Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Benign "First Way"

St. Thomas Aquinas' "First Way" provides us with certainty regarding the existence of God. I only think it's unfortunate that Christians today are often treated as though being a Christian is so unusual. The First Way is a fairly benign argument, so much so that any rejection of the argument's premises (and its conclusion) is demonstrably false. Here's how the argument goes: 

1. Changing things exist. (Premise)



2. Whatever changes exhibits potentiality and actuality. (Premise)

3. No potentiality can actualize itself. (Premise)



4. Either an Unmoved Mover exists, there is a circularity of causes of change, or there is an infinite regress of sustaining causes of change. (Implied by 1 and 2)



5. There cannot be a circularity of causes of change or an infinite regress of sustaining causes of change. (Premise)



6. Therefore, an Unmoved Mover exists. (From 3 and 4)

Of course, the argument doesn't end there. We may deduce that the Unmoved Mover is eternal, immutable, immaterial, unique (there is only one Unmoved Mover), as well as enormously powerful and intelligent (if not omnipotent and omniscient). The Unmoved Mover's goodness may be inferred on the grounds of its Pure Actuality.

(I'd be happy to defend each of the argument's premises. This is just a summary.)

16 comments:

  1. Doug

    You know that I think the distinction between actuality and potentiality, but we have been over this so many times I am not going to argue for this now.

    I am just going to make one simple observation here: nothing in the argument provides any sort of certainty regarding the existence of God, for the simple reason that enormously powerful does not equal omnipotent and enormously intelligent does not equal omniscient. And more importantly, even if the first cause is enormously intelligent it doesn't follow that it is personal. The view that intelligence and personality go hand in hand is an antropomorphism.

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  2. Actually, I think we can deduce that the Unmoved Mover is both omnipotent and omniscient, but it requires a bit more metaphysics. What, in your opinion, makes something personal if intelligence is insufficient?

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    1. Feelings, emotions, morality, contingency, combined with intelligence.
      A machine that automatically calculates the best available option and on the basis of that, makes the best decision, could be called intelligent, but it would hardly qualify as personal.
      And I think the God of Thomism would be such a (perfect) machine. Intelligent, omniscient perhaps, even possibly omnipotent, but lacking any sort of emotion or feeling and completely a-moral. Somewhat (but probably not completely) like Aristotle's God. That God actually makes some sense to me, but not the anthropomorph version of some people.

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  3. It's a good thing nobody's arguing for a God with a big white beard, then. :)

    I think you'll want to exclude contingency from your definition of person, lest you be accused of question-begging by classical theists.

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  4. Unless of course I can argue for why personhood would require contingency, I already gave an outline of such an argument in my previous post.

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  5. Well, it could be argued that if the God of Thomism is truly necessary and immutable etc. he would qualify as the "perfect machnine" I described in my post or as an automaton. If there no contingency anywhere, I cannot see how you can avoid this conclusion.
    But I don't have the time to give an elaborate argument here, so that's all I am going to say about this for the time being.

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    1. Machine's are designed. I haven't been trying to debate here, Walter. Instead, I've been trying to hone your arguments. The way you described an earlier post was that contingency was part of what it meant to be personal. But, nobody uses "personal" with modality in mind, whether necessary or contingent.

      Moreover, God's personality (or tri-personality) is analogous to human personality. They are somewhat alike and somewhat unalike.

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  6. "Unmoved Mover"

    In context -- since you're talking about change -- perhaps "Unchanged Changer" might be a better term than "Unmoved Mover"

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    1. Sometimes people do refer to the Unchanged Changer. It's just not the traditional term.

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  7. "Sometimes people do refer to the Unchanged Changer. It's just not the traditional term."

    I know.

    But, I can tell you, from personal experience, that until a person understands that the movement the Unmoved is causing refers to change, the term 'Unmoved Mover' gets in the way of understanding.

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  8. I have no problem with term, Unchanged Changer," but when Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and thousands of other use "Unmover Mover, I prefer to follow their lead. After all, they use "motion" instead of "change," and they explain hat is the reduction to potential to actual. The two terms are interchangeable, only many atheists instead on making a difference.

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    1. The reason many atheists insist on making a difference is because on a modern account of physics, they are different.. Co ntinuous uniform motion is not considered a change under modern physics, but it is a change in Aristotelean terms.

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    2. See my reply to Ilion. I'm afraid to say that many (not all, or even most) atheists tend to quibble over words that aren't controversial. I'm sure you already know what I mean by "Unmoved Mover."

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  9. Ilion, call it an an Unchanged Changer if you want, but not only is it a non-Aristotelian term, but it sounds strange. In any case, I don't think we're disagreeing a lot.

    How about: immutable, eternal, immaterial, omnipotent, omnscient, First Cause. Then we could just shorten it to "First Cause"? You already know the difference between the Aristotelian First Cause and the kalam First Cause, so that shouldn't be an issue.

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