# Unmoved Mover for Unmoved Doubters

Already at Strange Notions, there have been long and intense discussions among Catholics, agnostics, and atheists that either point to, or directly involve, the logical proofs of God’s existence. Here is a scaled-down version of the Unmoved Mover proof that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Contra Gentiles. I am not suggesting that any words should be altered, but rather attempting to pull out the key points so someone new to reading his writing has a map through the argument.

The argument is in Book One, Chapter 13, Sections 1-19 (massive volumes of writing come before and after it). Whether you are a believer or non-believer, try to look on these proofs objectively. Do you remember marveling at shapes as a child, noticing the symmetry and connection between circles, triangles, and squares? Do you remember learning about the principles of geometry, or especially trigonometry, as a student? You sensed something could be put into words, and although the proofs were rigorous, when you realized how the relationships fit together, it was exciting (if not daunting). Approach these proofs that way. St. Thomas references them all to Aristotle’s Physics, and before you think you’ve found the “Gotcha!” error in either scholar’s reasoning, please consider that these folks were also believers. Click the link? Good. Now without further adieu...the argument.

## Everything that is moved is moved by another, in movers and things moved one cannot proceed to infinity.

Everything that is moved is moved by another. That some things are in motion—for example, the sun—is evident from sense. Therefore, it is moved by something else that moves it. This mover is itself either moved or not moved. If it is not, we have reached our conclusion—namely, that we must posit some unmoved mover. This we call God. If it is moved, it is moved by another mover. We must, consequently, either proceed to infinity, or we must arrive at some unmoved mover. Now, it is not possible to proceed to infinity. Hence, we must posit some prime unmoved mover. Both statements can be proved.” (Section 3)

## The Proofs

Everything that is moved is moved by another. Proved in three ways:

1) Whatever is moved is divisible (Aristotle Physics VI, 4). Moving things must be divisible, must have parts. Why? Because to be moving or changing, the same thing cannot be both unchanged and changed all at once. Aristotle wrote this before we knew of atomic structure, but consider what we’ve learned since. Everything that has been discovered is further broken into parts, and is constantly changing. If you move your arm, it is moved by both arm muscles and other muscles, which are moved by muscle cells and other cells, which are moved by molecules, which are moved by atoms, which are moved by atomic particles, et cetera.

So, for something not to be moved by another thing, the moving thing would have to primarily move itself, be moved by reason of itself, not by reason of a part of itself. It would have to be, as a whole, at rest, and then, as a whole, move. If a part were at rest the whole would be at rest, because there would be no parts. Since moving things must logically have parts, this is a logical impossibility.

This is called a conditional proposition. St. Thomas gave the example, “If man is an ass, he is irrational.” Man cannot be an ass (stop snickering, he means the animal), nor can he be irrational (possessing an irrational soul), but if he were an ass he would necessarily also be irrational.

2) Whatever is moved by accident is not moved by itself (Aristotle Physics VIII, 4). “Accident” means a property or quality not essential to a thing. To be moved by violence, means to be moved unnaturally by another. So things that are not animals that move (rocks) must be moved by another, since the movement is by accident. This is a proof by induction.

3) And to return to divisibility, since things that move are divisible, the same thing cannot be both action and potential (Aristotle Physics VIII, 5). Thus nothing can be both mover and moved, and therefore, nothing moves itself. Logically impossible.

In movers and things moved one cannot proceed to infinity. Proved in three ways:

1) If all movers and things moved proceed to infinity, then there is no succession. All infinities move together. If one of them is finite, i.e. moved in a finite time, then all the infinites are moved in finite time. This is impossible. The mover and the thing moved must exist simultaneously, which would mean all things move as one single mobile, and one infinite is moved in finite time, which is, again, logically impossible (Aristotle Physics VII, 1).

2) Or, in an ordered series of movers and things moved in succession (a series where one thing is moved by another), but a succession that proceeds to infinity, there still must be identified a first mover. Why? Because if there is no first mover, there is no thing moved. If the first mover is removed, or ceases to move, no other mover will move or be moved. The first mover is the cause of motion for all the others. There can be no infinite series of intermediate movers, it is a logical impossibility.

3) Or, reverse the order. That which is moved cannot move unless there is a principal moving cause. Nothing will be moved.

## Still Not Clear?

If this is not clear, study (as opposed to skim) St. Aquinas’ or Aristotle’s writing. In this chapter Aquinas goes on to address the next question, “Can the Unmoved Mover move?” He answers no, referencing back to the logical problems above, and including the arguments against it from others. In the diagram, the reason the second “No” points to God is because the thing is also not moving (it wasn’t moved), and the third “No” infers that there must be a First Unmoved Mover.

This is enough for now, so let the discussion begin. Conversion of heart is a matter of will, and while we pray for that continual conversion for ourselves and for others, this logical exercise is about knowledge. Not every trigonometry student loved mathematics when he began to study the discipline either.

Original version of article posted at Accepting Abundance. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: HBR)

#### Written by Dr. Stacy Trasancos

Stacy A. Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She teaches chemistry and physics for Kolbe Academy online homeschool program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She teaches Reading Science in the Light of Faith at Holy Apostles College & Seminary. She is author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Ave Maria Press) comes out October 2016. She works from her family’s 100-year old restored lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband, children, and two German Shepherds remain top priority. Her website can be found here.

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

• This is a pretty convincing argument, I think. Thank you for posting this! :)

• QuanKong

On the contrary, it is flawed. Why rely on Aristotle when we have modern science?
Unmoved Mover is just a paradox that does not prove anything.
So the Earth rotates and revolves, and a Mover must exist. Does the mover move? If it does, there is another Mover.

• Mark Hunter

But they would argue that the earth moves because the cloud of cosmic dust the start condensing 5 billion years ago started rotating as it condensed. What started it condensing was perhaps a nearby nova. What exploded that Nova.....

It all comes down to the Big Ban, which theists say only a God who is by definition, not needing of a cause, could have caused it. Modern science has the beginning of alternative explanations.

• StacyTrasancos

The the facts lead to the conclusion that there necessarily must be an Unmoved Mover. Remember, Aristotle was pre-Christian, a pagan. He reasoned this. Be careful not to oversimplify his reasoning process because it's highly doubtful that you have discovered an obvious objection that he lazily missed and no one since realized.

• Mark Hunter

There have been lots of objections to this proof by thinkers much better than me. And no, Aristotle was not lazy, he just had no concept of modern science. And just like doctors take the Hippocratic oath possibly attributed to Hippocrates, we don't expect them to follow the same practices as he did. Medicine changes, and so does science.

Can you comment on the objections I made below.

• monktoken

Aristotle and Aquinas both assumed the universe was infinite, the
concept of Big Bang, origin of our world, etc. don't actually affect
this proof because that isn't what this proof is about and even if a full cycle of other aliens existed, were crumpled up in a Big Crunch, and "our" Big Bang happened doesn't affect anything.

This
proof is about the here and now. Right now a cup of coffee cannot become
cold unless cooler air passes over it which cannot happen unless heat
energy is unequally distributed by the molecules that compose the air,
which cannot happen without atomic reactions, which cannot happen
unless, etc. At some point this chain has to be finite for the reasons
stated above.

We can go many layers deep with science (and the more the better!), but it
still doesn't explain the underlying cause of what is causing the
initial reaction. There also has to be a first actor for the reasons stated above about infinite regression.

• mephis

What kind of explanations can science give (or is hoping to find) for the Big Bang that would not just push the ultimate cause (in the catholic view, God) back a few steps? I'm not asking this as an attack or anything like that, but out of honest curiocity, because I have not been following the developments of this & can't personally imagine what such an explanation would look like.

Arg, I find that whenever I try to read Aquinas (or about his writings) I feel like my brain turns into mush. I need to find a way to add to my IQ points (or maybe I shouldn't try to read these articles when too tired). So I'll admit that I only skimmed the article - though maybe I'll try again later.
Personally I'm a little iffy about using the "everything must be caused by something -> there must be something that stops this from going to infinity -> God!" argument as an attempt to prove God. Problem is, I'm unsure *why* I feel uncomfortable with it. :D I'll have to think about it. In any case, it wouldn't have made me convert back when I thought of myself as an atheist. Not on its own, anyway. In my mind, this argument could be an indication of God, or it could turn out not to be. One or two indications don't have much weight though - it's the volume of them that can make one pause.

• Thanks, mephis, for your thoughtful comment! One clarification: traditionally the cosmological argument does not begin with the premise "everything must be caused by something" but "everything that begins to exist has a cause." It's a subtle, but important point and I'm planning to expand on that in a couple future articles.

• StacyTrasancos

You understand quite a bit Mephis. The Unmoved Mover argument deals with motion, which is simpler than cause and being. Think of it as a line of dominoes, you know, like when people stand them up to bump each other and fall in a succession. If you had an infinite line of dominoes, there would be no first to tip over and start the movement of all the others, so there has to be a first. That's an analogy, of course with limits, but it helped me to visualize it.

• Quan, your comment is a simplistic caricature of Stacy's argument. Her article did not argue, "So the Earth rotates and revolves, and a Mover must exist." Per the comment policy, please try to represent positions fairly instead of caricaturing them and then dismantling the straw man.

I'm interested, though, in how modern science has disproved Aristotle's "Unmoved Mover" argument. Can you elaborate? Thanks!

• John Smith

mover by Aristotle means actualization of a potential. You are misunderstanding.

• Randy Gritter

At the very least this makes precise why scientific discoveries can never eliminate the need for a creator. Something like the theory of evolution only addresses how one cause in the chain effects the next or is effected by the one before it. It does not address the ultimate cause that got the whole process moving. You might not immediately agree that St Thomas has proved there must be an uncaused cause. Still if you can understand that being able to follow the chain of causality back a few links does not answer the central question of how anything got here then the whole thing becomes much more intuitive.

• John Darrouzet

So, suppose someone like Descartes thinks he has discovered the Unmoved Mover, i.e. himself as certain and indubitable. But really what's happening is that he is not the Unmoved Mover, but is being moved to make his angelic claim. Who could his mover be?

• StacyTrasancos

Ol' Sparky? :-)

• Good job!

• Mark Hunter

First from physics

1) Electrons and photons are indivisible, yet move.

2) Virtual particles are constantly being created in the Vacuum, do they need a mover?

3) Zero point energy due to Heisenberg's uncertainty principal requires constant motion with nothing moving the particle in question

From Math

1) Infinite series were unknown to Aristotle and Aquinas (hence why they were puzzled by Zeno's paradox which is now explainable by any high school calculus student) are not logical contradictions and are perfectly manageable.

2) Beware of comparing this proof to a mathematical proof as mathematical rigour is ruthless. If you make one small mistake in a math proof the entire thing is wrong. No mulligans in math.

From Philosophy

1) Aristotle, who first proposed this proof admitted it left open the possibility of multiple unmoved movers. It was only by referencing a line in the Illiad that he said it had to be one. Modern Christians do something very similar.

From Theology

1) Even granting all of this at best you prove a deistic God, not a theistic God. And the distance from a deistic God (which even the late Christopher Hitchens admitted was a possibility) and the various theistic Gods we have proposed in the world today that tell us what to eat, how to pray, who we can't sleep with, etc. is so vast as to make this proof, even if it could be shown to be rigourous, a Pyrrhic victory.

You say, "Electrons and photons are indivisible, yet move." Though this used to be the common consensus, many scientists no longer believe this. In fact, modern research confirms that electrons *are* divisible. See this paper:

http://bvogt.us/193i2D5

(And it's popular level summary: http://bvogt.us/193ieCh)

Also, you say that, "Even granting all of this at best you prove a deistic God, not a theistic God." To my awareness, nobody has argued that the Unmoved Mover proof proves a theistic God, much less the Judeo-Christian God in his fullness It's just the first step; it only reveals a slice of God. Thus critiquing the proof for what it *does not prove* is no refutation of what it *does* prove. Correct me if I'm wrong, but your last paragraph seems to insinuate this:

Stacy: "X proves Y."
You: "Yes, but X *doesn't* prove Z! Therefore Y is wrong."

• Mark Hunter

No that paper talks about quasi particles, not splitting an electron which is a point particle according to physics and is indivisible. Here it's talking about collective properties of electron such as one sees in a metal, semiconductor or in this case a quaisi one dimensional system. Splitting of collective properties does not mean that the electron is divisible.

But alas you have a larger problem. By committing to a statement made by a person who knew less about the modern word of science than the average high school student you must maintain a-priori their are either particles within particles within particles (like an infinite onion) or that God is constantly moving these indivisible particles. (Or perhaps like Newton proposed angels are keeping the planets in their stable orbits as he didn't have advanced enough math to show that wasn't needed).

In arguments I've see where theists present this argument with great relish, you notice how easily they gloss over the difference between a deistic from a theistic God (William Lane Craig is perhaps currently the most egregious). Can you give me an example of any theist who accepts this proof and doesn't gloss over this problem?

• Randy Gritter

St Thomas Aquinas does not gloss over the problem. He spends hundreds of pages reasoning about what we can know about this unmoved mover we call God.

• Mark Hunter

But no modern proponent of this proof uses the indefinite article when describing this proof. Show me one that says this is a proof of "a" God rather than God ("the" implied).

• Mark, your first statement is only true if you assume to know that when the arguer says "God" they really mean "the Judeo-Christian God as we understand him today." I don't think that's the case with most serious proponents of this argument like Stacy, Aquinas, or William Lane Craig. I'm not sure how you can make that inference without sufficient proof.

(By adding "a" in front of God, you're changing the meaning of "God." Therefore it wouldn't make since. For example, if we're talking about the First Cause, "a" God would suggest there's more than one. But the definition of a supernatural First Cause is that it's not "one of many," but One.)

Regarding your second paragraph, I'm sure you've probably seen it but just in case Stacy replied to your scientific points above (most of which, I'll admit, are way above my head):

https://strangenotions.com/unmoved-doubters/#comment-891082747

• I think Mark is right here. To use the word "God" is very misleading, even if it is not intended to be the Christian God.

"God" is full of associations, like that of agency, of concern for humanity, of love and goodness. But the deistic God, or whatever an unmoved mover is, does not necessarily have any of those characteristics. It could just as well be some mindless fundamental force or law of nature.

I'd say those who want to represent the argument honestly should avoid claiming this as a proof of God, because what it intends to prove at this stage could fit just as well into a naturalistic/atheistic view of the world.

• Nolan, thanks for commenting! I'm curious to hear how the existence of an Unmoved Mover would "fit just as well" into a naturalistic/atheistic worldview. It seems to me the Unmoved Mover would have to be supernatural.

• Any "prime mover" that is not non-mental would fit into my view of naturalism. So if the (mindless) laws of nature somehow dictated that energy and mass come into existence, and thus motion as well, that would be compatible with naturalism. Or there could simply be some material with properties that lead to eventual motion.

Are either things likely? Probably not. Are they just as compatible with the unmoved mover argument as a God with a mind? I'd say so.

• Vicq_Ruiz

"...the Unmoved Mover would have to be supernatural...."

Quite possibly so, but that supernaturalism could have been present and observable only at the moment of the Big Bang, and unobservable through all the eons since.

I personally have never been able to satisfactorily explain the origin of the universe from a purely naturalistic POV, and I doubt I ever shall. Nonetheless, the current universe seems to me to be indistinguishable from the construct of a deist's God.

Which is why I think of myself as an "atheist" but not an "a-deist".

• Father Lawerence Dewan O.P. does just this.

Try: Number and Order of St. Thomas's Five Ways, Downside Review 92 (1974), 1-18

• gabriel_syme

Most modern theistic philosophers don't gloss over the problem of working from a Prime Mover to a theistic God. For example, William Lane Craig, who you cite as one who glosses over from the First Mover to God, actually has given arguments about characteristics that this Mover must have, which he recognizes as God.

Here is one such place where he does this (although not fully fleshed out):

I believe the main problem here is that these arguments are plucked from the philosophical framework in which they're best defended, and thus people assume that no such framework exists.

• josh

No, the main problem is that these arguments are terrible and can't be defended.

• StacyTrasancos

Gabriel, you are right. There is a much larger framework and this tidbit was plucked from it.

• Mark Hunter

Here's a list of Quasi particles. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_quasiparticles ). Years ago I did research on solitons in quasi one-dimensional magnetic systems using neutron scattering. Quasi-particles like solitons and I assume in this case spinons and holons are emergent properties of groups of electrons not constuents of individual electrions. I'm not familiar with these two quasi-particles described in the paper but I used to explain soliton excitations I used to measure as being like a tidal bore on a estuary.

Can you explain why one should interpret this paper any differently?

• StacyTrasancos

Mark, I'm actually glad you brought this up. This part about infinite divisibility was the part that gave me most hesitation too, and I'm not sure if it's solvable. The word "atom" came from the ancient Greek word ἄτομος which means "particle incapable of further division" or "twinkling of an eye." Of course we now believe the atom can be divided, but we are down to a realm where we cannot differentiate between matter and energy, or even absolute position in space. We seem to have gone from the material realm to the immaterial, which is also just as mind-bending as asking how many points lie between each point on a line. As you mentioned, it's the Zeno Paradox (also ancient Greek philosopher). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno's_paradoxes

I do think you are oversimplifying though. Infinite regress is not that simple, and honestly to me, it makes no sense. If you say that infinity has a beginning, you've not proven anything. You've only changed the definition of the word "infinity." Happy to discuss though.

However, if you dismiss that proof, the others still apply. Whatever is moving is not moved by reason of itself. The smallest particles known are moved by something external to them.

• Mark Hunter

Does Aristotle mean infinite divisibility apply to the object or to its motion? I'm not sure. I assumed the former but he might have meant the latter.

As to science having gone from the material to the immaterial that getting rather close to the Deepak Chopra school of "Woo". Rather science is just telling us that are macroscopic concepts we have for matter and energy don't apply to the atomic realm.

I'm not saying the infinite series of Zeno's Paradox is the same as what Aristotle dealt with but now modern math and science are much more comfortable with infinities that the ancient Greeks. A graduate course in Quantum physics where we used renormalization theory to calculate the self energy of various particles blew my mind away and taught me that infinities are one's friend.

I gave several example of particles not moved ny something external to themselves. Radioactive decay is perhaps the most obvious one. And here's the question of what wins out, science or one's philosophy. If one's philosophy (or theology) says everything must be moved by something external to themselves and science shows an example of a process that occurs spontaneously, which do you accept?

• StacyTrasancos

I take it from I-III that he is talking about the object as it relates to continuous motion, i.e. "point particles."

Not a Chopra fan, and I've read him. That's not what I meant. Maybe a better way to say it is we've approached the limits of the material realm.

I've been blown away by math and physics too, particularly that the "limit of a function at infinity exists." It frustrated the heck out of me. What is that? I'm supposed to just accept it and move on? Well, yes, I had to if I wanted to learn the discipline. But darn. :-)

I don't think radioactive decay fits that criteria though. It's not happening by reason of itself, it's happening because of predictable forces and laws of nature just the same as if a dead cat decayed. The laws that govern decay are not from the atom or nucleus itself.

As to which I'd accept (theology or science), I don't view it as either/or, but as aspects of the same truth. If something doesn't make sense, I try to learn more about it and attribute that to my own lack of understanding.

• Mark Hunter

But we're reached the limits of what we macroscopically perceive as being material. We shift to wave functions and probabilities and that's still material.

But with radioactivity there is nothing (as best as we've been able to see) that influences when it occurs. We only have probabilities and it's only predictable in the aggregate, not the particular..

But in this case, Aristotle's unmoved mover is not in any way central to the Catholic faith, yet modern science raises significant issues with the assumptions of Aristotle Rejecting this proof would not mean rejecting your faith, only the line of reasoning that didn't, through no fault of Aristotle (or Aquinas) have any knowledge of modern science.

• StacyTrasancos

Well, I'm open to that, but I suspect someone could come along and set up both straight. I wrote this up to make the argument clear so people who refer to it, but have never read it, would have a brief intro with links to more. It's not exhaustive though, nor is my knowledge. I also will admit that it was not any of these logical proofs that led me to pray for faith. So, you may have a point.

• Mark Hunter

You may certainly be right about this. I haven't thought much about the unmoved mover argument or indeed any of the classic arguments since that Phil 101 course many years ago. One should never dismiss ancient thought like this. I recently did a reading of Plato's Meno with my 13 year old and had him laughing out loud at Meno's encounter with Socrates But one needs to look at the historical scientific context.

Here's my one scholastic theology joke I know.

From the Summa "The argument from authority is the lowest form of argument ,,,, according to Boethius"

• StacyTrasancos

So cool you read Plato to your son. What a great idea!

• Mark Hunter

Much of Plato will have to wait, but Memo quest to find the good, is quite accessible and funny as each time Meno thinks he's got it Socrates shows him what he missed.

• Ye Olde Statistician

Aristotle did have "atoms." These were the smallest portions of prime matter that could support a given form. Chop up water fine enough and you get H2O molecules (and other stuff; water isn't just H2O). Chop up H2O and you get H and O. Chop up the O and you get protons, neutrons, and electrons. Chop up protons and you supposedly get quarks. In each case, the matter eventually becomes too simple to support the form of water, molecule, atom, or proton; and it is the form of a thing that gives it its powers.
http://realphysics.blogspot.com/2006/02/aristotles-atoms.html

Also, he applied the divisibility to time and motion as well as to things.

• StacyTrasancos

"Beware of comparing this proof to a mathematical proof..."

I disagree. I might have agreed before I studied dogmatic theology, but the logical rigor of it is as close to math as you will get in any philosophical system ever constructed by man. Of course, you have to assent to the axioms. That's off topic, but perhaps material for discussion another time.

• StacyTrasancos

"Even granting all of this at best you prove a deistic God, not a theistic God."

That is true, as Brandon said. The Summa Contra Gentiles was written to explain why faith is reasonable, and that was part of St. Aquinas' starting point. In both the Summa Theologica and the SCG he develops why Christianity is the reasonable religion, but he needed to start with the proof that God exists as we can know it from reason. It's fascinating material. As Aristotle is said to have said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

• gabriel_syme

Just a response for the first point from physics: Aquinas held that efficient causes could have an infinite regress. To understand his arguments, one must recognize that there are two different types of efficient causes: *per accidens* and *per se*. Now, *per accidens* efficient causes can regress forever, since in this type of cause agents have no necessary relationship between one another. Thus, they can also end in natural terminators, such as electrons and photons.

However, an infinite regress is not possible with *per se* efficient causes, since these chains of events essentially are related to one another. The classic example is the hand that moves the staff which moves a rock. Without the force of the hand on the staff, neither the staff nor the rock can move.

• Luke Milbury

Electrons and photons may be indivisible as a particle but they are divisible as a wave. I don't think the question is whether indivisible things can move but whether they can do so without being acted upon by outside energy or forces.

• Luke Milbury

Virtual particles are not really particles either so much as waves of possibility. That's why they are called virtual. It would be misleading to even call them events.

• Mark Hunter

One more from physics

"Nothing moves itself" is contrary to the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. What this means is that random radioactive decay then is not random. Something chose that particular instant for Beta decay to occur (some unmeasured factor). If we were to accept this premise however then we need to rewrite most of modern physics, including how the computer you are reading this on works.

Now don't feel alone. Einstein was an advocate of a "hidden variables" theory of quantum mechanics and spent the last 30 years of his life in a fruitless bid to disprove the Copenhagen interpretation. (The Bohr - Einstein arguments are stuff of legend and Einstein had to admit in each case that he couldn't disprove Bohr.) On one hand you have Einstein on your side in this debate but on the other hand you have a person of the intelligence of Einstein having to admit that he couldn't prove the assertion that "Nothing moves itself".

• CBrachyrhynchos

It's not just the Copenhagen interpretation. Copenhagen is just one interpretation of the observed physics. Motion and change are fundamental properties of matter, to the point that when you put constraints on that motion, ideas about what matter is break in interesting ways.

The ideas about infinities seem weird, because most inductive proofs about infinities point in the opposite directions.

Neither of which is a killer for theology in general.

-- Kirk S.

• Mark Hunter

I'm not sure what you mean.

• Dcn Harbey Santiago

Perhaps I'm to dense but I fail to see how the Copenhagen Interpretation (CI) invalidates Aquinas' unmoved mover. In fact the Participatory Anthropic Principle rests in the validity the CI.

1) Everything that happens needs an observer to collapse the wavefunction

2) This observer would have to be observing whenever and wherever the wavefunction collapses.

This fits quite nicely with the idea of God's omnipresence.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Deacon Harbey Santiago

• CBrachyrhynchos

"1) Everything that happens needs an observer to collapse the wavefunction"

The Copenhagen Interpretation explicitly rejects the idea that the observer is a sentient being. To quote Heisenberg: "The observer has, rather, only the function of registering decisions, i.e., processes in space and time, and it does not matter whether the observer is an apparatus or a human being; but the registration, i.e., the transition from the "possible" to the "actual," is absolutely necessary here and cannot be omitted from the interpretation of quantum theory."

Note that you probably shouldn't define God as a universal QM observer because then you've just bound God to an empirical hypothesis that's experimentally proven false by quantum superposition.

The two ideas strike me as radically incompatible. In Aristotle's physics, matter is at rest unless moved by an outside force. In QM, matter is in motion (is motion, a wave function) unless constrained. As an empirical matter, QM is right and Aristotle is wrong. Note that this doesn't depend on the CI. Phenomena such as Bose-Einstein condensates, aromatic-ring resonance, tunneling, and emission spectra are inexplicable using classical models even if you reject the CI.

-- Kirk S.

• Ye Olde Statistician

In Aristotle's physics, matter is at rest unless moved by an outside
force. In QM, matter is in motion (is motion, a wave function) unless
constrained.

Well, this was a year ago, but what the heck.
In Aristotle, it is kinesis that requires a mover. The modern notion of motion is a much thinner soup. If a body is at rest (equilibrium) then a mover is needed to explain its change to motion. But if a body is already in motion, then it has in itself the form of motion ("impetus" a/k/a "momentum") and it requires a mover to explain why that motion changes or stops. His kinesis is closer to "change" than to "motion" as we use the word today. A better modern expression would be to say that an "acceleration" (change in motion) requires a "force."
(I also note the irony with Heisenberg calling upon Aristotle's potency and act. Aristotle and his successors regarded the material world as one in a constant state of change/motion; that is of reductions of potency to act.)
You could make an argument that while Modern physics, a la Newton, was anti-Aristotelian, post-Modern physics, a la Einstein and Heisenberg, has been inching back toward it.

• josh

If there were an omnipresent, perpetual observer, then, according to the wavefunction collapse interpretation, we would not observe Quantum Mechanics. QM was only invented because we can observe the effects of all the interactions of non-collapsed wavefunctions. (I lean toward the many worlds interpretation myself, but that is no help for God.)

• 42Oolon

So you define God as some unidentified concept of non-movement? That's it?

I am no physicist, but don't these ideas of "moving" and "stationary" lose this kind of meaning in a post-relativity universe? ie. things only can be said to be "moving" with reference to a frame of reference, which may also be moving.

If the conclusion of the existence of an unmoved mover was an obvious from fundamental physics and discovered centuries ago, why are so few physicists today unbelievers?

• In classical philosophy, motion with respect to place (aka "local motion") is only one of many types of motion. If local motion is shown by modern physics not to be motion at all, the argument remains valid because it applies to any sort of "motion", in the classical sense.

A modern English word that is closer to the classical concept of motion might be "change", but "unchanged changer" sounds a little awkward.

• josh

No, if the argument is shown to be invalid in one case then it is shown to be invalid as a general argument. You will have to make a specific argument that avoids the pitfalls of the general mistaken one. But you will quickly find that no other sorts of "motion" fare any better.

• The argument applies to "motion" as classically defined by Aristotle.

Showing that X, Y, or Z is not, in fact, "motion as classically defined by Aristotle" simply means that X, Y, and Z are irrelevant to the argument.

• josh

The argument isn't that X,Y and Z are not motion. They are. Aristotle just doesn't have a sophisticated enough notion of motion to deal with the real world.

• Aristotle defines motion as the act of potency qua potency.

Aquinas begins his argument with "some things are in motion". and he means 'motion' in the Aristotelian sense.

So Aquinas's first premise could be expanded to something like "there is in nature at least one potency that is in act qua potency", which is an extremely modest claim.

And if this extremely modest claim is true, then it's hard to see where the argument fails. The only way to show the argument to be invalid would be to prove universally that there is no phenomenon in nature to which Aristotle's definition of motion applies.

• josh

Again, you haven't begun to define your terms sufficiently to deal with the real world. I suggest you move beyond 3rd century BC heuristics if you want to understand the world as it is. If motion in space no longer counts as 'motion' to you, then it is up to you to put forth an argument using some other phenomenon which you think will hold up under scrutiny. But I'll warn you, there are reasons that modern science does not describe things in terms of act and potency (or for that matter, essence and accident.)

• Can you say more about those reasons?

• Can you say more about those reasons?

• Hmm, unfortunately Disqus is not posting my reply to your comment that begins "Again, you haven't begun". Maybe there is a depth limit. I'll try here instead.

You said: "there are reasons that modern science does not describe things in terms of act and potency". Could you say more about those reasons?

• josh

Sorry, been busy, I'll try to explain briefly. Aristotle would say that there are actual things and they are in potency to be other things, potential things. The actual things are real and have the power to bring about the potential things, but not vice versa. An acorn can become a tree.

But, hold on what do we mean by become? There is an acorn at one point in time and a tree at another (and a bunch of intermediate states that don't admit of a clear distinction between acorn and tree). At any point in time where I draw the distinction, the acorn ceases to be on one side of the line and the tree begins to be on the other. So they never exist at the same time, how can one be acting on the other?

We want to say that, given the acorn, there will be a tree, but really, that's not true. Given the acorn, and soil and sun and etc. and the whole history of the tree there will be a tree as we see it today. The tree is a product of everything that converges onto that swath of spacetime that we arbitrarily consider to be the tree. So it is not really that one thing brings about another, but that the whole system moves from state to state. And 'moves' here is a matter of perception. We see things as changing in time but one can always take the abstract, 'timeless' view of looking along the whole length of time at once. Movement and change along one axis depends on the perception of movement along another. And our current knowledge of physics suggests that time doesn't have a preferred direction, we just perceive it that way because patterns in spacetime can have a direction, there could be others going the opposite way as ours.

Think of a road running north-south. As you move north the road rises. Did the southern bit of the road cause the road to rise? Was the southern part potentially high and then it became actually high? No the southern part is actually low and the northern part is actually high. Rather than potentials, we want the relations between equally actual parts which allow us to anticipate one, given knowledge of another. That's how the modern study of physics works.

• Thanks for the lengthy reply. I'm going to quickly post this content-less reply to test my hypothesis about Disqus from earlier. If it works I'll post an actual reply later.

• [Replying here to your acorn/tree comment because Disqus again doesn't seem to want to post a reply any deeper in the thread.]

Thanks for your lengthy reply. Two quick thoughts because I only have a minute:

1. I think the Aristotelian notions of act, potency, and causality are more nuanced, and closer to what you say they ought to be, than you may realize. Will try to say more on that in a longer reply later.

2. What do you mean by "that swath of spacetime that we arbitrarily consider to be the tree"? Of course the name 'tree' is arbitrary. But the thing itself is real, and different from the soil it's rooted in and the birds that nest in it. Or would you hold that difference to be an illusion devised for human convenience?

• josh

1. Action and potential and such are common words in our language so they can be stretched to serve a lot of different purposes. I would say the same is probably true for Aristotle in his own language and certainly true of his interlocutors through the ages. But making the terms rigorous enough to comport with reality tends to destroy the arguments. If one wants to say that the universe as a whole is unmoved and the laws of physics which describe it are 'movers' with respect to a particular change of perspective, and potential describes our limited knowledge of future evolution of events given an apparent present which we call 'in act', then I guess one can, but I don't see the point much.

2)The tree is real but not discrete or distinct. Where is it's border? Atoms are constantly boiling off it's surface and being absorbed into it from the soil. Same thing with respect to time, when is it an acorn and when is it a tree? It's part of a continuum which is much bigger than the tree itself, it is like a wave. A wave is a local phenomenon, such that we can talk about it being localized near one point and being negligible far away, but there is no particular point where the wave begins and the non-wave surface of the pond ends. The complete description is the surface of the lake as a whole. The wave is a useful heuristic that works for most of our purposes but it breaks down as a description at some level.

• I wonder if you are expecting from philosophy a degree and type of precision that it neither claims to have nor needs.

It may be practically impossible, for example, to determine the physical borders of a particular tree to an arbitrary degree of precision. But there are still many useful and interesting things I can know about the tree, and about that species of tree, and about trees in general.

I can know, for example, that this kind of acorn will grow into this kind of oak (given the requisite external inputs), and that it will certainly not grow into a cherry tree or a dog. And thus I can say with Aristotle and Aquinas that in some sense the acorn contains (or perhaps is) the "formal cause" of the oak.

This is a very modest bit of knowledge, but it's real, and when held in the right perspective can be a useful complement to quantitative knowledge derived from a very different sort of analysis.

• josh

It's not practically impossible, it is conceptually incoherent. 'A tree' is not a fundamental thing, it is an approximation that your mind has sorted things into. For many purposes this is fine, e.g., "Don't walk into that tree." But what you can't do is arbitrarily extrapolate away from the realm where that approximation is valid. And that's the kind of mistake that Aquinas and Aristotle (among a host of others) routinely make. You can't deduce the creation of the universe from a poor understanding of what a tree is.

You can see the perils of this sort of thinking in your own example above. You say it will certainly grow into an oak. And the oak will beget further acorns. But then people who aren't careful will reason. 'All oaks come from and produce oaks after their own kind. Therefore either oaks have existed forever, (which I don't like) or they were poofed into existence mid-oak in an act of special creation (which I do like!)' The sensible answer, which is evolution, is precluded because people assume, often unconsciously, that their heuristic categories are ontological or metaphysical truths.

• Two thoughts:

1. Can you point out a specific example of Aquinas "arbitrarily extrapolating away from the realm where that approximation is valid"? In my own experience of Aquinas, he is very careful about the limits of inductive reasoning -- indeed in the full text of the argument that the original post here is about, he specifically identifies the sub-arguments that are inductive, presumably to alert the reader to their weakness.

Aquinas is also very clear on the difference between a physical model *as explanation* vs. a physical model *as description of what current science has observed*.

2. What is the argument for your claim that a tree is not a fundamental thing (a 'substance' in Aristotelian-Thomist language)? If the argument itself is too complex for a non-physicist, can you give a general sketch of where it starts, what sorts of premises it uses and from what disciplines, and roughly how it proceeds? On face value it strikes me not as a scientific claim but as a purely philosophical one, but maybe I'm misunderstanding it.

Also I should point out just in passing that as a student of Aristotle and Aquinas I see no necessary incompatibility between their philosophy, and evolution as a physical model of the origin of species. Again, though, maybe I'm misunderstanding the fundamentals of current evolutionary theory. I've only read Darwin, and that badly.

• josh

Hi Ben,

1)As mentioned somewhere else on this thread, the idea that some things are in spatial motion while others are at rest, (which is clearly one of the examples of motion Aquinas had in mind, c.f. the hand-stick-stone argument for essentially ordered series) is pre-relativistic thinking. It's perfectly understandable, since on the earth in a mostly locally flat space-time at sub-sub-light speeds, we can think of things as at rest and in motion as though those were absolute concepts and get along with our daily lives. But they aren't absolute concepts, so one can't extrapolate from them to an absolutely unmoved mover.

Or consider teleology, which is a perfectly useful way to think about things that humans do and design, and which it is easy to naively read into the natural world. But it isn't necessary to read it into the natural world, as evolution for example demonstrates. In fact it is not even a complete description of how humans do things.

2) The argument I gave above (or is it below now, I'm not sure about this comment system...). If the borders of the 'tree' are fuzzy, then the tree can't be put in a rigorous category where everything else is 'not tree' (except by being arbitrary on where you define the boundary). The tree is part of a continuous and much larger thing. If the universe has any hard categories, they are much closer to 'one electron and two electrons are distinct things (even though one electron and another electron are not!).' It's also problematic to think that scientific and philosophical questions/claims are always distinct.

On evolution, I'm not sure how Aristotle or Aquinas would view the theory, I just brought it up as a convenient example of how false categorization can make one wrong. But suppose A&A would say that a dog has the 'form of a dog', an essential dogness that makes it, among other things, not a wolf. But go back in time: the parents of the dog also have the form of the dog, and mutatis mutandis for wolves, so the accidents of the puppy differ from the parents but not the essence. You can see where this is going. Eventually the dog and wolf lines have the same parent, which has two different conflicting forms by this chain of reasoning. So you fix this by allowing that there is an individual form for an individual dog, but this starts to push the idea of forms and essences right out the window. Everything becomes sui generis, no two things share the same form. Otherwise, you have to break the chain and assert that one parent is e.g. wolf-formed while its offspring is dog-formed, but this is an arbitrary distinction. If you can draw it at one generation then you could equally well have drawn it at the next.

• Ye Olde Statistician

Actually, the one time he mentioned the origin of new species, Aquinas asserted that they would arise from existing forms through the powers that "the stars and the elements" received in the beginning. That "poof" creation stuff was a 19th century innovation.

• Well I posted one reply to your comment that began "It's not practically impossible, it's conceptually incoherent", but I can't see it at the moment. Maybe you can?

In any case something else came to mind in response to that very first sentence of yours. I can agree with it, if it's qualified a bit. I would say "it's conceptually incoherent *within the framework of a certain model of the natural world*".

But when you go on to say " 'A tree' is not a fundamental thing, it is an approximation that your mind has sorted things into" -- and particularly when you say it in an unqualified way that suggests a truth claim about reality -- I want to say 'hold up a minute'.

It is evident to me that the chestnut tree in my backyard is substantially different from the squirrels that nest in it, which in turn are substantially different from my next-door neighbors. This is the plain evidence of my senses and experience.

That said, one can do a lot with a physical model of the natural world which doesn't concern itself with that kind of evidence. But this doesn't render that evidence nonexistent. It simply amounts to omitting that evidence from fields of inquiry where it is irrelevant.

• josh

Anyhow, I want to clarify that I'm not talking about ignoring your senses or assuming any particularly detailed model of the world. Nor am I confining myself to concepts of natural or physical.

To say something isn't fundamental, is, in my usage anyhow, not to say that there is no thing. Or to say that things aren't distinct isn't to say that difference doesn't exist. Think of a color spectrum. We casually speak of orange and red but obviously one bleeds into another. You can pick one exact shade and say 'that is clearly a red' 'this other is clearly orange' if you want. But then then there is another shade, which can be arbitrarily close to your defining shade, so you call that 'red' as well. Obviously, you will run into borderline cases however. You can arbitrarily impose a cutoff: everything to the left of this exact shade is orange, everything else is red; but there is no physical (or metaphysical) meaning to that cutoff, it is just a subjective choice. So red and orange aren't distinct things so far as the universe is concerned; each of an infinite number of shades is its own thing, but it relates to the others in definable ways. There is a red direction and an orange direction, these are relative. The whole, i.e. the spectrum is made up of the relations between the parts.

So normally we present color spectrums as a sort of constant rate of change (of frequency/wavelength) as one looks spatially from left to right. But I could choose to draw one that isn't so constant. E.g. there is a big swath, maybe an inch which is all very nearly the same shade of blue, enough that your eye can't tell the different, then in the space of .1 mm it runs through all the shades between that blue and something red, then it stays at nearly the same shade of red for another inch. Looking at it you would say there is a blue block next to a red block. And for most intents and purposes you'd be right. But looking closely you couldn't actually say where one ends and the other begins, because there is no point where one ends and another begins. The tree and the squirrels are like this.

• Nathan Sanford

Even if I granted these premises, the Prime Mover wouldn't have to be a) sentinent or b) anything besides a law of physics we don't understand yet.

It doesn't prove God at all

• StacyTrasancos

Which is why Aristotle called it the Unmoved Mover.

• So why is it referred to here as one of the "logical proofs of God's existence?" And why do all the arrows in the figure point to a God instead of just a generic prime mover?

I understand that reasonable believers acknowledge that there is a bridge to gap here, but it really seems like they should do better to avoid misleading references to God. This would prevent common atheist objections, and also prevent more naive apologists from thinking this proves more than it does (I've had this proof- as is- used on me as a proof of a Theistic, Judeo-Christian God, multiple times).

• StacyTrasancos

Well the title is Unmoved Mover. This was Aristotle's argument ~350 BC, but St. Aquinas adopted it in ~1270 AD and used it to show that this "God" that Aristotle (and Plato and others) reasoned is the Christian God. Whichever word/s you use, the concept is the same. I can see how that would be confusing if you didn't know that though, and you're right, it's not obvious. Good point. Thanks!

• Not only is it "not obvious", it's dishonest argumentation. Even if it were ultimately correct, the conclusion given is not the conclusion of the argument.

• Ye Olde Statistician

Did you know that the first proposition in Euclid doesn't prove anything in spherical trigonometry. Strangely enough, the theorem about the unmoved mover doesn't prove all the other theorems that follow it. Whether you buy the arguments or not, at least be aware that it is only the first step in a rather long sequence of subsequent steps, all of which cumulatively add up to something. In modern speak: Aquinas should have ended the argument by saying: "...and this all men call God. Details to follow."

• If there is an ongoing argument for hundreds of years that an alleged "proof" actually proves what it claims to prove, in what sense is it a proof? Certainly in mathematics or formal logic, an alleged proof either succeeds or fails, and if it fails, it is not a proof. I am not sure I see the point of arguing about an alleged proof that many people far more versed in philosophy than I reject as not a proof at all. Now, of course there are mathematical arguments (e.g., Gödel's incompleteness theorems) that I can't follow, but I know they are accepted by people who are competent to follow them. But that's not the case with the proofs of the existence of God.

If I am not mistaken, it is a dogma of the Catholic Church that the existence of God can be proved by reason alone. Isn't there something rather curious about that? In essence, it means (according to the Catholic Church) you do not find logical arguments for God's existence to be convincing, it's YOUR FAULT.

• StacyTrasancos

"...it means (according to the Catholic Church) you do not find logical arguments for God's existence to be convincing, it's YOUR FAULT."

Works the same way in math class too if you want to make an A.

• Mark Hunter

But if you fail math, you don't end up in hell, you end up in the humanities. Hmmmm. Maybe there's not much difference. :->

• I took quite a few math courses in high school and college. I never had a math teacher say, "I can't explain it, but you just have to believe it." I did have a high school religion teacher that said that, however. I never heard of a mathematical proof of which it was said some mathematicians accept it and some reject it. What we have here is not a proof of God's existence but an argument for God's existence.

• StacyTrasancos

Dive into abstract mathematics and you'll find plenty of disagreement. They are particularly annoying to applied mathematicians.

• alexander stanislaw

Could you give an example? There are certainly unproven theorums as well as different axiomatic systems, but I have never heard of a mathematical proof in which mathematicians disagreed with the actual steps involved and not the underlying axioms.

• Michael Murray

I've spent a lifetime doing abstract mathematics so I'm wondering what disagreements you are thinking of?

• StacyTrasancos

Imaginary numbers, weak nuclear force. How have you applied those pragmatically? And a lifetime? Wow, I sit at your feet to learn. I was pretty ignorant at age 1.

• Michael Murray

Well call it 35 years. Some days it feels like a lifetime! How are imaginary numbers controversial in abstract mathematics? The weak nuclear force is physics.

• StacyTrasancos

Well, if you've been an abstract mathematician for 35 years and you believe there is no disagreement, then I'm certain there's nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. :-)

However, it takes about ten seconds to find controversy over imaginary numbers, complex numbers, set theory, and little more effort to see that abstract mathematics intersects with abstract physics. I'll spare you the list of links where mathematicians themselves use the word "controversy" to discuss those things. If "disagreement" or "controversy" are words you don't like, then call it "paradox."

To put all of this back in terms of education, even though there were/are controversies, I mean paradoxes, students still have to learn how to use those symbols to solve equations. (On a side note, I think students should be taught about the paradoxes, like in this book: http://books.google.com/books/about/An_Imaginary_Tale.html?id=PflwJdPhBlEC)

• Michael Murray

Well, if you've been an abstract mathematician for 35 years and you believe there is no disagreement, then I'm certain there's nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. :-)

What makes you think I can't be convinced otherwise ? I hope even after 35 years I can be persuaded if I am wrong.

I would be grateful for one of those links you don't want to bother me with. The wiki page on imaginary numbers has no occurrence of the word controversy. A google of "imaginary numbers and controversy" lists only something to do with Bernoulli and Leibnitz. Is that what you mean ? You are talking 1700s in that case. When a new mathematical idea comes up it often takes awhile for people to decide exactly what is the correct way to think about it. When they don't think about it correctly they can certainly get paradoxical answers. But for complex numbers, limits, calculus, infinities, infinite series these things are sorted. We understand these precisely.

For a modern mathematician complex numbers are just a funny way of multiplying pairs of real numbers with the rule

(a, b)(c, d) = (ab-cd, ad + bc)

Make of that what you will I'd say it makes the set of all pairs of real numbers into an algebraically closed field.

That link doesn't work unfortunately. I'm guessing from the URL that it is to this book

http://www.amazon.com/Imaginary-Tale-Princeton-Science-Library/dp/0691146004

In which case it is a history of imaginary numbers. Not sure where the paradoxes come in but I guess they are also historical confusions.

If you want to see something mathematicians don't understand yet look up Feynman path integrals.

Where by the way does the weak nuclear force come into this and what is abstract physics ?

• Guest

Dive into abstract mathematics and you'll find plenty of disagreement.

Actually we've strayed a bit from your original quote. It's my fault as I think I introduced the word controversy. Where are the plenty of disagreements in abstract mathematics ?

• StacyTrasancos

Michael? Suffice it to say that if it were all settled and there were nothing left to disagree over, you're career would be over. I honestly never expected an abstract mathematician to say there were no disagreements before or now, which is how I took your comment, so forgive me if I misunderstood.

Until you clarify that, I'm assuming you really don't think there are disagreements and you're prepared to argue such -- in which case I'd rather just put my palms up in deference and slowly back away with a nod, a wink, and an "Alrighty then!"

• Susan

I might have agreed before I studied dogmatic theology, but the logical rigor of it is as close to math as you will get in any philosophical system ever constructed by man.

How so?

David Nichol said:

> I never heard of a mathematical proof of which it was said some mathematicians accept it and some reject it. What we have here is not a proof of God's existence but an argument for God's existence.

To which you replied:

>Dive into abstract mathematics and you'll find plenty of disagreement. They are particularly annoying to applied mathematicians

Michael asked you what you meant. I'm under the impression that Michael is a mathematician and/or a mathematics professor. If he's making it up, now's your chance to test him by discussing the disagreement you've alluded to. He certainly seems polite and willing to be enlightened. Your response:

>I'm assuming you really don't think there are disagreements and you're prepared to argue such -- in which case I'd rather just put my palms up in deference and slowly back away with a nod, a wink, and an "Alrighty then!"

• StacyTrasancos

Susan, it just seems like people are talking past each other. David originally said, "I never heard of a mathematical proof of which it was said some mathematicians accept it and some reject it."

There are all kinds of examples over time of mathematicians doing just that: Fermat's Last Theorem, Cantor's Set Theory, infinite regress, Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, imaginary numbers, complex numbers, irrational numbers. There were fascinating "disagreements" over those things, and for some of them still are. The abstract calculations in quantum physics still have people baffled. Heck, no one can really say why it is possible to physically cut a pie into thirds, but computationally impossible to reconstruct a whole from perfect thirds.

It seems to me that the absence of disagreement is not a measure of the strength of a proof, but rather a demonstration that it took a lot of work to get there. And in courses students are still taught the proofs -- as proofs -- because they need to know where the field of knowledge lies in their lifetime if they are to contribute to it further.

I guess I'm just scratching my head over this notion that there is never any disagreement. And like I said, if I misinterpreted, then I apologize, and I have asked for clarification.

• Michael Murray

There are all kinds of examples over time of mathematicians doing just that: Fermat's Last Theorem,

No. The only discussion around FLT was could he really have had a valid proof -- an interesting historical problem -- and can anyone prove the bloody thing which they have now done.

Cantor's Set Theory, infinite regress, Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, imaginary numbers, complex numbers, irrational numbers. There were fascinating "disagreements" over those things, and for some of them still are.

This for me is history like I said in my longer response if it is showing. In the past new ideas took awhile to sort out. Basically because people weren't rigourous. That has lead to a far greater emphasis on rigour and being able to say exactly what you mean.

The abstract calculations in quantum physics still have people baffled.

Ah yes definitely but that's physics. What really interests mathematicians is that physicists can use these dodgy methods to solve mathematical problems we can't. This is the downside of requiring lots of rigour.

Heck, no one can really say why it is possible to physically cut a pie into thirds, but computationally impossible to reconstruct a whole from perfect thirds.

Sorry I don't know this one ?

• StacyTrasancos

So...there was disagreement. I've asked for clarification four times now, not as patronizing, but I really, really am baffled.

Are you saying there are no disagreements in abstract mathematics now? You are the voice of experience in this field, and I recognize it. I was just taken back by this challenge over "disagreement." It's intrinsic to discovery.

• Michael Murray

But if you agree on the definitions and you agree on what constitutes a valid deduction then what is there to disagree on? I don't see disagreement as intrinsic to discovery. You don't get conferences where those who believe in complex numbers attack those who don't. You will get challenges over whether a proof is valid or has a gap. But usually the gaps are obvious when pointed out and the onus is on the person giving the proof to fill it.

Tracking back a bit let me summarise what I was really trying to get at.

In a mathematical discussion between two people that starts with "Take X, Y, and Z" and proceeds on for a few blackboards deducing things you never get into a situation where someone suddenlty says "But X doesn't have this property" and the other says "Yes it does" and you argue interminably about definitions. Whereas when I read philosophy and theology it seems that that happens all the time. But my qualifications are in mathematics not philosophy or theology so maybe I am caricaturing.

• Andrew G.

Heck, no one can really say why it is possible to physically cut a pie into thirds, but computationally impossible to reconstruct a whole from perfect thirds.

Oh, do please explain this one. This is gonna be good.

• Andrew G.

Heck, no one can really say why it is possible to physically cut a pie into thirds, but computationally impossible to reconstruct a whole from perfect thirds.

I'm going to be really disappointed if we don't get an explanation of this one.

• Andrew G.

Heck, no one can really say why it is possible to physically cut a pie into thirds, but computationally impossible to reconstruct a whole from perfect thirds.

I'm going to be really disappointed if we don't get an explanation of this one.

• Michael Murray

Yes Stacy that was me. There is a bug in disqus which causes posts you delete to sometimes turn in to Guest posts. At that point you you can't delete them. Over at Richard Dawkins site they tried it for awhile and gave up on it for this and other reasons.

I posted a very long response to you but it has also got lost. I won't repeat it but just respond to the one above. Mathematicians try to prove theorems. Occasionally we disagree about whether a proof is a proof because someone hasn't provided enough detail but really the onus is on the prover to convince everybody that the proof is correct. There is such an emphasis on rigour and precise definitions, bordering on the obsessional, that you don't get the arguments about words and what they mean that seem so common in philosophy.

So progress consists of proving new theorems or inventing new theories that then require the proof of new theorems. It will never stop.

For an example of some long term serious theorems that we are having trouble with look at the Millennium Prize Problems.

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

But progress doesn't come by people sitting around saying "i think it's true" "i think it's false" "I think it's true" etc. Progress comes by talking to people about how a proof might work. Tackling special cases etc. Looking at other peoples failed attempts.

which case I'd rather just put my palms up in deference and slowly back away with a nod, a wink, and an "Alrighty then!"

You don't think that's just a little patronizing ? You wouldn't have any atheists here if we all took that approach.

• StacyTrasancos

Sorry to be patronizing. I know that about progress, short as it may have been I did contribute new knowledge to the field of chemistry and the industry of spandex (joy of all joys). I've just never heard anyone say there was no disagreement, or suggest it, and again if I misinterpreted, I apologize and ask for clarification.

My original point was about dogmatic theology. Those proofs go by a similar path, just as you described. It's fascinating.

• Michael Murray

My original point was about dogmatic theology. Those proofs go by a similar path, just as you described. It's fascinating.

It seems to me that the terms are not as precisely defined as in mathematics. So you are always falling into the trap that two people have ascribe different meanings to the terms and hence different meanings to the deductions or even disagreements about whether the deductions are valid.

• StacyTrasancos

This is what I said, "...the logical rigor of it is as close to math as you will get in any philosophical system ever constructed by man."

All other words can never be as precise as numbers. Numbers have precise, exact meaning. 1 is 1, no more, no less, exactly 1. It means exactly 1. "Good" and "well" mean about the same thing, but can have very many nuances of more and less. That's why I would never say that any logical construct is as precise as a mathematical proof. I learned that from the physicist/priest Fr. Stanley Jaki.

In short, I agree with you. :-)

• Good for you, Stacy. :-)

• articulett

Math doesn't require you to believe that 3 is actually 1.

Nor does it require you to think that blessed wafers turn into human flesh (sans human DNA).

Nor does it wave away conundrums with this idea that it's arrogant to ask questions and it's mysterious and beyond your understanding anyhow.

I've also don't think they tell kids that they'll be punished for all eternity if they don't "believe in" math.

• Except that in math class, you can check the validity, yourself.

• StacyTrasancos

You check the validity of any rational argument yourself if you try. The problem is, people don't try. I have met very few atheists, for example, who can accurately articulate what Catholics believe. They argue (some rail) against straw men. Why? I can't say, but it's like someone saying a math proof is wrong when they've never even worked through the proof, or it's like someone saying evolution is false when they can't even articulate what evolutionary theory is because they can't be bothered to crack a biology book.

Here's the problem with math though for an atheist. How do you defend materialism when the object of your thoughts is immaterial?

• Many of us were Catholics for parts of our lives, but whereas you can probably accurately articulate what Catholics are told to believe, I doubt you or anyone else can accurately articulate what they *do* believe, because it is a spectrum that varies from place to place and person to person. You need look no farther than issues of contraception and abortion to see that.

Materialism needs neither observance nor defense. Those of us who are sticking to methodological naturalism simply demand evidence for any proposed explanations. What would you use to show that, "the object of your thoughts is immaterial"?

Got evidence?

• StacyTrasancos

And many of Catholic are converts. You could say the same of math. It is universally true regardless of anything in the material world, yet in some people's minds they could still believe that 2+2=5. Doesn't make them right.

Materialism needs neither evidence or defense? Wow. So it's just a matter of faith for you then?

Do you realize that materialism is not proven true? It is an assumption. Don't you find it odd that you can't even defend it or give evidence for it's truth?

• articulett

many of Catholic are converts

As are many Muslims, Scientologists, Mormons, Buddhists, and New Agers.

How is this relevent to what is true. Clearly many more peole go from supernatural beliefs to naturalism than vice-versa and the trend is for people to be less and less superstitious as civilizations advance.

I know the math argument is some how evidence of god for you, but do you realize that people with competing magical beliefs can use it to prop up their faith. Many use QM to do the same. It's an all purpose obfuscator and confirmation biaser-- but it is not a method for getting at the truth.

Materialism needs neither evidence or defense? Wow. So it's just a matter of faith for you then?

How disingenuous. Everyone accepts materialism when the truth matters. It's why you fly on airplanes that fly whether people believe they will or not and you don't attempt to fly on magic carpets. It's why you expect detectives to use real evidence when trying to solve a crime and not far-fetched or supernatural explanations-- REAL evidence... the kind acceptable in a court of law... the kind used by scientists to lead to more evidence!

You don't accept magical explanations unless they confirm the magic you imagine yourself saved for believing in! A Scientolgist would explain your brainwashing as being due to thetan infestation and prescribe "clearing" to clear it up. Your word games could be used just as well by them to try to manipulate former believers back into belief-- but I doubt it would have any more affect on them than it would have on you. Pretending that it takes faith to believe in materialism is silly. You would require some material proof I imagine that Jesus wanted you personally to gave away YOUR possessions to the poor before you'd follow this instruction that he gave to his followers in the bible.

Tangents don't make your magical beliefs any more likely to be true and they don't suffice as evidence either.

Materialism works. It gives results. All our technology is based on materialism... including your computer that you are typing on! Materialism produces real "miracles"-- things that would make us all look like gods to your bible writers-- we have knowledge that even the smartest people could not know 100 years ago thanks to materialism.

Nothing supernatural ever has been demonstrated to be true. Not once. Ever. Religions tell you to just have faith and all the goodies will come in a supposed afterlife that cannot be substantiated to exist and makes no sense with what we actually do know about this world.

You wouldn't need to use word games and manipulation and attempts at shaming if facts were on your side. You might want to ask yourself why an omnipotent being would with hold such facts from his faithful followers? Perhaps it is because he doesn't exis.

• Sage McCarey

You've done it again my heroine! You are so articulatt.

• Materialism needs neither evidence or defense? Wow. So it's just a matter of faith for you then?

Please look back, you have misquoted me. I wrote "observance nor defense." Yes, I know that materialism is not proven true, and I don't assume that it is (that would be observance, as in faith). That is why I make the distinction between being an observant materialist (which I am not) and following methodological naturalism, which is an epistemology in action.

It is up to those who assert the supernatural as true to back that up with evidence. I do not have to provide justification for my lack of belief in unicorns or leprechauns or any of the thousands of deities people have made up over the recent thousands of years. Accepting a specific natural explanation for, say, lightning does require supporting evidence, however, rejecting a supernatural explanation that has no evidence can be done on its face.

You say that math is universally true regardless of anything in the material world. How would you prove that? Was it true, say when the early galaxies were forming? How would you prove that? And, which is "true" Euclidean or Non-Euclidean geometry?

Got evidence?

• StacyTrasancos

One more thing. We are having a discussion about materialism at my blog: "Why a Kid Can Demolish Materialism" http://stacytrasancos.com/why-a-kid-can-demolish-materialism/ You are welcome to join, plenty of atheists and non-Catholics. I've got some other stuff to do today, and will probably spend time at my own blog after that for a while.

• Thanks Stacy, I will give it a look. :-)

• AshleyWDC

This argument has numerous well-documented errors. First of all, the understanding of movement that the argument hinges on is a product of observation, specifically the observation of "middle-world" objects directly accessible to human senses. It does not apply, for instance, to the movement of individual photons, which may be emitted by a particle at random with a random direction and phase. It certainly does not apply to the very early universe, whose physics are completely unknown. Nor can it be shown to apply to a completely speculative concept such as a transcendent god, for which we have no observation whatsoever.

Beyond that, there are also a number of basic informal fallacies common to apology and theology in general. The most obvious is the false dilemma contained in the statement "If it is not, we have reached our conclusion—namely, that we must posit some unmoved mover". Wrong. The movement may be the result of some other phenomenon, perhaps one inherent to the object (eg, see photons above). You cannot demonstrate the existence of some thing by finding a question that no one has yet answered.

Immediately following this problem is an equivocation - "This we call God".

All of these problems are common to pre-modern rationality and its over-reliance on pure reason and rhetoric. We have better tools today. We have a better understanding of the limits of logic, mathematics and language. Theology continues to use an ancient alpha version of reasoning, one that is full of bugs and which produces terrible models of the world.

• StacyTrasancos

What better tools do we have today than reason? Isn't a "better understanding of the limits" of anything a product of reason? I honestly don't follow. Can you elaborate? Or link the well-documented errors?

• Maybe Ashley is criticizing the use of reason independent of observations of the real world- armchair philosophy as it's called sometimes. If so, I think this is fair. Zeno's paradox is the quintessential example of where a seemingly convincing philosophical argument can be falsified by simply opening one's eyes. I also think it's true that reasoning based on observational science has been much better at making fruitful predictions than armchair philosophy.

I'd be open to counter-examples, but I think it is fair to be very suspicious of conclusions about the fundamental nature of reality that are made independent of observational science.

• Mark Hunter

Zeno's paradox required calculus to understand (or at least the limit of an infinite series). A better example would be the idea that heavy bodies fall faster. According to that Aristotelian notion a hollow cannon ball would fall slower than a solid one. Then what would happen if you attached a thread between them and let them fall. Sometime armchair philosophy should be able to disprove itself.

• StacyTrasancos

Are you familiar with Aristotle's philosophy? He was very much in favor of observation and reason.
http://stacytrasancos.com/what-is-your-epistemology/

• To a limited degree, although he's on the list of things to know more about. Interesting blog post though!

• Dcn Harbey Santiago

"It certainly does not apply to the very early universe, whose physics are completely unknown." How can you be so sure the argument does not apply if we have no knowledge of the physics at this time?

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
Deacon Harbey Santiago

• AshleyWDC

It doesn't apply because we don't make claims about things we have no information about unless we want to be fools. That's exactly what the argument in this article does, and that is exactly why it is foolish.

• Dcn Harbey Santiago

"It doesn't apply because we don't make claims about things we have no information about unless we want to be fools." Ashley, pardon my insistence, perhaps I'm reaching the limits in my understanding of the English language here, but: If we can not make claims about things we have no information, Isn't telling someone your argument IS wrong making A claim? It does not follow that ignorance of something makes all claims about this something wrong. In fact, the world of Quantum dynamics (Which some have invoked in other threads) all potential claims have some degree of probability. At most what we can say then is "We just don't know"

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Deacon Harbey Santiago

• articulett

Religionists are saying that because scientists don't know-- that religionists DO know... (and the answer just happens to be the magical being they were indoctrinated to believe in.) Not knowing something is not a valid reason for injecting a magical explanation-- at least not if you want rational people to take you seriously.

I think you should know that the argument of every believer in the supernatural (including those who believe in things you find wrong, harmful, and stupid) boils down to: "Science can't explain it, therefore my woo is true. (Woo = supernatural or pseudoscientific belief). The Scintologists, Muslims, and voo-doo practioners can use that argument just as readily as you.

Face it-- not all answers are equally probable. While aliens might be responsible for missing children... and/or demons... and/or gods-- those who are interested in finding their missing children would not find these ideas as useful as more evidence based claims. When the truth matters, evidence and probability count. When the truth doesn't matter-- then I guess one magical belief is on par with every
other.

Just because there are two probabilities (Zeus exists; Zeus does not exist) does not mean that both probabilities are equally likely. While it's true that either-- a) some invisible beings are real or b) none are... this does not make both concepts equally probable or equally rational. Moreover, even if some invisible beings were real, we have no reason to think you have any more expertise in distinguishing the real ones from the fake ones than does anyone else nor do we have a reason to think you have special powers where you could know something about them that scientists could not even if you really really really beliee you can (and do).

• Michael Murray

When the truth matters, evidence and probability count. When the truth doesn't matter-- then I guess one magical belief is on par with everyother.

Very nicely put.

• Susan

>Moreover, even if some invisible beings were real, we have no reason to think you have any more expertise in distinguishing the real ones from the fake ones than does anyone else nor do we have a reason to think you have special powers where you could know something about them that scientists could not even if you really really really believe you can (and do).

This point can't be emphasized enough.

• Michael Murray

In fact, the world of Quantum dynamics (Which some have invoked in other threads) all potential claims have some degree of probability.

No that isn't how it works.

At most what we can say then is "We just don't know"

Sure. But then where is the unmoved mover argument ? It seems to be in the same place as my argument that in the early period of the universe it looked like a pink unicorn.

• Dcn Harbey Santiago

Michael Murray: Perhaps I have a different interpretation of Neils Bohr's Copenhagen Interpretation, (My experience is more in Material Physics than Theoretical Physics). Would you care to elaborate on your statement? ->"No that isn't how it works."

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
Deacon Harbey Santiago

• Michael Murray

Quantum theory says nothing about "claims". Quantum physics is talking about physical systems like waves, particles etc. Claims are products of the human mind.

• Dcn Harbey Santiago

@michaelkmurray:disqus I see...Substitute "claims" for "events". An unfortunate use of therms on my part, I must admit.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
Deacon Harbey Santiago

• articulett

One can reject magical or far fetched answers despite not knowing actual answers. That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

As I mentioned before, you don't have to know where missing children are to reject the notion that aliens are eating them... or that "god called them home" ... or that demons have taken them to the netherworld.

You do this all the time. Suppose I made the claim that you have invisible penises growing out of your head that you can't detect... that this explains your inability to unbrainwash yourself.

To a naturalist, it seems like you supernaturalists use this sort of explanation all the time-- and then you imagine our dismissal is "evidence" for your preposterous claim and you pat yourselves on the back for having held on to your faith in the face of skepticism.

Of course believers in the wrong faiths are doing the same. A good argument shouldn't work just as well for those with faiths you don't believe in as it does for yours or it's useless for getting at the truth (but great for confirming biases.)

One can extrapolate that if scientists don't know an answer, it is unlikely that believers in magic do. And even if they did, we have no method of distinguishing one unfalsifiable claim from the myriad of competing claims (such as a Matrix scenario.)

"I don't know" doesn't mean "goddidit" to those of us interested in the truth-- instead it inspires us to think of the best way to find out. Theists think "I don't know" means that they really DO know... and that the answer is the god that they were indoctrinated to believe in. A good explanation, however, does not raise more conundrums than it is supposed to be explaining like god answers do. What sort of god? How? How do we distinguish this god from somethig that is not god? How do you know? Why should we believe this? How does this further our knowledge? How are god explanations different than saying "a magic man did it."? Why should people interested in the truth (the one that is the same for everybody no matter what they believe) care?

• Dcn Harbey Santiago

@articulett, I'm at a lost here. I fail to see what your answer has anything to do with what I was talking. I don't even mention God in my two posts (except on my signature but that is just a "Cristero" thing :-). Perhaps you meant to talk to someone else?

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
Deacon Harbey Santiago

• Fr.Sean

There seems to be a little bit of confusion in the argument. the unmoved mover argument isn't saying this is entirely God as if God was nothing more than a mover of celestial events, it points to an attribute, aka, something powerful initiated the mover, perhaps an attribute of God. Just as one may say AshleyWDC is intelligent, which may be true but Ashley is more than just intelligent, she has other qualities that define her. Secondly and this is where i convey my ignorance, if radioactive decay is in a sense moving, would you say whatever increased the radioactivity in the object was what provided the movement in the first place?

• StacyTrasancos

Thank you Fr. Sean!

• Outside reactors, nothing increases or decreases the radioactivity of objects.

• articulett

So how do you get from your hypothetical "unmoved mover" to a god that is a 3-in-1 male who "wants" to be "believed in"? Why do you imagine your hypothetical unmoved mover wants humans to believe in it and to believe certain stories about it? Why should anyone else believe that you know what this hypothetical "unmoved mover" (made of nothing) wants?

How is this different that positing the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin? Why should those outside your faith take your beliefs more seriously than you take believers in myths past?

• Michael Murray

And who don't unmoved movers like condoms ? That's always been a mystery to me.

• articulett

You'd think that an intelligent designer would have creations that made only enough spermatazoa for the few lives they are "designed" to conceive.. instead of the trillions upon trillions of spermatazoa that actual males make. This seems like a wasteful design flaw to me. Why would a designer who has such weird feelings toward sex even create sex when, he could use his omnipotence to poof creatures into and out of existence at will?

Gods make no sense with the world we observe. I mean I see why ignorant people might want to label their ignorance "god", but I don't think anyone really interested in the truth would do so. Saying "goddidit" is the same as saying "it's magic" to me.

• Ye Olde Statistician

They encourage men to treat women as sex objects.

• Fr.Sean

Begin forwarded message:

Hi Articulate,
That's a good question and i'm glad you asked.  everyone commenting on this site has faith and reason.  reason, or science is largely the topic we are discussing, perhaps where does reason or science lead?  but our "faith" is divided into two separate camps, although i'm sure there are smaller ones.  in one camp are monotheists, specifically catholic christians who believe Jesus is the Son of God.  we believe this because of what we have learned and what we have experienced from that belief.  the other camps's faith is largely atheism and agnosticism.  naturally atheists believe there is no God and everything came about by pure chance.  in both faith camps there are things that cannot be proven in an empirical way, thus one has to accept things on "faith" by believing in things that cannot be proven.  the unmoved mover argument seeks to reveal there is an unmoved mover that one can develop from reason, thus it supports the monotheists belief in a God but that proof alone says nothing else of what that God is like, it simply shows a god exists.  to understand the Christian perspective i would begin with this; Jesus was a historical person who did and said many things.  he said he was the Son of God and people claimed he performed miracles, the final and most important miracle was that he rose from the dead.  Now since we cannot go back and time to verify these assertions it would naturally lead to one investigating the issue in an objective manner (if one investigates with no intention of being open to the possibility that what he says is true may simply be an exorcise in futility).  I would suggest reading Mere Christianity by c.s. lewis, and i would suggest reading though the gospels and in prayer asking God whom you aren't sure exists to reveal himself.  if you come to the conclusion that Jesus is who he says he is you will be able to go from the unmoved mover argument to knowing God in a personal way.

• Michael Murray

the other camps's faith is largely atheism and agnosticism. naturally atheists believe there is no God and everything came about by pure chance.

We do not have faith. We have reasonable expectation based on prior experience.

We do not believe everything came about by pure chance.

But I think articulett knows these things already.

• Fr.Sean

Hi Michael,
I don't think we disagree, i think we may just misunderstand what the terms mean. i've often read that some people think faith is believing it something that has no basis in reality. that's not our understanding of faith. faith is based on historical or observable events, that hypothesizes what may happen or what has happened. Thus Christians believe a historical person, Jesus to have been telling the truth when he spoke about the Kingdom of God etc. but we cannot prove that in an empirical way. Atheists also have faith in the sense that they believe someone who hypothesizes something that will happen, or has happened based on things that have happened in the past or observable data. since they cannot prove their hypothesis it falls into the faith realm. you have faith that what they say is true. Secondly could you elaborate on how there is something other than pure mathematical chance that doesn't have an agent to guide it?

• articulett

I'm sure you are aware that multiple are alive today who think they are gods, sons of gods, prophets, and the reincarnation of Jesus. Many have followers. Google Jesus of Siberia and Jesus of Austalia (AJ Miller). Google

The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

Delusional people really believe their delusions. I can believe that people believe their delusions without believing their delusison myself. I 'll note that only believers in chupacabras claim to have seen one. And only believers in demons detect demon possession in others.

By the way, what sort of agent are you imagine guides mountains to form? What sort of agent makes demons? What sort of agent controls fruit fly copulation? Just because humans are prone to attributing agency to things, doesn't mean that there is real agency involved. And even if there was-- what in the world makes you imagine that it wants you to "believe in it" (and suck others into the belief)?

• Ye Olde Statistician

what sort of agent are you imagine guides mountains to form?
Plate tectonics in many cases. Don't assume that all agency is rational agency.

• Fr.Sean

Hi Michael,

I tried to post something before but don't know where it went. i don't think we really disagree i think we may just have different understandings of what the terms mean. Faith is believing in hypothetical things based on past evidence/experience. an atheist first of all believes there is no God but does not have any evidence to prove it. moreover many atheist believe in theories that have been hypothesized by various scientists without an empirical evidence to support their theories are true. Believing in the big bang is one thing, i may not be able to apply it to the scientific method but i can observe that it is almost certainly true. believing in the multiverse is something different since there is virtually no evidence that it is true. believing in something of that nature is faith and not observable science. Christians believe that a historical person, Jesus, was telling the truth when he spoke of the Kingdom of God, furthermore we believe the mirad of witnesses who confessed that they witnessed him perform miracles, yet again, like the multiverse theory we can't prove it in an empirical way. secondly, would you mind explaining how their can be something else beside pure random chance that does not have an agent to guide it?

• articulett

If souls weren't real, would you WANT to know? Certainly you can admit there is a possibility that they are not real, right? Presuming you WOULD want to know-- how would you find out? What does that mean in terms of your god?

If the immaterial beings you believe in were as imaginary as the ones you dismiss as myth-- would you want to know? Because from an evidentiary stand point the two are identical.

• Michael Murray

Hi Fr Sean, Things seem to come and go on DISQUS.

I think there is a difference between the kind of faith I have which is contigent on evidence and the faith the Catholic Church understands which seems to glorify most of all faith in the absence of evidence. People such as Mother Teresa are held in great esteem for (among other things) continuing to believe when she no longer heard God talking to her.

From what little I've read of biblical scholarship (mostly Bart Ehrman) I have serous doubts about the links between what is written in todays bible and any historical person on whom it might have been based and things they might have said or done.

As for science you don't need to understand it. In fact you can't. There is nobody who can understand it all, unfortunately. All you can do is note that the scientific method seems to work and look for the degree of consensus on any particular topic. As I understand it we don't actually know there was a big bang. It's a bit of a misnomer. All we know is that there was a point at which everything in the universe was packed into a very small space and then our theories break down as we don't have a theory of quantum gravity. Things like the multiverse come up I think when you look at your theory and find it might be consistent with or predicting a multiverse. So you explore the idea a bit and try and see if it would be possible to look for evidence of a multiverse. To my mind it's on the grey boundary between what we are confident about and what we don't understand at all. In time we will either (a) find evidence (b) decide it's an inevitable consequence of theories for which we do have evidence (c) give it up.

Sorry this is getting long. By things not being random chance I was think of evolution by natural selection.

• Fr.Sean

Hi Michael,

I think our thinking is perhaps a little closer, but perhaps with a few differences in how we approach various aspects of life. i have heard some atheists-scientists posit the idea that must of what they study, and believe is based on verifiable data etc. but the truth is we all make decisions that are in fact based on faith. if we only made decisions based on verifiable data while believers hold that we simply have faith without evidence. My initial reaction to such an idea was that i had become unaware that i was somehow "anti-scientific" or "anti-reason and logic". almost as if someone pointed out that i was in a particular perspective of approaching life that i did not know i was in. a few months back i came across the story of richard morgan, I ended up reading a bit of what is on richard dawkins site. while i have a great admiration of his intellect one thing i couldn't seem to understand was why many of his followers simply take his ideas hook line and sinker. admitingly his ideas are based on past observable events (god as an agent theory), but it seems like once one becomes interested in his writings they no longer evaluate the evidence for themselves. i know one way to detract from an argument is to constantly inject doubt, if you inject enough doubt pretty soon someone may begin to question there own reality. but are the doubts that are injected reasonable and logical? the idea that St.Paul was the originator of Christianity for example; the author assumes that in fact Paul was a historical person but ignores Jesus as being a historical person? one could further inject doubt that paul was actually a historical person? the evidence that all of these people spoke of a man (Jesus) that they witnessed do and say many things that they were willing to lay down their lives for him and that there are secular writings of Jesus suggest he was historical? how difficult would it be to create someone out of thin air and then have that much written about him without a single historical reference that Jesus in fact did not exist? I know this is a faith aspect but if i said i wasn't entirely certain God existed i would be telling a fallacy, i feel as though i can say i know Jesus is the Son of God, however at times i've struggled with doubt as to whether he cares what's going on in my life or if i'm doing what is pleasing to him from moment to moment, but if i said i didn't believe he was the Son of God i would not be truthful. (i know that some may say they feel the same of Mohammad, but i can't speak for them i can only speak for myself) I'm relatively sure that's how Mother Theresa struggled with her faith. she felt the presence of Christ at the beginning of her life but then went through a number of years of the "dark night of the soul" which is a theological idea i'm not going to bore you with. Still i'm relatively sure she never struggled with the idea that Jesus was in fact the Son of God. suffice it to say i do think we both have faith and we both have reason, it's just that what we have faith in differs to some extent.

• Fr.Sean

Hi Michael,
For some reason i posted something the other day but it again didn't come up. i would affirm that some things are more concrete than others but i suppose i would differ in the sense of what faith really is. i went on richard dawkins website a couple of times and pondered why most of his readers take his theories hook line and sinker, when many of them aren't overly grounded in reality or are simply hypothetical estimations. what i mean by that is that they have faith in what he says even when he can't prove it or support it with facts. i think this is in a sense faith. you might even be compelled to think Dawkins followers would believe any potential theory as long as it didn't include a notion of God. From my experience of my own personal faith i suppose one can divide it into two possible catagories of how it can be distinguished. to be honest i don't have any real doubt that God exists, if i told you that i was 90% sure that God existed i wouldn't be truthful. now i know descarts proof for God existence implies that the only thing you can be 100% certain of is that you exist, for you could actually be soem kid in a choma dreaming this whole thing. realizing that is a possibility i would have to say (again this is just my opinion, or feeling) that i'm around 99.99% sure that God exists. where i struggle with faith, and i think all believers struggle to learn this is that i may not always feel God's presence, or perhaps know what i'm doing day in or day out is what he wants me to do. you might say i have experience doubts at times of his presence from time to time but often remember experiences that overwhelmed me with God's presence. that i think is what Mother Theresa experienced at times. she doubted at times whether she was doing specifically what Jesus wanted her to do but didn't doubt his presence because it has been supported by past experiences.

• articulett

In my world there are supernaturalists who imagine they have a method for determining real supernatural being/things from mythological beings/things even though scientists have no method for distinguishing such. You are on the side of the supernaturalists along with the Muslims, Scientologists, and Voo Doo practioners, reincarnationists, etc. You believe that the immaterial beings you believe in (a 3-in-1 god, demons, souls, angels, ghosts) are more real than the ones you reject as myth (Zeus, fairies, succubi, Thetans, gremlins, super advanced alien visitors, invisible penguins, etc.)

Theists are very very confused about the burden of proof. I don't have to have an explanation for universe origins to reject magical explanations just as you don't have to know where missing children are to reject the notion that they are being eaten by aliens.

When things are real they are distinguishable there should be evidence which distinguishes them from illusions. If psychic powers were real, for example, they ought to be winning all the time in vegas. If people could really channel dead people, these dead folks ought to be able to tell us where their missing bodies are... or the combination of a safe that only they knew a combination too.

In science, if you claim that x-rays can see inside a body, then you provide the evidence which shows this to be so. If you can't, than this claim doesn't warrent belief by those who are interested in the truth.

I don't know any atheists that believes that things came about by "pure chance"... it's kind of like-- that's sort of like saying ice cubes are shaped like their containers by "pure chance". Those who understand the selection processes involved rarely use terms like "pure chance"-- that's a term for theists who want to obfuscate what scientists actually believe. Theists do this all the time with evolution although no biologist thinks evolution can be explained by "pure chance". I think it's a way to muddle up peoples' thinking so that they don't understand natural selection-- a much more explanatory and elegant answer then a weird, wasteful, and brutish god who acts pretty much like a non-existent god as far as the evidence is concerned.

I don't "believe there is no god" anymore than you believe there are "no invisible penguins"-- I just don't think there is a valid reason to believe in any immaterial entities including the ones you imagine yourself "saved" for "believing in". They make no sense to those outside your faith. I think that believers find reasons to believe because they are afraid they've been indoctrinated to believe that bad things will happen if they don't.

Santa was based on a real person too... that doesn't mean that Christmas presents under the tree every year is evidence for the magical claims that people (children) believe about him. The same goes for Jesus. And Allah. And Joseph Smith. If Jesus was so super duper doing all these miracle thingies, why are there still Jews? Why don't any Christians seem to know or make a pilgrimage to the supposed place where he resurrected? Why all the sectarian violence and schisming? Certainly a real god could have been clear enough to prevent such things and an omnicient/omnipotent one has no excuse not to!

And I read C.S. Lewis-- I think Christians are insane when they recommend that book... do you know what C.S. Lewis determined was the worse sin of all? Child molestation? Nope! (God didn't even command against that). Slavery? Nope! Rape? Nope. Genocide? Nope. Torture? Nope. It's modern humans who decided those were atrocities-- not any gods written about in holy books! The worst sin of all according to C.S. Lewis is pride! Well try telling that to a child molested by a priest. I'm sure they would prefer the priest be prideful rather than molesty. Don't we tell kids they should feel proud of themselves when they do something good? Why is pride the worst sin of all?! Have theists learn to spin crap like this into "words of wisdom"? How do they do it? Can they do it with all horrors?

Also I'm sure all victims of sexual abuse would prefer that that their abuser just sin in his thoughts rather than actually doing it because, despite Jesus' admonishments that lusting in your heart is the same as actually having sex with someone. Raping people in your mind doesn't cause pregnancy, venereal disease, and lifelong trauma the way actually raping people does.

Your manipulations about reading and praying to know if something is true is the exact manipulations Mormons use... and then if they ever try to leave the faith they are reminded that god gave them a personal testimony that Mormonism was "the truth". I'm sorry but your technique doesn't test the null hypothesis (no god)-- as such, it's just an exercise in confirming your biases. Remember, lightening bolts ar not proof that Zeus exists.

I think you believers need to get used to these sort of arguments because the memes used to suck people into belief have become more virulent over the years and so have the antidote arguments for theistic programming. From the outsiders perspective, your supernatural beliefs are no more useful, valid, or true as the beliefs (like Scientology) that you reject. Moreover, they have the potential (like Islam) for great harm. People can be convinced to do most anything if you can convince them that their ETERNITY hangs on it (See: Abraham and Isaac for example.)

I submit that it's theists who are unwilling to question whether their beliefs might be as wrong/misguided as the supernatural beliefs they reject. All a naturalists would need to come to have a supernatural belief was real was scientific evidence that the supernaturall thingie was more real than the imaginary version of the suprnatural thingie-- real evidence... the kind we could test... the kind you'd require if god wanted you to do something that you'd never normally do.

• Fr.Sean

Hi Articullete,

thanks for your reply, i appreciate the effort you put into describing your understanding of faith. i had in fact encountered a few people who told me they died, left their body and were able to witness what was going on in the room from an external point of view. this can't just be "chemicals in the brain" since they still need a physical eye mechanism to see. if you have an opportunity watch the documentary below, it's a bit fundamentalistic but the two points i want to bring up are, 1, they were able to witness themselves outside of their bodies. 2. they were athiests and didn't expect to see anything.3.it wasn't mohammad, or Buddha or confusious who sent them back, but it was Jesus. the second two are a little more tangible, one could make a case that the other three aren't as concrete (actually the last two aren't as concrete)

by the way, the sin you mentioned that lewis was talking about, pride, he was talking about the root sin, someone who molests people is giving into lust. Pride keeps out God and perhaps gives one the ability to rationalize giving into other sins, which is perhaps why lewis felt it was the most destructive.

• articulett

That's nice-- I was into that sort of stuff when I was trying to convince myself souls were real because my husband had recently died at a young age. I'm sure, though, that if these things are actually real then REAL evidence will accumulate and not just stories and anecdotes. Memories are often embellished in the retelling, and this sort of "evidence" is akin to chupacabra sitings or claims of alien abduction/anal probing. We can assume that something is going on and that these people truly believe it's whatever it is they've interpreted it to be-- without coming to the same conclusions.

As I said, real things should be distinguishable from imaginary things when tested scientifically.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7621608.stm

Scientists should uncover real evidence if these things are real... but so far the evidence all seems to be of this type: http://reluctant-messenger.com/reincarnation-proof.htm http://www.freewebs.com/proofofislam/scienceinthequran.htm

I don't want to watch your video for the same reason you don't want to watch this video as to why Islam is true: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zkwWXH08Vw or this one as to why Scientology is true: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFBZ_uAbxS0

I think we can trust that if any of this stuff is actually true, the evidence will accumulate over time... and if not, then these sort of beliefs will just sort of splinter, fade, and morph with time like other myths, religions, and superstitions.

Every delusional person believes that there is good evidence for the suprnatural things they think are true-- they all imagine they have better evidence than those "others" with supernatural beliefs they reject.

Should the notion of disembodied consciousness ever have the amount of evidence that we have for scientific theories like heliocentrism, atomism, evolution, etc. I'm sure that pretty much everyone will believe. But until that time-- it looks very much like the sort of wishful thinking that humans are prone to indulge in.

• Sage McCarey

Fr I read the bible and asked God to reveal himself for years. I did not get any answers. The whole story of Jesus is taken from former pagan beliefs about sacrificing to please god/s. Roman emperors claimed their fathers were gods. The fastest growing religion in the world today could use the unmoved mover argument to prove Allah. They don't believe Jesus was god or the son of god. They have other stories to prove their religion is the one true one, and they think you are damned. What if muslims are right and you just happened to have been born in the wrong country? What if they're right and xtians are the ones who will suffer in the afterlife?

• Fr.Sean

Hi Sage,

I'm sorry to hear that you did not get any answers, and while i can't exactly know why you wouldn't the only thing i can point out is if look at other Christians who were former atheists and had the same kind of situation that you had. Richard Morgan who was formerly a Mormon missionary (without getting into whether or not Mormons are legitimate Christians) for a number of years and practiced his faith finally came to the conclusion that he was an atheist and had always been one. http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/09/former-atheist-richard-morgan-interview.html . years later when confessing that he was an atheist not because he wanted to be an atheist but because he couldn't believe in God he received the gift of faith in an instant. he said he knew God existed without any rational explanation. anyway, he confessed that while he was a Mormon that he wasn't really searching for God but rather was searching for a social support network where he could be accepted. In other words when he purified his motives for searching for God he received the gift of faith.
People come to faith in two primary ways;

1. they receive it as a gift when they authentically pray for it for a while and ask for it. I read a story by Cardinal Dolan who had been preparing a couple for marriage. the woman was Catholic and the man was not. He was interested in the faith and intrigued by the prospect of converting. Fr.Dolan gave him a few books to read which the young man read in a short time. Later when he went back to meet with Fr.Dolan he told him he loved the books, he really enjoyed the theology but he just didn't believe. Fr.Dolan realized at that point that he remembered faith is a gift. he told the young man to go home and pray for the gift. The next week he came back and told him he knew God existed and entered the RCIA program.

2. The other way one comes to faith is through reading and through investigating the issue. Leah Libresco as you probably know was an atheist blogger. she came to the conclusion that the natural law, or moral law was something outside of us or beyond us, something we "uncover like archeologists not construct like architects" as she put it. in her search to discover it's origin she realized that morality was more than just a set of beliefs but was in a sense a person. that realization led her to the faith and she entered the RCIA program. C.S. Lewis also received the gift of faith via that route. He was an atheist and attempted to prove God did not exist. He also could not come up with a rational explanation for the natural law. He couldn't figure out why when he did the good, was compassionate, kind etc. he felt good, but when he was selfish, unkind he felt bad. he realized something had put this notion into him, thus he concluded there had to be a God. Both of these people after concluding there had to be a God would look at the scriptures and the faith under a different lens because the had internal knowledge that God existed.

Finally, some people feel that you simply have to make a "leap of faith", simply a choice to believe and to see things from the faith perspective. That choice will lead you to and understanding and knowledge of God's existence. I would recommend continuing to pray for the gift of faith, perhaps read Mere Christianity, or even the Screwtape letters, and i would also recommend reading the Gospels. If you have questions for me you are welcome to e-mail me. If you go to my website at 2fish.co then just click on the "contact" button, then click on the "ask a priest" button i could go into a little more detail if you are honestly interested in the topic.

• Fr.Sean

Hi Sage,

I'm sorry to hear that you did not get any answers,
and while i can't exactly know why you wouldn't the only thing i can
point out is if look at other Christians who were former atheists and
had the same kind of situation that you had. Richard Morgan who was
formerly a Mormon missionary (without getting into whether or not
Mormons are legitimate Christians) for a number of years and practiced
his faith finally came to the conclusion that he was an atheist and had
always been one.
http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/09/former-atheist-richard-morgan-interview.html
. years later when confessing that he was an atheist not because he
wanted to be an atheist but because he couldn't believe in God he
received the gift of faith in an instant. he said he knew God existed
without any rational explanation. anyway, he confessed that while he
was a Mormon that he wasn't really searching for God but rather was
searching for a social support network where he could be accepted. In
other words when he purified his motives for searching for God he
People come to faith in two primary ways;

1.
they receive it as a gift when they authentically pray for it for a
preparing a couple for marriage. the woman was Catholic and the man was
not. He was interested in the faith and intrigued by the prospect of
converting. Fr.Dolan gave him a few books to read which the young man
read in a short time. Later when he went back to meet with Fr.Dolan he
told him he loved the books, he really enjoyed the theology but he just
didn't believe. Fr.Dolan realized at that point that he remembered
faith is a gift. he told the young man to go home and pray for the
gift. The next week he came back and told him he knew God existed and
entered the RCIA program.

2. The other way one comes to faith
is through reading and through investigating the issue. Leah Libresco
as you probably know was an atheist blogger. she came to the conclusion
that the natural law, or moral law was something outside of us or
beyond us, something we "uncover like archeologists not construct like
architects" as she put it. in her search to discover it's origin she
realized that morality was more than just a set of beliefs but was in a
sense a person. that realization led her to the faith and she entered
the RCIA program. C.S. Lewis also received the gift of faith via that
route. He was an atheist and attempted to prove God did not exist. He
also could not come up with a rational explanation for the natural law.
He couldn't figure out why when he did the good, was compassionate,
kind etc. he felt good, but when he was selfish, unkind he felt bad. he
realized something had put this notion into him, thus he concluded
there had to be a God. Both of these people after concluding there had
to be a God would look at the scriptures and the faith under a different
lens because the had internal knowledge that God existed.
Finally,
some people feel that you simply have to make a "leap of faith", simply
a choice to believe and to see things from the faith perspective. That
choice will lead you to and understanding and knowledge of God's
existence. I would recommend continuing to pray for the gift of faith,
perhaps read Mere Christianity, or even the Screwtape letters, and i
would also recommend reading the Gospels. If you have questions for me
you are welcome to e-mail me. If you go to my website at 2fish.co then
just click on the "contact" button, then click on the "ask a priest"
button i could go into a little more detail if you are honestly
interested in the topic.

• Ye Olde Statistician

So how do you get from your hypothetical "unmoved mover" to a god that is a 3-in-1 male
a) He's not a male. That is a physical attribute, and somewhere down the road is a proof that the unmoved mover cannot be physical.
b) The triune nature of God, intuited by the Hindus and demonstrated logically by the Neoplatonic pagans, was demonstrated in a different way by Aquinas: from the rationality of God implying that there is something in God that is like intellect and will in humans, with the Trinity following from the subject and object of the two predicates. But that is way down the line in the series of theorems.

• Rick DeLano

Ashley: "This argument has numerous well-documented errors."

>> Really? Perhaps the strange joining of "error" with "well-documented" (after all, truth has nothing whatever to do with consensus, or approbation) will show, instead, that your objections involve error.

A: "First of all, the understanding of movement that the argument hinges on is a product of observation"

>> I think it is quite fair to say that unobserved motion is irrelevant, either to the argument, or to science.

The fact is we observe motion.

That much is certain.

"specifically the observation of "middle-world" objects directly accessible to human senses."

>> "Middle world" is irrelevant.

What is relevant is that we observe motion.

What is also relevant is that we do not observe- ever- motions which are not observable.

A: It does not apply, for instance, to the movement of individual photons,

>> Ridiculous. It certainly does apply to the motions of individual photons, which indicidual photons we have certainly directly observed- *by our senses*.

A: which may be emitted by a particle at random

>> "Random"? What possible relevance has it to the question of whether a given thing is observed to be in motion, whether the motion is "random" or "non-random"?

Why, none at all.

A:with a random direction and phase.

>> What possible relevance has it to the question of whether a given thing is observed to be in motion, whether the motion has a "random" or "non-random" direction, or phase?

Why, none at all.

A: It certainly does not apply to the very early universe, whose physics are completely unknown.

>> Absurd. One thing is known with absolute certainty about the physics of the early universe:

it involved motion.

A: Nor can it be shown to apply to a completely speculative concept such as a transcendent god, for which we have no observation whatsoever.

>> We do, however, observe motion, which is exactly the point with which you have thus far miserably failed to come to terms :-)

A: Beyond that, there are also a number of basic informal fallacies common to apology and theology in general.

>> Well, it is nice to see that the basic informal fallacies are not limited to your misapprehensions of science then.

We can hope you are better at apologetics and theology than you are at physics.

A: The most obvious is the false dilemma contained in the statement "If it is not, we have reached our conclusion—namely, that we must posit some unmoved mover". Wrong. The movement may be the result of some other phenomenon, perhaps one inherent to the object (eg, see photons above).

>> It is entirely irrelevant whether a photon moves randomly, in phase, out of phase, in a random direction, or "inherently".

The photon has come to exist.

It exists in a space where it exhibits motion.

It cannot have brought the space in which it moves into existence.

It cannot have brought itself into existence.

Therefore it requires a prior cause, by which we can account for the observed fact of its:

a) existence
b) motion

A: You cannot demonstrate the existence of some thing by finding a question that no one has yet answered.

>> One can demonstrate the necessary existence of a prior cause for the observed motion of a photon.

Please note this applies whether or not the photon is in phase, out of phase, heading in this direction, heading in that direction, whether it is really a wave, or whether it is really a particle, etc etc etc.

A: Immediately following this problem is an equivocation - "This we call God".

>> This is not an equivocation.

This is a definition.

A: All of these problems are common to pre-modern rationality

>> If yours is an example of modern rationality, it is to be devoutly wished that the moderns can go back to school and learn to think logically.

A: and its over-reliance on pure reason and rhetoric.

>> Yes, pure reason does indeed seem to pose a stumbling block for you here.

Even muddy reason would represent an improvement.

Let us start by noticing that motion involves the requirement of necessary and sufficient reason.

Aquinas has provided it.

You have not.

A: We have better tools today. We have a better understanding of the limits of logic, mathematics and language.

>> It is true you have limited understanding of logic. I am not in a position to assess your understanding of mathematics and language, other than to note that phase, direction, etc. are words which have no remote logical bearing on the question of what constitutes necessary and sufficient reason by which we can account for a photon's (or anything else's) observed motion.

A:Theology continues to use an ancient alpha version of reasoning, one that is full of bugs and which produces terrible models of the world.

>> To the contrary. It produces models of the world which make science possible.

Yours is not even a model.

• This is an argument that should be abandoned , as it is based on pre-Newtonian (and pre-Galilean!) errors in physics. There is no motion except with respect to frames of reference, none of which are privileged. This is intimately tied (by a theorem of Noether) to conservation of momentum.
Most of physics would have to be wrong for it to be false.

In the 19 century it was further established that there is no "frame of the universe".

At best, Aquinas's argument needs extreme revision--how to save it without turning it into a duplicate of the "first cause" argument is not clear. Reference to an unmoved mover is not only wrong but nonsensical/incoherent in the language of the natural sciences.

At the risk of breaking site rules (and as a Catholic) I should point out that this is the "Newton's First Law" taught to high school students, not an advanced topic. Getting it wrong might make people think the Christian position hinges on scientific ignorance.

• Bennett, thanks for the comment! First, as you seemed to realize, your final condescending paragraph is offensive and unnecessary. It only takes away from your otherwise interesting observations. There's simply no need for it.

Second, I minored in physics in college so I'd like to think I'm somewhat well-versed in the subject, but even I had trouble following your comment (probably due to my own density more than anything else.) To help me understand, can you please clarify specifically where Stacy (or Aquinas, or Aristotle) made their crucial misstep? Thanks!

• josh

Hi Brandon, I have a PhD in Physics and I work in that field (specifically particle physics). With respect, a minor in the subject is a nice introduction but barely touches the surface. Much of grad school is coming to understand how little you know compared to physics as a whole.

Anyhow, Bennett's point is a statement about relativity. Motion is always relative. In Newtonian/Galilean physics one can always choose to regard one object as at rest and any others as moving with respect to it. The 'rest frame' is arbitrary, although an accelerating frame complicates your equations. Also to the point, every force acts equally on both objects which 'generate' the force. E.g. if I exert a force on a chair, it also exerts a force on me. Relativity is even more pronounced in Einstein's (more correct) theory, where measurements of length and time are relative and even the simultaneity of two events isn't a given between two observers. This means there can be no Unmoved Mover, since the mover/moved distinction is unphysical.

This is just one of the numerous errors in logic and science to be found in Aquinas/Aristotle. They (and their modern successors) are working with such primitive notions of cause and effect, infinitude, motion/change, identity and logic that it is hard to know where to begin deconstructing them.

• theordinarycatholic

" Also to the point, every force acts equally on both objects which 'generate' the force. E.g. if I exert a force on a chair, it also exerts a force on me. Relativity is even more pronounced in Einstein's (more correct) theory, where measurements of length and time are relative and
even the simultaneity of two events isn't a given between two observers. This means there can be no Unmoved Mover, since the mover/moved distinction is unphysical."

"In the beginning was the Word." What if the Uncaused Cause/Unmoved Mover is the source of all movement(energy) that is found in our world which Aquinas seemed to believe is God, then how would God(being the source of all things and all energy) be relatively and equally affected by His own exerted force as in the example of the chair, in uttering "Gentlemen, start your engines." which set off the whole chain of events that we know as the universe?

The Sun gives off energy and begins to dissipate at the same time. Same with a battery or even a human body which in time ends in the death of the body, yet theologically speaking, we know God does not and cannot change. If all spatial/time finally comes to an end and disappears at some distant point in the future what do we have left but the same Uncaused Cause/Unmoved Mover, unchanged, still the source of all things as it was in the beginning when all there was was the Word.

Isaiah 55:11
"So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."

"In the lab we see particles come into existence without cause and uncaused motion. (See the Lawrence Krauss lecture on "A Universe from Nothing" you can find through Google.) The carrying of the unmoved mover from physics to theology is a variety of "gap argument" in which a supernatural cause is invoked because "we can't think of a natural cause." This is arguing from what you don't know (argumentum ad ignorantiam). Not being able to think of a
cause is no justification for postulating the supernatural."

And just because there appears to be no observable cause or uncaused motion on certain particles is also no justification for postulating the merely natural over the supernatural. That a cause may not be observed in the lab at the moment does not mean a cause will not be found in the future.

The "gap argument" works both ways. While the religious may fill that gap with God, it seems to me that today science is not so much interested in finding a cause but trying to prove that a cause is NOT God.

• theordinarycatholic

As I said above, I think science does not want to find a god OR God in the gap and goes to great lengths in order to prove that nature can do without God. I'm not sure why, but the vehemence in which they present their arguments and in finding what ever they can to disprove God or at least find a natural, physical explanation indicates to me a certain fear, a fear that they may be wrong in seeking a purely natural cause of all things. At least that is what it seems to me.

• articulett

To me it looks like believers are looking for rational reasons to prop up their particular magical beliefs because they think there are rewards for doing so and punishments for lack of faith.

Scientists are interested in what is true. If there was a scintilla of evidence that consciousness (of any sort-- gods, souls, demons, angels) could exist absent a brain, scientists would be all over that evidence to find out more and religionists would be funding their efforts eager to have scientific evidence for their faith. But wanting things to be true is very different than them actually being true. At some point, rational people need to concede that invisible beings aren't real... nor are beings with superpowers-- no matter who told us they were or how much we wish it was true or how many anecdotes that "science can't explain".

Perhaps scientists more than anyone else trust that real things will be distinguishable from misperceptions, myths, illusions and the like when tested. Science has an error correcting mechanism-- faith does not. Science does things like double blind studies and chi square analysis to correct for known biases-- faith exploits these biases.

I think I can show evidence that my hypothesis is more correct than yours. If souls are just an illusion of the brain, would you want to know? How would you know? If scientists have come to the conclusion that souls are no more real than demons and fairies... should they let the public know? Or should they prolong the magical thinking of their fellow humans?

I think scientists would love any real evidence that they could test and hone that souls were real-- but I think most theists wouldn't want to know if souls were just an illusion of their brain-- whereas atheists would prefer the truth to investing their energies in a lie. Surely any real gods could provide convincing clear evidence to everyone regarding whatever it was they wanted people to believe-- if they existed. This would be even more true if the purported gods were supposed to be omnipotent and omniscient.

• articulett

How would scientists distinguish your god from a mythological god or a demon or some other magcial immaterial being?

I would imagine that if there was any real evidence for ANY disembodied form of consciousness, real scientists would be testing and refining that evidence to find out more-- and they'd be funded by religious who are already dumping billions into the churches to prop up their faith. At last we could know which invisible beings we were "supposed to" believe in to win the right paradise and we could be certain we were believing in the right one (assuming there was one-- and not 0 or 3-in-1 or 1000 or infinity... it's so hard to count immaterial entities, you know?)

If something supernatural WERE real we could go about refining tools to distinguish real supernatural thingies from illusions of such... so that we wouldn't have to have faith that Zeus was throwing lightening bolts when there was better explanations at hand. We could refine the techniques needed for pleasing the invisible beings so that they might help our crops grow better or cure our cancer or land hijacked planes or grow amputed limbs back... or whatever it is they are supposed to be doing for the people who believe the right things about them with the right ferevency and worship the right way.

• josh

Thinking of 'sources' with the 'power' to 'create' things is still primitive thinking that doesn't reflect a realistic understanding of the universe. If God moves an atom then I may equally take the perspective that an atom moves God. The objective case has to be that God and the atom move relative to each other (and even then, that itself is only relative to a movement in time or some other dimension).

If God creates the 'universe' then there must be a meta-universe which allows God to exist and establishes the rules under which he acts and the rules that tie his actions to the actions of the universe. Then I can equally say that under those rules, the existence of the universe 'causes' the existence of God. All these variations of the cosmological argument are founded on an untenable notion of one-directional relations.

• articulett

From a rational perspective, saying "god did it" is akin to saying "it's magic." It's not a real answer. It raises more conundrums then it is supposed to explain. It's like saying Zeus makes lightening or that presents under the tree are evidence that Santa is real.

First you'd have to define what this god is and how you know and what it's made of and how it's distinguishable from an imaginary god and how we can distinguish a godly unmoved mover from a non-god one. Otherwise you are just labelling your gap in knowledge "god". You are essentially saying, "it's magic and beyond your understanding."

God may be a satisfactory answer for people looking for rational reasons for propping up their faith (and those who fear punishment if they lose faith). But "I don't know" is the truth. From there you can explore the best ways for those who may want to know more to find out. So far supernatural explanations have always been replaced by better natural answers and we can extrapolate that this will probably always be the case.

• Michael Murray

While the religious may fill that gap with God, it seems to me that today science is not so much interested in finding a cause but trying to prove that God is not what fills the gap.

I think you have an exaggerated sense of your religions importance. No atheist scientist sits there looking at their data and worrying that it will support the theist cause. Like most atheists they don't even give your god a second thought until you stick him in their faces.

• Dcn Harbey Santiago

Hi Josh, I was wandering if you wouldn't mind if I can contact you off-line. I have some questions about this topic but I must admit my Quantum Physics experience is limited to one undergrad class, and some reading on my own, so I wouldn't want to subject the readers of this thread to my "ignorant speculations". I can post an e-mail here and you can answer privately thus protecting your e-mail from potential spammers. Then we can continue privately. I promise not a long conversation just a couple of e-mails to have you set me in the right direction.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
Deacon Harbey Santiago

• josh

Hi Harbey,
If you want to post an e-mail I'll try to answer your questions, although I'm also happy to do so publicly. There is nothing shameful about ignorance, I just get frustrated when people make sweeping assertions rooted in ignorance and treat them as Gospel truth. :)

• Dcn Harbey Santiago

Hi Josh,
Thanks for been so generous with your time. I rather keep it out of the thread if you don't mind. You could e-mail me at:
hanamalu@netzero.net

Thanks!

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
Deacon Harbey Santiago

• There is no question that Aristotle and Aquinas were great thinkers, however, they were limited by what was know during their times. When reading them I always want to ask how they would revise their positions if they knew what we know today about Evolution, Neuroscience, Quantum Physics and Cosmology. The very notion of motion has changed as we have discovered that space itself is expanding, and at an ever increasing rate. In the lab we see particles come into existence without case and uncaused motion. (See the Lawrence Krauss lecture on "A Universe from Nothing" you can find through Google.)

The carrying of the unmoved mover from physics to theology is a variety of "gap argument" in which a supernatural cause is invoked because "we can't think of a natural cause." This is arguing from what you don't know (argumentum ad ignorantiam). Not being able to think of a cause is no justification for postulating the supernatural. It went over easier in the time of Aristotle because little in the observed world did have a good natural explanation, and there was a long tradition of attributing the unknown to some form of deity. It is less that way, today, because we are continually pushing back the unknown with testable natural explanations.

• StacyTrasancos

Q., I've watched the Krauss lecture before. It's the science talk where the scientist keeps making religious jokes. I don't know what it has to do with the Unmoved Mover argument though. Can you explain what you meant?

I'm not aware of any particles coming into existence by reason of themselves either. It is caused by other forces external to them. Spontaneously measuring them doesn't negate that. Or maybe I misunderstand you.

Your second paragraph is arguing a straw man. Please read the arguments, if you are not satisfied with the summary. There are links. Could you specify exactly where either Aristotle or Aquinas invoke a supernatural cause because they coudn't think of a better answer?

• Yes, Stacy, Aristotle had much trouble with the motion of planets and had to resort to unmoved movers for each (later attributed to angels see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamics_of_the_celestial_spheres). Had he known what Newton discovered he would have had natural explanations for these motions (except for Mercury, which had to wait for Einstein) and not have had to postulate based on what he did not know.

I am glad you took the time to present this argument which, though obsolete, has a historical position in our development of knowledge. Because we can show with experimental evidence that Aristotle based his arguments on a false concept of motion, all his conclusions in this area are unsupported (be they true or not) and that goes for anything built upon those conclusions thereafter.

I see others in this discussion have also picked up on the problems of applying even the Newtonian ideas of motion down at the quantum level. We do see unmoved motion at that level, as others have noted. Going through that is probably not well placed on this thread, and somewhat redundant because it is usually presented in full detail in refutation to the "uncaused cause" argument, which can subsume the "unmoved mover."

• The proofs are very badly written by modern standards, whch is a big problem here. No matter what response is made, correct or incorrect, the proponent may claim that the argument has been misunderstood, and drown the conversation in pages of antique, obtuse text, and finally fool themselves into thinking their argument a success when they merely fail to communicate. If you want to engage ancient skeptics, then give them an ancient text that uses ancient patterns of thought. If you want to engage historians of philosophy, then you can also give them that ancient text. If you want to engage skeptics who are alive today, you should speak their language. Modern writing has different conventions.

Use the ancient philosophers as your source of ideas, not your outsourced labor. Recast the argument in concise, organized, systematic, deductive form.

For example:
Argument from the lemma that all changing things are divisible. A changing thing either (1) is changed by something outside itself, (2) is changed by some part inside itself, or (3) is changed by its whole self. #1 leads to either an first changer or an impossible infinite regress; #3 is ruled out as nonsensical; #2 moves the level of analysis down to consideration of the parts either in an impossible infinite regress or until we get to "atoms" that must be changed by something else.

And similarly for the other proofs.

Incidentally, this specific argument is wrong in multiple ways.

First, if Everett's Multiverse hypothesis is correct, the universe has only a continuous wave function, no true particles, so there would be a genuine infinite regress at #2. Therefore, until that hypothesis is ruled out, this proof fails on that account.

Second, that #3 is nonsensical appears to be based on an intuition that nothing can move itself. But that is precisely what is to be proved and so is an invalid logical step. Furthermore, there are known counterexamples: extreme cases in physics where a macroscopic object may begin moving spontaneously; virtual particles which move spontaneously; whole classes of mathematical functions which describe smooth, spontaneous transition from complete rest in one state to complete rest in another state. So the proof also would fail on this account.

The old philosophers could not have known any of these things. So they used intuition, and the intuition was faulty.

• StacyTrasancos

Respectfully disagree Noah. There is a great deal to be learned and appreciated by studying the classics.

About the Multiverse, that doesn't make any sense. Why would we hold a logical proof based on observation as failed until a hypothesis *not* based on observation is proven?

"Second, that #3 is nonsensical appears to be based on an intuition that nothing can move itself."

^^^I don't understand. Can you follow the links and specifically explain where it is based on intuition? It sounds like you are saying you think it is, but you don't say why.

• Which of my statements are you disagreeing with? The only additional comment in your paragraph is a non-sequitur.

Aristotle attempted a logical argument that seems to require finite divisibility in one of the argument's branches. Everett's Multiverse Hypothesis, also known as pure-wave theory, is currently the most parsimonious scientific explanation of the mathematics and experimental results in quantum physics. Whether we find out it is true or false in the future, its possibility is a counterexample to Aristotle's proof based on division, because it describes reality as a continuum, i.e. as having infinite divisibility. The relevance is that a single counterexample is sufficient to negate a logical argument. It is important to recognize that, because mathematics since Cantor has vastly more powerful methods of handling infinities than were available before Cantor, many of the classical arguments that relied on more primitive intuitions about infinity do not survive re-examination.

You asked me to point out where in the text the intuition was made explicit, which is nonsensical, since an argument relies on intuition in what it doesn't say. Relying on intuition is often a good thing. It lets us skip the repetitive parts of arguments, and it lets us use squishy, easy natural languages instead of precise, demanding formal languages. The downside is that arguments will fail to be convincing to people who have different intuitions. And that, in turn, can open up interesting dialogue about the differing intuitions.

• alexander stanislaw

The conclusion of this argument seems to be that an infinite regress of causes in logically impossible. I don't see the problem*.

Consider a extremely simple hypothetical universe - a harmonic oscillator. Just two bodies oscillating. This hypothetical universe has no first cause yet I see no logical contradiction.

*I am not asserting that this universe is an infinite regress.

• Fr.Sean

I suppose i must be ignorant of the primary proof of the argument. i thought the unmoved mover argument cant be defined as follows. Energy can only go in one direction and cannot return to it's original state. ex. the sunlight hit's the planet, contributes to growing plants that a dinosaur eats, becomes fossil fuel and is burned up in my car. but the energy cannot return to it's original state. Or more specifically, our own sun will burn out, other suns become black holes or are absorbed into black holes, in other words, our Universe is reaching an end to the exhaustion of energy (i know energy is not destroyed but it cannot return to it's original state). Thus what initiated the whole chain reaction? what began the big bang to begin with? isn't that the unmoved mover, or am i confused on the proof?

• The changes in energy that you mention are also referred to as the increase of entropy over time. The short answer to your questions is that we don't know yet, but we have some possible explanations we'd like to test. Wikipedia has more detail on the basics of that here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entropy_%28arrow_of_time%29#Cosmology

• CBrachyrhynchos

I have two overall problems with this argument.

The first is that I think there's more support, and stronger support for the idea of matter fundamentally in motion (having a wave nature) than there is for heliocentrism. Note that I'm not saying that heliocentrism is wrong, only that wave/particle duality is fundamental to so many different fields, and so much everyday phenomena that there's no reason not to adopt it when we take ideas with fewer lines of evidence as uncontroversial.

The second argument I'll make is for noncognitivism. If I start with the pythagorean theorem, I can say a great many things about triangles on a Euclidean plane. However, I can't jump from the induction that it applies to all triangles on a Euclidean plane, to triangles in non-Euclidian surfaces. In making that jump, I've stepped beyond the domain of my prior induction.

The one unifying theme of modern cosmology is that the logic of everyday things has very limited meaning applied to the universe as a whole or to the extreme conditions of the early universe. Can we reason about causality when we know that our ideas about spacetime break in extreme gravity? Can we reason about motion absent either spacetime or matter? Can we reason about supernature absent anything recognizable as nature? Since deductive attempts to apply the logic of everyday things to those extreme situations tend to end in paradox, I suspect that the inductive chain breaks as well.

That doesn't exclude or affirm a prime mover. It's an epistemological claim not an ontological one, thus related to strong agnosticism and "weak" atheism. Simply, the argument is that it's probably not meaningful to use induction about atoms, arms, and dominoes to understand universe origins or deity.

-- Kirk S.

• Kirk, you asked "Can we reason about causality when we know that our ideas about spacetime break in extreme gravity?".

Can I push on the premise of that question a little bit and ask how we know that our ideas about spacetime break in extreme gravity? Or for that matter, how can we say that we "know" anything?

I will not be able to articulate the claim I'm about to make as well as I would like -- it's very much a thought in progress -- but I do suspect, the more I consider classical philosophy and modern science, that the basic claims of classical philosophy about causality, epistemology, etc., are actually assumed implicitly by modern experimental science.

If this is right, then it would end being simply incoherent to say that our modern discoveries have undermined classical metaphysics, because the only certainty at all that we have about our modern discoveries rests on classical metaphysics (or at least certain points thereof).

• Ben, here is a short article on the advance of epistemology after Plato, in which you can see the big difference that has come about: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/EPISTEMI.html

• CBrachyrhynchos

Saying that they undermined classical philosophy is something of a nonsense statement because classical philosophers were a diverse bunch who frequently disagreed with each other, and more frequently have been found wrong. If it's acceptable to consider those philosophers wrong on such things as gravity, biology, and the existence of irrational numbers, it's certainly reasonable to question Aristotle as an authority in these matters.

Here is the problem of induction in a nutshell. The best model for gravity we have going is General Relativity. General Relativity predicts that spacetime is relative depending on gravity and differences in velocity between frames of reference. This is, quite elegantly, derived from a simple thought experiment involving trains and flashlights. It's fairly uncontroversial, since it predicts everything from the decay of sub-atomic particles, to the timing of GPS signals, to the motion of Mercury, to gravity waves and black holes in extreme solar systems, to Lemaitre's Big Bang.

But, if we consider general relativity as applied to situations that are not uncommon in the universe--the death of stars heavier than three times the mass of our own--the chain of induction breaks because time becomes undefined. Both theoretically and observationally, Einstein's work appears to be pretty sound in predicting everything except whatever is happening inside a singularity.

More importantly, GR is foundational to Lemaitre's cosmology. You can't have the Big Bang and ignore the implications of GR for causal induction under the conditions of the Big Bang. Either Einstein, Lemiaitre, the Big Bang, and almost all of our physics of the last century are wrong (possible), or there are some situations where inductive physics breaks. Personally, I'm betting on Einstein.

That does not disprove or affirm a prime mover. Just that you can't naively get there using the physics of everyday things. Whether you can get there less naively is an open question at this point. At the moment, early-universe science looks pretty alien, and the possibilities for a non-universe science even more so.

-- Kirk S.

• Sorry, by "classical philosophy" I specifically meant "Aristotle as developed by Aquinas". I guess that's not particularly obvious and I should have been more clear.

If I'm understanding your basic argument rightly, it goes something like this:

1. The key premise of the Unmoved Mover argument ("everything that is moved is moved by another") is established by induction from medieval physics

2. But experience indicates that natural "laws" established by induction from physics are not universal

3. Therefore we can safely assume that, like General Relativity, "everything that is moved is moved by another" may appear universal but is not.

4. Therefore the argument fails before it's barely gotten started

Is that a fair summary?

If so, one of my first thoughts is that Aquinas must have considered this objection. The medievals were certainly familiar with point #2 above -- their physics was not really as naive as it might appear in hindsight. The limits of induction were well understood and discussed by Aristotle and then by Aquinas in his commentaries on Aristotle.

And with that being said, I wonder whether the first premise of the Unmoved Mover is even a result of induction from physics, in the view of Aquinas. I honestly don't know the answer to this but as I have been revisiting Aquinas recently, particularly through the excellent commentary of Edward Feser, I am starting to get the sense that the answer may be 'no'.

• CBrachyrhynchos

That's not it, the objection is deeper.

I can't meaningfully talk about the area of a line segment. Absent two dimensions, the concept of area is undefined. While I can construct inductive proofs about infinities of triangles on a euclidean plane, those proofs are no longer valid for talking about three points on a line segment. Similarly, I can't meaningfully talk about the volume of triangle. Absent a third dimension, inductive proofs about volume are undefined.

Cause/effect, mover/moved are dependent on time. It's not clear what those terms mean in situations where spacetime is undefined. Since we've gone from "four dimensions" (an abstraction) to dimensions of an unknown quality, we can't make any claims about our ability to continue the induction into the new territory. (Well we can, but they involve messy infinities and paradoxes.)

Do we have good reasons to believe that there are situations where time is undefined? Yes: General Relativity. The same theory that predicts a Big Bang (Lemaitre) also predicts singularities where time as we understand it is undefined. To the best of our understanding, the Big Bang looks like it might be one of those singularities.

To reiterate, my position is one of philosophical noncognitivism. Existence without spacetime is fundamentally alien, and inductive proof grounded in the logic of everyday is probably the wrong tool for understanding it.

Do we have alternatives? Perhaps mysticism can provide an answer, but mysticism requires, at least for a few moments, that we metaphorically become alien minds ourselves. Unfortunately, those experiences are subjective, so the argument basically boils down to whether I should abandon my revelations to adopt yours.

-- Kirk S.

• I guess I would like to know more about what you mean by "induction". To me that word indicates the process of generalizing from experience of particulars.

From an Aristotelian-Thomist perspective induction yields a tentative understanding of nature that may or may not correspond to the truth about things but can be useful. Aquinas is very careful to point out which of Aristotle's sub-arguments in support of the Unmoved Mover thesis are inductive. Only a few are, and as far as I can tell each of them is optional to the overall argument; they amount to saying "you may also look at it this way if it seems helpful".

In any case the overall argument only requires "some" things to be in motion--this is the very first premise.

There may be many physical phenomena which can't be accounted-for by the Aristotelian definition of "motion", but as long there is even one phenomenon that *does* fit this definition, then I think the argument works.

• StacyTrasancos

I want to clear something up for all the accusations of dishonesty and criticisms that science has proven poor Aristotle and St. Aquinas wrong. This tidbit summary is plucked (as Gabriel points out) from a massive framework of philosophy. I know enough about philosophy to know that since I am not a philosopher, I should not wax philosophical on these matters.

I first read these arguments because I was confused by various opinions and wanted to read first sources for myself. The summary above is only that, a summary of a very isolated part of the larger philosophy. Be convinced, be unconvinced, but at least read the arguments and take away a tidbit of introduction, and at least recognize that this little bit is in no way exhaustive.

But please do not assume that a cursory glance makes you qualified to demolish the argument unless you've seriously grappled with and understand the larger framework. That would be like reading a blog post summary of one page of Darwin's On the Origin of Species and then arguing that science has proven all of evolution wrong, without even reading the rest of the work or trying to understand what experts in the field of evolution have said about Darwin's theory since. That is, it would be ridiculously premature and uninformed.

If you would like to see what an expert philosopher and contemporary scholar has to say, I refer you to Dr. Edward Feser. He covers many of the "non-serious objections" here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html. I've read that piece more times than I can count, and I'm currently reading his books Aquinas and Philosophy of Mind (happily on my Kindle, the latter a second time!) both of which I of course can't recommend enough. Dr. Feser is also a contributor here!

• Stacy, it might be helpful to add at least one update at the very top of the blog post -- just something to explain up front that local motion is only one species of "motion" in classical philosophy, alongside other species such as generation, corruption, growth, diminution, etc.

This might help avoid some of the less-illuminating rabbit trails in the combox about relativity. It just doesn't matter -- the argument is valid as long as *some* motion occurs, even if relativity demonstrates that local motion is only an illusion.

• josh

By a better version of the same argument, Feser and cotravellers are not experts on modern physics or science of any kind. Moreover, they are a minority even within philosophy, which has rather ambiguous standards for being an 'expert' anyhow. There is simply no reason to take them seriously. They don't understand how thoroughly their framework has been dismantled by centuries of better thinkers.

• fats

my brain exploding is proof i was moved by the article.

• TheodoreSeeber

Ha, Aristotle + Aquinas=Newton.

It is convincing to those who are already convinced. It may even be convincing to those who are on the fence. But it will not be convincing to those who protect their knowledge like a knight in his armor.

• articulett

How do you get from your hypothetical mover to a 3-in-1 deity who impregnated a virgin and became his own son AND wants you to believe this story (or else)? Why would a magical mover need to be "believed in" and why wouldn't "he" just make (or move) people to believe whatever it was that "he" wanted them to believe? What's the use of being a mover if you can't move things the way you want them? There really is no excuse for a "prime mover" to be disappointed, is there? Especially if you add omniscidence into the blend.

I mean I can understand people labeling their ignorance "god" or deism... but that doesn't make it a "he" or a "being" that "wants" (without a brain) to be "believed in" but manages to make "him"self indistinguishable from a mythical being. If I wanted to be "believed in" I'd be damn sure to distinguish myself from a schizophrenic delusion.

There is no evidence that consciousness of any sort can exist absent a material brain. The "immaterial beings" you believe in (gods, demons, angels, ghosts/souls/spirits) are no more real than the ones you reject-- Xenu, Zeus, fairies, gremlins, etc. If there was a scintilla of real evidence for any immaterial beings, real scientists would be testing, refining, and honing that evidence for their own benefit. But how long must we tiptoe around religious feelings about reincarnation or salvation or whatever the hell some believer in magic truler believes about "souls" and purported afterlives. When can we let people know that their gods are as imaginary as the demons their ancestors were so afraid of. And we have no more reason to think we live after death, then to think the bug we stepped on does. Consciousness is a product of an evolved brain. It exists in those whose ancestors preferentially survived and reproduced because of the sort of consciousness they had. "Immaterial beings" (whatever they might be) would have no need to "survive" or "reproduce" and so have no reason to be conscious! And if consciousness is immeasurable (and indistinguishable from non existing things), then how do you know grass isn't conscious... or rocks.. or the ecoli in your gut? What makes you imagine that you can "know" which immaterial beings are real and which are imaginary-- when scientists cannot even substantiate that ANY immaterial beings exist at all.

Ask yourself, if souls weren't real, would you want to know? Because that's the crux of all religious nuttery. People WANT to believe they will live forever and that a magical universe creator has a special plan for them. Religion confirms this desire, but adds a caveat-- if you don't BELIEVE the right magic story-- you will be tortured forever. So theists with this meme infection have to constantly play mental games to convince themselves that their magical beliefs are "higher truth"-- even though it has no more evidence in it's favor than all the myths, superstitions, cults and purported "higher truths" they reject! The Catholics are as brainwashed as they think the Mormons, Muslims, Scientologists, and Jehovah's Witnesses are! And you are as unlikely to change your minds as those other believers are.

I know-- I used to be the Catholic girl imagining that stigmata and Mother Theresa and Saints with "proven" miracles were some how better proof that my magical beliefs were more right than my Mormon friend who got a personal revelation fro god (a burning in her bosom as well as other signs) that Mormonism was the one "true church" and Joseph Smith was a prophet and only Mormons would go to the "highest heaven." Don't you realize every religion is doing the same? The people who speak in tongues think this is proof that their magic is real-- the Muslims can point to all those dying for their faith as evidence that their magic is the truth... the reincarnationists point out how much more logical and spiritual the concept of reincarnation is compared to the cartoonish heaven/hell religions.

And none of it makes any sense at all nor does anyone need to try and make themselves believe it until or uneless there is ever any evidence that there is some sort of life after death.

If there are any real gods, I trust they have the magical powers to tweak things so that people will believe whatever they want them to believe and have no one to blame but themselves if they fail. If there are holy wars, and that isn't what they want, then clear communication rather than being indistinguishable from a voice in one's head is advisable. Growing back an amputated limb might be a nice start... instead of "miracles" that only look like "miracles" to true believers.

Or, if there are gods/demons/shapeshifters/advanced aliens/ghosts/ or any other invisible entities who want ME to believe in them-- you just need to be scientifically distinguishable from a mythical entity. I don't think that's too much to ask. Even Catholics would ask this of the invisible beings they don't currently believe in-- right?

• StacyTrasancos

Articulett,

Dang. That's a whole lot of ground you covered. Since you "used to be a Catholic girl" I'll pick this comment since it seems central to all that you wrote:

There is no evidence that consciousness of any sort can exist absent a material brain.

Is all existence owed to material things? The answer is either yes or no.

You seem to be sure that the answer is yes. How did you get there?

• articulett

What are you calling existence? There are certainly abstractions that exist in the brain-- in human thought-- like gods, fairies, math, friendship, justice, science, etc. But they map to material things and are meaningless without them. Without a human brain defining these things into existence, they don't "exist". Disembodied consciousness is as meaningless as "photosynthesis" in an immaterial flower-- or music in a vacuum. The realm of science is anything that is real-- and I trust that real things will be distinguishible from imaginary things when scientifically tested. If your magic men cannot be distingushed from the mythological beings you reject, then it makes sense for me to conclude they are just as imaginary. As far as the evidence is concerned, I can dismiss the immaterial beings you believe in just as readily as you can dismiss Santa, and Zeus, and fairies. I can understand why you believe-- just as you can understand how people might truly believe they've seen a chupacabra-- but that doesn't convince me that these things are real... that they are MORE than the product of human imagination/manipulation and/or misperception. For that I'd need evidence-- the kind you'd require to believe in chupacabras. Humans are clearly prone to believing in magical beings of all sorts.

I would say that if science cannot know about something, there is no reason for me to think your guru or your magic book or some self-apponted prophet or Deepak Chopra can know either! I think all people claiming to know anything about gods or afterlives or souls or anything else supernatural are claiming to know things they don't know-- whether Aquinas, your priest, you, Tom Cruise, reincarnationists, rain-dancers, astrologists, or whatever. You are all free to BELIEVE whatever you want... But if you want naturalists to take you seriously you have to offer evidence-- the kind of evidence you'd require to believe something supernatural you don't currently believe-- like that Jesus wants you to give all your money to the poor... or that reincarnation is real.. or that you have a curse on yourself

In science, a hypothesis needs to be testable and falsifiable-- that is, if we are on the wrong track, the evidence should reveal that. With religion you just fit all the data so that it makes sense with your faith. There is no evidence which disproves your faith to you-- a real god is just testing you if he is indistinguishable from a mythological god when tested. In science, a good hypothesis is never disproven even though it can be... instead, the data accumulates and supports the hypothesis leading to a theory (the best explanation for a body of facts) as well as new evidence in support of the theory. (See Cell theory, Evolution, heliocentrism, atomism, etc.) If you ever want your 3-in-1 god to be the best explanation for the evidence we observe in this world, you'd have to start buidling data... and so far the only "data" anyone has is a word game where they define an "uncaused cause" into existence and label that "uncaused cause" their god and then attribute that "god" with all the magical attributes their religion imposes and then they tell others that it's a virtue to believe in this nonsense (and you'll be tortured forever if you don't).

As you can see with myths and wrong faiths-- that is a very poor way for understanding what is true. I believe that theists would NOT WANT to know if their faith was untrue. Most would want to keep believing for the ego.boost or support it gives them mentally.. (and/or just in case their "loving" god would torture them for all eternity if they did not.) Beleivers have a vested interest in keeping their faith and spreading it to others (as with chain leters, the goodies are said to accumulate by sharing the "good news"). Rationalists have a vested interest in the truth. We believe that the best way to get there is via evidence-- not faith.

The Adam and Eve story makes no sense with what we know about genetics... and if "orignal sin" is a metaphor-- then how do you know Jesus dying isn't also a metaphor? None of it real makes sense. A 3-in-1 deity who is monotheistic and everywhere but identical to a nonexistent entity who is nowhere as far as measurable evidence is concerned? As a Catholic girl, I had to avoid thinking about it too much, lest my faith suffer. But I'm a grown up now, and I don't think it's healthy to proffer "faith" as a virtue (nor to inculcate the fear of hell in children). I understand, that Christians-- like Muslims can manipulate as they wish to indoctrinate children... but how can YOU imagine that a good god would want any part of such shenanigans? Many of my favorite people are Catholics-- but I want no part in furthering this lie.

• StacyTrasancos

Soooo (trying to summarize here):

1) Only science tells us what's real.
2) Science only deals with material things.
3) Therefore, only material things are real.

(I avoided the word exist since that seemed to bother you.)

Is that a correct summary? (Just a quick yes or no and correction will do.)

• articulett

No.

You can continue to argue a straw man if that is what works for you, but you may want to respond to what I actually said.

It's not that only science tells us what is real-- it's that science is the only proven method we have from distinguishing reality from myths-- it's how we know that there are better explanations for lightening than Zeus and better explanations for the origin of the species than "god went poof" and better explanation for mental illness than demons. It's how we know that witches are probably not real and how we've concluded that it's probably wrong to kill people who are accused of being witches (despite the biblical edict).

"Exist" doesn't bother me-- but it does bother believers in immaterial beings because they have no method to prove that their immaterial saviors are more real than the mythological ones they reject. They want to believe that god exists in spaces other than in human imagination-- but there is no evidence for that. So instead they play word games so that "exist" can mean emotions like "love" or abstractions like "faith"-- but no one really believes that those things ARE god.Believers all imagine that the invisible beings they "believe in" are more real than abstractions and myths. Yet they can't say how-- nor can they demonstrate it.

Science deals with anything that is real-- it doesn't have to be material, but it has to effect the material if it is deemed to be real (see the Higgs Boson)-- it ought to be distinguishable from things that aren't real. If gods are indistingishable from imaginary gods, then they can be treated as such and there is no valid reason not to. The same goes for souls, fairies, angels, demons, and so forth.

Abstractions aren't material, but they are real in a sense-- but I'm not interested in word games. 2+2 = 4 even before humans and math and those terms existed-- but the concept "2+2=4" did not. Gods existed when humans invented them-- they did not exist before that. Or rather, there is no more reason to think they did than to think fairies did.

Here is a quick summary:

Rational people expect that real things will be distinguishable from delusions, misperceptions, myths, and imaginary things when tested. Souls aren't. Ergo all the semantic arguments of Aquinas and New Agers etc. are irrelevent in regards to what is true.That is why rational people dismiss your supernatural beliefs as readily as you dismiss myths past.

I know you WANT to believe it's because we're stubborn or that demons are influencing us-- but it's just because you can give us no more reason to believe your nonsense than those others can give you to believer theirs. We atheists think you are as wrong and misguided as you think those "others" are-- and for pretty much the same reasons.

• articulett

I have a question I've been wanting to ask true believers. I think you set the bar real low when it comes to "evidence" required to believe what you want to be true-- but that you'd set the bar higher in other cases.

Or on a lighter note-- Jesus tells his followers to give away all their possessions and follow him in the bible (actually he says this twice!). So how would he need to manifest to you if he wanted you personally to do so? What if your neighbor or parent believes that Jesus asked this of them-- would you require less proof than if Jesus want you-- personally-- to do so? Would Jesus have to appear to you like he does in Western world paintings? How would you verify it was Jesus asking this of you like he asked of his followers in the bible and not some sort of misperception?

Also, why shouldn't an atheists demand the sort of proof that you'd require in these scenarios to believe your 3-in-1 diety is real? Why shouldn't an atheist require the same sort of evidence that YOU'D require to believe that Xenu (Scientology bad guy) was real? Or reincarnation? Or gypsy curses? Or some other magic you don't currently believe? Why should an atheist take your beliefs more seriously than you take those? Why should we want to believe in your magic any more than you want to believe in the magic those "others" proffer?

I think it's bizarre that you have to imagine that we'd doubt no matter what-- when the truth is, we'd demand the same standard of evidence you'd demand to believe crazy things that you don't currently imagine yourself saved for "believing in" (or damned for doubting.)

• articulett

The problem with faith-- especially the most virulent faiths--- is that they are rigged. There is no way for the believer to know if their religion is as wrong as those "other" religions they reject. They learn to fit every piece of evidence into support for their faith and never to test it (unless like the Mormons the test is rigged... you read the Book of Mormon and pray to know if it's true and god sensd you a personal sign confirming that it is... and if not-- read more and pray harder... you're not doing it right... or maybe you missed the sign!)

The more virulent faiths push faith as a virtue... though they don't really think all faiths are good-- just their braind! Those peole who believe the wrong faith are stupid or gullible or misinformed or influenced by satan. The most virulent faiths promise you rewards for this faith-- the invisible creator of the universe is testing your faith you are told... and it's a pass/fail test where the consequences are ETERNITY.

With consequences like that you'd think every scientist would be testing to make sure they had the right faith because there are a lot of them... and everyone is going to hell according to someone's religion. There is no clear rubric for grading. It's god's little mind game, you see. Everyone thinks those "others" who believe the wrong things are going to hell-- not them. But who wants to take chances with ETERNITY?!

Of course if immortal souls are as made up as myths past, then there are no reasons to worry about which unbelievable things we are supposed to believe to live happily ever after. And there's no need to manipulate others into belief-- if something is real, and they are interested in the truth, the evidence should suffice-- not answer involving magic... er "supernatural" thingies.

• articulett

When honest people don't know an answer, they say "I don't know"-- they don't pretend that the answer must be the god that they were indoctrinated to believe in.

If hypothetical "uncaused causes" or "prime movers" were real arguments in favor of some sort of immaterial universe creating "mind" that "wants" to be "believed in", why do you think scientists like Hawking, Sagan, Tyson, Krauss, etc. are unswayed?

And if a scientist WAS convinced, why would they pick your version of god over a Buddhist explanation, or a Muslim god, or Zeus or any of the myriad gods/creation stories humans have invented? How do you explain to yourselves the varying faiths and rampant non-faith amongst those most interested in universe origins and other cosmology.

Believer's interest only extends to the parts that they can use to bolster their faith. That is not a method for finding out what is true.

• articulett

How exactly is an immaterial being different from nothing, exactly? How do believers imagined their god (made of nothing) poofed everything from it's "nothingness" and why would it do so if it was perfect and everything was perfectly perfect as it was?

Why create suffering? If immaterial beings are our true nature-- why not make all heaven all the time for all beings... why not make them all perfectly pleasing like Jesus... he had "free will" right? If you are the people maker, you have no one to blame but yourself if they aren't as you envisioned them, right? Why would any moral being make a place of infinite torture? Why not just erase your mistakes instead of punishing them for being exactly as you knew they would be before you made them?

Why do theists even have children if they believe there's a possibility that the child will suffer ETERNALLY? Isn't that an incentive to be sterilized? And don't you think aborted babies go right to heaven along with all kids who die before they are old enough to commit sins that could land them in hell? So wouldn't it be better in Christianity to die young-- before you could potentially become hell-worthy? When Andrea Yates killed her kids, do you believe they all went to heaven? Could they have ended up in hell if they grew up and became atheists or gay or did something else that made them "hell worthy"? Do you think god knew before their birth that they would die this way? Was it part of his plan? Andrea Yates believed she was going to hell because she couldn't discipline her children enough to keep them from doing bad things-- so she killed them to save them from the same fate. Isn't this more of a sacrifice than Jesus made-- she chose hell on earth and then hell in the afterlife to save her kids from eternal torment... Jesus suffered 3 days and died temporarily to save people who believe the right magic story. And he's in happy land forever as he knew he would be according to Christian mythos. It was all part of his dad's (who was really Jesus himself) plan!

Speaking of free will do you think a pedophile CHOOSES to be attracted to children? Do you think people choose what they are attracted to more than your dog chooses to wag it's tail? Also, do you blame yourself or your dog if it eats forbidden food that you put in it's path? What do you think is appropriate punishment when a dog eats your steak that you left within it's reach?

Do you think a Muslim chooses to be Muslim? Do they choose to believe that Christians will go to hell for worshiping Jesus as a god? Aren't most peoples religion based on the religion of their parents/culture-- the stuff they were indoctrinated to believe by the people they trust and then confirmed via culture?

To me, theists just don't seem to think very deeply about the kinds of stuff I couldn't stop thinking about as a believer.

It seems to me that believers are much harder on fellow humans than they are on their gods. If a human set 2 bears loose to maul 42 children, there'd be nothing they could say to make it okay. But the bible god does it in 2Kings2 and believers have all sorts of excuses. I wonder to myself if they'd make the same sort of excuses should anyone unleash a bear on their children-- would claims that god mandated it make it okay-- EVER?! Is there anything any child could do that was so bad that they "deserved" to be mauled to death by bears? How is it that just about everyone in today's world is more evolved and more moral than the god of the old testament (who seemingly endorsed slavery and misogyny)? I think it's disturbing that religionists are able to justify so much barbarism when they put it into the faith context. I fail to see how people imagine that religion is responsible for morality when it seems to me that people are able to justify any horror through faith. Why do you think your god allowed "thou shall not suffer a witch to live" in his "inspired works". I think the obvious answer is that he never existed and, so, never inspired any book. But what is your answer? What semantic games do you play in your head to make such passages godly?

• articulett

Here's another quick summary of my point.

Real gods who wanted to be "believed in" or who wanted people to believe certain things about them-- have no one to blame but themselves if they are disappointed. The same would hold true for demons, advanced aliens, and any other beings who wanted humans to "believe in" them or to "believe" things about them. Right? If you want people to believe you are rational-- it's up to you to foster that belief-- not others.

I think if there were any real evidence for souls, real scientists would be testing, refining, and honing that evidence to learn more and no-one would have to be manipulated into "belief".

Because there is no evidence that any part of consciousness can exist without a material brain, gods and what they purportedly want people to believe are irrelevant to those of us interested in what is true. There is nothing anyone can really know about beings that cannot even be substantiated to exist. Anyone claiming to know anything is talking out of their ass. Even if I accept your arguement about a prime mover... you still haven't advanced one iota towards a mover that wants me to "believe" in it-- much less to believe things about it (like that it inspired a book and impregnated a virgin and had a son and is 3-in-1!)

If you want to have a conversation with ME, you need to give me the kind of evidence YOU'D require to take a Scientologist and their supernatural beliefs seriously. Why should I expect anything less? Don't try to summarize me-- instead give me the sort of argument that you'd want a Scientologist to give you. Word games are for people trying to prop up their faith-- evidence is for those who are interested in what is true.

• StacyTrasancos

"Anyone claiming to know anything is talking out of their ass."

"If you want to have a conversation with ME..."

Um, no thanks. I'll pass on the hostility.

• articulett

That's out of context, because I don't believe that "anyone claiming to know anything is talking out of their ass"-- but I'll take your reply as an admission that you have no counter argument to my my actual argument that anyone claiming to know anything about immaterial beings (like gods, ghosts, or fairies) is talking out of their ass. I thought about saying "lying"-- but I know that delusional people really believe that their beliefs are true. Maybe "talking out of their ass" was brusk-- but they ARE claiming to know things they do not actually know.

I'm sure that you believe you understand god and what he wants just as much as Tom Cruise thinks he understands the deepities and truth of Scientology. I'm also sure that you are as nice and smart as he is-- but that's not a basis for real dialogue in regards to what is true. Every delusional person believes their delusions is "the truth".

I think you should admit to yourself that you are interested in this venture as a way of sharpening your faith through argument with the hope of convincing others that your faith is "the truth" thus bolstering your faith. You are not interested in this diaglogue as a way of getting at the truth that is the same for everybody no matter what they believe. You think you have it-- just as surely as the Scientologist thinks so. And you don't want to know if you might be as wrong as you think they are.

If you were interested in the truth, you'd have to have a valid method of getting there. The truth isn't afraid of words lilke "ass" or probing queries. It just hangs around being the truth whether we discover it or not. Faith is not a method of finding it; evidence is. Imagine if your child was missing-- you wouldn't be satisfied with the word games played here. Psychics don't help. You'd be appalled if a police officer suggested that aliens might be responsible for missing children. A priest saying that god "called your child home" wouldn't be satisfactory evidence of anythinng either. You'd want REAL evidence. And that's the kind of evidence this atheists (most atheists?) would would want when it comes to universe orgins or souls or afterlives or gods' existence and so forth. This is because the truth matters to us-- it matters to me in the same way that finding your missing child might matter to you. I don't really want to waste any more of my life on fanciful tales even as I see the joy it brings to people like Tom Cruise, you, and other true believers.

I don't normally go to believer sites because I think that people have a right to believe whatever they want. But I'd heard you wanted atheist input here and that you have some false impressions in regards to why we find your beliefs to be unbelievable.

• Susan

Stacy,

I thought the idea of this exercise was that catholics and atheists have a respectful exchange of ideas.
You've ignored articulett's fair and reasonable points and quote-mined them to accuse her of being hostile. Her comment read in its entirety shows no signs of hostility. It would serve your position better if you addressed her points.

• articulett

I want to add that the laws of motion involve matter interacting with matter. We don't even have an idea as how an immaterial being (whatever that might be) can move anything... or even what that means.

The theistic arguement seems to me to be that a god made of nothing poofed everything into existence and then began the dominoe effect that became the universe we have today-- right? And he did this for a mysterious reason that involve humans and may or may not be tied to a book... right?

Isn't it more honest to say, I don't know what caused the Big Bang or even if the word "cause" applies? Asking what caused the Big Bang might be the wrong kind of question... like asking how far till the end of the earth.

• Also remember that some deist creation stories end with the deity or deities being consumed in the act of creation (i.e. greatest act of love) such that even if creation did happen by some first mover, there is no evidence that said mover is still moving today, or even ever was, past "In the beginning ..."

• Patrick

This argument is nothing more than trying to logic a god into existence. It provides no empirical support.

• Pedro Lopes

Hello Stacy.

Aquinas states all over through his work that the Unmoved Mover cannot be a body (that can also mean that he has no physical matter, I guess).

"Again, matter does not become the cause of something actual except by being altered and changed. But if, as we have proved, God is absolutely immobile, He cannot in any way be the cause of things according to the mode of matter."

(Summa Contra Gentiles, Ch 17, 5)

He also does state in the Summa Theologica, on the part concerning the Simplicity of God (Whether God is a body):

"First, as is clear from an induction over singulars, no body effects movement without itself being moved (nullum corpus movet non motum). But it was shown above (q. 2, a. 3) that God is the first unmoved mover. Hence, it is clear that God is not a body."

Can the proposition "no body effects movement without itself being moved" be proved on purely metaphysical ground?

Greetings!
Pedro

• Michael J Felock

Lets get to the root of things..........why does the concept of motion exist in the first place?

• Michael J Felock

In 1990 I wrote a book that was inspired by a factual account of a supernatural experience of mine. I wrote the book based on faith that the information I received as a result of this one experience was true and accurate. There was, however, one paragraph that always caused me consternation. I wondered why I wrote it and what was it applicability. Just recently I discovered it is a near word for word explanation of Aristotle's explanation of the idea of substance and that of motion

• Boris

A perfect example of the logical fallacy known as Special Pleading.

• Brian Bleakley

Why can nothing be both a mover and moved? If we take a simple system of gravitation with three point masses, each particle is both a mover to the other two and moved by the other two. Is that considered proceeding to infinity?

• Yeh Man

I was mainly trying find the origins of the idea of monotheism. It seems unlikely to me that Judaism or Zoraostrianism or any other religion inspired Aristotle but rather he thought of these himself on from reference from some other tradition, not necessarily religious. Maybe someone else has wondered them same thing and found an answer?

• Lard_Bick

I'm late to the party, but here to provide a counter. The problem I see here is two fold. It seems the author here, as well as Aristotle and Aquinas, both equate being unable to conceive of infinities is the equivalent of them not existing. No such evidence is provided that demonstrates an infinite regress is impossible. Lastly, I see a fallacy of composition. Assuming what may be truth on Earth, this Galaxy, must also be true for Universe as a whole. No evidence is provided for this.