmos where less total energy could exist after a change than before it, then the conservation of energy would be false.

            (So we would need to explain how/why we live in a cosmos where we believe that the conservation of energy is true.)

          • George

            "physical cosmos where less total energy could exist after a change than before it"

            I was asking how that's possible. did you mean you could imagine it?

          • Phil

            It simply means that it is logically possible that a physical cosmos could exist where the conservation of energy is not true. This means that the conservation of energy does not necessarily need to be true.

            If this is the case, this means we have to explain why the conservation of energy is true for our physical cosmos (assuming it is actually true for our cosmos).

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            In regards to the conservation of energy, you had proposed it as something that was necessarily true. So I simply pointed out that it is possible that the conservation of energy didn't exist. Therefore is doesn't necessarily exist.

            How do you know it isn't necessary? Simply declaring it doesn't make it so.

            If we lived in a universe where the conservation of energy didn't exist, how would we ever know it? We'd do an experiment measuring the energy of a system, note that the energy is disappearing, and infer that it's simply going somewhere else.

            Given what we know, it may be the case that every possible world respects the conservation of energy. It's just that the energy may be transferred differently in different possible worlds. I'm not saying that this is indeed the case, but I'm saying that conservation of energy is a good candidate, because it seems to be a sort of dogma of physics, with no easy way to dismiss it experimentally. People watch systems lose energy all the time, can't practically measure where the energy is going in all cases, but just assume it's going somewhere else. To the point that, if particle colliders resulted in measured trajectories that added together lack certain energies, it would be seen not as falsification of the conservation of energy, but as evidence of some systematic error, or that there's some other kind of particle out there that the detectors didn't pick up, or more outlandish explanations.

          • Phil

            How do you know it isn't necessary? Simply declaring it doesn't make it so.

            We aren't declaring it, we are observing that the conservation of energy need not be true in every possible cosmos. There is nothing logically incoherent with a physical cosmos existing where things simply pop into and out of existence and no energy is conserved. That's not the cosmos we believe we inhabit, but it's possible for it to exist. So we would need to explain why we inhabit the cosmos that we actually find ourselves in.

            To put this all simply, if one is trying to explain the entirety of the cosmos, one can't explain it using something from within the cosmos that one is trying to explain.

            (You do make a good side point, one of the assumptions that science makes is that things don't pop into and out of existence. Only philosophy could tell you whether this is rational to believe or not.)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            We aren't declaring it, we are observing that the conservation of energy need not be true in every possible cosmos.

            What observation tells you that?

            There is nothing logically incoherent with a physical cosmos existing where things simply pop into and out of existence and no energy is conserved.

            In this universe things pop into and out of existence. The concept of conservation of energy is preserved by postulating a vacuum energy. Particles that pop into existence are fluctuations of fields that permeate space-time.

            I'm not sure people can really imagine an alternative world, although they trick themselves into thinking they can. I say I can imagine a world where I didn't get up at 7am this morning, because the alarm didn't go off. The reason the alarm didn't go off might be because I didn't set it, because someone distracted me, and so forth. If the world is deterministic, the explanation for why I didn't set my alarm will trace back to changes at the big bang. I'm personally incapable of imagining these changes, let alone what would be necessary to carry out these changes, or if they are ultimately even possible in the first place.

            I can only imagine small parts of the world being different than they are, and only really in ways that are probably horribly inconsistent.

          • Phil

            If we can coherently and logically conceive of a thing existing in some other way, then that means we need an explanation for why it exists as it actually does. This points us towards the fact that this thing we are talking about is not self-explanatory and necessary.

            Why does this not apply to God? It is logically incoherent to say: "God does not exist". Since God is existence/being itself, this means that we are saying, "Existence does not exist". Which, of course, is a logically incoherent belief. God perfectly explains God's existence by the fact that God is existence itself.

            (And making the connection to previous comments, the physical cosmos has existence, it is not existence itself. This is referencing the essence and existence distinction from above.)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I cannot coherently and logically conceive of a universe where energy is not conserved. Maybe I have a bad imagination.

            If God is identical to existence, by definition, then God is existence itself, all of it. Therefore the Cosmos is indeed God, or at least part of God. We are all part of God.

          • Phil

            If God is identical to existence, by definition, then God is existence itself, all of it. Therefore the Cosmos is indeed God, or at least part of God. We are all part of God.

            Be careful here. The jump from God as being itself to God is everything is not a move one should make quickly. The easiest way to see this is that "being itself" must be perfectly simple (that is, composed of no parts). This means that the physical cosmos, as such, cannot be God itself. So as an A-T would put it, the physical cosmos participates in the existence of God, but God is not perfectly identifiable with the physical cosmos.

            I cannot coherently and logically conceive of a universe where energy is not conserved. Maybe I have a bad imagination.

            We aren't imagining it (perceiving/picturing it), we are conceiving of it. There is not logical contradiction between a physical cosmos and one where energy is not conserved. It is perfectly conceivable that one could exist. Certain amounts of energy could just cease to exist.

            (I guess you could imagine it along with conceiving of it. Picture a being. The being eases to exist and the energy contained in that being also ceases to exist. The conservation of energy is not true.)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            We aren't imagining it (perceiving/picturing it), we are conceiving of it. There is not logical contradiction between a physical cosmos and one where energy is not conserved. It is perfectly conceivable that one could exist. Certain amounts of energy could just cease to exist.

            (I guess you could imagine it along with conceiving of it. Picture a being. The being eases to exist and the energy contained in that being also ceases to exist. The conservation of energy is not true.)

            Why would the energy disappear at that particular time? I suppose there would be a cause for that disappearing energy. What would that cause consist of? What kind of thing can cause energy to be destroyed and what could explain that cause? How would we ever know we were in such a universe?

            I think there may be severe problems with a world where there was no conservation of energy. I suspect such a world would be entirely impossible. It may be more metaphysical impossibility. It would involve changes in the laws of physics through time, and that would force a reformulation of the Big Bang. No. I can't even conceive of it. I'm not sure if it's logically possible or metaphysically possible or not.

          • Phil

            I think you are trying to figure out too much about the specifics. When we are dealing with metaphysical questions (like this one) we are looking at the big picture and the most basic parts of reality.

            The key question then would be, is there anything logically incoherent with a physical cosmos where there are times where energy just randomly ceases to exist completely? There could be a reason why, but there need not be.

            The answer to this is, sure, it is logically coherent for a cosmos of this type to exist. It matters little whether a cosmos like this will ever exist, but it is possible.

            So if the conservation of energy is in fact true in our cosmos, this tells us that it would need to be explained by we live in a cosmos where the conservation of energy exists. In short, the conservation of energy is a contingent "law" that does not explain itself.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            The key question then would be, is there anything logically incoherent with a physical cosmos where there are times where energy just randomly ceases to exist completely?

            I don't know for sure if there is or not. I suspect that there will be, because there seem to be fundamental non-empirical (metaphysical) reasons to accept that energy is conserved. It's connected to the intelligibility of the universe, that there are some principles that describe physical behaviour that are the same in different places and at different times throughout the universe. Whatever these principles are, if they are quantifiable, they will associate with a quantity, an energy, that is conserved.

            To give up on conservation of energy may well be to give up on an intelligible universe, and I cannot conceive of an unintelligible universe. Maybe you can, but I can't just take your word for it.

            I'm worn out talking about conservation of energy, so I'm going to end the conversation here. I'll leave you with the last word, but don't expect any further responses on this score. I'll give a final response about Spinoza's God on our alternative thread, and end it there.

          • OldSearcher

            It's been a very productive exchange of ideas. Thank you.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

          • OldSearcher

            By the way, I am not able to conceive an Universe were energy is not conserved. Obviously we - Software Engineers - are not the most imaginative guys in the neighborhood.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Neither are many astronomers or physicists, it seems. At least, not this physicist. It would be interesting to make this a poll, to find out what people (software engineers, philosophers, physicists, lawyers, etc.) think about this.

          • Phil

            Hey OldSearcher,

            This question about the conservation of energy being possible or not is ultimately a metaphysical question. So those who are specifically natural scientists and don't have much experience with the study of philosophy (and more specifically metaphysics) work from an assumption that the conservation of energy is true, which can make this challenging. (I personally don't claim to be an expert either even though I do have a decent but of experience with philosophy in general, and metaphysics specifically.)

            To conceive of a cosmos without the
            conservation of energy is simply to hold that it is logically possible that a cosmos could exist without it. There is no logical contradiction between a physical cosmos and no conservation of energy.

            Now, I think that there is a contradiction between no conversation of energy and an intelligible physical cosmos. But there isn't any necessity to the physical cosmos being intelligible in the first place.

            So the main issue is that it seems some are trying to conceive of an intelligible physical cosmos and no conservation of energy. But again there is no reason that the physical cosmos needs to be intelligible. And that is a big philosophical question--why is the cosmos intelligible in the first place?

          • OldSearcher

            Yes, I understand that this is a metaphisycal question. As you are well aware I am not either a philosofer nor a scientist. I am here just to learn and I am enjoying it a lot. Thankyou very much.

          • Phil

            I don't know for sure if there is or not. I suspect that there will be, because there seem to be fundamental non-empirical (metaphysical) reasons to accept that energy is conserved.

            It's connected to the intelligibility of the universe, that there are some principles that describe physical behaviour that are the same in different places and at different times throughout the universe.

            To give up on conservation of energy may well be to give up on an intelligible universe, and I cannot conceive of an unintelligible universe. Maybe you can, but I can't just take your word for it.

            The main issue I'm seeing in the view being presented is that you are working from the assumption of the cosmos we live in. The way our cosmos exists is not the only way a physical cosmos could exist and we ought not to act like it is.

            I think you are correct that the intelligibility is connected to the conservation of energy, but a physical cosmos doesn't need to be intelligible. In other words, a physical cosmos would not cease to be a physical cosmos if it wasn't intelligible. There is no intrinsic connection between a physical cosmos and intelligibility. Therefore, why our cosmos appears to be intelligible would need to be explained as well. (Science simply assumes that the cosmos is actually intelligible.)

            So because the intelligibility of the cosmos isn't necessary either, then one couldn't use intelligibility to support the necessity of the conservation of energy.

            I wrote to George yesterday that the conservation of energy would only be shown to be necessary and impossible not to exist if a physical cosmos
            would cease to be a physical cosmos if it had times where some of its matter/energy suddenly went completely out of existence would there be a logical contradiction.

          • George

            Here's the thing: perhaps you are NOT in fact coherently and logically conceiving these made-up scenarios. Perhaps you simply claim you are doing that but you are wrong.

          • Phil

            You would need to show that it is not logically coherent for a any possible physical cosmos to not have a law of the conservation of energy.

          • George

            Show that it logically is coherent.

          • Phil

            Sure--Only if a physical cosmos would cease to be a physical cosmos if some of its matter/energy suddenly went completely out of existence would there be a logical contradiction in the possibility of these two things being true concurrently.

            So I think it is clear that a physical cosmos would not cease to be a physical cosmos if some of its matter/energy could suddenly go out of existence. It would just would be a different type of physical cosmos from the one that we seem to inhabit.

            (What you would need to show is the alternative: That a physical cosmos would cease to be a physical cosmos if it had times where some of its matter/energy suddenly went completely out of existence would there be a logical contradiction.)

          • George

            How have you shown it's logically coherent? You say: "It would just would be a different type of physical cosmos from the one that we seem to inhabit."

            How do you support that? This is kind of the whole backbone of the issue at hand, and all you've done so far is argue from definition.

          • Phil

            For there to be a logical impossibility, there needs to be a contradiction between two things where if you hold one thing, trying to hold that second thing causes the first thing to not be able to exist as such. For example, a "married bachelor" is logically contradictory because if one holds that a person is married, then when one also tries to hold that one is a bachelor, one can no longer be married. The second "destroys" the first.

            There is no logical contradiction between a physical cosmos and no conservation of energy. A physical cosmos could still be a coherent entity while not having a conservation of energy.

            You say: "It would just would be a different type of physical cosmos from the one that we seem to inhabit."How do you support that?

            It is fairly straight forward in that there are many different ways our physical cosmos could exist. Not only could there there ave been different types and numbers of beings and objects, but it is also possible that the fundamental laws could have been slightly or drastically different.

            If a person debates this, they would need to show why we live in a physical cosmos that it isn't possible to exist in any other way.

          • Phil

            To put it more simply, either there is a single physical entity (could be any type of matter/energy) which explains the rest of the entire physical cosmos that we must take as a brute fact, or we must take the entire physical cosmos as a brute fact.

            Neither of those two answers offers an explanation for the cosmos as a whole. Therefore we must conclude that it is only an illusion that the cosmos is intelligible and explainable (including what science says it is doing).

            If we believe that it is not an illusion that the physical cosmos is actually intelligible, then we must conclude that the complete explanation for the physical cosmos transcends the physical cosmos.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            To put it more simply, either there is a single physical entity (could be any type of matter/energy) which explains the rest of the entire physical cosmos that we must take as a brute fact, or we must take the entire physical cosmos as a brute fact.

            Or the universe has within itself necessary beings that explain everything else around them, or the universe is itself a necessary being. There are lots of possibilities that don't require looking outside the universe.

          • Phil

            The main issue is that a necessary being could not be material in nature. Material beings are composite beings. A composite being always needs an explanation for its composition.

            The most basic composition being what is metaphysically called the "essence and existence" distinction. The essence is what something is, its "nature" (e.g., "catness", "rockness", "planetness", etc). This points us towards the fact that just because we know what something is doesn't explain its existence. In short, what something is can never explain why it exists, unless it is being/existence itself that we are talking about.

            That is why a necessary being cannot have any distinction between its essence and existence . If it did have a distinction then we would need to explain its existence. In other words, necessary being is being/existence itself. Being itself is not a composite physical entity.

            That is why you have heard God referred to as "A pure act of existence". God is not a composite being, but Being itself, a pure act of existence.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            The theory of everything will explain the composition we observe in the universe. The theory ideally should be expressable in terms of a single equation or set of equations. The explanation for why things are the way that they are will be a single idea that explains itself or is the sort of idea for which it wouldn't make sense to ask the question. Since the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things, the Cosmos (all reality, physical and mental) is one thing. Its essence and existence would be identical.

          • Phil

            When you say:

            The theory ideally should be expressable in terms of a single equation or set of equations. The explanation for why things are the way that they are will be a single idea that explains itself or is the sort of thing for which it wouldn't make sense to ask the question. Since the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things, the Cosmos (all reality, physical and mental) is one thing. Its essence and existence would be identical.

            What you are trying to get at is God! We also need to remember that abstract mathematical equations aren't things; they are simply descriptions of existent beings. So the "thing" that explains the physical cosmos must be a existing entity of some sort. Equations don't cause things to be; beings acting in accordance with equations (i.e., their "nature") that can cause things to be in a certain way.

            But more to the point, a physical entity cannot have an essence and existence that has no distinction between them because every physical being is a composition. And only something whose essence and existence is identical (whose essence is "to be") can be self-explanatory and necessary, that is, be necessary being. That is how we can know with confidence that no matter what we discover the physical cosmos to be, it can never be necessary and completely self-explaining.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            What you are trying to get at is God!

            It depends on how you define the term. I think the word "God", at least in some sort of analogous sense, might be appropriate to describe all of reality. Our ideas, insofar as they are adequate, would be ideas in the mind of God.

            If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God. (Hawking, Brief History of Time)

          • Phil

            It depends on how you define the term. I think the word "God", at least in some sort of analogous sense, might be appropriate to describe all of reality. Our ideas, insofar as they are adequate, would be ideas in the mind of God.

            Since you pretty active on this site, I would guess that you are pretty familiar with Aquinas and cosmological arguments in general. What makes them so unique is that they do not start with a definition of God. They start with empirically observable reality and figure out what must exist if reality is to exist as it does right now.

            What we find is that if reality exists as it does right now, a "being" must exist which is perfectly simple (i.e., not composed of parts; its essence is its existence), is being itself/a pure act of existence, the source of all power, immaterial, etc. That is why Aquinas ends all his ways by stating "this is what we mean when we say God".

            What Aquinas notes is that physical reality cannot be any of those things above. Physical reality is not perfectly simple, all physical beings have a distinction between essence and existence, material beings are not immaterial, etc.

            Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God.

            And the great thing is that God does reveal part of "His mind" (most completely to those who enter into a deep union with him in this life like some of the great mystics)! Obviously, what even they knew is not even a drop of water in the ocean compared to the mind of God!

            But as I stated in the other comment you responded to above, what Hawking is trying to do can't come from within the physical cosmos. If one is trying to explain the entirety
            of the cosmos, one can't explain it using something from within the cosmos that one is trying to explain.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I am familiar with Aquinas's arguments. Are you familiar with Spinoza's? I find these more compelling, and the result is that God is the Cosmos, and not simple, and that there is no divine purpose built into the world, among many other things. The conclusions are remarkably similar, but also strikingly different.

            One of the reasons I find these more compelling is it seems Aquinas doesn't really take the PSR seriously. An external being, even a very simple one, seems to be an ad hoc explanation. Why this being and not another, and why did he or she make the decisions he or she did? This is especially true of the Christian God. Why three persons instead of two, or four? Why become incarnate as a human being? Why care about us? None of these things seem very simple. They seem personal, psychological, arbitrary, messy, composite, and very hard to explain.

            But maybe these things can be explained internally. Maybe a being whose essence and existence are the same can have internal relations, persons, desires, and plans, and can have relationships with people. But if God can be explained in this fashion, why not the universe?

          • Phil

            But maybe these things can be explained internally. Maybe a being whose essence and existence are the same can have internal relations, persons,desires, and plans, and can have relationships with people. But if God can be explained in this fashion, why not the universe?

            Exactly! Knowing that God is perfectly simple, yet we have all these "attributes" and ways of trying to understand Him seems impossible to reconcile. But we have to remember that God is unlike anything we experience, in fact infinitely different. Through reason alone, we can simply come to know what God is not (not material, not finite, not composed of parts, etc). And that does give us some info about God.

            An external being, even a very simple one, seems to be an ad hoc explanation. Why this being and not another, and why did he or she make the decisions he or she did?

            In simple, if one wants to completely explain something, one is going to have to go outside that thing to explain it. This is why Spinoza and other forms of pantheism will ultimately fail.

            We can't explain entire cosmos itself by trying to use something that is part of the very cosmos we are trying to explain, or is the cosmos itself. Just think about the incoherence of trying to use something to explain what we are trying to explain. It will end up being either circular or a tautology.

          • George

            "We can't explain entire cosmos itself by trying to use something that is part of the very cosmos we are trying to explain, or is the cosmos itself."

            The bible and our minds are part of the cosmos. What else do you have at your disposal?

          • Phil

            The Bible and our minds are not the explanation for the existence of the cosmos--God is.

            I can see the confusion, as in what you quoted, "explanation" was used in connection to looking for what explains why the cosmos exists. Our mind doesn't explain why the cosmos exists, our mind comes to understand what is the explanation of the existence of the cosmos.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Translated:

            We can't explain God by trying to use something that is part of God are trying to explain, or God Himself. Just think about the incoherence of trying to use something to explain what we are trying to explain. It will end up being either circular or a tautology.

            I think Spinoza was remarkably successful (with some modifications) in showing that the Cosmos itself can have the same necessary and explanatory properties as God. It may also be that, to borrow your excellent words again, Spinozistically modified, we have to remember that the fundamental nature of reality is unlike anything we experience, in fact infinitely different. Relativity, quantum mechanics, field theory, maybe string theory, are so different from our day-to-day experience and highly counter-intuitive. Yet they are probably true (or, in the case of string theory, at least possibly true).

            The Spinozistic Faith may not be as incoherent as it looks. When I say "Final Theory" I don't mean that it's purely scientific, and don't see that science has such strong dividing lines from philosophy. The Final Theory, to be properly understood and contextualised, will be a metaphysical as well as a physical theory. It also won't be purely material, either. I suspect that the world around us is made up of this substance, a single thing, that is neither material nor mental, but something else, something more fundamental that can be understood in terms of matter or in terms of ideas. This singular fundamental substance can be understood in these two ways, but neither of these ways is complete. In fact, there may not simply be two, but many more ways to understand this substance! And the substance of reality is in a certain sense (not identical to Aquinas's sense, but similar) simple. Its essence is to exist. The composition we perceive comes from the aspects under which we perceive this singular reality. It must be able to explain itself if (a) it is all of reality and (b) the PSR is true.

            The identity and existence of other entities, tables, chairs, you, me, can be understood in terms of freedom and explanatory power. There are certain aspects of my behaviour and my effect on the world that can be explained by me. My free choices are mostly mine, and that's what makes them free. My freedom and explanatory power and identity are related. I'm free and I exist only insofar as I am self-explanatory. Some things outside myself are necessary to explain my existence and activity (my father, the chair when I stub my toe, etc). Insofar as other things explain me, I do not exist as an individual, but as part of this singular reality. And this singular reality is all that exists, so it contains all explanations. It is maximally free, and exists maximally; its essence is to exist, where mine is not.

            I hope this helps you understand my beliefs. I'm presently exhausted talking about this topic, so I'll leave you with the last word. Thank you for your explanations and challenges. They've given me some good food for thought.

          • Phil

            Thanks for this!

            A big issue with a Spinozean type view is that it must ultimately hold that the materiality we experience is a complete illusion that reduces to this more simple substance that is what actually exists and is underlying both the material and immaterial.

            I personally would say there could be a more basic substance of reality that we haven't discovered yet. But I'm not going to deny that materiality doesn't also exist. We would say that the more basic substance manifests itself in certain material ways that we experience (this is actually heading towards a Platonic view of the Forms). Well, then we would need to explain why the more basic substance exists in this physical way rather than another way. If the material actually exists along with this underlying substance, then reality isn't perfectly simple and therefore can't be a self-explanatory, necessary being. So again, the problem of contingency is only pushed back a level, it is not solved.

            So again, simply by that fact that you and I exist independently we can see that reality is not perfectly simple, and therefore one cannot explain the whole of reality by recourse to something within the reality one is trying to explain (or to the whole of reality itself).

            Great chatting with you! Have a great rest of your day!

          • Phil

            I know you had to duck out of the discussion, but I stumbled upon this and wanted to pass it along. This person points towards a revolution in physics where things are much simpler than they seem. He even suggests single numbers to describe the physical cosmos!

            http://www.livescience.com/52426-our-universe-it-s-the-simplest-thing-we-know.html

            But in the end, even as simple as we could describe the physical cosmos, it is impossible to get to perfect simplicity, which is what is needed for necessary being, for self-explanatory being.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Thanks for the link! I think Turok is right! There is some simple theory out there, and we are close to finding it. Simple, but not easy.

            I also wanted to pass along a possible minor correction to what you wrote about Spinoza, and a resource. Spinoza doesn't reject the reality of matter or ideas. He holds them both to have equal weight. An idea can't exist without a corresponding material thing, and a material thing can't exist without a corresponding idea. Neither are illusions. Both are aspects of the fundamental substance. Sort of like the electric and magnetic fields are two aspects of light. Simply because they are aspects, it doesn't make electric or magnetic fields illusions. They are real. It's just that their reality is grounded in something more fundamental.

            There are people who think that Spinoza's metaphysics entails idealism, the denial of the reality of the material world, etc. (I think that they are obviously wrong, but that's another discussion.) They think that this is a disagreement between Spinoza's intended goals and the actual implications of his metaphysics. Also, this sort of dual-aspect theory doesn't resolve all of the problems you raise (I don't know how to resolve all of them!), and certainly doesn't solve the mind-body problem. It was just something I wanted to bring up.

            You also either said or implied that serious philosophers generally do not adopt Spinoza's metaphysics, or even take his metaphysics seriously. That's true. There has been a small resurgence of Spinoza's thought, mostly in physics, but also in philosophy. I'd point you to Michael Della Rocca's book on Spinoza, and Shamik Dasgupta's two articles on Individuals and Metaphysical Rationalism. They take two different approaches, and each has some severe problems, some of which you already highlighted in our discussions. They are part of a larger discussion about Spinozistic metaphysics is happening in a small corner of the philosophical world, and is a central part of the discussion (often the initial working assumption) among particle physicists and cosmologists.

          • Phil

            Thanks for this resources! I don't mean to put down his metaphysics either by my former comment. I want people to be open to new ideas, and also to be open to recognizing problems even within our own views.

            A quick thought that may not have been as clear from my response, when Spinoza posits a more simple substance it can either be a substance that is part of the cosmos itself, or it could transcend the cosmos.

            If the former is true and we hold that materiality is true, then this simple substance exists in different material ways that we experience. This means that the material cosmos is not perfectly simple and contains composition. This then shows us that the cosmos itself, even in principle, can't be perfectly self-explanatory.

            It could be stated that if the physical cosmos has any sort of composition, then the absolutely simple explanation for the cosmos as a whole must transcend the cosmos itself to be able to explain it.

          • George

            how do you know the bible god is a pure act of existence? you just keep saying it.

            "catness"? did the catness nature exist before there were cats? when the common ancestor between cats and dogs was still alive, what was the name of it's nature?

          • Phil

            I actually have never yet stated in this article's comments anything about the Bible and God yet. I have simply been talking about what we can know about God through reason alone.

            Now, I don't intend the below to be a complete defense of this belief (as that is not my expertise), but I'll write a few things.

            The God of the Bible can be perfectly harmonious with the God that can be known through reason alone. Actually, one of the most fascinating insights is that it is written that when Moses asked God for his name at the burning bush God stated, "I Am who I Am". Well, this is essence and existence right there! God is, who is existence itself!

            That statement is also insinuating, "Stop trying to figure me out as a type of being or object. I will be what I will be." Well, that is perfectly coherent with the belief that God is existence itself. God is not a being, God is Being itself.

          • George

            "God is what the universe is not, i.e., perfectly simple, pure actuality, uncaused etc."

            Do you actually know any of that?

            Let's say that I just granted the God part of that assertion. Let's say that the evidence for the bible god Yahweh creating the universe is really good. He's talked to humans, he wants certain things to happen, etc.

            Where does the rest of that stuff come from? pure simplicity, pure non-being basis of entity-ness? Uncaused?

            what good is your ontology? what good is it to ignore your epistemic limitations?

            What could you say to prove me wrong if I put on your hat and held your script and made a bunch of assertions about Yahweh that apologists make about the universe? He's contingent and not the final explanation. He's ignorant about some things but you just thought otherwise because you're not omnipotent.

            I could assert that instead of the catholic theist model of everything:

            observable universe + theorized universe < Yawheh-the-perceived-final-answer

            the model is in fact:

            observable universe + theorized universe < Yawheh-the-perceived-final-answer < something else, The Real Final Answer.

            so instead of two layers, natural and supernatural, there could be three layers! we could call the third layer the hypernatural. the hypernatural is above the supernatural, and cannot be penetrated by mere supernatural philosophy. the catholic must use hypternatural standards to understand the mysteries of the hypernatural. trust me, I've studied this.

            heck, why stop at 3 layers on the way to the Final Answer? let's go with four or even five.

          • Phil

            Hey George,

            If you are asking how I know that the universe is not what traditional theists call "God", then yes, we do know that. The universe is not perfectly simple, composed of no parts. (The fact that you and I are different people is enough to show that.)

            Therefore the universe can't be self-explanatory because anything that is composed of parts must have an explanation outside of itself. Only something perfectly simple, composed of no parts, could be self-explanatory.

          • George

            fyi I added a bit while you commented.

          • Phil

            Where does the rest of that stuff come from? pure simplicity, pure non-being basis of entity-ness? Uncaused?

            The key is that we don't start from what God is. We look at reality around us and we use reason to figure out what God must be based upon what exists. In other words, what is being said is that reality cannot exist unless God exists as we state he does at a philosophical level.

            I'll just use one example--So we look at reality and we see that it is not perfectly simple; it is composed of parts. How do we explain this composition of parts? We must ultimately come to something that is not composed of any parts, meaning that it is perfectly simple, to explain that which is composed of parts. Only something perfectly simple can explain completely explain itself. And as Aquinas end all his ways to God, "this perfectly simple being is what we mean when we say 'God'".

            heck, why stop at 3 layers on the way to the Final Answer? let's go with four or even five.

            If one wants to go past what we call "God"--to "another layer"--then one doesn't yet understand what is meant by "God". The buck necessarily stops at God. There is nothing left to explain.

          • The key is that we don't start from what God is. We look at reality around us and we use reason to figure out what God must be based upon what exists

            Isn't this very limiting, as if one tried to understand a person without that person ever speaking? You could observe the behavior, but it would have a multiplicity of possible interpretations.

          • Phil

            In a sense, coming to know God from a purely intellectual point of view is very limiting. With reason alone, we can know that God exists and some of his basic "attributes". It is the way of via negativa, so we can say what God is not (e.g., not material, not composed of parts, etc). And that does tell us something about God.

            But God wants to draw us into relationship with him; that is the purpose of all reality and each thing that God allows to happen to us each day! So we must not stop at "the head" but let our relationship move to "the heart".

            ----
            As an example, say you see a person's piece of artwork, would that artwork tell something about them, sure. But like you say, it is only once you meet and talk to this person that they can truly tell you about themselves. That is exactly what prayer is.

          • George

            through experience you already know artists make art. you don't have the proper context, the proper standard, the proper frame of reference to say the universe is like a piece of art in the useful sense.

          • Roger that. Something I've observed is that the less people believe there is anything unique to being a person (analogically or univocally), the more they see themselves as just organic machines, with the lack of final causation and acceptance of nominalism that entails. They also tend to view the only knowable things as being, essentially, laws of nature. So, when they ask for evidence of miracles and sketch out what that would look like, all that one could possibly ever demonstrate to them is that there is prayer-magic which somehow utilizes new laws of nature to do things.

            The irony is great: God wants to add to our beings, while we keep trying to subtract from what or who he could possibly be. Even this seems redeemable, though: after we strip enough of ourselves down, perhaps we will at some point be open to wisdom that does not originate within ourselves.

          • Robert Macri

            The self-evidential nature of some feature of reality is different from the existence of any instance of that reality.

            It is logically necessary that the angles of a triangle sum to 180 degrees in a Euclidean space, but that does not cause a bunch of triangular shapes to actually exist, or the flat space in which to exist, for that matter.

            And even if all of nature in toto was self-evident in the sense that it could not exist in any other arrangement of natural law, that would not be the same as saying that it must be rather than not be.

            (Besides, I don't think a unique, complete theory of nature could exist. There would always be a possible "gauge transformation" of sorts and we'd be left with the question "why this one?")

            Nothing can bootstrap itself into existence. I appreciated that Augros' article made this distinction by pointing out that the first cause does not "cause itself" but rather is the thing that need not be caused (but must simply be). That seems to indicate that the first cause must be something entirely other than, not just contingent things, but self-evident natural propositions as well.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            And even if all of nature in toto was self-evident in the sense that it could not exist in any other arrangement of natural law, that would not be the same as saying that it must be rather than not be.

            I think the Principle of Sufficient Reason does this quite well by itself. If there were nothing, there would have to be a reason why there is not something, but if such a reason existed, then there wouldn't be nothing. So the PSR requires that something exists.

            Now, we can abandon the PSR (say, why does it need to hold?). If we do this, though, then we've lost the whole train of the argument, and might as well say that physical laws always existed as brute facts, in need of no further explanation. Alternatively, we might be able to modify the PSR, so that it does not require explanations for everything, but does require explanations for the physical laws. It would be interesting to see what such a PSR looks like, and whether it can justify itself.

          • Robert Macri

            If there were nothing, there would have to be a reason why there is not something, but if such a reason existed, then there wouldn't be nothing

            I don't think that nonexistence is a thing that requires explanation. If it were, we would need to explain the nonexistence of an infinity of conceivable things, like the purple elephant that is not right now in my living room.

            But I don't fault your reasoning per se. I suppose I would just submit that the underpinning of PSR has to be God. I mean this in the Thomistic sense, with God not just as a first mover or something that lends existence to other things, but as ipsum esse subsistens, the very ground of being itself, the necessary act of existence.

            I wonder, is that something similar to what underpins PSR in your view, but with a non-personal, non-thinking form of ipsum esse?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I don't think that nonexistence is a thing that requires explanation. If it were, we would need to explain the nonexistence of an infinity of conceivable things, like the purple elephant that is not right now in my living room.

            It seems to me that this simply introduces brute facts via negations. If we don't need to explain the non-existence of things, then we don't need to explain why things aren't a different way, simply because we can observe that they aren't a different way. I need no explanation about why trees don't grow to be 1000 feet tall, because they don't. I need no explanation for why the Earth isn't farther from the sun or closer, because it isn't.

            It would seem then as though we can explain everything the way it is by just pointing out that it exists this way and does not exist another way, and nonexistence needs no explanation.

            But I don't fault your reasoning per se. I suppose I would just submit that the underpinning of PSR has to be God.

            In this you are farther along than I am, because I can't really explain why the PSR is true, and yet I accept that there should be an explanation for the PSR, because everything, every feature of the world, must have an explanation.

            I'm not sure, though, that God works well as an explanation for the PSR, only because then I wonder why God is the way God is and not another way. If God is three persons, why three and not four? More worrying, did God have a choice to make the world differently? If so, is that decision a brute fact? If it's not, then God's decision has an explanation, and the explanation seems to fix the facts, fix God's decision.

            There are some subtle distinctions that can be drawn here, to free God from this trap, but it seems that many of these distinctions water down the PSR, and effectively bring into play a certain group of "acceptable" brute facts. I think it's more straightforward to do what Peter van Inwagen does. He makes a strong case that the PSR entails necessitarianism, and then uses the necessitarianism conclusion as a reductio for the PSR, and abandons it altogether.

            All free will decisions that God and humans make, for van Inwagen, are brute facts. They admit no further explanation (even though they conceivably could do).

          • Doug Shaver

            That is why the answer to this question must ultimately come from outside of material reality as a whole

            Even if that is so, it doesn't tell us a thing about whether any particular answer-from-outside is the right one. A mere falsification of naturalism, if it were ever accomplished, would not, for instance, prove theism.

          • Phil

            Hey Doug,

            I'd agree partially with that. When we are relying on natural reason, there are a limited number of things we can know about this "externally/transcendentally existing explanation for the existing physical cosmos".

            In reality, though we can know little through pure reason, it gives us many good clues, such as the necessity of: immateriality, not composed of any parts (perfect simplicity), lack of intrinsic/extrinsic boundaries (infinite), source of all power (omnipotent), source of all existence (being/existence itself), pure actuality/no potentialities, perfectly self-explanatory, and absolutely necessary

            So deism is pretty easy to get to, but the biggest argument for theism would be that even with all these things, we still have to explain why all of material reality actually came forth from this entity. Either this entity chose for material reality to come forth, or it didn't. If it didn't choose for reality to come forth, then we need to explain why reality did come forth from it (which means it isn't self-explanatory, and not the entity reason is leading us to). But if it chose for reality to come forth, we need no further explanation, but we are led to an entity with some sort of intellect/will that chose to bring forth all material reality.

            (Being personal might be a little tougher to get to through pure reason.)

          • Doug Shaver

            In reality, though we can know little through pure reason, it gives us many good clues

            What we can know through pure reason depends entirely on what we assume before we even begin to reason. If we assume nothing, then we know nothing. And to whatever extent it is reasonable to question those assumptions, it is reasonable to question the conclusions.

          • Phil

            I would posit that we ought not to purely assume anything (where "assume" means to hold something without any good reason to hold that belief rather than an alternative). I say we ought to hold as true that which it is incoherent to hold the alternative. We ought not hold anything on "blind faith"; we ought not hold anything to do with science or religion on any sort of "blind faith" (I do know several who like to hold science on blind faith once they throw out metaphysics, and philosophy in general).

            So even when it comes to first principle(s), we ought to have reason to hold one rather than another. When it comes to reasoning itself as a method to discover truth, if we start by assuming that reasoning itself does not orient us towards discovering truth, this leads us to hold an incoherent belief about reason. Therefore, we reject the belief that our reason is not oriented towards the discovery of truth about reality.

          • Doug Shaver

            I would posit that we ought not to purely assume anything (where "assume" means to hold something without any good reason to hold that belief rather than an alternative).

            When I say "assume," I do not mean "believe without good reason."

          • Phil

            Do you mind explaining what you did mean when you used "assume" above?

            (The reason why I took the understanding of "assume" as I did is that when we say "assume", we normally mean that we hold something about someone or something without yet maybe having good reasons yet for holding it. As in, "I assumed that he was a mean person based upon the one instance that I saw him severely discipline that employee." Or "I simply assume that God is Trinity". Whether or not these things are true or not would need to be shown through good evidence/reason. But assuming them wouldn't be good.

            I think we should do our best to avoid assuming anything; we should avoid believing things on "blind faith".)

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you mind explaining what you did mean when you used "assume" above?

            I mean "believe without proof." I believe we can have good reasons to believe something notwithstanding that those reasons don't constitute a formal proof. Mathematical axioms are an example. We can't prove them (otherwise we wouldn't call them axioms), but it isn't true that we have no good reason to believe them.

          • Phil

            Gotcha, thank you.

            I have read several sources over the years that argue very persuasively that there is no such thing as absolute proof, i.e., 100% certainty, in regards to any reality (this includes both scientific and metaphysical arguments).

            This means that the best thing to believe as true is that which seems to be true beyond a reasonable doubt with the knowledge that we have. In short, we build up cases for or against certain scientific and metaphysical views.

            (This then connects to the understanding that a metaphysical argument actually stands half-way between mathematical/geometrical arguments and scientific arguments. We can have the most certainty about geometrical arguments, slightly less certainty with metaphysical arguments, and even less certainty about scientific arguments.)

          • Doug Shaver

            I have read several sources over the years that argue very persuasively that there is no such thing as absolute proof, i.e., 100% certainty, in regards to any reality (this includes both scientific and metaphysical arguments).

            What settles the question for me is our fallibility. To claim that we can be 100 percent certain of something is to claim that there is no way we could be mistaken about it, and I don't see how we could justify that claim. In some cases, we may be entitled to think the possibility of error is negligible, but negligible doesn't mean nonexistent, and changes in our epistemic situation could compel us to think the possibility is not so negligible.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think we should do our best to avoid assuming anything; we should avoid believing things on "blind faith".)

            "Should" is irrelevant. Reasoning without assumptions is impossible. Descartes thought he could do it, and he was wrong.

          • Phil

            I'm right there with you about Descartes and 100% certainty (see my response to your other comment).

            But I think it is merely about our slight difference in understanding "assumption" that leads to a slight difference in our view.

            If to assume something is to believe something without having good reasons, then I would argue we ought not to assume anything. (I would argue for this understanding of assume since 100% certainty is really not possible*)

            I think we should discover the underlying, sub-conscious assumptions in our philosophical views and find out if we actually have good reason for holding them or not. Once we do that, they no longer are "assumptions" in the most proper sense.

            In the end, it seems this topic needs a lot of careful distinctions to be drawn. Life is messy, especially when we understand how limited our human intellect is (though still having power to come to truth about reality).

            ------

            *Though I don't agree with Descartes on many things, I am tempted to believe that if one holds that proof by contradiction is valid, then 100% certainty may be possible in regards to a few grounding principles.

            The one to struggle with would be the validity of reason being oriented towards discovering truth. In short, do we need the single assumption of reasoning or not?

          • Lazarus

            To all of that may I suggest John Henry Newman 's "Grammar of Assent" just to get all of those assumptions, beliefs and certainties in line.

          • Phil

            Thanks for the good recommendation!

            I am hopefully taking a class on Cardinal Newman next semester. This looks like a solid work that I look forward to reading!

          • Lazarus

            I read it very reluctantly and it turned out to be one of the most important works that I have read in recent years. It just seems to have placed so much of doubt and the seeming impossibility of knowing with certainty in context.

            I'm jealous of that class ... I hope you enjoy it. JHN is one of my favorites.

          • Doug Shaver

            But I think it is merely about our slight difference in understanding "assumption" that leads to a slight difference in our view.

            So it seems.

            If to assume something is to believe something without having good reasons, then I would argue we ought not to assume anything.

            You are saying “If A then B,” and I’ve already told you I agree with that. But I’ve also told you I don’t accept A, and just because you repeat it doesn’t give me a reason to accept it.

            (I would argue for this understanding of assume since 100% certainty is really not possible*)

            That looks like a non sequitur to me. I don’t see why the definition of this word should have anything to do with whether we can be 100 percent certain of anything.

            I think we should discover the underlying, sub-conscious assumptions in our philosophical views and find out if we actually have good reason for holding them or not.

            I can’t disagree with that.

            Once we do that, they no longer are "assumptions" in the most proper sense.

            What are your criteria for judging the propriety of word senses?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Except a "theory" does not actually cause anything physical, even a theory of everything (which thanks to Goedel, we cannot actually know if we have one). A scientific theory simply describes a relationship. There are always alternative explanations. All the Newtonian results can be obtained from a principle of least action without invoking any "forces," for example.

      The convergence of some mathematical series (as noted above by the OP) does not explain a physical action, since mathematics is only an abstraction from the physical matter, and is restricted to those aspects that are quantifiable. For example, certain data (say, heights of adult Frenchmen) can be modeled by the Normal distribution; but no one expects Frenchmen infinitely tall, even though the *distribution* extends to infinity.

      What Aristotle called "kinesis" and we translate as "motion" is an actualization of a potential, more so than a change of location. It is a "change" to what an object has "of itself." This is more akin to what we call an acceleration than it is to a velocity. So a body out in a frictionless vacuum may continue in its motion forever. The cause of its motion is whatever put it in motion (impresses the impetus) in the first place. After that, the change of location is caused by the impetus it already possesses. Subsequent changes to its motion would require a cause outside the body.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Except a "theory" does not actually cause anything physical

        It doesn't have to. The theory of everything would be the Cosmos conceived as a single idea, and the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things, so it would be an idea of the Cosmos conceived as a single material thing.

        (which thanks to Goedel, we cannot actually know if we have one)

        I agree with that, although to be fair this isn't really proved for physical theories, to my knowledge, and wouldn't easily correspond 1:1 to physical theories, since theories aren't axiomatic. But I think that's right, and that's why:

        There are always alternative explanations.

        I think that this is due to our ignorance about the world around us. We may someday be able to describe the general structure of the general theory, in which we find that God did not have any choice about how She made the universe. Maybe this will be always outside our reach. But my intuition is that such an explanation exists.

        Even if we have it, we would still be bound to think in terms of contingency, because it would be impossible for us to carry out any practical calculations using this theory to fix the facts. Only an infinite intellect (the Cosmos itself) is sufficient to fix the facts.

        The cause of its motion is whatever put it in motion (impresses the impetus) in the first place.

        Relative to what? Something's moving at constant velocity relative to me. Why would anything be required to get it to that constant velocity? Maybe it always moved at that velocity.

        Now, as I said, I'm a believer in the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and I don't think absolute velocity is a property of the world, so I don't think it needs an explanation. But the existence and nature of the thing in motion, and its change in motion, does need an explanation (assuming that it exists at all, of course).

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          which thanks to Goedel, we cannot actually know if we have one
          I agree with that, although to be fair this isn't really proved for physical theories

          Advanced physics is almost entirely mathematics, these days, and so its models are subject to the Goedelian limitiations of mathematics. Even Hawking has said as much, as noted by Jaki:

          "...[T]o quote Hawking, "a physical theory is a mathematical model." It should also be obvious that the more advanced is a physical theory the more mathematics it contains and the more advanced is the mathematics. From this the ground for connecting Gödel's theorem with physics readily follows. For insofar as Gödel's theorem states that no non-trivial system of arithmetic propositions can have its proof of consistency within itself, all systems of mathematics fall under this restriction, because all embody higher mathematics that ultimately rests on plain arithmetic. Then it follows that there can be no final physical theory which would be necessarily true at least in its mathematical part."

          Stanley L. Jaki, "A Late Awakening to Gödel in Physics"
          http://theor.jinr.ru/~kuzemsky/JakiGodel.pdf

          There are always alternative explanations.
          I think that this is due to our ignorance about the world around us. We may someday be able to describe the general structure of the general theory, in which we find that God did not have an y choice about how She made the universe.

          Actually, the underdeterminancy of scientific laws seems to be a consequence of logic, as in the Duhem-Quine Thesis. Through any finite set of facts, you can draw a multitude of theories. One might imagine a situation of infinite knowledge, but that only demonstrates that not everything imaginable is possible.

          Herein lies the ultimate bearing of Gödel's theorem on physics. It does not mean at all the end of physics. It means only the death knell on endeavours that aim at a final theory according to which the physical world is what it is and cannot be anything else. Gödel's theorem does not mean that physicists cannot come up with a theory of everything or TOE in short. They can hit upon a theory which at the moment of its formulation would give an explanation of all known physical phenomena. But in terms of Gödel's theorem such a theory cannot be taken for something which is necessarily true. Apart from Gödel's theorem, such a theory cannot be a guarantee that in the future nothing essentially new would be discovered in the physical universe which would then demand another final theory and so on.

          The cause of its motion is whatever put it in motion (impresses the impetus) in the first place.
          Relative to what? Something's moving at constant velocity relative to me. Why would anything be required to get it to that constant velocity? Maybe it always moved at that velocity.

          Socrates: Why do you keep the hammer in the refrigerator?
          Demosthenes: I have always kept the hammer in the refrigerator.
          Socrates: You realize that this does not answer the question, don't you?

          IOW, there is nothing about the time span of the effect that precludes it having a cause.

          [Many physicists] "like the idea of final theories, because they are religious. And they use it as a replacement for God, which they don't believe in. But they just created a substitute."
          -- M. Feigenbaum

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Even Hawking has said as much, as noted by Jaki:

            Jaki confuses necessity with certainty. Godel's proofs had nothing to do with whether mathematical truths are necessary truths, or even whether we could be certain that they are true, but at most whether the completeness of mathematics can be proved from a finite set of axioms. I do not see how this can formally be related to any useful conclusion about physical theories. If Jaki was able to accomplish this, hopefully he will have published it somewhere.

            Actually, the underdeterminancy of scientific laws seems to be a consequence of logic, as in the Duhem-Quine Thesis.

            This also seems to confuse necessity with certainty, if it even applies at all. It would be difficult to see how a complete final theory could be reduced to a single testable hypothesis. More to the point, the theory of everything might be one of many theories allowed by the empirical evidence, but there are other criteria other than empiricism by which to select theories, such as completeness and simplicity, predictive power, as well as cohesion with one's metaphysics.

            It doesn't really matter, though, to the existence of this final theory whether we can determine the final theory or not. It may be far beyond our ability to determine the full reason why, for example, the chair in my room is where it is and not somewhere else. It's contingent relative to everything I know, but it's necessary relative to the full fact of the world.

            Socrates: Why do you keep the hammer in the refrigerator?
            Demosthenes: I have always kept the hammer in the refrigerator.
            Socrates: You realize that this does not answer the question, don't you?

            Maybe there is no answer. I think that's the real alternative to this strict necessitarianism. Either there really is an explanation for everything, and then all the facts are fixed, either by some final theory, the Cosmos itself, God, what have you, or (sadly, frustratingly) maybe some questions just don't have answers. Maybe the hammer was always in the fridge, and Socrates can never be satisfied.

            I love your closing quote:

            [Many physicists] "like the idea of final theories, because they are religious. And they use it as a replacement for God, which they don't believe in. But they just created a substitute." -- M. Feigenbaum

            I think this is right. My belief in the Principle of Sufficient Reason and in the Theory of Everything is deeply religious. This is my religion. I am not even convinced necessarily that it is a replacement for God, but may simply be a different conception of God himself. I could call the Cosmos God, and maybe the word applies. Maybe God exists, and God is the the Cosmos.

            We need to be careful, or I too will start writing bad poetry about Spinoza, my kindred spirit among the philosophers.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I am sure that Jaki, Hawking, Goedel, Duhem, Quine, and the rest were confused.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            No, just Jaki and apparently you.

      • David Nickol

        The cause of its motion is whatever put it in motion (impresses the impetus) in the first place. After that, the change of location is caused by the impetus it already possesses.

        Here's something I don't get. It's my understanding that Aristotle (and Aquinas?) thought the natural state of an object was to be at rest. But we currently believe in inertia, so bodies in motion need no more explanation than bodies at rest. Or conversely, bodies at rest need just as much explanation as bodied in motion. Couple that with the idea that Aquinas considered it possible for the universe to have existed from all eternity, it does not seem to me that it is necessary for a body in motion to have been set in motion by a "cause." It also doesn't seem to me that in a universe that has existed from all eternity, there can't be an "infinite regress" when it comes to physical phenomena.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          But you need to grasp what Aristotle meant by that. For him, "rest" was a state of actuality. Hence, the planets were at rest because their motion was "ever-running." In modern terms, "rest" is called an "equilibrium state," such as an orbit, a Belusov reaction, a predator-prey system, etc. Disturbance from the equilibrium point require causes external to the body, as noted by Newton.

          The body (or system) resists these disturbances. For inanimate bodies, this resistance was called "inertia". For animate bodies, it was called "life." That is, the struggle of an organism to remain alive and reproduce is simply a higher-level version of the struggle of a boulder to remain stubbornly in place.

          As the OP pointed out -- and as Aristo-Thomists have done repeatedly -- an infinite regress of accidentally ordered causes is entirely plausible (even if not physically possible). See Summa theologia, Part I, Q. 46, art. 2, reply obj. 7, for example.

          Bodies at equilibrium (rest) get there because dynamic systems always tend toward the state of least action. It's an evolutionary sort of thing.

          • David Nickol

            But you need to grasp what Aristotle meant by that. For him, "rest" was a state of actuality. Hence, the planets were at rest because their motion was "ever-running."

            You are far more knowledgable than I am when it comes to Aristotle and Aquinas, but this doesn't sound right to me. I am aware that motion meant something more to Aristotle and Aquinas than it does to us (for example, it was "motion" when a hot thing "moved" a cold thing to become hotter), but nevertheless, both Aristotle and Aquinas—as I understand it—did really mean motion in our sense of the word when discussing the motion of heavenly bodies. And they both thought of a "mover" as something that acted continuously and without which there would be no movement. (Also, if I understand this correctly, Aquinas said a person could not move himself, which seems obviously untrue, but the answer is that a person doesn't move himself, but rather his soul moves him!) So the planets were moving not because they had been set in motion and continued to stay in motion, but rather they were moving because something was continuously moving them. So I don't see how you can say the planets were "at rest" in any sense of the word.

            It seems that whenever objections are raised to Aristotle or Aquinas, we are told that we must understand what they "really meant," and the further we get into what they "really meant," the further we get from our own understanding of reality.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The continuously moving body is being continuously moved by the momentum (impetus) imparted to it by the original mover. (If Mach's Conjecture is true and inertia is simply the summed gravitational attraction of the rest of the universe, then even an inertially-moving body is still under the influence of the other bodies in the universe.)

            It is too bad that the Greek words by which Aristotle expressed equilibrium state have been translated as "rest," because the English word rest has come to mean something more particular, and the translators tended to be classicists not physicists.

            Recall that Aquinas stated in his Commentary on the Physics that "everything composed of matter is in motion" (omne quod habet materiam mobile est) so it is apparent that he did not regard (following Aristotle) motus and quietus in quite the same way as Moderns regard the English words "motion" and "rest." In particular, the word he used for motion was motus, and this had the sense of "disturbance" and as a verb "stir, agitate, affect, provoke, disturb." So it is quite clear that it corresponds more to a disturbing force, or rather the motion due to a disturbance or perturbation; that is, to difform motion (acceleration). When we realize Greek did not have words to distinguish velocity from acceleration, we can see where the confusion moves in.

            What Aristotle said was that a body could not move itself as a whole, but was either moved externally (typically inanimate bodies) or the whole was moved by one or more of its parts. For example, a kitten crossing the room is moved by its legs (which are moved by its leg muscles, which are moved by its nerves, etc. back to its life principle a/k/a anima. Ultimately, there is an unmoved mover, such as a bowl of milk that causes the kitten to cross the room without itself being moved in the process. This is discussed here:
            http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/09/first-way-part-ii-two-lemmas-make-lemma.html

            which seems obviously untrue

            Which seems always a sure sign that one has missed something basic in the argument. The alternative is that a whole bunch of smart people were stoopid. They may have been wrong, but they were not stoopidly wrong.

            Usually, one learns, as I did, that one has been confused by a fable or legendary account.

            So I don't see how you can say the planets were "at rest" in any sense of the word.

            But Aristotle (and Aquinas in commenting on him) also claimed that "everything which has matter is mobile," so a state of absolute rest as imagined by the early Moderns was clearly not what they had in mind. "Motion" is a change to something a body already possesses. "Rest" is the lack of such a change. If the body already possesses a rectilinear motion, then "motion" in Aristotle's usage means changing that motion and "rest" means there is no change to the body's motion. This seems odd simply because Aristotle was not writing in English and did not employ the Greek words the same way.

          • Doug Shaver

            Disturbance from the equilibrium point require causes external to the body, as noted by Newton.

            Did Newton actually say that, or are you paraphrasing something he said?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The First Law is typically expressed as "An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force." Newton of course, talked in a 17th century kind of way, and spoke not of inertial reference frames, equilibria, et al. That's why the comment is not in quotation marks.

          • Doug Shaver

            The First Law is typically expressed as "An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force."

            That's a lot more specific than what you said.

            Newton of course, talked in a 17th century kind of way, and spoke not of inertial reference frames, equilibria, et al.

            Scientists in the 21st century don't seem to have found it necessary to reword the law in terms of "disturbance from the equilibrium point." And although Newton might not have used the phrase "intertial reference frame," he obviously had the concept in mind when formulating his laws. Otherwise we wouldn't have had to wait for Einstein to find a reason to tweak them.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Your focus on peripheral issues seems odd. Not a word about Mach's Conjecture or the meaning of Greek words as used by Aristotle, only what specific words Newton used. (He wrote the Principia in Latin, remember.) A body at rest in the Aristotelian sense just is one in an equilibrium state, just is one that is not being disturbed.

          • Doug Shaver

            The issue is whether you accurately paraphrased Newton's statement of his first law. Mach's conjecture is irrelevant to that issue. And since Newton wrote in Latin, Aristotle's vocabulary is also irrelevant.

            Your attempt to justify your interpretation by appealing to Aristotelian physics is, to put it charitably, a gross anachronism.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Explain the difference between remaining in an equilibrium state and remaining at rest in the Aristotelian sense, and between being disturbed from that state and being acted upon by an outside force. It's not as if Newton's first law waited for Newton. It was known at least in the 14th century.

          • Doug Shaver

            Explain the difference between remaining in an equilibrium state and remaining at rest in the Aristotelian sense

            Aristotle has no relevance to this discussion.

            and between being disturbed from that state and being acted upon by an outside force.

            I checked this with the Oxford English Dictionary. A force, in scientific usage, is that, and only that, which causes any change in velocity of any material object. It is precisely measurable and has no normative implications. A disturbance, in common usage, is a situation resulting from a disruptive influence. It is only vaguely, if at all, quantifiable and is usually regarded unfavorably. The OED does not indicate that it has any strictly scientific meaning.

        • Couple that with the idea that Aquinas considered it possible for the universe to have existed from all eternity, it does not seem to me that it is necessary for a body in motion to have been set in motion by a "cause."

          Is this an instance of eternal return?

          • David Nickol

            Ye Old Statistician is the expert, but I don't think I am going out on a limb to say that neither Aristotle nor Aquinas believed in eternal return.

            Neither did Woody Allen:

            And Nietzsche, with his theory of eternal recurrence. He said that the life we lived we’re gonna live over again the exact same way for eternity. Great. That means I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again. It’s not worth it.

          • Sorry, I was talking as if no body was ever "set in motion by a "cause."" In that case, it seems like there would be no final causation whatsoever. But if one combines eternality with ¬'final causation', does one move toward an eternal return?

    • Robert Macri

      Careful... Zeta function regularization (like renormalization in quantum field theory) is a way to "sweep infinities under the rug". Such techniques do not necessarily supply the actual result of the summed, unmodified series.

      I agree though that an infinite series of explanations would seem to be an infinite number of bad answers to the question of why things are the way that they are. The series seems like it needs to terminate.

      I'm with you on that.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        It's interesting though that nature seems to sweep the infinities the same way the equations do.

        • Robert Macri

          I would tend to say that the need for renormalization points to a deficiency in our models, not that nature has to some way deal with the divergences in our equations.

          But I agree with your sentiment: nature is truly elegant. It manages quite well and efficiently what we do in clunky approximation.

    • neil_pogi

      i can't grasp what is 'infinite' numbers? will it arrive at the end of a tunnel?

      they say that the universe started from 'infinitely' small 'dot',, now, how we can measure that? so, it would look like a 'bottomless' pit that the Bible is describing about the nature of hell?

      quote: 'constant motion of a particle, may need no explanation.' - nope, it's like saying that the universe is just eternal, no explanation is needed why it is? if you think the universe is run by 'constant motion of a particle' then why there are many atheistic theories for the universe's origin? why not just say the universe is eternal, no explanation is needed? atheists are questioning 'who created God' and we replied: 'an uncaused being needs no explanation!

  • Lamont

    Although the arguments from motion and
    causality are interesting, they do not prove the existence of God
    because they do not take into account the existence of self-moved
    movers. A self-moved mover is anything that moves by its very nature
    and does not require anything else to put it into motion. The most
    common example of this is energy. It is the nature of energy to be in
    motion, and the vibrations which constitute the substantial form of
    energy are always in motion. Since matter is put into motion by
    energy, any motion that we can observe can be fully explained by the
    energy which produced that motion. If you ask where the energy came
    from, the answer is that, as far as we know, energy can neither be
    created nor destroyed. It can only be changed from one form into
    another or converted into matter. Of course it may well be that God
    created the very energy out of which our universe is made. Or it
    maybe that God just is an infinite field of self-organizing energy.
    In any case one must first have a sound argument for the existence of
    God before proceeding any further.

    • Lazarus

      I don't think you'll get much argument with your contention that these arguments do not necessarily prove God, but that is a standard approach followed by apologists. A foundation for the possibility or probability of a god is laid, as I would suggest was done here, but that then admittedly requires further work and evidence to lead to the possibility or probability of (in this case) the Christian God. A good recent example would be The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology that lays a number of these general theistic foundations and then conclude with a chapter on the probability of the resurrection of Jesus.

      All pieces of the puzzle.

    • Robert Macri

      There is no such thing as a "self-moved mover" in physics. It is true that certain forms of energy (that is, those carried by a mass-less particle such as a photon) can never be found at rest, but that is not the same thing as saying that the photon is "self-moved".

      The compression waves in air which carry the sound of your voice, for example, are also something that is never at rest, but they are not the reason for their own motion. Your vocal chords are.

      Similarly, no form of energy is "self moved" in the sense that you imply. A photon is emitted, propagates, and absorbed, but it is not the ontological reason for its own existence and motion any more than the compression waves in air are the ontological reason for the sound of your voice.

      • Lamont

        Robert, your comparison of photons to sound waves is simply a bad analogy. Photons do not require some kind of physical medium to travel through in the way that sound waves do. Also photons that are absorbed do not cease to exist only to be recreated when they are emitted. A photon that has been absorbed continues to exist as a wave in the field that surrounds the molecule that absorbed it. When the energy level of the field exceeds the capacity of the molecule to contain it, the photon will be emitted. It never ceases to exist and it is always in motion.

        • Phil

          Hi Lamont,

          Let's propose that something seems to have the nature/power of "moving itself". Where does this nature/power come from in the first place? (Another way of phrasing the question would be, why does this entity have the nature of "self-moving" entity?)

          It can't give itself this power because it would have to pre-exist itself to give itself the power. Therefore, we must find something that is providing the power for this "self-moving entity". Therefore, the power to move comes from something else, not from itself.

          In the most direct fashion, God would be providing this entity with the power of move. The buck stops at God no matter what way you look at it.

          • Lamont

            Phil,
            Every kind of energy exists as some type of vibration or wave. Now you cannot have a vibration that is not moving. Insofar as energy exists, it is in motion. It does not get the power to move from something else. It moves because of what it is. This is analogous to the way in which God has the powers of intellect and will from his own substance and does not get them from some other source.

          • Phil

            I apologize, I might not have been as clear I I could have been. What I was simply pointing out is that we cannot say that the power of self-propulsion could come from energy itself.

            The deeper question that this is getting at is why does energy has the nature/power it does?

            This is analogous to the way in which God has the powers of intellect and will from his own substance and does not get them from some other source.

            We have to make the key distinction that energy does not necessarily exist with the powers that it has, while God does necessarily exist as God. So energy does have powers in and of itself, but they do not originate purely from itself. The power of motion flows from and is sustained by God.

          • George

            "Therefore, it cannot be properly said that this entity is moving itself, because it is getting the power to move from something else, not from itself."

            Omnidirectional expansion would a good candidate for that thing. What is the universe doing right now?

            "But the universe isn't a thing" some hypothetical apologist might say. "it's just a collection of things"

            well we are a "Just" a collection of things.

            "no, we're one thing because the little bits are all working together to be a person thing" or something

            "cells, atoms, electrons, all do a job to create a definite form which does something."

            by that open standard, the galaxies do a job together to be the form of a universe, and what a universe does is become less dense. glad to get that conversation done and out of the way.

        • Robert Macri

          Robert, your comparison of photons to sound waves is simply a bad analogy. Photons do not require some kind of physical medium to travel through in the way that sound waves do.

          Actually, the analogy works just fine. Photons do not require a material medium, but they do require a field. (And this is more than just a mere abstraction, because the field in empty space has a non-zero vacuum energy.) In any case, it was not the fact of a medium that I was describing in the analogy, but rather the fact that something like a photon is no more a "self-moved mover" than is sound. It is emitted and absorbed. It does not move itself in the sense of a "self-moved mover".

          Also photons that are absorbed do not cease to exist only to be recreated when they are emitted.

          On the contrary, that is precisely what they do.

          A photon that has been absorbed continues to exist as a wave in the field that surrounds the molecule that absorbed it.

          Sorry, but that is simply incorrect. Upon absorption the quantized spin-1 particle which we call the photon no longer exists. If it did still exist in the way you describe, angular momentum conservation would be violated (among other things). The energy of that photon is not transferred to some surrounding electromagnetic wave, but rather is spent to raise the energy state of the atomic or molecular system itself. In physics we do not have one wave function to describe the atomic system and another to describe some strange phantom EM "wave" around it in which the photon now resides. Instead, we have a single wave function that couples to the EM field that is raised to an excited state upon absorption of the photon, which itself no longer exists.

          Incidentally, there is a reason that in quantum mechanics we call the operators which are responsible for the emission and absorption of photons "creation" and "annihilation" operators.

          When the energy level of the field exceeds the capacity of the molecule to contain it, the photon will be emitted. It never ceases to exist and it is always in motion

          Again, that is simply incorrect. An atom or molecule is not immersed in some "photon wave" which is always in motion, only to escape when some energy level gets high enough. No, an atom in an excited state does not need any extra energy to emit a photon. It will spontaneously decay at an unpredictable time, the mean of which can be determined from the wave function in question.

          To clarify by way of another (classical) analogy: if an ocean wave loses all its energy crashing against the shore, we don't say that the wave in some way still "exists" in the unmoving surface of nearby ocean. Rather, its energy has dissipated into the environment. Likewise, we don't say that a photon still exists, bouncing around a molecule that absorbed it.

          The system you describe is more like classical orbital mechanics. A satellite loses energy and falls into a closed orbit, only to escape again if some external source gives it the necessary energy. But this is not an appropriate model to describe quantum systems.

          EDIT: I should say that this is not an appropriate model to describe a photon in quantum mechanics. You could (loosely speaking) describe an electron in such a way, provided that the "orbits" were quantized and the electron was spread about the atom in a probability distribution, Perhaps you were thinking of an electron?

    • neil_pogi

      there are, i think, 2 forms of energy: the one is that 'intelligent energy' that has a will, intent, and awareness. i would call it a God, and the other hand is 'plain energy', it's like energy that has no purpose, no goals whatsoever. hurricane and storm are energies, but their result is always chaos and unorganized.

      there is a law of physics which states that while matter can be converted into energy and vice versa, according to E=mc2, matter and energy can not be created or destroyed by NATURAL PHYSICAL PROCESSES. since we observe that matter and energy exists, they must have been created by a supernatural, non-physical, non-natural process

  • Michael Murray

    Let’s look at an example other than the causal series we are particularly concerned about. Suppose I add up the inverse powers of two. As I’m sure you know, this sum can never get as large as 2, no matter how many terms we add, although it can get as close to 2 as we please. One might think that if we only had them all somehow, then we would have exactly 2. But I do not see how this can be so (and neither did Zeno, or Aristotle, or Thomas Aquinas). If we suppose we had them all, then by the very nature of the completeness we are supposing, there must have been a last term added.

    This supposed paradox is resolved in any undergraduate textbook explaining the concept of the limit of a sequence of numbers. The sum of an infinite series is the limit of the sequence of partial sums. The definition does not involve adding an infinite number of things together one after the other in the way you are suggesting. As I am sure you know the definition of limit is basically covered by your sentence

    it can get as close to 2 as we please.

    There is no need to worry about things such as "adding the last number".

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limit_of_a_sequence

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Series_(mathematics)

  • neil_pogi

    atheists believe that there's no cause at all for the origin of the universe. they say that a 'nothing' cause it to form. it just 'pop'.. i will be glad to know what kind of laboratory equipments they use in order to support that belief. are they using telescope to detect the creative power of 'nothing'?

    • Doug Shaver

      atheists believe that there's no cause at all for the origin of the universe. they say that a 'nothing' cause it to form.

      No, they don't say that.

      • neil_pogi

        .. anyway, most of your brilliant scientists believe that and you just exempt yourself

        • Doug Shaver

          most of your brilliant scientists believe that

          You say so. But I've actually read what brilliant scientists have to say about the origin of the universe. Can you name one book, written by any famous scientist, that you have read in its entirety?

          • neil_pogi

            why not talk with them?

          • Doug Shaver

            Can you name one book, written by any famous scientist, that you have read in its entirety?

            why not talk with them?

            You don't want to answer my question, do you?

          • neil_pogi

            i am not them so why would i speak in behalf of them?
            i did answer your question.

            here's one link that your universejust 'pop' out of nothing: https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/a-mathematical-proof-that-the-universe-could-have-formed-spontaneously-from-nothing-ed7ed0f304a3

            another one: http://bigthink.com/dr-kakus-universe/can-a-universe-create-itself-out-of-nothing

          • Doug Shaver

            i am not them so why would i speak in behalf of them?

            I did not ask you to speak on behalf of anyone but yourself.

          • neil_pogi

            i have shown you some links, why not read them? instead, you focus so much on interrogating me!

          • Doug Shaver

            i have shown you some links, why not read them?

            I did. They don't answer my question.

            you focus so much on interrogating me!

            That's what most of us come here for: To interrogate one another about our beliefs. If all you want to do is tell everyone who disagrees with you, about anything you say, that they don't know what they're talking about, you're in the wrong forum.

          • neil_pogi

            then why are you here? propagating your propaganda?

          • Doug Shaver

            then why are you here?

            I just told you.

          • neil_pogi

            i just told you, why are you here? propagating your nonsense propaganda?

    • Lazarus

      Oh Neil, enough with the "popping". That is a straw man that has been brought to your attention many a time.

      • neil_pogi

        i always repeat that because your scientists (krauss, hawkings, neil degrasse) always mention that, either in tv series, and in their books

        • Lazarus

          I think you mean "their" scientists. I'm a Catholic. And I'm asking you to please stop.

          • neil_pogi

            are you somewhat 'irritate' about my use of 'pop'? anyway, there are many sunbstitution about it: 'they happen to be there', 'it's just there' 'created itself'

          • neil_pogi

            why are you advising me to stop?

          • Lazarus

            You are not presenting the best atheist argument fairly.
            It devalues the debate to strawman your opponent.

          • neil_pogi

            'best atheist argument'??

            they openly declare that the universe's origin came from 'nothing'? or it just 'pop'?

            i can't follow or understand you?

          • Lazarus

            Others, far more skilled in the art of patience than I am, have tried to explain that and other issues to you. You can not, or will not, understand this. My request was a simple one. I'm not going to debate it with you, again. If you don't get it, carry on as before. It is just really not fighting fair.

          • neil_pogi

            what 'fair' are you talking about?

            all i want is to explain atheists' side why they believe that a 'nothing' has a creative power to produce the universe? what's the difference between 'pop', and 'just happened to be there'?

            atheists didn't even bother to advise me to stop, and yet a catholic like you wants me!

          • Lazarus

            No Neil, sorry, but I'm not playing. Read up on what atheists are saying about the creation of the universe(s). Pro-tip : there is no single suggested answer. If that doesn't help, just keep on poppin'.

          • neil_pogi

            1. either the universe is eternal
            2.from the 'big bang'
            3. unknown
            4. it created itself (pop)

            they are known to deny things even if science found them incorrect (ex: abiogenesis)

  • neil_pogi

    an actual brief interview of richard dawkins by ben stein:

    Ben Stein: Well then who did create the heavens and the earth?

    Prof Dawkins:Why do you use the word ‘who’? You see you immediately beg the question by using the word ‘who’.

    Ben Stein:Well then how did it get created?

    Prof Dawkins:Well, um, by a very slow process.

    Ben Stein:Well how did it start?

    Prof Dawkins:Nobody knows how it started. We know the kind of event that it must have been. We know the sort of event that must have happened for the origin of life.

    Ben Stein:And what was that?

    Prof Dawkins:It was the origin of the first self-replicating molecule.

    Ben Stein:Right and how did that happen?

    Prof Dawkins:I’ve told you, we don’t know.

    Ben Stein:So you have no idea how it started.

    Prof Dawkins:No, no, nor has anyone.

    Ben Stein:Nor has anyone else.

    Ben Stein:What do you think is the possibility that Intelligent Design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in Darwinian evolution?

    Prof Dawkins:Well it could come about in the following way. It could be that, eh, at some earlier time somewhere in the universe a civilization evolved by probably some kind of Darwinian means to a very, very, high level of technology and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Ehm, now, that is a possibility and an intriguing possibility and I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the um detail, details, of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer.

    Ben Stein:(voiceover, not part of interview) Wait a second, Richard Dawkins thought Intelligent Design might be a legitimate pursuit.

    Prof Dawkins:Um..and that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe.

    Ben Stein:But, but Prof Dawkins:But that higher intelligence would itself have had to have come about by some explicable, or ultimately explicable process, he couldn’t have just jumped into existence spontaneously, that’s the point.Ben Stein:voiceover)

    So Professor Dawkins was not against Intelligent Design, just certain types of Designers, such as God.

  • Jonathan Brumley

    Regarding an infinite number of "caused causes" ... is the following premise acceptable?

    a set of caused causes must be caused by at least one cause outside the set

    If that premise is acceptable, then we can easily cover the possibility of an infinite number of causes. Just group all "caused causes" into one set (either infinite or finite). The conclusion is that there must exist at least one cause outside the set. All such causes are not in the set, so they must each be "uncaused causes".

  • bizinana

    Wow, thank you for the second to last paragraph.
    Able to go back to the beauty and wondrous awe of the observable, seemingly simple, but complex order of everyday miracles

  • I am not sure he means this but I would disagree that premises "cause" a conclusion to be true. Syllogisms are more like a statement of equivalency not causation. Nor does the relationship between the premises cause a mind to know the truth of the conclusion. Observing, reading, thinking about the premises causes such knowledge or awareness.

  • I would agree that, actually, we cannot "know" anything other than an individual's own existence, which, for any thinking mind is self attesting. We can acknowledge self attesting abstract truths, but virtually nothing empirical, not to a standard of certainty.

  • I don't really know what to make of this discussion of "what is by another". Such statement entail contingency and is therefore a tautology. That which depends on another, that which is cause, is contingent. The question is, is material reality contingent or not.

    We identify contingency by understanding what things are and how they work together. We can only say a towel's wetness is contingent, because we know, generally, what a towel is. We know they are sometimes what we call "wet" and sometimes what we call "dry". The former is when it has more moisture than before. We know what moisture is and how moisture affects things like towels. That is what when we speak of a towel being wet, we know that it is a contingent thing.

    Without such knowledge, we cannot comment on contingency. If I were to propose you a quantum withpeol, could you tell me if it is caused or not? Of course not, because you don't know what a withpeol is. You don't know how it became quantum or what that means.

    If I were to suggest to the singularity prior to the Big Bang, do you know if it was caused or not? If you do, and you can prove it there is a Nobel prize for you. We cannot understand what such a thing is, the laws of nature no longer apply, the variables in our maths include infinities. We can't say anything about its origins.

    But there must have been something to cause it right? Why? Must there have been something to cause god? If things can be uncaused, why not such a singularity? Or even if to were caused, why must its cause be a deity? We cannot know any of its attributes, we cannot say that it must not be material,that it must be a mind and so on.

    • Lazarus

      If you were a Catholic we could tell you the answer to these things. But you're not, so sorry ... ;)

      Edit : Dear Brian - my comment seems to have caused some agitation Over There. Tell me if I had a humor failure and if you are also offended by my post, in which case I will of course edit or remove it.

      • Alexandra

        Brian presented a very thoughtful and challenging comment and your response was wonderfully humorous. I'd like you to know it was my favorite exchange of the day. :)

        "Joy, with peace, is the sister of charity. Serve the Lord with laughter." -- St. Padre Pio

        • Lazarus

          Thank you, Alexandra ;)

      • I don't care, but humour is against the commenting rules. I'd be more interested if you actually have a response to my ideas.

        • Lazarus

          I mostly agree with those ideas of yours.

        • Alexandra

          The commenting guidelines are to encourage fruitful conversations and constructive dialogue. Humor can be a part of that, and not against the rules. Mean-spirited humor like sarcasm, mocking, and name-calling, especially when used to attack an individual, is against the rules. But friendly and/or lighthearted humor can be a joyful way to make a point, and can even enhance conversation.

    • Mike

      "If things can be uncaused"

      Name 1 'thing' than can be uncaused.

      • Lazarus

        An Internet argument?

        • Mike

          you mean it can happen by accident?

          • Lazarus

            Ha. All the time. The original Uncaused Cause.

          • Mike

            the atheist answer to God: a grand cosmic accident ;)

      • One of the following: the material universe or god. I am applying a wide use of "thing" here.

        • Mike

          good answer.

          but technically by universe you'd have to mean "some force" that caused the 'things' inside the universe? as i think you'd agree that there isn't anything in the universe or a combination of things that caused the universe. it's not like for a crude ex the planet jupiter caused the entire universe or a quantum field caused the universe right. so it'd have to be imho some "force" or "energy" or whatever but i think still 'external' to the universe.

          • No, I do not mean "some force" by the "material universe" I mean material reality. It may be that this materiality is all there is, all matter, energy. Or it could have been caused to exist in some unfathomable way by an unfathomable being, or some other unfathomable material reality.

            I have no idea what can cause material things to exist from non-matter, or if this is possible.

            If there is a deity that brought material reality into existence, this deity, its nature, its attributes, must simply exist as a brute fact of the cosmos. I don't see why describing it as immaterial makes its existence any more plausible, or why if, as we must agree that some entity must exist as a brute fact of the cosmos, that entity cannot be material reality.

          • Mike

            ok this is what's strange: that you think that it is possible even in principle for matter and energy to be ultimate reality but we think that certain features of it make that impossible namely that everything 'in it' and matter/energy itself is contingent and it is made up of a mix of potential and actuality and its essence is distinct from its existence and on and on per scholastic metaphysics. plus if matter/energy really are the brute fact 'bottom' of reality then you have to account for how the potential for it to 'turn' into all of this is possible IF there is no 'external intelligence' of some sort. To my mind the fact that matter/energy can turn into this means it is simply marvelous and this means that there's more to it.

            for something immaterial to cause matter is impossible in the universe i think everyone can agree on this.

            "must simply exist as a brute fact of the cosmos" don't mean to be pedantic but as you know this deity in fact does NOT exist in the cosmos in any multiverse but infact created it.

          • Well, it is going to be strange no matter one's position. I would say the contention of a timeless, spaceless, mind that is being itself and somehow created all matter and energy from nothing is also "strange".

            "everything 'in it' and matter/energy itself is contingent and it is made up of a mix of potential and actuality and its essence is distinct from its existence and on and on per scholastic metaphysics."

            You say that, but I do not agree, I don't even understand what you mean by "essence" here or "potential" and "actual" in this sense. Anyway we are not talking about "everything in it" we are talking about everything material itself. I am not aware that the scholastic metaphysical approach is better than any other. It is what Catholicism accepts certainly.

            "if matter/energy really are the brute fact 'bottom' of reality then you have to account for how the potential for it to 'turn' into all of this is possible"

            I am using "cosmos" as meaning "all that exists in any sense immaterial, material, transcendent" and so on, as to distinguish from "universe" or "material reality".
            No, we don't. That is what a "brute fact" or "necessary reality" is. Something that cannot be accounted for. Either material reality is the "brute fact" or "necessary reality" or something else is.

            "for something immaterial to cause matter is impossible in the universe i think everyone can agree on this."

            I do not agree with this. I do not know what immaterial is, what, if anything could "create" matter from non-matter, whether if something immaterial existed it could or could not accomplish this.

          • Mike

            i don't want to get into the technical details as they are not conducive to short comments (plus i am not a professional philo) but if you are interested in what the basis for this worldview is i would read this book:

            http://www.amazon.com/Scholastic-Metaphysics-Contemporary-Introduction-Scholasticae/dp/3868385444

            it outlines the scholastic positions with reference to contemporary philosophers.

            BTW aristo-thomism is NOT the church's official philo but it does think that it has the most going for it and calls it 'the perennial' philosophy.

            anyway thx for the exchange.

  • I do not accept that a series of things "caused by another" entails an endpoint that is a cause "not caused by another". The issue is can there be an Infinite series of causes. Such a premise is coherent, I don't see why this is impossible. The argument here seems to be just that it is not intuitive. Sure an infinite regress is not very satisfying, but neither is positions am unmoved mover and just defining it as "unmoved". I would say both explanations are ad hoc, and neither is better than the other.

    His move of asking what caused this infinite set, and replying "nothing" is illogical. What he is really saying is that an actual infinity is in his opinion impossible. An infinite set is not limited in this way, the answer to what caused the things in the infinite set to move is the thing prior and it is always the thing prior. There is not first cause or starting point, if there was, it would not be an infinite set but a finite set. So positing a starting point to an infinite set is a contradiction.