Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The TCA and Omnipotence

1. Every temporally contingent thing has a sustaining cause. (Premise)

2. If there is no First Cause, then there is an infinite regress of temporally contingent sustaining causes. (Premise)

3. There cannot be an infinite regress of sustaining causes. (Premise)

4. Therefore, a First Cause exists. (From 1 - 4)

5. Every existing thing is either omnipotent or non-omnipotent. (Definition)

6. Whatever is non-omnipotent can be generated. (Premise)

7. A First Cause cannot be generated. (Premise)

8. Therefore, the First Cause is omnipotent.

An omnipotent First Cause, as the Angelic Doctor muses, "everyone understands to be God."

Notice that the second half of the argument is almost identical to the Modal Third Way (MTW) that I defend on this blog. The first half of this version of the TCA, on the other hand, is more traditional.

As believers we often get the question: why does the First Cause have to be God?

This is a good and fair question, but it is also one that can be answered quickly with success. (5) - (8) show that the First Cause must have omnipotence, an exclusively God-like characteristic.


  1. Hey Doug. Hope everything's going good.

    I've been kind of weary about these arguments from sustaining causes, mainly because we'd have to do a lot of metaphysical work. Not that that isn't good, but that kind of destroys the simplicity. For example, it seems that supposing mereological nihilism, there are no sustaining causes, and that would be a defeater for (1), no?

    With (6) I wonder if you can make an objection from other necessary beings like abstract objects (leaving aside for now the question of their ontological statues). Now, I remember you were telling me that talking about abstract objects here would be a category mistake, since they don't enter causal relationships.

    But consider this. According to classical theism, whatever exists depends on God. Thus, abstract objects depend on God. So take "a necessary abstract object A depends on God G for it existence." That means "A exists" depends on "G exists." Now, any proposition is counterfactually implied by a necessarily false proposition. The proposition "It is false that A exists" is necessarily false, which counterfactually implies any proposition. Thus the truth of the proposition "G exists" depends on the truth of the proposition "A exists." We can take dependence to be a sort of causal relationship, yes? So the abstract object A has entered a causal relationship, no?

    What that ultimately means is that we could reject (6) as well, since there is some non-generable being which is not-omnipotent. Maybe I'm completely missing something, but these two objections seem to imply that we'll actually have to do a bunch of metaphysical work.

  2. Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I just started a new job a couple weeks ago.

    With respect to (1), metaphysics may play a role, but I had a more "every day" understanding associated with the notion of sustaining cause. What, for example, sustains your life? Oxygen, food, properly functioning organs, and so on. Contrast these types of causes with originating causes, e.g. one's parents, who aren't needed as sustaining causes. This wouldn't require a lot of metaphysical work.

    As for (6), I would maintain that abstract objects don't stand in causal relations, even though I also hold that they are dependent on God. All causal relations imply dependencies, but not all dependencies imply causal relations. If we take the number 7 as one of the divine ideas, it's not that God causes 7 to exist, but rather that 7 exists eternally as a mental concept of the divine mind.

    It's almost universally agreed upon by philosophers that the key attribute of abstract objects is its lack of causal efficacy. It's this quality that allows us to distinguish abstract objects from concrete objects.