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The Splendor of Thomistic Theism

Aquinas-sitting

NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series. Read part 1 here.

With the accidentality and priority of being for sensible things now in place, there is only one preliminary metaphysical principle that we need to establish before we can defend Premise 1 (from the first part in this series) and that is the fact that every particular thing—whether sensible or non-sensible (immaterial)—whose being is accidental and prior to its nature must receive being from an agent outside itself, i.e., an efficient cause.

First, whatever is accidental does not exist in its own right but is dependent upon a substance. (Remember the redness of the triangle mentioned earlier.)

Second, since being is an accident in the “wide sense” of the term for such things under consideration, it must be dependent upon a substance.

Third, it can’t be dependent upon the substance (think “house”) that it actuates due to its priority. If being was dependent upon the substance that it actuates, then the substance would be prior to its act of being. But if the substance (“house”) was prior to its act of being then it would be nothing since it would not have its act of being. In other words, the house would not exist. But the house does exist. Therefore, the act of being of something for which being is accidental cannot depend on the substance its actualizing.

Therefore, the act of being for a thing whose being is accidental and prior to its nature must be dependent upon some substance other than the substance that it makes actual—i.e., the thing cannot give itself being but must receive being from something else.

Now, to give being to something is to cause it through efficient causality. Therefore, anything whose being is other than its nature must receive its being by an efficient cause other than itself.

Can All of Reality Consists Only of those Things Whose Being is Accidental and Prior to its Nature?

With all our preliminary metaphysical principles established, we can now move to defending Premise 1. The basic question is, “Can all of reality consist only of things whose being is accidental and prior to its nature—things that can only receive being from an efficient cause outside themselves?”

To begin answering this question, consider the hypothetical scenario if all of reality consisted only of things whose being was accidental and prior to its nature—things whose act of existence did not belong to their nature.

If this was the case, then every particular thing that makes up “reality” would be a nature that was existentially neutral—a thing that is merely open to receiving being. In this scenario reality would consist only of natures—whether a finite or infinite amount (the quantity does not matter)—that contained no being.

This would be analogous to a series of interlinked train cars that has no engine car. No matter how many cars one posits in the series, no train car would ever have motion.

Similarly, if every particular thing within “reality” was something whose being was accidental and prior to its nature—something whose act of being did not belong to its nature—then reality would only consist of what philosophers call “existential zeroes”—natures with no being. But if reality only consisted of natures that contain no being, then no particular thing would exist; and if no particular thing would exist in all of reality, then nothing would exist; hence Premise 1. In other words, in this hypothetical scenario being would never get into the system of reality.

The Rest of the Story

But the fact that I’m writing and you are reading this article indicates that being (existence) has entered the system.

Therefore, all of reality cannot consist only of those things whose being is accidental and prior to its nature; hence the conclusion.

Another way to state the conclusion is that there must be some entity whose being is not accidental and prior to its nature but coincident with and essential to it. In other words, for such an entity its being would be its nature—it would not possess being but would be being itself—its nature would be “to be.”   This reality is what Scholastic philosophers call “subsistent being,” which simply denotes that the substance (a word that is closely related etymologically with “subsistent”) one arrives at through philosophical reasoning is being itself.

Is “Subsistent Being” God?

With the existence of “subsistent being” established, the next question is, “What can we know about such a being? Is such a being worthy of the term God?”

First of all, we can say that “subsistent being” would have to be the efficient cause responsible for being entering into the system of reality to begin with. Recall that in the scenario without subsistent being, being could not enter into the system. But being did enter into the system.

So, either being came from sheer nothingness or from subsistent being itself. If being came from sheer nothingness then there would be no reason why there is being rather than non-being. But to say that there is no reason for being rather than non-being is the same as saying there is nothing to distinguish being from non-being, in which case being and non-being would be one and the same which is absurd. Therefore, being cannot come from sheer nothingness. Therefore, the fact that there is something rather than nothing must be due to subsistent being itself—it’s the efficient cause of being.

Now, subsistent being is not merely the efficient cause of being entering into the system at some point in the past, but it must be the continuous cause of being for things here and now. Consider the fact that natures (essences) are conjoined to the act of being (existence) right here and right now. This is either due to themselves, some other nature for which being is accidental and prior, or subsistent being. Obviously we can’t appeal to a thing’s own nature to explain its continued existence when we can’t even appeal to it to explain it coming into existence in the first place (see the third preliminary metaphysical principle above). Furthermore, we definitely can’t appeal to some other nature of the same type less we end up with the same problem. Therefore, the continued existence of any particular thing whose being is accidental and prior to its nature must be due to subsistent being; thus subsistent being is the continuous source of being for all else that is besides itself.

Moreover, because subsistent being has existence coincident with its nature and does not have it accidentally but essentially (by nature) it does not depend on any efficient cause outside itself; hence it is an uncaused cause.

From this it follows that subsistent being is first in the order of efficient causality—“first” in the sense of ontological priority (“most fundamental”) and not necessarily temporal priority. As the first efficient cause of being, it is totally outside the series of causality among things for which being is accidental and prior to their nature.

Now, if subsistent being cannot be caused, then it must be pure actuality—void of all potentiality—since all things that are caused involves the actualization of some potency. This further means that subsistent being cannot receive any further perfection to its being otherwise it would be in potency to that perfection; thus it must be perfection in the highest degree.

Again, if subsistent being is pure act void of any potency, then it necessarily follows that subsistent being is incorporeal (immaterial) since everything of a corporeal nature (matter) contains potentiality—subject to taking on different forms.

Subsistent being, or pure act void of potency, is also entirely immutable (changeless) since mutability entails the movement from potency to act.

Eternality follows directly from immutability since all temporal beings are subject to change.

The pure actuality of the subsistent being further leads one to reason that subsistent being is completely unlimited, i.e., infinite—it can’t be restricted to existing in this way instead of that way for if it was it would be in potency to the other modes of being, which is absurd.

It must also be absolutely simple—void of any composition (e.g., form-matter and/or essence-existence) since the unity of nature and being is the very understanding of “subsistent being.” One can also reason that composite parts are in potency with respect to the whole, which of course cannot be so with the pure actuality of subsistent being.

Finally, the question becomes, “Can there be more than one of these things?” This brings us to the final attribute for this article, namely unicity. If there were a multiplicity of subsistent beings (pure acts of existence), then there necessarily would have to be a differentiating factor in at least one of them. But if one of them had a factor that differentiates its act of existence from the other act of existence, then that factor would be distinct from its act of existence, in which case it would not be absolutely simple, which is incoherent for subsistent being.

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, while I have a tremendous respect for the great theistic apologist of modernity and the arguments they employ, I must say that I find myself enamored by the breadth and depth of the Thomistic framework for natural theology. Where the rope ends for many popular theistic arguments in modern thought, such as a Creator that is very powerful but not pure power itself, beyond our time but not atemporal, one being among many but not pure being itself, it continues for the subsistent being arrived at in the Thomistic framework of thought.

So, unbelievers need not wander in the darkness of unbelief any longer. The light of the Angelic Doctor that shines in this proof and others like it has the power, I believe, to illumine the path to the God whom Thomistic philosophers know as ipsum esse subsistens and whom theologians know as “I Am Who Am.”

Karlo Broussard

Written by

After a three-year apprenticeship with Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. PhD., nationally known author, speaker, philosopher, and theologian, Karlo works as a full time apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers giving lectures throughout the country on topics in Catholic apologetics, theology and philosophy. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is one of the most dynamic and enthusiastic Catholic speakers on the circuit today. He resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo's online videos at KarloBroussard.com. You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.

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  • Thanks for the article. I enjoy reading the Thomistic arguments. They have a beautiful simplicity.

    There are three big reasons I'm skeptical that this argument get to the Catholic God. Here they are, in order of priority:

    (1) A thing that exists can cause another thing. Maybe this series of things causing other things is infinite. It might be like the infinite set of real numbers [0,1] (the set of real numbers between 0 and 1, including 0 and 1). There's a lowest number. If I name "0.001", you can always add another zero, to et "0.0001", but if I name "0", you can't name a lower number. There has to be a lowest number. But then it might be like the infinite set of real numbers (0,1] (the set of real numbers between 0 and 1, excluding 0 but including 1). There's no smallest number in this infinite set. Maybe in the same sense there's no prime mover, no most fundamental cause. For any number I name, there might be a smaller number. For any thing that exists, I can point to a thing that caused it to exist. A gets its being from B, B from C, etc., and for any entity I name, X, there's always going to be a Y that X gets its being from, at every moment the causal chain is infinite.

    (2) Assuming the argument works, that there's a good answer to (1), Spinoza's God satisfies all your criteria. I'd elaborate, but I think it makes more sense to wait for objections, if any.

    (3) Assuming the argument works, that there's a good answer to (1), God must necessarily be the way God is, and couldn't be another way. The Catholic God is a trinity. Three people. It seems as though God could have been two people or one person. This seems to be a property that isn't necessary. But maybe God is necessarily a Trinity, contrary to our common sense. In that case, maybe certain parts of the universe exist necessarily, contrary to common sense.

    • Adam

      (1) is straighforwardly addressed by the nature of the proposed beings in the causal chain. Aristotle famously thought that the material universe was eternal, but that this *still* requires a prime mover, because the constituent parts of the causal series cannot give what they do not have (i.e., their potency to produce caused effects still needs act).

      On your (2), it is hard for me to see how Spinoza's God could satisfy the definition of "esse ipsum subsistens" (and its reformulation "actus purus") as it would entail God having potency, since, in this view, God has potency-act constituents.

      Suppose a Catholic were the follow you all the way through on (3) and affirm that, once created, parts of the universe do exist necessarily, do you see any negative implications of that?

      • (1) That doesn't really answer my question. Why can't there be, at each moment, an infinite chain of being-granting, such that for any member of the chain, there's a member who first gave that member being?

        (2) If God has potency, that means God could be other than he is. Spinoza's God can't be other than he is. He's necessarily exactly the way he is and could be no other. God is identical with the totality of nature, and the totality of nature (all spaces over all times) cannot be different and does not change.

        (3) If parts of the universe exist necessarily once created wouldn't that imply that God had no choice but to create those parts?

        • Adam

          (1) Because coming-into-being or even becoming-something-else requires the actualization of a potency and this is an essentially ordered series which can have as its origin, ultimately, only the one thing that is not dependent upon anything else for its act (i.e., "purus actus" / "esse ipsum subsistens")

          (2) It means a good bit more than that. "Pure act" rules out the possibility of change all together, because change presupposes potency which must be actualized in the change.

          (3) No. Why would it? What intrinsic necessity would be there before even if we suppose God freely imparted it afterwards?

          • (1) I agree, it can, but does it have to? If it has to, why does it have to?

            (2) Right. No change. Spinoza's God can't change.

            (3) If God could have done otherwise, then those parts wouldn't have existed, so they wouldn't be necessary.

          • Adam

            1. If substances can only be secondary causes (as we must admit by saying they are circumscribed and limited by their potencies -- whatever those potencies are in each case), then they are instrumental causes. If they are instrumental causes then, to put as one Thomist does, "a paintbrush with a long handle (even and infinitely long handle) can't move itself."

            2. Spinoza's god has extension and thus change. Even encompassing all future and past space and time within Spinoza's definition does not allow Spinoza's god to avoid being limited by this potency (and thus not meeting the Scholastic definition).

            3. It depends on what you mean by "could have done otherwise." Certainly we could say that God was not bound to create anything (over nothing at all). But once He decided to create it seems He was bound to create in a certain way (logical necessity) ... which leads to a certain definition of necessity (e.g., all possible worlds, etc.) that may apply but not threaten God's freedom.

          • 1. Look at my example of the chain against the wall. Infinite number of links. Why can't this work? What self-evident principle does it violate, or how is it contradictory?

            2. Nope. No change, exactly because it's all future and past at once. God isn't the entire universe at this moment. God's the entirety of nature all at once (and that never changes, and according to Spinoza, it never could have been different than it is).

            3. By my understanding of "necessary existence" that would make the existence of everything besides God not necessary.

        • The answer Aquinas gives is that it's a per se ordered causal series. Because no particular member of the set can be a cause until it first is, the logical form necessarily requires a terminus.

          Barry Miller puts it this way. In a per se causal series, it's not merely the case that A if B, B if C, C if D, ..... That kind of series can go on interminably. It's better represented as A if (B if [C if {D if |....|}]). The conditions for each member to exist include not only that the prior member in the series exists, but that it and every preceding member has its existential conditions met. In an infinite series this will never happen, precisely because of its infinity.

          • This seems to be a very fancy way of saying that there can't be an infinite chain because a chain can't be infinitely long. The nested sets seems to be an alternitive way of saying that X+1 link wouldn't pull on link X if there wasn't an X+2 link to pull on the X+1 link, an so forth. So be it. Why should I think that this situation is logically impossible or that it contradicts some self-evident principle?

          • The way that I would want to put it is that efficient causes (causes that bring things about) only have the power to cause if they themselves exist. That's why you get the nested type of causes. You can never get A from A if (B if [C if |...|]), if the ... proceeds to infinity.

            I think it's hard to convey this very well in a short space. I've written a longer explanation of this point here. http://www.thomasmcothran.com/existence-of-god-step-1/

            And I'd recommend Barry Miller's journal articles discussing necessarily terminating causal series, which I've found helpful (especially if you're more on the analytic philosophy side). I think they're floating around online.

          • For each thing that's doing the causing, it does have that power, because of the thing before it. I can number these causes, 1, 2, 3, 4, just like I would number the links of the chains. And then I posit that for any number you name, X, there's another link, another cause, X+1 that gave X the power to cause things. And that this is infinite. There's infinite priority. I don't see why this would result in nothing happening (especially since there's no time involved, just "priority", they're all happening simultaneously). I will read your post, and if I have time, some of the articles, but at least presently I don't see any real problems with the idea that the chain is infinitely long, that the list of prior causes just goes back forever.

          • There's really no question that in the nested causal series necessarily terminates, simply as a matter of its logical form.

            But we can think of this more simply. We are discussing whether some particular composed entity's existential conditions can be met by positing merely other composed entities. So, for example, we might posit B as the cause of A. But this doesn't do it, because B, like A, is composed, meaning that its existence is prior to it and received from some further cause. Simply positing B cannot satisfy A's existential conditions, because B cannot be the cause of its own existence.

            So we posit C as a cause of B. But C, like B is composed, and its existence must likewise be received from an efficient cause. Positing B and C doesn't meet A's existential conditions anymore than simply positing B did. Nor are B and C's existential conditions met.

            So we posit D, as the efficient cause for C. But again, given our original supposition, positing D would no more explain A than positing B or C did. Positing B, C, and D doesn't meet A's conditions for existing any more than simply positing B did.

            You can continue this an infinite number of times, but nothing will change. Infinity is not magic. Positing additional composite beings adds no more existence to A than positing B does.

            I think what you might be doing is not only positing B (in terms of this example), but positing that B's existential conditions are met. But that begs the question as much as if we simply posit A as a composite being with its existential conditions met. It straightforwardly begs the question at hand.

          • There's really no question that in the nested causal series necessarily terminates, simply as a matter of its logical form.

            Really? What about non-well-founded set theories? "No minimal element" could be be related to "no first cause". Or maybe sets isn't the right way to express the situation in the first place.

            So we posit C as a cause of B. But C, like B is composed, and its existence must likewise be received from an efficient cause. Positing B and C doesn't meet A's existential conditions anymore than simply positing B did. Nor are B and C's existential conditions met.

            Continuing this, for any group, say A, B, C ..., there'll be something outside that group that can explain that group, whichever one you haven't yet included. There's just no ultimate explanation. What I want to know is why are existential conditions unsatisfied unless there's an ultimate explanation?

            You can continue this an infinite number of times, but nothing will change. Infinity is not magic.

            Infinity doesn't need to be magic. It just turns out an infinite number of things may have different properties than any large finite number of things. I don't know if it would or not, or if infinite number of things is even possible. But it's not obviously impossible, and it doesn't seem as though it would need to have the same properties as the finite number of things.

            An analogy to mathematics again is analytic continuation, where I can take:

            1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 ...

            And depending on how I carry out the sum, I'll get infinity or -1/12. The -1/12 answer to infinite sums has applications in quantum field theory. If these are really infinities, maybe they are, then the infinite sum has a very different properties than any finite sum. Namely, it's negative.

            1 = 1
            1 + 2 = 3
            1 + 2 + 3 = 6
            So on and so forth, any finite sum gets a larger number... but then the infinite sum:
            1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... = -1/12.

            Something completely different happens when you consider infinities! A negative number! Maybe something like this happens with the infinite chain.

          • Yep, no question it's a necessarily terminating causal series. That's just a matter of grasping the logical form. If there is any debate, it would be whether efficient causes are accurately represented that way. But that too is pretty straightforward.

            As to the "magic" of infinity, the example you're using is flawed. There was a popular youtube video that duped people into thinking that if you add an infinite number of integers, the sum equals -1/12. That was quickly debunked, of course, when mathematicians pointed out that analytic continuation does not use "=" to mean "equal to" but rather "is associated with." -1/12 is not the arithmetical sum, and it simply shows how credulous people become when someone they see numbers. Dress something up in math and people will believe anything.

            For a simple explanation of the problem with the youtube video, see the Smithsonian article here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/great-debate-over-whether-1234-112-180949559/?no-ist And for a more detailed explanation, see the Physics Central article http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2014/01/redux-does-1234-112-absolutely-not.html

          • Actually, although the youtube video used a flawed argument, the equality in fact does old. See Terry Tao's blog post about how to show this properly. It's not "associated with". It is in fact equals, using the method of analytic continuation (or even simpler methods of basic calculus).

            https://terrytao.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/the-euler-maclaurin-formula-bernoulli-numbers-the-zeta-function-and-real-variable-analytic-continuation/

            Using the method of analytic continuation, you can solve the system in a place where it a sum converges, and then moving to a place where it doesn't. And then you get an answer. The strange thing is Nature seems to behave like this. The answers you get with this method are empirically useful.

            Is this really the way infinities should be handled? Is there any such thing as infinities in nature? I don't know. But I don't see how you can rule it out.

          • You claim that it's no question it's a necessarily terminating causal series. Maybe so, although I don't see how. Could you provide a clear argument or a reference to support this claim?

          • Phil

            It sounds like you are positing something similar to Michael below, but I wanted to clarify.

            Are you proposing that each "chain link" is causing itself to move by its own power (each link is its own "unmoved mover")?

            Or if each chain link is relying upon at least one other chain link for its power to move, it seems like you are stuck where you must posit an "unmoved mover", that which needs nothing outside itself to move itself and others.

          • No, I'm instead wondering why it isn't a satisfying explanation to say that there's an infinitely long chain, infinite number of links, and for any link, X, there's another link, X+1, that pulls link X. No one link moves itself. It's moved by the link behind it and moves the link in front of it.

            Now, maybe this is impossible. Maybe it contradicts itself somehow or violates some self-evident principle. If so, which one, and how?

          • Paul:

            The Barry Miller article I referred you to explains the nested series in more detail.

            As to the question of infinity, if you are in fact correct about the possibility of the infinite addition of integers adding up to -1/12, it would be a neat proof that there can't be an infinite regress of composed entities. The logic is pretty obvious. Supposing there were an infinite number of composite beings in a causal series, we could add A, B+C, D+E+G, and so on, and the total number of composite beings would be -1/12. Since we know there are more than -1/12 composite beings (at least you and I, who are having this discussion), we can conclude that there cannot be an infinite number of composite beings, because that supposition entails a false conclusion.

            So it would be nice if you were right about this. Unfortunately, you're not (and the link you've posted doesn't directly address the question whether -1/12 is the arithmetical sum of 1+2+3 .... As David Berman, a theoretical physicist at the University of London, puts it

            "So how did the people in the Numberphile video "prove" that the natural
            numbers all add up to -1/12? The real answer is that they didn’t.
            Watching the video is like watching a magician and trying to spot them
            slipping the rabbit into the hat." https://plus.maths.org/content/infinity-or-just-112

            Berman explains the "trick" (his words, not mine) that is used to get the result, and he also explains the application to physics. The other links I posted earlier also explain what's going on with the math. Other than the youtube video, I can't find anyone who is saying that the arithmetical sum of 1+2+3 ... is -1/12. We tend to suspend our critical faculties when math starts to get involved, and it's easy to be duped by well produced videos. Unfortunately, the mathematics isn't as bizarre as the producers of the youtube video would lead one to believe.

          • The logic is pretty obvious. Supposing there were an infinite number of composite beings in a causal series, we could add A, B+C, D+E+G, and so on, and the total number of composite beings would be -1/12.

            I'm not an integer.

            I didn't come to my view on this because of a youtube video, but through studying quantum field theory and performing calculations in high energy physics for some of my research. I'm quite confident that 1 + 2 + 3 + ... = -1/12 via analytic continuation. I've worked through the math myself. But thanks anyway.

          • Phil

            Now, maybe this is impossible. Maybe it contradicts itself somehow or violates some self-evident principle. If so, which one, and how?

            I gotcha--the first thing we have to make a note of is we are moving out of the abstract (mathematics and the like) and into the real world. We are talking about real material things right now. With that said...

            If we say that the movement of physical things we experience right now is because of an infinite chain of moving physical things, we must hold that an actually infinite amount of physical things exist right now. (You can't have an infinitely long physical chain with a finite amount of entities. We could deal with a circular chain later.)

            So we must hold that an actually infinite amount of things exists right now. But think about infinity for a moment now. Infinity is not something that can "be achieved". There is always one more that must be added on. For example, a person can't count to infinity. It would be absurd for a person to proclaim, "I have actually counted to infinity". The infinite is never reached.

            Therefore, to hold that an actual infinite amount of physical things exist right now is to hold that the *unachievable has been achieved*. Well, this is obviously an incoherent belief.

            Therefore, we must conclude that an actual amount of infinite things existing is not possible. Only a potentially infinite amount of things is possible.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Sets of numbers don't have any real existence but causes of existence have to really exist to cause anything. Thus a chain of causes cannot be infinite because there would never be an actual first cause.

      • Some philosophers think that numbers and sets of numbers exist.

        Why does there need to be an actual first cause?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Where do these numbers physically exist?

          There must be an actual first cause cuz otherwise the actual series would never begin.

          • Numbers would exist in Plato's heaven ;)

            Why does the series need to have a beginning? Why can't it just go on and on?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Because for real things, a chain of causation only consists of one thing after another, whether it is in time (like this begat that begat this) or by efficient cause (the hand that moves the stick that moves the rock).

          • But I really don't understand why it's impossible (why it isn't allowed logically or due to some self-evident principle) that there's a chain with infinite links pulling on the side of a wall. What pulls on link X from the side of the wall? X + 1. And so forth.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Because no link is actually giving the link its pull. If you could speak to every link, every one of them would say, "It's not me."

          • Michael Murray

            If you ask a link if it its pulling the link on its right wouldn't it say "yes but only because that link on my left is pulling me" ?

            I'm not sure if that should be called every link pulling or no link pulling though.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Actually, no link is pulling. Only a hand on the first link is pulling on the chain.

          • Michael Murray

            Not in my model. Every link is pulling. I have never understood the argument against this or the infinite line of dominos etc.

          • Phil

            Michael--I want to try and clarify your model. When you say that every link is pulling, do you mean that every single link is actively moving itself through no power outside of itself? In other words, your infinite number of chains could be linked but no link is ever touching another because each is moving itself at an equal speed.

            Is that correct?

          • Michael Murray

            It could be as you describe. I was thinking that every link pulls the link behind it. So I guess the whole lot would then accelerate. Or you could imagine them all in a medium that creates drag on them just balanced by the force. But we are diverging into physics here and the objection I always hear to infinite regress is based on logic. For that reason I would rather think about an infinite line of dominos. Domino n falls because it is pushed over when domino n-1 falls. Logically there is no problem I can see with this model.

          • Phil

            Okay, so in your model, it is actually irrelevant that the chain links are "linked" because each one never has to touch any of the others because they are each moving them self individually at an equal speed at all times.

            ------

            The question then becomes: Where does the power for each individual chain link to be moving itself come from?

            For example--let's say that our entire physical cosmos could be reduced to 100 moving "chain links". The question we must ask is, "How and why is it that these chain links are moving right now?"

            We either have to find an explanation for their movement outside the chain links themselves, or we simply say "just because; they are just moving; it's a brute fact".

            Well, that latter explanation is not an explanation at all. If we ask why the planet is moving and the scientist says "because it is moving". Well that isn't an answer or explanation at all.

          • William Davis

            It took me some time to get my head around circular causality, but it seems to be quite real. It simply isn't as intuitive as linear causality.

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16986616

            This, of course, doesn't mean there is no "first cause" of the universe. It just implies that our common sense may not be up to the task of thinking about these things accurately.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I read the abstract. Can you explain it in layman's terms?

          • William Davis

            A affects B, which then affects A, and so on, in a circle of events which modify each other. The easiest examples involve mind (Thomas Freeman uses circular causality in his brain theories, and he seems to be correct).
            A person eats when they are stressed. The eating makes them gain weight. The weight gain makes them more stressed which makes them eat more, which makes them even more stressed...(it actually works this way in some morbidly obese people)
            The way this "might" work in the universe is that some unknown physical property causes the universe to collapse back into a singularity which in turn yields another big bang...new universe...eventual heat death...over and over. Most physicists reject this cyclical model, but who knows where we'll end up in cosmology. I don't necessarily hold this view, I just think it's a possibility, though a first cause for the big bang seems more scientifically plausible right now.

          • Ye Olde Statistician
          • William Davis

            Sure, but even if we back up to God, isn't God causa sui? If you respond that God is simply self existent by nature, I still don't see, in spite of all the reasoning, why this can't apply to the universe itself. Empirical data seems to be necessary to know, for you this data comes from divine revelation, for me, it doesn't exist yet. Thanks for the links though. The snark from Feser and others about Hawking in the comments wasn't surprising. No offense, but Feser doesn't seem to be nearly as smart as he thinks he is, I'm not a fan. Even though I admire Hawking as a physicist, I do think he's off base in many ways on philosophy (and so do many other scientists). But is this really appropriate?

            From the combox:

            George R. said...In their recent book The Grand Design, they tell us that “we create [the universe’s] history by our observation, rather than history creating us” and that since we are part of the universe, it follows that “the universe… create[d] itself from nothing.”

            I don't know what these guys are smoking, but it must be some good sh*t.December 4, 2010 at 12:37 PMEdward Feser said...

            I think it was rolled up copies of The God Delusion.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            even if we back up to God, isn't God causa sui?

            No, the reasoning leads to an uncaused cause, not to something that causes itself. Further deductions lead to its identity with God. The evidence is no more "empirical" than it is in mathematics.

            If you respond that God is simply self existent by nature...

            The reasoning leads to a being whose nature just is to exist. That is, not every being can be contingent. A being that just is Existence Itself must exist. If Existence does not exist, then nothing does. You need further reasoning to say that this being is God.

            I still don't see...why this can't apply to the universe itself.

            a) The universe is not a thing, but a mereological sum of things. As such, its existence is contingent on the existence of the elements that comprise it.
            b) Each thing that comprises the universe can either exist or not exist. For example, we think we know how stars come into being and how they pass out of being. So stars cannot be Existence Itself of an Uncaused Cause. And likewise with the remaining inventory of things that comprise the universe. Even space and time are contingent on the existence of matter and would, as Einstein said, pass out of existence with matter. This is not how Uncaused Causes or Existence Itself behaves.

          • William Davis

            The universe is not a thing, but a mereological sum of things. As such, its existence is contingent on the existence of the elements that comprise it.

            If this is the case, then you are not a thing, you are simply a sum of things. Your mind doesn't exist either, it's just the sum of your neurons firing. You can't just use reductionism when it's convenient. This is a core error, I think. The universe is as much a "thing" as anything else. If we're going to be non-reductive, let's be non-reductive (thinking non-reductive is something I've gain from our discussions here) ;)
            Of course the fact that you exist means that all the things that comprise you exist, but we can definitely consider you a thing.

            Each thing that comprises the universe can either exist or not exist.

            But the substance of the universe never changes, as far as we know. This is the first law of thermodynamics. The space expands, but the substance contained therein (matter/energy) does not. I don't think Einstein would agree that space is contingent on the existence of matter, but matter curves space and affects time. Are you claiming empty space (devoid of matter) doesn't exist? Recall that Einstein was a follower of Baruch Spinoza when it comes to philosophy, and Spinoza argued that the single substance of the universe exists necessarily (but there was a bit more to it than just the universe of course).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If this is the case, then you are not a thing, you are simply a sum of things.

            No. For I possess a unifying form that organizes my parts into a coherent whole. Consider, for example, that an electron that is part of a sodium atom behaves differently from a free electron. That is, the atom is not simply a sum of its protons, electrons, and neutrons, but a whole that organizes its constituents. This is not true of a sand dune or a toy box.

            Go here and scroll down to III Things.
            http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/Forms.html

            the substance of the universe never changes, as far as we know.

            It is in constant change. Stars explode, galaxies coalesce, hydrogen fuses into helium. Species evolve and go extinct. The universe is very nearly defined as "that which changes." If you wish to postulate something underneath that persists through change, you are well on your way to Aristotle's prime matter.

          • William Davis

            No. For I possess a unifying form that organizes my parts into a coherent whole.

            This could be easily true of the universe too, we don't know enough about the universe yet. We've only seen a small portion, at least we think, and it could be infinite. We already know everything is interconnected via gravitation, there could be deeper connection as well.

            It is in constant change. Stars explode, galaxies coalesce, hydrogen fuses into helium. Species evolve and go extinct. The universe is very nearly defined as "that which changes." If you wish to postulate something underneath that persists through change, you are well on your way to Aristotle's prime matter.

            I'm fine with Aristotle's prime matter, but it would be more accurate to say matter/energy. Particle physics is interesting, and we keep finding smaller pieces...it will be fascinating to see where we end up. Prime matter/energy is a possibility. When I use the word "substance" above, this is what I mean. The substance behind Spinoza's monism (of course he says this substance in none other than God). It makes sense to me, and it's quite simple.
            Definitions tend to be problematic here, a weakness in our ability to communicate with symbols. Good discussion though :)

          • William Davis

            Further deductions lead to its identity with God. The evidence is no more "empirical" than it is in mathematics.

            I forgot to mention this. The empirical evidence for mathematics, as a whole, is the effectiveness of the science and engineering that is built upon mathematics. This very conversation is empirical evidence for the truth in mathematics. In general, every person sees the truth in math (Plato thought this was the greatest thing...even women could see the truth in it). Much more complex philosophical matters are not nearly as compelling, for better or for worse. This isn't to say there isn't an objectively true philosophy, but I don't think we've figured it out yet, or at least we can't be certain we've figured it out without some type of faith.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The empirical evidence for mathematics, as a whole, is the effectiveness
            of the science and engineering that is built upon mathematics.

            You realize this is the fallacy of asserting the consequence? If T then C, C is true, therefore T. It only concludes to the usefulness, not to the truth. Where is the empirical evidence that SQRT(2) is irrational? Or that a closed, bounded topological space is compact?

            That only demonstrates that mathematics "as a whole" has been useful so far. Look at the effectiveness of forecasts based on the Ptolemaic model!

          • William Davis

            I'll agree with you here. I tend to be more of an empiricist than a rationalist, but rationalism comes up with theories for empirical testing (sometimes at least). I believe things to be true (though they are not necessarily true) if they explain the evidence, and math is surely useful for explaining evidence in reality. There could be a better, or more "true" method that we haven't figured out, or that we just aren't smart enough to figure out. In general I have a fairly humble epistemology at this point in my life, for better or for worse.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I believe things to be true (though they are not necessarily true) if they explain the evidence,

            Now you understand why everyone believed the Ptolemaic model to be true. It did everything required of it by calendar-makers, astrologers, and navigators. It made accurate predictions of the motions of heavenly bodies. Not until the previously unobservable phases of Venus were telescopically discovered by Lembo, Harriot, Galileo, and others did anyone find a sky-event that not only did the Ptolemaic (and Gilbertian) models not predict, but were mathematically incapable of predicting. So it was pretty much dropped like a hot potato, and astronomers shifted to the Tychonic (and/or Ursine) models.

            But notice the underlying assumption that the purpose of a proposition is "to explain the evidence." What "evidence" is Tychonoff's Theorem supposed to explain?
            ++++
            Basically, there are three realms of knowledge: physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. In the physics, objects are abstracted from their sensible particulars -- dogs, rather than this dog or that dog. We proceed from sense experience to general theories by means of induction.

            In the mathematics, objects are abstracted from all matter and we proceed from the imaginable rather than the sensible -- spheres instead of basketballs -- to prove theorems by means of deduction.

            In the metaphysics, objects are abstracted entirely from all reference to matter -- truth, being, beauty, substance, etc. We proceed from sense experience, as does physics, but reason by deduction, not toward explanatory theories but toward consequences.
            +++
            Consider in science the difference between theoretical laws and phenomenological laws. The latter are about appearances; the former are about the reality behind those appearances.
            http://joelvelasco.net/teaching/120/cartwright-How_the_Laws_of_Physics_Lie.pdf

          • I have a cute response to Feser's articles that I wanted to share, if you ended up reading the articles and thinking about the problem. I think mathematics provides a good analogy to a lot of these problems.

            The problem Aquinas and Feser have with A causing B causing A is that B would have to be more fundamental than A and A more fundamental than B. This does seem to be a problem by itself, although maybe there are different senses of "fundamental", sort of like a cylinder doesn't have a preferred top and bottom.

            Another way to get around this is to look at the math puzzle, dealing with non-transitive dice (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nontransitive_dice). Three 6-sided dice, A, B and C, numbered as follows:
            A: 2, 2, 6, 6, 7, 7
            B: 1, 1, 5, 5, 9, 9
            C: 3, 3, 4, 4, 8, 8
            P(A > B) = P(B > C) = P(C > A) = 5/9
            No die is the absolute or ultimate winner. No die is the ultimate best. A is better than B. B is better than C. C is better than A.

            To apply this to causality, maybe A causes B, B causes C and C goes back to cause A. A is more fundamental than B, B more fundamental than C and C more fundamental than A. Maybe "is more fundamental than" is nontransitive. Causality could still be transitive, and since A causes B which causes C, A causes C, and since C causes A, A causes A. A is the cause of itself.

            Just some funny ideas.

          • William Davis

            That's very good, thanks. All humans tend to put an excessive amount of trust in intuition, and the more we learn, the less accurate these intuitions seem to be. Aquinas's proof is very intuitive, but that has relatively little truth value in my opinion without evidence to back it up. I can understand why most people reject the idea of not trusting their intuition, but most of those people haven't studied science and cosmology a lot. The fact that almost all leading cosmologists are some type of atheist or Spinozist (which is basically spiced up atheism) is very telling.

            Looks like John Cramer (physicist) is a proponent of circular causality, I found this article:

            https://sites.google.com/site/jdquirk/articles/circular-causality

            I tend to be a bit suspicious of multiverses as it seems to create a very bloated ontology, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.

          • Phil

            Paul--Trying to figure out what you are proposing here.

            No die is the absolute or ultimate winner. No die is the ultimate best. Ais better than B. B is better than C. C is better than A.

            If no die is the ultimate best or absolute winner, does that not mean that every die is exactly equal?

            If we tried to apply this to causality, we would have to say that neither A, B, and C is foundational. This means that they came into existence at the same exact moment. This means that none of them could be the cause of another.

            Please correct me if I'm not quite understanding what you're getting at!

          • No die is the absolute winner, but A is better than B (in this context, "better" = "greater probability of rolling a higher number"), B is better than C, and C is better than A. None is the absolute best, but that also doesn't mean that each as an equal chance of winning.

            It may be that "fundamental" works in the same way. There may not be a "most fundamental". It might instead be that you need to compare two things always. And it may not be transitive. Maybe animals are more fundamental than the universe and atoms are more fundamental than animals and the universe is more fundamental than atoms. Or something like this.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Circular causality cannot work either. If A causes B cannot cause A because B does not yet exist to cause A. This is different than A and B, both existing, affect other.

          • William Davis

            If the causality is infinite it does. That of course, is a big "if".

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Nah. A train of boxcars still can't move itself even if there are infinitely many boxcars.

          • William Davis

            This does not involve circular causality...it involves linear causality.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It doesn't work if the boxcars are arranged in a circle, either.

          • William Davis

            If the box cars have always been there (for all time) and have always been moving, and there is no friction, it does.

            If you take the start and end of time, and connect them in a circle, you have something similar. Apparently some (by no means all) think this is plausible:

            https://sites.google.com/site/jdquirk/articles/circular-causality

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_G._Cramer

            Cramer ended up being correct about transmitting information via quantum entanglement.

            http://www.gizmag.com/teleport-quantum-information/32352/

            The military has taken this seriously and is attempting to use it for cryptography

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-seeks-to-build-quantum-computer-that-could-crack-most-types-of-encryption/2014/01/02/8fff297e-7195-11e3-8def-a33011492df2_story.html

            Of course, they don't have that working yet. The point, in the end, is that who knows what is possible. We tend to have a false assumption that what we think now is it. Everyone who has thought that in human history has been wrong, no reason why we should be any different.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If the box cars have always been there (for all time) and have always been moving, and there is no friction, it does.

            Nothing in the box cars can give the motion, even if they have been moving forever.

            Cramer's transactional theory is intriguing, as it gives a physical interpretation for final causes; but I don't think it says what you thing it says.

          • William Davis

            Nothing in the box cars can give the motion, even if they have been moving forever.

            Nothing needs to give them motion. They already have motion, they have always had it. This is outside the realm of normal experience, but I don't see how normal experience has much to do with the universe as a whole.
            I wasn't trying to equate the boxcar analogy with Cramer's theory, per se, I was just rolling with your boxcar analogy.
            Out of time today, I'll try to respond to your other comment tomorrow, and the paper you linked looked interesting (I agree about modeling).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Does this mean that an infinite loop of forwarded emails need not to have had an author? Like the notebook in Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps"?

            A: Why do you keep the hammer in the freezer?
            B: We have always kept the hammer in the freezer.

            Has anything been explained?

          • William Davis

            If you haven't been able to imagine what I'm saying by now, I don't think I can help you, sorry. Of course eternal circular causation explains why the universe exists. It is a different explanation than first cause. I would freely say it's less likely to be true than a first cause, but that doesn't mean it's untrue. To me this is simple.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Of course eternal circular causation explains why the universe exists.

            Except that it doesn't explain the circle.

            It is a different explanation than first cause.

            Not really. Unless you think that "first" has something to do with the temporal order. But if you thought that you would have to suppose that no lady set foot in the United States before Michelle Obama, who is First Lady.

          • William Davis

            Except that it doesn't explain the circle.

            The circle would be a brute fact. I think the big bang itself requires an explanation, not necessarily the universe itself (and I'm not claiming this is a correct explanation for the big bang). In your philosophy God is a brute fact that gives rise to the universe.

            Perhaps intelligent life somehow (with technology) causes the universe to reset at the end of time. That would answer the question of "why we are here"...to keep the ball rolling. This is what a lot of technologists believe, though it's basically a religious belief. There is even a Christian (Jesuit) version.

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

            It actually looks like Catholics have a positive view of this guy now (the author of the original theory)...interesting. What's your opinion on that?

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

          • They'd say "I'm giving link X - 1 my pull. I'm getting my pull from link X + 1."

          • Phil

            Why does the series need to have a beginning? Why can't it just go on and on?

            Here's another reason why a series formed of actual material entities can't go on forever. If a material series did actually go on forever, then an actual infinite amount of entities would need to actually exist (a circular series is incoherent because something has to pre-exist its own existence).

            An infinite amount of material entities is impossible. The infinite can never be achieved, because to be infinite is to be never-ending. So if an infinite series exists into the past, then we must hold that the unachievable has been achieved. Which, of course, is incoherent.

          • Joe Black

            God is Existence itself, and vice-versa. Because if not, the argument doesn't work. Prove God is Being. You can't and will not. The end. Sorry.

          • Phil

            Hey Joe--Can you clarify exactly what you are saying/asking as I don't understand how this connects to the comment about infinite amount of material entities existingthat you are responding to? Thanks!

          • William Davis

            An infinite amount of material entities is impossible

            I don't think you can show this is true. It's entirely possible that the universe is infinite (the more we can see, the more there is) thus there may be an infinite number of material entities at any given moment in time, much more so over a lapse of time. Grasping infinity can be fairly difficult, and I won't claim to be an expert, but we got into it quite a bit in advanced mathematics.

          • Phil

            I don't think you can show this is true. It's entirely possible that the universe is infinite (the more we can see, the more there is) thus there may be an infinite number of material entities at any given moment in time, much more so over a lapse of time.

            Think about it this way--if a person holds that an actually infinite amount of material entities already exist, she holds that the infinite has been achieved.

            Think about infinity for a minute--an infinite amount of material entities means that there is always one more that can be added on. And this goes on and on. The infinite is never achieved, it simply goes on and on.

            So if a person holds that an infinite amount of material entities already exists, they hold that the unachievable has been achieved. Well, this is an incoherent belief.

            ----

            Now a person can rationally hold that the could potentially be an infinite amount of material entities in the future. Think about if the material cosmos kept existing and existing into eternity into the future. It is possible that more and more things could be created. Therefore, a potentially infinite amount of material things could exist, but never an actual infinite number.

            Does this distinction between potential and actual infinite make some sense?

          • William Davis

            All you really showed (in my view) is the inability of the finite human mind to grasp infinity. Infinity was fun to deal with, mathematically, in advanced calculus. I liked Michael's link...for our minds, a septillion stars is a lot, and we've just recently been building really big telescopes. The more we look, the more there seems to be, but the limitation of the speed of light is a real problem for finding an end to the universe, assuming one exists. To me, the evidence points to infinity. Of course, God could exist, and, if so, his creation of an infinite universe makes him that much more impressive ;)

          • Phil

            All you really showed (in my view) is the inability of the finite human mind to grasp infinity.

            Not at all--we can't think about an infinite amount of things, but we can think about the concept of infinity.

            The point I'm getting at is that a *material* universe it seems cannot, in principle, be infinite. This simply due to the nature of physical things. This is no limit on God, as he could have created the universe in a potentially infinite amount of ways. But he chose the physical cosmos we inhabit. And it is the type of physical cosmos that can't contain an infinite amount of things.

            (Science seems to be agreeing with this statement right now as well. Based upon the expansion of our universe, both our universe and even a multi-verse that we could be apart of would have to have a "beginning" based upon the mathematics. Of course some of this is sure to change, but it is interesting nonetheless. Good philosophy definitely stands on more solid ground than science.)

          • Phil

            As a side note--You might also be aware that Aquinas and Bonaventure disagreed about whether one could show, philosophically, that the physical cosmos was eternally existing or not. Bonaventure believed that you could show through reason alone that the cosmos could not be eternal, while Aquinas didn't think reason could rule out an eternally existing cosmos (now whether 'eternally existing' equals an 'infinite amount of things' is another question).

            If the universe was actually eternally existing one of two options must be true:

            1) There has been an infinite amount of changes prior to right now.

            2) There was at some point in the past a completely unchanging physical entity, or entities, that suddenly began to change and which had existed from all eternity.

            I think that Bonaventure would hold that option (2) is not possible, while Aquinas couldn't rule it out. I'm still debating it!

          • Michael Murray

            An infinite amount of material entities is impossible.

            Why not.

            The infinite can never be achieved, because to be infinite is to be never-ending.

            I think you are confusing having an infinite collection like 1, 2, 3, 4 ... and having the number infinity. Or perhaps I don't know what you mean by achieved.

          • Phil

            Or perhaps I don't know what you mean by achieved.

            "Achieved" means that an actually infinite amount of material entities already exists right now. The infinite set has been achieved/realized.

            It is not an issue to believe that a potentiality infinite amount of material entities could always exist in the future. But it is an issue to hold that an actually infinite amount of things actually exist right now. Because the infinite is not achievable; it keeps going on and on.

            For example--could a person could to infinity? No, one could attempt to count to infinity. But one could never actually truly say "I have counted to infinity!"

            So if one holds that an infinite amount of material things already exists, *right now*, one holds that the unachievable has been achieved. Well, this is an incoherent belief.

            -------

            In short, a potentially infinite amount of things is possible; an actual infinite amount of things is not possible.

          • Michael Murray

            This is a minimum value, the Universe could be much bigger – it’s just that we can’t ever detect those stars because they’re outside the observable Universe. It’s even possible that the Universe is infinite, stretching on forever, with an infinite amount of stars. So add a couple more zeros. Maybe an infinite number of zeroes.

            Ignoring the joke about an infinite amount of zeros this is from

            http://www.universetoday.com/102630/how-many-stars-are-there-in-the-universe/

          • William Davis

            Unless we can find a way to exceed the speed of light, our space exploration will always be limited to our light cone, which could be a tiny fraction of the infinite universe. Maybe we'll find a way around that one, in spite of Einstein ;)

          • Phil

            Here's the thing--there is a vast difference, in fact an infinite difference, between a lot of stars, galaxies, and material entities, and an infinite amount of stars, galaxies, and material entities.

            But as I mentioned above, there cannot be an actually infinite amount of stars, galaxies, and material entities existing right now at this very moment. The unachievable can't be achieved. The infinite, by definition is 'unachievable'.

            One can't rationally say, "right there is an infinite amount of things". Once one says this they have limited something to a finite space/time, and an infinite amount of things can't be present in the finite.

          • Michael Murray

            One can't rationally say, "right there is an infinite amount of things". Once one says this they have limited something to a finite number, and an infinite amount of things can't be present in the finite.

            That would depend on how big "there" is. I assume you are thinking that "there" is some sort of bounded region ? Earlier you said there can't be an

            infinite amount of stars, galaxies, and material entities existing right now at this very moment.

            How big are you imagining the slice of three dimensional space-time which corresponds to "right now at this very moment" is? Is it infinite in volume or finite ? If it is infinite I don't see why it can't contain an infinite number of stars on any sort of logical grounds. Perhaps one can find physical evidence for excluding a model in which space-time slices contain infinitely many stars. But I don't think we have such evidence at this point in time.

          • Phil

            Perhaps one can find physical evidence for excluding a model in which space-time slices contain infinitely many stars.

            Remember, we are talking about actually existing entities right now, not simply talking abstractly about infinitely.

            This would mean that this person would hold that an infinite amount is contained in a finite amount. Obviously, this would not be a coherent position. The finite cannot contain the infinite, when we are talking about physical entities.

            -----
            For an example, say one comes up with a scientific theory that concludes, "the physical cosmos contains an infinite amount of physical entities right now."

            Once one says the statement that "an actual infinite amount of entities exists right now" one has placed a limit; they have created a "region", as you stated above. That region is bounded by the statement of "exists right now".

            But then one asks the question, well can't more entities potentially come into existence in the future? The answer is that it is possible for more entities to come into existence in the future. That means that there is now more than an infinite amount of entities that exist. But that is an absurd belief.

            In summary, there is always a potentially infinite amount of physical entities in the future. But an infinite amount can't exist right now. Again, the unachievable can't be achieved.

          • Michael Murray

            This would mean that this person would hold that an infinite amount is contained in a finite amount.

            That would only hold if the volume of each star is bounded below by some constant. If they reduced for example like 1, 1/2, 1/4, ... you could fit them in a volume of size 2.

            But we doubt that is true for stars and in any case that person is not saying what you claim. They are saying that space right now is infinite in volume and might contain in an infinite amount of stars.

            Once one says the statement that "an actual infinite amount of entities exists right now" one has placed a limit; they have created a "region", as you stated above. That region is bounded by the statement of "exists right now".

            They have created a region bounded in time but not bounded in space.

            That means that there is now more than an infinite amount of entities that exist. But that is an absurd belief.

            Sorry I don't know what this means. You seem to be confusing potential and actual infinite. All I can say is you need to be very careful about statements that say that one infinity is bigger than another. Consider something like the Hilbert Hotel.

            I offer for your amusement the Banach-Tarski paradox

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banach–Tarski_paradox

          • Michael Murray

            (As a side note--I don't know if science could ever actually gather evidence to show that there is an actually infinite amount of material entities. I'll have to think about this one though.)

            Here is a related question of whether the universe is infinite or finite:

            http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/People/Is_the_Universe_finite_or_infinite_An_interview_with_Joseph_Silk

            ESA: Then how are we going to know whether the Universe is infinite?

            Joseph Silk:

            With great difficulty! We may never know it. If the Universe is finite, that means that in a two-dimensional geometry it would be like a torus. Now, think about a torus. In such a Universe, light travelling on the surface of a torus can take two paths: it can go around the sides but it can also go in a straight line. This means that if the Universe is like a torus, light can have different ways to get to the same point. You can have a long way and a short way. And that would not be true on a plane. But a torus means that space is more complicated. It would mean that when you measure the CMB you will see strange patterns on the sky, because the light from far away would not have come to us in quite a straight line because of the topology of the Universe. So the hope would be, eventually, to look for those strange patterns on the sky.

            ESA: Will Planck be able to see those patterns?

            Joseph Silk:

            In principle, yes. If the Universe is like a torus you can see something. If the Universe were finite it would be 100 times larger than the horizon, which is the distance the light has travelled since the Big Bang. That would correspond to the size of the 'doughnut' of the torus. We could in principle be able to measure that with Planck. On the other hand, if the Universe was truly infinite then we would see no signal at all from this peculiar thing. What we could really say in that case is that the Universe is larger than a certain size. But if it was finite it could be measurable.

          • Phil

            Here is a physicist's take on infinity which would be in harmony with what reason tells us through the study of philosophy:

            "Infinity is not a sensible value. In my opinion, as a physicist, infinity has no place in physical observables, and therefore no place in Nature. David Hilbert, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, described infinity as "a mathematical abstraction that does not have a physical content". I think most physicists would firmly agree with this sentiment."

          • William Davis

            Things have progressed a great deal since the time of Hilbert who died in 1943. We are beginning to see problems with relativity. QM seems to be pointing to the idea that the GR may be wrong and there is no beginning to the universe.

            http://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html

            Even models of black holes are in question

            https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23611-quantum-gravity-takes-singularity-out-of-black-holes/

            http://www.nature.com/news/stephen-hawking-there-are-no-black-holes-1.14583

          • Phil

            Sure, and science will progress. But that does not change the fact that the unachievable can't be achieved. That's why philosophy always has a one-up on science. Philosophy forms the underlying principles and assumptions that science relies upon. So no discovery of science can undermine a true philosophical insight about reality. That the unachievable can't be achieved is a true statement that science can't even in principle undermine.

            So to hold the alternative position to what I am proposing, one needs to successfully argue that an infinite amount of physical things is not actually unachievable.

            ---
            [If a person wants to hold that the unachievable can be achieved, then science itself is blown out of the water because it relies upon the principle of non-contradiction where coherent theories are given precedence over incoherent theories.]

          • William Davis

            Don't you claim God is infinite? If so, by your own words he can't exist. Of course, what say about philosophy and infinity is incorrect.
            Just Google infinity in philosophy.

          • Phil

            Remember, we are talking about an infinite amount of material entities right now. God is not a material entity. To say that an immaterial entity is "infinite" is to make a slightly different claim than saying that a physical entity is "infinite" (this is because physical entities have a unique spacial/temporal existence).

            Let me rephrase my point--for someone to argue that the physical cosmos is infinite they would also have to hold that new things are still coming into being. If new things aren't coming into being that means the number of physical entities in the cosmos is a finite number. It is possibly a very large, yet sill finite, number.

            So things are still coming into being, and by definition the infinite is never ending. That means that the infinite is never reached. New things could come into existence for the potentiality infinite future and there would never exist an actual infinite number of material entities.

            Does this make a little clearer what I'm getting at?

          • William Davis

            Let me rephrase my point--for someone to argue that the physical cosmos is infinite they would also have to hold that new things are still coming into being. If new things aren't coming into being that means the number of physical entities in the physical cosmos is a finite number. It is possibly a very large, yet sill finite, number.

            This doesn't make sense to me, as an infinite number of things could exist right now. I have seen no reason to think otherwise. Of course, I don't know that the universe is infinite, I can simply assign a probability to the hypothesis using some kind of bayesian analysis, but that's the best we can do. Personally I think the probability is higher than a finite universe simply because of how much we can see, and how there is no evidence at all of coming close to the end. We don't even know how many galaxies we can see (haven't been able to count them) but there at are least hundreds of billions. We've been able to see galaxies 13 billion light years away, and if we are correct about the age of the universe (uncertain), the light from further galaxies simply hasn't had time to reach us yet. We might have better answers with better physics, there are still plenty of unanswered questions with current models, and most models simply assume the universe is infinite for simplicity.
            Philosophy is NOT in a position to say, a priori that the universe cannot be infinite. In any case there is absolutely no consensus in philosophy as to the nature of infinity. To present Catholic philosophy as the only philosophy is off base, I've been learning a lot about that lately :)

            Let me rephrase my point--for someone to argue that the physical cosmos is infinite they would also have to hold that new things are still coming into being. If new things aren't coming into being that means the number of physical entities in the physical cosmos is a finite number. It is possibly a very large, yet sill finite, number.

            http://www.iep.utm.edu/infinite/

          • Michael Murray

            If new things aren't coming into being that means the number of physical entities in the physical cosmos is a finite number.

            But now you are arguing something about the history of the universe. Phil's original statement was that there was something incoherent about the whole idea of saying the universe could contain an infinite of things right now on the grounds that saying "right now" constrained the number of things to be finite.

          • William Davis

            Oops, you just quoted Phil, not me (I fixed it). I accidentally double posted Phil's quote, the bottom one without blockquote. Does my comment make sense now?
            There are different infinities, and for all we know the universe has a beginning and an end, but is infinite in size. It also may not have a beginning and an end, there's QM and GR seem to disagree, depending on the model. Of course, cosmology is all over the place right now.

          • Michael Murray

            Ah sorry.

            I think a beginning applies to the observable universe we see. I don't think the possibility of a vastly bigger universe with parts that don't begin in our Big Bang is ruled out. I saw this in a cosmology talk somewhere. I'll try and chase it down.

            Now of course we are talking physics and evidence not philosophical necessity !

          • Michael Murray

            Just a follow up. It's possible

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

            that the universe is expanding in the manner we observe but that the three-dimensional slices of constant time (what we would call space) are all infinite in volume. So the common picture of a balloon expanding is misleading in this regard as the surface of the balloon has finite volume (surface area).

          • William Davis

            Thanks for the info. I'll be the first to agree that nobody has it all figured out, and the universe may be finite, but for a philosopher to come along and say what can and can't be...there's something wrong with that epistemology...

          • Michael Murray

            Agree completely.

          • Phil

            If 'infinite' is truly defined as something that is never ending, it doesn't make sense to say that an infinite amount exists right now. If it is possible for another entity to come into existence, was that last infinity not a true infinity? Of course not, it makes rational sense simply to say that there is a potentially infinite amount of entities
            going into the future but there is not an actual infinite amount of entities right now.

            The problem I'm having is that the position you seem to be proposing is that we simply don't know how to think about infinity actually existing in real physical objects. If we clearly define what infinity is, then we can have good reason to believe whether an infinite amount of objects could possibly exist or could not.

            To present Catholic philosophy as the only philosophy is off base, I've been learning a lot about that lately :)

            Just a side note--Christianity/Catholicism should not be considered a philosophy in the proper sense. It is a revealed religion. Now Aristotelianism or Thomism could be properly defined as a certain type of philosophical thinking.

          • Michael Murray

            We can define infinitely completely precisely. A set is infinite if it is not finite. A set is finite if you can count it with a finite collection of numbers.

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

            This was sorted out in the late 19th century by people like Cantor, Dedekind etc.

          • Phil

            Okay, good. So an infinite amount of physical entities would literally be never-ending.

            Now, the proposal I have spent the most time pondering is the one where God created an infinite amount of matter/energy in one single moment. What keeps me from saying that this is a real possibility right now is that I don't know if I can hold these two propositions at the same time:

            (A) No new physical entities are coming into existence right now because .
            (B) This means that every physical thing that can exist does actually exist. This means I necessarily existed before my conception.

            Thoughts on how this could be held as coherent?

          • William Davis

            An infinite universe does not imply no new "things" (i.e. different forms of existing matter/energy) can't come into existence. Sure, you could exist somewhere else in the universe, but you it is isn't necessary as there are different infinities. The set of all rational numbers is infinite, but it doesn't include all numbers, the set of all numbers is a bigger infinity than the set of rational numbers. In other words, you can add things to an already infinite set and make it bigger.

            http://math.bu.edu/people/jeffs/cantor-proof.html

          • Phil

            We aren't that interested in the mathematical or abstract properties of infinite. Remember, we are talking about real physical, non-abstract, things right now. I completely agree with the abstract properties that you are proposing about infinity.

            What needs to be argued for is that these abstract properties apply to non-abstract entities. This is what has led physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers to argue that complete/actual infinities do not exist in physical reality. (Of course there are some that also try to argue for the opposite, which is why we are having this discussion in the first place).

            That is why this statement makes no sense when you try and apply it to physical objects, even though it can reasonably apply to abstract mathematical sets:

            In other words, you can add things to an already infinite set and make it bigger.

            This statement does not

          • Phil

            An infinite universe does not imply no new "things" (i.e. different forms of existing matter/energy) can't come into existence. Sure, you could exist somewhere else in the universe.

            What do you mean specifically when you say "infinite universe"? What is actually infinite in an infinite universe that you are arguing for? We started this discussion by saying that there could be an infinite numbers of stars/planets.

          • Phil

            Well, I have to say, thanks to Michael and yourself, I think you may have intellectually converted me in regards to the possibility of an infinite amount of matter/energy existing!

            So I am infinitely grateful to you for your patience and understanding. I know I am a slow thinker, so I give thanks to God for having gifted you with the needed patience to discuss this with me--and for your cooperation with that gift!

            In the end, I guess Aquinas may be actually right in regards to the possibility of an eternally existing cosmos! I guess I should trust what Aquinas says a little more than I did (sorry Bonaventure for abandoning you)!

          • William Davis

            Nice pun on infinity :) Again I'm not saying it's infinite with serious certainty, but I don't like seeing it ruled out in such a way. As another example, you can have an infinite universe with nothing but the same boring star over and over again (like an infinite series of 1's). I does help to have taken classes in advanced math (even though it's been a while), studying infinity mathematically was pretty interesting. Infinite series, for example, are quite useful, and used in engineering.

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

            http://www.mathalino.com/reviewer/advance-engineering-mathematics/infinite-series

            In many computing models, it's useful to represent parts of the model with infinite series, though the number in the series is limited by computing resources. It makes it easier to increase resolution with higher computing resources, however.

          • Phil

            Yeah, taking in-depth mathematics definitely helps. As you would probably agree though, we just have to be careful in taking mathematics and applying it directly to reality insofar as mathematics is purely abstract in nature, and the material cosmos is not purely abstract.

            The more I've reflected on this question the more I've come to conclude that an infinite amount of matter/energy seems possible with God as Creator, but this would not be possible part from God as classical theism understands Him. (Obviously, explaining why there is any physical cosmos at all ultimately leads to God, but trying to propose an infinite amount of physical things that came to existence from a finite amount of things without a Creator seems problematic.)

            ----
            But the second question that I'm still not quite sure about is if it is possible for a physical cosmos eternally existing in the past? Obviously God, creating ex nihilo, could have created an infinite amount of matter/energy sometime in the finite past. But could He have created an infinite amount of matter/energy, or even a finite amount of matter/energy, that always existed?

            It seems we are left with 2 options:
            (a) Either there is an infinite amount of changes reaching into the past.

            (b) Or there was a completely changeless physical entity at some point that suddenly began to change.

            I'm leaning towards the impossibility of both of these right now, but I'm always open to new thoughts on this!

          • Michael Murray

            Well obviously I don't believe in God but regardless of this I think you have already given the resolution here:

            This would seem to suggest that all persons already exist. (Maybe we can get around this because of the fact that 'I', meaning my spiritual soul, is completely immaterial?)

            Except I would phrase it as "the materials parts of all persons that will one day exist already exist" and fall back on spiritual souls being immaterial (if I believed in them)

            I still haven't come across a good proposal as how to coherently hold that the unachievable (an infinite amount) can be achieved (an actual infinite set/amount).

            What does "achieved" mean ?

            Backtracking a little why do you assert:

            (A) No new physical entities are coming into existence right now because an infinite amount of things already exists.

            Based on your placement of "because" I assume you are somehow asserting that infinite = all ? It's quite possible to have an infinity of things but not all things. Imagine you have all the odd counting numbers 1, 3, 5, ... you don't have all the numbers because you are missing the even counting numbers 2, 4, 6, ...

          • Phil

            Here is the only proposal that I am seeing as possibly coherent in regards to the hypothesis that an infinite amount of non-abstract entities exist:

            Say God created, in a single moment, an infinite amount of matter/energy and it was all in a single form. This matter/energy began to act in accordance to its nature and it has taken varied forms at this point in history, including human persons.

            For me, this is the only proposal that may possibly be coherent in regards to the proposal that the infinite exists in the non-abstract.

            (The interesting thing is that it seems right now that you necessarily need God in regards to proposing that an infinite number of non-abstract entities exist.)

          • Phil

            Well, I have to say, thanks to William and yourself, I think you may have intellectually converted me in regards to an infinite amount of matter/energy possibly existing!

            So I am infinitely grateful to you for your patience and understanding. And I give thanks to God for having gifted you with that!

            In the end, I guess Aquinas may be actually right in regards to the possibility of an eternally existing cosmos! I guess I should trust what Aquinas says a little more than I did!

          • Michael Murray

            Singh ?

          • William Davis

            Just a side note--Christianity/Catholicism should not be considered a philosophy in the proper sense. It is a revealed religion. What God has truly revealed would obviously be true. (Obviously one could argue that God has not truly revealed himself in Jesus, but that's for a different discussion.) Now Aristotelianism or Thomism could be properly defined as a certain type of philosophical thinking.

            I agree, but many of the articles here don't come across that way. With regard to infinity, I'm more interested in a definition that comes from the models, i.e. a definition that is closer to the truth of what is. An infinite universe in no way implies that God doesn't exist, of course (that's a whole other topic :)

          • Phil

            See my response to Michael as he put forward a standard definition of what the infinite means, and I figured I would address it from there.

          • Phil

            Maybe a good question would be, what is the definition of an infinite amount of physical things--i.e., what do you mean when you say an infinite amount of things?

            Once you set a definition, then we can begin to see if an infinite amount could actually exist or not.

          • Michael Murray

            That quote arose in the context of what you should do when a calculation of a physical quantity yields an infinite value. It's not the same thing I am talking about which is can we have an infinite number of things existing at the same time.

            http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~ppzap4/response.html

          • Why isn't an infinite series of causes (or an infinitely long chain) possible? That's what I'm trying to figure out.

            An infinite series of more and more fundamental entities would occur simultaneously.

            An infinite series of events in time might occur every morning. There might be an infinite series of causal events leading from the time I brush my teeth to the time I walk out the door. It's just that each member of the series takes an infinitesimal amount of time to complete, and so I do end up getting out of the door after all.

          • Phil

            The simple answer is that nothing in a material cosmos can take '0' time to happen. Why? Well, think about this. If we kept digging deeper and deeper into the fabric of the cosmos into smaller and smaller portions of time, what if we found that everything was divisible into "moments of time" of quantity '0'? Well, even if you add up an infinite amount of moments of '0', you still get 0. Time, and therefore material change, couldn't exist in any manner. But we experience material changes. Therefore the cosmos is not composed of "moments" equal to a quantity of '0'.

            In others words, it is very possible to hold that the cause/effect are happening at the same time, as Aristotle and Aquinas hold (and I agree with), and also hold that in a material cosmos something is never brought into being in '0' time.

            (And I'm using "brought into being" in the broad Aristotelian-Thomistic sense. Solid water--ice--has been brought into being out of liquid by placing the liquid by the cold temperatures of a freezer.)

            ---------
            All this applies simply to a physical cosmos. Once you get into immaterial entities, then the rules of the game change, we could say.

          • Marshall Giovanni Dillon

            Hey Paul,

            There's a great youtube video with Edward Feser dealing with an aristotelian proof for the existence of God that could be quite helpful. In the video, Feser goes on to say that whether a linear series has a beginning or not is quite dubious, really. It doesn't matter all that much when you look at an uncaused cause from a hierarchical series or chain. It's dealing with the present time and how you would need an uncaused cause to sustain everything in the now. Karlo Broussard's previous article (it was a six part series) dealt with this as well. Hope all is good!

    • TomD123

      I think there is a good response to point (3). I think that the Catholic should admit that God is necessarily a Trinity. Likewise though, I think the non-Trinitarian (e.g. a Muslim) should admit that God is necessarily not a Trinity. In other words, however many persons are in God is a necessary truth. That seems to be the only philosophically tenable position.

      Therefore, apart from considerations of revelation, it seems as though we are stuck between believing God is necessarily a Trinity and He is necessarily not a Trinity (or necessarily any number of persons). Apart from revelation, it seems to me to remain agnostic as to the number of persons in God (maybe with a presumption towards one person because it seems the simplest and most intuitive). However, one should not remain agnostic as to the modal status of this claim, rather, he should accept that whatever the number in fact is, it is a necessary truth.

      The case is different with the universe. What is in question is the modal status of the fact that the universe exists. So we are stuck between saying the universe exists necessarily and it exists contingently. Therefore, intuition can be used in favor of it being contingent. If I used my intuition that the Trinity isn't necessary as an argument against the necessity of the Trinity, this could be countered by arguing that I could only be justified in using this as an argument if I also had the intuition that the Trinity is impossible.

      • I think that is a good response to the first part of (3) and potentially a good answer to the second part of (3) as well. I think you are right that people who accept a First Cause probably should accept that the First Cause is Necessarily however the First Cause is. I suspect that Nature is itself the First Cause (if there is one). If it is the First Cause, then it would necessarily exist and necessarily be the way it is.

        In a certain sense, I'm advocating pantheism. Nature be my God, and just as with the Catholic and the Muslim, I should admit that my God is necessarily the way She is and not another way.

  • David Nickol

    It seems to me that Kant's contention that "existence is not a real predicate" (Google it for better explanations than I can possible give here) seriously undermines the above argument. It is a strange way to think about reality to say that the difference between me and my identical twin—and I don't have an identical twin—is that I have the property of existence and my identical twin does not. Are we to think of reality as being made up of all the things that don't exist plus all the things that do? And do some of the things that currently don't exist somehow gain the property of existence and become things that do exist? How does a thing that doesn't exist gain the property of existence?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Reality consists of all the things that exist. Something that does not exist is not part of reality. Your imaginary twin does not exist in reality, though you do, so you can imagine things.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Your imaginary twin is a good example of why nature and existence are distinct. You can quite easily grasp the nature of your twin, but he does not have an act of existence and therefore does not exist. The same might be said of unicorns, purple Plutonian platypuses, and flying spaghetti monsters. None of their natures have been conjoined to an act of existence.

      • David Nickol

        The same might be said of unicorns, purple Plutonian platypuses, and flying spaghetti monsters. None of their natures have been conjoined to an act of existence.

        It sounds like there are two classes of things—things with the property of existence, and things without the property of existence. In order to make the transition from nonexistence to existence, nonexistent things must be "conjoined to an act of existence" (presumably by God, if not directly, then ultimately). But this seems to imply a set of all nonexistent things, some of which will at some point be "conjoined to an act of existence" and most of which will not.

        I have two nieces and a nephew. Does my nonexistent identical twin have two nieces and a nephew? Do my nieces and nephew have have another uncle the same age as me who lacks the property of existence (or has not been "conjoined to an act of existence")?

        How is it possible to conjoin a thing to an act of existence, or confer on a thing the property of existence, when that thing does not exist?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Because if it doesn't exist, it is not a thing. In technical terms, an ousia or a substantia. A thing just is a compound of essence and existence, of potency and act, of matter and form. The conjoining of an essence (not a thing) to an act of existence is called "creation" and it is not really surprising to learn that you cannot conceive how it is done, is it?

          Of course, it's useful to be more clear: the world consists of the real and the really possible. (Call Schroedinger and ask him about his cat.) Your imaginary twin is not really possible -- though he was at the time of your conception. It is just because that potential was not realized that you do not have a twin brother.

          • I guess ole' Schrodinger figured out the solution to how many ways a cat could be skinned!

          • William Davis

            The conjoining of an essence (not a thing) to an act of existence is called "creation" and it is not really surprising to learn that you cannot conceive how it is done, is it?

            I think we do this when we build something. Stars do this when they fuse hydrogen into helium. The only thing we really don't understand is how matter/energy itself comes into existence (unless I'm misunderstanding you).
            On a side note, human cloning could make your imaginary twin possible, but he would obviously be a different age. Of course, the twin you imagine might not match up that well with the twin that comes into existence (often what we create does not turn out like we imagine). I wonder if this could happen to God? I think omniscience is theoretical.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            When we build something, we only transform matter in one form to matter in another form. The stuff already exists. Nature just moves it into a new form. For example, a star moves mass-energy from the form of hydrogen into the form of helium.

          • William Davis

            Sure. Perhaps we need a specific word for ex nihilo creation as opposed to creation in general (where new forms are added to and subtracted from existing substance). Perhaps e-creation ;)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There's already a word for the latter: "transformation."

          • William Davis

            When I create a new program, I call it creating, not transforming. If I simply alter some minor functionality of a program and/or tweak some variables, I'd call that transforming. When we build a city, we could say we transformed the landscape, but we would also say we created a new city. This is consistent with the dictionary definitions. (Obviously I'm not implying we're creating new prime matter) Is there some specific philosophical definition we're automatically using here? Perhaps we both are operating with somewhat different definitions of words.

            Creation:

            : the act of creating; especially : the act of bringing the world into ordered existence

            2: the act of making, inventing, or producing: asa : the act of investing with a new rank or officeb : the first representation of a dramatic role

            3: something that is created: asa : worldb : creatures singly or in aggregatec : an original work of artd : a new usually striking article of clothing

            http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/creation
            transformation:

            an act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed

            2: false hair worn especially by a woman to replace or supplement natural hair

            3a (1) : the operation of changing (as by rotation or mapping) one configuration or expression into another in accordance with a mathematical rule; especially : a change of variables or coordinates in which a function of new variables or coordinates is substituted for each original variable or coordinate (2) : the formula that effects a transformation

            http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transformation

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            When I create a new program, I call it creating, not transforming.

            Sure. But it's an analogous sense, not an equivocal one. It is not creation per se, but it is like creation in some of its aspects. Even programmers will typically start with existing code, well-known subroutines, system architecture, Boolean algebra, and a host of pre-existing matters, and transform this pile of building materials into a whole program, much as a builder transforms a pile of lumber, nails, and building codes into a house.

          • Joe Black

            Analogy. Means not it. Anything explained by analogy isn't it. The end. Sorry.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Right. So when Mr. Davis says he is "creating" a program when he is simply assembling pre-existing codes according to standard rules, he is creating only in an analogous sense, which means, you say, "not it."

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Did you forget the distinction between real being and cognitional being? Your imaginary identical twin and their imaginary nieces and nephew, and the imaginary melted ice cream running down his chin are all only cognitional being, not real being.

          Carlo's argument is that only a real being can make another real being come into existence.

          • I need a 'proof' that there is indeed a 'real' coherence between all of these concepts that are used in these arguments?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What do you mean?

          • I am referring to the use of words, (like substance, form, and essence). Do they always 'mean' (i.e. the semantics as well as the syntax) the same thing, or does the meaning change within different contexts? This I understand to be a general characteristic of language, but I am often puzzled by the referents of these words, to the point where I question whether or not the very logic holds.

            The example that is repeated (ad infinitum: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-can-jesus-be-god-and-man -) is the difference in the use of the words -nature- and 'person': in the descriptions of l. the three persons within one nature of God, as distinct from 1. two natures within one person of The Christ.

            I can even accept that this is a religious mystery of faith, if you will, but is it a mystery perhaps even partially, because of the logical confusion within the reference of terms used in each case.
            I point this one example out specifically, as it is the one that is most often talked about and defended. But within my experience, this is only an example of the difficulties I find in the use of such terms as substance, form, essence, etc. In other words, I cannot find a coherent consistent correspondence within the usage of these terms.

            I suspect only that there is confusion produced by the attempt to construct some kinds of synthesis out of the philosophies of both Aristotle and Plotinus/Platonic thought that preceded the 'reformulation' of the Church in the 13th Century by the Angelic Doctor.

            It was at that point, that the emphasis on reflective philosophies of the 'early saints' as those which I have managed to read, becomes instead a philosophy based more on logic, per se, than on contemplative thought. These thoughts of course are based on my limited experience and reading, but I find it very difficult not to feel that there was an 'incredible' change within the church resulting in the scholastic movement, which is somehow, for me, based on definitions of terms which do not seems to be 'coherent'.

      • How about angels? Are 'intelligibles' real, even those ideas of mine that do not seem to have any special 'potency'. Or are they only 'ideals', or 'ideas' locked in the neurons of my brain. If so, these ideals of mine, may never become reality, even those musing on the angels, and what thoughts I might have genius enough to think up in the future. Ah! the dominions, and the powers, and the virtues, etc. etc. If only I were that much of an 'intelligible'!! So 'God' must then be something more than 'intelligible', or rather 'a' or 'the' intelligible?

  • I, like the comment by David Nickol below, am baffled by these arguments for God's existence. (if I am reading his comment correctly). I couldn't read all of the above proof. About half way through I started asking questions like: Do these arguments prove that they themselves, (i.e. the arguments) are actually 'more important' than whether there is a 'reality/existence' of a God/god' that the argument intends to prove.
    I thought again about all of those first principles that Kant adopts from Aristotle that 'constitute' his third category. (The principles of the categories, I understand, are themselves all derived from Aristotelean logic - correct me again if I'm 'wrong'). But then I thought, why aren't their proofs for these 'principles' that are taken as a matter of fact as being, (like Kant demonstrates is the case with arguments about God) 'beyond proof'. Why don't we have arguments for the proof, of the principle of identity (God?), the principle of non contradiction, and the principle of excluded middle?
    Of course we could dd in Leibniz's: the principle of sufficient reason, and The Identity of Indiscernibles. (Or is it rather the case that this is the same 'problematic' from another perspective.
    If it is true that somehow these proofs are 'ontologized' with Kant's categories, and if it is true that 'existence is not a predicate', and if it is true, that these principles 'should be'??? principles of relationship, rather than some kind of assertion of a command thesis that the argument defeats all other possible 'proofs/relationships', I am 'boggled' by the possibility that these proofs themselves could be interpreted as an ascension of some kind of 'power' within relationships of some kind, or rather I am, because I'm such an ignorant 'do-do' or rather doh-doh' (you have to watch the spelling on these things), why there is the need for such 'proofs' in the first place. Do we not 'trust our own logic'? Indeed, am I justified in asking if indeed we need all of these proofs, - do we have to justify our logic, and thus the necessity of their 'proofs'. Of course, as a female, I have often felt during my life time, that I am unqualified to be considered one of the 'immortals'. It is certainly the case that I can't consider such comments I am making at the moment evidence of some kind of immateriality - but that may be simply because, like I am suspecting of the proofs offered here, that my comment is indeed 'immaterial' as usual to the argument.
    Is it not possible that there might be something wrong with such -reasoning-. I will leave it to you to proof who/what I am talking about with respect to this last statement/conclusion/begging of the question......etc . Except: Do not all such proofs and principles rest ultimately on a circularity of proof. Prove to me how 'stupid I am' especially as I am unlikely to understand the logic in your reply, if there is one!!!! Adieu. May you bless the God/s that verify your proofs....

    • Kraker Jak

      am I justified in asking if indeed there is a need for all of these proofs,and if so -why?

      I have asked myself the same question. It all seems somewhat overly complicated. I can't imagine the average person throughout history dealing with the question of god that way. It seems that most persons in the past put more credence in intuition, insight, and personal logic and experience.

      • KJ. I learned while being part of the Buddhist community, that one should never place one's trust in 'even the Buddha'., in the sense of relying on another's command without testing it for oneself, within one's own 'experience'. I'm just attempting to put all of these different perspectives together. There is no recognition I believe, for instance, of the law of non-contradiction in Hindu-Buddhist logic. I am also considering the saying (Nietzsche, of course) - that 'Knowledge is Power'. But of course, Nietzsche is viewed differently by different 'persons'. It is very difficult to deal with these issues - granted. At least the chap in your 'cartoon' didn't say- (to me!). You shouldn't trust your 'reason' or more particularly 'your judgment' in these matters. (But there is also the relationship of the individual to 'community') Who is 'in charge' here -- God?

        But then perhaps that eating of the apple could be related to the problem of ascertaining the relationship between particular judgments and 'universals'. Your interpretation is needed here, granted! (Before I am reduced to more 'metaphor'!!!!.). (Edit: And silenced!).

      • Am just reading about the 'Blue Skies' arguments on EN. If I am forced into a choice, I guess I'd stay with the Thomist/Aristotelean paradigm!!!!

      • Oh! by the way - I did 'get' the contradiction. 'My way is the 'only' way'!!!! Ergo - quash one polarity within the contradiction. No need to be dialectical, in any of its different expressions. Analogically, though, I can wonder only whether we both 'feel' the same way about things, also. Perhaps a little more 'communication' is needed, and less 'argument'???? There is also the characteristic that Kant identified with the aesthetic 'feeling' of beauty - that is the assumption that everyone else 'feels' the same way about something that you do. How many times a day do you talk to people who assume you think the same way they do????? Now that (pardon my irony) is real sapience!!!!
        But perhaps I understand better the reason Kant refers to his maxims as 'regulative' with respect to their necessity and universality. But then, Kant, like me, is 'forced' into a position of solipsism, without anyone to 'talk' to. And to give my 'parenting' a critique- I tried to raise my 'kids' to think for themselves, freedom of expression etc. but later my daughter said that she felt she lacked a sense of 'security', and now it's like she's looking to her dad, (another metaphor) to be her God the 'Father'. That of of course is only 'my interpretation'.

        Also - this is supposed to be a proof based on Aristotle's second cause- the efficient, rather than the material, formal or final.(So I place these within some kind of 'temporal sphere'???) But what of Aristotle's first cause. Isn't that supposed to be the 'primary one', the one that 'I wouldn't think of for a moment' as being in any way related to any possible effective power or control or source or reason I might have over another. (Yes, Thomas adjusted Aristotle, and so I'm lost again in attempting to find out 'who' is 'who'!!!) (Won't bother you again. You see how dangerous it is to respond to one of my comments!!!!)

      • Kevin Aldrich

        It seems that most persons throughout most of history have just assumed God or gods exist (and mostly do their best to avoid thinking about him or them).

        When you study geometry, do you ask yourself why there is a need for all these complicated proofs? Why can't geometry be obvious?

        • David Nickol

          When you study geometry, do you ask yourself why there is a need for all these complicated proofs? Why can't geometry be obvious?

          Proofs in geometry don't prove the existence of geometry. One doesn't learn from studying geometry that there is something called geometry. I think it is readily apparent to most people that there is something called geometry, whether they learn one geometric proof or not.

          God is supposed to be a person, and human beings are persons who are (according to Catholicism and many other religions) and supposed to have a relationship with God. And yet, it is not readily apparent to many human persons that God exists. And of course there are and have been people (the Greeks, for example) who took it for granted that their gods existed, but such was not the case.

          • Does this assumption work with such principles as the Principle of Sufficient Reason for instance? Do we just accept a kind of existence with respect to the principle? (This is a serious question. I am aware I make many errors, etc. I am also very confused when it comes to sorting out the "Ideal' from the 'Real' as in the case of 'transcendence': the three Ideas of Kant: freedom, immortality and God, for instance.) Are we attempting to prove the idea is real in these cases? Just wondering. Your help would be appreciated, if you will? Thank you.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay, geometry proofs prove things that are true within geometry. Actually, would it not be true that any one of them also proves that geometry exists?

            "It is not readily apparent to many persons that God exists." Are you arguing that if God exists then his existence must be obvious or at least demonstrable to most people?

          • David Nickol

            Are you arguing that if God exists then his existence must be obvious or at least demonstrable to most people?

            I would not argue that myself, but it seems clear that is what St. Paul argues in Romans. I think there may be a God, but it seems clear to me that his (or her) existence is not obvious or demonstrable.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            As YOS points out in the Aquinas link above, God's existence is self-evident to God but not to us and that it can be demonstrated to us.

            I think St. Paul's argument agrees. In its simplest form it goes something like: when you look at creation it is evident there is a creator. In a super sophisticated form it is something like Carlo's.

          • David Nickol

            As YOS points out in the Aquinas link above, God's existence is self-evident to God but not to us and that it can be demonstrated to us.

            If that is your criterion for calling something "self-evident," then isn't all of human knowledge self-evident? Surely everything (or everything true) is self-evident to God. And everything knowable can be demonstrated to those who have the understanding to know it.

            Paul says

            For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse . . . .

            Do you take Paul to be saying that, of course, many among the Romans he describes were not personally culpable for their actions, because they didn't know any better, and only those who grasped the import of God's creation were subjectively guilty of wrongdoing?

            It's interesting to note that the NAB says the following:

            In this passage Paul uses themes and rhetoric common in Jewish-Hellenistic mission proclamation (cf. Wis 13:1–14:31) to indict especially the non-Jewish world. The close association of idolatry and immorality is basic, but the generalization needs in all fairness to be balanced against the fact that non-Jewish Christian society on many levels displayed moral attitudes and performance whose quality would challenge much of contemporary Christian culture. Romans themselves expressed abhorrence over devotion accorded to animals in Egypt.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I looked up that passage and the footnote. I have no idea what the editor means "by non-Jewish Christian society on many levels displayed moral attitudes and performance whose quality would challenge much of contemporary Christian culture." Do you?

            In the link YOS provided, Aquinas explains "evident."

            I answer that, A thing can be self-evident in either of two ways: on the one hand, self-evident in itself, though not to us; on the other, self-evident in itself, and to us.

            A proposition is self-evident because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject, as "Man is an animal," for animal is contained in the essence of man.

            If, therefore the essence of the predicate and subject be known to all, the proposition will be self-evident to all; as is clear with regard to the first principles of demonstration, the terms of which are common things that no one is ignorant of, such as being and non-being, whole and part, and such like.

            If, however, there are some to whom the essence of the predicate and subject is unknown, the proposition will be self-evident in itself, but not to those who do not know the meaning of the predicate and subject of the proposition.

            Therefore, it happens, as Boethius says (Hebdom., the title of which is: "Whether all that is, is good"), "that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned, as that incorporeal substances are not in space."

            Therefore I say that this proposition, "God exists," of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject, because God is His own existence as will be hereafter shown (Question [3], Article [4]).

            Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature—namely, by effects. [Broken up into paragraphs to make it more readable.]

          • He really does confuse the use of words, don't you think: Like: Quote: A proposition is self-evident because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject, as "Man is an animal," for animal is contained in the essence of man.

            I 'know' that Aquinas has said somewhere that the individual man cannot be defined -and that it is the definition that provides the 'essence'. Man therefore is 'defined' as an animal. Of course this is qualified, as man having 'sapience'. The individual only has his nature, (sapience) within the genus, therefore.
            So this makes sense when I think of the definition of God. as Three persons in one Nature. That actually makes sense.

            But always I am hesitant - will substance, be confused with essence. And what about form. Jesus has two 'natures' though- right? Human and Divine. That would make sense too.

            The problem with the individual 'man' is whether or not the 'power of sapience' is credited to the individual's substance. But I am suspicious that there is probably more Platonism in Aquinas, than would be a result of a pure Aristotelean demarcation of these concepts. Am I allowed to be 'suspicious'?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Aquinas would say that the essence of man is that he is a rational animal. So animal is contained in the essence of man. The predicate is contained in the subject.

          • But isn't an essence 'that which is defined'? i.e. Definition 'produces' Essence. Whatever the case, my understanding is that they are not talking about an individual man (0r woman) but mankind as a 'genus'. Do you agree that this is correct, and I have understood that man's nature is described by his 'essence' (i.e. as a member of the species of man) and not as an individual? We talk for instance of 'human' - nature.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The essence of a human being includes, but is not limited to, having a male or female body (that is the animal part).

          • Joe Black

            Made up.

          • Joe Black

            Words. Just that. Can you prove it? No you can not. The end. Sorry.

          • David Nickol

            by non-Jewish Christian society on many levels displayed moral attitudes and performance whose quality would challenge much of contemporary Christian culture.

            I take it to mean that the society Paul—as a Jewish Christian—was writing in the first century to condemn "on many levels displayed moral attitudes and performance whose quality would challenge much of contemporary Christian culture." That is, many who did not belong to the same group as Paul, and whom he condemned so fiercely, would compare favorably in many respects to contemporary Christians.

            I will add that since June 1, I have been taking part in a "challenge" to read the four Gospels all the way through in 90 days. (A Facebook friend and former co-worker is a member of the sponsoring Church.) I have to keep reminding myself that the "scribes and Pharisees" could not really have been the horrid people they are made out to be.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sorry. I still don't understand the point of the NAB comment.

            I've been reading the gospels daily, over and over, for a quarter of a century. They never get old.

          • David Nickol

            Sorry. I still don't understand the point of the NAB comment.

            The point is self-evident, but only to God and the other people who understand it.

            I've been reading the gospels daily, over and over, for a quarter of a century.

            So were the scribes and the Pharisees in the first half of the first century really evil? It seems clear to me that the Gospels reflect, at least in part, conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians projected back into the time of the ministry of Jesus.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > "The Gospels reflect, at least in part, conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians projected back into the time of the ministry of Jesus."

            That seems like a weird but not surprising theory from the NAB editors, since the conflict between the two groups is right out in the open in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul's writings.

            In the Gospels, some of the scribes and Pharisees were evil because they plotted to put to death an innocent man, but (understandably) they thought they were doing the right thing. Paul would describe his own behavior as evil. But the Gospels also present righteous Pharisees, like Nicodemus.

          • Joe Black

            Except that you have no idea who wrote them, and can't prove an iota of it. The end. Sorry.

          • Kant of course, threw out proofs. (So I'm not the only one who could be called a skeptic regarding such). This explains of course, why perhaps his Categorical Imperative rests on a foundation that is merely 'regulative'. But it is in his Critique on Judgment, or rather the Power of Judgment, that Kant affirms what you say, Kevin. That it - it is the sublime, (the power of an ocean storm, a search of the heavens, etc.) that produces a feeling of awe and power, that instill without our judgment a sense of the 'super-natural- a power beyond ourselves'. As he said: there are the stars above and the moral law within - which provide the basis of his 'faith'!!!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sorry to be a Philistine, but I've always thought that Kant was insane.

          • It would be very productive, for me, to get together to talk to you about these issues. Thanks for the 'feedback'.

          • Joe Black

            Made up. Can you show your work? No you can not. The end. Sorry.

          • William Davis

            For the record, I'm on the non-Christian side, but ending your comment with "the end" doesn't leave much room for debate. Debate is the purpose of this site.

          • Ye Olde Statistician
          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Of course, the more the Greeks looked into it, the less tenable their pantheon became. Recall why Socrates was executed.

          • Joe Black

            Recall why Jesus was executed. He was in error. Poor guy. and Poor you and kin. It's been wrong since it was made up. The end. Sorry.

        • Joe Black

          What makes what is said in the Bible true? Nothing at all, but pretending it is. The end. Sorry.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I'd swear I just saw two very interesting comments from you to this OP but now they are gone.

        • Kraker Jak

          I deleted one....in which I was not satisfied with the wording..and did not have time to rephrase...but will try to re post the thing again sometime today.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        That's a great cartoon!

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      There are multiple proofs because there are multiple ways to skin any cat.

      • I give up. You guys are too 'intelligible' for me. And I'd rather not 'skin cats'! (poor analogy, I think, because surely God loves cats!)

      • Joe Black

        Except that you never proved a thing, except that animals (humans) can use material objects to deduce a pattern. Using your ape brain does not make a fact. The end. Sorry.

  • TomD123

    I don't think the actual argument is problematic. But it seems to me that there needs to be a better job bridging the gap between the conclusion of the argument and the God of western Theism. I'll point out two important steps which seem to be problematic:

    (1) Act/Potency- It is crucial in this argument that God is pure act and pure act entails all perfections. But I will criticize this in two ways. First, the act potency distinction was originally formulated to account for change. But philosophically, eternalism and temporal parts theory might do the trick without act potency. I'm not sure, but this ought to be discussed. My second criticism is this: Just because something is pure act, it doesn't seem to follow that God has every perfection. The reason is this: take something like a rock. The rock has no sight, but nor does it have a potency towards sight. So likewise with God, I agree that the argument shows God cannot have a potency towards a perfection. BUT how do we know He just doesn't lack the perfection altogether?

    (2) God not being material: The argument here relies on controversial metaphysics about matter and form. That worries me. Also, what about non-material physical things? Arguably these exist, such as space, time, laws, photons, forces, fields. etc.

    Now, I'm not saying my points can't be answered. Nor am I saying that they ought to be in a comment or blog post. But they are areas which I think need further consideration and argument on.

    My hunch is that some of the Thomsitc arguments, while brilliant in many ways, could use some updating in terms of contemporary philosophy and contemporary thought in general

  • Kraker Jak

    So, unbelievers need not wander in the darkness of unbelief any longer. The light of the Angelic Doctor that shines in this proof and others like it has the power, I believe, to illumine the path to the God whom Thomistic philosophers and whom theologians know as “I Am Who Am.”

    Assuming for the sake of argument that one accepts the philosophical arguments/proofs that an entity such as god, actually exists, where does one go from there? Deism or a non personal indifferent concept of god? Are there credible philosophical arguments by philosohers, that deal with the issue of so called revealed religion such as Christianity and Catholicism? That deal coherently with issues such as the trinity, virgin birth, immaculate conception, original sin and the resurrection etc. I know that theologians have their explanations of these things, but I am looking more for a philosophical approach and arguments from modern philosophers, , that would argue the reasonableness and credibility of Christianity.

  • Ladolcevipera

    Where the rope ends for many popular theistic arguments in modern thought, such as a Creator that is very powerful but not pure power itself, beyond our time but not atemporal, one being among many but not pure being itself, it continues for the subsistent being arrived at in the Thomistic framework of thought. So unbelievers need not wander in the darkness of unbelief any longer

    Aquinas was of course a brilliant scholar. He integrated Aristotelian philosophical principles with traditional speculative theology, thus creating a "christian philosophy" . I think precisely this is the weakness of the thomistic system. Aquinas is in the first place a theologian. It would be totally impossible/unacceptable for him to conclude on philosophical grounds that God does NOT exist. All his arguments are built around this apriori : God exists. His reasoning is from the very beginning heavily indebted to it. The task of philosophy is to underpin and support it. Aquinas uses philosophy as "ancilla theologiae" and not as an end in itself.. He is an apologist and has of course every right to use philosophical arguments. He is rationally justified in concluding that a Supreme Being exists. Here metaphysics and religion meet, but go their separate ways. For metaphysics the rope ends here: God is an X. All the rest is a leap of faith.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    This is the first argument of its kind that I understand well enough to say I think it works. Bravo, Karlo! (And sorry I've been calling you "Carlo.")

    • William Davis

      I agree that it is well written and argued :)

      • Kraker Jak

        it is well written and argued

        But not convincing in any real sense....other than to leave one at best with the impression that the existence of God is a real possibility..or even a probability...but other than that...one is still left with the question of who or what god really is? other than some sort of vague ethereal, metaphysical entity in the imagination of men.

        • William Davis

          I agree, see my discussions below if you're interested. There are so many possibilities to what's really going on with reality, probably we haven't even come close to guessing the truth. We're not far past beating stones together after all ;)

  • Kraker Jak

    So, unbelievers need not wander in the darkness of unbelief any longer. The light of the Angelic Doctor that shines in this proof and others like it has the power, I believe, to illumine the path to the God whom Thomistic philosophers and theologians know as “I Am Who Am.”

    For the sake of argument let us suppose that one did accept the philosophical arguments/proofs for the existence of god in any real sense. Then where does one go from there? Deism,Buddhism, Christianity, Islam ?etc. To believe in an entity such as god who is outside of all that exists, call it, first cause, pure actuality, pure being or any other name such as I AM. Given that one accepts that God exists, why should one accept the existence of any god other than a deistic concept of an indifferent entity, over and above the god of any of the so called revealed,/b> religions, including the personal god of Christianity.

    • William Davis

      What you quoted was the main part of the article I had a problem with. It was a pretty interesting article otherwise. These arguments just aren't compelling to those who have seen all kinds of other arguments about the nature of reality. Faith is required unless one is agnostic.

  • Doug Shaver

    So, unbelievers need not wander in the darkness of unbelief any longer.

    Having examined your argument, I will continue wandering in unbelief whether I need to or not. Your judgment that unbelief is a place of darkness is one with which I strenuously disagree.

  • Peter

    " Where the rope ends for many popular theistic arguments in modern thought, such as a Creator that is very powerful but not pure power itself, beyond our time but not atemporal, one being among many but not pure being itself..."

    Our universe has the appearance of design and there is nothing to indicate that it is anything other than what it appears to be. This suggests a Designer who is very powerful but not necessarily pure power itself, who is outside of our spacetime but not necessarily atemporal, and who may be alone but not necessarily so.

    Atheists dismiss such a Designer by asking who designed the Designer and therefore also dismiss the notion that the universe is designed. But it is disingenuous to dismiss a designed universe on the grounds that the Designer may also be designed.

    A truly open mind will accept the appearance of design in the universe and will accept the likelihood of a Designer even if that Designer is itself designed. Atheists have demonstrated that they do not have such an open mind.

    • Ladolcevipera

      Atheists have demonstrated that they do not have such an open mind.
      Atheist are willing to consider every logical possibility (a regressus ad infinitum being one of them) but, contrary to what you are saying, they are also willing to admit that they simply do not know how the university came into being. Our finite minds have a limited capacity to grasp an infinite reality. Science is one way to understand the universe, although it is quite possible that the laws of nature are only valid in our part of an (infinite) universe. Religion is another way to come to terms with the big questions and a way to situate ourselves in an immense and silent megacosm.
      Personally I think that religion is a symbolic reference to a transcendent reality. This transcendent reality may be called God, Designer, X, or whatever you choose to call it. In my view the christian personal God is a bridge too far. Although I love the poetic wording of the christian narrative, believing in this God is a question of faith and always a big leap from what we do know to what we hope will be true. (Unfortunately) I do not share that faith.

  • Baloney cannot create itself, but it is possible that baloney goes back infinitely.

    • Michael Murray

      Surely not. Logically there must be an original baloney that is the source of all baloney. That's what we mean by the Great Sausage.