Choice as Participation in Creation.

Recently I have been feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the future. Every plan I have had about where I would be by now has not come true, and I have been struggling with what to do next. Should I reapply for graduate school and continue to put effort into that vein, or should I focus on starting a career and looking for a job and moving on? Is it feasible to do both? What does God want me to do next?

It only got worse when I began to think that whatever choice I made, even the choice not to choose, cuts off possible futures for me. Every decision, every second, of every day, creates radically different worlds for me in the future. Or perhaps not. I don’t have the omniscience to know. It seemed like a terrible burden, crushing in the responsibility. I came to think about how choice is perhaps the greatest power in the universe; it is the ability to deny or allow possible worlds to come into being. And we sometimes choose on impulse, or for no reason! For no reason we might disallow a world to come into existence and we might not even know it! With this greatest of powers comes the greatest of responsibilities. It was very…depressing for a while. What if I messed up? Made the wrong decision. It could not be fixed or repented of, ever. Not completely. The world I denied can never be brought into being.

Then I began to be reminded of what Lewis called, “The Weight of Glory.” That there are no ordinary people, everyone is an immortal soul who reflects the image of God. In this, our decisions matter, are taken seriously. But ultimately, for the Christian, God promises us that we will be glorified. Glory, to Lewis is being praised by the Creator, a Divine accolade, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Lewis describes it this way,

It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. [^1]

The promise of glory is not that we will do everything perfectly, nor that we will make all the perfect decisions or that we do anything. But that God will continue his work in us and perfect us.

So what then is the purpose of my choosing? Of my struggling? Of my trying to do my best?

I’ve been thinking about this, and because of my position between Free Will and Determinism (which I will not expound upon in depth here) I am going to have to say; to create. Admittedly not create in the way that God does, from nothing. I am just as restricted by the choices of my ancestors as I am by the choices that I have made up to this point, but that doesn’t mean that my choices are irrelevant. Our choices, before the universe began, limited the range of possible worlds that God could have created. Thus this universe, the universe we are in, we helped bring about. We, to some extent, continue to help bring about. If we had chosen differently, God would have known differently. The worlds we deny, God knows, but he knows that we deny those worlds, but comes alongside us in all of our weakness and creates with us.

This is consistent I think with other things God does. The Holy Spirit worked alongside authors of Scripture to produce the writings of the Bible, he did not dictate them to the Prophet like Allah did with Muhammad, nor did he let the human writer work entirely independently of God’s will. We entered into creation with him. God invited us into relationship with him, he does not force us into it, and as we “work out our salvation in fear and trembling”1 we also know that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”2 It does not mean that I should make bad choices and know that God will bless them, but I do know that God will bless those who try. This is the Parable of the Talents.

And this comforts me intellectually, and inspires me to do better. I want the world that I help bring about to be a better place, because God is amazing and has invited me to make something great with Him. It assures me that the work I do with God, will be good. It is a comfort, but that does not mean that it makes decision making easy. I am still at a crossroads of life, and am dependent on grace. I want to step forward and do God’s will. I pray that I will be able to. And I am thankful for the honor.

  1. Philippians 2:12 
  2. Philippians 1:6 

Looking Back: The Quinquae Viae

After taking a year to complete a series I originally only intended to do for a month, I think it would do well to look back on things I have learned about the Quinquae Viae since I started studying them.

Firstly, I’d like to point out that my initial thoughts about what they were were incomplete. I said that they were starter arguments, cursory summaries of a text designed to be part of a course on the nature of God and thus would be further explained as his students moved through their coursework.

And I don’t think I was wrong. Indeed, to properly understand Aquinas’ arguments there are quite a number of principles you have to do your research on. The Principle of the Maximum that you find in the Fourth Way, cannot just be assumed to be the same Neo-Platonic reference as his predecessors. St. Anselm for instance, in the Monologium, uses inherent formal causation whereas Aquinas denies that that is even a possibility. So reading more of Aquinas, like his commentary on Neo-Platonists like Pseudo-Dionysius, gives you a better understanding of his premises and thinking and allows you to fill out the arguments he seems to be outlining in the Summa Theologica.

But I do not think this is his only goal. Having done some research I am inclined to agree with Robert Fogelin on this matter. 1 Aquinas is not attempting to demonstrate the existence of God, but instead to show that there must be a supernatural explanation to the universe(which must be God as he explains in the rest of his corpus) due to the limits of physical sciences. If he were trying to do the former, than his Fifth Way was an abysmal attempt at outlining it.

Even if he had managed to prove that in order to have a final cause of anything, there must be a final cause of all things, there is little reason to assume that that final cause is anything like the Judeo-Christian God. But, when recast to be a counter-argument to explaining everything with Naturalism it makes more sense.

Fogelin recasts it this way:

1. We begin with the presumption that the world is the product of a Christian God’s creation.

2. The natural scientist tells us that the world can be fully explained on natural principles; therefore, this presumption is idle and can be set aside, at least when we are doing natural science.

3. It is then argued that the world (here with respect to its teleological features) cannot be fully explained by natural principles, therefore, the presumption in 1 is restored.

I do not wish to simply repeat Fogelin’s paper here though, but I do think that makes a more plausible reading of Five then simply the one he gave.

In addition I have learned that arguments keep taking the same basic form throughout time. People tell me sometimes that eventually science will have learned enough that the need for a God will disappear and it’ll even be impossible to argue for one. After all, we see particles jump into being from nothing all the time, right?2 What way could you even argue for a God? Aquinas’ arguments may not be as capable of holding up in modern physics as they were in the medieval world, but that does not mean they are not still useful.

The five types of arguments he casts: Argument from Motion, Argument from Cause, Modal Argument, Argument by Degree, and Teleological Argument, are still roughly the categories we use today.

Admittedly, we no longer cast the Teleological Argument for showing that individual objects move in certain ways, but we use it to show that the universe needed to have a ridiculously specific and narrow range of constants in order for matter to form, much less life. And so we argue from Fine Tuning. (Although, I am wondering if Darwinian Cosmology could be used in a Teleological Argument. Fledgling thoughts though.) We also, no longer argue, from the first motion, though in all honesty, our Kalaam Cosmological Argument doesn’t look all that different. Our Modal Arguments may have changed, but we still argue for Greatest Conceivable Beings, and Necessary Beings. While we might not argue by degree, we do still argue from goodness and objective morality.

Our arguments have just shifted a bit to accommodate the bounds of our knowledge. That is why I think framing the Quinquae Viae as ‘counter arguments’ to show the weaknesses of Natural Science, continues to keep Aquinas’ arguments useful today. The limits of science haven’t changed, except in the amount of data.

  1. Fogelin, Robert. “A Reading of Aquinas’s Five Ways” American Philosophical Quarterly. 27 1. 305-313 
  2. If by nothing you mean something, namely the quantum vacuum. 

Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (parts 4&5)

I’ll admit, part of the reason this post took so long was because Aquinas’ Fourth Way was a bit confusing to me. It is commonly classed as an “argument from degree” but I couldn’t figure out quite what it meant. Aquinas’ argument goes like this:

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

On the one hand, this argument seems easy enough. There are comparative terms. For us to have comparative terms of abstract concepts, like “Goodness”, “Beauty” and so on, there must be a thing which is their maximum and causes them to be more or less of itself, assuming that such things exist. His example though, of Fire, puzzled me.

Yes, Fire is hot. And it causes other things to be hot. But we know that it’s not really the fire, per se, that is hot, but the energy given off by the reaction that causes the fire to be hot. Since fire is caused to be hot by other things, what is it that gives those things heat?

But, as anyone should do, I attempted to be sympathetic and think about fire like Aquinas would have. When he claims that fire causes heat in all things, what does he mean? It can’t simply cause it by existing. Aristotle had four different types of causation that Aquinas would be drawing on: Material, Formal, Final, and Efficient. Fire is an example where all four types of causation would be met out in a single instance.

Material: Fire is made of fire.
Efficient: Fire creates Fire
Formal: The substance of fire is heat which is fire.
Final: The aim of fire is to produce more fire.

This is an odd example for Aquinas to use in reference to trancendentals like “Goodness”, and “Being.” And this is what puzzled me. God cannot be all four types of causation to the universe: The Universe is not made out of God. And so naturally, I did some research. 1

I discovered that Aquinas’ views on God’s causal relationship to the universe are in play here, and that upon investigation I found out that he denies that God is the causal relationship in two categories: material, and what might be called inherent formal.

Urban argues, in his paper, that Aquinas views at least five types of causation built on Aristotle’s four:
1. Material
2. Final
3. Efficient
4. Inherent Formal
5. Extrinsic Exemplary Formal

While 4 and 5 are subcategories of “Formal Causation” the distinction winds up being important. The first type, Inherent Formal, concerns structural principles present in things which make things as they are. The second type, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal, concern archetypes in the minds of intelligent beings to which they can form their artifacts.

This distinction suggests that the Fourth Way of Aquinas could deal with three types of causes: Efficient, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal(henceforth EEF) and Final causation. The argument goes that if Aquinas thinks that God is the maximal exemplar of Goodness, Truth, and Being then he is the cause of them, but each of them has different kinds of causation.

Truth must be conformed to by propositions, and is thus an EEF. Goodness is normally considered a “final” cause, that which all things strive towards, and Being is taken as an efficient cause, at least by Aquinas if we go back to his Second Way. In order for things to come ‘into being’ being must first bring them there. Thus, Aquinas’ Second Way is laying out his understanding of how Being relates to the world.

If this interpretation is correct, the Fourth Way, in a sense, ties all of the arguments in the Quinquae Viae together. The First and Second Ways show that God has efficient causation. The Third Way makes it impossible for Being, that is the Efficient Cause of the universe, to not exist. The Fifth Way deals with EEF and Final Causation, and since it has not gotten it’s own post I will expound on it here:

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

The so called “Argument from Design” is the Final of Aquinas’ Five Ways. A common objection to it is that you could just dismiss the Fifth Way out of hand since Darwin came along and disproved that the Universe had any purposes other than survival. The problem with that objection though is that if the universe really ‘aimed at survival’ as some have suggested then ‘survival’ or ‘fitness’ is the final cause.2 But what is the source of that final cause? What is the supreme ‘fitness’? This is what Aquinas is getting at between his Fourth and Fifth Ways.

Final Causes are always directed towards something, “Fitness”, “Goodness”, “Survival”, “Progress” but you have to have a terminus for these objects that are not within the object itself. The difficulty with certain abstract notions like, “Fitness” or “Progress” is that they don’t seem to have a maximum. Progress, as Chesterton once remarked, “is a comparative to which we have not settled the superlative.”3 because even if you arrive, you must progress beyond it. Fitness, well, if Fitness has a superlative it fails at evading the Third Way, much less the Fifth. Fitness is a state that readies you for survival. The longer you survive the more fit you are. To survive all things at all times would be to be the “Fittest” and the only thing I can think of that would fit that category would be a Necessary Being.4

But that doesn’t quite get at the guts of the Fifth Way. The Fifth Way, has to do with Aristotelian Physics again. According to that system, when an object is moving it is trying to move somewhere. With earthy and watery objects it is towards the center of the universe. With fiery and airy objects it is up to the edge of the universe. Thus, when you throw a rock and it falls to the ground it is doing so because it’s ultimate Final Cause is the Center of the Universe, it just gets stopped by the Earth along the way.

If this is true and all objects move according to purpose, or are shaped according to purpose: The eye being to see, rocks to fall to the ground, etc. then there must be some Final cause that ALL FINAL CAUSES MOVE TOWARD. The Universe as a whole, in an Aristotelian Framework, rotates. That whole thing, is seeking out a final cause, and that thing must be outside the universe. Thus, it must be either an abstract principle: like Goodness, Truth, or Being, which are not grounded in physical reality, OR an intelligence that Goodness, Truth and Being find their root in. Or as Aquinas puts it:

For since things in the physical world are naturally inclined to induce their likeness in things which are generated, this inclination must be traced back to some directing principle which ordains each thing to its end. This can only be the intellect of that being who knows the end and the relationship of things to the end. Therefore this likeness of effects to their natural causes is traced back to an intellect as their first principle. (In Meta. I 15 233.)

So then how do Final causes make sure they link up with the proper effect? Simple, an intelligence does it. And that is Aquinas’ answer to how that works. There is an intelligence who arranges the universe so that final causes wind up being aligned with the proper effects. In a sense, this intelligence is also EEF of those cause and effect situations, because it causes the archetypes to align with the types.

Which brings us full circle back to the Fourth Way.

  1. If there are certain comparatives we use to describe objects, such as “Goodness”, “Truth” and “Being”, then they cannot exist without a superlative.
  2. There are such comparatives.
  3. Therefore there is a superlative.
  4. This superlative is the final cause of the universe, due to being Goodness.(Goodness is the source of all Final Causation, as all things seek the Good.).
  5. This superlative is the efficient cause of the universe: in that it is Being. (Via the First and Second ways.)
  6. This superlative also is the EEF of the universe, due to being the intelligence that aligns effects to causes(and helps final causation.)
  7. Therefore, the Superlative is the Cause of the Universe.
  8. This superlative can be called God.

At least, this is the most around the argument that I’ve been able to get. You are welcome to disagree with my interpretation, but this is what I have come to.

  1. Urban, Linwood. “Understanding St. Thomas’s Fourth Way” History of Philosophy Quarterly 1.3: 281-195. Web 
  2. There are entire types of Darwinism that extend out beyond the realm of evolutionary biology. Fields such as “Evolutionary Ethics” and “Evolutionary Cosmology” exist. see: 
  3. Chapter 2, Heretics 1905 
  4. Whether or not any form of Darwinism can be directed into an argument for the existence of God is a subject for more debate. It’s possible Darwinian Cosmology was born out of an attempt to escape modern recastings of Teleological Arguments. 

God and the Daredevil: Marvel’s Foray into Theology

281662-g3Warning: Potential Spoilers Follow

I’m not often impressed enough with how theology or religious people are handled on television to say anything about it, but I’ve been impressed with Marvel’s Daredevil and their treatment of the protagonist, Matthew Murdock, and his faith. For those of you that don’t know, within the Marvel Universe Daredevil is Catholic.

In the Comics we know that Matt Murdock’s father was Jack Murdock, a boxer and his mother was a nun. She became a nun after he was born, but he still grew up never knowing her. He only met her once as a kid. It was shortly after he went blind saving an old man from being hit by a truck that she came in to visit him. She asked him to consider his blindness not a curse but a gift.

cene from Daredevil #229, Marvel Comics Group: New York City (1986), page 4, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. Reprinted in Daredevil: Born Again trade paperback, Marvel Entertainment Group: New York City (2005), 7th printing, page 56.

Scene from Daredevil #229, Marvel Comics Group: New York City (1986), page 4, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. Reprinted in Daredevil: Born Again trade paperback, Marvel Entertainment Group: New York City (2005), 7th printing, page 56.

And this I think is where we begin to get into some of the territory that the Netflix series covers. Matt Murdock grows up to be a defense lawyer by day, vigilante by night, hunting down those who deserve judgment. He never kills though. The first season of this series is about him hunting down the man that is trying to abuse the people of his home, of Hell’s Kitchen New York, and make them leave while he remakes the city in the image he wishes it to be. This is not what I want to talk about though, what I want to talk about is some of the Theological questions they actually raise in the show.

1. What is the purpose of law?

Matt Murdock is a lawyer, but he recognizes that not everyone who is guilty of a crime is brought to justice by the legal system. He takes it on himself to use his vigilante status to bring them to justice(usually through gathering evidence and then using the law.) but he limits himself to never cross the line and become executioner. (At least in the Netflix series, the comics are a little different of a story.)

“Judgment is best left to God…” his priest says in the Netflix series and Murdock seems to agree with that in regards to life and death.

In addition, in a particularly interesting scene they are in a courtroom defending a guilty man. Matt Murdock presents the law as is, namely, the accusation has to show that there is no reasonable doubt that this man killed in self defense. No one witnessed him not doing so. He does not deny that his client killed a man, and did so rather brutally, he only states that in the court they are there to decide ‘legal judgments’ not moral ones.

In other words: The law does not decide whether an action is good or bad, or a person is good or bad, but only whether they are culpable of the action in question. That is an interesting distinction for a lawyer/vigilante to make. If breaking the law does not make you a bad person, how is he justified in referring to the Kingpin as “the devil.”

It’s possible he was just being showy, saying what he needed to. Or he actually thinks it and behaves inconsistently(that wouldn’t be a surprise. He is only human.)

2. The social character of sin and righteousness.

Matthew and his Priest are discussing a particular proverb: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked. (Proverbs 25:26 NIV)” Matthew takes an interpretation that that is a mandate to stand up to the wicked, lest they poison the entire village and harm everyone in the process.

His priest takes a different interpretation (though it isn’t mutually exclusive): That if a man who is righteous, falls into sin, he poisons everyone and everything around him. Sin isn’t just his private affair, but it harms those around him.

We see this, for example, with his lying. In keeping secret his identity from his friends Foggy and Karen, he feels he is protecting them, doing them no harm. But soon, Foggy finds out and gets mad and stops speaking to Matt because he’s not sure who he is anymore. This causes Karen to begin to get upset because Matt and Foggy are fighting and there can’t be “Nelson and Murdock: Attorneys at Law” is Nelson and Murdock are fighting. Eventually she winds up not being able to tell either of them the truth about what happened one night when she shot a guy to death. This one lying habit, quickly spread to all of them.

This is one of the tensions of the series. How do we stand up to evil men, without becoming evil men ourselves? Especially, when the law can’t touch him.

3. God’s gifts/will and how to use them.

In the Comics, Daredevil’s mother asked him to view his blindness as a gift from God. After all, he wound up being able to see the world better than he could before, and hear the pain of people around him. He was given this power for a reason, he argues. In the current television rendition, he tells a story of a time he was lying in his apartment and he heard a man down the street violating his young daughter. He did it in such a way the wife didn’t know and it didn’t leave any marks, and so when Matt called CPS it simply got brushed under the rug.

But it kept happening and only he knew about it because of his gift. Was he supposed to sit on it? He followed the man and beat him up and told him that “he’d know if he ever touched his daughter again” and then disappeared. The man, as far as Matt could tell, never did touch his daughter again.

But Matt’s struggle is that exactly. If God is to be the sole judge, why did he give him this gift that allows him to hunt down and destroy evil, if he had no intention of it being moral to do so? Surely we see that God uses certain forms of Earthly Punishment as Divine Punishment, we see it in the Babylonian Captivity, just to give one example. So maybe Daredevil is like the Babylonians, God’s instrument of punishment on Earth.

But how much is in his hands? Can he take life? Is he judge, jury, and executioner, or just the instrument for that? But how? Matt Murdock is a complex character in this way. He always wants to do what is right, by both man and God, but isn’t always sure what that is. What is the line between standing up for the weak and righteous against evil, and becoming that very horror yourself?

This is but a few of the issues I think the plot raises. There are additional interesting points, for example: “Whether or not there is a singular entity called ‘the Devil’?”, “Are there such things as absolutes? Even Lucifer the absolute evil in this universe, was once an angel.” but though they are in the series, they have not yet become big themes in them, so I have chosen to not focus on them.

Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (Part 3)

When thinking about the Second Way of Aquinas, which states that no cause can cause itself and therefore there must be a first cause, we run into a difficult problem of which the Second Way cannot get itself out. This problem is this: Aquinas has only proved this First Cause, he has not proven God.

In light of Modern Cosmology you might make the argument that the first cause was the Big Bang that brought all matter into existence.1 And given the restraints of the Second Way there is no way out of it. You cannot deny that if you define the Big Bang by the simplified way it usually is, then it fits the qualifications of “First Cause”. So then why think the First Cause is God? That is what Aquinas seeks to do in his Third Way. Show that “Even if there is a Big Bang, it did not have to occur, it is possible that the universe could have not existed. Since it is possible for the Big Bang to have not happened, there must be an explanation for the possibility that is namely: the Big Bang did happen.”

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

What we have above is a precursor the Leibniz’ Cosmological Argument from Contingency and a follow up on Avicenna’s argument from the same. As his other arguments in this series it depends heavily on the argument against actual infinities, but has a distinct flair from his versions on motion and causation. This is a distinctly modal argument.

While Avicenna drew largely on Aristotelean principles he seems to have come to a different conclusion than Aristotle did. Aristotle and Aquinas both argue that there is a first cause because of an infinite regress of causes is impossible. Avicenna however, argues that since the totality of all possible things cannot be caused by itself (since it is itself possible) it must be caused by something outside itself. And since the thing is outside of the totality of all possible things, it must be necessary. And that means that there is a necessary thing, and that thing is God.

Aquinas doesn’t take this same sort of modal approach to the argument. He argues very similarly to the fashion of Aristotle, namely that the unvierse has to have an explanation of itself. A cause of causes. It is easy to conflate this argument with the Argument from the Beginning of Motion, but we should not do that because they are distinct even though they have a logical similarity to their argument. We should not think of these causes, for example, as temporally sequential, happening one right after the other. Instead we should view them as simultaneous causes: logically simultaneous like what exists in an argument.

Let us take for example his argument:
1. Contingent beings are caused.
2. Not every being can be contingent, for this would create an infinite regress.
3. There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.
4. This necessary being is God.

There is not a temporal succession to these things. It is not that ‘First’, step one comes, and then step two and then three and then four. Our minds may track through that path, but they all exist simultaneously. They are on your screen at the same time whether you are reading them or not. And they happen concurrently, and YET there is some degree of dependence of 4) on 3) and 3) on 2) and 2) on 1). If any of these had been different the argument would not work.

In the same way, we like to say that the irrational number Pi, “Goes on to infinity…” which is a misstatement. It is not as if Pi is continuing to count itself out every time it is calculated. It exists in it’s entirety, like a ray but rather all of it’s infinite digits exist simultaneously though each is dependent on the former. This is not to say that it is an actual infinite. Pi has a definite end point, namely the 3 on the other side of the decimal. It is infinite in the future direction only and all later numbers are dependent on that 3. 3 however, could not exist if it were the final number of Pi, that was dependent on an infinite set of variables in the other direction.

Similarly, if I had an argument consisting of infinite premises, all of which was dependent on the others but I came to a conclusion at the end.

Infinite 1: There exists an x
Infinite 2: There exists an x+1
Therefore: _____

That conclusion would be dependent on an infinite number of non-temporal causes that occurred before it, and therefore could never be reached.

In the same way, Aquinas argues that necessity and possibility work. For every contingent thing must have a cause. To put it another way, every contingent thing is dependent on something else for it’s existence. Since an actually infinite number of causes is impossible, this first thing must be a necessary being.

Since God is the only thing that could exist necessarily (think about Anselm trying to show the absurdity of a God that doesn’t exist) and must exist of its own power, then this first cause is God. It is not just a convenient stopping point for Aquinas it is the end.

  1. This doesn’t actually help the problem since it doesn’t make sense for that to have occurred un-caused at any point. If there was an infinitely dense ball of matter that existed there since eternity past, there would have had to have been a change in order for it to rapidly start expanding. That would be the first cause. 

Lenten Thoughts: How a blog can be a Spiritual Exercise.

To give a confession to my blog readers(the few of you there are, the less if I continue this habit of posting randomly and without order) I often forget I have a blog that needs updating. These past few months have been difficult for me spiritually and emotionally, and the worst part is I’m still not even sure what the cause of it was.

Every blog I have ever had has fallen away in the litany of concerns of my daily life. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of day to day activities and forget about other things which are not as pressing.

Or at least don’t seem as pressing.

This Lent I’ve been thinking about discipline. I intentionally sort of set aside philosophy this Lent, and focused rather on spiritual classics and digging into the Scriptures as well. It has always been a fault of mine that I am not terribly consistent in my workflow and am not very good at self-motivating towards my own goals. This is why I love the structure of Academia, someone at least puts a deadline on you and consequences for missing it.This is not me defending myself on account of not being in an Academic setting.

What I am apologizing for is being undisciplined. I am not saying that I am lazy, but that I lack consistent and regular devotion to a single thing. I am not good at being a ‘disciple’. A disciple wakes and learns from the master and then emulates the master. I have not practiced that in any sense. Thus, hopefully I can use my blog as a tracker of discipline. If I am studying Scripture, Philosophy, History, or really anything, I should be able to come up with at least a few words to say about it every week. Thus, if I am updating my blog, it is because I am being disciplined in my studies. If I am not, then I am not being disciplined in my studies.

There is however an obstacle that I would like to point out to some of the topics I have mentioned in past blog posts that I was working on.

Lack of Sources that are readily available: For my Third Part of Aquinas’ Five Ways, I was planning to integrate Avicenna’s argument from contingency to discuss it in contrast with Aquinas’. However, up until recently, I was having trouble locating its source material. I have found references to it in other philosophy blogs, and discussions of it in other commentary texts, but never an actual transcript of the argument. It wasn’t until I found a reference to Avicenna’s argument on Edward Feser’s blog 1 that provided a link to the source material in an anthology that I was able to locate it. I still have not recieved it, but have opted out of doing that particular bit since Feser does such a good job on his blog of explaining and discussing Avicenna’s argument. I will make reference to his post about it in my post on Aquinas.

Additionally: other sources are hard to find. I was planning on writing a dialogue between Pelagius and Augustine, but source material on Pelagius is hard to find. It is a lot of work piecing him together from sources that are entirely hostile to him. Augustine, Orosius, Prosper, Marius Mercator, and Jerome are all hostile to his view and it is difficult to get the nuance of his position from it. (Not impossible, just…difficult.) It is easy to reconstruct it from Semi-Pelagian and other later views, but it is hard to get at the man himself, so I may just opt out of doing this particular topic. 2 It was not to be a discussion of Pelagianism vs. Augustinianism, but between the men themselves. Which will probably make me scrap this.

Also, several of my interests are hard to track down their works in English. While my ability to read Latin is existent, it is far from fluent, I depend on others to do so for me. I have no skill with either Greek or Arabic, and unfortunately these are the languages most of my interests primarily exist in. If I ever need help finding a source I will be sure to mention it in my post.

Thank you all for your patience.

  2. Since the views are distinct from the man I am hesitant to equate him with Pelagianism like Calvin has been with Calvinism. (Which is interestingly debatable:

Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (Part 2)

“The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.”

Someone mentioned to me that in my last blog post my discussion of Aquinas’ notion of motion was unclear, and that perhaps I could have left my analogy of potential and kinetic energy out of it. The informer argued that that fit more properly into the notion of cause, in that the table being removed is what causes the ball to change from potential into Kinetic energy. I informed him that this is simply a misunderstanding on his part of the distinction that I was trying to make. It is not the reason that the change happens because of but rather that an actuality exists (in that case, namely gravity) that changes potentiality into actuality. These actualities can be any number of causes, matter, gravity, force, etc.

The point is this. Any cause must be an actuality. This leads to the conclusion above however:

Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

Why? Simple, for the same reason that we did in our last post, namely, that nothing can cause itself to be or to change. For anything to be an efficient cause of itself, nor is it possible to go on to an infinity of prior causes. This is because any infinite number of prior causes would be actually infinite, and this is absurd. There are multiple reasons for this, which you can find in one of my earlier posts, but also one that I don’t think I’ve mentioned before.

No Infinite Set can be created by adding a finite number to any already existing set. Or, in other words, it’s impossible to reach an actually infinite set by addition.

This is because for any number x, you can always add x+1 to produce the next sum. Since an actually infinite set must contain all infinite members at the same time, the fact that you can always add 1 to any sum to get a new number shows incompleteness in the set.

Unfortunately, or perhaps: as typical, this winds up simply to be a modern restatement of ancient ideas expressed by believers in the creation of the universe at a fixed point in time (for example: John Philopinus, and Al-Ghazali.) which state that if you were to count down from infinity to zero, there is no reason you should finish yesterday rather than today.

So we’ll not dwell much on this point, let us instead move to the more interesting point in light of modern science. Can an object cause itself (or can a cause cause itself)?

In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking posits that “The universe creates itself out of nothing.” The argument given for this is that, “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” 1 At first glance, you might think that this is a bit absurd, but it does rely on some fundamental assumptions.

A) Something can be created from nothing.

This part is generally only applicable on the quantum scale, but could be reasonably asserted given that ‘nothing’ is defined as ‘the quantum vacuum’. The quantum vacuum is however an incredibly complex series of interactions of energy that have measurable effects. (For example, interactions in the vacuum create “zero-point energy” which can be observed in phenomena like the ‘cosmological constant’.) 2

Because it has measurable effects, it cannot be properly defined as ‘non-being’ but given this qualifier we shall continue.

B) Laws can create something.

Generally speaking, when talking of ‘laws’ or ‘rules’ we do not speak of them as causing things to occur. And even in the cases we do we are speaking of prescriptive laws in personal agents. “The law is what caused George not to kill Hannah.” And even more accurately speaking, in that circumstance what caused George to not do it was the fear of the punishment and not the law itself. The law of Gravity is a ‘descriptive’ law, not a prescriptive law, meaning it describes the way something usually behaves or acts, and the way it appears, but not the way it should or ideally will. Descriptions are naturally passive things that are disconnected from the actual thing that they describe.

Given this, I think this premise is unfounded.

It’s also a case of a mistaken mechanism, to mistake a nominal construction for an object with a positive existence. To mistake a construct like the law of gravity, as something that has existence in its being is part of the flaw of their reasoning. 3

So even given the qualified redefinition it seems as if A) does not prove what it seeks to prove, that something can come from nothing (or without cause(since the quantum vacuum is a cause). Since the statement is self-referentially incoherent, then it cannot and does not make sense to say that ‘the first cause created itself’.

This is what Aquinas is getting at, this incoherence of non-causal causes. So he gives this argument that no efficient cause can be caused by a prior efficient cause back to infinity.

This post was short, but hopefully I’ll be able to get back into posting regularly from here on out. Thank you for your patience.

  1. Page 180 
  2. Sean Carroll, Sr Research associate – Physics, California Institute of Technology, June 22, 2006 C-SPAN broadcast of Cosmology at Yearly Kos Science Panel, part 1. 
  3. Of course mathematical Platonists might make an argument here. Even if it can be shown that Platonic objects exists, we have to wonder how they cause things, being themselves abstract. 

Coming Soon…

It has been some time since I have published a single post on here. Three months since my last re-blog and seven months since I started a new post where I was going to be going through the Quinquae Viae. Clearly that is not a good publication rate.

The reasons were multiple why this big gap happened. One of them was I work retail and the holiday season started up, another was I was taking a college course and working a full time job. I also went through two computers in the span of time I have not been writing. (Which is annoying considering how much work you have to do to get a computer back to your liking.) In addition I was applying to graduate schools and trying to do research on those programs as well as research pertaining to a writing sample for them.

Those applications have been sent off, my holiday hours are coming to a close at work, and I am not enrolled in any classes for this next semester. So I will start updating more frequently.

I have quite a few posts outlined, but it will be probably about the 5th or the 10th before you start seeing them again. Some of the posts I am about to list may not make it to their final versions.

Continuing Posts:
Quinquae Viae(Parts 2-5)
Al-Ghazali on the Eternity of the Universe(Part 2)

New Posts:
The Ontological Argument: Plantinga.
The Teleological Argument: William Paley
Does God Have a Nature?: A review of Alvin Plantinga’s 1980 lecture.
Pelagius and Augustine talk about the Problem of Evil
Sabbath as Resistance: A book review.
Averroes: On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy.
Flying Man: Avicenna
Sheikh it up: Sufism and Philosophy.
The Cosmological Argument: GW Leibniz.

These are just the ones I have outlined (even if my research on them is still in an infancy.) My intention is to put out smaller posts in between these as well. Thank you all for your patience with me and I hope we can get this show back on the road.

“Right where we are wrong”

G.K. Weekly

The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. I have compared it with the New Religions; but this is exactly where it differs from the New Religions. The New Religions are in many ways suited to the new conditions; but they are only suited to the new conditions. When those conditions shall have changed in only a century or so, the points upon which alone they insist at present will have become almost pointless. If the Faith has all the freshness of a new religion, it has all the richness of an old religion; it has especially all the reserves of an old religion. So far as that is concerned, its antiquity is alone a great advantage, and especially a great advantage for purposes of renovation and youth. It is only by the analogy of animal…

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