Friday, July 22, 2011

New ACPQ article

My article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” appears in the latest issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly.  Here is the abstract:  

The “existential inertia” thesis holds that, once in existence, the natural world tends to remain in existence without need of a divine conserving cause.  Critics of the doctrine of divine conservation often allege that its defenders have not provided arguments in favor of it and against the rival doctrine of existential inertia.  But in fact, when properly understood, the traditional theistic arguments summed up in Aquinas’s Five Ways can themselves be seen to be (or at least to imply) arguments against existential inertia and in favor of divine conservation.  Moreover, they are challenging arguments, to which defenders of the existential inertia thesis have yet seriously to respond. 

The article is a supplement of sorts to the discussion of the Five Ways contained in chapter 3 of Aquinas.  It sets out the arguments in a more formal manner and is concerned less with Aquinas’s own way of stating them than with the way they have been developed and refined within the broader Thomistic tradition down to the present day.  As the abstract indicates, the paper is particularly concerned to show how each of the Five Ways – or rather, how each of the general patterns of argument that the Five Ways represent – when followed out consistently implies that the world could not in principle continue for an instant without the conserving action of God.  In the course of defending this claim the paper also responds to the contrary arguments of writers like Mortimer Adler, John Beaudoin, J. L. Mackie, and Bede Rundle.

20 comments:

21th Century Scholastic said...

It looks interesting..

The two strongest objections to the five ways (and divine conservation in particular) i've met are:

1) Aquinas, p. 85: "Keep in mind that a thing's essence and act of existing are distinct not just before it exists, but always, even after they are conjoined so as to make the thing real. (To put a handle on to a brush so as to make a broom doesn't make the handle identical to the brush; neither does conjoining an essence and an act of existence make them identical.)"

The analogy looks flawed: it's true that the handle is not identical to the brush, but they "hold together" without any external help.
Moreover, as Kenny notes in his work, an omnipotent being should be able to create something which exists independently of him (for example, instead of constantly sustaining everything in being, He could give it a "shot" of infinite power sufficient to give it independent existence.

2) And, regarding the fifth way, a friend noted in conversation that "The reason why a match emits fire when struck is not that it's "directed" towards that particular outcome by an intellect; it's because of his molecular structure, which could not be different from what it is. So, teleology does not entail any supernatural intelligence."

What are your thoughts?

DNW said...

I'd like to read this one, too:
"Kenneth W. Kemp, Science, Theology, and Monogenesis.

Because Catholics aren't the only ones likely to be skewered by the disappearance of clear species based claims.

The politically progressive class, (apart from certain wary physical anthropologists who have been very fervent in denouncing concepts like multi-regionalism because they understand the implications for sloganized human solidarity notions) just doesn't quite comprehend how it applies to them ... yet.


As far as divine conservation goes, I don't think you have to be a disciple of Plotinus in order to see that if there were a ground beneath being, and being were the result of something akin to an act of will (rather than a necessary emanation) that ceasing to will would entail the cessation of the existence. Conceptually, the power goes off; the broadcast stops. Only in this case there's nothing for the waves to continue radiating through.

Frankly, I don't understand why the notion of a kind of billiard ball, horizontal style causality of the universe, keeps rearing its head.

I guess it's because "the ways" start with the senses and the material world at hand, and people have recently become used to thinking of being as a synonym for the astronomical universe, and the universe as the product of a singularity.

Apparently God directly caused the big bang; but if it had another cause this proves that there is no God ... Or something like that ...

Edward Feser said...

Hello,

1. They do not always hold together without help -- in some cases a screw, or glue, is required -- but that wasn't really the point of the example in any case. The point was rather that the two parts are still distinct parts even once combined, and would remain so even if the one was screwed into the other without some third thing (glue, a metal screw, or whatever) assisting.

Re: omnipotence, that does not entail the power to do what is metaphysically impossible, and causing something to exist which exists independently of God is metaphysically impossible. To give something a "shot" of independent power of the sort you describe would just be to cause it to be the sort of thing whose essence and existence are identical, and that makes no sense. If something is caused at all then by that very fact its essence isn't identical to its existence.

2. That just pushes the problem back a stage, to the question of why the molecular structure has the particular efficacy it has rather than some other. And that requires reference to finality.

George R. said...

21th [sic] Century Scholastic wrote:

"The analogy looks flawed: it's true that the handle is not identical to the brush, but they "hold together" without any external help."

The analogy is not flawed. You have just misunderstood it. For even if, as you say, the handle and the brush may hold together without external help, they will surely never be able to hold together without the handle. And that is the proper understanding of the analogy. But I would like to be sporting about this. So if you can convince me that that the handle and the brush can hold together without the handle, I'll concede that the act of existence and the essence of thing can hold together without the act of existence.

Aquinas3000 said...

You could go into a lot of detail (especially answering the second of those objections) but if those are the strongest arguments against the five ways then the five ways are looking pretty good! :)

I'd say regarding the second one (briefly) that whilst I don't know your friend's personal convictions / philosophical outlook that even the best of us find it hard to overcome the empiricism we all imbibe from our science education (which is nothing against the science in its proper bounds). The point of the fifth way is to discuss all things tending to their ends whether intellectual beings or not and principally non intellectual beings as the vast majority of the things that exist are such. One simply can't say that the molecular structure "just does that." That's statement essentially states that things "just happen" for no reason. These elements combine? Why because they do and it is a "law" of science. Certainly it is, but it leaves out entirely the necessary but deeper metaphysical considerations as to why something directs itself to this thing and not that. That which is ordered to something requires an orderer. This is very brief however as a proper response would need to go through this in much more detail.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser
Could you please comment on the laws of nature and the Supreme Intelligence?

I think that the only things we know we can compare to the laws of nature are computer programs. The similarities are too obvious to ignore. The programmer imposes a set of rules to a micro cosmos (computer and any interface connected to it). This brings some important questions:

1.- Can anything create and implement a set of rules without possessing knowledge of some kind?

2.- Can we talk about knowledge without implying intelligence?

3.- Can we talk about intelligence in the creation of the laws of nature without implying the existence of a Supreme Intelligence?

4.- If intelligence (in the programmer’s mind) and rules (software) appear so naturally linked to each other; why shouldn’t we look for a similar relationship at the moment of creation. How can anyone rule out intelligence in the process of creating the laws of nature?

I'd like to know your thoughts on this.

Daniel Smith said...

21th Century Scholastic's friend: "The reason why a match emits fire when struck is not that it's "directed" towards that particular outcome by an intellect; it's because of his molecular structure, which could not be different from what it is. So, teleology does not entail any supernatural intelligence."

So a match's molecular structure could not be different from what it is?

Why not?

It seems to me that the match's molecular structure is determined by its design (and therefore by its designer); so the teleology of a match at least entails a natural ordering intelligence.

Anonymous said...

I think William E. Carroll's talk was posted earlier. 'Creation and Inertia' but just in case:
http://www.univforum.org/detalle_audio.php?art=en_582_Creation+and+Inertia%3A+The+Scientific+Revolution+and+Discourse+on+Science-and-Religion

21st Century Scholastic said...

So, if i understand it correctly: the reason behind the doctrine of divine conservation is that, as long as the essence of a thing is distinct from its "actus essendi", it is in need of sustaining by a superior power. But i still don't get why. I can understand why it would be in need of being created (after all, it's contingent, so it could fail to exist); but why does it need to have being constantly "pumped" into it?

BTW, Hugh McCann has a forthcoming book on this very subject - looks excellent: http://www.amazon.com/Creation-Sovereignty-Indiana-Philosophy-Religion/dp/0253357144/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311382416&sr=1-10

21st Century Scholastic said...

teOn the fifth way: the problem is that (according to an A-T understanding of nature), the laws of nature are necessary (cause they follow from the individual natures of things). So it looks meaningless to ask, "why is it like this and not like that?" On the same line, a match with a different molecular structure just wouldn't be a match, but a different thing. My friend is a humean philosopher and thinks that metaphysics is meaningless, but he's attacking my position from an “insider's perspective”.

P.S. George, thanks for the correction.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of cosmological arguments, Jason Rosenhouse has responded to your previous post on the cosmological argument, charging you with mischaracterizing Le Poidevin. (As expected, Coyne cites the article glowingly as an example of Feser's "intellectual dishonesty.")

http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2011/07/le_poidevin_on_the_cosmologica.php#more

Anonymous said...

1.- Can anything create and implement a set of rules without possessing knowledge of some kind?

2.- Can we talk about knowledge without implying intelligence?

3.- Can we talk about intelligence in the creation of the laws of nature without implying the existence of a Supreme Intelligence?

4.- If intelligence (in the programmer’s mind) and rules (software) appear so naturally linked to each other; why shouldn’t we look for a similar relationship at the moment of creation. How can anyone rule out intelligence in the process of creating the laws of nature?



1- Yes. That does not imply 'Knowledge' but rather 'Memory'. In physical terms one can define memory as a property of some object that remembers some past 'input'.

e.g.: "Ferromagnetic materials" 'remember' a past imput (a magnetic field) by remaining magetized.

---

2- Depends how you define Knowledge.

If you define knowledge as a CONSCIOUS knowing and understanding of something, then NO you cannot have knowledge without intelligence.

So one must be very very careful at defining exactly what he or she means with a specific term.

-----

3- I do not think so... If there is 'intelligence' that guided the formation of what exists then this intelligence must be 'above' what is 'created' I'd say

----

4- Well many just IGNORE even the remote possibility that there is an intelligence behind the laws of nature. They solve the problem by not asking the question.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the fifth way: Isn’t the observation that an arrow is oriented towards an end just a singular case of the more general observation that all things behave following a set of rules, which we all call laws of nature. Why not making the case for a Supreme Intelligence based on the existence of this set of rules? I think it is easier to see that a universal, timeless and complex set of rules can only come from an intelligent being.

Juan

Daniel Smith said...

21th Century Scholastic: On the fifth way: the problem is that (according to an A-T understanding of nature), the laws of nature are necessary (cause they follow from the individual natures of things). So it looks meaningless to ask, "why is it like this and not like that?"

I tend to think Aquinas was making a Platonic argument in the Fifth Way - not an Aristotelian one. Plato held that teleology was not inherent to nature but had to be imposed on it from the outside. To me, the Fifth Way is such an argument because it argues that natural objects without minds act as if they have minds - thus proving that there must be a mind behind their actions. If teleology was not "mind-dependant" (i.e. if it was part of the essence of nature) then such an argument fails (IMO).

Ed would probably disagree with this though.

papabear said...

"But i still don't get why. I can understand why it would be in need of being created (after all, it's contingent, so it could fail to exist); but why does it need to have being constantly "pumped" into it?"

There is no subject to receive being without already having being. I think you are relying too much on the imagination, instead of trying to understand the existential dependency on its own terms?

Aquinas3000 said...

21st century scholastic, I think you need to read the articles in the Summa that deal with the creation and conservation of creation (around the 44 to 46 mark in the Prima Pars) to find a good answer to your question.

It is not that there is "more" being being "pumped" into it which would suggest the thing to be gaining more and more being.

It all comes down to a simple principle: without the cause the effect ceases. Every effect depends existentially on its cause. Thus the effect of becoming requires the cause of its becoming. As soon as the cause of becoming cease its action the becoming ceases. Now the cause of a thing's very being not merely become is must be acting at each moment to conserve it in being for no effect is without the cause. To have an effect without a cause is absurd - justified in further detail in defensive metaphysics. You are using your imagination too much. Because things do in fact preserve in being it is easy to convince ourselves they just do so by their own self.

21st Century Scholastic said...

Aquinas3000, good point. I'm a former "theistic personalist", but i'm trying my best to understand the classical theistic worldview and arguments; i'll read that part of the Summa.

lulz anonymous said...

How exactly do we access the full paper from the linked site ?

Ismael said...

@ Lulz Anon:

it's called: 'subscribing to a magazine' ;)

lulz anonymous said...

not free, not fair.