Thursday, August 23, 2012

Avicenna's cosmological argument

The following argument is logically valid:

1. Potentialities exist. (Premise)

2. Potentialities are real insofar as there exist certain entities capable of actualizing them. (Premise)

3. Potentially, the universe could have failed to exist. (Premise)

4. Therefore, an entity with the power to actualize the universe exists. (From 1 - 3)

Now, an entity that has the power to actualize something as vast as the universe must be very powerful, to say the least.  It must also be timeless, changeless and immaterial, given that this entity transcends the universe (the sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy).

Seems like a promising argument to me.  It's a kind modal cosmological argument that I admit I hadn't heard of until engaging in a Thomistic discussion forum.


  1. greetings,

    i'm curious as to why you've dubbed this argument as Avicennian? i don't think that's correct for 2 reasons: (1) Avicenna's actual argument begins from 'existence' not 'potentiality'. and (2), the argument as you've presented it seems to locate potency in the power of an agent. but Avicenna explicitly denies that.

  2. Good day sir Doug!

    I am a believer that is just starting to study deeper to the the foundation of what he holds. And because of that I found out that Philosophy is indispesable. And perhaps that discovery would just naturally lead you to Classical Theism in general and A-T School in particular. So that's why I am here to disturb you!hehe..

    First, let me say that your site is just great! Your style of being direct to the arguments makes it remarkable, more importantly, informative and beneficial to those like me. So, before my inquiry sir, I would like you to beg you to please always remember my being a novice, for that would prevent me consuming your temperance!haha.. So heres my questions sir:

    1) Premise 2, in my understanding, says, for instance, my computer has the potential to become a robot, only if there exists some engineer/s who is/are capable of doing that potential. But if this isn't confused, then the actuality of those engineer/s should prove the reality of the proposed potential, not the other way around?

    2) Premise 3 says that the universe has the potentiality of ceasing to exist. But from P2, what should follow (or if my analysis in 1 in not confused, must be assumed) is that there must be an entity capable of actualizing that potential, namely, the univese's ceasing to exists, which is not necessarily God.

    3) If 1 & 2 isn't confused, in order to retain the conclusion, then we must be proposing that the *resistance* of something to actualize its potential must need something actual who is capable of actualizing that resistance (in this case, the universe's resistance to ceasing to exist). But how is this so, if 2 says thay its the potentiality (or the *actualization* of potentiality) is what implies an actual capable of, which is the very opposite of the *resistance* to actualize the potentiality?

    Perhaps I'm missing something if not everything!hehe..

    In that case I would ask for your help. Can I ask for some links, perhaps of yours, that is an exposition of even just the basic arguments of A-T tradition (Intro to Thomism)? For I am really eager to explore it, for I seems the most promising, indeed, it claims to have demonstrated the existence of God, which what I am seeking and find lacking of those popular arguments for Theism. Free links will be much appreciated, for I have no capacity to avail books, (which otherwise would be a treasure for me!)

    Thanks much!

  3. Greetings to you both! I won't pretend to be an expert on Avicenna. My strengths are in Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, so I could very well have some of the terms wrong.

    Anonymous, thank you again for the kind words. I'll be releasing a book soon, so stay tuned! In regards to your questions:

    1. The actuality of an engineer would only demonstrate that a computer potentially exists. However, the actual existence of a computer implies that its potentiality is actualized by some external agent, e.g. the engineer.

    2. I think there are good reasons to suppose this entity is God. Think of what the universe is: the sum total of all physical space, time, matter and energy. This means that whatever actualizes the potentiality of the universe must transcend the universe. This in turn entails that the cause of the universe is timeless, changeless (for time is a measurement of change), immaterial and very powerful. I refer to this entity as "God," but one is at liberty to choose whatever term he or she wishes.

    3. Keep in mind that a potentiality isn't a reality per se. An acorn in actuality is merely an acorn. In potentiality, an acorn is an oak tree. However, this can only be a true potentiality if there is some set of things capable of actualizing the transition from acorn to oak tree, e.g. sunlight, water and soil. In other words, the potentiality of the acorn doesn't cause any of the actualities to exist. Rather, the fact of its potentiality presupposes the existence of the other actualities. Perhaps I misunderstood your question, so please feel free to elaborate.

    I'm happy to help you in any way. :) Here's an article I wrote that both theists and pantheists can appeal to.