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Why Must There Be at Least One Unconditioned Reality?

Cat

NOTE: Today we kick off a six-part series by Karlo Broussard on a metaphysical proof for God's existence. The posts will run each of the next six Mondays.


 
There seems to be a pervasive view today that atheism has the intellectual high ground relative to theism. Atheist often perceive acknowledgment of God’s existence as being naïve or intellectually shallow. The basis for this perception is the common belief that all arguments theists propose for the existence of God are “god of the gaps” arguments (arguments where the theist posits God to fill in the gap created by a lack of natural explanations for a certain phenomenon). Such thinking leads atheists to define the believer’s acceptance of God as belief without evidence—a sort of blind impulse of the mind, which is appalling and repulsive for an intellectually responsible individual.

The problem is that such “god of the gaps” arguments are not representative of traditional or classical theism as embodied in the Catholic Tradition. Many classical philosophers would agree with atheists in rejecting such "god of the gaps" arguments and view them as unworthy of being classified as an argument for God’s existence. The arguments used by classical theists arrive at what is traditionally defined as "God" by logical necessity, not probability. God is seen as that which is metaphysically necessary to coherently and intelligibly account for the very existence of things within the universe and the universe as a whole.

For this reason, I am going to offer over the course of several posts a metaphysical argument for God’s existence. For the first and second installments, I will be drawing heavily from Fr. Robert Spitzer’s award winning book, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Installment one will consist of an argument for why there must exist at least one unconditioned reality in all of reality (i.e., a reality that does not depend on conditions being fulfilled in order to exist but exists in and through itself). The second installment will involve a demonstration of why unconditioned reality considered in and of itself must be absolutely simple in the metaphysical sense (that is to say pure being or pure existence itself). In installment three, I will argue that there can be one and only one unconditioned reality. Installments four and five will explain how one can deduce the various divine attributes for the one unconditioned reality that have been classically ascribed to God. Finally, in installment six, I will offer a few thoughts on why such a metaphysical demonstration is so important in the modern debate between atheism and theism with an eye on some common objections from atheists.

So, let’s start with why there must be at least one unconditioned reality.

We may start by elucidating the whole range of possibilities for all of reality by establishing what philosophers call a complete disjunction. In all of reality there is either at least one unconditioned reality (a reality that does not need any conditions fulfilled in order to exist but exists by its very nature—a reality that exists in and through itself) or no unconditioned reality, in which case all existing things in reality would be conditioned realities (a reality that needs conditions fulfilled in order to exist). For the sake of brevity, we’ll follow the lead of Fr. Spitzer and call the first side of the disjunction Hypothesis UR (at least one unconditioned reality in all of reality) and the other side of the disjunction Hypothesis ~UR (no unconditioned reality in all of reality).

Now, because these hypotheses exhaust the entire range of possibilities in all of reality, one has to be true and the other has to be false. They cannot both be true and they cannot both be false. So, if we can prove that Hypothesis ~UR is false, then we will have simultaneously proven that Hypothesis UR is true. It is my intention to argue as such in this post.

In order to make our navigation through the argument easier, it is necessary that we formulate another complete disjunction for Hypothesis ~UR. If there is no unconditioned reality in all of reality (Hypothesis ~UR), then a conditioned reality (e.g., a cat) is either going to depend upon a finite number of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality (Hypothesis F) or an infinite number of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality (Hypothesis ~F).

The thrust of the argument for this part of the demonstration is to show that neither Hypothesis F nor Hypothesis ~F can be true. Since Hypothesis F and Hypothesis ~F elucidate all the possibilities for reality under Hypothesis ~UR, if Hypothesis F and Hypothesis ~F can be proven false, then Hypothesis ~UR must be false as well—which, again, will prove that Hypothesis UR is necessarily true.

Let’s begin by showing the falsity of Hypothesis F, that a conditioned reality (e.g., a cat) is dependent upon a finite number of conditions where every condition is itself a conditioned reality.

First, if the cat is dependent upon a finite number of conditions, then that means there is going to be a most fundamental condition (a last or terminating condition) in the series of conditions that the cat depends upon for its existence right here and right now. For example, the cat is dependent upon the existence of its cells, which in turn are dependent upon amino acids and proteins, the amino acids and proteins depend on the existence of molecules, the molecules depend upon atoms, the atoms depend upon protons, the protons depend upon quarks, and so forth. With such a series, the quark (or something more fundamental) would be the terminating condition that the cat depends upon for its existence right here and right now.

Since Hypothesis ~UR asserts that there are no unconditioned realities in all of reality and only conditioned realities exist, this most fundamental or “last” condition in the series would have to be a conditioned reality, which means it must have its conditions fulfilled in order to exist. But in such a case this conditioned reality could not have its conditions fulfilled since it is the last or most fundamental condition (remember Hypothesis ~UR doesn’t allow for any unconditioned realities).

Now, if this most fundamental condition of the cat is a conditioned reality whose conditions cannot be fulfilled, then it would be non-existent (nothing) and consequently every other conditioned reality dependent on it would be nonexistent as well, including the cat. But the cat does exist. Therefore, the cat cannot be dependent upon a finite number of conditions where every condition is itself a conditioned reality. Hypothesis F is thus false.

What about Hypothesis ~F? Could the cat be dependent upon an infinite number of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality? There are two lines of reason that lead us to answer this question in the negative.

The first approach takes into consideration the insufficiency of conditioned realities in accounting for the existence of other conditioned realities. Consider for example the cells that the cat is dependent upon for its existence. Upon reflection we notice that the cells have no power in and of themselves to be an existing condition for the cat (i.e., they are not self-sufficient). These cells, in order to exist right here and right now, depend on the existence of amino acids and proteins. In light of this, we may ask, “Are the cells sufficient to account for the cat existing right here and right now?” Obviously the answer is no because we must appeal to the existence of the amino acids and proteins.

The same applies to the amino acids and proteins. They do not have any power in and of themselves to be existing conditions for the cat because they in turn depend, right here and now, on the existence of molecules. As we did for the cells, we may ask, “Are the amino acids and proteins sufficient to account for the cat existing right here and now?” Obviously the answer is no because we must appeal to the existence of molecules.

Now, the molecules have the same existential quality as do the cells and the amino acids and proteins. They are insufficient to account for the existence of the cat because they in turn are conditioned realities depending right here and right now on the existence of atoms. But the atoms in turn are dependent on the existence of protons. This makes the atoms conditioned realties as well and thus insufficient (like the molecules, like the proteins, like the cells) to account for the cat existing right here and right now.

Notice what we have here so far. Any condition of the cat that is in turn a conditioned reality is insufficient to account for the cat existing right here and right now—every one of them “passes the buck” in the search for a sufficient grounding of the cat’s existence.

So, the question now becomes, “Can one arrive at a sufficient explanation for the cat’s existence by postulating an infinite number of insufficient conditions?” (Hypothesis ~F). The answer is no.

The key lies in the fact that the insufficiency of the conditions in the series is not quantitative in nature but qualitative. If the insufficiency was quantitative in nature then the addition of insufficiencies might make a sufficiency (e.g., twenty horses could pull what two could not). But the insufficiency in the series is not quantitative in nature but qualitative. It is more akin to stupidity or blindness. As Bishop Fulton Sheen once wrote, “Ten thousand idiots never make a wise man...one hundred blind men do not make a blind man see.”1 As such, the addition of insufficiencies does not make sufficiency. Therefore, one cannot get a sufficient explanation for the cat’s existence by postulating an infinite number of insufficient conditions.

Now, if one cannot get a sufficient explanation of the cat’s existence by postulating an infinite number of insufficient conditions, then Hypothesis ~F is tantamount to saying that every condition the cat is dependent upon is insufficient to account for the cat existing right here and right now. But if there are no conditions that are sufficient to account for the cat existing right here and right now (no sufficient grounding of the cat’s existence), then the cat would not currently exist. But the cat does currently exist. Therefore, like Hypothesis F, Hypothesis ~F must be false.

The second line of reasoning for disproving Hypothesis ~F shows that if the series of conditioned realities regresses ad infinitum without an unconditioned reality the series itself would be equivalent to nothing. Take for example, as we did before, the cells that the cat is dependent upon. The cells cannot be existing conditions for the cat without the existence of amino acids and proteins. But amino acids and proteins cannot exist as conditions for the cell unless molecules exist. Similarly, molecules cannot be existing conditions for the amino acids and proteins unless atoms exist and the atoms cannot exist as fulfilled conditions for molecules unless protons exist.

Now, if the series regresses infinitely to more and more fundamental conditions that have the same existential status as the aforementioned conditions, then the search for the fulfillment of conditions would go on endlessly. But if the search for the fulfillment of conditions would go on endlessly, then every hypothetical conditioned reality in the series would never have its conditions fulfilled and thus would never come into existence. No matter where we’re at in the series we’ll always come to a conditioned reality that is nonexistent because it is existentially dependent upon other nonexistent conditioned realities. As Fr. Robert Spitzer writes,

"Since every hypothetical conditioned reality is dependent upon other nonexistent conditioned realities for its existence, it will never come into existence. It does not matter whether one posits an infinite number of them; for each one in the series of dependence is still equal to nothing without the reality of the others. But if the “others” are nothing without others, and those “others” are nothing without still others, it does not matter if one postulates an infinite number of others (or arranges the infinite number of others in a circle). They are all still nothing in their dependence upon nonexistent conditions."2

Therefore, an infinite series of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality is equivalent to a series of nonexistent conditions because no conditioned reality could ever have its conditions fulfilled.

Now we come back to our original question that constitutes Hypothesis ~F: “Could the cat be dependent upon an infinite number of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality?” In light of the previous reasoning, we have to answer in the negative. If the cat is dependent upon an infinite number of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality, then the cat would be dependent upon a series of nonexistent conditions. But for the cat to depend upon a series of nonexistent conditions would mean that the cat would not exist. But the cat does exist. Therefore, the cat cannot be dependent upon an infinite number of conditions where each condition is itself a conditioned reality. In other words, Hypothesis ~F is false.

Now, recall that we initially elucidated all the possibilities for Hypothesis ~UR with Hypothesis F and Hypothesis ~F. As such, if Hypothesis F and Hypothesis ~F are false, then Hypothesis ~UR would be false. Hypothesis F and Hypothesis ~F are false (as demonstrated above). Therefore, Hypothesis ~UR must be false.

Furthermore, because we elucidated by way of a complete disjunctive syllogism the whole range of possibilities for all of reality with Hypothesis ~UR and Hypothesis UR, it follows that since Hypothesis ~UR is false, Hypothesis UR must be true—that is to say any conditioned reality (e.g., the cat) must ultimately have its conditions fulfilled by at least one unconditioned reality (a reality that does not depend upon the fulfillment of any conditions for its existence).

But is such a reality worthy of what theists have traditionally defined as God? In other words, is unconditioned reality pure being or pure existence itself? Can there be more than one unconditioned reality? Is such reality immutable, immaterial, eternal, perfect, personal, all-powerful, etc.? The answers to these questions will have to wait for the forthcoming posts.
 
 
(Image credit: PetFinder.com)

Notes:

  1. Fulton J. Sheen, Philosophy of Religion: The Impact of Modern Knowledge on Religion (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1948), pg. 137.
  2. Robert Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing), pg. 116 [italics in the original].
Karlo Broussard

Written by

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

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.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    This is all predicated on the assumption that cats exist. Highly dubious!

    But seriously, the reality of cats can only be discerned in a social context. Two people who both say: "I see and feel (and smell, perhaps) the existence of this cat", and who together take the leap of faith (in spite of the ambiguities and limitations of human communication) that they are referring to the same thing, could work their way forward in terms of this conditioning argument.

    However, a third person, who did not acknowledge the existence of cats, would be unable to come along for the ride. That person, for whatever reason, might be unwilling to enter into the relationship of social trust wherein cats are understood to exist. We usually put such people in mental institutions, but that doesn't mean they are objectively wrong. It just means that their relationship with the truth is unhinged from our social relationship with the truth.

    In this sense, it seems to me that one should acknowledge that this argument is progressing towards an understanding of truth that is inherently socially conditioned and deeply personal. It is not progressing towards objective certainty.

    • "This is all predicated on the assumption that cats exist. Highly dubious!"

      I can't tell whether you're joking here, but the rest of your comment seems to suggest you might be serious. In case you are, note that Karlo's "cat" example can easily be substituted for any conditioned reality currently in existence.

      Theoretical semantics aside, I assume you would agree that at least some conditioned realities exist, right? (For example, you.)

      "However, a third person, who did not acknowledge the existence of cats, would be unable to come along for the ride. That person, for whatever reason, might be unwilling to enter into the relationship of social trust wherein cats are understood to exist."

      Sure. And babies couldn't "come along for the ride" either. But so what? That says nothing about whether Karlo has presented a sound argument.

      Just because some people irrationally deny the existence of cats doesn't mean they objectively fail to exist. And just because some people can't or won't understand a particular argument, that says nothing about its soundness. Wouldn't you agree?

      Finally, assuming you agree cats exist, let's discuss the actual argument instead of dabbling in ancillary, irrational hypotheticals like people who deny cats exist.

      "It seems to me that one should acknowledge that this argument is progressing towards an understanding of truth that is inherently socially conditioned and deeply personal."

      The fact "cats exist" is not socially conditioned or deeply personal. It is obvious and objective.

      "[The argument] is not progressing towards objective certainty."

      I'm not sure how you're defining "certainty" here, but Karlo's argument certainly arrives at logical certainty in the conclusion, "Any conditioned reality (e.g., the cat) must ultimately have its conditions fulfilled by at least one unconditioned reality."

      You have yet to provide a good reason this is not true. You've simply claimed that some people deny cats exist, which is of course no defeater of the argument.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Thanks for taking the time to respond Brandon.

        You are correct that I personally do believe in the existence of cats.

        My point is that it is not something I can believe on my own, as if I were some detached Cartesian observer. My perception of truth radically depends on my social relationships. As one commenter recently pointed out in the context of another post, astronauts and others isolated for society for long periods of time struggle to not drift into solipsism. We relate to truth as a historically contingent community. We are not in control of the way that we relate to truth. We are radically contingent beings.

        The fact "cats exist" is not socially conditioned or deeply personal. It is obvious and objective.

        I think that. But then again I think that it is obvious that God exists. So, I try to take a step back from my predispositions, and not assume that things that appear obvious to me actually are. I believe that God calls certain people into an explicit relationship with Him, to be among the chosen People of God. That is a matter of grace, and of personal calling. It is not obvious, or objective. It is a deeply personal (and interpersonal) relationship with Truth.

        For us to claim absolute certainty about anything (including God's existence) is tantamount to claiming to be God, which is sacrilege. God completely knows us, not the other way around. That's the way that I would say it anyway.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Let I be accused of just being a pain in the ass with my line of reasoning, let me suggest a connection with many of the other objections.

          In general in the comments below, we see serious doubts about our ability to extrapolate from our finite experiences to matters of ultimate truth. Infinity, as many rightly point out, can be very wily and mysterious. This doubt in our ability to reason perfectly about ultimate things, though voiced most often here by the agnostics and atheists in the crowd, is of course very Biblically grounded. Martin Luther might have been wrong about a number of things, but he was absolutely correct to remind us about the reality of original sin, and the consequent humility one should have with respect to one's "reasoned" positions.

          Let's just begin by conceding that point to Luther. His take on original sin led to the skepticism of the Englightenment / modern era, which in turn led to the profound doubt and indifference of our current post-modern era. There is no turning back the clock. Martin Luther won that battle.

          I'm not saying that one should just throw up one's hands and abandon reason. I'm just saying that all talk about "reasoned certainty" should be couched in very humble and cautious language. As PBR pointed out, this current OP laudably refrains from claims of epistemic certainty. I still fear that framing arguments for God as logical proofs is suggestive of epistemic certainty, and that suggestion is what I would like to see avoided.

          • Phil

            Hey Jim,

            If you do believe that there are serious doubts as to whether we can take serious our ability to come to ultimate or objective truth about reality--what makes you believe that your statement is an ultimate/objective truth of reality?

            To re-state--if we should doubt our ability to come to ultimate objective truth about reality, we also must doubt that your statement that "we should doubt our ability" is an ultimate objective truth about reality.

            In short, it seems this view you take has the issue that all these types of arguments have; it is self-defeating.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's not that I don't believe in reason. I am just trying to stress that faith is the foundation of reason, and not the other way around.

            I believe (ultimately as a matter of faith and trust in God, and in spite of almost overwhelming evidence to the contrary) that human beings, at their best, are capable of reasoning their way to the truth. In other words, I believe in general terms in the power of human reason to understand reality. What I am far less sure of is which particular humans at which particular points in time actually have reasoned their way to a correct understanding of reality. I think anyone who subscribes to Christian anthropology would have to share in this uncertainty.

            The Nicene Creed begins with, "I believe ...", not with, "I know ...". I worry sometimes that this point is lost by people on both sides of the debate.

            To summarize, I am not trying to demote human reason. I am just trying to promote humility in regard to our ability to use reason.

          • Phil

            Hey Jim,

            What it seems is that langauge can get in the way on this issue. I say this because I do not believe in this life that we can say in most any cases that we know something to be true with 100% certainty. (The exception could be an infused knowledge from God.) Coming to truth in this life is like building up a court case for or against something. But at the same time we still hold that we can come to objective truth about reality. Discovering objective truth is all about holding what is true beyond a reasonable doubt. Of course as centuries go by, we should get closer and closer to the filling in the details in regards to the truth of reality, as long as we do trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us (which now we see the "faith" coming in, as a conscenting and trusting in the Holy Spirit).

            I am definitely with you that we must use reason in a stance of humility. That is why I always love the statement that we must do theology on our knees, in prayer. (I think the same can be said for philosophy as well.)

            But we have to be to careful to not go to far towards fideism as well. We must always remember that it is both faith and reason. In that way, I don't think it would be proper to say that faith purely precedes reason. There is an interplay between them, but then faith is capable of coming to things that unaided reason cannot grasp or come to.

            And it is because of the evidence all around us that one can rationally that these Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical arguments as being true beyond a reasonable doubt. Just as I can say it seems to be true beyond a reasonable doubt that I am sitting on a couch (though I could never state this with 100% certainty), I can still objectively and rationally hold I am sitting on a couch. The same goes for these arguments. We have no great reason right now to doubt their truth.

            ------
            On a side note--when the Church says "I believe" in the creeds, the original Latin is actually pointing towards belief and trust in a person; and these are statement shtat apply to this person. So when the Church instructs us in the creeds, it is a much stronger statement than "I believe that these things a probably true". It is saying, "I put full trust and belief in the person of God the Father, Son, and Spirit and these statements that describe, though imperfectly the truth of the Trinity."

            And the same Church that declared these creeds also declared in several official documents that the existence of God can be known by reason alone! Fides et Ratio--St. John Paul II, Pray for us!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Lots of good thoughts in there Phil. For brevity I will focus on points of disagreement, but understand that I agree with a lot of what you wrote.

            Here is one fundamental point of disagreement:

            Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical arguments [are] true beyond a reasonable doubt

            A metaphysical system can be at best approximately and/or provisionally true, in the same way that theories in physics are approximately and/or provisionally true. Fortunately, a personal relationship does not depend on metaphysics. A personal relationship can be expressed in terms of different metaphysical systems, but it is not constrained by any metaphysical system. The personal relationship between Christ and His Church certainly existed before Thomistic metaphysics, and it has transcended the metaphysical systems of many cultures since then.

            "I believe" in the creeds, the original Latin is actually pointing towards belief and trust in a person; and these are statements within apply to these Person(s).

            Exactly! That's why I'm not so sure about this:

            Discovering objective truth is all about holding what is true beyond a reasonable doubt.

            I don't generally relate to people in this way, and I doubt that you do either. I hold to the flip side of that, which is: innocent until proven guilty. I would rather believe as many good things as possible, until I am given good reason to believe otherwise.

            Here is the crux of the matter, the reason why I am making such a stink about all of this:

            Some atheists (many, I would say) complain that Catholics are too ready to trust their senses, too ready to trust the people they know, too ready to trust traditions, etc. Such atheists (and let me emphatically state that this is not all atheists) seem to think that one can arrive at truth without leveraging trust.

            Metaphysical "proofs" for God that have a strong logical flavor convey the impression that they are proceeding without any requirement of sensory and/or interpersonal trust. In my view, this "logical proof" approach only serves to perpetuate the atheist delusion that truth can be obtained without trust. Why not just come out with it? Everyone needs trust to get to truth, full stop.

            Once we all acknowledge together that trust is the foundation of all knowledge, then we can begin to have a conversation about what it is exactly that we trust, and why atheists trust different things than Catholics do. Trust is personal. It depends on the individual. There is no such thing as an objective or impersonal path to trust.

          • Phil

            Quickly, before I forget, I just want to say thanks for the good discussion!

            A metaphysical system can be at best approximately and/or provisionally true, in the same way that theories in physics are approximately and/or provisionally true.

            I think that's fair; and I would say it would be okay to get to the point where we say that we have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to say that some scientific theory actually describes reality as it actually is. In the same way, we can hold the same about a metaphysical theory.

            In other words, we hold as true the description of reality that is (1) the most consistent with other reasonably established data/theories, (2) internally coherent, and (3) is the most comprehensive (i.e., explains the most evidence/data).

            I think if we stay on this route we can hold with confidence many objective truths about reality. Now that doesn't mean that there won't be improvements in the future, or that an explanation of reality may have to be completely redrawn--because this will happen. But to say, well, even though this theory is the most consistent, coherent, and comprehensive theory we have right now, I'm not going to believe it is actually true; I'd say this is an irrational position to take.

            When it comes down to it, for someone that seeks truth in humility, it may be that 90% of what they say is what we could say is true and 10% is false. But we may not exactly know which 10% is false; but it would be irrational to throw out all 100% of the statements because we can't figure out exactly which 10% are false.

            Metaphysical "proofs" for God that have a strong logical flavor convey the impression that they are proceeding without any requirement of sensory and/or interpersonal trust.

            I'd say it's both/and. It's both faith and reason. I don't think it's proper to say that faith precedes reason, and vice-versa (as I mentioned before faith can then go beyond reason).

            So in that sense I definitely agree with you. When we are doing a metaphysical proof, there is always faith involved. But I don't think the faith precedes reason, it works hand in hand in a sort of exquisite tango as we reason through reality.

            Once we all acknowledge together that trust is the foundation of all knowledge, then we can begin to have a conversation about what it is exactly that we trust, and why atheists trust different things than Catholics do. Trust is personal. It depends on the individual. There is no such thing as an objective or impersonal path to trust.

            I think you are exactly correct; again I want to stress faith working with reason.

            Part of it may be you are stressing the best way to convince others, while I may be focusing on if the metaphysical proof actually is true? If discussing the former, I absolutely agree. We must stress the personal or we will never be able to move on into relationship with our Lord.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, faith and reason from the git-go. I will concede that point. Love and the Logos of Love were both there from the beginning, so I suppose that our response to Love (trust) and our response to the Logos of Love (reason) have to be understood to be co-fundamental.

            In regard to human statements, I hesitate to even think in terms of "what is actually true", because again this conveys something impersonal. Everything you can say in human language is going to be understood through an interpretive lens that may work for some people and not for others. There is only one Truth, but as soon as you express it in language you have made it personal. More to the point, you may have made it incomprehensible for some people. This is the challenge with dogma. A Catholic would have to say that Catholic dogma always points to truth, but insofar as a person (whether Catholic or non-Catholic) does not understand the underlying semantics of a particular dogma, that dogma is not (yet) pointing to truth for that person .

            So yes, you have correctly identified my concern: there is no point in communicating truth that cannot be understood, or truth that is not trusted. I don't claim to know the best way to communicate truth in a way that is comprehensible and trustworthy, especially in an impersonal online environment. My general sense is that the personal point of contact is more likely to be found in our shared doubts, rather than our rational certainties. This is why I have a somewhat allergic reaction to any sort of "proof of God's existence".

          • Phil

            A Catholic would have to say that Catholic dogma always points to truth, but insofar as a person (whether Catholic or non-Catholic) does not understand the underlying semantics of a particular dogma, that dogma is not (yet) pointing to truth for that person .

            I think this is true of any truth-statement; unless the person comes to understand the language, true understanding cannot be had.

            I state "the cat is on the mat", unless a person understands the specifics of the english language and what the nature of "cat" and "mat" is, the person will be just as lost as when I state "I believe in the resurrection of the dead".

            Language is always a way of trying to put into code the experience of reality. What is challenging is that reality exists in a perfect way, while language always describes it imperfectly. But even so, we can still say that language can say something true about reality, even imperfectly.

            So once a person understands the external reality that statements about cats and matsand statements about God and the metaphysical nature of reality points towards, they can come to a deeper, though still imperfect, but true, understanding of reality.

            My general sense is that the personal point of contact is more likely to be found in our shared doubts, rather than our rational certainties.

            One of the most insightful books I ever read, pointed out the fact that truth is always parasitic upon doubt. Whenever one claims doubt, they are at the same time presuming some truth that can be contrasted to this doubt.

            In that way, I don't thing taking doubt as having a positive existence is possible. We have doubt because we think some other statement is actually true (though we may be totally ignoring, or unconscious of it at this point). Either way, I don't think a doubt is a good starting point (it sure wasn't good for Descartes!)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Your points very nicely get to the difference between speaking rationally versus saying things that are technically correct within an isolated paradigm.

            To take a specific example of where the rubber meets the road:

            Frustrated former Catholics who frequent these pages will often recount traumatic childhood experiences of indoctrination. In a very narrow sense, it may be technically correct to tell such people that the things that they were taught as children were not consistent with the underlying intent of official doctrine. But to tell such a person: "Well, that wasn't real Catholicism. Real Catholicism can be proven beginning with the following indisputable premises ... " is completely irrational . Saying technically correct things in a confident and dismissive way does not restore correct relationality with people who have been hurt by the Church. A rational response (i.e. a response in comformity with The Logos) would be more like: "Wow, that sucks. I can see why you wouldn't trust the Church. Tell me more about your life. Maybe there is still something that we have in common." Any response that lacks respect or fails to engender trust, however technically correct it may be, is not in conformity with reason.

            In a somewhat similar vein (though I'm not accusing you of being dismissive to anyone), you may be very narrowly technical correct to say that doubt doesn't have a positive existence in and of itself. But who cares? We all have the experience of doubt, and we know it. This presents a point of personal contact between all people, a common bond from which trust can be built. It is the nature of reason to start with something like that.

          • Phil

            Any response that lacks respect or fails to engender trust, however technically correct it may be, is not in conformity with reason.

            Honestly, I'm all with you! In my daily encounters with people I always start with the human, joyful, and beautiful encounter with them and God. As Fr. Barron says often, we start with the beautiful, not the true or the good.

            But on a forum like this where it is focused on discussing the reasonableness of Christianity, specifically a Catholic understanding, I think deeper intellectual and philosophical/theological discussion is very appropriate.

            I'll be honest, I don't really think that these metaphysical arguments can bring someone to true faith; but they give reasons why one's faith in God is actually reasonable.

            We all have the experience of doubt, and we know it. This presents a point of personal contact between all people, a common bond from which trust can be built. It is the nature of reason to start with something like that.

            Very true, but we must always balance doubt with truth. In other words, we don't want to start slipping into skepticism.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think deeper intellectual and philosophical/theological discussion is very appropriate.

            Of course! But the most successful discussions to appear here have been those that begin with the hiddenness or incomprehensibility of God. I'm thinking for example of Matt Becklo's post "No One Sees God", and of Matthew Ramage's posts on "Dark Passages in the Bible".

            Those are the sort of posts that speak to a postmodern culture. The Age of Reason has passed. (I think it may have ended in Woodstock in 1969, coincidentally about 9 months before I was born ... ) But even in the postmodern world, everyone trusts their own doubt. That doubt is deeply resonant with the notions of original sin and utter contingency that we find in the Bible. I'm all for using reason, but doubt should be the foundation from which we build trust. Just as Paul spoke to the Greeks in terms of Greek culture, we have to speak to the postmodern world in terms of postmodern culture.

          • Phil

            Of course! But the most successful discussions to appear here have been those that begin with the hiddenness or incomprehensibility of God.

            What do you mean by "successful"? I think you may be defining "successful" more narrowly than I would.

            [Also lets remember that God is not only transcendent, but he is also most intimately present to all of creation. He is "closer to us than we are to ourselves". And because of this, all creation has the capability to point towards God (which is what a metaphysical proof is doing).]

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I concede that I'm not in a position to judge true success. Anecdotally, based on reading comments others have written, it is my impression that these are the posts that have done more to draw people into the Catholic worldview.

            I am sure the A-T metaphysical stuff touches some people, but it seems like a fairly rarified ether that most people aren't prepared to sniff.

          • Phil

            I'm with you 100%, but just because the pure intellectual discussions may only lead .1% of a certain population to consider their relationship with God, that doesn't mean we throw it out.

            In fact, even if it could be said that intellectual discussions cannot in matter of fact lead a person to a relationship with God, we still would not have reason to throw it out. As you mentioned before, God is the Divine Reason. This means that any truth we are discovering about reality is discovering something of "the mind of God"--no matter how insignificant this is in the end.

            Pope Benedict XVI had a great quote on the sciences, and truth in general; that coming to know a truth of reality is "re-thinking what God already thought into existence". God gave us reason to be able to come to truth/knowledge--which is one big way we are "made in God's image"!

          • Phil

            I just thought of a general way to put my view on the study of metaphysics:

            Through studying philosophy; I found that the Aristotelian-Thomistic "Four Causes" and "Act/Potentcy" to be the most consistent, coherent, comprehensive, and most simple description of the metaphysical structure of reality.

            And if one accepts the Four Causes and Act/Potency, Aquinas' five metaphysical arguments kinda just fall in your lap. They are, in a way, a necessary effect of believing those basic metaphysical truths. (The argument above is simply a version of the 3rd way, if I recall correctly.)

            (What is interesting is there are modern philosophers that are starting to posit something akin to Aristotle's metaphysics, without really realizing that Aristotle did this 2000 years and they already have a huge tradition to build off of!)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Through studying philosophy; I found that the Aristotelian-Thomistic "Four Causes" and "Act/Potentcy" to be the most consistent, coherent, comprehensive, and most simple description of the metaphysical structure of reality.

            Too simple, in my opinion! To the extent that this system provides an adequate description of human longing, and beauty, and alienation, and fulfillment, it does so only in the most desiccated and uninformative of ways.

            When we focus on logical deductions within metaphysical systems, the meaning of "reason" as it is used in the Bible is hopelessly diminished. Look at the tag line for SN: "Come now, let us reason together." What lines follow that, in Isaiah? "though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow." Reason is about setting human relationships into harmony! It is not just about finding coherence within metaphysical systems! And again, one cannot set humans into right relationship with each other in an impersonal way.

          • Phil

            Too simple, in my opinion! To the extent that this system provides a
            description of human longing, and beauty, and alienation, and
            fulfillment, it does so only in the most desiccated and uninformative of
            ways.

            Remember, the four causes

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Phil, so help me God, if I hear one more damn thing about the four causes ...

            I'm sort of kidding, but honestly, to say that "the four causes" entails an adequate description of the things I mentioned is on par with saying that quantum physics provides an adequate description of the American judicial system, or with saying that natural selection explains poetry.

          • Phil

            I'm sort of kidding, but honestly, to say that "the four causes" entails an adequate description of the things I mentioned is on par with saying that quantum physics provides an adequate description of the American judicial system, or with saying that natural selection explains poetry.

            I don't think your comparison makes sense. You are attempting to use physics to describe a political reality. Of course it makes no sense.

            The basics of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics are attempting to describe the basic underlying structure of reality (i.e., the metaphysics of reality) using a metaphysical theory. I think that will go much better!

            (As a side "curiosity" question; not that there is a need to have done this be able to talk about these things intelligently--but how much studying have you done of philosophy/theology in general, and the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition specifically?)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If you have insight as to what explains the most basic structure of reality better than the "four causes" and "act/potency", I'm all ears.

            I do!

            Genesis, The Psalms, Isaiah, The Gospel of John, 1 Corinthians ...

          • Phil

            I do!

            Genesis, The Psalms, Isaiah, The Gospel of John, 1 Corinthians ...

            I'm all ears then! What view on the structure of reality would you say you putting forward from this?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Haha, OK. So I guess you are suggesting that from this Biblical starting point I would go on (if I were as smart as Aquinas) to develop something very similar to Thomistic metaphysics? If so, that's fine. I believe that.

            I just don't see why one needs to use Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics as the starting point. That metaphysical system, as correct as it may be, is under suspicion by seemingly a great number of modern philosophers. People don't trust it.

            So let's return to the source: the social narrative and the poetry that generated A-T metaphysics in the first place. People don't need to trust the Bible as the inspired or infallible Word of God in order to do that. All they need to do is correlate their own longings, their own doubts and fears, etc, with those expressed in the Bible.

          • Phil

            So I guess you are suggesting that from this Biblical starting point I
            would go on (if I were as smart as Aquinas) to develop something very
            similar to Thomistic metaphysics? If so, that's fine. I believe that.

            I'd say that it one takes the Bible as inspired by God and reality existing as it does right now--one would come ultimately to something similar to the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. I say that because truth is truth is truth.

            If 2 persons are searching honestly for truth, they can't come to two views that are contradictory and both views be equally true.

            I just don't see why one needs to use Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics
            as the starting point. That metaphysical system, as correct as it may
            be, is under suspicion by seemingly a great number of modern
            philosophers. People don't trust it.

            I wouldn't say that A-T metaphysics is the starting point, reality is the starting point. Rather A-T metaphysics is a theory that we come to that describes reality, as it actually exists, the best right now. So it is reality that is the starting point, not A-T metaphysics. (This is a theme in both Aristotle and Aquinas; we start with the external world--with being.)

            That metaphysical system, as correct as it may be, is under suspicion by seemingly a great number of modern philosophers. People don't trust it.

            Sure, but as you admit, that doesn't make it false. People are suspicious of it for many reasons, many (not all) of which are selfish reasons. Many don't like the conclusions about God's existence it leads to. But we don't say something is false because we don't like the conclusions. If something is true, it is true; and we must then work on accepting the conclusions that we may not like right now.

            In all, I'm take a both/and approach. I completely agree with you, but am insisting we don't throw out the value and truth of pursuing metaphysics and the truth we can come to through it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree that we agree. I think we favor different emphases, but we basically agree.

            Great discussion. Thanks.

          • Phil

            Exactly; Thank you as well! It is these types of discussions that I simply sit back and say, "Thank you Lord for the gift of reason and our ability to know you more deeply through others and your creation as a whole!" I say this because I learn so much.

            In the end, it is all about trying to find the golden mean between fidiesm and rationalism.

  • I think that this argument is correct. It seems to me intuitively true that everything has an explanation such that, if you start with any contingent fact, you will eventually get to some necessary fact. This is what I would call a principle of sufficient reason.

    Edited to Add: I am grateful to Karlo for his care in talking about necessary truth and metaphysical probabilities, instead of epistemic probability and certainty. I'm glad he did not assert, as authors before him have, that this argument will provide rational certainty for God's existence.

    I've tried to convince some of my friends of the force of these kinds of arguments (in a friendly way), and have met with limited success, for valid reasons on their part, I think. I've not tried this exact argument with my friends. My vocabulary is a bit different. The terms used here seem a bit clunky to me, but maybe Karlo's form of argument will find greater traction. Nevertheless, I'll relate the problems I've run into, modifying the problems to make use of the vocabulary here: unconditioned realities, conditioned realities, a finite number of conditions for a given reality and an infinite number of conditions for a given reality. I'm going to modify some of the symbolism: UR and ~UR stay the same. But I'm going to use F and IF for finite and infinite conditions (for reasons that should become clear).

    There are two problems I encounter when I try to convince my friends of UR.

    First, quite a few of my friends deny the principle of sufficient reason. They just say that ~UR. So I offer them a CR (conditioned reality), e.g. 'my cat'. They say that the cat depends on F, and those F's depend on other F's, and so forth, but not infinitely. So they deny IF. They'll say, though, that there's some F, an Ur-F, such that this F does not depend on any further F's. It's true, it's not necessarily true, and it's truth doesn't depend on anything else. It's just a brute fact. It has no further explanation and needs no further explanation. Not everything needs to have one, and Ur-F's turn out not to. So far, I've not been able to find any convincing defence of the need for all F's (finite conditions) to themselves have any finite conditions. I think that my intuition is good enough justification to accept this principle of sufficient reason. But I never seem to convince people who don't share my intuition.

    A second problem, one I run into with a Catholic friend, is one of so-called "Modal Realism". This idea is that every possible world is real. Any logical possibility is instantiated somewhere in an infinite number of real "possible worlds." This idea is passionately defended by the late philosopher David Lewis in his On the plurality of worlds. Now, my friend doesn't believe that Modal Realism is true, but he thinks that the arguments for Modal Realism are very strong, and that there are no good arguments agains Modal Realism. The problem here is that Modal Realism makes the union of all worlds itself an unconditioned reality, but it is an unconditioned reality made up of an infinite number of conditioned realities (exactly what Karlo claims cannot be done). Well, David Lewis thinks that, not only can it be done, it has been done. And my friend is working on his PhD in philosophy with the goal of eventually destroying David Lewis's arguments for Modal Realism.

    Until he's successful, I don't know how I could show that Modal Realism is false. That leaves two problems with convincing other people of this argument for an Unconditioned Reality: assertion of brute facts (facts without any explanation) and modal realism (the sum of all the infinite conditioned realities is itself a single unconditioned reality).

    Does anyone in this forum have some helpful advice on how I could try to convince my friends of the truth of the principle of sufficient reason, and (on the other hand) how I can dismantle Modal Realism?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      That's easy, Paul.

      Not. :)

      I'll stand with you on the principle of sufficient reason. I think Feser does a good job defending the PSR in "Scholastic Metaphysics" 2.3.3.4 Arguments from PSR. Scholastic philosophers do not approach PSR the way rationalists do.

      My intuition is that the claim "if something is possible to exist then it must exist somewhere sometime" is insane. But I'm not equipped to demolish modal realism.

      • My intuition, as regards modal realism, is the same as yours. It doesn't abide by the principle of parsimony that I, as a scientist, find so essential to thinking about the real world. But I'm also not competent to actually demolish the argument. I can complain about it.

        • Tim Dacey

          Re: "It doesn't abide by the principle of parsimony..."

          That's enough reason for me to reject it lol

          I think the alternative (call it Modal Anti-realism) is better. This view would be far less controversial (and I think we should always aim at less controversial views) and wouldn't require belief that all (or any for that matter) possible worlds *actually* exist. Rather, on this view it just makes since, or it is just instrumentally useful, to speak of "possible worlds" for the kind of abstract critical thinking that philosophers do.

        • GCBill

          As a meta-theory-of-everything, modal realism is extraordinarily parsimonious.

          Consider the space of all possible worlds (it's okay, you don't actually have to picture them all). Modal realism provides an exceptionally simple description of which worlds obtain: all of them do. If only one possible world obtains, the description of reality would have to pick out very specific conditions of that world (even down to the very last quark) in order to distinguish it from all the other possible worlds that don't. You can't "compress" the information required to specify one possible world out of many, but the modal realist can get away with not specifying anything about the conditions of each world beyond that they must be coherent (i.e., possible). At the metaphysical level, modal realism is the most parsimonious theory that fits the data, since it provides the shortest description that entails the existence of our world without contradicting anything that we know. The modal realist's description is only rivaled in simplicity by that of ultimate nihilism, but it possesses the added benefit of actually stipulating that things exist, thus fitting our experience of things actually existing.

          I'm not trying to sell you on modal realism, as I myself remain undecided on its truth. But I certainly wouldn't reject it on the grounds of parsimony.

          • This is a very good point. Thank you for the correction.

            I suppose what I mean by 'parsimony' in this case is not really in terms of principles, but in terms of the number of unobservable entities. It seems to me (although I cannot really defend it) that scientific theories should at least try to limit the number of unobservable entities that they postulate.

            If a theory explains everything I see in a particular laboratory experiment, and explains it very well, better than any other theory, hundreds of predictions affirmed to very high precision, and it's parsimonious. It has a very small number of postulates. But it implies that there are invisible dragons in every person's garage. I'd be suspicious of the theory. I'd wonder if there wasn't a theory with equivalent predictions that doesn't have this extra garage-dragon ontological baggage.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Do you think a theory would be too parsimonious if it failed to provide a satisfactory description of the interrelationships between concepts such as "purpose", "will", "freedom", "sin", "belonging", "love", etc?

            I ask because, depending on how one prefers to say it, those concepts are either emergent properties or invisible properties. If one prefers to call them emergent properties, that still basically means that the properties are invisible to lower levels of analysis that do not acknowledge their existence.

          • Yes. I think it would be wrong. The goal of any theory is to be as simple as possible without being wrong.

            Einstein said it this way: "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience."

    • Dear Paul, in regard to an argument in defense of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, check out Dr. Feser's book "Scholastic Metaphysics: An Contemporary Introduction" - Chapter 2, as well his list of blogs on this subject: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/10/della-rocca-on-psr.html.
      In regard to an infinite number of conditioned realities amounting to an unconditioned reality seems to me to violate Bishop Sheen's example above: 1000 wise men does not make one wise man, etc. Because the "conditionedness" or "existential dependency" of each thing is qualitative, no matter how many you have you still have "conditionedness." or "existential dependency" (e.g., 5 red lego bricks or an infinite number of red lego bricks still equals a "red" lego brick wall or as Fr. Spitzer likes to say "infinity times zero is still zero").

      • Caravelle

        Yet an infinite sum of positive integers is negative.

        • Garbanzo Bean

          "Yet an infinite sum of positive integers is negative."
          I am guessing you are thinking of Euler's equation, but that is not a sum of integers, or positive numbers.

      • I don't think that the argument by analogy (to blind people or any other sorts of people) will be sufficient to dismiss David Lewis's modal realism. If you ask the question, "could things have been different?" Lewis would say "Yes! In fact, they are over in this other universe." The question "could this very universe have been different?" The answer would be "No. This exact universe can't be different, because, among other reasons, it wouldn't be this exact universe."

        For why analogy won't be sufficient to dismiss the careful use of infinite series of things (or contradictions, for that matter) see Caravelle's excellent comment to your article.

        • Dear Paul, you may have already heard of this example but I thought I would share it anyway. A classic analogy that some have used is an infinite series of chain links holding a lamp up from off the ground. The proximate link's potential to hold up the lamp could not be actualized if it were not for the other links in the chain actualizing that potential. The same applies to the second link going up from the lamp, to the third, etc. If the series of links goes on infinitely, then no link in the series would ever have its potential to hold up the other link actualized, in which the first link's potential to hold up the lamp wouldn't be actualized. If the first link's potential to hold up the lamp wouldn't be actualized, then the lamp would not be suspended from the ground. But the lamp is suspended from the ground; therefore the series of links cannot go on infinitely. There must be something outside the series of the links (like a bracket on the ceiling) that can actualize each links' potential to hold up another link. Now, the bracket wouldn't be a first member of the series in an absolute sense because it too would need its potential to hold the links actualized, but it does serve as a 'relative' first member to explain the actualization of each link's potential to hold up the lamp.

          This is the line of reason embedded in the current argument. Without a reality outside the series of conditioned realities (i.e., an unconditioned reality), the potential of each conditioned reality to exist right here and right now would not be actualized; thus the series as a whole would be non-existent, in which case the cat that depends on such a series for its existence right here and right now would be non-existent as well.

          • I agree that your hypothetical poses serious problems for certain kinds of "ultimate" explanations. For the chain example, I take chain #1 and say 'what hold's that up?' 'chain #2'
            'what holds #2 up?' 'chain #3'
            And if that keeps on going forever, you don't really have an explanation for any of them.

            If 'why is the world the way it is and not another way?' is answered by a finite series of contingent explanations, then you go to the series of finite explanations and ask 'why are these explanations the way that they are?' And you don't have an answer. They're some brute facts.

            You run into a similar problem with a generic infinite series of explanations. You can ask for the infinite series 'why are these explanations the way that they are?' and it's not obvious why that generic infinite series is the way that it is. It's not really an answer.

            But Lewis's modal realism is different. For the context of this argument, let's stipulate that whatever can exist does exist.

            You ask "why are things the way that they are and not another way?" and the answer is "they are the other way." They're every way. The existence of all possible worlds removes contingency. It's a non-contingent reality composed of all possible contingent realities.

            It's not like the links of chains. No possible world is causally related to any other or rests on any other for its existence. The ensemble of all possible worlds is the non-contingent reality.

      • Thank you for your suggestion about the principle of sufficient reason. I'll read that chapter. Maybe it will help me be more persuasive about this principle.

    • Hey Paul, I found this blog post by Dr. Feser in which he addresses the multiple worlds idea and how it applies to the debate on God's existence. You might find it helpful: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/12/greene-on-nozick-on-nothing.html

  • An analysis that acknowledges such things as cells, proteins and quarks as the conditioned realities, which identify a cat as a conditioned reality, cannot reach a conclusion that is above this material level of reality. In traditional philosophy God is not an explanation or a cause at this level of reality.

  • Caravelle

    The key lies in the fact that the insufficiency of the conditions in the series is not quantitative in nature but qualitative. If the insufficiency was quantitative in nature then the addition of insufficiencies might make a sufficiency (e.g., twenty horses could pull what two could not). But the insufficiency in the series is not quantitative in nature but qualitative. It is more akin to stupidity or blindness. As Bishop Fulton Sheen once wrote, “Ten thousand idiots never make a wise man...one hundred blind men do not make a blind man see.”1 As such, the addition of insufficiencies does not make sufficiency. Therefore, one cannot get a sufficient explanation for the cat’s existence by postulating an infinite number of insufficient conditions.

    By this logic 0.9999... isn't equal to 1.0, or the sum of all positive integers isn't equal to -1/12. The qualitative/quantitative issue doesn't affect this at all - no quantitative rule will make a series of 9s reach 1, or a sum of positive numbers be negative. The issue is in the non-intuitive properties of the concept of "infinity".

    Just like the "how to perfectly know God exists" two posts ago, this post completely ignores the issue that you can't just assert that an infinite series as some property (here, the property of not being a sufficient condition). You have to demonstrate it. Saying "each element of the series has this property, therefore the infinite series has this property" doesn't constitute such a demonstration, as many mathematical examples show, including the two I mentioned here.

    • Exact, and better put than I could.

    • It's not straightforwardly true that the 1 + 2 + 3 ... = -1/2. That is only true if you redefine "=" so that it no longer means "equal to" but instead refers to a kind of association. See http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/great-debate-over-whether-1234-112-180949559/?no-ist

      This got popularized by some pop-sci youtube video. As the physicist Greg Gbur put it, stating the result without explaining that it's not a sum or an equal sign in the ordinary sense is misleading and discredits mathematics.

      • Caravelle

        Fair enough. And would finite versions of this "sum" also associate to a negative number?

  • I do agree that at least on "unconditioned reality" must exist. We've been calling this "something uncaused".

    However, I am not at all sure that there cannot logically be the kind of regress to infinity. We do not know the fundamental nature of matter/energy. We have rules for how it behaves on a macro scale, we also have some understanding on the quantum level. But we know both of these is incomplete. When we get to the quantum level our intuitions begin to fail us. I do not think it is at all clear that some kind of infinity may be at play here.

    We recognize that infinities do play a role in even our day to day physical lives, don't we? When I take a step, I move a distance. I must first move a smaller distance, to do this I must move a smaller one. And so on, and there is no reason this cannot be divided infinitely, is there? But we know we move an infinite number of smaller and smaller distances all the time. How can we be so certain that something similar isn't going on as we scale down past quark levels?

    So I am not sure this proof is made out.

    • "We recognize that infinities do play a role in even our day to day physical lives, don't we? When I take a step, I move a distance. I must first move a smaller distance, to do this I must move a smaller one. And so on, and there is no reason this cannot be divided infinitely, is there?"

      As commenters have pointed out several times in this forum, philosophers distinguish between "potential" or "imaginary" infinities (such as in the distance example you provided, which is essentially Zeno's Paradox) and "actual" infinities. Potential infinities are useful mathematical fictions but cannot instantiate themselves in our world. Actual infinities are logical impossible and thus non-existent.

      While it's true we can have potential infinities (e.g., by mentally slicing up a finite distance into an infinite number of points) we can never traverse an actually infinite series of instantiated, physical events or objects.

      William Lane Craig explains this more in depth here:

      http://www.reasonablefaith.org/forming-an-actual-infinite-by-successive-addition

      • Well, I don't think Zeno's paradox is resolved. I've done a little digging here it seems to me that when we do move we do undertake an infinite process and this is a paradox. Meaning in one way of thinking it is impossible, yet it clearly happens.

        I say this to suggest that this is much more complicated than discarding something as impossible because it involves an infinite process.

        I found numberphile's video illuminating in this regard.

        Forgive this question, but would you consider God to be infinite in any sense? Or is He necessarily finite?

    • To add to what Brandon states below, Fr. Spitzer provides an argument from David Hilbert for the mathematical prohibition of "actual" infinities in New Proofs, pg. 201-204.

  • Sorry to cut to the chase on this but I fully expect we are going to come down to the sole unconditioned reality being not matter, but something immaterial and unobserved. When asked why the UR cannot be matter, I expect we will also be told that it is because we cannot account for the necessity of matter on the hypothesis that matter is UR. So if we accept the criticism that being unable to account y for the necessity of a reality disqualifies if from being reasonable to accept that reality as the UR, then how is this other unobserved material not disqualified?

    I think is very well might turn into a god of the gaps argument.

    • All the first step of Spitzer's proof tries to do is show there is some unconditioned reality. What an unconditioned reality may be is set out later.

      And it should be noted that the argument from infinite regress here only applies to certain kinds of regresses. There may be infinite regresses in some cases, but there can't be in existential conditions. The sort of infinite regress of existential conditions is not so much A if B, B if C, C if D ...., but rather A if (B if {C if [D if |...|]}), because each condition in the series depends on the existence of every condition previous to it. The latter form of an infinite regress necessarily terminates.

    • I affirm what Thomas states below. This sort of ordered series is called an "essentially" ordered series (ordered series per se) versus an "accidentally" ordered series (ordered series per accidens). In the series per accidens, B,C,D, etc is not essentially necessary for the existence of A right here and right now; but in the ordered series per se (which is the type of series this proof considers) B, C, D, etc. is necessary for the existence of A right here and right now. The key phrase is "existential conditions."

      • Caravelle

        These look like technical terms so I hoped this pointed to a mathematical treatment of these particular infinities but every result I got from Google was about Aquinas, philosophy (800 year-old philosophy at that! They hadn't even invented limits then!!) and apologetics or counter-apologetics.

        So as far as I can tell this "it's true for accidentally ordered series but not essentially ordered series" isn't informed by mathematics or any up-to-date thinking on infinities at all, it's just another assertion.

        • Fr. Spitzer provides an argument from David Hilbert for the mathematical prohibition of "actual" infinities in New Proofs, pg. 201-204. You might find it interesting. He gives a summary of this argument here: http://magisgodwiki.org/index.php?title=Mathematics#An_Analytical_Contradiction_in_.22Infinite_Past_Time.22

          • Caravelle

            Thank you for the Hilbert reference, I'll have to see if I can find the relevant book. The link you gave is suspicious as it seems to suggest that space cannot be infinite, which is not known. I couldn't find a non-apologetic source for Hilbert saying that, but even if he did I'm not sure what it would mean. I don't see how a mathematician could tell mathematically valid concepts that are instantiated in reality from those that aren't; the question of what does and doesn't exist in reality would be more physics' purview, and this is the kind of question where physicists or mathematicians have opinions, not proofs.

          • Michael Murray
          • Caravelle

            Thanks!
            I'll note that Hilbert in that link talks about the nonexistence of infinities as an experiential fact, not a proven truth. He doesn't even say that the Universe is finite, only that given Einstein's equations it could be. (I wonder if this was written back when people weren't sure whether the expansion was slowing or accelerating).

        • Nick Halme

          They are technical terms, but this is logic and not mathematics. Mathematics can be viewed similarly and there have been attempts to formalize math through logic (Russell, Frege), but it has been considered a failure.

          Aquinas was doing what was in vogue at the time, which was to apply ancient Greek philosophy, chiefly Plato/Aristotle, to current Christian theology.

          So this says nothing about an "actual" ordered series as described by mathematics, but is purely Aristotelian logic. In that sense it's much older than 800 years.

          • Caravelle

            And being older than 800 years old it has no clue how to deal with infinities. Which doesn't make its conclusion wrong, just insuffuciently argued. Whether it's logic or mathematics is irrelevant to that issue.

            (Also, if those were technical terms of logic and not medieval Christian apologetics/philosophy I'd expect more hits to be about logic than about medieval Christian apologetics/philosophy)
            (just checked Google Scholar, same outcome)

          • Nick Halme

            My point is that modern mathematics doesn't necessarily refute this ancient logic, simply because they are different things, and it's been shown that there is a tenuous rather than clear relation between formal logic and mathematics. You're correct that it does not sufficiently deal with infinity though, even conceptually.

            Thanks to Aquinas, logic and Christian apologetics are the same thing - the latter being an application of Aristotelian logic. There are many more theological hits because apologists today are still using this, while more modern logics have developed. He and Augustine, and many others following, revived Aristotle and other ancient Greek traditions and applied them to Christian theology.

            This conflicts historically because this type of logic pre-existed the Scholastic tradition; it is a form that was co-opted by apologetics as a way to construct theology.

          • Caravelle

            "Thanks to Aquinas logic and Christian apologetics are the same thing" - wow, no. That's like saying that thanks to Lotka and Volterra mathematics and biology are the same thing. Just because one field makes use of another doesn't make the two fields the same.

          • Nick Halme

            *Deep breath* Ok. This is what I mean.

            Theology exists because it borrowed a deductive logic already present in the world.

            Christian apologetics appeals to rationality through theology's use of deductive logic.

            Deductive logic is not theology, but theology's primary tool is deductive logic.

            So you do a Google search on a lot of syllogistic problems, and you will primarily find Christian apologetics.

            This does not mean that the logical constructions you find are "simply" Christian apologetics - they are either strictly Aristotelian constructions or logical constructions developed in the Scholastic tradition.

            If we skipped down to Aquinas' house to go do some Christian apologetics, we would easily substitute "logic" for apologetics. That's what I'm getting at.

          • Caravelle

            I don't quite understand what the disagreement is here, you seem to be arguing as if I'd claimed Christian apologetics didn't use logic. If not I'm not sure what's going on.

            When someone makes an argument X, and I ask "why X" and I'm told "because technical term", I expect the technical term to have some applicability beyond justifying argument X, some general properties that were established and studied independently of X, that I can look up and deduce that yes, X follows. Otherwise the technical term is just another way of saying "X" in that context.

            That's why finding only references not only to Christian apologetics, but to the same argument within Christian apologetics, and no independent references in the wider logic or philosophy literature, is relevant. Especially when the argument is about infinities and the use of the term in that argument dates back 800 years.

            That doesn't mean the argument is wrong, it just means that "because they're essentially ordered" doesn't tell me anything that the OP didn't already say.

            It's also possible that it is a more general concept that isn't used just for this argument, it's just that it has a different name outside of the field. But that's hard to find out with only that term to go on.

        • What does that have to do with the logic of essentially ordered series? I might as well challenge the Pythagorean theorem on the grounds that the ancient Greeks didn't know there were black swans.

          If you want to say that a later discovery invalidates an earlier theory, you have to show that that discovery challenges some assumption, axiom, or premise of the earlier theory. Otherwise it's not even an objection.

          So: specifically, what modern mathematical theory challenges the notion of existential causes as being more correctly represented by A if (B if [C if |...|])?

          (And by the way, the formulation I was using came from Barry Miller, a 20th century thinker.)

          • Caravelle

            I never said the impossibility of infinite regress is false, I just said that, as one element of a proof it needs to be demonstrated, not asserted, and that "every element of this series has this property, therefore the infinite series has this property" isn't an adequate demonstration.

            I'm not sure how the series' formulation affects this.

          • You're confusing two different parts of the argument. There's infinite regress and then there's the question of whether the series itself is unconditioned. These are distinct questions.

            Let's take the question of the series as a whole first. I don't think this was mentioned in the post, because it's quite straightforward. A series of entities conditioning each other is obviously not unconditioned, because it depends on there being entities in the series! If there are no realities at all, there can hardly be a series of realities that function as conditions for each other. So that's off the table.

            Remember that we've supposed that there are conditioned realities. Unless you're a pseudo-Spinozist, I doubt you can take issue with that. The question is whether the assumption that there are only conditioned realities entails something that must be rejected.

            A finite series of conditioned realities does entail an unacceptable conclusion. E.g., if we posit a finite series "A if (B if [C])" and C is a conditioned reality, then C's condition for existing doesn't exist. It is analytically true, then, that C, B, and A cannot exist, because their condition for existing is unsatisfied. Thus, on the dual assumptions of a) no unconditioned realities and b) a finite series of dependency, you are committed to the view that c) there are no conditioned realities. Which is obviously false.

            The only other possibility is that there is an infinite series of conditioned realities. (Remember that the series is ordered not necessarily by time, but by dependency.) So we are presented with the case that "A if (B if [C if |...|])." The problem is that A's condition for existing cannot be satisfied until B's condition for existing is satisfied, and so on down the line. If the series is infinite, no condition in the series is ever satisfied at any point. (Hence the difference with A if B, B if C ....)

            In short, positing an infinite series entails the same thing as the finite series does. If you assume a) no unconditioned realities and b) an infinite series of dependency you are committed to c) the non-existence of any conditioned realities. Which is obviously false.

            I've previously written at greater length about this issue here: http://thinkingbetween.blogspot.com/2014/07/clarifications-existence-of-god.html

      • Thanks Karlo, I certainly lack the education to debate this issue with you. And I do accept the conclusion, I'm just not sure I understand the proof.

        Can I ask you this in good faith? Would you say your argument here is generally accepted by philosophers across the field, including secular philosophers? In other words if you were to present this leg of the argument at a conference of the top philosophers in world working for the best universities, would you be able to present this without dispute?

        • Hey Brian, no argument can be presented without dispute. There will always be an objection proposed. However, that doesn't mean that the argument fails. For this specific argument, one would have to prove that the cat's existence can be accounted for by either Hypothesis F or Hypothesis -F (under Hypothesis -UR) in order to disprove the above argument. I haven't seen it done yet. You might want to check out Dr. Feser's recent article published here on this very issue of arguments and objections raised against them: https://strangenotions.com/can-we-know-gods-existence-with-certainty/

          • I am not asking you whether it is undisputed, I am asking you whether it is widely accepted by philosophers, there are two schools of thought, or is this a relatively popular argument for theists, but generally unacceptable by secular philosophers.

            What philosophers agree with you who does not?

          • Michael Murray

            Hey Brian, no argument can be presented without dispute.

            Arguments in mathematics are regularly accepted without dispute.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The burden of proof is you, because you are the one that is making the argument. You must show that if one assumes ~UR, one will derive UR, which would then be a contradiction.

            Consider the finite case F. You assumed without demonstration that the sequences of conditional "things" could not loop back on itself. For instance, suppose we have a sequence of conditional things A, B, C, and D, with A being conditional on B, B being conditional on C etc. As I understand you argument, you are saying that the sequence ends at D therefore D is unconditional, so UR is true. However, it is possible that D is conditional on a say B, which would imply that every element in the finite sequence is conditional. You would have to show that this is impossible. I would submit that space is conditional on time, which is conditional on space. Spacetime may be conditional to matter, which may be conditional to spacetime. It is your burden of proof to show that these are not conditional realities.

            For the case of infinite regress, I do not see why it is impossible. While infinitely many blind men may not be able to see, there are other cases when infinitely many elements leads to the desired end effect. Say I need to store 2 tons of imperishable grain in a granary. I could do this in an infinite amount of steps by saving 1 ton the first day, 1/2 ton the second day, 1/4 ton the third day, 1/8 a ton the fourth day, etc. You would have to show that conditional realities are like blind men and not like a convergent series.

          • Ignatius, thanks for your comments.

            First, option UR is derived from the fact that -UR is false by way of complete disjunction.

            Secondly, even if the conditioned realities circled back on themselves, you would still have the whole of reality being conditioned reality needing conditions fulfilled; but if the whole of reality was conditioned then it couldn't have its conditions fulfilled in which case there would be absolute nothingness, which is absurd. Check out pg. 118 in Fr. Spitzer's book New Proofs for the Existence of God.

            Thirdly, the infinite regression that you allude to in your post is what is called a potential infinity which is not the type of infinite regression the argument refers to. The type of infinite regression that the argument refers to is an actual infinity. In other words, if the cat is dependent on an infinite number of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality, then an infinite amount of conditioned realities (without an UR) would have to be actually fulfilled right here and right now.

            Now, we know this can't be the case from the fact that "actual infinities" are impossible (see William Lane Craig's book Reasonable Faith and Fr. Spitzer's book New Proofs pg. 197-204) . Furthermore, as I stated in the above argument, if the cat is dependent on an infinite number of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality (no UR), then no condition in the series could ever have its conditions fulfilled because the search for the fulfillment of conditions would go on endlessly (every condition would be existentially dependent on other non-existent conditions); thus it would be a series of non-existent conditions which is absurd.

            Here is another way of stating it: A conditioned existence which requires a condition to be fulfilled is nothing until that condition is fulfilled. Even an infinite number of conditioned existences is nothing until their conditions are fulfilled. Thus an infinite number of conditioned realities would still be nothing without an unconditioned reality. In other words even an infinite amount of zeros are still zero. If A = 0 without B and B= 0 without C (ad infinitum without any unconditioned reality) then the whole of reality is 0 without an unconditioned reality.

            Yet another way to state it: A's potential to exist cannot be actualized until B's potential to exist is actualized. But B's potential to exist cannot be actualized until C's potential to exist is actualized. If the series regresses ad infinitum then we would end up with a series that CANNOT be actualized (awaiting actualization). But the series of conditions for the cat is actualized because the cat exists. Therefore, the series cannot progress infinitely with conditions that need their potential for existence to be actualized. There must be a condition that does not need actualization but is pure act, namely an unconditioned reality.

            Hope that helps!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Secondly, even if the conditioned realities circled back on themselves, you would still have the whole of reality being conditioned reality needing conditions fulfilled

            Why? A,B,C, and D explain themselves by circling back. There isn't any reason to assume that a group of conditional realities would also be conditional as a group.

            Thirdly, the infinite regression that you allude to in your post is what is called a potential infinity which is not the type of infinite regression the argument refers to. The type of infinite regression that the argument refers to is an actual infinity.

            What is the difference? How do I know when a given infinity is potential or actual?

            Here is another way of stating it: A conditioned existence which requires a condition to be fulfilled is nothing until that condition is fulfilled.

            Are you saying that it's like an on/off switch? Off until the conditions are fulfilled?

    • Phil

      Hey Brian,

      then how is this other unobserved material not disqualified?

      As Thomas Cothran mentioned earlier, this is just the first step, but as we have discussed before, it is not possible for a any entity of matter/energy to be unconditioned.

      If we can reasonably ask the question of a being of matter/energy, "how is it that it exists in this way," that automatically means that it cannot be unconditioned. All beings of matter/energy can, and must, be asked this question to fully explain their existence. If we decided we couldn't ask this question of a being of matter/energy then the whole of the physical sciences would come crashing down as incoherent and irrational enterprises.

      So realizing that all matter/energy is conditioned means we can reasonably pursue the scientific endeavor, but it also means we must accept that a immaterial unconditioned reality must exist that transcends material reality.

      • Bob

        We do a fairly good job of explaining the "existence" of "entities" composed of matter/energy.

        How do you know that matter/energy itself is conditional, if I may ask?

        It really seems to me that one needs to address this specific issue - which the OP does not do, (though maybe he will in a forthcoming post in this series).

        • Phil

          How do you know that matter/energy itself is conditional, if I may ask?

          The first point to be clear about is matter/energy does not exist apart from some specific instantiation of it. There is no such thing as "prime matter" or "prime energy". No matter how far we are able to break down reality via the physical sciences, matter and energy will always exist in a particular way. There is also no such thing as "entire material existence" that is something other than all the specific material beings that make it up.

          With that said, when we look at any particular instantiation of matter/energy--no matter how big or small--it will always beg us to ask the question, "how does this exist as it does right now?"

          Any part of material reality (which includes both matter and energy) exists with an inherent tie to space/time. This is just the nature of material entities. Once you have the tie to space/time, this material entity will never be able to explain itself, or be an unconditioned reality.

          Material reality, by its very nature, is conditioned, contingent, caused, etc.

          • Bob

            "The first point to be clear about is matter/energy does not exist apart from some specific instantiation of it. "

            The total energy is constant regardless of the instantiation, so I do not see that you have answered the actual question.

            Being that it is, as far as we know, always constant, how can you possibly know that it is conditional.

          • Phil

            The total energy is constant regardless of the instantiation, so I do not see that you have answered the actual question.

            Yes; the point of that was to say that the entire amount of energy in the cosmos is in "x" number of entities, instantiations, etc. In other words, it isn't like we can say, "here are 5 billions instantiations of matter/energy; oh and here is pure non-instantiated energy". There is no such as pure non-instantiated energy/matter.

            With that said, that means there is a large, yet finite, amount of matter/energy that is instantiated in a large, yet finite, amount of entities/instantiations.

            Being that it is, as far as we know, always constant, how can you possibly know that it is conditional?

            Matter/energy does not, and cannot, explain it's own existence; no matter what form it takes (whether it be 1 trillion forms, or 1 single form).

            For example, say the whole constant of matter/energy suddenly becomes a single simple instantiation, whatever that would be. We would still look at this entity of matter/energy, and ask "how is it that this entity exists as it does right now?" The fact that we ask this question shows that matter/energy cannot explain itself, i.e., be unconditional.

            If one assumes that matter/energy is ultimately self-explanatory, a side effect of this is that the physical sciences become incoherent. Things may only appear contingent, and therefore science is chasing after causes and reasons for things existence that don't actually exist. They only appear to exist. (Obviously, science as a coherent study shows that matter/energy as a whole is not contingent, or self-explanatory.)

          • Bob

            "There is no such thing as pure non-instantiated energy/matter."

            Sure there is, it is usually referred to as potential energy in first year physics.

            "Matter/energy does not, and cannot, explain it's own existence"

            Nor does anything else explain the existence of it, without begging the question. Remember, the total amount of mass/energy remains constant and we have absolutely no experience of anything creating or destroying it.

            So, one last time:

            How do you know that matter/energy itself is conditional?

          • Phil

            Sure there is, it is usually referred to as potential energy in first year physics.

            A couple questions; I'm assuming this potential energy actually exists? If it does actually exist then it exists as instantiated "potential energy". So it would definitely not be non-instantiated.

            Maybe you could explain more about this "potential energy"?

            Nor does anything else explain the existence of it, without begging the
            question. Remember, the total amount of mass/energy remains constant and
            we have absolutely no experience of anything creating or destroying it.

            Are you saying that, ultimately, nothing in reality has an explanation for its existence? Ultimately, mass/energy just is?

            How do you know that matter/energy itself is conditional?

            I think answer to the above questions will help; but as I've mentioned, if you assume that matter energy is not conditional, you have thrown the entire scientific endeavor under the bus. (Including physics that talked about "potential energy".) Science assumes matter/energy is conditional.

          • Bob

            Yes potential energy exists. It is not instantiated, it is potential - as is implied by the term "potential energy" - (if it were instantiated one actually could call it kinetic energy).

            "Are you saying that, ultimately, nothing in reality has an explanation for its existence? Ultimately, mass/energy just is?"

            The explanation for everything except mass/energy seems knowable, however I am saying that whether there is an explanation for mass/energy itself is unknown.

            To your last statement. I am not assuming anything, which is kind of the point.

            In addition, you are incorrect in your belief that "Science" assumes matter/energy is conditional, it does no such thing, which is why "science" actually progresses. Science simply deals with the universe as we find it.

          • Phil

            Nor does anything else explain the existence of it, without begging the question.

            The interesting thing is that the physical sciences assume that matter/energy is conditional. (Which contradicts the assumption you are putting forward, that matter/energy is ultimately unconditional.)

            If matter/energy is unconditional, it makes no sense it ask questions such as, "how does this particle/object/etc exist as it does?" In the end, all the questions that science ask become incoherent because we are assuming that matter/energy needs no conditions met to exist and that no matter/energy needs any explanation of its existence.

            In short, isn't this exactly what science is trying to provide; an explanation of all the entities that compose physical reality? If matter/energy is unconditional, this explanation doesn't actually exist!

            Sure there is, it is usually referred to as potential energy in first year physics.

            But remember, potential energy only exists in an object or entity of some sort (or between a handful of entities). This is exactly the definition of "instantiated." If those objects didn't exist, then that specific potential energy would also not exist. That energy is instantiated in those object(s).

            To be instantiated is to exist in a particular way (obviously this particular way can be very complex, but is still particular).

            How do you know that matter/energy itself is conditional?

            Let me try going about this another way.

            A question posed for you: Can you personally posit any matter/energy that it is incoherent to ask the question, "How does this exist as this does, in this place at this time?"

            What I've been trying to explain is that matter/energy can always be ask this question, which means it is conditional and contingent. But maybe that question will help focus your reflection a bit.

          • Bob

            I don't quite understand your question.

            I think you are having an issue with the word "constant", as in ignoring the implication of it.

            Say there is X total energy in the universe. Say there is a golf ball sitting on the ground...how much total energy in the universe now? Say I pick the golf ball up and hold it over my head...how much total energy is in the universe now?

            Get it?

          • Phil

            Yes, the total amount of matter/energy is constant--but this is completely separate from the question of whether that matter/energy is contingent/non-contingent.

            In other words, the assumption that constant equals non-contingent would be incorrect.
            -------

            Let's propose an example;

            1) We have the total amount of matter/energy in the entire physical cosmos.

            2) Let's posit that this entirety of matter/energy is completely static--absolutely no change is happening (this could be posited as past or future, whether it really happened or will happen doesn't matter).

            3) When we look at the entirety of this matter/energy and we ask, "How is it that all this matter/energy exists as it does?" In fact matter/energy begs this question that science is ultimately seeking.

            4) The fact that we can reasonably ask this question shows that matter/energy as a whole is itself contingent/conditional.

            ----

            Does that help make things clearer?

          • Bob

            To your example:

            1. Okay
            2. Okay
            3. Okay
            4. Doesn't follow, since we do not actually know if we can reasonably ask the question. In fact, the question may be non-applicable for all we know, which is precisely the point I have been making since my first post on this thread.

          • Phil

            Doesn't follow, since we do not actually know if we can reasonably ask the question. In fact, the question may be non-applicable for all we know, which is precisely the point I have been making since my first
            post on this thread.

            But do you have any evidence, experiential or philosophical/rational, to support this claim that the question cannot reasonably be asked of matter/energy?

            ------
            I have put forward that matter/energy is always open to the question, "how is it that this exists as it does?" To substantiate your position, you would need to show that ultimately matter/energy is not open to this question.

            In other words, in the search for truth we are to ultimately to hold as true what we have evidence for beyond a reasonable doubt. Not only do I believe we have no evidence for your position, I have proposed that it is a rational impossibility to propose that matter/energy could every fully explain itself. (This is what makes my argument go beyond a "god of the gaps" argument.)

          • Bob

            You are definitely intent on shifting the burden of your own argument.

          • Phil

            You are definitely intent on shifting the burden of your own argument.

            When both experiential and rational (i.e., philosophical) evidence points towards the position I am taking, yes I do place the burden on you to show why we have any reason to suppose that matter/energy could even possibly be non-contingent.

          • Bob

            Except, as has been repeatedly pointed out, they actually do not.

          • Phil

            Except, as has been repeatedly pointed out, they actually do not.

            Can you explicitly propose your argument as to the possibility that matter/energy, in part or in whole, could be non-contingent?

            [We discussed already the fact that the total amount of matter/energy being constant doesn't have any real bearing on whether it is contingent/non-contingent. In short, we see this distinction in a rock, where let's say the total amount of matter/potential energy is completely constant. It doesn't follow that therefore this rock is not contingent, it very much is contingent.

            So I'm curious as to what the thrust of the argument you are putting forward is.]

          • Phil

            I'll propose another way to think about this question of the contingent/conditional nature of matter/energy. I'll just number the thoughts for accessibility.

            1) Time is a "property" of matter/energy. Wherever there is matter/energy, there is time. Time does not exist as some entity apart from matter/energy.

            2) Some sort of change is necessary for time to appear to a conscious being. (This is change in the broadest sense, even our successive thoughts in our mind is a change.)

            3) Let us propose that there was a time when absolutely no change was happening to all of matter/energy, everywhere.

            4) If there was truly no change going on, we would not exist today, because all of matter/energy would still be completely static/changeless.

            5) The only way to account for your existence today is to either say; (a) something acted from completely outside all static matter/energy to bring it into a non-static existence or (b) matter/energy has never been completely static.

            6) Obviously, option (a) implies a non-physical transcendent entity, or what we call "God". Obviously this does not make one who denies the existence of God happy. So let's move to option (b).

            7) In option (b), we posit that matter/energy, as a whole, has always been in some sort of changing state. With an entity that is, and has gone through changes it always points beyond itself when we ask the question; "how is it that this matter/energy exists as it does right now? We need to always go to another state of the matter/energy to explain it, or to a different entity of matter/energy to explain the matter/energy we are looking to explain right now.

            In this way, we can being to see that all matter/energy is necessarily contingent and conditional. There is no rational way we can posit that matter/energy, in part or in whole, in non-contingent or unconditional.

            -----

            Does this help make things any clearer?

      • I don't propose that any particular being or entity of matter be unconditioned, but that the existence of matter/energy itself may be unconditioned. All beings of material are conditioned. They are ultimately conditioned on the existence of material.

        The question is why do we take the reality we observe and say "this must be conditioned"? If it is due to our observations of material. Then for any other reality we would need to observe it to determine whether it is conditioned or not. We would certainly need some information about it, to determine whether it can be a condition for material reality.

        Rather what I hear is, if material reality needs a cause, that cause exists and must be the kind of cause that can cause material reality. But it is not clear to me that material reality itself, not an arrangement of a particular state of matter, needs a cause.

        • Phil

          I don't propose that any particular being or entity of matter be unconditioned, but that the existence of matter/energy itself may be unconditioned. All beings of material are conditioned. They are ultimately conditioned on the existence of material.

          But it is not clear to me that material reality
          itself, not an arrangement of a particular state of matter, needs a cause.

          The main issue with your proposal, is that matter/energy cannot exist apart from a particular instantiation. There is no such thing "material reality itself" apart from all the particulars of reality.

          In other words, all particular entities of matter/energy form what you call "material reality itself", but material reality doesn't exist somehow above particular entities.

          • I agree that material exists, that at all times that it exists it is in various arrangements. The matter that makes up these arrangements exists before and after the particular arrangements. Matter and energy are never created or destroyed.

            Why can't the stuff that makes up these arrangements be necessary?

          • Phil

            The matter that makes up these arrangements exists before and after the particular arrangements. Matter and energy are never created or destroyed.

            Yes, but didn't the matter simply exist in a previous arrangement before that? And a previous arrangement before that?

            In other words, we will never come to an arrangement of the matter that is unconditioned. All arrangements of matter/energy, both past and future, are conditioned.

            Why can't the stuff that makes up these arrangements be necessary?

            Remember again, the stuff that makes up these arrangements, never exist apart from arrangements. To posit some sort of "prime matter" apart from any for of "form" or "arrangement" is not possible. Matter/energy always exists in some formed way.

          • Big Bang cosmology tells us that time falls away in a state of the universe in which matter exists. This means there is an arrangement of matter that is not conditioned on a previous arrangement, since there is no such thing as a previous.

            This is utterly contrary to our intuitions of what is possible, but so is everything when we get into this level of discussion.

            We can no longer speak of causation, conditions, before, change, intention, and so on when we lack a framework in which time and space exists.

          • Phil

            Big Bang cosmology tells us that time falls away in a state of the universe in which matter exists. This means there is an arrangement of matter that is not conditioned on a previous arrangement, since there is no such thing as a previous.

            Can you explain this more in-depth? Does time actually cease to exist, or do we just not have a proper way to explain it?

            I say this because we don't have reason to believe that "time" is some entity that exists apart from matter/energy. Time is simply a property of matter/energy. (To recognize time, of course we need a conscious being.)

            In other words, if there is matter/energy, time exists in some manner (since time is a property of matter/energy). Now that doesn't mean we will be able to explain it well.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Bravo on a great first step.

    One thing I will personally be looking out for as the series progresses is why the unconditioned reality could not be the material universe or something we would never call God?

  • Nick Halme

    There are a few problems I can see here. Keep in mind you can place me in the atheist camp that wouldn't even consider WLC a philosopher, given the nature of his theological arguments.

    One, is that I take issue with "unconditioned reality", or an absolute "objective" reality. You skip right past this in using it to ground the rest of your proof, but why should there be such a thing as unconditioned reality? I'd put the brakes on right here.

    This could, ultimately, be a misinterpretation of the nature of reality in the first place. What reality does a spider see? What about frogs, who can actually visually perceive separate photons? Is it ours or theirs that is the "real" reality? Do we all view an illusory reality which is merely representative of a "true" objective underlying reality?

    My second objection touches on the first, and that is if we are speaking of some objective underlying reality, we can point to the scientific worldview. If we are doing this, we would be incorrect in eschewing the field of biology when speaking about physical reality.

    You are speaking of a biological object as a logically coherent physical system. Biology, and chemistry alongside, is a special science and cannot be reduced to physics. If we look to biology, it would not be logically incorrect to say that complex functions can arise from simpler forms which do not themselves possess the qualities of the functions they produce.

    Ultimately I would argue that your proof argues for a state of affairs that hasn't been shown to be true in our universe. Remember especially that as you move outside of classical mechanics into quantum mechanics that govern the subatomic, you are also forced to let go of traditional Aristotelian logic. Events at this level of existence have been shown to not conform to rules we, as medium-sized beings, find immediately rational.

    • Dear Nick, thanks for your comments. Based on my presentation of the argument, I didn't just skip to unconditioned reality as the ground for my proof; thus leaving open the question "why unconditioned reality?" As I pointed out, unconditioned reality necessarily exist (Hypothesis UR) because the only other option in all of reality, namely Hypothesis -UR, is false (Hypothesis UR and -UR elucidate the entire range of possibilities for all of reality by way of a complete disjunctive syllogism). To rationally deny Hypothesis UR one would have to prove that Hypothesis -UR can coherently account for the cat's existence, which involves substantiating either hypothesis F or hypothesis -F. But as I demonstrated, I don't think either of these hypotheses (F and -F) can be rationally defended.
      In regard to the subatomic levels of reality, I disagree that Aristotelian logic must be let go. Such realities still are composite beings of form and matter and essence and existence (i.e., conditioned realities), which according to the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition would necessarily require an uncaused cause or unactualized actualizer to combine those component parts. Check out Dr. Edward Feser's work on this topic at his blog and in his various works.
      Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Nick Halme

        Thanks for the reply.

        I suppose I framed my problem poorly. My problem is that your a and b in this disjunction seem to me to beg the question. When you say:

        "We may start by elucidating the whole range of possibilities for all of reality by establishing what philosophers call a complete disjunction. In all of reality there is either at least one unconditioned reality (a reality that does not need any conditions fulfilled in order to exist but exists by its very nature—a reality that exists in and through itself) or no unconditioned reality, in which case all existing things in reality would be conditioned realities (a reality that needs conditions fulfilled in order to exist)."

        Perhaps this is fully borrowed from Spitzer (I'll investigate, as well as your other suggestion here) and he has outlined this in detail. But I am not denying that given a and b your proof is valid. I am denying whether a and b are valid propositions in the first place as descriptors of what we can call reality.

        As to Aristotelian tradition functioning at the quantum level, I have no doubt that quantum physics can be made to function with Aristotelian logic - but I'm contending whether it's appropriate the other way around. Something like wave-particle duality in quantum wave forms simply does not make sense, and inference developed in the human sphere is not a guide to what must be the case.

        • Dear Nick, thanks for the reply. I understand your point now. This is precisely how Fr. Spitzer frames the argument in his book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. I don't see how the argument begs the question for UR. The argument allows for the possibility of a "not UR" and then proceeds to demonstrate such a position to be logically incoherent; thus substantiating Hypothesis UR by way a complete disjunctive syllogism.

          In regard to your comment on the wave-particle duality, check out Fr. Spitzer's book in Chapter 3 in the section on absolute simplicity (specifically pg.123-124). He deals with this very issue.

        • Caravelle

          What do you mean, particle-wave duality in quantum wave forms does not make sense?

          Quantum mechanics is non-intuitive in many ways but I don't think it destroys inference itself, not the law of the excluded middle at least...

          • Nick Halme

            In what way does matter which instantiates in two states simultaneously "make sense" intuitively? What have we encountered in our own physical space that makes this intuitive?

            So, it violates the law of non-contradiction. Possibly identity as well.

          • Caravelle

            From what I understand, the classical definitions of particles and waves as having mutually exclusive properties is wrong in quantum mechanics. Quantum objects aren't classical waves or particles, they're objects that behave like classical waves in some ways, like classical particles in others, and always like Schrodinger's equation. Am I wrong?

            This isn't intuitive but it isn't logically contradictory either.

        • Caravelle

          To clarify, I agree with your larger point that "there is or isn't an unconditional reality" is probably badly posed; I just disagree that this is because the laws of inference might be wrong. I do think the question as posed is a dichotomy, so one must be true and the other false. But to continue with the quantum physics analogies : I also think that "an electron is a particle" and "an electron isn't a particle" constitute a disjunction; for a given definition of "particle", one will always be true and the other false. It's the definition of "particle" that's the rub; which statement is true and which is false will depend on the definition we're using. So while the dichotomy is there, it isn't very interesting or informative, and we now know it's the wrong way of looking at electrons.

          Similarly, while one of "there is an unconditioned reality" and "there isn't an unconditioned reality" must be true and the other false, even if the inference is solid that doesn't mean that either one is a good description of reality. It really depends on how right we are about what "unconditional" means or implies.

    • Doug Shaver

      Keep in mind you can place me in the atheist camp that wouldn't even consider WLC a philosopher, given the nature of his theological arguments.

      I don't mind calling him a philosopher, but he's certainly not a very good one.

  • David Nickol

    I am allergic to cats. Does this mean that, ultimately, I am allergic to God?

  • In Aristotelian philosophy a cat is a composite of a principle of intelligibility and a principle of particularity. As a composite, the cat fully explains its material parts. It is
    not the parts which explain the cat, in spite of the fact that human knowledge of the cat is by means of its material characteristics. This post proposes that its parts and their parts in turn and their parts in turn explain the cat at the level of material conditions. Even if were true that its parts explain the cat, that rationale does not rise above the level of materiality.

    • Dear Bob, I recognize that the material conditions listed in the argument are not the metaphysical component parts that make up a thing (e.g., form / matter, essence / existence). Each of those material conditions would be considered as composite beings themselves (form/matter and essence/existence). However, those material conditions still can be considered as a part of the explanation for why the cat exists right here and right now - without them the cat would not exist. Now, the argument does not necessarily restrict itself to the material conditions listed. The argument against Hypothesis -F simply starts with those material conditions and arrives at the principle that any condition in the series that is itself a conditioned reality (it could be material or immaterial) needs at least one unconditioned reality to ground even its existence. Thanks for your comments.

      • Omitting the illustrations of a cat, cells,
        proteins etc. renders a conditioned reality as unidentified and undefined. It
        is essential to the argument both to identify a conditioned reality and to
        define a conditioned reality. This was accomplished in the OP by identifying a
        cat and implicitly defining conditioned as the relation of a cat and its cells.
        The relation of cat and its cells, however, is not at the level of existence,
        but at the level of form and matter. At this level the unconditioned principle
        is the form of cat.

  • Doug Shaver

    what philosophers call a complete disjunction

    This is probably not relevant to the discussion, but if you include textbook authors in the count, I learned logic from at least half a dozen philosophers, and the term they all used was "exclusive disjunction."

    Installment one will consist of an argument for why there must exist at least one unconditioned reality in all of reality (i.e., a reality that does not depend on conditions being fulfilled in order to exist but exists in and through itself).

    "All of reality" is a whole comprised of many parts. To call each of those parts "a reality" is to invite equivocation. The logic of this argument will be much easier to follow if we can make a clear terminological distinction between the whole and its constituent parts.

    In all of reality there is either at least one unconditioned reality . . . or no unconditioned reality, in which case all existing things in reality would be conditioned realities . . . .

    I will accept this if it is taken to mean: In all of reality there is either at least one unconditioned thing or no unconditioned thing. If the author did not intend to mean that, then I don't know what he is trying to say.

    If there is no unconditioned reality in all of reality (Hypothesis ~UR), then a conditioned reality (e.g., a cat) is either going to depend upon a finite number of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality (Hypothesis F) or an infinite number of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality (Hypothesis ~F).

    How do we make conditions unambiguously countable in logical terms? How many conditions had to obtain in order for my cat to exist, and how we determine that particular number to the logical exclusion of any other number?

    First, if the cat is dependent upon a finite number of conditions, then that means there is going to be a most fundamental condition (a last or terminating condition) in the series of conditions that the cat depends upon for its existence right here and right now. For example, the cat is dependent upon the existence of its cells, which in turn are dependent upon amino acids and proteins, the amino acids and proteins depend on the existence of molecules, the molecules depend upon atoms, the atoms depend upon protons, the protons depend upon quarks, and so forth. With such a series, the quark (or something more fundamental) would be the terminating condition that the cat depends upon for its existence right here and right now.

    Obviously, no thing can exist if its constituent parts do not exist. A rock is made of atoms. If those particular atoms do not exist, then that particular rock does not exist. All atoms are made of subatomic particles. If those particular subatomic particles do not exist, then neither do those particular atoms exist. What Broussard is here calling a "terminating condition" seems to be whatever it is of which all material objects are ultimately composed, perhaps some analogue to what Aristotle called "prime matter." (But it can only be an analogue. Since Aristotle rejected atomism, we know that, whatever he thought prime matter was, it does not exist.)

    So, we can say that for any material thing, a condition of its existence is the existence of the material comprising it -- the existence, i.e., of something that we might as well call prime matter (or a prime matter analogue, depending on how careful we must be to avoid seeming to endorse Aristotle's hypothesis).

    But the cat does exist. Therefore, the cat cannot be dependent upon a finite number of conditions where every condition is itself a conditioned reality.

    I don't think it's been demonstrated that the existence of prime matter (whatever it is) is conditional on anything.

    Now, if this most fundamental condition of the cat is a conditioned reality whose conditions cannot be fulfilled, then it would be non-existent (nothing) and consequently every other conditioned reality dependent on it would be nonexistent as well, including the cat. But the cat does exist. Therefore, the cat cannot be dependent upon a finite number of conditions where every condition is itself a conditioned reality.

    Cats are made of matter. Therefore, matter must exist. I'm OK with that. I'm not OK calling the existence of matter a "conditioned reality."

    The terminology here seems to be nothing more than a rewording of the distinction between contingent and necessary existence. I recently addressed this issue in another thread, and I'll repeat it here, revised for change of context. The only useful sense I can make of a thing existing necessarily is in terms of the proposition affirming the thing's existence. If for some x, "x exists" is necessarily true, then I will say that x exists necessarily. Otherwise I will say that x exists contingently. And I regard a proposition as necessarily true if and only if its negation asserts or implies a contradiction. To deny the existence of matter, so far as I can tell, would contradict nothing except our observations of reality. If that is the case, then matter does not exist necessarily, and in that case it exists contingently. But contingency does not imply dependence, i.e. causation. So far in human history, it has been our experience that contingent things always have causes. But the origin of matter is the origin of the universe, and we don't have enough experience studying universes to have reached any firm conclusions about the conditions, either necessary or sufficient, for them to exist.

  • Peter

    The constituent parts of a cat cannot progressively go down to infinite sizes because, if the space were infinitely small, gravity would be infinitely strong and the whole of the universe would be a sea of black holes.

    There must be a bottom limit to how small space can go and therefore to how small the constituent part of a cat, or of anything else for that matter, can be. In this respect, an infinite series of conditions is impossible. It's nothing to do with philosophy but simple science.

    • Space can be continuous without the universe being full of a sea of black holes.

      • Peter

        Could you elaborate?

        • Sure. I don't think there's good reason to believe that a bunch of black holes would form in a continuous space, for three reasons:

          First: As you go to smaller and smaller regions of space, these regions will contain smaller and smaller amounts of mass. The vacuum density of space, assuming a cosmological constant of 10^-52 m^-2, is about 5x10^-10 Joules m^-3. Even if you're in the realm of fluctuations, this value within a Planck volume will be about 10^-114 Joules, corresponding to a mass of 10^-131 kg. This corresponds to a Schwarzschild radius 10^-124 times the Planck length. No black holes.

          Second: Even if a black hole did form (maybe the fluctuations are very violent) it would have to have a tiny mass (there's not that much available in empty space), much less than the mass of an electron. If it was at an electron mass, it would evaporate in about 10^-107 seconds, producing a few dozens of keV of energy (not much). Now, if for some reason these fluctuations happen all the time, we'd boil away in all the energy, but there's not that much energy available; such large fluctuations would have to be very rare (as indicated above).

          Third: No one knows what happens below a Planck length anyway. There's no reason I know of to suspect that continuous space would be a sea of black holes.

  • James Matthew

    The idea that "the addition of insuffiencies might make a sufficiency" seems to not be adequately countered in your argument.

    Protons, electrons, and neutrons are not the same thing and while protons and neutrons may be conditional on quarks, electrons are not. Meanwhile a cat could not exist without having carbon atoms that have protons, neutrons, and electrons; but the presence of at least one proton, neutron, and electron is not necessary for a thing to be deemed an atom nor for us to say that it has material existence.

    Not being a scientist but looking into the matter I find that there are things that we would agree are in material existence; such as Hydrogen ions that give acidity to a solution and are just nuclei (termed H+) - they don't have electrons or protons; there is also the example of an Alpha Particle, which is a helium nucleus doubly-ionized He (again no electrons or protons). Also we would agree that protium isotopes of hydrogen atom which have no nuclei are things in material existence. So for a thing to be termed in material existence it does not by necessity have to have a combination of electrons, protons, or nuclei. So we can not say that any one of these subatomic particles by itself is a necessary link in a necessary chain for a thing to be in material existence.

    Yet for there to be a cat in material existence, it by necessity has to have carbon atoms that do have all three of these subatomic particles. So while yes Bishop Sheen, no amount of Boron atoms can help make a cat cell, the reason is that Boron has an insufficiency of electrons - despite electrons not being themselves necessary for a thing to be held to be in material existence.

    So does this not mean that a collection of things that are not by themselves necessary for us to say a thing is in existence, are necessary for the cat to exist? If so can it not be maintained for your example of the cat that insufficiency is quantitative rather than qualitative? The correct/sufficient combination of a bunch of things that are in themselves insufficient are together sufficient and necessary when it comes to the existence of a cat.

  • Commonsense

    Well there is a ton of redundancy in this article so let me just present my simplest objections.

    [Let's say the Cat is dependent on "matter" for simplicity.]
    -I don't know why you bothered with "infinite conditions", you can just have one, matter and it's arrangement and that's simple enough.

    Now all you'd have to do is show that there is an immaterial reality, or the unconditioned reality.

    Well what does that look like? What would a cat look like if it wasn't dependent on matter? Is that even a possibility, given the thing we identify as a cat is solely because of it's material makeup of atoms, molecules, and biological structure?

    Thing is, I read through the article and found no evidence of an unconditional reality. I found a lot of "this is what a conditioned/unconditioned reality would be" which is fine for concept, but that's not evidence for an unconditioned reality. this is again, a huge issue for me because the entire argument is simply defining what unconditioned and conditioned realities are over and over instead of actually providing evidence for *one* unconditioned reality.

    So to this I have to say "No" there must not be one unconditional reality because this article does not give evidence for it.

    [Extra things to note regarding writing these articles:]
    Why you bothered with molecules and amino acids seems to be due to be an issue of just not understanding what they are and a desperate need to pad this article. You reference 'they depend on molecules", which any biology textbook will tell you they are made up of them, they don't depend on them. That's like saying a "tree depends on atoms". It's just redundant.

    I'd also like to comment on your excessive use of the word "condition". There are other words for "condition" if you are going to make your make your main point about "conditioned reality". Do understand how painful it is to read:
    "Therefore, an infinite series of conditions where every condition is a conditioned reality is equivalent to a series of nonexistent conditions because no conditioned reality could ever have its conditions fulfilled."

    Why. Why would you write that? That is just excessive.

  • huzeipha

    Why not just make the fundemental particles the unconditional reality. I see no problem with the fundemental quarks that compose us as the unconditional reality.

    So for instance

    Cat -> Cells -> Amino Acids -> Molecules -> Atoms -> Subatomic particles -> Quarks

    And the Quarks become the uncondtional reality. I see no problem with quarks not depending on anything else.